The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller [Book Summary]

Regarding marriage, statistics and surveys show a discouraging scenario. It appears that marriage is facing challenges. However, is it essential? Can’t we discover love and happiness in alternative relationships?

According to Pastor Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller who is his wife, they think marriage is crucial. Marriage presents an opportunity for us to face our real selves and grow into better individuals.

Therefore, what is the means for reviving the authentic meaning and aim of marriage? According to the author of this book, Christianity offers a crucial means for reevaluating this old institution and finding a shared life of happiness and accomplishment.

In this book, you will discover

  • the reason why you don’t have to search for your soulmate before thinking about getting married;
  • the ways marriage can make one become a richer and happier person than a dating life;
  • the reason why the Bible describes partners as best friends.

Buy this book from Amazon

Chapter 1 – In Western communities, marriage is declining.

What constitutes marriage? The stereotypical reply, usually portrayed in romantic movies, is finding your soulmate – that exceptionally compatible individual who “completes” you and brings a unique happiness unmatched by others.

However, in reality, few marriages look like that of fairy tales. Conflicts and disagreements arise, resentments accumulate, and need resolution. However, this doesn’t mean that clichés are entirely inaccurate and that marriage is merely a challenging ordeal.

There is a fact somewhere in between. Marriage can bring bliss; however, it can also demand significant effort, cries, tears, and blood; for every hard-fought win, there’s a painful triumph. In essence, it is challenging.

A lot of individuals are not prepared for this real life and seek exits at the first indications of difficulty. Some never even consider marriage, ruling it out entirely.

In the past, marriage was common–it was an aspiration. The majority of people got married, and even those who didn’t often hoped they could get married. However, this has changed.

Consider the case of the United States. 72% of all adults were married in the year 1960. Today, that number has reduced to only 50 percent. This change has also impacted the manner a lot of children are being brought up. In the year 1970, nine out of ten children were born to parents who were married. Presently, the figure has decreased, with only six in ten children being born to married parents.

So, what’s happening? Well, attitudes have changed. While remaining single might entail loneliness, marriage has rapidly become associated with something even more undesirable: unhappiness.

This shift describes the reason for the increase in cohabitation – unmarried individuals living together as romantic sexual partners. This arrangement was less common in the 1960s, but nowadays, statistics show that 60% of all women, and an even higher percentage of men, will have experienced living with a partner before they get to their late thirties.

However, the younger generation doesn’t necessarily view this as a moral crisis. Many of them see a valid reason not to get married.

A Gallup survey carried out in place of the National Marriage Project – a non-partisan research group at the University of Virginia – this survey questioned millennials on the reason they opted for cohabitation with their spouse over marriage – a significant number made mention of a common statistic: one in two marriages leads in divorce. They believed that living together was a practical means to test the waters and steer clear of a potentially unhappy marriage.

Their concern is not wrong though– the divorce rate is indeed high. However, they may be overlooking the broader context.

Chapter 2 – Getting married can bring you more wealth and happiness than you might realize.

While it’s a fact that nearly 50% of all marriages result in divorce, this doesn’t imply that all married couple faces an equal likelihood of winding up in a courtroom disputing over pet custody.

Therefore, what factors come into play? Well, three variables are crucial namely age, education, and the time you start having children.

In the 2009 edition of the National Marriage Project’s annual report, “The State of Our Unions: Money & Marriage,” it was revealed that most divorces happened among individuals who did not complete high school, people who got married before the age of 18, or had children before they got married. On the flip side, couples with higher education levels, a middle-class or higher income, and couples who had kids after the age of 25 were less likely to get divorced.

Another frequent reason why people delay getting married is money. It’s not solely about the expenses associated with weddings; there’s also an expectation that the marriage itself could pose a financial burden.

The available evidence contradicts this conclusion. Consider another study conducted by the National Marriage Project in the year 1992. According to the study, it was shown that married men got between 10 and 40 percent more than their unmarried counterparts with similar educational levels and CVs. Furthermore, both men and women in long-term marriages were 75% more wealthy than the people who were not married or divorced.

What explains these variations? The study’s authors highlight that partners usually hold each one another accountable in a manner that other relatives and friends can not do. For instance, if you reprimand your brother for, let’s say, spending money on an expensive coat instead of allocating $600 to his retirement plan, he might easily dismiss your advice. However, if your husband engages in similar behavior, the stakes are different – it involves your shared future at the end of the day.

Yet, the benefits of marriage extend beyond financial gains; it also has the possibility of making you happier. Research conducted by Linda Waite a sociologist reveals that, in surveys, 61% of married people express being extremely happy. As for the remaining 40 percent, intriguingly, two out of three individuals who initially report being unhappy switch their response to being happy within five years if they stay married.

Chapter 3 – Modern perspectives on marriage set an exceedingly high standard for finding suitable partners.

John Witte, a legal scholar, said that marriages have gone through the process of “privatization.” Instead of functioning as communal contracts between spouses and their communities, they have evolved into private agreements between people. Due to that, the concept of duty has been substituted by the purpose of personal happiness through self-actualization on emotional, personal, as well sexual discovery.

While this shift theoretically promises individual freedom. However, practically, there might be a possibility of implications that may yield unexpected repercussions.

In an article that was written in 2011 for the New York Times, American author Tara Parker-Pope referred to this new matrimonial arrangement as the “Me Marriage.” In the olden days, marriage was basically about prioritizing the relationship. Nowadays, Parker-Pope stated that individuals are reluctant to make their needs their second priority. As a result, there is a growing trend of people seeking partners with whom they don’t have to make compromises.

Some statistics back up Parker-Pope’s claims. Findings from a 2002 National Marriage Project survey that focused on commitment-phobia supported her. The researcher asked a lot of women and men to delay marriage. Most of the replies that the participants gave were that, they were still in search of their soulmate. When told to elaborate on the meaning of that term, the majority emphasized that an ideal partner is a person who accepts them without attempting to alter them.

While this concept is appealing, there’s an issue with it. For a “Me Marriage” to succeed, both people involved need to be content, happy, well-adjusted people lacking any important identity imperfections requiring personal growth and improvement. In other words, for those seeking such a partner, both spouses need to be nearly perfect – happy, engaging, healthy, free from hang-ups, and content with their lives.

However, such individuals are hard to come by, making the quest for a soulmate a challenging work. In the year 2009, data collected by researchers at the University of Virginia illustrates that, just one in three high school seniors in the US trust that marriage will fulfill their desires.

Chapter 4 – Viewing marriage as an ongoing process helps one have a realistic perspective.

In the year 1995, John Tierney the American humorist published an article titled “Picky, Picky, Picky,” talking about how we have made perfection the adversary of the good. 

Tierney accessories that our high standards in affairs of the heart have led us to be captivated by the “Flaw-o-Matic,” a cognitive condition that detects unimportant flaws in potential partners. Some reasons his friends gave for ending relationships included pronouncing Goethe’s name wrongly, putting on the wrong socks, getting employed at the wrong company, or being overweight by seven pounds.

On the other hand, the more idealistic our views on marriage, the more inclined we are to be practical pessimists. Instead of perceiving it as a partnership among imperfect individuals working to establish, as the American social critic Christopher Lasch described, a “haven in a heartless world,” we strive for perfection from the onset—a standard that is nearly impossible to achieve.

The phrase “’Love shouldn’t be this difficult” is a term the author has come across countless times in his role as a pastor. We usually think that Love is natural. If you find the right partner, everything should seamlessly come together.

A lot of Christians hold a different perspective. No two persons are compatible just like that. According to philosopher Stanley Hauerwas, he expresses that, “We never truly know the person we marry; we merely believe we do.”

In essence, no bond draws us into a closer connection with another individual than marriage, and this profound encounter is transformative. Upon entering marriage, a process of change begins, and it’s impossible to foresee the type of person we will change into. Even with the choice of the “right” partner, spouses may evolve into strangers over time. Just like a lot of Christians, Hauerwas states that this reality plays an important part in the essence of marriage, which, according to him- is basically about “learning to love and care for the stranger that you see yourself married to.”

This perspective doesn’t advocate for marrying randomly, but recognizing that some individuals are genuinely incompatible. However, this perspective on marriage offers a way to escape the cycle of the idealism-pessimism cage described previously. Acknowledging that marriage is an ongoing development allows for a more realistic understanding of the journey ahead, contributing to the establishment of stronger and happier marriages.

Chapter 5 – Marriage provides the opportunity for a more profound and enriched intimate relationship between partners.

Certain modern-day Christian thinkers make mention of two kinds of relationships in Western communities– namely consumer and covenantal.

Think about your grocer. Provided your grocer is offering you high-quality products at a reasonable price, the relationship persists. However, if another grocer provides you a better produce, you might change– prioritizing your individual needs. This exemplifies a consumer relationship.

Now, envision the worn-out parents of a kid who is throwing tantrums. Despite the challenges, emotional strain, and dissatisfaction, they persist in sacrificing their needs. Why? Because parenting is perceived as a covenant – an unconditional responsibility to the welfare of another individual. The relationship itself holds utmost significance in a covenant, explaining the societal stigma associated with giving up parenthood, even when it might seem unrewarding.

As we have noticed, marriage is rapidly seen as a consumer relationship while Christians have a different perspective.

Marriage vows go beyond expressing emotions; they represent promises. We promise to stand by our spouses through thick and thin, in sickness and in health—a commitment related to the unconditional dedication found in the relationship between parent and their kids.

On the other hand, dating and cohabitation are characterized as consumer relationships. To endure, both people involved must show that they bring unique qualities to the relationship that the other couldn’t find elsewhere. Since either party can choose to walk away, there is an element of “marketing” and “self-promotion” involved. If the relationship fails to fulfill the individual needs of both people involved at any given moment, it may come to an end.

However, let’s take a moment to revisit the earlier reference to the study on marital happiness. Once again, it was observed that two-thirds of people who claimed to be unhappy at first in their marriages changed their response to being happy within five years if they stayed married. Why is this?

Maybe, while it may be disheartening at first when your partner ceases to make efforts to impress or even let go of themselves, it opens up a space for addressing more important challenges. Who are you exactly? What are your actual issues and desires? Marriage vows serve as a motivating factor to persevere through challenging times. The ultimate reward? The opportunity for a deeper, more intimate connection and sustained happiness.

Chapter 6 – At its core, marriage is fundamentally a friendship.

The Book of Genesis narrates the creation of the world by God, with the affirmation that “it was good” repeated seven times upon his examination of his creation. However, a change happens after the creation of the first man, Adam, as God states, “It is not good that man should be by himself.”

A lot of Christians understand this as a comment on human nature. Suggesting that our “vertical” relationship with God is insufficient, and we also require “horizontal” connections with fellow humans. Even in paradise, The weight of loneliness appears to be a significant burden in paradise.

In the Old Testament, a spouse is referred to as an ‘allup, a Hebrew term that means “best friend.” 

This choice of words was extraordinary in that moment. Over the centuries when the Old Testament books were written down, marriages were typically seen as businesses among families, with women seen as the property of their fathers and later their spouses. To propose that wives and husbands need to be best friends represented a redefinition of the concept of marriage. This remains noteworthy in our contemporary era when marriage is often perceived primarily as a romantic and sexual relationship.

The Bible is not reserved about the significance of a vibrant sexual life within marriage; however, it places a strong emphasis on the foundation of friendship.

According to the Book of Proverbs, a friend is steadfast, and she “loves all the time.” However, the crucial aspect is that friends contribute to each other’s improvement. A true friend provides constructive criticism when necessary; however, similar to a surgeon, her cuts facilitate healing instead of wound. In other words, just as “iron sharpens another iron,” friends can sharpen each other.

According to the book of Hebrews, being accountable to each other and inspiring love and goodness is a fundamental aspect of Christian identity. At the pinnacle of this relationship is the Ultimate Marriage, exemplified by the union of Jesus and his bride which is the church. Consequently, it is suggested that every marital relationship should strive to imitate this supremely perfect union.

For Christians, the shared goal of mutual self-improvement serves as a unifying vision for a couple. In contrast, a marriage solely founded on attraction lacks enduring stability. Physical attractiveness can change as time goes on; however,, this ideal is everlasting.

Chapter 7 – In marriage, there is no room for hiding, and this can make us become better individuals.

Life is similar to a good costume ball, where we all participate as masked attendees. However, when the clock strikes midnight, it becomes time to take off our masks and show our true selves.

This strong analogy originates from Søren Kierkegaard, a nineteenth-century Danish philosopher and theologian. In his era, it was common to wear masks at balls. During the first section of the balls, all the people had their masks on while they danced, ate, drank, and had conversations. Nobody knew about the identity of anyone until it was midnight when all the people at the ball had to unmask themselves and show their real selves. 

Kierkegaard likened Judgment Day to this midnight hour—a moment of ultimate revelation and unmasking. Interestingly, this analogy can also shed light on the significance of marriage.

Imagine an ancient bridge spanning over a creek. At first glance, the bridge appears to be in a very good condition. While there might be a few cracks, its overall structure looks good.

Now, envision a twelve-ton truck speeding across that same bridge. The pressure exerted is enormous. In an instant, those little cracks start to deepen and widen, laying bare the structural flaws hidden underneath the surface of the bricks and mortar. It’s important to note that the truck didn’t cause these defects; rather, it showed them.

Marriage operates similarly, showing our real self – as well as our structural flaws.

Nobody is without flaws. Some people may feel too proud to seek assistance, other people exhibit stinginess with money, and some struggle with a short temper. Your friends might not want you to constantly split bills down to the smallest cent, or your coworkers may resent the way you react sharply when frustration sets in. While these imperfections are terrible enough for your colleagues or people you see often; however, they are a huge challenge for the individual you are living your life with.

Within the context of marriage, there exists a pressure. No one bears the brunt of your shortcomings more acutely than your partner. Keeping grudges and uttering unkind statements may strain friendships, they have the potential to destroy marriages.

However, this isn’t a completely negative phenomenon.

If marriage catalyzes revealing one’s authentic self, it can facilitate positive change. To achieve this, one needs to initially show an accurate, albeit unflattering, portrayal of their current self. This is why marriage holds the potential for liberation and optimism—it symbolizes the midnight hour when both partners take off their masks, uncover their real identities, and embark on the journey of addressing their actual selves.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God Timothy J. Keller, Kathy Keller Book Review

Marriage rates are declining, divorce rates are increasing, and the younger generation is growing more skeptical about their prospects of getting a life partner. Is this an era experiencing a crisis in marriage? The answer is both yes and no. While divorce rates are high, marriage is still associated with increased wealth and happiness. From a Christian perspective, marriage serves as a route to self-discovery and a more genuine way of life.

Buy this book from Amazon

Download Pdf

Download Epub


Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile:

Recent Posts