For the Hope for Marriage series, I read several new books and reread several old books on marriage. Here are short, few sentence reviews on each book to help you as you look for additional resources:
Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Sacred Marriage is a book about how marriage helps us grow spiritually – closer to God and more into the image of Jesus Christ. Thomas’ main point is that God designed marriage not so much to make us happy as He did to make us holy. Along those lines, the book discusses different elements in marriage from the perspective of spiritual formation. The book is very pastoral and insightful. I appreciated Thomas’ unique point of view. He is not trying to coach us on how to have a better marriage, but on how to become a better person in our marriage. I highly recommend this book if you are seeking to learn what God plans to do in your heart and character and life through marriage.
Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll. Driscoll’s book on marriage is edgier and more explicit that the other books I read on marriage (at least from a Christian perspective). Part of this is the fruit of Driscoll’s context, part the fruit of his personality. The unique contributions of the Driscolls’ book on marriage are the focuses on friendship, sexual abuse and activity, and their personal testimony. As he has in his other books, Mark is not afraid to put his struggles and opinions front and center in his writing. This is both a blessing and a curse in his writing. It makes for an interesting narrative, but can also create confusion when wondering if he thinks his experiences should be normative for others. Overall, I really appreciated his teaching on friendship in marriage, and his honest look at how sexual abuse impacts the marriage relationship. The section in the book that gets him in the most trouble, called “Can we _____?” is about what is appropriate and inappropriate in marriage. I didn’t find this section offensive. I agree with Mark – that we need to address openly and honestly what people are asking for help with. When it comes to sexual questions, however, I wouldn’t send people to this book. I would encourage them to pick up a copy of Sheet Music by Kevin Leman.
The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. Keller’s book on marriage is my favorite on this whole list. But many may not find Keller’s work as accessible as some of the others. Because Keller so often wants to go for the heart issues (and not just the practical issues in life), his writing can take a little more work to get through. However, if you will read what he says and meditate on the truths he presents, you will find it worth the reward. Timothy and his wife, Kathy, have written a book that shows how the gospel of Jesus Christ impacts every part of marriage, from communication to commitment to sex. In doing so, they interact with contemporary culture at every turn. I always benefit from Keller’s writings (as a pastor) because of his extensive footnotes. I can’t tell you how many articles and books I’ve read because of first hearing about them in Keller’s works. This is true of The Meaning of Marriage as well. If I was going to encourage couples to read one book on marriage, it would be this one.
One of the most helpful scholarly books that I read in preparation for teaching on marriage was The Marriage Go-Round by Andrew Cherlin. Cherlin’s book is an analysis of marriage in America over the last fifty years. This book is sobering to read. Cherlin documents the amazingly high rates of both marriage and divorce in America, making the strong case that this shows a high view of marriage in our country (people want to get married) and a low view of commitment (people want a way out if their marriage doesn’t go well). According to Cherlin, more Americans marry (and marry earlier) than in any other Western nation, and yet, more Americans divorce than in any other Western nation. This cycle of marriage and divorce has devastating consequences on adults and children, and must be confronted. But Cherlin helps us to understand that the solution is not just to teach on the value of marriage, but to confront the limits of individualism. His insights (and data) are worth the price of this book. I would encourage anyone who is preaching or teaching on marriage to read this book.
Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. I have given out many copies of this wonderful book over the years. Dr. Eggerichs’ model of marriage is built on Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:33 that a “husband should love his wife and a wife should respect her husband.” From this passage and his personal pastoral and counseling ministry, Eggerichs has built a model of marriage that is intended to help spouses understand and appreciate the differences of the opposite sex. His book is immensely practical and helpful. He discuss the downward spiral that most couples are on (with an unloving husband and disrespectful wife) and how those couples can get on an energizing cycle. His teaching is not just theory, however. He has six chapters for wives (on how they can practically respect their husbands) and six chapters for husbands (on how they can practically love their wives). I have benefited personally from this book, and have seen the impact on numerous marriages when the couples decided to live according to these principles. I highly recommend this one!
God, Marriage, and Family by Andreas Kostenberger. If you are looking for something a little more comprehensive on what the whole Bible teaches in the area of marriage and family, this is the book for you. This book reads like a seminary text-book, giving the student an overview of what the different sections of the Bible teach. You have chapters like “the OT on marriage” and “Jesus on children” or “the NT on gender roles.” Kostenberger does his best to move through the whole teaching of the Bible. At times, this approach is helpful (in reminding you how many different passages you need to look up). At other times, this approach is unhelpful. It keeps him from really explaining significant chunks of Scripture (like Song of Songs). When you try to cover everything, you end up cover some things in depth and other things in passing. This is understandable, but also frustrating, as the editorial choices of the author reveal his bias and perspective. Overall, however, this book reminds us to read the whole Bible on marriage and family issues, and not just the ones that we like.
Getting Away to Get It Together by Bill & Carolyn Wellons. If you have been around my family very long, you have most likely heard me talk about a yearly tradition that Barie and I keep: we drop the kids off with the grandparents for two nights and spend time talking about our priorities for the coming year. This idea – a fun, working retreat – comes from this book by Bill and Carolyn Wellons. The main idea is simple: so many people have planning retreats for their jobs, but hardly anyone has one for their family. Bill and Carolyn set out to change that culture in American families. Their encouragement is for couples to spend time working ON their family, not just working IN their family. So much of what we do as spouses and parents is reactive, but we can be much more productive if we plan ahead. And remember, one retreat every ten years is not enough. You need time every year to plan, dream, pray, and think. Why? Because you change, your kids change, and you need to regroup. This resource is a wonderful blessing to couples who will take time to actually get away with their spouse and plan for the future.
These seven books have helped my marriage, and equipped me to better preach on marriage. I hope they are a blessing to you!