The Storm-Tossed Family | Book Review


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.”

Book Reviewed
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.

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The Assemblies of God among the Megachurches


Over on my Facebook page, I posted the Facts & Trends story, “Where Are All the Megachurches?” earlier this morning. However, I dug around a bit in the data underlying this story and found out that the Assemblies of God (USA) has the fifth largest group of megachurches among Protestant congregations. Of the 1,667 churches in the Hartford Seminary database of megachurches, here are the top five groupings:

  1. Nondenominational (458)
  2. Southern Baptist (260)
  3. Unknown denomination (187)
  4. Baptist, unspecified (120)
  5. Assemblies of God (109)

Another way to look at this is that the AG has the second largest grouping of megachurches among America’s Protestant denominations. Why? First, factor out the “Nondenominational” and “Unknown denomination.” Then, factor out “Baptist, unspecified” because those churches could belong to one of over 60 Baptist denominations in the U.S. That leaves the Southern Baptists and the AG as discrete denominational entities.

With that in mind, consider yet another way of looking at these numbers. The Southern Baptist Convention claimed 15.22 million adherents in 2016. It has 260 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 58,538 : 1. The AG claimed 3.21 million adherents in 2016 and has 109 megachurches. That’s a ratio of 30,283 : 1. Per capita, then, the AG has more megachurches than the SBC.

Fun with statistics, I guess.

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P.S. If you’d like to review Hartford Seminary’s Data, go here: http://hirr.hartsem.edu/megachurch/database.html. You can sort by congregation, denomination, state, and size.

P.P.S. I had the joy of working with Doyle and Connie Surratt at SeaCoast Grace Church, one of the churches on the list. Hi, guys!

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, June 14, 2011


“The Politics of Being a Good Christian.”

New research suggests there are actually two God Gaps. For some Christians, being more religious makes them more conservative on social issues. For others, going to church, praying, and doing other religious activities actually makes them more liberal on social justice issues.

Interesting.

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“At debate, Republican candidates spar over Islam.” Personally, I’m with Abe Greenwald:

Bad showing all around on the Muslim question. There’s one right answer: I would hire any American I believed could do the best for my administration and my country–any race, religion, or creed. The meandering into crazy Sharialand and different types of Muslims will cost the GOP.

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“[Gov. Rick] Perry has not overburdened the collection plate.” I’ll say. In 2007, for example, Perry reported $1 million in income and gave a whopping $90 to his church. $90. I’m a put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is kind of Christian, and this report is going to make me discount a lot of Perry’s religious talk. Perhaps there’s more to the story. Maybe Perry gave gobs of cash to charities. If so, I’ll revise my opinion. But if not…

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Tom Gilson has a three-part series on the morality of Christian exclusivism: here and here. Christian exclusivism is the belief that “there is one God uniquely revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the one way, truth, and life for all people everywhere in all times. This means that other paths to God are excluded.” I’ll post Part 3 when it goes online.

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“A Mormon President: Are Souls at Stake?” David French says, “Those who believe that presidents impact our immortal souls have too great a view of politics and too small a view of God.

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“Targeting the World’s Worst Religious Persecutors.” Hard to argue with Doug Bandow’s take:

The freedom to believe, or not believe, in God and respond accordingly—as individuals, families, and communities—is precious.  Sadly, much of humankind is denied this most fundamental right.

While Washington cannot make the world free, Americans can reach out and help their oppressed brothers and sisters around the globe.  Persecution should be highlighted and denounced; victims of intolerance, hate, and violence should be comforted and supported.  Finally, if America is to remain free, Americans must tenaciously defend religious liberty at home.

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“El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron.” An online role-playing game of some sort. Based on…the Bible?

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“Call an Exorcist for Anthony Weiner?” In which Mark Judge somehow manages to bring together Ann Coulter, Anthony Weiner, and William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist.

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“From decline to decision”: In which Ed Stetzer ruminates on the declining membership of the Southern Baptist Convention. Money quote: “We don’t change until the pain of staying the same grows greater than the pain of change. May the truth break our hearts, drive us to our knees and compel us into the mission.”

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“Boards of Springfield schools vote for consolidation.” That would be Assemblies of God schools in Springfield, Missouri. It may not be big news in your neck of the ’hood, but it’s big news around here.