Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage
This is Julie Larson's review of The Meaning of Marriage written by Timothy Keller (Riverhead Books, 2013, 352 pages). This book is available online or in the bookstore.
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller aims to “give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible” (4). By contrasting our culture’s view of marriage with that of scripture, Keller ignites the reader’s desire for a gospel-centered relationship. He then provides practical advice for both married and single people. Keller bases his book on the marriage passage in Ephesians 5, explaining the biblical concepts through scripture references while illuminating them through literature, personal examples and ministry experience. In so doing, he makes the book both conceptually rich and easy to read.
Christian Marriage vs. Secular Marriage
Keller draws a sharp distinction between the cultural and biblical perspectives of marriage. Americans often come to marriage with a self-centered, consumer mentality. Hopes for a marriage can be so high that partners place one another in god-like roles, expecting the marriage to meet all their emotional needs. The Bible’s definition of marriage could not be more different. Ideally, each Christian partner comes to the covenant relationship motivated to love and serve selflessly. “Both women and men get to ‘play the Jesus role’ in marriage—Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission” (201). Instead of using the marriage for personal fulfillment, Christian spouses depend first on God to meet these needs. They are then free to help their mate grow in holiness. Such a union illustrates the gospel, contrasting starkly with a secular marriage.
The Complexities of Commitment
While marriage is a blessed privilege, it is not easy. Keller offers practical advice for nurturing this relationship. As Christians, we are indwelt by the Spirit and yet continue to sin. Therefore spouses have great potential both to build up and to hurt one another. Speaking the truth in love is essential. As we mimic the gospel, we must humbly extend grace and forgiveness. Keller emphasizes affirmation, offers ways to demonstrate affection, and examines the significance of sex. Keller’s wife Kathy writes the chapter on submission, providing biblical exposition and personal experience. The book’s suggestions furnish any couple with food for thought and action.
Good for Singles Too
Because Keller pastors a church with many unmarried people, he is familiar with the struggles of singlehood. Too often the church demotes singles, as if they were experiencing “Plan B for the Christian life” (224). He affirms the value of singleness and its ministry potential, but he also commends marriage. Before offering wise advice for those wishing to get married, Keller describes some drawbacks of both courtship and dating. A single person could be blessed by digesting and implementing Keller’s insightful recommendations.
An Appealing Portrait
Contrary to our culture’s individualistic perspective, Christian marriage can be “the richest of all human relationships” (127) through sacrificial love. Keller paints a challenging portrait of marriage focused on promoting one another’s spiritual growth. That is only possible as each spouse walks faithfully before the Lord, relying on the Spirit. I found this portrayal of marriage both appealing and intimidating. Keller offers enough specific applications to prod any reader to pursue a more sanctified walk with Christ, whether single or married. His book is well worth reading, contemplating, and discussing.