In what many historians consider to be the first true autobiography, Confessions, St. Augustine reveals that these words, spoken through the voice of a child, pierced his tormented, bitter heart and led him to read Romans 13:13:
“Let us walk with decency, as in the daytime: not in carousing and drunkenness; not in sexual impurity and promiscuity; not in quarreling and jealousy.”
Augustine was radically converted from a life of license to one of wholehearted devotion to Christ. He would eventually take on a North African pastorate and soon become the most influential theologian in church history. All because he was prompted to pick up a book and read.
Every month or so, our GraceNotes blog will review and recommend (hence “R&R”) a book that we hope will enrich our souls, edify our lives, and compel us to be a community on mission. Most titles will of course deal with our God and the faith He gives, but we believe there will be plenty enough variety to pique everyone’s interest. If you have any interest in submitting a Book R&R, please let me know! ~Won
Whether single, newlywed, or going on 50 years of marriage, Timothy Keller's The Meaning of Marriage is relevant in all stages, with its Christ-centered perspective on the conceptual framework, as well as outworking of the Gospel in marriage. Tim and Kathy's marriage, as well as Tim's experience as senior pastor of NYC's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, imbue the book with cultural relevance and practical wisdom. Keller starts with marriage in its biblical inception and intention before diving into specific topics, all the while framing his exposition clearly within Ephesians 5:21-23 and the Gospel of Christ as exemplified in the following:
“In Ephesians 5, Paul shows us that even on earth Jesus did not use his power to oppress us but sacrificed everything to bring us into union with him...If God had the gospel of Jesus’ salvation in mind when he established marriage, then marriage only ‘works’ to the degree that it approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ.”
Keller gives a clear bird’s-eye view of marriage that inspires toward and convicts of the Lord’s purpose for it as a beacon of His salvation and love in Christ.
After a thorough explanation of its biblical foundation, the book continues with explorations of sanctification, friendship, singleness, physical intimacy, and complementary roles within marriage. Keller manages to frame some practical aspects of marital life within an overarching view of marriage that inspires one to Gospel-living. He solidifies his message clearly:
"Marriage is so much like salvation and our relationship with Christ that Paul says you can’t understand marriage without looking at the gospel.”
The definitive strength of the book is its faithful dependence on the Gospel - Chapter 2, a personal favorite called “The Power For Marriage,” exemplifies Keller's efforts at Gospel vision well in his poignant, yet practical description of the Holy Spirit's preeminence in our fight against sin in marriage and in our Christian life:
“The Holy Spirit’s task is to unfold the meaning of Jesus’s person and work to believers in such a way that the glory of it—its infinite importance and beauty—is brought home to the mind and heart.”
Seeing the worth of Christ counters the self-centeredness intrinsic to our sinful natures and destructive to our relationships. Christ is magnified to the reader through the Holy Spirit and this high view of Christ helps to empower and navigate everyday marital living.
Anchored in this understanding of our foundation and source of strength in marriage, the book takes special care to address particular audiences and difficult issues. Kathy Keller’s contribution about the struggle to live faithfully in a complementarian marriage is especially edifying and empathetic—her voice is practical, yet wise as she encourages toward day-to-day submissive, godly living. Her encouragement in how to navigate the difficulty of decision-making in a relationship is particularly insightful. Other noteworthy topics addressed are a chapter dedicated to the mindset and struggle of singles (as a former millennial single, I can vouch to some degree for Keller’s perceptive insight into the attitude of my generation, and his fatherly, godly correction is well-received), and a chapter on the oft-avoided topic of sexual relations in marriage. Despite the spread of topics he addresses, Keller does somewhat achieve a thoroughness that effectively exposits each topic. In characteristic Keller, he communicates a biblically thorough message without many frills, yet supplements his points with anecdotes and encouragement that bring the principles to ground level. His honesty about the struggles in his own marriage, notably in the chapter addressing physical intimacy, is especially humbling and relatable.
Overall, The Meaning of Marriage succinctly and effectively celebrates marriage in making much of Jesus Christ in it. He is rightly portrayed as our source of strength in marriage, as well as our precedent for the sacrificial love necessary to make a marriage flourish. In any stage, there is hope for our marriages in Christ as we seek to model and apply His Gospel in the joys and struggles of marital life:
“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us."