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Domestic Violence and the Church's Response Part 2: Don't Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

A Community Effort:

As I wrote in a previous article (you can find it here), a movement in abolishing domestic violence, particularly within the Hmong, must be reinforced through community while individual transformation occurs in disciple-making. Not that those two entities are isolated realities but rather should be better understood as features coalesced amid the fabric of biblical Christian formation. Like ancient Israel, according to Daniel I. Block, who functioned within a clear tribal identity, “the everyday life of individual Israelites was determined more by the next two levels of the hierarchy, the clan and the local household.”[1] Hence, as much as we want to focus on reforming the individual, and rightly so, a more robust and long-lasting change will come when the cultural tapestry is, simultaneously, transformed and renewed. The current trajectory sees second, third, and, eventually, fourth generation Hmong assimilating to the host culture—Western Americanism—and, in turn, their values and emphases slowly drift toward individualism, which ultimately leaves them on an island. Thus, the church has a significant opportunity to be the community which functions as a greenhouse for these particular persons to be renewed, restored, and re-envisioned for the glory of God. All of this, however, is mounted upon strong communal support coupled with a concerted effort toward individual sanctifying growth.


If this premise holds true, what will the church be aligning these individuals to? What does the renewing of the mind consist of? What does it mean to be Gospel-centered? What is the basis of the Gospel lens?


I am Coming Back to the Heart of Worship:


In response to the epidemic of domestic violence, the church must be committed to a biblical vision of covenantal marriage and, therefore, devoted to seeing families fostered under the pretense of a Word-saturated community. Her aim is not to become innovative nor inventive in her appeal to reconstruct a healthy notion of marital union. Rather the community of saints must be persuaded that the remedy for marital abuse is grounded in the sufficiency of the Word of God. Hence, in arguing for a response to domestic violence, the church must be (1) grounded in the Word of God and (2) confident in its design and scheme for covenantal marriage.


Coming Back to the Word of God. Simply put, by reforming hearts and minds to the Gospel of Christ, the church is calling persons to gaze and respond to the realities of God’s creaturely design (cf. Rom. 1:5). That is, salvation is not only the declaration of right standing before a holy and infinite God, i.e., justification, but, also, a posture toward obedience that sees life expressed in accordance to the creative intent of the Designer Himself and, in turn, to the glory of His fame. To this end, the Word of God is foundational. The Scriptures are theopneustos (trans. “God-breathed”) which is light to see light. Meaning, the biblical text finds its origin in God who conveys ultimate reality from His divine and objective perspective. Mark D. Thompson is helpful and, therefore, needs extensive quotation when he says,

Further, any argument about God and His Word, and so any human account of the doctrine of Scripture or any part of it, cannot escape our creaturely dependence upon a Word from God if it is to correspond to reality. Basic to our experience of reality and our reasoning about it is our creatureliness. We simply cannot get behind created reality in order to describe that reality; we must always attempt our explanations from the inside. In terms of the Bible’s own presentation, we were created to engage with our world in the light of the words God addresses to us and our perception is open to distortion whenever we adopt some other point of reference. We cannot describe the process of God’s address of human beings from the outside, since we always remain those to whom the Word of God comes, commanding a hearing and our allegiance. Similarly, we never stand in a position of neutrality or absolute objectivity from which to make judgements about the nature of Scripture or the way it should properly be used. The contingent nature of human knowledge in general and of our knowledge of God and His purposes in particular is not just a product of the Fall. It is part of what it means to be a creature rather than the Creator.[2]

Thus, the transformational movement in restoring marriage to the intention and purposes of God is to submit ourselves to the biblical teaching of the institutional order. And yet the difficulties lie in the conceptual presupposition which underpins our secular counterpart’s bent in reforming marriage by uprooting any notion of a patriarchal system. That is, by ending domestic violence much of feminism, unknowingly, seek to demolish divine structures to their own detriment. In moving toward equality, then, overcorrection has surfaced which undermines the Scriptural notion of biblical marriage and, hence, the roles found within the genders. As Margaret E. Köstenberger helpfully articulates when identifying second wave feminism, “their approach to Scripture is, in a word, rejection, owing to what they perceive to be the Bible’s irredeemably ‘patriarchal’ nature; i.e., its springs from and provides for a disproportionate amount of male power.”[3]


In seeking to reestablish a biblical understanding of martial union, I am not advocating for patriarchal chauvinism. Nor am I adhering to an egalitarianism which errors by ignoring plain creational distinctions between the roles of the respective genders. Rather, I see a third and middle option. In doing so, I seek to uphold the institutional structure of the family-unit while allowing for the biblical mandate to shape the function of each corresponding member. Contrary to second wave feminism, I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. That is, I am not going to unhinge headship nor primary responsibility from the husband to communicate so-called equality. Like Paul’s multi-layered response to the objectors in Rome, I am going to see the good of God’s design while acknowledging man’s depraved expression of it (cf. Rom. 3:1-8; 31).


The Good of God’s Design and the Fallenness of Man’s Expression. The Apostle spends a few verses—a whole chapter to be honest—deconstructing the premise that the Jewish nation was better off than their Gentile counterparts as it pertains to their relational posture with the Creator God Himself (cf. Rom. 2:1-29). By the end of his argument, Paul demonstrates the audacity to question their Jewishness by negating their circumcision which bound them—amid OT metrics—to their covenantal Lord. The cultural-shock-value is immense when he says, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical” (Rom. 2:28). Yikes! The Apostle, fearlessly, had just questioned the core of their Jewish identity.


The question, then, was begging to be asked: “what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” (Rom. 3:1). That is, if Jews and Gentiles are on an equal playing field, what benefit do Jewish people have over and against the Gentile nations? Paul responds by saying, “Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2; italics mine). Meaning, the nation of Israel was given the covenantal documents which gave them first-rate access into the mysteries of God. The benefits that were being questioned were grounded in the notion that they had the external Law of God at their disposal. And yet, sequentially, another question arose: “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (Rom. 3:3). In other words, by having the external Law of God and revealing that the nation of Israel was unfaithful to uphold it, does it assert that the covenantal Lord has failed to give them a sufficient means toward salvation? Or rather, does Israel’s inability to uphold the Law of God showcase that God has given them a deficient covenant? Paul eagerly responds, “By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Rom. 3:4). As R. C. Sproul rightfully observes,

We are all promise breakers. God is the only perfect promise keeper. That is how we live as Christians: we trust that God is not like us. We break our promises and lie to each other, but God cannot lie because His eternal being and character are truth. It is impossible for God to lie. Just because we lie does not mean that God does. Because we ignore His Word does not mean that His Word becomes worthless. Paul warns against ever allowing such thinking into our heads.[4]

Just as Paul is persuaded that the faithlessness of Israel does not undermine the preciousness and splendor of the Law of God, we too, then, must not dismiss the martial structure laid out by Scripture due to the perverse expressions found throughout history and across cultures. The Apostle, then, is keen to convey that in Christ “we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31) and, therefore, in Christ we safeguard God’s design for marital union. Said differently, malpractice in the marital arena does not quantify a dismissal of the entire structural unit in covenantal matrimony.


Redeeming the Patriarchy—Patricentrism:


In either case, we find ourselves in a difficult scenario in which we must not yield to the chauvinism of our cultural forefathers while at the same time we must abandon the aptitude of secularism’s overcorrection in unearthing the headship model of biblical marriage. As one author conveys when assessing the triune nature of God expressed in marriage, “Only through love will order be embraced but only through order will love be expressed.”[5] Thus, we must allow the Gospel of Christ to renew our minds and posture our affections toward His created intent in covenantal union (cf. Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). To this end, rather than uprooting the patriarchal ideal, there must be a redemptive approach in realigning our gaze toward a Christo-centric aim in headship.


Block writes extensively on his preference in seeing marital union as patricentric rather than patriarchal.[6] Though he cites multiple reasons for this adjudication, I will only convey three. He believes that the term patriarchy has a negative and well-deserved connotation that is unbecoming of a Christian husband. Hence, retooling the term will pay dividends to better understand the God-given role as husbands/fathers. Secondly, a patricentric notion of family structure speaks to the imagery that the husband does not necessarily “rule” over the family, but, like the spokes of a wheel, he provides, protects, and grants provision for the well-being of the extended family. Third and lastly, the dynamic of “power” is misleading in the patriarchal narrative. Block goes on the convey,

Accordingly, we do a disservice to the biblical record if we are preoccupied with the power of the ’ab wielded. In healthy and functional households the male head was neither despot nor dictator. On the contrary, since the family members were perceived as extensions of the progenitor’s own life, the head’s own interests depended upon the well-being of the household. Rather than evoking images of “ruler” or “boss,” the term ’ab expressed confidence, trust and security.[7]

Accordingly, as men are grafted into communities submitted to God’s biblical design, they will find the joy and satisfaction in living in God’s divine reality. “If the Bible is telling the truth about reality,” says Ray Ortlund Sr., “then the time has come for all Christians and churches to pray for power, to think with clarity, to confess with humility, and to shout with joy on behalf of God’s priceless, blood-bought gift of marriage.”[8] The church’s response, then, is not one of terror nor demise, but rather one of hope; a living hope in the work and Person of Christ who is faithful in redeeming, restoring, and reconciling to the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Daniel I. Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” Marriage and Family in the Biblical World, ed. K. M. Campbell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), 35. [2] Mark D. Thompson, “The Generous Gift of a Gracious Father: Toward a Theological Account of the Clarity of Scripture,” The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 623-624. [3] Margaret Elizabeth Köstenberger, Jesus and the Feminist: Who Do They Say That He Is? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 26. [4] R. C. Sproul, Romans: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 80-81. [5] Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock, The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them (Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2016), 93. [6] Block, “Marriage and Family in Ancient Israel,” 40-61. [7] Ibid., 43.

[8] Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, SSBT (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), 117.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (10), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5).  He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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