It must be intimidating to write a book on marriage. Store shelves are groaning under the weight of titles that claim to have the key to a happy marriage, or a biblical marriage or a gospel-centered marriage. To rise above such a crowded field a book needs to offer something different, something unique, something that distinguishes it from the pack. Tim and Kathy Keller have jumped into the fray with their new book The Meaning of Marriage and the distinguishing feature of their book is a deep gospel-centeredness. This leads the Kellers to invite the reader deep into the gospel of Jesus Christ and also compels them to show how the gospel extends to every part of marriage.
Though The Meaning of Marriage is written primarily by Tim Keller, his wife Kathy contributes in several ways, and most notably by contributing one of the chapters and by being the wife to whom Tim has been married for almost four decades. Tim explains that the book has three deep roots. The first of these is his marriage to Kathy, the second is his long pastoral ministry, particularly in New York City in a church dominated by singles, and the third and most foundational is the biblical teaching on marriage as found in both the Old and New Testaments. “Nearly four decades ago, as theological students, Kathy and I studied the Biblical teachings on sex, gender, and marriage. Over the next fifteen years, we worked them out in our own marriage. Then, over the last twenty-two years, we have used what we learned from both Scripture and experience to guide, encourage, counsel, and instruct young urban adults with regard to sex and marriage.” They speak from the powerful combination of Scriptural grounding and real-world experience.
The book is comprised of eight chapters that flow logically from the biblical basis for marriage all the way to the sexual relationship within marriage. In chapter 1 they offer the very basic biblical teachings on marriage, showing how marriage is God’s idea and that it is meant to reflect the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. In chapter 2 they show how the work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to battling the main enemy of marriage: sinful self-centeredness. Chapter 3 is about love, looking at how the feeling of love relates (or doesn’t relate) to actions of love. Chapter 4, “The Mission of Marriage,” turns to the purpose of marriage and offers a long discussion of spiritual friendship while chapter 5, “Loving the Stranger,” teaches three skills that every husband and wife ought to pursue.
Chapter 6, written by Kathy, celebrates the differences between the sexes, looking to the tricky subject of gender roles and complementarity. Singleness and wise thinking about pursuing marriage are the subjects of chapter 7 and the final chapter looks to the sexual relationship, showing why the Bible roots sex in marriage and how this relationship can best be celebrated within marriage.