Convinced that the transforming, liberating truths of vocation and calling can have a deep impact on the Christian family, Veith and Moerbe show how these doctrines help to generate healthier and happier families.
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About the Author
Gene Edward Veith (PhD, University of Kansas) serves as the provost and professor of literature at Patrick Henry College, where he also oversees both academic affairs and student affairs. He previously worked as the culture editor of World magazine. Veith and his wife, Jackquelyn, have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
Mary Jackquelyn Moerbe (MA, Concordia Theological Seminary) is a writer and homeschooling mom. She has written several books and she blogs regularly at MaryJMoerbe.com. Mary and her husband, Ned, live in Oklahoma with their six children.
Read an Excerpt
Confusing the Family
God settles the solitary in a home.
The institution of the family is necessary to our very existence, basic to our culture, and critical to our happiness and well-being. As children, we were brought to life, nurtured, and shaped by our family. As adolescents and young adults, we were preoccupied with finding someone with whom we could start a family of our own. Adults who have managed to do that spend much of their time working to support their families and, if they have children, laboring to raise them. No one is more important to us than our parents, our spouse, and our children. Typically, we want to spend more time with our family, which we consider to be our haven in the storms of life. We rhapsodize over "family values" and want to bring them back. So why is family life so confusing? Why do marriage and parenthood often seem so difficult to get right?
Married couples often quarrel and fight, arguing about sex, money, and their own clashing personalities. Parents agonize over how to raise their children and often feel they have made terrible mistakes. Children sometimes break their parents' hearts, turning into ungrateful little rebels. And parents sometimes break their children's hearts, inflicting emotional wounds that make the child desperate to get away. The man, the woman, and the children often become casualties of divorce, which leaves indelible wounds of its own. If a person's family is the source of the greatest joys in life, it can also be the source of the greatest miseries.
Christians know that God looms behind the family. They know that God established the family and its different roles, that he upholds parenthood in the Ten Commandments, that Christ has something to do with marriage. But Christians have the same challenges in their families as nonbelievers. They even have additional challenges that nonbelievers do not have, such as the biblical mandate for the wife to submit to the husband, which, as it plays out in ordinary life, can drive some husbands to tyranny and some women to rebellion or despair. Christian marriages often come apart and end in divorce.
To be sure, many Christians do have strong and loving families, despite their occasional problems. What is their secret? Even those who have a good family life may not be able to explain the inner workings of a family functioning according to God's design. They may not realize that God not only established the institution of the family in general but that he also established their actual, personal family. Christian husbands and wives may assume that to say "Christ is in marriage" is a figure of speech or a pious aspiration rather than an actual presence in their relationship. Christian parents will acknowledge God as "father," but they may not recognize how God exerts his fatherhood through their own relationships with their children. Christian children, whether young or all grown up, may not see the connection between their relationship with their parents, however old they might become, and being a child of God.
God is present and active in families, bringing his gifts and working his purposes. He and his works may be hidden in the mundane-seeming details of ordinary life, but it is useful — both in times of family difficulties and when everything is going right — to catch a glimpse of him.
The Family and Contemporary Culture
Our culture, to put it mildly, is confused about the institution of the family. This cultural confusion throws off Christians as well as non-Christians. As a result, we have no consensus about how husbands and wives should treat each other or how to raise children. We are very confused about sex. We desperately want to have a strong family, and yet too often our families are falling apart, with husbands and wives, parents and children, at each other's throats.
So far we Americans still value marriage surprisingly highly, with four out of five adults getting married eventually. But we have stripped away its moral significance. Marriage is no longer seen as a prerequisite for sex (61 percent of Americans believe it is morally acceptable to have sex outside of marriage); or for living together (51 percent of married couples 18–49 lived together first); or for having a baby (55 percent of Americans believe that having a child out of wedlock is morally acceptable). There is no longer a cultural consensus that marriage should be permanent (70 percent of American adults believe that it is morally acceptable to get a divorce).
If marriage is no longer necessary for sex, cohabitation, or parenting, and if it is no longer a permanent relationship, what is left? There is romance. Companionship. But romance and companionship can come in many different forms.
Thus, we have problems even knowing what marriage is. If marriage is just a matter of romantic attachment, why shouldn't same-sex couples who are romantically attached to each other be able to get married? Following this reasoning, some states and nations have changed their laws to allow men to marry men and women to marry women. Ironically, as same-sex couples clamor for marriage, an increasing number of opposite-sex couples have found that they can do without marriage altogether. In Scandinavia, which has had gay marriage for over a decade, cohabitation — "just living together" — has virtually replaced marriage as the norm.
What about parenting? In one sense our culture loves children, and we value having children. Many couples go to extraordinary lengths to have a child, and reproductive technology — both in traditional medicine and nontraditional experimentation (sperm banks, egg donors, surrogate mothers, genetic engineering) — has become a big business. But so has the technology of not having children.
Contraceptives have become more than a tool for spacing children; they have had the effect of largely separating sex from procreation. If sex is just a physical pleasure, with no essential connection to having babies, why not enjoy that pleasure any way you like? Sex no longer needs to be with someone you are married to since the prospect of parenthood is no longer an issue. Sex can just as well be with someone of your own gender, or in the virtual fantasies of pornography, just with yourself. Should sex sometimes result in pregnancy — which seems strangely surprising to some people when it happens — there is always a medical procedure to take care of the problem: abortion.
Parenting too has been separated from the family. Women who do want children are increasingly raising them by themselves, without the father in the picture at all. As many as 40 percent of the children born in 2007 were to unmarried women. In 2008, one-third of America's children, 33 percent, lived without married parents.
The family is the basic unit of the culture. So the instability of the family brings with it all kinds of cultural instability, from the hypersexualization of our entertainment to the alienation and misery of those who grew up feeling abandoned. This cultural dysfunction, in turn, pulls families further apart by creating unrealistic expectations that no one can live up to and by distracting people from addressing their problems.
Christians, in particular, have been concerned with the state of the family, both their own and those in the broader culture. Christians have a basis for marriage and child raising that secularists do not have. Some are saying that, given the cultural forces that are undermining the family, Christians should just pursue their own family values. Why should the state have laws regulating families at all? If the culture wants to encourage serial polygamy or same-sex marriage or out-of-wedlock births, let it. In the meantime, the church will bless lifelong marriages in which two parents will raise healthy, well-adjusted children. The church will be the place of strong families. Individuals who yearn for a rich family life will come to the church, which will thrive as an attractive counterculture in the midst of the larger cultural collapse.
But there is a rather large problem with this scenario. Christian families are often as dysfunctional and unstable and confused as the families of secularists. According to George Barna's 2008 study, 33 percent of American adults who have married have been divorced. Among "born-again Christians," the divorce rate is 32 percent. Barna has another category of "evangelicals," who not only say they have been born again but who also have a high view of the Bible and who hold to traditional Christian doctrines. These "evangelicals" do have a lower divorce rate, in fact, among the lowest of all of Barna's categories. But that rate is 26 percent. So one-third of America's Christians have been divorced. One-fourth of America's conservative Christians have been divorced. Breaking down the religion factor in more detail, 33 percent of "non-born-again Christians" had been divorced, the same as for the converted. Roman Catholics, whose church does not permit divorce at all, had a somewhat lower rate of 28 percent. Ironically, atheists and agnostics had fewer divorces than most believers, with a still substantial rate of 30 percent. Sociologist Bradley Wright has taken issue with Barna's research, finding that the more seriously Christians take their faith, the stronger their marriages and the fewer divorces they have.
Still, we Christians must confess that we too have problems with marriage, parenthood, singleness, and sex. What plagues and confuses the culture often plagues and confuses us, also. We need to recover, both in theory and in practice, the Biblical estate of the family.
How This Book Is Different
Many Christian books on the family offer psychological advice, practical tips, moral judgments, and pious exhortations. Much Christian discourse on the subject is preoccupied with the overriding concerns of obedience, whether of the wife or of the child, or self-fulfillment, whether through one's marriage or through one's children. Such books risk unintentionally emulating the culture in reducing marriage and parenting to the exercise of power and the pursuit of personal subjective satisfaction, both of which can be poisonous to marriage, as well as to parenting and even to being a child.
Moral exhortations, too, can have little effect if they demand external behavior without changing the heart, something only the gospel of Christ can do. But even urging couples to "put Christ in your marriage" does not always help. What does that mean, exactly, and how can this be done? And doesn't the Bible teach that Christ is already in marriage? Perhaps what we need is to discern his presence, his actions, and his self-sacrifice.
This book will attempt a paradigm shift. It will offer a different framework for thinking about and living through family-related issues. But this paradigm is not new. Rather, it draws on the history of the church, on another time that the church had to recover the significance and the disciplines of the family.
In the Middle Ages, marriage and parenthood were often treated as nothing more than a concession to the weakness of the flesh and the necessity of procreation. Those who wished to achieve full spiritual perfection would take vows of celibacy — rejecting marriage, sex, and parenthood — to enter a "holy order" in the monastery or the cloister. To be sure, marriage was a sacrament, but it was not a calling. The Latinate word for calling, "vocation" was reserved for God's summons into the religious orders, into being a priest or a monk or a nun.
Martin Luther, however, as he was recovering the gospel and the Word of God, insisted that all of life in the world is a realm for Christian service and that our everyday activities in the workplace, the culture, the church, and especially the family are vocations from God. Luther specifically described the family as a "holy order," a special realm of Christian love.
Thus with the Reformation came a new emphasis on the spirituality of the family in all of its different offices and functions. What does it mean, in Christ, to be a wife or a husband, a mother or father, a child? How does each of these holy orders function together with the others? What do they all mean? What do they have to do with Christ and the life of the redeemed?
The insights of the Reformation will help us answer such questions. However, this book will not attempt to bring back the family life of the Reformation era. After all, since the family is the basis of every culture, the family is bound to that culture. Our focus will be on contemporary families and the unique challenges of our own times.
But what we can learn from the Reformation is that the solution to our family problems will not be a matter of more laws, more rules to live by, or more principles for successful living. The major contribution of the Reformation was to place the gospel of Jesus Christ — justification by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ — at the center of every facet of Christian teaching and every facet of the Christian life, including the family. And the key to making that application and renewing contemporary families is the doctrine of vocation.CHAPTER 2
Vocation in the Nourishing Estate
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.
1 CORINTHIANS 7:17
The word "vocation" is the Latinate form of the English word "calling." In today's secular usage, the word "vocation" has become just another word for "job," but its Christian meaning is that God calls us to the different roles that he asks us to play and in which he is active. A key scriptural text on the subject is this: "Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him" (1 Cor. 7:17). The idea is that the Lord "assigns" us to different kinds of lives, and that he then "calls" us to them.
Again, we often think of a job as our "vocation," and so it is. But the text in Corinthians is referring to marriage. God may call us to lead different kinds of lives — to marriage, parenthood, a job, a church, a community. It is in our various vocations that we live out our faith in love and service to the various neighbors that God brings into our lives. Not only that, God works in and through all of these vocations and the unique individuals he calls to fill them, including us.
Vocation is a profoundly biblical doctrine. But the great theologian of vocation is Martin Luther. Evangelicals of all persuasions appreciate how Luther reformed the church with his emphasis on the gospel and the Word of God. His third great contribution, however, the doctrine of vocation, has been all but forgotten. Since vocation is the key to how Christians are to live in the world, the loss of this teaching has been accompanied with the loss of Christian influence in the world. Luther considered the family callings to be the most important of all the earthly vocations.
This chapter will sketch out what the doctrine of vocation is. The later chapters will then apply these teachings to the specific callings of husband and wife, father and mother, child, and the other family relationships.
God Working through Vocation
God made you. But notice how he made you. He made you by means of your mother and your father. God gives you this day your daily bread, and perhaps you thanked him for your food before you ate your last meal. But notice how he gives you the physical nourishment you need to stay alive. He feeds you by means of farmers, bakers, factory workers, and the hands of whoever prepared your meal. God heals you by means of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. God protects you by means of police officers, firefighters, soldiers, and our legal system. He gives you the blessings of technology by means of scientists, inventors, and engineers. He builds up your faith by means of your pastor and other people in your church. This is the doctrine of vocation.
The doctrine of vocation has to do, above all, with the way God works through human beings. Contrary to what we might assume, vocation is not primarily about what we do or what we are supposed to do. That enters into it. But vocation is mainly about God's action. Christians are used to talking about "what God is doing in my life." Vocation emphasizes "what God is doing through my life." And, by the same token, "what God is doing for me through other people in my life."
We sometimes speak of God's "providence," referring to the way God governs and controls every aspect of his creation. The term comes from the word "provide." God not only rules over us all, but he also provides for us, and he has chosen to distribute his gifts through human beings. God doesn't have to go this route. He can feed us without farmers, as he did with the manna in the wilderness, and he can heal us without doctors. But his usual way of giving his gifts is through other people exercising their particular tasks that God has called and equipped them to do, that is, through vocation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Family Vocation"
Copyright © 2012 Gene Edward Veith Jr. and Mary J. Moerbe.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Introduction: Confusing the Family,
2 Vocation in the Nourishing Estate,
Part 1: The Vocations of Marriage,
4 The Office of Husband,
5 The Office of Wife,
6 Sex and Vocation,
7 The Crosses of Marriage,
Part 2: The Vocations of Parenthood,
9 The Office of Father,
10 The Office of Mother,
11 Raising Children,
12 The Crosses of Parenthood,
Part 3: The Vocations of Childhood,
15 The Crosses of Childhood,
16 The Rest of the Family,
17 Conclusion: Restoring the Family,
What People are Saying About This
“Gene Veith is one of the most powerful thinkers and apologists in the Christian world today. In Family Vocation, Veith and Moerbe have really hit the mark—we must learn to think of marriage and families as vocations from God. Here is an ancient and sacred vision of marriage and family that we would do well to understand, promote, and most importantly live out.”
—Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
“A great president once referred to the family as the ‘unseen pillar of civilization.’ He was right, and so is Gene Veith in this luminous book, which underscores the centrality of family, marriage, and parenting. Timely and absorbing, this book arrives on the scene at exactly the right time.”
—Tim Goeglein, Vice President, Focus on the Family
“Family Vocation is a thorough and thoughtful look at family as a calling from God. Using Martin Luther’s teaching on family living as a starting point, Gene Veith and his daughter Mary Moerbe have produced a foundational book addressing all the callings of family life. In a marketplace in which so many family books only scratch the surface, Family Vocation digs down deep. The things I look for in a book on family are all here: a focus on nurture, the priority of internal change, and the power of grace and the gospel to enable. A worthy read!”
—Tedd Tripp, Pastor; international conference speaker; author, Shepherding a Child's Heart
“The phrase ‘gospel-centered’ has become almost a cliché when describing Christian writing. Every Christian author would desire such an epitaph for his or her work. However, in so many books, especially those dealing with family, gospel-centered deteriorates into ‘be like Jesus.’ Family Vocation is the epitome of what gospel-centered truly means. The authors introduce it plainly, ‘The gospel—that is, the message of Christ crucified for sinners—relates to every moment of the believer’s life.’ Every chapter has its foundation, built not upon what we do in our various vocations, but upon what God has done in Christ. This approach to vocation is the means through which Christian families can truly be strengthened and restored, and then bring their influence to bear on our culture.”
—James I. Lamb, Executive Director, Lutherans for Life
“The ageless questions we’ve pondered about marriage, divorce, sexuality, and parenting are asked candidly and answered faithfully by Veith and Moerbe in this timely application of Luther’s doctrine of vocation. The word family has been hijacked by our culture and Christians reel with each new and dysfunctional incarnation of the concept. What is family? What is marriage? What is God’s call to be a husband, wife, parent, or child? The authors offer rich, biblical responses to these questions and bring clarity to our understanding about cross-bearing love and sacrifice. Family Vocation is sure to find a home on the desks of pastors, teachers, and counselors who seek an engaging resource for Bible classes, spiritual care conversations, and godly counsel. This book leads the way to abiding grace and hope in God’s promises—a ‘need-to-read’ for Christian husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons!”
—Beverly K. Yahnke, Department Chair of Social Sciences, Concordia University Wisconsin
“Martin Luther identified marriage and family as one of three fundamental estates of human life instituted by God for the good of his creation. In this book, a father and daughter team up to bring Luther’s rich insights into the twenty-first century in a way that challenges and encourages Christians to see the family as the arena for God’s work. In an age when the fabric of the family is strained by cultural forces of self-interest and hedonism, this book suggests a way forward for Christian families to see life together as husband/wife, parent/child—encompassed in vocation lived out under the cross.”
—John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions, Concordia Theological Seminary
“In the church today, there is no more significant issue than the family. This divine institution is in the crosshairs of every evil plan and purpose of the Devil himself. Take down the family, and with it go education, order, decency, law, church, and even faith. How my years in a struggling inner-city parish taught me that the gospel does not thrive in a community of chaos, dilapidation, crime, and disorder! The root cause of it, as I came to be convinced, is institutional and spiritual forces attacking the stability of God’s best agent for good in both the kingdom of the civil realm and that of the church—the family. What was once more commonly an urban reality has become a rural and suburban way of life. As we all struggle in the families we have—often rag-tag rings of sinners, sometimes a patchwork quilt of multiple families and forces—we need Christ and the vocation to forgive.”
—Matthew Harrison, President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod