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The family – marriage, sexuality, parenthood, adoption – figure heavily in the Christian story, both literally and figuratively. The first person of the Trinity is a Father and the second a Son. Literally. Jesus was born into a family and remained in a family till his death. Literally. We are the adopted children of God, literally.
All believers are brothers and sisters, figuratively, but truly. The church is the Bride of Christ, figuratively, but truly.
So having a good, robust theology of family is critical for all believers and churches. Below is an annotated bibliography for the student of theology of the best volumes I’ve made use of and turn to regularly in my work on the family. They cross the traditions of evangelism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
- Chrysostom, John. On Marriage and Family Life (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986).
A collection of 6 writings from this early 5th century Father of the Church on marriage and general family relationships. The first four are homilies.
Sampling quote: “These are the two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaste and to make us parents.” (p. 85)
- Grenz, Stanley J. Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, (Westminster John Knox Press, 1990).
Grenz deals with more than sexuality; the theological nature of male and female, marriage, singleness, divorce, reproductive technology, abortion and infertility, each in theological perspective. Chapter two establishes his case on a solid gender-distinct theological anthropology.
Sampling quote: “The creation of humankind as male and female comes in response to the divine self-declaration, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ This suggests that the same principle of mutuality that forms the genius of the human social dynamic is present in a prior way in the divine being.” (p. 48)
- Hogan, Richard M. Covenant of Love: Pope John Paul II on Sexuality, Marriage and Family in the Modern World, (Ignatius Press, 1992).
Hogan provides his reader with perhaps the best introduction to John Paul II’s magisterial and essential theology of family. It is very readable, even for the beginner, but comprehensive enough to not short-change the brilliance of JPII’s work. It is the book that introduced me to this great Pope’s teaching and writing on the family, an absolute new horizon and game-changer for me.
Sampling Quote: “If humans are created in the image of God to give themselves as God gives himself and if the human body is the expression of the human person, then their ought to be a physical means for a human person to express love to another person. It is precisely masculinity and femininity which allows this unity…” (p. 46-47)
- Hunter, David G. Marriage in the Early Church, (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001).
Hunter’s is a two-part presentation. First is his brief summary of early Christian teaching on various marriage issues. The greater bulk of his book provides concise excerpts from both orthodox and heterodox writers of from early ages of church on the topic of marriage.
Sampling Quote: “What was once a mainly civic institution…became internalized as a private, moral code. In the first century B.C. a man was supposed to think of himself as a citizen who had fulfilled all his civic duties. A century later [under the influence of Christianity] he was supposed to consider himself a good husband; as such he was officially required to respect his wife.” (p. 7-8)
- Kostenberger, Andreas J. God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, (Crossway, 2004, 2010).
Kostenberger, writing from a Southern Baptist tradition, provides a broad pastoral approach to a theology of family, addressing many particular questions such as distinct sex roles in marriage, whether marriage must be generative, divorce, remarriage, singleness and homosexuality.
Sampling Quote: “Finally, not only is marriage a part of God’s end-time purposes in Christ (Eph 1:10) and part of the Spirit’s operations (Eph. 5:18), it is also part of one other important larger reality that is often overlooked, namely that of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18). (p. 61)
- John Paul II. Familiaris Consortio – The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, (Pauline Books & Media, 1981).
This short booklet, an apostolic exhortation the Pope wrote to the clergy and laity of the Church, is a nice pastoral theology and sociology of the family examining the it as a necessary evangelizing institution in the world. It looks at the fundamental nature of the family as it corresponds with God’s very nature and character. Although it concludes in Part 4 addressing many practical pastoral considerations in the Catholic tradition it is of great use to evangelical pastors as well.
Sampling Quote: “Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person. … [As such,] the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” (p. 46, 129)
- John Paul II. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, (Pauline Books & Media, 2006).
A massive work, this book is arguably the starting point for any study of a theology of family, marriage and sexuality, of course, after scripture. It is a deeply biblical look at who man is in light of who God is. While it examines the topics of marriage and sexuality, it is really a theological anthropology focused on the mystery and significance of human embodiment and spiritual implications of that. John Paul II developed this body of work while a Polish diocesan priest and delivered these as Pope publically in his weekly Vatican addresses over a period of years.
Sampling Quote: “…[F]rom the account of the Yahwist text the concept of ‘image of God,’ we can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. …Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” (p.163)
- Pitre, Brant. Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, (Image, 2014).
Pitre’s is a tight exploration into the biblical narrative of Christ as the endlessly loving Bridegroom who relentlessly pursues his beloved Bride in the very midst of her whoring infidelities. He explores this through the scriptures, the early Fathers as well as both Christian and Jewish textual traditions.
Sampling Quote: “The reason there will be no ordinary earthly marriage in the bodily resurrection is that ordinary earthly marriage is a sign that points beyond itself to the true marriage: the union of Christ and the Church.” (p. 135)
- Oullet, Marc Cardinal. Divine Likeness: Toward a Trinitarian Anthropology of the Family, (Eerdmans, 2006).
Oullet’s theology of the family is very important as it’s rooted in a Trinitarian anthropology: who we are as humans in light of who God as Trinity. I come back to the volume time and again, with chapters 1-4 of my own copy thoroughly underlined, high-lighted and commented on in the margins. This is where the best stuff is in my opinion.
Sampling Quote: “What can be expected from a Trinitarian anthropology of the family…? Theoretically, it would mean deepening the category of person as relation in the Trinity’s image; practically, it means a positive appreciation of human love, sexuality, a woman’s dignity, and the sacramentality of family. In other words, the theological foundation of the civilization of love.” (p. 37)
- Matthews, Alice P. and M. Gay Hubbard. Marriage Made in Eden: A Pre-modern Perspective for a Post-Christian World, (Wipf & Stock, 2004).
Matthews and Hubbard provide a thoughtful examination of the contemporary negative views of marriage and how the church understands and misunderstands the nature of these concerning developments. They then move in the second half of the book to establish a faithful biblical understanding of family that Christians should be mindful of in our current age. It is a theology as well as a bit of a history and sociology of family.
Sampling Quote: “Marriage is God’s business. It is not just a human affair. As a Christian man and woman commit themselves to one another for life, God is present in that marriage. There is then a connection between two people and God, which is the sine qua non for a missional marriage.” (p. 148)
- Smail, Tom. Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity, (Eerdmans, 2005).
Smail, a pastor from Great Britain, takes the Christian truth and reality of God as Trinity and illuminates what it means for each of us to be created in that image as a male and female child, husband and wife and father and mother. And he does so by giving his reader a tour through various Christian theological traditions.
Sampling Quote: “Anthropology depends on theology. If our humanity is constituted by the fact that we reflect God’s divinity, then to know who we are, we must also know who He is. Our being is dependent on His being. [And] just as the relationship between Father and Son become endlessly creative beyond itself through the creative power of the Spirit…so the love of husband and wife expressed and sustained by their sexual union has, in the power of the same Spirit of life, the power to create the new life of the child who is the fruit of their union. …The human relationships mirror the divine relationships. The human family manifests the initiating, the responsive and the creative modes of love that characterize the life of God.” (p. 2, 254)
- Stanton, Glenn T. and Leon C. Wirth. The Family Project: How God’s Design Reveals His Best for You, (Tyndale, 2014).
Written with a good friend of mine, this book is our effort to lay out a theology of marriage, family and sexuality for evangelicals that is based not just on various bible verses or systematic theology but rather to do so by looking at the actions and character of God as He reveals Himself from pre-creation to the culmination of time; a narrative theology. And it seeks to understand family by understanding who God is and what He created us to be. It does this by taking a theological, anthropological and sociological gaze at family. The book is a “for-further-study” companion to the corresponding 12 part DVD curriculum – The Family Project – which provides a Christian worldview on family.
Sampling Quote: “It is in family that each human first and most deeply experiences and shows forth the fullness of our God-imaging nature, because it is here that we first and most fully become part of a flesh-and-spirit trinity reflecting the divine trinity as someone’s child, spouse or parent. No human is excluded from this.” (p. 100)
While the following volumes are not specifically on a theology of the family, they are supplemental works that I’ve found indispensable in studying and understanding a thorough and practical theology of the marriage, family and sexuality. They each deal with what it means to be a human person; how and why humans are intrinsically relational creatures. Our most important human needs and joys are relational which of course ideally start for each of us and hopefully continue throughout life in our families. This is a culturally and historically human universal reality.
- Buber, Martin. I and Thou, (Touchstone, 1970)
Buber, a celebrated Jewish philosopher, holds that human relationship is the center of what it means to be human and that we can only truly be human when we live in relationship with another person. We can never be fully human in relation with things. A true “I” cannot be found without a “You”. Precisely what Genesis 2:18 explains.
Sampling Quote: “The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I requires a You to become… All actual life is encounter.” (p. 62)
- Gunton, Colin, E. The Promise of Trinitarian Theology, (T&T Clark, 1997).
Sections 1,2,5,6 and parts of 8 are extremely important contributions to laying the metaphysical foundation of a fully Christian theology of marriage because they make such clear and ground-breaking contributions to Trinitarian theology.
Sampling Quote: “For there to be love, it must be directed towards another. But the love of two for each other is inadequate, likely on its own simply to be swallowed up in itself… If it is truly to be love, the two will seek a third in order to be able to mutually share their love.” (p. 89-90)
- Macmurray, John. Persons in Relation, (Harper & Brothers, 1961)
As the 1954 Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, Macmurray’s work is much lesser known, but a critical contribution to a philosophical anthropology of relatedness, paralleling and moving beyond Buber’s work with a Christian undestanding.
Sampling Quote: “The complete and unlimited dependence of each of us upon the other is the central and crucial fact of personal existence. Individual independence is an illusion; and the independent individual, the isolated self, is a non-entity. …It is only in relation to others that we exist as persons. Here is the basic fact of our human condition; which all of us can know if we stop pretending, and do know in moments when the veil of self-deception is stripped from us and we are forced to look upon our own nakedness.” (p. 211)
- Zizioulas, John D. Being as Community: Studies in Personhood and the Church, (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985)
Zizioulas, a noted Eastern Orthodox theologian, gives the Church a very valuable, if not philosophically dense, explanation of how our God-imaging nature and creation as persons makes us intrinsically relational creatures to the deepest parts of our being. And therefore, as the Body of Christ is the living existence of God Himself with His people in the world, the Church’s fundamental being is that of communion. He takes Buber’s work and applies it to ecclesiology and the Christian understanding of the personality of reality that we have in the Trinity. His introduction and chapter 1 are most important, even for the casual student of a theology of family.
Sampling Quote: “The being of God is a relational being: without the concept of communion, it would not be possible to speak of the being of God. …The substance of God, ‘God’ has no ontological content, no true being, apart from communion. [Therefore,] there is no true being without communion. Nothing exists as an ‘individual’ conceivable in itself. Communion is an ontological category.” (p. 17-18.)
A concluding note: As if it needs saying, I don’t agree with all that is written in each of these books listed here or totally with each author. Who could say that about any substantive collection of books or authors? But these are the books I’ve found most helpful and valuable as I’ve studied and developed my understanding of theology of the family.
I have not commented at all on the immigration issue. Not one of my issues. My limited thoughts have been this: Ellis Island worked and opened amazing opportunity for most of our families. Lets do that again.
The President is going to announce his plan for executive action on the topic. Gonna take the bull by the horns. But as the WaPo reports, this is something he has strongly and consistently said a basic understanding of US law does not allow. One example from March 28, 2011:
With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed — and I know that everybody here at [this school] is studying hard so you know that we’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws.
Another from Jan 31, 2013 is even more pointed:
Well, I think it’s important to remind everybody that…i’m not a king, I’m the head of the executive branch of government.
On Feb 14, 2013 he let us know…
I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed [by] Congress…
WaPo calls this a “royal flip-flop” but it seems like, by the President’s own explanation, a royal disregard for our national rule of law, which two times he has solemnly swore to uphold.
Here in Venice.
Wanted to give some quick and (hopefully for you) interesting bits from my trip so far. You can do Venice pretty cheaply if you’re innovative. And you get to see the same Venice everyone else does who go the ‘spensive route.
1) My hotel (pic here) is not bad for 150 euros for three nights total. Clean bed, clean bath and bohemian character. It’s right on the Grand Canal, across from the train station – where I head in the morning to catch the train to Florence – and just a hop over the canal bridge where the airport bus which dropped me off on Monday for 6 euros. Then a two day (30 euros) unlimited transportation pass so you can go crazy going everywhere, which I did.
2) Yesterday I toured the city like a man on a mission. I wanted to see all the major Cathedrals in the city. There are many. And lots of “little” churches surrounding these. More churches here than we have Starbucks at home. But sadly, not as passionately frequented by the faithful.
a) First was the Basilica San Marco – the place where St. Mark’s bones rest. It is the most famous and popular for tourists.
b) The one I liked best though was across the canal and visually stunning. The Basilica Santa Maria Della Salute, dedicated to Mary after it was perceived she saved the city from the hardest tragedy of the plague of 1630, hence the name “salute” for health. I made my way around the sanctuary taking in all the art, and soon thought, “hey, that’s like the other piece they have over there.” Then moved on to the next in the following chapel, saying the same thing. Then I realized I had been so taken with the surroundings that I was on my second time around the place. A remarkable house for God. These people had vision.
c) The next church I enjoyed as well was the Basilica Santa Maria Glorioso dei Frari, completed in 1338. It sits back in one of the neighborhoods, a bit hard to find. I just happened to stumble upon it. It has amazing art, more so than the previous two, one of which is Titian’s most important religious work, the Assumption of Mary presented as the altar piece. (Titian is buried here as well.) The light Titian incorporated to illuminate the action is a mark of his mastery.
Bellini has two noted triptychs here, Madonna and the Saints in a side chapel and Christ on the Throne in another.
I sat in this church for quite some while, just taking in the surroundings and reflecting. These works each tell a story about our faith.
Compared with the other two cathedrals, it is unimpressive externally, but exceeds them both internally. It’s just magnificent. Too many pictures to share with you here, but this one of the choir stalls below shows their beauty, all in meticulously hand-carved detail of course. Just stunning.
When I finally rose to leave, the sun had long set and since I just tripped upon finding the place, I had no idea how to get home. So I started walking in the direction of my hotel. And kept walking, taking turns here and there to make sure I was headed in the direction of the Grand Canal to catch the vaporetto (water bus) to the hotel. I was sure I was on the right path and just kept confidently pressing ahead. Came around the corner, and there she was… the basilica I had just left. Big, big circle. So I took a different path home, which must be the right one. Twist, turns, over bridges, down alleys. And there she was again: Santa Maria Glorioso. It wasn’t so glorioso this third time. Tried it again, another different route and made it to the vaporetto stop. Then home, too tired to go get dinner, so went to bed at about 9:30 and slept like a bear til breakfast, windows open, cool breeze and the gentle sound of rain.
Today, November 12, it rained and rained and rained. All day. Then some more for good measure. Stayed in my hotel room and read the New Yorker and Waugh’s Brideshead Revisted. And slept some more.
By dinner time, the rain wore off and I was hungry. Took the water bus out to the Venetian beach and got dinner, which is where I am now writing this post. And there must a poker game in the back, cuz shifty looking men keep coming through and taking the stairs to a room above. Members, or victims of the Venetian mafia? And there’s a shifty looking guy watching the door. But the soundtrack from Little Mermaid is playing on the sound system (serious!), so it must all be wholesome fun.
And i leave you w/ a nice classic venetian pic.
The recent Synod of Bishops on the Family.
You know, the one that got everyone either freaked-out or excited about how the Catholic Church was going to finally join the 19th Century regarding sexuality. The interim message from the bishops seemed clear: Homosexuality is maybe ok, Divorce is not as bad as we thought, and maybe it’s time to modernize a bit. This conclusion was reported in nearly every paper and every broadcast around the world.
This wasn’t the first time the general media got a church story terribly wrong and it won’t be the last. But as the Synod’s final and official report came out recently, it was largely ignored. One would have to dig deep and wide to find any substantive report on. Why? Probably because it is unspectacular, affirming a thoroughly Catholic and biblically faithful sexual, marital and familial ethic. Dashed hopes of the puffed-up elites who possess the prescience to know what the Church needs.
The bishops and Pope Francis proclaim clearly in the final report: “Throughout the centuries, the Church has maintained her constant teaching on marriage the family” which is that,
God consecrates the love of husband and wife and confirms the indissoluble character of their love, offering them assistance to live their faithfulness, mutual complementarity and openness to new life. Therefore, the Church looks to married couples as the heart of the entire family, which, in turn, looks to Jesus.
The Fathers note and systematically commend how this teaching has been consistently and unmistakably amplified in the Church through the recent decades from Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes (47-52) to Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Familiaris Consortio concluding with Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est. A clear voice which they want us to know is intended to be continued through this Synod’s work.
Section 55 addresses the white-hot issue of homosexuality and a proper pastoral perspective regarding it. Equivocation or any hint of change in Catholic thinking is just not there. Regarding families with members “who have homosexual tendencies” the report explains that “the synod father asked themselves what attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with the Church teaching…” The answer is crisp regarding a foundational Christian sexual and familial ethic that can animate pastoral work here:
There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.
But regarding the same-sex attracted person, the Church’s pastoral stance is gracious:
Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies ought to be received with respect and sensitivity…. and…every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
The human person – regardless of their story, struggles or sins – should always be treated with dignity and respect as a divine image-bearer. No exceptions or qualifications. No one is better or worse than another. Classic Catholic anthropology.
The Fathers add that exerting political pressure upon pastors and the Church to fall in line with the current cultural tide and mores on the issue of same-sex identity and ethics is “totally unacceptable.” They add that “international organizations who link their financial assistance to poorer countries” based on their acceptance of laws allowing same-sex ‘marriage’ is also equally unacceptable. Clearly the Bishops and the Pope are aware of the relentless political pressures brought to bear upon Christians in so many countries and they reject it, saying it has no authority or influence upon the Church.
There are a few curiously unclear statements though and they relate to cohabitation. While being very clear about God’s absolute design for sexual and domestic relationships – life-long marital union of husband and wife – and elevates “this type of family as the basic, necessary and fruitful unit of humanity’s life together” it also addresses the pastoral challenges present in those who live together outside of marriage. The report explains,
A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriage and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond with it.
While this is a clear call to teach Christian orthodoxy regarding sexual and domestic relationships, it is unclear – to me at least – what the references to cohabitation actually mean. Can a Christian pastor really hold “a sensitivity to the positive aspects of…cohabitation”? Don’t think so.
Or is the report referring to the “positive aspects” and “constructive elements” of both civil marriage and cohabitation that could be seen as the steps toward moving the couple along the road to an authentic sacramental marriage? Perhaps, but who knows? Clarity matters.
But as studious Catholics know, this is not or ever was a strictly theologically or prescriptive gathering or document. It is pastoral, addressing how the bishops of the world, and their priests, should pastorally navigate the current and ever changing world in fidelity to the historic and biblical teachings of the Church as well as for the dignity and slow pilgrimage of every member of their flock into a fuller life in Christ. This pastoral task is certainly not precise work. It is messy because people are messy. All of us. And this document is generally helpful in assisting our pastors on keeping their eye on the ball regarding orthodox belief and pastoral practice.
Breathe easy, the Church is on track.
Anyone who knows me in the slightest way – and reads here time to time – knows I’m a long time Dylan fan. I even (kind of) crashed his house one time. So…
My sixteen-year-old daughter Tess asked me this week, “Dad, you know Dylan is in Denver on Saturday night. I sooo want to see him. Will you take me?”
If I were a small puppy my little puppy tail would have wagged itself right off my back end. I told her the answer to that question is the same one to “Hey dad, my arm is on fire. Will you put it out for me?”
So tonight, Tess will be my third child to go see Zimmy with me. Totally stoked. Livvy and Schaeffer asked me to take them to see Dylan last summer, which included Wilco and My Morning Jacket (which I kept calling to their annoyance “My Afternoon Cardigan”) opening for him.
Actually Schaef is going with us tonight, so he will be a two-timer seeing Dylan. So I am a giddly happy and a proud dad. A celebrated Dylan fan in bringing him three new, young fans.
When someone, particularly a stranger, talks to us at length about the specifics of their sexuality, the general response is similar and predictable. Almost to a person, it is received as boorish, tone-deaf self-indulgence. It’s just bad manners. Except when it’s seen as heroic.
Of course, this is exactly what we are seeing with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s happy proclamation of the details of his sexuality, enhanced with his deepest and most personal feelings about it.