'God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation.' Second Edition. By Andreas Köstenberger with David W. Jones. Review by Timothy Paul Jones

by Timothy Paul Jones – Dec 2

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Over the past five years, the first edition God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation has served the church well. The text presented a clear and unapologetically biblical theology of marriage and family. Meticulously researched, God, Marriage, and Family quickly and rightly became the standard work in this field for conservative evangelical Christians.

Much has improved in this second edition: Sections on corporal punishment, singleness, and homosexuality have been expanded. The chapter on divorce and remarriage has been reworked completely and presents its case more clearly than before. The format and overall design are easier to follow.

This new edition is not without some shortcomings, however–particularly in relation to the field of family ministry. In a well-intended attempt to consider theologically some current trends in family ministry, a new chapter has been added: “God, Marriage, Family, and the Church: Learning to Be the Family of God.” While remaining appreciative of the balance of the book, I wish to raise a few concerns related to this new chapter.

One primary point of concern in this new chapter is in an apparent assumption that family-based, family-equipping, and family-integrated models of ministry are three variations of family integration rather than three separate and identifiable approaches to family ministry. Admittedly, some elements of each one do overlap at times with others—but each model remains quite distinct and particular. These three categories have been recognized as identifiably distinct in a number of sources over the past several years. (For examples and explanations, see here, here, and here.) In short, family-integration entails the complete elimination of age-segmented programs and generationally-focused staff positions; family-based or family-friendly congregations add intergenerational activities to current programs; family-equipping churches retain some age-organized ministries but reorganize events and activities at every level so that parents are trained, involved, equipped, and expected to disciple their children.

The new chapter in God, Marriage, and Family fails to recognize the distinctions between these approaches. The text states, for example, that “some churches are more purist in their convictions and application of family integration, while others are amenable to combine this approach with other approaches” (259), with text and footnote alike suggesting that the three models of family ministry are three forms or degrees of family integration. Family-based and family-equipping are apparently less “purist” forms of a single phenomenon of family integration.

Demonstrating that this is indeed how these three models are being understood and presented, the term “family-based youth ministry” is used to describe a youth ministry led by parents instead of a youth pastor, which is in turn presented as an example of family integration (259). This confuses what is implied by the phrase “family integration” (which would entail the elimination of all age-segmented ministries in the church and thus not have separate youth activities at all) as well as “family-based youth ministry” (which would be led by a professional youth minister who would plan some intergenerational events in addition to age-segmented events). The presentation in this chapter, however, conflates these two very different approaches to family ministry.

This leads to a second concern with the new chapter: One foundation of this misconstrual of models appears to be the assumption that these models have emerged only recently (258) and that there is insufficient data from which to assess them fully; at one point, it is even stated that “family-integrated” is the only term that was “widely used” when this new chapter was being written (372). In fact, family-based ministry has been discussed at both academic and practical levels for decades. In the late 1970s, Harry Parkin from Nommesen University was speaking in favor of recovering “family-based faith” at Lutheran conferences. Charles Sell’s 1981 and 1995 textbook on family ministry described “family-based Christian education.” In 1994, the first edition of Mark DeVries’ Family-Based Youth Ministry brought this discussion to a practical level and helped to coalesce family-based ideas into an identifiable model for youth ministry. Since that time, a host of books and articles—including doctoral projects and dissertations—have explored family-based ministry at a variety of levels. All of these discussions of family-based ministry emerged separate from any discussion of family integration.

Additionally, there is academic and professional literature related to family-integrated ministry that precedes the discussion into which this new chapter wades. In the mid-1980s, Malan Nel of the University of Pretoria was pressing for “inclusive congregational” ministry. In Nel’s vision, children and youth would be “an integral part of the congregational whole” and “youths [would] not become a separate group.” His book Jeugbediening: ‘n Inklusiewe Gemeentelike Benaderin clearly articulated the implications of the inclusive congregational approach for church-based youth ministries in South Africa. Nel’s chapter in Mark Senter’s 2001 book Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church summarized his inclusive congregational approach for English-speaking audiences.

The suggestion in God, Marriage, and Family that the three primary family ministry models are forms of family integration—as well as the suggestions that the models have emerged only in “recent years” and that the terms (with the exception of family-integrated) are not “widely used”—overlooks a broad range of scholarly and popular writings. Family-based ministry in particular is not new at all, either as a term or as a concept. Writings related to these models span more than three decades.

Two less pressing but still significant concerns with the chapter relate primarily to family-integrated churches (FICs): (1) At times, it seems that the author may assume that family-integrated churches do not practice regenerate membership and Communion, though this is not clearly stated (263, as well as footnote 29 on page 373). In fact, credobaptist and some paedobaptist FICs do practice regenerate membership and Communion. In the paedobaptist FICs that do not practice regenerate membership and Communion, the foundation for these practices is not their view of family integration but their view of the covenants, coupled in some cases with their understanding of the Federal Vision.

(2) The chapter seems to take the phrase “family of families”—a term used by some proponents of family-integrated churches—to imply an ecclesiological revision in which the nuclear family becomes the primary redemptive unit rather than the church. Although this phrase may have been unwisely applied at times, proponents of family integration have repeatedly clarified what they intend by this phrase.Their intent is not any ecclesiological revision but a functional description of the way in which they seek to disciple one another and to witness to the world, by mobilizing families.

These errors do not negate the many strengths of the remainder of this text. I will still utilize and recommend the book. At the same time, it is hoped that it will not take five years for a third edition of God, Marriage, and Family—with a corrected chapter on family ministry—to be released.


Voddie Baucham, Family-Driven Faith: Doing What It Takes to Raise Sons and Daughters Who Walk With God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007) 194-95.

Mark DeVries with Earl F. Palmer, Family-Based Youth Ministry, rev. ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 197-210.

“This Hope Does Not Disappoint Us,” Lutheran Standard 17 (1977); Charles Sell, “Some Overall Approaches,” Family Ministry (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 151-52.

Malan Nel, “Inclusive Congregational Approach,” Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church, ed. Mark Senter III(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 4.

Malan Nel, Jeugbediening: ‘n Inklusiewe Gemeentelike Benaderin (Pretoria: Raad vir. Geesteswetenskaplike Navorsing) 1998.

Paul Renfro, “Why Family Integration Still Works,” Perspectives on Family Ministry: Three Views (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009) 89-90.