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Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

As Real and Raw As It Gets: Review By Dr. David P. Craig

At the outset, there is no doubt about it; this book is going to be controversial. However, before I spend the rest of this review focused on the controversy that will ensue, I think that there is a ton of good advice, encouragement, and — take it from a pastor that’s been married for twenty years with five kids myself (ironically like Mark) – they make marriage as real as it gets, the ups and downs, the agonies and ecstasies, and the thrills of victory with the help of Jesus at the center of it all.

We live in a culture where we are bombarded with sexual images, discussions, and details that sometimes feel like a barrage from which we can never get away from – and I don’t think we will encounter less, but an increasingly greater exposure to all things related to sex. Many pastors and theologians will attack this book in particular for the issues the Driscoll’s discuss. They are very open and honestly discuss and tackle a lot of the questions that never get asked “in church.” However, in my experience as a pastor and life coach I am grateful that the Driscoll’s address the reality of the times in which we are living. No sexual rock is left unturned – but dealt with thoughtfully, theologically, and forthrightly.

I think one of the reasons for so much open talk about sex is the fact that the Driscoll’s minister to literally thousands of men and women in their early twenties – and it happens to be a very hot topic in their context.

Perhaps the best contribution of this book is how the Driscoll’s turned a marriage on the rocks into a marriage on the Rock – built on the solid foundation that is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through repentance and faith. Too many partners have the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. The Driscoll’s demonstrate that all things are possible with God’s guidance and wisdom and especially with Christ at the center of a marriage. Mark states this very important truth, “There are no loving marriages apart from repentance and forgiveness. Marriage either gets bitter or better.” They show how a difficult and broken marriage can be repaired, restored, resurrected, renewed, and rejuvenated by the amazing grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The good news is that it’s never to late to repent and change with God’s help.

I would hesitate to recommend this book to just anyone. Mark and Grace’s style may be too open, vulnerable, and transparent for some people. Also, some of their advise is definitely in the extra/non-biblical category. You will encounter the “reality” of marriage from “real” people who are seeking to do things God’s way for the long haul. If you are “old school” and squeamish about frank talk on sex – I would encourage you to just skip chapter 10. I am grateful that they are willing to be authentic and transparent in addressing issues in such a sexualized culture as ours – especially in a church (Mars Hill) with so many young people asking the questions they are addressing. Whether you agree with what they say in chapter 10 or not – it’s important that you read this in context of the whole book.

If you are a pastor, counselor, or life coach and reading this review I would ask that you read the book first and prayerfully decide whether you would recommend it or not. I will use some its contents in my own marriage and in helping others – again there is a lot of good stuff in this book – a lot of practical applications. There are some things that I agree wholeheartedly with, and others that I do not. I would encourage you also to read Tim Challies’ review on his blog, and Albert Mohler’s review on his blog to see some specific warnings and examples of why this book needs to be taken with a grain of salt – as they say.

There are simply too many other good books on marriage that I can recommend without a single caveat or reservation that are out there: Tim Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage,” R.C. Sproul’s “The Intimate Marriage”, “Love and Respect” by Emmerson Eggerichs, and also “What Did You Expect?” by Paul Tripp, “Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas, “Marriage Matters” by Winston T. Smith, and “When Sinners Say ‘I Do'” by Dave Harvey would all be books that I would recommend wholeheartedly as books that are biblically and theologically right on – without all the controversy.

However, don’t let some of the “chaff” of this book (and the negative reviews that are sure to come) keep you from enjoying and benefiting from the multitude of wheat (that which is beneficial and practical) contained in the pages of this book. I think chapter 11 with its plethora of ideas, questions, and principles for discussion are more than worth the price of the book. I am grateful for Mark and Grace’s ministry in their home, for the sake of Christ’s Church, and their commitment to tackle all things related to the gospel through the lenses of Scripture, their own experiences, and with a passion for Jesus Christ.

 

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Book Review: Men of God edited by Trevor Archer and Tim Thornborough

Helping You in Becoming a Man of God

 The stated purpose of this book written by various British men is to answer the question: “What does it mean for modern men to know Christ?” The driving compass guiding this book resonates with a Christo-centric theology designed to “clarify the content of the gospel according to Scripture and then to explore its impact on how men should understand their identity in Christ. It is vital to understand that, without the gospel, what we do week by week in our churches, in our homes, in our leisure and in our working lives will inevitably become man-centered rather than God-centered. This is why we must always return again and again to the gospel as it is revealed in the Scriptures. Only when our lives are centered on the gospel of Christ will we be able to live for Christ.”

The rest of the chapters in the book are briefer than chapter one, all stand alone, and include a biblical section to start with containing applications, and practical case studies for the day to day realities that men face. Each chapter also provides discussion questions provided at the end of the chapter based on the Bible study – ideal for small groups, and discipleship among men (ideal for groups of two-three).

The topics dealt with in this book include men and 1) singleness; 2) marriage; 3) sex; 4) fatherhood; 5) church; 6) work; 7) witness; 8) witness; 9) discipling; 10) leisure. Some of the better-known authors (to Americans anyway) in this book include Tim Chester, David Jackman, and Vaughan Roberts.

I highly recommend this book for men and men’s ministries that have a passion for Christ-centered theology, and want their men to look, sound, and act more like Jesus and impact culture with the gospel. One of the really nice things about this book is that the chapters are short without sacrificing depth.

 

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Book Review: The Gospel Centered Marriage by Tim Chester

Concise and Helpful Guide For Marriage

Tim Chester is a church planter and writer in England. I appreciated the way he elevated Christ, His church, and how he applies the gospel in every facet of married life. The chapters designed for couples and small groups are concise, biblically and theologically based, Christo-centric, thorough, practical, and tailor made to promote discussion and application.

Some of the features of this book that are highlighted in each chapter are the following sections:

Consider this – “A scenario—often based on a real-life—situation which raises some kind of dilemma or frustration in marriage.”

Biblical background – “A relevant Bible passage together with some questions to help you think it through.”

Read all about it – “A discussion of the principle, both in terms of its theological underpinning and its contemporary application.”

Questions for reflection – “Questions that can be used for group discussion or personal reflection.”

Ideas for action – “Some ideas or an exercise to help people think through the application of the principle to their own situation.”

What I have done below to give you a taste of the book is to give the principle elaborated on in each chapter and the key Scriptures covered in each chapter.

Part One: Gospel-Centered Marriage – The Five Chapters in this section are on:

Chapter One – “Marriage and the passion of God” illuminates the principle: “Your marriage is an illustration of the relationship of Christ to His people.” The key passage in this chapter is a study of Hosea 1-3.

Chapter Two – “Marriage and the purposes of God” states the principle: “The purpose of your marriage is companionship and partnership in mission.” The biblical background for this principle is found in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-24.

Chapter Three – “Marriage and the kingdom of God” contends the principle: “Your marriage is to demonstrate that it’s good to live under God’s reign.” The biblical basis for the thesis of this chapter is from Ephesians 5:22-33.

Chapter Four – “Marriage and the Submission of God’s people” states the principle: “As the church submits to Christ, so wives put their husband’s will before their own.” The background for the principle discussed in this chapter is from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Chapter Five – “Marriage and the Loving authority of Christ” discusses the principle: “As Christ loves the church, husbands put their wife’s interests before their own.” The basis for discussion in this chapter is from Mark 10:40-45.

Part Two: Gospel-Centered Relationships – The Five Chapters in this section cover:

Chapter Six – “Grace” – The principle on grace is that “grace means we can always begin again.” The key passages are Titus 3:3-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; and Ephesians 4:26-27.

Chapter Seven – “Love” – Enumerates the principle: “daily thoughtfulness matters more than grand gestures.” The biblical content for this chapter is based on John 13:1-17.

Chapter Eight – “Conflict” – States the principle: “Conflict begins when my selfish desires are denied by my spouse.” The passage dealing with conflict is from James 3:13-18.

Chapter Nine – “Reconciliation” – Focuses on the principle: “Reconciliation begins when my selfish desires are denied by me.” The biblical basis of discussion for this chapter comes from James 4:1-12.

Chapter Ten – “Forgiveness” – Highlights the principle: “Trust must be earned and forgiveness must be given.” The key text on forgiveness is from Matthew 18:21-35.

Part Three: Gospel-Centered Sex – The five chapters in this section are on:

Chapter 11: “Enjoying sex” on the principle: “it’s our duty to enjoy marital sex.” The featured passage in this chapter is Song of Songs 4:12-5:1.

Chapter 12: “Loving sex” elaborates on the principle: “Good sex begins long before you take your clothes off.” The primary passage for this chapter is Song of Songs 4:1-16.

Chapter 13: “Transforming sex” develops the principle: “We get sex wrong because we get God wrong.” The key biblical passage developed is Romans 1:18-25.

Chapter 14: “Gospel-centered beauty” hones in on the principle: “Love finds us beautiful and love makes beautiful.” The numerous passages developed are Song of Songs 1:5-6, 8-10; Romans 12:2; Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Peter 3:3.

Chapter 15: The conclusion of the book “Marriage is not forever” solidifies the principle: “Find your identity and joy in God rather than in marriage.” The main biblical passages developed are John 4:4-26; Mark 12:18-25; Revelation 21:3-4.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I will be using it in the context of counseling and coaching couples who desire marriage; those who are already married; and be using it in the context of small groups in the church. I highly recommend this book because it is indeed gospel centered; it covers the major bases of a Christian marriage; and is not overwhelming for those who are not readers. I especially recommend it for guys (and gals) who don’t enjoy reading, or simply don’t have a lot of time on their hands. Each chapter is only a few pages long, and you can get a lot of substance and help in a short amount of time if you just want to read on a specific topic in the book. It gives excellent food for thought and discussion and will be very beneficial to any couple no matter how long they have been married.

 

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Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

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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