FUTURE MEN by Douglas Wilson (FAN AND FLAME Book Reviews)
Douglas Wilson. Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, original 2001, revised 2012. 199 pp. $15.00.
Sometimes I am proud of myself. I’m proud because in the morning I woke up on time, put on my pants, read my Bible, and went to work. Then after work, I come home to the same woman I left in the morning—the woman I love and that loves me. Also, I played with my children and we ate dinner together. I’m proud because throughout the day I was—by most standards—a decent citizen, father, and husband. From pants on to pants off, I did a few things that are commendable.
Then I re-read Future Men by Douglas Wilson, and I remembered that the bar is higher, much higher. Biblical manhood is like a book on the very top of a giant bookshelf in the library—you know, the shelves that need a ladder to be reached, and when someone actually does reach them, the books are dusty through neglect. That’s like biblical manhood.
Yet I should be clear: it’s not just Wilson that sets the bar high. In the best possible way, Wilson and Future Men are derivative. In Future Men the Bible sets the ideal first. And just as in the Bible, Future Men is not merely full of unattainable ideals. The book is also full of empowering grace—a ladder, if you will—to reach up to the top shelf.
However, just because I’ve likened Wilson’s vision of biblical manhood to an old, dusty book, don’t expect old-fashioned, prudish advice. In fact, Future Men offers scriptural counsel that is hard to label, hard to classify. Let me give an example of what I mean. In the chapter on “Christian Liberty,” Wilson underscores that liberty is not merely freedom from something. In other words, because I have “liberty,” now I don’t have to do X, Y, or Z. Rather, true liberty is not only from something, but also for something, and in the Christian context, Wilson says, liberty is “for holiness.”
The end or purpose of Christian liberty is not to smoke or drink; liberty is given for the pursuit of holiness. Those who wave the banner of Christian liberty so that they might do whatever they might want to do have not understood the doctrine at all. The point is not to drink or smoke or dance according to your own whims, in the light of our own wisdom, but to do whatever we do before the Lord, with the increase of joy and holiness obvious to all. (77, emphasis original)
Okay, Wilson, liberty is for holiness; I get it.
But then, however, this same chapter concludes with a quote about parents teaching their children to drink alcohol:
But with all this said, wine was given to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), and one of the duties a father has is that of teaching his son to drink. (81, emphasis original)
See what I mean? It’s hard to label, hard to pin down. Liberty is for holiness, but fathers should teach their sons to drink (in a way that brings glory to God, no doubt).
Thus, Future Men is a lot of things, but one thing it is not, is predicable. (As an aside, a few years ago, I was at a Desiring God Pastor’s Conference where Douglas Wilson was a keynote speaker. In one Q&A, do you know what Wilson told John Piper that he would like to see more of at Desiring God and more of in Piper’s theology of “Christian Hedonism”? Answer: Wilson said, I’d like to see more “beer and bratwursts.” The more familiar you are with these two men, the funnier that quote is.)
Future Men covers topics from sexual sin to money; and doctrinal meat to friends; and formal (Christian) education to effeminacy. Throughout the whole, readers will find zero footnotes and only passing references to other sources, which is actually a fresh treat to those that read a lot of non-fiction. But this (i.e. having no footnotes) doesn’t mean Wilson is not listening to the conversations of the world; he is. He’s simply not telegraphing it.
If I was to offer a critique of the book, at several points the topics seemed packed more tightly than the space allowed. This was especially true of Chapter 15 (“Fighting, Sports, and Competition”), which felt rushed and crammed.
One other thing to mention: Wilson is feisty, and at some point in the book, I promise you’ll be offended. It might even happen several times. That’s good; it means you hold your opinions strongly enough that you can recognize when they’re being critiqued. The real question, however, is a fundamental one: What do we do with our offenses? Are we humble and honest enough to investigate the scriptures to see if we are wrong? Or are we only looking to books, any books—the Bible included—to merely see our own convictions reaffirmed?
No surprise here, the echo-chamber approach has problems. But, for those who need a reminder that “the bar” of biblical masculinity is high—and reaching up to it is always a supernatural endeavor through the grace of Jesus Christ—Future Men provides this kind of reminder.
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A Favorite Passage from my Favorite Chapter
“In C. S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we are given a good example of a boy who was brought up poorly. Eustace Scrubb had stumbled into a dragon’s lair, but he did not know what kind of place it was. ‘Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.’
“It is a standing rebuke for us that there are many Christians who have an open sympathy for the “true” books which Eustace read—full of true facts about government and rains and exports—and who are suspicious of great works of imagination, like Narnia stories, or The Lord of the Rings, or Treasure Island, because they are “fictional,” and therefore suspected of lying. The Bible requires us to be truthful above all things, they tell us, and so we should not tell our sons about dragon-fighting. Our sons need to be strong on drains and weak on dragons. The irony here is that the Bible, is the source of all truth, says a lot about dragons and giants, and very little about drains and exports…”
“Christians are a race of dragon-fighters. Our sons are born to this. Someone ought to tell them.” (Wilson, Future Men, “Giants, Dragons, and Books,” 101, 107, emphasis original)