The Family Project team asked noted author and Christian worldview leader Dr. Nancy Pearcey why a theology of family is important. Here is what she had to say:
The reason Christians need to be more intentional about developing a theology of the family is that we are all children of our age — which means we are prone to pick up the views of those around us, often without even being aware of it.
In their view of the family, Americans have been deeply affected by what is called social contract theory, propounded by thinkers such as Locke and Rousseau. American conservatives tend to be influenced by Locke, while liberals think more along the lines of Rousseau. But in both cases, the heart of social contract theory is the idea that the ultimate starting point is the individual, the autonomous self.
Where then do social institutions, like the family, come from? They are products of choice.
The implications are staggering. Social contract theory implies that we agree to be in relationships when they meet our needs. Relationships are essentially redefined as products of enlightened self interest. Thus if a marriage relationship is not meeting my needs, then I can choose to leave. If the origin of marriage is individual choice, then marriage is subject to the whim of the individual. No wonder marriage has become so fragile in our day.
And if we choose to create marriage in the first place, then we can also choose to change it — we can redefine it any way we want. No wonder so many people today are questioning the very definition of marriage.
By contrast, the biblical concept of marriage as a covenant is that it is a pre-existing social institution built into our very nature. We don’t create it so much as we enter into it. (Remember that wonderful older phrase: We “enter into the holy estate of matrimony.”) The relationship of marriage is a moral entity that exists in itself, with its own normative definition. That means it confers on us certain moral obligations such as fidelity, integrity, and so on.
The Rosetta Stone of Christian social thought is the Trinity: The human race was created in the image of God, who is three Persons so intimately related as to constitute one Godhead—in the classic theological formulation, one in being and three in person. Both oneness and threeness, both individuality and relationship, are equally real, equally ultimate, equally integral to God’s nature.
Because humans are created in the image of God, this perfect balance of unity and diversity in the Trinity gives a model for human social life. On one hand, the Trinity implies the dignity and uniqueness of individual persons. On the other hand, the Trinity implies that relationships are not created by sheer choice but are built into the very essence of human nature. We are not atomistic individuals but are created for relationship.
The implication of the doctrine of the Trinity is that relationships are just as ultimate or real as individuals. Relationships are not the creation of autonomous individuals, who can make or break them at will. Relationships are part of the created order, and thus are ontologically real and good.
This may sound abstract, but think of it this way. When we are in a relationship. we sense that there is “me” and there is “you” . . . and then there is “the relationship.” And there are times when we say, We need to work on “our relationship.” In other words, we sense that a relationship is more than the sum of its parts—that it is a reality that goes beyond the two individuals involved.
This was traditionally spoken about in terms of the common good: There was a “good” for each of the individuals in the relationship (God’s moral purpose for each person), and then there was a “common good” for their lives together (God’s moral purpose for the marriage itself). In a perfect marriage unaffected by sin, there would be no conflict between these two purposes: The common good would express and fulfill the individual natures of both wife and husband.
A woman recently wrote me an email saying that she had been raised in a home governed by the rule that Christians should not expose themselves to any non-biblical ways of thinking. But when she read Total Truth, she says, “I discovered that I had unconsciously absorbed ideas that came from secular thinkers like Rousseau.” What about you?
Are your ideas about marriage biblical, or have you absorbed ideas from our secular culture that are eating away at the heart of your marriage?
(Adapted from Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, used with permission)
Nancy Pearcey is author of the award-winning, bestselling book Total Truth: Liberation Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity and coauthor (with Chuck Colson) of How Now Shall We Live?. She is a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University, as well as editor at large of the Pearcey Report. Heralded in The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual,” Pearcey has appeared on national radio and television, including C-SPAN. She and her husband homeschooled their two sons. Her most recent book is Saving Leonardo.