Archive for November, 2015

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In many ways, it is an overwhelming holiday for me because I quickly realize, if I take even just a moment to reflect, that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my daughter. I am thankful for the son I have on the way. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my extended family. I am thankful for what is always my favorite meal of the year on Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Christ and Him crucified. I am thankful for blessings too numerous to count.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. From the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 to the likes of presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both wrote moving proclamations calling Americans to days of national Thanksgiving, to Franklin Roosevelt, who formalized Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November, Americans have always found plenty of reasons to be thankful.

But Thanksgiving, at its heart, is much more than a national holiday. It is a theological necessity. We are commanded by Scripture to “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Indeed, it must be very difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from faith. For, without faith, who does one give thanks to? Certainly, one can be thankful to others for what they have done. But the gifts of nature and beauty and joy and the cosmos come from no man. And without a theological framework, they come from nowhere. And so there is no one to whom an unbeliever can say “thank you” for these things. As it turns out, thanksgiving, at least for the things greater than humans can give, is an inescapably theological exercise.

One of the things I deeply desire for my family is that we would share together a sense of thankful wonderment. We, as a family, are blessed beyond measure. My wife and I have jobs that are fulfilling, even when they are challenging. We are part of a church that we love. We can provide for our family in ways that many cannot. And our life together is marked by a general peace and contentment. God has given us much. But, as Jesus says, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We have a responsibility to recognize just how much we have been given, to steward it well, and to, above all, be thankful for it and be thankful to the One who gives it.

I have often mused that the difference between being blessed and being spoiled is thankfulness. A person is blessed when he has been given much and he knows it. So he thanks God for it. A person is spoiled when he has been given much and he fails to see it. So he grumbles for more. To borrow a distinction from G.K. Chesterton: there is a world difference between taking things for granted and receiving things with gratitude.[1] Spoiled people take things for granted. Blessed people receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

This is not to say that there are no reasons to lament. But there is a difference between lamenting and grumbling. Grumbling looks at God’s blessings and says, “That’s not enough.” Lament looks at the sinfulness and brokenness of our world and says, honestly and candidly, “There’s something wrong.” This is why the same Psalter that sings, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1), also cries, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Christopher Wright explains it well when he writes, “Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”[2] So to those who are facing a tragedy, a trial, or a temptation this holiday season, know that your lament is just as holy as your thanksgiving. For both lament and thanksgiving turn to God in faith rather than turning in on oneself in greed, as does grumbling. Lament and thanksgiving can comingle.

As I slowly eat my way through what are now my Thanksgiving leftovers, my prayer is that I see more and more of the things for which I have to be thankful. I am thankful for much, but I also miss much. Dear God, may I see what I have missed. To borrow some more wisdom from G.K. Chesterton: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to [have] in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”[3] Legs to go in my socks. There’s something for which I have not yet said “thank you.” I wonder what else I’m missing.

__________________

[1] See G.K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 24.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 51.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1919), 98.

November 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Dinner 2In what has become a bit of Thanksgiving tradition on this blog, I want to share with you a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving from 1863.  I will have some additional thoughts on thankfulness in my regular post on Monday.  Stay tuned!  For now, here’s President Lincoln:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies.  To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.  In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict … Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battlefield; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.  No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things.  They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.[1]

This Thanksgiving, we have many things for which to be thankful.  But as we give thanks for these many things, may we never forget to heartily celebrate and give thanks for, to use the words of Lincoln, “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”  God’s mercy is the reason that we have not only temporal blessings, but eternal forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And for these, we should be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

_______________________

[1] Abraham Lincoln, “Proclamation of Thanksgiving” (10.3.1863).

November 26, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why ISIS Cannot Win

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Credit: Yann Caradec | Flickr

When I drove into work last week, I noticed our flags flying half-staff. Our red, white, and blue was lowered in honor of France’s blue, white, and red and those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of two Fridays ago.

Of course, it didn’t take long for these attacks to ignite plenty of red-hot political and geopolitical wrangling. As it turns out, one of the ISIS terrorists allegedly masqueraded as a Syrian refugee to gain entry into France. This begs the question: should Western countries – including the United States – continue to grant asylum to these refugees when their ranks could be infiltrated by ISIS operatives? Then there is the question of how to address ISIS as an organization. French President Francois Hollande declared that “France is at war,” explaining, “Terrorism will not destroy France, because France will destroy it.”

All of this has spawned an understandable – and also predictable – reaction from many across this country and across the world: fear. Even children are afraid. The touching video that has gone viral showing a father allaying his son’s fears in the wake of the deadly attacks demonstrate just how pervasive the emotional devastation has become. People are scared. They want to know: are ISIS operatives planning an attack against this country? Just how powerful is ISIS? What can be done to prevent ISIS from attacking again? What will happen next?

I cannot answer what will happen next with ISIS. I wish I could. I wish I could say that all future ISIS attacks will be thwarted. That is certainly my prayer. But I cannot make it my prediction. But even though I cannot predict what is next for ISIS, I can be sure of what is last for ISIS. What’s last for ISIS is defeat. Of this I am confident.

I am confident of this for two reasons.

First, ISIS is a sectarian actor and sectarian actors, historically, tend not to thrive. ISIS doctrine requires that:

All Muslims must associate exclusively with fellow “true” Muslims and dissociate from anyone not fitting this narrow definition; failure to rule in accordance with God’s law constitutes unbelief; fighting the Islamic State is tantamount to apostasy; all Shi‘a Muslims are apostates deserving of death; and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas are traitors against Islam because they compromise with the non-caliphate political process (e.g., democracy).[1]

In short, ISIS believes that anyone who is not part of its cloistered caliphate is not only not a real Muslim, but not even worthy of life. This would be tantamount to Presbyterians wanting to destroy Baptists. This is the ultimate case study in sectarian insanity.

Certainly, Christianity has its own share of hate-filled sectarian groups. The Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind. Historically, Christian sects like the Encratites and the Docetists were rejected because of their abysmal doctrine. Considering ISIS endorses and outright enshrines ritual rape while the rest of the Muslim world stands steadfast on sexual purity, it is not difficult to see how ISIS is not only doctrinally aberrant even among Muslims, but humanitarianly repugnant. And doctrinally aberrant sects tend to collapse – or, at the very least, remain severely segregated – under the weight of their own idiosyncrasies and offensiveness. ISIS may be growing – for now – but sectarian doctrine and practice is not a recipe for longevity or continued growth.

Second, I do not think ISIS will last because of what I believe as a Christian. When Joshua is preparing to go to war against the kings of northern Canaan, God gives to him a curious command: “You are to hamstring their horses and burn their chariots” (Joshua 11:6). Strategically, this does not seem smart. Wouldn’t horses and chariots be helpful for future battles? Aren’t these the kinds of weapons that could benefit Israel’s national security?

God commands Joshua to destroy these tools of war to remind him that it is not he and Israel that will gain victories as they march into the Promised Land, but the Lord. He is the one who is fighting for Israel. No horses or chariots are needed.

ISIS fights with rifles, suicide bombs, and IED’s. But they cannot win, just like the people of Canaan could not win. Why? Because they are fighting the wrong battle using the wrong weapons. They are fighting for a false faith – even by most Muslim standards – with despicably deployed terrorizing weapons of war. As Christians, however, we fight for the true faith using divinely distributed saving weapons of war. ISIS may have a roadside bomb. But we have the sword of the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 6:17). And the sword of the Spirit trumps a terrorist’s bomb every time.

ISIS may manage to pull off some attacks here and there, but they will not last. Because they cannot last. God has promised otherwise.

And so, ISIS needs to be put on notice: there is coming a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears will be forged into pruning hooks (cf. Isaiah 2:4). There is coming a day when your weapons will no longer terrorize nations because your weapons will no longer be around. But the Spirit’s sword will continue to stand.

So, as Christians, let’s stick with that weapon. And let’s find our comfort and confidence in that weapon. After all, it’s a guaranteed winner.

____________________________

[1] Joe Carter, “9 Things You Should Know About Islamic State,” The Gospel Coalition (11.14.2015).

November 23, 2015 at 5:15 am 4 comments

How Starbucks (Didn’t) Steal Christmas

Credit: Starbucks

Credit: Starbucks

It was the coffee kerfuffle that wasn’t. When a story about Christian outrage over Starbucks’ plain red holiday cups began trending on social media, something about it seemed off to me. Sure, there was a video of a self-styled evangelist shoving a red Starbucks cup into the camera and shouting about how Starbucks employees are not allowed to say Merry Christmas and explaining in a Facebook post that “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.” And sure, there were the stories about all the controversy it was igniting in the Twittersphere. But as I checked my own social media feeds, what I saw was not Christian outrage over the Starbucks’ minimalist holiday cups, but outrage over the fact that there was so much outrage over something as inane as a coffee cup. Outrage over outrage. Is it just me, or does this all seem, well, outrageous?

I have a funny feeling that the evangelist who opined his offense at Starbucks’ holiday cups on Facebook may have done so more for clicks and shares than out of earnest conviction. In my opinion, this is little more than a shoddily manufactured controversy. But even if I am right and this controversy is manufactured, I am grateful that commentary by Christians on the controversy has been largely thoughtful. Take this from Ed Stetzer:

Folks, we really need to calm down. If you’ve posted an outraged Facebook update, take it down.

Starbucks cups are red because of the Christmas season. Starbucks is not persecuting you. Starbucks may be attempting to respect those who don’t celebrate Christmas – and that’s OK. That’s their choice. They’re a business that exists to serve all customers without preference, regardless of what winter holidays they do or do not celebrate. If they choose to do that by means of a plain, red cup, that’s their call …

Here’s what I would say – this is the wrong fight and being done in the wrong way. And, it’s just making Christians look silly, like so many of these fake controversies do.

We have a better story to tell than one of faux outrage. So let’s tell it. It’s not the job of your barista to share the gospel. It’s your job to share the gospel.[1]

Ed Stetzer is exactly right. It’s ridiculous and embarrassing when a man trying to start a faux movement to protest red coffee cups gets more attention than the Church who has been charged to be an ongoing movement to spread the gospel.

Setting coffee cups aside for a moment, it is important to understand that this kind of unhelpful outrage has implications far beyond the clear-cut inanity of supposedly, but not really, offensive coffee cups. Far more serious ethical and cultural issues like abortion and same-sex marriage and stewardship of creation and treatment of the poor have ignited no small amount of outrage. And make no mistake about it: we, as Christians, should have plenty to say about these issues. But if we become so embroiled in outrage over these issues that we lose sight of the joy of sharing the gospel of Christ’s death for sinners, we have become lovers of issues rather than people. And when this happens, we lose sight of the gospel.

It is interesting to me that for all the well-documented differences between conservative and liberal Christians, they can both often fall into the same trap. Sure, more conservative-leaning Christians may beat the drum about issues like abortion and same-sex marriage (and they should) while more liberal-leaning may beat the drum about issues like stewardship of creation and treatment of the poor (and they also should). But in both instances, each side can easily wind up becoming so obsessed with current ethical and cultural issues that they lose sight of the evangelical and soteriological cross of Christ. In this regard, both sides, whether conservative or liberal, have traded Billy Graham for Walter Rauschenbusch. The soteriological gospel has been sacrificed to the social gospel.

It is this that takes us back to the Starbucks, ahem, brew-haha. The evangelist who posted his now viral Facebook tirade suggested that customers tell baristas their name is “Merry Christmas” so servers will be forced to write “Merry Christmas” on their holiday symbol-less cups. Besides the fact that I am pretty sure that this will do little to nothing to shift cultural sentiment concerning Christmas and what it represents, I am even surer that it adds nothing to the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified. Thankfully, most Christians already know this. That’s why they have rejected his strategy.

So let’s take this lesson from a bout of Starbucks silliness about what’s most important and use it to keep our priorities straight as we engage our world on much more pressing topics. Our witness to the world on these topics must never be only ethical and cultural. It must be first and foremost evangelical and soteriological. For without Christ and Him crucified, ethics and culture become nothing because they save no one.

Crux sola est nostra theologia.

________________________________

[1] Ed Stetzer, “When We Love Outrage More Than People: Starbucks Cups and You,” Christianity Today (11.9.2015).

November 16, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Pray for Paris

Paris Eifell TowerI first heard the news on the radio when I was driving home from work Friday night. Phrases like “breaking news” and “continuing coverage” caught my attention. As more and more details of the ghastly attacks trickled in from across the Atlantic, I knew it was going to be a long night for the people of Paris. 129 dead. 352 injured, 99 critically. And ISIS was claiming responsibility for the coordinated attacks that hit six targets at once. After opening fire on their victims, all but one of ISIS’s operatives blew themselves up when police approached, hoping to kill even more people with suicide bombings.

Considering these attacks came just days after ISIS was suspected of downing Metrojet Flight 9268 over northern Sinai as it was on its way from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, it is quickly becoming apparent that ISIS will stop at nothing to intimidate the world. As of now, their tactics are working. Many, many people are very, very scared.

As Christians, we know we are commanded to be not afraid. The words of Psalmist come to mind: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2). Logically, we also know that fear does us little good at a time like this. It solves nothing. It changes nothing. It only paralyzes us and clouds our judgment. But at the same time we are called not to fear, we are also called to be in prayer. Indeed, the apostle Paul addresses both fear and prayer when he writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). At a time like this, when the world is fearing, we should be praying.

As this tragedy continues to unfold, allow me offer four things for which I think we can and should pray. My hope is that God will not only comfort you as you pray these petitions, but that He will use these petitions to help you process what has happened. After all, what has happened affects not only the city of Paris or the nation of France; it affects the world. Nous sommes tous les Parisiens.

On to the prayers.

Pray for Paris.

In one way, this goes without saying. And, thankfully, it is already happening. A quick check of my Twitter account shows #Prayers4Paris is trending. So pray for the grieving. Pray for the fearful. Pray for the people of a city who are trying to pick up the pieces of an illusion of safety that has just been shattered. Pray for Paris.

But let me take this a step farther. Because as Christians, to pray for Paris means to pray for all of Paris – even for those who support and sympathize with the attackers. Jesus admonishes us to pray not only for those with whom we share a kinship, but even for our enemies: “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). So pray for ISIS operatives in Paris and, for that matter, all over the world. Pray, yes, that any further plots would be thwarted. But also pray that their hearts would be changed. A changed heart stops evil much better than even the most sophisticated international intelligence operation.

Pray for sobriety.

The shock and sadness of yesterday’s attacks will soon dissolve into political posturing and raw outrage. Rash responses will be given. Foolhardy decisions will be made. We need to stay away from all such impulsiveness.

If history is any indication, I am especially concerned that many will fall into what logicians refer to as the fallacy of composition. This fallacy asserts that if something is true for the part, it must also be true for the whole. So in this instance, if a few radical Muslims who are part of ISIS are terrorists, then it is reasonable to be wary of any Muslim because he or she might be a terrorist.

Don’t fall for – or propagate – this fallacy!

I have many friends who own firearms. They are, of course, very responsible and cautious with their weapons. But every time a mass shooting happens – in Roseburg, in Charleston, in Fort Hood, in Sandy Hook – many of them openly worry that the actions of a few deranged lunatics will affect all firearm owners. They worry that people will take the actions of a few and use it to stifle the whole. And so they lobby not only for their rights as firearm owners, but also for their character as people.

What firearm owners do for each other, Christians can and should do for Muslims. Let’s not lose our ability to think soberly and clearly not only about these attacks specifically, but about Muslims generally. The vast majority of Muslims are people who hold much in common, especially ethically, with Christians. They love their families. They despise promiscuity. And they support traditional values like honesty, hard work, and generosity. Let’s be willing to vouch for the character of Muslims. And let’s be willing to support and love them as people.

Pray for governments.

The French government, the U.S. government, and many other governments across the world have some difficult decisions to make. ISIS must be stopped. Thankfully, God has given governments the authority to do just this. The apostle Paul explains:

He who rebels against the [governing] authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. (Romans 13:2-3)

Paul says that those who rebel against good order arranged by good governments will bring judgment on themselves. For good governments will seek to avenge and deter – often with force – evil events. The terrorists, then, have every reason to be terrified.

As governments across the world try to discern how to respond to these attacks, pray that their responses would be decisive, measured, and Godly. In short, pray that world governments would act in ways that thwart evil while honoring God’s Word.

Pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Ultimately, we know that governments, though they can do much to suppress evil, cannot stop evil. Only God can do that. In fact, shortly before Paul writes his words concerning government, he writes about God’s final judgment: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is Mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God’s vengeance is the only vengeance that gives victory.

When does God avenge evil? On the Last Day. Then and only then will evil be wiped out once and for all. Until then, attacks will happen. Lives will be lost. Evil will rear its head. And we will “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Considering that none of this is pleasant or good, the final prayer of the Bible can be our prayer today: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20). “Come and wipe out evil. Come and make everything – including those hurting in Paris – new.”

And He will.

November 14, 2015 at 4:05 pm 4 comments

Reverse-Engineering Your Life

Home FamilyThe other night, I, along with three other pastors, had the pleasure of meeting with a group of seminary students for an informal discussion about life and ministry. I cherished my time with these guys. Even though we were with them for only a short time, it quickly became apparent that they are theologically curious and nuanced and have a deep passion to serve in Christ’s Church as pastors. I am excited to see what the future holds for these men.

Our discussion took on an informal Q&A feel, with seminary students asking any questions they wanted. One question particularly struck me: “What goals do you have for ministry and how do you work backwards from those goals to develop a plan to reach those goals?” This is a great question. It’s a question of reverse-engineering. You start with the end in mind and work back from that to get to that. But this question also took me aback a little bit. Because I do have goals. And I have done my share of reverse-engineering to try to reach these goals. But my goals are not particularly inspiring, captivating, or scintillating. I simply want to love Jesus, love my family, and be a faithful pastor.

I used to have other goals. More exciting goals. Once upon a time, I wanted to build and pastor the largest congregation in my church body. Once upon a time, I wanted to become a renowned and respected spokesperson for orthodox Lutheranism. After all, it seems like on the broader stage of Christian dialogue, Lutherans are all but missing in action. Once upon a time, I wanted to be an esteemed public scholar to whom people would turn for insight. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a pastor who would change the world. Now, I just want to be a person who finishes life well.

As I ultimately wound up telling the student, long before you worry about reverse engineering your goals for ministry, you need to begin by reverse engineering your goals for life and, specifically, for your family. After all, if you change the world as a pastor but forsake your family as a husband or father, you have failed miserably because prior to your vocation as a pastor is your vocation as a husband and father.

The New York Times recently published an article on the state of today’s family. Its title sums up its mood: “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.” Clair Miller, writing for the Times, explains:

Working parents say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies, according to a new Pew Research Center survey

Fifty-six percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding. For example, half of those who said the work-family balance was not difficult said parenting was enjoyable all the time, compared with 36 percent of those who said balance was difficult.

This is sad, but it is also not surprising. As workplace demands continue to rise and the line between company time and personal time continues to blur, time to invest in family inevitably suffers.

Being a pastor carries with it many demands, which are often difficult – and, quite honestly, sometimes impossible – to juggle well.  There is no doubt about it. But this is why, long before you sketch out goals for ministry, you do need to set out goals for your marriage and your family. Goals of time together as a family. Goals of date nights with your spouse. Goals of daily expressions of love and affection. Before you worry about what is outside your home, tend to who is inside your home.

Jesus once asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)? It may behoove us to ask similarly: What good is it if a man changes the world, yet forfeits those closest to him? This question good not only for pastors, it’s good for everyone.

I hope you’re asking it. The people closest to you will thank you if you are.

November 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Family Is Good, Even If It’s Not Good For You

New research from Northwestern University indicates that an intact family structure is important for the wellbeing of all children, but especially for boys. The New York Times reports:

Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys – particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.[1]

This, of course, is not to say that girls do not suffer when a family is not in tact. Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill, writing for Princeton and Brookings, talk about the effects of broken families and children in general:

Marriage is on the decline. Men and women of the youngest generation are either marrying in their late twenties or not marrying at all. Childbearing has also been postponed, but not as much as marriage. The result is that a growing proportion of children are born to unmarried parents – roughly 40 percent in recent years, and over 50 percent for children born to women under 30 …

The consequences of this instability for children are not good. Research increasingly shows that family instability undermines parents’ investments in their children, affecting the children’s cognitive and social-emotional development in ways that constrain their life chances.[2]

Families are falling apart. And the results are not good.

Certainly there is a theological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. Adam, Eve, and their command from God to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28) speaks to the divine origin and order of the family and points to it as a gift from God to humanity. But there is also a teleological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. For instance, an article in National Review notes, “Married parenthood was a stronger predictor of economic mobility than was a state’s racial composition or the share of its population that is college-educated.”[3] If you want your children to grow up to be economically secure tomorrow, offer them a healthy family structure today. This applies, of course, not only to future economic mobility, but to future emotional, relational, and vocational stability as well.

So if this is the case, why is there no rush to trade the cohabitation, permissive divorce laws, and broken families of today for the nuclear Leave It To Beaver-style families of yesterday? The answer is, once again, teleology. The teleological argument for the family that focuses on kids assumes that the primary goal of parents is to want what is best for their kids. And many times, even in broken families, parents do want what is best for their kids. I know many single parents, for instance, who will sacrifice in any way they can right now to try to give their children the best possible shot at stability later.

But sometimes, among some people, the teleology of personal desire and pleasure trumps the teleology of the thriving of children. “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” some may say, “I don’t want to be tied down by the traditional accouterments and commitments of marriage.” “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” others may say, “I don’t like the sexual restraints that traditional family structures demand.” Though I doubt many people would be so bold as to outright say such things (although some have), the enticement of the teleology of personal desire and pleasure is powerful, even if subconsciously.

So as we talk about why the traditional family structure is good and why it should be promoted and protected, we also need to ask the question, “Good for whom?” If we mean a traditional family structure is good for children, we could not be more correct. If we mean it is good for selfish desire and pleasure, we could not be more wrong. Having a family of your own, much like being in the family of Christ, is a lesson in dying to oneself (cf. Matthew 16:25). And though this is good transcendently, it’s not easy practically. Nor is it always desirable personally. This is why for some, the demands of a traditional family structure are simply a bridge too far. They will not sacrifice themselves for the sake of another. But for those who do, even if their traditional family structure has been broken through no fault of their own, allow me to say “thank you.” You have discovered what matters most in life: others. And because you have discovered that, who comes after you will be better because of you.

____________________________________

[1] Claire Cain Miller, “A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls,” The New York Times (10.22.2015).

[2] Sara McLanahan & Isabel Sawhill, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue,” Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited 25, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 3-9.

[3] W. Bradford Wilcox, “Family Structure Matters – Science Proves It,” National Review (10.23.2015).

November 2, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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