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Tim Challies

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11 years 4 months ago
I am not a big fan of Relevant Magazine. In my mind it represents a flavor of Christianity that seeks to appeal to the world by being cool and hip. It’s Christianity with frosted hair and all the right labels of clothing. So when I am asked to read a book published by Relevant I am a little bit apprehensive, which I will admit is probably not fair of me. Adventures in Holy Matrimony by Julie Anne Fidler asks the questions, “When happens when the storybook wedding is over? What happens when the white picket fence you dreamed of turns out to be not-so-white and just a little dangerous?” In other words, what happens when real life so rudely interrupts a storybook romance?

Through a book that is a mixture of topical and chronological narrative, Fidler tells the story of her life as it relates to her eventual marriage. It is a story of baggage - emotional, sexual and medical. Few details are spared as the reader learns about the many difficult circumstances she faced when growing up. In some of these, such as the sexual abuse she suffered as a child she was a victim, and in others, such as drinking, partying and sexual activity as as teenager she was a willing participant. Eventually she met a wonderful man and after a whirlwind romance became engaged and married. And then real life began.

Fidler tells about the difficulties they faced as they dealt with all of the baggage she brought to her marriage, the medical problems her husband faced and the financial difficulties they went through as a result. These two went through more trauma in the first few years of their marriage than many will ever go through. And when they were weakest, ready to walk their seperate ways, God intervened and bound them back together.

There is sometimes a fine line between providing information and being something of an exhibitionist. Generally I think Fidler stayed on the right side of that line. The message and purpose of Fidler’s book is simple: don’t give up and don’t give in. If God can save a marriage as messy as her’s, He is capable of saving any marriage.

Perhaps the most helpful information in the book comes as Fidler begins to summarize the lessons she and her husband learned from their experiences - lessons she is hoping to pass along to the reader. On page 130 she writes, “It is … the church’s responsibility to shift the focus away from saving doomed marriages to preventing their demise from the moment a man and a woman says, “I do.” Indeed the church could benefit from being proactive in saving marriage rather than reactive in saving them once they are already in troubled waters. I would say that churches should begin trying to prevent the demise of marriage from long before “I do” by modelling godly families and by requiring biblical marriage counselling. On the same page the author states her belief that where most people believe sex is the ultimate intimacy, in reality prayer is the ultimate intimacy. I agree entirely.

While the theology Fidler shares is generally quite solid, there was one particular area that gave me concern. One page 125 she writes, “I would also never fault anyone for getting a divorce. Regardless of my personal stance on the issue, it is definitely not the unforgiveable sin.” While divorce can be forgiven, it is a very serious offense in God’s eyes and needs to be treated as such. The words “my personal stance” seem to smack of a postmodern attitude that relegates morality to a realm of personal values that may or may not be binding on others. God is clear that we may have to fault people for their sin so that the church can reprimand and even discipline them if necessary. What is strange is that the text of the book seemed to contradict this statement. In a book about not giving up, Fidler seems to leave an “out” as if to indicate that this book was merely her opinion and to treat it as such. I suspect she did not mean it in that way, but the statement could give that idea.

I found the book a generally enjoyable, though sometimes uncomfortable read, as I am usually not very interested in the personal details of other people’s lives. Yet much of this information was necessary to help others see that God can save any marriage. I suppose I could recommend this book to young couples who are anticipating marriage. It would teach them the value of dealing with baggage of all sorts long before rings are exchanged. It would also provide assurance that with God’s help any marriage can not only survive, but can thrive. While Adventures in Holy Matrimony is certainly no substitute for proper pre-marriage, pastoral counselling, it may be a helpful complement to it.

  Evaluation Support
Solid enough for the most part.
Very easy to read and digest.
There are many books on marriage, but not many quite like this one.
It’s not a bad book, but there may be better ways of spending $10.
Overall I would tentatively recommend it, but not as a substitute to proper counselling.
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12 years 1 week ago

There are few people I admire more than missionaries. They represent such a selfless expression of Christ’s love – people who dedicate their lives to sharing the gospel with those who least want to hear it, but most need to hear it. Not only do they forsake the comforts of Western society and leave behind friends, jobs, church and family, but they often put their lives in danger by ministering in unstable nations.

In The Presence of My Enemies tells the story of Martin and Gracia Burnham, a missionary couple who were kidnapped and held for over a year by the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group with ties to Osama Bin Laden. While celebrating their anniversary at a small resort in the Philippines they were snatched away and spent the next year of their lives on the run, fighting to survive in the Philippine jungles. They were constantly faced with incredible hardship and often lacked even the most rudimentary comforts. They were held pending the payment of a large ransom, one which missionary groups will never pay. It was not until the aftermath of September 11 that real progress was made in trying to rescue the Burnhams.

The author provides interesting insight into this small but radical and powerful terrorist group. We see the interaction of the various members of the group and the methods they employ to draft soldiers to their cause and to take more hostages. We see the Islamic faith through the eyes of some of its most radical followers as they seek to live and, if possible, die for Allah. Contrasted to this is the simple faith of two Christians, who share love when all around them are filled with hate. We continually see Christ’s love shining out in the midst of pain, loneliness and terror. Gracia is honest in portraying a faith that sometimes wavered, yet stood the test because it was built on a sure foundation.

In the end we have to conclude with the author that God is gracious, and above all, sovereign. Nothing that happened surprised Him, and the Burnhams were never outside of His sight. Whenever they felt lowest, He provided something to buoy their spirits. When they were in good spirits, He used the opportunity to teach them about Himself.

The book is very well-written and moves along briskly. At times I wished Gracia had gone into more detail about her spiritual state as well as her husband’s while they were faced with trials, but she does mention that her memory of many events is hazy, so I presume that is the reason she does not delve deeper into that area.

A powerful book and one that is sure to provide encouragement, and I am happy to recommend In The Presence of My Enemies.