In 1993 David F. Wells, a research professor at Gordon-Conwell, was on leave to write about the disappearance of theology. Something he did admirably in his book, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? What stirred me as I thought about the book before us by Larry and Geri Priest was the opening story in Wells’ book about the New England town of Wenham, Massachusetts. In its story, he found a place of simplicity. He found a starting point for his story of theology gone missing. Something has gone missing from life. It is profoundly and crucially missing; and it needs to be recovered. In a similar way, something has gone missing from marriages and families.
Wenham’s Main Street was an old stage coach route. It is today “graced” by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century houses occupying the scant seven square miles of real estate. It has probably never been a typical American town. Adjoining nearby towns of Beverly, Salem and Gloucester are cities which have seen radical transformation. Some became “Mill Towns” and others places of wealth and commerce. Wenham’s only claim to international impact was a time when they cut ice out of Wenham Lake and shipped it overseas. Only twenty-five miles north of Boston, Wenham has never been typical in the sense we might think. But when Wells sought for a place to launch the story of the disappearance of evangelical thinking, he found Wenham. It became for him A Delicious Paradise. Actually, it was to be A Delicious Paradise Lost.
Shortly after incorporation in 1643, it was visited by John Dunstan who described it saying, “It abounds with all rural pleasure, and I would choose it above all towns in America to dwell in.” Wenham remained a small, rural town when it seemed New England was stirred with change. Boston grew from 58,000 persons to more than 340,000 in the middle fifty years of the 1800s. Wenham, by no means, kept pace. Its population was 476 in 1800, swelled to 977 by 1850, and then fell back in 1900 to 847. By 1929 a reporter called it a “drowsy little town.” It had indeed “slept” through the monumental change and development of the century.
Change seemed to occur when the town voted, by a narrow margin, to build a town hall. Thus, they replaced the central structure in town—the church. Activities shifted to the town hall for the various activities of the residents. Still, the main ingredients of life—piety, purity and domesticity—remained little affected. Hester Price, who lived by the lake was given accolades in the poem by Francis Whiting Hatch, “Love’s Labor Found (and Bound).”
Pies she baked were straight from heaven,
Every cookie, every tart,
Was an arrow shot by Cupid
Piercing stomach, piercing heart.
Adoniram Judson is probably the best-known churchman to come out of Wenham. The town had a connectedness of life in home, school and church. In 1880 only 5% of the marriages ended in divorce. Small towns had their dark side but were yet to make their way to tawdry novels and gossip columns. Many families lived generation after generation handing from parent to child their folklore, stories and dreams. They had a clear sense of permanence and the wholeness of life. The words “new” and “improved,” were not part of their vocabulary. They did not change residences every seven years, keeping up with the neighbors. Television and fast transportation had not shrunk space and time. Until quite recently Toffler’s Future Shock and its absence of morality or Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique with her insistence that a “new” woman replace the “old” woman had not found their way into the grain of Wenham’s life. The genie of sex was not out of the bottle. Wells says they were permanent residents. We are “nomads.”
The book you hold is A Delicious Paradise. You can read it without fear. It reaches into a place where you can be assured you are not reading another psychologists’ take on modern man, woman and sex. It is not cut from the pages of sensational press releases. You can lay down your prudish reservations and learn the foundations of what makes for a permanent marriage. It is not a co-habitation, nor a business lunch. When a Wenham townswoman became troubled, she might go to church. The modern counterpart would probably go to the mall and shop. So close in time and yet so far apart in mentality, psychologically and theologically.
Marriages are made with care. It’s the story of Abraham’s servant finding a bride for his master’s son. There is much care and preparation in the marriage of Abraham’s son. A marriage is made with a shared life and, I might add, marriages are made with love. As in Wenham, there was a permanence in their life. Their world was permanent because the God they knew was permanent and unchanging. Your marriage, like Wenham, can be A Delicious Paradise. It never has to be A Delicious Paradise, Lost. Enjoy, savor, take to heart and be blessed as you read and take in these sage pages of wisdom.
You have just read one of the prefaces to our book, Simply Song of Solomon, A Book on Biblical Sex. Dr. Gooding is the co-author of Deliverance to Dominion.