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The Family in the 21st Century

And so, as we set our priorities and plans for the 21st Century, we must be certain that our definitions of marriage and family are, in fact, Biblical.

  • Greg Uttinger,
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The Past Is Prologue

It is easy for us to pick a time in history and lose our hearts there. Some choose Mediaeval Europe or Colonial America. Others choose the Antebellum South or Victorian England. Of course, admirable and interesting people did build godly homes in each of these eras. But it is a serious mistake to guide and direct our families as if we really lived in any of these times.

Ours is the 21st Century. The problems and the opportunities that Christians faced in the past will be ours only in part. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

The Times, They Are a Changin’

Times change. As we formulate our priorities and plans for the new millennium, we need to consider those changes. Adam’s priorities in the garden were not the ones he formulated as he looked out at the howling wilderness that lay beyond Eden. Noah’s goals for his family while he built the ark were very different from the goals he set when he looked down from Mt. Ararat.

But time is not an enemy. Neither is change. The Psalmist wrote, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God” (Ps. 55:19). God sends change within time so that we will learn to trust Him rather than our own understanding or traditions.

The Spirit of the World

We recognize the obvious threats from secular humanism — individualism, feminism, the sodomite movement — and we must take them seriously. But our own traditions can be just as worldly and just as dangerous. For example, many of today’s parents and spiritual leaders are children of the 60s and carry with them some of the attitudes and assumptions that flourished in that decade. Remember these?

  • The natural is better than the artificial, the mechanical, or the legal.
  • The Establishment is inherently untrustworthy; operating on the fringe, however, is sane and spiritual.
  • Small, isolated, and self-sufficient communities are spiritually wholesome.
  • Liberty of conscience takes precedence over Establishment order and traditional commitments.
  • Words on paper get in the way of honest commitment and communion.

Each of these ideas is or easily can become at odds with Scripture, and each can do the Christian family great harm. But so can a great many Victorian and Colonial traditions.

Defining the Family…Again

And so, as we set our priorities and plans for the 21st Century, we must be certain that our definitions of marriage and family are, in fact, Biblical. Here are some things the Bible actually says.

  • Marriage creates a family. A husband and wife are a family whether God blesses that union with children or not.
  • The husband is called by God to the work of dominion. In terms of that calling, he is also the head of his family. He is responsible for its spiritual and material welfare.
  • The wife is first of all a companion and helper to her husband in his task of dominion. That is her original and primary definition (Gen. 2:18). After that she is a guardian (keeper) of the home and, if God wills, a mother to children.
  • Children are a blessing, but one we must receive in faith and humility. Remember Peninnah, who was so prideful about having her own children that she tortured Samuel’s mother for her sterility (1 Sam. 1).
  • Adopted children are real members of the family. God has adopted us into His family, and we are really brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and co-heirs with Him.
  • Child training is a Biblical requirement. It isn’t easy, and the final outcome is in the sovereign hands of God.
  • When children leave the home to marry spouses of their own, they create new families. When the man leaves his father and mother, the leaving ought to be spatial, economic, and psychological. It is by definition covenantal.
  • The powers and promises God has given the family are not those He has given the church. To the church belongs the preaching of the word, the sacraments, and church discipline — and Christ’s spiritual presence in these things.

Once we have taken the Bible seriously in these areas, there are a few more things we might consider as we prepare our families for the 21st Century.

Preparing Our Children

We must teach our children the Word of God. They need to learn the whole history and story of Scripture and the system of truth that Scripture contains. We have to push our children much harder than our parents pushed us. This, of course, must be more than a matter of the intellect. God speaks to us in the Bible; our children need to learn to hear Him for themselves.

We must prepare our children intellectually. They need to be able to write coherently and argue logically. They need to learn more of mathematics and the mathematically-based sciences than most of us did. In the 21st Century, these will be the indispensable tools of industry, technology, and business. Beyond this, our children ought to be competent at critiquing the arts and analyzing the nightly news in terms of God’s Word. As adults, they may never bisect an angle or dissect a frog, but they will listen to music, watch movies, and vote in elections.

We must teach our boys to be men. We need to rethink much of Christian education in terms of this need. Real men take charge, lead in worship, work hard, respect women, and defend the weak. I believe our boys’ recreation ought to be manlier. For myself, I’d like to see young men spend less time playing computer games and more time kickboxing, wrestling, and firing high caliber weapons. Their hobbies might involve power tools and high voltage electricity.

We need to prepare our daughters to be companions and helpers to their future husbands. Jane Austen’s heroines belong to the past, and even there they were fictional. In our century Ruth, Esther, and Jael will prove better role models for our girls. Their faith is timeless, and their situations were more like our own.

Money Matters

Money does matter. It is basic to the stewardship God has granted us in this life. We must be wise in how we use it. We need to work at getting out of debt. We need to use credit cards with great care — or not at all. We should prefer careful investment to hoarding. We should pay less for image and more for substance. We should practice delayed self-gratification. We should spend less money on transient pleasures and give more for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. God requires both the tithe and the offering.

Home, Sweet Home

Our homes need to be places where outsiders feel comfortable. We should exhibit a zest for life and a real compassion for those made in God’s image. We need the patience to listen to serious questions and the wisdom to give helpful, relevant answers. We need to be transparent, honest, and sincere in our faith. We need to be humble.


None of this is revolutionary. Not much of it is specific. The times are changing, and the 21st Century is for the most part a huge unknown. It’s probably safe to give up fountain pens for word processors. Beyond that, we walk by faith. The only stable ground is the Word of God. Let’s make sure we’re really standing on it.

  • Greg Uttinger

Greg Uttinger teaches theology, history, and literature at Cornerstone Christian School in Roseville, California. He lives nearby in Sacramento County with his wife, Kate, and their three children.

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