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A Few Books on Marriage

Greg Strand – March 14, 2017 Leave a comment

This past year Karen and I celebrated 33 years of marriage. I am grateful for my dear wife, and grow more grateful with each passing year. In the good providence of God he not only pronounced us “husband and wife” he has, indeed, made us one such that our prayer and the bend of our lives is that we “may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).

When Karen and I were first married, we read a book on marriage annually. We did for a number of years. But then we began having children and, well, it changed. In the past few years we have picked this up again. I am always on the lookout for good books on marriage. More so, I am eager to grow in godliness as a husband so that our marriage can be strengthened, and truly reflect Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the church. Both become a “picture,” a manifestation of the gospel (Eph. 5:22-33).

In preparation for leading a seminar on marriage, Jean Williams read a number of books with this question in mind: “What, ultimately, is marriage for?” Williams writes about three books she found especially helpful (“Three books and some thoughts,” The Briefing 403): John Piper, This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence; Timothy and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God; and Christopher Ash, Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be.

Williams began by looking for one major point or goal of marriage. But she concludes that due to the wonderful complexity and mystery of marriage, there are a number of ultimate reasons for marriage. The main points of these books on marriage, in the order they were listed above, Williams concludes (emphasis mine):

Marriage looks upward – its purpose is to display God’s glory by presenting a picture of the covenant between Christ and the church.

Marriage looks inward – its purpose is spiritual friendship leading to holiness, as husband and wife partner [with] each other on the journey to glory.

Marriage looks outward – its purpose is to serve God in partnership as we rule and care for his world and make Jesus known.

Marriage looks upward, inward, and outward. Like a three-legged stool, if it lacks a leg it will stumble and fall. Yet ultimately marriage looks forward, to the day when our small marriages will be swallowed up by a greater one. For marriage is a temporary permanence, a life-long bond that draws its final breath only when we do. As we step into eternity, all the purposes of marriage find their end in Christ.

I find this not only a helpful summary of these three books, I find these four ultimate aspects of marriage to be a helpful and important reminder as I ponder my own marriage.

As you consider these various ultimate goals of marriage – upward, inward, outward and forward – where do you need to grow? What God-ordained means will you use to foster and nourish that growth?

In a recent interview N. T. Wright affirms the complementarity of male and female, and he does so on two bases.

First, he grounds the reality in nature. God created us male and female. This has been affirmed culturally for thousands of years.

Second, and most importantly for Christians, he grounds it in narrative. This is revealed through the narrative of Scripture. Wright states, “It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.”

Through nature and narrative, Wright affirms the biblical view of marriage as between a male and female, a man and a woman.

Now, the word “marriage,” for thousands of years and cross-culturally has meant man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man. There is polyandry as well as polygamy in some societies in some parts of history, but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness. I would say that without any particular Christian presuppositions at all, just cross-culturally, that’s so.

With Christian or Jewish presuppositions, or indeed Muslim, then if you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth.

If you say that marriage now means something which would allow other such configurations, what you’re saying is actually that when we marry a man and a woman we’re not actually doing any of that stuff. This is just a convenient social arrangement and sexual arrangement and there it is . . . get on with it. It isn’t that that is the downgrading of marriage, it’s something that clearly has gone on for some time which is now poking it’s head above the parapet. If that’s what you thought marriage meant, then clearly we haven’t done a very good job in society as a whole and in the church in particular in teaching about just what a wonderful mystery marriage is supposed to be. Simply at that level, I think it’s a nonsense. It’s like a government voting that black should be white. Sorry, you can vote that if you like, you can pass it by a total majority, but it isn’t actually going to change the reality.

Ponder this. Not only is marriage a marker, a sign-post of God’s original goodness in creation, it is also an eschatological inbreaking of the future reality of the kingdom of God into the present. It is a present visible manifestation of God’s future plans for His people experienced in the here and now.

Greg Forster serves as the program director at the Kern Family Foundation, where he directs the Oikonomia Network, a national learning community of evangelical seminaries that equips pastors with a theological understanding of faith, work, and economics, and is also the editor of Hang Together a group blog on religion, politics and national identity. He picks up and comments on the phenomenon noted by Peter Leithart in a couple of articles.

In the first, “The New Fight for Marriage,” he frames the contemporary struggle for Christians in articulating their view of marriage:

Most marriage advocates today build their main arguments around one of two major themes. The most common approach involves philosophical arguments growing out of the natural law tradition. Those who don’t follow this approach typically fall back on explicit appeals to Christianity, sometimes softened by references to “Judeo-Christian tradition.” And of course some use both themes.

I believe in both Christianity and also natural law philosophy. Both of them will always be critical components of the fight for marriage. In particular, we who call ourselves Christians must do all in obedience to Christ and for the love of his kingdom.

But those are not the places to start when making the case for marriage, and they should not form the center of our message. Natural law arguments, while true and important, can’t remedy the deepest and most powerful cultural changes undermining marriage. Those changes are non-rational and won’t respond to rational arguments. And “because it’s Christian” is not the right reason for the civil law to institutionalize marriage. In fact, it won’t even help convince people to value and reinforce marriage outside the realm of the law, since American culture doesn’t feel responsible to reproduce Christianity. Christians can be called to fight for marriage as their way of serving Christ without holding that Christianity is the reason law and culture should value marriage.

Forster notes that the “Post-Christendom Challenge” is that neither the argument from natural law nor the argument from Scripture are compelling any longer to most people who have imbibed the contemporary cultural mores. It is important to emphasize that Forster agrees with both arguments. He just does not believe they are convincing to most people. To many people today, using those arguments is heard as a foreign language, “alien terminology,” or plain old “gibberish.”  

Does this then lead to pessimism? Certainly not!

The turn to pessimism is wrong. Neither God’s sovereignty nor the failure of our current strategies is an excuse for fatalism. God is still at work in the world, and despair is a sin—it denies God’s providence.

The institutions of human civilization are God’s instruments. Our job is to play those instruments. If we’re not making the right music, we shouldn’t blame the instruments. We should figure out a better way to play. 

It is being faithful, trusting in God and resting in His sovereignty. Additionally, we ponder and pray about a more excellent way of defending and living the truth of God’s Word about man and woman, husband and wife.

Forster followed this with his attempt to articulate a better way:

We Need New Methods in the Fight for Marriage

As you read Forster’s recommended “better way,” here are a couple of questions:

  1. What do you think of his better way? Do you agree or disagree?
  2. Do you believe there is a better way? If so, what is it?

In yesterday’s post I included Peter Leithart’s assessment of our Christian defense of marriage using the Bible. As he pondered that further, he had some additional thoughts: “The World Can’t Hear Us on Marriage.”

Of this earlier post Leithart writes,

I pointed out that opposition to gay marriage faces a steep uphill struggle. Virtually all the cultural and political momentum is in the other direction. Arguments against gay marriage are theologically fraught, and Christians and Jews who try to mount biblically or theologically based arguments will find themselves ignored or denounced by secular gatekeepers precisely because they offer biblically and theologically based arguments. I concluded that “it will take nothing short of a cultural revolution for biblical arguments to be heard, much less to become persuasive.”

Some have found my diagnosis too gloomy, or worse, cowardly.

Leithart strongly affirms the biblical view of marriage. He is also convinced that the cultural mores have shifted such that most do not affirm a biblical understanding of marriage. This does not mean Christians retreat; it does not mean that Christians ought not to use biblical arguments in defending God’s view of marriage. But his caution is in expecting a sympathetic hearing to this message.

He concludes,

By all means, defend marriage, invoke the weight of tradition, make all the arguments you can invent with all the passion, compassion, and cunning you can muster. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking any of this readily touches the experience or intellectual habits of a majority.

The truth will out, of that I have no doubt. People do, mysteriously, get persuaded. Cultural revolutions happen. No one can defy creation forever. Beauty is the best persuasion, so Christians should above all aspire to form marriages and families that are living parables of the gospel. The Spirit wins. Between the present and that victory of the Spirit, we are in for what may be an extended period of dullness, when truth about sexuality and marriage will fall on deaf ears until the obvious is relearned. It’s not a hopeless place to be, or even a bad place. It puts us in the good company of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Jesus and Paul.

This is one of the implications/entailments of living in a postChristian day. It does not mean biblical truth changes. But this new day does mean the way in which we communicate that truth and the way in which that truth is heard and responded to and the way the church understands and engages in its ministry changes.

How do you think about and process this?

God, Marriage and the Supreme Court

Greg Strand – March 27, 2013 3 Comments

This week the Supreme Court has before them two major decisions that address the legalization of same-sex marriage. As Christians, we need neither the vox populi, the voice of the populace, or the lex rex, the law as king, to inform us of what God’s revealed truth states about men and women, about husbands and wives, and about what marriage is.

But, we do live in this world (Jn. 17) and we do live under governing authorities (Rom. 13), so the decisions do matter.

Al Mohler, “Marriage in the Dock—The Supreme Court Considers Same-Sex Marriage,” explains the two issues before the Supreme Court: the federal Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8.

Mohler explains further:

Both cases are significant. Together they represent a monumental set of issues for the justices. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by huge majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate back in 1996. It was then signed into law by President Bill Clinton. DOMA requires the federal government to define marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman, and it makes clear that no state is obligated to recognize a same-sex union conducted in any other state. President Obama, whose constitutional responsibility requires him to defend the laws of the United States, has ordered his Attorney General not to defend DOMA in court. It will be defended by attorneys representing the House of Representatives.

Proposition 8 was adopted by voters in California in 2008, effectively reversing a decision by that state’s Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage. A federal district court in San Francisco later found Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional and a panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sustained that decision. It will now be up to the Supreme Court to decide.

As these significant issues are discussed, debated and decided, I have pondered and prayed often with 1 Timothy 2:1-4 in mind and heart:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

We pray specifically for . . .

• Those in high positions, the Supreme Court.
• Those who profess faith in Christ, that we will rest in the Lord and be godly and dignified in every way.
• Those who profess faith in Christ, that we will please the Lord in our beliefs, our speech and our behavior, that all would be based on God’s truth.
• Those who need to be saved that they will come to the knowledge of the truth.