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Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

01 Nov

A Compelling Vision of Christian Marriage

 Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York since he planted it in 1989, and the church reflects the city’s demographics: approximately 80% of the people (in a church of several thousand) are single. So Keller has a lot of experience in teaching, counseling and shepherding singles in particular. This book had its roots in the early 1990’s when he did a series of sermons on marriage because of the skepticism, fear, and arguments that many of the singles in attendance had toward marriage in the beginning stages of the church – and still do today. He also wrote this book to share from his own experiences with his wife Kathy of 37 years and counting. However, most importantly he wrote this book to give a compelling vision of what marriage was designed to look like from the Bible from Genesis to Revelation – from the first marriage of Adam and Eve to the last marriage of Christ and the Church.

Keller states in the introduction, “its [the books] primary goal is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.” I believe that Keller succeeds in giving a very compelling case for marriage from the three stands above – from his experience, his realistic apologetic of building a case for the benefits and values of marriage, and then giving a compelling biblical vision throughout the book for the beauty of marriage when it reflects the glory of Christ at the center of it all. He does not minimize the difficulties, or the effort and hard work involved in a marriage, but is clear-headed, and cogently eloquent in presenting the “complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God.”

Here is a sample of an excellent example he gives for submitting to the Bible as God’s manual for marriage:

“Think of buying a car: If you purchase a vehicle, a machine well beyond your own ability to create, you will certainly take up the owner’s manual and abide by what the designer says the car needs by way of treatment and maintenance. To ignore it would be to court disaster…Plenty of people who do not acknowledge God or the Bible, yet who are experiencing happy marriages, are largely abiding by God’s intentions, whether they realize it or not. But it is far better if we are conscious of those intentions. And the place to discover them is in the writings of the Scripture.”

Some of the ambivalent views and objections to marriage Keller elaborates on and dispels in this book are as follows:

“Marriage is just a piece of paper that only serves to complicate love”

“Marriage was originally about property and is now in flux”

“Marriage crushes individual identity and has been oppressive for women”

“Marriage stifles passion and is ill-fitted to psychological reality”

The Outline of Keller’s book is as follows:

Chapter One – A rich and deep discussion of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 bringing Paul’s discussion into today’s context and demonstrating “why the gospel helps us to understand marriage and how marriage helps us to understand the gospel.”

Chapter Two – With great skill and penetrating insight Keller shows how the sin nature resulting in selfishness necessitates the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in making the saving work of Christ operative in bringing two hearts to beat as one.

Chapter Three – He helpfully shows what biblical love is – and what covenantal commitment is all about.

Chapter Four – He elaborates on the whole question of what marriage is for: “It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be…there is a kind of deeper happiness that is found on the far side of holiness.”

Chapter Five – He talks about the power of truth; the power of love – via affection, friendship, and service all in the context of grace.

Chapter Six – An excellent discussion of the Trinitarian roles and how that translates into gender roles in a marriage.

Chapter Seven – On Singleness and Marriage. Here is a sample of some guidelines he gleans for singles in relationships before marriage:

“Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage.”

“Understand the “gift of singleness.’”

“Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older.”

“Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a non-believing person.”

“Feel ‘attraction’ in the most comprehensive sense.”

“Don’t let things get too passionate too quickly.”

“…don’t become a faux spouse for someone who won’t commit to you.”

“Get and submit to lots of community input.”

Chapter Eight – A good discussion of sex – realities and misperceptions – and the glory of it when it is practiced the way God designed it.

The book closes with a short epilogue and a short, but very helpful discussion on decision-making and gender roles.

All the chapters are very well written, have depth and penetrating insight, are logical and clear, balanced in dealing with the “then” and “now” of how the Scriptures apply and always pointing to Jesus at the center of the meaning of life and marriage. Dr. Keller knows what he’s talking about and has done an outstanding job of building a great case for marriage in a culture that simply doesn’t understand it and hasn’t been consulting the Creator’s manual and applying it in our marriages. I now have a new favorite book on marriage to recommend whole-heartedly to singles and married couples alike!

*TIMOTHY KELLER was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of KING’S CROSS, COUNTERFEIT GODS, THE PRODIGAL GOD, the New York Times bestseller THE REASON FOR GOD & the forthcoming CENTER CHURCH (August 2012).

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