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Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Ministry in the New Marriage Culture" (Editor: Jeff Iorg)

TITLE: Ministry in the New Marriage Culture
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2015, (272 pages).

The topic of marriage has become a lot more heated recently. Traditionally, the idea of marriage has been one between a man and a woman. It has since been expanded to extend marriage to same-sex couples. With the recent Supreme court decision that legalizes same sex marriage, every state in the United States will have to deal with the consequences of the decision. In general, every Church will have to deal with the diverse opinions in their congregations. In view of continued controversies surrounding the biblical and theological views of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, ministry has become a lot more complex, nuanced, and sensitive. The pastor or minister will have to tread carefully the path of being accepting and caring without compromising theological truths and biblical principles.  How can one be loving without being labeled legalistic or dogmatic? How do we relate with people whose views of marriage are totally different from ours? What happens when our convictions clash with the laws imposed on us? How do we relate to individuals having a sexual identity crisis? In this book, fifteen contributors from several theological seminaries have come together to help us navigate the increasingly complex ministry environment, in particular, dealing with the multi-dimensional marriage cultures.

This book covers a lot of ground. Based on the conviction that "same sex marriage is wrong - on every level, in every way," the contributors seek to find ways in which they can do ministry in an increasingly liberal society. Having said that, the book is not about providing reasons why they believe SSM is wrong, but how they can relate to people who do not believe the same way as them. It is about ministry in this new marriage culture where marriage is no longer just between a man and a woman. Paul Wegner and Richard R. Melick Jr write about the biblical foundations for ministry from the Old and New Testament respectively. Wegner uses four passages in the Old Testament to show us that the Old Testament grounds us in understanding the original design of marriage. Melick Jr shows us how the city of Corinth's economic success was undermined by the spiritually corrupt society. Going into 1 Corinthians and Romans 1, there is a consistency that homosexuality comes under the same category of vices called porneia. What is needed is not simply a every-man-to-his-own-opinion, but how a Christian worldview and a properly functioning church can provide the best environment for the deepest longings of the human soul. It is not marriage as man intended but marriage as what God had originally intended that is going to be satisfying.

Three essays are then written to give the theological foundations for ministry. Christopher W. Morgan and Gregory C Cochran writes about "gospel confidence" that seen from the position of the cross, we see every member as important to be cared for. The gospel connects all. They tell the story of Rosaria who pushed back against the Promise Keepers movement, but the loving response she received changed her view of things. Rodrick K. Durst believes that a robust ecclesiology of the Church will result in a community of believers who will not only contend for the faith but also offer the community hope through the transforming power of the gospel. With confessions, covenants, and catechisms, the practice of doing church together will lead to serving the society together. Adam Groza sees from a "positive sexual ethic" perspective that sex is created for a good purpose. Both genders have strengths and weaknesses and homosexuality is idolatry in itself. Instead of fighting the different orientations, recognize that both homosexuals and heterosexuals have strong tendencies toward sexual immorality. Both need repentance.

The third part of the book deals with practical matters that many readers would find familiar with. Tony Merida sees the pulpit ministry as a way to mediate differing views; to build bridges; to study the biblical text; to apply the text to all marriages; and also to be prepared to bear the consequences of our preaching, especially when it irritates the dissenters. Heath Lambert believes in counseling individuals to find support within the community of love; to cultivate godly relationships with mature believers who are non-homosexuals; and to help individuals find their identity in Christ instead of their sexual orientations. Debbie Steele counsels those affected by SSM, like children of same sex parents, especially with regard to dealing with feelings of shame and guilt. Paul Kelly looks at youth ministry in the midst of "legalization and normalization of SSM in American society" and pays attention to helping youths discover their self identity; to care for them; to help them navigate the waters of discomfort; and provide hope in Christ. The key strategy is to engage continuously. Ann Iorg looks at Children's Ministry and believes that the home and the Church are crucial places where a child's sense of identity, of family, and belonging is formed. Taught well, children will grow up to let their identity in God become more important than individual rights. They learn personal growth rather than altering their worth. They learn about family. They can be taught a comprehensive curriculum. Unfortunately, some churches focus on entertainment and programs that occupy time instead of solid materials to enable them to grow spiritually. Leroy Gainey compares the new marriage cultural movement with the civil rights movement. In other words, fighting for racial equality is not the same as fighting for SSM marriage equality. Brad Dacus deals with the tricky path of "navigating legal challenges to church" where he suggests ways to write "bylaw language" and to ensure that the Church's religious doctrine does not contradict the legal wording of the laws. There are many practical issues Dacus covers. He talks about issues related to employment; to marriage applications; to Church facilities use; and other potentially tricky situations. He has suggestions on guidelines for transgenders attending church. On issues of restrooms, he says that having a Unisex restroom is often a helpful alternative. Jim L. Wilson talks about a "pastoral model for engaging community." Finally, Jeff Iorg gives a model sermon which in itself is worth the price of the book.

This book is a necessary resource for churches and believers who are grappling with new ways to relate and to connect with people from all walks of life, in particular, people of different sexual orientations. In one book, we have a wide range of topics that help readers be versatile on the methods and strategies we can use. It is important to remember that we do not need to change our biblical convictions or theological perspectives just to fit the new marriage culture of our time. What we need are new strategies and creative ways to demonstrate love and acceptance. I like the wide coverage across age groups and the different ministries of the Church. There is also the continued biblical and theological grounding from all the contributors, showing readers that these are committed Christians who are also dedicated to ministering in love and compassion.

If you are unsure of how to lead your Church through the increasingly complex marriage culture we are in, begin with this book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of B&H Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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