I’m not married. I don’t even see it on the imminent horizon for myself. But it’s something I’ve waited for, have tried to prepare myself for, and have written my fair share of poetry about throughout the years (here’s a sampling of my passion for it, my confusion about it, my fears about it, and my desire for it). The Westminster Bookstore is having a 48 hour sale ending at 3pm on Friday, April 16th.
There are two books that this sale affects, but there are three books I’m mainly talking about in this post, so don’t stop reading until I get to the third. The main book being promoted in this sale here is Paul Tripp‘s new book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage. The second book is not a new one, but it is one of WTSbooks’ “favorite books on marriage”, and that is John Piper‘s This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence.
Concerning Tripp’s book, I’m hesitant but hopeful. I really love the writing and preaching ministry of Paul Tripp. For a while I visited Tenth Presbyterian on Sunday nights to hear his sermons. He really does understand the human heart so well and he can bring any topic to bear on the tendencies and struggles of real human existence. His book of meditations on Psalm 51 called Whiter Than Snow is one of the most beautiful, poignant, and true to the nitty-gritty of life treatments of sin and grace I’ve ever read. It has calmed several dark nights for me. Also, his book on the methods of Biblical Counseling, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, is considered the classic text for the topic by many, including myself.
But Christian books on marriage are a dime-a-dozen. In the Church circles I run in, the classic book has been Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say “I Do”. But even that book suffers from the same problem I think most every Christian book on marriage suffers from: an overly-systematic approach to the entire topic of marriage. Harvey’s book, Piper’s book, and (from the Table of Contents) it looks like Tripp’s book as well seem to treat marriage simply as a “topic” to be expounded upon–and it surely is! But it is not simply that–indeed, I don’t believe it is even fundamentally that. A basically systematic view of reality is a very Aristotelian and Modernistic look at things, and not necessarily a biblical one (by itself, at least).
Marriage, in my humble, unmarried, inexperienced opinion, is not “a topic to be expounded upon”, but rather a story to be caught up within.
As I’m sure every book in this post points out, marriage is meant to be a shadow and symbol of a greater spiritual reality: Christ’s covenant love for, and intimate relating to, his singular Bride, the Church. So if that’s the case, there is a meta-narrative–a grand overarching story–that every marriage is supposed to point to. There is a story already going on! To talk about its minutiae will inevitably remove it from its context and humanity and thereby lose its “organic” and “mystical” source, point, and destination. Or so I think.
That is why I really wanted to write this post to promote a third book, Walter Wangerin Jr.‘s book As For Me & My House: Crafting Your Marriage to Last. I have not read this, but a very good and very like-minded friend of mine who is getting married in a month and half told me today this is the best book on marriage he read. What made it so different? For the most part, the book is just Wangerin’s story of dating and marrying his wife. It reads almost like a novel, but he pulls out things that surprised him along the way and general principles that may or may not be helpful for some people, but has been helpful for him.
Any glance at the newest books being written by Christians should show us that people are sick of systems and now want story. They want to see others that have been swept up in the grand narrative, so they might be swept up as well. That’s why the “Evangelical Christian Twenty-Something Memoir” category of books is exploding right now. People want to tell their stories. People want to read them.
But I hope I’m wrong about the books on sale here–I may very well be. Admittedly, I have not read Piper nor Tripp’s book, but I’ve followed both of their ministries closely and I know they are “systematically” minded guys–Piper much more than Tripp. That is why I bought both of those books today as well as Wangerin’s. We all need both. And I hope Tripp has become sensitive enough to this–and I have confidence that he may very well have–so as to write this book in such a way that does not systematize us to death. I think we need the Story to get lost in, but we need the Systems to find ourselves again and make some sense of it.
So, in my never-ending search to prepare myself for marriage as much as is possible before I’m actually in it, I am going to check out all of these books. I would encourage all of you (single and married) to do the same, because nothing is more beautiful than participating well in the Grand Story of Christ in a way that resonates with the glory and commitment with which he participates with us.