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The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Paperback – November 5, 2013
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"This is a book Christians need to read." —The Christian Post
"The rare marriage book I would heartily recommend to any single, no matter his or her age, whether dating, courting, engaged, or disinterested . . . Rich and practical." —The Gospel Coalition
"A brilliant new book that explains why marriage is in such dire straits, and how to rescue it." —BreakPoint
About the Author
Timothy Keller was born and raised in Pennsylvania and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. His first pastorate was in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has nearly six thousand regular Sunday attendees and has helped to start more than three hundred new churches around the world. He is the author of The Songs of Jesus, Prayer, Encounters with Jesus, Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, and Every Good Endeavor, among others, including the perennial bestsellers The Reason for God and The Prodigal God.
Kathy Keller grew up outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Allegheny College, where she led Christian fellowship groups, before attending Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She met Timothy Keller while studying there, and they were married at the beginning of their final semester. She received her MA in Theological Studies at Gordon-Conwell in 1975. Kathy and Tim then moved to Virginia, where Tim started at his first church, West Hopewell Presbyterian Church, and their three sons were born. After nine years, Kathy and her family moved to New York City to start the Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
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Keller states in the introduction, "its [the books] primary goal is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible." I believe that Keller succeeds in giving a very compelling case for marriage from the three stands above - from his experience, his realistic apologetic of building a case for the benefits and values of marriage, and then giving a compelling biblical vision throughout the book for the beauty of marriage when it reflects the glory of Christ at the center of it all. He does not minimize the difficulties, or the effort and hard work involved in a marriage, but is clear-headed, and cogently eloquent in presenting the "complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God."
Here is a sample of an excellent example he gives for submitting to the Bible as God's manual for marriage:
"Think of buying a car: If you purchase a vehicle, a machine well beyond your own ability to create, you will certainly take up the owner's manual and abide by what the designer says the car needs by way of treatment and maintenance. To ignore it would be to court disaster...Plenty of people who do not acknowledge God or the Bible, yet who are experiencing happy marriages, are largely abiding by God's intentions, whether they realize it or not. But it is far better if we are conscious of those intentions. And the place to discover them is in the writings of the Scripture."
Some of the ambivalent views and objections to marriage Keller elaborates on and dispels in this book are as follows:
"Marriage is just a piece of paper that only serves to complicate love"
"Marriage was originally about property and is now in flux"
"Marriage crushes individual identity and has been oppressive for women"
"Marriage stifles passion and is ill-fitted to psychological reality"
The Outline of Keller's book is as follows:
Chapter One - A rich and deep discussion of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 bringing Paul's discussion into today's context and demonstrating "why the gospel helps us to understand marriage and how marriage helps us to understand the gospel."
Chapter Two - With great skill and penetrating insight Keller shows how the sin nature resulting in selfishness necessitates the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in making the saving work of Christ operative in bringing two hearts to beat as one.
Chapter Three - He helpfully shows what biblical love is - and what covenantal commitment is all about.
Chapter Four - He elaborates on the whole question of what marriage is for: "It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be...there is a kind of deeper happiness that is found on the far side of holiness."
Chapter Five - He talks about the power of truth; the power of love - via affection, friendship, and service all in the context of grace.
Chapter Six - An excellent discussion of the Trinitarian roles and how that translates into gender roles in a marriage.
Chapter Seven - On Singleness and Marriage. Here is a sample of some guidelines he gleans for singles in relationships before marriage:
"Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage."
"Understand the "gift of singleness.'"
"Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older."
"Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a non-believing person."
"Feel `attraction' in the most comprehensive sense."
"Don't let things get too passionate too quickly."
"...don't become a faux spouse for someone who won't commit to you."
"Get and submit to lots of community input."
Chapter Eight - A good discussion of sex - realities and misperceptions - and the glory of it when it is practiced the way God designed it.
The book closes with a short epilogue and a short, but very helpful discussion on decision-making and gender roles.
All the chapters are very well written, have depth and penetrating insight, are logical and clear, balanced in dealing with the "then" and "now" of how the Scriptures apply and always pointing to Jesus at the center of the meaning of life and marriage. Dr. Keller knows what he's talking about and has done an outstanding job of building a great case for marriage in a culture that simply doesn't understand it and hasn't been consulting the Creator's manual and applying it in our marriages. I now have a new favorite book on marriage to recommend whole-heartedly to singles and married couples alike!
There are a lot of books about dating and relationships out there (the more of which you've probably read, the older you are), but not a lot of them are focused on what it is you're aiming at: the marriage relationship. I've had the good fortune to grow up in a family with several long-term, healthy marriages (parents 34 years, two sets of aunts and uncles nearly 50 years, grandparents more than 70 years and still going), so a lot of what Keller says about the nature of marriage made intuitive sense, but I can't remember the last time I heard someone articulate it so clearly.
In particular, their stress on the importance of friendship struck me as one of the book's more radical themes, and something that could have powerful implications for how singles approach dating and potential partners. This perspective dovetails very well with John Van Epp's advice in "How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk - The Foolproof Way to Follow Your Heart Without Losing Your Mind)," about the variety of settings in which one should get to know a potential partner. Yet, as Keller notes (I believe, in an endnote on cohabitation), the typical structure of dating these days doesn't always provide many opportunities to share day-to-day type experiences with someone and observe how they handle mundane challenges.
I also found the discussion of sex refreshing, though some may be disappointed by the largely principial, abstract nature of that chapter. It was so wonderful to hear someone say, flat out, "Sex is for whole-life self-giving." I've written about this elsewhere, albeit somewhat speculatively, but the Kellers do a very nice job of balancing the biblical sex ethic's implications for both the boundaries and ethos of sex.
A final remark: even if you're not usually one who reads the endnotes in books, they're worth taking note of here. Several times I found a very significant point or observation -- even a multi-paragraph critique of Jennifer Knust's book "Unprotected Texts." It's well worth keeping the book cover's back flap in the endnotes as you read.
This is a book I will recommend to many friends (and frequently, alongside Van Epp's book when talking to fellow singles), and which I imagine will hold up well over the years. Highly recommended.