Rick Shenk’s noble project is to elevate Christian marriage, reinstating its sacred character. Secularists may hijack the term ‘marriage’ but Christians must live by God’s revealed teaching. Destructive human meddling in this institution cannot change God’s original design.
The blurb says the book is ‘stimulating and provocative’. I did find it exciting but also exasperating. Professor Shenk adopts a twin creation account, making aspects of his exegesis of Genesis 2 troubling. For instance, ‘God made the creatures to resolve Adam’s situation (aloneness), but this did not “work”’ (p.32).
Adam’s aloneness is seen as an incomplete image of God and necessitates the creation of Eve. It is only in marriage that the divine image is truly manifest; marriage shows the ‘One-and-Many’ nature of God.
As a covenant, it also displays God’s faithfulness. Singleness, according to Shenk, is ‘The new idea for a New Covenant’ (p.154). The Old Testament emphasises marriage in anticipation of the coming Seed. The New Testament’s emphasis on the new birth and missionary endeavour means there can be a calling to singleness.
The author’s main intent is to demonstrate that marriage is the climax of the two creation accounts and is the bedrock of biblical theology. He traces the theme of marriage from the Genesis garden to Revelation’s garden city; from Adam and his perfect bride to Christ and his restored virgin bride, the Church. He shows how idolatry and adultery are constantly interconnected and that idolatry is spiritual adultery.
The treatment of the Song of Solomon is refreshing. We are reminded that ‘intimacy is terrifying work’ and ‘shallow religion is avoiding intimacy with the true God’ (p.88).
John’s gospel’s deliberate echo of Genesis 1 and 2 is presented in an inventive but not altogether convincing way, culminating in the wedding at Cana and the purging of the Temple.
Shenk’s treatment of Ephesians 5 introduced me to the Orthodox Church’s concept of theosis (deification or Christification). It is ‘participating in the divine life but not in the divine essence’ (p.114). This is the church’s experience through its mystical union with Christ.
The material dealing with marriage as a sacrament is a bridging chapter, crossing from biblical theology to the current problem of church and state’s mutual involvement in ceremonies, licensing and defining of ‘marriage’. Shenk blames the Reformers for dropping marriage as a sacrament and handing it over to the state. Shenk gives his own definition of a sacrament, neither Reformed nor Roman Catholic, and suggests ‘marriage may be the chief of the sacraments’ (p.141).
The subtitle ‘Defining Offence and Sacrament’ on page 125 may be a mistake: I believe ‘ordinance’ was intended.
The book is an interesting study, but if one is looking for marriage counselling material they would need to look elsewhere.