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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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What makes "The Meaning of Marriage" so excellent? At least four things. First, Keller gives a vision for marriage. His main reason for writing the book, in fact, was to give both Christians and non-Christians a vision for marriage. What is Keller's vision for marriage? Keller writes, concerning the meaning of marriage, that "It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us." More than this, Keller (in Chapter 6) relates marriage not only to "the dance of the Trinity" but also to Christ's love of the stranger (Chapter 5).
The second reason "The Meaning of Marriage" is so excellent is that Keller bases his views on the Bible. Time and again, instead of turning to what the world teaches about marriage, Keller returns to the Bible, especially Ephesians 5. While Keller begins with the Bible, he does more than just quote Scripture: he unlocks its meaning and applies it to our lives. This is what makes his teaching on writing so profound and powerful. While he doesn't cover every possible topic, he does give a theological vision for marriage that will change your marriage for the better or better prepare you for marriage in the future.
Third, in presenting a biblical view of marriage, Keller directly challenges the worldly views of marriage, including many that have infected the Church. Among the most popular of these myths is that we should be looking for our "soul mate," in the sense of finding someone we're presently in love with. This view minimizes the importance of the hard work that goes into marital love. Keller also rightly rebukes the idea that we should not go into marriage expecting to change the other person. To the contrary, marriage is precisely for the purpose of sanctifying one another, and Keller demonstrates some of the many reasons why marriage is such a powerful means of sanctification for Christian spouses. Keller takes on many other myths as well, for example, the idea that marriage is primarily for self-fulfillment, instead of mutual sanctification and becoming one with another.
Fourth, "The Meaning of Marriage" is both readable and practical. Keller's ideas are rooted in theology but are written in a very readable prose. Most importantly, his book is eminently practical. While it's not a "How To" manual and doesn't give you every detail, he does amply illustrate and explain his major ideas on marriage. So practical is "The Meaning of Marriage" that it's applicable not only to Christian spouses but also non-Christian spouses and Christian singles. He has, for example, a chapter on a theology of singleness (Chapter 7).
There are many profound insights in the book. There was little that was new to me as a priest and as a husband who has worked every day on his marriage for 18 years. But there were still many revelations and "Aha!" moments that reminded me of what it was all about and encouraged me to love my wife to an even greater degree. As I'm writing this, she's out of town on a business trip (which she never takes). I can't wait for her to return so that I can begin immediately putting into practice some of the things Keller has taught me.
Here are some of his best insights:
1. You never marry the right person. No 2 people are compatible. For this reason, marriage takes a lot of love and work. Also, marriage profoundly changes us!
2. Two-thirds of unhappy marriages will become happy within five years if people stay married. Keller uses this to demonstrate the power of making and keeping a vow. Promising is the key to identity and is the very essence of marital love.
3. Actions of love lead to feelings of love.
4. Marriage is a friendship, and friendship must have constancy, transparency, and a common passion, which, for Christians, should especially be Christ.
5. Each spouse should see the great thing that Jesus is doing in the life of their mate through the Word. And each spouse should then give himself of herself to be a vehicle for this work of God.
6. Your spouse IS the "someone better" you're looking for! This is true if you see him or her in terms of the glory God intends for them, a work to which you are called.
There's much, much, more, and each chapter holds its delights and wisdom for the reader. I highly recommend both "The Meaning of Marriage," as well as "The Mystery of Marriage" by Mike Mason!
Keller presents his teaching on marriage, based on a sermon series of his, in the following chapters:
1. The Secret of Marriage - how marriage and the gospel relate
2. The Power for Marriage - submitting to one another out of love
3. The Essence of Marriage - covenantal commitment
4. The Mission of Marriage - marriage and mutual sanctification
5. Loving the Stranger - the power of love (all 4 kinds)
6. Embracing the Other - man and wife as one flesh; the Trinity as a model for marriage
7. Singleness and Marriage
8. Sex and Marriage
Epilogue and Appendix (Decision Making and Gender Roles)
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!