The Storm-Tossed Family1
Last week I posted about some of the books I've been reading of late; now I want to dive into one in particular, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, by Russell Moore. Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He also posts many articles and blogs at his personal site.
Sometimes Moore has attracted criticism for various political views, but I have found that most of his critics have not taken the time to understand his arguments. That said, I don't always agree with Moore...but I find that he forces me to re-think my own positions, particularly when it comes to what it means to be a Christian in the secular world that we live in. More than anything, Moore has forced me to be consistent with how I apply the Bible to all of life. And for that, I am grateful.
His latest book is a must-read for any one who has a family or grew up in a family. And that means you. Let me break down the chapters of his book to help you discern whether you should read this book.
Chapter 1: The Storm-Tossed Family. Here Moore calls to mind that all of us have experienced the storm-tossed family, whether growing up or right now in our present family. The storm-tossed family is that family that has endured tragedies, struggles, or just every day challenges of being a family. Family life is hard! Sometimes we don't like to admit that. We confess we need Jesus in everything, but we shield those around us from seeing that we actually do need the help of Jesus in everything, including our families.
Chapters 2 - 3: The Cross as Family Crisis & The Family as Spiritual Warfare. Moore notes that "Family is spiritual warfare" (11). He recalls here the the effect of the Fall on family life. He argues that we have tried to hide the fact that every one of our families are in spiritual warfare, waging war against the dominions and powers against us. We must not hide this fact anymore, for we need each other. Moore cogently writes,
The church has often failed at this point. In too many cases, we have turned congregations into silos packed with countless minivans full of individual families, coming to receive instruction and then return to their own self-contained units. The end result, especially in a rootless, hyper-mobile American culture, is the reality of mothers who are lonely and fear they're failing but who don't want to say anything for fear of being judged or starting up the Mommy Wars, or fathers who are lonely but who aren't supposed to signal that they don't know what to do about their son's pornography addiction or their daughter's anorexia. Our churches are often filled with unmarried or divorced or widowed men and women who believe that they are without family because there is no one to stand beside them in the church directory picture. And yet, the cross shows us that we need one another. We will never be godly families until we are brothers and sisters to one another. (16)
Chapters 4 - 5: Family Is Not First & The Church as Family. Moore takes aim at how we make little empires out of our own families. Our own family becomes an idol to us, forcing us to run ragged races around town trying to be the very best family we can be. We profess "salvation by grace alone," but we live a "salvation by perfect family alone." Before we know it, our children are the epicenter of our lives - their needs suddenly become the ultimate needs. He then points to the fact that the Church actually is the greater family, the one we are tied to each other through a greater blood, the blood of Jesus himself.
Moore warns that, as shocking as it may sound, our priorities are backward and that the Church family is, in fact, the only life-giving source of strength in Christ. In Christ, we have been placed in a new family, one that has bonds stronger than DNA. This is good news for those who think they have no family, or come from broken and tragic families. But it is also a warning to those who try to make their own family the center of the universe, for, as Moore points out, that will in the end fail and leave us with unmet longings. This is why Moore has elsewhere argued that the most important decision an engaged couple can make is choosing what church they will plant themselves in for years and decades to come. Your Church family will pave the path forward for your biological family. We tend to reverse that path, which has ended in destruction for far too many American Christian families.
Chapters 6 - 9: Man & Woman at the Cross & Marriage and the Mystery of Christ & Reclaiming Sexuality & The Road to and from Divorce. These four chapters were some of the most powerful to me. Moore insightfully looks at the role of genders, the complex realities (and pains) of marriage and singleness, the powerful force of sex (and no-sex, and immitation sex), and ends in chapter nine with a look at divorce. Be prepared, Moore doesn't hold back; no topic is off limits here. I cannot possibly select only one quote to put here...so I put none. This section of the book is worth the price of the whole book. This should be required reading for any one engaged to be married, already married, single, divorced, widowed, well, basically everyone.
Chapters 10 - 11: Children Are a Blessing, Not a Burden & Parenting with the End in View. These chapters have some fantastic thoughts on parenting. Moore is not the perfect parent, and he doesn't pretend to be. Rather he continues the theme of family as spiritual warfare. Being a Christian parent is putting yourself in the crosshairs of the devil. Parenting formulas are thrown out the window; only the cross can help us be parents. And then he reminds us that our goal is not to make little Christians who can just rattle off and defend their Christianity. There is something greater at stake, Moore says,
A parent, or a church, need not be an expert on culture to train up wise children who can discern good from evil. Yes, we should be aware of what is happening around us, and seek to be able to frame it in Christian terms, but far more important is that we shape our children's imaginations by teh storyline of Scripture, just by the way we locate ourselves in it and refer back to it to see where we are in our pilgrimage through life. It is less important that your child has a Christian worldview than that your child has a Christian world, the world of the biblical text that calls us to Christ and him crucified. What we want, in the end, is not so much children who can deconstruct every argument so much as children who know to say, "If I have to choose between this and Jesus, I choose Jesus." (223)
Amen and amen. This is what I want for my children; this is what I pray for.
Chapters 12 - 14: Family Tensions, Family Traumas & On Aging and the Family & Free to Be Family. Moore finishes the book by looking again at the hurt that some carry from their childhood. He notes the power of the cross to overcome the most painful struggles we received from our own parents...as well as our first parents who fell in the garden. He then addresses the aging family and death.
There are so many more quotes that I could put up that have affected me while reading this book. But I invite you to get your own copy and be shaped by it yourself. I read quite a few books every year. But few stand out as truly a significant book like this one does. Whether you are a grandparent, single, or married, this book is worth your time. It's also a great book to read together with someone else!