By admin | June 18, 2008
Doreen Moore. Good Christians Good Husbands? Leaving a Legacy in Marriage and Ministry: Lessons from the Marriages and Ministries of Elizabeth and George Whitefield, Sarah and Jonathan Edwards, Molly and John Wesley. Christian Focus Publications, 2004. A book review by Prof. Renihan
Those familiar with the history of the church are painfully aware of a seemingly anomalous reality in the lives of several highly esteemed Christian leaders: they had difficult family lives. Though publicly respected, and apparently used of God in fulfillment of His purpose, patterns of neglect to wife and children occasionally appear. Doreen Moore addresses this issue in an examination of the lives and ministries of three contemporaneous men: John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards.
First is Wesley, whose marriage to Molly Vazeille was nothing short of disaster. After seeing his true love marry another man (with the complicity of his brother Charles), John foolishly proposed, almost on a whim, to a woman wholly unsuited to be his wife. For thirty years they battled, she being a constant thorn in his side, hindrance to his ministry and weight on his personal affairs. Moore shows that Wesley’s real bride was Methodism, and that Molly had no chance from the beginning to find a similar place in her husband’s affections. For him, itinerant preaching, with all of its attendant challenges, was a divinely appointed task from which he could not demit. Her task was to accept this fact. This is not to excuse her faults. She seems to have been as much a shrew as John was negligent. It was a lethal combination.
Whitefield and his marriage to Elizabeth James follow next. The great evangelist, universally esteemed in his own day, also had less than the best of marriages, though for far different reasons. Mrs. Moore paints a portrait of an affectionate and supportive marriage marred by what we might call benign neglect on the part of Whitefield. From the beginning, his intention was not marriage for the sake of love, but rather for the advancement of his ministry. Like Wesley, Whitefield seems to have been so focused on his itinerant preaching that he failed at times to nurture and cherish his own wife. His fear of making an idol of a human relationship prevented him from enjoying the greatest blessing God gives to women and men.
The third subject of study, Jonathan Edwards, is presented in a far different light. While Wesley’s marriage was bad, and Whitefield’s less than it should have been, Edwards’ was a model of Christian love. It is clear that the great Northampton preacher took seriously his responsibility to nurture wife and children and in so doing left a pattern to be admired and repeated. Edwards differed from his contemporaries in that he was settled in lengthy pastoral charges, and used the routine of home for the benefit of his family. But in doing this, he in no way neglected the tasks at hand. Often spending thirteen hours a day in his study, Edwards nonetheless found time and energy to cultivate a gracious Christian home. His story is one of balance: diligence in ministry and in domestic life.
As I read the book, I was constantly reminded of one fundamental rule. Our duty is always and only governed by the written Word of God, and not by our own apprehensions of what our duty, or place in providence, may be. Wesley egregiously violated this rule by thinking that he had, and Methodism was, a special, divinely appointed movement, which could, for this reason, suspend principles that would normally apply. Mrs. Moore cites Wesley’s comment to a woman about her role as a Methodist preacher within his circuit: “I think the strength of the cause rests there, on your having an extraordinary call. So, I am persuaded has every [sic] our laypreachers. It is plain to me, that the whole work of God called Methodism is an extraordinary dispensation of His Providence. Therefore I do not wonder, if several things occur therein which do not fall under ordinary Rules of Discipline” (48-49). There is no doubt that Wesley turned his ministry into an idol-one of the great ironies of the Eighteenth Century.
The final chapter, which consists of a series of thirteen cautious observations, will provoke a great deal of thought. The author frequently expresses the right ideas here. But, it may be that Mrs. Moore is too easy on Wesley. No matter how the text is read, failure at home disqualifies an individual from Christian service. It makes no difference whether the man is world famous or nearly anonymous-the Scriptures are our rule. His inflated sense of self-importance, his over-estimation of his movement’s place in God’s purposes, and his neglect of his wife and her very real problems are a serious blot on his record.
There is one minor criticism which must be noted. At several places, but especially in the final chapter (see principle #8, p. 146 ff.), Mrs. Moore misuses the word “reticence.” It is not an equivalent term for reluctance or non-support. The sense is simple: reticence is silence-to say little or nothing in a particular situation. This is not what Mrs. Moore intends in the context, but it is the proper sense of the term.
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