Naked and Unashamed (Review)

I’ve read a handful of Christian marriage books in the time that my wife and I have been married, and I find that generally marriage books tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum between practical and theoretical. The practical books give you a lot of specific advice on how to get along with another person, but can fall into the trap of generalizing too much based on the authors’ experience. (For example, one book my wife read a long time ago seemed to offer a lot of advice that was specific to being a middle-class person in the southern United States.) The theoretical books tell you a lot about what marriage is for, but can be so short on offering specific help that they can turn into a slog.

41ik4mkssil-_sx322_bo1204203200_The best Christian marriage books are ones that combine the two. They paint a picture of what marriage ought to be while refraining from holding up every part of the authors’ experience of marriage as prescriptive for all other couples. It’s a fine line, for sure, but I think Jerry and Claudia Root and Jeremy Rios have done that in Naked and Unashamed: A Guide to the Necessary Work of Christian MarriageThis book came out of the Roots’ experience of doing premarital counseling for over a thousand couples over the years, including Jeremy and his wife, Liesel. When Jeremy became a pastor, he began using the Roots’ material in his own premarital counseling sessions, and eventually they decided to shape that material into a book.

The central theme of this book is the hard work needed to maintain vulnerability in marriage. This vulnerability is displayed in four major areas: relational intimacy, communication, expectations (specifically in the areas of family and culture, parenthood, and finances), and sex. Maintaining vulnerability is incredibly difficult for two sinful people to keep up over the years, but it is what keeps marriages healthy. As the authors write, “The work required from you in marriage will exceed what you believe are your personal capacities, and therefore couples make a mutual promise before God that they will stick to one another no matter what. It is this promise, more than anything else, that makes marriages what they are” (5).

Who is this book for? Primarily couples who are preparing for marriage, though I think many chapters could be helpful to either engaged couples or ones who have been married for a while. Each chapter ends with an assignment that asks you to discuss the subject of that chapter with your partner, which will particularly be helpful to engaged couples who may not have talked about these issues before.

This book will also appeal most to conservative evangelicals. I hesitate to say that, since I think it presents far more than an idiosyncratic view of marriage embraced by a relatively small subculture. I am myself a conservative evangelical (with the caveat that when I say “conservative” I’m speaking theologically, not necessarily politically), so I believe that what the book presents is largely the historic Christian view of marriage, including elements that have become less popular in our Western cultural moment, like saying that sex is meant for marriage, and marriage necessarily involves gender complementarity.

But what does gender entail, apart from biology? Things get tricky when you start talking about masculinity and femininity and the roles men and women should generally take in a marriage. For example, the authors write of women that, since they are “wired to nurture,” they “often have a high need for security” (30). On the other hand, “for men, the deepest need may be partnership” (31). Then they issue the caveat that, “naturally, dividing gender in this way doesn’t mean that men don’t desire to be cherished, nor that women do not wish for partnership, but in general our biology leads us into a propensity toward these responses” (31). Later, in their chapter on unpacking gender, they “propose two ways to perceive the differences in gender—one suggests that men and women are assertive vs. nurturing, the other that we are linear vs. networked” (67).

I don’t envy anyone who sets out to write a book on marriage, since making generalizations about gender is unavoidable when attempting to reach a broad audience. On the one hand, stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason; they’re often true. But there are always exceptions; what should be done about them? The best you can do, I think, is what the authors do—say what you think, and admit that others might disagree: “Are you unconvinced by our hypotheses, and convinced that there are further complexities to be investigated in this area? Have a conversation where you try to decide between the two of you the exact defining characteristics of masculinity and femininity. If you can figure it out, then write the book—you’ll make millions!” (69).

Like me, you may come across occasional statements in this book—especially regarding how men and women tend to behave in marriage—where you think, “But what about this exception, or that situation?” That’s fine. But personally, I would rather the authors share their experiences and say what they think (including their interpretation of the famous passage on marriage in Ephesians 5:21–33), even if I might wonder about some of it, than throw their hands in the air and say “Everybody’s different! Do what’s right in your own eyes!” That would have been far less helpful.

The point of this book is that maintaining vulnerability and openness in marriage is hard work, but it is incredibly rewarding work. This carries added weight coming from both a couple (the Roots) who have been married for over forty years and a man (Rios) who is in the busy middle stage of raising four young children with his wife. With plenty of thoughtful reflection on what marriage is, along with many practical tips and stories from the authors’ own marriages, this is one marriage book that avoids the pitfalls of being too far off the ground or too focused on the authors’ own experience. I would recommend it for any married couple who wants to be reminded of the incredible blessing marriage can be, as well as for any engaged couple who wants to see clearly what it takes to stay married.

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press for the purpose of review. I also attended Regent College with Jeremy Rios and count him as a friend.




Your Marriage Is Not Doomed: A Review

Many of us have heard the discouraging statistics: half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. And for those of us who are Christians, there was doubly discouraging news: the divorce rate among Christians is the same as everyone else.

But Shaunti Feldhahn, marriage researcher and author of For Women Only and For Men Only, calls these statistics bogus in her new book (with Tally Whitehead), The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (go here for an article Feldhahn wrote about the book’s subject matter).

This is a short book, and the message is simple. Feldhahn breaks it down into five main points on page 10:

  1. The actual divorce rate has never been close to 50 percent. It is significantly lower and has been declining over the last thirty years.
  2. Most marriages aren’t just so-so. The vast majority are happy.
  3. The rate of divorce in the church is not the same as among the non-churchgoing population. It too is significantly lower.
  4. Remarriages aren’t doomed. A significant majority survive and thrive.
  5. Most marriage problems aren’t caused by big-ticket issues, so being in a marriage, or fixing a troubled one, doesn’t have to be as complicated as people think. Little things can often make a big difference.

How could people have gotten that 50 percent divorce rate so wrong? Feldhahn and Whitehead give a detailed response, but the short version is that the 50 percent divorce rate has always been a projection of where researchers think things are trending, not actual figures.

I found this book to be very encouraging, and I hope its message finds a wide audience. People need to know that their efforts to have healthy marriages are not in vain, and that most people really do make it through the rough patches.

Also, the more I thought about the book’s message, the more it made sense. A few years ago, when my pastor and I were discussing the claim that the divorce rate in the church is the same as everywhere else, he said (and I’m paraphrasing) that the claim doesn’t pass the smell test. In his experience, putting Christ first in a marriage DOES make a difference, and it IS possible to save marriages that are in trouble, no matter what statistical trends may say. Now we know that the broader statistical trends were not as accurate as we thought—and that’s good news for marriages.

Note: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.

Book Review: Real Marriage

Anytime you read or listen to anything from Mark Driscoll, you know he is going to be candid. Sometimes that candor is welcome—he is unafraid of naming and dealing with elephants in the room. Sometimes that candor is less than welcome—I admit to having cringed at several of the things he has said during his career as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Real Marriage, which Mark co-write with his wife Grace, has all of the candor you would expect from Driscoll. They share frankly about their own marriage history, and this vulnerability shows that they are not perfect, but have had to grow in love and friendship over the years. Five of the eleven chapters have to do with sex, and the chapter entitled “Can We _____?” deals with the Driscolls’ opinion on whether certain sexual acts are permissible for married couples. In spite of the interest that chapter has created, I thought two of the other sex chapters (those on sexual abuse and pornography) were two of the stronger chapters of the book.

The Driscolls have a complementarian marriage, and this book will resonate most with those who have a similar perspective. They write that the husband is to be the “primary if not the sole breadwinner” (61). However, there is a lot of advice that even non-complementarians can agree with. Concerning responsibilities, they write that “whoever is best at something and is willing to do it assumes that responsibility” (56). The Driscolls don’t talk about whether it is possible for the wife to be best at making money, or the husband at raising children.

Driscoll’s great strength as a Bible teacher is bridging the gap between the world of the Bible and the modern world. He makes the Bible come alive to his contemporary hearers. Sometimes, however, this impulse toward making the Bible come alive leads him and Grace onto shaky exegetical ground. For example, in saying that a married couple is supposed to sleep in the same bed, they quote Hebrews 13:4, saying it “speaks of ‘the marriage bed’ and not ‘beds'” (167). But in Hebrews 13:4, “marriage bed” is a metonymy for the marriage relationship. They also write, describing ancient interpretation of the Song of Songs, “Until around AD 100, the Jewish rabbis interpreted the Song of Songs in a literal way…. The Song of Songs was read at the Passover liturgy, and the songs were often sung in the pubs to celebrate marital love and intimacy within a covenant relationship” (117). I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to speak of ancient Israel as having pubs.

In the end, I can only halfheartedly recommend this book. There are passages that contain wonderfully good advice—I particularly enjoyed their chapter on friendship—but it is just too uneven. Readers of this book would do well to combine it with other marriage books (I have not yet read Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, but it seems like a good option), and seek out a more experienced, godly married couple to learn from.