Book addresses cultural confusion, skepticism of marriage
Review by Carmen Fowler LaBerge, The Layman, The Meaning of Marriage is for you.
What is the purpose of marriage? Timothy Keller answers in The Meaning of Marriage, “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.” That mutual pursuit of holiness, instead of the pursuit of happiness that is all too often the goal of marriages today, is the lynchpin of Keller’s offering on Christian matrimony.
In 1989, when many in the Presbyterian Church (USA) were fleeing the city, Keller planted Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in the heart of Manhattan, New York. Now a church where more than 5,000 people gather regularly for worship on any given weekend, Redeemer reflects the city’s young, diverse and largely single cohort. So with a church full of single people, why would Keller write a book on marriage?
Precisely because of the cultural confusion, skepticism and fear of marriage among singles today.
Keller wrote The Meaning of Marriage out of 37-plus years of marriage to Kathy, decades as a Biblical exegete, and from the deep well of teaching, counseling and shepherding he’s done as a pastor. In the book, Keller offers a compelling vision of God’s design for marriage and he makes no apologies for what the Bible says from Genesis to Revelation on the matter. From the first marriage of Adam and Eve to the last marriage of Christ and the Church, Keller’s articulation of what marriage can be is both challenging and irresistibly winsome.
Keller establishes that the “primary goal [of the book] is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible.” That means that he spends no time addressing any other form of proposed coupling, including the current obsession with same-sex relationships.
Keller builds a compelling case for the Created design, personal benefits and societal value of marriage. And throughout he offers glimpses of the depth of beauty possible in a marriage that conforms to God’s intended design: A marriage between a God-honoring man and a God-honoring woman, mutually submitted to Christ as their Savior and Lord, walking toward the Father’s house together, encouraging one another to become more and more conformed to the image of Christ each step of the way.
Will it be difficult? Keller admits that it is. A marriage that means something and that is headed somewhere requires persistent effort, continuing refinement, and hard work. It is also its own reward.
For the pastor who does pre-marital or marital counseling, The Meaning of Marriage is a treasure trove. Keller addresses and dispels common views and objections to marriage prevalent in the culture today. Among them:
- “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.”
For the preacher and teacher, Keller’s deep probing discussion of Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5 is worth the price of the book. Reaching back into his own sermon archives from the 1990’s, Keller brings Paul’s discussion of marriage into today’s context and explains “why the Gospel helps us to understand marriage and how marriage helps us to understand the Gospel.” He also provides what preachers will receive as excellent sermon fodder on the roles of the Trinity and the distinct roles of husband and wife in marriage.
For singles, Keller offers guidelines in the pursuit of Christian 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.”
No contemporary work on marriage would be complete without a healthy discussion of sex, gender roles and decision-making. Keller offers all three with attention to God’s design and the glory that can come when marriages are conformed to God’s will.
The book is provocative and a year into marriage myself, I found myself calling my husband frequently to thank him, apologize to him, and set times to discuss all the pages I dog-eared along the way.
The gist is this: If Jesus is at the center of a marriage there is purpose and promise; if He is not at the center then the marriage is likely centered on something that cannot be sustained. Keller knows what he’s talking about and he communicates in a way that most people will be able to comprehend. If you’re looking for a personal read or a professional resource to help make sense of one of the most debated and tragically compromised conversations of the day, The Meaning of Marriage is for you.
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, Va. He is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, mentor to the worldwide “city church movement” and one of the instigators and main contributors to the popular Gospel Coalition Network. In addition to The Meaning of Marriage, Keller is the author of King’s Cross, Counterfeit gods, The Prodigal God, and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God. His newest book, Center Church, has been released by Zondervan.