A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

“God, Marriage, and Family” by Kostenberger and Jones: No Progress

NOTE:  We posted this article last March, but since our readership has increased significantly since that time we are re-posting it now.  This book will have a far-reaching influence, and that is not necessarily good news for abuse victims.

God, Marriage, and Family : Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation 2nd ed, 2010 by Andreas J. Kostenberger and David W. Jones is reviewed and commended by a virtual “Who’s Who” of evangelicalism.  Reviewers include:

  • Mark Driscoll
  • J.I. Packer
  • John Piper
  • Mark Dever
  • Russel D. Moore
  • Wayne Grudem
  • Daniel Block
  • Paige Patterson
  • Dorothy Kelley Patterson
  • J. Ligon Duncan III
  • Bruce A. Ware
  • Tom Elliff
  • Robert W. Yarbrough
  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

…and still more.  Organizations represented by these names include well-known churches, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Saddleback Church, Crusade for Christ – quite a list!

So, having just come across this book today (Ok, it took me 6 years after the first edition to find it, but cut me some slack – my congregation and I live at the edge of the world), I downloaded a Kindle copy and went in search of what the book has to say about biblical justifications for divorce.  The book, at least in the chapter I went to (Separating What God Has Joined Together: Divorce and Remarriage) provides summaries of various positions on the subject, along with the author’s own exegetical conclusions.  He upholds adultery and desertion as valid reasons for divorce (I think) and makes some charitable statements toward Christians who have been divorced.  For example:

“First, regardless of one’s view of divorce and remarriage, we encourage all believers to bear in mind the fact that while divorce and remarriage are life-altering events, even if one were to divorce and remarry sinfully, such action is not to be equated with the unpardonable sin. … Therefore, while a sinful divorce and remarriage may result in lifelong consequences, the act itself is certainly pardonable upon confession of one’s sin (1 John 1:9).”

The author encourages gracious, yet honest discussion and debate on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, reminding us that there are many different opinions among Christians, especially on the subject of divorce and remarriage.   Personally, I am not certain that we need more honest discussion and debate that honors the different opinions.  These are not harmless opinions.  Abuse victims are suffering and dying while all of this talking goes on -

“You must understand, young Hobbit, it takes a long time to say anything in Old Entish. And we never say anything unless it is worth taking a long time to say.”  (Treebeard the Ent, Lord of the Rings)

Now, here is the section in which the book mentions divorce and abuse.  I am going to quote it here, and then I would very much like to hear from our readers what they think.  Here it is -

“… while the majority of modern evangelicals do hold a view of divorce and remarriage that allows for the dissolution of marriage (and possibly remarriage) on account of sexual sins such as adultery, this still invites the question of what to do in cases of other nonsexual sins such as physical abuse.  In such cases, we encourage believers to remember that separation (e.g., to preserve the life of a battered wife) is not equivalent to divorce.  In fact, in cases where one’s life is being endangered by the actions of a sinning spouse, we conclude that separation is not only permissible but morally required.  In such cases, we believe that it is the duty of the church to step in and minister to the sinned-against party (e.g., by helping secure physical protection or by meeting financial needs).  Moreover, such separation usually produces one of two results: (1) the offending party, if regenerate, will repent and seek reconciliation; (2) if the offending party is unregenerate, after a time, he or she will likely depart.  This, in turn, is a situation addressed by 1 Corinthians 7:15, as discussed above.”  [The author holds that 1 Cor 7:15 speaks of the unbeliever leaving and the believer no being bound].

Alright.  Not as bad as many.  Not as clear as we would like, right?  I notice the following:

  • The ultra-common phrase “physical abuse” is a tell-tale sign that the writer does not really understand abuse.  Or, maybe he just wanted to make a more clear-cut example case for his readers?  Nevertheless, no help here for the verbally/emotionally abused.
  • “Where one’s life is being endangered”... he concludes separation is permissible and morally required.  Good, but…. this limits separation to cases of physical, life-threatening abuse only.  Am I right in concluding he means this?  No separation for non-life threatening abuse?  Hmmmm….?
  • “In such cases” – the church has a duty to step in.  What about cases of verbal and emotional abuse?   The author is not at all clear here.
  • “The offending party, if regenerate, will repent…” –  My personal opinion, which I hope is Scriptural, is that a true abuser cannot possibly be a Christian.  This statement indicates that the author would have us entertain the possibility that a regenerate person can indeed be an abuser.  How do you reconcile that idea though with the black and white statements of Scripture about who and what a Christian is?  ALL Christians love others.  Not perfectly, but as a habit and course of life.  Abusers only seek self, they hate their victim.   Would the author have us actually consider that a man who is beating his wife, PUTTING HER LIFE IN DANGER (that is the example the author himself selects here), may be a Christian?   Am I just too narrow and simple-minded here to believe that verses like this mean what they say – 1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

“If the offending party is unregenerate, after a time, he or she will likely depart.”  So, once the victim separates, it is “likely” that that the unregenerate abuser will depart and thus the victim is home free because the abuser divorces her rather than the other way round.   Now, this just doesn’t work out in real life and myriads of Christian abuse victims will say “Amen!”  Abusers are all about power and control.  Often, they just don’t depart that easily.  They frequently make the victim hang on, refusing to initiate divorce and thereby exerting continuing control and abuse.  In addition, the author leaves a glaring question unanswered, and you have already thought of it – “So, what does the author say about the case where the abuser does not “depart.”  He doesn’t file for divorce, in other words.  What then?   In the end, Kostenberger leaves this question hanging and unanswered.  In fact, he actually gives a pretty plain implication that the victim would be wrong in initiating the divorce proceedings.  Maybe he didn’t mean to, but that certainly comes through to the reader.

Is this why so many notable pastors, theologians, and writers endorse the book?   No doubt there is some really good stuff in it.  But what would have happened if Kostenberger and Jones had take a definitive stand and said – “a victim of verbal, emotional, or physical abuse has every right before God to divorce his/her abuser”?  Would John Piper’s name be on the list of reviewers?   I guess we won’t ever know.

I do know this, the myriads of abused people in the Christian church are still going to have to cry out for justice.  This book has not heard their cry. It is another council of the Ents -

Merry: It’s been going for hours.
Pippin: They must have decided something by now.
Treebeard: Decided? No, we have just finished saying “Good Morning”.
Merry: But it’s night time already! You can’t take forever!
Treebeard: Now, don’t be hasty, master Merriadoc.
Merry: We’re running out of time!

27 Comments

  1. joepote01

    “…the myriads of abused people in the Christian church are still going to have to cry out for justice. This book has not heard their cry.”

    No, it has not!

    Remember in John 3:10, where Jesus, speaking to Nicodemus, said, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?”

    That’s how I feel reading these excerpts from various teachers and theologians on the topic of divorce and remarriage. How can they be so blind, as to not see how ridiculous their position is?

    How can they use words like, “allows for the dissolution of marriage (and possibly remarriage) on account of sexual sins such as adultery, this still invites the question of what to do in cases of other nonsexual sins such as physical abuse,” and not see how incredibly legalistic their view is on this topic…while claiming to live under GRACE!!??

    This is the same exact type of logic that caused the Pharisees to condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath! Totally neglecting the spirit of God’s heart of love toward His children, to blindly pursue God’s acceptance thru a myriad of legalistic rules that are so complex that not even the supposed experts can agree on them!

    By this logic, Jesus was wrong to inervene with the woman caught in adultery, and should have allowed her to be stoned to death!

    What if Jesus had taken the same approach with the leper? “Yes, I have the ability to heal you, and I would love to do that, and I feel your pain and really empathize with you, but…well…you see the law does not permit me to touch a leper…that would make me ceremonially unclean…and, well this is terrbily embarassing, but the Messiah can’t be unclean, can he?”

    I can’t quite see Jesus taking that approach, can you?

    • Jeff Crippen

      Joe – When I read that list of Christian leaders who commend this book, a number of whom I would respect in other areas, the phrase “Sanhedrin” comes into my mind. I mean, a victim of abuse who is a Christian, desiring freedom and help – is essentially being brought before the Council for trial. And all these people are pronouncing their judgment upon the one asking for rescue. I must say again that it grows plainer to me every day that a Pharisaism has taken control of the conservative, Bible-believing church.

      • joepote01

        I know, Jeff. And I grew up hearing the same teaching…and believing it…

        Until I was facing a failed marriage, myself, I never took the time and effort to really dig and pray about God’s heart in this area. Even then, I could easily have taken the “out” of the “exemption clauses,” as they all applied in my case.

        Something didn’t feel quite right about that, though…so I dug deeper…and the Holy Spirit started opening my eyes to God’s heart toward covenant and redemption. I came to realize just how horribly legalistic the typical conservative church’s view is on this topic…and how far from God’s heart!

  2. Lisa Harris

    As a Christian woman who suffered in an abusive marriage for 16 years and is currently in the midst of a divorce from my abuser, I will affirmatively state that an abuser will not just go away! They are indeed all about power and control. My abuser is fighting for custody (and has been given every other weekend “supervised” by his own brother in a temp order) and greater visitation of the children he abused; he is not providing financially at all and yet left me with the debt; he is demanding more of our household belongings. He even fought for and got my restraining order dropped and a no contact order placed against me. My attorney who thinks all of this is grand is a professing Christian but constantly ridicules me and minimizes abuse of all kinds. My church has been absentee the entire past year since my husband walked out of the house. Yes, my husband did leave the home once the children and I stood together and said that he could not treat us that way anymore; however, he changed tactics and is still making our lives miserable. They don’t give up. They don’t go away. They find other ways to wound. If a woman is lucky, he might find another woman to become the focus of his abuse, but if a doorway is still open, through children or financial bonds, he will take every drop of power and control the church and the legal system will hand him. Thank you so much for your defense of those who cannot defend themselves!!!

    • As I See It Only

      Right on, Lisa–you nailed it. He will NOT go away. Let’s not fool ourselves. I could not even GET a protection order for my special needs daughters who were sexually exploited: the judge said I was just angry and he dismissed the request.

  3. As soon as I read the title, I feared for what I was to read – and the many who subscribe to this doctrine. The depths to which this kind of legalism goes is mind-boggling.

    By the way, there is nothing in the Scriptures that I can find that legimizes separation for abuse. I have seem some very loose implications, but if we’re going to lean on legalism, it should be convincingly substantiated, don’t you think?

    Cindy

    • Jeff Crippen

      Cindy – yes, I have thought a bit about this separation thing too. Jay Adams rejects it entirely. He says it is either have a marriage or divorce. Adams though, in my opinion, is characterized by an unhealthy rigid “either/or” mentality. However, your point is a good one. If we are going to be legalistic, then let’s be legalistic consistently. Where is the Scriptural support? Of course, we choose to reject a legalistic approach entirely.

  4. The Persistent Widow

    I think that if disciplined, the abuser will leave the church, but not the marriage. The marriage is a separate issue, and he left that covenant when he broke the vows.

    I would like to recommend that victims get a attorney recommendation from the local abuse crisis center. There really is a huge difference in how the case will progress.

    • Now Free

      Persistent Widow, you nailed it about recommending an attorney recommendation from the local abuse crisis centre. If only I had done this, it would have saved me untold misery and financial loss. Attorneys can be very biased for the abuser, I have found.

      The abused victim is at a disadvantage from the get-go, as she is very vulnerable. I read an article from attorney to attorney regarding abuse victims. One statement really caught my eye… that it is common for the attorney to be tempted to abuse their client who is a victim of abuse! Very disturbing.

  5. Anonymous

    “Would the author have us actually consider that a man who is beating his wife, PUTTING HER LIFE IN DANGER (that is the example the author himself selects here), may be a Christian? Am I just too narrow and simple-minded here to believe that verses like this mean what they say – 1 John 3:15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

    There is so much deception going on in some Churches, that it actually frightens me. When we have Churches that are covering up sexual abuse of children and/or making those children “forgive” their offenders, how do we expect that these same folks are going to come to say that abuse of any kind in marriage is wrong? They have long ago put away actually using the Bible as their guide.

    If I walked up to someone in the Church, and punched them in the face every Sunday, how long would it take the leadership in an actual God-fearing Church, to come to me and tell me that they didn’t think I was a Christian? If I verbally abused people at Church, week after week, how long would it take them then? I won’t even go into the other forms of abuse, because you all get the point, but failure to apply the Word in these areas, makes one wonder how they can be so quick to apply the Word when it comes to marriage/divorce and what it means to them, when they are so wrong about the Word in these other areas — even being as simple as defining what a Christian looks like in their behavior, and calling men who abuse their wives, in any form, Christians! Maybe, just maybe, God does not openly discuss men abusing their wives (Ex: When a man punches his wife in the face, or mentally tortures her consistently, this is what should happen) in the Word, because it is so heinous to Him, that it is one of those things that “should not even be named among you”; and also because God’s idea of marriage does not consist of abuse, at all, in anyway, shape or form and He does not consider it a “marriage”, when there is abuse going on. Maybe we should start there.

    • Jeff Crippen

      This is right on Anon. No, you are not too narrow! You would think that especially Reformed churches would get this as they claim to believe that when God grabs a sinner and brings him to faith and repentance and regenerates him, that person’s very being is radically altered in Christ. That is why John can say those things about “if….then.”

      The fact is that it is easier to side with the one who has power, as you will suffer less than if you side with the victim. And in many churches what we are hearing is a so-called gospel gutted of repentance, calling upon us to love and forgive and never question a person’s salvation no matter what.

      • Anonymous

        Repentance in my ex church was, “say you are sorry” … “sorry”… “say you forgive him”…”i forgive him”…”that’s it — it’s fixed, now move on”. But there was never any true repentance, because repentance means to change direction and be changed! I think we just have the blind leading the blind. I found a Church on line the other night and I was looking at their belief statement. They all but out and out denied the Holy Spirit. They made comments that basically said, you are welcome here, but if you hold to beliefs about the Holy Spirit that don’t jive with us, don’t share them or talk about them, just come and adapt to us and our beliefs! Maybe that is what is wrong, is that we have leaders who are deciding what the Bible says and means, but not under the leading of the Holy Spirit, because they don’t need Him. So, it turns into Father, Son and our interpretation of the Holy Bible. No Holy Spirit — and yet that was Christ’s promise to us that He would send the Spirit, who would lead us into all truth, teaching us all things. Maybe that’s why we are having to scrape so hard and dig so deep to uncover the truth.

        I like Joe’s point above, about Jesus and the Leper. Great analogy and application. However, when I brought those comparisons up, I was told, “those verses don’t apply to marriage, so what’s your next point”. So then, are we talking varying denominational beliefs or Reformed vs. Non-Reformed or what is it?

      • Ya love, forgive, never question a persons salvation….never questioning change, who are they to judge if its true on not? Yet they do judge victoms when they are seemingly unforgiving….

        Its all just a excuse, Shiny Happy People Syndrome or SHPS. From where I came from I saw those same three requirements to being their kind of christian…

        A. LOVE….say loooooove, doesnt matter if HE actually feels it, that is NOT required.
        B. You MUST FORGIVE, doesnt matter if forgiving your spouse will make any difference, just SAY it, so we can all go about our other business.
        C. Never question ANYTHING. Especially how we go about handling YOUR business.
        How dare YOU judge wether or not he has changed! Or how dare you claim our Evian water did not cleanse, or the juice box did not bare fruit!!

        Its so true!! Every time the MIW was out of the house, then the intensive relentless, wreckless art of reconciliation began. The MIW just became their little project, their hurting helpless, out of control creature that just needed more stroking and attention, They freely, selflessly gave their time to him and felt better about themselves when they succeded in the mutual goal of minimizing my fears, inviting him to their version of the hunger games, and getting us all back under the same roof!!

  6. Katy

    Can’t you see how cunning the Enemy has been, to use the concepts of forgiveness and “confessing with our mouths” against the Church in this way?
    He is so so clever. And when we are not strong in our foundations, and don’t really know who God is, it’s so easy to fall for these lies.
    There is hope yet that some in the evangelical church will wake up. Nobody on this list above, perhaps, but then again they are only a few men. There are countless men sitting in the pews each week who would never stand for their own wives and daughters to be beaten. As Wendell has said – once it happens to you suddenly things get simpler.

    • Jeff Crippen

      We really need to have the attitude “I don’t care who is writing this book or preaching this sermon. I have to compare it with God’s Word and if it doesn’t measure up then I must reject it.” The following Scripture called for the execution of a false prophet in Israel, but I cite it here to emphasize how it teaches impartiality. It doesn’t matter who is teaching false doctrine, we can’t play favorites here.

      Deuteronomy 13:1-10 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, (2) and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ (3) you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (4) You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. (5) But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (6) “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, (7) some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, (8) you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. (9) But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. (10) You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

      • Jeff, when I read that long list if celebrity pastor names it reminded me of a “show in force”, of men lining shoulder-to-shoulder on this issue. It’s as if to say: if you don’t believe what WE have to say, obviously you are on the wrong ship.

      • Jeff Crippen

        Yes and this is a huge problem. Lists of “big” names like that is a very intimidating thing and conveys to people that surely all must bevgodpel truth in this book. We should let Scripture be the judge, not a Protestant college of cardinals.

      • And continuing that thought, are these men even teaching their flock who we are in Christ or are they perpetuating this malignant authority structure in their own church which enables abuse to occur?

        I believe part of the problem is systemic in the church which creates an unhealthy environment, not solely with the abuser.

      • Jeff Crippen

        The ministry of pastors, elders, shepherds is to shepherd. This means feeding and protecting. The food is the Word of God faithfully taught and preached. Protection means guarding against false teachers and wolves who would lord it over the flock of Christ, bring them into bondage, and destroy their faith. It does not mean establishing an elitist priestly class that interprets Scripture for everyone and forces particular agendas upon people, supposedly in Christ’s name. The mindset and philosophy of leadership in the church today is most often very unhealthy and unbiblical. You are correct. It has created an abuser friendly environment and has become abusive itself.

      • Jeff, I have filed that quote away for future use. I’d like to help remind certain people of this because apparently they have forgotten what their job description is. :)

  7. Anonymous

    The authors are quick to clarify that divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. So they get it both ways, declaring it a sin, and yet being non-judgemental – they seem to be subtly suggesting an “out” for the sin since they don’t have any way of addressing the reality that many good people in the church are divorcing.

    This kind of approach reminds me of a friend’s child, who loudly protested at having to stay overnight at his Dad’s, having been mistreated at his hands. Naturally, the eventual court orders stipulated that he had to stay multiple nights a fortnight. His thoughtful response to his mother was this – “Mom, if I can’t stand it, I can kill him. But God will forgive me, because I am a Christian and I can repent, right?” Poor kid!

  8. Heather

    Legalism extends no compassion to victims. It is another form of abuse heaped on an already bruised and battered soul.

    Thank you, Jeff, for giving a voice to the hurting victims who find so many deaf ears.

  9. Anonymous

    “Is it possible for one person, or one group of leaders, to comprehend all that’s in God’s Word? Not likely. God’s living Word is demonstrated through all who are seeking Him, regardless of ‘rank’. In some areas of life, many areas perhaps, those in the pews will have more real authority from having tested and lived out God’s Word in situations God will never choose to lead the pastor through. (ie abuse) If He is the Shepherd of the flock, then I as a pastor must listen to what He is saying through the flock, remembering that I too am a follower of Him.” Emphasis/additions mine. The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by Johnson and Van Vonderen pp. 115

  10. Jeff, I don’t know if you care to respond, but someone has left a comment regarding this post on my Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Desley.Desley/posts/151002401722159?comment_id=349212&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment

    I could respond (and will if you don’t), but I don’t think I would do you justice. :)

    • Jeff Crippen

      Go for it Desley! I’m sure you will do fine. As to his point #1 – We ARE doing something about it and not just talking about it. That is what this whole blog is about and our books as well. 2) If anyone takes offense at the statement that a person who is profoundly entitled to power and control, who feels totally justified in using whatever means, no matter how wicked, to get that power and control, is not a Christian, then all I can say is that I do not believe they understand God’s Word.

      Also, his first line is “I don’t know anything about this book.” Hmmmmm…..

    • Anonymous

      I am just going to respond to this briefly. The man writing on your FB page, sorely misuses 1 John 3:6, when he makes the huge assumption that you can continue to hate your brother and be a Christian, but will eventually repent from it. That is not how I read that passage. I read it to mean that if you are hating your brother, which is what abuse classifies as, then you are not a Christian. Pretty simple to me! I am not saying that people cannot sin once they are saved, but the point is that they cannot keep “habitually sinning” and consider themselves a Christian. Abusers, habitually sin the same way! So sorry for this guy.

    • Still Scared( but getting angry)

      I read the discussion. Desley, you are amazing! You did such an awesome job of clarifying and not backing down!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,216 other followers

%d bloggers like this: