Reprinted, with permission, from LifeDate (Lutherans for Life, Spring 2013).
People often learn best by example. Recognizing this aspect of human nature, the Scriptures exhort us to be imitators—of Christ (Ephesians 2:5), of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:16), of other apostles (2 Thessalonians 3:9), or of the saints who have gone on before us (Hebrew 6:12). The Bible also warns us against imitating evildoers (Deuteronomy 18:9; 3 John 1:11). We need good models, but good models sometimes are difficult to find.
Fathers, in particular, lack for good models these days. Indeed, our culture has been consumed by a crisis surrounding the definitions of fatherhood, manhood, and marriage. A recent court case in Arizona involved a “man” who was born a woman, but took hormones and had surgery to become a man, except that he (she?—it gets very confusing) kept her womb, eased off of the hormones, and became pregnant. In fact, she gave birth to three children, and yet she insists that she is a man, the “father” of those children.
The judge didn’t buy that one, but other re-definitions of family relations are gaining support elsewhere in the nation. In Minnesota, for example, lawmakers are tinkering with the definitions of both “marriage” and “parenthood,” with the possible result that a child could have up to six “biological parents” in the eyes of the law. Oddly enough, the law would call both members of a homosexual couple the “biological parents,” even if only one of them is biologically related to the child in the strictly scientific sense of that term.
Not only are non-fathers being called fathers, but actual fathers are being denied legal rights to serve their children. Twenty-one years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that fathers have no legal authority to preserve the lives of their unborn children; abortion is a woman’s choice, and hers to make alone. The case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, struck down state laws requiring a woman to inform her husband before aborting their child.
Meanwhile, the culture at large brands men as self-interested, power-seeking, promiscuous, competitive, insensitive, and manipulative. Andrew Kimbrell, in his book The Masculine Mystique, outlines a “hidden crisis” concerning “the grim condition of the American male.” He pleaded for a return to common sense, and to the traditional qualities associated with manhood: “generativity, stewardship, generosity, teaching, husbandry, [and] honor.”
And that’s where Christians have an opportunity to lead by example. The virtues of manhood that Kimbrell identified are biblical virtues. At times in their lives, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, and David exhibited these traits of sanctification. The Book of Proverbs offers the best advice the world has ever received on fatherhood. First, seek wisdom from God, not from the man (Proverbs 1:7). Second, learn from what God has taught your own father (2:1; 3:1; 4:1; 5:1; 6:1,28; 7:1). Third, guard your chastity, whether single or married (chapters 5 and 7). Fourth, actively train and correct your own children (13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15,17). Above all, confess your sins and receive God’s mercy (28:13).
Ultimately, God Himself is the model. The standard is nothing short of perfection. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This holds true for family life as much as for the rest of life. God is the source and the standard. “For this reason I kneel before the Father [Greek: pater], from whom every family [Greek: patria] in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15 NIV).
Our culture has strayed far away from God’s plan for the family. In ways that are perhaps less obvious, so have we. How many fathers, even Christian fathers, read God’s Word daily to their families? Has not God called fathers to “teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7)? How many fathers bring their children “up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4)? In today’s climate, that means offering biblical counsel to counteract the cultural messages that have twisted the family inside out and reduced fatherhood to an optional component of family life.
It’s time for men to stand courageously in the Lord. Real men change diapers, as Luther was fond of remarking, and real men also instruct their families in the Christian faith. And real men support their wives, daughters, and sisters so well that they render abortion unthinkable in their midst. When men lead, provide, and protect, women will not feel vulnerable, afraid, or alone. When men are men, children have their needs met.
Maybe you are a boy who never quite became a man because you lacked an adequate role model. If so, remember that you have a heavenly Father to mentor you. The Bible contains much guidance for men, so turn to it regularly. Ask God to help you mature into a role model for the young men in your midst. And while you’re at it, ask Him for what He desires to give you more than any other gift: forgiveness through Jesus Christ for all of your failures as a man.
Yes, fathers today need godly models, but more than that, we need forgiveness. Thankfully, God has provided us with both.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschool children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean and Professor of History and Philosophy at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.