We are currently in the midst of a cultural crisis. Our cultural ethic has declined to such a state that, for the first time in Western history, our civilization is “confronted with the need to define the meaning . . . of marriage and family.” In addition, the Judeo-Christian concept of marriage and family has largely been replaced with a pragmatic, humanist, self-seeking view that is fundamentally at odds with Christianity. This is the statement Kostenberger opens “God, Marriage, and Family” with, and, what’s more, he writes that the current cultural crisis is “symptomatic of a deep-seated spiritual crisis” as our culture continues to abandon God’s truth. What is needed, therefore, is a spiritual solution, and as such we need to return to “a commitment to seriously engage the Bible as a whole.” Kostenberger states that he will therefore try to present a theology of marriage. He plans to present a systematic examination of what the Bible has to say about marriage, divorce, raising children, homosexuality, the nature of man, and a host of other things related to God’s design in the family, hoping to “point the way to this spiritual solution: a return to, and rebuilding of, the biblical foundation of marriage.”
Kostenberger largely succeeds in this endeavor. He offers a clear, concise, well-articulated, and exegetically sound defense for each of the many topics covered. Kostenberger draws conclusions not only from the Bible’s explicit teachings on marriage and family, such as Genesis 2-3 and Ephesians 5, but also from examples given from the lives of people in Scripture and what Scripture considers normative, right, and good. From a survey of both the Old and New Testaments, Kostenberger finds that God designed marriage to be monogamous, durable and lasting, faithful, heterosexual, fertile, and complementary, and defines marriage as a “sacred bond between a man and a woman, instituted by and publically entered into before God, normally consummated by sexual intercourse.” Further, he states that “… marriage is uniformly affirmed as the foundational, divinely appointed institution for humanity” in both Testaments, and that those who forbid marriage are denounced as spreading the “teachings of demons”(1 Tim. 4:1-3).
Kostenberger goes on to present a covenantal view of marriage, a theology of sex, a Scriptural definition of the roles of each individual within the family, and biblical principles of parenting. He also address special issues such as contraception and reproductive technologies, singleness, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, and the biblical qualifications of eldership. In the section on parenting, I appreciated his emphasis on the need to develop a relationship with your children, and the father’s role in instructing his children in righteousness and ultimately leading them to Christ. Kostenberger’s treatment of the family and spiritual warfare is also quite good, as well as his instruction on the use of spiritual weapons. In the sections on divorce and qualifications for eldership, I appreciated how Kostenberger admitted that there is disagreement among evangelicals, and presented multiple views on each issue. However, in regards to eldership and the requirement for marriage, he takes a more lenient stance on the issue than I think Scripture allows, and does so more from the basis of pragmatism rather than principle.
One other point of concern is his treatment of the family-integrated church model of worship. Kostenberger’s tentative assessment is that the model elevates the family in God’s order to a status higher than that of the church, and as such lacks a “thorough biblical rationale,” but does not in turn offer a rationale for what he believes the alternative should be. However, he does offer several contributions the family-integrated model has made in strengthening both the church and family, and his point is well taken that those who have never married, have been widowed, or divorced, are all still in the family of God.
Finally, the case may be made against this work that it is not especially “relational,” that is, it has little to say about how individuals within the family, and husband and wife especially, ought to relate to one another on a personal level. The book reads more like a volume of systematic theology; however, this is intentional on the author’s part. Kostenberger himself states that the book is not meant to be yet another self-help guide designed to teach communication skills and ease marital strife. Instead, Kostenberger sets out to “sketch out a biblical theology of marriage” and in so doing “show how human fulfillment in these relationships is rooted in the divine revelation found exclusively and sufficiently in Scripture.” To this end, I believe that Kostenberger succeeds in his endeavor, and I would highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a greater understanding of the foundational biblical principles behind the good gift of marriage that our great God has given mankind.