Reviewed by Greg Cochran
In his introductory remarks to this timely volume, Jeff Iorg notes, “Orthodox Christian leaders have clearly articulated our moral position and engaged in political activism opposing this movement, but the culture changed anyway. We are now, like it or not, in a new marriage culture. The question this book attempts to answer is simple: Now what?” Dr. Iorg goes on to note that the answer is not as simple as the question makes it sound.
In an attempt at least to begin answering the “now what” question, Dr. Iorg assembled an array of evangelical scholars and church leaders to speak to the practical ramifications of being Christian leaders in a new marriage culture. To date, this book offers the most practical foray into how a ministry might maintain biblical fidelity while navigating the practical pitfalls of a new family order in the U.S.A.
In chapter one, Dr. Iorg outlines clearly what this book is not. This book is neither a biblical critique of the new marriage order nor an apologetic for traditional marriage. All of the writers in the book affirm the traditional Christian view of heterosexual marriage. However, the book focuses its attention specifically on how to minister the gospel in a culture which appears to have rejected the traditional Christian view of marriage.
Chapter two, “Ministry Foundations in the Old Testament” by Paul Wegner, offers a quick summary of how Americans arrived at the dissolution of the traditional marriage paradigm. After this brief overview, Wegner reaffirms four foundational principles for marriage from the Old Testament. First, Wegner points to Genesis 2 as an indication of the male-female union establishing a new family unit. Next, Wegner turns attention to Genesis 19 as exemplary of God’s disapproval of homosexuality. Third, Wegner argues from Genesis that God did permit polygamy to exist, but his clear paradigm for marriage—a paradigm reaffirmed both by Paul and Jesus—was one man and one woman united in one flesh union. Finally, Wegner draws from the Song of Solomon his principle that God affirms passionate love in heterosexual marriage.
Chapter three by Richard Melick (Wegner’s New Testament counterpart at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) offers a look at the New Testament foundations for marriage. Specifically, Melick draws on Paul’s writings to the Corinthians because of the contextual similarities between ancient Corinth and our own American culture.
For Melick, the Corinthian culture was as promiscuous as our own. Melick demonstrates that Paul confronted the homosexuality of his day and considered homosexual acts to be biblically forbidden (Romans 1; 1 Corinthians 6). From his review of these texts, Melick suggests five priorities for Christian ministry.
First, Melick explains that Christians must always express God’s love through His grace. Second, while loving, Christians must affirm a biblical worldview. Sexual purity is an aspect of the biblical worldview. Third, Christians should exalt a biblical view of marriage as the safest place to explore intimacy, companionship, and sexual pleasure. Fourth, Melick encourages Christians churches to teach respect for the human body. And, finally, Melick explains how Christians must appreciate the power of church community.
Following this biblical foundation, chapter four offers a powerful reminder that Christians ought to remain quite confident in a new marriage culture because the gospel of Jesus Christ has lost none of its power. Drs. Morgan and Cochran frame this chapter with potent examples of how the gospel is still at work converting sinners into saints.
This chapter first offers a brief overview of the New Testament gospel, then it unpacks the concepts of gospel power and gospel community. A true gospel community will strive toward unity, love, and holiness. Consolidating the New Testament teaching, the authors offer six ways the gospel empowers believers in a new marriage culture:
- The gospel provides the lens for understanding our culture, whose greatest need has already been met in Christ.
- The gospel still possesses the power of God to transform lives.
- The goal of gospel ministry is not heterosexuality, but holiness.
- The gospel empowers the church to display the holiness and love of God.
- The gospel provides patience and endurance through lifetimes of temptation and lifestyles of repentance.
- Finally, examples abound today of this gospel still working for Christ’s redemption.
In chapter five, Rick Durst focuses attention specifically on the church in his plea for a robust ecclesiology for the new marriage culture. Durst posits the church in South Africa as a model for overcoming a negative stigma with positive ministry. Whatever the culture may think of Christians now, Christians can shape future opinions through faithful, loving ministry.
In addition to his plea for churches to continue practicing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Durst offers three necessary practices and churches move forward. First, churches must continue to produce confessions of faith. The church must address current events through the lens of our historic faith. Second, church members must continue keeping covenants with one another. And, third, churches should practice robust discipleship, which Durst calls catechism.
Adam Groza argues in chapter six for a positive sexual ethic suitable for engaging the new marriage culture. For Groza, the surrounding culture is subjected to a personal brokenness, including sexual brokenness, gender confusion, and homosexual idolatry. Sexuality and gender have intrinsic (rather than merely instrumental) value on account of humans being created in the image of God.
The solution to such brokenness is the positive sexual ethic revealed in the Scriptures and proclaimed in the gospel. The gospel offers the hope of wholeness through the Resurrection. Salvation and sanctification fuel a new sexual ethic for the believer which also secures hope that grows over time until finally Christ returns!
Groza’s concept of sanctification is clearly gospel-centered. He’s under no illusion about strategies which promote simply behavior modification. Groza notes, “Apart from Christ, sin is not just what we do; it is who we are. We are sinners and are defined by our sin. Repentance is, therefore, not behavior modification” (93). Repentance works through faith to bring about sanctification over time. The church invites the homosexual to come to Jesus. And the church walks patiently alongside those who embrace the gospel.
Chapter seven marks a major transition in the book, moving from theological foundations to models and methods for ministry. In chapter seven, Tony Merida offers a model for how preachers might preach the biblical message of marriage. Merida, the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in North Carolina, builds his case for the preacher as a bridge builder. To do this, Merida uses John Stott’s Between Two Worlds.
Merida offers a number of clarifications concerning the biblical view of marriage. For example, he demonstrates that Paul viewed singleness as a benefit to the gospel minister. He notes that Paul exalted singleness without undermining marriage. Merida wants preachers to present a countercultural vision of human sexuality and marriage. He offers encouragement to pastors concerning the congregations to whom they speak.
Chapter eight continues along the lines of practical ministry. In this chapter, Heath Lambert, who teaches counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College in Louisville, KY, narrates the story of a man named Will whom he counseled through the process of leaving a homosexual relationship for Christ’s sake. Lambert offers two fundamental, biblical principles: Flee sexual immorality and Find Christian community. In addition, Lambert models how he walked with Will through gospel discipleship built around Ephesians 1.
Debbie Steele, who teaches Counseling at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, addresses more particularly in chapter nine how to counsel persons affected by same-sex marriage. Steele rightly notes that ministers will more and more be confronted with a host of difficult situations. Steele offers some foundational coping principles for Christian families seeking counseling. Steele notes the overwhelming flood of emotions which typically engulf these situations. The remainder of chapter nine encourages the reader to focus on what can actually be controlled, offers aid for dealing with shame and guilt, communicates healthy boundaries for relationships, and admonishes believers to reconcile broken relationships.
Chapters ten and eleven get even more practical and more specific. The strength of chapter ten is its offer of practical guidelines for youth ministry in a new marriage culture. Kelly urges youth leaders to make specific plans for how they will respond to young people experiencing same-sex attraction. Likewise, Ann Iorg gives similar counsel in chapter eleven. Chapter eleven demonstrates that children’s ministries will be affected, too. Consequently, Iorg urges churches to develop an adequate check-in system, screen volunteers carefully, and keep accurate records of children and their family members.
Leroy Gainey (chapter twelve) considers the new marriage culture as a potential civil rights movement. Offering a personal perspective, an historical perspective, and a biblical perspective, Gainey concludes that the LGBT movement cannot ultimately lead to flourishing because it does not allow its participants to realize fully their God-given potentialities.
In chapter thirteen, Brad Dacus—the founder and president of the Pacific Justice Institute—offers both defensive and offensive strategies for churches and ministries. The defensive strategies include bylaw statements on marriage, wedding policy statements, facilities-use policies, exclusion policies from church activities, and boundary and condition statements for relating to sex offenders and transgender persons. Offensive strategies relate to community outreach. This section is written from an interview between Brad Dacus and Pastor James Kaddis of Long Beach, CA.
Following up on the outreach model discussed by Brad Dacus and James Kaddis, Jim Wilson expands the pastoral model for engaging community in chapter fourteen. Wilson argues for an incarnational ministry model which is built on grace and truth. Such a model means we don’t condemn, but neither can the Christian condone: “Go and sin no more.” Wilson offers concrete examples from First Baptist Church, San Francisco.
Finally, Dr. Iorg includes a model sermon as the conclusion to the book. Dr. Iorg addresses a number of New Testament texts (Romans 1, 1 Peter 4, 2 Corinthians 10) in his effort to establish a biblical view of sexual morality. Dr. Iorg points out that the new marriage culture, while different, is not all that new. Christians have dealt with out-of-step sexual values throughout history. Christianity has a high view of sexual morality which often conflicts with the values of the world.
Greg Cochran (PhD, SBTS) is Director of Applied Theology in the School of Christian Ministries at California Baptist University.
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Ministry in the New Marriage Culture