A Timely Book Review: God, Marriage, and Family by Kostenberger

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The moral and structural decline of the family in the United States stands undeniable. In recent days, certain states have legalized gay marriage. This has now resulted in the sanctioning for same-sex marriage by the highest court in the land. Nearly every unfavorable result of the breakdown of the family continues to increase despite numerous attempts to provide assistance through the writing of books, the lecturing in seminars, and the establishing of institutions. With an awareness of these unfortunate circumstances, Andreas J. Kostenberger writes a book that both identifies the root problems and attempts to deal with them Biblically.

Development and Structure

Kostenberger begins by identifying the problems within marriage and family as both foundationally important and acutely urgent. He begins by defining marriage and family due to the breakdown of the societal concepts of both. Then he speaks to the urgency of the issue by describing the institutions of marriage and family as “under siege in our world today… our very civilization is in crisis.”[1] In reality, time continues to corroborate both of Kostenbergers assertions.

Problem Identified

Kostenberger quickly moves from introducing the subject matter as both important and urgent to identifying what he views as the deeper problem, one of a spiritual rather than merely societal nature. Kostenberger explains his assertion by suggesting that family provides the battleground of the forces of God and Satan in what he calls a “cosmic spiritual conflict.”[2] While Kostenberger’s assertion carries at least some validity, Kostenberger fails to elaborate on this point, not even drawing from a Scriptural data for his assertion. Furthermore, Kostenberger makes no mention of other potential battlegrounds that make-up cosmic spiritual conflict. For example, he fails to mention that church issues contribute to the cosmic spiritual conflict. While his subject matter narrows to issues with regard to the family, his use of word, cosmic, requires a more exhaustive list of areas that cause spiritual conflict. By employing exclusive language regarding the family’s role, namely, that it stands as the “key arena.” He seems to overlook other areas that may cause the reader to wonder if he will address relationship between the church and the family in his rather lengthy treatment on the family.[3] This of course, does not negate the fact that family matters carry great significance.

Purpose Reiterated

The book continues by affirming the purpose of the book, also essentially articulated in the subtitle. Kostenburger and Jones purpose to reestablish the Biblical foundation of marriage and family. Their intent clearly includes construction of a Biblical theology of marriage and family. They also designate their intended audience range from the single and unmarried persons to those who are marred and have children. Finally, they identify homosexuality and divorce as the greatest societal threats to marriage and the family.

Commentary on Culture

The next major section of this chapter occupies itself primarily with a commentary on current culture including the listing of five negative consequences resulting from the breakdown of the family. These five negative consequences include an increasingly high divorce rate, pre-marital and extra marital sex, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, and gender-role confusion.

While all of these items are negative aspects of family break down, the fifth, gender=role confusion is really a cause and result of the breakdown of the family unit, rather than merely a result from family breakdown. For example, a man’s failure to fulfill his proper role in the home contributes to the breakdown of the family rather than results from it. This resulted in part from the feminism ideology that was largely successful in destabilizing the gender roles of the family within society.

The Thesis and Explanation of It

Directly after Kostenberger and Jordan’s commentary on society, the thesis statement is stated: “An integrative, biblical treatment of marriage and the family is essential to clearing up moral confusion and to firm up convictions that, if acted upon, have the potential of returning the church and culture back to God’s intentions for marriage and families.”[4] Before proposing their approach to they book’s composition, they point out that the majority of what contributions made to marriage and family issues place the Bible as tangential rather than central. Additionally, they view many of the authors who specialize in marriage and family issues also exhibit deficiencies in theology and Biblical interpretation. Kostenberger and Jones team up to essentially write a Biblical theology of the family that also handles and emphasizes the cultural problems families face. It argues that one must first have an accurate conceptual foundation of marriage before moving on to more surface issues.

Analysis

While the over-all purpose, thesis, and approach to the book proves valuable and this chapter proves structurally sound, an analysis of three key areas will aid in proper assessment of this first chapter. First, the chapter’s organization, though essentially sound, could use some improvement. There appears a moving back and forth between the problem and the solution rather than developing the problem thoroughly and then revealing the solution succinctly. For example first chapter elucidates the thesis between a commentary of the problems of the culture, and a commentary on the problems of current proposed solutions. It would seem more coherent to develop the problem and need for the book before moving onto the solution.

Second, the content of the chapter, though also valuable, also places the entire cause on the breakdown of the family on a lack of Biblical understanding of the family conceptually. While this significantly contributes to the problem, the greatest contributor to the demise of many families is sin and failure to apply the gospel. A person or family may know exactly marriage and family’s function thoroughly and still fail due to sin and failure to apply the gospel as the remedy to the problem of sin.

Third, the writing style consists of high quality. Each paragraph is formed cohesively with clear a clear topic sentence, sufficient supporting material (accept where otherwise mentioned), and contains tight, concise prose. Among the most notable qualities of the writing style is the fact that the author wastes no words and every sentence proves clearly intentional.

Conclusion

Kostenberger and Jones write a convincing first chapter that will compel the reader to continue reading in the hope of finding real substantive answers to the problems that trouble current United States culture. For the individual who sincerely desires to place the Bible at the center of his thinking, and values depth rather than quick fixes, this book will prove greatly profitable. Kostenberger and Jones generally achieve success in accomplishing their objective. They do this by taking the themes of Scripture relating to marriage and the family and running them through the Old and New Testaments, observing the contributions each passage of Scripture makes to a given work. It carries more exact relevance to current US culture than an average theology would because it addresses specific issues that this culture is facing. Every believer who seriously desire substantive answers to the important and urgent societal and spiritual issues of the marriage and family should place God, Marriage, and Family on his reading list.

[1] Andreas J Köstenberger and Jones, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 15.

[2] Ibid.

[3] A cursory reading of the table of contents will quickly demonstrate that the author will indeed address the relationship between the family and the church in the thirteenth chapter, but since government was at least alluded to earlier, his failure to mention the church in this context may cause the reader to wonder.

[4] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Crossway, 2006), 17.

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