Last month, I submitted a teacher/scholar proposal for a small grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment. If you are interested, you can read a little bit about the proposal below. Regardless of whether we receive the funds, I am planning to develop a ministry focused on the good of christian marriage at St. John’s beginning next year.
Over 40% of all births in the United States are now out of wedlock. In the major cities of Northeast Ohio, between 60% and 75% (depending on the city) of all births are to single mothers. In the inner cities of Northeast Ohio, it is common to see 95% of births to single mothers. Since the children of broken families and single parents are more likely to suffer in poverty, abuse, psychological distress, incarceration, and other trauma, these statistics are an ominous sign of the future. Influenced by the work of Brad Wilcox at UVA’s “Marriage Project” (and the work of others) we believe that the decline of a marriage culture is among the most pressing social justice concerns in Northeast Ohio, though this fact is not well know or widely discussed.
We also believe that a christian, biblical vision of marriage as a sacramental instrument of God’s grace, is compelling. This compelling vision of marriage as a sacramental instrument of grace is on full display when a man and a woman are married in the context of the classical Anglican worship service – the Rite of Holy Matrimony.
However, an increasing number of marriages, even christian marriages, are eschewing traditional settings and traditional marriage rites in favor of more contemporary, and far less theologically meaningful, celebrations. We are committed to a long-term project of renewing marriage culture in our area, and we would like to begin by exploring and illuminating the theology of marriage through the lens of the Rite of Holy Matrimony.
We hope that this project can contribute, in a small way, to a greater effort to restore the depth, beauty, and cultural power of marriage. This project will focus on worshipping communities and will seek to enlist them as partners in a long term project of restoring a marriage culture for the common good in our part of the country.
We envision five primary areas of theological and pastoral concern that will be addressed in the project. They are as follows:
First, the project will develop “teaching materials” to help people understand the typological dimensions of the biblical canon. Since the biblical view of marriage between a man and a woman is one thread in a typological tapestry stretching from Genesis to Revelation and since the Rite of Holy Matrimony presumes a knowledge of biblical typology, these materials will provide instruction for reading the Bible and understanding marriage with a typological imagination.
Second, the project will develop “teaching materials” outlining a complete biblical theology of marriage taking into consideration the whole canon, from Genesis to the book of Revelation. These materials will build upon the typological preparation presented in the previous unit.
Third, the project will develop “teaching materials” to explore the various biblical words for love in order to clarify the meaning of marital love and contextualize it within God’s love demonstrated in the life, death, resurrection, and ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ through the Spirit at work in the church. Also building on the previous units, the marital love of husband and wife will be illumined as sanctifying types of God’s perfect love.
Fourth, building on the three previous sections, the project will offer a biblical, theological, and historical “teaching commentary” on the Rite of Holy Matrimony as found in the current Book of Common Prayer from the Anglican Church of North America. This commentary will prepare couples and congregants to understand and embrace the riches of the marriage rite.
Fifth, the project will draw on the research of Brad Wilcox and others to clarify the relationship between a flourishing marriage culture and the common good. This dimension of the project will lead to curricular materials and also training materials for pastors and congregations who want to incorporate marriage enrichment into their overall cultural witness. We envision training pastors and lay ministers to use the curriculum that we develop in their own churches. The C.S. Lewis Institute – our primary partner – will help us organize and facilitate these trainings.
Pastoral and academic work influencing this project:
The overall motivation for the project comes from reading Humanae Vitae, John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the work of Mary Eberstadt, the ongoing work of Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia’s Marriage Project, and others. I’ve also been heavily influenced by my own research into allegorical and typological exegesis in the work of Henri de Lubac and by the work of Ephraim Radner, which examines marriage and sexuality from within the context of figural exegesis.