Tuesday, October 13, 2009

is there value in developing a theology of motherhood?

I wrote this in response to Simone's reflections on my posts on childcare: attitudes and childcare: implications, in which I tried to develop a theology of motherhood and apply it to childcare. I thought you might be interested to see it.

It's been said that there is little value in developing a theology of motherhood. This is because:

1. the Bible is reasonably silent on the subject of motherhood
2. we’re free to run our households as we see best for us and our children
3. motherhood isn’t an especially sacred task - it’s one of the many spheres of life in which we work out our salvation

I’m not so sure. Here’s why:

1. I think there’s value in developing a theology of anything at all, let alone something as significant as motherhood. As the gospel shapes our minds (Rev 12:1-2) it will shape the way we see everything. Our theology - our beliefs about God, the gospel, ourselves and the world - will shape all our thoughts and decisions, whether unconsciously or consciously. So let’s make sure our theology is a good one – about motherhood or anything else!

2. We all have a theology of God, the world and everything, including motherhood, even if we don't admit or examine it. People will sometimes say "I don't have a philosophy of life" or "I'm not into theology" but we all constantly interpret the world and our circumstances. It's better to have an examined theology than an unexamined theology.

3. The Bible doesn't have to mention something – not even once! - to give us a theology of it. For example, the Bible doesn't mention chocolate cake. But it does tell us lots about creation and this will shape the way we view and eat chocolate cake (with self-control and thanksgiving). So the fact that the Bible may be “relatively silent” on the topic of motherhood (although I’m not sure this is true!) doesn’t mean it doesn’t give us a theology of motherhood.

4. Yes, there are issues of freedom, and we shouldn’t lay down rules about them. The individual decisions you and I make as a result of our theology of, say, motherhood, will differ depending on personality, culture and circumstances. But our unique, individual decisions still flow from our theology. If we think God calls mothers to love our children, as you say, then this will shape our decisions on issues like bedtimes and childcare, although our individual decisions will differ. We can talk about our theology, and then discuss how to apply it.

5. Yes, motherhood is no more and no less sacred than anything else – in fact, everything is sacred if it’s made holy by the word and prayer (1 Tim 4:4-5). But Paul does make it clear that motherhood is one of the primary spheres for women with children in which we work out our salvation, and that it will also be a sphere which we will often be tempted to shirk for apparently more significant ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 5:9-15, Tit 2:3-5). This has practical implications which will affect our choices about the decisions of everyday life, including childcare.

What do you think?

image is by Nic Temby at flickr


Cathy McKay said...

Thanks Jean, I am glad you wrote that. I am in hearty agreement.

Although everything is made sacred in the Christian's life (because Jesus is Lord of everything and it all is from him, through him and to him Rm 11:36), that doesn't mean everything is equally significant.

I would say that if I have a theology of food, but not a theology of motherhood, I have not adopted Biblical perspective on the relative significance of these things.

People matter more than stuff and we have a more significant responsibility to some people than others (ie. my biblical responsibility to my own children is not the same as my responsibility to your children, who I have never met).

Motherhood is not just another task, equal to all others in my life. It is just as sacred, but far more significant than many.

Simone R. said...

Hi Jean and all.

I did write it hastily... but I still pretty much stand by what I've written.

My sentence : "I'm not convinced of the value in developing a theology of motherhood" is, of course, an overstatement, but I wrote it out of concern for the very real danger there is in going further than the bible does when speaking about parenting.

Just about every Christian parenting book that I've read tends to do this, and the more words we spill on the subject, the more likely it is that we'll be legislating where the bible doesn't.

I think that from what I said after my initial (over)statement it's clear that I agree with Jean's first 4 points. I go on to map out something of my theology of motherhood.

On Jean's 5th point, I agree that motherhood is a primary sphere in which mothers live out their salvation but would like to add that the little kid stage - around which this whole debate has centered - is only one small fraction of a woman's life. Because of the intensity of this period we can become overly immersed in it, wanting each detail mapped out for us... [but that's a little off topic.] And in my opinion, it's a minority of women who neglect ministry to their kids in order to pursue ministry to others. Most would be more likely to neglect it for other more selfish reasons.

[While Jean and I often seem to disagree, if you put us next to eachother, I suspect that our family lives would look very similar. In our email exchanges, we've noted that we live in quite different contexts and have suspected that this affects the way we argue this issue.]

Jean said...

Dear Cathy and Simone,

Thanks for your thoughts! I think your "sacred / signignificant" distinction is helpful, Cathy.

Simone, sorry if "wrote a little hastily" came out wrong - I might remove that from my post in case it was misleading, it wasn't meant to be. :) I understand your position better now, thanks for clarifying it.

Love Jean.