Sunday, April 01, 2007


In conservative circles, and I mean theologically conservative, there are many movements towards regaining a biblical view of the family. I can think of half a dozen men working hard for this: Douglas Wilson, Douglas Philips, R. C. Sproul, Jr., and many of their cohorts.

While these men have done some remarkable things, or rather the Holy Spirit hath wrought some remarkable things through them, I see some danger signs. These are very general things I'm going to mention, general impressions. I say these only to put people on their guard, not to denigrate any of the good signs I've seen. I should also mention that I definitely believe in strong families - but strong in grace, and strong in their knowledge of their utter dependence on God's grace.

1. Probably the most dangerous thing I see, by far, is an over-emphasis on the law. "Do this, do that, and everything will be all right." No, it won't. We need God's grace for everything we do, precisely because we are fallen sinners. I'm the last person to say that the law is irrelevant or shouldn't be mentioned: far from it. The law is our teacher, to show us that we need grace. That is true for the unbeliever as well as the believer, and it is true in justification as well as sanctification. However, it is counter-productive to talk all the time about what we ought to do, without mentioning the far greater thing that God does in His own will and timing. It is simply not true that if all the dysfunctional families in society were functional, that everything would be all right. It wouldn't. In fact, there's a possibility it could be a lot worse, given the pride people might well have in their now-functioning families.

2. I see an over-emphasis on the role of family in society. There sometimes seems to be a blurring of the roles of the three extra-personal spheres of government: civil, ecclesiastical, and familial. There are certain roles given to each of these that are most definitely not given to others. The family does not have the rule of the sword to punish the evil-doer, the civil government does, as Paul points out in Romans. The church does not have the primary rule of comprehensive education of children; the family does (though I would hasten to point out that I don't think this implies homeschooling is the only option, though I do think it's a good one; parents can delegate, after all!). This we get from Deuteronomy 6. The state does not have the rule of excommunication for the publicly-offending sinner in the church. This we get from Matthew 18 and 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Perhaps this over-emphasis comes about because the people engaging in it see the near-catastrophic meltdown of the family. It's true that such is the case. However, I believe the church is not in much better shape, and the civil government is a basket-case. I'd be hard-pressed to decide which of these governments needs the most help! Whose help, incidentally?

Let us not forget that there will, after all, be no earthly-type marriages in heaven. Jesus makes that clear in answering the Saducees and their question about the woman who married seven brothers, one after the late other. I think heaven is going to be something of a blend of civil, ecclesiastical, and familial relationships - all into one: the marriage of Christ and His church. Jesus Christ is Prophet, Priest and King, so there's definitely the civil aspect and the ecclesiastical right there. And it's the marriage to which all earthly marriages point, as Ephesians 5 tells us. So there's your family aspect.

3. I see some people talking an awful lot about family, but not actually taking the time simply to do it. When I grew up, my family didn't discuss all these serious "family matters" all the time. I didn't need long lectures about marriage, and the importance of stability, and the like: I had Dad and Mom as a wonderful example. One of my pet peeves (to get on a possibly extra-biblical soap-box) is "family time." As in, "We're going to have some family time now." As if it's possible for a family to be together and not have "family time." Perhaps you might argue that everyone in the family might be off doing their own thing. Well, then, are they really together? Some people, perhaps, don't use the term this way. I dislike the term "family time" almost as much as "quality time." There is certainly no such thing as quality time. There is only quantity time - and lots of it! I can't help putting a plug in for my favorite thing growing up: reading stories and books out loud. That's a great thing to do together.


Our society has many problems, familial problems among them. But these visible problems are all symptoms of a deeper problem: our spiritual death and alienation from God and our need to be resurrected and made right with God. Normally I don't like using passive sentences, but in my previous statement, I used the passive voice intentionally to illustrate the point: God gives us grace. It's nothing we do.

May God give us grace; may He save those whom He wills soon; may His gospel go forth. Fixing that deeper problem will result, eventually and gradually, in the solution of all these other problems like dysfunctional families, civil government run amok, and flabby churches. Treating the symptoms, though, is like putting a Band-aid over someone's heart when that person is really having a heart attack.

In Christ.

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At 4/02/2007 02:19:00 PM , Blogger Bethgem said...

A refreshing different perspective. You (and I, I might add) were blessed to grow up in a healthy family. But I think these teachers you mentioned (and I'm sure you'd agree) are probably very helpful to those who don't understand what family ought to look like. What's tiresome to one may be an important stepping-stone in understanding to another.

My dad would read aloud to us every night after dinner. I didn't know then how lucky I was. It breaks my heart to learn more and more what most family "life" really looks like.

At 4/05/2007 08:19:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest, rather, that it is a good quantity of good quality time that is important. A lot of time spent together as a family in front of the television would probably not be particularly edifying. It would probably be better than time spent apart in front of separate televisions but not as good as time spent together doing things like reading together, as you suggest.

I should say that I am a member of the church of one of the men you mention and do not think your observations ring true in his case. The word of God is preached in its full counsel, and the gospel is always central. In the context of his broader ministry as I have witnessed it for several years, I just do not see the overemphasis you warn about. (And I only refrain from mentioning a name because of the nastiness that tends to float around the internet -- and just to be clear, I am not accusing you of such.)

At 4/09/2007 08:27:00 AM , Blogger MM said...


First, I just discovered your great blog!- from Biblical Womanhood's announcement of your and Susan's engagement. Warmest Congratulations!

Secondly, I am intrigued to hear your perspective and critique of this issue. I have an essay on point (dealing in particular with Doug Philips/Vision Forum's perspective, etc.) that was recently published at Grammar of "Confronting the Household Gods-" It's a topic that a lot of theologians are beginning to explore. Nice work here.

At 4/09/2007 11:08:00 AM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Reply to Mary.

Thank you for your congratulations.

Very interesting essay you have there. I've read a good bit of it. I'm not sure I agree with everything in it.

For one thing, you never distinguish between the visible and the invisible Church. Why should you? Because they are not the same, and because there is a difference between what ought to be, and what is. The visible church is not made up of perfect people; indeed, there are unbelievers in her midst. Even the invisible church on earth is not made up of perfect people. Theologically, I think you have to distinguish between them because you appear to be arguing on the basis of what ought to be. The problem is that what ought to be is not what we have to deal with: we must deal with reality. The presence of sinners in churches (the only type of human beings to populate the visible church on earth) indicates that through sin there can be abuse of authority. It happens all the time. I know of at least one family that attended a church that decided to appoint a pastor who preached heresy. The father of the family decided to leave the church and attend a different one where such was not the case. My point is that all three visible authority structures on earth: family, church, and civil, are all made up of sinners. Therefore, not a single one of them can be trusted with absolute authority. Only God speaking to us through His Word by the illumination of the Spirit can be trusted absolutely (and should be trusted).

I argue for a balance of these three structures; it appears such a balance is a delicate one.

One thing that would actually strengthen your case is the eschatological view. Of those three structures, the invisible church will be the only one to survive eternity, at least in name.

In Christ.

At 4/10/2007 08:34:00 PM , Blogger MM said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 4/10/2007 08:36:00 PM , Blogger MM said...


I am not surprised that you do not agree with all of the essay- :) our culture is so sadly ridden with such depleted doctrines of the church, as is clear when we find it equated with mere human institutions.

But thanks for reading and for your thoughts!

At 5/11/2007 07:07:00 AM , Blogger Allison said...

I believe that when you have children one day, and understand firsthand, the battle that rages for their souls in our society today, you may not be as cynical about the teachings of building a strong family. I also grew up in a strong family, but see every day the ways in which my children could very easily be sucked into the world's mindset, philosophies, and general apathy were it not for our battle to keep their hearts. After all, I am given the job of being a guard of the home. The word "keeper" references a military mindset, and if that inference is given, do you not think that God knows that many battles will indeed be fought on the homefront? Be thankful for strong men teaching strong values for our families. Our country is built on them!


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