The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Paperback – November 5, 2013
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"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
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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Last summer, when I was 100% single, one of my good friends recommended I read this book. "Like, when I'm dating someone?" I asked. "Nope. Read it right now." And I am so glad I did. This book has gone a long way in rewiring and reframing the subtle, selfish way I look at relationships, not just romantic ones. It is a beautifully blunt study in love that never forgets to point back to the One who put that desire for love in our hearts in the first place, God.
The Kellers take the subject from the angle of the church he lead in New York city where singleness is the norm and marriage is thought of as a trap. He takes the time to explain Biblically what marriage is and what it isn't. Yada yada yada, it was good and refreshing.
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)
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As I said in the review title, you will hopefully learn as much about God through this book as you will about relationship advice, so don't need to be contemplating marriage any time soon to read it. The Kellers also give great advice on what to seek in a potential spouse, showing how Christian values are very different from what our (particularly western) culture says we need to find a partner.
Chapter 7 is on singleness which I found really helpful and also challenging to my own views. They make the case that Christianity is one of the few world views which holds singleness in high regard and not a lesser life. It is in the church, the family of God, that singles are able to learn and grow from time with the opposite sex, in an obviously less intense way than marriage, but nonetheless just as effectively. Also a challenge to churches to love and support singles, not making them feel, in the worst case scenario, as second class Christians.
Having previously read some of Keller's other books (EG The Reason for God, The Prodigal God), I found the writing style similar: solid research backed up by years of practical wisdom as a church pastor, but with perhaps an over-reliance on CS Lewis, his favourite author.
Some may disagree with his positions concerning biblical headship, but he only mentions this in terms of the household, not church leadership, though I suspect he would reject the Egalitarian position there. Kathy's chapter on this is very useful.
Similarly, his belief that sex should only be enjoyed within marriage (the focus of Chapter 8), and that marriage is for one man and one woman only may strike some as homophobic or constricting, but this book is unashamedly for Christians, or for those wanting to know what a Christian marriage consists of. All of his opinions are firmly backed up from scripture.
Overall, I found this book very helpful. It confirmed much of what I already expected, but also gave me new insights and analogies I had never considered before.
Tim Keller and his wife begin by taking a good look at the way the world and society around us and through history has viewed sex and marriage and how that effects views of marriage within the church, our own views too.
Having acknowledged the background we have, they then turn to the Bible to correct our distorted views of marriage.
There is a chapter for singles too, how they should view marriage. So it is not just a book for marrieds.
There is also a chapter on the controversy of headship and submission in marriage which they deal with very well.
In the end, whether you're a single, a husband or a wife, our model is the servant/leader who laid down His life for others.