Pastor John Carroll tackles an often neglected subject in Apostolic Pulpits, divorce, and remarriage. Much of the book is born out of Carroll’s self-described need of having to work out a scriptural theology based on his previous divorce and remarriage. Divorce is not an easy subject; in fact, it may be one of the the most difficult issues a pastor will face in their ministry. Carroll lays out what some Apostolics will see as a fresh theology on the subject. It is important to note that Carroll is not advocating divorce, but is working towards a broader practical theology on the subject. Indeed, his book is a result of a series of Bible studies that he ministered to his church. As he describes it, the reader is reading “his conversation with |his church| Point of Mercy” (p.20).
Carroll considers three current theological views on divorce; No-Cause, One-Cause, and Multi-Cause through the lens of Deuteronomy 24:1-2. Utilizing the above scriptures as an exegetical proof-text, he concludes that, “The idea that marriage is an unbreakable bond is a scriptural absurdity” (p.42). To be fair, Carroll also emphasizes that he is not advocating “that a person may divorce and remarry for any reason” (p. 39). Instead, Carroll is seeking scriptural support for irreconcilable marriages. His motives are pastoral. How does a pastor help good, faithful believers who are hurting from the effects of divorce? One of the more intriguing illustrations that Carroll uses to further his position is Yahweh’s divorce of Israel (Isaiah 50:1). Carroll’s idea is that when God divorced Israel, it was a righteous act, an example of how the Israelite’s were to treat their wives. In all honesty, I had never considered Yahweh’s divorce of Israel as a way of theologically supporting the act of divorce.
The subject of divorce and remarriage raises some serious ethical questions for both pastor and believer. Is the church to advocate that the divorced remain desolate and lonely? Carrol’s concern is that “Too many Christians suffer from depression and anxiety because our misunderstanding of scripture has forced celibacy on them” (p. 158). While not all will agree with Carroll’s conclusions, it does force one to make an honest evaluation of one’s theology. Indeed, sound Biblical theology is essential because it dictates how we treat not only our fellow humans but our brethren in the faith. The truth is the church is not unfamiliar with divorce. Unfortunately, it is too common in our congregations. How we respond to divorce is critical because it will play a significant role in the health of our churches. Carroll does an excellent job at forcing the reader to consider the ethical ramifications of divorce from a non-traditional perspective.
On a personal note, the book hit home because I have witnessed the spiritual damage that it can cause in a family. Divorce has the potential to wreck the faith of not only the married but the friends and family that are intimately connected to the couple. A church that can respond appropriately to the event can mitigate much of the collateral damage. Every Apostolic minister should read “Divorce and Remarriage” for the simple fact that it will force one to evaluate their theological view on divorce. I finished the book asking myself several questions. Firstly, is my theological position on divorce Biblically sound? Secondly, is my congregation aware of our stance on divorce and remarriage? Lastly, does our church treat people who are divorced differently? Again, while not everyone will agree with the opinions in the book, at the very least, it will force one to think about their doctrinal view.