Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

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.

This book attempts to be fairly comprehensive in its scope, seeking to appeal both to people who are married and unmarried. This is a difficult task because oftentimes when a book addresses one, it becomes irrelevant for the other. I've read many books on marriage (my graduate degree was in Marriage and Family Therapy), and this one stands out above the rest because it maintains integrity in its content while managing to stay pertinent to both marrieds and unmarrieds. Furthermore, Keller applies the Gospel to the most important, profound, and mysterious relationship on earth - marriage - in surprisingly practical ways.

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.

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Chapter 3: The Essence of Marriage. Not more than a week after having finished this book, I had a client in my office arguing against marriage on the basis that he doesn't need a piece of paper to prove his love for his girlfriend (while she sat next to him, deeply wounded by his lack of commitment to her). Keller again addresses the cultural stigmas around love, distinguishing the Christian love as not merely feelings, though it involves them. He argues that a legal commitment is vital to upholding the responsibility of love, which operates consistently even when times when feelings aren't motivating the acts of 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 7: Singleness and Marriage. Tim gets right back into dealing with how the gospel applies to unmarrieds in their singleness. He shows that marriage is a good goal, but that "marriage to Christ" is the ultimate goal. When the relationship with Christ is paramount to every other, including marriage, the risk of idolatry falls away. With this in mind, he offers several practical principles for singles to abide by in dating that help take the task seriously while keeping marriage from replacing the supremacy of Christ in their lives.

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.


  1. Read the Introduction to The Meaning of Marriage right here, as a PDF.
  2. Visit Tim Keller's website for more resources.
  3. Watch Tim and Kathy Keller discuss this book in a video trailer below:


Amy Guerino said...

This is a very good review and I like the chapter break down.

This book is special to me because it was given to me by my father in law whose marriage has culminated with the death of his bride. He knows and has lived how hard marriage is and that it takes good counsel and God's power through the Spirit. I'm struck with Keller's many times I see my in laws marriage as living examples to what he is describing. God has indeed been glorified.

Thanks for writing this!

Aaron said...

Thanks for reading my blog and for your comment, Amy! I always appreciate others' thoughts/feedback on my reviews.

Wow, what an incredible way for the book to truly come alive both for you and your father-in-law. It sounds like he obediently lived the Godly marriage the Kellers portray in this book, since Matt's parents' marriage had such a big impact on you. :-) Soli Deo Gloria!

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