Another abuser-enabling, victim-enslaving book: Jim Newheiser’s “Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage”
Pastor Jim Newheiser has simply rehashed the same old enslaving party lines about marriage that evangelicals have been regurgitating like a cow chewing its cud. If I had a way of putting a visual here of me shaking my head while muttering to myself, I would. Because that is what I am doing as I glance through Jim Newheiser’s new book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers, Presbyterian and Reformed, 2017. I am not trying to attack Newheiser in this post, but I am not going to pull any punches. And I will be accused of being “unchristian and harsh.” So be it.
[Update: by accident, Barb Roberts had initially enabled comments on this post. Sorry for the confusion. The post is not open to comments on this blog, but if you want to comment on it you can do so on our Facebook page here.]
I don’t even know where to begin. Maybe: “Jim, when are you going to open your eyes?”
This book is same old same old. There is NOTHING new in this book. Nothing. The usual suspects laud the book of course – Martha Peace, Tedd Tripp, Ligon Duncan, Ed Welch and so on. “My what a wonderful book this is,” they say. “An exceptional resource.” “An excellent book for pastors and counselors.” “A must-read.” …Unbelievable. Just unbelievable. I guess this is how it goes in the publishing world. You scratch my book’s back and I will scratch yours.
I am only going to address a few things from this book but I assure you that you can open it to just about any page and if you are an abuse victim you will not be “richly rewarded” as Robert D. Jones promises. Nope, what will happen is that you will be fogged, triggered, and guilted because this book is a summation of the standard twisting of Scriptures that have so long served to enslave Christians.
First then, note that this book is the standard handbook that purports to tell Christians “how to.” How to marry, who to marry, what to do after you marry, how to be a wife, how to be a husband, how to have sex and how often, how to resolve conflicts, how to, how to, how to. And behind the scenes an idol is lurking. That idol is, you guessed it, marriage. Marriage must be saved. Victims must do all they can to save it and to save the soul of their abuser. This is not surprising coming from the “biblical counseling” camp that Newheiser is part of. If I were asked to think of the most appropriate title for this book, it would definitely be something along these lines: “The Marriage Worshipers Handbook: Honoring the god You Were Made For.”
Second, let me show you how Newheiser reveals that he teaches a religion that is devoid of the Holy Spirit. (That is why these “handbooks” are written, you know. So that Christians will do what is right and not sin. The accurate term for this is “legalism.”) Listen to this statement from Newheiser as he responds to our book, A Cry for Justice, where we teach that abuse is indeed biblical grounds for desertion. Newheiser says:
One danger of opening this door is that it could be used to broaden the grounds for divorce to anything that a supposed victim considers to be abusive. Given that we are all sinners who are prone to sinful anger expressed through sinful words and actions, virtually every marriage could be ended on these grounds. On the other hand, there may be extreme cases in which abuse has broken the marriage bonds beyond repair. Consider the following:
- The husband has repeatedly abused the children physically and sexually, but somehow escaped prison…
- The wife has engaged in a long-term pattern of verbal and physical abuse against her husband…
- The husband is constantly full of rage and has beaten his wife several times…
THIS is the stuff that is being taught in churches and it is these kinds of absolutely false teachings, being disguised as “Bible.” And Jim Newheiser has no excuse for continuing to teach these falsehoods. I personally talked to him several years ago as did Barbara Roberts and he has a copy of our books. But he just didn’t listen, did he?
On the back cover of Barbara’s book is an endorsement by William Heth, author of Jesus on Divorce: How my mind has changed (SBTJ) and contributor to Remarriage After Divorce in Today’s Church. Heth said:
This book removed the scales from my eyes and brought me face-to-face with the plight of victims of abuse who entered their marriage promising to honor Jesus’ command ‘not to separate what God had joined together’. Several years ago I changed my mind about the scope of this seemingly absolute prohibition.
“Not Under Bondage” will help you wrestle through the when and the why of how you might be exempted from a marriage covenant that has been violated by various forms of abuse. Roberts is definitely not trying to ‘open the floodgates’ of excuses for divorce. [emphasis added]
Newheiser obviously has felt no need at all to spend time learning on our blog, listening to the victims there. If he did, he would know that our specific and clear definition of abuse is NOTHING that is going to “open the door” so that Christians are just going to run rampant divorcing each other!!! Is that what we see in abuse victims? They just can hardly wait to find an excuse to file for divorce? Hardly. What we find is that they desire to obey God, to save their marriage, to do what is right. NONE of them are using abuse as an “excuse” to “dump the jerk.”
Second, frankly I see in Newheiser a negative attitude toward women. I think that behind his words about “virtually any marriage could be ended” based on abuse, he means “because that’s what so many women would do.”
Third, and most significantly, Newheiser’s entire doctrine of the gospel, of the nature of salvation, of the personhood of the regenerated Christian is completely unbiblical. See it? He says that all of us, ALL of us (Christians) are sinners who are PRONE to sinful anger. That this is the Christian’s nature. Jim, I rebuke you for writing such words. They are absolutely false. The Christian is a saint, a holy one, a child of God, a person who desires to walk in the Spirit and reject the deeds of the flesh, a person who is born again, a new creation. Yet you, Jim, are telling us all that Christians – victims as much as their abusers – are prone to sin. That is absolutely false, and really it is the reason you are writing a book like this. You believe that unless people like you crank out handbooks of legalities, do’s and don’ts, then a Christian is never going to get it right. In your theology, I see no room for the Holy Spirit indwelling and leading us. Evangelical churches are filled today with people who claim to belong to Christ, but are not known by Him, and those are the people that so many pastors and teachers in the church are calling “Christians.”
Finally, notice that Newheiser is guilty of the same old fundamental “ABC” errors of people who teach wrongly on abuse. One of his commonly used words is “physical” abuse. Most abuse to him is really just not all that serious. It is only the “bad” cases that warrant separation and maybe (“don’t tell anyone I said this”) divorce. But that divorce thing you know – it is just the last ditch step to be, well, avoided at pretty much all costs.
Have I been too harsh on Pastor Newheiser? I don’t think so. I have only addressed a couple of the erroneous and damaging things in his book. Believe me, I could go on and on and on.
Don’t buy this book. It is a bad book, just like most books on marriage, divorce and remarriage are.
To find a list of books and resources we do not recommend for domestic abuse, go to our Hall of Blind Guides page. You can always find our Hall of Blind Guides under out ABOUT tab in the top menu.
UPDATE 1: Rebecca Davis has let us know about an article Jim Newheiser wrote in 2016, Six pastoral lessons learned in sex abuse scandal. Barb Roberts and Rebecca Davis have both commented over at that article. Barb has expressed concerns about Newheiser’s article.
And on our FB page, Rebecca Davis has said “Jim Newheiser recently became director of the Christian Counseling program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. I’ve heard that the program has become much more difficult for women under his leadership.”
UPDATE 2: Tim Challies has now published 10 Common but Illegitimate Reasons to Divorce which draws heavily on Newheiser’s book. We do not recommend his post: it is the typically awful tripe which harms victims of abuse. What we do recommend is the discussion of this post which is on the Aquila Report’s Facebook page here. Barbara Roberts, Marie O’Toole and Jessica Fore have commented there.