Marriage: A Spiritual Friendship Aimed at Glory
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller is the closest thing the American church has to a biblical marriage manifesto: a breath-taking 40,000-foot view of God’s grand purposes in marriage. Keller’s rich exposition of Ephesians 5:22-33, his focus on marriage as a spiritual friendship aimed at glory, and his striking insight into modern culture commend it to every Christian, married or single, who longs to know and be transformed by God’s purposes in marriage.
Keller argues persuasively from sociological evidence and examples from Western media (e.g. the romantic comedy) that most Americans, Christians and secular, have embraced a “Me-Marriage” mentality: the idea that marriage is primarily a means of self-fulfillment, a way for one to realize one’s dreams in the love of another. This leaves unbelievers divorcing when they aren’t fulfilled, Christians with frustratingly wrong expectations for their marriages, and singles having both impossible standards for a potential spouse and a devastating sense of incompleteness in their singleness.
In contrast to “Me-Marriage,” The Meaning of Marriage presents marriage as a spiritual friendship aimed at glory; as a covenantal friendship where each spouse helps one another become their future glory-self whom God will remake in the new creation. This radical view of marriage’s purpose powerfully transforms all sorts of things: one’s expectations for day-to-day married life, how one sees sex (as something sanctifying!), what one looks for in a potential spouse (“not a statue, but a good piece of marble” [pp. 133]!), and how one handles conflict with his or her spouse.
Wonderfully Readable for All Audiences
This marriage manifesto is highly accessible. The Meaning of Marriage is based on a Keller sermon series, making it distinctly readable. Like any good preacher, Keller strives for clarity, makes striking statements, and provides numerous illustrations and examples from daily life and history. I found myself flying through The Meaning of Marriage, not just because it was so rich, but because it was so interesting, enjoyable, and easy to read. This is a great marriage book for those who do not consider themselves great readers.
Where The Meaning of Marriage really stands out among Christian marriage books is that it is aimed at both married people and singles. Most Christian marriage books are primarily about helping Christians have better marriages but, although useful in many ways, sometimes fall into the “baptized self-help” genre, being immensely unhelpful for the unmarried (and sometimes the married, too)! The presentation of marriage in this book, however, challenges, convicts, and encourages the reader. Singles will find themselves challenged to repent of thinking that marriage will ultimately fulfill them, and to alter their criteria for potential spouses. Those who are married will see God’s purposes for marriage and their particular role in a new light.
Keller Reads Your Mail
Like the content of any good sermon, you’ll get the sense that Keller is “reading your mail” in The Meaning of Marriage; that he personally knows you and your particularly wrong expectations for romance and marriage. This is because Keller is such an insightful student, not just of the Scriptures, but of American culture. One of the most powerful features of The Meaning of Marriage is that Keller demonstrates, through both Scripture and history, that so much of what we assume about romance and marriage are actually wrong assumptions that have actively been taught to us by Western culture. Specifically, that the main purpose of marriage is to provide for us and satisfy us relationally and emotionally, and also that powerful romantic feelings are essential and inevitable. I found myself saying “ouch” a lot in seeing my sin in these areas but also wonderfully freed from wrong thinking that has harmed my personal views about marriage.
Very Helpful on Gender Roles
One specific and particularly helpful aspect of this book is that it contains one of the most balanced and practical teachings on gender roles I’ve ever read. Kathy Keller writes Chapter 6 “Embracing the Other,” and while holding to the orthodox views of male headship and female submission in marriage, she rightly separates those biblical roles from the traditional “husband-works, wife-is-stuck-at-home” kind of caricature often laid on top of these roles. Kathy Keller argues that biblical headship and submission are not primarily about division of labor in the home and are actually something much more glorious. If you’re someone who’s struggled to understand or embrace headship and submission in marriage, Chapter 6 makes the entire book worth purchasing.
Caution: It’s Not A Formula
Want three quick fixes for your marriage or a new spouse by Friday, as one Christian author has said? If so, this book is not for you, and that’s a good thing, because most of us know that quick fixes are rarely lasting fixes. Keller instead walks readers through the harder work of searching one’s heart and changing one’s mindset about marriage in response to the Scriptures.
Still, one of the hardest parts about reading The Meaning of Marriage is that Keller’s overall view of marriage is so solid that one wishes he would describe in great detail how this pattern plays out in each daily-life aspect of marriage, like communication, finances, child-rearing, sex, etc. Though Keller does give us an occasional glimpse of this, he primarily leaves readers to work out all the details on his or her own, and it is this that makes the book a wonderful resource for spouses or small groups to study and to have their minds renewed, as together we figure out this important aspect of the Christian life.
This book along with many others can be found for sale in the Resource Section of our Welcome Center on Sunday mornings.