Divorce is a fire exit. When a house is burning, it doesn’t matter who set the fire. If there is no fire exit, everyone in the house will be burned! –Mehmet Murat ildan link
I am so excited to present a post David Derkson. I discovered his writings a few months back and have been impressed on how he handles the issue of divorce. What really jumped out at me is care for the wronged person in a divorce. Contrary to popular opinion in certain religious circles, there can be a wronged person who did not contribute to the divorce. I realized that there are many people in evangelical circles who need to hear this.
He addresses two other concerns that I have in this area. John Piper's rigid view of divorce has permeated today's churches. I believe Piper is dead wrong in his pronouncements and Rev. Dave addresses this directly.
Secondly, I have been increasingly concerned by Christians who believe that Hosea is proscriptive and should to be applied to everyone's marriage. Once again, Rev. Dave addresses this.
Although I do not know the details, Rev Dave endured an ecclesiastical trial for divorcing his adulterous wife. This broke my heart. Not only was his world turned upside down due to his former wife's infidelity, he had to face another trial by his own denomination. He understands the pain of those who have had to withstand such cruelty.
I think many of readers will find his thoughts helpful and comforting. I will be linking to his blog permanently at TWW. (All highlighted words within paragraphs is due to Dee wanting to be sure you saw something she found interesting.)
Dee approached me a few months back to write a piece sharing my story, my ministry, and addressing John Piper’s take on adultery, divorce, and remarriage.
For those who do not recognize his name, John Piper is a prominent pastor emeritus, theologian, author, and influential leader in the Neo-Calvinist movement. He has had very public disagreements with pastors/theologians N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Rob Bell to name a few. John Piper and I share the same home state of Minnesota, even though I have never personally met the man. My concerns are not with his person or character but with his position regarding adultery/divorce/remarriage and that public position’s negative impact on Christ’s Bride.
Before I get into dissecting Piper’s position, I will share a little about myself and the ministry I have to adultery survivors and their supporters.
My name is David Derksen. I am a family man, football enthusiast, amateur weight trainer, coffee connoisseur, passionate blogger, ordained evangelical minister, and professional chaplain. As far as credentials are concerned, I have a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton College in philosophy, a Master of Divinity from Yale, five units of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), endorsement for chaplain ministry from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), ordination from the Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church (LEPC/EPC/GCEPC), and hold the status of being a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with an affiliate of the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). My current day job is as a hospice chaplain and bereavement coordinator. This is just by way of saying I understand pastoral care having specialized my training in this area and am, thereby, a professional with authority to speak on such issues.
Besides my formal training, I have also had informal training in the school called “Life.” My story includes the dark valleys of being abandoned by my first wife, adultery discovery, an ecclesiastical trial to retain my minister’s credentials, exposure to toxic Christianity, and the death of my first marriage by divorce. I am certainly one who is acquainted with sorrow.
Out of these awful experiences and my professionalized training, God birthed a passion and a ministry. About a year ago, I started a blog–Divorce Minister: Taking Adultery Seriously (www.divorceminister.com). I started it as a pastoral care resource to those who have found themselves in similar dire straits and for other Christian leaders interested in helping. Little is out there for evangelicals on these matters, and what is out there is often times very destructive spiritually and emotionally. My efforts on the blog are especially concentrated in correcting–as I see it professionally and personally–horrific pastoral care failures and wickedly twisted practical theology on these matters. Plus, I spend a good deal of time encouraging people as I know how important such encouragement was for me when I was in the pit.
As a brief sampling, my blog teaches the spiritual truth that adultery is “soul rape” drawing this principle from I Corinthians 6:15-17. Plus, I spend a great deal of time correcting the abuses of Biblical texts including Malachi 2:16, the book of Hosea, and Ephesians 5:22ff to name just a few frequent flyers.
On top of correcting the abuse of those texts, I spend a great deal of time writing correctives to what I call “The Shared Responsibility Lie.” This is the idea that adultery/infidelity is partly the faithful spouse’s fault. It is not. Pastors–of all people–ought to know better as Jesus was clear such sin flows out of the sinner’s heart–i.e. the adulterous spouse’s heart–alone (e.g. Mark 7:21-23). Please, visit the blog if you are interested in reading more…
Thanks for bearing with me during my lengthy introduction. Now, I will address John Piper’s position on adultery, divorce, and remarriage as requested by Dee.
John Piper takes an extremely conservative position against divorce and remarriage.
He does not even permit divorce for the innocent Christian party when adultery has taken place! (see http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-the-bible-allow-for-divorce-in-the-case-of-adultery).
If divorced, he teaches–as a moral imperative–that the divorced Christian must remain single until the other party dies or takes back the divorced Christian in remarriage.
To be clear, this is a vast departure from long-held positions in Reformed Protestantism. As evidenced of this fact, “The Westminster Confession of Faith” (1646) does not share Piper’s position. This historical document makes provision for a faithful spouse to divorce their adulterous partner, whereas Piper does not. So, I would not characterize Piper’s position as traditional; instead, I would contextually characterize his position as extremely conservative to the point of being outside of mainstream, historical Protestantism.
Without going through each proof text and Biblical argument Piper makes to support his position, I will just highlight two places where I consider his arguments especially weak. I will be drawing his position from his short and focused piece on these matters referenced earlier (see http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-the-bible-allow-for-divorce-in-the-case-of-adultery).
1) Treatment of Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 (Porneia)
Piper goes on to dismiss the exception clauses for divorce in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 as not referring to adultery but rather fornication as the word Jesus uses (original is "porneia") may have that meaning. He makes the argument that Jesus was thinking of his parents in their situation prior to his birth as Jesus said this and was encouraging people to marry not letting past sexual sin (i.e. fornication) prevent them.
Honestly, this argument is far from coherent. If you are not married, then you cannot get divorced. Even if Jesus is thinking of the betrothed situation of his parents (similar to legal marriage today), Joseph's decision to divorce quietly (see Mt. 1:19) was attributed to his righteous character!
It makes no sense to say this is about encouraging marriage after Scripture clearly states the decision to not marry–i.e. to divorce Mary quietly–was a perfectly fine choice of a righteous man. Furthermore, this interpretation misses the point that Mary was with Child by the Holy Spirit (i.e. she did not fornicate, even if wagging tongues said otherwise).
Finally, I will point out his interpretation hangs on his tenuous treatment of "porneia" as only meaning one thing sexually–i.e. sex before marriage (fornication). This restrictive definition is contrary to what my Greek lexicon says, and I trust my Greek lexicon more than any one pastor's highly selective interpretation of a word.
Furthermore, I have seen it argued that this word–"porneia"–was used to expand, not restrict, the sexual exception clause for divorce as it made it more broadly about sexual sins and not just the specific sexual sin of adultery (Richard Hays, New Testament professor at Duke Divinity School makes this case for interpreting "porneia" more broadly in his book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp 354-355.).
2) Treatment of Jeremiah 3:8. (Separation versus Divorce)
This verse explicitly says that God divorced Israel over her adulteries: “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery” (Jeremiah, 3:8, NIV).
Piper tries to explain this clear text away by stating,
“And God, ultimately, never divorces his people. There are separations: she goes into exile in Babylon. And you get divorce-type language. You've got to be careful in Jeremiah! It says he gave her a bill of divorcement, but not really” (http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/does-the-bible-allow-for-divorce-in-the-case-of-adultery).
So, Piper is making the argument here that the Bible does not mean what the Bible actually says. Yikes! God did not divorce Israel but only had a “separation” even though the Bible clearly states God divorced her sending her away even!
He has to make that contortion to keep his extreme position against divorce even in the case of adultery. If God divorced Israel over adultery–even metaphorically–that suggests such divorce cannot be sinful as God did it (i.e. God cannot sin even if it is only metaphorically). So, a faithful Christian–following God’s example in Jeremiah–is allowed to divorce in light of adultery. Piper disallows this permission; ergo, he is left trying to convince others that God meant “separation” when He said “divorce.”
Some may buy Piper’s argument, but I find it extremely weak and setting awful exegetical precedence where one can argue away the plain meaning of words when they directly conflict with one’s theological position.
3) Some other passages.
Piper also invokes Ephesians 5 in his argument plus the Hosea example. I will not spend much time on those overused and abused texts here.
As a short rebuttal, I will point out that someone living in adultery is not living as one redeemed by Christ. In other words, their place in God’s family is put in serious question by their rebellious actions (see Hebrews 10:26 and I John 3:6)–only God knows their salvation status for sure. Ephesians 5 is about Christ and His Bride–i.e. not those who have rejected His offer of forgiveness in word and deed. It is not applicable. And even if it was, that does not explain why God found adultery an acceptable–and even mandatory–grounds for ending a marriage in the Old Testament (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:22, Jeremiah 3:8, etc.) and no longer views it as such in the New Testament.
If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. Deut.22:22
I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Jer 3:8
Second, Hosea is a special calling just as Abraham being called to sacrifice Isaac was a special calling. We do not teach Christians to literally sacrifice their children–even though God did Jesus; similarly, it is bad hermeneutical practice to make a special revelation a moral command as in requiring faithful spouses to welcome back adulterous spouses like Hosea did Gomer (by the way, even Hosea required repentance and fidelity with the reunion–see Hosea 3:3).
On a personal and pastoral level, Piper’s position on divorce following adultery and remarriage is destructive and hurtful. Piper is stating that a divorced victim of adultery must remain unmarried until the adulterous former spouse dies as what God demands. The “must” implies to do otherwise is a sin.
To be clear, Piper is taking a stance on an interpretation plus personal conviction and not a command found in Scripture while underplaying passages where God takes adultery seriously. This is hedging awfully close to spiritual abuse as it is making a command out of an extreme conviction and pushing that view from a pastoral position.
What hurts my heart about Piper's position is how it causes incredible suffering for faithful spouses. Faithful spouses have already been abused, in my opinion, and are extremely vulnerable after being sucker-punched by their faithless partners. Now, the pastor–whether Piper himself or someone under his influence–is telling the faithful spouse that God demands that they remain married to the person who raped their soul through committing adultery (see principles found in I Cor. 6:15-17). Or if they are remarried, these pastors are teaching such a remarriage is as bad as the original adulterous betrayal (since Piper teaches the first marriage covenant is still in effect while both parties live)!
I find such teachings abominable and shameful for a godly man to even seriously consider as coming from God.
If that is not bad enough, Piper’s position is not qualified with the need for complete repentance upon the cheater's part. Such repentance takes second-seat to avoiding divorce and remarriage. For someone big on matters of holiness, this is a very odd position to hold. Piper’s position actually encourages an atmosphere of continuing abuse as the divorce is what needs to be prevented primarily–not the ongoing adultery and accompanying sins.
Such teaching also causes damage in how people see God. It teaches the wrong things about God’s heart on these matters. Such teachings alienate people from God and can damage their image of Him. I know this is the case as I pick up the pieces from such awful teaching regularly through people who come to my blog. Piper’s position falsely teaches that God finds adultery more acceptable than divorce. And these teachings suggest God condemns innocent parties of adultery for remarrying. While this might be Piper’s God, this is not my God. And I do not see this as the God of the Bible, either.
My hope is such positions as Piper’s fade into the background as sounder and more compassionate teachings on these matters emerge. I am grateful for The Wartburg Watch and other similar blogs who are willing to challenge powerful religious voices when they have become spiritually abusive or harbor evil in their midst. But the day when such blogs are no longer needed is still far away. So, I will blog on as Divorce Minister taking adultery seriously…
Thank you, for reading and thank you, Dee, for this opportunity to share with your online community!
*Some of this material previously appeared on divorceminster.com