Review – Something Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After: A Biblical View of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

I recently read this book by Dr. Rick Walston [Internet Archive link], a pastor from the Assemblies of God denomination and the President of Columbia Evangelical Seminary in Washington:

Something Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After: A Biblical View of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

Dr. Walston wrote this book [Affiliate link] in 2006 and through his examination of the scriptures, coupled with real-world scenarios, he arrives at the same place that Barb Roberts, Jeff Crippen, and Instone-Brewer have in their work. It is always a blessing to hear various believers displaying the unity of the mind of Christ; that is, total harmony with both the Word of God, and God’s revealed character. There is no cognitive dissonance here — Hallelujah!

While this book does not go in depth on all of the scriptures that are relevant in cases of abuse (for that you can always refer to Barb’s book, Not Under Bondage [Affiliate link]), it does provide solace for survivors. There is discussion of everything from King James language to the misuse of Matthew 18, and it seems too much to cover in one review. So I want to post a couple of quotes in the hope that it will whet your appetite to add this book to your list of resources (and a note from Dr. Walston regarding the official doctrines of the AoG church at the bottom).

From the introduction:

“In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that there should never be divorce and remarriage for any reason. Then, as a graduate student, I set out to write a thesis which would substantiate my preconceived beliefs. I was astounded by what I discovered.  . . .   I am a theologian. When I find evidence that what I believe is wrong, I am just as excited as when I find evidence that what I believe is right.”

Walston does address Malachi 2:16, but he goes about it in a slightly different way from Barb. He argues more from logic and context of the passage, without directly confronting the grammatical error that makes the context less critical (in my opinion). In Chapter 9, he discusses the case of a woman whose husband was repeatedly unfaithful. When the pastor confronted the man, he cried and carried on and the pastor said she had to take him back because he was “repentant”. (Those reading this will not need to imagine — we’ve probably all lived this scenario.) But here is Walston’s commentary on this:

“Instead of her pastor and her church standing behind her as they should have, their fault theology made them turn the entire situation upside down, and Betty was made to feel like the one who broke her marriage covenant. In reality, it was her manipulative and adulterous husband who had broken the marriage covenant.”

Let’s all take a moment to gape in wonder at this. Another theologian who points out manipulative abusers? Praise God.  🙂

Now let’s skip all the way to Chapter 12: Spousal Abuse.  Walston uses Malachi 2:14-15 as the starting point: can a man break faith with his wife through abuse? He believes the answer is yes. He defines abuse as “the deliberate attempt to control or intimidate his or her partner”. He then actually defines physical, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse! He gives very compelling analysis from scripture that abuse is grounds for divorce because it is destruction of the covenant. Walston boils down the arguments among Christians to the underlying real question on people’s minds: “How bad does the abuse have to be before a woman has grounds for divorce?”

Walston states that no one can draw up standards for “how much is too much”, and that a qualified counselor would be able to determine what is truly abuse and what is not. When I read that section I think I had a triggering moment, because I blasted him with a 3 paragraph email asking if he was putting victims under the requirement of a counselor “signing off” on someone’s divorce for abuse.  He replied to me (very calmly 🙂 ) that he was not putting any such burden on victims.

I have only one quibble with Walston in this chapter. He very clearly defines abuse as the “deliberate attempt to control and intimidate” — and then later discusses the problem of husbands and wives having moments in their relationships where they behave like jerks or say abusive things. In trying to delineate the two, I feel it got a little soggy because abuse is clearly “different” than normal marital spats. In normal marriages does one partner repeatedly, deliberately set up false conflicts in order to dominate and destroy the other? The line seems clear to me, but perhaps that is only because I lived it?

Walston did specifically mention the fear that pastors may have, that if they openly acknowledge abuse then 80% of the flock are going to suddenly discover they are being abused and stampede to divorce court (paraphrasing).  (He did not validate this fear, to be clear. He seemed to be addressing nervous church leaders. I have been pondering this fear-belief among the shepherds, that the only way to keep the sheep clean, pretty, and on the correct pasture is to tie them up in chains.)

Lastly, I asked Dr. Walston this question: Is your book representative of the Assemblies of God position on this subject? Are there any major points of divergence? Regular readers will know why I asked that question. We have been discussing the various denominations’ statements on domestic abuse and divorce, and the AoG was one that I had not studied. While every denomination is riddled with the problem of abuse (and improper responses to it), we also know that just because a board may have a doctrine in place does not mean that all of the churches follow it — many choose their own favorite celebrity pastor as their authority, instead.

Here is his reply:

That’s an interesting question. The reason that it is interesting is that I wrote my master’s thesis on the Assemblies of God position on Divorce and Remarriage. The AG actually published my thesis as a book in 1991: Divorce and Remarriage [Internet Archive link].  Then, I wrote a second book on this topic, the one you just ordered, which came out in 2006.

And, yes, I do disagree with the AG on a couple of major points.

Point 1: The AG teaches that if a spouse commits adultery only once and then repents, then the other spouse does not have grounds for divorce. I disagree with that. Certainly a spouse may forgive her spouse for the one-time adultery, but she does have grounds for divorce if she cannot get beyond the betrayal. (There is a lot more to it than just that, but I won’t type it all here. You can see my position in my book).

Point 2: The AG says that those who are D&R cannot be ministers. I disagree with that blanket statement.

So, the short answer to your Q is that, I do have divergent views from the AG on various issues within the topics of D&R.

I have been blessed by this book and we will add it to the list of resources here!  Thanks so much for Dr. Walston’s time in answering my really long emails and being so gracious and understanding. He is an ally of the sheep.  🙂

37 thoughts on “Review – Something Happened on the Way to Happily Ever After: A Biblical View of Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage”

    1. Lynette, that is a perfect example. Just because a denomination has a statement on this issue, does not mean the individual churches will follow it. Thank you for your comment!

    2. Oh that is so typical. What is the point of having a denominational position when pastors and churches don’t have to follow it! Grrr this makes me angry.

      At this blog hear of this kind of thing a lot. For example, the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) has a Statement on Divorce and Remarriage, okay, it’s not binding on local churches, but you would think that every pastor and ever seminary student ought to at least know it exists! No so.

      This kind of apathy is just one more way that we victims of abuse feel invisible, discounted, ignored. And I get really angry about it. Did I say I get angry??? Grunt.

      1. My pastor doesn’t believe in women pastors either. I’d like to know what is the point of the big shots of a denomination having certain beliefs, but the local churches who sit under them don’t have to follow them?

  1. Walston did specifically mention the fear that pastors may have, that if they openly acknowledge abuse then 80% of the flock are going to suddenly discover they are being abused and stampede to divorce court

    That statement was made during a sermon at my church, almost word for word. He didn’t want to get anything started. I don’t believe he would have started anything other than put a few peoples minds to rest.

    I’m always looking for more resources. This one will be on the list. Thank you for your review

    1. Frankly, that’s a really stupid basis for a position.

      First of all, declaring God’s word is supposed to be about Truth, NOT about trying to anticipate how people might respond to Truth, and then modifying Truth based on the anticipated response in an effort to manipulate people into living according to the Truth.

      Secondly, this presumption that people would invent abuse that didn’t exist in order to divorce their spouse is just crazy! If someone cares so little for God’s word that they would lie and make false accusations against their spouse in order to escape their marriage, then they would do that anyway, regardless of what their church or pastor says on the topic of divorce.

      The biblical view of marriage and divorce only really matters to those who are doing their best to live their lives in a manner pleasing to God.

      For everyone else, it is either a non-concern, or a tool to manipulate. Church approval is not required to obtain a divorce.

    2. Should ‘they’ be right about this rush to divorce – if it were unwarranted divorce, surely it would be better to have the ‘sin’ in their hearts out on display by their actions so you know what you are dealing with rather than a bunch of married people in the pews who are probably divorced in God’s eyes by their behaviour anyway? and if its not unwarranted divorce imagine the joy of setting so many prisoners free?

      1. “and if its not unwarranted divorce imagine the joy of setting so many prisoners free?”

        Yes! What a Jubilee!!! 🙂

      2. blues, It sounds good to me. And you are right. I was divorced from X several years before the judge said so and I talked to God about it many, many times. It was just a matter of when was the time to exit.

  2. What an encouraging review, Katy! How refreshing to hear about a book that is thorough and uplifting in its arguments and does not set forth a myriad of triggers regarding marriage and divorce. Good stuff! xo

  3. My Pentecostal background has links to the Assemblies of God. They encourage separation for abuse but not divorce. And like the author said, they will not allow a divorced person to be a minister, even if the divorce was for adultery, and certainly not for abuse. This is on the basis that a divorce for biblical reason still tarnishes the reputation of the person and disqualifies them from leadership. This is clear on their Australian website Divorce and Remarriage [Internet Archive link].

    This is all very upsetting for me and has meant I would be unlikely have anything much to do with the denomination in a leadership capacity such as teaching Sunday school. Even if they would let me, I would be giving tacit support to their incorrect and damaging policy. This saddens me because whilst the AoG has many problems I still feel there are some in the denomination who do want to serve God and I will be turning my back on my Pentecostal background

    1. I should clarify this further. I do believe their policy would allow a minister to divorce for adultery (but not abuse). But that person would have to stay unmarried to remain a leader.

      1. Oh yes and references to leaders being husbands of one wife are understood to refer to men married one only unless widowed

      2. Anna in the temple, That is what my church believes as well. I’ve never been to one that said otherwise.

      3. My issue with the AoG policy is that it is very unfair to those who have had a biblical divorce. As the AoG allows women to be ministers it stands to reason that a female leader who divorced because her husband was involved with gross sexual sin would be made to step down if she later wanted to remarry. How is this not a ridiculous punishment? Even if you don’t agree with female leaders it is hard to see the justice in this, especially when many female leaders minister in areas I feel a strongly biblically supported such as children’s ministry. A woman in a situation like this has to choose between her ministry and her biblical right to remarry. This has many implications when you consider that many women who divorce for biblical reasons are left struggling financially, especially with children.

      4. Anna in the Temple,
        In my early days as a Christian, teaching SS was not considered ministry. Ministry was the pastor’s job. These days every thing falls under the heading of ministry, so if I sound judgmental I don’t mean to. I see no reason why a divorced for Biblical reasons woman or man should not fulfill a teaching position. There are ladies in organizations such as Proverbs 31 Ministries that are divorced and are in women’s “ministry”. I am sure that many would not agree with that.

        When the Bible says that the leaders in the church should be the “husband of one wife”, does that mean One ever or one at a time? I wish I knew more about the original language. The way it is worded as far as pastors and elders are concerned, I personally couldn’t stay in a church with a woman in those positions divorced or not. I am getting way off subject.

      5. Thanks Barb. I read your book. Where was I during that part? I will go back and do some rereading.

      6. And don’t worry BrendaB I didn’t think you sounded judgemental. I just picked Sunday school as an example because it seemed less controversial than say women pastors or elders

      7. No I can’t stay in the AoG for this reason as well as their requirement of tithing. I’m unclear as to my final position on the comp/egalitarian issue. But either way I see problems with the AoG policy on divorce and remarriage and also re abuse

      8. Anna in the temple – I know this is a little off topic, but I was just wondering why you won’t stay with AOG for their tithing requirment? I’m really curious. Thanks

    2. Anna in the temple, I think these scatter-shot, contradictory teachings that make no sense come from an incomplete study of the scriptures (both OT and NT), as well as disregarding who Christ is and what He did on he cross.
      The belief that a past divorce (no matter what the circumstances) makes a Believer “unclean” (and therefore disqualified to minister) is an error.

      1. Oh I’ve opened a can of worms there haven’t i? I believe in giving, and have at times given large (foolish) percentages to the church when I was living at or below the poverty line. There is a strong teaching you will be cursed if you don’t tithe and this is imposed on the poor and these members will be made to feel less than Christian if they don’t tithe even if they need to feed their families. I know this is a controversial area. I can look up some links but often the arguments can get a bit impassioned. And I’m off topic

    3. Anna in the temple,
      It was hard for me to get my brain to let it sink in as I was raised Missionary Baptist and was in that affiliation until I was 38 that some of the beliefs within the church…well lets just say I see nothing scriptural to back it up. Not that I think the entire Association was wrong, but this particular church was off the path. What I have figured out is it doesn’t really matter what the name is on the door, it is what the church body believes the Bible to say and how they choose to serve God. It is sad to say I presently belong to a Bible church that used to have Baptist on the sign outside before I started going there. I am not 100% sure that I won’t find that I want to search out a church that is closer to what I believe. When I started going there X gave me 3 choices of where I could go and this was the best of the 3.

  4. It is always a blessing to hear various believers displaying the unity of the mind of Christ; that is, total harmony with both the Word of God, and God’s revealed character. There is no cognitive dissonance here — Hallelujah!

    What an excellent way to put it! I’m stealing this. 🙂

  5. Our old church of 26 years was anti divorce and remarriage. We had alot if solo moms that could not remarry nor get a divorce. My husband is very anti seperation, divorce and remarriage and my kids and I know well not to disagree with his view. I have questionsed in my mind many times this belief seeing that in scripture there is grounds for divorce. The God I know, wouldn’t want any man or woman to live in an abusive situation. Its just putting my beliefs into action in my own life. I look forward to reading this book… sadly I ordered Out of Bondage online and its missing in the post.
    Finding this blog has been a blessing to me

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