Stay-at-home dads should be disciplined by the church

At least, that’s the argument that Mark Driscoll made recently when asked, “What are your thoughts on stay at home dads if the woman really wants to work?” Even though the video was posted some time ago, it has recently received some attention from several bloggers, one of whom specifically called out Western Seminary in the process. So, I thought some comment was in order.

The argument that Mark Driscoll and his wife Grace provide runs roughly as follows:

  1. 1 Timothy 5:8 says that a man must provide for his family.
  2. Titus 2 says that a woman should be “homeward focused.”
  3. There are no scriptures that support the arrangement of the husband staying at home while the wife works outside the home.
  4. Therefore, any man who stays home while his wife works outside the home is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8) and should be disciplined by the church.

Granted, they do say several times that they’re not legalists and that they recognize certain “exceptional” cases where the norm might not hold (e.g. an injured husband who simply can’t work). But, they clearly argue that this is the biblical norm and any deviation from this norm except in extreme situations is sin.



John Stackhouse and Ben Witherington have each weighed in on this video with pretty significant criticisms. Their main responses can be summarized as follows:

  1. Driscoll misreads both texts because he misunderstands the social situation in which they were written. In biblical times, there was no clear distinction between working “in the home” and “outside the home.” Most work was generally done in and around the home, with both husbands and wives participating as they were able. The sharp inside/outside division of labor is a result of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of factory work. So, Driscoll is essentially reading a modern cultural construct into the biblical texts and interpreting them through that lens.
  2. We also need to understand the cultural norms governing family dynamics in the biblical world. Paul speaks to both husbands and wives in ways that were appropriate to their cultural setting. But, this should not be interpreted to mean that these cultural norms are now absolutely binding for all cultures and all times. (Driscoll does comment on this kind of argument, dismissing any appeal to “culture” as an attempt to undermine biblical authority.
  3. So, ultimately neither of the  passages that Driscoll cites actually addresses the matter at hand. 1 Timothy 5:8 deals with the importance of taking care of people who can’t take care of themselves (primarily widows), and says nothing about where various kinds of work should take place. And Titus 2 exhorts women to carry out their roles faithfully, but does not actually indicate that working in the home is the only legitimate role they can have.

Although I disagree with Witherington and Stackhouse in some of the other things that they say about the NT and gender, I have to say that these arguments seem pretty spot on here. Driscoll does seem to be importing modern notions of family and economic realities into his understanding of the biblical texts, and this colors his conclusions in unfortunate ways.

Even beyond this, I found some of the comments made in the video rather troubling. First, I have so say that I agree completely that Driscoll’s glib dismissal of anything cultural was unfortunate. I’m very sensitive to the danger of dismissing things as “cultural” just because we don’t like them. But, that doesn’t excuse us from the task of wrestling with the cultural realities of the text. Stackhouse asks in one place what Western Seminary would think of Driscoll’s exercise in exegesis. I can tell you that regardless of what any particular professor thought of Driscoll’s conclusion (most would not be favorable), none would accept such a light dismissal of the text’s cultural context.

Grace says in one place, “As women we’re built to be home with our kids.” I’d love to see more explanation of this here. What exactly does it mean to say that women are built to be at home with the kids in a way that men aren’t? The only example she gives is to say that “our children need us as mothers. We’re the ones who tend to their needs….We’re built to be able to recognize those things.” So, women are inherently better at recognizing what their children need and meeting those needs? As a father, I object. Over the years, my wife and I have used all kinds of different arrangements, including several years when I stayed home and was the primary caregiver. I’d like to think that I did a pretty good job and was not in any way impaired by an inherent inability to discern my children’s needs effectively. Was I wrong? Are there essential differences that rendered me less sensitive to my children’s needs and limited by abilities as a caregiver? If so, I’d love to see those pointed out more clearly.

They also emphasized several times that women should be “homeward focused.” This is another one where I’d like a little more explanation. If they simply mean that women should be focused on taking care of their children and seeing that they are raised in a godly manner, then why wouldn’t we want men to be homeward focused in exactly the same way? In exactly what sense are women to be more homeward focused than men?

And, finally, I thought one of the most unfortunate remarks came toward the end. While he was expressing appreciation for Grace’s role in their family, Driscoll commented on how things would be different “if Gracie wasn’t willing to be their mom and be home with them.” So, women who work outside the home are not willing to be moms? They don’t want to be with their kids? This kind of subtle denigration of the motives of women who work outside the home is devastating and must be avoided at all costs.

At the end of the day, I appreciate Driscoll’s unbending insistence that we must always stand in submission to the demands of the text. He made a number of comments in the video about the importance of standing against unbiblical cultural norms that I thought were well said and timely. Unfortunately, the particular stance that he takes here seems unnecessarily legalistic (despite his claims to the contrary) and modernistic.


About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on October 28, 2010, in Anthropology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Really, Driscoll is just a fundamentalist who also happens to dress and look cool (to some). I think people pay too much attention to what he says because he looks more modern and cool than your average conservative/fundamentalist.

    Seriously though, isn’t our culture enamored with cool? It’s no different in the church.

    I wish I could be a stay at home dad. That would be awesome!!

  2. You know my comments about Driscoll are irrelevant to this post (although I do believe them). Feel free to delete them.

  3. I think Driscoll gets as much attention as he does because he’s an influential pastor in a key city and because he routinely says things that rile people up. I actually think Driscoll has an amazing ministry in Seattle and often appreciate what he has to say. People get a somewhat distorted impression of him because we only talk about the outrageous things that he throws out there unfortunately often. But, if you look at his whole ministry, there really is a lot to appreciate there.

    Having said that, he really does push my buttons on a fairly regular basis with some of the more outrageous things he throws out unfortunately often.

    • Since you addressed it I guess you think the comment was relevent.

      What’s influential about him and what’s key about his city? There are lots of pastors in big cities that are doing great things that nobody cares that much about outside of their church. Why him? Seriously why does anyone care what Driscoll has to say? Is it that the audience he’s speaking to doesn’t have anyone else who’s hip or trendy looking to say the stuff he’s saying? Honestly he seems me of the Sarah Palin of the Evangelicalism. I’m not denying that he probably has a thriving church and ministry and is doing some good stuff, but I’m wondering why the inordinate amount of attention on him and whether people would care as much about the controversial stuff he said if he looked like Bill Gates. Just thinking out loud. Maybe I’m wrong.

      • Relevant enough for me anyway.

        The mere fact that you’re annoyed that everyone’s talking about him is enough to establish his “influence” in the sense that he’s worth knowing about. I can tabs on Joel Osteen for that reason. He’s influential in that he’s having an impact on what people are talking about, and that in turns shapes what they’re thinking and doing. I don’t like it and I wish people would stop talking about him, but that doesn’t change the reality. You may feel the same way about Driscoll, but he’s still influential in at least that sense. There is, of course, a spiral effect with this sort of thing. I’m talking about him because everyone else is talking about him and am, therefore, contributing to the situation. But, that’s how life works. No one’s going to stop talking about him just because I decided to.

        I’d same the say for Seattle. Most large urban centers have a disproportionate level of influence in their region. And, people who live and work in those communities often benefit from that fact. In the NW, for example, I know some great pastors in eastern Washington and Oregon who are unlikely ever to have the same level of regional influence that a similar pastors in Portland or Seattle is going to have. Again, you don’t have to like it to acknowledge that this is how the world often functions.

        Now, having said all that, I want to re-iterate that I think there is a lot more good than bad in Driscoll’s ministry. Mars Hill is doing some amazing work in Seattle that gets buried under the hype that tends to surround Driscoll and some of his more outlandish statements.

  4. But why was he even letting his wife teach publicly? And wasn’t she wearing pants?

    And why does Proverbs exist in Driscoll’s theology, a book about father’s raising their sons? That seems rather “domestic.” And doesn’t P31 picture an “ideal” woman “working outside the home”?

    Me too – when he does it. But too much for him is black and white though, and doesn’t call for actual discernment just obedience to his simplistic interpretations, e.g. women don’t work outside the home, don’t see Avatar, etc.

  5. Above the “Me too..” section I quoted Cortez’ “I appreciate Driscoll’s unbending insistence that we must always stand in submission to the demands of the text. “

  6. I would like to think that a Bible which reflected gender accurately would be a help. There should be some way of indicating to those who don’t read Greek that there is no masculine pronoun in the Greek of 1 Tim. 5, in spite of what appears in many English translations.

    In addition, it was disturbing to hear Driscoll say that no women who had children in the home in his congregation were working outside the home. One can only assume that there will be the average number of divorces in his congregation, so many women in their fifties will be attempting to reenter the workforce with no experience. Some women will not leave abusive situations because of this.

  7. I agree that some things that Driscoll says are a little over the top, and I also find it unfortunate that he gets characterized by so many for only those things. However, much of what he is preaching is spot on and relevant to our day. He has an uncanny ability to contextualize the gospel and the message of Scripture (usually!) in ways that are appropriate. I think in this particular instance he is engaging a specific topic that should be a growing area of concern for the church. The church needs to be engaging and challenging men who want to stay at home and play X-box all day while their wives do the providing. Just as much as they would need to challenge a wife who wants to stay at home and do nothing all day but watch soap opera. I personally know men who are fully capable of working, and simply choose not to because their wives are working outside the home. These men also aren’t teaching their sons to be godly men, they expect their wives to clean the house when they get home, manage the bills, buy groceries, and take care of the children while they sit on the couch and watch football. That’s just wicked. (One would argue if these men are Christians, but the ones I know claim to be and are at church in the pews each Sunday.)
    All that being said, perhaps the issue shouldn’t be whether or not women should work outside the home, but rather on men being men and taking care of their families. I think Grace said it best at the beginning of the interview, “It’s hard to respect a man that’s not willing to provide (for his family).” That is true.

    • That’s a great point, Billy. I’m always amazed at the number of studies that still show women doing almost all of the work around the house, even when they are also working full time outside the home. The division of labor in most families is completely unfair, and manifests a level of selfishness among men that is devastating. And, I think it’s unfortunate that this video focuses everyone’s attention on the stay-at-home issue, when the real problem is something that runs much deeper. He does comment on this, but it gets lost in the rest of his rhetoric.


    • Billy, no one is saying Driscoll doesn’t get a lot right in his ministry or his reading of Scripture, etc. He does. He is a faithful pastor doing his best. But he is wrong in this case.

      No one is arguing that men should be lazy, stay at home, smoke weed, play XBox all day, and let the ladies do all the work at home and away from home. But it doesn’t take outlining an incorrect view of the woman’s role in family life to correct bad practices by men, does it? That is what he is doing – and what IS going to get the attention. It is bad exegesis and bad application.

      • Pat it seems that in this video the laziness of some men is exactly what he’s arguing against. He says, “Too many men take too little responsibility in this area.” Furthermore, I don’t know that he mischaracterizes the woman’s role in the family. He does say that God has given women a differing role inside of the family than he has given men (I don’t disagree with that), he does say that a women is an equal image bearer of God (I don’t disagree with that), and he does say that what is normative in Scripture is that men provide and protect for their families and women have a “homeward orientation” (I don’t disagree with that.) You may disagree that he makes this universal for all women (which I never hear him say in this video).

        I was simply saying that although you may disagree with his textual proofing, (and some would argue its not as incorrect as many portray it) he makes a good point about the laziness seen in many men today in taking care of their families spiritually and physically in our culture. Driscoll simply states that if you’re an able bodied man who is capable of working in order to provide for your family, and you’re not doing that, then you are living in sin. I can’t say that I disagree with that.

      • I am with Pat. If Driscoll meant to challenge lazy men and that was it he did a horrible, horrible job of saying that. No one seems to think he was saying something that simple.

    • Last thing I’ll say:

      Most of what he is saying is NOT grounded in Scripture, Billy. It simply isn’t. It is charitable of you to say so. But he is taking principles that no one is arguing for (e.g. men don’t be lazy; work, be responsible, etc.) and then extending that to a static view of how the man and woman function in marriage and saying “that is what Scripture means.”

      She/he keep talking about “the home” without defining it. Likewise, “providing for the family.” Does he support aunts, grandmothers, or who, exactly? If it is not cultural but “just the Bible” then I would expect he would consider the family unit larger than just the nuclear unit he focuses on. Which is it?

      When she comments she says things like “women are built for the home.” What does that mean? Obviously, they are meant to bear children. But what else? And was the Prov. 31 lady acting against nature when she was running real estate deals (v. 16)? Selling clothes (v. 24)? Or just partly?

      He appeals to statistics, fear of divorce, shame, fear of disappointing the wife, assumptions about what his children would be like if his wife had not chosen to “be a mom,” etc. Some of those can be useful teaching points as supplements. They can’t be the substance of the argument.

  8. “…they do say several times that they’re not legalists…” If you have to keep telling people you’re not a “legalist,” then you’re probably a “legalist.”

  9. BCash32,

    he does say that what is normative in Scripture is that men provide and protect for their families and women have a “homeward orientation”

    What scripture would you use to say that men provide and protect vs women providing and protecting? Just curious.

    • Sue,
      I would use passages like Provers 31 and Titus 2, as well as think through other practical scenarios in Scripture (men were chosen as Kings, led armies, judged disputes, etc…). I would also say that when I use the term “homeward orientation” I in no way think that this means women should/could not work outside the home, nor that this means men should/could not stay at home with their children. I’m trying to think through what it means that men and women have different roles (a big tenet of compatiblism). It seems like its boiling down to an Ephesians 5 mandate of men leading and women submitting (although I know those two words are like sticks of dynamite and it would take another post to underscore my interpretation). This seems to be because you can’t say men provide financially for their families and imply that women can’t/don’t do that. Nor can you say that women care for their kids and that men don’t/can’t do that as well. If the differences in roles are not in capacity, then where are they? (Thus the Ephesians 5 thought.) I also would say that there is not a universal rule that can be applied to every Christian family in every situation. However, I do think there are some men who are being lazy and need to get to work. And some women who have bought into a feminist agenda who need to be staying at home.

  10. Marc:
    “No one’s going to stop talking about him just because I decided to.”

    Actually that’s not true. If you hadn’t talked about him then I wouldn’t have either. : )

  11. Clearly I don’t think that men should be lazy, but I do think that women who, for whatever reason, fill the role of provider and protector – women like Phoebe, Lydia, Deborah, and so on – are actually living according to the say they were designed by God. Women are even designed by God to be able to settle disputes and lead governments.

    Naturally the children should not be neglected. But not all women have children, and women do not have children in the home for their entire lives. It is so uneccessary to treat older women as subordinate and junior functionaries. Older women should function in every way as the older men do. There is no physical or intellectual difference, no superior abilities on the part of the men, or scriptural reason to keep women on the back burner.

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