Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. By Scott Keith. Irvine: NRP Books, 2015. Order here.
Much ink has been spilled over the subject of Christian parenting, especially the vocation of “father.” The critique of modern Western society that the role of father has been degraded to the point that we no longer recognize the true purpose or value of having a father is more than accurate. Doubtless this is a contributing factor to the Western acceptance of the equivalence of mother and father or much worse the irrelevance of the father. Yet many recognize the need of some sort of father-like figure—certainly all the super-villains and heroes in the movies having “daddy issues” is no coincidence. So what is a father? Is he necessary? What does he look like? What does he do?
Scott Keith, executive director of “1517 the Legacy Project,” adjunct professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, and (more relevant) husband and father of three children, brings the light of Scripture, the Lutheran Confessions, and even some anecdotal experience to these questions with the book Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace. Rather than being a how-to manual on raising children as a man, Keith examines what the Scriptures tell us about being a father from the example given us in our heavenly Father. Keith’s stated purpose for the book: “This book . . . will draw a picture of a good father given as a gift by a good God in order to bring children, to bring little sinners, to Himself” (6). For this reason, Keith suggests, it is the father’s first God-given duty to bring the Gospel of the free forgiveness of sins to the children entrusted to his care.
The emphasis throughout the entire book is that the father should be a theologian who properly distinguishes Law and Gospel in the home. Keith never suggests that the father ignore the Law and be a passive patron of cheap grace, rather Keith constructs the book to demonstrate that a father is a God-given picture of His divine grace.
Keith’s first step is the ever-familiar parable of the prodigal son. He gives an in-depth study of the characters, motivations, and emotions involved in this parable. While Keith offers no novel ideas, he gives an absolutely necessary starting point for understanding the vocation of father: the benefactor and teacher of grace, and of children: receivers and witnesses of grace.
At this point Keith discusses the necessity of manly men, or in his words “masculine fathers.” He attempts to discern from the dim mirror what a masculine man is like. Certainly being a real man is more than drinking beer, smoking, shooting guns, and eating red meat. Keith suggests—and I believe correctly—that a truly masculine man is not only capable of performing “manly tasks” (whatever those may be according to his vocation) but he is gracious and loving. Keith defines “loving” in the sense of the Greek virtue “philia” brotherly friendship and love, or what our confessions would call “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” (SA III:IV). A masculine father demonstrates this virtue to his children and exposes them to it through his various interactions with them and others in the world. Yet here no exhaustive list of characteristics can be made for the masculine man, instead we simply accept the flesh and blood examples.
It is no coincidence that God places great importance on the estate of marriage. This clearly is for the protection and good of both husband and wife, but also for the protection and raising up of children. For this reason, Keith devotes an entire chapter to the father fulfilling his vocation as husband. He discusses that the vocations of father and mother are neither equivalent nor opposite each other; rather father and mother complement each other.
Keith devotes the rest of the book to discussing what it is to be a father, the “magic” and wonderment a father can and should bring into his children’s lives, what it means that the father is the “head of the household,” and finally what a healthy reliance of children on fathers looks like. Keith closes the book with helpful anecdotes from those in the vocation of father and/or child. He uses these to illustrate the single point successfully made throughout the entire book that the foremost duty of the father is to be a picture of our gracious, heavenly Father.
“God provides fathers so that children can know His love in this denotative way. Fathers provide the opportunity for children to point at their dads and say, ‘God’s love is like that. Like him over there. Like my dad,’” (82). Keith’s book is a welcome and necessary contribution to the ongoing discussion on the necessity and qualities of that thing we call “fatherhood.” In this book, he hits on the necessary points to show from Scripture and experience how the father is an absolutely necessary God-given vocation in this life.
Aaron M. Hambleton