Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

Working with a marriage ministry, and knowing that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of new marriage books published each year, I was giddy to get my hands on the new marriage book by John Piper. If you've read any of Piper, you'll come to find much of what you love about his writing in this book. Instead of tips and tactics, it is a careful theological treatment of the purpose of marriage.

The verse he uses as the title for the book reminds the reader that marriage is a temporary condition – since the scriptures make it clear that there will be no marriage in heaven (Matt 22.30). This sets up his central premise in the book, one that is repeated over and over again, because of Noel's (his wife) encouragement. When asked for advice on the book, she said "You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church." Piper goes on to say that not only is marriage a model of Christ and the church, but that the deepest meaning of marriage is to display Christ's covenant keeping love to the world. He says, "Staying married is not mainly about staying in love. It's about covenant-keeping."

I had a strong reminder of this covenant-keeping love in my kitchen this week. My parents were in town visiting for a few days. My mom was up first one morning, reading her Bible at the kitchen table. When she heard my father stirring, making his way to the kitchen, she stood and eagerly awaited his arrival. He entered the kitchen and they embraced. As I watched my parents hold each other close, I flashed back to those moments as a five-year-old when I found great comfort and security in their affections. They could not wait to see each other again after a night of sleep. Even though I am an adult, I am still moved with feelings of comfort with each of their covenant-enduring embraces.

For Piper, seeing marriage primarily as reflecting Christ's covenant-keeping love also shapes his view on divorce. He believes that divorce should be extremely rare, and that re-marriage is prohibited while your spouse is living. He defends the view well (and also clarifies that he is in the minority among evangelicals with this view) in chapters 14 and 15. He says, "If the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband." Though in the Old covenant, God sent Israel away with a decree of divorce (Jer 3.8), in the new covenant, Christ says "I am with you always" (Matt 28.20) and "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb 13.5).

This view of marriage also informs our parenting – for if marriage reflects Christ's love for the church, then what does that say about the Father? Ephesians 6.4 reminds fathers to bring up their children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." It also says "do not provoke them to anger." Why this specific instruction to fathers? Piper says, "Dad embodies authority. Apart from Christ, the child embodies self-will. And when the two meet, anger flares." He offers this encouragement. "Even more important than avoiding the obvious aggravators, we fathers should think about what kinds of preemptive things we can do that don't just avoid anger but diminish or remove anger. That's the real challenge." He continues, "Don't just stop doing things that provoke anger; start doing things that prevent and overcome anger."

So many men struggle with anger because of their fathers, but all men have a chance to "sever the root of the whole cycle of anger by savoring to the depths of your soul the preciousness of God's forgiveness and God's promises… Show them in your own soul how it can be replaced with tenderhearted joy" (p150-154). Why is forgiveness so powerful for breaking down anger? Anger says, "You owe me something before we can be right." Forgiveness says, "I am taking the initiative to restore our relationship and remove any debt between us." The father is the adult and it is his role to seek forgiveness – to model Christ like love in all of his relationships. And as you seek to overcome anger, you model the Father's love by being the one that seeks and grants forgiveness quickly, willingly, and often.

My one disappointment with this book was that Piper did not share more stories from his experiences with his wife. I know from a few friends that have spent time around John Piper that his marriage has endured many difficulties and challenges – enduring a very dry season. I would have loved to have heard specifics about how they fought through such a season. But I think this book is his answer: the way he fought through the dullness was to come to understand the theological basis for marriage. And as he gained a greater appreciation for the nature of Christ's love, his love for his wife was renewed and strengthened.

There is so much more in this book that could be unpacked here, such as his handling of roles and singleness, both of which are extremely helpful. For now it is safe to say that the book is worth reading for every married couple. And the timing of this reading was especially encouraging for me, as my wife and I celebrate TEN YEARS of marriage this week!

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