A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Ryan McGraw
Like most human beings, most Christians shall be, are, or have been married. Also like most human beings, Christians find that marriage often brings out the best and the worst in people. Putting believers on a different track, however, the gospel of Jesus Christ renews and reshapes every aspect of life. Marriage should not only be no exception, but it should preeminently display the power and implications of the gospel in everyday life. This profound, yet simple, book gives readers a full-orbed picture of how the gospel pushes us to give rather than get marriage as well as in life. Filled with biblical reasoning, practical counsel, and solid examples, the authors direct all readers well toward viewing marriage as a divine gift meant for mutual growth in the Lord.
The authors single out three features distinguishing this book from others on marriage: brevity, stressing that we are saints as well as sinners, and gleaning from the Puritan William Gouge to help readers understand marriage (13-14). In nine chapters, they ground marriage in Scripture and redemptive history, press the need for mutual submission without erasing the distinct roles of women and men, address Christ-centered self-denial in marital conflict, give guidelines for relating to children and extended family, show how sexual intimacy is designed to strengthen the bonds of marriage and illustrate how marriage promotes serving others and mutual holiness throughout life. With wit and humor, these chapters cover virtually every essential issue related to marriage, including communication, friendship, hospitality, abuse, and other relevant topics. Displaying both good humor and the Christ-focused other-oriented tenor of the book, the appendix on “how to change your spouse in three easy steps” is appropriately blank. To this end, this book is as enjoyable as it is instructive.
One outstanding strength of this book lies in its logic. The Van Dixhoorns wonderfully illustrate not simply the teaching of Scripture but the reasoning of Scripture. Apparent particularly in chapters 4-6, they press the logic of Paul’s teaching submission and love in marriage (Eph. 5), and the thought process involved in 1 Peter 3 related to hardships in marriage. Problems often arise in Christian living when believers focus only on what Scripture says, neglecting why Scripture says it. Gospel-Shaped Marriage teaches people how to reason their way through their married lives in ways that redirect them to Christ’s humiliation and exaltation as it comes to bear on ordinary Christian living. As such, the authors not only teach their readers what they need to know, but how they should think through Scripture, bringing it to bear on real-life situations. This is a skill that believers need to develop as they read their Bibles generally, seeking to live Spirit-filled lives to God’s glory.
While books on Christian marriage abound, this one should move toward the top of the pile. It is ideal for pre-marital counselling, for strengthening marriages, and for learning to think and live well in Christ. As the authors promise, it is short, positive, and proactive in tone, and draws lessons from sources off the beaten path for most people.
Ryan M. McGraw
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary