Ally’s #2: “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim & Kathy Keller

As Jim and I are off to marriage retreat this weekend, I read this in preparation for our time together. I have to say that this is one of the better–if not the best–books on marriage that I’ve read in a while.

Keller begins by giving a brief overview of the history of marriage and how our society has morphed into a view of marriage called “pessimistic idealism.” This particular view point holds high and lofty expectations for a future “soul mate” on a variety of levels, while holding fast to the idea that there is nothing and should be nothing that we are asked to change about ourselves in a relationship. Keller says this is because we have a flawed understanding of the purpose of marriage itself and that we never marry the right person. Because marriage has the power to transform us like no other human relationship, our spouse can and should be different than the one we walked down the aisle with after months, years, and decades of being together and pushing one another towards Christ-likeness.

Keller then moves on to discuss the power for marriage and the essence of marriage. Rather than give my own summary here, I’ll let the book speak for itself…

On the power of marriage: “The gospel, brought home to your heart by the Spirit, can make you happy enough to be humble [as opposed to self-centered], giving you an internal fullness that frees you to be generous with the other even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship. Without the help of the Spirit, without the continual refilling of your soul’s tank with the glory and love of the Lord, such submission to the interests of the other is virtually impossible to accomplish for any length of time without becoming resentful.”

On the essence of marriage: “In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love seem to dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of a marriage is that is is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must be tender, understanding, forgiving, and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”

The next chapter cover the mission of marriage and how our identity in Christ is able to unite us more foundationally than any other aspect of who we are. Our mission is to seek the best for the one we call our best friend; we are to maintain an ongoing commitment to our spouse’s holiness.

In the next chapter, we learn that part of pursuing holiness as a couple is understanding that marriage reveals our weaknesses and sinful tendencies. Rather than losing hope and search for “someone better” when the flaws in our spouse are uncovered, we have to realize that the future, sanctified version of our current spouse is the “someone better” that God has intended for us. Keller argues that learning to give our spouse love in the way that he/she finds most emotionally valuable and powerful is the only way to bring remaking and healing power of love into our spouse’s life.

The final three chapters of the book deal with having a balanced view of singleness and marriage, sex, and the hot-button topic of gender roles. The latter chapter is written by Tim’s wife, Kathy, and offers a look at the Trinity that allows for a clearer understanding of what authority, headship, and submission mean. I skipped the chapter on singleness for the sake of time, and found that the chapter on sex did not say anything particularly enlightening or different from what I have heard before in sermons or other books.

While the book’s power fizzled a little for me in the final chapters, the eye-opening, question-stirring impact of the first 75% of the book made it a totally worthy read.

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