There is always a hot market for books on marriage, even among men. Every husband is aware of his inadequacies and every husband is genuinely eager to find solutions, especially if the solutions are simple and step-by-step (just like laying laminate flooring or changing oil). Writing a good and biblical book on marriage—now there is a challenge. Few have done it with excellence. Stepping into the fray is Justin Buzzard with his new book Date Your Wife. It’s a great title, a good idea, and a helpful imperative that is, unfortunately, substantially flawed.
The book’s greatest strength is drawn straight from its title: Buzzard wants men to build dating into their marriage; he wants men to continue to romance their wives throughout marriage. Any man who reads this book will come away with a greater desire to pursue his wife and greater conviction of the inherent goodness of doing so. The book’s foremost application is valid and good, but there is quite a lot of weakness along the way.
The book is fueled by one core conviction: If you want to change a marriage, change the man. Looking first at the sexual relationship and then widening the scope to all of marriage Buzzard says this: “Your wife isn’t the problem. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. Men are the problem. If you want to change a marriage, change the man. If you want to change your marriage, you must first see that you are the main problem in your marriage.” He goes on: “You are the husband. You are the man. And God has given the man the ability to be the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to a marriage. Before you can be the best thing that ever happened to your marriage, you need to see that you have always been the worst thing that happened to your marriage.”
These are strong and near-universal statements for which he allows no meaningful exceptions. To prove them he goes in an unexpected direction: Genesis 2:15. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” He says this:
Fundamental to his manhood, God gave Adam this double calling: work and keep. These Hebrew verbs can be better translated: cultivate and guard. God commissioned the first man to cultivate the garden and guard the garden. God gave the first man immense responsibility, immense power, to cause the garden to flourish or to fade. … God gave Adam a job before he gave him a wife. So, when God presented Adam with his bride, what did Adam know he was called to do as a husband? If you had to summarize it in a sentence, what was Adam called to do for his marriage and for his wife? Cultivate and guard it. … After giving Adam a calling, God gave Adam a wife—the crown jewel of his calling. “Cultivate and protect this woman I’ve given you; cause life to flourish. Take the raw materials of this marriage and develop them—build, invent, create—so that your wife will flourish and thrive in this environment. Develop and protect what I’m entrusting to you,” God said to Adam.
This is an unusual interpretation and application of Genesis 2:15. Certainly this is a text that gives man his job description in this world, but it is quite a stretch to take that same description verbatim into the marriage relationship. It would have been far more helpful, I think, to look to Ephesians 5 where a husband is told to nourish and cherish his wife and where he is told to wash her in the water of God’s word. What Buzzard wants the husband to see is that if your wife is not flourishing, it must be because you, the husband, are not cultivating and guarding her. The key to fulfilling your mandate as a husband is an ongoing dating relationship that continues well past the wedding day.