The Storm-Tossed Family was honored with Christianity Today’s 2019 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year Award, so I was curious as to why. I found the book interesting in places, even if Moore often wrote in generalities and loaded the work with clichés. I was bothered by his constant references to the “gospel,” without defining the gospel clearly. This is especially true when he quoted positively several Roman Catholics who presumably would reject Moore’s understanding of the gospel: Thomas Merton (p. 136), Flannery O’Connor (p. 249), and J. R. R. Tolkien (p. 263), along with Wendell Berry who never claimed to be a Christian (p. 83). Concerning the gospel, I would assume that Moore accepts penal substitution (p. 27 alluded to this), but he emphasizes the Christus-Victor view on the atonement, writing, “At the cross, Jesus defeated the accusing spirits by break the deception they have over human image-bearers.” This is not wrong but is not the full story of the gospel, which he would admit (p. 27). But it seems to me that it is the victory of Christ over demons which is central in Moore’s understanding of the storm-tossed (or dysfunctional – p. 29) family being the grounds for spiritual warfare (pp. 11, 12, 27). Some odd statements are made in this regard such as, “If the family is not wrecking you, it’s only because you don’t know what is going on” (p. 12), and “Every family in Scripture, without exception, has prodigals” (p. 17) which is untrue. Also, “We cannot be families if we are not disciples first” (p. 16), but are not the homes of the unconverted, families, by definition? Moore sees our primary battle in spiritual warfare as being won with the gospel (p. 32) but the aspect of the gospel he has in mind is victory over Satan who rages at two points: “Our identity and inheritance” (p. 32). Several concerns come to mind. First, on what biblical basis did Moore choose these two points rather than others? Secondly, is direct battle with demonic forces our principle concern, especially in light of the far deeper concern within the New Testament of the “flesh” as our greatest enemy? And if Moore’s gospel is primarily our victory over Satan rather than God’s forgiveness and our reception of righteousness, how much does the author’s inaugurated eschatology flavor his understanding of spiritual warfare and the family (p. 28)? When Moore states that, “Spiritual warfare must be met, at every point, with the gospel” and that “Jesus is the true Israel of God” (p. 32), the reader should be aware that Moore is touting Covenant Theology and its view that the kingdom of God is already on earth, although its fulfillment is yet to come. In application, “The kingdom is breaking through. The family is a sign of this kingdom, and that’s one reason why the powers of darkness want to race against it” (p. 46). But Scripture does not teach that the kingdom is breaking through and that Satan focuses his attention on the family; rather we live presently in the church age and both Satan and the flesh wage war on all fronts, not just the family.
Moore seems to have trouble deciding if he wants to talk about the church as family or the nuclear family, bouncing back and forth between the two, making some excellent points along the way. He strikes gold when he states that the church that focuses on the family is in line with the Bible, but not a church that puts families first (pp. 51, 57). And “The church is not a collection of families. The church is a family. We are not ‘family friendly’, we are family” (p. 60). He rightly sees children as a blessing but not as idols (p. 188), and they serve to remind us that we are replaceable (p. 203). Our goal in parenting is that our children are alive to God through Jesus Christ (p. 240). I think he was a bit too sanguine, however, to promise that the Lord redeems our parenting failures (pp. 241-242).
Moore offers some helpful chapters on sexuality, divorce, children and aging. He correctly reminds the reader that our families are important but not ultimate (pp. 21, 49), but he often makes generalized and questionable statements. For example, “The devil trembles at a cross” might sound impressive, but what does this really mean in practice (p. 21)? “The gospel means then that all of us…are children of God” (p. 37). I assume he meant to qualify that statement but did not do so. He claims that “marriage, not celibacy, is the exception in the New Testament” (p. 67), which is indefensible. “A cross-shaped [often used cliché throughout the book] masculinity walks not with Esau’s swagger but with Jacob’s limp” (p. 82). But Jacob is hardly the poster boy of cross-shaped living. And he claims that “marriage is not just about the couple but about the gospel” (p. 105, cf. pp.106-107, 129, 134). I am not sure what this means. Moore also writes, “We need to start seeing marriage as war to find contentment in the gospel,” followed by, “Crucify your honeymoon” (p. 123). It is hard to comprehend such statements. His psycho-babble as to why couples cheat (p. 143) and on forgiving ourselves (p. 209) was unimpressive but I like his idea of marrying someone who may one day be in hospice rather than marrying for superficial reasons (p. 112).
Moore’s thesis is that we are shaped and formed by family (p. 5), but family is not confined to bloodlines (p. 300). A simpler way to have said this is we are shaped by people. Nothing particularly revolutionary here. But most of The Storm-Tossed Family is about one aspect or the other of the traditional family. Moore is a winsome, interesting writer who is on the mark more often than not. But I do not believe he offers many thoughts that were particularly insightful and, as documented above, I believe he is not biblically accurate on a number of occasions.
The Storm-Tossed Family, How the Cross Reshapes the Home by Russell Moore (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2018) 306 pp. + viii, hard $22.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel