(my Amazon review of Voddie's latest book 'Family Shepherds')
Voddie Baucham’s “Family Shepherds” gives a good amount of really good material for fathers who want to step up in taking the initiative in leading their wives and children spiritually, and while I really enjoyed the various steps offered in the book, and usually enjoy everything I read from Voddie, with this I came away feeling that it didn’t go quite far enough or deep enough.
Voddie outlines the importance of the role of family shepherd and lays out, among other things, the importance of family worship, the primacy of the marriage relationship, training and discipline of children, as well as regular corporate worship. All of these are great, but so many of these sections seemed superficially breezy without really packing in material that men need to hear. The assumption I had with this book is that shepherding is a responsibility that many men have neglected in recent years, thus the importance of this book was calling and guiding men back to this task. An excellent intention, but so many parts of the book, such as the importance of catechism, left me a little dry, as Voddie speaks of the importance of catechism, but then leaves the section with “do your research to find the best catechism to fit your doctrine.” What? This struck me as a cop-out. Again, in today’s world Dad’s aren’t doing this, so why would he leave this point so open-ended? So, are fathers just supposed to jump onto Google and look up whatever catechism they can find? Rather, instead of skimping, Voddie could have easily jumped into the importance of something like the 1689 London Confession, or the Westminster standards, or any Biblically-solid catechism to help men get started, instead of leaving them dry. I would have loved more here, even as an appendix, with a sage hand pointing to some sound sources to get started.
Likewise, addressing the importance of singing hymns as a family: an excellent point, yet WHAT hymnals? Why does Voddie leave it to fathers to know what song books to use? Should we just go to Lifeway and pick up a generic “hymnal” on the shelves, just because some of the songs look “Biblical”? Why not offer up some specific examples, such as the Trinity hymnal, and justify it with some of the many reasons that back this a solid, Scripturally-sound hymnal to incorporate? We use, and love, the trinity hymnal, but it’s details like that which would have really served to help point men to the right resources. Our Trinities are a little worn, and I’m always open to find other Biblically-solid hymnal to incorporate, so why couldn't there be more specific examples here?
I do agree with Voddie’s remarks about the “3-legged stool, and think that is a good outline, but I found his second requirement for church leaders as being “Godly, manly pastors and elders” to be a little bit skimpy in his description. “Manly” elders? Pastor/theologians who come to mind that I greatly appreciate, such as Wayne Grudem and Edmund Clowney, aren’t exactly the model of what I consider “manly”, but rather as examples of well-educated teachers with an extraordinary understanding of the Bible. I think one of the issues I have with this Voddie’s comment on elders, as well as with Grace Family church in general, is the practice of lay-eldership, or men without formal seminary training, serving as elders and teaching. “Manliness” isn’t that big of a concern to me as much as men serving that are “not a novice” (1 Tim. 3:6 - νεόφυτος) if I'm expected to submit myself and my family to their training. Lay elders who work full-time in the market and then are expected to teach on weekends is no different than asking a guy who read a bunch of books on heart surgery to do your triple-bypass. Maybe this sounds harsh, but I don’t believe that deacon-qualified men should serve as elders, and Voddie could have put a little more Scriptural backing into what the Bible really says about the role of an elder, above and beyond just “manliness”.
The Michael Pearl/pelagianism discussion (p. 116-118) was an entertaining detour. I’m amused (and a little alarmed) by this bearded, knife-throwing arminian, so it was interesting to to read Voddie’s attack on Pearl’s skewed behaviorism model. Voddie was right on spot regarding discipline, and this day and age, there can’t be enough said about the need for Biblically-consistent discipline of children. The extensive references to Cotton Mather’s teaching were a perfect outline to follow, and I really gained a lot from that particular section.
Family Shepherds is definitely worth the read, but again, it didn’t go far enough for me. Sadly, I was also disappointed that there was virtually NOTHING about the father as the homeschooling leader. This was a notably huge absence, as I firmly believe that one of the family shepherd’s principle responsibilities is to be actively involved in the homeschooling of the children - and I don’t mean necessarily teaching every subject, but rather being extremely well-aware of what the curriculum is, including the worldview of the curriculum and the Biblical orientation it follows, and offering as much support as possible to the mother who labors to educate the children. A family shepherd, on a day off for example, should be completely capable of sitting down, picking up a teachers instruction manual, and jumping right in to be able to help guide and instruct their child, just as competently as the wife does, without excuse. A family shepherd should actively be seeking out ways to incorporate additional education after work, on weekends, etc, whenever possible, with a positive, engaged interest in the love of learning in their children. As a personal aside, I also believe that a family shepherd should be capable of picking up a spatula every now and then, being able to navigate a grocery store, and also change a diaper or two (thousand.) Family shepherds should loathe the Asherim that is television.
At the close of Family Shepherds, I found that even the resources in the appendix were disappointing, as these “tools” seemed more like copy-and-paste excepts from Grace Family’s weekly bulletin, and felt more like a promotional vehicle for the church, and less of actual family shepherd tools. While I respect all that is put into the Grace Family church bulletins, to me, far more practical that simply seeing the list of family names to pray for would be to see, for instance, how do some of the different families of Grace Family conduct family worship? What are some of the general outlines that they follow? What songs do they use? Any Biblical study material they could recommend? Particular catechism? If (according to the appendix) the officers of Grace Family supposedly call/visit their members once a month, then there should be a wealth and bounty of practical examples to share of family worship framework examples, right? (e.g. “Jim and Tammy” follow this particular model: Jim opens with prayer, their oldest daughter plays a solo hymn on the piano, the oldest son reads a chapter from Old Testament, father then reads a study guide based on the chapter, etc, etc. Another model is the Smith family, that uses this general outline: etc, etc...) Again, this book exists because Dad’s aren’t naturally performing as family shepherds today - so give Dad’s more resources and actual tools and examples to help them! I seriously don’t think Voddie could have overdone it with examples. Pack in more punch, instead of leaving me dry, which is how I felt at the end of reading.
A side-note on the graphic design, when I took the book out of the Amazon envelope, I was studying the lower middle portion of the book for awhile, as it appeared initially that mold spots were growing on the cover (had the book been damaged at the Amazon factory with moisture?) Apparently that’s the design, but the seeming appearance of mold dots on a smooth paperback cover didn’t make a great initial impression.