This last week I finished reading Janna Marguerite Bennett's Water is Thicker Than Blood: An Augustinian Theology of Marriage and Singleness. I had picked it up in the hopes that it would help me think through a theology of the sacramentality of marriage and singleness, specifically on two levels:
1) To what degree is marriage as an analogy for the relationship between Christ and the church of continuing fruitfulness for theological reflection?
2) Where does that leave Paul's commitment to the single life, and his understanding of singleness as a Christian vocation?
Additionally, I was interested in the book for a couple of other reasons:
1) I've been wanting to think theologically about the church's continuing commitment to provide marriage rites even when, at least in the Lutheran tradition, it is not considered a sacrament (I personally believe it should continue to be a sacrament, but my tradition does not).
2) I want to think clearly about how to counsel and care for couples in their married life, and singles in their vocation of singleness, in ways that are helpful and faithful.
My assessment of the book, now having read it, is that it did not help me with these, at least not directly. I came away with some new insights into Augustine, for sure, but the book itself is a bit too bogged down in dissertation type reflections and prose to be as clear or as helpful as I had hoped.
Of course, this is of the nature of many books begun as dissertations and then prepared for publication. However, I was still a bit disappointed. I had read good things about the book through a mention by Stanley Hauerwas in his recent collection of sermons.
However, I think where the book really breaks down is that it doesn't offer a clear picture of what marriage and singleness are today. It wants to reconceptualize marriage and singleness within a larger "household of God" (even going to so far as to cryptically suggest things like married celibates and other paradoxes). But it doesn't see clear on the real issues facing marriage, family, and singles today.
That being said, I appreciated the overall thesis that baptism makes for new relations in Christ that transcend blood relations, and appreciated much of her analysis in developing an Augustinian understanding of that. I think it remains to be seen whether someone will develop a thorough-going theology of marriage and singleness that neither becomes disconnected from the tradition nor sees clear on how this has changed considerably in contemporary life. I applaud the attempt.