“God is in the longest-lived, worst marriage in the history of the world.”
That’s from Tim and Kathy Keller in their short new book, On Marriage, part of the How to Find God series with Penguin Books. They continue: “God is the lover and spouse of his people. But we have given him the marriage from hell.” And yet, God has been faithful even when we were not. He sealed this union with us through Jesus Christ in his cross and resurrection. Tim and Kathy write, “Your marriage to him is the surest possible foundation for your marriage to anyone else.”
The gospel grounds what Tim and Kathy write not only in this new book but also in their previous works The Meaning of Marriage and The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional. I counsel many young couples preparing for marriage, and their work is the first resource I hand them. You want to know the secret of a great marriage? Then you need to understand the mystery of Christ in the church, in Ephesians 5:32.
Any great marriage on earth points toward that marriage in heaven. If you’re looking for The One, you’ll only find him in Jesus. The gospel saves us from expecting too much from marriage, which makes us more likely to get divorced, and from expecting too little, which makes us less likely to ever get married in the first place.
Tim and Kathy joined me on Gospelbound to discuss the link between decreasing marriage and decreasing religiosity, how to know you’re ready to get married, how to raise children to prepare them for marriage, and more.
This episode of Gospelbound is brought to you by Southeastern Seminary. In a changing ministry landscape, Southeastern’s four-year master of divinity and master of business administration (MDiv–MBA) program was built on a foundation of rigorous theological training and practical vocational training. Learn more at sebts.edu.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: “God is in the longest lived worst marriage in the history of the world.” That line is from Tim and Kathy Keller in their short new book, On Marriage. Part of the How to Find God series with Penguin Books. They continue: “God is the lover and spouse of his people, but we have given him the marriage from hell.” But God has been faithful even when we were not, he sealed this union with us through Jesus Christ and his cross and his resurrection. Tim and Kathy, write, “Your marriage to him is the surest possible foundation for your marriage to anyone else.” The gospel grounds what Tim and Kathy write, not only in this new book, but also in their previous works, The Meaning of Marriage and The Meaning of Marriage: A Couples Devotional. I work with many young couples preparing for marriage and Tim and Kathy’s work is the first resource I hand them. If you want to know the secret of a great marriage, then you need to understand the mystery of Christ in the church in Ephesians 5:32. Any great marriage on earth points toward that one in heaven. If you’re looking for the one, you’ll only find him in Jesus. The gospel saves us from expecting too much from marriage, which makes us more likely to get divorced and from expecting too little, which makes us less likely to ever get married in the first place. Tim and Kathy join me on Gospelbound to discuss the link between decreasing marriage and decreasing religiosity. How to know you’re ready to get married. How to raise children to prepare them for marriage and more. Tim and Kathy, thank you for joining me on Gospelbound.
Kathy Keller: Well, thank you for inviting us.
Collin Hansen: Tim. I’ll start with you. A recent report from Lyman Stone for the American Enterprise Institute sought to find reasons for declining religiosity, and one of his key findings attributed the decline to fewer and delayed marriages. Tim, how do you link your work on evangelism, which obviously a lot of people have read and are familiar with, to our post-Christian era, to your extensive writing on marriage?
Tim Keller: Well, in the early church, part of the offense and attractiveness of the gospel was their attitude towards sex and marriage. In the Roman Empire, certainly men especially could have sex outside of marriage. It was expected. And even when they were married, they were expected to be able to have sex outside of marriage. Along comes Christianity with this sex ethic, and it was considered by plenty of people to be absolutely insane and unrealistic. And yet books like Kyle Harper’s book From Shame to Sin and Larry Hurtado’s book Destroyer of the gods show that it was also very attractive at the same time. It challenged the cultural status quo. It challenged the shame and honor culture. It also said, that the approach to sex was really basically brutalizing.
Tim Keller: And I think it’s fair for Christian apologists, actually not to run away from the sexual revolution. The secular sexual revolution has been weaponized to say Christianity is psychologically and socially unhealthy. And so there’s no way I think for us to talk about the evidence for the resurrection and all those other things if we don’t deal with that and say, “No, actually the Christian approach to sexuality is humanizing as opposed to dehumanizing.” So I don’t think we can just run away from that. I do know plenty of people want to just say, “Let’s talk about Jesus and the resurrection. Let’s not talk about sex because that’s just so controversial.” It’s going to be very hard to create a plausible case for Christianity if you don’t include what the Bible says about sexuality, because it’s there, and people are just not going to go into Christianity if you let the myths about sexuality that the culture propagates intact. You’re going to have to undermine them too.
Collin Hansen: So as much in our evangelism we want to start with the cross and the resurrection, we really need to start in many cases with the felt need, the situation that somebody is in. And we’re talking about this right now in the context of the coronavirus. These are lagging statistics, but we recently learned that the marriage rate in 2018 had reached an all-time low. And we’re talking about the United States here. Lower even than in the darkest days of the Great Depression. This is very concerning. I’m wondering, Tim, do you expect COVID-19 would make the marriage rate decline even further due to economic distress, which is traditionally where these rates have declined? Or instead in other ways to rise, since the pandemic has trapped so many singles at home without family? I’m asking in part, because I’m trying to see what kind of felt need or opportunity there might be for evangelism in helping people to see their need for Christ as they experience this unprecedented pandemic.
Tim Keller: Well, you should be asking Brad Wilcox, this question. And you know Brad.
Collin Hansen: I know what Brad Wilcox says about this. I want to know what you say about this.
Tim Keller: Well, I’ll start with that. Brad would say both economic uncertainty and cultural changes. The culture says be an individual, stay free. So the culture, which is expressive individualism, says you don’t want to be tied down. It makes you commitment-phobic. As well as the economy, which actually has become basically unequal. It is more difficult. Kathy and I are old enough to certainly remember when you could have a job. We could have worked at the post office right after seminary without any kind of education.
Kathy Keller: We actually got jobs at the post office.
Kathy Keller: We had no church affiliation. And we didn’t know what we were going to do. So we took the test and we signed up, we were going to be mail carriers.
Tim Keller: Collin, let me just tell you this. We thought, until I got a job as a pastor, we would work for the post office. The two of us got jobs we would have made about $18,000 to $19,000 a year back when room, board, and tuition to Harvard University was like $4,500 a year. I mean, we could have owned a home, sent our kids to private school, had two cars, on blue-collar salary. And so the economic changes has put stress. So Brad would say, it’s both. So COVID is going to put economic stress, which I think will be even greater. And I think it’ll actually make it harder for people to feel like they can get married, but you’re probably right. That the loneliness that is the result of expressive individualism for all that emphasis on freedom in the end, you’re pretty lonely.
Tim Keller: And so I would say two parts, the economy is going to make it harder for people to want to get married. One part, the loneliness is going to make people wonder about spending their entire life lonely and dying alone. But overall, I think COVID’s actually going to weaken marriage rates, probably.
Collin Hansen: Kathy, next question for you. I don’t think it’s really fair to heap guilt on singles to get married as if it’s entirely in their power. Though, for some reason, some church leaders do seem to do that. And now, obviously a man can’t force a woman to say yes, and a woman can’t force a man to ask. We do still need to push back where there may be some views of marriage in younger generations that have gone askew. And one of the things that I’ve been doing is telling young men, especially, that they need to get married before they’re ready. It’s not because I want them to make a foolish decision, but it’s because I don’t really think there’s ever a point where you can say for certain that you are ready for marriage. Just wondering Kathy, I know you’ll tell it to me straight: Good advice, bad advice?
Kathy Keller: Oh, I think it’s good advice. I think previous generations didn’t ask themselves that question. Am I ready for marriage? Because marriage was seen as one of the things you matured into, you were seen as maturing as you entered marriage, and nobody is ever ready for marriage. You’re not ready for next month. Who knew? I mean, at Christmas time, who knew that we were going to be where we are right now, and the problems that are going to come up in your life are going to come, and they’re not going to probably be the ones that you expect. So the best advice is to marry someone with whom you feel you could solve problems because your life’s not going to be problem-free, and you’d better have somebody with you that you can solve those problems with.
Kathy Keller: So if you feel like, well, no, I can’t get married until I have every problem solved. Well then tomorrow there’ll be a whole new list of them. So I also want to say something about the fact that people think that living together is a way to prepare themselves for being married, at least test the waters. It’s actually the opposite. It prepares you to be divorced. The statistics of people who have lived together, Tim, you have to give me the numbers, because I don’t remember. The statistics of people who live together are much higher, much more likely to be divorced than to stay married because when you’re living together, you always know there’s a back door that you can walk out of. The back door is not locked. And in marriage, the back door is locked. But if you have given yourself that mentality of, I can always quit, if I don’t like this, if this isn’t meeting my needs. Then you enter marriage already having that mentality.
Kathy Keller: So you can’t test the waters by living together, and you really can’t be prepared fully for marriage at all, but you can make sure that you marry someone that you’re happy to solve problems with, because you’re going to have them. And you need to have somebody that you trust, solving them with you.
Collin Hansen: And that’s probably connected then Kathy, what you’ve written about this for The Gospel Coalition, you’ve talked about this a lot. You’ve helped friends of mine and many others navigate the dynamics of being yoked with a non-Christian there. And you’ve talked about the problems of that. I presume that’s also connected then, to the need to find somebody to solve problems with, because of course, different religion, it’s going to create a whole bunch of different problems. And it’s going to undermine a shared foundation from which to solve problems in a similar way.
Kathy Keller: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. If you think you’re lonely because you’re not married, there is nothing to the loneliness of being married to somebody who is not a believer and not playing on the same team that you are. Who has a whole different worldview about everything. That’s real loneliness.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, this question is for both of you, but I’ll start with you, Kathy. Is there anything you did as parents, now looking back that you think turned out to help your sons in their own marriages?
Kathy Keller: Yeah. There’s a couple of things. I’ll let Tim have a couple to say. One is we did not sequester ourselves whenever we needed to apologize to one another.
Kathy Keller: The boys saw us apologizing, repenting to one another and realizing that when you did things wrong, that wasn’t the end of the story. You didn’t just walk off in a huff, but you had to fix it. You had to solve whatever was the problem, and I think that has to have been a help. I hope it was a help, because they have all addressed issues in their own marriage with the idea that we have to solve this. We can’t just walk away from it. Tim?
Tim Keller: I think that the fact that our kids never felt that there was anything … That our marriage was shaky, or I … I think until kids actually, even when they’re grown, the idea of your parents breaking up does feel like something in your world is coming undone, certainly little kids. I mean, it’s very obvious children cry when their parents fight. I’ve seen it. I hear about all the time. Why would they do that? Why would they cry when parents fight? Because it does feel like that the world is coming loose, and our kids had a sense, I think, that because they never worried about that, that the world was a safer place than a lot of their friends who we could just see it in their kids, kids who went through a divorce very often, by the way, we know that there are good … We know there are biblical grounds for divorce or God wouldn’t allow it in the Bible, but he does. Nevertheless, we do see that it really does almost always have a bad effect on kids. So I think just the fact that they never worried about our marriage was the biggest thing we gave them.
Kathy Keller: They could have easily worried, because at one point I actually counted it up, and of all their friends, of all three boys, there was one family that was an intact family. Everybody else was single parent or on the third mother, the third father, living with the mistress. That was a good friend of one of our kids. There were a lot of variants, but there was only one family that was really intact. So they had reason to question. I mean, the normal, the state of normal that they saw …
Tim Keller: Right.
Kathy Keller: Was a marriage that had blown up, not a marriage that was steady.
Tim Keller: But I think they, number one, they went into marriage without the fears that a lot of people do go into it. And number two, one of the things all three of my sons tend to brag about is they never broke up with a girl. Even before they got married, they have a perfect record. They always said, if somebody want to break up with us, fine, otherwise we’re there. And …
Kathy Keller: Well, they follow you. They are loyal to a fault, and I mean-
Tim Keller: They are. And I think they probably got that from feeling like our parents are loyal to each other. So …
Kathy Keller: Oh, they got that because they imprinted on you.
Tim Keller: It takes two to keep a marriage together here.
Collin Hansen: The, at the risk of making this a Brad Wilcox appreciation podcast, one of the things that he talks about is divorce is contagious.
Tim Keller: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: And that’s what I think of there as well. The more you see it in your own family, the more you see it in your community, the more likely you think it’s not … It’s acceptable.
Tim Keller: Yeah, it’s thinkable.
Collin Hansen: And so it makes a big difference with your parents.
Tim Keller: Yeah, it makes it thinkable. I think we all are helped … There’s, as we know, if you do a sin, I’m not saying divorce is always a sin, but anyway, if you do something, a sin …
Collin Hansen: Right.
Tim Keller: It gets easier to do it again. So the first, there’s the huge barrier is between never having done it and doing it. Once you’ve done it once, it is at least a hundred times easier to do it again.
Kathy Keller: It’s no longer unthinkable.
Tim Keller: It’s not unthinkable, that’s right.
Collin Hansen: Right.
Tim Keller: And so I think when divorce becomes thinkable, then it’s a … You’re too quick, I think, to go to it. And when it’s sort of an unthinkable thing, it probably means that you stay willing to solve problems and deal with things longer than you would otherwise.
Collin Hansen: It’s one reason why I push back strongly on the statistic that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. First of all, that’s talking about marriages, it’s not talking about people who get divorced, i.e., if you get divorced once you are far more likely to get divorced twice or three times, so it’s not . . . Yes, it might be marriages, but it’s not people who are married, who get divorced half the time.
Tim Keller: Right.
Collin Hansen: And then on top of that, of course, when you account for not only Christianity, but especially when you account for church attendance, those rates decline a lot. And I think we actually discourage a lot of Christians thinking, “Why would I get married? I mean, there’s a 50/50 chance that it might work.”
Tim Keller: No.
Collin Hansen: It’s like, no, no, no, no. No, you almost certainly will not get divorced if you go to church, you’re a practicing Christian who goes to church, you almost certainly won’t get divorced.
Tim Keller: Yeah. And also …
Collin Hansen: It doesn’t usually happen.
Tim Keller: And also if you haven’t had the child out of wedlock. I mean, there’s …
Collin Hansen: Yes.
Tim Keller: There’s all these factors, say if you have a child before you get married, if you get married before you finish high school, if you don’t go to church, then your chances of divorce skyrocket. So it’s not fair to say that most people have 50/50 chance. You’re right.
Collin Hansen: Right. Kathy, this is really an elephant in the room when it comes to marriage and some of the technological changes, but there’s no doubt that the felt lack or the lack of a felt need to get married is connected to the availability of sex. And that leads, obviously, to delayed marriage and technology has facilitated that, whether that be birth control on the one side or pornography on the other. What are some things, anything, that we can do to encourage marriage when we’ve lost some of the “necessary elements” of marriage from the past?
Kathy Keller: That’s a difficult question, because as I say, in the past, it was looked at as maturing to enter marriage.
Collin Hansen: Right.
Kathy Keller: It was one of the things that you, by which you show that you are no longer a child, that you were ready to move out on your own. And that’s not that benchmark anymore.
Kathy Keller: I guess one thing I’m glad for, with the Me Too movement, there’s some things about it that I’m not glad for, but it has really reduced people’s willingness to just indulge in hooking up and casual sex because it’s turned into a minefield and you could step on a …
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Right.
Kathy Keller: A mine at any moment.
Collin Hansen: Yeah.
Kathy Keller: I think that at least the Me Too moment has given people a healthy fear of casual sex, and that that can backfire on you in unseen ways and when you’re being up for some business or political situation. I’m not sure that that’s going to lead to marriage. It may lead to less casual sex, but I don’t know that it will lead to marriage. I think …
Collin Hansen: True.
Kathy Keller: Bringing people into the church and giving them a vision of what marriage can be beyond just a transactional relationship …
Collin Hansen: Right.
Kathy Keller: A friends-with-benefits type of relationship, that it actually is, has much deeper spiritual roots than that. That is the only antidote that I can even imagine leading to more marriage, because otherwise everything else is negotiable.
Tim Keller: Hey, could I add something?
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Go for it.
Tim Keller: This is one of those places, though, where expressive individualism, the idea that I need to stay completely independent, I’ve got to be … I have to avoid commitments, I’ve got to keep my options open, I’ve got to be free, in the short run, what I mean by short run, I mean in the first 50 or 60 years after that becomes ascendant in a culture, it’s going to lead to more sex. Because what you’re going to say is, “We’re just, you know, we don’t need to be married, right?” But now I think it’s going to lead to less, because people are going to say, “The real problem is that people get emotionally involved when you have sex. And when you have sex, things could go wrong.” And the Me Too movement’s showing that, and people start to say, you know, “You owe me something because I opened myself to you.” There was an article in The New York Times, which is The Meaning of Marriage devotional, as well as, I think, in the little marriage book we just did. There’s an article in The New York Times called, I looked it up here, “He asked permission to touch, but not to ghost.”
Collin Hansen: Yeah.
Tim Keller: Courtney Sender, September 7, 2018, where she basically was completely … She and her roommate all say, “Hey, you know, you shouldn’t get emotionally involved.” But the fact is that there’s this one guy who she had, she found through Tinder and had sex with, and afterwards she felt the fact that he just did not answer any of her texts, just felt wrong, just wrong. And I think what’s going to happen is more and more guys, especially, are going to say, “You know, this having sex without wanting any ties, that’s just not working anymore.”
Tim Keller: So I actually think it’s going to make people lonely. And that’s the reason why Christianity can come along and say the secular approach doesn’t work. A lot of the things that it says it’s going to give you more of it ends up giving you less. One of them is sexual fulfillment. Well, secularism is going to give you a less of that. Christianity is going to be more of that. And that’s an apologetic point.
Collin Hansen: Well, I think we can also apply Lewis’s oft-cited mud pies to pornography and sex, because I think I was thinking Kathy, about what you said about the Me Too movement and the casual sex, and I think it has helped us to see is that there is no such thing as casual sex.
Kathy Keller: Right.
Collin Hansen: But like you said, it’s not necessarily going to lead to marriage. It’s probably just pushing people toward pornography more. But the problem is then pornography also doesn’t work, doesn’t work long-term. The studies show, you have to escalate it in ways that are increasingly degrading and distorting, not only to the soul, but otherwise. And then you also get to a point where you can’t really transition it into marriage, not only because of your expectations, both male and female here of use of pornography, your expectations are off. And then especially also for men, biologically, your ability to actually be involved with sex is hindered by the pornography there. And so it seems to be a classic example where Lewis talks about our exposure to these things that make us think that they’re the real thing, but actually it’s just playing around in the mud. When God calls us to something that’s so much more beautiful and great.
Kathy Keller: Yeah. The whole quote is, “We’re like children playing with mud pies when we’ve been invited to have a holiday at the seaside.”
Collin Hansen: Right. Right. Thank you. And I think that’s what I want people to see. And I think that the church can hold out when we’re talking about this wonderful thing that God created in sex in its context, proper context in marriage. So Tim, we’re talking here about a transactional view of marriage. And as we’ve been talking about here with divorce, it’s easy to see why divorce becomes appealing with time if it’s transactional within that context of expressive individualism. Because inevitably as you and your spouse get older and become more known to you, you become less attractive in many ways—physically, but then also just those pet peeves begin to build. But, Christianity suggests a much more hopeful alternative. And actually, and I’ve seen you guys talk about this, and it’s been so encouraging to me in so many ways over the years. Tell us Tim, how does marriage improve with age?
Tim Keller: It should expand your understanding of beauty. There’s no doubt that if you see beauty as almost strictly physical, you can actually see, unfortunately, you can see some people who, as you get older, one partner stays looking more fit. The other partner does not. Looks aging. And then it’s not all that shocking to see that there is a divorce. And the next thing you know, the new partner is sort of younger and better looking. I’ve seen that so often. And I think that goes along with your idea, that the idea that beauty is strictly sex appeal, physical, literal physical chemistry, then I don’t know how you age together. But beauty, think about this, Psalm 27 says that the one thing that psalmist wants is to go into the tabernacle and to see the beauty of the Lord.
Tim Keller: And he’s not talking about anything physical at all, nothing physical. And then you have to say, “What in the world is that about?” John Owen and Jonathan Edwards both talk about the difference between knowing God is holy and loving, and finding it beautiful. And the reality is that when you get to know a person there’s a sacrament, and you actually love who they are apart from their body to a great degree, you love their character. You see who they are. You see their insight. You see the way they love you. And then you have all this experience that you’ve had with them. Sex really does become a kind of sacrament, because when you’re having sex, you actually are remembering all that.
Kathy Keller: I wanted to put in a plug here for the couple’s devotional. I know that there’s a lot of people who think that we just snipped out bits of the meaning of marriage and then pasted them onto calendar pages. But, really the point of that devotional was to help you know your spouse better. Well, 25 percent of it is stuff that Tim wrote that he’s never written on before. Like the Song of Solomon. But even the places where we cite a reference to The Meaning of Marriage, the whole devotional is meant to get you talking to one another so that your marriage deepens and the pet peeves are brought out in the open and your issues that you might not have even realized that you had, they see the light of day and you can process them together.
Kathy Keller: The whole devotional, it’s not meant to be the devotional, which you spend time with the Lord. But it’s when you spend time with one another talking about the things that will really deepen your marriage.
Collin Hansen: Well, that’s really helpful, Kathy, because one of the things I’ve said to a lot of people about The Meaning of Marriage is that I actually think that it’s better read before you’re married. Because the book seems to be about telling you what marriage is. So I know a lot of people use it in marriage counseling or to strengthen their marriages. And that’s great, of course. I want anybody to read it. But really, it seems it’s almost like when you get into it, and you read it, and you think, I missed the meaning of marriage until this time. That can be a little bit discouraging when you’re in it. So I recommend, especially that singles read it, because I think it helps them to know. You guys spend so much time in there talking about just how to identify a spouse. Or what you say, looking for somebody that you can solve problems with. There’s so much in there, but it’s helpful to differentiate that then from the devotional. The devotional is especially well suited to do together in your marriage.
Kathy Keller: Absolutely. And actually I’ve been sending them to my siblings during the lockdown, because here you are with all this time together, you may as well get something out of it. And so, if you can get Amazon to deliver it to you, make use of your time.
Collin Hansen: Well, you’ve got Kindle too. We’ve got some digital options here as well. Kathy, and this observation comes from this short little book On Marriage. It’s part of the, How To Find God series. You and Tim write, “That a good marriage can be every bit the spiritual danger that a bad marriage can be.” Explain what you mean there.
Kathy Keller: Well, we stole that straight out of John Newton. He says that the danger of a good marriage and the better the marriage, the bigger the danger, is idolatry, is that you take the other person as the ground of your happiness and not Jesus as the ground of your happiness. And I’m a full-fledged member of that idolatry club. When I got married, I really felt like, thank you, Jesus. And see you later. Because all the things that I had prayed for and wanted, there they were, all wrapped up in Tim.
Kathy Keller: And my spiritual life took a really big dive early days. From which I think it might finally be recovering. We just had our 45th anniversary. It is a serious issue when you have a person that you love, and you look to them to be the person that makes you happy, and the one whose happiness makes the marriage really work, rather than looking to Jesus as your true spouse, looking past the spouse that you love on earth and looking for Jesus as your true spouse, it’s very difficult. And I mean, we need to remind each other about it all the time. And that’s also in the couple’s devotional, may I say.
Collin Hansen: Tim, this is something, you guys have written these books together, and I know how important you are to each other’s ministries. And just enjoyed talking with you over the years on these topics. And one thing that comes from knowing you guys, and from your writing, and interviewing and just spending time together. But Tim, you write that you’re not particularly masculine. It’s how you describe yourself. And that Kathy is not particularly feminine. But, one of the things that you both wrote about is that marriage has “diversified your wisdom portfolio.” Explain, Tim, what you mean by that. Because obviously these gender dynamics of marriage are just increasingly fraught in a changing culture.
Tim Keller: Well, when I say I’m not particularly masculine, it means, my belief is that there really is an essence, that I don’t think male and female are interchangeable. I think Genesis 1 says that God created us in his image. And then immediately it says “male and female.” I think there’s lots and lots of good exegetical basis for saying that it’s together that the genders reflect the full image of God. Not that either one of us is not an image of God as individuals, but that there are some unique excellencies and glories about being male, being female. So there are some things that are intrinsic to us. I also think that culture tends to accentuate, or I would say conservative culture, traditional culture tends to add a lot of things unnecessary to accentuate it. So if a culture just says, “Women shouldn’t work outside the home.” That’s not what the Bible says. And you’re just adding to it.
Tim Keller: I do think secular culture tries to not only minimize, but eliminate the differences. And this is one of the things that irritates secularists. There was two or three articles recently in The New York Times and USA Today about the fact that when men and women are sent home together, that traditional gender roles tend to assert themselves and how awful that is. And so, there’s a masculinity and femininity about us. It’s still irreducible. But, here’s what’s wonderful is, and this only happens after years and years of being together, is after years and years of being together, in every situation, you know immediately, instantaneously, as you’re about to respond, somebody says something, something happens, you know how your spouse would respond.
Tim Keller: I don’t know how long that takes, where you just automatically know how she would respond. It probably takes years. But at a certain point, that means in that split second, you realize you can say, “Now, I can respond the way I usually do. But would it be wiser to respond the way she does?” And what that does is it increases, I stay a man, very much a man. In fact, I understand my masculinity better because I’ve been having to deal with a person of a different gender for years. On the other hand, I also can supplement my masculinity with her insights. And at that point I could actually say, “You know, it would be wiser to react the way she does.” And do it. That takes years, and years and years. But, I do think that’s a form of wisdom that comes only through long-term marriage.
Kathy Keller: Yeah. If I can just jump onto that for a second. I think when we wrote that column, your original quote, that we don’t feel like we particularly embody the traditional understanding or at least in Western mid 20th-century understanding of masculinity and femininity. I wasn’t frilly and didn’t play with Barbie Dolls.
Kathy Keller:And Tim never did sports or anything like that, but … I think, but what we mean to say is we have understood the essence of masculinity and femininity to be something that’s far deeper than the cultural expressions that you might have grown up with or that your culture might feel like imposing on you that their … There’s a website called With Hands Open that a friend of mine does, and she’s actually taking the image from the coronation scene in Perelanda, Lewis’s second of his Space trilogy, where the Venus angel, the Oyarsa of Venus and the Oyarsa of Mars, who would be Mars and Venus, the typified male and female, are trying to assume shapes that would be honoring the king. And the female character finally adopts a stance that is not with any sexual characteristics at all, but seeming to be there with hands open, and she goes … As a whole website, I really recommend it to anyone who’s interested in this. With hands open, that the female … The essence of femininity is receptivity, and the essence of masculinity is protectiveness and protecting the receptivity of the female.
Kathy Keller: And you know, you may not agree with it, but it’s certainly thought provoking, so.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Well, we’ve been talking here with Tim and Kathy Keller on their short new book On Marriage, part of the How to Find God series with Penguin Books. Also check out The Meaning of Marriage, their original work on this topic, and The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional. I could keep learning from you guys for a long time on this and just want to thank you for the blessing that you’ve been to me and to my wife in our 17 years, coming up on, marriage here. I want to end on this question, it’s one of my favorite questions to be able to ask, and especially the two of you. What is the last great book you read?
Tim Keller: Go ahead, Kath.
Kathy Keller: You have-
Tim Keller: No, after you.
Kathy Keller: You have socially acceptable great books. I’m the one that reads fiction in the family, and Tim’s the one that reads important stuff.
Collin Hansen: The less socially acceptable, the more interesting the answer, Kathy, so I’m fine. Go ahead.
Kathy Keller: Okay, well I am a big fan of both mystery stories and science-fiction if they are well written, and except for the very last one, Lois McMaster’s Bujold series on Miles Vorkosigan, the Vorkosigan Saga is wonderful sci-fi. Very rich in characterizations. I’m a big fan of Josephine Tey, Jodi Taylor, oh golly, Ngaio Marsh, Ellis Peters.
Collin Hansen: But what about a great book?
Kathy Keller: Okay. If I have to pick one
Collin Hansen: Pick one. First thing that comes to your mind.
Kathy Keller: We have to stretch the definition of book in order for this to be because every reviewer says that the 20 volumes in Patrick O’Brian’s [inaudible 00:39:30] novel of Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey is really just one long book divided up into 20 bite sized pieces that, if you put it in one volume, you couldn’t carry it around, it’s the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Patrick O’Brian, and I would recommend that to anyone. In fact, there was a … Well, I won’t go on about it, but it takes a while to get into because it’s not just written about the 18th century but in the style of, but hang with it and you will be richly rewarded.
Collin Hansen: I expected I was going to hear from O’Brian … Or hear about O’Brian from you, so that’s good. That’s great. Tim? Last great book you read.
Tim Keller: Yeah, I think to me a great book is a book that I feel really is … Every three or four years, I read a great … A book that is I would call great because I feel like this is a keeper for the ages, this is something to use an enormous amount of insight and skill and I hope everybody reads it because I feel like it could actually change the game. I would say Michael Horton. Michael Horton’s book on Justification, his two volumes on Justification. And before that, it was Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, which is about four or five years before that. They both, in my mind, seem to be important enough books, magisterial in their grasp of a subject and their exposition of a subject.
Tim Keller: By the way, I emailed Michael and told him that and, yeah, just because I say … I actually, I don’t know Charles Taylor, I couldn’t email him, but I say, “Here’s a guy who I actually know and I really think he’s written one of the best books I’ve read in the last 10 years.” And so I wrote him and I’m pretty sure it encouraged him. But no, I really do think, I wish it was … Trouble with both those books, by the way, is they’re actually so long that they actually can’t be … You couldn’t even assign them in a seminary class because if any of the students that I read it during the class, they would be lying.
Kathy Keller: You assign it the day they matriculate and you hope that they’ve read it by the day that they graduate.
Tim Keller: Well, I don’t know. But I actually do think, Collin, it’s a game changer. Basically, if you go back to Geerhardus Vos or Ridderbos, they took all that stuff about the presence of the kingdom, the presence of the future, the fact that when Jesus was raised from the dead, the kingdom is now present in our lives, and we’re living between … In the overlap between the ages, and we now are out there to really change the world with the power that’s in the end of the time going to renew the world.
Tim Keller: They were able to handle that along with what Luther and Calvin said about justification and substitution and imputation. They didn’t see any problems between those two things.
Kathy Keller: So they didn’t divide between the religious people and the justice warriors.
Tim Keller: Yeah, and so what’s happened is, now I do think of … There’s all kinds of folks, I don’t want to name any names here, that are lifting up the presence of the kingdom and the kingdom of God is … In fact, they’ll say that that is the gospel, is Jesus, Lord, and his kingdom, his reign is here now and we have his power, and the pit that against the idea that I’m a sinner, I’m clothed in the righteousness of Christ, imputed righteousness, and they say those are two different. One is one individualistic and kind of otherworldly and one is more this worldly.
Tim Keller: Back when Ridderbos, Vos, and people like that had no problem keeping those together, but in the evangelical world now, they are pitted against each other, too much so, so that we actually are experiencing people who just are … I’m just about evangelizing people so they go to heaven. And they kind of play down the kingdom stuff. And the other people play it up. And Michael Horton just takes the … in a wonderful way, just takes the classic Reformation doctrines of justification, lists it up, and shows that it in no way is a problem with the redemptive historical approach either. It’s remarkable. But I am afraid that people aren’t going to read it because it’s so long.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, I was going to say, Tim, you’re going to make me think that maybe books are a better way of carrying on theological discourse than polemical blog posts back and forth? I don’t know.
Kathy Keller: Oh, you think you might have gotten that from us?
Collin Hansen: Yeah, I don’t know.
Kathy Keller: I might say that only 10 times a day. No, more than that.
Tim Keller: I was actually, I was going to suggest to Michael that he actually start tweeting the entire book out, because you can do it, right, in 140 or 100 … How many? 220 characters? So he could just start tweeting it, like, every five minutes for the next 10 years.
Collin Hansen: One of 80,078. A thread coming. It’s always wonderful talking with Tim and Kathy. Check out their little new book On Marriage, also their … It’s also relatively new, it came out last year, The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional, and again, highly recommend it. Tim and Kathy, thanks for joining me on Gospelbound.
Tim Keller: Proud to be with you.