Friday, June 06, 2008

A Final Look at Keeping Our Children's Hearts

I finished Keeping Our Children's Hearts: Our Vital Priority by Steven and Teri Maxwell. The overarching premise of the book, explained by the title, is apropos. It is something much needed in the milieu of contemporary society where children are generally treated not as blessings and familial assets, which the Bible teaches they are, but as liabilities that put a strain on families.

I found myself in strong agreement with that general premise and even the Scriptural basis for the penning of the book, Proverbs 23:26: "My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways." However, the exegesis to justify "sheltering", a key concept of the book, was strained. To be fair, Steve Maxwell is not theologically trained (not that that really makes a difference) but many of the verses he uses he pushes their meanings too far to achieve his own end.

A biblical case may be made for "sheltering" 'a la Maxwell, but Steve drew his theological justification from typical child-raising passages; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:4 and sprinkled a few ethical passages to make his points. I would have been much more comfortable with that section of the book had he just said, "This is what we practice in our family and I found it works," rather than making a strained Biblical case.

The Maxwells also advocate an isolationist approach that is separationist and even monkish in its ideal. I addressed this approach in the comment stream of this post and found agreement that isolationism can be as unhealthy for children as outright exposure to all manner of evil. To quote myself from that stream,
Their strict isolationist view is in my mind, more dangerous than allowing them to do whatever they want. If you shelter a child to the extent that they never see anything of the world it will generate a hunger in them to see it, a premise that is antithetical to their perceived goals in the book!
Balance and knowing your child is the key. The book also seemed to be written with a condescending tone. Having talked to Steve personally at a conference once before, I did feel his discourse was tinged with a bit of patronization. He seemed to hold judgment against parents that did not follow their prescribed methods and that all other methods were inferior. They characterize their approach as "biblical" which is perfectly fine, but their are other methods that are also "biblical" and the Maxwells seem to have no room in their view for any other and that another approach might be equally valid.

I also found the book very short on application; though there were some tender and appealing stories about sheltering their own kids, little practical instruction was given on how to begin "sheltering" at home, if it something that you haven't been doing all along. The Maxwells approached their method as one that you must do at the outset of parenting and if you haven't been "sheltering" all along then their is the high probability that you will fail. No remedy is offered for failure which is the book's most significant weakness. The fulcrum tilts toward law; following the rules, unquestioning obedience, absolute parental authority, yet very little grace to encourage that behavior. Vignettes of grace are sprinkled throughout the book's pages yet grace does not seem to be the motivating factor. I found the overarching tone to be that if you are not raising your children this way then you are inferior parents.

This leads me to why I would probably not recommend this book to church folks or other parents unless they have highly discerning hearts. Though the overall premise is sound, it is lost in the way it is presented. It is not the worst book I have read on parenting, but unfortunately, neither is it the best.


JoeG said...

"Balance and knowing your child is the key."

Truer words were never spoken Tony. This phrase alone should eliminate the need for any book. Our divine creator did not send us a written "user manual" with our kids, and I don't see any reason for following one written by anyone else. Medical advise and a "how to" book on dealing with typical childhood events (tantrums, bed wetting, thumb sucking, etc.) is one thing. "How to" guides on parenting your kid are something else. If most parents just simply followed their natural instincts, their "gut" so to speak, they'd realize they are better parents than they give themselves credit for. That is the only instruction manual we need - the one we ourselves were born with.

selahV said...

Tony...perhaps you should write your own book on parenting. I hope you are taking notes about those darling little cherubs you have so you can give us some "applications" to use as parents. My parenting days are over when it comes to small children, but a grandma can always use some ideas to deal with a spoiled grandchild or two. ha.
Oh my what you will have to offer us in about 10 more years after your little bunnies are up and running amongst the wolves. Thanks for the review. selahV

Tony said...


I don't know if I would go so far as to assume I have it all worked out. I do appreciate more godly parents' encouragement. I am NOT a good parent.

I think there are some innate things we are born with; the desire to nurture, protect, discipline--practical application is a lot more cumbersome, at least in my opinion and that is where I look for advice, admonishment, etc.

Mrs. V,

I don't know if I will write a "how-to" book anytime soon. The market is glutted with them as it is. I think I could write something along the lines of The Marvelous Misadventures of...

Plus, I know of only four people that would buy, me, my parents, and my wife's parents. And I might be generous there!

lina said...

my name is lina and i dont understand why steve maxwell is traveling all the country giving this conferences like if he has a special message, oh! yes he has one: the church is like the world and pastors, you dont even want to be around them. Christ is the head of the church, i dont know where is steve maxwell head? but i know that maxwell is the head of his own "church" in a nursery. he has a wrong theology! why no body talk about this?

Tony said...

Hi Lina,

Thank you for your comment. I don't quite seem to follow your line of thinking.

Mr. Maxwell does have some flawed theology, but in the end we all do. If you are just interested in dropping bombs on the Maxwells, please do it elsewhere. If you have a question or pertinent comment, and would like to engage the topic, my ears are open.