This is the second edition of a title originally published in 2004. The author, director of Matthias Media and father of five children, sets out to address the ‘fatherhood crisis’ by changing how we think about fatherhood.
He observes that it is no accident that the appalling lack of responsibility shown by many fathers has grown in a culture where the child is viewed as a sub-set of the mother: a part of her body for her to dispose of as she wishes.
With reference to Scripture, Payne demonstrates that a father has a unique role as the life-giver and the one who bears the ultimate responsibility for those he brings into being: ‘Fathers, in the biblical world, had a natural responsibility to care for their children, to nourish them, to provide for them, to seek their welfare, and in the end to give them an inheritance’ (p.37). God himself is referred to as ‘the ultimate father’ (p.86) and the model for human fathers to imitate. In him is found ‘the perfect combination of severity and compassion, of awe-inspiring authority and oceanic mercy’ (p.89).
Contrary to the spirit of an age which has ‘gone out on a long and lonely limb’ and pursued ‘a somewhat novel experiment’ (p.49ff), Payne reasserts the authority of the husband and father as the head of the family, according with the divine order established from creation. He stresses that the father’s authority is not to be exercised for his own benefit, but for the wellbeing of his wife and children.
In the latter part of the book, fatherhood is set in the context of the ‘daily self-denying, cross-bearing journey of discipleship’ (p.123) that applies to all believers, whether fathers or not.
There are a few jarring notes. Given the emphasis on the father as life-giver and children as ‘an extraordinary blessing of God’ (p.35), the casual acceptance of sterilisation seems out of place.
The tone is a little flippant in places and there is a hint of a relaxed attitude towards the Lord’s Day. Not all will share the author’s somewhat pessimistic understanding of the purpose of Ecclesiastes or agree with his ‘three strikes before punishment kicks in’ approach to discipline.
Nevertheless, in a world that sometimes views fathers as an irrelevance or as an optional extra, this title strikes a number of important notes.