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The Christ Child and a Culture of Birth

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Albrecht Dürer - Study of the Christ Child - WGA07039In this day after Christmas edition of Acton Commentary, I take a look at the message the Christ child brings to us, particularly in terms of promoting a culture of birth. In “The Hopes and Fears of All the Years,” I note that “Where evil leaves us speechless, God speaks the Word of hope and salvation.”

The Italian greeting Buon Natale captures this a bit better than the English, “Merry Christmas.”

It struck me that this Christmas season, especially given all of the violent tragedies we’ve seen in America over recent weeks, was a wonderfully appropriate time to reflect on the hope of this birth for our world. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck writes evocatively that “the holy family is the example of the Christian home.”

Very often the “culture of life” and the “culture of death” are juxtaposed, but I want to point to particular aspect of that juxtaposition. Life and death are in some sense not precisely coordinate; if by death we mean the point of departure from this world (and in the traditional Christian understanding) the separation of the soul and the body, then the time of birth and death are in some sense more precisely related.

It’s no secret that the developed world in general, and more recently the United States in particular, faces some serious demographic challenges. Much of this has to do with the absence of a culture of life in general, and a culture of birth in particular. The causes are indeed complex; but in a profound way they are spiritual rather than merely economic or political.

Many parents, reflecting on the troubles of their own lives or the corruption of the world around them, wonder how they might in good conscience bring another life into this world. From this perspective, bearing and raising a child is an act of hope and defiance in the face of the abyss. In a world that largely embraces meaninglessness and despair, merely having kids can be profoundly counter-cultural.

A culture of birth is, in this way, the foundation to broader social flourishing. As Bavinck puts it, “In the family we get to know the secret of life, the secret, namely, that not selfishness but self-denial and self-sacrifice, dedication and love, constitute the rich content of human living.” And as Luther observed so vividly, the act of changing a diaper is a profound act of service and as such, a profound act of worship to God.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he also serves as executive editor the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has authored articles in academic publications such as The Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, and Journal of Scholarly Publishing, and has written popular pieces for newspapers including the Detroit News, Orange County Register, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2006, Jordan was profiled in the book, The Relevant Nation: 50 Activists, Artists And Innovators Who Are Changing The World Through Faith. Jordan's scholarly interests include Reformation studies, church-state relations, theological anthropology, social ethics, theology and economics, and research methodology. Jordan is a member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), and he resides in Jenison, Michigan with his wife and three children.