The Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot

(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992, 215pp, paperback)

reviewed by Annabel Haylett

"If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back -
'twill cheer my heart and help my feet along the stoney track"

Above are two lines quoted from a poem at the end of the book which sum up the purpose for writing - to be a "call back" to cheer and encourage others following along the same path. And indeed it is that.

In her book, Elisabeth Elliot portrays the home in which she grew up, using her own memories, comments and teaching, and extracts from her mother's autobiography and her father's writings. The first fifty pages are predominantly extracts taken from her mother's autobiography, in which she describes her childhood, married life, mother's death, conversion, courtship, marriage, call to the mission field, and the raising of her family. Elisabeth Elliot also writes about her father's childhood, interests, character, work as a missionary and editor, his courtship and marriage.

As Elisabeth Elliot portrays the life of her family, she draws out many principles important in the shaping of a Godly Christian home. The way in which her parents raised their family was biblical and successful. The principles they implemented are now bearing fruit in the lives of their children today and her parents can serve as helpful role models for young parents today.

Some of the topics addressed are as follows:

Ch 12: On the subject of hospitality she writes: "There was always enough money for unpretentious hospitality...My parents saw the entertaining of God's people as a great privilege and blessing to the matter what our economic condition..." (Rom. 12:13)

Ch 13: The Lord's Day. She explains why their family believed it important to sit together for worship in church, (Ex. 10:9) and that the children should be trained to sit still in church. She writes, "My father understood that he was...head of the house, priest under God, charged with the solemn responsibility of his children's spiritual health for which he would one day have to answer. He could not force us to absorb the message, but he could put us in a position to hear it."

Ch 14: A Habit of Order. "In our home there was a place for everything, and we understood that everything had to be put in its place." They followed the hierarchical order of the Christian home as spelled out in scripture. Her father was "the one finally responsible...He was the provider and protector, making it possible for our mother to do her job full-time.". Her father had a concern for strict punctuality. "`Lateness is stealing', he said. `You are robbing others of their most irreplaceable commodity, time.'"

Ch 18: Sacrificial Authority. She writes, "My father, often wrapped in a steamer rug...against the predawn cold, fell on his knees pray for his children. This was his primary duty, his priestly duty and he gave it first place in his day."

Ch 22: Enforcement. Elisabeth Elliot says that her parents followed the biblical injunctions to use the rod in correcting their children. Her father writes, "How foolish and dangerous it is to discard the wisdom of the ages that is given us in the Bible!" He then quotes Proverbs 29:15,17; 19:18; 23;13,14.

Elisabeth Elliot explains how her parents issued and enforced instructions to their children. They were "careful to see that they had our attention...called us by name... looked us straight in the eye...commands were given in a normal speaking voice...If we...did not budge, Mother resorted to what she called "the speedy application of a switch to little legs"." Elisabeth Elliot also writes, "A spanking is not child abuse. It is a deliberate measure of pain, delivered calmly, lovingly, and with self-control, on a loved child in order to deliver him from self-will and ultimate self-destruction."

Ch 23: Encouragement. Having written of the importance of biblical chastisement in the previous chapter, she then balances this by pointing out the need for parents to love and encourage their children. She also seeks to encourage parents in their task. She writes, "God knows the feelings of discouragement, inadequacy, and failure which conscientious parents feel. But it was His idea to make them parents and to give them this particular set of children. He knew they would not do a perfect job. He is Father to the parents, and promises every kind of help they need. He stands beside them in every situation, ready to give wisdom as needed and grace to help in time of need if only they will turn to Him and ask for it. He teaches them (see I Cor. 13) how to love these children."

Some readers may find the pace of the family history too leisurely, with too many details and anecdotes in places. While there is no attempt to make spiritual application of all the anecdotes, some of the detail provides interest as social history or humour and also helps the reader to become better acquainted with the life and character of Elisabeth Elliot's parents.

With her lucid style, peppered with interesting and often amusing anecdotes, this book is easy and enjoyable to read. It incorporates much wisdom for "The Shaping of a Christian Family" and would be of benefit to anyone seeking a biblical role model for parenting.

Copyright © Family Matters 1998