Every once in a while, a book comes along that draws you in, keeps you turning its pages, hits you in the heart and kicks you in the butt with so many good points that deeply convict you that you want to put it down because you can't take it anymore. But because its message is so compelling you keep reading, realizing it is virtually impossible to absorb it all. Which means that once you turn the last page, you're forced to start reading it again. Immediately.
Dr. Tim Kimmel's latest work, WHY CHRISTIAN KIDS REBEL: Trading Heartache for Hope, is such a book. Its title is a bit misleading. A better title, I think, would have been REBELLION PREVENTION 101. Quite simply, Kimmel's book is not about kids' rebellion --- though he addresses it --- but rather about the condition of a parent's heart. And if you're a parent --- a Christian parent --- I have to warn you, his words make for some very uncomfortable reading at times. Very uncomfortable.
Before you stop reading the rest of this review, give me one more moment of your time. It's important. If you're a parent trying to raise a child in a Christian home and you would like to see them carry on in the faith as they grow and start their own families, then YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.
Statistics bear out that nearly 90 percent of evangelical children leave the church after high school --- and many never return. Why is that? What happens? Where do we go wrong?
Kimmel holds the church and the adults sitting in its pews accountable for not meeting the needs of the children God has entrusted to their care. But what makes his style so remarkable is that he is not harsh or accusatory. I read this book with several "filters" working at once. As a journalist, I read it critically to make sure it flowed and was logically sound. It did. I also read it as a Christian, making sure it was theologically sound. It was. And I also read it as a Christian mother of four boys, trying to raise them not to rebel against me, my husband, or God, the way that I rebelled against my parents and God.
I was brought up in a fundamentalist home and was made to attend a fundamentalist college. Being "Christian" was who we were and what we did. I walked away from both as soon as I could and didn't look back until my first son was born. His sweet face and my newly repentant heart required me to start looking critically at my upbringing --- taking the good, and leaving the arbitrary legalism behind, making many mistakes in the process.
Kimmel lays out the mistakes that we Christian parents make, such as treating our faith as a hobby. And, like other hobbies of ours that do not interest our children, they choose not to pursue it. Kimmel writes: "That's how kids in Christian homes sometimes respond to their parents' faith. Since to them it's like a spiritual hobby for their parents, their interest in it might be more temporary than permanent. The good news is that although Christianity can be treated like a hobby, an authentic relationship with Christ can't."
And just when you think you can't be anymore convicted, he turns it up a notch. In chapter eight, Kimmel addresses "Cocoon Christianity" as follows: "They construct a handy and holy haven designed to accommodate their children's vulnerabilities indefinitely. It's a strategy that formats their childhood so deeply that it often becomes the defining attitude of their adulthood... (Parents) are convinced that if the world system can get to their children, it would certainly get a hold of their hearts. It would either conscript them into its army of sin, force them to work in its factories of shame, or simply destroy them. So parents hide their children in safe evangelical enclaves."
Only thing is, Kimmel says, is that when our children come out of our cocoon, they are "not prepared to handle what's waiting for them."
Kimmel also describes the four styles of parenting: "Clueless," "EMT," "Special Forces" and "Grace-Based," as well as the various forms of "Christianity," taking time to describe the effects each has on the family unit in general and the child in particular. I guarantee that you will recognize yourself in one of them. Kimmel also makes it clear that even though there are things parents can do to minimize the possibility that their children will be inclined toward rebellion, it is still likely that there will be kids who are raised "well" who will choose to go their own way, no matter what.
Reading his words will break your heart and humble you because Kimmel refuses to call sin by any other name. This is how he concludes: "If you are not interested in utilizing God's grace when it comes to dealing with your errant child, not to mention dealing with yourself, there is little help I (or anybody else) can offer you."
Yet throughout this book, Kimmel's writing is filled with hope and flawless logic; you can't help but be inspired to change course and readjust. If you're a Christian parent, then YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. The future of your child's faith depends on it.
Reviewed by Diana Keough on November 13, 2011