Family Ministry Today

The Center for Christian Family Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Book Review: ‘Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families,’ by Douglas Wilson

by Ryan Steenburg – Mar 18

Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012. 272 pp. $15.99.

The concern for functional fathers is as old as history itself. Yet every new generation must address rampant delinquency in the home. Douglas Wilson’s book Father Hunger includes an innovative perspective on the decline of fatherhood, new research to support the need for functional fathers in every home, and a fresh look on the effect of fatherlessness on the culture at large. The author serves as a senior fellow at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, and is himself a husband, father, and grandfather (173).

The subtitle of Wilson’s book, Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead Their Families, suggests that the author will provide proof for the claim that men should lead in the home. Though Wilson does indeed structure his text to demonstrate the “why,” he also addresses many other aspects of manhood ranging from genetics, call- ing, and desire to politics, history, and theology. Each chapter is sprinkled with illustrations drawn from history, literature, pop culture, and personal experiences in order to illuminate Wilson’s argument and to connect with his readers.

Wilson argues that our understanding of fathers cannot be put right until we rediscover God the Father (13). Wilson points out that many churches today place undue emphasis on one of the three persons of the Trinity while practically ignoring the other two (198). Wilson observes that evangelicals emphasize having a relationship with Jesus, while charismatics place a similar emphasis on the Holy Spirit (198). To be sure, none of Wilson’s argument is designed to downgrade the place of Jesus or the Holy Spirit in the Christian life. It is intended to draw attention to a minimalized understanding of God the Father. Until a man can understand what God the Father is for, Wilson contends, his father hunger will remain (199).

Wilson looks carefully at egalitarianism, feminism, and their effects on culture (15-17). He continues to build his case for biblical masculinity (51), godly education (82-83), Christian marriage (126-127), and biblical corporal discipline (179), explaining how each has been negatively affected by egalitarianism or, more strongly, feminism. Recognizing the significance of the church in the formation of fatherhood, Wilson later returns to his argument concerning egalitarian- ism, suggesting that long before the first woman was allowed to preach from the pulpit, the pulpit itself became feminized as men subverted their roles in the pulpit, the society, and the home (142). Now, with a godly, biblical understanding of manhood surrendered to feminism, education, unstable worldviews, and a weak church culture (84), the problem of father hunger runs deeper than any one man can contend with. Wilson addresses the questions sure to arise in many readers’ minds about the role and responsibilities of the woman or mother. He points out that this is a book specifically about fathers and the role and responsibilities of men. To say that dad is indispensable is not to say that mom is dispensable (20). He writes, “A person should be able to write a book arguing that Vitamin D is an important component of a person’s health without being accused of making a vicious and unwarranted attack on Vitamin E” (20). Wilson confronts the topic of fatherhood by looking for and speaking to every possible influence that has weakened and transformed the role of a man. With the various chapters addressing the multitude of topics, Wilson’s book is just as much about evangelical feminism, politics, the fall of public and Christian education, a misappropriation of the Trinity, and a lesson on the fall of man.

He rightly recognizes, however, that the answer isn’t as simple as a seven-step process or a twelve-week program. In order to regain a correct understanding of fatherhood, there is much work to be done. Wilson focuses on a single idea—regaining our understanding of what God the Father is for (199). And yet, herein lies a weakness. We do not live in a vacuum, nor do we somehow exist outside of society. We must learn to live out the idea of what God the Father is for precisely by seeking ways to incorporate this notion into our world- view for the sake of affecting the culture (struggling with all those problems Wilson outlines in his chapters). I am concerned that some might be tempted to seclude themselves from society in order to protect themselves from what Wilson identifies as the problems, but that surely doesn’t seem to be the answer.

I’m also concerned that when we consider Wilson’s subtitle, which appears also to be his thesis; it seems out of place since it is reserved for the end of the book. Further, the book might also have been strengthened by developing a diagram or two to coordinate with the messages Wilson was attempting to communicate. Examples would include the discussion of the four spokes of a person’s worldview (82) and the imagery of a house being built surrounded by scaffolding (96).

Nevertheless, Wilson not only achieves his goal of demonstrating the need for men to lead their families but he also does so in a refreshing and unique manner.

[Editor's Note: This review originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.1 (2012).]