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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.