Tuesday, July 25, 2017

God's Order For The Family

Most evangelicals have encountered sermons, books, or marriage classes that start from this concept. Over the decades, my own views on its accuracy have varied between 30-70%. I came from an education that insisted that men and women were exactly alike except for how we raised them. (I should have been more quickly suspicious as they kept moving the ages younger and younger as to how and when we were irrevocably influencing the infants to assume narrow gender expectations.) Well, that was a little crazy, and as we raised sons and compared them to their female age-mates we became increasingly convinced that the sexes are wired differently. More the same than different in most ways, but decidedly trending differently, right out of the gate.

Notice that's not quite the same thing as husbands being the deciders and the wives being the influencers and supporters, but the two were usually tied together in the marriage handbooks. In our case, a strong evangelical foundation may have been the only thing that got me into the conversation of making any decisions in our house at all. I'm a deferring sort of person (yes, really) and my wife is decisive, so it may have been good for me to branch out from that.  A guy at men's Bible study in the 80's suggested that Paul had only written what he did in order to give men a fighting chance. I don't mean to make too much light of this, because there are deeply pathological situations of controlling, abusive husbands who use this thread of Christian teaching as justification for their sin.  OTOH, there are wives who twist Scripture to their own ends as well.

But I had some objections right from the start to all this God's Order For The Family teaching.  It's not in the Ten Commandments and it doesn't figure prominently in most of Scripture. Moses doesn't throw down the tablets because the Israelites were allowing the wives to rule over their husbands, and Amos does not prophecy against Israel because husbands weren't providing servant leadership. The whole matter doesn't seem to be taken up in the New Jerusalem on any level. Even Paul doesn't mention it that much. Nor does Genesis.  (Those are the two biggies, for those of you who haven't been through the courses.) It seems odd to leap in and teach new Christians this part so early on, doesn't it? As if it were a central piece? Wild At Heart may teach some things worth knowing, but I'm not recalling where Jesus says much about the topic.

I noticed pretty quickly that it was entirely too categorical as well. There is a lot of variation in the human personality.  Men may tend to be some ways and even be hard wired to it, and women may tend others, but I don't think we can go much farther in asserting difference. I have to wonder if this rigidity has contributed to all the gender-confusion it promised to resolve.  If men are supposed to be Blue and women Pink, dammit, and get those kids into line, it opens up questions in the mind of a young person who says "I'm pretty sure I'm red, or light blue." Does that mean I'm not a real girl/boy to you?  I guess I'll have to reject you entirely, then."

Perhaps not.  Sex-roles were more rigid in previous generations without creating the wide variety of expressions people object to so today. 


Boxty said...

Can you name the best book or article that explains "God's order for the family" from the most widely held Evangelical viewpoint from say, pre-1970's? Would that view differ from one written more recently? Also, if there was a book or article that accurately describes your view vs. the typical Evangelical then I'd be interested in reading it. Thanks.

Glenn said...


I have been lurking here for probably ten years and this is only the second or third time I've commented. Lack of commenting doesn't mean lack of interest though!

Being brought up in a rather conservative church I always took the traditional church teaching on marriage and family as a given. That doesn't mean I always followed it, I do not like bossing my wife around and try not to do it. However as I've gotten older I've began to reevaluate some of what I was taught and that includes teaching on marriage.

In the last year I found a book written by Skip Moen called Guardian Angels which challenges the traditional teaching on the subject of husband/wife relations while maintaining a high view of scripture. Both you and Boxty might find Moen's rebuttal of criticisms made by Daniel Botkin to be of great interest (link here). Botkin's view of marriage reflects the pre-1970's viewpoint that Boxty is looking for. I also think that AVI will find much to appreciate in Moen's views.

I have been thinking about buying Moen's book but haven't yet. It actually sounds stressful to me but sometimes a little stress can be a good thing.

Thank you.


Boxty said...

Thanks, Glenn. Looks like Skip Moen's book isn't in print. A *used* paperback is $46 on Amazon!?! I'll have to check the library or find another source.

I can't find anything from Daniel Botkin fellow from a quick google search, but Skip Moen put this link in the comments to his article:


I hope to read it tonight.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you Glenn. I was thinking of all the James Dobson material and the Bill Gothard Basic Youth Conflicts (or something like that) but will be glad to follow that link.

As for my own views Boxty, I'm not sure I can do justice to them in a few sentences. Evangelicals who have different views tend to be more general, because flexibility is part of what they are after. Even in Paul's time there were husbands who went to sea as traders. Is spiritual headship so important that no man should ever do that job? Or is there some room for carefully choosing a wife who can manage a household? What if neither is all that good at leadership but they adore each other and raise their children with kindness? Is that a problem?

And if I'm supposed to be the head of my family, why is some guy in Oklahoma telling me how to run my house?

The rigidity itself raises red flags, because the repeated Biblical themes don't seem to come near this. Maybe patriarchal headship is the ideal and we just can't see that in modern, secularised, apostate times. But even if so, it doesn't seem to have been worth constant reminders. It seems much more like a cultural idea in search of biblical support.

Grim said...

This is more Athens than Jerusalem, I think. It comes from an approach to theology called Natural Theology, in which one reasons from nature to the intent of Nature's creator. Both Plato and Aristotle regularly reasoned from the facts of nature to metaphysics, but once you get the monotheism added to the picture, you get Christian theologians applying Platonist or Aristotelian methods to come to conclusions from the facts of nature about the intention of the First Principle of Creation.

There's a kind of sense to it. It's famously difficult to understand God, by analogy to the finite and the infinite. (The analogy is somewhat poor for reasons I won't go into here, except to note that the finite for Aristotle is prior to the infinite: you get infinities by dividing a finite thing innumerable times. One is a finite unity, but can in principle be divided into two halves, four quarters, and so forth infinitely. Thus, the finite is properly the ground of the infinite, not incapable of encompassing the infinite.) Likewise, it seems that if we say that God is good, we don't mean the same thing as if we say that a man is good. Our concept of what it is for a man to be good depends on the concept of what goodness is in God. Goodness turns out to have two senses when used in these ways, and there's no bridge to allow us to get from 'a good man' to a proper sense of what Goodness is in God.

So, faced with these problems, natural theology proposes: You may not be able to know God directly, but you can know something about God from His works.

From that ground, you get all the reasoning that bothers you. It imputes to God an intent based on what is observable about creation, and then reads back into deviations from that intent a kind of sin. (This part follows St. Augustine's definition of sin as a falling away from perfection, which explains how evil can exist in God's creation if God is all good. Everything God creates is good; but we don't always achieve the fullness of perfection God made possible. Thus, sin exists because of a failure by us to actualize the potential goodness that God created.)

It is an ancient and persuasive sort of theology, which is why you find evidence of it everywhere. But there are some dodgy steps in the assumptions, which may account for why you don't find it ultimately satisfying.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

CS Lewis was of this school, describing badness as "spoiled goodness."

Glenn said...

Hi Again Boxty,

Skip Moen prints his own books which you can purchase from his website. I don't want you to pay $46 on Amazon (really?!) so here are links for purchasing the book:

- Guardian Angel for $27
- Guardian Angel – abridged version for $15.95

I don't always like adding links for purchasing on other people's blogs. It makes it seem like I'm trying to sell something which I don't want to do.

If you want to find books at a decent price I recommend trying bookfinder.com, they will almost always will have cheaper options than Amazon.