I'm tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church, and in Sunday school, much of what I've heard on the subject has as much depth as a Hallmark card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It's a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true...Sometimes you fall into bed, after a long, hard day of trying to understand each other, and you can only sigh: 'This is all a profound mystery!' At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost. (Keller, 2011, p. 21)
The above passage appears on the back cover and first page of Tim and Kathy Keller's book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. The Kellers unapologetically claim that marriage "is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us." (p. 120). They claim that to fall in love means to "look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, 'I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that" (p. 121). This is the assumption they spend the entire book fleshing out. Their book discusses the value placed on friendships and how the paradox of friendship "is that friendship cannot merely be about itself. It must be about something else, something that both friends are committed to and passionate about besides one another" (p. 113). Marriage then should be a friendship of sorts, that to fall in love with another, you must first have companionship claiming that "when God brought the first man his spouse, he brought him not just a lover but the friend his heart had been seeking" (p. 117). The Kellers acknowledge that one of mankind's deepest longings was and is companionship: "In his redemptive work, Jesus is both Friend and Lover, and this is to be the model for spouses in marriage" (p. 119). Their assumptions about marriage thus become an act of sanctification in which both spouses aim to bring the other towards fullness in Christ.
The Kellers claim the processes of sanctification in marriage begin when "people are appalled when they get sharp, far-reaching criticisms from their spouses...[we] must realize that it is not ultimately your spouse who is exposing the sinfulness of your heart - it's marriage itself...marriage shows you a realistic, unflattering picture of who you are and then takes you by the scruff of the neck and forces you to pay attention to it" (p. 140). Marriage then becomes the avenue through which individuals begin to see areas needing to be sanctified, transformed, and matured. The assumption made about couple interaction is then the act of sacrificially giving to "the power of marriage's ability to show you who you really are. The power of love is marriage's capacity for reprogramming your self-image, redeeming the past, and healing your deepest hurts" (p. 161). Thus interactions between spouses, should be aimed at the transformation of the other. Couples should then aim to base their interactions upon the sacrificial giving of one to the other. Interactions must be other motivated.
The theological underpinnings of the text soar off nearly every page. Couples, marriages, and spouses should be making the meaning of marriage the transformation of the other. This transformation is a transformation towards the likeness of Christ. The Kellers draw attention to some of the most traditionally Christian passages about marriage, specifically Ephesians 5:18-33. Where most other texts on marriage use the passage to discuss marital roles, the Kellers focus on the likeness of Christ's love for His children and how that love represents the kind of love spouses are to have for one another. There is no escaping the theological direction of this text. The following sums up their entire theological assumption: "He love us, not because we were lovely to Him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse" (p. 109).
The Meaning of Marriage directly confronts the most 'Christianese' notions about marriage and works to challenge those notions by presenting a wholly biblical view of marriage. No rock is left unturned in addressing topics from singleness to sex.