Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men To Love and Lead Their Families. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, May, 2012. 272 pp. Paperback, $15.99.
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Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!
Douglas Wilson is senior pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. He’s a fairly prolific author, and Father Hunger builds on many of his earlier works. Most recently, his book Evanjellyfish was named Christianity Today’s book of the year in the fiction category. You can visit his blog here.
As a term “father hunger” was coined by Paul Vitz in his book Faith of The Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism. Wilson has appropriated it as the title of his book, which generally speaking, is unpacking both the nature and effects of this father hunger and providing a biblical response.
Wilson starts with a short chapter focused on the foundational Father-Son relationship. As the ultimate expression of fatherhood, we see in the Gospels a Father well pleased in his Son. Wilson then says:
In our generation, we are confronted with many social dislocations that all go back to a foundational father hunger. All men are the sons of some man, and all women are the daughters of some man, but far too many of them have never heard their father say anything like what the Father said to His Son. (2)
Taking this as a starting point, Wilson goes on in chapter 2 to explain what fathers are for. Then in chapter 3 we begin a journey into a culture that has lost its understanding of true fatherhood and many true fathers as well. In this particular chapter, the focus is on the fatherly absenteeism so rampant in our culture. Chapter 4 unpacks masculinity, both the true and false varieties. Wilson defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility” (41). He then goes on to say:
A man who assumes responsibility is learning masculinity, and a culture that encourages men to take responsibility is a culture that is a friend to masculinity.
It is perhaps no stretch to say that by and large, we are not that culture. And the results are proving disastrous.
In chapter 5, Wilson provides particularly incisive analysis on the relationship between fatherlessness and atheism (or more aptly, anti-theism). There is a strong connection between a culture full of absentee fathers and a culture full of people who start to think God is absent as well.
Chapter 6 continues this thread, but looks at education. “Education, when it succeeds,” says Wilson, “is the result of a child wanting to be like someone else.” (65) It is a particularly fatherly activity, but when fathers fall down on the job, it doesn’t remain undone, it just gets done by someone else.
In chapter 7 we dig into family culture and how the fathers separated from their family both damage the family and the surrounding culture. Chapter 8 focuses on work and economics and how the former is the calling for fathers in a free society. Chapter 9 then details what happens (and has happened) when this ideal is not actualized. Men avoiding responsibility and work leads to “poverty and crime at the head of the table” as Wilson has titled the chapter.
Chapter 10 turn to the church, and Wilson explains the importance of fathers in the church and what happens when the church gets “feminized.” He says this not meaning that the church should be a boys club, but that the church should be led by men and not women. Wilson is not shy about his complementarian views in the home and church, and this chapter is Exhibit A. Exhibit B is chapter 11, where Wilson aptly deconstructs feminism. He is not so much taking on egalitarianism as undermining feminism (though he undermines egalitarianism throughout the book).
In chapter 12 Wilson discusses fatherhood in connection with fruitfulness. Wilson contends that “sexual relations need to be tied in a general way to the possibilities of fatherhood in order to maintain the glory that God designed.” He goes on to say, “This excludes calculated fruitlessness, as we have been discussing, but it also excludes planting crops in soon-to-be abandoned fields.” (163) In short, men who can should be fathers, and men who father should take responsibility.
Chapter 13 is the primarily practical chapter of the book. It fits within the framework of the discussion that precedes it, so Wilson warns against abstracting it from the whole. He presents several aims for fathers to shoot for, most notably that they raise children who “love the standard” and don’t just follow it religiously. That is, you want kids who love Jesus and so are obedient, not just kids who are good little rule keepers with hearts far from God.
Chapter 14 is an intense meditation on God the Father. Wilson draws primarily from John’s Gospel to present to us what the “forgotten member of the Trinity” (189) is really like. The result is a “mine full of diamonds” (196) and a chapter that is worth the price of the book.
Chapter 15 is basically the conclusion, and if you’re a guy reading the book, it is a reminder that it starts with you. The chapter is followed by an appendix that presents the economic effects of delinquent fathers on our society.
On the plus side, Wilson is a superb writer and entertaining to read. He is provactive in both his thinking and his rhetorical flourishes. He is writing about an important problem in our culture and he not only outlines the problem in multiple arenas, he provides a biblically grounded solution.
On the negative side, the chapters do not flow into each other as a very cohesive whole. I noticed this more in trying to review it than while I was reading. Part of this I think is the nature of Wilson’s writing. Since I listen to his podcast, I’ve heard some of the material in this book in sermons, and I’ve seen some of it blog posts. I can’t speak with certainty, but I’d imagine that this book is a carefully edited together collection of thoughts along the same lines, rather than a book constructed from scratch (if there is such a thing). Some of the chapters could very well be stand alone essays, while others aren’t quite as strong, but nonetheless contribute to the whole. The book is more sociological than the subtitle suggests (Why God Calls Men To Love and Lead Their Families) and while I enjoyed that about it, others might wish that Wilson spent more time expositing Scripture. He does that a fair amount regardless, but he also spends a good amount of space expositing culture.
All in all, this is a great book. It is an enjoyable and more importantly, challenging read for men. Women may profit as well from reading it, but Wilson is writing to men and hoping to motivate them to love and lead their families better. Though I do not have kids yet, I can say I am more excited at the prospect after reading Wilson’s book and am challenged and motivated to begin leading and loving my wife better in the meantime.