Since I’ll be getting married in less than a month, I’ve been trying to assess how to allot my time on marriage books available on the market.
The problem for me is I’ve heard of at least a half a dozen marriage books being called “the best book on marriage”, and I can’t figure out any one of these marriage book ends up being the “best book on marriage”. The reviews of a lot of these books seem to focus on praising it and perhaps a quick annotation on the author’s basic approach. However many of these books sound like they have the same basic approach as the next one.
For example, Harvey’s book is recommended because it shows how two sinners are getting married and need the power of the gospel for a successful marriage. A worthy approach! But I’ve already read and worked through Bryan Chapell’s “Each for the Other” which powerfully demonstrated this same fact among other things. So what might say Chapell’s book be lacking which Harvey’s book does not?
Since there are so many marriage books that get raves and praises, there needs to be a way to assess a couple from the pack to focus on. It would perhaps be better if those who recommended such books would focus on breaking down in a little more detail what such and such marriage book uniquely brings to the table.
“I can’t figure out any one of these marriage book ends up being the “best book on marriage”.”
Just to clarify on the above, I don’t mean they are poor or unworthy books. I mean I don’t understand the criteria on how one great marriage book gains uncritical prominence over the other great marriage books.
What I’m sure that Tripp means by saying this is that there are many books out there that treat of the symptoms of the problem without actually dealing with the heart issues. They deal with behavior and try to fix that without dealing with the heart idolatries. This is what needs to be addressed. And maybe none address it as well as Harvey does. At the same time, I certainly feel your frustration with people who seem to laud every book on marriage as the best. It reminds me of Lloyd-Jones, who almost always said that the passage he was dealing with was the most important in the Bible. Of course, in one sense that was true, since it was the most important passage for his congregation to look at right then. But in another sense, all of the Bible is important, and there is no one passage that is the most important. If you follow me.
“It reminds me of Lloyd-Jones, who almost always said that the passage he was dealing with was the most important in the Bible.”
Hehe, a well-meaning rhetorical device, I suppose. Since it’s Lloyd-Jones, he gets a free pass ;)
I know there are a LOT of deficient marriage books out there that tackle the problems in a step-by-step, mechanical approach that all but ignores the fundamental issue – the health of a Christian marriage is directly related to having a biblical grasp of sin and grace. Like the rest of the Christian life, it’s about being transformed by the renewing of the mind; having changed hearts, not mere change of behaviors.
Such an approach safeguards us from having a low view on marriage on the one hand, or making an idol out of marriage on the other. It’s just another place to serve in the Lord according to the grace he has given each of us.
Since there is a crop of books that do understand the biblical approach, and explain it each in their own way, for me it’s about figuring out what to do when hearing various recommendations left and right.
Chapell’s “Each for the Other” was life changing for me (though he repeats his points a lot, the points are amazing). Now I’m working through “The Mystery of Marriage” by Mike Mason. It’s far different from Chapell because Mason writes primarily from the thick of it, vividly reflecting on the experiences, working through the confusion, self doubt, and resultant awe at God’s design at work in marriage. It’s like reading the journals of a soldier-poet from the trenches, though a soldier who understands sin and grace. In that sense, the two books complement each other and fill me with edifying thoughts and considerations. Being the kind of person who wants to be as prepared as possible going into something as serious as a marriage commitment, I just wonder what I’d be missing if I don’t work through the other excellent books out there.
I will speak for myself in saying that the single most helpful practical tip on marriage of which I know is to keep short accounts by never letting the sun go down on an unresolved issue of offense. There may be larger decisions that take more than a day to resolve. But never go to sleep angry. Do not keep running lists of shortcomings of your spouse. If there is forgiveness, that is the END of the matter.
Not going to bed angry is good advice, and forgiveness might be the end of the matter, but do these books tell already married folks how to deal with real problems like how the 6th commandment requires that a wife NOT tolerate being pushed, shoved and beaten? Do these books explain how a wife might deal with being forced out of her bed (prohibited from going to bed before her husband or forbidden from rising before him), or forbidden to read the Bible?
How is it that “Christian books on marriage and professional Christian counselors all seem to want to treat every problem as sin on both parts. That is why “Christian counselors” feel good about telling a battered woman that she should really avoid making her husband angry. Maybe Mr. Tripp might know better, but it doesn’t seem to filter down effectively to those who look to him as a teacher.
I think one of the difference is that these are marriage books and not hermeneutic books, so how would it get into the simple fact that “Thou Shall Not Murder” doesn’t mean spousal abuse should be tolerated? They are usually written from the perspective that both are Christians and looking to submit to Christ, so they deal broadly with these issues. For example, it seems “common sensical” that a Jesus doesn’t smack around his bride, not allow her to sleep, etc.
In the several marriage books I have looked at they have never treat every problem as sin on both parts, can you provide some specific examples of this? Honestly, how many “counselors” do you know that have told a battered woman to stop making their spouse’s angry? If you know of 1, 2 or more, have you ever confronted them and the abusive spouse? Also note: there is a Gospel for the abusive husband.
Well, in the cases I know about both husband and wife profess Christ. And yes I have confronted the abusive husband. In the one case, the counselor is beyond being taught. That counselor is a trained “professional”, and therefore is sure that he knows more than any poor slub. He even charged $75/hr for that little gem of counseling. Oh, don’t think though that he was without any “supervision”, he was an employee of a very prestigious counseling para-church organization. He had been well trained.
I agree the Gospel is a good idea to preach to unrepentant abusive husbands. Too bad the counselors I know can’t be bothered with that. For them repentance is nothing more than asking for forgiveness, even when the asking involves blame shifting back to the wife or others. It’s hard to present the Gospel to those who think they are saved, thinking all they need a little more sanctification. The trouble with those kinds of case is that very few are willing to allow the possibility that 25+ years of being non-repentant for such serious sin is maximally incompatible with a credible profession of faith.
While most are willing to say in the abstract that 25+ years without repentance makes any profession of faith incredible, but present them with a real live case with a man who knows the right theological answers, and suddenly most think it seems a lot more complex.
See, KDNY, my point is more like everyone and their brother can write the best book on marriage. It’s like writing an intro to any subject. Broad and shallow for the pedestrians. No one writes the book for major problems, major sins.
Finally, KDNY, it seems to me that your statement about these marriage books, “They are usually written from the perspective that both are Christians and looking to submit to Christ…”, seems to ignore the fact that many Christian men can and do engage in abuse, not just physical, but emotional and spiritual as well. Physical abuse rarely if every happens without the other two. To me what that means is that those books are about nothing more than straw-man type problems, easy for the author to knock over.
The best book on marriage would be spend 90% of the space on how to avoid the wrong kind of spouse, with real concrete ways to develop such discernment, and how to inspect one’s own heart with respect to the relationship.
I hope you are enjoying your lovely life where no one ever has any problem that is without formulaic solution from a nice neat tidy Christian book.
Well, Andrew, that is a quite a ball of twine you threw and I don’t think I am up for untying it. Apparently a nerve is struck, so I won’t look to tie it up the blog in a discussion with someone that can go from “best book on marriage” to some conclusion about my “lovely life” and various unrelated points in between.
Yeesh. That “counsel” seriously makes me queasy, and is an unfortunate second data point (maybe a third) in actual lived experiences with some of the more well known counseling approaches in the P&R world.
Tenth does temperament surveys in their marriage prep program, which are I’ve found oddly useful.
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens; Justification, by John Fesko; The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan; Recovering the Reformed Confessions, by Scott Clark; Brief Outline of Theology, by Friedrich Schleiermacher; Principles of Sacred Theology, by Abraham Kuyper
Books I am now reading
Exodus commentaries; Matthew commentaries; Turretin's Institutes of Elenctic Theology; Baker's new history of the church
Books for future reading
Turretin's Institutes; Joseph Caryl on Job, German encyclopedias of theology