Posts tagged with: herman bavinck

Braekeleer_Ferdinand_de_A_Peasant_Family_Gathered_around_the_Kitchen_Table_Oil_on_Panel-largeWith the expansion of economic freedom and the resulting prosperity, we’ve reached an unprecedented position of personal empowerment and vocational choice. This is a welcome development, and it can be seized for good in any number of ways. But it also comes with its own risks and temptations.

As with any surface-level “freedom,” unless we seek God first and neighbor second, our action will quickly be steered by pleasure, pride, pursuit of power, or plain old personal preference — leading to shackles that may be looser, but remain shackles nonetheless. Such illusions are nothing new, and lurk no matter what the sphere of our stewardship. But if modernity has wielded a tangible, visible blow to one area in particular, it’s that of the family.

Over the last few decades, marriage has increasingly been misunderstood, and our misaligned approaches to business, education, and politics haven’t helped. Rather than a basic starting point, a foundation of a flourishing society, the family has become just another optional perk in the worship of narrow self-fulfillment.

“Oh that? It’s not for me. Not now.”

As a result, marriage is increasingly seen as a mere contractual arrangement, a 50-50 partnership for the purposes of personal pleasure rather than duty and sacrifice. In turn, culture and family have “evolved” accordingly. Fewer and fewer people are getting married, and those who do are doing so later and later and having fewer and fewer kids, if any at all. Divorce is routine. The basic definition of marriage is constantly questioned. (more…)

motherhoodHappy Mother’s Day weekend from Herman Bavinck, who poetically summarizes the work, beauty, and glory of motherhood in The Christian Family:

[The wife and mother] organizes the household, arranges and decorates the home, and supplies the tone and texture of home life; with unequaled talent she magically transforms a cold room into a cozy place, transforms modest income into sizable capital, and despite all kinds of statistical predictions, she uses limited means to generate great things.

Within the family she preserves order and peace, because she knows the character of each person and knows how to supply the needs of each. She protects the weak, tends the sick, comforts the sorrowing, sobers the proud, and restrains the strong. Far more than the husband, she lives along with all her children, and for the children she is the source of comfort amid suffering, the source of counsel amid need, the refuge and fortress by day and by night. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and her children call her blessed [Prov. 31:10–28]…

For husband and wife marriage is meaningful and is for them a means for fulfilling their earthly and spiritual calling. But just as marriage is to be recommended in general, so too a marriage blessed with children is what may generally be described as a customary, normal marriage. By father, mother, and child the family is built according to the aesthetic principle of beautiful symmetry.


The work of mothers is some of the most remarkable work to behold. Family is the “school of life” and the “nursery of love,” as Herman Bavinck describes it, and in turn, the stewardship of love and life involves far more than a simple set of tasks, chores, and responsibilities.

Motherhood is indeed far more than a “job,” as Rachel Lu recently reminded us. And yet, by comparing it to other occupations, we might begin to get a sense of how true that statement actually is.

In a recent ad for Mother’s Day, a greeting card company did precisely that:

As the video aptly demonstrates, mothers steward their children and families in ways that stretch far beyond the logic of basic transactional services. Motherhood involves far more than child-bearing, supervision, and meal-making. Work has meaning and transcendent purpose across all spheres, but mothers bear distinct burdens, sow distinct seeds of nurture and love, and yield distinct fruits that spread across civilization. The work of mothers sets the stage for the rest of us, and they sacrifice all for that great and mysterious cause. (more…)

cathedra“By putting male and female together as the image of God, there’s something very powerful being said about the rest of creation… about how the male and female together have the task of bringing the love and life and stewardship and care of creation of God into the rest of the world.” –N.T. Wright

Christians believe that all humans are created in the image of God, a notion that shapes our understanding of human dignity and transforms our view of human destiny. In Genesis 1, God pairs this truth with his command to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “replenish the earth,” showing us how bearing his likeness points toward a particular kind of service and stewardship.

Yet for as much as we focus on the general reality of all this, how often do we consider that other part: “male and female he created them”? God created two distinct sexes to reflect his image — to work alongside and complement each other in enacting his purposes throughout the earth in divine unity. What does this imply for our approach to dominion and whole-life stewardship, and if we fail to recognize it, as the broader culture seems inclined to do, what might we miss?

In a video series for the recent Humanum event, an inter-faith conference on marriage and family, these questions are explored at length, beginning with a stunning introductory episode on the meaning of marriage and its importance for human destiny.

As N.T. Wright makes clear around 12:50, God created man and woman together to display his image and likeness, to serve as a symbol of our Creator, and in doing so, to bring “the love and life and stewardship and care of creation of God into the rest of the world.” (more…)

kidspiggybank2Having already shrugged my shoulders at our society’s peculiar paranoia over whether having kids is “too expensive,” I was delighted to see Rich Cromwell take up the question at The Federalist, pointing out what is only recently the not-so-obvious.

“Children are people, not toasters or cars,” he writes, “and deserve to be more than the product of a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats analysis.”

Alas, as we continue to accelerate in our compartmentalization and transactionalization of every area of life, we appear increasingly bent on abusing the gifts of “choice” and “empowerment” to control and micromanage that which ought to be driven by divine deference.

As Cromwell concludes, constructing elaborate cost-benefit analyses based on our own humanistic and materialistic priorities will only serve to distort and diminish the beauty and mystery of procreation:

There is more to life than budgets. Children are much more than budget line items.  They are infuriating, destructive, annoyingly inquisitive bundles of energetic, enthusiastic joy. They challenge you, they test the outer limits of your patience. But they also offer you the opportunity to see the wonder and satisfaction of learning to shimmy up a door frame by pressing feet and hands to opposite sides, of scoring the first goals in soccer, of feeding the dogs for the first time. It’s magnificent. As a wise friend told Blair and me when we were expecting Greer, “You will never regret having kids, but you may one day regret not having kids.”

Give it up. Stop trying to make it part of your life script. Stop thinking of kids in the terms you would think of a new toaster or minivan. Those are purchases you may regret. That’s why they come with receipts and warranties. Kids definitely do not. Kids do, though, offer you the chance to experience the exquisite pleasure of riding a go-kart on a Friday afternoon with a thrilled four-year-old, smile stretching from ear to ear. It is so choice. I recommend you have one or three and experience that exquisite joy for yourself. Trust me, you have the means.


Economy of LoveFor today and today only, you can watch Episode 2 of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles for FREE over at

Produced by the Acton Institute and spread across seven episodes, the series seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Episode 2 focuses specifically on the Economy of Love, and the grand mystery we find therein.

As host Evan Koons concludes: “Family is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to society because it is the first and foundational ‘yes’ to our nature, to pour ourselves out like Christ, to be gifts, and to love.”

Stream the full episode here for the rest of the day (July 23).

Watch the trailer for the series below, and purchase it here.

Visit the Acton Book Shop to find related books and media

Christian Family, Herman BavinckOver at The Gospel Coalition, Ryan Hoselton offers a nice summary of the key ideas in Herman Bavinck’s The Christian Family, which was recently translated by Christian’s Library Press.

Hoselton begins by surveying the range of evils that “threaten the well-being of the home,” as well as the dire state of the cultural landscape as it pertains to such matters. “No family evades the consequences of evil,” he concludes.

Yet he wonders: “Does the problem lie in the institution of the family itself? Would the world be better off if we abandoned the family altogether?”

Relying heavily on Bavinck, Hoselton argues that society needs a heavy dose and renewed sense of Christian theology if the family is to truly flourish. “Christians may not permit their conduct to be determined by the spirit of the age,” Bavinck writes, “but must focus on the requirement of God’s commandment,” showing “in word and deed what an inestimable blessing God has granted to humanity” with the gift of family.

Hoselton proceeds to offer the following key points as an initial foundation for the type of framework that’s needed:

God created the family beautiful and good. God is the most committed advocate for the family. “The history of the human race begins with a wedding,” and God himself officiated it. He created a compatible partner for Adam as a gift, blessed the couple, and commanded them to bear his image, multiply families, and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). As Bavinck said, “God’s artistic work comes into existence bearing the name of home and family.” God created humans to reflect the relational love within the Trinity, and he appointed the family as the supreme instrument toward this end. (more…)

economic-shalom-bolt“Economics is complicated,” says Derek Rishmawy in his review of John Bolt’s new book, Economic Shalom. “Establishing a Christian approach to economics seems even more daunting a task, especially given the amount of ink that’s been spilled when it comes to a Christian approach to money and wealth.”

The primary strength of Bolt’s proposal is try to move us past the simple biblicism that tends to run rampant in these theological discussions. In the first chapter, he disposes of the idea that there is clearly one “biblical economics” that can be cleanly read off the surface of the text. He does so partially by surveying the economic thought of three major christian ethicists, Walter Rauschenbusch, Ronald Sider, and David Chilton, using essentially the same biblicistic assumptions, end up with a wide variety of contradictory economic proposals ranging from interventionist socialism to theonomic libertarianism.

Instead, he holds up the thought of Herman Bavinck, who put forward a more chastened reading of Scripture that takes into account it’s salvific purposes . . .

Instead of piling up a bunch of verses and trying to see which specific commands can be cleanly mapped onto the current political system, Bavinck proposes we recover the main spiritual purpose of the Scriptures–the restoration of fallen man to God through the Gospel. From there, humans begin to be restored to their proper relationships with each other and are enabled to begin taking up the form of life rooted in God’s creational norms. Where do we go to find those norms? Well, back to the Scriptures, but now, we don’t go looking for particular commands, but the general principles that underlie and inform them. For this reason, Bavinck won’t speak directly of a “biblical economics”, but rather an economic system that is consistent with Scripture.

Read more . . .

2013-12-20 15.27.57In my Christmas commentary this week, “Gratification and Civilization,” I examine the connection between making your kids wait until Christmas morning to open their presents and the development of civilization.

Self-denial and self-sacrifice form the basis of human life together. As Matthew Cochran puts it in a piece last week at The Federalist, “Civilization depends on the tendency of men to produce more than they consume for themselves.”

A key factor of driving forward the development of civilization, then, is the family unit. For Cochran rightly warns that civilization “depends on masculine ambition.” The ambition to grow a business for someone “could mean feeding himself & his workers, along with any family they might have. His ambition could be a huge boon to society. Take that away, and you have a bunch of men doing what they need to do to stay comfortable, but nothing more—nothing for any women or any increasingly hypothetical children.”

The Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck explores the link between family and civilization in his study of The Christian Family. Bavinck describes the triad of father-mother-child:

The two-in-oneness of husband and wife expands with a child into a three-in-oneness. Father, mother, and child are one soul and one flesh, expanding and unfolding the one image of God, united within threefold diversity and diverse within harmonic unity.

These relationships are of civilizational significance:

This three-in-oneness of relationships and functions, of qualities and gifts, constitutes the foundation of all of civilized society. The authority of the father, the love of the mother, and the obedience of the child form in their unity the threefold cord that binds together and sustains all relationships within human society. Within the psychological life of every integrated personality this triple cord forms the motif and melody. No man is complete without some feminine qualities, no woman is complete without some masculine qualities, and to both man and woman, the child is held up as an example (Matt. 18:3). These three characteristics and gifts are always needed in every society and in every civilization, in the church and in the state. Authority, love, and obedience are the pillars of all human society.

One can hardly discuss the family during this season of the year without also reflecting on the holy family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Bavinck describes them as “the divine counterpart” to Adam, Eve, and their children. “The holy family is the example of the Christian home,” writes Bavinck.

And on this Christmas let us remember and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the birth of Jesus Christ!

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, December 5, 2013

children“All good, enduring reformation begins with ourselves and takes its starting point in one’s own heart and life,” writes Herman Bavinck in The Christian Family. “If family life is indeed being threatened from all sides today, then there is nothing better for each person to be doing than immediately to begin reforming within one’s own circle.”

Such a process of reformation is complex and varied, and is somewhat unique for each of us. But for the moment, I’d like to focus on one particular dynamic: the unique role that children play in reforming their parents.

On this, Bavinck offers the following reflection:

For children are the glory of marriage, the treasure of parents, the wealth of family life. They develop within their parents an entire cluster of virtues, such as paternal love and maternal affection, devotion and self-denial, care for the future, involvement in society, the art of nurturing. With their parents, children place restraints upon ambition, reconcile the contrasts, soften the differences, bring their souls ever closer together, provide them with a common interest that lies outside of them, and opens their eyes and hearts to their surroundings and for their posterity. As with living mirrors they show their parents their own virtues and faults, force them to reform themselves, mitigating their criticisms, and teaching them how hard it is to govern a person.

The family exerts a reforming power upon the parents. Who would recognize in the sensible, dutiful father the carefree youth of yesterday, and who would ever have imagined that the lighthearted girl would later be changed by her child into a mother who renders the greatest sacrifices with joyful acquiescence? The family transforms ambition into service, miserliness into munificence, the weak into strong, cowards into heroes, coarse fathers into mild lambs, tenderhearted mothers into ferocious lionesses. Imagine there were no marriage and family, and humanity would, to use Calvin’s crass expression, turn into a pigsty.

Bavinck precedes this by noting that, “Holy Scripture evaluates having children entirely differently than the modern generation,” and here, let us pause and remember that he was writing in 1908. (more…)