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Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

We are well-served with books on marriage. Whether we are approaching our wedding day or closing in on our 50th anniversary, we’ve got lots of wise counsel to turn to: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller, Married for God by Christopher Ash, When Sinners Say, “I Do,” by Dave Harvey, and on and on. But while we are well-served with books on marriage, we are not nearly so well-served with books on divorce and remarriage. And while we may wish we had no need for such works, the sad fact is they are necessary.

New to the market is Jim Newheiser’s Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers. This book adopts a Q&A format to answer a host of important questions spanning dating and engagement to separation, divorce, and remarriage. It is all built upon the premise that God “has revealed in his infallible, timeless, and all-sufficient Word the nature of marriage, the obligations of marriage, who may be married, and when divorce and remarriage are permissible.”

Of course, there is little controversy among orthodox Christians about marriage. We all agree it is an institution designed by God for the benefit of humanity. We agree that it is defined something like this: “A lifelong covenant of companionship between a man and a woman that has been established under God and before the community.” Where there is much less unanimity is in the area of divorce and remarriage. While what Newheiser says about dating, courtship, and marriage are helpful, what he says about divorce and remarriage make his book a uniquely helpful and important contribution.

Among Christians there are essentially two positions on divorce and remarriage. The majority view is that the Bible allows for divorce and remarriage under a limited set of circumstances; the minority or permanence view insists that a Christian may never initiate divorce and may never remarry so long as their spouse is alive. At their best, both views protect the sanctity of marriage by guarding against easy divorce and both views protect innocent parties who may be suffering at the hands of an abusive or otherwise ungodly spouse.

Newheiser takes and defends the majority view, but he first insists that divorce is never desirable and, at least among Christians, never inevitable. “While we should labor to understand what the Bible says about whether or when a marriage may end in divorce and whether or when a divorced person may remarry, it is most important to strive to learn how the gospel can enable shattered relationships to heal.” While he insists that divorce is always unfortunate and contrary to God’s design for marriage, he also insists the Bible allows for it in cases of adultery or abandonment. By my assessment he defends the position well through his careful interaction with the relevant biblical texts.

As I read this book, I was especially struck by the centrality of the local church in God’s plan for the world, for it plays a key role in both the forming and the dissolving of marriages. The local church bears a special responsibility to protect the vulnerable and discipline the wayward. When she handles these responsibilities seriously through teaching, counseling, and even excommunication, she protects those who need protection and disciplines those who need discipline. I can’t help but wonder how much the prevalence of divorce among professed Christians simply proves that the church has abdicated some of her key responsibilities.

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage is a strong book and one that will prove valuable to pastors, counselors, and church members. After all, few of us are untouched by issues related to divorce and remarriage; fewer still have diligently sought to understand what the Bible teaches on these important subjects. This book will help correct this.

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