Pastor John Piper advises Christians to sow the seeds of Western social sickness in other countries.
One of the things that has baffled me about the pastors in our times is their inability (or outright refusal) to consistently apply scripture to one of the defining issues of our times: birth control. They’re pro-life, but not necessarily pro-conception. Pro-marriage, but not pro-childbearing—at least not beyond that number of children that society has decided is “reasonable”. They’re convinced of God’s sovereignty as the Giver, Sustainer, and Taker of life, but still blissfully unaware of the presumptuousness inherent in the routine prevention of life. Most of the time, the issue of conception remains unaddressed in the pulpit and the pastor’s office while we wrestle instead with the sins of abortion, divorce, and homosexuality.
But once conception becomes a choice we allow ourselves to make, rather than a gift God graciously bestows on us, we Christians put ourselves on same slippery slope at the bottom of which we now find our unbelieving Western world–as this blogger calls it, we’ve embraced the “fetishization of marriage”. Marriage is for us alone, for our pleasure, for the serving of our own needs and lusts. We can do marriage however we see fit. It is ours.
Now, marriage certainly is meant to fulfill our emotional and sexual needs. But that is not all it is meant to do. Sadly, even our most important public Christian voices, our most loving and Godly pastors, seem to be happy to compromise the institution of marriage, as long as it is in the service of what they see as a good cause.
Unlike me (Hi, I’m Cindy. Just a housewife with a blog.), John Piper requires no introduction. Multitudes follow him closely, and I count myself among them. I enjoy his thoughts on Christian hedonism, God’s sovereignty in suffering, and race relations within the Church. I can’t peer into hearts, but when he speaks and writes, I feel pretty certain that I’m listening to a man who really, really loves and trusts in the Lord. He’s pretty thoroughly biblical, and always thoughtful. But in his daily “Ask Pastor John” spot yesterday, he advised a young lady in a way that makes me think he didn’t give a lot of thought to his answer before he dove in. I’ll transcribe a little bit of it, but you should listen to the whole thing to understand what I’m addressing, so that you don’t get the idea that he went completely off the rails with his answer. He makes a few reasonable-sounding points, but they’re not strong enough to support his conclusion.
The questioner asked:
“I’m a 20 year old woman who by God’s leading wants to live among unreached people-groups in India or the Middle East. I’ve never had the desire to have my own kids, even though I love kids, and the guy I’m currently dating doesn’t either. If we get married, we see ourselves living as Paul-type missionaries. Practically speaking, it makes sense to not have kids.”
And she goes on a little, and then Pastor John says, essentially, “Yes! Missionaries are in extraordinary circumstances and can be assured that there is Bible teaching to back up the idea of being married but refusing children.” Somehow he missed the fact that Paul-type missionaries are only childless because they are unmarried.
Now, this young lady is quite obviously aware (somewhat shockingly, in this ignorant age) of the connection between marriage, sex, and children, and also of God’s social design for the institution of marriage, or else she wouldn’t have couched her question in terms of “but isn’t it ok for us to refuse to have children if we can say it’s for God’s sake?” Is there any doubt that this young woman is searching for absolution from what she knows to be disobedience in ordinary circumstances by claiming her extraordinary calling as an exemption from the rule?
The tip-off here is the fact that she started her question with an explanation that she doesn’t particularly want children, but she does want the benefits of this young man’s sexual companionship for the rest of her life. If this was really a question about the best way to be a missionary, she’d have started there, not with her own feelings about kids and her (current) boyfriend.
Pastor John’s answer, though at least (thankfully) enthusiastic about the blessing of children, and rather cautiously given, still leaves the listener with the idea that children are a choice, and that they could be a liability to the Creator’s work. He managed to forget that the Creator of those unreached peoples (and they do have children in India, don’t they?) is also the Creator of the children of the missionaries who serve there, and He is a Creator who knows what He is doing when He creates life.
I see no need to rewrite my own words, so in answer to this, I’m simply going to quote from a chapter from Deceived: Little Lies…
We think we know better.
Among the arguments for the superiority of “planned” families is the idea that God wants us to use our own understanding to find the optimal number of children for our abilities and desired lifestyle. Even though He said to be fruitful and multiply, even though He cares for the children of the poor as well as those of the wealthy, even though He never even hinted in His word that limiting the growth of the human race would help right the wrongs of the Curse, we believe that we moderns at long last know better than He. We seem to think that He left something out of His written Word, or that biblical counsel isn’t quite enough to help us think about modern technological advances.
At the extreme end of that argument, I’ve even heard it said that having fewer children means being able to give even more of our lives to God’s real work, so it’s selfish to have too many children to tie us to the home. (emphasis added) Women with fewer children can minister more outside the home, where all the real needs are. They can take paying jobs and donate more money to charities. They’ll be better rested, and hence more capable of raising the few children they have with joy. Instead of adding more sinners to the world, we’ll just save the ones already born, they say.
This idea that through modern contraception we have this new, wonderful way to help God redeem His world reminds me of the account of Saul’s disobedience to God in 1 Samuel 15. God had told Saul and the Israelites, through His prophet Samuel, not to spare any of the Amalekites’ people or possessions as they conquered them. The Israelites, though, thought they knew better. Saul captured the king of the Amalekites instead of killing him, and the people saved the best of the livestock as well. And why?
Well, I suspect that it was really for their own gain, and they would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that pesky prophet! But Saul gave a novel excuse for his disobedience when Samuel caught him with his hand in the cookie jar: It was all done to help God!
You see, all they wanted to do was sacrifice these animals to please the Lord. It seemed such a shame to waste them. The Israelites somehow just knew, against the plain words that Samuel had spoken in the presence of all of them, that God didn’t really mean all that stuff about wiping out the enemy as they took the land. They could serve Him much, much better by saving the animals for sacrifice.
And Samuel said:
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king.”–1 Samuel 15:22-23
We have a direct command from God as descendants of both Adam and Noah to “be fruitful and multiply,” and we have many indications of His continued approval of human procreation throughout the rest of the Bible. He wants to bless the faithful with overflowing homes!
But we think we know better now. We want to say we are “sacrificing” our natural ability to have children so that we can do “more” for Him–or do more for ourselves, when we’re so bold as to admit that motive. It seems a shame to us to waste all that female human potential just popping out babies.
But is this what God has asked of us? Has God ever considered raising children to be a less important task than other things we might do with our lives? Did He ever speak in such a derogatory way about motherhood (e.g.: baby factory, popping out babies, breeder) as we in this culture do? Has He ever made it a matter of choice? What does He really desire? Wouldn’t He have told us somewhere in His word if He had changed His mind?
There are a few questions I think Pastor John should have asked, instead of affirming this future missionary’s desired conclusion:
- Why do you assume that God can’t add to the number of voices glorifying his name through your offspring at the same time that you are ministering in foreign lands?
- Why do you think that living as a missionary in a foreign land is a special circumstance where marriage is concerned? Have there been no married missionaries with children before?
- How do you think the married couples in your future home overseas will react to the idea that their homeland is not a good enough place for you to raise children?
- Why not just join a well-chaperoned mission along with this man as a co-laborer in Christ and remain unmarried, if your purpose is really to keep your focus on spreading the Gospel instead of having your own family? You’re still going to have that whole “husband-pleasing” problem if you get married. (1 Corinthians 7:34)
- How do you plan to teach the whole Bible to these unreached people groups while somehow protecting them from the unbiblical, western, feminist, sterile view of marriage and children that you bring along with you for the sake your own convenience? This is a view of marriage that quite clearly ends in the social corruption that we witness today in our own Western nations. We have seen the fruits of this thinking! It’s not good fruit! Why take that idea over to a people who might even still believe (correctly) that children belong on the asset side of life’s ledger?
- Do you believe that God would give you and your future husband children He has no use for in your mission work? As Sally Clarkson says of her own ministry, if God calls you to do something, He’s also calling the children he gave you to serve alongside you.
Childbearing is not a decision God has ever asked us to make for ourselves. In fact, despite Rev. Piper’s illogical extention of Paul’s principle of singleness to somehow include marital sterility, remaining single is not itself a decision God has asked his workers to make for His own sake. For the person gifted with singleness as Paul was, it is a natural outcome of personality and circumstances, not a painful, hand-wringing choice made in an effort to please God with our sacrifice.
7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (emphasis added)
–1 Corinthians 7:7
Paul’s assumption here is that most people are not gifted in this way. He’s simply saying “This ‘singleness’ thing God gave me has worked out well. It might not go so well for you, so if you burn with lust, get married.” And getting married goes with making babies most of the time. If no babies happen, then God can certainly be in that, but it’s never offered as a choice. Childbearing is never even lamented as a burden to the Gospel, but as a blessed addition to the family of Christ. It seems clear to me that getting married so that you can slake your lust for another person, but then refusing the God-given fruits of that holy union was not quite what the apostle had in mind when he wrote this passage.
I know that I’m just a hillbilly with an internet connection. I know that John Piper is far, far beyond me in spiritual understanding and Bible training. I wrestled with myself all night, trying to conclude that Piper and I can both be right here, or at least that I could be wrong. But, comparatively feeble-minded though I may be, I simply can’t see any way to reconcile what Piper says he believes (and what I believe) about the sovereignty of God in human affairs with what the pastor has told this young lady.
Yes, all things are lawful for us, and we have lots of room to discover our spiritual freedom while still receiving infinite mercy (and correction) from God, who remains our Father through all of our missteps. But it is undeniable that behaving as though children are a choice has been a pretty honkin’ big mistake for the Western world, and Rev. Piper has just advocated exporting that same mistake to other countries through the work of married, but intentionally sterile missionaries. That just seems too egregious for me to let go, even though I am hardly worthy to shine John Piper’s intellectual shoes.
I hope Pastor John will come to a different conclusion the next time he has to address such a question. The young people of our generation need better counsel than this.