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    Jan 31, 2024

    Class 5: Man and Woman in the Modern World

    Series: Man and Woman in Christ

    Category: Core Seminars, Church Leadership, Manhood & Womanhood, Marriage, Parenting, Worldview, Creation


    Man and Woman in Christ Core Seminar

    Week 5 – Man and Woman in the Modern World


    In Titus 2:5, the apostle Paul instructs older women to teach younger women, among other things, to be “working at home.” For modern women, this raises a slew of questions. Does this mean a woman shouldn’t work outside the home? Some have said so. Whether inside or outside the home, what counts as work? What does this phrase mean if you’re single or widowed? What does it mean if you live alone? Or what about remote work? Does that count as “working at home”?

    Or consider the valiant woman of Proverbs 31, the Bible’s fullest portrayal of an ideal wife. Proverbs 31:13 tells us, “She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.” Meaning, she obtains raw materials and then turns them into clothing for her whole family. What does this have to say to a modern mother who lives in a world where virtually all clothes are purchased rather than made by hand at home? Should a modern mother refuse to buy anything and make it all by hand instead?

    In the western world, the past five hundred years, and especially the past two hundred years, have brought a series of cultural transformations. How we produce and consume, how we earn our livings and what we do with those livings, how we form households, and much more. These transformations have created a world vastly different from any of the cultures in which and to which the biblical books were written.

    In order to apply the Bible’s teaching about men and women skillfully, we need to not only understand the text and its original context. We also need to understand the ever-changing world we live in. We need to question what we take for granted today, what our world treats as normal. Much of what we take for granted as the way things naturally are is in fact a radical departure from any ways any other human beings have ever lived. In a nutshell, the whole point of this class is to show how both “work” and “home” have radically changed in the past five hundred years.

    So, in this class, we’re going to consider four crucial ways our world has changed, briefly take stock of where we are now, and then reflect on ways we can wisely respond to each of these changes. This class is going to be a whirlwind tour of huge historical changes in technology, the economy, and society-wide patterns of how men and women relate, so buckle up! 

    I. Four Ways the World Has Changed

    In this section, when I say “the world,” I mean primarily the region of the world we call “the West”: roughly, Western Europe and North America. Though, increasingly, most of these trends are global phenomena. Here then are five changes that have taken place over the past several centuries. Some of them have rapidly accelerated in the past hundred years, or even fifty.

    1. From a society that uses tools to one dominated and permeated by technology. Every society uses tools: clothes, shoes, bowls, utensils, furniture, knives, flint and tinder, and on and on. But four dramatic revolutions in the past half-millennium or so have transformed the relationship between society and technology.[1]

    The first is the invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century. Within a few short years, books could be produced in large numbers, quickly and cheaply, which made it possible for virtually everyone to learn to read. All the modern technological developments to follow depended on the culture of literacy enabled by the printing press.

    The second revolution is what’s often called the “Industrial Revolution,” or the “First Industrial Revolution.” It began in the eighteenth century in England, and quickly spread to the continent and to America.[2] It consisted of a cluster of inventions that increased agricultural productivity, allowed for mass production of textiles, harnessed steam power, and enabled the manufacture of cheap, durable steel. Before the industrial revolution, the cost of buying a coat was equivalent to buying a car or even a house today. The use of the steam engine to power trains made it possible to transport goods father, quicker, and cheaper than before, opening up vast new possibilities for trade.

    The third revolution centered on electricity and the internal combustion engine. To consider how much this revolution changed our lives, consider how helpless we are during a power blackout. Electricity and automobiles intensified industrialization and urbanization. More and more goods became mass produced, and more and more people moved out of villages, off farms, and into cities. As Murray Jardine points out, “As late as the turn of the twentieth century, more people lived in rural areas than in cities in all countries except Britain, whereas now only a small percentage of the population lives in the country in any industrial society.”[3]

    The fourth revolution has been brought about by computers and the internet. Now, virtually all information can be stored electronically and shared almost instantly with anyone around the world. This revolution may change our lives more than any of the previous three. It’s too soon to say. But the changes have already been staggering.

    In total, we have gone from being a society that uses tools to a society dominated, permeated, and structured by technology. Virtually everything we do is cushioned by, surrounded by, and enabled by technology. Technology has become so pervasive that we don’t notice it. It’s the air we breathe, the water we swim in.

    Image you’re a farmer living four hundred years ago. Even if your field is being ploughed by horses, you’re accompanying them on foot. The sun is bearing down on you. The work you can do is totally dependent on the season and the weather. Your life is built around natural rhythms of birth and death, planting and harvest, spring and fall.

    But for most people in the West today, their day-to-day lives are spent in climate-controlled buildings, with electric lights, water from a tap, and a flushing toilet no more than a thirty-second walk away.  

    Another dramatic result of our technological society is that it has made men and women much more functionally interchangeable. For most of our daily lives, natural differences in strength count for far less. We can more easily forget that humanity comes in two basic kinds. Our maleness and femaleness seem to make less of a difference to our daily lives. In becoming increasingly insulated from nature itself, we’ve become increasingly insulated from our nature as men and women.

    A second transformation:

    1. From household production to a market society. In a system of household production, each household produces a large portion of what it needs to survive and thrive. From vegetables and animal protein, to clothes and linens, to making tools and repairing a home, in an economy founded on household production, each household is self-sufficient to a degree we can hardly imagine today.

    This kind of household production characterized the West for over a thousand years, before the introduction of industrial technology and factory production. Here’s how the historian Allan Carlson puts it,

    The introduction of machine technology and the factory system of production forced the reordering of Western social life beginning during the nineteenth century. Prior to their appearance, the daily flow of events for the vast majority of European peoples had been surprisingly stable. For over a millennium, householding had been the dominant economic pattern, with production for trade a relatively minor feature. Residence and workplace were normally one and the same, whether in the form of a farmer’s cottage or a craftsman’s shop. Household production, ranging from tool making and weaving to the keeping of livestock and the garden patch, bound each family together as a basic economic unit, a ‘community of work.’ Production complemented consumption and made the family largely self-sufficient, albeit at a relatively mean level of existence. Wives and children stood beside husbands and fathers as coworkers in the family enterprise, with no debate over issues of work and dependency. Indeed, family living was so central to life itself that it was largely taken for granted, being the social equivalent of breathing. Well into the nineteenth century, markets and money were of limited importance to the average farmer, cottager, or craftsman.[4]

    But then, Carlson observes, over the next few generations, “In the industrial milieu, the inward-looking, autonomous, cooperative family changed into a collection of individuals in potential, and often real, competition with each other.”[5]

    Throughout the West, the industrial revolution brought a series of transformations in how families live and work together:

    • From working in and around the home to working in factories or offices. This created a new and growing divide between “work” and “home.”
    • From working for subsistence to working for pay. What we take for granted as “a job”—earning a paycheck by working for someone outside your home—was something only a minority of people did prior to the industrial revolution. For instance, in the 19th century in the US, fewer than 5% of married women worked for wages.[6]
    • From men and women working interdependently to working separately.[7] Every culture practices a division of labor between men and women; but industrial civilization divorced men and women’s work from each other.
    • From producing a huge amount of necessary goods to purchasing virtually all of them: food, clothes, furniture, tools, housing.

    One way to sum up this transformation is to say that markets went from being marginal to being central and total. In every society prior to the modern west, trading and selling goods was a small portion of economic activity. Most of what you made, you consumed. Most of what you produced was for your own use. Things like land simply were not for sale.

    All traditional societies have economies that are a mix of householding, reciprocity, and redistribution. [8]  In other words, before the industrial revolution, people survived by producing what they themselves needed, sharing it in patterns of gift exchange with others, and entrusting leaders to apportion surpluses.

    But what developed in the 19th century throughout the West is a market society.[9] Everything is for sale, and most people have to buy almost everything they need to live: food, clothing, housing, and more.

    This situation has never existed before in the history of the world. This transition from a system of household production to a market-dominated society is perhaps the single greatest pressure point on men and women’s relations to each other in the whole modern world.

    For instance, this has transformed children from being an economic asset to an economic liability. If you are producing your own food, tools, and clothing, then even small children can contribute in powerful ways to that household economy. But if the only way to earn a living is to get a job, and the only way to get a job is to get twelve to twenty years of education first, then raising children becomes a massive, decades-long expenditure of time, effort, and money. To put this another way, the transition to a market society has set the goods of the market into direct competition with goods of the home.[10]

    The transformation from household production to a market society has created a situation where work is the “chief repository of male identity.”[11] Increasingly, the only way in which men can earn status and honor in the eyes of the whole culture is through their work. It’s why we often ask on first meeting someone, “What do you do?”

    But our modern market society has also created a situation where women are measured by the same standard. Having a high-status job or a personally fulfilling career is increasingly seen as the greatest good a woman can pursue. Historian Scott Yenor calls this the “career mystique.”[12] Work is an increasingly central component of modern identity. What you do has come to define who you are.

    The transition to a market society has set a sharp fork in the road before women, and especially married women: whether to prioritize autonomy, money, career, and status, which are all rewarded by the culture, or to pursue marriage, along with having, raising, and nurturing children, which are increasingly dismissed by the culture. Our culture has increasingly divided work from home, and rewarded work at the expense of home. Increasingly, our society has dishonored and devalued care and nurture. Work is what is done for pay, and therefore what is worthy of honor and respect. Caring for others, whether elderly parents or infant children, doesn’t pay (or if it does, it pays poorly) and therefore gets little respect.

    For an educated woman to drop out of the workforce in order to care for her own children is for her to undergo a status death. As Camille Paglia has put it, “Motherhood has become so secondary to professional ambitions in the American middle class that it is impossible to imagine a second-year undergraduate at an Ivy League university, for example, announcing to her friends that she plans to drop out, get married, and have a baby. She would be treated as a traitor to her class. ‘You’re wasting your life,’ she would be told.”[13]

    Over the past two hundred years, the general trend has been to both separate work from home and remove work from home. For many, home has become simply a place for consumption and recharging batteries, so that all its members can be sent back out into their market roles: children in school to prepare for the market, mom and dad to earn their keep in the market.

    In other words, housewifery used to consist of an impressive combination of skills, crafts, traditional knowledge, medical care, and more, all contributing directly to the household’s surviving and thriving. But our culture’s technological revolution and market revolution have hollowed out the housewife’s traditional role.

    As a result of these two huge transformations, most of the functions that used to belong to the family are now carried out by mass institutions.[14] Economic activity takes place in businesses, factories, offices. Hospitals and doctors offices provide care for the sick. Relatively few people are born at home or die at home. Elderly people live in retirement centers rather than the household of their children. Financial support is provided by banks and insurance companies rather than families. Most education takes place in school rather than the home. Less and less happens at home; the home means less and less.

    As Dorothy Sayers put it seventy years ago,

    It is all very well to say that woman’s place is the home—but modern civilization has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the women looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organized by men at the head of large factories. Even the dairy-maid in her simple bonnet has gone, to be replaced by a male mechanic in charge of a mechanical milking plant. . . The fact remains that the home contains much less interesting activity than it used to contain. . . . It is perfectly idiotic to take away women’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones.[15]

    Or, as Wendell Berry has reflected,

    The only remaining task of provisioning—purchasing food—was turned over to women. This determination that nurturing should become exclusively a concern of women served to signify to both sexes that neither nurture nor womanhood was very important. . . . As housekeeping became simpler and easier, it also became more boring. . . . In modern marriage, then, what was once a difference of work became a division of work. And in this division the household was destroyed as a practical bond between husband and wife. It was no longer a condition, but only a place. It was no longer a circumstance that required, dignified, and rewarded the enactment of mutual dependence, but the site of mutual estrangement. Home became a place for the husband to go when he was not working or amusing himself. It was the place where the wife was held in servitude.[16]

    Sayers and Berry’s reflections certainly don’t apply to every wife or mother. But in my view, they powerfully articulate the long-term trends that have contributed to so much conflict over men and women’s roles.

    A third transformation:

    1. From communal cohesion and generational continuity to atomized individuals. In traditional societies, the goal of the household is not just to keep its members alive, not just to help its members be happy or virtuous. It’s also to preserve the household and pass on a way of life over the generations. While traditional societies are lower in individual freedom, they are much higher in communal cohesion, including an ability to pass along a working, sustainable inheritance to your children.

    But, in our society, every individual has to fend for him or herself in the marketplace in order simply to survive. Over centuries, these technological and economic revolutions have weakened ties between immediate family, extended family, broader kinship networks, and local neighborhoods and communities. For a free individual to be able to find a place in a free market, every tie that claims someone’s allegiance and might limit their economic mobility has been weakened or liquidated.[17] Market society has turned people into atomized individuals. People bounce from school to school, job to job, city to city, seeking whatever advantage can pull them one rung higher up the ladder.

    As Stephen B. Clark observes, “In traditional society, unmarried and widowed women would automatically become part of a family group. In technological society, being unmarried or widowed usually means being on one’s own. In such circumstances it is almost impossible for a woman to fulfill the traditional female role.”[18]

    A fourth drastic change:

    1. From sex, marriage, and conceiving children all being (more or less) bound together, to divorcing sex from both marriage and children. While historical generalizations like this are always risky, and there are always exceptions, throughout most of history, sex, marriage, and bearing children were closely bound together.

    Now, in all places and at all times in history, some men and women have had sex outside of marriage. But before the 1960s, there was an ever-present chance that sex would lead to conceiving a baby. Up to about sixty years ago, even children conceived outside of marriage were highly likely to be born to a married couple, because their parents would marry in the meantime. And it was widely understood that children were one of the goods of marriage.

    All this changed sixty years ago, with the development and then wide uptake of the combined oral estrogen and progestin pill—“the Pill,” as it’s universally called. First licensed in 1960, by 1965, more than 40 percent of married women younger than thirty were on the pill.[19] Today, 14% of all American women aged 15–49 currently use the pill; another 10% use a long-acting contraceptive.[20] The widespread use of a self-administered, relatively reliable contraceptive has radically rearranged the relationship between sex, marriage, and children in Western society as a whole.

    The widespread use of the pill has caused a culture-wide shift in how sex is understood. Rather than being an act that carries potentially life-generating, and therefore life-altering, consequences, sex is now seen as something that can be rendered “safe” from all consequences.   

    While other factors besides the pill have contributed, many have argued that the pill is the single biggest factor contributing to a whole new understanding of the place of marriage and children in a woman’s life. Specifically, the pill has ushered in a whole new understanding of “the success sequence”: that is, the goods women desire and the order in which they should pursue them. As the Harvard economist Claudia Goldin has put it, “Armed with the new secret ingredient, the recipe for success became: ‘Put marriage aside for now. Add gobs of higher education. Blend with career. Let rise for a decade, and live your life fully. Fold in family later.’”[21]

    Here’s one lesson I want us to take away from this whole survey: These changes have created a radically different world. For instance, the work-family dilemma for many women today is so challenging, in part, because it is virtually unprecedented.[22] Why have we focused so much on technological and economic changes? Because all the debates over feminism and women’s rights in the past two hundred years are a direct response to the new world these changes have created.

    If industrialization had never happened, neither would have feminism.[23] If we did not live in a technological society, we would not be so alienated from the realities of sexual difference. If we didn’t live in a world that has radically separated world from home, we wouldn’t struggle in quite the same way to know what it means to be “working at home.”

    Any questions?

    II. Where We Are Now

    So where are we now? Where have all these changes led us to? I want to spend just a couple minutes reflecting on the current state of marriage and the family in the US before moving on to application. I’ll start with some statistics, and then I’ll reflect on how the changes we discussed in Part I relate to the four key concepts we’re considering throughout the class: equality, complementarity, fertility, and diversity.

    First, some statistics. As recently as 1970, the median age at first marriage was 21 for women and 23 for men. Today, it’s 28 for women and 30 for men.[24]

    In 1970, the share of American adults who never married was 9%. Today it’s 35%. And there is a widening income gap that’s affecting who marries. Fifty years ago, there was no significant difference in marriage rates between working class or poor Americans and those who are more affluent. But today, 42% of lower income individuals never marry, whereas only 23% of higher income individuals never marry. Further, today, Americans with a college degree are far more likely to marry than those who do not have one. (Speaking of college degrees, today women are 15% points more likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree than men are: 57.4% are earned by women, vs. 42.6% by men.)[25]

    Further, Americans who identify as liberal and non-religious are the most likely to never marry, at 39%, whereas those who are both religious and conservative are least likely to never marry, at 18%.

    Regarding fertility, along with virtually the entire industrialized world, in the last 50 years the United States’ total fertility rate has fallen precipitously. In 1960, the total fertility rate was 3.7 (that is, an average of 3.7 lifetime births per woman). Today, the number is an all-time low of 1.6, well below replacement rate. Further, American women increasingly report that they are not having the number of children they would like to.[26]

    How have these transformations affected the four big factors we’re considering throughout the class?

    Equality: In many ways, we live in a society in which men and women are much more equal. Insofar as this represents a recognition of men and women’s shared dignity, we should celebrate and thank God for this. However, many people today define men and women’s equality as their being identical and interchangeable. Insofar as sameness and substitutability have crept into our culture’s understanding of equality, we need to refineour understanding of equality by rejecting those elements.

    Complementarity: In our modern, market-driven, technologically transformed society, it is much harder to both perceive and practice men and women’s complementarity. Compared with virtually every society ever known, today we spend far more time in gender-neutral spaces: schools, workplaces, and so on. We spend more time in more roles that can equally be performed by a man or a woman. The way technology insulates us from our animal, bodily realities also makes it easier to ignore, hide, or deny the differences between men and women. And the gender-neutral, male-patterned ideal of a successful, entrepreneurial, marketplace person has made it much harder to find and create channels in which the distinct strengths of men and women can be cultivated and cherished.

    Fertility: As we’ve just discussed, speaking of fertility in literal, natural terms, fertility is plummeting in America and around the world. Somehow, we have become a society that lacks the will to reproduce.

    Diversity: These changes have fostered a whole new appreciation for, and have provided cultural and even legal structures that protect, a wide variety of legitimate expressions of manhood and womanhood. In particular, women have benefited from new, widespread access to education and employment opportunities that were widely denied them two hundred years ago. But, widespread career obsession and the devaluation of motherhood have marginalized a calling that should be a central aspiration for women. Widespread messaging in our culture tells women that the only thing a woman should be ashamed of giving herself to is raising her children.

    In sum: Equality up; complementarity way down; fertility way, way down; and diversity up. Now, my point here is not to start us longing for a bygone golden age. There is none. Instead, my point is to highlight that our transformed modern world makes it easier to see some truths and harder to see others, easier to apply some biblical principles and harder to apply others. Over the past 500 years, the dials on the cultural board have all changed settings.

    III. Application

    How can we live wisely as Christians in light of these changes? Here, briefly, are some ways we can respond to, and push back against the harmful tendencies in, the ways our world has changed:

    1. From tools to technological society: What are ways that you can recognize and celebrate differences between men and women that our technological society minimizes? [Illustration of this in J. family: especially leaning on W. to use his strength to serve others.]
    2. From household production to market society:
    • Sisters, whether you’re single or married, what can it look like, positively, for you to be “working at home”? What opportunities do you have in your household for ministry, service, giving, meeting others’ needs, cultivating order and beauty?
    • Brothers, whether you’re single or married, how can you grow toward, and grow in being, a good manager of a household, like Paul says elders should be in 1 Timtohy 3:4-5?
    • [Positive example: L.H. He bought property, rented to church members, kept spare room, created space to host people, fellowship, ministry. Producing more than you consume, in a household sense, as a single person.]
    • Brothers and sisters, single and married, ask: What can your household do and provide that a workplace or a commercial third space cannot?
    1. From communal cohesion to atomized individuals:
    • How rich or poor are you in natural family? Parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles? How many are they? How helpful or generous are they? How close or far are they? If you’re richer in natural family than some others are, how can you seek to provide for others in the church who are poorer in that way?
    • If you are richer in natural family, consider how you can help stitch others into healthy, life-giving connections with families, with other households, even with your own extended family.
    • In one respect, our church is fairly poor in natural relations because so many of our members are uprooted from their extended families. Even those who are forming their own families are generally far from extended families. That creates both a challenge and an opportunity for us as a church.
    1. Separating sex, marriage, and children:
    • What’s your attitude toward children? Do you see them as a good, and as good for you? Do you see them as a blessing to be desired or a nuisance to be avoided?
    • If you are not married, but desire to be, what can you do now not only to prepare for marriage, but to prepare specifically to be a mother or father? Any questions? [Close in prayer.]


    [1] Our account of these four revolutions closely follows Murray Jardine, Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity from Itself (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004), 16–17.

    [2] Our wording here closely follows Jardine, Technological Society, 16.

    [3] Jardine, Technological Society, 17.

    [4] Allan Carlson, The Family in America: Searching for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age (Livingston, NJ: Transaction, 2007), 1.

    [5] Carlson, The Family in America, 2.

    [6] Statistic from Erika Bachiochi, The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision (South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2020), 83.

    [7] On men and women’s interdependent work prior to industrialization, see Jeanne Boydstun, Home & Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 20, “More to the point, men and women were engaged in comparable and interdependent systems of production: both brought raw materials into the household, both spent long hours processing raw materials into usable goods, and both conducted the exchanges necessary to supplement the family’s own resources.”

    [8] We depend here on Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time (orig. pub. 1944; Boston: Beacon, 2001), 46–58.

    [9] For insightful reflections on the current state of our modern market society and its ethical dilemmas, see Michael Sandel, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

    [10] We borrow this contrast between goods of the market and goods of the home from Erika Bachiochi’s analysis of modern feminism in The Rights of Women, 168, “Often the modern feminist movement is rendered, by fan and foe alike, as a movement in favor of traditionally ‘male’ work and away from traditionally ‘female’ work. But it would be better understood as a shift from priority given to the goods of the home to the goods of the market.”

    [11] We borrow this phrase from Mary S. Hartman, The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 198.

    [12] Scott Yenor, The Recovery of Family Life: Exposing the Limits of Modern Ideologies (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2022), 120.

    [13] Camille Paglia, Free Women Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism (New York: Vintage, 2017), 134.

    [14] Closely paraphrasing Stephen B.  Clark, Man and Woman in Christ, 493.

    [15] Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Penetrating, Sensible, and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 32–33.

    [16] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America (Reprint ed.; Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2015), 118–20. 

    [17] Here paraphrasing Polanyi, The Great Transformation, 171, “To separate labor from other activities of life and to subject it to the laws of the market was to annihilate all organic forms of existence and to replace them by a different type of organization, an atomistic and individualistic one. . . . Such a scheme of destruction was best served by the application of the principle of freedom of contract. In practice this meant that the noncontractual organizations of kinship, neighborhood, profession, and creed were to be liquidated since they claimed the allegiance of the individual and thus restrained his freedom.”

    [18] Man and Woman in Christ, 497.

    [19] Statistic from Claudia Golden, Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey toward Equity (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021), 120.


    [21] Goldin, Career and Family, 115.

    [22] Bachiochi, Rights of Women, 245, citing Mary Ann Glendon.

    [23] Mary Harington, Feminism Against Progress (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2023), 202, “It’s more accurate to say both feminism and democracy are facets of a wider social response to industrial technology.”

    [24] For this and the following statistics, see

    [25] Source: See also the in-depth discussion in Richard V. Reeves, Of Boys and Men.

    [26] Bachichi, Rights of Women, 300.