Beyond “I Do” [book review: Christian Marriage]

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I acquired a book on marriage, and in an initial perusal of it, I was pleasantly surprised by the affirming content I saw on singles and married couples without children. So I decided to read the book. It is:

Beyond “I Do”, What Christians Believe About Marriage

by Douglas Brouwer. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001.

The author is an experienced pastor, and the book has a very pastoral tone. He shares experiences from his years of ministry, which gives the book a “real” or down-to-earth approach. This is good with a topic like marriage. The book, however, is not intended to be primarily therapeutic or a “how to” guide on improving your marriage. Rather, it is more about the theology of marriage – the underlying Christian beliefs about marriage.

Brouwer says that if he had to choose one word to best describe Christian marriage it would be the word covenant, and an entire chapter covers this issue. He looks at the concept of covenant, particularly in the OT, and notes that a covenant is much more than a contract. Covenants have a spiritual dimension and are binding at a deeper level than a contract. The next chapter is on marriage as a sacrament. Brouwer is Protestant, and Protestants only acknowledge 2 sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s supper. But he argues that marriage is sacramental – it should be a visible sign of God’s grace and presence in our lives. I hope you can sense that he is laying a foundation for the importance of marriage. In the sacrament chapter he also shares the history of marriage over the last 2 millennia of the church.

There is a chapter on spiritual compatibility, and it is obvious the author has strong views here. His experiences have shown him repeatedly that spiritual compatibility and unification is critical for a successful marriage. If they come from different denominational backgrounds or branches of Christianity, this needs to be addressed before the marriage. If one spouse is not particularly loyal to their church background, it makes sense for that spouse to make the switch to the other church. In other situations, it might be best for them to begin together in a new church situation. Couples, he finds, are naive about this and think love conquers all and church differences don’t matter. But Brouwer strongly advises otherwise – couples need to choose a particular faith tradition and make it theirs. He states that this is not a guarantee of marital success, but a marriage built on a unified spiritual foundation is the closest you can get to a guarantee.

Well, I am rambling more than I intended in this review! There are chapters on love, sex, power/authority in marriage, family, singleness, divorce, and a final chapter entitled: Ten things I wish someone had told me about marriage.

Quickly…the chapter on power/authority in marriage is egalitarian and teaches mutuality in marriage – rather than the husband being the one “in charge.” It is pointed out that the rule of man is a corruption of what God intended and a result of the Fall. He considers the various NT passages on this issue, and interacts with them. He has a great focus on Jesus, and how, in Jesus, relationships are renewed. “To insist on old patterns of hierarchy and subordination would, in a sense, be to deny the power of the resurrection.” (page 105)

On that note, while Brouwer interacts with specific Scripture texts in the book, he does not proof-text, but considers the whole of the Scripture and church history as well.

In both the chapter on singleness and family, there is a wonderful affirmation of those who remain single and married couples who do not have children. This is so rare in the church today. Instead, singles or married couples without children can be made to feel defective, inferior, or just invisible. Again, Brouwer reviews church history. At one point in church history, single celibacy was lifted up as the ideal way of life. Married people were ordinary Christians, while the single were first-class! Today it is the near opposite, and marriage/family is idolized. Neither of these extremes are right, and both options need to be honored.

Brouwer emphasizes the idea of vocation. How is God calling us to live our lives? He views parenthood as a calling. Some people are called to be parents, while others do not have the right gifts for parenthood. I like how he states “Not all men and women should be expected to raise a family simply because they’re married or because their reproductive equipment is in working order.” (page 128) He shares similar thoughts about marriage in the chapter on singleness. Some people may be called to a single life and some to a married life, and we should see both as God-honoring ways to live. You might wonder about a chapter on singleness in a book about marriage, but we have been or likely will be single again at some point in our lives. The chapter on singleness is very sensitive, and does not lump all singles together. People can be single at different ages and for different reasons. For some it is a calling, for others it is a burden and they wish to be married.

Clearly, I liked much about this book as indicated by my ease at interacting with it and sharing its content. However, I do have some concerns about the book which make me somewhat hesitant to recommend it. In a book on marriage, certain sensitive or controversial issues will arise, and Brouwer honestly interacts with these things and in several places asks questions. The questions were not answered but designed to elicit thought. I’m certainly not opposed to questions! Questions are good, but not every question is necessarily beneficial or necessary to ask. Some of the questions seemed to push the limits to me. I worry that if a Christian reads this book who is not a “thinker” or not well grounded in their beliefs, that these questions could create confusion or even lead them down an inaccurate path of belief. Similarly, there were a couple parts in the book where I felt the author should have more clearly explained a biblical view, rather than remaining a bit ambiguous about it. Therefore, despite the fact that I greatly appreciated many things about this book, I would use discretion on an individual basis about whether to recommend it.

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