The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller – 2012 Favorite

Marriage is a deeply important topic for Christians. Many think about it primarily in public policy terms (gay marriage and/or divorce). But I think it is more important for discipleship and church health reasons. I absolutely do not believe that everyone should get married. But I do think, that for those that do get married, the church has a significant responsibility to them and their marriage. And married people have a significant responsibility back to their church for mentoring younger marriages.

One of the best things that happened to our marriage was the last two years that my wife and I lead a newly married small group.  If you ever want to feel good about your wisdom in marriage go hang out with a bunch of newly married couples.  Some of the couples in the groups had been married a matter of weeks when they joined.  They didn’t even know how to tell ‘their story’ yet.

I have read a lot of books on marriage.  This is one of the ones that I would most recommend to people regardless of the length of time they have been married (or even if they are single).  It is not perfect, I disagree with several points.  But I respect the Keller’s ability to speak even when I disagree with them.  The tone of this book is just right.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Takeaway: This is now my most recommended book on marriage.

My wife and I have led two newly married small groups in the last two years.  And given my proclivity to over reading, and reading as one of my primary ways of processing, I have read a number of marriage books in our 15 years of marriage, especially in the last two years.  Given that introduction, I think this is the most balanced, most thorough explanation of the purpose and meaning of marriage I have read.

The number one thing I like about this book is that Timothy and Kathy Keller discussion is well reasoned, biblically based, and culturally aware. The Kellers are not advocating for a throwback to some never existed culture or a blind acceptance of current cultural norms around marriage.  Instead every time I felt that they started to lean one way or another, almost immediately there was a caveat that brought the discussion back in line.

I also really appreciate that Keller starts the book with a realistic portrayal of the state of marriage without being apocalyptic about the impending doom that will come on the world if we do not radically change marriage.

Toward the end of the book there is also a very good chapter on singleness and dating, which is rarely done well in marriage books. This is a book that can and should be read by singles, which is rare.  The main advice that I think should be taken by singles and married is that there needs to be more intentional community between singles and married in order that singles get a realistic and open portrayal of what marriage is actually like, that marrieds can speak into the lives of singles about their dating choices (because before marriage is the time to put a stop to bad relationships) and that singles can help remind marrieds that marriage is not the only viable way for Christians to be.  There is a lot more practical advice on singleness and dating, but that is primarily for those that are actually single, which I am not.

Personally there were two insights, that while not completely new, I think I heard in a different way.  Both were are part of the discussion of gender roles and Ephesians 5.  The first is that both husband and wife are to model Jesus to the other and both are to model after Jesus for their role.  So based on Eph 5, men are supposed to look to Jesus to learn how to love their wives.  And women are supposed to look to Jesus to learn how he submitted to the Father to understand what submission means in the context of the marriage.  The second thought follows right after.  That if the wife feels oppressed in her submission, then she is not be loved as Christ loves.  And if the husband is feels like he is constantly fighting his wife, then one or both are also not acting as Jesus either.  Essentially the Keller’s point isn’t that there will not be any conflict if we really are looking toward Jesus as the model in our marriage, but that a marriage that striving after following Christ will not be either avoid conflict inappropriately, nor embrace conflict inappropriately.  I am still a bit uncomfortable with the language because it has been so misused, but I understand their point as a positive not as a restriction on women.

I am going to read this again, and I am going to seriously consider how to try and incorporate this into our newly married small group.  But this is not a book only for newly marrieds.  Highly recommended.

Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook

3 Comments

I’m looking forward to reading this one. One of my reading goals at the moment is to read more about marriage. Any other books you’d recommend about marriage that would be helpful for single people?

    I will think about it. I think that singles should read about the purpose of marriage but the technicalities of marriage and sex are probably less useful. You have read Sacred Marriage I believe and that is the only other one I would recommend off the top of my head. I have not read Mark Driscoll’s recent book on marriage, but from reviews and friends I would avoid it, not because it is a bad book (I don’t really know that) but because it does seem to be concerned a lot about the internal workings of marriage.

    I might suggest reading some biographies or memoirs of people that have had good marriages and speak a good bit about the marriage. Madeline L’Engle is supposed to have a very good one, but I haven’t read it. Lyle Dorsett has two good biographies that spend some good time on marriage, AW Tozer (a bit of an example of how not to do marriage) and Joy Davidman (CS Lewis’ wife). I have reviews of both.

    In my experience people (and especially singles) either idolize marriage or fear it. Neither is all that useful, I think biographies of marriage are good to help give proper place to marriage.

      Thanks. Yes, I agree the technicalities are best avoided, hence why I am not reading Driscoll’s book yet. I found sacred marriage to be a helpful reality check.

      I’ll add those biographies to my list.

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