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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Book Review of WHO IS THIS MAN? by John Ortberg

 (Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, MI) 2012.  202 pages of text.  17 pages of references.  Forward by Condoleeza Rice.

 

I enjoyed Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus
It is an overview of the areas of life today affected by the life of Jesus Christ.  The areas Pastor Ortberg considers are the value of children, women’s rights, slavery, education, leadership, forgiveness, health care, separation of church and state, marriage and art.  The undergirding concept is that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in a small town in Israel.  He worked for three years in the region of Galilee as an itinerant rabbi who travelled from town to town, teaching and performing miraculous healings and displaying signs and wonders.  He was revolutionary in his time.  He caused people to think about God, themselves, their religion and others in new ways.  Two thousand years later we are still trying to understand his teachings.

John Ortberg includes quite a few quotes from Aristotle, Winston Churchill, St Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, William Shakespeare, Origen, Pliney the Younger, the bible, Plato, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther, G.K. Chesterton, ancient Roman laws, Dallas Willard, Tertullian, Tacitus, Plutarch, Caesar Augustus, Thomas Cahill, and many others.  I enjoyed the quotes from famous people.  The author compares quotes of famous people, which were popular concepts in their day, to Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus’ teachings are still relevant and challenging to us today.

The author also includes interesting statistics.  I had not heard before that so many girl babies were abandoned at birth, that the biblical population was affected.  Pastor Ortberg claims that during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry there were 1.4 million men and 1 million women alive.  Why were there 400,000 more men?  Because baby boys were preferred over girl babies at that time, too often new parents would leave girl babies outside to die of exposure.  Eventually the population ratio reflected that value of the time.

Forgiveness is another topic Pastor Ortberg discusses.  He quotes Aristotle’s “great-souled man,” among other contemporary Greek and Roman sources, to point out that forgiveness was not valued in the Greco-Roman world.  Forgiveness was seen as a sign of weakness.  People in those days valued strength, military might, power, wealth and beauty.  John the Baptist taught the ministry of repentence.  Jesus taught the ministry of reconciliation and the necessity of forgiveness.  These were radical concepts in their day.

My favorite quotes from this book are:

1)      “Aristotle’s ‘”great-souled man” is extremely proud.  He despises honors offered by the common people…He indulges in conspicuous consumption, for “he likes to own beautiful and useless things, since they are better marks of his independence.”  Incidentally, he walks, slowly, has a deep voice, and a deliberate mode of utterance.’”  (page 74)

2)      “In Bath, England, at the hot springs that formed a combination spa/Roman worship center 2000 years ago, scores of prayers have been excavated that ancients paid to have written down and offered there.  They are called “curse tablets” because by far the most common kind of prayer was a curse.  People would give the name of someone who hurt them, tell what their crime was, then specify how they wanted the gods to harm them.  ‘Docimedus has lost 2 gloves.  He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and his eyes in the temple at the place where the goddess appoints.’  No matter how much you love your gloves, this seems a tad harsh.”  (page 87)

None of the 2000 prayer tablets asked Zeus or Bacchus to bless their enemies and forgive them.  People didn’t pray for forgiveness for enemies to Zeus.

3)       “Leadership, says Harvard’s Ron Heifetz, is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can stand.”  (page 102)

4)        “To that world, the movement of these followers of Jesus was ‘like Churchill’s description of Russia:  ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’  Christians were actually called atheists by Romans because of their neglect of the gods.”  (page 130)

5)       “Luther in turn deeply influenced composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who would begin each work by writing “J.J.”—Jesu, Jusa, “Jesus help me” –on his manuscript.  (It is a universal prayer for all writers, but often they wait until they are desperate.  I’m praying it right now.) at the end of a piece, he would write three letters—S.D.G. (Soli Deo Gloria)—that meant “To the glory of God” on all his music.  (page 158)

I recommend this book.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It took me about a total of 5 hours to read. 

I would like to read more of John Ortberg’s books.  His books include:

Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them

If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat

Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You

Teaching the Heart of the Old Testament: Communicating Life-Changing Truths from Genesis to Malachi (Truth for Today: From the Old Testament)

When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box

The book review of Who Is this Man? originally appeared on jaynechaseloseke.com on September 11, 2013.