While John MacArthur is usually first on my lips when recommending a Bible teacher, I’m not the biggest fan of MacArthur’s writing. The eminently gifted preacher isn’t a bad writer. In fact, he’s written several things that are quite good including a few books that were pivotal in my growth in Christ. Nonetheless, his books have a wide variance. I never know if I should expect something like the useful but dry “Alone with God” or the engaging page-turner of “12 Ordinary Men;” or perhaps the logical but rather shallow “Found: God’s Will” rather than the tour de force that is “Master’s Plan for the Church.” Mind you, everything John MacArthur writes is deeply useful even if the readability of his work varies. Generally, he’s better when he writes as a Christian man who wants to say something instead of as a pastor who wants to transcribe his sermon notes.
I hate most books on fatherhood. Actually, to be accurate, I hate most books on the family, raising children, and parenting. Books on fatherhood tend to hit on all three of those areas for obvious reasons. Most of the time, authors mostly try to establish principles to be applied but usually end up talking about situations in which their principles often apply. So, before you know it, we have a book that may or may not fit what you’re dealing with as a dad. That doesn’t mean you can’t get something out of it but as a former single father and a current foster/adoptive dad, I’m often left with more questions than answers.
So, imagine my delight when I finished Brave Dad and felt informed, refreshed, and armed with some ideas that would partially reshape my fatherhood. This book is written by MacArthur the Dad, MacArthur the Christian man who has something to say. He’s pastoral, sure, but he’s not giving you sermon notes. He doesn’t exactly avoid situations and application, but his emphasis is far more on principles to be applied rather than on specific applications. He’s a big picture guy, but he writes in such a way to make it easy to see your particular details in his big picture.
My occasion for reading this book was as a study with my church men’s group. We’re a “young” group with lots of little kids at home. Not many of us have been married into the double digits. We’re all learning. It was a delight to see our group often and thoroughly engaged in discussion. I suspect MacArthur had groups like mine in mind when he wrote and if he did, he served us well and his book performed the intended task admirably.
A Summary of John MacArthur’s Book
MacArthur begins his book with a brief introduction focusing on the impact, good and bad, fathers can have on their children. He reminds his readers right off the bat “…because home is where a person’s true temperament is most clearly on display, no one knows the real character of a man better than his own children. They see with a keener clarity than most dads realize.” Of course, he’s right, but he went on to establish that it wasn’t merely looking good that should be our motivation for being a good dad.
If that axiom is true then it is also true that “an ungodly, hypocritical, or indifferent dad is not only a constant, full-time negative role model; his influence also breeds cynicism, unbelief, discouragement, resentment, and a whole new generation of hypocrisy in his own children.” So then, the stage is set for his exhortation that reverberates throughout the entire book “nothing is a more worthy investment of any father’s time and energy than this: Be a godly leader in your home.”
Like any good author, John MacArthur explains the problem he’s trying to address. Simply put, there is a lack of male leadership in the home, in the church, and in the society at large. In the first place, men have checked out and many aren’t even aware that what they’re doing is “checking out.” We’re busy, and the society around us constantly tells us that what we’re busy with is more important than being a leader at home, at church, and in our society.
However, MacArthur makes a much bigger deal out of what he believes is the real problem: “If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s frequently a matter of how a man decides to prioritize his time.” His suggestion is a reordering of our priorities. It’s here where I think MacArthur sets himself apart. He doesn’t begin to give us “8 things you can do right now!” or suggest a system you have to implement or else you’re doomed (DOOMED I TELL YOU!). No, “Rather, it’s based on being diligent to apply straightforward and practical principles found in the Bible.”
So, what are those principles? To answer that question, MacArthur does what he does best: a deep dive into scripture. In this case, it is Ephesians 5:25-31 where he explains that the first and best principle of being a good dad is to be a good husband. Men, we must love our wives. As MacArthur says “Everything else in life flows from that.” It shouldn’t strike the Christian ear as odd that this is the first advice. After all, as MacArthur explains, our marriages are illustrations of the relationship God has with the Church. Our children can’t be the godly children we want them to be if they grow up believing the church and God are at odds, or distant, or merely share a common home. In that home has to be a husband who is willing and available to his wife and kids, and most of all loves his wife. To complete the picture, John MacArthur lays out four ways to loves our wives: 1) Sacrificial love, 2) Purifying love, 3) Caring love, 4) Unbreakable love.
Chapters 2 & 3 are the heart of the book; he titles them “Raising Your Children in the Lord, Part 1 & 2”. What was appealing about these chapters was that they were set up more as a way of thinking or a philosophy and not so much as a to-do list. MacArthur began with the pressures that parents face which include external (culture) and internal (fallen nature). My only real issue with the book came during the section on external pressures. Springboarding off of Neal Postman’s thesis on childhood (which is that “childhood is disappearing”) MacArthur remarks that children are becoming less social and less spontaneous and now they play in a structured and more solo way. He points particularly to electronic games. He wants to say that video games, TV, and other media now expose children to things from which they used to shield them. While I think that’s true, the implication that avoiding these things AND going back to a more social child seem incompatible.
On one hand, it is good advice and a good observation that electronic media can and do (often) have a bad influence on our kids; our precautions against this are undermined by allowing them to hang around other kids that are exposed to the media we’re trying to protect our own children from. I don’t particularly think the answer is raising our children to be anti-social, nor do I think I really have an answer, I just know that I’m OK with a less social child. I’d much rather my kids grow up loners with a few close friends than part of the neighborhood gang of hooligans pretending they’re upstanding kids as they curse, steal, smoke, and look at porn.
Truthfully that difference is a minor point. John MacArthur spends much more time on the responsibilities of parents to teach about the holiness of God, the reality of their own sin, what Christ did for them, and what to do in response; as well as the priorities of a parent to not provoke them to anger, and to provide discipline and instruction. He turns his attention in Chapter 4 to teaching our children wisdom, and of course, points to the book of Proverbs. Going through Proverbs, MacArthur outlines 10 crucial lessons we have to teach our children.
The emphasis on teaching is palpable throughout the book. I think that’s what I walked away with the most—If I am to be a good dad, I need to be a good teacher. For fathers, as MacArthur demonstrates, teaching isn’t about lectures and classrooms but rather about living a life before your kids that is a lesson in and of itself. It’s also about taking the plentiful opportunities that come our way and using them to point our kids to the Lord—training them up in the way that they should go. For that, I’m grateful. It was both refreshing and sobering to not be sold a system of operating, but rather a lifestyle to live.
Chapter 5 was particularly near and dear to my heart. Titled “A Father’s Love for a Rebellious Child” I read it closely and tried to get as much as I could from it because I am, indeed, the father of a rebellious (older) child. After reminding us that the job of a father is a constant and ongoing, MacArthur points us to the parable of the prodigal son. Throughout the entire chapter, he unfolds the parable drawing out the principles Jesus taught and bringing to the surface the realities of what Jesus was really saying.
It is classic John MacArthur and it is exactly what a man like me needs to hear. You’ll just have to trust me on that one. A guy like me needed to know to be watchful and welcoming for his prodigal. I needed to hear that I was doing the right thing by hoping. I needed to see that love sometimes meant letting go and letting “nature” take its course. It was water to a thirsty man, air to the drowning. It stuck with me for a while and I’m still thankful for it.
MacArthur finishes the book with a call to fatherhood; a call for brave fatherhood. A call to be faithful to the Lord, a call to love our wives, and a call to lead our families, our churches, and our societies. He finishes with a charge to fathers “Don’t sell out integrity for comfort. Don’t be afraid of what others might think. Seek to please God and hold to your convictions so that you will fulfill the leadership role God has called you to in your home. That is what it means to act like a man.” Amen and amen.
John MacArthur held my attention, wrote well, and taught me much about being a dad. I wouldn’t say I came away from the book with a renewed perspective, but I did have my perspectives better informed and in some cases revised.
In the entire world of books with the 100 percentile being the Bible and zero being Anton Levey’s “The Satanic Bible” and this pile of garbage, this book is in the 65th percentile.
In the realm of Christian books about fatherhood and parenting, this book is in the 95th percentile. I give the book 4 out of 5 stars. It’ll stay on my shelf and I’ll likely reread it. I will recommend it to other fathers and I recommend it to you.