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Title: Is There a Normative Christian Family?
Author(s): WATERS, Brent
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 18    Issue: 1   Date: 2012   
Pages: 53-63
DOI: 10.2143/INT.18.1.2164162

Abstract :
Ideally, a Christian family is an association of persons comprised of a woman and man married to each other, and who are the parents of children to which both are biologically related. A truly Christian understanding of the family does not confine it to a private haven in a heartless world: it is an open and outward-looking community that enables a necessary interaction with broader spheres of human association. The author argues that the church needs to lift-up and support such a normative Christian family to serve as a counter narrative to the one propounded by late modernity, namely, that all forms of human association are little more than arbitrary and idiosyncratic constructs. The rise of liberalism, from early theorists like Johannes Althusius to contemporary thinkers as John Rawls, had a corrosive effect upon traditional Christian teaching on marriage and family, and derivatively upon civil community. Increasingly, individuals are not embedded in private associations such as the family, but are more akin to free-floating agents. In rendering familial affinities as largely irrelevant, liberalism reinforced a rabid individualism and accompanying sense of estrangement, fragmentation, and isolation. The family looks increasingly like one among many voluntary organizations that are created and maintained by the ongoing will of its members rather than a foundational social sphere that plays an important role within the civil order. Consequently, any attempt to speak about a Christian normative family must address how it is related to broader associations. It is therefore incumbent upon the church to reflect on its theological understanding of and relationship to the family. In this respect, the family and church bear a differing but complementary witness to Christ. The family embodies a providential witness to a good created order, while the church provides an eschatological witness to the end or telos of creation in Christ. Neither witness can be complete in itself, for they are interdependent and integrally related. Together they bear a singular witness to Jesus Christ as both the Lord of creation and the church. The eschatological witness of the church places constraints upon the family in respect to the scope of its affiliation and object of hope. The family cannot be self-sufficient but is dependent upon and sustained by the support of other social spheres, particularly the church. The family is not an end in itself, but a means of evangelization and discipleship. The family is thereby affirmed and supported by the church as a penultimate good yet delimited since it is not the ultimate good. In lifting-up, supporting, and properly limiting a normative account of the family, the church faces inevitable tensions and challenges regarding the extent that it can and should affirm variations from this norm. No precise line can be drawn but problematic points can be plotted. In the remainder of the essay the author explores where some of these points might be located by examining the issues of single-parent families, adoption, and intentionally childless couples.

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