Mystie Winckler of WA, 3/4/2011
Mrs. Elliot makes it clear in the beginning, at the end, and throughout that she is not so much writing a parenting manual, as telling the story of one set of faithful parents — her own: "This story is of one man’s family, meant to be a description, not a prescription. The principles are sound and biblical, I believe. Their application will differ in different times and in different homes."
Most of the book is narrative, telling her family history with discussions on what guided and motivated her parents along the way. The organization is more topical than strictly chronological, however. She examines her parents’ beliefs and actions in the areas of trust, discipline, courtesy, order, teaching by example, rules, work, play, and sacrifice (among many others — the chapters are numerous but short). Because she depends more upon telling one particular story than defending or explaining principles or methods, you get a genuine feel of and sympathy for her home. She also shows briefly how their upbringing affected and guided her and her 5 siblings’ homes.
The Howards were missionaries, with 6 children (quite spread in ages), 5 of whom became involved in missions to remote places when adults. From the book, it is clear that her parents simply lived and breathed a genuine, heart-felt life, enforced sound discipline, and their children caught their parents’ passions and tastes. As is consistent with Mrs. Elliot’s other writings, truth, duty, and a concern for what is right prevails. And, as she tells the story, it becomes evident that these emphases are her heritage, consciously and conscientiously passed on to her from her parents.
She closes with this excellent reminder:
"Be not dismayed! If you are convinced of the value of standards here set forth, never think of the impossible. It is always possible to do the will of God. Begin to be ready to do. What do you want your home to be? What does God want it to be? Waste no time wondering if you can do it. The question is simply Will you? Your weakness is itself a potent claim on the divine mercy (see 2 Cor. 12:10)."
The Story of One Man's Family
Amanda Evans of Oregon City, 10/17/2008
"I offer this story of one man's family. Some may want to take it as a prescription for their family, but I do not offer it as such. It is meant primarily to be a description of how one Christian couple went about ordering their own home."—Elisabeth Elliot in the Preface
Simple yet profound, Shaping of a Christian Family is full of Elisabeth Elliot's characteristic wisdom. In this book she gives a brief history of her family and tells stories from her growing up years. Though it is mainly biographical, interspersed throughout are jewels of advice and good examples of how to shape a Christian family.
Never preachy or pretentious, Elisabeth Elliot discusses many principles simply by relating amusing family stories. Though she is talking about the value of a proper balance between work and play, we are reading about the Howard family's summer vacations at a New England cottage in the country. When she writes about courtesy, she tells of the rules her family set up. A couple chapters I particularly liked were the ones about her parents modeling prayer and Bible reading and teaching faith—not by profound teaching but rather through a consistently lived out example. Elisabeth Elliot addresses frugality, hospitality, the Lord's Day, orderliness, trust, rules and enforcement, letting children grow and finally letting children go, but each of these topics are interwoven into the stories about her family, just as they were interwoven into her family's daily life.
While every Christian family will be different, Elisabeth Elliot's parents sought with all their hearts to follow God's will and do as He commands in His word. The story of their attempts to learn and apply godly principles is recorded here and many Christian couples will be able to learn from their example. The methods used to apply these principles will vary widely, but parents will find encouragement in reading this story of how "one Christian couple went about ordering their home."