The family – marriage, sexuality, parenthood, adoption – figure heavily in the Christian story, both literally and figuratively. The first person of the Trinity is a Father and the second a Son. Literally. Jesus was born into a family and remained in a family till his death. Literally. We are the adopted children of God, literally.
All believers are brothers and sisters, figuratively, but truly. The church is the Bride of Christ, figuratively, but truly.
So having a good, robust theology of family is critical for all believers and churches. Below is an annotated bibliography for the student of theology of the best volumes I’ve made use of and turn to regularly in my work on the family. They cross the traditions of evangelism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism.
A collection of 6 writings from this early 5th century Father of the Church on marriage and general family relationships. The first four are homilies.
Sampling quote: “These are the two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaste and to make us parents.” (p. 85)
Grenz deals with more than sexuality; the theological nature of male and female, marriage, singleness, divorce, reproductive technology, abortion and infertility, each in theological perspective. Chapter two establishes his case on a solid gender-distinct theological anthropology.
Sampling quote: “The creation of humankind as male and female comes in response to the divine self-declaration, ‘Let us make man in our image.’ This suggests that the same principle of mutuality that forms the genius of the human social dynamic is present in a prior way in the divine being.” (p. 48)
Hogan provides his reader with perhaps the best introduction to John Paul II’s magisterial and essential theology of family. It is very readable, even for the beginner, but comprehensive enough to not short-change the brilliance of JPII’s work. It is the book that introduced me to this great Pope’s teaching and writing on the family, an absolute new horizon and game-changer for me.
Sampling Quote: “If humans are created in the image of God to give themselves as God gives himself and if the human body is the expression of the human person, then their ought to be a physical means for a human person to express love to another person. It is precisely masculinity and femininity which allows this unity…” (p. 46-47)
Hunter’s is a two-part presentation. First is his brief summary of early Christian teaching on various marriage issues. The greater bulk of his book provides concise excerpts from both orthodox and heterodox writers of from early ages of church on the topic of marriage.
Sampling Quote: “What was once a mainly civic institution…became internalized as a private, moral code. In the first century B.C. a man was supposed to think of himself as a citizen who had fulfilled all his civic duties. A century later [under the influence of Christianity] he was supposed to consider himself a good husband; as such he was officially required to respect his wife.” (p. 7-8)
Kostenberger, writing from a Southern Baptist tradition, provides a broad pastoral approach to a theology of family, addressing many particular questions such as distinct sex roles in marriage, whether marriage must be generative, divorce, remarriage, singleness and homosexuality.
Sampling Quote: “Finally, not only is marriage a part of God’s end-time purposes in Christ (Eph 1:10) and part of the Spirit’s operations (Eph. 5:18), it is also part of one other important larger reality that is often overlooked, namely that of spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-18). (p. 61)
This short booklet, an apostolic exhortation the Pope wrote to the clergy and laity of the Church, is a nice pastoral theology and sociology of the family examining the it as a necessary evangelizing institution in the world. It looks at the fundamental nature of the family as it corresponds with God’s very nature and character. Although it concludes in Part 4 addressing many practical pastoral considerations in the Catholic tradition it is of great use to evangelical pastors as well.
Sampling Quote: “Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator – that of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to person. … [As such,] the future of humanity passes by way of the family.” (p. 46, 129)
A massive work, this book is arguably the starting point for any study of a theology of family, marriage and sexuality, of course, after scripture. It is a deeply biblical look at who man is in light of who God is. While it examines the topics of marriage and sexuality, it is really a theological anthropology focused on the mystery and significance of human embodiment and spiritual implications of that. John Paul II developed this body of work while a Polish diocesan priest and delivered these as Pope publically in his weekly Vatican addresses over a period of years.
Sampling Quote: “…[F]rom the account of the Yahwist text the concept of ‘image of God,’ we can deduce that man became the image of God not only through his own humanity, but also through the communion of persons, which man and woman form from the very beginning. …Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” (p.163)
Pitre’s is a tight exploration into the biblical narrative of Christ as the endlessly loving Bridegroom who relentlessly pursues his beloved Bride in the very midst of her whoring infidelities. He explores this through the scriptures, the early Fathers as well as both Christian and Jewish textual traditions.
Sampling Quote: “The reason there will be no ordinary earthly marriage in the bodily resurrection is that ordinary earthly marriage is a sign that points beyond itself to the true marriage: the union of Christ and the Church.” (p. 135)
Oullet’s theology of the family is very important as it’s rooted in a Trinitarian anthropology: who we are as humans in light of who God as Trinity. I come back to the volume time and again, with chapters 1-4 of my own copy thoroughly underlined, high-lighted and commented on in the margins. This is where the best stuff is in my opinion.
Sampling Quote: “What can be expected from a Trinitarian anthropology of the family…? Theoretically, it would mean deepening the category of person as relation in the Trinity’s image; practically, it means a positive appreciation of human love, sexuality, a woman’s dignity, and the sacramentality of family. In other words, the theological foundation of the civilization of love.” (p. 37)
Matthews and Hubbard provide a thoughtful examination of the contemporary negative views of marriage and how the church understands and misunderstands the nature of these concerning developments. They then move in the second half of the book to establish a faithful biblical understanding of family that Christians should be mindful of in our current age. It is a theology as well as a bit of a history and sociology of family.
Sampling Quote: “Marriage is God’s business. It is not just a human affair. As a Christian man and woman commit themselves to one another for life, God is present in that marriage. There is then a connection between two people and God, which is the sine qua non for a missional marriage.” (p. 148)
Smail, a pastor from Great Britain, takes the Christian truth and reality of God as Trinity and illuminates what it means for each of us to be created in that image as a male and female child, husband and wife and father and mother. And he does so by giving his reader a tour through various Christian theological traditions.
Sampling Quote: “Anthropology depends on theology. If our humanity is constituted by the fact that we reflect God’s divinity, then to know who we are, we must also know who He is. Our being is dependent on His being. [And] just as the relationship between Father and Son become endlessly creative beyond itself through the creative power of the Spirit…so the love of husband and wife expressed and sustained by their sexual union has, in the power of the same Spirit of life, the power to create the new life of the child who is the fruit of their union. …The human relationships mirror the divine relationships. The human family manifests the initiating, the responsive and the creative modes of love that characterize the life of God.” (p. 2, 254)
Written with a good friend of mine, this book is our effort to lay out a theology of marriage, family and sexuality for evangelicals that is based not just on various bible verses or systematic theology but rather to do so by looking at the actions and character of God as He reveals Himself from pre-creation to the culmination of time; a narrative theology. And it seeks to understand family by understanding who God is and what He created us to be. It does this by taking a theological, anthropological and sociological gaze at family. The book is a “for-further-study” companion to the corresponding 12 part DVD curriculum – The Family Project – which provides a Christian worldview on family.
Sampling Quote: “It is in family that each human first and most deeply experiences and shows forth the fullness of our God-imaging nature, because it is here that we first and most fully become part of a flesh-and-spirit trinity reflecting the divine trinity as someone’s child, spouse or parent. No human is excluded from this.” (p. 100)
While the following volumes are not specifically on a theology of the family, they are supplemental works that I’ve found indispensable in studying and understanding a thorough and practical theology of the marriage, family and sexuality. They each deal with what it means to be a human person; how and why humans are intrinsically relational creatures. Our most important human needs and joys are relational which of course ideally start for each of us and hopefully continue throughout life in our families. This is a culturally and historically human universal reality.
Buber, a celebrated Jewish philosopher, holds that human relationship is the center of what it means to be human and that we can only truly be human when we live in relationship with another person. We can never be fully human in relation with things. A true “I” cannot be found without a “You”. Precisely what Genesis 2:18 explains.
Sampling Quote: “The basic word I-You can be spoken only with one’s whole being. The concentration and fusion into a whole being can never be accomplished by me, can never be accomplished without me. I requires a You to become… All actual life is encounter.” (p. 62)
Sections 1,2,5,6 and parts of 8 are extremely important contributions to laying the metaphysical foundation of a fully Christian theology of marriage because they make such clear and ground-breaking contributions to Trinitarian theology.
Sampling Quote: “For there to be love, it must be directed towards another. But the love of two for each other is inadequate, likely on its own simply to be swallowed up in itself… If it is truly to be love, the two will seek a third in order to be able to mutually share their love.” (p. 89-90)
As the 1954 Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow, Macmurray’s work is much lesser known, but a critical contribution to a philosophical anthropology of relatedness, paralleling and moving beyond Buber’s work with a Christian undestanding.
Sampling Quote: “The complete and unlimited dependence of each of us upon the other is the central and crucial fact of personal existence. Individual independence is an illusion; and the independent individual, the isolated self, is a non-entity. …It is only in relation to others that we exist as persons. Here is the basic fact of our human condition; which all of us can know if we stop pretending, and do know in moments when the veil of self-deception is stripped from us and we are forced to look upon our own nakedness.” (p. 211)
Zizioulas, a noted Eastern Orthodox theologian, gives the Church a very valuable, if not philosophically dense, explanation of how our God-imaging nature and creation as persons makes us intrinsically relational creatures to the deepest parts of our being. And therefore, as the Body of Christ is the living existence of God Himself with His people in the world, the Church’s fundamental being is that of communion. He takes Buber’s work and applies it to ecclesiology and the Christian understanding of the personality of reality that we have in the Trinity. His introduction and chapter 1 are most important, even for the casual student of a theology of family.
Sampling Quote: “The being of God is a relational being: without the concept of communion, it would not be possible to speak of the being of God. …The substance of God, ‘God’ has no ontological content, no true being, apart from communion. [Therefore,] there is no true being without communion. Nothing exists as an ‘individual’ conceivable in itself. Communion is an ontological category.” (p. 17-18.)
A concluding note: As if it needs saying, I don’t agree with all that is written in each of these books listed here or totally with each author. Who could say that about any substantive collection of books or authors? But these are the books I’ve found most helpful and valuable as I’ve studied and developed my understanding of theology of the family.
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John Zizioulas (Greek: Ιωάννης Ζηζιούλας; born 10 January 1931, Kozani) is the Eastern Orthodoxmetropolitan of Pergamon. He is the Chairman of the Academy of Athens and one of the most influential Orthodox Christiantheologians today.
Academic education and career
Metropolitan John's education began with study at the Universities of Thessalonika and Athens in 1950, and then a year at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in 1955. Between 1960 and 1964 Zizioulas did doctoral research under the Eastern Orthodox theologianGeorges Florovsky (1893-1979; Chair of Eastern Church History at Harvard and a member of the Russian Orthodox Church) and was a Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. He received his doctorate in 1965 from the University of Athens. Zizioulas took up a post at the University of Athens in 1964 as Assistant Professor of Church History, and then six years later, worked as Professor of Patristics at the University of Edinburgh from 1970 until 1973. He moved to the University of Glasgow where he held a personal chair in systematic theology for some fourteen years. In addition, Zizioulas has been a Visiting Professor at the Research Institute in Systematic Theology of King's College London. In 1986, he was elected titular metropolitan of Pergamon. In the same year, he assumed a full-time academic post at Thessaloniki School of Theology as Professor of Dogmatics.
The theological work of Metropolitan John has focused upon the twin themes of ecclesiology and theological ontology. The theology of Metropolitan John reflects the influence of Russian émigré theologians such as Nikolai Afanassieff, Vladimir Lossky and his teacher Georges Florovsky. Zizioulas has also been significantly influenced by the ascetical theology of Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), founder of the Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, England.
Zizioulas' ecclesiology was first developed in his doctoral dissertation, subsequently published in English as Eucharist, Bishop, Church. Here Metropolitan John develops critically the eucharistic ecclesiology of Nikolai Afanassief. He accepts Afanassieff's principal contention that the Church is to be understood in terms of the Eucharist. However, he criticises Afanassief's understanding as overly congregational and insufficiently episcopal in its emphasis. Finally, Zizioulas advocates an episcopocentric understanding of Church structure, understanding the Bishop primarily as the president of the Divine Liturgy and the Eucharistic community.
Zizioulas worked on the theology of the person, appealing to the work of St Irenaeus and St Maximus the Confessor. The primary focus of his work was to develop his own ontology of personhood derived from an extensive investigation of Greek philosophy, patristic era writings and modern rationalist philosophy.
He argues that full humanity is achieved only as person so that they may participate (koinonia) in the Trinitarian life of God. However, an essential component of the ontology of personhood is the freedom to self-affirm the participation in relationship. He continues that man initially exists as a biological hypostasis, constrained as to the types of relationships one can have (biological) and to the eventual end of this type of being - death.
He makes use of existentialist philosophers and novelists, notably the Frenchabsurdist writer Albert Camus, to show that the only type of ontological freedom in the biological hypostasis is the choice to commit suicide. He claims that Baptism constitutes an ontological change in the human, making them an ecclesial hypostasis, or a person. This rebirth 'from above' gives new ontological freedom as it is not constrained by the limits of biological existence. Such ecclesial being is eschatological, meaning it is a paradoxical 'now,' but 'not yet.' The completion of this rebirth from above is the day of resurrection when the body will no longer be subject to death.
- "Hē Henotēs Tēs Ekklēsias En Tē Theia Eucharistia Kai T Episkopō Kata Tous Treis Prōtous Aiōnas." (En Athi̲nais, 1965). Doctoral Dissertation. Published in French translation as "L' Eucharistie, L'évêque Et L'eglise Durant Les Trois Premiers Siècles." 2nd ed. Translated by Jean-Louis Palierne. (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1994). Published in English translation as "Eucharist, Bishop, Church" (see below).
- L'Être ecclésial (Paris: Labor et Fides, 1981). ISBN 978-2-8309-0180-1. Published in English translation as "Being as Communion" (see below).
- E Ktise os eucharistia (Athens: Akritas, 1992). ISBN 978-960-7006-98-1. This would be rendered in English as Creation as Eucharist. This work is based on lectures previously delivered in English. Available in three parts: King's Theological Review vol. 12, no. 1 (1989): 1-5, no. 2 (1989): 41-45, vol. 13, no. 1 (1990): 1-5.
- Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997). ISBN 978-0-88141-029-7.
- Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2001). ISBN 978-1-885652-51-5.
- Ellenismos kai Christianismos: H Synantese ton duo Kosmon (Athens: ApostolikeDiakonia, 2003). This would be rendered in English as Hellenism and Christianity: The Meeting of Two Worlds.
- Communion & Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: T & T Clark, 2007). ISBN 978-0-567-03148-8.
- Lectures in Christian Dogmatics (London: T&T Clark, 2009). ISBN 978-0-567-03315-4.
- "The One And The Many" (Sebastian Press, 2010) ISBN 978-0-9719505-4-2.
- Remembering the Future: An Eschatological Ontology (London: T&T Clark, 2012). ISBN 978-0-567-03235-5.
There are extensive bibliographies devoted to Zizioulas’ published works in various languages in:
- McPartlan, Paul. The Eucharist Makes the Church: Henri De Lubac and John Zizioulas in Dialogue. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993.
- Papanikolaou, Aristotle. Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006.
- Malecki, Roman. Kosciol jako wspolnota. Dogmatyczno-ekumeniczne studium eklezjologii Johna Zizioulasa (In English: The Church as Communion. A Dogmatic and Ecumenical Study of Ecclesiology of John Zizioulas). Lublin: RW KUL, 2000.
- Alan Brown, "On the Criticism of 'Being as Communion' in Anglophone Orthodox Theology", in Douglas Knight (ed.) The Theology of John Zizioulas: Personhood and the Church (Ashgate, 2006) defends Zizioulas against several of the polemical rejections of his theological ontology.
- Aristotle Papanikolaou. Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006).
- Lucian Turcescu, "Person versus Individual and Other Modern Misreadings of Gregory of Nyssa", Modern Theology 18, no. 4 (October 2002): 527-539, is a polemic against Zizioulas' use of the Cappadocian Fathers, especially St Gregory of Nyssa.
- ^Cf. e.g. Rowan Williams, 'Eastern Orthodox Theology', in David F. Ford (ed.) The Modern Theologians, 3rd edn. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, pp. 572-88.
- ^Cf. Rowan Williams, 'Eastern Orthodox Theology', in Ford (ed.) The Modern Theologians, pp. 572-88.
- ^Cf. John Meyendorff, 'Foreword' in Being as Communion (1985)
- ^Nicholas V. Sakharov (2002). I Love, Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 235. ISBN 0-88141-236-8.