A Tale of Two Marriage Books

4 Jan

Over the last week or so, popular Christian blogger Tim Challies (challies.com) has reviewed two books on marriage from leading evangelical pastors Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller. Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and his wife Grace have written Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together. Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and his wife Kathy have written The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment With the Wisdom of God. Now I have not read either book, I don’t know if I will. The stack of books to be read is already overwhelming. But I did see something interesting about these books on Challies’ blog. As of this morning, Driscoll’s book had received 109 comments from readers of the blog. Keller’s book had received 18. What explains this disparity? I am sure that much of the difference in the number of comments is owing to the personality and stylistic differences of the two pastors. Mark Driscoll is known in evangelical culture to be edgy, in your face, a guy who pushes the envelope. He has said many controversial things in the past. Most people who know of his ministry don’t have a neutral view of him. Some love him, some sharply criticize him. Keller, on the other hand, is almost the polar opposite of Driscoll. He is older, anything but edgy, and preaches in a quiet, conversational tone which would be boring if not for the stellar content of most of what he says. So certainly I believe that much of the difference in comment counts is because Driscoll is a lightning rod while Keller is, for the most part, not very controversial.

Still, though, the wideness of the gap between the comments made me wonder, could something else be going on as well? Could it be that the very titles of the books and what they promise to present are strong factors in the interest each book is generating? And could this interest be indicative of a disturbing trend in evangelical culture? Let me attempt to explain.

Driscoll’s book is called Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together. You see, its real marriage. We’re gonna get real. We’re gonna tell the truth about sex (the section on sex apparently takes up half the book), and friendship and life together. That title shouts, “This book is practical! This book is real. This book pulls no punches.” And we like that in our culture. We care about what works. We like talking about specifics. And we want someone to tell us what to do. We say, “Tell me what’s OK in the bedroom. Tell me how to be a friend to my spouse. Tell me how to parent.” This is all very appealing to most of us and is undoubtedly a reason why Driscoll’s book will probably sit atop the best-seller lists for quite some time.

Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, is a harder sell. We’re not much about understanding the meaning of things. We’re especially not into doing something like, “Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.” Many people would say, “It’s complex, I don’t like that. It’s something I have to face. I’m not just going to get fed the truth here, I’m going to have to face it personally. And its a commitment. I don’t like commitment. And it has to do with God’s wisdom. That’s over my head.”

There is in our Christian culture a tendency to eschew meaning in favor of the quick fix, the practical idea, the real-life solution. I don’t know how many times in recent years I’ve heard churches and pastors describe their sermons as “practical” or “relevant” or “real solutions for real life.” The danger of this kind of talk is that meaning is sequestered to a place of uselessness. “Who cares about the attributes of God, pastor, tell me what to do. Tell me how to raise my kids.”  We don’t understand that someone who is understanding and loving and wrestling through issues of meaning is likely to see lasting change in their lives, whereas someone who seeks the quick fix is likely to fall off the wagon eventually. Give me a guy who studies the cross and loves what he sees there over a guy who has found ten money management tips from Proverbs. Give me a woman who rejoices in the biblical teaching on the sovereignty of God over one who majors on being a good wife. Why? Because the one focused on knowing and loving meaning will grow from within, while the person focused on the outward is trying to produce the fruit without the root. In a day when most of us go to the grocery store to get our apples, its not surprising that we try to get instant fruit, but spiritually it is deadly.

I will wear the words “irrelevant, impractical and unreal” as a badge of honor if the standard of relevance is outward reform detached from meaning. Duct tape won’t work on the human soul. Real application is important but it must always flow from a proper understanding and exultation in true meaning. Tend to the roots and you’ll get good fruit.


One Response to “A Tale of Two Marriage Books”


  1. West Hickory Baptist Church Blog » A Tale of Two Marriage Books - January 4, 2012

    […] 4 Jan […]

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