|A Review of
By Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Here at Englewood Christian Church, we believe that in a very real sense our church community is a family that God has brought together. My wife and I have experienced this sense of family perhaps more intensely than some others here, as both of our extended families live hours away. Thus, you can easily imagine that I was intrigued when I heard of the new book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity: Connect Your Family to a Wider Community by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof. And indeed, the book did not disappoint, pointing us very clearly in the direction of the church community as a caring family, or to state the book’s main idea in the authors’ own words: “A parent’s influence is best realized in partnership with the church.” After framing the shape of their argument in the book’s first chapter, the authors begin with a critique of the “Stock Family Syndrome,” the notion from which so many Christians work (and that is propagated throughout the evangelical sub-culture by certain family-oriented organizations) that there exists a sort of platonic ideal of a family. No, the authors argue, no such ideal exists, and although we’ve all too often excelled at putting on a façade of success, all families are broken. Furthermore, they make the keen observation that seemingly “God is more interested in using broken people than … in creating a better picture.” This observation is refreshingly indicative of the narrative approach to theology from which the authors are working throughout the book: viz., God is at work redeeming creation and has called a people to join in that work.
Overall, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity offers simple, straightforward and practical advice on how we can begin to bear witness in our relationships with those in our local church community to the Kingdom reality of the family of God, which God is at work bringing to fruition. Chapters focus on such topics as “widening the circle (of family relationships,” “imaging the end / [focusing on what matters most],” communicating in caring and edifying ways, “creating a rhythm [for family life that reflects] these new values,” and learning to embody genuinely the values that we wish to pass on to our children. However, although the simplicity of this book is one of its greatest assets, it is also one of its primary shortcomings. The authors never seem to develop a full and compelling theological account of how family and church community fit into the “big story” of God’s work of reconciling creation (In this regard, I highly recommend Rodney Clapp’s excellent book Families at the Crossroads). Thus, at times they seemingly fall back into “old patterns” of arguing from what is best for an individual or a family (versus what is best for the common good of creation).
However, for its intended, evangelical audience, this book provides much fuel for the mind and the imagination, calling us to rethink the nature of the relationships that we have in the home and in the church, in light of the story of God’s reconciling work in the world. This call to go beyond ourselves, and the authors’ insistence that this call should be explored primarily within the local church community, is one of which we all need to be reminded. One can hope that this message begins to be heard in churches all over North America and that in being heard, it begins to bear fruit in transforming us more fully into the Body of Christ, that is the family of God.