BOOK REVIEW: Being Dad

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
Redeemer Lutheran
Lisbon, ND

How to Raise Girls

—by Gifford Grobien

Feminism has pushed the idea that women are equal to men. According to this logic, the education of girls should be the same as for boys. In contemporary America, this means education for both boys and girls is pragmatic and instrumental: considering my skill set, what will get me the most prestigious and highest-paying job? Young women and men go to college seeking a degree that will serve this goal, while offering the best college experience of peer interaction and social indulgence.

There are problems with this perspective for both young men and young women, primarily in that they view a university degree and college experience as determinative for their lives. They miss a more fundamental appreciation of vocation.

In the Lutheran understanding, vocation manifests in three areas of life: the church, the family, and the political realm. Significant in this division is that an occupation falls under family responsibilities. What one does from nine to five is in support of his or her family relations and responsibilities, whether as a man or a woman. The vocation as a husband or wife, and as father or mother—should they be blessed with children—takes precedence over how prestigious or high-paying any job might be.

This is the case both for men and for women. It is important to oppose the feminist masculinization of the modern woman, yet it is also important to remind men that they have responsibilities to their wives and children that go beyond bringing home the bacon. A family man cannot resolve everything with his wallet, no matter how thick. Buying his children an education and sending them to the best summer camps and vacation spots is a weak—if not destructive—substitute for personally catechizing them and being involved in their maturation and development. A husband has a wife to die for, meaning his time with the boys, in the man-cave, or with his favorite pastime, takes a backseat to serving his wife and developing his love for her.

With regard to young women and girls, one could argue— in reaction to feminism—that they should be educated as homemakers and prepared to raise many children. Formal higher education, in this instance, could be viewed not only as superfluous, but as corrupting. When we ask our daughters what they want to be when they grow up or funnel them into the pragmatic occupational factory of the modern university, we are implicitly training them to seek fulfillment in the workplace and to despise motherhood and family.

I take a slightly different view in opposing feminism. Feminism is inspired at its root by the perceived inferior treatment of women. What better way to undermine this than to explicitly teach a kind of superiority of women? What I am thinking of is a juxtaposition of two biblical texts. The first is the exhortation to husbands in Ephesians 5:25–29:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church… .

The second text is from the Lukan account of the Last Supper, 22:24–27:

A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

In considering these together, the husband serves his wife in order to present her without blemish. Like Christ serves the church, the husband serves his wife. The wife is set in the place of the greater one by being served by the husband, who is willing even to give his life for her. I recognize that in the Lukan passage Jesus is overturning notions of greatness by demonstrating that true greatness is in service. My point is that feminism, at least within the church, may be addressed by following Jesus’ lead and overturning the language of greatness in favor of acts of love and service.

The wife, then, is set in the place of greatness by her husband’s service. She is superior as the one who is served. Her fundamental vocational role is to receive this service: to submit to her husband who is active and giving to her in all things. In other words, within marriage, the wife receives all things for her benefit. She needs not clamber for status or recognition; she need not be enslaved by servitude for a paycheck. She is not bound by an occupation or limited by occupational identity. Instead, her life overflows in vocational receiving and giving. She is free to rule her household and pursue her interests in loving service to others. Because she is made free by the service of the husband, she also loves others using her many talents and gifts.

Normally, central to this freedom and love of others is motherhood, yet not in every case. God may not bless every wife with children. Thus, while it is important to prepare women for motherhood, their vocation should not be presented to them as finding its fulfillment in motherhood. Women and wives who are not mothers also fulfill their vocations.

Young women should be taught to love motherhood and to see this as typical to their vocations. Yet motherhood is not the only aspect of a woman’s vocation. St. Paul notes to Titus, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:3–5). Motherhood is central to the typical woman’s vocation, but there are manifold qualities of virtue and industry also to be exercised.

Let us tear down the university as an idol, while acknowledging that it need not be utterly discarded. Let us restore the central place of vocation to the family so that men and women see their focus and dedication is to love and serve their families, and employment is only one way of doing this. For women, especially, let us free them from their slavery to the masculinity of feminism. Free them from the assumption that they are bound to a paycheck, that they are bound to an occupation from which they must make their living. Instead, let men be men. Let the men of their lives provide for their bodily needs, so that they may be free to rule their households and to love others.

What do I teach my daughters? To cherish and give thanks for this freedom they have as women. That they do not need to worry about where their food or clothing or shelter will come from. As their man, I will always provide for them, as God gives me strength, until they are married. Then their new men, their husbands, will provide for them. Does this mean they will never work outside the home? Probably not, although they could choose to remain in the home as they desire. Yet it means, as God provides daily bread, they will never HAVE to work outside the home. Such work would be a free choice, a way a woman chooses to love and serve others.

I teach them to hope for and look forward to motherhood, for there is no greater earthly blessing than children. I teach them that they have great responsibility in nurturing and raising these children, and that the Lord gives his word and strength that all children would be cared for and saved. I also teach them that, whether they marry or not, it is possible that God will not grant them children. And even in such a case, they still have the vocation to love. I teach them that there are many whom they may love and serve with their gifts, whether the church as a congregation, individuals in the church with various needs, their neighbors in the political realm, or their extended family. There will always be others to love.

So I encourage them to pursue the education that they desire. They all have various interests, whether music, computer programming, art, cooking, or sports. My wife and I teach them these things, and we help them to learn these things. The university is not an idol; they will not attend the university because it will give them a diploma or a higher paying job or a social experience. It is unlikely that they would attend a university away from home, and they will not attend a university away from home without a man whom I trust to serve them in my stead. They will not live in a dorm.

But they are free to study what they want. They are free not to go to college, and they are free to go to college. They are free to pursue whatever education will help them to love others better. And that is the way we talk about education.

Feminism teaches girls to overcome misogyny with masculinity. Feminism actually succumbs to misogyny because it sets forth masculinity as the only way to live a fulfilled life. Restore femininity by raising girls to be feminine. Raise girls to be free.

The Rev. Dr. Gifford Grobien is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana.