Theologian John Piper believes Christian couples are biblically called to have children unless God “makes it crystal clear that the self-denying path of Christ-exalting obedience is childlessness.”
In an episode of the podcast “Ask Pastor John,” a listener asked the 74-year-old founder of DesiringGod.org, “Is it permissible for an ordinary Christian couple to simply choose to not have children?”
In response, the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota first argued that there’s “no such thing” as “simply” choosing to have children.
“There are always realities, in our hearts and in our minds and in our experiences, that shape our so-called ‘simply choosing,’” he explained. “We are not ‘simply choosing.’ We are choosing because of who we are, because of deep realities that have shaped our hearts, our preferences, our desires, our wants, our inclinations.”
Piper then offered five observations that he said “may reveal some of the hidden things of the heart.”
He stressed, first and foremost, that Scripture defines children as a “blessing.”
“[Children ] are a gift; children are a blessing. When they are withheld, it is a heartache — sometimes even a judgment,” Piper said. “What a sadness when many modern women, shortsightedly I think, choose to forgo that blessing, while millions would literally give their right arm to have it.”
Second, Scripture “is starkly realistic about how badly things may go in families,” Piper acknowledged, adding: “The Bible is not a Pollyanna tale of happy families.”
“Almost all of them in the Bible are broken — one way or the other,” he continued. “But none of this — none of it — hinders the ongoing reality that conceiving and raising children is normal, beautiful, fitting, natural, normative.”
Third, Piper pointed out that the Bible does not share the modern mindset “that the aim of life is the avoidance of hardship or heartache or suffering.”
Before having children, parents do not know whether their offspring will have special needs, break their hearts with unbelief, or live six hours and die, he explained. However, they do know that raising a child in the Lord demands spiritual desperation, prayer, focus, and attention.
“But from the standpoint of God’s word, none of those possible heartaches and none of these guaranteed stresses are reasons not to have children, because the Bible does not share the modern viewpoint that the aim of life is the avoidance of hardship,” he said.
Fourth, the bestselling author pointed out that parents can’t predict their children’s influence, and thus cannot presume to think that they can do more good by not having children.
“[We] simply do not know whether our child will be a debit or a credit to the human race — a curse or a blessing, a taker or a giver,” he said. “We don’t know. … Who do we think we are? My goodness, who do we think we are to predict that our children will be a loss rather than a gain for the world, and for the glory of Christ, whom we can believe and pray to?”
Finally, Piper argued that most couples don’t decide to have children after “calculating the effect of their child on global warming, or the replacement rate for the population so that 30 years from now the workforce will be big enough to sustain the aged, or whether we will certainly have enough resources to establish the child in a fruitful location.”
Rather, children are often the “culmination of the biblical blessing pronounced upon having children” together with “the voice of God in nature every month as a woman ovulates and as the man stands ever-ready to deposit his seed” as the “deep-seated, God-given longings of a man and a woman to be a father and a mother rise up.”
Piper concluded by saying that the “biblical blessing,” “voice of nature” and “God-given longing should be followed” unless “God himself makes it crystal clear that the self-denying path of Christ-exalting obedience is childlessness.”
Previously, Piper suggested it is permissible for Christian couples to wait to have kids and to limit the number of children they have.
“God knows your heart. He’s a merciful Father, and he loves children,” he said in 2018. “But our having children is not his highest priority. His highest priority for his children is Christ-exalting faith and Christ-magnifying joy that overflows in meeting the needs of others. That’s his highest priority.”
The theologian also said in the past that it is permissible, in some cases, for a missionary couple to forgo children altogether.
A recent survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that about a third of women in the United States ages 18 to 49 were planning to postpone pregnancy or forgo adding a child to their family because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Similarly, Wellesley College economics professor Dr. Phillip Levine, a one-time White House economic advisor, and a team of researchers from the Brookings Institution are projecting a decline of 300,000 to 500,000 births in the U.S. next year.
But birth rates were steadily declining in Western countries before the pandemic. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of births in the U.S. dropped to a three-decade low in 2018.
It’s estimated that by 2035, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18.