Book Review - The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

Timothy Keller is such a stellar author. He cuts through the fluff many modern authors feel the need to include and draws from the ultimate Author and His Word. I really love reading books on marriage, not only because I'm in one but because it is a topic widely discussed and often distorted in our culture. This book is phenomenal -- my favorite marriage book yet. There are other books I love and are certainly complementary to this one, but The Meaning of Marriage does a great job of looking at the entirety of marriage, why God created it and how it points to the Gospel. Topics like social norms, gender roles, singleness and sex all have their own chapters. There are lots of gems in this book, some of which I will share here.
This book would be great for everyone to read, but I think is particularly insightful for those who have been married more than a couple of years. He speaks often of the difference between engagement/new marriages and those more seasoned -- if you've been married for a little longer these examples are easier to relate to, but are certainly helpful for all readers. 

The book starts by diving into cultural norms -- how marriage views and customs have changed over decades and why God's plans for marriage call us to much greater things than what our society expects. Our culture has over romanticized marriage and love, resulting in unmet expectations in a marriage relationship. He argues that the common belief to seek compatibility as the main characteristic of a spouse can be detrimental. This quote from Stanley Hauerwas, a Duke ethic professor explains: 

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become "whole" and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is...learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Keller addresses the problem of self centeredness by saying "To have a marriage that sings requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of the center, to put the needs of others ahead of your own."

One of my favorite illustrations is the explanation of the difference between a consumer relationship and a covenant relationship. In a consumer relationship, you only stay involved as long as your personal needs are being met. If you no longer like the price you have to pay for a particular brand of detergent, you switch brands. Part of our culture has turned marriage into a consumer relationship -- if your spouse is not longer meetings your XYZ need, you leave that relationship. We see, though, God's design for marriage is a covenant relationship. In traditional wedding vows, the first set of vows is made with the Lord (the I Dos) and the secondary set with your husband/wife (the I take you to be my lawful...). There is a vertical orientation before a horizontal one.

In this book he notes that our purpose as a spouse is to help our beloved become the person God desires them to be.

"If you don't see your mate's deep flaws and weaknesses and dependencies, you're not even in the game. But if you don't get excited about the person your spouse has already grown into and will become, you aren't tapping into the power of marriage as a spiritual friendship. The goal is to see something absolutely ravishing that God is making of the beloved. You see even now flashes of glory."

I could go on, but you would probably like to read it yourself. :) The book was so good, when I finished I found myself wanting more of his wisdom. It's really amazing how God uses people to make His principles known and understood by many. My hat's off to you, Mr. Keller, and I look forward to reading more of your books.

Here is another [better written] review if you're interested. 


  1. I love reading marriage books, too. I'm going to check this one out from the library. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nicole, glad to hear you enjoyed this so much! I've wanted to read it since it came out and can't wait to pick up a copy.