My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I admit I was curious to hear what the son of one of my favorite authors would say about his upbringing… But I believe I can honestly say that my most powerful motivation in picking up this (audio) book was to gain wisdom about how to spare my own children from as many of the negative consequences of being a “PK” as possible. (I’m a P of a sort, and I have two K’s—and one on the way.) Neither motivation was quite satisfied, and I think that’s okay. It was still a worthwhile book.
Barnabas’ father gets it right in the preface: the book can be something of a downer, but all throughout you can sense that Barnabas is a true follower of Christ—and you can skip to chapter 8 if you need a grace infusion. I actually took this advice, then went back and listened to the chapters I’d skipped.
I did get many valuable tidbits from the book, and I appreciated how Barnabas did not give in to the temptation to relate juicy details from the Piper household. Not that he isn’t authentic; but he did seem to me to be pretty careful not to gossip. Unless I missed it, he never told his own story of straying and repentance in any but the barest outline. I think that was wise, a show of love for God and for readers. It seems to me to be part of the point of the book that the PK’s private details are just that.
I did feel a number of times, I admit, that Barnabas should have boiled this entire book down to an article making a few points:
- PKs are often judged more harshly than others, and they feel singled out and like they can’t be truly known.
- PKs need their dads to be dads, not pastoral counselors.
- PKs should not be asked questions about their fathers’ thoughts on any subject.
- PKs are just normal kids, not Bible scholars.
- Pastors should not use ministry to excuse workaholism but should make their families primary—without shirking their ministry duties, either.
- Churches demand too much of their pastors.
- Being a PK is, both because of and in spite of the foregoing points, a valuable training ground for future ministry.
Barnabas was strongest when speaking from personal experience. True to point 4 above, this isn’t a book full of deep exegetical or theological insight. But it definitely contains practical wisdom.
And because of point 4, I’m going to go soft on him with regard to theological stuff. I’ll only say a) that he was nothing less than dismissive of 1 Tim 3:4 and Titus 1:6; and b) that he’s vague about the non-essential theological differences he wishes pastors would let their kids have with them as they grow. I found this a little off-putting—like we should trust PKs over their pastor-fathers to determine whether a given theological difference is significant or not. But the point was well taken that PKs are expected to stay in the slice of Christianity they grew up in, and Barnabas felt (what he believed to be) undue pressure not to defect from that slice. There’s wisdom there: I need to stay aware of the pressures my kids face, including that one.
One other little point for my own slice of Christianity: it struck me that Barnabas Piper, son of the man who wrote a (not the) book on grace, still levied the charge of legalism at his upbringing. He wasn’t very specific, and he wasn’t nasty. But he sounded exactly like countless of my ex-fundamentalist Facebook friends—and like me sometimes, truth be known. He speaks with love and appreciation for the spiritual leaders God gave him as a young person, but he feels in some unspecified way that they were too strict and didn’t explain their rules. Here’s my point: moving one or two slices to the “left” may or may not rid you of the problems you thought you left behind. I just couldn’t help but think of an extremely penetrating essay I read from Timothy Larsen of Wheaton College a while back: he pointed out that one reason we remember our teachers as being simplistic is that they were trying to teach us, and that’s all we could receive. Perhaps our memories of past legalism are not truly just.
Barnabas himself read the book on the recording I received free from Christian Audio. I do tend to prefer hearing the author. You get a feel for his feelings, and that’s valuable. Barnabas did a good job. And he has performed a valuable service for Christ’s body in writing this little book.