Voices: Children, the culture war and the cross

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Pastor and professor Kevin DeYoung recently wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition titled “It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy,” provoking no small amount of controversy.

In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding LGBTQ rights, DeYoung argues Christians need a new approach to the “culture war.” This approach is simple: “Have more children and disciple them like crazy.”

I believe DeYoung’s argument is unbiblical and tone-deaf and want to challenge his fixation on fecundity and the so-called “culture war.”

The Bible on singleness and childlessness

There can be no question the Bible presents marriage and children as beautiful blessings from God. I completely support Christians who choose to pursue such blessings as an expression of faithfulness to Christ. But DeYoung—and much of wider evangelicalism—has an unbiblical fixation on these blessings.

The New Testament nowhere says a woman is required to become a wife or mother in order to be a faithful and effective disciple. Of Scripture’s many female heroes, most never have their faithfulness tied to childbearing or marriage.

Marriage and children are good gifts from God, but they are gifts, not mandates. Celibacy also is a gift that provides unique opportunities to serve and glorify God (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 28-35). And childlessness, often interpreted as a “curse” from God for unfaithfulness, is no such thing (Luke 1:6-7).

Various lifestyles and relationship statuses—celibacy, childless marriages, child-full marriages, widows and widowers, etc.—all can bear witness to Christ in unique ways. If we emphasize one—such as marriages with children—over others, we diminish the beauty of God-given diversity in the body of Christ, contrary to Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 12:4-26.

Children and gospel witness

Raising your children to love Jesus and proclaim the gospel is a righteous and biblical way to participate in Christ’s work in the world (2 Timothy 1:5). But this is not the only way to participate in Christ’s work. It is not even the primary way.

If you read the New Testament, you will be hard-pressed to find evidence that biological childbearing plays a central role in the advancement of the gospel. Indeed, Jesus himself relativizes “traditional” biological family relationships (Matthew 12:46-50; Luke 11:27-28). The Apostle Paul also radically reconfigures the concept of family relationships along gospel lines instead of biological lines (1 Corinthians 4:15; Philippians 2:22).

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Again, marriage and children are not bad. They are good and glorifying to God. But if we present them as the best or primary way in which we spread the gospel and do the work of Christ, we are going beyond and even against the Bible. We also are being profoundly insensitive to single and childless Christians.

DeYoung says, “The future belongs to the fecund.” But God says: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, and choose what pleases me, and hold fast my covenant, to them I will give in my house and within my walls a memorial, and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:4-5 NASB).

Culture war?

Another problematic element of DeYoung’s article is his emphasis on a so-called “culture war.” The idea of a Christian “culture war” became prominent with the rise of the Religious Right and the Moral Majority in the latter half of the 20th century.

Essentially, the culture war mentality sees non-Christians as enemies who need to be dominated through traditional cultural avenues. To fight the culture war, Christians need to seek power and influence through secular channels, such as public policy, political representation, media portrayals, etc.

Christianity, according to the culture war mentality, must hold power and influence in wider culture in order to better advance the kingdom of God. Religious liberty, if it is considered at all, is considered primarily in the interest of Christians. Religious liberty for non-Christians is little more than a bare tolerance granted by the hegemonically dominant expression(s) of Christian faith.

DeYoung argues that having lots of kids will help Christians win the culture war by letting us achieve power through sheer force of numbers. This is unbiblical and harmful.

The failure of the culture war

DeYoung’s strategy is not actually new, nor is it particularly effective. I am part of a generation who grew up in the American evangelical church as it embraced the culture war. The fallout has been disastrous. I cannot even begin to count the number of peers I know who have abandoned the church, and even Christ, precisely because they resent the culture war.

Thankfully, my parents did not see me as a culture-warrior-in-training. I was lucky. The spiritual toll the culture war has taken on so many of my peers is catastrophic. I cannot fathom how DeYoung and others like him can look at the current spiritual landscape of young adults in the United States and come away thinking the “fecundity” approach is helpful or effective.

If Christians want to advance the gospel and influence our culture, there is a much better strategy—imitate Jesus. Perform loving self-sacrifice for the sake of others in the name of Christ (Romans 5:8; Galatians 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 John 4:10). This is the strategy put forward by the New Testament.

The scandal of the gospel is God chose to use “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and … the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). The cross is the prime expression of this truth. If Christians want real power, we should seek God’s power revealed in weakness and self-sacrificial love.

Joshua Sharp is a writer and Bible teacher living in Waco. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Truett Theological Seminary. The views expressed are those solely of the author.

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