I recently heard a friend bemoan the number of marriage books being written by couples before they’d hit their twentieth wedding anniversary. Good point.
In my opinion, a good marriage book is written by someone with two qualities:
- decades of marriage experience
- a solid understanding of biblical knowledge
By this criteria, Ray Ortlund Jr. is more than qualified to write a book on marriage. Ortlund is a pastor, bible scholar, and is in his fourth decade of marriage. I was excited, therefore, to read his new book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.
Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel isn’t a personal memoir. You won’t find Ortlund reminiscing on his marriage or spinning his own wisdom in this book. It is a survey of marriage in the Bible, with reflections on marriage in the world today. The chapter titles reveal the approach of this book:
- Marriage in Genesis
- Marriage in the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets
- Marriage in the New Testament
- Marriage in the World Today
Sound boring? In the hands of a lesser writer it would be. Ortlund, though, brings the texts to life. We are not reading a dry exposition of ancient texts in this book; we are reading a pastor-scholar who wants us to understand how our imperfect marriages mirror “the ultimate marriage between the Son of God and his redeemed bride.”
Ortlund wrote this book with two purposes: to help us recover a joyful confidence in marriage as God originally gave it to us, and to help more men and women to experience enduring marital romance.
I appreciated this book for three reasons.
First: it’s solidly biblical. At first I was disappointed not to read more about Ray and his wife Jani in this book. Surely we have a lot to learn from them. Maybe that will come in another book. I’m glad in the end, though, that this book is about Scripture rather than their experience. It is, after all, part of a series on biblical theology. The spotlight is not on the marriage of the author; the spotlight is on God and his design for marriage. That’s a good thing.
Second: it is saturated in the gospel. Ortlund helps us understand how the gospel is the only hope for sinners like us who are married. “The promises of God can outperform the amusements and even the therapies of this world in keeping our souls and our marriages alive,” he writes. He also helps us see the role that our marriages play in imaging the ultimate marriage of Jesus and his church.
Finally: it’s written by a pastor. Ortlund writes with an eye on the text and an eye on his readers, and he cares about both.
I only wish the book could have been a little longer. I would have liked Ortlund to unpack more of the biblical teaching on divorce, for instance, or to unpack 1 Corinthians 7. But complaining that a book is too short is better than complaining that it’s too long.
I’m grateful for this book. It reminded me of my high calling as a husband. It increased my resolve to serve my wife and bring her joy. Most of all, it made me worship my Savior for his design in marriage, and for his love for his bride. It’s a good book with contents that need to be read, celebrated, and applied.