I just finished reading Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson and thought I’d offer some thoughts. But first I wanted to talk about how I think Dobson gets a bad rap from both Christians and non-Christians. At the same time, neither of these groups bring up the issue that I have with his thoughts, at least as much as I’ve read in just this one book.
So Christians will often say that Dobson is so focused on the family that He forgets about God. First, Dobson is a phychologist, not a theologian or even pastor, and second his approach to counseling isn’t necessarily the Biblical counseling movement coming out of Westminster Theological Seminary. So, I think it’s an unfair assessment. He continually emphasizes serving the Lord, knowing the Lord, obeying the Lord, but he doesn’t have the same theology or calling of a John Piper, for example, who comes at this question of family, etc. from the other side, namely starting with theological truths. We may not agree with Dobson’s approach, but we should call him out for his view on Christian counseling instead of just saying glib things like how his family is an idol, etc.
Now, non-Christians don’t like Dobson, and it’s mostly because he’s a Christian who sticks to traditional Christian beliefs about family, marriage, men/women relationships, etc and then talks about it publicly. Now, does he share his opinions in these areas with as much tact, nuance, or grace as he could…I don’t really know since I haven’t followed him. But, I am sure that he feels a need to be clear about these issues because he believes his calling is to strengthen Christian families, so of course he’s going to publicly state that homosexuality is incongruent with God’s will. And those Christians who call him out for his beliefs on these things have all of Church history and most of the global Church to call out for holding similar opinions. I’m not trying to write a defense for Dobson. I just didn’t see, in this one book which is a limited taste I know, what the big deal is with Dobson. And maybe the random things I hear about him from time to time are only coming from these groups mentioned.
So, to the book. I really liked parts of it. Particularly, the first few chapters as he talked through the physical differences between boys and girls (besides the obvious extra appendage!), even going into specific hormones and their effects on the human. I also agree with his assessment of the anti-maleness that has and continues to thrive in our culture. He illustrates aptly the many ways that boys (and girls) are under attack from those who want to argue that there is no difference in genders. And there are nuggets of good points and a little bit of practical advice sprinkled throughout. Though I had expected much more practical advice, I can’t blame Dobson for not writing a different book. I should have looked closer before reading.
Here’s my big beef with Dobson. In my mind, he is to Christian family as GreenPeace is to environmentalism. What I mean is that he and GP are supporting good causes. They are causes that need to be heard to varying degrees. There are folks doing serious harm to both the family and the environment. However, the way they go about making their point is to paint the worst possible picture and so scare us into action. This is what I call the His Needs, Her Needs approach to motivation. I read the book by that title a few years ago, simply put it’s a book on marriage. The author, Willard Harley, shares horror story after horror story about marriages falling apart, hoping that the end result would be to affair-proof your marriage. The end result, for me, was a desire to burn the book because I believe that more should motivate me as a husband than the fear of my or my wife’s infidelity. Similarly, there are better motivators out there for caring for creation than telling us every environmental horror story.
And surely, we can get excited about raising our boys into men without hearing ad nauseum about all the threats (the feminists, sexual predators, bullies, bad influences, etc, etc, etc), out there hoping to destroy our boys. I would suspect that Bringing Up Boys has resulted in more Christian helicopter-parents than anything else. Now, I’m all for knowing the challenges and threats but about 90% of the 288 pages focuses on this with little said about how to foster our sons through them. Instead, we’re exhorted again and again to keep them close…well, I hope Dobson doesn’t charge too much hourly for counsel if his only insight is “keep ’em close.”
Perhaps I’m being a bit unfair. Maybe my antenna is just sensitive to this doom and gloom approach to motivation. Why don’t we talk about the glory that parents receive from raising godly sons as motivation. Solomon mentions it again and again in Proverbs. Or, how about we try to envision a world with even a small number more of men raised up to lead, serve, sacrifice, and fear the Lord? I think it was Moody that said that the world has yet to see what God could do through one man fully devoted to Him. Now, first that’s untrue, because 2000 years ago, we saw one man’s complete devotion end in Cross and Resurrection. Secondly, folks are killing themselves trying to be THAT one completely devoted man mentioned by Moody. So, the quote isn’t perfect. Maybe we should tweak it. What could God do through a generation of Christian men, saved and transformed by grace, trained up in godliness and sent out into the world to serve the Kingdom of God while still living in the midst of this world? I want to read a book like that…a book that’s holding up a picture of what my son can be through the grace of God alone and how, through that same grace, I can help him to become that man!
Well, I digress. Feel free to call me out if I’ve been unfair. I can be that sometimes.