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Fatherhood as Cultural Resistance

Posted on Mar. 25, 2014

Families need courageous fathers who care nothing but for the glory of God. This is the kind of fatherly leadership that we see in Joshua, the son of Nun. Joshua was a true man. Joshua was not proving himself to be a man by living out some kind of worldly, macho, testosterone expression session. He proved himself by being a highly principled, visionary, and courageous man who walked according to the counsels of God. He is an inspiring example of a man who understood his role. When Joshua declared, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, (Joshua 24:15) was laying claim to a position of headship over his family. In this statement we find a mixture of courage and vision. He believed that his family was his. He saw himself as a steward who was fully responsible for a particular house for he calls it “my house”. A family was given to him by almighty God.

When Joshua said, “we will serve the Lord,” he was summarizing one of the greatest functions of a family in the world - to resist the pressures of the World and be conformed to the Word of God. Here Joshua emphasized serving “the Lord” instead of serving other interests around him. His family will not walk in the broad path of worldly living. The world may go it’s own way, but Joshua and his family would serve the Lord.

Joshua understood the importance of working to establish a Christian culture in his generation. The world will always try to squeeze the family into its own mold. The cultures of the earth will press upon us things that are not of the kingdom of heaven, but we must maintain our distinction from the world and its lusts. The holy courage of a faithful father is God’s provision to stem the tide and to be an agent for cultural transformation.

Fathers who allow their families to be absorbed into the culture are in direct disobedience to the Lord. Syncretism is one of the most dangerous forces at work in the church in every generation, but the front line of defense against it is a courageous father like Joshua.

In every generation, we must be bold to declare our devotion to the Lord for we are a peculiar people and a holy nation. We dare not “love the world’.

Neil Postman, one of the truly insightful secular social commentators of the 20th century, was correct when he said that parenting was  “Cultural Resistance.” In one of his books, “The Disappearance of Childhood” he outlines the devastating influences of our culture on childhood. At the end of the book he asks a question, “is the individual powerless to restrict what is happening?”  He says,

“The answer to this, in my opinion, is “No.” But, as with all resistance, there is a price to pay. Specifically, resistance entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture. For example, for parents merely to remain married is itself an act of disobedience and an insult to the spirit of a throwaway culture in which continuity has little value. It is also at least ninety percent un-American to remain in close proximity to one’s extended family so that children can experience, daily, the meaning of kinship and the value of deference and responsibility to elders. Similarly, to insist that one’s children learn the discipline of delayed gratification, or modesty in their sexuality, or self-restraint in manners, language, and style is to place oneself in opposition to almost every social trend. Even further, to ensure that one’s children work hard at becoming literate is extraordinarily time-consuming and even expensive. But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media’s access to one’s children. There are, in fact, two ways to do this. The first is to limit the amount of exposure children have to media. The second is to monitor carefully what they are exposed to, and to provide them with a continuously running critique of the themes and values of the media’s content. Both are very difficult to do and require a level of attention that most parents are not prepared to give to child-rearing.

Nonetheless, there are parents who are committed to doing all of these things, who are in effect defying the directives of their culture. Such parents are not only helping their children to have a childhood but are, at the same time, creating a sort of intellectual elite. Certainly in the short run the children who grow up in such homes will, as adults, be much favored by business, the professions, and the media themselves. What can we say of the long run? Only this: Those parents who resist the spirit of the age will contribute to what might be called the Monastery Effect, for they will help to keep alive a humane tradition. It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service."

Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, (1982; repr,. New York: Vintage, 1994), 152-153

Below is a message I delivered on Joshua 24 at our Masters Plan for Fatherhood conferences this year.