Brian W. GRANT: The Social Structure of Christian Families. A Historical Perspective. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000. vii + 189 pages.
Reviewed by Daniel G. Van SLYKE University of St. Mary of the Lake, MUNDELEIN, IL. 14302

"This volume," the author states in the introduction, "recounts the history of the church's rhetoric about families in dialogue with the actual families it was addressing, hoping to focus the question `What is/was God doing with families in this era?'" He goes on to explain that his study is based on a "process theological understanding" that God invites and affects the family in every age, shaping it not with omnipotent divine power but in complex interaction with other forces (3). The real question is how one might "draw on historical resources" in developing a contemporary theology of the family "without unknowingly importing the societal structures that informed them" (4).

The body of the book is arranged chronologically as a series of historical / sociological / theological studies, beginning with the Old Testament and ending with twentieth century America. The chapter entitled "Biblical Judaism and the Apostolic Church" is representative of Grant's approach. Dwelling on the Hebrew vocabulary surrounding the notion of "family", he rightly highlights the importance of honoring parents and the cohesiveness of large families necessitated by economic and political conditions of the time. However, the exact period under consideration is vague since the basic distinctions between marital thought and practice in the time of Abraham, during the monarchy, and after the exile are egregiously lacking, while important passages such as Genesis 2:24 and Malachi 3:16 are not mentioned. Despite the title of the chapter only one page addresses marriage in the New Testament, wherein Grant states some generalities without citing any sources whatsoever.

Augustine receives the most attention in the next chapter, which presents a series of vignettes sketching the views of various early Christians. The chapter entitled "Church and Family in the Middle Ages" alternately addresses the church's control over sexuality and the major political and economic changes that affected families in Western Europe. In the midst of the chapter on "Renaissance, Reformation, and Colonial Expansion" the narrative abruptly shifts to the US, the focus also of the final chapters: "The Creation and Erosion of the Victorian Synthesis" and "The Twentieth-Century Revolution". In this last chapter, Grant discusses contraception, the mobilization of the female workforce, and the rapid spread of divorce. Extended consideration given to Margaret Sanger thickens the methodological fog, since her relation to the topic of Christian marriage is assumed rather than articulated. Indeed the chapter is marred by an insufficiently justified conflation of marital trends in the general population with the practice of American Christians. At the heart of the problem is a failure to define what exactly a "Christian" is.

In Grant's conclusion he states that two themes have appeared in the course of the study: first, that God has a perennial and passionate concern for our sexuality, family structures, and child-raising; second, that theologizing about these topics always "lags decades, if not centuries, behind the changes in practice and circumstance that have brought new behavior to the fore" (155). While these "themes" may be true, they simply do not emerge from the narrative that precedes their announcement. Finally Grant proposes a method for constructing a positive theology of marriage based upon belief in a God that is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, but nonetheless "is re-creating human nature constantly" (176).

Although the theological principles discussed in the introduction and conclusion are not evident in the chapters, this book does add a few interesting insights to the history and theology of marriage. It will be of little interest to scholars because it is largely based on a relatively small number of secondary studies, all of them in English and some of them rather dated. The intended audience is clearly popular, and Grant states that he is writing for American Protestants. His readable style would recommend the book for undergraduates if it were not for the methodological inconsistency of the narrative.

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