Family

Book Review: “Honor Thy Fathers”

Matthew Pearson

Feminism has infiltrated broader Western culture and its legal structures since the 19th century and has even crept into and taken root in the churches. Not only are many of its precepts taught and received, but many are assumed. A number of supposedly conservative Christian leaders assent to feminist propositions and use them as a guiding light, by which they interpret and apply the scriptures in the life of the church. The faithful student of scripture must ask if these propositions are taught by or cohere with the scriptures. On the exegetical front, Rev. Zachary Garris of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has answered this in his book Masculine Christianity. Garris’ book excelled from an exegetical basis. Now, the reverend has done the same from a historical basis by looking to our Reformed forefathers and their “anti-feminist” theology in his newly released book: Honor Thy Fathers. This review will state the goal and central claims Garris set out to demonstrate, provide summaries of part one and part two of the book, and finally assess whether the book met these goals and demonstrated its central claims.

Goals and Central Claims

Garris begins his work by opening with a definition of feminism. According to Garris, feminism is “an ideology that seeks to flatten the differences between men and women, particularly in the home, the church, and the civil government… [the goal of feminism] is for women to become more like men, especially by trading babies and homemaking for careers outside the home.” [1] In light of this definition of feminism, Garris lays out his general thesis for the book, stating “This book seeks to contrast modern feminism, including that found in the church, with the theology of the Protestant Reformers and their theological successors, the Reformed orthodox.” [2]

According to Garris, many Western churches have abandoned the views of their theological forefathers due to ignorance, pressures of feminist culture, or a combination of both. From here the goal of the book, as set out in the introduction, is to introduce readers to the “Reformed theology of the family and to contrast this theology with deviations among modern Protestant churches, particularly those who claim ties to the Reformed tradition.” [3] After being introduced to the thought of these fathers in the faith, the reader must take into consideration whether this broad departure from these fathers has been a move more faithful to scripture and conducive to a more orderly society, a question Garris strongly answers “no” to. The central claim the book seeks to make is that among the reformers and Reformed orthodox of the 16th and 17th centuries there was a universal consensus that affirmed male rule in home, church, and commonwealth despite certain distinctives and variations in the expression of this rule.

Part One Summary

Garris’ book is broken into two parts, the first half is a project of theological retrieval of our Reformed fathers. The second half examines the abandonment of the Reformed view of male rule in modern churches. First, Garris breaks down the Reformed on male rule in the home, the church, and the commonwealth. He cites numerous figures such as John Calvin, John Knox, William Perkins, William Gouge, Gisbertus Voetius, and many from the Westminster Assembly along with the consulting of various confessions, catechisms, and the surrounding supplementary documents of these works.

This portion of the book is an excellent example of theological retrieval done well. Garris provides the source, gives commentary on the source whilst breaking down the meaning and implications of what the author states, and provides the necessary context for the quotations. Garris successfully demonstrates that the ideas of the Reformed fathers on this topic is totally at odds with what feminism posits by bringing to light what these fathers had to say on the topic of male rule in these differing contexts.

Part Two Summary

Part two of Garris’ work seeks to show the deep rot of feminism in our modern ecclesiastical institutions. Garris not only documents these things in the contemporary church but engages in even more retrieval with Reformed fathers after the period of Reformed orthodoxy, citing figures such as B. B. Warfield, Herman Bavinck, and Charles Hodge. Subject to Garris’ critique are things such as complementarianism, the creeping in of female deacons in conservative denominations, and the practice of many permitting women to lead in public prayer during worship.

The reverend demonstrates that many modern practices which deviate from the principles of the Reformed fathers are oftentimes rooted in exegesis inspired by modern egalitarian commentators who many cite and use to justify their novel ideas. Garris pulls no punches and demonstrates the inconsistencies rooted in modern complementarian deviations.

General Assessment

Garris has performed an excellent work of retrieval. Not only has he successfully retrieved the ideas of our forefathers, but he did what many engaging in retrieval sometimes fail to do and successfully applied these ideas and assessed modern ideas in light of this retrieval. Retrieval cannot be solely theoretical but must find its telos in the practical. The only con of this book that comes to mind is that the portions on retrieval were not long and detailed enough, however, this comes to the layman’s aid. A voluminous work would steer towards unreadable for the average man. With the conclusion of the book ending at page 122, this work can be easily read in two or three sittings and is perfect to walk through in group settings.

Something that Garris successfully accomplished is being transparent and honest in the text. As was stated above, there was a consensus among the reformers and Reformed orthodox on male rule that had different expressions and variations among certain authors. Garris honestly notes whenever an author may say something more in line with complementarianism and as a departure from the majority of early modern views on patriarchy. He details the conflict between Knox and others such as Calvin on whether it is permissible to have female magistrates. Though this may not be as clean a history as many patriarchalists want to claim, it demonstrates the honesty and integrity of Garris as an author and thus shows the reader that he can trust Garris in treating these sources with care.

Conclusion

It is most fitting this book is entitled Honor Thy Fathers, as a majority of the Reformed have historically situated the duties of husband and wife under the duties and necessities of the 5th commandment pertaining to relations between superiors and inferiors. This rule is not confined to parental relations or even that of husband and wife, but even extends to our natural and spiritual forefathers. Our fathers are not perfect, they can and have erred in a variety of matters. Yet they are to be honored and considered rather than discarded. This is the call of Honor Thy Fathers, to read and assess what the Reformed fathers of our faith have said and to compare this with our modern priors. Have our modern priors been conducive to flourishing and faithfulness, or have they in various areas departed from the deposit with which we have been entrusted? If the latter, then we ought to consider the word of our fathers.

“My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.” —Proverbs 1:8-9

Sources

[1] Zachary Garris, Honor Thy Fathers – Recovering the Anti-Feminist Theology of the Reformers (New Christendom Press, 2024)

[2] Zachary Garris, Honor Thy Fathers – Recovering the Anti-Feminist Theology of the Reformers (New Christendom Press, 2024)

[3] Zachary Garris, Honor Thy Fathers – Recovering the Anti-Feminist Theology of the Reformers (New Christendom Press, 2024)

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