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Father Hunger

Douglas Wilson, pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho has written a very timely and unique book on the role of fathers. Never one to mince words, Wilson comments on everything from feminism to education, sex to fatherlessness in our culture. There are so many things here in the book that deserve mention but I will key in on what I thought Wilson did well, what was troubling to me and finally, why does it matters that he tackles the big issue of fathers.

In the beginning of the book, Wilson lays the groundwork for understanding the responsibilities of men by saying, "When men take up their responsibilities to nurture and cultivate, and to protect and guard the fruit of that nurture..they are doing something that resonates with their foundational, creational nature. When they walk away from these responsibilities..they are-dont' miss this-walking away fro their assigned masculine identity" (8-9). This idea of fathers as provider and protector is written into the design of each father by God, showing forth his precise creative handiwork. This kind of providing entails work, work that is originally given as good. Wilson goes to great lengths to bring out the purposiveness of the father's role and that God had a specific role in mind for man when he created him.

In the chapter on A Culture of Absenteeism Wilson addresses the issue of father hunger head on. We live in a culture that is full of children hungering after a father, needing someone to care for them. Yet, Wilson is quick to point out that at the heart of this father hunger issue is the person of Jesus Christ. "Another way of saying this is that men must seek to be Christians first...A man's wife receives far more love when she is number two after God than she would if she were number one..A man's children will be fathered diligently when they are loved in the context of a much greater love" (23-24). Although this sounds a little like a gut-check, that is exactly what it is. The blessings that flow from a person devoted to Christ come because that which he seeks and loves flows out of the primary love of the Savior. It is amazing how easily our priorities fall out of line, even in the midst of having the right intentions we often put something else in the place of Christ (idolatry). Wilson goes onto outline what this kind of faith means? First it means recovering a right sense of understanding God as Father in worship. Worship permeates life and is reflected in our culture as well. Secondly, fathers whether they like it or not are handing down ways of being a father to their children, especially to their sons. At the end of this chapter, Wilson makes a wise encouragement for men to read biographies of fathers to get a good practical example of good fathers (31).

Masculinity for Doug Wilson is 'the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility' (41). This seems very concrete and clear but it takes a little bit for Wilson to draw out what this means. He sees Christ's death for sinners, his sacrifice as a pattern for the way in which fathers should sacrifice for their families, not giving into complete selfishness. "Biblical authority knows how to bleed for others," Wilson states (43). The problem for Wilson is that we have softenend the blow by either rearranging the order or by redefining the roles. Consequently, we have not set up our sons for their proper roles as fathers, instead we have left them undisciplined and undirected (45). I do admit that these teachings were a bit eye-opening to me.

Wilson's chapter on education is chalk full of problematic assertions. To begin with, Wilson states at the beginning of the chapter says, "Education, when it succeds, is the result of a child wanting to be like someone else" (65). Frankly I wonder why he made this statement? If success in education is about a child wanting to be like someone else, then what is gained? Wilson goes on to clearly state that by looking at Ephesians 6:4, Christian children must be given a Christian education. I agree that is it he father's role to teach and foster a joy for loving God through the study of Scripture and the development of a Christian worldview. However, if I am to follow Wilso rightly in his argument, there is no place for public education. What is more alarming is that I find this assertion by Wilson as a betrayal of his Reformed heritage. If education is a spiritual activity and God is over sphere of life, then why is public education excluded from the realm of learning? Is God not working in the lives of Christian students in the public school system and Christian teachers who love those kids who come to see them every day? This, I believe, is not only a philosophical mistake but a theological error in Doug Wilson's thinking.

The takeaways from the book are the many, let me name a few. First, the role of fathers is a sacrificial responsibility that involves work, protection and provision. We can't get around this basic understanding for fathers. The best picture of sacrifice comes from Jesus, his death on the cross for us. Secondly, fathers who seek to love Christ first not only allow their families to flourish, but provide a role for flourishing in the larger culture. Lastly, there is a war of definitions and understandings about fathers in our culture. It is not enough to just reject cultural assumptions about fathers, we must teach and provide examples of godly living for our sons.

Much thanks to Thomas Nelson and the BookSneeze program for providing a complimentary copy of this book for review.


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