Blog Archives

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.

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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.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/28)

The date is important for Christianity because Constantine went on to end imperial persecution of Christians (with the Edict of Milan in 313). He also converted to Christianity personally, and empowered and enriched the church in countless ways, from copying Bible texts, to gathering the first ecumenical council, to beginning Christian architecture. What’s not to love?

… when He became incarnate, and was made man, He recapitulated in himself the long line of human beings, and furnished us, in a brief, comprehensive manner, with salvation; so that what we had lost in Adam–namely, to be according to the image and likeness of God–that we might recover in Christ Jesus. (Against Heresies III.18.1)

Samuel, this seven pound two ounce wonder, represents, no less than other children, what Jürgen Moltmann once named ‘metaphors of God’s hope for us’, that with every child, a new life – original, unique, incomparable – begins. And that while we typically ask, who does this or that child look like…, we also encounter the entirely different, the entirely dissimilar and unique in each child. It is, Moltmann suggests, precisely these differences that we need to respect if we want to love life and allow an open future. Moltmann also recalls that with every beginning of a new life, the hope for the reign of peace and justice is given a new chance….Every new life is also a new beginning of hope for a homeland in this unredeemed world. If it were not, we would have no reason to expect anything new from a beginning.

Be suspicious of statistics, especially those that seem too good or too bad or too surprising to be true.

You’re two years into your administration and the question that arises in my mind is, Are we the people that we were waiting for? Or, are those people are still out there and we don’t have their number?

Bloody bedtime stories

I was going to try and post something thoughtful and intelligent this evening, but then I ran across this article in Ten of the Bloodiest Bedtime Stories. That’s just not fair. How am I supposed to resist a title like that? Sure I still need to finish preparing my lectures for my Philosophy & Theology class tomorrow (don’t tell my students), but this is critical research that absolutely cannot wait. If I really thought about it, I know I could come up with a way of integrating this material into our philosophical ruminations. So, I’ll get to kill two birds with one stone. (See, the bloody imagery is everywhere.)

Obviously, I succumbed to the temptation and read the article. It was fun. Stupid Little Red Riding Hood stays inside the wolf’s belly where she belongs, two of those three whiny pigs get eaten, Belle’s father actually sells her to the Beast in exchange for his own freedom, the Little Mermaid dies and her beautiful prince marries someone else, and Pinocchio smashes Jiminy Cricket with a hammer. That’s outstanding. Why doesn’t Disney make these stories? They’d be so much better.

One question that comes to mind after reading these other endings: Do we coddle our kids too much or were the kids of an earlier era a complete emotional/psychological mess?

N.T. Wright on the worldwide hunger for worship

Here’s an interesting video from N.T. Wright on the tremendous hunger that exists in the world for worship and what we can do about it. Specifically, he calls on us to work on two things:

  1. More regular worship. As he says, “frankly, one day a week ain’t good enough.” We need to educate people on individual and family worship so that worship can become a regular part of their daily lives.
  2. More emphasis on liturgy. Wright argues that liturgy can be very helpful in educating people for worship, especially when they are just learning how to do it. He rightly points out that the “imperative to be spontaneous” can be a terrible burden, constraining people from engaging in individual and family worship.

HT

Desiring the Kingdom 7

Chapter 5 is really the heart of the book. Here Smith walks through the embodied practices of a typical into people whose loves are directed toward the Kingdom of God: the space of worship,  gathering together, greeting one another, singing, reading the law, confession, baptism, reading the Apostles’ Creed, prayer, Scripture and sermon, eucharist, offering, and the sending out

I won’t take the time to walk you through each of the various practices that he discusses. Instead, I’ll mention just a few to give you a sense of how his argument develops.

1. The space of worship.

He begins by talking about how the physical space of worship can itself be used to create a “space of worship” that changes according to the liturgical calendar. In this way, “just the space of worship would tell a story that actually organizes time – an indication that here dwells a people with a unique sense of temporality, who inhabit a time that is out of joint with the regular, mundane ticking of commercial time or the standard shape of the academic year” (156). Such a practice would serve as a “counter-formation to the incessant 24/7-ness of our frenetic commercial culture” (157), by shaping us as a people formd by an eschatological imagination.

2. The gathering.

Smith argues that the very act of gathering together for worship is an embodied practice. At the very least, we could be at home doing something else that would be shaping us in very different ways. More importantly, gathering expresses our identity as those who have been called from the world to be constituted as the community that praises God. And, the gathering of the community expresses the conviction that this is the place in which human flourishing truly takes place – we are fully human beings insofar as we are worshipping beings.

3. Greeting one another

One of my favorite parts of the chapter was his section on the greeting as a formative practice. Looked at one way, nothing in the service is more trivial and awkward than the practice of “shaking hands with the person next to you.” But, Smith argues that we should see this is as practice that shapes us into a people that appreciates the importance of the community. We are not here as individual and isolated worshippers, but we are here as the people of God.

4. Baptism

Unsurprisingly, Smith sees this as a critical practice for the church. Indeed, “it is a microcosm of the entirety of Christian worship and the story of God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (182). More interesting was his emphasis that because baptism serves as the constitution of the people of God, it also serves as a counter-formation to the “idolization of the family” (186). He thinks that modern, liberal society has placed too much emphasis on the family as the primary locus of human flourishing. And, thus, we’ve placed a burden on the family that it was never meant to handle. Instead, baptism reminds us that the family should be a part of the larger people of God. It thus “opens the home, liberating it from the burden of impossible self-sufficiency, while also opening it to the ‘disruptive friendships’ that are the mark of the kingdom of God” (186-7).

Through each of the different discussions, Smith wants us to understand two things. First, each of these practices serves as a counter-formation to other formative practices, directing us toward true human flourishing in the world. And, second, although it’s good for us to understand the theological significance of these practices, it is not necessary for them to have a formative influence. Indeed, the whole idea of a “practice” as he understands it is that its formative significance is pre-cognitive; it shapes us even if we don’t understand precisely how it does so. And, that’s why he argues that these are formative practices even for children or handicapped individuals who would not otherwise be able to grasp the theology embedded in the practices.

Desiring the Kingdom 7

Chapter 5 is really the heart of the book. Here Smith walks through the embodied practices of a typical into people whose loves are directed toward the Kingdom of God: the space of worship, gathering together, greeting one another, singing, reading the law, confession, baptism, reading the Apostles’ Creed, prayer, Scripture and sermon, eucharist, offering, and the sending out

I won’t take the time to walk you through each of the various practices that he discusses. Instead, I’ll mention just a few to give you a sense of how his argument develops.

1. The space of worship.

He begins by talking about how the physical space of worship can itself be used to create a “space of worship” that changes according to the liturgical calendar. In this way, “just the space of worship would tell a story that actually organizes time – an indication that here dwells a people with a unique sense of temporality, who inhabit a time that is out of joint with the regular, mundane ticking of commercial time or the standard shape of the academic year” (156). Such a practice would serve as a “counter-formation to the incessant 24/7-ness of our frenetic commercial culture” (157), by shaping us as a people formd by an eschatological imagination.

2. The gathering.

Smith argues that the very act of gathering together for worship is an embodied practice. At the very least, we could be at home doing something else that would be shaping us in very different ways. More importantly, gathering expresses our identity as those who have been called from the world to be constituted as the community that praises God. And, the gathering of the community expresses the conviction that this is the place in which human flourishing truly takes place – we are fully human beings insofar as we are worshipping beings.

3. Greeting one another

One of my favorite parts of the chapter was his section on the greeting as a formative practice. Looked at one way, nothing in the service is more trivial and awkward than the practice of “shaking hands with the person next to you.” But, Smith argues that we should see this is as practice that shapes us into a people that appreciates the importance of the community. We are not here as individual and isolated worshippers, but we are here as the people of God.

4. Baptism

Unsurprisingly, Smith sees this as a critical practice for the church. Indeed, “it is a microcosm of the entirety of Christian worship and the story of God, in Christ, reconciling the world to himself” (182). More interesting was his emphasis that because baptism serves as the constitution of the people of God, it also serves as a counter-formation to the “idolization of the family” (186). He thinks that modern, liberal society has placed too much emphasis on the family as the primary locus of human flourishing. And, thus, we’ve placed a burden on the family that it was never meant to handle. Instead, baptism reminds us that the family should be a part of the larger people of God. It thus “opens the home, liberating it from the burden of impossible self-sufficiency, while also opening it to the ‘disruptive friendships’ that are the mark of the kingdom of God” (186-7).

Through each of the different discussions, Smith wants us to understand two things. First, each of these practices serves as a counter-formation to other formative practices, directing us toward true human flourishing in the world. And, second, although it’s good for us to understand the theological significance of these practices, it is not necessary for them to have a formative influence. Indeed, the whole idea of a “practice” as he understands it is that its formative significance is pre-cognitive; it shapes us even if we don’t understand precisely how it does so. And, that’s why he argues that these are formative practices even for children or handicapped individuals who would not otherwise be able to grasp the theology embedded in the practices.