McAtee Contra Van Drunen Regarding The Family

A response to this

“Rather than being an additional fourth life sphere alongside these (church, state, and culture), the household or family is the foundation and the model of these other three life spheres. The family possesses a religious moral element in its piety, a juridical element in its parental authority and sibling affection, and an element of culture in family nurture. All three life spheres lie embedded within the family in a complex way, and each is connected to the family. Since the Kingdom of God consists of the totality of all goods, here on earth one finds its purest image and most faithful representation in the household family.”

Herman Bavinck
“The Kingdom of God, The Highest Good.”

In a recent “Modern Reformation” article R2K Maestro Dr. David Van Drunen (Hereinafter DVD) concedes that the the family is important, while at the same time warns Christians to not get too hung up on family changes that are occurring within our broader culture. DVD informs us that there is a real danger that we Christians would emphasize the importance of the institutional family so much that we might fall into the danger of forgetting the importance of the institutional Church. DVD writes this article in order to make sure we don’t make that mistake.

What DVD doesn’t tell the reader explicitly is that DVD does not believe in the idea of the “Christian family.” Oh, DVD hints at this conviction, but he does not come right out and say, “the idea of the Christian family is a myth.” Yet, it is precisely because DVD does not believe in the reality of Christian family that allows him to warn against those who are warning about the impact of the demise of the Christian family. For DVD, while family is important, the incremental destruction of the Christian family model, while unfortunate, is not something, that Christians should get too ginned up about, especially if that means that care for the institutional church suffers because of too much concern for the institution of the family.

At this point, already, DVD introduces a false dichotomy into his “reasoning.” He posits that the Church Institution is more important then the Family institution, thus suggesting that the two institutions are somehow in competition, when in point of fact these two Institutions are complimentary. Together they are the left leg and the right leg of Christian walking and the demise of either institution is the demise of the ability to walk without crutches.

That the two Institutions can not be separated the way that DVD is seeking to do is seen in the way that God has ordained that the health of the Church is derived from the root of its supporting Christian families. In Scripture God has given us an integrated model where the Christian family and the Christian Church, while being distinct jurisdictions, cannot be divorced from one another. This is seen in the reality of our covenant theology. God has ordained that the Church is built up by His faithfulness to the family in their generations.

“He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations…” (Psalm 105:8)

“That those generations are thought of in terms of the family is seen in the commentary of Psalm 105:8 in Psalm 103:17,

“But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children…”

Indeed when God promises the vast blessings of salvation to Abraham, He does so in terms of “all the families of the earth.”

 Gen.12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

This indicates that God thinks that family is important.

This relation between Church as institution and family as institution is put on display every time a Christian family brings their child to be baptized by a Christian minister in the context of God’s Christian Church. God’s faithfulness to His Church as institution is guaranteed by His faithfulness to His covenant as dwelt in by the Christian family. To mark the kind of false dichotomy between the two such as DVD enters into is both un-scriptural and unnatural.

DVD insists that it is the Church as institution which is the centrality in our Christian lives. If one did not know better one would swear, that with such a statement, one was listening to a Roman Catholic Priest and not a Reformed Doctor of the Church. Rome long taught and still teaches the “centrality of the church in our Christian lives.” To disagree with this DVD conclusion is not to dismiss the importance of the Church as institution but merely is to note the Protestant emphasis that insisted the centrality of God in the totality of our Christian lives. The centrality of God in our families, the centrality of God in our Churches, and the centrality of God in our social orders. By insisting on the centrality of the Church in our Christian lives vis-a-vis the centrality of the family DVD both creates a false dichotomy  (dare we say a hyphenated dualism?) — in our Christian lives and gets very close to not realizing that God alone is to be central in all our doings.

In his article DVD damns the family with feint praise. For all that DVD does in speaking up the family he undoes it all with his insistence that there is no such thing as a Christian family. DVD goes so far as to suggest that family life, unlike Church life, is not part of the Kingdom of God. With such a sentiment DVD clearly circumscribes the Kingdom of God to the Church. And yet we have all those Kings (Rev. 21:24) and Nations (Rev. 22:2)  in the new Jerusalem, a reality that cannot exist without retaining extended family categories. Kings don’t make sense without Nations and Nations don’t make sense without blood families. When DVD insists that our family relations do not follow us into the eternal Kingdom one wonders if DVD is saying that in the eschaton we will no longer be sons, daughters, Fathers, or Mothers, Aunts or Uncles, Husbands or Wives? I assume though that DVD agrees that the Son of David remains sitting on the throne? If we do not retain these familial identity markers maybe we should go all the way and dismiss the idea of other identity markers such as a retention of maleness or femaleness in the eschaton? But, again, we have “Kings” in heaven, and that also requires Maleness as well as family connections. DVD’s eschaton begins to sound like a Gnostic excitable dream.

DVD makes this explicit when he writes, “This brings us to another reason why the church is ultimately more important than the family. While family relationships are temporal, relationships in the church are permanent. To put it another way, family relationships are natural and belong to this present age, while relationships in the church are eschatological and extend into the age to come.”  Is DVD saying that when I bump into my earthly Christian family member in the eschaton the relation we had as family members will be forgotten while what is remembered is that we attended and were part of the same visible Church?  Others may disagree, but I invoke the charge again of creeping gnosticism. All that matters in the DVD’s eschaton are spiritual realities. The corporeal realities on earth are no more.

DVD rightly notes that our allegiance to God must be higher than our allegiance to family. This is true. What DVD does not say is that our allegiance to God must also be higher than our allegiance to the institutional visible Church. All because or allegiance to God must be higher than or family allegiance in no way proves that our allegiance to the visible Church must be higher than our allegiance to our family … unless of course one is identifying the visible institutional Church with God.  Isn’t it good to know that a Reformed Doctor of the Church would never make that kind of basic reasoning and category error?

DVD’s confusion on this issue is magnified by a quick look at Scripture. When God desires to give His people symbolic speech in order to understand His person He often uses the language drawn from the family. The God of the Bible compares Himself not only to a Father who taketh pity upon His children (Ps. 103:13), but He also compares Himself to a Mother who cannot forget her nursing child (Is. 49:15). In Hebrews 12:6 God chastens like a Father, while in Isaiah He comforts like a Mother (Isaiah 66:13). In Matthew 6 we are taught to address God as our Father in Heaven.

When DVD writes, “Family is clearly not the most important thing in Scripture. Our relationships to and within the church are ultimately more important than our family relationships,” he puts the cats among the pigeons. First, we might ask, “What if the Church is comprised of a series of extended and related family units?” There was a time when that was not as far fetched as it is today. Second, it is not clear that the relationships within a Christian Church are more important than the relationships to and within Christian family.  It is certainly not clear when the Christian church in question has departed from the faith as much as the Church in the West has done. Thirdly, as God alone is absolute, loyalty to Him trumps both loyalty to the family or to the visible institutional Church when there is a contradiction between God and family or God and the visible church.

When DVD writes, “Family is clearly not the most important thing in Scripture. Our relationships to and within the church are ultimately more important than our family relationships,” it is like saying that “Our Right legs are clearly not the most important thing in walking. Our relationship with and to our left legs are ultimately more important than our relationship to our right legs.” It is a false dichotomy. It presupposes a false dualism. It is a false creation of a hyphenated life. One needs to note here that it is in the family where catechism is supposed to happen (Deut. 6).  It is the family where children first learn about covenantal government. In the family children begin to form an idea of God via God’s parental covenant representatives. The home is the child’s first notion of heaven. None of this is to say that the Church is less important than family. It is only to say that the family and the Church are equally ultimate before God who is alone absolute. DVD’s insistence to the contrary has introduced a false dichotomy in the thinking of Christians.  This is the fruit of R2K thinking where the Kingdom is only applicable to Church life.

No one doubts the passages that DVD cites as teaching that loyalty to the Lord Christ is above loyalty to family but what DVD glosses over in those passages he cites is that those passages are not teaching loyalty to the visible Church as being equal to loyalty to the Lord Christ. They are teaching loyalty to Christ above the highest competing loyalty in existence imaginable, whether that loyalty would be to family or to the visible Church. It is interesting though that Christ chose “loyalty to family” as the highest competing loyalty in existence imaginable that might conflict with loyalty to Himself as opposed to choosing membership in the “Israel of God” at that time.  My objection here is that DVD is conflating loyalty to the visible institutional Church with loyalty to the God of the Bible. In these time they are seldom the same. Really, to put this kind of emphasis on loyalty to the visible institutional Church, apart from seriously needed qualifications borders on a cult like loyalty towards the visible institutional Church.

If family is only penultimate vis-a-vis the Church then what are all those genealogies doing in the Bible? God’s inspired writers certainly saw that family was important.  If family is disintegrated in heaven then why does Jesus tell a parable where Lazarus cries out for relief to “Father Abraham” who is in heaven? If family is only penultimate how was it a source of comfort when the prophetess Huldah told Josiah he would be “gathered to his fathers” (2 Kgs. 22:20)? What comfort would there be if he could not recognize his “fathers”? Was he to dwell in eternity, among his own family, as a total stranger? If family is penultimate then why are the leaves of the trees, in the eschaton, for the healing of the Nations? If family is penultimate why is it important that, in the eschaton, the Lord Christ remains “The Son of David?”

Consistent with this observation is the desire of DVD to have it both ways. On one hand family relationships disappear in the eschaton, while on the other hand DVD still insists that in the eschaton we will still think in familial categories. DVD offers, “There will be only one family in heaven, made up of millions of brothers and sisters—with Jesus as our husband (Eph. 5:25-32) and brother (Heb. 2:11-12).” But if family is only temporal, per DVD, then how is it that we will still be able to think in temporal categories in the eternal realm? Words like “Brothers” and “sisters,” and “husbands” don’t retain any meaning unless their originating referent point remains operative.  In a eschaton where familial categories no longer exists thinking of someone as a “Husband” or a “Brother” is the same thinking of them as a “dxils” or a “mizeek.”

When DVD says, “Every Christian will enter heaven single” I hear more of John Locke then I do St. John. How very Libertarian of him. Now, let no one mistake me to be saying that our salvation is not by Grace alone. Instead let me be heard to be saying that such a anarchistic atomization and individualization of heaven as offered here by DVD could only happen to someone who has both been stripped of their Reformed covenantal sensibilities and has bellied up to the bar for too many Boilermakers at St. Locke’s bar and grill.  Scripture teaches we are gathered to Christ because the promise was to the Fathers and to their children (that embarrassing family language again) and as many as the Lord God called. Gathered by households on Earth there is no reason to think the idea of household disappears  when entering the eschatological household of God.

It is not often when one can read a piece by a Reformed Doctor of the Church that is both too Romish, too Libertarian and too Gnostic all at the same time but DVD has accomplished just that.  Of course all of this is primarily driven by DVD’s

1.) R2K theology that commands that families cannot and must not be considered “Christian.”

2.) R2K theology which insists that the “Kingdom of God” is limited and defined only in the context of the Institutional Church.

3.) R2K hard dualism that sees little or no continuity between this life and the life to come.

4.) Embrace of Lockean social theory as extended to defining the eschaton where atomized individuals only exist

Much much more could be said in refuting  DVD’s article. I think I could easily squeeze three more essays in refuting the details of his meanderings but enough has been said in order to point out the errors in this R2K version of Christianity.  In the end, if we fail to emphasize the Biblical model of the Family, given the times we are living in it will not only be the Christian family that goes into a long dark age but it will be the Christian Church also that continues in its already long established dark age residency.






Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

One thought on “McAtee Contra Van Drunen Regarding The Family”

  1. It has always bothered me when pastors announce during their weekly
    sermon that attending church listening to the Word of God preached
    is the most important thing you will do all week. I have heard this
    many times.

    It may or may not be the most important thing I do. If my mother or
    my wife is sick or dying and need care, I miss corporate worship to
    care for them, then caring for them is by far the most important thing
    I will do that week. This I believe is Christs priorities.

    There are many other priorities that might take precedent over corporate
    worship. And many that I should not allow to take precedent.

    John Owen once said that the church is the greatest idol that there ever
    was. Many in the church today idolize the institution.

    They replace the kingdom of God with the institution of the church and
    miss the whole point of the community.

    Premil disp. r2k, and church idolatry are destroying the kingdom of God
    building potential of Gods people. Its rampant, and the huge issues of
    the day. All the God given institutions appear broken. I know they are not, but I anxiously await what Christ is trying to teach us.

    Great refutation of kingdom destroying heresy.

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