The Meaning of Marriage – Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller
By Dambudzo D Mushambi
The Meaning of Marriage is not your typical book on marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller navigate both the experience of married and single life without varnish or flinching from reality. The book is solidly based on Scripture, and it shows in the way the glories and pains of marriage are explored in an open manner.
It is refreshing that not only does the book address those already married, providing perspective to strengthen those relationships, but it also addresses itself to the unmarried, who no doubt have their own fears, expectations and ideas about what marriage is all about. As the authors put it, their goal is “helping married people correct mistaken views that might be harming their marriage, and help single people stop destructively over-desiring marriage or destructively dismissing marriage altogether. Also… [the book] will help each reader have a better idea of who he or she should consider as a prospective mate.”
A helpful idea in the book is the concept of “apocalyptic romance”, where people hope to find complete spiritual and emotional fulfilment in the perfect mate. This has come about as a result of a shift in ideas about the purpose of marriage – marriage is seen not as a way to ‘create character and community’ or a penultimate to the ‘Real Marriage our souls need’ – which is relationship with Christ, but instead is a means of reaching personal life goals. With this comes the crushing burden of looking for the right/compatible person – sexually attractive, well adjusted and willing to support our goals and ambitions without changing us too much. The end result is that we are trapped in unrealistic expectations and longings, since there are no perfectly adjusted people without any problems of their own.
Marriage teaches us about our sins in unique and profound ways and grows us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us.
The main idea of the book is that “marriage has been instituted by God and was designed as a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ”. Firstly, this challenges the notion that marriage is only a ‘piece of paper’ or something that we humans came up with and therefore can tinker with as it suits us. While not directly addressing the issue of homosexuality in this book, this reader would have appreciated a more direct treatment of this issue. What is being contested in our day is what marriage actually is, and so it seems like a misstep to not address the issue head on in a book entitled The Meaning of Marriage.
Secondly, it challenges our contemporary notions of what love is. Keller writes that God’s love toward us in the gospel doesn’t overlook our sin, nor does it refuse to commit to us because of our flaws – it does both in a glorious way. Marriage teaches us about our sins in unique and profound ways and grows us out of them through providing someone who speaks the truth in love to us. The same works out for singles in deep meaningful community with God’s people.
I found the book a highly enjoyable read. It is well researched and written in an easy-to-read style that is inviting, clear, biblical and very practical. One major challenge that the book issues to our contemporary culture is how we measure attractiveness and “compatibility”. I would recommend this book to anyone seeking to steer their relationships wisely toward lasting fulfilment.