Church

Return of the Dad Theologian

Justin Puckett

We live in a very complicated and busy modern world. Between church, work, home life, social media, vacations, keeping up with long-distance relationships with friends and family, extracurricular activities for our children, possible ministry, home and car maintenance (am I forgetting anything?), we also have the immense task of actually raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. As husbands and fathers, we also have the task of shepherding our families, including our wives.

Unfortunately, it seems that more men place those responsibilities down on the list next to home and car maintenance (a reminder that you still haven’t fixed that thing yet). We say to ourselves, “It’s not a dire issue right now, so I will get around to it eventually”. Life becomes busy, day in and day out, week by week, 6 months come and go, and the next thing you know, years have passed – you still haven’t fixed your back porch steps, and you never taught your college-bound son or daughter the Word of God.

During that time questions have gone unanswered, and they have looked to secular, or even heretical, resources for answers. Even your wife is now questioning what you once believed. Sin has slipped in through the back door and ravaged your home. How could this happen? You go to church, attend Sunday school, your children went to children’s church, but it was never brought home. I am willing to say that this situation is far more common than we believe and the solution, I believe, is a return of the Dad theologian.

“Really, theology?”

First, what is theology? Theology is merely the study of God. It is not reserved only for academics or pastors, but for every Christian, and that includes you and me. You cannot love and serve someone you do not know. So in some sense, even with a basic knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done, you are a theologian. As the late Dr. R.C. Sproul said, “The issue for Christians is not whether we are going to be theologians, but whether we are going to be good theologians or bad ones.”

Romans 12:1-3 exhorts us to not be conformed to the ways of the world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds, thus giving us sound thinking. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Christianity is often described as a “heart religion,” but make no mistake about it, it’s a thinking religion too. We seem to separate the mind from the heart when they are linked together. The mind is to control the heart, which by nature is deceitful and wicked (Jer. 17:9). What we know and think about God will affect the way we live. So before we attempt to save the sinking ship of the family, we must begin with sound thinking. We must renew our minds with the only source of unadulterated and pure truth, the Word of God.

Return of the Dad Theologian

So what do I mean by, “Dad Theologian”? To me, the name “father” feels too formal and detached from the family. I realize this is part of my upbringing, but each culture has its own endearments for the male head of house. So my point in using the word “Dad” is to show that this is not a detached male figure in the house or church, but a man who is involved, intentional, engaged, and loving. He is a man who both plays and works with his children. He is actively teaching and disciplining his children, and he is proactively loving and shepherding his wife.

The “theologian” part of the phrase refers to a dad who spends much time in prayer and the word of God. A man who strives to live by Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 5, and Ephesians 6:4, keeping his whole family focused upon the Gospel, the Word of God, and catechizing his children. A dad who loves Christ and his family more than football, golf, or racing, and shows it through his actions. A dad who knows the things of God and is able to not only teach his family sound doctrine, but protect them from false doctrine, and able to answer the questions they inevitably have about scripture. He is the man of Psalm 1, and as a minister and shepherd of his family, he is also the man of Titus 1.

Some may object to the overwhelming amount of information to learn. When we think of systematic theology books we often think of big, heavy, multi-volume, dry, academic books that make even a trip to the dentist seem more appealing. It is true there is much to learn, but that has never stopped any man from spending hours reading sports statistics or every specification and review of his dream car. Men seem to be made for learning and memorizing minute details. The issue is not the amount of information but the interest in the subject, and the subject we speak of is God.

The Shepherd is the Door

Shepherds would often bring their flock into a sheep pin at night to rest. These pins would be made of high rock walls with a narrow opening where the shepherd would spend the night. Anything or anyone who wanted to get to the sheep would first have to come through the shepherd. This is the imagery Jesus uses about Himself in John 10:

“ So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” – John 10:7-9

If a man is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church (Eph. 5:25), then husbands and fathers must guard their families in the same manner. We should be trained, studied, and alert – able to not only detect danger but defend our families from spiritual danger.

If a false and dangerous doctrine came into your home, would you be able to spot it? Not only spot it, but could you refute it? This doesn’t mean you have to be the next John Calvin, or Jonathan Edwards, or have to study every heresy in church history. However, you should have a good enough grasp of the true Gospel that it is easy to spot a counterfeit.

Raising the Bar

How can we expect so much from a regular, standard, typical dad? I ask, how can we expect so little?

The “dad theologian” is not a new and radical idea but, rather the ordinary view of Christian fathers throughout church history. Men have been expected to be leaders of their homes in spiritual matters. They were expected to bring the family to church, engage with the sermon that was preached Sunday, answer questions their family might have had about it, teach the catechism to their family, and participate/lead family worship throughout the week. To not do so was to fail as the spiritual head of the house and could even result in church discipline. 

In the absence of the “dad theologian,” we’ve seen a rise in women taking the role of spiritual leadership, both in the home, and the church. The issue is not that there are no men, but that men have become all too willing to give up their God-given role and take a passive back seat. This is the sin of Adam, and like Adam, we will be held accountable for the family that has been gifted to us.

Our culture, including our church culture, has continually lowered the standard for husbands and dads while belittling fathers on TV for being incapable, inept, and awkward. It’s not so much raising the bar that we need, but merely putting it back where it was. Godly men must act like godly men – more like the second Adam than the first. Real men desire a higher calling. One that asks for sacrifice and labor with great reward and honor given to those who achieve.

Grace Follows Humility

I believe many men know they are inept and ignorant of scripture, and it shames them into never even trying. So much lost time. So many means of grace neglected. Why bother?

There is a great joy missing in many men’s lives because they are not fulfilling their God-given role in the family. They know something isn’t right, that something is missing, but they don’t know what. Instead, they try to fill it with empty, worldly pleasures and activities that only give a cheap imitation of the real thing. When we walk in the works God has prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10) in obedience to the Gospel and the role God has created us for, we will experience true and lasting joy.

The beauty of true religion is found in mercy and grace. As dads and husbands we cannot retrieve lost time, but if we are willing to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and repent of any complacency (or outright laziness) we have had, He is faithful and just to cleanse us of all unrighteousness (1 Peter 5:6, 1 John 1:9). His mercies are new every morning, and we can make a change starting right now.

Let’s encourage men to open their Bibles, read, think, pray, rejoice, worship, and share what they’ve learned with their families. You don’t need Spurgeon’s library, but a good study Bible will go a long way. Invest not only yourself but your entire family. God will honor your faithfulness, and your family will be forever benefitted.

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