Two Case Studies

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Two Case Studies

I. Opening Remarks

In light of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19 and parallels, particularly with respect first to marriage, divorce and remarriage and then secondly with respect to wealth and stewardship, we offer the following two case studies for theological reflection for students. For groups, you must first clarify any questions among yourselves, and then discuss what resources are available that you are aware of for such topics, i.e. Scriptures, themes, books, experiences etc. Take time to specifically reflect on each issue put forward in your discussion; decide what specific issues and decisions are at stake regarding the subject matter. Once this is done, then suggest what type of council or advice you might give in regards to the protagonist of each case study.

II. Case Study #1 - To Marry or Not to Marry

The first study is entitled, ‘To Marry or Not to Marry.’ Both this case and the next involve real people using different names and changing a few minor details that do not bear on the case. Now, consider the following:

Case Study # 1 - Denise was thirty one and madly involved with Tony. More of her friends fully expected her to announce her engagement any day now. Little did they know the internal turmoil that she was in, because few of them even knew that she had once been married and divorced. It happened when she was twenty three, she had been raised in church and trusted in Christ as a teenager, but she had never been very active and neither had Bob, the man she had married, as he too had had a conversion experience. Bob was a man she had met at work and he had taken a serious interest in her. Two years out of college she wondered if she would ever get married so when he proposed at the age of twenty three, she had gladly accepted his proposal. But not long after the wedding night, Bob became a completely different person, selfish, overbearing, demanding, expecting her to wait on him for everything. He never abused her, at least not physically; married life was far from what she had imaged it to be. This wasn’t at all what she had bargained for. She tried to talk to him about it but things didn’t seem to change. Six months into the marriage, she filed for a divorce and Bob was shocked. ‘I haven’t cheated on you, have I,’ he asked. ‘Do I bring home a good pay check,’ he continued. ‘Christians are not supposed to divorce, I never realized that things were that bad.’ But this made no difference, the divorce went through and Denise left Bob.

Five years later, when Denise was twenty eight, she got involved with a group of charismatic Christians. They talked about the need to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. She went with them on a two month mission trip overseas. To say the least, her life was radically changed. She saw vibrant Christianity in action for the first time in her life. She had a new sense of Christ’s presence with the Spirit empowering her, though she wasn’t quite sure what to call it. She dedicated her life to the Lord and began to consider full time Christian service. She got involved in a new church with new friends and a new community with no one knowing anything about her previous marriage to Bob. Three years later, Denise was a seminary student, majoring in missions. She had never dated anybody seriously since her divorce until Tony came along. Tony was an active committed Christian, and Denise had hesitated to tell him about her past but even after she told him, he didn’t seem to be phased by it. God is forgiveness, he told her. He delights in giving people fresh starts and new chances. Then he said, ‘let’s get married, what do you say?’

The church that Denise had been brought up in would have been shocked. They had always taught her that the Bible permits divorce and remarriage in two cases: when one partner has been sexually unfaithful or if a non-Christian partner wants to leave. They quoted Matthew 19 and 1st Corinthians 7. She knew that Bob had never remarried or even seen anyone else. He continued to live as a single man in her home town. Denise began to share this with one or two close friends. One of her charismatic friends, said, ‘think of it this way, you weren’t really a Christian back then, your real conversion experience came when you joined our church. So you can apply the teaching as separating as an unbeliever, so it’s okay to get remarried.’ But Denise knew in her heart that she had been a Christian all along even though she wasn’t always as committed. Another friend asked if she had ever made any effort to be reconciled with Bob. She had to admit that she had not. You need to at least try to see if he would be willing to get back together with him. But after eight years, living in a new place with a deeper faith and having a new boyfriend; the very idea of contacting Bob sent shivers up her spine. Finally, Denise turned to one of her trusted Christian councilors. She was getting a little desperate and hoped that the councilor would be able to offer some good advice, both Biblical sound and sensitive to her problem.

After the listener has reflected on this case, they might make the following comments: A good case study by definition is not one that reveals a clear right or wrong answer. The danger in describing what in real life, a person or people have done in such a situation is that listeners will compare that to their own advice or conclusions and readily come to the conviction that what actually took place was either clearly right or clearly wrong. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to point out our comments in the textbook and the lecture accompanying this. One cannot simply write off the possibility of this having been a valid divorce and therefore re-marriage permitted simply because it does not unambiguously fall into one of the two Biblically permitted instances. One has to ask if the original marriage between Denise and Bob after eight years is irretrievable and irreversible as in those two permitted Scripture verses. One must consider whether it is realistic after this length of time with all the changes that have taken place after the divorce, to think that their marriage could be reconciled or not. First, she would have to contact him and see if he were open to the possibility to get back together. It could turn out to be great but on the other hand if the relationship has been so ruptured that it would be impossible to get back together.

Denise would have to first contact Bob and see what his thoughts were about getting back together. Many students feel at least this step should first be taken then if there were any possibilities for re-establishing the relationship, they should be pursued. Students have also sighted appropriately 1st Corinthians, chapter 7:10-11 Which alludes to the kind of teaching reflected in Matthew 19 and 5 and Mark 10, ‘to marriage, I give this command, not I but the Lord, a wife must not separate from her husband but if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.’ And therefore, students do often make the suggestion that if she cannot see herself contacting Bob again, or if does and there seems to be no hope of going back to him. At the very least she should remain unmarried rather than pursue the relationship with Tony. Others are more sympathetic to the application of 2nd Corinthians 5:17, ‘if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.’ Although she named the name of Jesus when she married Bob, both were in fact nominal and it really was what her charismatic friends said using Biblical terminology differently from the way the Bible uses it in speaking of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, they put their finger on a key fact that this really was the period in her life when she had been truly transformed into Jesus Christ and therefore she really was starting out fresh. So with those varying perspectives you can continue to reflect on this situation or turn now to the second case study entitled, ‘Roberts Reverse Culture Shock.’

III. Case Study #2 - Robert's Rehearsed Culture Shock

Case Study # 2 - Robert had just returned to Denver from his first visit to South America. He spent two weeks with a group of people from seminary representing four different schools within the United States. Although he had studied a lot in preparation for the trip, he still wasn’t prepared for what he saw. More than seventy percent of the Lima, Peru, a metropolis of over six million people lived below the poverty line in shanty towns with shacks of corrugated metal used for walls and roofs. Other small one room dwellings made out of brick or adobe were only partially completed with a make shift room that easily turned into pools of water when it rained. And yet, it was in these grottos that Robert and his friends met with fellow Christians who had demonstrated an indomitable spirit in spite of their circumstances. Many had banded together to form communal soup kitchens pooling their resources to buy food in bulk at whole sale prices and then serving at least one hot wholesome meal a day to anyone in their neighborhood that participated in the program. Others ran communal agricultural plots to which provided food at much more affordable prices for the very poor. It was a school for street children of whom there were thousands, run by a local church offering a good quality of education as well as Bible teaching. He had expected to be depressed by this incredible squalor, but his spirits were lifted. There was a genuineness and spontaneity in worship. There was a care for one’s neighbor and exuberance in witnessing the love of Jesus that transcended most of what he had seen in North America.≥

And yet Christians in Peru made it painfully clear to him that they felt abandoned by most of the world. Hospitals and Clinics desperately needed medicines; government aid from America and Europe had been consistently cut back in recent years. And profits of multi-national corporations that had invested in their country wanted to line the pockets of rich executives and did little to improve the local standard of living. The Peruvians saw the life style of the north through imported American shows on the one television of each impoverished neighborhood. Surly we were as wealthy as the rich man in the parable of Luke 16:91-31. Why were we so reluctant to share with them, the Lazarus’s of the world. Politely but pointedly they put the question to Robert and company in numerous ways.

Robert had now returned home. Reverse culture shock was far worse than the original culture shock of leaving the United States. How was he to cope with the fact that his local supermarket had more dog food that most Peruvian stores had food? How could his middle class church justify spending ninety percent of the budget on generous staff salaries, beautiful and overheated air-conditioned buildings and an enormous debt service? And the ten percent that did go to missions, half of it stayed within the United States to support ‘home missions.’ And even most of that wasn’t used for any evangelism or outreach. Of the four percent that actually made it overseas, less than one percent involved helping the physical needs of anybody. Not long ago, Robert had read the recent statistics that the average American gives two to three percent of his total income to all charitable causes put together. The so-called born again Christians only did one percent better than this. Robert wondered how he should live a life style that was faithful to the Jesus that challenged the rich young ruler to give all that was faithful to the model of Zacchaeus or any of the other Biblical commands involving stewardship.

Some of his friends believed in giving a tithe, some of them even practiced it. They just went to their churches that didn’t help anyone to get fed in Peru. And more, Robert knew that if he gave ten percent of his income he would still live ridiculously comfortably by the world’s standards. Should he do more? If so, how much more and where should his energies be directed?

The students should pause and reflect theologically on this case situation, particularly in light of Jesus’ teaching to the rich young ruler. The decisions that need to be made here may not be as easily defined as the previous case study. It’s really a lifelong task for those who have travelled and seen poverty first hand at home or overseas. Decisions have to be made sometimes on a daily bases concerning personal expenditures by style, debt, education, investment and how much to give to the Lord’s work. And how much can one give above their commitment to the local church to help meet the needs of the poor at home and abroad within a Christian context that also proclaims the saving message of Jesus. Many who have gone overseas have been confronted with situations like this with the twin realities that the problem is so enormous that even the wildest dreams that they might imagine being able to help implement would not forestall the physical death of some among those they have ministered. Perhaps even in the very short term future. Thus on the one hand the proclamation of the good news that there is an unending life to come in which people, no what their socio-economical living conditions in this life, can look forward to an absolute pain and grief free happiness in a new heaven and new earth. This must remain the central part of every Christian ministry. On the other hand, proclaiming such a message in desperately troubled areas fails to carry much credibility with the majority of people unless Christians are perceived to be doing all they can to address the more immediately physical and socio-economical needs of this life. It is possible that renewed commitment, both to the verbal proclamation of the Gospel of Christ’s infinite atonement and mercy and a renewed commitment to a life style of frugality in order to free up as much money as possible directed as often as possible to get into the hands of the people of need it the most. It may be the twin results of such a visit or visits to these places.