Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim and Kathy Keller

October 10, 2012 — 1 Comment

This was a great read. I read this in preparation for some per-marital counseling I am doing and I was trying to find a book that would help them look at marriage through a God-honoring lens. Little did I know that this book would help me in my own marriage to understand what a covenant is and what it means to place marriage in the context of servant-hood. This is a go-to book for those who are recently married, those who have been marriage for thirty years, those whose marriages are on the verge of divorce, those who are about to get married and those who are divorced and maybe want to get back together. Read this book! Some pros and cons…

PROS

  • Extremely biblical! Keller weaves passages of Scripture throughout the entirety of the book and uses God’s story from Genesis to Revelation to paint a picture of what marriage should be.
  • Confronts false assumptions about marriages. Have you ever encountered someone whose view of marriage was so false you just knew that it was destined for divorce? Keller confronts these false assumptions.
  • Talks openly about the “S” word. That’s right…SEX. Nobody is looking… you can go ahead and say it… SEX! He talks about the joy of sex within a covenant relationship but also talks about the pain of sex outside the covenant relationship.
  • Not statistical. I get anxiety attacks when people break out droves of statistics about this marriage and that marriage. Keller does not do that….his goal is theological not theoretical.

CONS

  • Keller is on a different level of thinking than most of us (or maybe it’s just me :)) and his book can be difficult to weave through if no theological background is present. I think this would be helpful more to the Christian than the non-Christian but both could still benefit.
  • I wish there were study guides and group discussion guides for this book (that will probably come or may already be out). This is excellent small group material but it is not available yet.

Some amazing quotes…

  • Despite the claim of the young man in the Gallup survey, “a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage.”(p. 15)
  • Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. (p. 29-30)
  • 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. (p. 33)
  • If our views of marriage are too romantic and idealistic, we underestimate the influence of sin on human life. If they are too pessimistic and cynical, we misunderstand marriage’s divine origin. If we somehow manage, as our modern culture has, to do both at once, we are doubly burdened by a distorted vision. (p. 36)
  • The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. (p. 40)
  • If we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (p. 44)
  • Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage. (p. 43).
  • When you first fall in love, you think you love the person, but you don’t really. You can’t know who the person is right away. That takes years. You actually love your idea of the person—and that is always, at first, one-dimensional and somewhat mistaken. (p. 86)
  • To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. (p. 87)
  • We think of a prospective spouse as primarily a lover (or a provider), and if he or she can be a friend on top of that, well isn’t that nice! We should be going at it the other way around. Screen first for friendship. Look for someone who understands you better than you do yourself, who makes you a better person just by being around them. And then explore whether that friendship could become a romance and a marriage. (p. 117-18)
  • When you get married, your spouse is a big truck driving right through your heart. Marriage brings out the worst in you. It doesn’t create your weaknesses (though you may blame your spouse for your blow-ups)—it reveals them. This is not a bad thing, though. How can you change into your “glory-self” if you assume that you’re already pretty close to perfect as it is? (p. 131)
  • Truth without love ruins the oneness, and love without truth gives the illusion of unity but actually stops the journey and the growth. The solution is grace. The experience of Jesus’s grace makes it possible to practice the two most important skills in marriage: forgiveness and repentance. Only if we are very good at forgiving and very good at repenting can truth and love be kept together. (p. 155)
  • Even the best marriage cannot by itself fill the void in our souls left by God. Without a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives. But singles, too, must see the penultimate status of marriage. If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage, and that will create pathology in their lives as well. However, if singles learn to rest in and rejoice in their marriage to Christ, that means they will be able to handle single life without a devastating sense of being unfulfilled and unformed. And they might as well tackle this spiritual project right away. Why? Because the same idolatry of marriage that is distorting their single lives will eventually distort their married lives if they find a partner. So there’s no reason to wait. Demote marriage and family in your heart, put God first, and begin to enjoy the goodness of single life. (p. 190)
  • How different seeking marriage would be if, as we argued earlier in this book, we were to view marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future-selves through sacrificial service and spiritual friendship. What happens if we see the mission of marriage to teach us about our sins in unique and profound ways and to grow us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us? How different it would be if we were to fall in love especially with the glorious thing God is doing in our spouse’s life? Ironically, this view of marriage eventually does provide unbelievable personal fulfillment, but not in the sacrifice-free and superficial way that contemporary people want it to come. Instead, it gives the unique, breathtaking fulfillment of visible character growth (Ephesians 5:25–27) into love, peace, joy, and hope (Colossians 1; Galatians 5, 1 Corinthians 13). (p. 195)
  • Biblical Christianity may be the most body-positive religion in the world. It teaches that God made matter and physical bodies and saw that it was all good (Genesis 1:31). It says that in Jesus Christ God himself actually took on a human body (which he still has in glorified form), and that someday he is going to give us all perfect, resurrected bodies. It says that God created sexuality and gave a woman and man to each other in the beginning. The Bible contains great love poetry that celebrates sexual passion and pleasure. If anyone says that sex is bad or dirty in itself, we have the entire Bible to contradict him. (p. 213)
  • Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less. (p. 215-16)
  • In short, the greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure. When you get to the place where giving arousal is the most arousing thing, you are practicing this principle. (p. 225)
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