Books

Cover Image: God, Marriage, and Family

God, Marriage, and Family:
Restoring the Biblical Foundation

David Jones and Andreas Kostenberger (Crossway Books, 2004)

Blurb Review by Christopher Ash

Review by Christopher Ash

Andreas Köstenberger is a distinguished New Testament scholar who teaches New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has written this book with some assistance from his colleague David Jones. It carries warm commendations from a dazzling range of scholars and church leaders including J.I.Packer, Kent Hughes, and Wayne Grudem.

In just over 250 pages of text Köstenberger gives us a massively comprehensive overview of the whole bible's teaching on issues of sexual and family ethics. He begins with a brief (5 page) review of the current cultural crisis, and then takes us on a whirlwind tour through Marriage in the Old Testament and New Testament, the nature of Marriage as a sacrament, contract or covenant, the Family in the Old Testament and the Christian Family in New Testament, childlessness, abortion, contraception, adoption, parenting, singleness, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and the marital qualifications for church leaders.

Nearly half the volume consists of extras to the main text. These extras consist of a select bibliography, a study guide, endnotes, and indices of authors, subjects, scriptures, and extrabiblical references.

There are 26 pages of select bibliography (described as ‘Helpful Resources for Further Study'), divided by chapter. We are told that, "For the most part, the viewpoints represented by these publications are compatible with the positions taken in the present volume, though this is not invariably the case." And it is certainly true that the books listed represent in places a significantly wider range of theology than that of the authors, including, for example, one book co-edited by the radicals Adrian Thatcher and Elisabeth Stuart. While this book list is valuable, there is a danger that it falls somewhere between a list that can be wholeheartedly recommended and a comprehensive list representing all views, such as would be needed for a full project of further study. [I noticed one error. On p282 the report Marriage and the Church's Task is accredited to Professor Oliver O'Donovan. It was in fact the Report of the Church of England General Synod Marriage Commission, although Professor O'Donovan gave oral evidence to the Commission.]

The ‘Personal and Group Study Guide' takes the reader through the book chapter by chapter, with a summary of the chapter theme, discussion starters, discussion questions, personal application questions, issues for prayer, and an ‘assignment' for Christian couples to tackle together. This is followed by a comprehensive list of answers to the discussion questions.

There are 64 pages of endnotes. These show a breathtaking comprehensivity of biblical scholarship and represent a very helpful resource to any scholar wishing to pursue further study of any of the topics covered.

The theological base of the book is wholeheartedly conservative, firmly complementarian on gender issues, broadly reformed on divorce and remarriage, conservative on abortion, contraception, and homosexual practice. It is written predominantly with the cultural context (and indeed ‘Culture Wars') of the USA in view, but the debates are easily recognisable in the UK. On the controversial issues of Christian parenting the author steers a careful and nuanced course through the terrain, and avoids making biblically unsubstantiated assertions about subjects like corporal punishment.

Without writing a massively long review it would be impossible to engage with the detailed arguments topic by topic. Instead, three more general comments will be made, two by way of appreciation and one by way of noting an inevitable limitation in the work.

The first appreciation is that the book represents an astonishingly comprehensive survey of the biblical teachings backed up by massive scholarly reading in the field of biblical studies. A scholar wishing to do further work on any of these topics will find the relevant chapter a most helpful starting point. A pastor wishing to read a concise survey of bible teaching on a topic will find this a useful reference volume.

The second appreciation is to note that, although the book is written by an expert in the fields of academic biblical studies, it is written with a pastoral heart, to be of use to the church. It is written with an awareness that these questions are more than exegetical topics to be discussed in the university seminar. They affect real people for whom real pastors have to care. So although the book is scholarly and detailed, it is written with pastors in mind.

The inevitable limitation of the book concerns the depth of discussion. It covers a vast sweep of topics in very few pages. This means that unfortunately there is little space either for profound theological reflection, tying each text into the bigger picture of the whole-bible story or whole-bible doctrine and asking the deep questions of why this text says this. What is the rationale underlying this teaching? I sometimes found myself wanting to be helped with this. It also means there is very little space for serious engagement with conflicting views, especially outside the evangelical constituency. There is some significant and very helpful engagement with the range of views within the evangelical constituency, notably in the discussion of divorce and remarriage, which is helpfully summarised. But the volume will be of limited value in equipping evangelicals to engage in debate with a wider range of views from both within and outside the churches.

If I may be allowed a personal note, I was sorry that the publication timings apparently meant that Köstenberger was not able to engage with my Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. Had he been able to do so, I hope this might have affected the statement (p35) that, "In order to supply his need for companionship, God created the woman to be Adam's wife." This was an incidental comment, but reflects an evangelical assumption that I believe needs to be corrected for reasons both of debate (e.g. on the homosexuality issue) and of pastoral practice (particularly with the many unmarried men and women in our churches and society).

This book is a valuable resource for pastors and scholars. We owe the author a debt of gratitude for a great deal of hard work in compiling it.

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