Over the years I have received many catalogs through the mail from various companies selling products as diverse as books to personal submarines. I typically thumb through the catalogs giving them only passing attention. I recently received one catalog, however, that has drawn more than my passing attention, the 2004 Vision Forum Family Catalog. What makes this catalog unique let alone worthy of in-depth analysis? This catalog sells Christian literature, audio lectures, and toys for boys and girls with the express purpose “to facilitate the restoration of the biblical family.” The catalog has a professional glossy color format and offers a wide variety of products. Some of its products are good, others, however, judging from the catalog’s description offer spurious and questionable teachings.
First, let me say that Vision Forum offers many excellent products. They offer titles such as Terry Johnson’s The Family Worship Book, R. L. Dabney’s biography of Stonewall Jackson, J. William Jones’ Christ in the Camp, Richard Baxter’s A Christian Directory. They also carry several titles by noted 19th century Anglican theologian J. C. Ryle. There also are audio lectures on various subjects including, the Salem Witch trials, the Pilgrims vs. Indians, and Christians vs. Deists, that appear to be interesting. There are a number of products, however, that are aimed at building the “biblical family,” that bring significant questions to the table. In order to understand what Vision Forum believes about the “biblical family,” we should examine what they believe about raising children. Their view of child rearing will give us an idea of what the biblical family should look like. Let me make, however, a significant caveat, I base the following analysis upon their catalog, not the actual products they sell. My logic is, if the catalog is any indication of product content, then the prospective buyer should beware. What does Vision Forum believe about raising children?
In two separate sections of their catalog they list the qualities of “beautiful girlhood” and “courageous boyhood.” It is in these sections that they give the qualities of what parents should want to see in their own children. It is in these qualities where some of Vision Forum’s ideas about the roles of men and women emerge. The catalog states, “Scripture is clear, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ Boys need vision” (p. 64). They go on, “Without a vision for manhood, boys will perish. But true vision is cultivated by honor” (p. 65). What other qualities should a boy possess? The catalog states that, “True courage is an outgrowth of confidence in the sovereign will of God, the reflection of an abiding faith in Christ. . . . The courageous boy is on a mission from God to take dominion over the earth. This is why he loves to learn, to investigate, to master disciplines, and to search out mysteries of creation. His basic textbook for life is the Holy Scriptures” (p. 65). By way of contrast, the qualities that a girl should possess are very different.
The catalog states that, “The spirit of beautiful girlhood is alive in the girl who, with courage and fortitude, perseveres through the many challenges of life. She realizes that ‘faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,’ and consequently strives for the principled course of action.” Additionally, they write that “the truly beautiful girl is one who radiates that inner grace which only comes from the confidence in being a woman of God. She enjoys dressing like a lady and being about the business of women.” The “beautiful girl” is different from other girls because, “While other girls are driven by wanderlust, the hospitable girl finds true contentment at home” (p. 47). The differences between what characterizes a boy vs. a girl are quite evident in the toys they sell. In their “Beautiful Girlhood Collection” the Vision Forum sells dolls, books about Christian women, sewing and quilting paraphernalia, journals, 19th century girl’s books and other titles, a harp, jacks, tiddlywinks, a jump rope, and a hopscotch tin set. By way of contrast, in their “All-American Boy’s Adventure Catalog” they sell metal and wooden swords, pop-guns, spy equipment, a detective set, the Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook, science kits, matchstick construction kits, a pocket knife, Civil War paraphernalia, books on various Christian men, Roy Rodger and Lone Ranger DVD sets, a whip, tomahawk, a zip-line kit, a slingshot, blow dart gun, cross bow, utility shovel for camping, a bushman’s knife and a rock hammer. Now, what’s all the fuss? Is this not simply a Christian company trying to appeal to the old adage, “Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, and boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails”? The answer to this is, No.
We must remember that this company makes the claim that these products and the vision they have set forth are in an effort to reclaim the biblical model of family. So, then, what is problematic about their claim and the qualities they believe boys and girls should possess? We may first begin with their use of Scripture concerning the upbringing of boys. They cite Proverbs 29.18a: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV). They then conclude that boys need a vision of what true manhood is and that it is cultivated by honor. This is a misuse of Proverbs 29.18a. The verse does not speak of a generic vision, a la a goal or long-term plan. The Hebrew term that the KJV translates as vision is hazon, which means an oracle or prophecy. In other words, where there is no divine revelation the people of God perish. This understanding is clearer when we examine the second half of the parallelism in v. 18b: “But he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (KJV). This is a antithetical parallelism—where there is no revelation of God, the people perish, but the one who keeps the law, the revelation of God, is happy. The ESV confirms this in its translation: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” So, then, the catalog misuses Scripture to support its claim that parents must set forth courage and other “manly” virtues before boys in order to raise them well.
Second, the roles that they assign for boys and girls, evident by the toys they market to each group, says a lot about their understanding of the roles of men and women. Boys explore, learn, carry weapons, and place their faith in Christ. Girls stay home, sew, and learn to take care of children: “When a girl plays with a doll she is preparing to be a mommy someday” (p. 48). These delineated roles do not find support in Scripture but more so in 19th century culture. Yes, boys and girls are different, but there are many areas in which their interests overlap. Why is it that only boys are supposed “to learn, to investigate, to master disciplines, and to search out the mysteries of creation”? Why is the boy’s “basic textbook for life . . . the Holy Scriptures” (p. 65)? Why is this not appropriate for girls? Where in Scripture do these ideas find support? While Proverbs 31 gives us a portrait of the godly woman and mother, if we translate her activities into the 21st century, setting aside the all-important christological interpretive question for the sake of discussion, we find the characteristics of not only a mother but one who is knowledgeable in real estate: “She considers a field and buys it” (v. 16). Moreover, what passes by many is the source of Proverbs 31: “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him” (v. 1). The Hebrew behind the oracle is a synonym for a revelation, hence the KJV’s use of, “prophecy.” In other words, God gave a prophecy through Lemuel’s mother, which she passed on to her son. In this context a woman and mother instructed the king in the knowledge of God’s Word. This is not the only occurrence we find of women knowledgeable in the Word: Priscilla and her husband “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18.26); Timothy’s mother and grandmother raised him and taught him the Word of God (2 Tim. 1.5). Here Scripture gives women a greater role than does the catalog.
Third, the catalog presumes that all girls must and should be married and have children. They elevate marriage to a state such that anything else is something less than God’s blessing. Concerning marriage they write that, “It is God’s own ideal of completeness” (p. 14). In an effort to sell a book entitled, Mother, they write: “The Most Beautiful name in the world, Mother” (p. 15). The way the catalog presents these ideas runs contrary to Scripture. God’s own ideal of completeness is not marriage but union with Christ, something the married and single women can enjoy. Paul indicates that singleness is a gift from God just as marriage is a gift (1 Cor. 7.7). What if parents follow the advice of the catalog, teach their daughter to stay at home, cook, sew, and take care of dolls, and tell her to await her husband when God has intended for her to remain single? The little girl grows up ill prepared to provide financially for herself. Parents should raise their daughters, educate them in the Word of God, encourage them to learn, soak of up knowledge, pursue an education and to wrap up their identity, not in being a mother, wife, or single professional, but in union with Christ. Whether a daughter becomes a wife who has no children but travels with her husband in building the Church such as Priscilla, a mother of godly children like Timothy, or a wealthy business woman who becomes the patroness of a church like Lydia, the seller of purple (Acts 16.14), her identity will not consist of what she does but in who she is in Christ.
There is much more that is objectionable in this catalog but space does not permit me to engage thoroughly each of the errors. They write about Noah, “It is the story of a ‘preacher of righteousness’ so successful at raising his children, that for one hundred years, his three sons trusted and followed their father by helping him to build an ark” (p. 87). What about the curse against Ham (Gen. 9.22ff) and Noah’s ungodly descendants who built the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11)? Is the flood narrative about parenting or about the sinfulness of man and his inability to obey God, and that Noah serves as a type who points to Christ and his obedience to usher in the new heavens and earth? Does a boy really need a pop gun to learn about “manhood, responsibility, and the Second Amendment” (p. 67)? What about Jesus Christ, the true man son of man, who never once raised a weapon, who would not break a bruised reed, or quench a faintly burning wick (Isa. 42.3)?
This essay does not represent the desire to take pot shots at a well-intentioned effort to edify Christian families. Rather, it is an object lesson in being a good Berean (Acts 17.10-11). Not everything that comes to us, however well-intended, is biblical. In this case, it appears that this catalog foists a 19th century view of society and the roles of men and women upon the Scriptures. Whenever something claims to be “the biblical model,” thoroughly investigate the claim and hold it up to the light of Scripture. In other words, buyer beware, read the label before making your purchase. The very thing you might believe to be an elixir may be the source of greater problems.