I recently read three short books by Douglas Wilson on the family after some friends recommended them for their insights on parenting:
- Standing on the Promises: A Handbook of Biblical Childrearing. Moscow, ID: Canon, 1997. 170 pp.
- Federal Husband. Moscow, ID: Canon, 1999. 110 pp.
- Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants. 2nd ed. Moscow, ID: Canon, 2012. 199 pp.
I’ve read only a handful of Wilson’s other books (including a pithy one on writing but none of his controversial writings on federal vision or slavery), and I’ve subscribed to his “Blog & Mablog” for years.
My wife just finished carefully reading Wilson’s The Case for Classical Christian Education (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003). We agree with each other that reading Wilson often evokes one of three responses:
- We strongly agree. Pithy, insightful.
- We strongly agree while recognizing that an improved tone could win others over. (Think Tim Keller.)
- We strongly disagree while being put off by the tone. For example, last week he called the NIV a “gender bender” translation, asking, “Who wants a Bible translation with hormone shots and breast implants?” (Wilson uses the KJV.)
So I can’t endorse his books on the family without that significant caveat. That said, however, he’s worth reading, and he’s fun to read. He says a lot of helpful things, and he rarely says anything in an uninteresting way—even if you disagree with him as I do, for example, that we should treat proverbs like promises or that public schools are not an option for Christians.
Here are some excerpts that, for me, provoke all three of the above responses:
On the direct correlation between biblical parenting and successful results
- How our children do in life is the result of how we taught and disciplined them in our homes. (Standing on the Promises, 41)
- If we are faithful to Him as parents, we are not manipulating Him. He is bound by nothing other than His own Word, freely bestowed and given. He will always do what He has promised. (Standing on the Promises, 51)
- The Bible promises nothing for nominal disciplinarians. (Standing on the Promises, 133)
On public school
- The children . . . were educated by priests of Baal down at the local government school . . . . (Standing on the Promises, 44)
- Christian parents are morally obligated to keep their children out of government schools . . . . (Standing on the Promises, 94–99)
On fathers loving their daughters
- If a father wants to protect his daughter from immorality, he must surround her with masculine security. It must be established in her mind that if anyone is going to marry her, he is going to have to measure up to her dad. (Standing on the Promises, 148)
- In order to have a garden full of weeds, it is not necessary to do anything. One must just let it go. And in order to have a home full of grief, it is not necessary to do anything either. Just let it go. . . . A man who does not spank his son hates his son. This does not mean that he is filled with emotional revulsion for his son. It means that the lack of discipline has a destructive impact on the future course of that son’s life. A parental refusal to discipline is therefore an act of hatred. (Standing on the Promises, 41; cf. 76–77)
- Discipline is corrective; it seeks to accomplish a change in the one being disciplined. Punishment is meted out in the simple interests of justice. In bringing up children, parents should be disciplining them. In hanging a murderer, the civil magistrate is not disciplining—he is punishing. (Standing on the Promises, 105)
- Because children are very different, this means that there will be godly distinctions in the discipline received by various children. To say it again, kids are different—their personalities differ, their attitudes toward pain differ, and of course, they differ in sex. Consequently, if parents are seeking to accomplish a particular end through discipline, the amount of discipline required will vary as the nature of the child varies. Many parents know what it is like to spank a tough little tank of a boy, who always tries to make it as far through a spanking as he can without crying. They also know what it is like to see their other child dissolve into tears if the displeased parent looks at her sideways. (Standing on the Promises, 105–6)
- [D]iscipline must not be motivated by embarrassment. (Standing on the Promises, 108)
- When the parent is qualified to discipline, he probably does not feel like it, and when he feels like it, he is probably not qualified. (Standing on the Promises, 110; cf. 133, 141–42)
- The critical years in this process are the early ones. . . . Instead of loose tolerance when the kids are little, and clamping down as they grow older, a biblical approach is just the reverse. (Standing on the Promises, 112)
- There are four basic rules [of spanking]. . . .  Never spank in anger. . . .  Discipline must be painful. It must not inflict damage, so use a flat wooden spatula. . . .  Spanking should be a time of instruction. . . .  When the spanking is over, there must be a full
restoration of fellowship. (Standing on the Promises, 121)
- If discipline is not painful, it is not discipline. At the same time, discipline must be proportionate and within reason. (Standing on the Promises, 132)
- Discipline must  be confident . . . .  be affectionate . . . .  be judicial . . . .  be swift . . . .  be painful . . .  be effective . . . .  reflect biblical standards . . . . (Federal Husband, 96–99)
- [T]he way a man dresses can indicate his spiritual condition. (Federal Husband, 40)
- While women have longer hair, which is their glory, men have been gifted with more hair. In particular, men have been given beards. My point here is not that it is a sin or wrong in any way to be clean-shaven, but that the Bible does teach that a beard is a sign of masculine honor. (Federal Husband, 46)
- The current mania for self-mutilation and piercing is clearly a manifestation of a deep-seated pagan drive to rebel against God. (Federal Husband, 48)
- When a man singles a woman out for attention, he should have one thing clear in his mind. (Actually, a young Christian woman should understand the same thing as well.) To some extent, one of two things is happening. The first option is that the man is attempting to get the woman into bed dishonorably. The other possibility is that he is trying to do it honorably. If this sounds crass, you may not fully appreciate the holiness of the marriage bed. (Federal Husband, 104)
- A young man with a sexual problem has a sexual problem. But a young girl with a sexual problem usually has a security problem. (Future Men, 137)
On the father affirming the mother
- A husband should never speak to his wife as though she were one of the children. A condescending attitude is completely out of place. Neither should he undercut her decisions in front of the kids or dispute with her or demean her in any way. (Federal Husband, 34)
- The father should take the lead in gratitude. He should lead the family on complimenting her on her meals, on her appearance, and for the work she does in keeping the home running smoothly. He should be saying “thank you” many times each day, and he should insist that his children learn to follow his example. (Federal Husband, 35)