“God, Marriage, and Family” by Kostenberger and Jones: No Progress
NOTE: We posted this article last March, but since our readership has increased significantly since that time we are re-posting it now. This book will have a far-reaching influence, and that is not necessarily good news for abuse victims.
God, Marriage, and Family : Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation 2nd ed, 2010 by Andreas J. Kostenberger and David W. Jones is reviewed and commended by a virtual “Who’s Who” of evangelicalism. Reviewers include:
- Mark Driscoll
- J.I. Packer
- John Piper
- Mark Dever
- Russel D. Moore
- Wayne Grudem
- Daniel Block
- Paige Patterson
- Dorothy Kelley Patterson
- J. Ligon Duncan III
- Bruce A. Ware
- Tom Elliff
- Robert W. Yarbrough
- Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
…and still more. Organizations represented by these names include well-known churches, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Saddleback Church, Crusade for Christ – quite a list!
So, having just come across this book today (Ok, it took me 6 years after the first edition to find it, but cut me some slack – my congregation and I live at the edge of the world), I downloaded a Kindle copy and went in search of what the book has to say about biblical justifications for divorce. The book, at least in the chapter I went to (Separating What God Has Joined Together: Divorce and Remarriage) provides summaries of various positions on the subject, along with the author’s own exegetical conclusions. He upholds adultery and desertion as valid reasons for divorce (I think) and makes some charitable statements toward Christians who have been divorced. For example:
“First, regardless of one’s view of divorce and remarriage, we encourage all believers to bear in mind the fact that while divorce and remarriage are life-altering events, even if one were to divorce and remarry sinfully, such action is not to be equated with the unpardonable sin. … Therefore, while a sinful divorce and remarriage may result in lifelong consequences, the act itself is certainly pardonable upon confession of one’s sin (1 John 1:9).”
The author encourages gracious, yet honest discussion and debate on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, reminding us that there are many different opinions among Christians, especially on the subject of divorce and remarriage. Personally, I am not certain that we need more honest discussion and debate that honors the different opinions. These are not harmless opinions. Abuse victims are suffering and dying while all of this talking goes on -
“You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.” (Treebeard the Ent, Lord of the Rings)
Now, here is the section in which the book mentions divorce and abuse. I am going to quote it here, and then I would very much like to hear from our readers what they think. Here it is -
“… while the majority of modern evangelicals do hold a view of divorce and remarriage that allows for the dissolution of marriage (and possibly remarriage) on account of sexual sins such as adultery, this still invites the question of what to do in cases of other nonsexual sins such as physical abuse. In such cases, we encourage believers to remember that separation (e.g., to preserve the life of a battered wife) is not equivalent to divorce. In fact, in cases where one’s life is being endangered by the actions of a sinning spouse, we conclude that separation is not only permissible but morally required. In such cases, we believe that it is the duty of the church to step in and minister to the sinned-against party (e.g., by helping secure physical protection or by meeting financial needs). Moreover, such separation usually produces one of two results: (1) the offending party, if regenerate, will repent and seek reconciliation; (2) if the offending party is unregenerate, after a time, he or she will likely depart. This, in turn, is a situation addressed by 1 Corinthians 7:15, as discussed above.” [The author holds that 1 Cor 7:15 speaks of the unbeliever leaving and the believer no being bound].
Alright. Not as bad as many. Not as clear as we would like, right? I notice the following:
- The ultra-common phrase “physical abuse” is a tell-tale sign that the writer does not really understand abuse. Or, maybe he just wanted to make a more clear-cut example case for his readers? Nevertheless, no help here for the verbally/emotionally abused.
- “Where one’s life is being endangered”... he concludes separation is permissible and morally required. Good, but…. this limits separation to cases of physical, life-threatening abuse only. Am I right in concluding he means this? No separation for non-life threatening abuse? Hmmmm….?
- “In such cases” – the church has a duty to step in. What about cases of verbal and emotional abuse? The author is not at all clear here.
- “The offending party, if regenerate, will repent…” – My personal opinion, which I hope is Scriptural, is that a true abuser cannot possibly be a Christian. This statement indicates that the author would have us entertain the possibility that a regenerate person can indeed be an abuser. How do you reconcile that idea though with the black and white statements of Scripture about who and what a Christian is? ALL Christians love others. Not perfectly, but as a habit and course of life. Abusers only seek self, they hate their victim. Would the author have us actually consider that a man who is beating his wife, PUTTING HER LIFE IN DANGER (that is the example the author himself selects here), may be a Christian? Am I just too narrow and simple-minded here to believe that verses like this mean what they say - 1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
“If the offending party is unregenerate, after a time, he or she will likely depart.” So, once the victim separates, it is “likely” that that the unregenerate abuser will depart and thus the victim is home free because the abuser divorces her rather than the other way round. Now, this just doesn’t work out in real life and myriads of Christian abuse victims will say “Amen!” Abusers are all about power and control. Often, they just don’t depart that easily. They frequently make the victim hang on, refusing to initiate divorce and thereby exerting continuing control and abuse. In addition, the author leaves a glaring question unanswered, and you have already thought of it - “So, what does the author say about the case where the abuser does not “depart.” He doesn’t file for divorce, in other words. What then? In the end, Kostenberger leaves this question hanging and unanswered. In fact, he actually gives a pretty plain implication that the victim would be wrong in initiating the divorce proceedings. Maybe he didn’t mean to, but that certainly comes through to the reader.
Is this why so many notable pastors, theologians, and writers endorse the book? No doubt there is some really good stuff in it. But what would have happened if Kostenberger and Jones had take a definitive stand and said – “a victim of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse has every right before God to divorce his/her abuser”? Would John Piper’s name be on the list of reviewers? I guess we won’t ever know.
I do know this, the myriads of abused people in the Christian church are still going to have to cry out for justice. This book has not heard their cry. It is another council of the Ents -
Merry: It’s been going for hours.
Pippin: They must have decided something by now.
Treebeard: Decided? No, we have just finished saying “Good Morning”.
Merry: But it’s night time already! You can’t take forever!
Treebeard: Now, don’t be hasty, master Merriadoc.
Merry: We’re running out of time!