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.)