9Marks Marriage Book Comparison Chart

Article
02.26.2010

Akin, Danny. God on Sex: The Creator’s Ideas About Love, Intimacy and Marriage. B&H, 2003.

Danny Akin’s God on Sex presents a strongly complementarian approach to marriage and sex through easily understandable, application-oriented, verse-by-verse commentary on the Song of Solomon. Intended for a lay audience interested in the Scriptural text, God on Sex asserts that marriage is a God-ordained institution given to bless men and women in every facet of life—spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Akin’s central point seems to be that cultivating a sexual relationship satisfying to both spouses is an essential component of a healthy, God-glorifying marriage. “This good gift of God,” Akin writes, “will find its fullest expression realized when a man and woman give themselves completely to each other in the marriage relationship” (3). The healthy marriage necessarily includes a healthy sex life; accordingly, the healthy sex life is necessarily driven by a healthy marriage. Whether a young wife, a husband seeking to carry out his role as leader, or an older couple seeking rejuvenation, the reader will benefit from this two-sided emphasis.

The book includes considerable practical advice—and an avalanche of lists—on such topics as how to create romance, how to be attractive for one’s spouse, what happy couples say about sex, and so on. Akin wants to help Christian couples not only develop a biblical understanding of marriage and sex, but to put this knowledge into practice on a day-to-day basis. I know of few other books in this area that offer such attention to the development of not simply a marital methodology, but a marital life in which one strives with great effort to please and bless one’s spouse.

Areas that could use more attention? Though it is difficult to know exactly how to apply Christ’s command to interpret all Scripture in light of his person and work (Luke 24), Akin chooses not to interpret the Song in a Christological way. One wonders if more could not be done in this area (see Jim Hamilton’s review of Tommy Nelson’s book below or his excellent article on this topic in WTJ, 68 (2006): 331–45). Also: the list on page 231 featuring an in-your-face approach to gender differences seems out of place in a book that radiates sensitivity and care.

Over all, God on Sex is a passionate, practical, biblically driven resource from a strong husband, father, and churchman. This is perhaps the strongest impression that the book makes—one feels after reading it that one has spent time conversing with a wise, practical, and loving husband. Far from being condemned or depressed from that conversation, one is all the better for it.

Owen Strachan (Ph.D. candidate, Trinity Evangelical Divinity, Deerfield, IL)
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Ash, Christopher. Married for God: Making Your Marriage the Best It Can Be. Inter-Varsity, 2007.

Christopher Ash’s Married for God is a very good entry-level book on God’s plan for marriage. The sequel to, and a popularized version of, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, this volume is simply written yet theologically sound. It is God- rather than man-centered, decidedly complementarian, and consistently informed biblically. Chapter 4 on the purpose for sex is particularly helpful. Ash also has good discussions on the major biblical passages on marriage, on singleness and divorce, and on the nature of marriage as a covenant between two parties with God as a witness (see Mal 2:13–14). Also commendable is Ash’s emphasis on faithfulness in marriage. This refreshing, engaging, and affirming book would be an ideal resource for young people contemplating marriage, for engaged couples preparing for marriage, or for married couples desiring to review the basics of marriage or to get their marriage back on track.

Andreas Köstenberger (Southeastern Bapist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC)
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Ash, Christopher. Marriage: Sex in the Service of God. Regent College, 2005.

This fine volume presents a very academic, systematic theological treatment of marriage for those with an advanced knowledge in theology and philosophy. The book’s stated aim is to re-examine the biblical and theological foundations for sex and marriage. To this end, the book sets out to provide a systematic theological exegesis of the purpose and definition of marriage in Scripture. Owing to its exclusive focus on marriage, the book does not provide treatments of singleness, divorce and remarriage, homosexuality, and other related topics. Ash starts with a discussion of creation order as created rather than constructed. He contends that marriage is a status entered, not an ideal aspired to or a project undertaken. The purpose of sex is discussed in terms of procreation, relationship, and the public good. A central thesis of the book is that rather than taking the place of God, sex ought to be used in the service of God. Other helpful discussions include the morality of chosen childlessness, involuntary childlessness, contraception, headship and submission, and faithfulness vs. adultery. For those interested in a thorough discussion of the biblical, theological, and philosophical dimensions of marriage, this is a very useful and stimulating book.

Andreas Köstenberger (Southeastern Bapist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, NC)
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Chapell, Bryan, with Kathy Chapell. Each for the Other: Marriage as It’s Meant to Be, rev. ed. Baker, 2006.

This excellent book on marriage is divided into three main parts. The first part focuses on the husband, a servant-leader whose authority in the family is grounded in Christ’s love for his church. The husband is one who, as the head of his wife, sacrifices himself for her good. Secondly, the role of the wife is viewed as one of sacrificial submission by which the wife complements and completes her husband, and thus finds true, biblical honor and dignity. The third section, on parenting, flows from the previous two. Love for God, love between spouses, the responsibilities of both children and parents, as well some practical advice about what parents should and should not do are the essential building blocks for biblical parenting. Biblically and theologically grounded, and filled with pastoral insights, illustrations and examples that the reader will find helpful and enjoyable, this book is highly recommended for use by pastors, for those involved in pre-marital counseling, for small groups, and for couples who want and need a reminder of the true intention of marriage.

Brian Vickers (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)
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Champman, Gary. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Northfield, 1992.

5LL teaches several worthwhile things: love is expressed and received in different forms (“languages”); what communicates love to one person may be entirely different for another person; married people should learn what is meaningful to their spouses; they should also take initiative in showing accurate love, and persist.

But the underlying premise of 5LL is faulty. It relentlessly communicates a theory of psychological needs that must be met by a spouse (or parent), and it ascribes magic-working power to change others if you give them what they want. 5LL wholly lacks awareness of both the sin in our desires and the Christ who turns life upside down.

—David Powlison (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation)
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Crabb, Larry. The Marriage Builder: A Blueprint for Couples and Counselors. Zondervan, 1982.

I’ve known marriages changed for the good by reading MB. The key? Chapters 3-8. The question “Manipulation or ministry?” convicted each party of a self-serving approach. By finding life in relationship to Christ, giving and honesty replace taking and fearing. Practical discussions of communication, sexuality, grace, commitment and acceptance further helped to rewrite the marital script.

That said, I have trouble recomending MB. Crabb’s theory of psychological needs dominates chapters 1-2 (and pops up throughout), distorting his interpretation of our complex desires and of the gospel. Christ’s grace enables our ability to love others via a different dynamic than Crabb portrays.

—David Powlison (Christian Counseling and Education Foundation)
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Eggerichs, Emerson. Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs. Thomas Nelson, 2004.

The title says it all. Emerson Eggerichs’ hugely popular book repeatedly exhorts husbands and wives that one problem plagues marriages above all others: “without love (her deepest need), she reacts without respect (his deepest need); without respect (his deepest need), he reacts without love (her deepest need)” (297). This phenomenon, which Eggerichs calls the “Crazy Cycle,” occurs when couples fail to understand and apply Ephesians 5:33. After describing dozens of devastating consequences that come when this command is neglected, the remainder of the book lays out practical steps to apply both love and respect to a marriage and concludes with the invaluable benefits that result.

The book’s unique contribution is its emphasis on biblical respect, and the result is a refreshing complementarian perspective. It is on this issue that Eggerichs is at his biblical best, gently arguing from Scripture against the low view of male leadership that pervades our society and infects countless marriages.

Though filled with many illustrations and tips designed to promote love and respect, the book’s failure to emphasize the centrality of the gospel is disappointing. Eggerichs spends the majority of the book arguing from Ephesians 5, yet he fails to focus on the point of the passage: marriage is to be a picture of the gospel. Jesus is discussed but almost entirely apart from his cross, and the concept of his atoning sacrifice is utterly absent. True, the book’s aim is marriage, but it is incomprehensible that Christian couples could apply Eph. 5, 1 Peter 3:1-2, and Eph. 4:32—each of which are examined—without dwelling on Christ’s sacrifice in their place, the very exchange that precedes and drives all of the above passages. It seems that this lack of gospel-emphasis leads the author to hold a deficient view of human depravity. Rather than stressing the sinfulness of every spouse’s heart and our constant need for repentance, Eggerichs assumes that the vast majority of us are people of “basic goodwill and good intentions” (21, 78, 81, 266).

This book is well written and full of practical advice and conducive to group study, yet I would advise all to leave it on the shelf and take up instead a book such as Gary and Betsy Ricucci’s Love that Lasts. The Ricucci book is centered on Christ and the gospel, understands the depth of every spouse’s sinful disposition, and it lacks none of the practicality of Love and Respect.

Nathan Lugbill (Pastoral assistant, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC)
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Harvey, Dave. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage. Shepherd Press, 2007.

Countless books exist on marriage today, and they address a variety of topics. Harvey, however, reminds us of the most fundamental truth of all—the truth that is the bedrock of every marriage that pleases the Lord. And that truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, Harvey reminds us that marriage is the one-flesh union of two sinners. Marriage is not a romantic dream, nor is it a flight from the harsh realities of everyday life. Instead, marriage reveals our sin in an up-close and personal way. The uncovering of our sin, Harvey teaches us, should drive us afresh and anew to the grace of the gospel. If we are keenly conscious of our own sin and our dependence upon the grace of God, then we will in turn convey that same grace and mercy to our spouse. The book is written in a conversational style and is filled with practical examples and stories, so it is ideal for small group studies, for marriage counseling, and for husbands and wives who want to renew and refresh their love for one another. Harvey’s intention is not to address the theology of marriage or many of the practical issues treated in other books on marriage. What Harvey gives us, however, is immensely helpful: no marriage can thrive without being immersed in the grace of the gospel.

—Tom Schreiner (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)
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Hybels, Bill and Lynne. Fit to Be Tied, new ed. Zondervan, 1997, orig. pub. 1991,

I first read Fit to be Tied a year or two after it was originally published, when I was a non-Christian sophomore in college (though I fancied myself a Christian at the time). I had been told it had some good practical advice about “Christian marriage.” What I found was a book that contained some helpful practical points on marriage and mentioned—almost in passing—that a “relationship with God in Jesus Christ” was needful for my happiness in any area of life, including marriage. I enjoyed some of the practical aspects of the book and never once felt confronted or uncomfortable in my vague, gospel-less, false conception of my own “relationship with Christ.” In retrospect, that was the problem.

As I’ve revisited the book over the years—as a follower of Christ—my basic assessment has changed little. Fit to be Tied offers some decent practical nuggets for the patient reader, but it is devoid of the basic theology of marriage and biblical rigor required to provide any foundation for the advice it offers. To be fair, not every marriage book needs to present a full academic treatment of the theology of Genesis 1 to 3 and Ephesians 5. Still, without some robust, meaningful consideration of the gospel, the word of God, and God’s glory, “how-to” books on marriage or any other part of the Christian life almost always devolve into anthropocentric pop psychology leavened with occasional spasms of Christian vocabulary. Fit to be Tied is no exception.

In the Fit to be Tied universe, the irreducible good is a “healthy marriage” for its own sake and my resulting happiness, which God evidently wants for me above all things. Why does scripture counsel us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers? Fundamentally, the answer is so that we can achieve “spiritual compatibility” and “make sure that every husband and wife can share that which is most precious to them,” and so that we can avoid “frustration” by having a marriage built “from a common blueprint.” Marriage as a metaphor for Christ and the church? As a clear outworking of the gospel in earthly circumstances? As a means to bring God glory? Nowhere to be found.

The book’s (often sloppy) use of Scripture is rarely more than a means to its pragmatic end. The only passing reference to Ephesians 5 in the entire volume is used as an admonishment that men should “treasure” their wives—which itself is essentially defined as making more of an effort at romance than might come naturally to us. Jesus’ admonishment in Matthew 10 to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” becomes a warning not to lose our “street smarts” when dating, and to be “ruthlessly analytical” when assessing our future spouse in terms of biblical fundamentals, like whether the person “has a budget,” “keeps his body in shape,” or “maintains her possessions reasonably well.”

As I mentioned, the book does contain some practical wisdom. The Hybels responsibly pillory the myth that marriage is easy or ultimately fulfilling (as a substitute for Christ). The chapters on resolving conflict, romance, and sex in marriage may be practically useful for people struggling in those areas, even if the advice is grounded in biblical thin air. Even so, the nuggets here can be gained from other, more biblical volumes, such as CJ Mahaney’s Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God.

The unfortunate bottom line is that, like so many books on “biblical marriage,” Fit to be Tied could use a little more Bible.

Scott Croft (Elder, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC)
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Köstenberger, Andreas, with David W. Jones. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation. Crossway, 2004.

Köstenberger and Jones have written an indispensable book of biblical and theological depth on marriage. The book is a scholarly treatment of marriage, but it is written clearly so that laypersons can understand it. Köstenberger and Jones unpack the meaning of marriage from both the Old and New Testaments. They carefully study the fundamental biblical passages where God’s design for marriage is communicated. They also explore the theology of marriage: is it a sacrament, a contract, or a covenant? They ably defend the notion that marriage is a covenantal union between husbands and wives. Furthermore, the book tackles controversial issues that every husband and wife should understand. Even Christians debate today whether husbands and wives have different roles in marriage, and Köstenberger and Jones provide a convincing explanation of what the scriptures teach.

Nor do the authors confine themselves to marriage. The larger theology of the family and the role of children in the family are also explained from a careful study of the scriptures. Köstenberger and Jones explore what the scriptures have to say about disciplining children, so that we are equipped to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Many books on the family and marriage say nothing about singleness. Köstenberger and Jones include a very helpful discussion of this matter.

Other questions are examined that are controversial in our culture: Is it right for a husband and wife to refuse to have children? What do the scriptures teach about abortion? Is contraception biblically permissible? What forms of contraception are acceptable for believers? What does the Bible teach about homosexuality? The authors address in a very helpful chapter what the Bible says about divorce, and in another chapter they ask whether a divorced person can serve as an elder or pastor in the church.

The above summary indicates that some controversial issues are addressed in the book, and there may be places where the reader disagrees with the authors. But the book addresses every matter with a high view of the authority and truthfulness of scripture. Nor are the scriptures simply accepted in theory. What is striking is the careful biblical interpretation that informs the entire work. This book would be helpful for Sunday School classes, small group studies, and for classes in a college or seminary.

—Tom Schreiner (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)
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LaHaye, Tim and Beverly. The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love, updated and expanded. Zondervan, 1998, orig. pub. 1976.

This book is all about sexual intercourse. It addresses attitudes toward it, biological and anatomical realities related to it, gender specific dispositions toward it, and various problems people have with it. A book like this is good for people to read, perhaps when they get engaged, in order to be helpfully informed about, as the authors put it, “the act of marriage.” This book contains medical information that one should take with a grain of salt (since the authors are not physicians), and, though updated, it bears the marks of a volume published long ago. For instance, a pharmacist is referred to as a “druggist.” Even so, there is much wisdom and helpful information here from a Christian perspective.

—Jim Hamilton (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)
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Mack, Wayne A. Strengthening Your Marriage. P&R Publishing, 1999.

Originally penned 31 years ago, this book continues to serve us well today with clear teaching on God’s will for our marriages. I served on staff at Grace Community Church for a number of years where Mack was an elder. This allowed me to see up close that the teaching he offers is the very life he has lived. The reader will find that this book provides a great starting point for considering the major areas of a godly marriage. From marital roles to a right mindset toward children, he brings Scripture to bear on each area. There’s plenty to think about and discuss with one’s spouse! Particularly helpful, Mack doesn’t merely focus on marital anecdotes, instead he asks readers the hard-hitting questions that will identify personal sin and bring them to the cross of Christ to see the true hope for lasting change and obedience.

Some readers will find the format challenging. The material is not presented in typical fashion but in an outline form through the entirety of the book. While this helps one track the major points, it also makes the book feel awkward and unfamiliar.

One significant strength: the book offers the opportunity to interact with the material by doing Bible studies after each chapter. For those of us who are tempted to read and move on, such exercises encourage us not to avoid application.

From pre-marital preparation to marriage refreshers, Christian couples of all types will appreciate what Mack offers and will be aided in their desire to honor Christ in their marriage.

—Eric Bancroft (Pastor, Castleview Baptist Church, Indianapolis, IN)
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Mack, Wayne A. and Carol Mack. Sweethearts for a Lifetime: Making the Most of Your Marriage. P&R Publishing, 2006.

Celebrating their 51st wedding anniversary this year, Wayne and Carol Mack greatly help the rest of us who long to celebrate such an anniversary ourselves. They title one chapter, “Good Marriages Require Perspiration,” and, sure enough, they show what marital hard work looks like and how rewarding it can be. And they do so with skillful writing and personal testimony. The ultimate goal of every Christian marriage is demonstrating the preeminence of Christ. It requires sacrifice. Yet it’s rewarded with the confidence of knowing that God, the creator of marriage, is pleased.

After starting with some fundamentals, the book divides with Wayne addressing the husbands and Carol addressing the wives with their respective duties and joys in marriage. Each of them brings Scripture to bear and helpfully applies it to the reader’s situation. True to many of Wayne Mack’s books, each chapter provides a section for application, which can range from personal questions to conversations topic for the couple.

The reader looking for clear biblical and practical instruction on a Christ-honoring marriage will find it all here. So whether you can hear wedding bells in your near future or you are enjoying decades of a faithful marriage already, you will not regret reading this book and sharpening your thoughts and practices in your marriage.

—Eric Bancroft (Pastor, Castleview Baptist Church, Indianapolis, IN)
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Mahaney, Carolyn. Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother, revised edition. Crossway, 2004.

It’s a bit odd, as a man, to write a review on a book called Feminine Appeal. However, reading Carolyn Mahaney’s book was a delightful surprise for me. I am convinced that its impact is not limited to the women to whom it is written, but also to men who desire to “live with their wives in an understanding way.”

The central message of the book is for women to embrace and pursue the mentoring mandate in Titus 2 and thus point to the transforming effect of the gospel in the lives of women. Carolyn’s own words summarize this volume:

Consider the loveliness of a woman who passionately adores her husband, who tenderly cherishes her children, who creates a warm and peaceful home, who exemplifies purity, self-control, and kindness in her character and who gladly submits to her husband’s leadership—for all the days God grants her. I dare say that there are few things that display the gospel jewel with greater elegance (21).

Carolyn does in this book what Paul does with Titus: she paints a beautiful portrait of both the virtues and skills that make for a godly wife and mother. Moreover, she offers help, encouragement, and instruction, providing balanced attention to both mentor and disciple as she unfolds Titus 2. Not only so, but Carolyn also skillfully leads the reader into thoughts about gospel theology and personal sanctification.

The book’s strength is its simplicity. But that does not make it an easier pill to swallow. This is not a book for women who simply want to feel better about being feminine. It takes on the most serious and controversial dimensions of biblical femininity without blinking. For example, the subjects of submission to husbands and working at home are stripped of their cultural caricatures and presented to women as gracious gifts from a gracious God. Moreover, Carolyn handles the issues of sexual purity and marital intimacy with amazing clarity in an economy of space.

Bottom line: this book is theologically solid and clear, helpfully illustrated, sensitively written, realistic, appropriately humorous, humble, and it provides hope in the face of failure.

I highly recommend this book, but not just for married women. It is also great instruction for young, unmarried women, and it will be helpful for men (young and old) to understand, too. This book should be required reading for young men and women, and also for those of us who are married already.

—Rick Holland (Sr. Assoc. Pastor, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA)
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Mahaney, C.J. Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know, rev’d edition.Crossway, 2004.

The accent of C.J. Mahaney’s ministry is a passion to promote a gospel-centered orientation of one’s life. No matter what he writes or speaks about, the gospel is sure to be the integrating focus. This emphasis is obvious throughout Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God.

Using the Song of Solomon as his foundation, Mahaney unpacks a compelling case for husbands to provide deliberate, sensitive, and selfless love to their wives. His encouragement is simple: the love that husbands want their wives to give must first be initiated. Physical expressions of love between spouses should be the fruit of deep roots of godly devotion to one another.

Though the book is rooted in Solomon’s Song, it surveys and applies many other passages related to the marriage relationship as well. The expositions are trustworthy and concise. This is not a commentary on the respective passages, but applications from those Scriptures.

Mahaney’s applications are specific, convicting, and helpful to any Christian husband who will listen. And the book’s strength is just that—it’s very practical. It’s a paint-by-numbers approach to loving your wife in both soul and body.

Be warned, however. This is not a book for blushers. Mahaney is graphic in his descriptions of sexuality, and thus is probably not the best book for a couple to read before they are married.

Bottom line: This book contains great instruction for husbands and great insights for wives. It is theologically sound, practically applied, connected to gospel truth, appropriately humorous, and short enough to read in a few sittings, though sometimes too explicit in description.

It is too easy to say that this book is countercultural with regard to how the world thinks about marital love and intimacy. The problem is that it is countercultural with regard to how most Christians think about marriage. To read this book is to have your selfishness assaulted, to have your thinking reoriented, and to discover that when Christ is preeminent in the marriage bedroom, you find God-given satisfaction.

—Rick Holland (Sr. Assoc. Pastor, Grace Community, Sun Valley, CA)
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Mason, Mike. The Mystery of Marriage: Meditations on the Miracle, 20th anniversary edition. Multnomah, 2005, orig. pub. 1985.

This book surely has to be one of the more improbable success stories in evangelical publishing. A recent convert to Christianity is convinced he is called to celibacy, only to fall in love and get married. Then in his first, rocky year of marriage he writes a biblically informed philosophical meditation on the meaning of marriage based on the journals he kept during his engagement. A publisher takes a chance on the book, and 23 years later, the book is still in print. Luminaries like J. I. Packer have written, “Rarely . . . has a new book roused in me so much enthusiasm as has the combination of wisdom, depth, dignity, and glow—I don’t know what else to call it—that I find in these chapters. . . . please excuse my own slight giddiness.” The sagacious Elisabeth Elliot calls it “a drop-everything book,” saying, “I don’t need to read any other book on the subject.”

Mason’s book seeks to explore the “dynamic correspondence between marriage and the great invisible realities of the Christian faith. It is not a ‘how-to’ book so much as a ‘how-come’ book, a meditative inquiry into the spiritual foundations upon which marriage is built” (p. 27). Chapters cover (1) Otherness; (2) Love; (3) Intimacy; (4) Vows; (5) Sex; (6) [Mutual] Submission; (7) Death; and (a new chapter for the 20th anniversary edition) (8) Oneness. The book is far from perfect (occasionally downplaying and bypassing the differing roles God has designed in marriage; using ill-advised language about God taking risks; etc.), but at the same time, there is no other book like it, lyrically and profoundly exploring the miraculous mystery of marriage. It’s not for everyone, but I learned much from it and would highly (though selectively) recommend it to others.

—Justin Taylor (Crossway, Wheaton, IL)
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Nelson, Tommy. The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says about Love, Sex, and Intimacy. Thomas Nelson, 1998.

The best thing about this book is that it is chock full of interesting stories that reflect biblical truth. In addition to the entertainment value of the stories, the book makes selective use of psychological tidbits (e.g., men are microwaves, women are crock-pots) and wise recommendations on how to deal with relationships. It presents the story of the Song of Solomon as a gradual progression from two single people who meet, court, marry, and proceed through life together. The aforementioned anecdotes, wisdom, and practical steps for dealing with conflict and such are introduced as they fit into the purported story of the Song of Solomon. All of this can be very helpful, especially for those who have not seen good marriages where people deal with difficulties well.

Insofar as the book is presented as an exposition of the Song of Solomon, however, more attention is due both to the text of the Song itself and to its canonical context. It seems to me that the author of the Song intended readers to see more significance in the Song than is typically ascribed to it, especially given its canonical setting and the flow of redemptive history. Thus, more could be made of the fact that the male in the Song is the Davidic king, who is overcoming the alienation between himself and his beloved, with the scene alternating between a Garden setting and the city of Jerusalem.

Read in canonical context, the king is reversing the curse of Genesis 3:16, renewing the Edenic experience, and this, it seems, is a picture of the Davidic King who laid down his life for his bride. This has obvious implications for marriage (Eph 5:22–33). Drawing in these canonical realities from the whole of the Bible’s story provides opportunities to address why things are wrong (the curse of Gen 3), how God addresses these wrongs (the Davidic King who overcomes the curse and initiates reconciliation), and the fact that only those who hope and trust in King Jesus will enjoy the new Eden, to which marital harmony in the present age points. We will not have good marriages apart from our hope in and emulation of the King who has overcome the alienation of sin.

—Jim Hamilton (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY)
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Parrott, Les & Leslie. Love Talk: Speak Each Other’s Love Language Like You Never Have Before. Zondervan, 2004.

The goal of Love Talk is to increase the quality of conversations in a marriage relationship (p. 23). Such good conversations come about when the couple feels emotionally safe to say anything to each other (p. 50). How will they attain feelings of emotional safety? Through understanding one another’s fears of the other and how these fears cause them to converse as they do (p. 58). Once these fears and communication styles are understood, then husband and wife can show empathy and understanding towards one another, which is the essence of “love talk” (p. 104).

What you will gain from Love Talk is a reminder that people communicate differently—and a way to think about these differences in useful categories. The book also practically helps the reader to consider his or her own fears, as well as the spouse’s. And it is filled with the reminder that husbands and wives need to be thoughtful before speaking.

Unfortunately, Love Talk doesn’t provide any real solutions to the main problem hindering communication in marriage—sin. In fact, sin isn’t discussed in the entire book. Most instruction dwells on matters of miscommunication and doesn’t deal with those things that cause the most problems with how married couples speak to each other, such as our own pride and selfish desires (James 4:1-2) reflected in our hearts (Matthew 12:34). Yes, there are references made about our fears, but Love Talk doesn’t identify such fears as being wrong or even make an attempt to help remove them. Instead, it teaches us how to tiptoe around our fears by respecting them.

It’s not until the last chapter that Love Talk finally reveals the underlying power that allows us to truly enjoy “love talk”—ourselves. Reading this book, one would think that boosting our self-respect and partner-respect by thinking positive thoughts is the key to every great conversation. The most remarkable comment of all comes in the beginning chapters where Love Talk asserts that the authors’ communication solution won’t be found in any other book (p. 28). Well, we can at least agree that it won’t be found among any of the books of the Bible.

—Steve W. Boyer (Elder, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC)
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Peace, Martha. The Excellent Wife: A Biblical Perspective, rev. ed.Focus Publishing, 1999.

Certified by the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors, Martha Peace brings a wealth of personal counseling experience and biblical knowledge to her book for women (and their husbands) The Excellent Wife. Her seasoned counseling hand is evident in the sensitivity she demonstrates to women in all types of marriages. The reader gets the impression that Peace has “seen it all,” making it easy to trust her (presumably) hard-earned wisdom. The opening testimony of Peace’s own adulthood conversion to Christ, following struggles with drinking and plans to leave her husband and children, only reinforces the reader’s confidence that this soldier knows the battlefield she is on.

Peace provides an astounding and nearly exhaustive portrait of the Proverbs 31 “excellent wife” (with the exception of mothering) from texts throughout the Bible. Scarcely a sentence is written without another sentence of Scripture to back up her instruction. Peace takes a strongly complementarian approach to marriage, but she also presents women with very clear guidance for approaching their husband’s sin.

I would encourage pastors and/or small groups leaders to use Peace’s book with two significant qualifications: First, Peace does encourage wives to seek out older, godlier women and church leaders when necessary, but generally she depicts the Christian life and marriage apart from the teaching, accountability, and community of the local church. Second, Peace affirms the importance of the gospel throughout the book, yet somehow the gospel affirmations typically do not filter through to her practical applications. Two examples: (i) Her chapter on dealing with a wife’s anger affirms God’s perfect anger and the propitiatory work of Christ toward the beginning of the chapter; but then her four practical steps for fighting anger include no reference to remembering this gospel truth but simply call women to exercise will power. (ii) A woman who struggles with impatience should say to herself, “Love is patient. I can show patience to him by patiently listening . . .” (emphasis not mine), with no reference to Christ’s patience with her, her new identity in Christ, and her freedom to be patient because she has nothing left to prove—her cause has been proven by Christ.

In short, women (and their husbands) will benefit immensely from the biblical portrait of a godly wife this book provides (I don’t know of anything else like it). But pastors may want to make sure the book is used in contexts where a teacher can present or discuss the material with gospel reinforcement, especially among Christian wives who struggle with legalism and discouragement.

Jonathan Leeman (9Marks, Washington, DC)

 

Peace, Martha & John Crotts. Tying the Knot Tighter. P & R, 2007.

This is not a “normal” marriage book. Most marriage books deal with communication, forgiveness, finances, sex, and parenting. They give heart-warming stories, examples of things that go wrong, and lots of biblical principles to guide the relationship. They also help couples to feel better educated about marriage. Christian marriage books (hopefully) ground all of these discussions in Scripture.

In Martha Peace and John Crott’s Tying the Knot Tighter, the primary goal is not to educate or inspire (though it does both of these things). The main objective is to help couples reflect on and reevaluate the foundations of their own marriage. The authors write:

Taking the time apart to refresh ourselves on the foundations of marriage is vital as a couple. This is true for all Christian marriages. Just as the best players never get past the basics of their sport, so Christian couples need to be regularly reminded of the basics of a Christian marriage. This book sets out to provide such reminders (p. 11).

In nineteen short chapters, Peace and Crotts work through nineteen helpful topics: loving the Lord, bible reading, prayer, church, growing together, male leadership, wives loving husbands, submission, living by knowledge, respect, husbands providing for their family, setting the tone for home, communication, facing trials together, conflict resolution, money, sex, and parenting.

Each chapter has a biblical summary of the topic, heart-probing questions that help couples to reflect on their own marriage, and a prayer to conclude the discussion. The point is not to give you an exhaustive overview of each topic. Rather, the authors want couples to focus their time on asking each other questions. They want couples not just to learn, but also to evaluate the dynamics of their own marriage. Many couples read together, but few take the time to ask heart-revealing questions that can expose the strengths and weaknesses of their marital relationship.

The most practical way to use this book is on date nights, weekend retreats, and occasional discussions at supper. Each chapter is easily covered in a single outing. Couples could choose to get away for a weekend and to cover several chapters in the book (when is the last time you’ve taken your wife on a weekend trip?). Or, a couple could gradually work through the entire book at dinner time.

Many of us struggle to ask our spouse good questions. We don’t know how to ask questions that will probe our spouses’ heart. So having a book that provides heart-revealing questions helps. The questions are also useful because they expose sin in marriage. God can use our spouse (and thoughtful questions) as a means to uncover sin that hides in the darkness.

Martha Peace and John Crotts are biblical counselors and were trained by NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors), an organization founded by the godfather of the biblical counseling movement, Jay Adams. Nouthetic counseling is committed to the authority of Scripture. The Nouthetic movement has done a great job of grounding Christian living in the context of the church, reinforcing biblical roles in marriage, and helping people see the sin that so often messes up life.

If you are a pastor, this is an excellent resource to give couples in your congregation. Think especially of couples who are too busy to slow down. Most couples in your church probably rarely take time to re-examine the foundations of their marriage.

Do yourself a favor. Buy a copy of this book and take your wife away for the weekend. She will be thrilled. God will be glorified. And your marriage will be better for it.

—Deepak Reju (Assoc. Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC)
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Priolo, Lou. The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding. Calvary Press, 1999.

One of the most practical and biblically sound books on marriage I have come across in a long time is Lou Priolo’s The Complete Husband: A Practical Guide to Biblical Husbanding. By its expressed purpose, it focuses on the husband’s roles and responsibilities, so it may not be best for married study groups for couples. However, all aspects of married life are covered so well that both husbands and wives can benefit from its teachings, whether directly or indirectly. The book is winsomely complementarian, which makes it trustworthy in the counsel it gives to husbands.

Its greatest strength is the skill Priolo shows in weaving together practical applications in plausible marital settings with sound exegesis of relevant texts of Scripture. He is excellent at giving lengthy lists of questions, issues, topics, hints, and suggestions that any husband can read and immediately apply to improve his marriage. The ten appendices are unusually practical and helpful, covering such things as “Things to say to diffuse an argument with your wife,” and “Guidelines for giving directives to your wife.” The biggest weakness of the book is that Priolo does not develop the theme of healthy church involvement as a significant part of a husband’s discipling of his wife. All in all, I would recommend this book as a mainstay of any church’s men’s discipleship ministry.

—Andrew Davis (Pastor, First Baptist Church Durham, Durham, NC)
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Rainey, Dennis and Barbara. Starting Your Marriage Right: What You Need to Know in the Early Years of Marriage to Make it Last a Lifetime. Thomas Nelson, 2000.

Starting Your Marriage Right by Dennis and Barbara Rainey is a highly practical book that addresses issues which every couple would benefit from discussing. The book is divided into 52 chapters, each ending with discussion questions and an action plan. The authors suggest that a newly married couple walk through the material with another couple, and the book lends itself to this approach. Many of the common issues concerning marriage are addressed in the book, such as finances, sex, and communication; but the authors also cover topics that are often neglected, including vacation plans, creating memories, and addressing past choices. Overall, the book would be a good discussion starter and would provide opportunities for needed dialogue. However, it would require a couple to apply the gospel to their specific situations as they work through the practical considerations.

—Blake Johnson (Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cheshire, CT)
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Ricucci, Gary and Betsy. Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace. Crossway, 2006.

I recommend this book very highly. The authors have a very high view of marriage as a tool for knowing God, giving him glory, growing in grace, and experiencing joy. Love That Lasts is easy to read, engaging, and immensely practical. I particularly appreciate the way the Ricuccis are honest about the struggles of marriage and encourage and equip the reader to persevere when marriage seems overwhelming and difficult. They also do a good job arguing for the necessity of the local church in growing a healthy marriage.

My wife and I refer back to the section on communication regularly as a tool for evaluating our marriage. We have also used it to good effect in doing marriage counseling for others.

—Mike McKinley (Pastor, Guilford Baptist Church, Sterling, VA)
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Scott, Stuart. The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective. Focus, 2002.

The Exemplary Husband is wondrously helpful for husbands on so many issues. Intended to complement The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace, Stuart’s work is 343 pages, with 21 chapters and 9 appendixes. Its emphasis is clearly didactic, so the study guides are necessary to help readers work out in their lives the topics that are covered. In fact, because there is so much material covered, unless guys take it section at a time, it will probably become another book read but ignored. This book is a great tool for counseling men, for men’s studies, and for elders’ studies.

—Bob Johnson, II (Pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Roseville, MI)
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Sproul, R. C. The Intimate Marriage: A Practical Guide to Building a Great Marriage. P&R, 1975.

R. C. Sproul’s book (written in 1975 and reissued in 2003) is designed as a non-technical, practical, general guide and introduction to the basic patterns of married life (p. 8).
The topics covered in the various chapters are (1) Communication in Marriage; (2) The Role of the Man and Woman in Marriage; (3) Problems in Marriage; (4) What about Divorce? (5) Communication and Sex; (6) The Institution and Sanctity of Marriage. Each chapter has a dozen or so questions that couples can use to explore the themes in more depth. The teaching throughout is biblical, straightforward, and practical. Infused through the teaching are lessons drawn from Sproul’s own marriage to his wife, Vesta. What emerges on these pages is a sinner saved by grace who absolutely delights in his wife and has not lost the wonder of being married. For an accessible, practical guide to some key aspects of marriage, this is a good and solid choice.

—Justin Taylor (Crossway, Wheaton, IL)
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Thomas, Derek. A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex, and Marriage. Evangelical Press, 2007.

Thomas guides his reader through seven vignettes of the Song of Solomon with a fatherly tone that reveals his pastoral experience in both the text and the trenches. He is exegetically careful, yet accessible for anyone. You go away thinking, “Why didn’t I see that before?” While recognizing the Christ-church analogy, he retains the more earthy main point as the joy of marital love and intimacy. At times the reader might like to see the applications tied more tightly to the power of the cross, and to see that Christ exemplified is the ultimate goal of marriage. But overall, this is a helpfully simple (yet not simplistic) reading of the Song that uses portraits rather than principles to encourage both specific application within marriage and patient wisdom on the way there.

—Paul Alexander (Pastor, Fox Valley Bible, St. Charles, IL)
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Thomas, Gary. Sacred Marriage. Zondervan, 2000.

This book has one particular insight that justifies its existence: what if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? When the author sticks to that premise and the applications thereof, the book is great. On the whole, Sacred Marriage is good at helping us to seeing the way that marriage exposes our sin, gives us opportunities to trust God’s grace, and brings blessing as we persevere. These themes, however, have been more helpfully picked up and expanded in Tim Lane and Paul Tripp’s recent book, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.

On the whole, this is a fine book for personal reflection or to read with your spouse. I wouldn’t use it for marriage counseling, however, simply because there are better books out there.

—Mike McKinley (Pastor, Guilford Baptist, Sterling, VA)
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Wheat, Ed. Love Life for Every Married Couple, revised edition. Zondervan, 1980.

(I reviewed the mass-market paperback edition published in 1997, bearing the super-title, “Over 1 million copies sold”).

Ed Wheat’s books on marriage, especially this one, frequently receive high praise of the “Best book on marriage I’ve ever read” variety. And this, from folks who claim to have read many such books and attended numerous counseling seminars on marriage. There are problems with this book, however, despite its claim to be thoroughly biblical.

Not least is the B-E-S-T (Blessing-Edifying-Sharing-Touching) program, which in many ways puts men in positions of having to pander to the wife’s every need (without proper ethical evaluation of the “need”). The book’s worldview is based on a psychological unconditional love/unconditional acceptance model. His advice to husbands who have had adulterous affairs is not to confess these: “”Unless you are asked, never confess an affair from the past that would come as a shock to your partner. Confession in this case is not virtuous honesty; it is a cruel act that puts the burden and pain on your mate. Keep the knowledge to yourself, confess your wrong to God and rest in His forgiveness” (pp. 302-3).

There are some good things of a very practical nature in the book, but Wheat leans heavily on the neo-Freudian insights of counselors Paul Meier and Frank Minirth. A rating of B- at best.

—Derek Thomas (Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Jackson, MS)
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Wheat, Ed and Gaye. Intended for Pleasure: Sex Technique and Sexual Fulfillment in Christian Marriage, third edition. Fleming H. Revell 1997, orig. pub. 1977.

This book contains a wealth of information told in a very frank, but generally acceptable way without appearing lurid. Dubbed as a Christian sex-manual by the publishers, the Wheats again invoke the philosophy of self-worth and personal gratification (they are pro-masturbation, for example, chapter 7) which are very problematic. They are pro-low-tech means for infertile couples but promote adoption in place of high-tech means which appear “too mechanical.” They oppose oral sex, but on grounds that this is not the “way God would have designed,” a view worthy of Aquinas, but hardly convincing in today’s world.

Curiously, too, the wife is exhorted not to let herself go as age creeps up, but no such advice is given to husbands. Why some of this advice, perfectly acceptable to many Christians, is specifically Christian is difficult to discern, and it often appears as their personal preference/view as much as it is anything else. Since the Bible does not provide any advice on sexual technique, the specific (explicit) nature of the advice is welcome and necessary but in the end, only a personal viewpoint. It would require a large measure of discernment to read this book.

—Derek Thomas (Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Jackson, MS)
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Wheat, Ed. Staying in Love for a Lifetime, a trilogy containing Love-Life for Every Married Couple, The First Years of Forever, and Secret Choices in one volume. Inspirational Press, 1994.

(Since I have said something about Love-Life for Every Married Couple above, I will comment on the other two here).

The First Years of Forever. A staple for over twenty years as a good introduction to the “unrealistic expectations” of marriage. Faithfulness and forgiveness receive particular attention, including some compelling practical analysis of forgiveness without overly pandering to the psychology of self-worth. On “communication” Wheat and fellow author, Gloria Okes Perkins, have some of the best advice I’ve read. The advice on debt, pandering to one’s ego, and jealousy are also well done, though the underlining psychology remains neo-Freudian. Good material for newlyweds.

Secret Choices: Personal Decisions that Affect Your Marriage. This book continues what was begun in First Years of Forever, offering more suggestions on how to reach marital fulfillment in areas of communication, daily living, and “sexual sharing,” all of it undergirded by what the authors consider most important of all – a shared faith in Christ. There is much of value here, not least in the way this book forces us to think about the decisions we have made in our marriages. Ultimately, though, the focus tends to be man-centered and success-oriented.

—Derek Thomas (Minister of Teaching, First Presbyterian Church Jackson, Jackson, MS)
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