Building Jerusalem

A culture war strategy I can’t co-sign: a reply to Kevin DeYoung

In a recent article for TGC, Kevin DeYoung has argued for a new strategy toward the culture wars; namely, have as many children as you can. Much as I love TGC, and I appreciate Kevin DeYoung and his writing, I couldn’t help but feel this article so badly missed the mark. Here, I want to explain why.

Before I do, let me point you to this excellent twitter thread by my friend Dan James. Dan outlines some of the issues he saw with the article. His main concern was how some of the phrasing was, at best, insensitive towards large swathes of the church, particularly those who are single and others who have struggled with infertility. I share Dan’s views in his thread and so I won’t comment on those issues in this post because he has done it excellently already. I highlight this to say, here are some other solid reasons beyond what is written here.

Let me order my concerns this way:

The theological problems

My biggest concerns with the article are theological. The thrust of article appears to be, if we just all had more children, and we catechised them well, we would probably win the culture wars. Flood the world with little Christians and the culture will be ours! It is, if I may say so, a uniquely Presbyterian argument.

There is a reason why many Presbyterians push hard for big families. Their theology encourages them to believe that all their children belong to the covenant and therefore, by virtue of their believing parents, stand in grace toward God. I recall one such minister preaching a sermon – intending to comfort parents – in which he averred that their children who had wandered away from God and denounced the Christian faith still, on some level, did belong because they were children of the covenant. If you really believe that sort of thing, Kevin’s article makes perfect sense. All your kids will be in the covenant so you can flood the world with Christian children in reality. Likewise, that same theology often pushes many toward a postmillennial view of the end times. Not only can we flood the world with Christian children and win the culture war, but we can also usher in the eschaton by doing so. The two things go hand in hand.

It was interesting that Kevin’s article noted, ‘I understand that being a good parent does not guarantee believing children… We have to allow for God to work in mysterious ways that we would not have planned.’ The inference here appears to be that the Lord will typically lead your covenant children to belief if you catechise them well enough.

But my Particular Baptist theology pushes me away from those views. I don’t believe our children are born into the covenant; they need the gospel before they need geeing up to fight the culture wars. Nor can we guarantee the children we have will become believers, no matter how well we catechise them. I acknowledge our children are more likely to become believers if we bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, but we all know there is no straight line here. If there is no direct correlation, it feels a theologically flawed approach to attempt to win the culture wars this way. Similarly, because I believe we are in the millennium now, and will be until Christ returns, I don’t believe my children need to win the culture wars for us, or to flood the world with Christians, in order to usher in the kingdom. The kingdom is here and we hope and pray (and, yes, catechise) our children so that they too may be a part of it in time. It is the gospel that will transform people’s lives, and then the culture, not our children per se.

The gender problem

Leaving aside the theological issues, I (and, more importantly, my wife) clocked a gender problem. This one doesn’t so much invalidate the argument of itself, but as my wife said, ‘it’s all very well a bloke insisting we all have more kids, they’re not the ones who will have to have them!’ Hard to disagree. That comment is also coming from a place of having had two incredibly difficult pregnancies.

Then, of course, there is the comment that we should have more children than we can handle. Again, my wife insists that is easy to say when you are not going to be the one who primarily has to handle them. Of course, I am involved in the lives of our children and I care for them too. But, reality is, my wife does more on that front for a variety of reasons. Likewise, a point even the hardest core feminists openly acknowledge, women tend to be the primary source of childcare for a variety of reasons. And I am not passing any comment on the inherent goodness or badness of that, just pointing out the fact of the matter. But, that being the case, it does feel a little inappropriate for a dude who probably won’t be doing the bulk of childcare, to a load of other blokes who won’t be doing most of it either, that they should have more children than they can handle. I mean, that’s alright for us isn’t it! My wife and I are well aware I could handle more children than her because the brunt of that doesn’t fall on me – neither bearing them nor caring for them!

The blessing problem

Kevin’s article appears to run on a faulty syllogism, which could be phrased like this:

  1. All children are a blessing from the Lord
  2. Everybody wants to be blessed
  3. Have as many children as possible and receive greater blessing

He even goes on in his article to question the use of contraception on these grounds. Whilst, with a nod to John Frame, he doesn’t quite buy the Roman Catholic view that contraception is forbidden, he runs pretty close. It is not that contraception is forbidden, he just can’t see m/any valid reasons to use it.

But I think all this creates a false situation. I could frame that syllogism in relation to anything that is a blessing:

  1. Prayer is a blessing
  2. Everybody wants to be blessed
  3. Pray as much as possible and receive greater blessing

I could change ‘prayer’ for ‘bible reading’ or ‘fellowship’. The problem here is that those things have no end. If we only did that to receive as much blessing as possible, we will miss out on a ton of other blessings the Lord wants to give us through other things. As big a blessing as children are, if all of our attention is taken up with our children, there are a whole load of other areas of biblical faithfulness that suddenly become much harder for us. We are called to be faithful to the Lord, and that means faithful in all areas of our life, not just in certain areas. Much as we might be blessed in one area, over-emphasising it may lead us to unfaithfulness in other areas.

Of course, what do we do about those terribly worldly sounding things that the Bible also says are blessings, like money or wine? Let’s run our syllogism now:

  1. Wine is a blessing
  2. Everybody wants to be blessed
  3. Have as much wine as possible to receive greater blessing

Oh dear! We seem to now be encouraging alcoholism. The logic for large families, based on the blessing language of scripture, seems particularly flawed.

The faithfulness problem

All of that is before we consider the possibility that by having too big a family we may, actually, set ourselves up to spread ourselves too thin. I have seen more than a few folk either insist they cannot serve in the church because their time is taken up entirely with their family or, equally badly (if not worse), neglected their families so that they can devote themselves to the church. Neither is godly. It is not uncommon for children of Christian parents to feel forgotten and overlooked as mum and dad sought to make room for work, church and then – with whatever is left – the family. There is a rightness to seeking to balance these things (though continually giving your family the dregs is not right), but the larger your family, the more unlikely you are to be able to meaningfully know each of your children and give them the time and attention they need individually.

I have heard from more than one child of a large family – after work and church – when the attentions were eventually directed toward the family, they just felt lost in the crowd. I have heard others say they didn’t even know their parents until they were adults and left home because mum and dad didn’t have the ability or headspace to know all their children well. We need to recognise our own ability to give our families what they need so that we can honour the Lord in our homes, churches and the wider culture. I am not convinced the culture wars will be won, or the world will be led to glorify God, by families who have had so many children they don’t have the headspace to handle them all. Having more children than you can handle just seems like terrible advice to me.