Domestic Systematic Theology
New Year—a time for starting reading plans. Plans to read through the bible, plans to read a set number of books from different categories, or perhaps, for some, plans to read though one of the large works of systematic theology.
I saw a comment on Facebook recently in which young men in particular were warned/encouraged to “take your parenting and family life as seriously as you do your systematics.”
I commented in agreement: “How you love your wife and parent your children shows what your systematic theology really is.”
Perhaps as some look to what new book(s) of theology they are going to read in 2021 it would be timely expand it that a little.
I suspect we have all seen (and even been) people whose theology is on point, but whose lives are a living contradiction to the truths we espouse. We strained at theological gnats, whilst being a spitting, bellowing camel ourselves. Heads buried in dusty tomes, or in the flickering screens of discussion forums, expatiating eruditely on abstruse themes whilst failing to love our wives as Christ loved the church, and regularly exasperating our children.
And I’m sure we seen the opposite—men who couldn’t tell you what Amyraldianism is, or if they are infra or supralapsarian, but whose lives are deeply shaped and marked by the truths they profess.
So I say, “Don’t kid yourself—How you love your wife and parent your children shows what your systematic theology really is.”
They are not two disparate things. A man can be good at theology and poor at car mechanics. One is not intrinsically connected to the other. But what we believe about God and ourselves is woven into the very heart of who we are and how our relationships function.
What you actually believe (and not simply know) will be seen in how you husband and parent.
We are what we believe.
Let’s tease this out a bit—much more could be said, but to start the ball rolling:
What is our doctrine of God?
If God is knowable, then our families will see that we spend time with him, not simply in books about him.
If God is incomprehensible, we won’t act like we understand everything, we will be marked by awe, wonder and humility.
If God has communicable attributes, our families should see those in us. As fathers what sort of portrait are we painting of God to our children? Stern, harsh, foreboding? Or holy, just, loving, tender, slow to anger, abounding in love? Sometimes even preachers need to be told, “You’re very good at preaching about the gracious love of God as a Father, maybe work on showing it at home.”
If you believe that God providentially orders every creature and all their actions, then that will be seen by your children when you get a flat tyre, or the computer crashes, or whatever else goes wrong. You want to cry “I don’t need this!”, but clearly you do, otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. Does our trust in God’s sovereignty percolate down to the details?
If your doctrine of providence includes a Father who puts daily bread on the table, does your attitude to work and money show that you trust God to keep his word?
What is our doctrine of man and sin?
Whilst you are called to paint a portrait of God, you need to remember that you are not God. You are a sinner.
You know that, I know that, but when was the last time your children heard you repent? Are we functional perfectionists? (A fancy term for ‘hypocrite’). Our children need to see repentance in action. Otherwise they will grow up to be hypocrites.
Do you believe that man is made from the dust of the earth? Good. But do you remember that your children are dust? That they have dusty frames, and dusty minds, and limitations according to their age. We must remember it, otherwise we will exasperate them. God remembers you are dust—your daily existence depends on it. Think to yourself, “Where would I be if my Father in heaven reacted to me, as I am about to react to my child?”. That’s systematic theology applied.
What is our Doctrine of Person and Work of Christ?
What do we believe about Christ and his work? Do we believe that as redeemer he executes the office of prophet, priest and King? There is much about his work that is unique, but yet the DNA of it falls across all Christian men as they are made Christ-like.
Oh yes, we may be quick to claim the kingly role—to rule and lead our households. But where is our theology of sacrificial service to our wives, our children? In a priestly form, are we filled with sympathy because we know the ways they are being tested, and are we interceding for them? Do we intercede as John G. Paton’s father interceded for him and his siblings? As under-shepherds (or under-prophets) are we bringing the word of God to them, feeding his sheep and lambs with food they can digest? Or again do we forget they are dust—and serve up indigestible chunks of reformed dogmatics that wearies the mind, and dulls the heart of a six year old?
Does our wife see something of Christ in us? A sacrificing of our plans, goals, desires—to put her in the first place? Or does our hobby/sport trump hers? Do Bavinck, Berkhof and Owen get more attention than she does?
There is little point being able to discourse of the role of a wife or women in the church, if we are failing to love our wives as Christ loved the church. And think hard about the bride that Christ loves. You have a much easier job than he does—so let love cover over a multitude of niggles. And repent if you haven’t been.
What is our doctrine of Redemption?
Do we believe in salvation by grace? Do we believe that God keeps no record of our sin, but casts it away into the ocean of forgetfulness?
Is that reflected in our interactions with those closest to us? Or have we a lengthening list of ‘she said’, ‘they did’? Do we huff, so that those close to us get the message that we are offended, and they need to run quick to place something on the shrine to placate the offended deity which we have become? Do we inculcate a sense of forgiveness by works whilst revelling in the doctrines of grace? We can delight in reformation truths, yet live like the reformation never happened.
What you believe about the Church?
Do you believe that the church is the bride of Christ? Is that reflected in how you love and serve the people in your congregation? Do your children get the idea from you that the people at church are worth doing anything for because Christ did everything for them?
Are we submissive to those in authority in the church? Or when we don’t get our way, do we insist on doing it our way, nonetheless? What example does that set for our children at home?
Our church will be full of imperfections, and we can have fine theological discussions about it, and pontificate about what should be done, but if we do not love the people there we fail the most basic theology exam. And we train our children to fail it too—to dishonour Christ’s beloved.
What do you believe about Eschatology?
Oh now! Here’s a topic to whet the appetite of the painstaking, budding theologian. Surely there is little here that has implication for household life? But there is.
Do we believe that we will have to give account for every word? And even the manner in which we say them? How will we explain to Jesus that scornful tone which we used with our children? To Jesus who rebuked his disciples for their scornful tone regarding children? What about that snide word to our wife—someone Jesus loved so much He went to the Cross for her?
Do we believe that one day everything will be brought out into the open? Well then, why do we bend or play with the truth to cover over our mistakes, to hide who we really are from our wife or children? Often they see through them and this sows seeds of doubt and distrust. Do we believe our own eschatology? God in his kindness gives us opportunity now to bring things out into the open and deal with them, before he has to.
And maybe that’s just the tip of the iceberg—maybe there are big things we hide behind a veneer of godliness and orthodoxy theology. It doesn’t matter what you say you believe, how you treat your family shows what you actually believe.
The Reformer Martin Bucer wrote “true theology is not theoretical or speculative, but active and practical. The end of it is living, that is, to live a godly life.”
There are many more aspects of theology we could consider and see their application to the home, but that should be enough to start you thinking.
And of course, all this is too hard for us on our own. But we are not on our own. The Holy Spirit is in us to assist in this very purpose.
Our wives or our kids may never read a systematic theology, but they will read you.
So “Young men (and older men too), take your parenting and family life as seriously as you do your systematics” because how you do that shows what your theology really is.