Alastair on Themes of Household and Sexuality

Alastair on Themes of Household and Sexuality

These are the podcasts/videos that Alastair Roberts has done to date on the topic of the natural family, household, and sexuality. I figure having these collected in one place might be helpful to those seeking to restore the traditional household. Even though I’m highlighting these, his whole podcast is worth checking out.

I’m putting these in an order that, to my mind, ranks roughly from most important at the top to least at the bottom. The first four or five are well-worth your time; the rest fill out the themes.

The Church And The Natural Family
A Biblical Theology Of The Household
Constrasting Complementarian Approaches to Headship
Sex Recession
Paul Maxwell On Masculinity
Gender Segregation?
What Is Meant By Calling Marriage A Natural Institution?
Singles Adopting
What Is The Case Against Women’s Ordination?
Man, Woman, Deception, And Authority In 1 Timothy 2
Does New Creation Undermine Natural Law?
Why Is The Man Rather Than The Woman Who Leaves Father And Mother In Genesis 2:24?
1 Corinthians And Women’s Silence In Church
Was Jesus A Fruitful Eunuch?
Is Abortion To Be Solved By Controlling Male Sexual Behavior?

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Whither Conservatives?

It’s worth noting that virtually anybody who could be called ‘conservative’ in the 19th and early 20th centuries was alarmed by the shift to an industrial society from an agrarian one. Our seers consulted the stars and were able to discern many of the deferred costs we’d have to pay for our newfound material comfort and ‘progress.’ They saw, with a clarity that amazes me, the social, political, religious, and economic goods that we’d eventually be forced to relinquish. Fatherlessness, wage slavery, loss of inherited liberty, sexual deviancy, breakdown of kinship relations, rootlessness, ennui, and more besides were all foretold. And while I don’t think industrialism is the sole cause of any of those, it is difficult to overstate the role it has had in producing them.

John Crowe Ransom states well the old conservative sentiment: “Industrialism is rightfully a menial, of almost mircaulous cunning but no intelligence; it needs to be strongly governed or it will destroy the economy of the household. Only a community of tough conservative habit can master it.” The fact that modern Americans, whether self-professed conservatives or no, will scratch their heads at talk of ‘the economy of the household’ is enough to show that we did not have a sufficiently conservative habit. Since Ransom’s day, we’ve more or less capitulated to the industrial mindset, left, right, and center.

And so modern political and social (even religious) discourse consists of talk among various wings of the industrial party. Ironically, our ‘conservatives’ are some of the most ardent defenders of the industrial gospel. (Which makes me wonder what exactly they mean to be conserving.) They have made an about-face. ‘Conservative’ is more or less synonymous with Republican, and everybody knows Republican politicians will back Big Business to the hilt, family, religion, and tradition be damned. The average conservative is somewhat better than the politicians, of course, but even there you won’t find a very robust esteem for the past. You can occasionally arouse a fighting spirit that will take on corporations, like what we’ve seen with the NFL and Nike. But that’s a fickle spirit and not to be relied upon.

So where does a young conservative go? What does he do with his energy? If he wants a settled household nestled within a community that is committed to a particular place, that is largely independent politically and economically, and a church that proclaims the Gospel in Word and Sacrament, to whom does he turn? Who are his brothers-in-arms? Neither major party represents him. Ostensible ‘lay’ conservatives often are committed to fortifying the very forces that are undermining that vision of the good life.

That’s basically me. And as angsty as that sounds, I’m more hopeful than anxious. But boy do we need good conservative voices to interpret the times AND provide practical advice for living, which we haven’t had in a long time. May the Lord raise them up for us.

Scattered Thoughts on Forming and Filling

The following are things I’ve picked up from others, mostly from Alistair. I’m spitting this out here to hopefully help myself and others connect some dots. (Forgive my liberal capitalization; I’m learning German.)

God’s Work in Creation

At the beginning of Genesis 1, the earth is without form and void. It has no shape and is empty. God creates in seven days. This solves the problem of formlessness and emptiness.

Days 1-3 are days where God “forms” a particular realm, or sphere. He does this by dividing and distinguishing things. Light from darkness. Waters above from the water below. Waters from the dry land. He also named things on these days. “And God called…Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, Seas…” On these days, as I said, He is forming the creation. He is giving it structure, rigidity, making it a definite arena in which things can take place. He has established hierarchies in the very structure of the cosmos. Heaven is above Earth is above Sea.

Days 4-6 are days of “filling.” The realms which He has made, He now fills with living, breathing, communing creatures. The greater and lesser lights, along with the stars, inhabit the sphere of Heaven and govern Day and Night. The sea creatures dwell in the Sea, the waters below, and the birds dwell in the expanse of Heaven. The livestock, beasts of the earth, and Man himself walk upon Earth. Again, filling is the primary activity of the latter three days. He is imparting life and bringing communion into the cosmos. Here again, He establishes hierarchies: Man is to rule, to subdue and dominate, the other creatures.

There is then Day 7, on which God rests from His labor and hallows the seventh day.

Days 1-3 correspond individually to Days 4-6. That is:

  • Day 1 > Day 4: Day and Night are formed, then filled by Sun, Moon, and Stars
  • Day 2 > Day 5: Waters and Expanse are formed, then filled by sea creatures and birds
  • Day 3 > Day 6: Dry land formed, then is filled by livestock, beasts, and Man

Additionally, the first, fourth, and seventh days are all concerned with Time. On the first day, the rhythm of Day, Night, Day, Night, is begun. On the fourth, the Day and Night are regulated by the Sun, Moon, and Stars. A pattern of seasons, days, and years is established. On the seventh, the weekly holy day is established as a day of rest and contemplation of the Lord’s work. So the first set of “forming” days begins with a focus on Time, the second set of “filling” days begins with a focus on Time, and the final day focuses on Time.

Man’s Mandate in Creation

In chapter 1, when Man is created, they are commanded to be fruitful, multiply, fill, subdue, and dominate the earth. This follows the forming and filling pattern. They are created in the image of God. They are created male and female. The fundamental unit of mankind is the male-female pair. Sexual dimorphism is the one differentiating factor between types of humans highlighted at creation. That means it’s very important. No other difference is noted in the creation accounts.

Chapter 2 zooms in on the Man and the Woman, so to speak. Here, the distinctions are set forth.

The Man is created from the earth. He is the man of dust from the ground. God breathes the breath of life into him, and he comes alive. He is formed outside the Garden. There was yet no bush or small plant of the field, and no man tending it. God then plants the Garden and places the Man in it to work it and keep it. God also delivered His Law to the Man there: “Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

God saw that it wasn’t good for the Man to be alone, for the Man could not fulfill the Creation Mandate alone. The Man could tend and enlarge the structure area of the Garden, but he could not fill it by himself. God brought all the animals to the Man, partly to demonstrate this, and he named them. The Man is associated with God’s activity of Days 1-3. He copies his Father in forming the Garden and naming its inhabitants (including the yet to be introduced Woman). He provides structure and rigidity to his domain and makes authoritative pronouncements over it on God’s behalf.

The Woman is created from the Man. She is the rib, the one who comes from the Man’s side. She is formed inside the Garden. It was already planted and being cared for. The Man had already received the Law from God, and delivers it to the Woman, who does not hear it from God.

The Woman is created for the Man. She is fit for him, she corresponds, complements, and glorifies him. She is united with him to become one flesh. Her creation allows the “filling” part of the Creation Mandate to be fulfilled, and so she is associated with God’s activity of Days 4-6. She copies her Father in filling the Garden. Her gifts allow her to bring forth new life and establish communion in the Garden. Now there can be new worshippers.

Man:

  • Forming (And naming)
  • Works the ground
  • Created outside Garden
  • Made from earth
  • Given Law by God

Woman:

  • Filling
  • Bears children
  • Created inside Garden
  • Made from Man
  • Given Law from God by Man

Man’s Fall

The natural order is overturned in the Fall. Where God speaks His true Word to the Man, who speaks it to the Woman, who together rule over creation, the Serpent (identified with the beasts of the field, and so part of the creation) speaks falsely to the Woman, who speaks falsely to the Man, who then hides from God. The chain of authority is exactly reversed.

  • Natural order: God > Man > Woman > Creation
  • Sin-marred order: Creation (Serpent) > Woman > Man > God

In this, God curses all involved. The Woman, specifically, is cursed in her ability to fill the cosmos and is set to be tyrannized by her source, the Man. She was brought out of Man to receive the benefits of his labor and be a help to him. Now she will harry him and he will harry her. The Man is cursed in his ability to form the earth as he was taught and is set to be tyrannized by his source, the ground. He was brought out of the ground to receive its fruit by his work. Now the ground will turn against him.

Man and Woman are cursed in distinct ways. The Man’s task of forming the earth will be frustrated. Where he would have an orderly, beautiful, fruitful Garden, the ground will bring forth thistles and thorns. He will obtain bread, but only with great toil. The structure that he would bring to the earth will be disrupted at every turn. The Woman’s task of filling the earth will be similarly thwarted. Childbearing will be very painful. Where she would have many children in joy, there will be agony, sorrow, and death. Life in communion, her gift to creation, will be thrown into confusion and division.

God’s Work in Redemption

Christ forms the Church. He gives it structure, rigidity, boundaries, the Law. He purchases it for Himself. He subdues and dominates sinners, making them into His brothers. His work is as a king, a gardener, a shepherd, a priest, a prophet, a carpenter. He speaks God’s true Word.

The Holy Spirit fills the Church, indeed. His work is associated with the new birth, baptism, communion, nurture, peace, and unity. He brings new members into the household of God. He joins them to Christ. He imparts life to them.

The Temple is a symbolic Garden of Eden. The Church is God’s Temple. The Temple is God’s house and household. The Church is God’s house and household. (Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Pet. 2:5, Heb. 3:6, 1 Cor. 3:16) So there is a strong tie between God’s work in creation and His work in redemption. The symbols of one are just as useful in one context as the other. In redeeming mankind, He does not do away with the natural order. Rather, He puts the natural order back together again. Where before we were under the reign of sin and the curse, He frees us from that bondage so that we can walk as Man and Woman were originally intended.

Why?

All this tells us a few things, at least.

  1. God created us in such a way that our vocations as both Man and Woman parallel His work both in creation and redemption.
  2. There is in fact a natural order to which we should conform ourselves. Christianity, rather than doing away with such an idea, commits us to it all the more strongly.
  3. Since this natural order and our various vocations parallel God’s own work, we have no just cause to denigrate that order.

I think this background will be very helpful in studying what nature and Scripture have to tell us about questions of authority, submission, sexuality, household order, and so on. Pronouncements of how things ought to be will be more compelling and persuasive if we can explain the ‘why?’ of it. Knowing the cosmic significance of our work will hopefully aid us in our performance of it.

Coke and the Bible

“Do you want a coke to drink?”

If you are asked this in the South and you answer in the affirmative, the response will undoubtedly be something like “What kind? Coca Cola? Dr. Pepper? Pepsi?” I’ve seen this confuse folk who haven’t been to the South before. “I said I wanted a Coke! If I wanted a Pepsi I would have said so,” is the usual reply. It is then explained that Southerners, recognizing the superiority of Coca Cola, have adopted the habit of referring to all soft drinks as “cokes.”

This sort of substitution1 is not unique to Southerners, not even to English speakers. We talk about someone’s “threads,” meaning their clothes. A person’s “bread and butter” is their livelihood. “Suits” are businessmen. “Strings” are stringed instruments. I’m sure you can think of plenty yourself. The idea is that some part of a thing can be used to refer to the whole. Threads make up clothes. Bread and butter are the products of a good job. Part of being a businessman is wearing a suit. Stringed instruments obviously have to have strings to make a sound. We are familiar enough with this that we don’t really think about it. We simply do it.

We use these figures of speech to make our communication interesting and bearable. And so do the authors of Holy Scripture. They do it so much that if we don’t consciously take it into account when we are interpreting the Bible, we risk missing most of what is being taught. Think about the commission of Matthew 28:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matt. 28:19-20a (ESV)

Jesus employs this same kind of part-for-whole substitution to describe the means of making disciples. He says to make disciples by “baptizing and teaching.” He doesn’t mean that baptism and teaching are strictly and simply the only things we have to do to make disciples. Rather, he is using two of the most important aspects of the ministry of the Church to represent the entire ministry of the Church: that of Word and Sacrament.

Or think about Genesis 3 and the curses laid upon the Man and the Woman. The Woman is cursed with pain in childbearing. The Man is cursed with pain in his work to till the field. Is the curse merely that it will hurt to give birth? Or that men will sweat and get hurt when we farm the ground? Or is God using short-hand expressions to represent a more comprehensive frustration of the natural order? It’s definitely the latter. And if we recognize that, we learn something about what it means to be a Man or a Woman.

God curses the Woman with pain in childbearing. Childbearing, though, represents the whole of the Woman’s calling as wife and mother. It stands in for bearing children, nurturing them, enlivening and keeping the home, making it a place full of life and communion. And if God curses the Woman in this way, it means that is what the Woman is for. The curse is a frustration of the way God meant for things to be. Therefore, her task is to keep the home and bear children, which is no small thing. This is her particular help in subduing and dominating the earth.

Likewise, God curses the Man in his labor in the field, outside the garden. His work to make bread is fraught with danger and failure and hard toil. Working in the field embodies the Man’s calling as the protector and provider for his family. He is to go out into the wild and tame it. He is bringing in the raw materials that his wife and family need. He goes out into the public realm on behalf of his household. Since this is the particular way God afflicts the Man, we can see that this is his natural goal.

We would miss that, though, if we didn’t remember that God, the prophets, and the apostles often use a part of something to refer to the whole. Like we Southerners do when we order a coke.


[1] The technical term is synecdoche, if you’d like to study further.

 

Johannes Althusius on Husband and Wife

Althusius was a Reformed political philosopher writing at the dawn of the 17th century. He drew deeply from Aristotle and the Western natural law tradition. One of his most important emphases was on the family as the base of society, and subsequently federalism and subsidiarity.

The following represents the virtually unanimous voice of the Christian, and specifically Reformed, tradition’s understanding of the family. From his Politics:

“…The conjugal association and symbiosis is one in which the husband and wife, who are bound each to the other, communicate the advantages and responsibilities of married life. The director and governor of the common affairs pertaining to this association is the husband. The wife and family are obedient, and do what is commanded.

The advantages and responsibilities are either proper to one of the spouses, or common to both. Proper advantages and responsibilities are either those the husband communicates to his wife, or those the wife communicates to her husband. The husband communicates to his wife his name, family, reputation, station in life, and economic condition. He also provides her with guidance, legal protection, and defense against violence and injury. Finally, he supplies her with all other necessities, such as management, solicitude, food, and clothing.

The wife extends to her husband obedience, subjection, trust, compliance, services, support, aid, honor, reverence, modesty, and respect. She brings forth children for him, and nurses and trains them. She joins and consoles him in misery and calamity. She accommodates herself to his customs, and without his counsel and consent she does nothing. And thus she renders to her husband an agreeable and peaceful life.

There are also common advantages and responsibilities that are provided and communicated by both spouses, such as kindness, use of the body for avoiding harlotry and for procreating children, mutual habitation except when absence may be necessary, intimate and familiar companionship, mutual love, fidelity, patience, mutual service, communication of all goods and right (jus), management of the family, administration of household duties, education of children in the true religion, protection against and liberation from perils, and mourning of the dead.”