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Ministry in the New Marriage Culture Paperback – October 1, 2015
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So reads the first lines emblazoned on the back cover of this book, the latest offering from Jeff Iorg, the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (which, disclaimer, is also where I am studying to complete my MDiv). Dr. Iorg is the editor of this book and has assembled 15 of the leading minds either from or affiliated with the seminary in order to address both this large question and many of the other related questions that follow.
Following the Introduction (chapter 1), the book is divided into three sections: Biblical Foundations for Ministry (chapters 2 & 3), Theological Foundations for Ministry (chapters 4-6), and Models and Methods for Ministry (chapters 7-15).
The first section, Biblical Foundations, is a brief overview of some of the biblical teachings and principles from the Old and New Testaments on marriage and sexual ethics. The book’s point of view on the issues is the historic (or non-affirming) teaching of the church on sexual ethics in general and homosexuality in particular. These two chapters are valuable for anyone who has not done an extensive study of the subject themselves but are also not the point of the book. Those looking for exhaustive treatments will want to look elsewhere, though these chapters serve as an appropriate starting point.
The Theological Foundations section covers Gospel Confidence, Ecclesiology, and Sexual Ethics. Of the three, the chapter on Ecclesiology by Rodrick Durst is a standout: it does an excellent job of bringing historical situations in the history of the church to bear on the current circumstances, is filled with encouragements to the reader, offers case studies of potential church issues, suggests practices that will be of benefit in resolving these issues, AND goes further than most of the other chapters by addressing trans* issues (a step not all of the authors take).
The Models and Methods section is the bread and butter of the book and will most likely be the most helpful of all the sections to pastors and other church leaders. In particular, the Preaching chapter by Tony Merida and the Legal Challenges chapter by Jim Wilson are incredibly valuable resources. I feel the chapter on legal challenges, while not for everyone, would be worth the price of the book all by itself to church leaders for its practical advice and suggestions on ways to preemptively protect churches from possible litigation and liability.
But wait, some might ask: why do we need another book by fifteen cisgender, evangelical, conservative authors (who are almost all white to boot)? What could they add that is possibly worth listening to? Don’t we need more voices who don’t represent this point of view?
The first part of the answer to that question is YES! We need more diversity in the conversation. I will not argue on that point. However, this book is diverse in its own way.
This is a book that is not directly arguing the abstract and/or theological question of same-sex marriage. It is instead focused on the practicals–what to do–in light of the legal realities that the churches maintaining the historic teaching are faced with and is mainly addressed to those who already agree with its theological perspective. For the book’s audience, this is a necessary book. There are few resources out there (to my admittedly limited knowledge!) that perform the function this book sets out to accomplish.
Is it a perfect book? No. Some chapters fall flat or come across as tone-deaf. Few will agree with every suggestion that every author makes (at least I don’t). And the book falls far short of answering every possible answer to the problems and opportunities churches will face in this arena. But while it doesn’t provide all the answers, it at least is beginning to ask the right questions and inviting the reader to answer them for themselves.
5 stars out of 5
These are the questions pastors and church leaders need to wrestle with. As someone in the middle of launching and sustaining a new church plant, I have found these questions swirling around in my head as we prepare as a staff to respond to the cultural clamoring in streams of truth, obedience, love, and disciple-making. Sometimes, that’s tricky for a church to sort through, which is why Ministry in the New Marriage Culture is an excellent resource for pastors and leaders to consider these provoking questions and more with deep contemplation, and most of all, a rest in the person and work of Jesus.
Ministry in the New Marriage Culture is a collection of essays written by various church leaders, many of which hailing from the Pacific area and in particular with connections to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. This context is important; we see that we are learning from voices who at this moment are immersed in a culture of ministry that has to answer these questions on a daily basis because their location calls for it. It is encouraging to see Jeff Iorg and this team of writers partnering with pastors and leaders across the country to help them gain a better understanding for how to handle these tough situations with clarity and confidence.
The book is divided into three main subheadings: Chapters 1-2 deals with biblical foundations for the new marriage culture. Chapters 3-5 address the theological implications of gospel confidence, robust ecclesiology, and positive sexual ethics. Finally, chapters 6-15 approach models for how ministry can happen in the new marriage culture. A wide variety of topics is covered here, from preaching (chapter 7) to counseling (chapters 8-9), to youth and children (10-11). Chapter 12 addresses the comparisons and contrasts between the civil rights movement and same-sex marriage. Chapters 13-15 are key for lead pastors, addressing legal and pastoral concerns.
One of the big highlights from the book was Tony Merida’s chapter on preaching (chapter 7). Merida draws from John Stott’s classic example of preaching as bridge-building and applies this principle to the context of connecting the truths of the gospel to broken, hostile, or unlearned proponents of same-sex marriage. Contextualization is of primary importance, but must be done correctly. We cannot over- or under-compensate in this area. As Merida observes, “Many people today have the same vocabulary, but they are using a different dictionary” (110). It is critical, therefore, that we assume what Merida calls “biblical cluelessness” and “evangelize as you edify” (112-114). Parallel to Jesus walking with the men at Emmaus, we must be willing to patiently walk with people, preaching boldly and comprehensively, the whole counsel of God, Christ, discipleship, marriage, and so forth. We will gain no ground if we build a bridge that comes up short.
Another insightful chapter was Brad Dacus’s chapter on examining and navigating legal challenges (chapter 13). Dacus, an attorney and President of the Pacific Justice Institute, provides church leaders with a lot of practical wisdom in how to prepare ourselves for the future, and also how to protect ourselves from unnecessary conflicts that could arise from this cultural redefinition of marriage. It’s definitely a chapter senior and lead pastors should be reading as they attempt to protect the flock entrusted to them.
Overall, the book is very beneficial and will help Christians understand the answer to the “Now what?” phase we’re entering. Think of Ministry in the New Marriage Culture as a compass that’s helping many of us who are stuck wandering by getting back on track and pointed in the right direction.
I received this book from B&H Books for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”