Tuesday, July 22, 2008

"Family idolatry"

I’ve been asked to comment on a statement by Mark Driscoll, in relation to a critical statement by another blogger. Let’s begin with Driscoll’s statement:

“There is no office such as pastor’s wife or pastor’s children and I work very hard to ensure that our family remains our top priority over the church. Too many pastors put their ministry above their family and their wives and children get active in the church just so they can be close to their husband/daddy which is tragic. We have a normal fun family life and by God’s grace my wife and kids love Jesus, me and our church.”

I think Driscoll’s statement is basically correct, as well as being a useful corrective.

i) When you marry and have kids, you acquire a prior obligation. Becoming a pastor doesn’t discharge you of this obligation. If you can’t do justice to both, either don’t enter the ministry or leave the ministry.

ii) A pastor has a higher obligation to his family than your family.

iii) A pastor with an unhappy family life is going to be an unhappy pastor. He won’t do a very good job of ministering to others.

iv) Many pastors fail their families because they neglect their families. They take them for granted.

v) Being a pastor’s wife doesn’t make you a co-pastor.

vi) PKs shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than other kids in church. Regeneration and sanctification aren’t hereditary traits. And PKs are subject to the same cultural influences as other kids.

PKs are normal, standard issue kids. They weren’t born with an extra set of spiritual genes.

That said, it’s possible to take Driscoll’s admonition too far (I’m not claiming that he himself takes it too far).

i) According to Paul, one qualification for pastoral office is that a man be a good family man (1 Tim 3:4; Titus 1:5). So there is a relationship between the two.

ii) I don’t take this to mean that just any marital woe or rebellious child can automatically scuttle his ministry. For one thing, that would give sinners a coercive power over the Christian ministry.

For another thing, it’s quite possible that Paul himself was once a married man whose wife divorced him when he became a Christian.

So I take him to mean that if these problems result from how he mismanaged his familial affairs, then that disqualifies him from ministry.

iii) Although a pastor’s wife is not a co-pastor, a minister ought to marry a pious, prayerful woman who can support him spiritually and emotionally. She should share his vision and commitment.

iv) Paul also says that older women should teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4), so there’s nothing wrong with the pastor’s wife holding a women’s Bible study or belonging to a prayer chain.

Some women attend seminary to get an MAR and find a husband. They’re preparing themselves for life as a pastor’s wife. That’s fine.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones wrote an edifying little memoir about her husband’s early ministry: Memories of Sandfields.

It furnishes a good illustration of how a godly and supportive wife can contribute to her husband’s ministry.

v) Pastoral ministry is not dynastic. The qualifications for ministry are not hereditary. However, some sons of the manse do follow their fathers into the ministry, and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they’re qualified in their own right.

Now let’s transition to some of Halden’s critical comments:

“This, to my mind, is perhaps the most clear articulation of the kind of idolatry of the family that is common among evangelical Christians in America today.”

“For my part, Driscoll’s comments are perhaps the most horrifying thing I could expect to hear from the mouth of any pastor about the priority of the family.”

“The problem is rather the sort of moral universe that such comments presuppose. Driscoll reifies the dominant notion that ‘natural’ institutions like the family simply are the moral norm which have value in and of themselves merely by vritue of their existence. The ethical vision of the New Testament, by contrast, is constituted by a radical interruption of all such ‘natural’ conventions of morality and social life. The scandal of the ethic of Jesus and the early church is precisely that all the commonly accepted priorities, allegiances, and social formations of this age are radically disrupted by the apocalyptic erruption of the advent of Christ in death and resurrection.”


Halden’s final paragraph, which supplies the supporting argument for his critique, is about one part truth to nine parts falsehood.

i) In terms of ultimate priorities, a Christian should be prepared to choose Jesus over family if his family forces the issue. But this doesn’t mean that, as a rule, there’s a conflict between our spiritual duties and our familial duties.

ii) Even in case of conflict, that doesn’t mean we cease to have any familial obligations. Far from Christianity dissolving familial duties, it heightens them (1 Tim 5:8).

iii) Christian conversion isn’t a form of chemical castration. You don’t cease to have a sex drive. And you don’t lose the God-given emotional need for the companionship of a wife and kids. Grace is not a denial of nature, but a restoration of nature. Halden’s position is demonic (1 Tim 4:1-4).

iv) Yes, families are intrinsically good. The family is a divine institution. A creation mandate. And the NT reaffirms that mandate (e.g. 1 Tim 5:4,14).

“We are trying to be an authentic witness to the nature of our Lord. God has called us to follow his example and set aside ‘life’ (aspirations, pleasure, health, rest, safety, family, image, respect, dreams, etc., etc.) for the sake of His kingdom and for the sake of the other.”


We’re not supposed to emulate Christ in every respect. He came to die.

There’s nothing wrong with natural goods. We should enjoy God’s handiwork.

Halden jumbles a number of things together. There’s a difference between worldly ambition and godly ambition.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Steve, as a pastor I know too well what can happen with a pastor and his family.