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Book Plunge: The Meaning of Marriage

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  • Book Plunge: The Meaning of Marriage

    So what's it all about?

    The link can be found here.

    The text is as follows:

    What do I think of Tim and Kathy Keller's book published by Riverhead? Let's plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

    This is the second Tim Keller book I've read and like the first one, I loved it and I hated it. I loved it because it's just packed with excellent information and wisdom to help one be a good spouse and learn to appreciate marriage all the better. I hated it because in the midst of all of this, the Kellers smack you right between the eyes with what they've written so you have to take a good long look in the mirror and come to the conclusion that there are ways that you don't shape up as the spouse that you are to be.

    Tim Keller is the pastor of a church with thousands of people in New York and the overwhelming majority of those people are single, quite the rarity. Despite that, this book is based on a sermon series he did on marriage. Sermons on marriage are not just for married people. They need to be there for singles as well. Why? Because many of those singles just might want to get married someday and they need to learn to honor marriage the way God intended. If they don't, they still need to honor marriage, such as avoiding having sex with other people, because they will be interacting with married people and even if you are not married, you can still work to build up the institution of marriage.

    At the start, the Kellers want to dismiss with the idea of a Hallmark card. Marriage is usually treated like a fairy tale where you live your life feeling constant love for the other person. However, if this was what marriage was meant to be, then very few marriages would last. In fact, it could be the reason that many marriages do not last is because there are too many people who expect this. C.S. Lewis once wrote that the feeling of being in love is the explosion that gets the relationship started, but after awhile, it has to learn to rely on a deeper love that does not depend on the feelings.

    The Kellers also give a history of marriage and show how in the Enlightenment, marriage came to be about fulfilling your own needs and not so much about self-denial. It came about fulfilling yourself as a person emotionally and sexually. Each person was entering more often for what the marriage would do for them and not what it would do for the other person. What a shock then that we wind up in a scenario where if the other person is not meeting our needs, well we just walk right out the door. Unfortunately, when we do this, we don't realize that many of the problems from the marriage we still take with us and we just bring them into our next relationship, and then we probably bring even more since we're trying to recover from a past relationship.

    Tim Keller says that as a pastor, he points out to people that love is hard. Most anything that you want to do well, it requires sacrifice and effort. Look at the star athlete in any field. Could they have been born with some natural talent? Absolutely. Yet despite that natural talent, they had to work hard to do what they are doing today. We could in fact argue that love is very hard because it does go against our natural inclinations. Our natural mode of operation is to look to ourselves and take care of our own needs. Marriage calls you out of that to look to the needs of someone else.

    The Kellers contend through their work that marriage is a picture of the Gospel. Of course, you can have a good marriage without knowing the Gospel, but if you know the Gospel well, it will improve your marriage. This is why they say that marriage is painful and wonderful. So is the Gospel. We can all appreciate good news about redemption in Christ and forgiveness, but with that good news comes the message that you are a human being who is not perfect and you are guilty of great wrong and need to seek forgiveness for your sins. We don't like being told we're sinners, and frankly, marriage has a great way of showing you the many things that you are doing wrong. I often tell guys that when you get married, it's like God putting a big mirror in front of you and saying "Hey! This is what you're really like! Do you like what you see?!"

    The Kellers point out that at the heart of many divorces is a self-centeredness. You can see this because many times when someone divorces, they will often rail about what a jerk the other person was. Very rarely will they talk about all the things that they did wrong. (This is not to say there are no valid divorces. Sadly, there are.) This is of course our natural tendency. None of us really likes to look in the mirror and see who we are, but I often tell people who are married that the rule I apply in our marriage is when something goes wrong, I try my hardest to first look at myself and see if I did anything wrong. I'd like to say I always succeed at doing this, but I don't.

    Ironically, if we put the needs of our spouse first and seek their happiness, we can more often find our own happiness. The reality is many of us know this. A wife who provides a good romantic evening for her husband can enjoy the sexual act itself. Yet despite this, the greater joy she will often get out of it is knowing that her husband is going to bed that evening a happy man. (And yes ladies, we will go to bed happy men!) A husband will not normally enjoy spending money, but when he buys his wife some flowers, the great joy that he gets is not from spending the money, but from the joy that he brings his wife. We all know this! Why aren't we living it more?

    The Kellers then go on to speak about the people who ask why a piece of paper should matter so much. Keller says that if you say "I love you, but let's not ruin it by getting married", it's a way of saying "I don't love you enough to close off all my options. I don't love you enough to give myself to you that thoroughly." Getting that piece of paper is a public declaration with solid evidence that there is no one else and that all other doors are closed. Yes. The piece of paper does mean something. (Also, the Kellers are strongly against any idea of living together before marriage as that also increases your odds of divorce.)

    Keller also talks here about our idea of passion and uses sex as an example. He writes that if you only have sex when you feel a time of great passion, then you will rarely do it and there will be fewer times of great passion as your spouse feels deprived. Why should they try to ask you for sex if they're quite sure they will get a no answer? I happen to agree with those who say that many times someone should have sex even when they don't feel like it. Once again, this is not about your needs. This is about the needs of your spouse. William Lane Craig has emphasized this as well.

    There's also the emphasis on what it means to honor your spouse. Breaking faith with your spouse means breaking it with God. It's a shame that many couples enter the covenant of marriage and before a year is done, they're looking to get out. When you got married, if it was in a church, you made vows to God and you made vows to man and you made vows to each other. Does that not mean anything to you? Those vows, the Kellers point out, are not just a vow of how you feel today, but they are meant to be vows that you will in fact keep loving your spouse in the future as well.

    The Kellers also want us to know that in marriage, our goal is to shape the other person to be all that Christ wants them to be. We don't just love them as they are. We love them as we see them becoming. We love to see what Christ is doing in them. You must be committed to your spouse's holiness. As you do this, you will experience romance, sex, laughter, and fun, but those are not the cause of the great marriage. They are the result of it. The more that you are getting from your relationship with Christ and becoming like Him, the more also you will be able to impart that to your own family.

    Aside from Christ, your marriage must be first. If your spouse does not think they are being put first, then you are not putting them first. That sounds hard, but it's the truth. What would it mean if you have to convince your spouse that you are their first love? It would mean that you have done something to them to demonstrate to them that you are indeed not their first love. There has been someone or something else invited into the marriage and the person who feels rejected is just drifting into the background. You will not be able to have a great marriage if this is going on.

    The Kellers also write about loving the other, and this in two chapters with Tim writing one first and his wife writing one on being a wife in the relationship. Tim writes about the power to transform, pointing out that he never really felt manly until he married. This is something I can relate to. I never did either, but now that I have a wife, I can fully delight in the masculinity that I do possess. This is also another reason why the sexual component means so much. It is the loudest way that a wife can scream to her husband "You are my man." The rest of the world may look at me and see nothing special, but if Allie is looking at me and saying I am her man and her rock and the one she turns to, then I'm ready to conquer the world at that point.

    Keller also writes to never withhold the primary love language. This goes both ways. A wife should not use sex as a weapon, such as punishing her husband by withholding herself when she doesn't get her way. On the other hand, the husbands can often be quite guilty of this when they give the silent treatment.

    The Kellers also have a chapter on the single life and marriage. It's important to realize that if you are single, you are not looking for another Jesus. Your spouse is not supposed to be your savior. That is expecting too much of them. It is tempting to put your spouse in the place of God, but that is a recipe for disaster. Your spouse will not solve all the problems in your life. In fact, your spouse will quite often cause all new problems in your life.

    The last chapter is on sex, and I think this is the way to go. OF course, this is the chapter most of us men want to skip ahead to, but we need to know all about marriage before we get to one of the greatest fruits of marriage. The Kellers write that sex is a covenant making activity. There's a reason why in the bedroom, you will often get the greatest cries of love and passion. It is a passionate time and each person is practically under a spell. Earlier in the book, the Kellers write that it doesn't necessarily start out this way. The Kellers write they were virgins when they married and the first time was frustrating, but like any other skill, it improves over the years. One of the greatest ways to improve it is to focus not on your happiness but on that of your spouse. Don't try to perform. Just love one another. If you love one another, then there will definitely be times in enjoying that sex that you will indeed rock each other's world.

    Finally, sex is enjoyable not because it just includes awesome and incredible physical sensations, but because it reflects to the Trinity and the delight that our soul will have before God. Sex is often the closest we get to a moment of true ecstasy and an out-of-body experience in this life. (Is it any wonder some have even said that sex could be used as a proof that God exists?)

    In conclusion, I highly recommend this book by the Kellers. I suspect I will be going through it again sometime, this time with my wife.

    In Christ,
    Nick Peters

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