In Christian Marriage: A New Challenge David Thomas has produced a delightful and insightful short theology/spirituality of marriage. Dr. Thomas, himself married for forty years and the parent of seven children and seventy-five foster children, aims to develop a theology based upon the experience of married couples themselves, a theme to which he returns often especially in his interpretation of the history of marriage. Nonetheless, the book is not designed to be a practical how-to guide; its business is clearly theology, however experientially based.
Dr. Thomas also wants his theology to draw upon the best developments of contemporary marriage to strengthen marriage against modern pitfalls. The two great strengths which he highlights repeatedly are the connection of marriage with love and the trend towards gender equality. The weaknesses, which one gathers through the course of the book, include a tendency towards individualism and self-satisfaction, the relative lack of societal support for marriage as an institution, workaholism and consumerism.
Another theme in Thomas’ theology is the uniqueness of every marriage, such that “each marriage is a kind of ‘new creation’” (47). Drawing upon this idea in the areas of sexuality, parenting, and spirituality, Thomas succeeds in presenting a vision of marriage full of life and dynamism and inspired with both freedom and missionary zeal.
In a sea of literature on the subject, the book’s brevity is commendable, especially since it adequately addresses most aspects of a well-rounded theology of marriage. On the other hand, the author seems to have tried to fit too much into a relatively short space. Thomas discusses a wide range of issues: marriage in God’s plan of creation; the nature of love as agape and its inherent connection to marriage; the nature and holiness of sex, grounded in a Christian anthropology; the nature and importance of rituals for marriage; the nature of s/Sacraments and marriage as a Sacrament; the importance of preparation for marriage and what is needed for a healthy, lasting marriage; the place of children in marriage; and marital spirituality.
Though pervaded with images and stories, both personal and literary, Christian Marriage can still be dense reading at times. The relationship between paragraphs and sections, especially in the early chapters, is not always clear and may require some extra work on the part of the reader to make the connections that are not stated. One might also question some of the details of Thomas’ historical sketches which are scattered throughout the chapters.
Particularly good is the chapter on children in marriage. Thomas grounds his explanation of the intrinsic interconnection between marriage and children in a theology of love and life as gifts. He provides an uncommonly fair and respectful representation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on this topic, including on contraception, and he emphasizes the joy and dignity of parenting as a participation in God’s creative and sanctifying action for the world.
Overall, the book succeeds at its task and is to be recommended for anyone with a little theological background.