A review of
Broken Vows: Divorce and the Goodness of God
by John Greco.
$ or ¢?[*] My opinion: $
A Personal Confession
For the sake of full transparency, I should say at the onset here that John Greco and I were friends during our college years. We both attended Gordon College, and we spent many occasions fellowshipping together in groups. I even recall riding with John in his beloved Jetta.
We have not kept up much since college, but we do remain ‘friends’ on social media. And that, as pitiable as it may be, is how I came to discover that John had published a book. Regretfully, now having read Broken Vows I’m not sure friends is the right word to describe John and me since I knew nothing of the heart-wrenching, world-upturning road he had walked until I read this theological memoir of the season following his divorce.
Now, for someone of my stripe the most natural way to review a book is either mechanically or theologically. So, permit me to indulge my nature briefly, if you would. 🙂
Mechanically, Broken Vows is a pleasure to read. And despite the challenging and dark terrain it navigates, I enjoyed most Greco’s recurrent levity. I loved the picture evoked by the observation, “A season of pain can be like walking up the side of a mountain in the pouring rain with nothing on your feet but flip-flops” (Greco, Broken Vows, Kindle 700-701).
Theologically, Greco seems to lean more towards determinism than I do.
For instance, part way through the book, Greco deals briefly with Paul’s language in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).
But after the initial period of grief and mourning, when a person is able to step out in a quest for answers to the soul’s deepest questions, it can still be difficult to accept that our unspeakable pains may be ingredients in God’s good plan (Broken Vows, 21).
But if our greatest hurts are really the wounds left by life-saving surgeries intended by God to bring about something truly wonderful, we don’t have to clutch our pain so tightly (23).
I am not inclined to argue that ‘everything happens for a reason’ or that all that occurs to us in this life is part of ‘God’s plan’. I am more persuaded to believe that God can bring reason and purpose to all that happens to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. But, since I have both preached and written on these distinctions on other occasions, I won’t write any more about them here. If you’re interested you can disover more here or here.
However, I don’t really want to review Greco’s book mechanically or theologically. After all, he’s a fine writer and a clear-headed Scriptural interpreter who is consistent with the reformed tradition. The true value of Broken Vows for me remains slightly distinct from these concerns.
Why You Should Read “Broken Vows”
Why should you read Broken Vows (and I highly recommend that you do read it)? It’s not because Greco’s story is unique or because his theology is ground-breaking. You should read Broken Vows because rarely if ever have I read a book in which a person has so transparently, so painstakingly, so fitfully, and so faithfully labored to embrace all of what it means to follow Jesus in the midst of a circumstance that would have provided him with every excuse to do otherwise.
To say that Broken Vows was a challenging and convicting read for me would be to put the matter lightly. Greco has quite graciously and insightfully provided education, instruction, and guidance both for those who have unfairly judged those who have walked the road of divorce and for those who have wrestled to remain faithful to Jesus in its wake.
There are at least two observations we might make from Christian Scripture with respect to divorce: Divorce was not part of God’s intention for marriage (Matt. 19:4-6), and divorce is a reality in the Christian church (1 Cor. 7:11). Greco has pillaged his personal experience to explore the space demarcated by these confessions, and evangelicals would do well to dialogue with Greco’s perspective.
I’ll conclude this review with perhaps my favorite passage from the book. Enjoy:
When all of this sank in, I made a conscious decision to pay no mind to the voices of friends and family telling me how despicably my former wife had acted. While their intentions may have been good— trying to alleviate any guilt I might have had over my inability to keep the marriage together, while at the same time assuring me I would be better off without my former wife— my heart took those statements and bent them inward so that they fueled a latent desire to get even and provided me with an unwarranted license to live selfishly. Those statements would fool me into believing I was a victim and that my victimhood earned me a right to indulge in certain prideful, self-centered sins without consequence. Even though this particular path is often traveled slowly, it’s one that steadily leads a person away from God (50).
$ or ¢? My opinion: $
[*] A positive recommendation is represented by ‘$’ and a negative one by ‘¢’.