The Meaning of Marriage Review

November 23, 2011

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Biblically-Grounded, Practically-Tested

Tim Keller’s latest offering following his bestselling work, The King’s Cross, is yet another wonderful resource to add to your library of counseling resources. Written for an audience that is either single or married, egalitarian or complementarian, Tim and Kathy Keller have given the church a vision of marriage that is both biblically-grounded and founded yet practically-tested and lived out.

It’s often hard to adapt a sermon series into a book. It requires skillful editing to help the progression of the sermon “pop” as it hits the written form. Tim and Kathy manage this task well as this book is based originally on a series of sermons from 1991 commonly known at Redeemer Presbyterian Church as “The Marriage Tapes.”

A Redemptive-Historical Approach

Keller chooses to base the bulk of the exposition of the book on his exposition of Ephesians 5:18-33. Paul gives us one of the fullest explanations of the marriage relationship, but he grounds it in the creation account in Genesis 2. This enables Keller to begin at the beginning and show God’s true intention for Adam and Eve.

Using Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, Keller states that marriage, “…has been instituted by God and that marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ.” He adds, “That is why the gospel helps us to understand marriage and marriage helps us to understand the gospel.” Indeed as a pastor and counselor, this has to be one of the greatest dearths of knowledge for married couples—that their marriage is an image and portrait of something much greater than themselves. Too often husbands and wives shrink their marriage and lives to the microcosm that is their marriage and life. Instead of seeing and living out their greater mission as a married couple, they become quickly disillusioned.

In the introduction to the book, Keller lays out the plan for the book showing how each of the eight chapters work together as a whole. 

An Apocalyptic Romance

In chapter one, Tim hits the nail on the head as he scans the modern American landscape in regards to attitudes towards marriage. We live in a society where a new generation views marriage as little more than an outdated social contract, a piece of paper which inherently possesses little meaning. 

Keller points out that today many people pursue an ‘apocalyptic’ romance in the sense that they see marriage essentially as a relationship towards self-fulfillment and pleasure. The marriage relationship based on this view quickly disintegrates leaving both spouses wanting more. He writes, “Modern people make the painfulness of marriage even greater than it has to be, because they crush it under the weight of their almost cosmically impossible expectations.”

In a culture which views marriage as nothing more than an end to foster one’s sense of self-fulfillment, it is no wonder marriages are falling apart and falling out of style. Without the gospel to address these fundamental issues of need, longing and fulfillment…marriage will become nothing more than a vehicle for abject selfishness and narcissism.

Marriage Brings Out the Worst In You

Later in the book as Tim and Kathy continue to develop various themes of the gospel, how it grounds the marriage and empowers the marriage, they ease into speaking about practical facets of the marriage relationship. They speak artfully on a variety of topics such as friendship, or as C.S. Lewis liked to style it ‘the secret thread’ that binds the heart of the husband and wife together. The book is permeated with startling self-revelations and self-disclosures which help the reader empathetically identity with Tim and Kathy, not as some ‘holier-than-thou’ marriage speakers, but rather fellow strugglers saved by God’s grace.

The book is incredibly realistic about the dynamics of marriage: the reality that sex in and of itself does not a marriage make; the disappointment of realizing you often do not truly know the person you are marrying; the startling realization that marriage is incredibly self-revealing.  Keller writes, “Marriage has the power of truth, the ability to reveal to you who you really are, with all your flaws. How wonderful that it also has the ‘power of love’—an unmatched power to affirm you and heal you of the deepest wounds and hurts of your life.”

A Particular Audience

Anyone who reads Keller knows that he loves to quote C.S. Lewis. One could perhaps add Lewis as another co-author to this book and many of Keller’s books since Lewis remains such a seminal influence on his life and thinking. Writing as a pastor of a large, urban church in Manhattan, the book is written at a much more intellectual level than most marriage books. It’s permeated with illustrations and quotes from modern day writers to writers of old. 

I would not necessarily say this would be a book to go through with a married couple in the way one might with other resources reviewed here at the BCC (Marriage Matters, What Did You Expect). However, the counselor will gain immense wisdom and insight from this offering which will further enrich his counseling. Like many of Keller’s earlier works, I simply could not put it down, and read it in one sitting. The Meaning of Marriage is imminently readable, sufficiently researched and grounded, yet it is saturated by the personal reflections and experiences of a husband and wife who have both been deeply impacted by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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