Christians have long viewed the home as the hub of life. It is a nursery for aspiring astronauts, playground for wannabe heroes, and sanctuary for weary but heaven-bound wayfarers. Home is a place for cultivating virtue through meandering conversations, large helpings of laughter, hearty meals, excruciating trials, and loads of hard work. Whether you are a child learning to read, a freshman in a dormitory, newlyweds settling into a first apartment, an upstart launching a career, a family with a quiver full of children, or a widow navigating life without a spouse, the comfort of home is a stabilizing reality of life.
Yet for many, the home is far from heaven. It is hell on earth. For those suffering in the environs of oppression, the home is a cauldron of abuse, violence, and manipulation. It is a prison to escape from, not a refuge to run to. Still others have never had the privilege of permanent shelter, let alone experienced the warmth of a fireplace. As Christians discuss the value of home, we must not lose sight of the fact that the guilt and corruption of the fall reaches into every heart, and therefore into every home. Our ultimate hope lies not within the boundaries of a picket fence but in Him who is “our dwelling place” (Ps. 90:1).
When thinking through a theology of home, there are two equal but opposite errors that we must avoid. In the first place, we must not give the impression that life at home in a fallen world is everything. When we do, we are guilty of a misappropriated eschatology. Yes, we must tend to the gardens of our homes. But we must also populate the pews of the church and venture onto the highways of the world. The command of Jesus to “go” in the Great Commission pushes those of us who are tempted to withdraw into the quiet habitats of home to see that when we settle for heaven on earth, we domesticate the kingdom according to our tastes and traditions. The reason we strive to make disciples of all nations is because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Like Abraham, we are “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
If one tendency we have is to idealize (and idolize) the home, then the other mistake we must avoid is marginalizing it. We must not give the impression that life at home in a fallen world means nothing. This is the error of an overly privatized sociology. In the modern world, we have fallen into the deathly trap of believing that who we are in private has little to no bearing on what we do in public. Conviction and character are severed from policy and productivity. As a result, what someone does in the confines of the home is viewed as irrelevant to success in the workplace. As Christians, however, we understand that the prayer closet and the kitchen table are vital places for developing excellence in every area of life. Our view of productivity is inextricably linked to our view of piety. The reason is simple: the dividing wall between the private and the public is meaningless before the eyes of an all-knowing God (Job 34:21). In all of our conduct, we are to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15).
The home is not a neutral zone for acting upon baseless desires, nor is it simply a bastion for maintaining traditional values. One of the primary purposes of the home is to cultivate Christlike virtues that animate who we are in private and facilitate what we do in public. When the Apostle Paul addressed the households in the church of Colossae, he instructed wives, husbands, children, masters, and servants alike to put to death the exploits of the flesh, put on the qualities of Christ, and do everything in word and deed for the glory of God (Col. 3:1–4:1). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul sandwiches his instructions to households between teaching on devotion and worship (Eph. 5:1–21) and spiritual warfare (6:1–20). And the Apostle Peter prefaces his comments to families with an extended discussion on the church (1 Peter 2:1–11; 2:12–3:8), an important reminder that home life can never be isolated from church life.
This side of heaven, home should be a place where faith, hope, and love flourish. Faith in the sure work of Christ crucified and resurrected. Hope in the power of the gospel to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. And love for a triune God whose glory and beauty knows no end. The Christian home in a fallen world is a place of rooted optimism. Rooted in the place where God has called us and optimistic about a far greater place He is preparing for us. The home front is the forlorn battlefield of the cultural wars. In our strivings to defend the gospel against doctrinal decline in the church and increasing secularism in the culture, we must not forget the importance of cultivating virtue in the home. For the church to remain a city on the hill, the light of the gospel must shine brightly in the home.