So comments I made at the recent 2019 New St. Andrews College graduation have generated some reasonable questions and discussion.
One objection came from Austin Storm who is concerned that I’ve run afoul of Aaron Renn and I’m perhaps leading NSA down a path toward a John Dewey-esque utilitarian charm school.
In a related Facebook post, Austin also reassures his perplexed audience that many people have assured him that productive conversations are taking place about his concerns offline. I’m not sure who the “many” are that are having “productive conversations” offline, but I’ve only been party to one single conversation about my comments (other than the scattered and customary “thank yous” one gets on such occasions). That one conversation certainly was productive and concluded with what I believe was appreciation and understanding for my comments. Second, Austin allows that my comments were likely impromptu and merely represent an over-exuberance related to something I read recently. Truth be told, the comments were not impromptu. They were written down beforehand (see below), and careful thought was put into their composition. Austin is correct that the thoughts were inspired by George Gilder’s book Men and Marriage, which I gladly commend to your reading (again).
For those who are interested, here are the comments I read to the graduating class of 2019 in full:
“It’s my honor to address the 2019 NSA graduates with just a few short comments: In reality when we say that we aim to graduate leaders who shape culture what we mean centrally is that we aim to graduate men and women who will marry and raise children in the joy of the Lord. You see, one of the things we have forgotten in this dark age is that God created human beings, male and female, in order to build and plant and shape the world. Your education at NSA aims most essentially to teach you how to be men and women, to teach you how to image your Maker as male and female, so that you will be equipped to be faithful husbands and wives, and fruitful fathers and mothers. The center of leading and shaping culture is through marriage and childrearing. Of course, this will necessarily require other vocations and callings, but those vocations and callings find their meaning and significance in a world of families and homes, in a world where love is made flesh in marriage and children.
This was the mission God gave to Adam and Eve in the beginning, and it is this same mission renewed and fully equipped by Christ in the Great Commission. The gospel we preach is the good news that the curse has been broken so that we can be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. Of course, even though the curse has been broken, the curse still remains until Christ returns. Sin and death, barrenness and betrayal still surround us in many forms, but the good news is that the curse is losing. And God does occasionally gift and call certain men and women to lifelong singleness for the Kingdom, but in the ordinary course of things, the foundational institution of civilization is the family. Economy, literally means “law of the house.” The church is built by households coming to faith and submitting to King Jesus. Nations are built by families banding together for safety and protection. To fully embrace your calling from God to be a man, to be a woman is to embrace a calling of culture shaping. To embrace your calling to be a husband, to be a wife is to build a house, and building a house is building culture. To embrace your calling to be a father, to be a mother is quite literally to make people. And people are the central building blocks of culture. You may write books, you may run companies, you may teach or paint or compose, but the central task of shaping culture is being men and women and building families who serve and worship the Triune God. May God bless you, Class of 2019. We are proud of you and look forward to seeing what God does through you.”
Now, I’m fully aware that I’m running through a minefield here. There are ditches on every side, ways of getting this wrong in several different directions, and so I wrote these words with those various pitfalls in mind. And as we work through Austin’s objections, I hope to point out a few of those hazards along the way.
But first and primarily, the concern that I’m drifting toward a John Dewey-esque utilitarianism: let me congratulate Austin on being the first to ever raise concerns that I’m heading that direction. To be accused of the sort of rhetorical sloppiness that might be confused with the ravings of the father of modern American education is amusing, to say the least.
But the simple answer to Austin’s query is that the only way I could be confused with Dewey is if someone was so confused that they thought of marriage and childrearing as a roughly utilitarian task. A few weeks ago, Chris Wiley was in town and at some point during his talks pointed out that millennials can be prevailed upon to make beer or coffee or artisan kitsch of all sorts, but the one thing they won’t make is babies. But people are the central, foundational artifact that the human race makes. And people are only made, under the blessing of God, within the covenant of marriage, by one man and one woman.
While I certainly don’t go in for that “families are forever” schlock, and I fully believe what Jesus said, that we will be like the angels in heaven, neither marrying nor given in marriage, the one thing we know for certain about heaven is that it will be full of people. I happen to believe that some of our other artifacts will also be part of the resurrection. Paul alludes to different kinds of seed being raised in the resurrection, and he assures the Corinthians that their labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15). But the one thing that people make that will last forever is people. People have souls that will never die. This is the central and foundational cultural artifact of the human race. To be interested in “culture” is to be interested in people. To be interested in leadership in “shaping culture” must include a robust and hearty pursuit of a making people. And people are made in families. Ergo, families are the center of culture-making and culture-shaping.
The mission statement of New St. Andrews College is to “graduate leaders who shape culture living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Written into our college’s by-laws is also a specific emphasis on masculine leadership, along with the corresponding feminine virtues in women. Short charges cannot say everything, and I decided to assume the centrality of the gospel, the foundation of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, and the overarching goal and mission of glorifying and worshiping God — though I did intentionally speak of raising children in the “joy of the Lord” and closed with the goal to build families “who serve and worship the triune God.” But after salvation comes, after Jesus has removed the curse of sin, we are set free to be what? In the first instance, to be male and female. Before you do anything else, you are either a man or a woman, and you are saved in that body. So your first cultural act is to live out your biological sex. This is foundational, central to anything and everything else you will do in your life. NSA has a mission of graduating leaders who shape culture, first of all by living faithfully as men and women.
As I stated in my address, this ordinarily includes becoming husbands and wives, and bearing children. Here, I intentionally used the word “ordinarily” and I also included two lines noting exceptions: the curse of sin and the occasional, extraordinary calling from God to serve the kingdom in life-long singleness. But the ordinary calling is to marriage and childrearing. To Austin’s concern that Aaron Renn would give me a rhetorical red card for my “frustrating emphasis” inward toward the family and not enough outward toward a man’s mission, I say two things: first, part of the reason for my rhetoric was precisely because I was addressing a co-ed audience. Austin complains that my comments had an added “weirdness” due to my co-ed audience, but I think what he meant to say was that my comments had an added brilliance because they were carefully crafted for my co-ed audience. But second, to the claim that my comments in any way devalued vocation outside the home, I specifically noted that vocation was “necessary” but that vocations find their “meaning and significance in a world of families and homes.” Please note carefully that I did not say that a man’s work has meaning because he himself is married. I worded this section carefully. I said that work has meaning “in a world of families and homes, where love is made flesh in marriage and children.” We’re talking about shaping culture, building culture broadly speaking.
If it’s helpful, consider the fact that a man is not qualified to be an elder or deacon unless he has ruled his own house well. For how will a man govern the church of God if he has not governed his own house well (1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1)? So, what is the foundational, central cultural leadership upon which other spheres of cultural leadership are built? In the ordinary course of things, family. But this is the exact opposite of utilitarianism, and it is the polar opposite of John Dewey’s Statist utilitarianism. For some reason Austin didn’t include the last part of that quote just above, “where love is made flesh in marriage and children.” How do you do that? How does a man love a woman? How does a woman bear a child? How is love made flesh? With Solomon, we say, these things are too wonderful for me. You can’t do the math. You can’t diagram that.
And so this is why I would say to Austin or anyone with his objections, that this reduces the value of a liberal arts education: Ha. It only reduces the value of a liberal arts education if you have already reduced the value of masculinity, femininity, marriage, and childrearing. It would only seem to reduce the value of a liberal arts education if you thought that charm school would be sufficient preparation for marriage and childrearing. It’s true that some evangelical colleges, in their androgynous confusion, really do struggle to understand why they educate women and often give half-hearted and slightly apologetic (in both senses) complementarian answers. But New St. Andrews College does not struggle with that complex in the slightest. We aim to graduate men and women who understand that the highest calling in this world is to submit to the Lordship of Jesus over their biological sex, to submit to His Lordship by pursuing marriage honorably, and to submit to His Lordship by bearing and raising children in the joy of the Lord, as He blesses. Included in this high calling will necessarily be many other missions and vocations outside the home, but the cultivation of the home is the center from which those missions go out, the center those vocations serve and provide for. And in those homes that are flourishing, you might be surprised what they are talking about, what they are studying together, what they are building, what they are singing because a rigorous liberal arts education has trained them how to truly live.
So there’s nothing utilitarian about it. This is a high and terrible task. It’s glorious and wonderful and utterly impossible to manufacture. Anyone can get a job – that’s the utilitarian route. But not just anyone can be a man or a woman, a husband or wife, a father or a mother.
But that is our mission to the glory of God by the grace of God.