What does a Christian home look like?
That's the question Robert Wolgemuth attempts to answer in his latest book, THE MOST IMPORTANT PLACE ON EARTH. A well-known author and speaker, Wolgemuth and his wife Bobbie have two grown daughters and, at last count, three grandchildren. His love for them and his extended family of nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, and parents is clearly what motivates much of his thinking and writing, given his other family-related books including SHE CALLS ME DADDY, DADDY AT WORK and PRAYERS FROM A DAD'S HEART.
In THE MOST IMPORTANT PLACE ON EARTH Wolgemuth proposes, and I heartily agree, that the home is just that, the most important place on Earth. Therefore, parents who want to raise their children in the faith should be intentional about making this place pervasively Christian.
"'Why a Christian home?' you might ask. 'Why not a Cleveland Indians home or a Chicago Bears home?' Some people live in a University of Tennessee home. Because Bobbie and I lived in Nashville for sixteen years, on autumn Saturdays we'd see folks from UT homes drive up and down the streets with orange flags sticking out of their windows. So why not a Vols home? Being a football fan is a good thing, isn't it?
Why a Christian home? How about…an American home? Would that be good enough? Or maybe a healthy home or a positive-thinking home or a musical home? I've visited friends who had laugh-a-minute homes. I went back to those as often as I could.
What's so great about a Christian home?
It's rather simple. In a Christian home, there's something special. It's called grace. To be sure, there can be good stuff in these other kinds of homes. You can be a loyal fan, you can be a patriot, you can be a healthy eater and a positive thinker, but there's no power --- no lasting redemption in any of these.… In a grace-filled Christian home, there is salvation. There is forgiveness. There is hope. There is genuine happiness. There is purpose there. Power there --- for the parents as well as for the children."
Wolgemuth draws on both his own childhood and the experience of raising his daughters to create a "blueprint" for building a Christian home. And this is where the problems with this book begin. THE MOST IMPORTANT PLACE ON EARTH can't seem to decide whether it's a memoir or a manual, and so it doesn't completely succeed at either. Wolgemuth's musings about his family aren't sufficiently stylized to be read for their literary merit alone. And yet the book is so full of images from his life that at times they seem to be the point, rather than the point they illustrate being the point. In the context of a memoir, this wouldn't be so hard to swallow. Under the pretext of telling people how they too can and should create a "real" Christian home, the mostly positive memories sound a little like bragging.
On the manual side, Wolgemuth mixes solid general biblical principles for parenting with his own ideas about how these principles are best lived out. The problem is that he doesn't draw a distinction between the two. For example, in a chapter on creating a home where the "smell" or presence of God is palpable, he writes:
"Filling your house with the scent of the Almighty --- God-cense --- is really a matter of following simple directions. When you do, the smell is automatic."
He then goes on to give what I can only guess are the simple directions. Among them are to go to church every Sunday absolutely without fail, to make sure every member of the family has their own Bible, to help children memorize Bible verses, to be sure to mention God in everyday conversation with your children (i.e. "Wow, would you look at that sunset? God is such a great artist!"), to say a prayer before every meal whether at home or in a restaurant, to qualify all statements about the future with the phrase "the Lord willing," to ask thought-provoking questions of your kids at the dinner table, and to have fun family devotions.
All of these are great ideas and suggestions, but Wolgemuth's presentation makes them feel like non-negotiable components of a Christian family. As are, according to chapter 3, good telephone manners. Apparently when the phone rings and I yell across to the house to my brother that the phone is for him, I'm using the "redneck intercom." In the context of the book, it's easy to surmise that my home is not really Christian. At the very least it's a sub par Christian home.
And that's the crux of my complaint about THE MOST IMPORTANT PLACE ON EARTH. Christian homes, like Christians themselves, come in all shapes and sizes. Some are messy. Some are clean. Some have moms who kneel down and address their children at eye level. Some have moms whose knees are too arthritic to bend down that far. Some have dads who wrestle with their kids before dinner. Some don't have dads at all. Some have sisters who yell across the house when the phone is for their brother. But you'd never know that from reading this book.
I didn't realize it until after I finished this book, but I think perhaps the whole idea of creating a blueprint for a Christian family is a bit misleading. Yes, Scripture provides some direct advice when it comes to kids. But it's certainly not enough direction to go on to design a universal blueprint for where the closets and electrical outlets and the air ducts should go in the ideal Christian home.
In his introduction Wolgemuth says that it isn't his intention to suggest that every family look like his family, but the rest of the book argues otherwise. That isn't to say that having a family that looks like the Wolgemuth clan would be bad. They sound like a good bunch of people. They have a loving and gifted son, husband, father, and grandfather in the author of this book. And it's important to note that there are some good biblical principles mentioned here. But for all its talk about grace being a distinguishing characteristic of a Christian home, that quality seems to be in short supply in this book. The Wolgemuth family doesn't seem to need much of it since they do just about everything right. And parents reading the book aren't given much leeway for mistakes given that the "preservation of the Christian family --- your Christian family --- is a deadly serious subject."
So, what does a Christian home look like?
It looks like mine. And it looks like the Wolgemuths'. And, if you strive to be just, kind, and walk humbly with your God, it looks like yours too.
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on October 14, 2004
The Most Important Place on Earth: What a Christian Home Looks Like and How to Build One