From the introduction to Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God:
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The substance of this book draws on St. Paul’s great passage on marriage in Ephesians 5, not only because it is so rich and full in itself, but also because it connects and expounds on the other most important Biblical text on marriage, Genesis 2.
In chapter 1 [“The Secret of Marriage”], we put Paul’s discussion into today’s cultural context and lay out two of the most basic teachings by the Bible on marriage—that it has been instituted by God and that marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. That is why the gospel helps us to understand marriage and marriage helps us to understand the gospel.
In chapter 2 [“The Power for Marriage”], we present Paul’s thesis that all married partners need the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. The work of the Spirit makes Christ’s saving work real to our hearts, giving us supernatural help against the main enemy of marriage: sinful self-centeredness. We need the fullness of the Spirit if we are to serve one another as we should.
Chapter 3 [“The Essence of Marriage”] gets us into the heart of what marriage is all about—namely, love. But what is love? This chapter discusses the relationship of feelings of love to acts of love and the relationship of romantic passion to covenantal commitment.
Chapter 4 [“The Mission of Marriage”] addresses the question of what marriage is for: It is a way for two spiritual friends to help each other on their journey to become the persons God designed them to be. Here we will see that a new and deeper kind of happiness is found on the far side of holiness.
Chapter 5 [“Loving the Stranger”] lays out three basic skill sets though which we can help each other on that journey.
Chapter 6 [“Embracing the Other”] [written by Kathy] discusses the Christian teaching that marriage is a place where the two sexes accept each other as differently gendered and learn and grow through it.
Chapter 7 [“Singleness and Marriage”] helps single people use the material in this book to live the single life well and to think wisely about seeking marriage themselves.
Finally, chapter 8 [“Sex and Marriage”] takes on the subject of sex, why the Bible confines it to marriage, and how, if we embrace the Biblical view, it will play out in both the single life and in marriage.
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They explain that their book will assume the Bible’s teaching that marriage is designed to be a monogamous heterosexual union:
In this book we examine the Christian understanding of marriage. It is based, as we have said, on a straightforward reading of Biblical texts. This means we are defining marriage as a life long, monogamous relationship between a man and a woman. According to the Bible, God devised marriage
- to reflect his saving love for us in Christ,
- to refine our character,
- to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and
- to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union.
It needs to be said, therefore, that this Christian vision for marriage is not something that can be realized by two people of the same sex. That is the unanimous view of the Biblical authors, and therefore that is the view that we assume throughout the rest of this book, even though we don’t directly address the subject of homosexuality.
With an eye—as usual—toward those who might be skeptical of the biblical worldview, the Kellers encourage readers to consider this countercultural approach:
The Bible’s teaching on marriage does not merely reflect the perspective of any one culture or time. The teachings of Scripture challenge our contemporary Western culture’s narrative of individual freedom as the only way to be happy. At the same time, it critiques how traditional cultures perceive the unmarried adult to radically critiques the institution of polygamy, even though it was the accepted cultural practice of the time, by vividly depicting the misery and havoc it plays in family relationships, and the pain it caused, especially for women.
The New Testament writers, in a way that startled the pagan world, lifted up long-term singleness as a legitimate way to live. In other words, the Biblical authors’ teaching constantly challenged their own cultures’ beliefs—they were not simply a product of ancient mores and practices.
We cannot, therefore, write off the Biblical view of marriage as one dimensionally regressive or culturally obsolete. On the contrary, it is bristling with both practical, realistic insights and breathtaking promises about marriage. And they come not only in well-stated propositions but also through brilliant stories and moving poetry. Unless you’re able to look at marriage through the lens of scripture instead of through your own fears or romanticism, through your particular experience, or through your culture’s narrow perspectives, you won’t be able to make intelligent decisions about your own marital future.