Tim Keller is a New York Times Bestselling Author and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan where he leads a congregation of over 5,000 weekly attenders. Keller has written over a dozen books including The Reason For God, The Prodigal God, Encounters with Jesus, and The King’s Cross. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Keller addresses the complexities of marriage and commitment with sound biblical wisdom and insight. You can purchase a copy of his book here.
The Meaning of Marriage paints a sobering, biblical portrait of marriage as God intends it to be. In the first chapter of the book Keller exposes some of the myths about marriage, which are so prominent in our culture. He deals with such myths as “most marriages are miserable,” “living together increases your chances of making a good marriage choice,” “marriage is inherently oppressive,” and “I’ll get married when I find my soulmate.” Keller argues that our culture has largely adopted what he calls an “unrealistic idealism about marriage.” This dominate view of marriage sees the institution as “a contract between two parties for mutual individual growth and satisfaction.” Marriage, according to this view, is not about your spouse but about yourself and how your spouse can serve you. This, Keller says, “puts a crushing burden of expectation on marriage and on spouses…and it leaves us desperately trapped between both unrealistic longings and terrible fears about marriage.” Ironically, this unrealistic idealism leads to an unrelenting pessimism concerning the whole idea of marriage itself, which results in greater skepticism for those who are unmarried and higher divorce rates for those who are married.
According to Keller, the solution to our unrealistic view of marriage and, therefore, the solution to our pessimistic attitude toward marriage and our alarmingly high rate of divorce, is found in the secret of marriage, which he discovers in Ephesians chapter 5. Here the Apostle Paul writes, “This mystery [of marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32, ESV). The driving force behind The Meaning of Marriage is the fleshing out of the implications of this passage of Scripture for marriage. Keller writes, “Is the purpose of marriage to deny your interests for the good of the family, or is it rather to assert your interests for the fulfillment of yourself? The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice. Jesus gave himself up; he died to himself to save us and make us his. Now we give ourselves up, we die to ourselves…So, what do you need to make marriage work? You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and the pattern for your marriage.”
The rest of the book is simply an unpacking of the implications of the gospel on marriage. Keller addresses issues such as self-centeredness, baggage, commitment, romance, loneliness, friendship, reconciliation, sex, and gender roles. Each of these subjects is taken in turn, examined culturally, and explained both practically and theologically. Keller shares many examples from his own life and from the lives of the countless people whom he has counseled over the years.
This book is not just for married people or for people who are preparing to marry. This book is for single people too. As a pastor in Manhattan, Keller ministers to a congregation that is predominately single. He believes it is important for singles to have a comprehensive understanding of marriage because “single people cannot live their lives well without a balanced, informed view of marriage…if they do not have that, they will either over-desire or under-desire marriage, and either of those ways of thinking will distort their lives.”
So, The Meaning of Marriage is for everyone. It is for the couple who is engaged to be married. It is for the single who is longing to be married. It is for the skeptic. It is for the husband and wife who have been married five years, ten years, even fifty years. Because The Meaning of Marriage is rooted in the gospel, it is timeless, universal, and worth reading more than once. When Angela and I were engaged to be married, we read this book. After our first year of marriage, we read it again. This is a book we will certainly read again in the future and likely again after that. This is because marriage, like the Christian life, can never coast. There is no auto-pilot when it comes to marriage. You never master marriage. If you’re not moving forward, you are moving backward. To have a healthy, vibrant marriage you must consistently examine your marriage with gospel eyes, acknowledge where you are falling short as a husband or as a wife, repent, thank God and your spouse for grace and forgiveness, and move on, striving to be the husband or wife God has both called you and empowered you to be. This book certainly helps you to do just that.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11, ESV