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Book Review of The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller

Review of The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller

The Meaning of Marriage upholds the Biblical standard of marriage and offers practical advice that can help marriages function more Biblically. It also provides guidance and wisdom for singles, whether they are seeking marriage or not.

Book Details

Copyright 2011

Published by Riverhead Books

330 pages

8 chapters




Chapter One – The Secret of Marriage

Our culture is simultaneously overly romantic and overly pessimistic about marriage. Since marriage is a divine institution and it points to the relationship between Jesus and His church, neither pessimism nor romanticism are appropriate.

Chapter Two – The Power for Marriage

Power for marriage comes through the Holy Spirit enabling us to serve the other and find our value in what Christ has done for us. Spouses should seek to serve rather than use one another.

Chapter Three – The Essence of Marriage

The intentional commitment of the marriage covenant provides an environment where intimacy and romance can flourish.

Chapter Four – The Mission of Marriage

The purpose of marriage is to move us into closer conformity to Jesus. Our spouse should be actively helping to sanctify us. And we should welcome them to do that.

Chapter Five – Loving the Stranger

Married couples help one another become more like Jesus by using the powers of truth, love, and grace toward the other.

Chapter Six – Embracing the Other

Kathy Keller (Tim Keller’s wife) wrote this chapter. She sets forward a complementarian interpretation of gender roles. Husbands are to be servant-leaders and wives are to submit to their husbands.

Chapter Seven – Singleness and Marriage

Singleness is valuable. There is some history of dating and courtship and some suggestions for dating for the purpose of marriage.

Chapter Eight – Sex and Marriage

Sex is not dirty, or just an appetite, or solely for individual pleasure. It is “a foretaste of the joy that comes from being in complete union with God through Christ” (p260).



The Meaning of Marriage is targeted at married people and single adults (both those seeking and those not seeking marriage).

Big Ideas

Keller centers on the Biblical understanding of marriage as a picture of Jesus and the church. While it starts with a heavenly view of marriage, the emphasis tends to be on the interaction between husband and wife. It is very a very practical book.

Why It is Timely

Marriage is being devalued all around us. There are very few today who hold to a Biblical understanding of marriage who can also articulate it well. The Kellers incorporate both of these capabilities into the book. This book is timely because of the thoughts and attitudes around marriage in our world today and the lack of people able to address those thoughts and attitudes well.

What It Gets Right

It is dead on with what marriage represents – Jesus and the church. It lays out a complementarian understanding of gender roles. Their explanation of gender roles denies that men should be domineering and that women should be overly passive. The book gives a lot of beneficial insights of how husbands and wives can function together in a God-glorifying way.

What It Gets Wrong

One thing that I thought was odd was the chapter on singleness. That chapter spends little time on how good singleness is and more time on how to date. The (possibly) unintended consequence of that is to undo the words regarding how good singleness is.

There is an unfulfilling line of thinking in chapter 6 (starting on page 209) about the sometimes controversial topic of women working outside the home. Kathy gives some justification for women working outside of the home, but doesn’t deal with any of the standard scripture passages that are used on both sides of the argument. Regardless of where you stand on women working outside of the home, you probably won’t feel particularly challenged if you disagree with her or justified if you agree.


Even though the “What It Gets Wrong” section of this review is a lot longer than “What It Gets Right,” my complaints with the book are very minor. This is a solid book that will help married people enrich their marriages. There is a lot in it for singles, as well, especially those singles who are seeking marriage. John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (my review here) resonated with me more than Keller’s book, but I don’t hesitate to commend Keller’s book to you, as well.

Book Review of This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

Review of This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

This Momentary Marriage gives a cosmic, eternal perspective on marriage. It brings our thoughts of marriage out of the mundane and into what God intends us to see it as. It is a picture of the covenant keeping relationship between Jesus and His church. This view empowers us to live well in our marriages.

A quote from the first chapter sets the stage for what to expect in the rest of the book:

I pray that this book might be used by God to help set you free from small, worldly, culturally contaminated, self-centered, Christ-ignoring, God-neglecting, romance-intoxicated, unbiblical views of marriage. (p21)

Book Details

Copyright 2009

Published by Crossway

191 pages

15 chapters



Each chapter begins with a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a passage of scripture.

Foreword (by Noël Piper)


Chapter 1 – Staying Married Is Not Mainly About Staying in Love

Because marriage is from God, about God, and for God’s glory, staying married is a display of Christ’s covenant love for His church.

Chapter 2 – Naked and Not Ashamed

Husbands and wives can be free from shame from one another because of the nature of covenant love. The fall has broken this freedom, but redemption points to its restoration.

Chapter 3 – God’s Showcase of Covenant-Keeping Grace

Since marriage points to the grace that Jesus has poured out on His people, each marriage should display grace as husbands and wives graciously forebear with and forgive one another.

Chapter 4 – Forgiving and Forbearing

The foundation and source of our ability to forgive one another is Christ’s work for us. Husbands and wives should constantly remind themselves of this and strive to forgive one another.

Chapter 5 – Pursuing Conformity to Christ in the Covenant

Husbands and wives are brought into greater conformity with Jesus by the love, gracious forgiveness and forbearance, kindness, and words spoken to one another.

Chapter 6 – Lionhearted and Lamblike – The Christian Husband as Head: Foundations of Headship

The husband’s role is to be a servant leader to his wife.

Chapter 7 – Lionhearted and Lamblike – The Christian Husband as Head: What Does It Mean to Lead?

Husbands perform their role of servant leadership by providing for and protecting their wives and families spiritually and physically.

Chapter 8 – The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission

Wives submit to their husbands by following his leadership and facilitating that leadership by using their own gifts.

Chapter 9 – Single in Christ: A Name Better Than Sons and Daughters

Singleness is not inferior to being married. There are unique blessings to being single. And Jesus is greater than singleness or marriage.

Chapter 10 – Singleness, Marriage, and the Christian Virtue of Hospitality

Jesus is a greater treasure than singleness or marriage. Because married and single believers share the same great treasure, they have a unity with one another and should share their lives through hospitality.

Chapter 11 – Faith and Sex in Marriage

Sexual intimacy within marriage is a beautiful gift to us that points to something greater. When pursued in faith, it can defeat past guilt and future temptation.

Chapter 12 – Marriage is Meant for Making Children…Disciples of Jesus: How Absolute Is the Duty to Procreate?

While making babies is a glorious gift, we should be more concerned with making disciples. Also, a home where husband and wife are modeling the covenant-keeping relationship of marriage is the ideal place to bring up children.

Chapter 13 – Marriage is Mean for Making Children…Disciples of Jesus: The Conquest of Anger in Father and Child

Fathers have a particular responsibility to not unnecessarily stir up anger in the hearts of their children.

Chapter 14 – What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate: The Gospel and the Radical New Obedience

Divorce is wrong primarily because marriage represents the unbreakable covenant relationship between Jesus and His church. Piper recommends against all remarriage while the divorced spouse is still living.

Chapter 15 – What God Has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate: The Gospel and the Divorced

This chapter primarily addresses issues around remarriage.



I would recommend this book to three groups of adults. The book deals with sexual topics, so it probably isn’t the best for children.

The first group is those who are already married. This book can either teach or remind you what your marriage really is.

The second group is those who are single, but actively desiring to be married. It would benefit you greatly to get the truth into your heart that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His church. Most of this book seems most relevant to these first two groups, so they may get the most benefit from it.

The third group is those who are single and not interested in marriage. If you are content in your singleness and you believe that this is where God wants you to stay, that is wonderful. There are a couple of chapters that speak specifically to you for your encouragement.

Big Ideas

The biggest ideas in this book revolve around the meaning of marriage. Marriage is a picture of the covenant relationship between Jesus and His church. This book seeks to exalt marriage to the place that God intended for it to have. With the limitation of language and the limitation of our minds to understand, we will never have as high of a view of marriage as God does. But Piper did an admirable job of pointing us to such a vision of marriage.

Why It is Timely

Our culture has a horrible understanding of marriage. Divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births are staggering. But those staggering numbers are just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is that people have a weak view of what marriage is. This book is timely because of the widespread small view of marriage. Piper gives us a much needed cosmic view of the beauty of what marriage represents. If we can get that truth deep inside of us, it will help us not only just stick together, but seek to make marriage reflect God’s glory by letting it be what God intended it to be.

What It Gets Right

I can’t emphasize enough how right Piper is on the meaning of marriage. But he is also right on how marriage sanctifies us. And on gender roles. And having an emphasis on making disciples and not just babies.

What It Gets Wrong

There is nothing in this book that I think is just wrong. I’m not sure I totally agree with his thoughts on remarriage. I haven’t thought it through as much as he obviously has, so I don’t have any scripture passages to contradict him. But this is an area that I don’t completely agree, but I don’t have strong reasons to disagree.


This is a great book that I recommend without reservation. I think it would benefit me to pick it up from time to time to remind myself of what this thing called marriage is really about.