Book Review: Bringing Up Boys

51hJcrO6TZL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big-search,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_James C. Dobson. Bringing Up Boys. Wheaton, Il.: Tyndale House, 2001. 257 pages.

Just so you know from the outset, this review is going to take a slightly different tack from the previous two (here and here), so I humbly ask that you at least skim the whole article. You are probably vaguely familiar with the prolific James Dobson (writer, therapist, radio host, political lobbyist, journalist, etc.). Dr. Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, have had a voice among American conservatives for decades. Why has Dr. Dobson had such a profound impact on the evangelical world?

Read this book and you’ll understand. Dobson is an exceptional communicator and an insightful counselor. His command of current research, modern methods, cultural trends, and pertinent statistics make him hard to ignore. I don’t have any boys, but I found myself glued to every page of this intriguing work.

While the title, Bringing Up Boys, is indicative of its main purpose, the content applies to more than just parents with boys. It contains helpful information and advice for parents, grandparents, teachers, and pastors of both boys and girls. Some of the more valuable insights include:

  • A shocking synopsis of both feminist and gay/lesbian influence in the public school, the media, and national legislation. Dobson ably shows that the rise of feminism beginning in the 1960s has given way to a school system that is stacked against boys succeeding, that eliminates the inherent differences between the sexes (denigrating distinctly male traits), and that pushes a homosexual agenda in literally every subject.
  • Helpful, practical advice for dads, moms, single parents, and grandparents on how to raise boys that become men.
  • A convincing case for the differences between the sexes. Dobson believes that since boys and girls are inherently different, they should be expected to act differently–indeed, they should be encouraged to do so.
  • A scathing rebuke of several cultural norms and the parents that embrace them (such as giving children the internet in their room, permissive parenting, etc.).

Sounds pretty good, right? You’ll remember that I said that this review was going to take a different tack than the others. At this point, it’s necessary to note that the writings of Dobson and others like him approach parenting and other topics from a very different perspective than we would here at church.

What is the difference? Here at Bethel, we take seriously Peter’s claim that God’s “divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3; italics mine). From this we deduce that the Bible sufficiently addresses all problems in living that one could encounter. Have marriage problems? The Bible has answers. Can’t get along with people? The Bible speaks to that issue. Parenting needs? The Bible’s got you covered.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to what anyone else says. In fact, it’s God’s plan, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, that pastors and teachers help the church by explaining and proclaiming the Word of God in such a way that believers are equipped to thrive as the children of God in a wicked world.

But doesn’t James Dobson believe the Scriptures are sufficient to handle life’s problems? Well. . . here’s his basic approach (called integrationism): The Bible is great–it’s all true. But all truth is God’s truth. That means that believers ought to take advantage of all types of scientific research, including psychological research. We trust medical doctors and nurses to treat our physical bodies (I don’t think the Bible explains how to perform a quadruple bypass); we should trust psychiatrists to treat the mind, right?

Such an approach sounds like the best of both worlds. There are several problems, however. The mind and the spirit are not available for objective research the way the human body is. Since science (rightly so called) is limited to what can be observed, this is a problem for much psychological research. Moreover, in the name of science, unbelieving psychologists have proposed full-blown theories for the way the “psyche” (or the inner man) works. These hare-brained ideas are touted as fact, when in reality they are nothing more than the musings of an unregenerate weirdo (If you think that’s harsh, read the work of Sigmund Freud. . . Better yet, don’t).

Such “science” can’t help but be affected by the worldviews and presuppositions of those who practice it. The results, more often than not, are downright unbiblical (for more information about this problem, check out Jay Adams’ Competent to Counsel).

If you think that Christian people can’t be affected by the darker side of psychotherapy, consider the following unbiblical themes in the works of James Dobson:

  • A worldly emphasis on the need for self-esteem. Doesn’t the Bible teach that we already love ourselves (Ephesians 5:29)?
  • Unbiblical advice on helping teenage boys deal with their sexuality. Jesus says that if a man looks on a woman to lust after her, he’s broken God’s commandment (Matt. 5:28). Dobson’s view falls far short.
  • Continual encouragement to seek “professional” help when the going gets tough. At least a handful of times in each chapter, Dobson encourages parents to seek help from a “professional.” What advice does he hope an unbelieving psychiatrist will give to a struggling family that needs the wisdom of the Scriptures?
  • Constant appeal to current research to add credibility to his claims. Dobson makes a lot of true statements. But after reading the entire book, one gets the impression that the content of psychological journals carries as much, if not more, authority than the holy Scriptures.

What more could one expect from an individual who draws so much information and insight from the writings of unbelievers. What is worldly if not the world’s ways of thinking about life? Paul says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8).

No disrespect meant towards Dr. Dobson. He has, in many ways, been a helpful servant of God. But (and there are no two ways about it) his adherence to unbiblical research lays a shaky foundation that will lead many astray. For this reason, among others, we’ve chosen not to offer this title in our bookstore.

Bringing Up Boys provides many helpful insights for parents of all stripes. But it also contains much that is unbiblical. If you feel that such a book could help you, please read it with a discerning eye. You will benefit greatly from reading a book like Shepherding a Child’s Heart around the same time. This is a good book, but you don’t need it if it’s going to fill your mind with wrong thinking, so be wise.

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