Book Review of THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE by Timothy Keller

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (Dutton 2011), 283 pages.

This book furthers our national discussion about marriage.  The Kellers look at marriage from historical, biblical, contemporary and philosophical perspectives.  This book has 24 pages of end notes.  It is a deep look at marriage and it took me all of my library renewals to read this book, but it was worth the time.

The conclusions the authors arrive at are that marriage is universal, has always been a part of known societies, and will probably always be a part of society.  Furthermore, Dr. Keller claims marriage is a spiritual journey of friendship whose true purpose is to help two married partners mature into their true selves.  Rev. Keller believes this can only be done with massive help from God.

Here are four of my favorite passages from The Meaning of Marriage:

  1. “How do we love each other so that our marriage goes on from strength to strength rather than stalling out in repetitive arguments that end in fruitless silence?  The basic answer is that you must speak the truth in love with the power of God’s grace.”  p. 136.
  2. “Marriage by its very nature has the ‘power of truth’—the power to show you the truth about who you are.  People are appalled when they get sharp, far-reaching criticism from their spouses.  They immediately begin to think they married the wrong person.  But you must realize that it isn’t ultimately your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of your heart—it’s marriage itself.  Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as confront you with yourself.  Marriage shows you a realistic unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it.  This may sound discouraging, but it is really the road to liberation.  Counselors will tell you that the only flaws that can enslave you are the ones that you are blind to. If you are in denial about some feature of your character, that feature will control you.  But marriage blows the lid off, turns the light on.  Now there is hope. Finally you can begin dealing with the real you.  Don’t resist this power that marriage has.  Give your spouse the right to talk to you about what is wrong with you.  Paul talks about how Jesus “washes” and “cleanses” us of stains and blemishes.  Give your spouse the right to do that.”  p. 140.
  3. “The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because it has such a low view of sex but because it has such a lofty one.  The biblical view implies that sex outside of marriage is not just morally wrong but also personally harmful.  If sex is designed to be part of making a covenant and experience that covenant’s renewal, then we should think of sex as an emotional ‘commitment apparatus.’  If sex is a method that God invented to do ‘whole life entrustment’ and self-giving, it should not surprise us that sex makes us feel deeply connected to the other person, even when used wrongly.  Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.  In the midst of sexual passion, you naturally want to say extravagant things such as ‘I’ll always love you.’  Even if you are not legally married, you may find yourself very quickly feeling marriage-like ties, feeling that the other person has an obligation to you.  But that other person has no legal, social, or moral responsibility even to call you back in the morning.  This incongruity leads to jealously and hurt feelings and obsessiveness if two people are having sex but are not married.  It makes breaking up vastly harder than it should be.  It leads many people to stay trapped in relationships that are not good because of a feeling of having (somehow) connected themselves.  Therefore, if you have sex outside marriage, you will have to steel yourself against sex’s power to soften your heart toward another person and make you more trusting.  The problem is that eventually, sex will lose its covenant-making power for you, even if you one day do get married. Ironically, then, sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.”  Pp. 226-227.
  4.  Note #52, p. 253.  “…the human race cannot remember a time in which marriage did not exist.  There have been some efforts to make the case that this or that remote culture or small ethnic group has existed without marriage, but none of these efforts are widely regarded as successful.  One example is the argument some have made regarding the Mosuo (or the “Na People”), a small ethnic population in Southern China.  In this society, marriage partners do not live together in the same home.  Brothers and sisters live together in households and raise the children of their sisters.  Men are held most responsible to support and raise their sisters’ children—their nieces and nephews, not their biological children.  This family arrangement is highly unusual, but that does not mean that marriage and family mores are not in existence and, indeed, they are strongly enforced.  Fathers are definitely part of their children’s lives even though they do not live in the same household.  Women form long-term relationships with their partners.  Some married couples practice cohabitation as well.  See Tami Blumenthal’s 2009 report, The Na of Southwest China’s.  Debunking the Myths, at web.pdx.edu/~tblu2/Na/myths.pdf.”

 

Dr. Keller references the book Premarital Sex in America:  How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying.  (Oxford 2011)  by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker as a source for much of the research claims in The Meaning of Marriage.

 

The Meaning of Marriage, by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller (Dutton 2011).

The book review of The Meaning of Marriage originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on December 26, 2013.

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