In God, Marriage, and Family, New Testament scholar Andreas J. Kostenberger (with David W. Jones) has provided the church with a superb resource to help Christians understand and navigate the difficult issues of family, marriage, and sexuality. Though the breadth of the subject is vast, Kostenberger’s treatment is helpfully succinct (288 pages). He not only sets forth the biblical teaching on marriage and the family, but in the light of that Scriptural truth he addresses the pressing pastoral and social issues of today: childlessness, singleness, homosexuality, abortion, contraception, parenting, divorce and remarriage, and other concerns. For the Christian who desires a biblical and judicious guide on these matters, this is an excellent place to begin. For those who want to learn more on a specific topic, Kostenberger’s bibliography and endnotes should prove to be most useful.
When it comes to marriage, family, and human sexuality, not only is fidelity to God’s Word a concern for Christians, but the health and viability of our society is at stake. Our culture’s intensifying rejection of biblical standards for marriage and family threatens to undermine the very foundation of a stable, functioning society. Kostenberger surely doesn’t exaggerate when he writes: “It can be rightly said that marriage and the family are institutions under siege in our world today, and that with marriage and the family, our very civilization is in crisis” (pg. 15). Sadly, insofar as the church has failed in her teaching and practice to uphold biblical standards in these areas, we are complicit in this spiritual, moral, and civilizational crisis.
And the crisis and confusion worsen as each day passes. I found it curious that Kostenberger said nothing about gender dysphoria and transgenderism. But when I saw that this book (the 2nd edition) was published in 2010, I understood: these issues were hardly in the public consciousness then. The sexual revolution is advancing so swiftly that a nine-year old book is already outdated! Nevertheless, all that Kostenberger does say is still as relevant as ever.
While much of the book is taken up with a straightforward summary of biblical teaching on these subjects, along the way Kostenberger offers many useful insights and practical guidance. For example, he shows how the emphases on the Bible’s teaching on family change somewhat from Old to New Testaments, a reflection of the fact that with the coming of Christ and the Kingdom of God, the role and character of the natural family is adapted to the coming (and in part, already present) eschaton. I also greatly appreciated his observation that when we read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians as an unbroken whole, we see Paul’s call for spiritual warfare in the second half of chapter 6 as an extension of his treatment of family (and work) relations in chapters 5 and 6. This implies that our struggle against “the schemes of the devil” has much to do with the home and the life of the family. Given the wreckage all about us as a result of broken marriages and homes, can there be any doubt that Satan’s primary target for attacking humanity are the God-given institutions of marriage and family?
The book’s treatment of ethical issues related to contraception and artificial reproductive technologies (ART) is excellent, and should be consulted by Christian couples in need of biblical guidance in these areas. Likewise, Kostenberger deftly handles the complex question of the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, presenting the various ways scholars have interpreted the relevant passages. He arrives (rather tentatively, but correctly in my view) at the conclusion that divorce and remarriage are biblically justified in the case of adultery or abandonment by an unbelieving spouse.
His summary of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, and his refutation of the arguments of those who deny that Scripture condemns homosexuality as sin, are extremely helpful. Christians today need to understand why, biblically, we believe homosexuality is not in conformity with God’s will. When a major presidential candidate is gay and in a same-sex marriage, and claims this is in perfect accordance with God’s will and the Christian faith, Christians who believe in the historic view of human sexuality must know what the Scripture actually says about this. For this reason, Kostenberger does the church a great service in setting forth the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality in a firm, clear, and carefully reasoned way.
My only quibble with the book has to do with the Baptist orientation of the authors. I certainly respect the theological conviction of Kostenberger and the other authors on this point, and appreciate their writing out of that conviction, but I found myself at times wanting a more robust affirmation of the place of our children in Christ’s church. Indeed, the book betrayed a bit of uncertainty on just how we are to view the children of believing parents. When commenting on Paul’s instructions to children in Ephesians 6, Kostenberger writes, “In the present passage, Paul treats children as responsible members of the congregation whose obedience to their parents is ‘all of a piece with their submission to Christ'” (pg. 106, in part quoting another author). But he goes on later in the book to say, “Legitimate church membership, therefore, is predicated upon personal, individual repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, leading to regeneration and the indwelling of and gifting of the Holy Spirit” (pg. 252). That certainly implies that children who have yet to profess faith in Christ are not really “members of the congregation,” as he earlier affirms! I believe a covenantal understanding of our children as part of the church helps us to see how God includes our children, from their birth, into his redemptive purposes.
But nevertheless, I do commend this book as a very helpful resource to Christians in an area in which we need all the help we can get. You may not want to read the book from cover to cover, but you will certainly want to have it nearby as a guide when you’re confronted with the inevitable questions of marriage, family, and sexuality.
Soli Deo Gloria!