Book review: “No Sex Please, We’re Parents”

I recently finished reading “No Sex Please, We’re Parents – How your relationship can survive children and what to do if it doesn’t”, by Melanie Roberts-Fraser and Oliver Roberts (published by ABC Books, 2007).

What a controversial title about three important topics of great interest to myself and many of my friends! The book is the result of 150 questionnaires, as well as some interviews with parents of young children.

The basic premise of the book is that if you are not careful, your marriage will crumble under the extreme pressure of babies and parenting. That it is easy to become part of the 20% of marriages that will fail before the first child turns 5. That little children are marriage-killers. All of this would be terribly alarmist, except for the fact that it is true! For this point alone the book is a helpful wake up call, possibly even worth giving to grandparents, caring friends and anyone you want to guilt into giving you some free babysitting!

It is fascinating for me, as a Christian reader, to look through the many quotes from parents that are littered through out the book. It’s full of gems like:

I had no idea that becoming a parent essentially meant giving up my relationship with my wife” (p6), “One day I looked at everything I had – a house, pool, boat, wife, children (that was the order I looked at it) – and I thought: ‘I’m so unhappy I’ve got to get out.’ So I did.” (p12), and one couple talking about “getting their marriage back” after their oldest child went to school by “getting drunk again… we’re returning to us and the things we always used to do” (p58).

Unfortunately the book is largely observational, and reads more like an long high school essay than a researched book. The authors never seem to ask the “why?” question, and so neglect to deal with any actual issues of philosophy or worldview such as:

  • What is the ideal balance between parenting and marriage?
  • Does one serve the other? Which? How do you decide?
  • Why are we failing so badly at this?

The lack of thoughtful ethical reflection includes obvious issues such as:

  • A lack of critique of the failings of Western individualism
  • Misunderstanding of what marriage is (a life-long covenant or something to fulfil needs? Can you really decide when “it has ended”? (p238))
  • Misunderstanding the value of motherhood (the glory of raising God’s image bearers or a mere economic injustice?)
  • Misunderstanding the priority of marriage over parenting
  • Misunderstanding the purpose of parenting (to train godly character and discipline foolish sin or simply to survive with your new cute accessories?)
  • Misunderstanding the purpose of sex (Mum’s body belongs to who? Do pay packets really make women more sexually attractive? (p163))

Without proper analysis of the underlying worldview issues the advice given in the book is shallow and nearly always falls back to: don’t try to be perfect, communicate better, and remember to relax and have a laugh. The book adds nothing to the ongoing public debate on child-care and the balance of women’s career and motherhood. It quotes dozens of lazy, irresponsible, selfish, acquiescing husbands without outlining anything even remotely like the ideal of husbands self-sacrificial servant leadership and initiative taking.

In the end the book is plain sad that it ends on two chapters on how to get divorced and what your “rights” are. The book’s “medicine” is simply another symptom of the disease of selfish individualism. The book encourages parental realism but it fails to ask any significant ethical questions about the meaning of marriage and parenting and Western lifestyle. Parenting and marriage are the toughest challenges you will ever face. Being so, they require much better advice than the shallow suggestions on offer here.

Augustine’s exegetical presuppositions

Some of the most difficult parts of the Confessions are the final chapters as he reflects on Genesis 1:1. But you do see a great model of interpreting Scripture:

I wish to have none with any who think that Moses wrote what was not true. But I pray that in you, O Lord, I may dwell in harmony and joy with those who feed upon your truth in the fullness of charity. May they and I together approach the words of your Book, and in them may we seek your meaning as we were meant to understand it by your servant [Moses], through whose pen you delivered those words to us. (Book XII, s23)

Firstly, he equates Moses words with God’s words. God’s truthful meaning is tied to objective authorial intent. This is a good doctrine of dual authorship and infallibility, if not inerrancy.

Secondly, he reads the Bible prayerfully using all his cognitive gifts, looking to spiritually feed upon the Bible.

Thirdly, he reads the Bible with others, not controlled by some ecclesiastical interpretative authority, but seeking harmony with others and charity.

In this paragraph alone you see Augustine modelling in the fourth century what was taught to me as basic Protestant evangelical hermeneutics, such as in J. I. Packer’s, God Has Spoken.

UPDATE 3rd Nov:

One comment I didn’t engage with was Augustine’s allegorical or figurative exposition of Genesis 1 throughout the last sections of the Confessions. I don’t think this is a good way to read Scripture, in most cases. Augustine himself comments:

But let my confession, too, find favour in your sight, O Lord, for I confess that I do not believe that you used these words except for a special purpose, and I shall not hesitate to give the explanation which occurs to me as I read them. My explanation is consistent with the truth and I see nothing to prevent me from interpreting the words of your Scriptures in this figurative sense. (Book XIII, s24)

Augustine shows he is more controlled than your typical allegorical reading because a) he seems to be submitting them in the context of authorial intent as outlined above. i.e.: Moses had such figures in mind, b) he is still relying on cognitive reflection rather than supernatural imposition on the text, c) he cross-references and cross-checks himself with lots of other biblical quotes more literally derived, and d) he seems cautious, even unsure, about what he is doing.

So I think although he does cross a line into allegory, he is at the more saner end of the allegorical spectrum, and I think the first quotes above about authorial intent are still his overarching hermeneutical foundation.

The Cardinal Has It…

I’m not a card carrying fan of Cardinal Pell or any Roman Catholic, but this article is worth reading and in particular this quote:

The key public task facing all Christians today is to make the case for Western civilisation and to replenish the sources from which it takes life and strength

I will have to read the book he has published about this. I wonder if we will agree exactly on the role of Christianity as the driving basis for Western civilisation. His challenge remains. – Christianity vital to democracy’s future

Dorothy Sayers on Education

A fascinating essay on education: Dorothy Sayers, “The Lost Tools of Learning”.

“Modern education concentrates on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one’s conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; mediaveal education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as a piece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature.” The lost tools…

“The inflected languages interpret the uninflected, whereas the uninflected are of little us in interpreting the inflected.” This is why learning Greek was so hard for me!

“The modern tendency is to try and force rational explanations on a child’s mind at too early an age. intelligent questions, spontaneously asked, should, of course, receive an immediate and rational answer; but it is a great mistake to suppose that a child cannot readily enjoy and remember things that are beyond its power to analyze”. Rationality can be an idol. A good servant…
“Theology is the Mistress-science, without which the whole educations structure will necessarily lack its final synthesis”. The Queen of the sciences – go forth and integrate!

“For the sole end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain”. Learning skills, not learning styles etc.

We cannot go back in time

Often in the discussion of Christian ethics in the public sphere you hear the catch-cry, “we can’t go back to X“, where X is the Reformation, the first century, the 19th century and so on.

People normally say this for two reasons, both of them wrong:

Firstly, they have created an incorrect association between a biblical ethic and a certain era, that doesn’t logically hold. For example, when teaching Biblical roles of husbands and wives, it is common to hear people cry out: “we cannot go back to the 1950’s”. But actually Biblical teaching on roles has as much to critique of the 1950’s white picket fence marriage as it does the modern crash-and-burn egalitarian marriage. A pox on both your houses.

Secondly, the claim “we can’t go back” simply might be masking the fact that biblical ethics is challenging us to a repentance we are unwilling to consider today. Dorothy Sayers has an excellent discussion of this in her “Lost Tools of Learning” education essay:

“What, then, are we to do? We cannot go back to the Middle Ages. That is a cry to which we have become accustomed. We cannot go back – or can we? Distinguo. I should like every term in that proposition defined. Does ‘Go back’ mean a retrogression in time, or the revision of an error? The first is clearly impossible per se; the second is a thing which wise men do every day. ‘Cannot’ – does this mean that our behaviour is determined by some irreversible cosmic mechanism, or merely that such an action would be very difficult in view of the opposition it would provoke?”

In short, Biblical repentance is not physics!

Name announcement

Just a quick update about our new baby girl. Her name is: Charlie-Kate Louise Schuller.

Charlie – after the 19th C Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon – a great stirrer and earthy lover of God.

Kate – after Katherine Von Bora the godly runaway nun who became the wife of the reformer, Martin Luther.

Louise – after Lois, the baby’s maternal grandmother, and the bible teaching grandmother of that early church leader, Timothy.

Wayne, Helen, Josiah, Jemima, Lydia, Charlie-Kate.

New Baby Girl

Dear Friends,

We are happy to announce the birth of the fourth heir of Cair Paravel, of which all thrones are now filled.

Time: 9th October 2006, 11:56am.
Weight: 4.17kg (9lb 3oz)

Helen is doing well, she is a champion. The baby’s first feed was very good. The labour was about 8 hours.

She is staying a Frankston hospital and resting. No visitors please until 4:00pm Tuesday onwards (give me a ring first to check if all is ok).

Please don’t send any presents, not really needed.

The Apostle Paul said: “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest in me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). May God’s power be displayed through the life of this child, so that through both her strengths and weaknesses Jesus Christ will show himself to be glorious and sufficient.

Tired + smiling,
Wayne, Helen, Josiah, Jemima and Lydia

A photo when she is 10 minutes old:

First cuddle with Mum:

Some nice closeups:

I am tired!

Christmas 2005

Praise God for the sending of his Son, Jesus Christ the boss, king, saviour, and coming judge of every person.

What a busy and exhausting month!

Among the busyness, we got our photo taken in the nativity scene at St Paul’s Cathedral (opposite Fed Square):

Better than a photo with Santa! In fact Channel Nine were there doing a news story that involved shots and interviews with us. You can download the digital version of the news item here (40 meg!) – this version contains extra interview footage that wasn’t shown on channel 9. (let me know if you have problems viewing this mpeg video file)
Our kids have really got into the Christmas story this year, they play-act with our nativity set non-stop. Here is what it currently looks like:

Old Schuller’s Web Site

December 2003:

We are enjoying a nice holiday after a busy and hard year. Wayne has finished his four years of full time theological training at Ridley College.
For the last two years we have been involved in the local church of St Mark’s Family Church Reservoir West.

Photo in Cranbourne Shopping Centre carpark
Josiah and Jemima on their favourite step

Our house from behind
Wayne's beloved shed

August 1st 2002

Jemima Ruth Schuller is born!

February 20th 2001

Josiah Lucas Schuller is born!

April 1999

Marriage! Helen Pratt becomes Helen Schuller.