“My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me.”

Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage  ,

Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes wrote an article that I read as a young pastor and a still new husband. It helped me enormously as both a counselor and spouse. It is called “Controlling the Unpredictable—The Power of Promising” [Christianity Today 27:2 (January 21, 1983): 16–19]. (p. 90)

Keller then interacts with the article to underscore his point that “marriage is essentially a covenant” (p. 90). Here are some excerpts from Smedes’s article:

Some people ask who they are and expect their feelings to tell them. But feelings are flickering flames that fade after every fitful stimulus. Some people ask who they are and expect their achievements to tell them. But the things we accomplish always leave a core of character unrevealed. Some people ask who they are and expect visions of their ideal self to tell them. But our visions can only tell us what we want to be, not what we are.

Maybe we can best find out who and what we are by asking about the promises we have made to other people and the promises we are trying to keep for their sakes.


When I married my wife, I had hardly a smidgen of sense for what I was getting into with her. [Read more…]

Some Practical Counsel for Marriage Seekers

Tim Keller has been pastoring Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City since he planted it in 1989, and the church reflects the city’s demographics: over 80% of the people are single. So Keller has a lot of experience shepherding singles.

His new book The Meaning of Marriage  includes a chapter entitled “Singleness and Marriage.” It concludes with “some practical counsel for marriage seekers,” which unpacks eight guidelines (pp. 207–18):

  1. Recognize that there are seasons for not seeking marriage.
  2. Understand the “gift of singleness.”
  3. Get more serious about seeking marriage as you get older.
  4. Do not allow yourself deep emotional involvement with a non-believing person.
  5. Feel “attraction” in the most comprehensive sense.
  6. Don’t let things get too passionate too quickly.
  7. However, also don’t become a faux spouse for someone who won’t commit to you.
  8. Get and submit to lots of community input.


  1. You Take Me the Way I Am
  2. My wife has lived with at least five different men since we were wed—and each of the five has been me.”

You Take Me the Way I Am

I recently heard Ingrid Michaelson’s catchy pop song “The Way I Am”:

It encapsulates the “I love you because you make me feel good about myself” idea that Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage  repeatedly refutes (see especially chapters 1 and 3). Keller rejects the contemporary idea that love means finding your perfectly compatible thrill-inducing soul mate:

[S]exual attractiveness was not the number one factor that men named when surveyed by the National Marriage Project. They said that “compatibility” above all meant someone who showed a “willingness to take them as they are and not change them.” “More than a few of the men expressed resentment at women who try to change them. . . . Some of the men describe marital compatibility as finding a woman who will ‘fit into their life.’ ‘If you are truly compatible, then you don’t have to change,’ one man commented.” (pp. 30–31)


It would be wrong to lay on men the full responsibility for the shift in marriage attitudes. [Read more…]

Honor and Shame

I recently read three books in a row that each happen to highlight a common theme: how the honor-shame culture of NT times differs drastically from our culture. Not only is it fascinating; it’s important for understanding the Bible.

1. Ben Witherington III. Is There a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[Excerpt from a section entitled “Rhetorical Conventions or Apostolic Hubris? (pp. 63–64)]

Let’s consider an example of socio-rhetorical conventions. What in the world is going on in 2 Corinthians 10–13, especially considering what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1 that he will boast in nothing but the cross of Christ? Isn’t he boasting about himself in 2 Corinthians 10–13 (or in Phil. 3)? What should we make of Paul’s autobiographical remarks in such texts?

As it turns out, there were rhetorical rules about boasting. In fact, Plutarch wrote a little treatise on what constituted “Inoffensive Self Praise.” What is interesting about 2 Corinthians 10–13 is that while Paul does follow these rules in a self-deprecating sort of way, he also subverts the whole way that ancients would normally boast about themselves by boasting of things they would never brag about. No one would brag about how many times they had been stoned, how many times they had been run out of town, how many times they had been shipwrecked, and how many times they had been pursued and betrayed by their co-religionists, and especially no one would have bragged about how they escaped danger by being lowered over a city wall in a basket under the cover of darkness. I like to call this story (mentioned in both Acts 9:25 and 2 Cor. 11:32–33) St. Paul the Basket Case. [Read more…]

Confront and Engage

Carl R. Trueman, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow  (2nd ed.; Fearn, Scotland: Focus, 2011), 8–9:

[W]ere I to write the book today, it would be different in certain respects. . . . I would want to modify, or at least off-set, my promotion of biblical theological teaching and preaching by emphasizing the need for the preacher to confront and engage his hearers. ‘Hey, I bet you never saw Jesus in this text before,’ is not an adequate application of the Bible; and yet too many so-called redemptive historical preachers and teachers in the Vos (or perhaps, to be charitable and not to impute the sins of the followers to the founder) pseudo-Vos tradition, consider their job to be done when they produced a nice, neat, dry-as-dust lecture on a passage which does just that and no more.

Five Exegetical Flash Points in the Justification Debate

An introductory essay to IVP’s latest debate-book elaborates on five exegetical flash points in the justification debate:

  1. Paul’s attitude toward Judaism
  2. The role of works in final justification/judgment
  3. Justification/righteousness in the Old Testament
  4. Justifying righteousness: imputation, transformation or incorporation?
  5. The meaning of pistis

—Paul Rhodes Eddy, James K. Beilby, and Steven E. Enderlein, “Justification in Contemporary Debate,” in Justification: Five Views (ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy; Spectrum Multiview Books; Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), pp. 67–81:

Here are the book’s five views:

  1. Michael S. Horton, traditional Reformed
  2. Michael F. Bird, progressive Reformed
  3. James D. G. Dunn, new perspective view
  4. Veli-Matti Käkkäinen, deification
  5. Gerald O’Collins, S.J. and Oliver P. Rafferty, Roman Catholic

Cf. Tom Schreiner’s review.

Omit Needless Words

I agree with Jim.

James M. Hamilton Jr., “Appreciation, Agreement, and a Few Minor Quibbles: A Response to G. K. Beale,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 10, no. 1 (2011): 67:

I want to register a stylistic complaint. Beale is prolix. It’s as though he is exclaiming, “Why should I say in three words what I can expand to ten?!” In the “Introduction” to “the little book,” E. B. White epitomizes Professor Strunk: “‘Omit needless words!’ cries the author on page 23, and into that imperative Will Strunk really put his heart and soul.” Imagine the pleasure Strunk would take eliminating words from Beale’s oeuvre. To take one example, consider the title of his second lecture, “The Inaugurated End-Time Tribulation and Its Bearing on the Church Office of Elder and on Christian Living in General.” Edwardsian in its fullness, but would not “Elders and the End-Times” have been sufficient? I love the ideas that Beale communicates, but I wonder whether he hopes to be paid on the Dickensian wage (critics of Charles Dickens complain that his books are so long because he was paid a penny a word).