The general consensus of marriage and family’s definition has all but evaporated in contemporary Western culture. Relative and situational ethics continue to erode the foundational tenets long underpinning the fabric of our collective expectations, mores, practices and laws. Fortunately, sound counsel may still be found. Andreas Kostenberger, professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology and David Jones, Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, each with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, provide scriptural guidance and practical help in this important and timely book
The authors’ unapologetic premise is that the current breakdown of core family values is spiritually based, only effectively addressed by an understanding of and return to biblical truth. As Kostenberger states “the cultural crisis is symptomatic of an underlying spiritual crisis, the solution likewise must be spiritual” (9). Beginning with the creation of man and woman and God’s original construct of their purposed-based union, the authors examine the scriptures to baseline both the ends and means of the Lord’s design. Though topically specific, the stated intention is to offer an integrative approach to issues including reproduction, singleness, homosexuality and divorce (10).
The first three chapters address the scriptural basis of God’s established order, ranging from His original complementary intent of man and woman in relational union to the more functional aspects of their lives. Kostenberger pegs current problems with the fall of man described in Genesis 3. Specifically, each of the negative issues in the forefront today are a consequence of either a reversal or minimally, a sub-optimization of God’s original intent – that being for mankind to rule the earth for God and for man to hold the ultimate responsibility in the marriage relationship with woman as his helper (11). This thesis is soundly backed by extensive biblical doctrine, yielding the foundation premise that “the biblical model for marriage is that of loving complementarity, where the husband and the wife are partners who value and respect each other and where the husband’s loving leadership is met with the wife’s intelligent response” (38).
Chapter 4 presents a wide-ranging array of topics generally related to children, initially from reproductive morality to the cultivation of appropriate masculine and feminine attributes. Here biblical absolutes often yield to principle where no specific guidance is offered. A balanced interpretative range of consideration is offered in areas like contraception and physical discipline while others (like abortion) are dogmatic. The book does not attempt to be comprehensive in indexing every nuance of childrearing and the selected examples are sufficiently illustrative to establish parameters of principle.
The treatment of singleness in Chapter 5 is especially important given that “46 percent of the United States population over the age of fifteen was single at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (103). The degradation of marriage as an institutional norm is not subtle. Millennials are delaying marriage to increasingly older ages and lifelong singleness has become less than an aberration. While the Bible clearly provides conditions by which singleness is allowed and in some cases beneficial, the foundational principle remains that marriage is the basis for God’s societal construct. That said, the church seems destined to be faced with an increasing population of single adults in their congregations and communities and a spiritually thoughtful approach should be proactively considered.
The increasing tolerance of homosexuality by society generally has unfortunately affected the church. Pluralistic reasoning holds little ground when juxtaposed with biblical doctrine. In Chapter 6, Kostenberger rightly affirms that “from Genesis to Revelation, from Jesus to Paul, from Romans to the Pastorals, Scripture with one voice affirms that homosexuality is sin and a moral offense to God” (127). The only way to effectively address homosexuality is to address it as sin.
Divorce and remarriage touches the church as well as society, and Chapter 7 provides robust examination. Jesus addressed the topic with considerable detail and affirmed God’s intent for a lifelong and unbroken marriage union. Kostenberger advocates a strong programmatic approach by the church to reinforce and solidify congregant couples, but also presents the need for recuperative and restorative ministry. Ultimately it also becomes a leadership qualification issue, which the author gracefully addresses saying “While this would not automatically preclude a divorced, single, or childless married man from the pastorate, it does highlight the urgent need for one who holds the position of pastor to be truly a “one-woman type of man.” (144).
The book concludes where it began; with God. All interpretation and application of scripture rests primarily on the sovereignty of God. As Creator, His mandate is absolute and any effective understanding must yield first to His will.
Many books – even “Christian” books have been written on the subject of marriage and family. It’s bold to offer another voice to the mix, much more so to hold it forth as essential. At its core, the feat is accomplished because the pinnings are not the authors but those of God. Kostenberger and Jones convincingly demonstrate thorough scriptural evidence for their positional statements and adequately acquiesce where dogmatism is inappropriate. Each chapter is helpfully concluded with pragmatic practical application. It was refreshing to read their balanced, yet informed presentations of singleness and remarriage in particular.
The book appears to be intended for lay readership and is light on external source attribution. The vocabulary is secondary school leveled and therefore accessible, but the masters-level student would benefit from more thorough and nuanced material no doubt possessed by the highly educated authors. Additionally, a number of other culturally sensitive and timely topics are untouched including multiracial marriages, second marriages of senior citizens (inclusive of fully expanded mutual families) and marriages between believers from significantly different denominational backgrounds.
The ultimate test of a theology book’s importance can rightly be understood to be whether it meaningfully contributes to the scholarly conversation, and on this count the answer is resoundingly ‘yes’. At just shy of 200 pages, the authors have produced a work well within the grasp of wide readership and its message is critical to the urgent need of sound, practical guidance.
Andreas Kostenberger and David Jones have advanced the kingdom with the publication of their book, because they have honored the King. Marriage is increasingly discounted and the family unit is weaken by contemporary culture and no effort absent of God’s mandate can assuage the inevitable damage. The authors have answered the challenge with a meaningful framework built solely on scripture and the original design of the Creator. Our prayerful hope is that churches and individuals will read their counsel and apply its wisdom.