Recently I attended a wedding of a former Taylor student, and this naturally got me thinking again about marriage. It also prompted some reflection on books I’ve read on the topic. I haven’t read many marriage books, but several of the ones I have read are really good. Here are my top three.
Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage – This book features Keller’s characteristic earthy realism, lucidity, and insight. Among the points he rightly emphasizes are (1) the importance of your spouse being your best friend, (2) the way that marriage demands transparency and constancy between husband and wife, (3) the power of a good marriage to benefit the children, both morally and psychologically, and (4) the essential roles of forgiveness and repentance in a healthy marriage. All of these things add up to the unique capacity of marriage to catalyze deep personal transformation into Christ-likeness. The book closes with a frank and often humorous discussion of sex in marriage. It also features an entire chapter on a topic you don’t encounter often in marriage books: singleness. Here Keller highlights the goodness of singleness and how we need to remember that earthly marriage is actually “penultimate,” an image of the real thing—our eternal union with Christ. This is an excellent book for contexts ranging from premarital counseling to veteran married couples interested in deepening their theological understanding of their relationship.
Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage? – Unlike Keller’s book, this one is more philosophical, aiming to defend the traditional conception of marriage as essentially a union between one man and one woman. The authors offer a profoundly well-reasoned natural law case for this conviction. Their succinct definition: “Marriage is, of its essence, a comprehensive union: a union of will (by consent) and body (by sexual union); inherently ordered to procreation and thus the broad sharing of family life; and calling for permanent and exclusive commitment, whatever the spouses’ preferences.” In addition to demonstrating the rational grounds for monogamous heterosexual union, the authors illustrate the danger and irrationality of departing from this norm. This is an ideal volume for those interested in understanding the rationale for public endorsement of the traditional view of marriage.
Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage – This remarkable volume is not only a great book on marriage, it is one of the best books of any kind I have ever read. Though he bills himself as an amateur on the subject and primarily a creative writer, Mason is actually master psychologist and student of human nature. The book is effectively a phenomenology of married life, which pivots on the fundamental insight that human beings have a natural tendency to deny the personal reality of others (which, Mason notes, is tantamount to “antagonism toward God”). Since marriage necessarily involves an invasion of one’s privacy, it fundamentally challenges this tendency, so one must either be transformed or be crushed by the experience. Thus, Mason calls marriage “one of God’s most powerful secret weapons for the revolutionizing of the human heart.” It is, he says, “a wild audacious attempt at an almost impossible degree of cooperation between two powerful centers of self-assertion.” And that is why a good marriage is mysterious, even miraculous. Mason’s book is recommended not just to those interested in learning more about the nature of marriage but to anyone who appreciates profound insights into the human condition and the meaning of life. Yes, it is that good.
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