THE MARRIAGE COVENANT – An Indissoluble Union

Books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen these days, even from a Christian perspective.  However, only a handful of books on marriage pass the test of biblical fidelity.  John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage passes both tests..  In fact, it ranks among the best books I’ve read on marriage to date.

Readers familiar with Piper will instantly drawn in to his argument for marriage.  Over and over Piper pounds the theme of the book into the ground for maximum effect: The ultimate purpose of marriage is “the display of Christ’s covenant keeping grace.”  To that end, the author develops several items worth mentioning.

1. The author grounds his central argument in rich soil by reiterating that marriage is “the doing of God.”

And in a final sense, “marriage is the display of God.”  He continues, “The ultimate things we can say about marriage is that it exists for God’s glory.  That is, it exists to display God … Marriage is patterned after Christ’s covenant relationship to his redeemed people, the church.  And therefore, the highest meaning and the most ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the covenant relationship of Christ and his church on display.”  And this is the primary reason why divorce is so odious to God: “Therefore, what makes divorce and remarriage so horrific in God’s eyes is not merely that it involves covenant-breaking to the spouse, but that it involves misrepresenting Christ and his covenant” (emphasis mine).

2. Piper focuses on the priority of covenant love.

Remember the theme of the book that marriage is means to display Christ’s covenant keeping grace.  Therefore, the author argues that “staying married is not mainly about staying in love.  It’s about covenant-keeping.”  The foundation for this covenant-keeping is the rock-solid covenant between people and God.  Therefore, Piper continues, “Marriage exists to display the merciful covenant-keeping love of Christ and the faithfulness of his bride.”

It is here that the book takes an important and decisive turn – for the author shows the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and how it relates to marriage.  Piper adds, ” God requires two thing of us: punishment for our sins and perfection for our lives.”  He continues to describe how the vertical reality of justification must be “bent horizontally to our spouses if marriage is to display the covenant-making, covenant-keeping grace of God.”  The takeaway is profound: “Let the measure of God’s grace to you in the cross of Christ be the measure of your grace to your spouse.”  This is a perfect example of the Christ-saturated wisdom that permeates the book.

Piper continues to give practical advice to husbands and wives throughout the book; advice that is bathed in biblical wisdom; advice that is ultimately rooted in our God who keeps covenant with his people.  Biblical headship is discussed – so husbands are encouraged to lead well: “Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home.”  The husband’s leadership involves physical and spiritual protection and physical and spiritual provision.Biblical submission is explored: “Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts.”   What strikes me about the section on headship and submission is this: in a few short pages, Piper delivers an exegetical bombshell that utterly destroys the prevailing notion of egalitarianism.  This God-dishonoring view that sees no distinction between male and female roles is left begging for mercy; tattered and torn in the shadow of Piper’s sound exposition.

The concluding chapters discuss the permanence of the marriage covenant.   In what may be one of the most important statements in the book, Piper suggests that “if Christ ever abandons and discards his church, then a man may divorce his wife.  And if the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband.  But as long as Christ keeps his covenant with the church, by the omnipotent grace of God, remains the chosen people of Christ, then the very meaning of marriage will include: What God has joined, only God can separate.”

The author boldly goes where few pastors dare to go by suggesting that remarriage is prohibited so long as the previous spouse is still alive.  His arguments are exegetically sound and compelling.  Readers who disagree are encouraged to survey the case that Piper presents and prayerfully consider his arguments.

This Momentary Marriage is a landmark book.  It is a theological landmine that will undoubtedly shatter many preconceived notions about marriage.  It is solid food that Christians need to digest.  And it is timely ointment that is designed to heal wounds and promote strong marriages in the difficult days ahead.

Highly recommended!

SCARY CLOSE – Donald Miller (2014)

aI admire Donald Miller.  I admire his courage.  I admire his tenacity.  And I admire his ability to tell a story.  Make no mistake – this guy can write!  Admiring Don Miller, however, does not mean I agree with everything he believes.  There’s a good deal I disagree with.  Yet I appreciate his gifts and insight.  Such appreciation is expressed in an earlier review on Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  For me, reviewing a Don Miller book is like walking a tight rope.  On one hand, I have conservative friends who question why I even read the guy.  But Miller fans label my critique as “narrow” or “too evangelical.”

Scary Close addresses the subject of relational intimacy.  The book includes some ideas that are commendable and will be of help to many people.

Strengths in Scary Close

1. It is filled  with a stunning degree of transparency.

Miller opens up like never before.  He is quick to confess some of his previous relational blunders.  He admits his propensity to generate applause.  Yet in a moment of unfettered honesty, he admit that “applause is a quick fix.  And love is an acquired taste.”  This kind of openness and honesty sets the stage for the book and never lets up.  Miller shares his heart in a way that is noteworthy and encouraging.

2. It cherishes authenticity and rejects hypocrisy.

Scary Close is packed with moments of authenticity which help readers get to the very heart of the story.  The subtitle accurately conveys what Miller is after, namely – “dropping the act and finding true intimacy.”

At an important juncture, Miller discusses the toxic nature of judgment, that is, being judged unfairly by other people – for being ourselves.  The author suggest that this poisonous habit has invaded many relationships which “keeps us from connecting with other people.”  Ultimately, Miller does a good job at identifying some of the relational land mines the hinder genuine intimacy.

3. It celebrates human relationships.

The most memorable thing about Scary Close is that it celebrates human relationships.  The author discusses his most important relationships, the chief of which is his wife and shows how true intimacy develops.  Miller is to be commended for his willingness to share from the heart and allow readers to see how his heart operates.

Weaknesses in Scary Close

Strengths considered, there is a missing ingredient in Scary Close.  That ingredient is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yes, the author confesses his allegiance to Jesus.  And the author refers to God and finding rest in him.  This much is true.  But the road to authentic intimacy (which is a necessary path to travel) is paved with psychological tips and therapy which is not grounded in Scripture. Such a critique is bound to draw fire from Miller fans.  Yet Miller himself urges readers to avoid being careful, a practice which led to a temporary bout with “writer’s block.”  I apply that well-placed advice when offering critique.

So while there is much to commend in this book, in the final analysis it falls short by jettisoning the gospel.  Since the essence of the book is about reconciliation, it is disappointing to bypass the promises of the gospel which offers reconciliation with people  and reconciliation with God through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, resting in one’s relationship with God through Jesus is the key to wholeness which leads to relationships which are known for authenticity, health, and intimacy.

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

FROM THIS DAY FORWARD – Craig and Amy Groeschel (2014)

groeschelI have to be honest.  My expectations for most books on marriage are pretty low.  So many books on Christian marriage these days are filled with clichés and pop psychology.  Biblical wisdom is overshadowed or replaced altogether by pithy sayings and readers are left wandering in a postmodern wasteland.

Craig and Amy Groeschel’s book, From This Day Forward  is a different kind of book.  Readers looking for a theological treatise should turn to Tim Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage for a more comprehensive and robust treatment.  But that is not a criticism of the Groeschel’s book in any way.

From This Day Forward is a straightforward book that offers help for married couples or couples planning to be married.  The authors present five commitments to “fail-proof” their marriage.

The authors urge readers to:

  1. Seek God
  2. Fight fair
  3. Have fun
  4. Stay pure
  5. Never give up

The defining feature of From This Day Forward is the unwavering principle of the life-long covenant of marriage.  While the five points offered above provide practical help for couples, the covenant of marriage is the thread that holds the five commitments together.  The book is grounded in Scripture and is written in an easy to read format.  I’ll be adding this to my list of required reading for couples in pre-marital counseling.

I received this book free from the publisher.   I was not required to write a positive review. 

4 stars

THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE – Timothy and Kathy Keller (2012)

0525952470_lThe Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller is a thoughtful look at marriage through the lens of Scripture.  The Keller’s pull no punches.  This book is honest and transparent.  They reveal some of the struggles they have overcome in their marriage and point readers to biblical solutions.  The Meaning of Marriage definitely has a “Keller-like” feel to it.  Much of the book is deep and serious (one of the many reasons why Keller’s popularity continues to escalate), but it is filled with practical help for newlyweds and marriage veterans alike.

The thesis of the book is that “through marriage, the mystery of the gospel is unveiled … marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.”

The major strength of the book is the continual return to the gospel: “The only way to avoid sacrificing your partner’s joy and freedom on the altar of your need is to turn to the ultimate lover of your soul.  He voluntarily sacrificed himself on the cross, taking what you deserved for your sins against God and others.”

The Meaning of Marriage affirms complementarianism and rejects the growing tide of egalitarianism.  The apologetic for complementarianism is offered in a gracious manner and emerges in what may be the best chapter of the book (chapter six) which is authored by Kathy Keller.

My only complaint is Keller’s argument that remarriage may be an option even when a previous spouse is still living.  While he does not develop his argument at length, the popularity of the Erasmian view is alarming.  Readers should refer to John Piper’s work, This Momentary Marriage for the opposing view.

Overall, The Meaning of Marriage is a valuable book that should be devoured and utilized for years to come.

4 stars

REAL MARRIAGE – Mark and Grace Driscoll (2012)

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll hit the evangelical world by storm a few days ago.  Some, like the influential theologian, Wayne Grudem, are praising it and some are condemning it.  In my mind, the hype is a bit overplayed on both sides.

Real Marriage  is biblical in its scope, practical in its counsel, and contains a wealth of information that will serve to strengthen marriages.

The book is grounded in a transparent look at the Driscoll marriage.  They share candidly about their mistakes and failures.  And they humbly share their triumphs and some of the necessary ingredients that have contributed to what is now a healthy marriage.

One of the greatest strengths of Real Marriage is its bold promotion of complementarianism, the notion that men and women are created equal as image bearers in the eyes of God, yet maintain distinct roles.  The husband must love his wife as Christ loves the church and the wife must respect her husband.  Mark and Grace point to numerous examples from their own marriage that bolster the case for complementarianism.  They should be applauded for their clear biblical teaching on a controversial theme that draws angry fire from liberal critics.

Mark rightly admonishes men: “God wants His glory to shine through men.  God wants His kingdom to be made visible through them.  God wants them to be His sons.  God wants us to follow, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in the example of Jesus.”  Driscoll charges husbands to honor their wives in several significant ways: “physically, emotionally, verbally, financially, and technologically.”  He demonstrates the importance of understanding the covenant of marriage and includes several practical points of encouragement, especially for young husbands.

Grace further elaborates on the complementarian position that is advanced in the book: “Men and women were created with equal worth but different roles.  God created and called the man to lead and love his wife, and when he doesn’t do that in a holy way, he is sinning.  God created the woman to help and respect her husband, and when she doesn’t do that in a holy way, she is sinning.”  She helpfully overviews biblical respect/submission and provides numerous ways that wives can embrace the biblical model by respecting their husbands.

In a chapter entitled, “Taking Out the Trash,” the Driscolls spell out what repentance looks like in marriage.  Repentance is not “managing our sin, blame-shifting our sin, excusing our sin, or manipulating God or people for blessing.”  They rightly argue that repentance includes “confession, contrition, and change.”

Additionally, forgiveness is explored: “Forgiveness is a gospel issue … It has everything to do with God.  As an act of worship, we must respond to our sinful spouses as God has responded to our sin – with forgiveness – because it is a gospel issue.  We cannot accept forgiveness from God without extending it to our spouses.”  The Driscolls maintain that the gospel is the only answer to a healthy marriage.

Almost half of Real Marriage is about sex – a sensitive subject that been largely under-emphasized by Christians.  There is much to commend in these chapters.  The Driscolls include many practical principles that are rooted in Scripture.    Mark exposes the sin of pornography; a sin that has ruined many a marriage and he duly warns men and women to steer clear from this grievous sin.

Chapter ten is entitled, Can We _____? and is receiving the most criticism in the online reviews.  While the Driscolls seek to answer legitimate questions based on the framework of 1 Corinthians 6:12, much of the material is inappropriate and does not benefit readers.   The graphic nature of the material proves more harmful than helpful.  Indeed, “not all things are helpful” (1 Cor. 6:12).

Real Marriage is a difficult book to review.  There is a blend of good and unnecessary.  Readers should approach the book with a discerning eye and be sure to keep it out of the reach of children.

I received a complementary copy through the BookSneeze program.

3 stars

LOVE AND RESPECT – Emerson Eggerichs (2004)

Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs is a refreshing and practical book on marriage.

Part One: The Crazy Cycle

In part one, the author overviews what he has coined, “the crazy cycle” which represents the vicious cycle that dominates so many marriages.

Crazy Cycle 101:

The husband does not love his wife as Scripture demands – The wife reacts with disrespect – the husband reacts in an unloving manner, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.  The intention of the author is to demonstrate the effectiveness of unconditional love and unconditional respect.

Eggerichs spends a great deal of time developing the crazy cycle.  He presents the perspective of the husband and wife respectively and spells out the pros and cons of their behavior.  He clearly delineates the need of every man and woman, namely, husbands need respect and wives need love.  He adds, “When sorting out how to slow down that Crazy Cycle, it helps to remember that men are commanded to love because they don’t love naturally, and on the other side, women are commanded to respect because they don’t respect naturally.”

The key principle of part one is as follows: “His love motivates her respect; her respect motivates his love.”  This leads to demise of the crazy cycle.

Part Two: The Energizing Cycle

In part two, the author presents two models for husbands and wives respectively.  Husbands are challenged to “spell love to their wives” by utilizing the acrostic, c-o-u-p-l-e:

Closeness – Openness – Understanding – Peacemaking – Loyalty – Esteem.

Wives are challenged to “spell respect to their husbands by utilizing the acrostic, c-h-a-i-r-s:

Conquest – Hierarchy – Authority – Insight – Relationship – Sexuality.

The author describes each element in details and provides good biblical support for his points.

Part Three: The Rewarded Cycle

Part three encourages husbands to love their wives regardless of her respect; wives are encouraged to respect their husbands regardless of their love.  The author provide numerous examples in the form of letters and personal testimony about couples who have broken our of the crazy cycle and moved to the rewarded cycle.   They have chosen to break free from patterns of selfishness and move toward one another in love – to the glory of God.

Love and Respect is an immensely practical work that has and will continue to bear much fruit.  This work will provide encouragement to couples who struggle to heed the biblical imperatives.