Whenever Timothy Keller writes, I listen. I'll be honest about that up front. But there's good reason for this, because he has written some excellent books, all of which have exceeded my expectations and satisfied my desires from an author. The Meaning of Marriage is no different.
At the risk of making this a lengthy review, and to break from my style for writing reviews, I'm going to briefly address each chapter. The reason for this is simple: there is so much good stuff worthy of commenting on!
Chapter 1: The Secret of Marriage. One of the things I appreciate about Keller is that he is deeply theological yet still culturally relevant. In this chapter, he discusses historical and cultural trends with regard to marriage, then contrasts that with the biblical explanation. He summarizes the secret in this way: "There, then, is the message of this book - that through marriage, "the mystery of the gospel is unveiled.""
Chapter 2: The Power for Marriage. As a marriage counselor, a significant repetitive theme that inevitably arises with couples is self-centeredness. I was so excited to see Keller address this as a major obstacle to not only a healthy but biblical marriage. He rightly identifies the destruction of self-centeredness, and how the power of God's Holy Spirit can change this in both individuals, and in their marriage. In fact, he explains that this work is necessary for a gospel-centered marriage that is based on selflessness and self-sacrificial love.
Chapter 4: The Mission of Marriage. With the secret and power revealed, sealed in the commitment, this chapter deals with the purpose of marriage. Keller points out the insufficiency of marriages based on goals such as finances or sex, while the Christian marriage promises - and delivers - so much more because it is based on the highest goal: helping one another become their best selves (who God created them to be).
Chapter 5: Loving the Stranger. This chapter is one of the most practical. Keller prescribes some useful tools to help couples learn how to love one another in truth, shaping each other on their lifelong journey toward becoming their most godly selves. In short, this was an application of the previous chapter.
Chapter 6: Embracing the Other. This is Kathy Keller's chapter, and she really shines in it. She is just as poignant and readable as Timothy, making the cohesion of this chapter to the rest seamless. Kathy discusses gender, how this relates to the Trinity, headship, and how two very different people (a man and a woman) can reconcile their differences through the cross of Christ.
Chapter 8: Sex and Marriage. We all know that sex is a sensitive topic, particularly in Christian circles. Honestly, I was nervous even for my wife to read excerpts from this chapter. However, Keller carefully navigates the waters brilliantly. He explains how sex unites couples in more than just animalistic ways, and the importance of gospel selflessness even in the bedroom. There is no locker room language here, thankfully; only a prudent presentation of sex that highlights its value to God, even as it applies to singles.
Time and time again throughout this book, Keller accurately deals with common relationship issues that couples struggle with. His experiences as a pastoral counselor are evident, which adds to his credibility as an authority on marriage. Also, because of its gospel-focus - even through the final chapter on sex - I don't have any reservations about discriminating who should or should not read it. It's one of the best books I've read, likely the best on marriage, and I couldn't recommend it any more highly.
- Read the Introduction to The Meaning of Marriage right here, as a PDF.
- Visit Tim Keller's website for more resources.
- Watch Tim and Kathy Keller discuss this book in a video trailer below: