Saturday, April 3, 2010

This Momentary Marriage

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence by John Piper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What drives this book from beginning to end is the truth that marriage is a model of Christ’s relationship to the Church. According to Piper (p.42), this truth has the effect of (1) elevating the value of marriage; (2) providing a foundation of grace for our marriages; and (3) defining roles within marriage. By making this truth the backbone of his book, Piper has had the same three-fold effect on me.

Early in the book Piper shows that marriage is the doing of God and the display of God (21 – 26). It is a covenant that reflects the covenant God makes with his people. For that reason, “marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love” but about “portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people” (26).

Rather than rehearsing all the ground this book covers, I will focus instead on its unique contributions for books of this type (unique for me, at least).

On nakedness and clothing

Commenting on Genesis 2.25 (“And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed”), Piper points out that the reason they experienced nakedness without shame was not that they had perfect bodies, but because they knew perfect covenant love (pp. 32-36). They were shame-free not because they had flawless bodies (which they likely did have), but because they loved each other with a love that covered over a multitude of flaws. The reason they tried to clothe themselves in Genesis 3 was not because their bodies had suddenly become ugly, but because their sin had broken their covenant with God, and thus upset the foundation for their own covenant love to each other. Now Adam was to Eve one who could not be trusted—he had tried to displace God, after all. And they both knew within themselves that they were no longer what they ought to be. Their self-clothing was an effort to cover their vulnerability to each other and cover the huge gap between what they were and they ought to be.

God graciously provides clothing for them, and this carries a negative and a positive message.

Negatively, God’s action of clothing them affirms that there is a huge chasm between what they are and what they should be. In this sense human clothing functions not to conceal our shame but to confess it. Thus “public nudity is not a return to innocence” but a further loss of it. “And for those who rebel in the other direction and make clothes themselves a means of power and prestige and attention-getting, God’s answer is not a return to nudity but a return to simplicity” (p.37).

Positively, God’s clothing Adam and Eve in animal skins points forward to a time when God would provide a sacrifice that would bridge the gap between man and God and deal with that sin that plunged us into shame (pp. 37-38).

On singleness

The two chapters on singleness are the best in the book. It seems to me that so many sermons and conversations (amongst Christians) about marriage portray the single life as an inferior walk through life. The fact that Piper includes two chapters on singleness alone speaks volumes to those of us in the church who are married. In chapter 9 Piper’s central aim “is that God promises those who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children, and he calls you to display, by the Christ-exalting devotion of your singleness, the truths about Christ and his kingdom that shine more clearly through singleness than through marriage and child-rearing” (p.106). Drawing heavily from Barry Danylak’s A Biblical Theology of Singleness, Piper persuasively accomplishes this aim.

Chapter 10 is more about how married and single people ought to relate in the church. Piper longs “to see Christ magnified through married people folding single people into their lives and single people folding married people into their lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel” (p.117). Married couples are counseled to plan their hospitality to include singles, and vice versa. As odd as it might be for singles to include couples, “would [this:] not be a mark of unusual maturity and stability? Would it not be a mark of God’s grace in your life?” (p.123). At this point I couldn’t help thinking of one of my heroes, Robert Chapman, who, though a single, showed hospitality to countless people.

On having children

Not only will those who can’t marry (or choose not to) find themselves included in this book, but so will married couples who cannot (or choose not to) have children. Piper’s emphasis is struck by the first half of the chapter title: “Marriage is Meant For Making Children…Disciples of Jesus”. Marriage’s primary meaning is to display Christ’s covenant with the church. Marriage’s secondary meaning is actually a means of accomplishing its first meaning: to make children yes, but more importantly, to make children disciples of Christ.

With this way of putting it, Piper emphasizes that a Christian couple’s mandate isn’t so much to fill the earth with more bodies, but to bring more people into Christ’s kingdom. For most Christian couples that will mean giving birth to children and leading them to Christ. But for many other couples it may mean fostering children, adopting children, or having a fun backyard Bible program for the neighborhood children. The last example is also an example of what singles can do to make children into disciples of Christ.

Further, with this way of putting it, Piper provides a deep motivation test for those couples who simply do not want to have children. Why does a couple not want to have children? Is it that children would threaten the fruitfulness of their unique mission to make disciples of Christ? Or, is it that children would complicate their pursuit of comfort, ease, and freedom?

Prying at a couple’s motivation in this way is far better than automatically writing off a couple as selfish simply because they choose not to have children, and exalting a couple as godly because they do.

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