Fill the Water-Pots with Water

All this is one of God’s merciful arrangements. He gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting-point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. See that the opportunity be not neglected, and thrown away. Once let slip, it is gone forever.

Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen, that parents can do nothing for their children, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still. These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam’s fashion; they would like them to die the death of the righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life. They desire much, and have nothing. And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.

I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they know who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I also know that God says expressly, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go,’ and that he never laid a command on a man which He would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We have only to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, and we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.

-J.C. Ryle in The Duties of Parents (1888)

Open Fifths and Glory

“The fact that the church has largely abandoned the singing of psalms means that the church has abandoned a songbook that is thoroughly masculine in its lyrics. The writer of most of the psalms was a warrior, and he knew how to fight the Lord’s enemies in song. With regard to the music of our psalms and hymns, we must return to a world of vigorous singing, vibrant anthems, more songs where the tenor carries the melody, open fifths, and glory. Our problem is not that such songs do not exist; our problem is that we have forgotten them. And in forgetting them, we are forgetting our boys. Men need to model such singing for their sons.”

-Doug Wilson in Future Men (Canon Press, 2001), p.100

No Exemptions for Teenage Boys

“As they grow up, young men are to be prepared for the spiritual warfare that awaits them. They have to learn their responsibilities as part of the kingdom. ‘Both young men and maidens; old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above the earth and heaven’ (Ps. 148:12-13). 

“The first thing to note is that the kingdom of God is not divided. The members of various subgroups are certainly distinguished from each other, and they are treated differently with regard to their social relations. But the basic responsibility of all – men and women, young men and young women, boys and girls, remains the same – to worship the Lord. Our tendency is to say things like, ‘Oh, well at his age you can’t really expect this.’ But this is radically unbiblical. Everything that breathes has an obligation to praise the Lord; no exemptions have been granted for teenage boys. The Bible knows nothing of a normal alienation between generations. 

“The blessings which flow from such faithful worship are not limited to those who are older. ‘The Lord their God will save them in that day, as the flock of his people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, lifted like a banner over his land – for how great is its goodness and how great its beauty! Grain shall make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women’ (Zech. 9:16-17). When God is blessing a people, all are included in his bounty.”

-Doug Wilson in Future Men (Canon Press, 2001), p. 43

Book Review: Father Hunger

A lack of good fathers is an evident problem in America, even among Christians. Doug Wilson aims to help rectify that in his latest book, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson, 2012). It is a comprehensive and challenging book written mainly for future and current fathers. It is mostly helpful, though difficult for several reasons.

There are some excellent chapters in this book, and Wilson can turn a phrase like few of his contemporaries. He frequently challenges readers in his characteristic forthright style. If one is familiar with Wilson’s previous arguments and writing style, this book should be helpful. He has built up a capital, so to speak, that allows a reader familiar with his works to give him the benefit of the doubt. These readers can connect the dots from some under-developed arguments in this book to more fleshed-out arguments elsewhere. I have but one degree of separation with Wilson through several people, so I am trying to keep this review balanced on the off chance he comes across it (Hi Pastor Wilson!). He can also run circles around me intellectually, so I’m not about to go into a full-fledged, point-by-point criticism.

Readers new to Wilson might have some trouble with Father Hunger, as the chapters seemed disparate and thrown together. That is, Wilson tackles seemingly everytopic that contributes to the father hunger in America, giving a wide but not necessarily deep treatment to these topics. These chapters mostly stand alone, with no strong thesis interweaving them. “Father hunger” is mentioned in passing in several places, and there is some sociological evidence given in the first couple chapters, but the book is more a collection of essays on different aspects of fatherhood and the undermining of it by society. Chapter topics include education, politics, work, discipline, church leadership, economics, gender roles, and more.

His argument is difficult to follow at times thanks to rabbit trails, some obscure illustrations, and generalized  conclusions. For example, the chapters on economic and political liberty as they relate to fatherhood were generally overgeneralized and under-developed, lacking sufficient details to back up the arguments contained therein.

All that said, there are many nuggets of wisdom throughout the book to reward the diligent reader. Some of the chapters are profound and very helpful. Even within the more difficult chapters there are excellent paragraphs. I linked to some of my favorite quotations here, here, and here. By far the most helpful chapters and themes were those on gratitude, grace, and responsibility. These are probably the most prominent themes of the book. Wilson stresses that the father’s role is not just behavior modification or providing in absentia, but it is an integrated, overarching, gratitude-saturated, sacrificial love for one’s family in faith and life. No one can charge Wilson with being legalistic or heavy handed if the frequent passages on grace and gratitude are read seriously. These excellent points help to balance out the drawbacks of the book.

Predictably, Wilson leans heavily on Chesterton, but – surprisingly – he more frequently quotes Richard Phillips’ The Masculine Mandate (an excellent read and highly recommended). He echoes Phillips’ thesis that being a real father follows the creation mandate to provide and protect. I also found that Wilson quotes more from outside sources than usual, which helped break the book up a little more.

Father Hunger is fairly light on practical, concrete examples and heavier on abstract principles in many areas of life. It does spur deeper thinking and provoke further personal application. The front cover boasts “exclusive new research,” which is misleading, as this research is largely relegated to the appendices and referenced only in passing. Father Hungeris not as strong as Wilson’s other (excellent) family books or Phillips’ Masculine Mandate but is helpful for readers familiar with Wilson’s style.

Note: I received a gratis copy of this book from Thomas Nelson for review purposes.

Fighting with Gratitude

“The days are evil, so what must we do? We must be filled with the Spirit, and we must sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs because our hearts are full of music. We must render thanks to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. Further, we must give thanks for all things in the evil day. All things. For Obama, for Nancy Pelosi, for the lunatics in the Department of Education. All things. But is this the Pauline form of Winston coming to love Big Brother? As he would put it, me genoito, no way, God forbid. No, let’s jump ahead. What else do we do in the evil day? We take on the entire armor of God so that we can stand (as we fight) in the evil day. We fight in the evil day, and we fight against the evil. And we fight with a weapon that not one of the evildoers has, and it is secure in our hand. For them to come into possession of that weapon – which is gratitude to God – is tantamount to their surrender. It is a request to be baptized. It is a confession that God is good, Jesus is Lord, the company is kindhearted, and the potatoes are hot. 

“In order to guard our children against the unbelief of atheism, we need to be fathers who overflow with gratitude. We need to exhibit this kind of gratitude even when dealing with the realities of pain. Darwin did not fall away because of natural selection; he fell away because his daughter died. If God existed, He ‘wouldn’t let me get hurt this way.’ The reality of pain does not make the argument stronger; it only feels strong. In order to protect the family, the father must lead the way in modeling gratitude. 

“One of the central ways we fight with this weapon is by offering to share it with the enemy. One of the central things we do with this weapon is protect our children with it. Come, we say, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.”

-Doug Wilson in Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson, 2012), p. 62

Protection from a Delinquent Protector

I’m very grateful for my godly father and his example.

“Many years ago I was teaching a class of high school kids at a Christian school, during the time when awesome was the descriptor of pretty much everything. For some reason, I was at war with that general usage. I would tell the class that ‘the Grand Canyon is awesome, crab nebulae are awesome, and God is awesome. Your quiz scores are not awesome.’ I recall telling one bright young student there that I knew I could not make them stop saying that word. but I went on to say that I could behave in such a way that, throughout the rest of their lives, whenever they said it, they would cringe and think of me.

“It is the same kind of thing with fathers. Fathers (whether they recognize it or not) are behaving in a way that will shape their children’s understanding of what it means to be a father, and that understanding will occupy a central place in their lives. Are you their protector, or the principal thing they need protecting from? Are you the provider, or the main impediment to provision? Are you the driving engine of joy in your household? Or the central reason for depression and sorrow? ‘But the main threat against which a man must protect his wife is his own sin.’ The same thing goes for everyone else living in that home. He must protect them all, not only from outside threats, but also from a delinquent protector – himself.”

-Doug Wilson in Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families (Thomas Nelson, 2012), p. 30 [quoting also from Richard Phillips]

Mangoes and stones

I bought Mikayla a mango the other day. They were on sale at the grocery store, and I thought to myself, “Self, that would be a fun, delicious treat for Mikayla to try.” A good gift for her, so to speak.

In line with how my mind jumps from random topic to random topic, I started thinking of Matthew 7:11:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

This passage is perhaps the most precious and profound passage of Scripture that I have appreciated most since becoming a father. In this passage, Christ isn’t speaking to the wicked Pharisees, who are easy to criticize and who are easy self esteem boosters. No, Christ is speaking to His disciples, the apostles, those paragons of truth and boldness later in the New Testament.

Two thousand years later, this passage is also spoken to us as Jesus’ disciples, and we are grouped with the disciples as “evil.” We sing with David, “I am evil, born in sin.” Though we are evil and born in sin, we still don’t give our children a stone instead of bread or a snake instead of fish. “How much more, then, will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Remember that we’re not happy-go-lucky, health-and-wealth Christians. Thus, the “good things” here are not only the bountiful, easy-to-spot, good gifts God lavishes on His own. It’s not just the mangoes. Everything that comes from His hand is ultimately good: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

The Lord knows what we need even more than a loving father knows what his children need. I know (imperfectly) when to give my kids good gifts and when they need loving discipline. If that’s the case for lowly, evil me, how much more can I trust God when He gives me what I need, and more perfectly than I know what I need? Good and bad, easy and difficult, plenty and want, edifying and sanctifying. What does this truth say about me when I question His purposes?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)