Sunday, October 09, 2011

Book Review: Except for Fornication

There are few issues that are as vitally important and yet rarely addressed in the church as divorce and remarriage. It is one of those topics that is given a wide berth, even by many otherwise bold Christian leaders, because it is tragically so commonplace in the church.

Dr. H. Van Dyke Parunak has put together a very detailed little book on this topic that addresses many of the common questions surrounding divorce (are Christians permitted to divorce in the case of fornication, can a divorced Christian remarry if the divorce was the result of fornication, etc.). His work, Except for Fornication: The Teaching of the Lord Jesus on Divorce and Remarriage is the latest release from Energion Press in the Areopagus Critical Christian Issues series and few topics are more critical and in need of serious study than the issue of divorce and remarriage. As an added bonus, I actually know Van Parunak and have spent some time with him and his delightful wife Anita on a couple of occassions and also know his son and daughter-in-law. So it is especially nice to be able to read, thoroughly review and unreservedly recommend Except for Fornication.

It isn't a very long book like most of the Areopagus series but it is also very narrowly focused on a single topic. Van does a wonderful job in drawing the connection between the brief statements of Jesus on divorce and remarriage and the Old Testament Law teachings that He was addressing and His Jewish audience would have been familiar with. This is one of those places in the teaching ministry of Christ where understanding the Old Testament makes a crucial difference in understanding what Jesus was teaching and how it would be understood by His audience.

If there is one caution it is that for a book this size, the material is quite weighty and some of the material is pretty technical. I am fairly familiar with a lot of what Van is talking about but some of it was quite frankly beyond me in a technical sense. That is not to say that this book is not accessible, it is, but there are places where it is deep material. I should also point out that if you are looking for a simplistic defense of our contemporary ambivalence toward divorce and remarriage in the church, you will not find it here.

When faced with the question of the teaching of Scripture, especially the explicit teaching of the Lord regarding divorce and remarriage, the church is in desperate need of renewed focus and fidelity to the Bible. Too often this issue is dealt with pragmatically or culturally but something as fundamental as breaking the marriage covenant deserves better. Van Parunak's work in studying this issue is critical at this juncture in the church and I hope it leads to additional scholarly and practical treatment of this tragic issue. A lot of pastors and elders who find themselves dealing with this uncomfortable topic would benefit from owning and referencing this work.

(I received Except For Fornication as a free review copy from Energion Press in return for an unbiased review)

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