Book Review in Three: Federal Husband

I recently heard of the term, “first generation Christian father” as a moniker for a God-fearing dad who just trying to figure things out. He has had no godly father to show him the ropes and often that father has shown him how to fall of the ship. I resonate deeply with this description. I have a passionate desire to honor God with my marriage and my children. I have had horrible examples of biblical masculinity for most of my life. The temptation here would be float all that as an excuse for all of my failings, but that is a sin a biblical man does not commit so I will try not to.

God has been incredibly good to me in the pain of my sin and the sin of my fathers (biological one, spiritual many). Yes, there is also good, just like looking at individual cars might not give the full picture of how bad the train has derailed. I have been blessed, taught, and shaped by men God gave to me for each part of my life. At the end of the rope isn’t blame but a humble admission that I am undeserving of being in fellowship with my Heavenly Father through the death of His Son. He and He alone is the perfect Father I have runaway from. He and He alone is the perfect Father I desperately need.

The Need for Practical Help

The truth is that I have been stumbling through my marriage trying to figure out how to do all this right. My wife is gracious, encouraging, and patient. I have read many books on marriage and parenting but still walked away from those not seeing the full picture. Maybe the full picture is too complex? Maybe God is ambiguous about what biblical masculinity is and how to be a husband? Probably not, but I still didn’t get it.

To be honest, what I’m desperately looking for is a “dad talk.” I need someone to set me straight. “This is how you do it this. Don’t do that.” I’ve come to realize this isn’t a unique problem for a millennial like me. The rise of Jordan Peterson bears this out as much. Young men have had a generation of fathers who were soft and unwilling to sit them down and tell them how life works best.

Through my introduction to classical Christian education I came across Doug Wilson. He wrote one of the most important books I have ever read, The Case for Classical Christian Education. I loved his direct and simple approach of showing how the Scriptures define education, and when I found out he had written a multitude of books I was eager for more.

As he states in his preface, this book Federal Husband is connected to another book he has written, Reforming Marriage. In the later book, Wilson speaks to both husband and wife. In this book he desired to write further to husbands.

Husbands Take Responsibility

Just like Extreme Ownership (review you can read here), the core principle of a husband leading his family is responsibility. The husband is completely responsible for everything that falls under his stewardship. He is the one at the helm and ultimately he is responsible if the ship runs aground. He cannot blame the navigator or the first mate, but must take full responsibility for everything. This is ultimately based around the idea of covenantal relationships:

“Christian husbands do not need more exhortations from a vacuum. The martial need of the hour is that of doctrinal and theological definition –in particular, we need to understand covenants. At the heart of this covenantal relationship is the issue of responsibility. Whenever there is genuine federal headship, the head as representative assumes responsibility for the spiritual condition of the members of the covenant body, and the organic connection applies in both directions.” (11)

As a husband I do not have the option of blaming my wife, my kids, my parents, or anything else for the failings of my family unit. I am the one responsible.

This was huge for me and something that God has been impressing on me from multiple angles. Stop blaming and start owning. Does this mean that the husband must assume the personal sins of his wife? Wilson offers a helpful clarification:

“This does not mean that the wife has no personal responsibilities as an individual before God. She certainly does, just as her husband has individual responsibility, They are both private persons who stand before God. But he remains the head, and just as Christ as the head assumed all the responsibility for the sins of His people, so the husband is to assume covenant responsibility for the state of his marriage.” (12)

The pattern is Christ, who did not pass off covenant responsibility to his people but owned all of it. He did what Adam did not do. He brought his sinful bride before Father and took ownership of the covenant unfaithfulness by giving his perfect life for hers. This is the root of what Paul is talking about when he says that husbands ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church.

A Despised Message

Unfortunately we live in an age that utterly hates this idea. In fact, to our reproach as Christian men, the church is rampant with the same cancer. Feminism. Egalitarianism. Soft Complentarianism. We hate that God made us male and female. We hate that God gave roles to men and woman. We hate that men are to lead and women are to submit to their leadership. We hate all of it, and declare with fist in the air that we will be the ones who decide good and evil for ourselves. We will make the world in our image come hell or high water.

Wilson has his finger on the cultural pulse as well when he says:

“In our modern egalitarian world, submission is always seen as a form of losing or of being inferior in some way. But we fall into this error because we no longer think in a trinitarian fashion. Submission is seen as entailing inferiority because we do not understand the deity of Christ and His full submission to the Father” (15)

“A man who abdicates his functional authority over his wife –one who capitulates to egalitarian feminism–is a Sabellian. This is the heresy which sees no real distinctions between the persons of the Godhead, only different names.” (15)

Most evangelicals can’t articulate the doctrine of the Trinity let alone see the Godhead in the beauty of their roles. Just listen to most Christians pray and you will hear “Jesus” a lot and “Father” little. In times past, it might have been the Holy Spirit who was the forgotten person, but far more today it seems that we have lost our Heavenly Father. No coincidence that a generation that is fatherless doesn’t understand they have a Father who is in heaven.

What Men Need to Hear

I love this book. I’ll read it again several times. I’ll read it with my sons. It is concise and full of Scripture, in particular Proverbs. There are answers to the questions my generation has about how to be a husband and father. Most of them are very simple and begin with fearing the Lord. I am thankful for Doug for a much needed “dad-talk.”

More later.

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