Families at the Crossroads: Introduction

In one of my Family Studies classes in college, we used Families at the Crossroads: Beyond Traditional and Modern Options, by Rodney Clapp. Clapp is former associate editor of Christianity Today and was an editor for IVP when he wrote this book.

This book was written in 1993, and the first chapter, which we will deal with another week, is on Postmodernism. This is a full 10 years before McClaren’s A New Kind of Christian. Clapp is considered by many to have a postmodern or postliberal perspective. One reviewer of Clapp’s A Peculiar People takes issue with some of his issues as unbiblical, but also commends him for a lot of his ideas. In Families at the Crossroads, Clapp challenges a number of traditional assumptions about the notion of family. Whether you fully agree with him or not, there is definitely some merit to this book, which most people probably have never heard of.

As we will see, what evangelicals call the “traditional family” is in fact the bourgeois or middle-class family, which rose to dominance in the nineteenth century – not accidently alongside capitalism and, a little later, America the ascendant world power. In this sense the typical evangelical account is accurate in linking family, free enterprise and “traditional” values. (Clapp, 11)

This is a bold statement to make, and probably unsettling for a lot of Christians. Perhaps some will outright condemn him as a postmodern Christian without even looking at how he supports the claim. That itself is one thing that scares me, when we, as Christians, label someone and condemn them as wrong simply because they hold a view that questions the popular or so-called conservative view. In this case, his search for truth is telling him that the popular view is historically wrong and unbiblical, and I happen to agree.

Clapp agrees that there are many negative forces affecting the family right now that we should be concerned about, and that there is value to family unit we refer to as the traditional family. Certainly there are concepts of family we’ve heard that are disturbing. However, is the nuclear, traditional family the Biblical model? Clapp says no.

In important respects, the “traditional family” is fact adopts family values that depart from those of the earlier evangelical heritage. For example, through much of history the family was an economically productive unit. The household was a place where husband, wife and children together farmed, did craftwork or otherwise earned their livelihood. The bourgeois or traditional family, by contrast, hos lost the family’s earlier function as an economically productive unit. Its main function is sentimental. It serves as haven and oasis, emotional stabilizer and battery-charger for its members. It demands that spouses and children love and trust one another, that they intensely enjoy being together. (Clapp, 13)

I think one of the dangers, it appears, of some conservative thinking, is that it is sometimes heavily rooted in a point in history, one often connected with the rise of industry, modernism, the Enlightenment, Reason. For me, I don’t really care whether an idea is conservative or liberal, modern or postmodern (and there are certainly more choices than A or B). I care about what idea is true, based on the Bible and history, even if it conflicts with a commonly held view. I believe truth is absolute, but if it were so obvious to discern, you’d think that Christians, at the very least, would have agreement amongst themselves about more ideas than they do.

Clapp, Rodney. Families at the Crossroads. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 1993.