Have we made an idol of families? (copy)

Have we made an idol of families?, by Andy Stirrup [Book Reviews] | published June 6, 2011



    by Andy Stirrup
    Published: June 6, 2011

    ‘How can we idealise marriage and the nuclear family while clinging to a saviour who was unmarried and without issue?’

    In Sex and the Single Savior, Dale Martin asks an important question: have we made an idol of families? Our knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘‘Of course not’. But Martin reminds us that sometimes we cling to theologically-phrased excuses for what we do, rather than examine what the Bible actually says. When it comes to the importance we attribute to the family (in conversation at least, even though our practice may undermine our ‘theology’), Martin asks how can we idealise marriage and the nuclear family while clinging to a saviour who was unmarried and without issue?

    The book brings together a number of Martin’s previously published articles to get to grips with a number of issues that have to do with gender and sexuality. He examines what classical and early Christian writers would have understood by the Galatians passage which referes to there being no male and female in Christ. He discusses how odd Jesus’ celibacy would have appeared to his contemporaries. But the most provocative chapter, as far as the family is concerned, is the eighth chapter, ‘Familiar Idolatry and the Christian Case against Marriage’.

    Martin begins the chapter with a bold announcement that mainstream Western Christianity (Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative) has made an idol of marriage and the family. It is a strong claim but we would have to agree with him that those who do not fit the nuclear family ‘ideal’ usually find themselves on the fringes of church life. Martin supports his claim by turning both to the New Testament and to the writings of the early Church. He suggests that the early Church was culturally much closer to the New Testament period and so they are better placed to understand the intention of the Biblical texts than modern theologians.

    Martin starts with Mark 3 and points out that whatever Jesus taught about family, it must sit hand-in-glove with the way that he prioritised time with a group who shared his religious convictions over time with his family.

    He upheld the fifth commandment but at the same time he taught that this newly founded ‘family of God’ had a higher claim on his followers’ loyalty than any that might come from their family of origin.

    Jesus and the early Church not only took a strong stand against divorce, they went much further, ruling out marriage in the new age. Jesus’ singleness could simply be an accident of history, an indication that he had simply not got round to marriage by the time he died.

    But when we line it up with the teaching of the earliest Church it seems more likely that it was the result of a deliberate decision not to get married. As the famous Bishop and preacher John Chrysostom pointed out, why would you need marriage where there is no death and therefore no need to have children?

    Martin argues that household and family, together with its hierarchy are part of the old world order that Jesus came to dismantle and overturn. In its place, he establishes a new community founded on different values and grown through spiritual birth rather than natural birth.

    …. He [Martin] is right when he says that we need to think again about what it means to us that Jesus was single. We need to look again at the way we promote and practice family. But Martin might not be the best one to help us to do it. For me, Hellerman’s When the Church Was a Family is much better at explaining how we might consider church and family together in a more Biblical fashion.

    Like Martin’s Sex and the Single Savior, Hellerman draws our attention to some of the more ‘anti-family’ statements in the Gospels (for example, Mark 1:14–20; 3:31–35; Matthew 10:34–38) and acknowledges that we would prefer to explain away the anxiety that we feel by talking about ‘hyperbole’ or saying that it is a matter of emphasis and priority but that these things don’t actually tell us to adjust our behaviours (pp 54–56). Like Martin he attempts to re-read the passages in the light of the first century thought world, but while Martin has first century attitudes to sex and sexuality in mind, Hellerman examines the text in the light of collectivist nature of first century culture.

    Western culture is individualistic. Top priority is given to the individual—to me and my agenda. This means that an individual is relatively free to jump from group to group according to present needs and circumstances. The same attitudes are carried over into the religious sphere so that spirituality is first and foremost about my relationship with God. Salvation is about how he has saved me. But Hellerman points out that the first century Mediterranean family was collectivist in outlook. He identifies three elements of the perspective:

    -The group takes priority over the individual.
    -The most important group is the family.
    -The most important relationships within the family were sibling to sibling relationships.

    Read in this light, Jesus is not saying that the family is unimportant. The pro-family sections of his teaching confirm this. Rather what Jesus would have been heard to have been saying is that family-like relationships within the people of God take precedence over our responsibility to, what we might call, our families of origin (p 65). Our priorities can no longer be God > family > church > others, which Hellerman suggests is the default setting for most American evangelicals. Rather Jesus’ invitation is for us to re-order our lives according to the pattern God’s family > family of origin > others.

(please visit the page to read the entire review)

3 thoughts on “Have we made an idol of families? (copy)”

  1. I didn’t read it all either. I don’t think the family is inherently bad. But, like you said, its importance has been taken to an extreme. Its interesting that you mentioned the calvinists, because I’ve been doing some research on them. Let me know if you come across any new books on that subject. john.
    Possiamo parlare? johnhughmorgan3@yahoo.com

  2. ChristianPundit – Thanks for posting that. I was not familiar with this book. In researching it, though, I came across the Fall/Winter 2011 edition of “The Journal of Family Ministry which was published by The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, which spells out very clearly that the nuclear family is to be worshiped as an idol by all SBC churches. It even goes so far as saying a person cannot be celibate and be a “Godly Christian” – “Paul then moves on to the affirmative, and lists what an elder should be: “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8–9). Far from being a list of mysterious requirements
    attained only by men who take vows of poverty or silence or celibacy, this is the stuff all godly Christians are made of.” It goes on to say that a “joint witness” is the only authentic testimony – “but the single-witness view also has supporters.” I’ve known for a while that SBC theology is way off course. But I didn’t know it’s false doctrine had reached this level of depravity.


    1. Quote: It even goes so far as saying a person cannot be celibate and be a “Godly Christian”

      I don’t know if I have the time to read through that whole PDF file to find the relevant pages but – just responding to that comment….

      Okay, as a never married and still single person, how would the author of that dreck suggest I become a Godly Christian if marriage is not forthcoming? Should I just start having sex (which violates the Bible’s teachings about sex within marriage only)?

      I’m not sure, but perhaps some of these weirdo, wacko beliefs about family/ kids/ marriage are due in part (or totally) to the fact that extremist Calvinists (“Neo Reformed”) have infiltrated the SBC in the past however many years, and they have extreme, strict, sexist, unbiblical views on gender roles, and they pretty much believe Christians today should have patriarchal families, like Old Testament days – or they are sympathetic with groups who do believe in patriarchy.

      I don’t get their view about “self control” which seems to imply married people are more qualified to preach than unmarried?
      I think it could be argued that ‘never married who are still a virgin’ people have tons more “self control” than married people, since we are not getting our sexual desires met… it’s a bit easier for a 40, 50, 60 year old married guy to get his sexual desires satisfied (via his spouse), so who are these idiots to say marrieds have more “self control” than singles/ celibates, or just as much?? Makes no sense to me. (Or maybe I mis-understood the excerpt you provided.)

      But yes, the Southern Baptist denomination is guilty of making marriage / family/ babies into an idol.

      I want to make clear I do NOT think those things in & of themselves are idols or bad, because they are not. There is another extreme out there that tells women desiring marriage that we are making an idol out of marriage – NOT TRUE.
      I see nowhere in Bible that simply wanting something God created (such as marriage) is “idolatry.” Things like that only become idolatry when person (or a group) places undue emphasis on it, such as SBC, Neo Reformed, evangelicals, Quiverfull, etc do.

      At the very least it can be said that, SBC, fundamentalists, Neo Reformed, evangelicals, are un-biblical with their extreme emphasis on marriage/ family, pro-creation, and are needlessly alienating a ton of people out there, because roughly 80% of USA population do not have children, and about 50% are not married, according to sources I have read.

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