This book by Piper – which for whatever reason I had never heard of before seeing it on a church bookstall in the US, is a hidden gem. Books on Christian Marriage are a Dime a Dozen – or all over the place, depending on which side of the atlantic you are reading this review. Piper’s offering is written with great humility – he wonders even after 40 years of marriage whether he is capable of writing a book on marriage. The answer, as he sees it, is both “NO” and “yes”. The resulting book – written in conjunction with his wife Noel, is a tour de force. Deep theology and a pure understanding of what marriage could and SHOULD be, Piper challenges us all – singles, marrieds and everything else – to revere what God has planned, and prepare our hearts for what he has called us to.
I mention singles because this is a theological approach to marriage – and theology is for the whole church. As is Marriage. This may sound strange – but Piper makes space for a response to single people in his view of marriage, which is something that few Christian books I have read on this subject do. There are in fact two chapters for single people: “Single in Christ: A Name Better than Sons and Daughters”, and “Singleness, Marriage, and the Christian Virtue of Hospitality”. This book also has a chapter for those rendered single after marriage: “What God has Joined Together, Let Not Man Separate: The Gospel and the Divorced”. This chapter, from what I can tell from my limited perspective as a man still new (4 years and counting!) to marriage, offers wise and godly advice to the divorced, but also a biblical and Christ-focused exploration of a theology of Divorce. Given the confusion that a brief reading of the NT on this subject can give, this chapter alone is a worthy read.
John Piper is known for many things. Criticized for some, and praised for others. One thing he certainly manages in this book is not shying away from real issues, and boldly proclaiming some serious truth.
Piper expounds several challenges. Firstly – and this is a hammer blow at the chintzy, kitsch wedding industry and valentines day overload – “Staying married is not mainly about staying in love. It’s about covenant-keeping“. Piper goes on: “If a spouse falls in love with another person, one profoundly legitimate response from the grieved spouse and from the church is, “so what! Your being ‘in love’ with someone else is not decisive. Keeping your covenant is decisive“. And this is where Piper nails conventional thinking to the wall of its own stupidity. Instead of defying marriage as a perfect, pink-heart-filled-dream, Piper dares to restore marriage to its true status – a covenant before God and man – echoing someone more beautiful.
And it is this more beautiful thing that Piper himself is still learning. For it is his wife, Noel, that challenged him to remember that marriage is PRIMARILY a picture of Christ and the church. The thing that Paul in Ephesians 5 calls a “profound mystery”. It is worth mentioning at this point that Piper believes – as I do – that the Bible teaches male headship in marriage (Which is at once radically more painful and beautiful than anything this world has tried to tar with the same brush). But Piper does not believe unthinkingly in this oft-abused institution. Indeed, He is quick to state; “Ephesians 5:21-33 does two things: it guards against the abuses of headship by telling husbands to love like Jesus, and it guards against the debasing of submission by telling wives to respond the way Christ calls the church to submit to him“. This is not a headship of oppression. And if you think that is an oxy-moronic, sub-Christian notion, then you have missed the point. Piper goes on to offer two very helpful definitions: “Headship – is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant leadership, protection and provision in the home“, whilst “Submission – is the divine calling of a wife to honour and affirm her husbands leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts“. This is thoughtful male headship – though Piper is perhaps guilty of well-meaning hyperbole when he says “Not just the fabric of society hangs on this, but the revelation of the covenant-keeping Christ and his covenant-keeping church” (or is he – it is a valid point!).
I found this book incredibly helpful, challenging, thought provoking and Christ-exalting. I recommend that you read it, if a theological or Christian approach to marriage is something that interests you or is in your coming future. The book is available free from Desiring God ministries, or from amazon/christian bookshops.