Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Book Review -"This Momentary Marriage"- A Parable of Permanence by John Piper

After reading John Piper’s book “This Momentary Marriage- A Parable of Permanence.” I have come to the conclusion that this book is nearly perfect at defining the one-flesh marriage covenant between a man and a woman as it compares to Christ’s love for His bride, the church. Piper uses scripture throughout and exegetes many passages thouroghly and accurately. Piper also quotes Deitrich Bonhoffer throughout the book. This is significant in many of his chapters mainly because Piper thinks highly of Bonhoffer’s writings, including his “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell.” Piper would have hit the bullseye with this book except for the fact that he clearly misses the mark in the last chapter on divorce and remarriage. This is paramount because if marriage is as Piper defines as “God’s doing”, then one point of inaccuracy could have eternal consequences.Nearly perfect is not good enough.  

 Throughout the book, Piper begins chapters with a quote from Bonhoffer and overall, Piper sticks to biblical truth that marriage is a he puts it, “God’s doing”. Piper emphasizes this with many examples complete with verses from the Bible. He sums this up God’s doing by saying marriage is God’s design in creation, that God personally gave away the first bride, that God spoke marriage into existence, and that God established the one-flesh union as marriage. This is very important to understand as Piper makes the reader believe that all marriages as we know are according God’s design, God’s will, and God’s glory. 
Piper also makes it clear that marriage is a one-flesh covenant and time and time compares this with Christ’s covenant with His bride, the church. One particular section, “CHRIST WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS WIFE” beautifully sums up this point.

“Staying married, therefore, is not mainly about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant. “Till death do us part” or As long as we both shall live is a sacred covenant promise-the same kind Jesus made with his bride when he died for her. Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant –breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant. Christ will never leave his wife. Ever. There may be times of painful distance and tragic backsliding on our part. But Christ keeps his covenant forever. Marriage is a display of that!  That is the ultimate thing we can say about it. It puts the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.

The most important implication of this conclusion is that keeping covenant with our spouse is as important as telling the truth about God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ. Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. it’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel.

Jesus died for sinners. He forged a covenant in white-hot heat of his suffering in our place. He made an imperfect bride his own with the price of his blood and covered her with the garments of his own righteousness.  He said, “I am with you…to the end of the age…I will never leave you or forsake you” (Matt 28:20; Heb 13:5) Marriage is meant by God to put that gospel reality on display in the world. That is why we are married. That is why all married people are married, even when they don’t know or embrace the gospel.” (Chapter 1 page 25,26.)

Piper does an excellent job throughout the book explaining the significance of an individuals covenant with Christ as this applies to marriage. Piper also emphasizes the importance of forgiveness, grace and forbearance. Piper also includes many important topics such as headship, submission, sexuality and the roles of the husband and wife in marriage. Perhaps the best part of this book was Piper’s willingness to show the importance of singleness as this pertains to marriage and the church as a whole. This is significant as anyone who enters marriage is first a single individual. The point that Piper makes is that singleness is just as a blessing in life as is marriage. In fact, singleness in Christ is where will be in eternity as marriage is momentary.
As noted, I believe this book is excellent in showing the significance of marriage as we go through life here on earth. Marriage truly is God’s doing, and Piper should convince any reader of this truth. As noted, this book is so close to being perfect that had Piper excluded his view on divorce and marriage, anyone reading the book would have an understanding that divorce and remarriage is something foreign to God’s covenant of marriage.  

Since Piper comes close to perfection in this book, I believe it is essential to note where he comes up short as well as the consequences of his missing the mark. At the end of this book, Piper addresses divorce and remarriage and asks four questions. It is easy to understand why Piper addresses these questions and why he answers correctly and accurately on all save one of the questions. Piper simply uses his view on marriage as the foundation to answer the questions. However, as we will see, Piper fails to not only use his foundation of marriage in answering correctly and accurately question number two, he fails in applied logic as well.

  It should be noted that John Piper’s view of divorce and remarriage is not widely accepted among other evangelicals. This unpopular view will be explained in detail as I present the questions. Nearly every scholar or theologian would never argue the first question, but I would have to say that the question structure, or rather the incorrect use of a word inside the question is a problem.

1.      Does death end a marriage in such a way that it is legitimate for a spouse to remarry?

Piper makes it clear that marriage is momentary in this life. His book title is a perfect example… He uses Romans 7:1-3 to make the conclusion that only death ends a marriage. I agree with this except I would include that a remarriage after the death of a spouse is not remarriage, but a “new” marriage in the Lord. Thus, I would rephrase the question:  “Does death end a marriage in such a way that it is legitimate for a spouse to marry in the Lord?”

1 Cor 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

This verse (1 Cor 7:39) is very important as it pertains to Pipers remaining questions, and in particularly question number two. If death is the ONLY way a one-flesh covenant ends, we can trust that any “remarriage” is NOT a marriage unless it is “In the Lord.” In addition, Piper writes this:

“In other words, Paul says that to divorce and remarry while your spouse is living is adulterous, but to remarry after death of a spouse is not.” -page169

We need to keep this in mind as Piper tries to defend his answer to his next question.

2.      If a divorced person has already married again, should he or she leave the later marriage?

This question starts out with some presuppositions. “If a divorced person has already married again”…In the first question, Piper believes that a widow or widower can enter into a new marriage because death ends the marriage, but a spouse that divorces a living spouse and remarries is adulterous. No one questions the fact that death ends a marriage. What this question suggests is that a spouse who divorces his or her wife or a spouse who was divorced from his or her spouse can marry in the Lord. Well, at the very least, the reader must assume that Piper agrees that a “remarriage” is a marriage in the Lord.

In Piper’s preceding chapter, “What God Has Joined Together”, Piper says this…

“So even though two humans decide to get married, and a human pastor or priest or justice of the peace or some other person solemnizes and legalizes the union, all of that is secondary to the main actor, namely, God. “What God has joined together…”God is the main actor in the event of marriage.” -page 161

No one can ever question that God is the primary judge of who marries. However, is not God also the actor in who “remarries” after divorce?  

Luke 16:18 says, Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Whosoever.” This would refer to every instance where a man puts away his wife. Whosoever refers to any man that divorces his wife and remarries commits adultery. The word “marries” cannot indicate that God accepts the marriage since he calls this adultery. Therefore, it is the act of marriage not in the Lord. 
Therefore, we can conclude that if a marriage is NOT in the Lord, it is not a marriage. This brings to mind the extreme push by the fallen world for the validation of same-sex marriage. Most evangelicals will say that same-sex is not a marriage regardless what the human pastors, human priests, or justice of the peace say. However, the state and some liberal churches would say that same-sex marriage is a marriage. Could we not also apply this to “remarriage” after divorcing a living spouse? Yes, I understand that a same-sex marriage differs to a remarriage of a man and woman, but both same –sex marriage and remarriage are sins. Same –sex marriage is the sin of homosexuality and remarriage is the sin of adultery.  Thus, Piper’s question is invalid if we know that “remarriage” or this culturally accepted marriage is adultery and nothing more and most certainly, is NOT a marriage in the Lord.

Piper tries to make the reader believe that a remarriage is a new marriage and that he believes it should not be made undone. Yet he uses false logic in this sentence.

“The marriage should not have been done, but now that it is done, it should not be undone by man. It is a real marriage.” Real covenant vows have been made. And that real covenant of marriage may be purified by the blood of Jesus and set apart for God. -Page 170

I would ask Piper these questions in reply, “How can you say that a remarriage that should not have happened, be a marriage if the first covenant marriage was not undone by God in the first place? In addition, how can this “remarriage” be a real marriage if God calls anyone who marries after divorce commits adultery?

What immediately should come to mind is the death of John the Baptist. John the Baptist lost his head because of Herod’s marriage to Herodias. Was this marriage (called a marriage by man) according to God? In fact, even John calls this marriage unlawful.

 Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife: for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

If you notice, John refers to Herod’s wife Herodias, as his brother Philip’s wife. Herod obviously married Herodias, however she was already Philip’s wife. Herod’s marriage to Herodias was unlawful. In other words, yes it was a marriage recognized by men, however it was an unlawful marriage not recognized by God. Thus, a simple answer is this…”This union is not a marriage because it is adultery, thus exiting this union is an act of repentance from adultery.”  John called Herod to repent of his unlawful marriage.   

However, Piper than uses scripture from the Old Testament to make us believe that what he believes is true. Piper throws out the New Covenant for the old laws, laws permitted for the sake of hard hearts.  

Piper writes: 
“”First, in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 where the permission for divorce was given In the law of Moses, it speaks of the divorced woman being defiled” in the second marriage so that it would be an abomination for her to return to her first husband, even if her second husband died.”-page 170

Piper contradicts himself because earlier he writes…”Of course, someone might say, it (divorce) has always contradicted the meaning of marriage-even when the permission of Deuteronomy was written. Good observation. But Jesus is not thinking that way. He is calling his followers to a higher standard than the compromise with hardness of heart in Deuteronomy.”-page 162

Piper continues in this same chapter…speaking on Jesus’ behalf

”I have come to give you the power to stay married, or to stay single, so that either way you keep in your promises and show what my covenant is like and how sacred is the covenant bond of marriage.”-page 163

I will argue that a man who puts away his wife in the case of Moses permission is “causing” his wife to commit adultery because of his hard heart. In addition, if a man puts away his “betrothed” virgin wife, it means that he never consummated the marriage and it certainly would be defilement since she married and consummated marriage with another man. The whole point is that hardhearted men treated women differently under Moses permission then Jesus treated women. Besides, Jesus says this,
Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:4-6)
The Pharisees have no answer for this and neither should we. Only death breaks a marriage covenant.

Another reason Piper thinks unlawful marriages (Piper writes “remarriages”) should stay together is the woman from Samaria had five valid remarriages. This is false to believe this since we know John calls Herod’s marriage to Herodias a marriage too. However, as we read scripture, Herod's marriage was unlawful. We certainly can compare this to the Samaritan woman. Yes, Jesus recognized her five marriages, but there is no indication that Jesus approved of the five marriages because He pointed out the fact she was living with a man who was not her husband. In addition, we do not have the facts of her five husbands. For all we know, they could have all died. Thus, we can conclude that Jesus was not approving her marriages anymore than He approved her current relationship with the man she was living with. 

Then Piper makes the reader believe that a person should keep their remarriage vows. After reading this whole book and how Piper beautifully shows marriage as God’s doing, Piper makes us believe that God will honor every vow we make even if it is unlawful.  I do not want to come across as harsh, but its as if someone else took over Piper’s pen when he wrote this part. How does God honor those that vow into an unlawful marriage after divorce? Again, read 1 Cor 7:39. A verse Piper ignores to answer this question. 

Piper’s last paragraph answering this question was not only so contrary to what he wrote previously, it was a different Gospel and an attack on God’s holiness.

There are marriages in the church I serve that are second marriages for one or both partners, which, in my view, should not have happened, but today are godly marriages-marriages that are clean and holy, and in which forgiven, justified husbands and wives please God by the way they relate to each other. As forgiven, cleansed, Spirit-led followers of Jesus, they are not committing adultery in their marriages. These marriages began as they should not have but have become holy.” -page 171   

First off, an unlawful marriage is not a holy marriage. Piper is essentially saying that one can remain in sin and this is acceptable because in his mind, these remarriages appear to be godly husbands and wives. Piper believes that God forgives unrepentant sins. This is not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, do we judge a person by how godly they appear, or do we judge a person by the fruit they bear. In this case, Piper wants us to make judgment on his idea of what constitutes a holy marriage. Instead, we need to justify how Piper believes an unlawful marriage suddenly become lawful because he says so. 

Overall, Piper’s answers to this question have serious eternal consequences. If Piper believes that “remarriages” are lawful and God says they are not, then Piper is essentially encouraging unlawful marriages that are unrepentant adulterous unions. This not only a grave sin, it is a spit in the face to those covenant spouses who remain in singleness to restore a marriage.

In this scenario, I will use fictitious names to illustrate the point that distorts Piper’s view.

Joe and Mary leave their respective father and mother and join in a one-flesh covenant of marriage. After nearly 15 years of marriage, Joe has an affair with a woman named Sue at his work. Joe seeks to end his marriage with Mary to remarry Sue. Mary begs Joe not to leave and even enacts church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17) so that Joe will repent of his affair. Joe refuses to repent divorces Mary according to the state in which they reside, and runs off to another state and remarries Sue in a church that is totally unaware that Mary remains single in obedience to the words of the Lord. (1 Cor 7:10,11)

After five years in his remarriage to Sue, Joe repents of his sin and finds that Mary remains single to reconcile the marriage. While Joe considers his decision on what he should do, he reads John Piper’s book- “This Momentary Marriage- A Parable of Permanence.” He concludes that he should not divorce Sue because he would be breaking his vow to Sue according to John Pipers book. Mary insists that Joe’s marriage to Sue is adultery and Joe remains in his remarriage to Sue. Mary remains single the remainder of her days sadly knowing that Joe and Sue will die in their unrepentant sin of adultery.

I can tell you folks, this is not far from reality. I know of many spouses who remain in singleness so that God will restore a one-flesh covenant of marriage while their spouse remains in unrepentant adultery remarriage. These "standers" stand for the covenant vow they made before God. They trust in God to restore a prodigal spouse as they wait in singleness. These standers also believe the words of Jesus; What therefore God hath joined, let no man separate. What words does Piper have for these standers? Do you also see the gravity of Piper's answer? I will explain the gravity in conclusion. Piper correctly and carefully related to the Gospel concerning the third question concerning 1 Cor 7:15 and abandonment of the unbeliever.

3.      If an unbelieving spouse insists on leaving a believing spouse, what should the believing spouse do?

If only Piper would apply this answer to the second question, maybe Piper would reconsider his answers to the second question. Piper believes scripture is clear that if an unbeliever departs, the believer is to remain in singleness. The peace the believing spouse is not a license to remarry. I would add that singleness also demonstrates the love one has for Christ to remain available for the possible salvation of the unbeliever that departs. I believe Piper answers this question accurately.  After using 1 Cor 7:39, Piper writes this….

“So it seems to me that Paul and Jesus are of one mind that followers of Jesus are radically devoted to one husband or one wife as long as they both shall live. This ideal tells the gospel truth most clearly: Christ died for his bride and never forsakes her.”- page 173

4.      Are there no exceptions to the prohibition of remarriage while the spouse is living?

As I noted previously, many evangelicals do not agree with Piper's view on divorce and remarriage. Piper's answer to the last question and this Matthew’s exception clause (Matthew 5:32 and 19:9) are the main reasons they do not. I believe Piper exegetes these scriptures correctly, according to the truth. In this particular case (exception clause) Piper compares Joseph and Mary’s example with “fornication” within betrothal marriage. Piper expounds in his example of what Jesus is actually saying: 

“When you hear me give an absolute prohibition of remarriage after divorce, don’t include in that prohibition the divorce of a betrothed couple because of fornication.”-page 174

 I agree with Piper’s answers to the all but the second question. My only request in the first question is to change the wording from "remarry" to "a marriage in the Lord." Piper’s overall view calls for the permanence of marriage with the exception that once there is a remarriage, it remains a marriage and should not be broken. I believe very few mainline congregations in the evangelical church agree with Piper’s view of divorce and remarriage and even more still disagree that “remarriage” after divorcing a living spouse is adultery and remains adultery until the union is dissolved.

In conclusion, I will say that not only does Piper’s book miss the mark on divorce and remarriage; it misses the mark on the Gospel. If divorce and remarriage is not a marriage, then it is exactly what Jesus said it is; remarriage after divorcing a living spouse is adultery. If remarriage is adultery, then only repentance from adultery speaks of the Gospel. Piper wants the reader to believe is that the grace of Christ covers unrepentant sin to remain in adultery. Repentance from sin is having a different view of that sin and turning from that sin. Never would a believer remain in a sin of adultery if they knew that they were living in adultery.

A believer of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ believes by faith that Jesus Christ paid the price for sin that we deserve. One does not remain in sin if they believe by faith in the grace of Christ. In fact, are we not ambassadors of reconciliation because God reconciled Himself to us? The Holy Spirit convicts us of this truth. This is the whole life of grace lived out in the lives of a new creation in Christ. Divorce is contrary to the Gospel because one must  believe that grace is not necessary to remain in covenant marriage. This then becomes those who go on to remarry demanding they receive this same grace to remain in adultery.

 Since remarriage after divorce of living spouse is adultery, lack of repentance of this sin will bring judgment. I understand there are thousands of remarried couples. Many pastors like Piper know this and rather than step forward to admit the truth about this, they remain passive and fearful. One could hardly blame them since their livelihood would be in jeopardy if they come forward to renounce all unlawful marriages. Paul clearly warns that we must not be deceived. The greatest deception of our time is divorce and remarriage. The sad fact is that these unlawful marriages are rampant in the professing church.
1 Cor 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Piper needs to rethink his view and revise question two or he will continually lead many to judgment. His book must conform to God’s word or it should utterly be discarded. It is such a shame that he so eloquently shows the reader how marriage reflects Christ’s love for His church and then falls utterly and fatally short on divorce and remarriage. It is not too late. Should one generation stand forward and treat divorce and remarriage as God hates divorce and remarriage, we would save many generations to come. I understand this comes at a great cost, as many of these unlawful marriage families would have to break apart because of this sin of adultery. However, sin comes at a cost, what a man sows, he reaps, God is not mocked and the consequences of this sin are great, but to deny this sin all together is a greater sin for all eternity.

I leave you with Dietrich Bonhoffer’s excerpt from “Letters and Papers from Prison,28” which begins Piper's chapter on The Gospel and the Divorced. I only pray that we see marriage eternally and not what seems right in our own eyes. I pray too that Piper would reflect on his own words to reconsider his view of adultery remarriage and come to know that it is really no marriage at all.       

“God makes your marriage indissoluble, and protects it from every danger that may threaten it from within and without; he will be the guarantor of its indissolubility. It is blessed thing to know that no power on earth, no temptation, no human frailty can dissolve what God holds together; indeed, anyone who knows that may say confidently: What God has joined together, can no man put asunder. Free from all the anxiety that is always a characteristic of love, you can now say to each other with complete and confident assurance: We can never lose each other now; by the will of God we belong to each other till death.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison,28”

In Christ’s love,


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. I pray that Piper sees this, be convicted, and recant his views of adulterous remarriages.