Responding to Challies: Is It Okay To Deliberately Not Have Children?

Christopher AshYesterday Tim Challies posted asking if Christian couples can decide not to have children. The article relies on and develops a few points Christopher Ash makes in his excellent book, Married for God. However, I cannot agree with the reasoning of either Challies or Ash. Having heard similar arguments in numerous conversations, I remain unconvinced that Christian couples must have children or that the decision not to is sinful. I have planned a series of posts on the topic, and we might call this short response some of the first fruits.

Challies’ first point addresses the false dichotomy between having children and serving God. Quoting Ash, “We do not serve God rather than having children; we serve God by having children.” It is a true point: the married couple need not choose between having children and serving God, since rearing children is certainly one of the places married couples serve God. But that does not make it an essential means of serving God in marriage.

Later in the article, Challies presents his own false dichotomy: embracing children as blessing from God or calling them a curse. Really? When a friend chooses to remain celibate for whatever reason do we accuse him of calling marriage a curse? Or, let’s consider a passage often dragged into this discussion, ‘Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of children’ (Psalm 127:5). Does the couple that decide to have just two children call the “full quiver” (four, five, a Catholic dozen) a curse? We are not strung between calling children a curse or a blessing.

Finally, Challies makes a point that I really appreciated: children are uninvited strangers that couples must extend sacrificial hospitality to. Unlike our spouse or close friends we cannot choose children that suit us. However, reading this point did bring to mind another, made by Stanley Hauerwas, “We never know whom we marry; we just think we do…give it a while and he or she will change…The primary problem [then] is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.” On top of Hauerwas’ point, both Old and New Testaments encourage believers to entertain and care for strangers. Furthermore, if ever there was a place that forced unlooked for and very often inconvenient relationships it is the local church. Sure, children interrupt marriages causing sanctification and forcing hospitality. But they are not the only place where couples can practice hospitality and putting strangers ahead of themselves.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I hope to write more on this topic. I admit that this response is rushed and does not present any arguments in favour of deliberate childlessness, nor does it deal with the question of Genesis 1-2 and the creation mandate. Hopefully those will come. But in the mean time, it is frustrating to hear the poorly thought-out arguments mentioned above that prove nothing, yet somehow are persistently plied as if they did.

Three books from 2012

person-reading-a-book-226x300It is no secret: there are times when I love books more than people. Because I spend so much time reading I thought that I should offer some book suggestions, not summaries, from last year. The three books that I have chosen were those that I found most significant for my Christian life, the content of them was both practical and pressing. I pray that these brief caveats will encourage thoughtful reading and application to your own lives.

ministriesmercyMinistries of Mercy by Timothy Keller. Admittedly, if not obviously, my appreciative venture into this book is long overdue. But even though the 2nd edition was published 15 years ago it seems, because it hit bookstore shelves before Keller was in vogue, that it has been largely overlooked. And that is a great pity. Without getting entrenched in the war over word ministry and social work, Keller takes us beyond theological nuts and bolts to make it apparent one cannot function without the other. Sure, they can exist without each other, but only in an impoverished form of Christian life. I was immensely challenged by Keller’s clear application of the gospel to motivate generous love that partners the gospel truth. Furthermore, the book is heavily weighted with plain, practical advice for Christians, both individually and corporately, to put structures into place for ministries of mercy. You may not agree with everything Keller writes, but I think that much of our resistance to what he is saying is our own hardness towards gospel motivated works, the kind that Jesus said would make the church stand out from its surrounding society. They are an inconvenience, difficult and time consuming. Yet, as Keller clearly articulates, God’s people who have grasped grace should be at the forefront of this work.

bookreview-next-challiesThe Next Story by Tim Challies. This book, which I also got to reading later than many, is Challies’ exploration of the relationship between technology, especially social networking and online communication, and the Christian faith. Perhaps one of the reasons I found this book such a helpfully insightful read is because I have long felt  that we are becoming increasingly enslaved to our technology, idolising communication and convenience, as well as outsourcing knowledge – or memory – to data stores. This has, in my opinion, damaged Christian fellowship and hindered the deep, intimate, and personal relationships that God created us for. While it is a bugbear for me, Challies has worked hard at locating the place of technology in our lives – for it’s too late to revert to how things were before, Graham said nostalgically – and he challenges Christians to think with theological discernment regarding the internet, time spent in the digital world, lives that are interrupted and disjointed by technology, and our dependence on (tending towards idolatry of) immediate or instant communication. As with Keller, this book will disturb and challenge you. We always assume that progress is good, but the reminder of this book is that it always depends on how we make use of it, whether we become its slave or wield it in our service of God.

Lit!Lit by Tony ReinkeThe people who need to read this book more than everyone else are those who don’t read. I often find myself bemoaning Christians’ fixation with terrible literature or functional illiteracy. If Christians would just read Reinke’s book I believe that our sluggish apathy towards reading, with theological thoughtfulness, would be upended. I don’t remember if Reinke makes the point, but when one looks over church history you will notice that wherever the gospel went, literacy and education dovetailed. But today our engagement with other worldviews and contemporary culture is limited to tabloids, tweets, television sitcoms, and news-bytes. If you are a reader, which is quite likely since you’ve made it this far through my post, then Reinke’s book will aid you in establishing sound theology for reading. As an avid reader, he helps plan a reading schedule that will assure giving the right amount of time to different types of literature. The book is broken up into theory and practice of reading. If you don’t read, then I would challenge you to read the first half: a theology of reading. In closing, reading is a discipline and being unfit for it, finding the stimulation unnecessary or time unavailable, might shed light on your Bible reading, or lack thereof. Revealed biblical truth is our touchstone, but very few Christians in the past have stopped there, and I would go as far to say it pleases God when we become thoughtfully engaged with literature, seeing it through gospel eyes.