Marriage is not easy. In Timothy Keller’s latest book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York: Dutton, 2011), he—along with his wife, Kathy—write about the difficulties that arise when marriage is sometimes harder than we expect. For the married readers, this book “is for those spouses who have discovered how challenging day-to-day marriage is and who are searching for practical resources to survive the sometimes overwhelming ‘fiery trials’ of matrimony and to grow through them,” (pp. 10–11). Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, also writes for singles who need “a brutally realistic yet glorious vision of what marriage is and can be,” (p. 12). The book started out as a sermon series preached in 1991 which, Keller says on p. 11, has become the “most listened-to set of sermons or talks the church has ever produced.”
Summary of content
The book is divided into eight chapters that build upon one another as they discuss what it means to be married. Chapter one describes how the “secret of marriage” involves giving up of ourselves, as Christ did for the church. The power to do this can only come from the Holy Spirit, the topic of chapter two. In chapter three, Keller outlines the covenantal essence of marriage. In four, Keller seems to answer the primary question of the book as he outlines the “mission” of marriage: to help our spouses grow in their relationship with God. As Keller puts it, “[Marriage] is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us,” (p. 120).
Chapter five discusses how to love the “stranger,” that is, the person your spouse becomes after you marry them. Men and women are different, Kathy Keller says in chapter six, and we must understand these differences. Chapter seven is devoted entirely to singles—whether looking for marriage or not—and encourages everyone to give priority to a relationship with Christ above a marriage relationship. Finally, chapter eight deals with the mysterious union created with sex, how that impacts marriage, and how to avoid sexual sin.
Review: a book full of wisdom
There are seemingly hundreds of marriage books available, all jockeying for position on book shelves. The Meaning of Marriage stands out among the rest. It presents a well-balanced, thoughtful, and foundational view of marriage that serves as a reminder that God uses the challenges of marriage to refine us. As a “foundational” book, you won’t find too many “practical” lessons dished out on a silver platter, although some chapters have some great sections of practical advice, including the chapters on singleness and sex. Occasionally, the book seemed to “wander” a bit in the midst of several chapters and I felt myself losing focus on the direction Keller was going.
This is a book worth reading carefully and digesting. I found myself taking quite a few notes in each chapter, underlining a lot, and writing down many helpful words of godly wisdom. It presents a theological picture of what marriage can be through its discussion of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5. To its stated goals, The Meaning of Marriage does a wonderful job of encouraging us to face the everyday challenges of marriage by reorienting their focus not on our spouse, or even on ourself, but on the Lord. The book doesn’t excel at being practical, but could provide good discussion for a couple through encouraging self-reflection and study on God’s design for marriage. I can seek this book being useful for a married small group, an individual couple, and perhaps even a couple in pre-marital counseling or a singles group.
I was challenged, humbled, and encouraged by this book, and I’m sure you will be too.
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