How Covenants Show God’s Heart for Relationships
Dr. Paul Eddy has been passionate about God’s promises, called covenants, since his days in seminary in his early 20s.
Dr. Eddy has been studying the theology of covenants for decades as a Professor at Bethel University, and as the Teaching Pastor at Woodland Hills Church, and he believes studying covenants gives believers a better sense of God’s heart for how He shapes relationships.
Dr. Eddy defines covenant as a committed, community-based, kinship-creating, agape love relationship. But he says it can be simplified down to two simple words: love formalized.
At his Covenantal Theology training at City Church on July 13, Dr. Eddy shared how we can improve our marriages by accurately viewing them as Kingdom-oriented covenants. Through that Kingdom-oriented lens, sex within a male-female marriage becomes the sign of the covenant (Gen. 2:24, 1 Cor. 6:16-17).
Throughout history, Dr. Eddy argues there have been three marriage models that have evolved with society.
Marriage Models through History
- Traditional Marriage – focuses on the extended family. “It’s about strengthening the family relationships, the clan,” explains Dr. Eddy.
- Romantic Marriage – focuses on the couple and protecting the nuclear family. “For a lot of us today in Christian circles, we still operate in the romantic marriage model,” said Dr. Eddy.
- Consumer Marriage – focuses on the individuals themselves. “What is fundamentally important in this model is the individual achieving personal fulfillment and happiness,” explains Dr. Eddy.
But which of these models is the right one for a Christian marriage? None of them, answers Eddy.
“My sense is every single one of these models can foster love in them, but every single one of the can foster selfishness,” said Dr. Eddy.
He urged pastors to teach their congregation about a fourth model he calls a Kingdom Marriage. Kingdom Marriages puts the Kingdom community and the imaging of the triune God at the center of it.
“Here we can re-envision marriage as something of a temporary dress rehearsal to our eternal marriage to Jesus Christ,” explained Eddy.
Practical Suggestions for Church Leaders
- Teach and model a Kingdom Marriage model.
- Focus on the Kingdom community – with the goal to successfully image the agape-love and unity of the Triune God.
- Start your premarital program in elementary school. “We’ve got to detox our kids from all of the stuff in our culture that sets them up for the Cinderella-fairytale marriage, and teach the expectation that marriage is a place where you ‘come and die to yourself,’” said Eddy.
- Cast a loving and logical vision of sex as the covenant sign of marriage.
- Embrace, teach and model a “third way” in response to the polarizing ‘sexual cultural wars’ that divide the Church today. “Sexuality is an area of equal opportunity brokenness for all of us,” said Eddy.
Covenants beyond Sex and Marriage
Dr. Eddy encouraged the Church to recover a clear and compelling vision for living as a fully relational, sexual being outside of the male-female marriage covenant. The Church needs to acknowledge that other forms of covenants are Biblical and healthy.
- Committed Friendship – teach and model the value and principles of committed friendship.
- -Explore the possibility of encouraging and publically celebrating covenantal friendships.
- -Study the intimate friendships in the ancient world: David & Jonathan, Ruth & Naomi, friendship Proverbs, Jesus and his friendships.
- The Church as a covenant community – recover an authentic “covenant family” model of the Church.
- -Dr. Eddy warns this will be a significant challenge in our culture.
- -Jesus birthed a New Covenant family (Mark 3:31-34) in his teachings.
Dawn, Marva. Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Eddy, Paul Rhodes. “Kingdom Sex: Toward a Covenant-centered Theology of Human Sexuality” (2013). Online at: http://www.centralplainsmc.org/uploads/1/3/1/1/13118061/kingdom_sex.pdf
Fitch, David E., and Geoff Holsclaw. “Signpost Eight: Prodigal Relationships – With our Brokenness: The Journey toward Sexual Redemption.” In Prodigal Christianity: Ten Signposts into the Missional Frontier, pp. 114-30. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.
Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015.
Harper, Brad, and Drew Harper. Space at the Table: Conversations between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son. Portland: Zeal, 2016.
Hauerwas, Stanley, and Allen Verhey. “From Conduct to Character – A Guide to Sexual Adventure.” In Christian Perspectives on Sexuality and Gender, pp. 175-81. Edited by E. Stuart and A. Thatcher. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996. [Available online in pdf.]
Hays, Richard. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. [See ch. 16 on homosexuality]
Hill, Wesley. Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015.
Hill, Wesley. Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.
Hugenberger, Gordon P. Marriage as a Covenant: Biblical Law and Ethics as Developed from Malachi. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.
Jones, Beth Felker. Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015.
Kaltenbach, Caleb. Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2015.
McIlhaney, Joe S., and Freda McKissic Bush. Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children. Chicago: Northfield, 2008.
Simon, Caroline. Bringing Sex into Focus: The Quest for Sexual Integrity. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2012.
Smith, Malcolm. The Power of the Blood Covenant. Tulsa; Harrison, 2002.
Winner, Lauren. Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005.
Yarhouse, Mark A. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Downers Grove, IL; IVP Academic, 2015.
Yarhouse, Mark A. Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.