Family Shepherds ~ A Book Review

Leadership, development, discipleship all tend to be disciplines that are overlooked within the family. In fact, insert any number of similar nouns after the word family (i.e. instruction, meals etc.) tend to be overlooked. This is because a family life is no longer necessarily a family-oriented life. Instead family life is oriented around events, people, and other things that divide commitments of every family member so that there is little time ever actually spent together as a family unit. As a result, there is a great need for God-centered, gospel-centered, and Christ-centered instruction in the area of family.
I confess, as much as I lament the current family situation, I (and people like me) are the cause of such circumstances. I can criticize much, but it must come with a recognition of the failings in my own life in this regard, and there are many. I suspect that Terry Johnson (see his writing The Family Worship Book) is correct when he says for many, they have not done it for so long that it becomes too embarrassing to start now and admit the failing in an area for so long. This month I turned to Voddie Baucham’s Family Shepherds.
I recognize that Voddie Baucham is not without his critics and would even acknowledge some validity to some of that criticism. In fact, it is clear that part of his points are meant to acknowledge and defend against that criticism. While I may agree with some of the critique of his methods, I also recognize some great value in some of the things he has to say and therefore think it is important to acknowledge those points and look at them more intently. I appreciate the fact that he his works have caused us to look more deeply at the issues concerning family.
Voddie’s writing style is straightforward and simplistic so that there is not a large amount of room for misinterpretation. It is with this style that he works his way from topic to topic, establishing some foundational points. He begins quite simply with establishing a biblical basis for being family-oriented, not merely in ministry, but personally. He seeks to establish the primacy of family from Scripture in order to encourage parents to take a more active role in their children’s spiritual growth. From the first three chapters comes the remainder of the book, an emphasis on application. It is not a step-by-step book that you would expect though. Instead, he takes the foundation and begins to apply it to the following areas:
  • Caring for Your Child’s Spiritual Health through Teaching
  • Caring for Your Child’s Spiritual Health through Discipline (which he breaks down to formative and corrective)
  • Caring for Your Spouse’s Spiritual Health through Marriage
  • Caring for Your Own Spiritual Health through Marriage
It is appropriate that he begins this section by focusing on the gospel. All that is done in this area is dependent upon how one views/responds to the gospel. Therefore, the author spends an entire chapter covering what the Gospel is, what it is not, and how that impacts what is done.
Frankly though, trying to nail down an outline of the book in which one thought flows to another can be difficult. Individually sections do well to stand alone, but seeing the connections can sometimes be difficult. It is almost as if this is simply a series of independent teachings that were placed together to form a book without considering continuity. While much of his information seems to flow out of the overall theme, Voddie Baucham can quickly switch topics so quickly that reader are left questioning the meaning of something just said while trying to determine how he got to his current subject. As an example, in chapter eight he makes the point that marriage is a covenant not a contract (something I have been sharing for quite some time as well), yet he never addresses what that means. Instead, he simply moves on to explain how we shouldn’t be so career-oriented.
I must confess though, that this disjointed nature allows Baucham to do one thing I really like (as much as I have a hard time simply switching topics like he did). Throughout the book he intersperses chapters on theology. He covers topics like the gospel, modern feminism, the fall, and even the sabbath. Yet more than a discourse in systematic theology, he takes great care to relate why these topics matter in the realm of teaching family. In other words, not only does he say theology matters, but he proclaims why it matters and shows clearly how ones theology, good or bad, can affect the activity one engages in for spiritual growth.
It is often said that theology matters, which I agree. Yet, simply saying it matters doesn’t fix the fact that most people don’t understand how it matters. Voddie Baucham addresses that point here. He says, “Theology matters.” and then he gives examples of how and why.
Of note within the realm of theology are two sections. First his section on church membership (chapter 13). I suspect this is to answer his critics who say that his family-oriented methods subvert the role of the church. Quite frankly, no matte where you stand on this issue the Christian life is often reputed with examples in which the church can subvert the family and the family can subvert the church. I’ve seen both sides and would urge caution to both sides in this manner. With that said, some of the form that his ecclesiological method takes may be objectionable, but I am appreciative of the fact that he takes time to address the fact that church membership matters and that all people should be actively engaged within the body of Christ.
The second area I personally enjoyed was the section on male headship in the home. In the midst of asserting and defining male headship, he takes time to systematically refute several arguments from the feminist movement. There is a great benefit here for Christians as a whole to understand why secular arguments are unbiblical and for those Christian homes who are struggling in their personal understanding and application of this section.
The book has much to offer and is intended to provoke thoughts and actions to one’s personal responsibility for shepherding the family. Voddie Buacham does well at answering his own question, “How do I lead my family?” And yet, I must ask, “At what cost?” I don’t ask this question lightly, nor do I answer it with a well-defined answer. While the premise of family shepherding is biblical and he asserts a number of points that are also biblical, I find myself very cautious about some of his applications of Scripture. Particularly in chapter two as he looks upon Acts 18:26 and varying passages of Titus. I am keenly aware that every passage in Scripture has one interpretation, yet can have a number of applications. However, his application of those passages towards family shepherding seems to be an overreach on the process of hermeneutics. I wish I could offer more insight beyond that, but all I can say is that I am currently struggling my way through how he applies those to support his point and am not settled on his methodology there.
In light of this my urging remains unchanged from my personal premise for reading the book in the first place: I recognize and agree with certain critiques of Baucham’s ministry, but neither should we deny everything because it comes with immense truths. We’re not talking about partnering-severing issues here.   So here is what I leave with. The book has some value and offers up some insights that you won’t get anywhere else. So is this book for you? That depends. If you are seeking a resource for the purpose of understanding and instituting family worship/discipleship in your own life, I would say no. Instead, I would turn you towards Donald Whitney’s book, Family Worship, as the premier book for establishing a family worship basis (you can read my book review on it here).  However, if you already have a foundation and are seeking more understanding about the issues that impact our family worship, then I would urge you to pick up the book and look it over. He has some fascinating insights and will even point you to more resources/authors so you can dig deeper.