After a years-long journey from foster care to adoption, my wife, son and I welcomed our two girls into their forever family on Friday, December 9, 2016. Family and friends crowded into the courtroom to witness the formal adoption ceremony. Afterward, we trooped over to our house for cake and presents for our daughters. Their adoption was a joyous event, well worth celebrating.
And yet, as is always the case with adoption, a tragedy lurked in the shadows. You cannot build an adoptive family unless a tragedy, neglect or abuse has broken the biological family first. And though our girls are young, they have memories of their bioparents, and thus an inchoate sense of loss.
The family makes us and breaks us. It is the source of celebrations and tragedies. Our highest joys and our deepest pains typically come from no place like home.
Commentators often speak of “the crisis of the family” when they talk about long-term, systemic changes to the nuclear family that have occurred over the past few generations. These changes include increased levels of nonmarital cohabitation and childbirth, high percentages of marriages ending in divorce, and the rise of nontraditional family structures. When I picked up Russell Moore’s The Storm-Tossed Family, I assumed it would be a polemic addressing the decline of family values in our nation and arguing for a return to those values.
As much as such a polemic may be needed, and as much as Moore would be the person to write it, that isn’t what this book is about. (Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, well-known for his thoughtful conservatism, both theological and political.) It is not about “the crisis of the family” in general as much as it is about “the crises in my own family” in particular, that is, the milestone events in a family’s life cycle, whether for good or bad.
More than that, it is a Christian account of those milestone events, one that interprets them through a cruciform hermeneutic, one that shows “how the Cross shapes the home,” as the book’s subtitle puts it. Three points stood out to me particularly.
First, family values are not ultimate. “The kingdom is first,” Moore writes; “the family is not.” This sounds radical, and it is, but what else should we make of Jesus’ teaching that His disciples must “hate” their family members (Luke 14:26). Moore rightly notes that hate here means “priority of affection” rather than “hostility or disrespect.” Still, the priority of the Kingdom reminds us that humans can turn any good thing into an idol, even the family. By contrast, he argues, if “we give up our suffocating grasp on our family — whether that’s our idyllic view of our family in the now, our nostalgia for the family of long ago, our scars from family wounds, or our worries for our family’s future — we are then free to be family, starting with our place in the new creation family of the church.”
Second, and building directly on the first point, family is more than the nuclear family. The focus of The Storm-Tossed Family is dad, mom and kids because that’s a fundamental building block of humanity. But the New Testament treats the Church itself as a family. It portrays the Church as the bride of Christ and also as a fellowship of adopted siblings who have one Father in heaven, for example. Regarding those outside the Church, those without a spouse or kids, Moore asks fellow Christians: “Will they hear from us the good news that Jesus invites them, and us, into a family we never could have imagined, a family united through not the blood in our veins but the blood shed from his?”
Third, family points to the gospel. “The family is one of the pictures of the gospel that God has embedded in the world around us,” Moore writes. “Through a really dark glass, we can see flashes in the family of something at the core of the universe itself, of the Fatherhood of God, of the communion of a people with one another.” A family’s joys point to the greater joys of the Kingdom. Its sorrows point them to the Cross, where Christ both suffered and saved. In the depths of misery, family members can look to Christ on the cross and know, “Oh, the Lord redeems all of that.”
The Lord redeeming the mess we have made of our families constitutes the bulk of Moore’s book. He discusses family milestones such as gender differences, marriage, sexuality, childbearing and adoption, parenting, divorce, trauma and aging. His words are wise, irenic and filled with astute theological insight, often expressed in memorable aphorisms. I’ll conclude with just such an aphorism, for it succinctly captures the theme of the entire book: “The only safe harbor for a storm-tossed family is a nail-scarred home.”
Russell Moore, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home (Nashville: B&H Books, 2018).
P.S. If my review helped you form an opinion of the book, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.
P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.