Review of Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage. Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, (2011, Hodder and Stoughton)
This is an excellent and wise book on Christian marriage which started life as a sermon series preached at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in 1991. At least two sections are more strongly shaped by Kathy (chapter 6 “Embracing the other” and the appendix “Decision making and gender roles”).
The 8 chapters are:
- The Secret of Marriage;
- The Power for Marriage;
- The Essence of Marriage;
- The Mission of Marriage;
- Loving the Stranger;
- Embracing the Other;
- Singleness and Marriage;
- Sex and Marriage.
The context in which the book is written, 20+ years in Manhattan, New York, clearly shapes the way in which the conversation about marriage takes place. Theirs is a congregation full of many single young adults living out their relationships where tolerance is expected, “try before you buy” is the norm, and hopes of a “fairy tale ending” are often dashed.
What is particularly helpful is the way in which the Kellers have an eye to their context, a good grasp of the social sciences’ perception on gender roles, but primarily seek to see the Gospel shape and pervade their interpretation of what makes for marriage as God intended it.
There are four particular areas which I found refreshing:-
1) The basis for a strong marriage is friendship. Marriages that last for a lifetime are those where partners work at being good friends to each other, above almost everything else. This also means that if Christian marriages are based on friendship then they can be the place where single people are brought into the friendship.
2) The foundation of strong marriage is the Gospel. The book carefully answers the concerns of the postmodernist (who might tend to think that marriage is archaic and unsustainable) and also the traditionalist (who might tend to have a blinkered romanticism attached to bygone traditional roles). As with all Tim’s writing and speaking, the good news is a message to the religious and the irreligious:
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope… love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us (p48).
3) The power for a strong marriage is found in knowing its purpose. Here Tim draws on the excellent work in Peter O’Brien’s commentary on Ephesians (Eerdmans 1999). The mysterion (Eph 5:32) is God’s unveiling of that which was previously hidden. The profound insight of Ephesians 5 is the way Paul applies the foundational text of Genesis 2:24 (for this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh). The created purpose of marriage, it would seem, is in order that God would have demonstrated on earth a living, breathing illustration of his divine purposes, subsequently to be fully revealed in Christ’ relationship with the Church. Christians will find purpose in their marriage when they see the way in which God expects it to perform for the Gospel’s sake. My own debt to Peter O’Brien is acknowledged in The Diamond Marriage. Have Ultimate Purpose in your Marriage. (Christian Focus 2005) which explores many similar themes.
4) The mission of marriage of to have God’s sanctifying work on display for the benefit of others too. The goal of Christian marriage is much the same as the goal for the Christian life: to be like Jesus. Here, issues of complementarity come into play. Headship is defined as “servant leadership” and submission as being a “strong helper”. Of course, not everyone buys into the complementarian theology which pervades much of this book, but there is great insight here and the Kellers carefully warn about sins of overbearing dominance, and passive surrender; and I hope persuade others of the biblical wisdom in the complementary way in which the sexes are made.
There is more to say. But for now the wisest move would be buy the book, read it and give it away. I highly commend it.
Simon Vibert, January 2012
My book “Excellence in Preaching. Learning from the Best” has now been published. IVP have done a great job and I am most grateful that the 12 preachers I examine have been gracious and cooperative in allowing me to write about them.
What have I learnt as a result? What produces excellenet preaching? In an attempt to distill my thoughts it includes the following:-
1) A deep love for the Lord, dependence on the Holy Spirit and sustained immersion in Scripture. Preaching is a deeply spiritual task and the godliness of the preacher shines through whether they intend it or not!
2) A certain grasp of what makes for good communication. Sermons need a “Big Idea” (or “Homiletical theme”) and preachers need to practice clear, concise, relevant and engaging communication.
3) The third thing preachers need to learn is what motivated the writing of “Excellence in Preaching”, namely that we learn much from preaching by listening to good preachers. Apart from the obvious fact that preachers need to hear God’s word explained and applied for their own spiritual health, the language of mentoring and modelling is important here. My prayer and hope is that good preachers will notice and appreciate the things good preachers do: not to mimic but rather to observe and learn.
I have learnt so much from Dick Lucas’ preaching: not from his teaching about preaching but from him doing it! His style is quite unique, with a delightful self-deprecating and dry sense of humour. But mainly – and this surely is the best test of preaching – there are so many passages (mainly from Mark’s Gospel) where I cannot read them without hearing Dick’s voice in my head. He regularly taught me things which I had not known before, and once I had learnt them I could never forgot the lessons.
“Excellence in Preaching” will be launched at Wycliffe Hall Oxford at 5pm on Thursday 17th November, but if you can’t wait it is available online in England now! (see http://www.ivpbooks.com/9781844745197 the book will be published in the USA at the end of the yearhttp://www.amazon.com/Excellence-Preaching-Studying-Leading-Preachers/dp/0830838155)
With much gratitude for all the friendship, food, enthusiastic support, great hospitality and, of course, your sponsorship, Simon Vibert and Chris Leftley completed the nearly 1000 mile trip from Lands End to John O’Groats on Sunday 18th July 2010.
We saw some stunning parts of the British Isles, help by the vista from a saddle, lovely cycle tracks and rural routing. We were humbled by the expressions of good wishes and kindness along the way.
God’s creation is truly marvellous. I found myself musing: “Who does Richard Dawkins praise when he sees the beauty of the natural world?” As for me, Psalm 103 was very much in my mind as the Psalmist exalts the Lord for his many wonders. Although slogging up the A9 near Perth in torrential rain was a more humbling experience!
Our final stop-off at the home of Christian Focus was a treat, a lovely rural setting near Tain. To see first hand the entrepreneurial vision for Reformed Christian Publishing was very refreshing.
Of course, we were acutely aware that we weren’t the first to make such a daring trip, particularly as we crossed into Scotland and were caught in a traffic jam of cyclists all trying to take a photo of Gretna!
Nevertheless, this was a matter of dogged discipline (20 miles to coffee; 20 miles to lunch; 20 miles to tea and then overnight stop!). We were thankful for good health, largely good weather, and very minor bike problems.
We cycled to raise funds to supplement student teaching resources at Wycliffe Hall. Out of the target of £10,000 a little over half of that has been raised so far. Donations are still trickling in.
But, finally, as I return to my desk for less physically rigorous activity, it is good to remember Paul’s wise words: For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
I am in training for another big bike ride. The deails are to be found at http://www.justgiving.com/simon-vibert
Why am I getting on my bike for nearly two weeks in the second week of July.
A personal challenge
From 6th July 2010 Chris Leftley and Simon Vibert plan to cycle about 900 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats. We intend to take about 12 days to ride from the Southwest corner of England to the Northeast corner of Scotland. It is an arduous journey requiring stamina and determination to navigate through heat, cold, wind, rain and steep hills! We feel both daunted and excited.
A serious fundraising purpose
We are both on the staff of Wycliffe Hall, part of the University of Oxford. The primary purpose of this fundraising endeavour is to supplement our teaching resources.
Wycliffe receives funding from student fees and the Ministry Division of the Church of England. However, Wycliffe has to raise a shortfall of somewhere in the region of two thousand pounds per ministry student per year in order to provide the professional development and ministry preparation required for 21st century ministry. Wycliffe’s threefold aim is Academic Excellence; Ministry Training and Spiritual Formation.
The specific project for which we are cycling is to fund the upgrade of teaching resources in our main lecture and seminar rooms. Being a part of Wycliffe Hall is a privilege for our students: there is the romance of studying under Oxford’s dreaming spires, in a listed Victorian building, with the daunting task of preparing to communicate the Christian faith to a 21st Century culture. Our students work hard and achieve good academic results. But at the same time, those Victorian buildings and cultural challenges require contemporary tools for the task.
For these reasons we hope to raise enough money to upgrade our lecture rooms, and install modern educational technology such as digital video projectors and interactive whiteboards, eventually leading to the construction of a new Library.
Our hope is that you will give generously to this project and enable us to reach our target.
More information may be found at
An edited version of this article will appear in The Church of England Newspaper in January 2010
John Calvin – preacher, thinker and theologian.
A model for theological education today?
2009 was the 500th anniversary of the birth of the best known, and perhaps most misunderstood, voice of the Continental Reformation: John Calvin. By the time you read this article the anniversary will have come and gone. There have been many celebrations in Geneva and around the world to mark the birth of John Calvin. The Guardian online (yes!) ran a series of 8 very instructive articles written by the philosopher Paul Helm which engendered a lot of comment. There have been numerous new biographies on John Calvin and the helpful new book Engaging with Calvin emerging from the Moore College faculty
Reflecting upon this considerable focus on John Calvin let me offer three suggestions about what we might learn from his life and legacy:-
Calvin – a lifelong preacher
Mark Dever is recorded as saying: “If you are going to be a preacher, read Calvin”, and modern preachers would do well to heed his advice.
Over a twenty-five year period of ministry in Geneva Calvin would preach twice per Sunday and lecture a minimum of three times a week.
He believed that preaching was essential, because God’s presence is not mediated through a priestly office, but rather, through the faithful proclamation of the promises of God in his word. His appeal to the literal meaning of the text and the communication of God’s truth in plain language was grounded in his conviction that God addresses the soul through the hearing and heeding of God’s word. But in order for this message to penetrate the fallen human mind, alongside the preacher’s efforts to be clear, the Holy Spirit’s illuminating role is essential.
Wycliffe shares this wholehearted view of the transforming power of godly preaching – and not least when a minister of the Gospel stays in one location for some time, to preach the whole counsel of God and allow that message to seep into the fabric of society. Along with Calvin we should ensure that grace and faith is the central theme our preaching. We too believe that the faithful exposition of God’s word produces lasting fruit in the believer’s soul and in the transformed society around.
Calvin – an integrated thinker
Following in the line of Melanchthon and others, Calvin recognised the comprehensive nature of Paul’s epistle to the Romans in its treatment of the doctrine of God, human sinfulness and the redeeming work of Christ on the cross, and the renewing work of the Holy Spirit resulting in the transformation of life.
It is surely no coincidence that in the same year Calvin published his first full edition of The Institutes he also published his commentary On the Epistle to the Romans (1539).
The Institutes were rigorously revised over the next 20 years with the final edition appearing in 1559.
In his introduction to Romans, Calvin argues that when any one gains a knowledge of this epistles, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture… the whole epistle is so methodological, that even from its very beginning it is framed according to the rules of art.
Just as in Romans, Calvin’s Institutes move from the knowledge of God the creator to the knowledge of God the redeemer, to the way of grace in Christ, to the means of grace. The framework with which Calvin wrote and thought is simple in its profundity. Knowledge of God (creator and redeemer); and knowledge of self (in his image; but fallen) is at the heart of Christian faith.
Calvin read the pagans and philosophical thinkers of his day, but applied his careful textual work to a framework of thought which would, through several revisions, become The Institutes of Religion.
The Calvinist stereotype, typified in the mealy mouthed, humourless, life-denying caricature illustrated in the Grant Woods picture American Gothic is far from the picture of John Calvin. Actually it is very much to Calvin that we owe the idea that, though the whole created order is fallen, nevertheless we are to enjoy all that God has made and rejoice in his providence in every area. He had a generous view of the value of civic order, of the wisdom of some philosophers, of the goodness of work and advances in medicine, all of which should lead us to thank and glorify God.
Wycliffe Hall is very glad that its alumni include not just godly preachers, but Christian thinkers and apologists, ethicists, politicians, writers, musicians to name a few. This, it seems to me, is quite close to legacy of John Calvin.
Calvin – a heart for theological education
One area of particular interest for Wycliffe students and alumni was Calvin’s abiding influence on theological education and biblical scholarship. He first arrived in Geneva in 1536, a small city at the crossroads between northern and southern Europe. After tumultuous time in the city he left thinking would never return. But, return he did, although not all was plain sailing. Calvin, a frail and complicated man, was also, of course a flawed man. His vision of a theocracy was never realised in Geneva. But his passion to see Geneva transformed by a faithful presentation of the word of God with a dependence that God would do his miraculous work in souls is surely a message for modern pastors and preachers.
The establishment of the Academy of Geneva in 1559 led to sending out godly preachers who had regularly heard Calvin preach and lecture. He inculcated a vision for Europe with many students being sent off to martyrdom in France.
The English Puritan connection with Geneva in 16th century is significant. Many of the reformers went to Switzerland. At the height of Calvin’s influence in Geneva Cranmer’s critical work on the Prayer Book was ongoing. Subsequent generations of English preachers would be proud to look to Calvin as a key influence on their ministry: George Whitefield, John Newton and hymn writer Augustus Toplady, all Anglicans who thought of themselves as Calvinists.
Whilst Geneva in the 16th Century and Oxford in the 21st Century are notably different, Wycliffe Hall retains a vision to be both a part of the academy (of the University of Oxford) and a part of the Church (training men and women for preaching and many other ministries today). Our twin hope is summed up in our strap line: we hope that our students will love the Lord; treasure his Word; serve his people; and proclaim his Gospel. Calvin’s legacy motivates me afresh to train and mentor preachers, teachers, apologists and evangelists for the Church and the Academy.
Revd Dr Simon Vibert is Vice Principal of Wycliffe Hall and Director of the School of Preaching
I preached on Luke 14:15-24 in Wycliffe Chapel on Thursday.
I was challenged afresh by two things:
- First, do Christians really give the impression that the Gospel invitation is to a party? And is Church an anticipation of the heavenly banquet?
- Secondly, do we succeed in giving a Gospel welcome to those who are on the margins and periphery of society? Do they hear the Gospel as good news to the poor?
If you want the full 25 minutes, please click on link to my website www.simonvibert.com
What should we expect of a theological college?
There has been considerable discussion recently surrounding the issue of “value for money” and “fitness for purpose” of full time theological education. I have my own views on the immense value of full time theological residential training (see http://www.simonvibert.com/writing/articles/CEN%20article_on_full_time_training.doc). But I think we would agree that the goal of all such training is to equip and train godly ministers for Gospel ministry.
Julian Mann has publically challenged me to defend Wycliffe Hall in the light of his article in the EN and the subsequent letter from one of our students Matthew Swires Hennessy (see http://cranmercurate.blogspot.com/2009/08/what-are-we-paying-for-in-thelogical.html). If I have understood him correctly, Julian’s main contention is that Oak Hill is best placed to train ordinands because it is not “as posh” as Oxbridge colleges and provides a more useful practical theology.
I have no intention of being drawn into a debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of Wycliffe versus Oak Hill. Apart from anything else, I was a student at Oak Hill, for which I am most grateful, and am now Vice Principal at Wycliffe Hall and wish to see both institutions prosper!
There are several reasons why I was appreciative, and ultimately accepted, Richard Turnbull’s invitation to teach at Wycliffe Hall, which in no particular order, include the following:-
1. I am absolutely committed to evangelical parochial ministry in the Church of England. Since Ordination in 1989 I have served as a Curate in Carlisle, been the minister-in-charge of a church in the small market town of Buxton in Derbyshire, and been incumbent of a leafy suburban parish in Wimbledon. These varied environments have led me to conclude that England is unlikely to be revived unless Gospel new-life penetrates urban, suburban, rural, wealthy, poor and every other demography across the land. Parochial ministry, despite its limitations for Church planting etc., is still a great gift to the national church. It is a major goal of our training mindset that we seek to bolster the faithful ongoing witness of Gospel ministry in local communities through high calibre preparation of men and women for ministry.
2. The particular focus to Wycliffe’s training was another great attraction for me: We have sought to concentrate on 3-4 main ends or goals. For sure, we cover the core curriculum in biblical studies, doctrine, church history, ethics etc. But to what end? The answer is that we seek to train: leaders, preachers, evangelists, church planters and apologists. This requires practical and pastoral focus. Hence, alongside the rigorous academic demands of being a PPH of Oxford University, Pastor-teachers such as myself seek to bring grass-roots ministry experience to earth the teaching in real ministry goals.
3. Wycliffe Hall has a marvellous academic and ecclesiastic heritage. For sure, not everyone at Wycliffe will study on the demanding 2-year BA course or do post graduate study. Of course for some this also means many other opportunities to excel in sports, debate, church life, etc. But Wycliffe seeks to make the most of the excellent resources which a university town offers: rigorous academic scholarship and the marvellous heritage of a university which, after all has the Scriptural words “The Lord is my Light” as its foundational motto. I do not want to forget, either, that the vision of the founders of Wycliffe Hall, under the leadership of the great JC Ryle, was in part that Wycliffe Hall would be a witness to the University, reminding them that the learned mind is a humble mind which first bows its head before its maker before bowing over its books.
There is much more, but for now, I do hope Julian and others, that you will pray for Wycliffe and Oak Hill, as well as the other evangelical colleges. We are not in competition with each other. We need your support and encouragement and prayer in order that we may, under God, do our utmost to form godly ministers for Gospel work up and down our land.
Thanks so much for your interest in the Big Issue Bike Ride which is now less than two weeks away.
This will be a great experience for me and hopefully beneficial to all the people who will get off the streets as a result of your sponsorship money.
The ride consists of a 230 mile trek from London (via North and South Downs and across the ferry to Caen) arriving three days later in Paris. Training has been tough! I have been to the gym a couple of times a week and done several larger rides (50+ miles) and lots of shorter rides (15-20 miles).
I feel relatively fit, but am aware of the stamina demands such a ride involves. It has been inspiring watching the Tour De France – although they average 48km per hour, and I average about 27km per hour!
Thanks for all your encouragements, some of which are decidedly ambiguous (You’re mad! I’m not paying up until I see the A&E discharge slip!).
At the end of the day I am not doing this solely for an exciting challenge for me. I am enthusiastic about the positive benefits which your sponsorship money will have upon people such as John below. So, thanks to all of you who have sponsored me!
And to those who have frequently said to me: “Oh, I must remember to sponsor you!” this is a gentle reminder!
There were some problems with the online sponsorship site “justgiving” for a while, but these have now been resolved and my personal page is best accessed via www.simonvibert.com
Thanks again! Simon
How your support can help:
John was on a downward spiral into drugs and crime when he found The Big Issue and became a vendor in Newport, south Wales. “I started selling the Issue which was something I’d always thought I could never do,” he confesses. “But I had a ‘substance problem’, let’s just say, and I was shoplifting. After getting caught a few times it lost its appeal in a big way.” Selling The Big Issue initially offered a quick fix for John’s problems, giving him much needed cash, but he soon found that he had a talent for selling, and it became something more. “I used to do quite well at it. I used to look forward to it, to meeting my regular customers. They’d all stop and have a chat. I must have enjoyed it – I did it for four or five years.” With regular money coming in from his job as a vendor, John found that he wanted to kick his drug habit: “I started thinking, ‘Hang on, I’m earning this money each week and just doling it out to some guy on the street.’ I got myself off drugs and planned to go back to work.” The Big Issue helped direct John to a course that allowed him to get his heavy goods license, and he’s now working full-time as a heavy goods driver. “I work long hours but I enjoy it,” he says, “and it’s great to have money again.” A full-time job has led to a more stable life – John now has his own home, too. “I’ve got somewhere to live at the moment, but I’m saving my pennies now rather than spending it straight away. You’ve got to set goals and work towards something otherwise there’s no point. “I couldn’t have done any of this with out the help of the Issue and the people out there.”
WYCLIFFE HALL LAUNCHES NEW SCHOOL OF PREACHING
09 June 2008: Wycliffe Hall has today announced the launch of a new School of Preaching to strengthen the training of students in contemporary Christian ministry. The School of Preaching will be based at the theological college in Oxford with the aim of providing an ongoing training facility for the preachers of both today and the future.
Wycliffe Hall’s Vice Principal, The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, will take on the role of Director at the new school. The school will focus on enabling students to hear good preaching models, establishing the case and role for preaching in the modern church and enabling students to practise the skills of preaching while receiving helpful analysis and feedback.
This strategic project will aid in the effective communication of the word of God and provide students with the necessary tools for a lifetime’s ministry. Students for the school will include existing students training at Wycliffe Hall as well as local, national and international preachers and trainers of preachers who will participate in seminars and workshops run by the school.
Director of the School of Preaching, The Revd Dr Simon Vibert said:
“The launch of the School of Preaching is an exciting new initiative aimed at restoring confidence in the preaching of God’s Word. The creation of a School of Preaching is not only a significant step in the development of Wycliffe Hall, but also in the development of effective preaching within the Anglican Church and beyond.”
The launch of the new School of Preaching coincides with Wycliffe Hall’s Preaching and Leadership Integrated Study Week, in which the college will hold a consultation and vision-sharing meeting for friends and partners engaged in training preachers in England.
For further information please contact Helen Mitchell, College Administrator on 01865 274200
Notes to editors
For more information on Wycliffe Hall, visit the website http://www.wycliffehall.org.uk
Wycliffe Hall is a theological college within the diverse environment of the University of Oxford. We aim to equip our students for their future ministries, through excellent academic teaching, practical ministry experience and living as part of a vibrant and supportive Christian community.
- Preparing for suffering with the help of Job
- Existential Threats
- Some biblical wisdom on dealing with Stress and Worry
- The Hunger Games – Christian Review
- Wouldn’t you like to be a castaway?
- Lessons from the Long Distance Cycle Ride
- An Easter Word for Exhausted Preachers
- the agnostic, the atheist and the Christian
- Tim & Kathy Keller “The Meaning of Marriage”
- resources for training preachers in Osijek, Croatia
- with great thankfulness to John Stott
- a tall story
- back from the dead
- Bible by the Beach
- Big Ben
- Big Issue
- Bishop of Rochester
- Charlie Cleverly
- Christ Church Cathedral Oxford
- Christian Focus
- Christian Leaders
- Don Carson
- Egyptian Plagues
- Episcopal Church
- fellowship of word and spirit
- Fundraising Bike Ride
- General Synod
- John Piper
- John Stott
- John the Baptist
- John's Gospel
- Millennium Wheel
- New Testament
- Nigel Biggar
- no-go areas
- Oxford Church
- Professor Wotton
- reformed theological serminary
- Richard Turnbull
- Rowan Williams
- shi'i law
- Simon Vibert
- Son of God
- Song of God
- St Aldates Church
- St Paul's cathedral
- third millennium ministries
- wycliffe hall
- wycliffe hall students