Answering the Call of Fatherhood
About the Guest
It’s been said, “A boy without a father is like an explorer without a map.” Author and pastor Doug Wilson reflects on his decision as a young father to start a Christian school when his children were small, and encourages other men to say, “Geronimo!” and jump to action when the circumstances call for it. Doug defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility,” and tells how the family is blessed when a man gives himself away in loving sacrifice to his wife and children.
Doug WilsonDouglas Wilson is the Senior Pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. He is happily married to his wife Nancy for 35 years and counting, has three kids and kids-in-law who all make him the right kind of proud, and he has teeming hordes of grandchildren. By "teeming hordes" he means fifteen. He's a prolific author and speaker and blogs over at Blog & Mablog.
Author and pastor Doug Wilson defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility,” and tells how the family is blessed when a man gives himself in loving sacrifice.
Answering the Call of Fatherhood
Bob: If your wife does not submit to your leadership, as a husband, Doug Wilson has a solution for you.
Doug: If husbands think that wives need to learn how to submit, what he must do is he must model for her. Show her how easy it is; right? Husband, you submit to the Word of God, you submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit, you submit to the example of the Lord Jesus, who took on the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. “This is the Lord we serve. This is what He’s like. This is how He modeled it for us. Let’s imitate that. Let’s give ourselves to that.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about men learning to submit and learning to step up. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, it’s interesting that we’re talking about fathering this week because, I think, if you ask a lot of guys today—I think a lot of Christian guys want to step it up in this area. They want to be better fathers than the fathers they had; and they’re trying to do it, and be there. Yet, as a culture, we’re still running a deficit here.
Dennis: Yes. There’s a reason for that. I mean, a number of young men want to be better fathers than their fathers were because their fathers weren’t there.
Dennis: They abandoned them, or their fathers divorced their mom, or maybe their fathers just did a poor job. So, they want to do something to really redeem what they didn’t experience. But I do agree with you, Bob. I think this is a generation of young dads that really does want to step up and does want to assume the responsibility of fatherhood.
Bob: They have the desire; but maybe, what they’re missing is the road map to know how to get there.
Dennis: You know, in my book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood, I talk about a quote—and I forget who said this, but I think I got it out of Newsweek magazine—which I’m glad is now bankrupt and no longer available—but anyway, it was a statement about men and boys. One of the quotes read, “A boy without a father is like an explorer without a map.” I’ve given that—now, around the country, in various messages I’ve given around our “Stepping Up™” video event and our video series we have available, here at FamilyLife—and the heads nod—
Dennis: —because every man was once a boy. He needed a map—he needed a dad who would show him the way. There’s a gentleman with us, here in the studio, who believes that, as well. Doug Wilson joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Doug, welcome back.
Doug: Thanks so much. It’s good to be here.
Dennis: Doug is the Senior Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrew’s College in Moscow, Idaho—been married for 37 years to his wife Nancy, has 16 grandchildren, who came from 3 children. I’m going to start out, Doug, with one of my favorite questions I love to ask of men. You’ve written a book called Father Hunger. I’m going to target my question to you around the subject of fatherhood.
Here’s the question I usually ask—I usually ask men, “Out of everything you’ve done in your life, what would you say is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?” Now, that’s how I would usually ask the question; but to you, Doug—
Doug: Besides agreeing to be interviewed by you guys? [Laughter]
Dennis: We toss softballs here, Doug! Don’t give us that. Don’t give us that. You’ve been to tougher places—much tougher places!
Dennis: The question for you, Doug, is: “As a father of three—out of all those years of being a father—what would you say is the most courageous thing you have ever done?”
Doug: Yes. That’s a great question. C.S. Lewis said one time that, “Courage is not a separate virtue, but it is a testing point for all of the virtues.”
Doug: It’s where everything meets. It’s the intersection for everything. I would have to say, first, in terms of my three kids—and courage with regard to dealing with them—has never been an issue. They’ve just been great kids, and we’ve had a wonderful relationship. Courage has been very much needed at issues relating to them—involving them. The thing that comes to mind is that when our first child was born in 1976—and in the late ‘70s, one time when Bekah, our oldest, was toddling around the living room—she was just a little tink—my wife Nancy said, “Doug, I can’t see handing her over to people, who don’t know God, and saying, ‘Here she is—educate her. Teach her all about life; teach her everything’.”
At that time, I knew virtually nothing about Christian education, but I knew I agreed with that—I agreed with my wife on that. I’m answering your question as though it were courage, but there’s a thin line sometimes between courage and idiocy; right? [Laughter] I told my wife, “Well, don’t worry. We’ll have a Christian school started by the time Bekah hits kindergarten.”
Dennis: A Christian school!?
Bob: Now, you’re the pastor of a local church.
Doug: I’m the pastor of a church.
Bob: There were no plans on the drawing board for a school at that point; right?
Dennis: You weren’t talking about homeschooling?
Dennis: You were talking about creating a school?
Doug: Building a school because there were no schooling options. With homeschooling, I don’t know—it’s hard for me to recollect—at that time, I’m not sure that we’d even heard of homeschooling.
Doug: This was the late ‘70s and it was not a “thing”. So, I told my wife—I promised my wife—that by the time Bekah hit kindergarten, we would have a Christian school started. The reason for that is I’m convinced that Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “You will teach your children when you walk along the road, when you rise up, when you lie down.” That tells you that the Word of God is the environment that—Christian kids—covenant kids—ought to grow up in an environment dominated and controlled by the Word of God. That should be their native habitat. That should be the place where they live. Not only is that where they ought to grow up, but they ought to love it.
One of the things I tell parents all of the time is, “Your job is not to get your kids to conform to the standard. Your job is to get your kids to love the standard.” It’s not enough to get them to just conform until they’re 18; and then, they go away. You want them to internalize the standard. I’ll never forget—a number of years later after Logos School was started—we opened Bekah’s kindergarten year. [Laughter]
Dennis: Did you really?!
Doug: We really did.
Dennis: How many kids came?
Doug: Nineteen—there were four staff members, nineteen kids, and no money—nineteen kids. The Lord was just extremely kind to us. We made it. The school was a thriving Christian school, and my grandkids are going there now—school-aged grandkids.
That’s a wonderful thing, too. But when we started—years later, I was at a board meeting. We were talking about some policy. Someone had proposed a policy—I forget, even, what the policy was. One of the other board members, a friend of mine, said, “No; I’m against this policy,”—and why—he quoted a verse from Deuteronomy. He said, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” “Well, what did you mean?” Well, the mother’s milk is—
Dennis: You’re speaking, now, of a goat.
Doug: —yes—milk is given by God as nourishment/life. The law there—I think it’s like the law of not muzzling the oxen. God’s got bigger issues that He’s teaching us through this. You shall not take that which God designed as an instrument of life and turn it into the instrument of death. Christian education is life. It’s about life. It should be life. It should be received as life.
You don’t just want to have a high-standards Christian school. You want to have a high standards/high morale Christian school. We wanted that from the beginning. To answer your question, basically, I was a young husband—a young father who knew virtually nothing. My wife said, “We can’t have godless people bring up our children.” I agreed with that. I knew nothing other than that I agreed with that. Rashly, courageously, whatever—in God’s kindness—I said, “Well, we’ll have a school started.”
Bob: You said, “I will provide. I will be the provider here.” I mean, we talked about provision already this week.
Dennis: And, “I will protect.”
Dennis: You’re going to protect them and provide by having Christian education for them.
Doug: Right. I sometimes tell people that a lot of Christian men need to learn a two-word prayer. That is: “Geronimo! Amen.” [Laughter]
Bob: Just jump and trust!
Doug: Just jump and trust. [Laughter]
Dennis: We’re talking about the office, the responsibility, the role of fathers as opposed to mothers. I think, sometimes, we take for granted some of the most basic definitions.
Dennis: I liked your definition of masculinity, which fuels the father’s responsibility. Explain what masculinity is.
Doug: In this book—I’ve approached it different ways over the years—in this book, I have the definition that, “Masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” “Masculinity is the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” It’s not just grudging acceptance. It’s not a refusal to accept all of it. Jesus gave Himself to the end—He didn’t give Himself, mostly. He didn’t agree to be flogged and then released. He went to the cross. He saved us by going to the cross and into the grave.
Basically, what this means is that, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her,”—that means husbands need to be all-in. They need to be all-in, gladly. So: “This is the Lord we serve. This is what He is like. This is how He modeled it for us. Let’s imitate that. Let’s give ourselves to that.”
There’s another aspect to this; that is, authority flows to those who take responsibility. Authority flees those who try to evade responsibility. Jesus, it says, “...taught with authority and not like the scribes.” That’s because He was a servant Lord—a servant leader. He washed His disciples’ feet. He gave Himself away. He gave Himself away, ultimately, on the cross; and He gave Himself away in His teaching ministry. He gave Himself away in His healing ministry. He gave Himself.
When He gave Himself, people responded to Him by looking to Him as someone who had something to say—someone who had real, genuine authority. Well, we are partial and imperfect in our imitation of that; but the same basic thing happens. When a husband gives himself away—when he assumes responsibility, gladly, and he does it sacrificially—authority flows to him. He doesn’t have to demand it.
So, if a husband hears a sermon on headship and submission in marriage or something—and goes and talks to his wife, saying, “Why aren’t you submitting?”—and jabs at the verse, with his finger, saying—“Can’t you read?” Well, the verses, around that, tell the husband what to do. Maybe, she’s not the only one who can’t read. [Laughter] What he must do is he must model it for her; right? If husbands think that wives need to learn how to submit, show her how easy it is; you know? Husband, you submit to the Word of God. You submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. You submit to the example of the Lord Jesus, who took on the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. Show that.
And, then, Paul says in Ephesians 5 that, “He who loves his wife loves himself.” I don’t know why this is; but it’s another divine sense-of-humor thing, I think. When men give themselves to their wives—they can give with a teaspoon, and their wives give back with a snow shovel.
Doug: “He who loves his wife loves himself.” God has built the world in such a way that—I don’t know if I’ve met a Christian man capable of outgiving a Christian woman.
Dennis: Doug, what I want to do is apply what you’ve just said about masculinity being the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility. As a father, I felt that. It was interesting, coming home after a full day’s work, the glad assumption—
Bob: How glad were you? [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes, exactly! I wanted somebody to take care of me!
Dennis: But it demanded my obedience to my heavenly Father, at that point, to gladly assume the sacrifice of being exhausted, tired, whipped—and instead of doing what I wanted to do, at the end of the day, serve Barbara and serve my family by attempting—however imperfectly I did it—by attempting to be a father who paid attention to them and was all there—and didn’t unplug and become a vegetable in front of the TV, which I would have liked to have done.
It’s because of your definition here: “...the glad assumption of sacrificial”—and that’s the key word—“embracing responsibility and fulfilling it,”—not quitting—but continuing to plead your case, on behalf of your kids.
Bob: I have to ask you, here, because I was having a conversation recently with a friend of mine who—I know, if this friend was sitting at the table, the friend would say: “Why is that a definition of masculinity? I mean, are not women to gladly assume sacrificial responsibility, as well? Why do we make that masculine?”
Doug: This is the response I would give, “Note that I said this is masculinity, not maleness.” God assigns us our roles. God tells us what we’re to do in particular relations. There are several obvious examples. One is that the Church is the bride of Christ. That’s a feminine entity—the Church is a feminine entity. Yet, half of that entity is male.
One of the reasons why we ought not to have women preachers is because we are feminine. To disobey our husband, who said not to do that, is to usurp; right? So, I believe that you have a feminine entity that has males in it. You can have a masculine entity—parenthood—that has a man and a woman in it and a stubborn two year-old boy. Well, let’s quote Proverbs to this two-year-old boy, “My son, obey the law of your mother.”
So, a boy is supposed to be submissive to his father and mother. We wanted to bring up our children in such a way that whenever my wife told my son to do something, I wanted him to see my shadow behind her. I stood with her. She had genuine authority over him. He was male. She was female; but she, together with me, was masculine, together with me, in that relationship. I understand masculinity and femininity as authority and submission. That imprints on a marriage one way—the husband is to be masculine; the wife to be feminine, in that relationship.
But when you go through other relationships and look at it—masculinity and femininity are not exactly parallel or coterminous with male/female. This is one of the things that trips feminists up. They think that Christians believe that God the Father is male, but He’s not! God is a spirit. Maleness is a biological attribute, and God has no biology.
He is a father; right? He’s ultimately masculine; but He’s not male, at all.
Dennis: One of the things you talk about in your book is how we fail boys in preparing them to be fathers. Would you explain? Explain what you mean by that.
Doug: Yes. Put it this way—boys and men are simpletons. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s not very nice! That’s not very nice!
Dennis: You’re on our broadcast! Are you calling Bob and me—[Laughter] —yes, okay, go on. We’ve got it!
Doug: Oftentimes, guys are like a dog pushing a rock. They’re just a one-track mind, and they’re doing what they’re doing. Desperately, they need to have the nuances of life and the connections of life explained to them and modeled for them. So, boys don’t grow to be men without mentoring by men. Boys become men by a process that’s not simply biological maturation. Boys become men when men come alongside—when men instruct; when men teach—men who’ve been through it—and men who know that, “When a woman says this. . .”
A dad takes his son aside—who’s been married for a year—“Now, son, I’ve noticed a couple of times when you’ve been over, you’ve left. You just sort of left your wife to come out to the car after you. You just sort of disappeared. That’s not a good idea.” “Well, why—how come?” “Well, you need to symbolize your care for her. You’ve got to do certain things.” A dad—he can save a young guy a lot of time—especially, if he’s got money in the account with his son.
Doug: If the son’s not going to be defensive and say, “Oh, geez!”—he’s going to take it onboard. If the son wants to hear from his father, and the father has a wealth of information, he is mentoring. Other men do the same sort of thing. Boys becoming men is not simply a matter of time. Boys becoming men is a matter of discipleship.
Dennis: Shaping their characters and building into their lives.
Doug: If I could go back to something you said—I can’t be interviewed by ya’ll—having written a book on this—without honoring my father, from whom I learned a ton of this stuff. My father was the kind of father a father needs to be.
Dennis: Well, interesting that you should mention that because I’ve got a little assignment for you, I was just thinking of, before the broadcast is over.
Bob: Before you lay out the assignment, you want me to let folks know how they can get a copy of Doug’s book?
Dennis: Yes. Yes, I do.
Bob: It’s called Father Hunger. We’ve got it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com to order from us online; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. It is a challenging, provocative book; but I think it’s one that’s going to be very helpful for guys to read. Again, the title of the book is Father Hunger. You’ll find it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
While you’re there, look at the information we have available about the “Stepping Up” resources that are available from FamilyLife Today—the book that Dennis has written by that title—the video resources we’ve developed—there’s a one-day video event, there’s a ten-week video series that men can go through together, and there’s an audio book for those who would like to listen to Dennis’s book on audio book—that’s brand-new. You can get that from us, as well. Again, all the information about these resources is online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information.
Then, quickly, for those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today,this week, with a donation, we are making available, as a thank-you gift, a copy of Lee Strobel’s book, The Case for Easter. It’s a book that looks at the evidence and asks the question, “Is the Resurrection for real?” That book is our gift when you help support FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. You can make that donation, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800- FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone. Be sure to ask for the book about Easter when you get in touch with us. We appreciate your financial support. Thanks for getting in touch with us.
Dennis: It’s been our privilege today to talk to Doug Wilson about being a dad—being a father. You were starting to brag on your dad. You didn’t realize it; but as you were starting to brag about him, I was just getting ready to ask you to come back, here at the end of the broadcast — which I am doing now—and to seat your father, if we could, across the table from you, right now—
Dennis: —and to give him a tribute—
Dennis: —a verbal tribute—spoken directly to him about what he meant to you, as a boy growing up, and now, as a man and an older father, at your stage of life.
Well, the thing I’d like to thank you, Dad, for is that I never, in all the years I was growing up, I never saw you and Mom raise your voices to each other—never. I don’t know what that would be like. I knew that you had issues—things you had to work out—but I knew about those things because you used them as illustrations when you gave talks. I wouldn’t have known it from the home. The other thing—
There were many other things, but you were dedicated to the absolute authority of the Word of God. So that whatever happened, all we had to do was find out what the verse said. After that, that was what we were going to do. You taught me that we are to have no problem passages. The only problem we have, with regard to a passage, is the exegesis—what is it saying? But once we know what it is saying, we are to give ourselves to obedience.
You taught me that obedience is joyful. It is our liberty. It is the way God designed us to live. Obedience is no more a restraint on us than wings are a restraint on a bird. You taught me—over many, many years—that God wants His people to shine light in the world and to be hungry to lead people to Christ. You’re the most dedicated, effective, personal evangelist I’ve ever heard of. I’m just astonished at your gifts in that regard.
You were a courageous father—not just in physical things—your service in the Korean War—and how the Lord used you there and the things you did there. As a small boy, I was very proud of you for that sort of thing. You were easy to respect, easy to look up to, easy to honor. I never ever had to worry about that.
But I also was very impressed and proud of your consistent commitment to the Word of God in situations where a Christian ministry that you were working for wanted to carry books that were written by liberal theologians and folks who were not any good for the soul. You took a stand and you wound up leaving the ministry that you were clearly called to and worked in another job for a year or two to provide for the family because you couldn’t work in that ministry. You were the one who taught me that taking a stand over principle is what we’re called to—resolving it is God’s responsibility. You taught me that.
You taught me that the Christian life is a life of joy. The Christian life is a life of confessing your sins humbly. You taught me how to confess my sins. You taught me how to give myself to the Word of God. If I could end all of that by saying—not only, Dad, am I grateful for all the things you gave me—but I wanted to say two things: one, is that I love you very much; and two, I respect you more than any man I’ve ever met.
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