Let me start by saying that I am a fan of Andreas Köstenberger. I have not only read God, Marriage and Family; I have led small groups in our church using the book. It is one of the most thorough, biblical treatments of the topic available in our day. And I believe it will stand the test of time.
I have also read the new edition (read it online here), and I must say that while I am pleased with the updates, I am both disappointed and saddened by his section on the Family Integrated Church. When I heard that the new edition would address the FIC, I was cautiously optimistic. This was one of the finest theological minds of our day. If anyone had the ability to go beyond the surface rhetoric to the heart of the matter, this was the man.
I expected this section to avoid most of the pitfalls of the previous critics. Others, for example, had ignored Reb Bradley and Hope Chapel in Sacramento which was an FIC planted in the early 1980s (from whom I learned about the FIC concept). They had all failed to acknowledge the work of Henry Reyenga, who has been planting FICs in the midwest for twenty years (though he uses the term “Home Discipleship” churches), and Greg Harris’s Household of Faith in Oregon. Others had ignored the fact that David Allen Black’s work was a pivotal on the thinking of many of the so-called leaders of the movement on the subject of “adolescence”. Other critics had also conflated the Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Presbyterian, and CREC versions, thus raising questions, for example, about church membership and paedocommunion (Köstenberger raises this issue in his last footnote of the section) that have less to do with the FIC than they do about each group’s Confessions of Faith. My hope was that Köstenberger’s critique would be different.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. While Dr. Köstenberger was his usual irenic self, his treatment lacked the balance, thorough research, and accuracy we have all come to expect from his work. Moreover, since Crossway’s recent marketing push for the book seems to focus on the new FIC section (see Justin Taylor’s piece here), and is causing quite a stir, I felt compelled to respond.
My goal in this response is twofold. First, I want to address what I see as inaccuracies and misrepresentations in Köstenberger’s work. I do this not because I think myself Dr. Köstenberger’s equal (indeed, I consider him a mentor), but because he has pointed his pen in my direction (I am an FIC pastor, and I am named in the chapter) and I can say for certain that in a number of instances he has missed the mark. I believe this chapter can be of great benefit to the church. However, as it stands, it has done great harm.
Second, I believe the Family Integrated Church is part of a much-needed reformation in the way we do church (in fact, I believe Dr. Köstenberger does as well, as I will demonstrate below). Our current neo-traditional approach is riddled with problems. Not the least of which is the fact that it is not based on the clear teaching of the Bible. Inaccurate portrayals of the FIC allow many who need to consider our arguments seriously to dismiss them without adequate consideration. Thus, allow me to address several of the more pressing concerns raised by Köstenberger’s new chapter.
One issue that surfaced in this critique is Köstenberger’s application of double standards. First, he opened the section attacking the “Family of Families” straw man right off the bat. He writes:
It is our tentative assessment that the family-integrated approach as defined below has elevated the family to an unduly high status that is unwarranted in light of the biblical teaching on the subject and that its view of the church as a "family of families" is not sufficiently supported by Scripture.
Ironically, while Köstenberger states his displeasure with the family of families terminology, he uses the statement himself in both the original book (see p. 72 here) and this update (see p. 52). And while he assumes the worst of those of us in the FIC who have used the term, he asks for the benefit of the doubt for himself. In an August 17th post he wrote:
In the first edition, I gloss the phrase “the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” in Eph 3:14-15 as “family of families.” This does not mean that I espoused a “family of families” approach the way some advocating a “family of families approach” in the family-integrated church movement do. Again, what is required is more than a quick google search or taking one passing remark out of context. (see here)
Hence, when he uses the family of families terminology, we are supposed to take his entire body of work into consideration and not jump to conclusions. We should know that a single phrase does not define his entire understanding of the nature of the church. We should see that he is using ‘shorthand,’ and not defining a new theological concept. Unfortunately, he has not extended the same courtesy to others.
Moreover, we are not given a single example of how the phrase is used improperly by FIC advocates, or why they should not be given the benefit of the doubt. There is reference to neither an article, a website, a sermon, a lecture, nor a book where the phrase is misused. Not to mention the fact that I wrote an entire blog post about this issue (that was referenced in the Perspectives on Family Ministry book which he references numerous times) that should have laid it to rest.
In another example of double standards, Köstenberger issues a call for a less “antagonistic” dialogue on the matter in question by avoiding loaded terms. He writes:
To begin with, in light of the racial overtones of the term "segregation," such language is best avoided when speaking of traditional church practice. Assuming an antagonistic stance likely lessens consideration of valid insights by those advocating a family-integrated approach on the part of traditional churches. In this regard, it will be helpful to avoid an "us against them" mentality and not to operate in a reactionary mode in this discussion.
This sounds good. That is until one continues reading and finds the term segregation used elsewhere in the chapter. For example:
“The family-integrated church approach can actually tend to promote a lack of general integration as these churches may at times neglect to include those from broken families. In fact, some churches may ironically foster the very segregation that they are trying to correct, albeit a segregation of intact families from those with less-than-ideal family backgrounds.”
I do not believe Köstenberger is trying to be offensive here. It appears he is using the word in its natural, normal sense. The term is appropriate. It does not create images of “Colored Only” water fountains in my mind; it simply communicates a truth. Ironically, though, he uses the word in the exact same sense as we do when we refer to age segregation in the church. Why? Because he is being antagonistic? No; because the word fits.
Not only does Köstenberger use the very term against which he warns; at one point he refers to those in the FIC as practicing “extreme” family integration. If segregation is a volatile word from our past, extreme (i.e., religious extremists) is most assuredly a volatile word from our present. What, you ask, is “extreme” family integration? Well, the endnote (#27) reads, “See the above-mentioned three models presented in Jones, Perspectives on Family Ministry. ” In other words, since the term Family Integration (according to an earlier footnote) is a blanket term used to refer to all of the approaches in Perspectives, which one would qualify as “extreme”? Of course that would be the FIC?
I hope Köstenberger recognizes the double standard here. More importantly, I hope he rethinks this criticism and its Politically Correct implications. Segregation is simply the most appropriate term for the church practices in question.
Standing on the Shoulders of Critics
A more fundamental problem with this chapter is the degree to which it depends on secondary source research. Rather than interacting with actual FIC pastors and churches, Köstenberger relies on the work of FIC critics. There is no evidence that he ever visited a Family Integrated Church, visited one of our church websites, or talked with a representative of the FIC (though at least one attempted to contact him before he published his new edition). Instead, there are elusive articles, adversaries passing as experts, and a mislabeling of groups as Family Integrated when they expressly are not.
An Elusive Article
In the opening footnote of the section, Köstenberger refers to an article by Albert Mohler. I'm still looking for the Al Mohler article cited in footnote 17, which reads, "See especially the critiques by R. Albert Mohler, posted online at www.albertmohler.com." I could not comprehend why one of the most respected scholars of our day would not provide the actual link to such a pivotal piece of information (this is the footnote to the infamous "Family of Families" quote). I want to read this article. I want to know how Dr. Mohler addressed the issue in question. This may seem like a small thing, but when Dr. Mohler is one of only three sources (not including three books by FIC authors mentioned in passing) for the entire section, his article takes on added importance. Especially when he is by far the most credible source.
Adversaries as Experts
While the Albert Mohler article is baffling, it is not nearly as baffling as Köstenberger’s use of FIC critics and adversaries as his main sources on the movement. Six of the thirteen endnotes in the section refer to Jason Webb’s Master’s Thesis on the FIC (later released in a series of blogs available online here). Another four refer to Perspectives on Family Ministry, and particularly to Brandon Shield’s sections arguing against the FIC (noticeably absent are Paul Renfro’s responses to Shields in the same book where virtually every critique Köstenberger offers is addressed thoroughly). Thus, ten of the thirteen endnotes refer to two main secondary sources. That would be fine if these two were actually experts on the FIC, or if their arguments were buttressed by actual primary research. However, they are not. This is a bit like writing a critique of Calvinism using only Arminian sources.
Jason Webb, for example, has absolutely nothing to commend him as an expert on the FIC. His introduction to the movement –according to his own testimony—came in three phases: First, through a Vision Forum catalog (by the way, Vision Forum and the FIC are not one-in-the-same), second, through the internet, and finally, “by listening to a theological discussion that occurred at the General Assembly of the Association of the Reformed Baptist Churches of America.” What Webb doesn’t say is that the discussion at that meeting was so embarrassing that ARBCA had to remove it from their website and offer apologies to key FIC leaders (myself included).
Brandon Shields is the other source to whom Köstenberger refers repeatedly. His objections were addressed in the Perspectives book, and those responses were never given consideration here. One has to wonder why, if Köstenberger insisted on using Perspectives, he didn’t choose to use the actual FIC sections of the book since they were the ones that actually put forth the affirmative case for the model from a first-hand perspective.
Painting With a Broad Brush
In addition to relying on questionable sources, Köstenberger also mislabeled the FIC and painted the entire movement with a broad brush. At times this mislabeling was subtle. However, in one instance, there was no subtlety at all. In endnote number twenty, Köstenberger writes the following:
"See esp. Timothy Paul Jones, ed., Perspectives on Family Ministry (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), which presents three major models of family ministry: family-integrated, family-based, and family-equipping (see the summaries on pp. 42-45 and the comparison chart on p. 52). However, of these only "family-integrated" is widely used at the time of writing, which is why we will use this terminology in the remainder of this chapter, especially since all three models share considerable common ground (such as the primary role of fathers and parents in the spiritual development of their children and the importance of multigenerational ministry; see ibid., pp. 46-48) and differ primarily in the degree to which they are willing to work within existing church structures: the family-integrated model eliminates all age-graded events; the family-based approach leaves most of the essential church structure intact and seeks to transform it from within and make it more family-oriented; and the family-equipping model calls for a complete restructuring of the church while keeping family and church distinct as partners in promoting biblical family roles."
Thus, an entire book (Perspectives on Family Ministry) is devoted to drawing clear lines between these three approaches that are based on very different philosophies, and Köstenberger, for some odd reason, decides to use one of them to represent his comment on the three. This is unfair to everyone. He is also incorrect in his assertion that “only family-integrated is widely used at the time of writing.” The term Family Based is more widely used than the term family-integrated, and has been for over a decade. Mark DeVries is a household name in the Youth Ministry world (see here). Family Based Youth Ministry has been all the rage in the last decade.
The more subtle versions of mislabeling take the form of ‘critique’. In his section offering a critique on the FIC, Köstenberger makes a number of statements that I believe misrepresent the movement as a whole. For example:
As already stated, it is essential not to elevate marriage and family above the church. Viewed from an end-time perspective, earthly marriage and family life are but "training wheels" of sorts, designed to prepare one for an eternal relationship (or marriage) to Christ. After all, there will be no human marriage on the "new earth"—the institution of family will have served its purpose. Seen in light of eternity, therefore, marriage and family have an important preparatory function but ought not to be absolutized or placed above God's eternal kingdom purposes. In the same vein, there is no biblical justification for considering the authority of the paternal head of the household as overriding, or even equal to, that of the local church leadership.
Where is this happening? Köstenberger never tells us! However, I will tell you that I am very familiar with the FIC, and I have never heard anyone make such a preposterous statement. This is completely foreign to the many FIC’s, for example, that hold to the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (which a large portion of them do). Wouldn’t it be more accurate to attribute this to the individuals who said it than to paint the entire movement with such broad strokes? Unfortunately, Köstenberger does not give us an example of the use of such rhetoric by FIC representatives either in his text, or in a footnote, so we are simply left to take him at his word.
He does this yet again when he writes:
Another concern relates to the very notion of integration itself. A New Testament church should be integrated in every conceivable manner, not only with regard to family but also with regard to gender, age, race, color, socioeconomic status, and so on. In order to reflect the identity of its Creator, who made all of his creatures, and of its Redeemer, who saved all kinds of people, the church ought to be all-inclusive and embracing. For this reason any approach or group that focuses on one kind of integration while not equally emphasizing integration in every other conceivable dimension falls short of the biblical ideal of God's kingdom. The family-integrated church approach can actually tend to promote a lack of general integration as these churches may at times neglect to include those from broken families. In fact, some churches may ironically foster the very segregation that they are trying to correct, albeit a segregation of intact families from those with less-than-ideal family backgrounds.
Does Dr. Köstenberger have statistical evidence to indicate that Family Integrated churches are more homogeneous than the average church (and that that homogeneity is attributable directly to the philosophy of ministry)? Is there any evidence that a refusal to employ the extra-biblical approach of dividing people up into constituent groups (which, as I see it would be more likely to create the kind of division against which he warns) leads to this kind of “segregation”?
And in the “did he really write that?” category, we have:
Finally, the emphasis on male headship may at times tend to diminish women's significance and role. In an effort to strengthen men as leaders, women may at times not be adequately affirmed in the great variety of contributions they can make to the home, the church, and society. In some cases, a form of male patriarchy may take on a type of authoritarianism that proves excessive.
First of all, Amen! However, is this directed at the FIC, or the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (with which Köstenberger is affiliated)? We are not the only ones reclaiming biblical headship. In fact, Köstenberger himself (as you will see) reiterates the need for such an emphasis in the church during his summation. And again, where is the evidence that this is a problem in FIC circles? Is this based on writings? Sermons? Statements of faith? As an FIC pastor, I’d like to know where this is taking place. Yet, once more, there is not a single example offered.
Stealing Our Thunder
The great irony in all of this is that after the aforementioned missteps where he , in my opinion, misrepresents the FIC, Köstenberger’s summation is an argument for family integration the way it is being practiced in the overwhelming majority of FICs. Thus, he takes us to task for what we are not (but could be if we weren’t careful), then turns right around and takes credit for what we are. For instance, he writes:
[T]he church should be family-oriented and family-friendly. The leaders of the church should themselves model healthy family relationships (1 Tim. 3:4-5) and seek to equip the families in the church to be worshiping communities, embodying on the microlevel what the church ought to reflect on the macro-level as the "household of God" (1 Tim. 3:15). This requires churches to be more intentional in their approach to mentoring and discipleship. It calls them to focus their efforts more overtly on equipping men to practice their Christian faith in their homes as spiritual leaders of worship, Scripture reading, etc., rather than conceiving of mentoring and discipleship primarily or exclusively on an individual level.
Also, it is important that this be done on a church-wide basis rather than merely by way of special, optional programs such as marriage seminars or discipleship classes on marriage and the family. Every aspect of the church should be oriented toward people in their family context and include those from broken or unusual situations. With godly families as the backbone of the congregation, those who are currently (or permanently) unmarried can be drawn into a family environment that makes for healing for those recovering from broken relationships and hope for those longing for loving, nurturing family relationships in the future, whether young and unmarried or previously married.
This is the FIC! Andreas Köstenberger just made a clear, concise, winsome argument against the neo-traditional model and in favor of the family-integrated approach (not the straw man being attacked on the internet, but the real thing being practiced in churches around the world). Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have taken the time to make that connection. If he had, he would not have skirted the issue by using “family-friendly” or “family-oriented,” but would have used the term family-integrated since what he describes is precisely what we are doing. In fact, many of his statements could have been lifted right from some of our websites or conferences.
For example, if he had taken the time to go to our church website, he would have found the following statement on ministry to those single-parent (i.e., broken... less-than-ideal) homes that he claims our model is prone to alienate:
Ministry to single parents (R.E.D.E.E.M.)
Our primary goal with any broken marriage is to reconcile it if possible. Thus, the first question we ask in the case of single parents is, “Can we help restore this person’s marriage?” If we can, we are obligated to do so. If we cannot (i.e., in the case of the death or remarriage of a spouse), we pick up the pieces and move on (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:11).
While we believe the ideal family involves two loving, godly parents, we do not consider single-parent families inferior to traditional, nuclear families. We understand that many people find themselves raising children without the help of a spouse for a variety of reasons beyond their control, and we embrace these families (Deuteronomy 10:18; 16:14; 24:19-21).
As with all families, we are committed to discipling single parents, and equipping them to disciple the children with which they have been entrusted (Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 2:6).
We are committed to providing encouragement to single parents. We recognize the added burdens involved in raising children alone, and believe God has called us to come alongside single parents in an effort to lighten their load wherever possible.
Grace Family Baptist Church is a covenantal body of believers. We share life together. We are committed to enveloping our members in a blanket of genuine fellowship, especially those with the added burden of single parenthood.
Grace Family Baptist Church is committed to minister to single parents and their children. When needs arise, we see ourselves as extended family.
How on earth did Andreas Köstenberger miss this!? How could he reference my book, Family Driven Faith (which barely scratches the surface of the FIC the issue), and not look at our church website? And if he did, how could he fail to acknowledge that, by God’s grace, we are doing exactly what he says we should be doing, and addressing EVERYTHING he cautions us about?
Do we have warts and weaknesses? Certainly, we do. All churches do. Have we “cracked the code” on reaching broken families? Of course not, but what church has? Nevertheless, most of the fundamental issues raised in this new chapter miss the mark. And because they come from inadequate secondary sources, they represent the same old questions that have been asked and answered time and time again.
One day someone is going to write an accurate assessment of the FIC. They are going to visit actual churches, talk to actual members and leaders, listen to actual sermons, and interact with actual statements. Unfortunately, today is not that day.