I find it a helpful practice as a pastor to read through some recommended book on engagement or marriage with each couple I am counseling for marriage. This exercise, along with discussion about the couple’s particular issues, provides perspective for them about what life together will really be like. So, over time I have built up an annotated bibliography of some two dozen marriage advice books.
Most of these books have something helpful to say. Some counsel better on communication. Others adeptly advise on how marriage improves us, or shows us our need for redemption. One delves deeply into the mysteries of two people coming together sexually as one. Another offers valuable nuggets about conflict resolution. But there is one thing I have noticed about nearly all contemporary Christian books on marriage. They do not talk much about gender, or how it may power love. Gender might be touched on, or come up tangentially (as in, “Women tend to . . .” and “Men are likely to . . .”). It might even get a whole chapter (always tucked safely late in the book), but gender distinction does not arise in these books as anything fundamental to making a marriage work.
That’s odd. Because when you open the New Testament to get counsel from passages explicitly about marriage, distinguishing gender is just about all the authors talk about! Colossians 3:18-19, 1Peter 3:1-7, or, especially, the quintessential New Testament passage on marriage: Ephesians 5:22-33. Go look up “marriage,” “husbands,” or “wives” in a concordance or online and then go and read the passages you find.
This gender-marriage link in the Bible also creates an interesting Christian social phenomenon. Most Christian couples, when choosing a Scripture reading for their wedding, default to 1Corinthians 13, also known as The Love Chapter (“Love is patient, love is kind…”). You can see why. When they sit down to look through the New Testament for a nice passage that talks about marriage, that pesky issue of gender distinction keeps popping up. When Jesus brings up marriage, it is in response to a question of divorce, which is not an issue you tend to want to bring up at your wedding.
And the author of Hebrews, when touching on marriage, just seems concerned with sex. But in the main marriage passages, when Paul or Peter talk about it, they make uncomfortable statements that will offend the groom’s Uncle Charlie, and others that will send Deirdre, the bride’s sister, through the roof. So the couple sigh and decide it is best to simply quote 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter of love. This chapter commemorates their wedding even though it was not written about marriage at all but about church relationships.
The couple’s decision is not a great tragedy. Certainly a passage like 1Corinthians 13 bears on marriage. The principles from many different Scripture stories can help people love their spouses better. And the genderless Christian books can help us to do that too. But it is curious that, when marriage comes up as a point of instruction, the topic about which the New Testament shouts is one about which the Christian books barely whisper.
Do you think this current silence in Christian books is harming Christian marriages?