Book by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller- Penguin Books, 2013
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller is one of the best books on marriage that I have read. It is written not just for married couples, but also for single people.
Based on a very popular series of sermons delivered to a congregation of mainly single people at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, the Kellers argue for the goodness of both married and single life. They draw from their own experience as a married couple, and a close reading of the classic passage on marriage in Ephesians 5: 18-33, to present a realistic view of marriage (“You never marry the right person”), and to argue against what they see as the pathological idolization of marriage, and its opposite, the fear of commitment to marriage in our western cultural context. Both single and married people need to realize that, as wonderful as marriage is, it only works best if it is not held up as the ultimate in and of itself – the “Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family that our hearts were made for” can only be found in the love that God has for us, and our true brothers and sisters in the Christian community who share our ultimate hopes.
The great strength of this book is how the Kellers talk of marriage in a way that is shaped by the gospel: “This is the secret- that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another.” The secret of marriage, they insist, is not in finding the perfect partner, but in loving and caring for the partner that you are married to – it is the ongoing decision to love, and keep on loving, despite imperfections, just as Jesus loves his church. Each partner “giving themselves up for the other,” like Jesus did for us.
In one chapter Kathy tackles head on the widely misunderstood notions of authority and submission within marriage. To remove the “toxicity” from these ideas, we are to understand both in the light of Jesus’ example; who without domination exercised all authority (as the Lord who serves), and without loss of dignity submitted completely to the Father’s will (as the exalted servant): “In Jesus we see all the authoritarianism of authority laid to rest, and all the humility of submission glorified.” “Both women and men”, Kathy says, “get to ‘play the Jesus role’ in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission.”
The mission of marriage – what marriage is for- is also to be understood in the light of Jesus’ ultimate purpose in shaping us into his glorious image. Husbands and wives become spiritual friends when, through their honesty with one other, their loving service to each other, and their gracious embrace of each other, they seek to encourage the work of God in each other’s lives, helping their partners become their true selves. “Most people, when looking for a spouse,” Kathy says, “are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble.”
Is the view of marriage as unselfish service of the other hopelessly unrealistic? In one of the most important chapters, the Kellers point out that Paul’s discussion of marriage as mutual, Christlike submission and love is prefaced with the injunction to keep on being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5: 18). It is only in receiving the fullness and joyfulness of the Spirit (who is the outgoing lovingness of God poured into our hearts), that we are able to transcend our own neediness and self-centredness, and genuinely think of others. This is an attractive way to live, whether you are married or single, and it is the true expression of spirituality.
Book Review by David McGregor, Senior Lecturer in Theology – Tabor