In our technological, philosophical, intellectual, and global society it is often inferred that we are somehow far wiser and smarter than our forebears. While this may be true to some degree, in many ways such an idea could not be further from the truth. Books on ministry mentoring, marital harmony, and life balancing seem to be more numerous than the sands of the seashore, yet serious problems in these sectors seem to be greater than ever before. Pastors are dropping out of the ministry due to a whole number of dreadful failures, just as many marriages are splintering inside the Church as are without, and balancing life seems like a three-ring circus of cell-phones, video conferencing, and instant messaging.
In all our swirling activity, are we any better off? Are “ministry” marriages coasting along more smoothly? The obvious answer would seem to be, “no.” But, if we have not learned to better manage our family life for the cause of the Gospel here in the twenty-first century, then where is our error?!
In Doreen Moore’s pithy little book on “Leaving a Legacy in Marriage and Ministry” she does not endeavor to identify problems in current trends, but to help us learn from three prominent, historical marriages. In the thought provoking introduction she first outlines several well known missionaries who are held up as heroes of the faith. She handily argues that although C.T. Studd, William Carey, and David Livingstone all had powerful and wide-spread influence for “the cause of Christ,” all three may be recorded as completely delinquent with their familial responsibilities (pg. 9-11). She discerns that although they had an all-consuming passion for the Good News to be spread, they believed that “the cause of Christ” came before any family needs or desires (pg. 12-13). They did not view marriage itself as a ministry, but quite possibly a hindrance. And, as a result their spiritual legacies were subject to an awful blight of irresponsibility.
Upon viewing this shoddy heritage of such men who are so idealized by evangelicalism, Moore puts forth a whole myriad of questions that every minister today should ponder with great deliberation. Her basic thesis for this work is found at the crest of a mounting pile of concerns, on which she writes, “…perhaps the question that encompasses all the others is: what biblical and theological convictions should govern how one views one’s role as a minister of the gospel in relation to one’s role as a husband and father? How a person answers these questions has serious ramifications for both his family and his ministry. These questions are not to be taken lightly ” (pg. 12).
With such a question of great weight placed in the foreground, she then details how the book will attempt to give an answer that is realistic and readily applicable. Unlike some contemporary authors who seek to manufacture a “brand new” idea, Moore chooses to put her thoughtful historical and theological reflections to work. Through the lives and marriages of John and Molly Wesley, George and Elizabeth Whitefield, and Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, the author methodically guides us toward an answer that is God-glorifying and Christ-exalting. As she quickly narrates the lives of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards, it becomes very clear to the reader that all three men wholeheartedly believed in the cause of Christ, and in spending and “being spent” for the sake of the Name. Yet as the observer soon finds out, there are vast differences in the harmony (or lack of it) in the homes of these gentlemen and in the legacies left behind through their descendents. At the outset, the task of the book seems daunting, but the purpose of the text is clear – to assist the reader in cultivating a Scriptural position concerning his connection to ministry and the love and care due his wife and family (pg. 17).
After scanning the contents and working through the introduction, I was somewhat skeptical that the author could answer such a significant and historical question as listed above, with such a thin volume of text. However, upon completion I concur that Moore’s analysis was not only sufficient for the thesis, but also quite convincing. She stays on course with her purpose and continually points the reader to utilize the information in one’s personal family life and ministry. As the three figurehead marriages are detailed and lucidly contrasted with each other, it is quite easy to arrive at the same conclusion the author purports.
Her arguments are not entirely exhaustive, but concisely constructed in basic research format. Each of the three narrative chapters are nicely divided into four specific sections that help make the analysis easy to understand. The four areas are as follows: [1.] “Biblical and theological convictions of each of these men regarding their role and responsibilities as ministers of the gospel [2.] The Biblical and theological convictions of each of these men regarding their role and responsibilities as husbands and/or fathers [3.] How their Biblical and theological convictions shaped their actual marriages and/or families [4.] How each wife responded to her husband’s convictions” (pg. 18).
Three Marriages in Focus
Beginning with the rather schismatic and disastrous contract (one can hardly call it a marriage) between John and Molly Wesley, Moore guides the reader through a respectful, yet honest look at the apparent disunity. While Wesley performed great and marvelous things for the Kingdom of God, his marriage was a complete tragedy. Bitterness reigned (especially on the part of his wife) and utter disregard and selfishness seemed to be the earmarks of Wesley’s marital ideas. Overall the author makes wise use of history and accurately interprets the motives and actions of the personalities without undue bias.
While I agree with her premise that Wesley was an irresponsible husband and his wife an embittered, resistant opposite, I find some weakness in one of her arguments. In the section concerning Wesley’s teachings on the role of a husband, Moore gives a beautiful quote of Wesley regarding the need for a husband to love his wife as Christ loves the Church (pg. 24-5). After this quotation, it is accurately noted that such teaching was written near the very end of his life, and two years after the passing of his wife. It is obvious that this Scriptural view was something that had taken many years for Wesley to learn and understand. And, of course we know he sadly failed to live out this ideal during his life. She quotes Wesley even further as painting a “lofty,” but godly picture of what a marriage should look like. All this seems true and without misinterpretation until the very next page (pg. 26-7).
Moore seems to feel she has unveiled a great “disparity between” (pg. 26) Wesley’s teaching and his personal life. I believe this to be untrue. We must not forget that the loving, biblical, marital teachings of this man (as quoted) were written after his complete failure and near the end of his life. It is apparent that Wesley’s priorities were out of balance and in error. But, before attempting to point a finger to indicate hypocrisy, we must render Wesley’s later writings just as honest as his earlier teachings, yet simply from a more mature and experienced position. Fortunately, Moore does not seem to repeat this rather artificial construction of an argument anywhere else in the book.
Good Scriptural correlation is given for balancing her premise, for example on page 31 she writes, “Looking at Wesley’s teaching in the light of Scripture, it is clear that singleness is a gift with great advantages. One’s interests are divided when married, while single men and women are free to pursue ‘undistracted devotion to the Lord’ (1 Cor. 7:35)” (pg. 31) In this, Moore is maintaining her argument for ministry/love in the home and the building of a spiritual legacy, and also rectifying herself with biblical passages on singleness and contentment. This is the wisest approach.
The narrative on John and Molly Wesley is probably the most vivid and exciting chapter to read, but the author also provides wonderful contrasts in each section that relate differences for personal application (pg. 86). Although the Wesley’s “roller coaster” of a marriage is a fun read, Moore’s writings on the Whitefield and the Edwards families are well arranged and help convince the reader of her basic premise. One could organize the three stories in this way: the Wesley’s marriage was one of disunity, bitterness, selfishness, rejection and ultimate disaster. The Whitefield’s marriage was well-founded, mostly harmonious, yet filled with hardships (especially on Elizabeth’s part), and much separation on account of George’s many travels. The Edwards’ marriage is a shining example of spiritual oneness, joyous intimacy, family unity, and a lasting legacy. Although this description is quite simplistic, I believe it accurately outlines the overall thrust of the text.
Her narrative on the life of George Whitefield is quite detailed and provides helpful information for the reader to fully grasp the passion that he had for the Gospel. Personal accounts of his ministry fill the text and bring to light how committed he was to “being spent for the cause of Christ.” His marriage appeared to be one of healthy trust and joy, but sadly Moore took a long time arriving at a description of their relationship. And, once she arrived at her explanation of the marriage it was rather shortly lived, as well as her writings on Elizabeth. The Whitefield’s chapter was not as well organized as the others, but shined with excellent application material which will be brought to light in the section following.
The author’s love and respect for Jonathan and Sarah Edwards comes through in an endearing way that does not overtly detract from the two other stories. And, of course what is not to like about the wonderful Edwards family? I was rather stunned at just how excellent a marriage was described. It may be thought that Moore was slanting the material to favor Jonathan and Sarah, but indeed she was not. Her use of primary and secondary sources in their regard was without bias, and in my opinion, she provided an accurate example of their love.
Doreen Moore’s talent shines in her ability to ask thought-provoking questions. And to my great delight, she answered most of her inquires by the time I reached the last page. At times there was some repetition or weakness in her vocabulary, but the purpose of the book was effectively woven throughout the text. Her historiography was accurate (except for the supposed “disparity” in Wesley’s narrative), and her way of applying the stories to present-day circumstances did not seem inappropriate to me. She was careful to not suppose that upon reading the book the reader would be automatically equipped to live like Edwards and not like Wesley. Instead, Moore exhorts the reader to ponder the lives of these three couples and learn from their example as best as one can with the Power of Christ. Her purpose in application is clear, which makes for a great goal in all circumstances – lives that glorify God, proclaim the power of His Name, and leave a lasting legacy (cf. pg. 18, 54, 127).
Personal Application Analysis
I have studied the lives of Wesley, Whitefield, and Edwards, but never have I taken such an in-depth look at their views on marriage and the reality of family in their lives. The stories of all three men were truly shocking me to – negatively with Wesley and positively with the others. I could hardly believe that some of the things said of John and Molly were true, but in fact they were! This book gave me a renewed excitement for history itself because it turned mundane facts and dates into a colorful journey. As Moore painted these contrasting personalities on the canvass of this book I found myself unable to stop reading. The lives of these men and women are put forth in such a way that history seemed to be alive again – a noble feat for any author. Perhaps history should not be so alive that we attempt to approximate our lives in accordance with its dusty pages; but what greater way to learn history than through a well told story?
This book not only helped me delineate the differences between these three men and their wives, but also challenged me to look at my own lifestyle of ministry. As ministers of the Gospel in the twenty-first century we are hard-pressed on every side to perform. Pastors seem more like project managers and teachers similar to entertainers. If a minister is not multi-tasking with his smartphone, blogging for his flock, and putting out continuous fires through e-mail, then many seem to think he is not meeting his “quota” for the pastorate. There is much to be said about giving one’s all for the sake of the Gospel, yet there seems to be something lacking in many “ministry” homes today. Out of the three examples in this book, only one home truly exuded the encompassing trait I speak of – harmonious peace.
The Edwards family serves as the best exemplar for us in our busy and “must do” society. Certainly Jonathan and Sarah were tremendously busy. They had eleven children and held a prominent place in the community in which they lived (pg. 97-8). Jonathan would often spend thirteen hours a day in his study and one can most assuredly guess the workload of a mother of eleven (pg. 101-2). Yet through all of these tasks and many others, there remained a sense of melody and peace within their home (pg. 102-4). Why did the Edwards’ home enjoy such blessing? I believe it is because they firmly believed that the home in and of itself was a ministry field through which the cause of the Gospel could go forth for years to come (pg. 114-16). The result of this theological motivation is staggering and the amazing heritage left behind from their investment is astounding (pg. 97-8).
When I looked at the effect such an idea had on this family, it was easy to conclude that I would want the same result in my home. What a great idea to treat the family unit like a “little church!” (pg. 121-22) But, can we really look to this example and try to judge our own actions based on their outcomes to achieve a desired result? Unfortunately, the answer is most likely a negative one. The wonderful marriage of the Edwards family was just that – the Edwards family. We cannot expect in emulating another family to be rewarded with the same results. This would only send us spiraling down an exasperating tunnel of comparison and approximation. This use of history would be sadly inaccurate and frustrating for anyone (especially children) brought under such an unrealistic regime.
The more appropriate way of applying the thoughtful lessons of these stories to our post-modern lives is to strike on the chord of theological motivation that under-girded their individual actions. Instead of trying to measure ourselves against their accomplishments, we should open our hearts to receive and understand the Truth they followed and hence applied. It may not be true that we are more “busy” than they were, but it is true that the same principles the Edwards family used in raising their children and loving one another still works today! We can only rest our hopes on the Scriptural principles gleaned from these men and women and be fair warned about rejecting them.
Doreen Moore derives thirteen principles from her chosen narratives that are thoughtful, Scripture based, and appropriately understood. These sound points to consider bring together the many questions she raised throughout the book and adequately provide answers and motivation to apply the lesson to the reader’s life and ministry. I found the concluding chapter of “Good Christians, Good Husbands” to be a wonderful capstone to the compilation, and challenging to my personal actions. I am not only serving in full-time ministry, but also building a family with my amazing wife, Stephanie. The super-energetic four-year-old (nicknamed Hurricane Hudson) requires lots of patient pastoring, and our cuddly, ever-smiling year-and-a-half old daughter, Everlynn, needs to know that her Papa loves her more than even the “most important” outside pastoral work. At this important juncture in my life, I find this book to be superbly thought-provoking and a guide to finding biblical balance between family and ministry.
Yes, we are to give our all for the sake of the Name and the spreading of the Good News. And, this book has proved to me that one of the most powerful ways to make an eternal impact for Christ is to sincerely invest in ministry to my family. If more men and women could grasp a hold of this concept, who knows what could be accomplished! Therefore, you and I must focus our attention on the reason we have our being – to live for the glory of God in all things, that His power and love would be abundantly known in and through our lives. May we walk in His peace and may our lives preach.
Book Review written by Michael J. Breznau, Th.M. [Revised 2013; Original writing, March 2008]
Doreen Moore, Good Christians, Good Husbands? (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus 2004), 9-11.
Doreen Moore is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband Dave, and 2 sons. Prior to seminary, Doreen and her husband were on the staff with Campus Crusade for Christ.
You can purchase “Good Christians, Good Husbands?” directly from Christian Focus Publishers by following this link: http://www.christianfocus.com/item/show/277
This book is also available on Amazon