When the Gospel (Coalition) Needs Conservatism

At a time when out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing (forty percent in 2013) and straining urban life in major ways, Bethany Jenkins, who writes with the blessing of the Gospel Coalition and who swims the the heady streams of New York City evangelicalism, considers being a single mom:

These days it almost seems passé to talk about needing marriage before having children. Today’s single woman doesn’t need marriage—or even a man.

Single mothers by choice (SMBC)—in contrast to by circumstance or chance—are single women who have chosen to have children through sperm donation (75 percent) or adoption (25 percent). The difference between these women and women like me who choose to remain childless, says Kate Bolick in Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, is desire:

Again and again, the [SMBC] I spoke with described how they’d wanted to be a mother for as long as they could remember and how the urge to get there became so overpowering, it felt less like a rational decision than a compulsion. This conviction—that no matter what, they would have a child—is, I’ve concluded, the most common denominator uniting all choice moms.

Such women are praised for their courage and confidence. One SMBC, who became a mother through sperm donation, says her friends called her “amazing” and “brave.” Yet she confesses she didn’t feel brave. “It’s not about being brave—it was about wanting to stop feeling like a childless mother, and take the next step before I ran out of time.”

My single friend, Christine, on the other hand, became a mother by adoption. Her journey was less a pursuit of self-actualization or self-fulfillment and more a response to a need—not a need she felt within herself, but a need she saw in someone else.

While working with high schoolers through the faith-based nonprofit Young Life, Christine met Ana, a 15-year-old expectant mother. When Ana’s water broke, her mother refused to take her to the hospital. That’s when Ana called Christine. Christine drove her to the hospital and stayed with her through the birth, holding her hand in the delivery room. Over the next few years, it became apparent that Ana and the birth father couldn’t care for their daughter, María.

It wasn’t easy, but Christine stepped up. At one point, she and María shared a 425-square-foot apartment and, since María’s biological familial ties weren’t completely severed, there were some relational challenges, too. But Christine says María is the greatest joy she has ever known—in spite of the obstacles. She also says she didn’t stumble into motherhood: “I longed to become a mom, so I diligently prayed for God to give me a child. When this opportunity arose, I had eyes to see it. If this hadn’t happened, I believe I’d have seen another opportunity. I was on the lookout for it.”

Hasn’t she heard about the importance of fathers in socializing children (especially boys)?

Meanwhile, Gracie Olmstead who writes regularly for American Conservative, puts motherhood in perspective, as in it’s not all about her but about the child:

Motherhood is not easy. It is often painful, frustrating, and difficult. It involves a host of unpleasantries. In our age, in which the self reigns supreme, motherhood runs counter to every society-endorsed impulse and mantra. Motherhood is all about sacrifice—from the moment our bodies begin to reconfigure themselves in order to grow a new human being.

Motherhood means sleepless nights, sore nipples, baby blues, weight gain, aching backs, temper tantrums, frightening doctor’s appointments, endless laundry, constant cleaning, incessant worry, near heart attacks, and lots and lots of money. Motherhood isn’t about self-filling. It’s about self-emptying.

That isn’t to say motherhood can’t be fun and joyous. It truly is and can be. But in order to embrace it, one must believe that all of the pain and hardship involved in motherhood is good, and that the child that results from all our work and hardship is inherently, intrinsically good as well. One must have a moral imagination, a “stable sentiment.” Mothers must have chests.

Olmstead adds that today’s decision to have a child could turn into tomorrow’s regret at giving birth:

As soon as we take away the idea of virtue—the idea that an act, despite the pains and sacrifice it might require, is objectively good and worth pursuing for its own sake—we permanently impede humankind’s ability to pursue selfless action. It does not matter if you tell a woman she should procreate “for the good of the species,” or tell her that she’s biologically predisposed to want children. If there is no overarching moral code related to the bearing and raising of children, then motherhood is subjugated to the wild and changeful whims of human emotion and desire. One second, you might want a baby; the next, you might spurn your child—and there is no law or code that can suggest you should do otherwise. “Instinct” becomes “impulse,” and so we waffle from whim to whim.

What accounts for the difference between an evangelical and conservative outlook on motherhood? Could it be that born-again Protestants really put the mmmmmeeeEEEE in all about mmmeeeeEEEE since personal experience and fulfillment is so important to being an evangelical? In contrast, conservatives (who may also be evangelicals) tend to think about the traditions and webs of social networks that go with marriage and rearing children. If the New York evangelical intelligentsia had given Bethany more instruction in conservatism than the gospel, maybe she’d see the problem with single parenthood.


38 thoughts on “When the Gospel (Coalition) Needs Conservatism

  1. Dr. Hart asks : “What accounts for the difference between an evangelical and conservative outlook on motherhood? Could it be that born-again Protestants really put the mmmmmeeeEEEE in all about mmmeeeeEEEE since personal experience and fulfillment is so important to being an evangelical?”
    I doubt this is very often the case. It’s the same post modern instinct that couldn’t care less for the sins or the souls of the pagan performers they pay to sin for them because it doesn’t bother THEM. THEIR experience (narrative?) is all that matters,

    Biblically illiterate so called “evangelicals” aren’t nearly as equipped to withstand this kind of deception as the self professed children of Westminster, who have the least excuse of all. Get the 2000 pound beam outta yer own eye Darryl. Presbyterians ain’t no better, it’s just in different areas.

    Dr. Hart says: ” If the New York evangelical intelligentsia had given Bethany more instruction in conservatism than the gospel, maybe she’d see the problem with single parenthood. “
    I’m gonna give you the benefit of the doubt on this truly boneheaded statement and assume you weren’t thinking when you made it. How, pray tell, can more of anything than the gospel be more valuable and instructive on the topic of parenthood?

    Are the canons and decrees of the American conservative equal to scripture on things pertaining to life and godliness? Is Gracie Olmstead your popette? (not that what she said wasn’t good, but that’s not the point)

    Bethany Jenkins is a world loving hack, whose exegetical and expositional skills are underwhelming to say the very least. Not to mention, as you say, swimming in the bog of groovy urban, semi-emergent apostasy. Her problem is anything other than too much gospel.


  2. See? …why we need to ever pray that our love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment; that though believers have the mind of Christ, we do not yet fully; and are becoming conformed to Jesus’ image and are being transformed by the renewing of our minds.

    One thing we can agree on for sure, I’m sure –We know Jesus knows pure love and that He always manifests it purely.


  3. You can’t have influence as an intellectual if you talk about biblical election. The covenant is broader than election. Even though the proper purpose of redemptive covenant is salvation in Christ, the administration of covenant in the life of the evangelical church as the community of faith is broader than securing the salvation of all those elected in Christ. Even the new administration of covenant includes the non-elect, and this covenant grace will continue until the return of Christ and the final separation of the wheat from the tares. Sectarians who reduce the covenant to the principle of election will not have that much influence in this present age.

    Lee Irons—“The errant theology of The Jesus Storybook Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones, Zonderkidz, 2007). has as its starting point an unbiblical understanding of God’s love. … God’s love is described as his unconditional commitment to his creatures before and after the Fall. At the end of the story of creation we read: ‘But all the stars and the mountains and oceans and galaxies and everything were nothing compared to how much God loved his children. He would move heaven and earth to be near them. Always. Whatever happened, whatever it cost him, he would always love them” … After telling the story of Adam and Eve’s sin and expulsion from the garden, the narrator repeats the same thought, with even greater emphasis on God’s unbreakable love: “You see, no matter what, in spite of everything, God would love his children – with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love” . From a biblical standpoint, it is not true that God loves his human creatures “in spite of everything.” After all, WE believe that God finally will reject the impenitent and unbelieving. If God’s love were truly unconditional in the sense that God loves them “no matter what,” then it would also be universal, and none would be lost. God’s love for the elect may be described as unconditional, but surely not his love for all mankind. http://www.upper-register.com/papers/jesus-storybook-bible-review.pdf

    Bashir: So where does that leave the millions of Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews? Are they sadly and completely deluded?

    Tim Keller: People who never heard about Jesus, or never really got a hearing about Jesus . . .

    Bashir: I’m not talking about them, because some of those people have heard (about Jesus). I’m talking about the millions of Muslims, Sikhs, and Jews who have heard about Jesus. Where does your thesis leave them?

    Keller: Where they are right now, it means that if there’s never any change, they don’t get Jesus. If he is who he says he is, then, long term, they don’t have God. If on the other hand…all I can always say about this is God gives me, even as a minister with the Scripture, a lot of information on a need-to-know basis.

    And a need-to-know basis means, “Here’s all I can tell you: unless you get Jesus Christ who created you to start with, unless you are reunited with him sometime, there is no eternal future of thriving.” It just makes sense. Again, I’m trying to go back to this idea that, that, if he is who he says he is, you’ve got to have him. If right now a person doesn’t have him, he or she needs to get him. If they die and they’ve never, if they die and they don’t have Jesus Christ, I don’t know. In other words, I have a need-to-know basis, the only thing I know is you need Jesus.

    I certainly know that God is wiser than me, more merciful than me, and I do know that when I finally find out how God is dealing with every individual , I won’t have any questions about it. . . People in other religions, unless they find Christ, I don’t know any other way; but I also get information on a need-to-know basis so if there’s some , if there’s some trapdoor or something like that, I haven’t been told about it.


  4. Dr. Hart asks: “Greg, so how did Gracie get so smart without the gospel?”

    Many of the smartest people who ever lived were not Christians Darryl. Maybe most You missed my point entirely. You said that Jenkins needed more conservationism and less gospel. Gracie has more Christian principle by common grace and natural revelation than Jenkins does while claiming Christ. That is completely consistent with everything I’ve ever said since being around here and an outrageous shame as well.

    Christians are the ones who have the answers to every non-morally-neutral area of life in Christ. Why do we need the pagans to tell us what we should already know? Not that it’s wrong to hear the pagan thinkers around us, but it is an affront to the God we claim as Father when His enemies are closer to His truth than those claiming to believe His word.

    Jenkins problem is that she’s a biblical illiterate, not that she has too much actual gospel and not enough conservatism.
    You can’t possibly have actually meant that Olmstead was better without the gospel than somebody would be with it? Maybe as a cook or engineer, but not where issues of morality are concerned. If that;’s what you actually meant then you have your kingdoms very badly confused with one another.

    I’m not looking for reasons to pounce on you for the sake of it Darryl, honest I’m not, but this is a kooky view if that’s what you actually meant.


  5. Greg, you said it yourself. Gracie with common grace providence is smarter than Bethany with the gospel. The kooky view here is your saying smarts come from common grace providence and then saying it comes from the gospel.

    BTW, I think plenty of people without the gospel are smarter than many people with the gospel. That might even apply to you.


  6. Greg, what’s actually a shame isn’t how unbelievers get the way of things better than believers, it’s how believers pop off about having all the answers. Thanks for sustaining the stereotype.

    And how is it you get away with making some arbitrary distinction between cooks and engineers and “issues of morality” (whatever that means)? Are you saying cooking and engineering don’t involve morality? Where’s your all-of-lifery all of a sudden? But 2kers actually believe Jesus is lord over every square inch, which means unbelievers can even outpace believers in “issues of morality” because they drink from the same reservoir of general revelation. Your muscular Christianity is pretty weak.


  7. smarter?

    I thought this discussion was about grasping true wisdom about true love.

    Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Col 2: 3

    Liked by 1 person

  8. D. G. Hart says: common grace providence

    now faith, hope, love, (and, of course, debate whether to use the word ‘providence’ or ‘common grace’) abide
    ;but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

    …Though God’s grace in one sense is commonplace, it is always and everywhere an expression of something that He gives that is undeserved by the creature. That God bestows any grace at all upon fallen creatures is indeed an uncommon manifestation of His sovereign generosity. We neither merit nor deserve such benefits….

    “the common grace of God is linked closely to two distinct aspects of the love of God. ..The first of these aspects is God’s love of benevolence. …This disposition, or kindness, that God displays towards all creatures indiscriminately is linked to the second type of love that we use to define God’s character. That is His love of beneficence. Where benevolence has to do with God’s will, beneficence has to do with God’s actions as they pertain to His activity on behalf of the whole created realm. We see that He not only has a divine kindness towards His creatures, He acts with a loving provision for the whole human race.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. and ok, morning lookup ( you’re welcome), the word ‘smart’ is not in the bible, but ‘stupid’ is (in the OT) representing 5 original language words ranging from ‘vile’ to ‘fool’ and deal with not knowing the Lord, His greatness, His ways, our plight as creatures, our rejection of Him/His discipline/instruction; the offense of idolatry,
    so I’m thinking maybe we can think of ‘smart’, in the Lord’s economy, as the opposite of these

    “Why are we regarded as beasts, as stupid in your eyes? Job 18:3
    For he sees that even wise men die; the stupid and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Ps 49:10
    A senseless man has no knowledge, nor does a stupid man understand this: Ps 92:6
    Pay heed, you senseless among the people; And when will you understand, stupid ones? Ps 94:8
    Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Prov 12:1
    Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I do not have the understanding of a man. Prov 30:2
    The princes of Zoan are mere fools;The advice of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers has become stupid. Isa 19:11
    For My people are foolish, they know Me not; they are stupid children and have no understanding.They are shrewd to do evil, but to do good they do not know.” Jer 4:22
    But they are altogether stupid and foolish in their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood! Jer 10:8
    Every man is stupid, devoid of knowledge; Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; For his molten images are deceitful, And there is no breath in them. Jer 10:14
    For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; Therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered. Jer 10:21
    All mankind is stupid, devoid of knowledge; Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,For his molten images are deceitful, and there is no breath in them. Jer 51:17


  10. When D.G. asks if Bethany had heard about the importance of fatherhood, apparently she has since shw also wrote in the same article:

    But I’m also cautious. Knowing many sperm-donor kids struggle with the deliberate loss of their biological fathers, I don’t want to intentionally bring a fatherless child into the world.


  11. Dr. Hart says: “Greg, you said it yourself. Gracie with [common grace] providence is smarter than Bethany with the gospel. “
    There’s no way that you don’t know that providence and common grace are not the same thing. Unless you’re denying common grace altogether and attributing all these fine qualities in pagans to plain providence instead?

    Dr. Hart says: “The kooky view here is your saying smarts come from [common grace] providence and then saying it comes from the gospel.”
    That’s not what I said Darryl. intelligence is morally neutral in itself. What is done with it is what makes it holy or profane on an individual basis. I have never once said that “smarts” come from the gospel. High (compared to the animal world) “Intelligence” is the gift of God and is present to varying degrees in all people as bearers of His image and likeness. The righteous use of God given smarts (the only kind there are) comes from a born again heart through the gospel alone. No sinner exercises his intelligence through faith in and to the glory of the one true and living God.

    Consider please the following excerpt from an old piece of mine I’ve linked at least 6 or 7 times here.
    “It’s not that unbelievers do not advance true knowledge and hence contribute much good to the world. Of course they do, but they do it in spite of and not because of their own foundational beliefs. It’s only because my foundational beliefs are true that anything they think or do is even possible. They hate that. They hate God. They are His enemies. Same as I was. That’s why Paul told us in Romans 1 that they “suppress” or as the Greek has it, they “hold under” the truth in their unrighteousness. Picture a beach ball in the water. They keep holding it down, while it keeps popping back up in their face. That’s how they attempt to hide from their true selves and the God who created them. Paul says they are without excuse. God has reveled Himself unavoidably everywhere, but especially IN themselves as created in His very image fractured though it is in sin. There is His unmistakable signature staring back at them in absolutely everyTHING everyWHERE, but nowhere as clearly as in their own mirror.”
    The tragedy is when in vital areas of life where God’s reputation and glory are directly at stake, that sinners have more biblical answers than saints. The kooky view, especially from a reformed standpoint, is when somebody acts like that’s the way it oughta be.

    Dr. Hart says: “BTW, I think plenty of people without the gospel are smarter than many people with the gospel.”
    If we’re talking about innate intellectual capability then of course I agree and have said as much myself many times on this very blog and even above in this very thread.

    Dr. Hart says: “That might even apply to you.”
    I believe that was a jab Darryl. 😀 Much better than POUND SAND. You’ve come a long way. (of course tongue in cheek here)


  12. Those were the days weren’t they LOL! I must reiterate that I really was trying to get under your skin and your use your ego to lure you into a debate. If I had it to do over again, and especially knowing what I do now, I wouldn’t do it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “Could it be that born-again Protestants really put the mmmmmeeeEEEE in all about mmmeeeeEEEE since personal experience and fulfillment is so important to being an evangelical?”

    Yes. That’s what Human Flourishing is all about. Gospel-centered Self-Actualization and Self-Fulfillment brought to you by the Gospel Industrial Complex.

    “Today’s single woman doesn’t need marriage—or even a man.” Yes. In the socioeconomic demographic that Bethany swims in that is most certainly true: Expensively educated, upper class, working in the “creative economy.” This absurd statement can only be said by Christians outside of Redeemer’s target audience. I can’t imagine Bethany writes for supermarket cashiers, fast-food workers, and security guards.

    “Hasn’t she heard about the importance of fathers in socializing children (especially boys)?”

    She probably has but she probably doesn’t want to sound like James Dobson or Phyllis Schlafly. Too Christian Right. Not good for outreach to Manhattan elites.


  14. Curt Day says: “When D.G. asks if Bethany had heard about the importance of fatherhood, apparently she has since she also wrote in the same article:

    Quoting Jenkins: “But I’m also cautious. Knowing many sperm-donor kids struggle with the deliberate loss of their biological fathers, I don’t want to intentionally bring a fatherless child into the world”.

    I just now actually read the article and ya know what? She did say that. I didn’t bother before, because of other stuff I’ve read of hers in the past that left me quite unimpressed, but Curt is right. (Did I really just say that?)

    What’s more is that this article is not nearly as bad as you are portraying it to be Darryl. I would say that no matter who you were btw.


  15. Greg, exactly. So you’re okay with looking benignly at sperm donation (do you think sperm donors are using The Wire sex clips?)?

    Bethany writes:

    Although I’m not open to sperm donation, I sympathize with single women who go this route. Like me, they’re looking for a family, and for children to love.

    It’s all about hhhhheeeeerrrrRRRR.


  16. meanwhile, related but separate, it’s all about hhhhiiiimmmmm – 70% of American males between the ages of 20 and 34 are not married and many live in a state of “perpetual adolescence”

    as well, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 7.9 million opposite sex couples in the U.S. live together but are not married

    and too – a 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University also found that 57 percent of children born to women aged 26 to 31 are out of wedlock.

    time to reconvene, ramp up, expand, lengthen, intensify small group prayer meetings 🙂


  17. Dr. Hart quotes me as saying:“intelligence is morally neutral in itself.”

    And then responds with:

    “Van Til is a collection of bones spinning.”
    I honestly don’t know what this means. Van Til would own every single thing I’ve said on this page.
    Dr. Hart asks: “So you’re okay with looking benignly at sperm donation…”
    I didn’t say the article was good Darryl. I said: “…not nearly as bad…” That’s still bad, but not AS bad.

    I do wish that you and I could spend an afternoon some day and talk like a couple big fellas. You really don’t listen to me here.


  18. Dr. Hart says: “Greg, Van Til (and neo-Calvinists) deny neutrality tout court. Deal.”
    You missed two key words Darryl.


    Intelligence (intellect) ITSELF is neutral. There is an absolute ethical antithesis between the way sinners use it and the way that saints use it.

    The absence of neutrality in ALL things, is not in the things themselves. (ex. intellect, or engineering Zrim) It is in the individual persons using them.

    An automobile can be used to drive a family to church to worship the Lord. It can also be used to drive getaway in a murder:
    The automobile itself is neither good nor evil. The use to which it is put is either good or evil depending on the heart behind the wheel.

    While not perfectly analogous, intelligence, the ability to think logically and rationally (in a nutshell) can be used either for good or for evil but in itself is neither.

    This is exactly what I hope to get back to with SDB.


  19. The embed code worked on my installation of wordpress. I’m not sure why it’s not working on yours. It rendered as a link (which does work) but not as an embedded player like it was supposed to.


  20. Darryl you’re a smart guy, but either you really haven’t studied any of this, or it really ain’t your thing. OR, you just really need me to be wrong at all costs.

    Where did I say autonomous? I said “neutral.” Meaning, not necessarily sinful or holy as an entity removed from the use to which it is put. NOTHING is autonomous, neutral or not.

    Autonomy is self and internally sufficient. (in a nutshell again) These two are not even close to the same and only God is truly autonomous. This is biblical philosophy we’re talkin about here btw. It is inextricably bound up with theology. Neither can be done without the other.

    Would you please think about what I’m telling you before your next response. Seriously. I’m not being sarcastic at all.


  21. Jeff 🙂
    No, NOTHING is morally neutral IN PRACTICE because ALL things are filtered through the ethical environment of man’s moral agency. ALL things. Neutral in themselves or not.

    SOME things do not IN THEMSELVES present the direct opportunity to either uphold or violate the law and nature of the creator God. They are IN THEMSELVES morally neutral.

    Adolph Hitler’s shoes were nether good nor evil until Adolph Hitler put them on and HIS feet walked them to to evil.
    The principles that his people used to greatly advance learning in many areas (which actually did happen) were neither good nor evil until put into the service of evil. Other societies have since put some of them into service for (non redemptive) good. That’s possible because IN THEMSELVES they are neither.

    1+1=2 whether proposed by Emperor Nero, or the apostle John. For John, this was so because the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob was the Creator of the universe. For Nero, it was not. (absolute ethical antithesis) The moral significance is brought to maths and logic by the subject who is at the moment using them. They CANNOT be neutral in the minds and hearts of men, but IN THEMSELVES are not directly addressed by a command or prohibition of God. Like blasphemy and immorality are.

    I learned this FROM Dr. Van Til. And if this is not what he was saying then he was wrong. I say again, I have no pope sir.


  22. D.G.,
    But context is important here. After all, part of that context includes adoption. And the question is for those who want to adopt, must they go out to get married in order to adopt? And if being a single mom is so bad, should the state place kids who are in single parent homes into foster care?


  23. Curt, context was the point of the post. Bethany writes in the bubble of New York City evangelical “intellectuals” and has a blog at TGC because of those bonafides.


  24. D.G.,
    I see no bubble of evangelical intellectuals. Rather, I see an interaction with various women regarding their desires and needs as well as the needs of those who could be adopted.


  25. D.G.,
    Perhaps you are the one who needs to look harder to see that she is reflecting some of the various views of women rather than some group of intellectuals.


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