The following is a summary of a paper delivered by Dr. Susan Booth at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in November 2015. Using the theme of her PhD dissertation on “The Tabernacling Presence of God: Mission and Gospel Witness” (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2015), Dr. Booth applied the theology of God’s indwelling presence to the subject of marriage and the family. This paper will be presented in two parts.4) Families have a missional role in making disciples both inside and outside the home. Missional living begins with the innermost circle of making disciples—the immediate family. Parents have the responsibility of training and instructing their children in the Lord (Exod 12:24–27; Deut 6:4–9; 20–25; Eph 6:1–4). As a training ground for missional living, the home is a wonderful arena to practice intentional hospitality and shared ministry with a view to the global horizon. Because many in this culture might never agree to come to church, the home may be the place where they first encounter the presence of God on display and conclude, “God really is among you!” (1 Cor 14:25).
5) The metaphors of home, marriage, and family that illustrate God’s tabernacling presence are missional themes that resonate in a culture characterized by alienation, isolation, and displacement. Although most people do not recognize it, their deepest longings reveal a yearning for God’s presence, people, and place. Fractured by the fall, people still somehow sense intuitively that they were made for relationship. They long for a connection with a Presence that is both transcendent and within; they crave a satisfying union with another; and they ache for a place to feel—finally!—at home. Christians need to frame the gospel in ways that connect these longings of the heart with the eternal truths of God’s word.
In some sense, the scriptural metaphors of marriage and the family also uniquely address cultural concerns of pluralism and inclusivism. The scriptural metaphor of divine marriage explains the exclusivity, primacy, and intimacy of our relationship with Jesus. At the same time, the metaphor of God’s gracious election through adoption points to God’s radical inclusivity (Eph 1:4-6). While Jesus is one and only bridegroom, the Father welcomes allwho put their faith in Jesus into his own expanding family, adopting them as his own sons and daughters.
6) Human marriage and family are penultimate goals rather than the ultimate goal. Remembering that the paramount goal of the church is eternal union with Christ helps keep human marriage and family in proper perspective. The reminder that marriage is not the ultimate can be a comfort for those who are widowed, those who never marry, and those who consider themselves “trapped” in a marriage that falls far below the ideal. The understanding that family is not everything may help in some measure to ease the pain of those who lose children or are unable to conceive. An eternal perspective may help parents to release children to God’s mission, and give courage to those who must forsake family in order to follow Christ. To paraphrase Paul, “this world is [already] passing away”; the best is yet to come (1 Cor 7:31).
7) Finally, although the consummation of the saints’ union in Christ remains a future hope, the reciprocal indwelling of the triune God and believers has already begun in the present age (cf. John 14–17). Scripture declares that believers are the children of the Father (John 1:12), the bride of Jesus Christ (Rev 19:7–8), and the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20). Because God already makes his home in us, we need to start enjoying his presence and power now by being continually filled with the Spirit. Inevitably, the indwelling presence of God in our heart and homes will spill over—transforming not only our marriages and families, but also those around us who need to encounter Christ. May God fill us with his tabernacling presence for the sake of the gospel and his glory until that day he welcomes us into his eternal dwelling place. When we see Jesus face to face, we will finally be able to say with fullness of great joy, “There’s no place like HOME.”