Every so often I come across a book that says a great deal in a small package. No pomp or pageantry, no star quality author, and yet the truths in it resonate well past the reading. I found that to be the case with Kenneth Wingate’s A Father’s Gift. An attorney and layman in the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, South Carolina, Wingate does well advocating his heart’s passion for prudent living. He quickly summarizes a given verse and applies it without apology or reservation to his family.
A Father’s Gift assumes its readers are Christians, and takes every thought captive to its simple message. The Proverbs are a mine full of diamonds that we would do well to explore. Take heed, lest you fall. Wingate takes us on a journey through the various topics in Solomon’s legacy of wisdom: from wealth, health, and self-control to sexual purity and work. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it in the Foreword, “Ken Wingate now brings [Proverbs] into our needy culture, and I for one am grateful to him for sharing his gift as a father with other fathers –and mothers, and sons and daughters too.”
According to Wingate, A Father’s Gift is the fruit of 12 years’ study of lessons from Proverbs, packed into an ensemble of topical studies that really becomes “a personal gift for my three children…” No wonder, then, that in much of his language he takes on the mantle of family leader, mentor, teacher, coach, and servant. If the book succeeds in its mission, it will be due to its forthright application of Proverbs to Wingate’s own family, and by inference, to the wider family of Christ. The reader is really an invited guest, allowed to “eavesdrop on our conversation.”
A Father’s Gift maintains its relevance for a much larger audience through generous and specific examples from his own life. For starters, let’s examine its basic message to the Christian West in the area of wealth. “What’s wrong with becoming surety for someone? The trouble is that we are presuming on the future. We are assuming that when the debt collector comes to our door we will have the cash available to satisfy him.” A believer who freely participates in our credit-buried contemporary culture should read this section. Not only is Wingate ‘spot-on’ in his comments about debt; he has doubtless encountered as an attorney the many pitfalls of mounting and unsustainable debt, tragically among Christian families.
Besides being intensely practical, A Father’s Gift is remarkably well researched and carefully constructed. In its practical wisdom it addresses a generation left dangling between biblical Christianity and vacuous modernity. In some ways it is the modern counterpart to other studies like that of Charles Bridges with one difference: it is eminently readable. Topics progress from the introductory “Abundant Life: Introduction to Proverbs” and continue to “The End of the Path.” In each topical chapter, the title is based on a stream of verses in Proverbs that center around it, followed by a summary and one-sentence key principle. In Wingate’s logical layout, a devotional reader might cover one chapter in 2-3 days.
On the topic of ‘guidance’ Solomon’s wisdom is appropriate as well. The strongest admonitions are reserved for the crude, careless individual addressed in Proverbs as a fool. Not only does the thoughtless person ruin his own life, but also the lives of all around. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. “ (Prov. 12:15) At the end of the chapter on Guidance, we are reminded “The Lord guides us by the principles revealed in his Word, by the provision or withholding of resources, by the counsel of others, and by the sanctified desires of our hearts.”
If you have ever admonished a family member for foolish decisions, you know the recipient either ducks culpability, gets angry and walks away, or listens and heeds instruction. Wingate’s style suggests experience dealing with childlike responses to Proverbs. Although he uses apologetic language, he gives none of the Bible’s authority away. For example, in the chapter on “Sexual Purity” he remarks “God is no cosmic kill-joy who attempts to squelch our sensual feelings. He simply knows that such passions can only be sustained and positively directed within marriage.”
The strengths of A Father’s Gift are its unflagging emphasis on the consequences of poor choices, its practical application of scripture, and reliance on the full Bible, not only Proverbs, for its case against sin. Its only weaknesses are lack of a topical/terms index that would aid research, its brevity, and perhaps (for some) a bit light on gospel proclamation. I wanted to go deeper, to explore more of the relevant passages outside Proverbs, especially in the New Testament. Wingate articulates the clear gospel in his introductory chapter, after which he assumes that his readers are Christians. Many readers will be satisfied with this balance. But might he have used more gospel application?
It is important to note that readers of the whole book will find a balance between legal obedience and sanctifying grace. True Christians will recognize that the antidote to Proverbs’ foolish man is Godly wisdom, applied throughout life, and God’s wisdom is vividly showcased in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ –our only hope of gospel obedience in this life. Good behavior is imperative for the born again Christian. Good behavior outside of saving grace is mere legal obedience, the kind of lawkeeping that leads ultimately to death.
On balance, A Father’s Gift remains an irresistible gem that shines with timely advice, biblical admonition, and wise counsel. Get it, read it devotionally, and share it with family and friends. Hand it off to the next generation: it provides counsel you alone may never get them to consider. And besides, its brevity becomes a positive factor in giving it away.