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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"The Meaning of Marriage" (Tim and Kathy Keller)

TITLE: The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God
AUTHOR: Tim Keller with Kathy Keller
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Dutton Books, 2011, (290 pages).

This book is packed with biblical wisdom and practical helps on one of the most important issues of our age: Marriage. The author draws upon three deep roots to write the book; his own marriage, his concern for the large unmarried part of his congregation, and from the Bible. The central thesis of the book is that we need to understand the meaning of marriage that is both realistic and glorious.  He makes it clear that marriage is not same-sex, not polygamous, and certainly not romanticism, or defined through cultural lens. Instead, marriage is love unlimited

"The Secret of Marriage" reminds us that the tough times of marriage ought to drive couples to seek to experience more of the transforming love of God. Like Christ, married couples need to learn to give up their own selves for the sake of their spouses, and work toward mutual fulfillment. As one allows marriage to drive couples to seek God more, the gospel will transform marriages into the love that God has intended it to be.

He writes: "Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God's saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God's mercy and grace." (48)
"The Power of Marriage" comes through very unique ways, unlike the worldly ways. For instance, true power comes from mutual submission, avoiding self-centeredness, boldly facing our own wounds, and to heal ourselves from self-seeking ways. The fear of God is the beginning of a good marriage.

"The Essence of Marriage" continues on the Ephesians teachings on marriage with Keller's classic skill in separating fact from fiction. Marriage is not just a piece of paper but pure love. It is not subjective based on feelings, but objective based on truth. It is not to be a consumer activity but a covenant relationship. It is both vertical (faith in God) and horizontal (trust in each other).  It is a life that draws on the power of a promise. In other words, the starting point is not feelings of love, but "actions of love" that will lead to any romantic feelings. Just like how Christ stayed on to love us, despite our hateful actions against him, we too ought to commit ourselves to loving and staying with our spouses through thick and thin.

"The Mission of Marriage" is again other-centered. It is to be best friends with our spouses, to help each  other become our best, to see our spouses beyond simply a sex or financial partner, but a whole person who deserves to be the best in our eyes.

In "Loving the Stranger," Keller provides a vivid image of marriage being like a bridge over a stream, and the spouse as a giant truck driving on the bridge, exposing the cracks and weaknesses in all of us. Even when our spouses become like strangers over time, it is our duty to make sure that the "someone better" will always be our spouse. When one transitions from "in love" to simply "love," affection, friendship, and service will come naturally. The big problem in marriage is how we handle truth. Truth needs to be handled with grace, reconciliation, and love.

"Embracing the Other" is a call to commitment, and not convenience. This is especially when one spouse doesn't seem to make the other "get it." Keller proposes taking upon the "Jesus role" which essentially means serving, submitting, and satisfying the other more than self. As one takes care of one's  own weaknesses, one trusts God to help the spouse manage his/her own.

Chapter 7 talks about an important aspect of singleness and marriage. The author acknowledges that marriage has been given a bad rap these days, and affirms the good in both singleness as well as marriage. He maintains a high view of marriage, and that singles ought to do the same, even though some may be called to be single. He carefully explains the delicate balance, that while one can pray for a marriage partner, one needs also to cultivate contentment in God alone, to be satisfied whatever the state.  For dating, Keller takes readers through a historical tour of how the modern dating concept comes from. He then gives 8 helpful tips for singles.

  1. That there are seasons for not seeking marriage, and that Christian friendships are more important than dates or ideas about marriage;
  2. Need to understand the gift of singleness
  3. Be more serious about seeking marriage when one grows older
  4. Avoid deepening emotional relationships with a non-believing personal
  5. Be attracted comprehensively
  6. Be slow in getting passionate
  7. Don't be a "faux spouse" for someone unwilling to commit; (don't cheapen self)
  8. Solicit plenty of community input
Finally, Keller deals with the place of sex. It is for whole life "self giving." He pins the Christian sex ethic as one that is within a marriage, and between a husband and a wife. Sex deepens the marriage union, unites the couple, affirms commitment, and is about the other. With regards to singles, Keller advises chastity, and to devote one to loving Jesus. Using the example of Jane Eyre, Keller points out how the leading lady avoids depending on the feelings of her heart and redirects her energies toward God.

The Appendix lists some thoughtful ways to think about our gender roles.

  1. The husband's authority over the wife is meant to serve the interests of the wife, not the husband.
  2. The wife's role is beyond mere compliance but to use her resources to empower her husband.
  3. Wives are not to give their husbands unconditional obedience.
  4. Husband's headship is for ministry to wife and family.
  5. Any stalemate needs to be 'broken' with a decision that is made for the family or the marriage, never for self.

My Comments

What makes this book very readable for all is that it appeals not only to Christians but provides a reasonable and inviting atmosphere for non-believers to enter in. In other words, one does not need to be a Christian (but being a Christian certainly helps!) in order to appreciate the wisdom in the book. Carefully laying out the biblical principles, he makes a powerful case for marriage seen from the Bible's perspective, which is far more wholesome and constructive. He is respectful to both male and female. By not talking a lot about homosexuality or gay affairs, he faithfully sticks to his main definition of marriage being between a man and a woman.  His chapter on singles and the need for couples to learn to be other-centered more than self is certainly godsend for many in the Church, especially single women. I appreciate the "Decision Making and Gender Roles" he has included in the appendix which lists what are the better ways to understand biblical submission and gender roles.

In one book, Keller explains biblical marriage, relationships, practical marriage tips, singlehood, sex, and gender roles. It reminds me of another recent book on marriage, written by Mark Driscoll. While the other book is deemed "controversial" for its boldness in talking about more explicit sex techniques and tools, this book is more focused on reasonably translating biblical truths into practice.

Indeed, marriage is a mystery. The challenges in marriage can humble us and cause us to seek God more, to learn to be more like Christ. The single biggest message the book has for me is be OTHER-centered, beginning with our spouses. If we feel alone, if we feel dissatisfied with our marriages, if we feel lost about our spouses, it is time to remove any sentimental thinking about marriage, and to adopt a convenant commitment, a loving service, and continued trust in God. This book is a practical guide to help couples do just that.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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