Justin Bieber and The Meaning of Marriage

There have been many helpful (and unhelpful) books written by Christians about marriage. Tim and Kathy Keller’s, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, is among the best.

When I woke up this morning to see social media splashed with photos of Justin Bieber holding a copy of the Keller marriage book, I made an uncharacteristic move to take a second look at Justin Bieber. My daughter might sing along to Bieber, but he’s not exactly listed very high on my spotify playlist!

When I woke up this morning to see social media splashed with photos of Justin Bieber holding the Keller marriage book, I made an uncharacteristic move to take a second look at Justin Bieber.

Apparently, the paparazzi have been doing their stalking thing again this week. Justin Bieber’s and Hailey’s Brooklyn’s private life is none of my business, so let’s leave those photos and speculations where they belong—in a bin on a New York City sidewalk.

Emotional Reading

Justine Bieber did, however, offer a comment to the media, and it was about this marriage book. As photographers asked him about why he and his fiancé had “been looking so emotional”, Bieber held up The Meaning of Marriage.

My somewhat worn copy of the book

Great choice Justin and Hailey!

At Mentone Baptist we regularly use The Meaning of Marriage for both pre-marriage and marriage counselling.

The Daily Mail refers to the book as containing “controversial subject matter.” I guess it is controversial, in that Tim and Kathy Keller paint a view of marriage that differs from many of the relationship ideas that are trending.

Even the way the Daily Mail tries to sum up the book’s teaching reminds us how fragmented our understanding of marriage has become. The cultural scene has become so weird that it seems journalists are now required (by some unstated code of ethics) to offer trigger warnings whenever mentioning Christians and marriage in the same sentence. The now obligatory criticism of classical marriage was presented in this way:

… it is unclear whether he [Bieber] is following all of the advice in the tome, which also tells men and women to abstain from sex before marriage, suggests that wives should submit to their husbands, and depicts the Bible’s view of marriage as being monogamous and heterosexual.

An Old Story

Yes, all of these things are unpopular today, but none of them are controversial in most contexts. They are, and have been, shared by Christians (and many others) all over the world for millennia. These are aspects of a marriage that are taught and encouraged in the Bible. However what the Kellers achieve (following the Bible) is to frame marriage relationships in a consistent and attractive way that helps makes sense of why marriage should be monogamous and why there are gender complementary roles in a marriage. 

The Kellers frame marriage relationships in a consistent and attractive way that helps makes sense of why marriage should be monogamous and why there are gender complementary roles in a marriage

Too often we parody and caricature ideas that we don’t like or can’t comprehend, rather than taking the harder and more honest approach, which is to understand concepts on their own terms.

In reading the book, we discover that the Kellers are only too aware of how marriage is being reframed in Western cultures, and while critiquing these trends, they are not sending readers back to the conservative 1950s either.

That’s why it’s worth reading the book; it will surprise. Tim and Kathy Keller are neither mirroring the less-than satisfying views of sex and relationships that turn up on Netflix and Amazon, neither are they reproducing unhelpful marital myths from previous generations.

A Compelling Picture

Grounding their ideas in the Bible, Tim and Kathy Keller present a compelling portrait of complementary love in marriage. Here are a few examples,

In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other. That means that love is more than fundamentally action emotion.

In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.

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. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.

Am I milking these Justin Bieber photos in order to promote a book that I really like? Yep, and unashamedly so, because The Meaning of Marriage really is a great book for marriage. It certainly seems as though this young engaged couple also believe it’s worth reading. Whether you are a Christian or a skeptic, I think you’ll find its pages intriguing and challenging, useful and surprising.

BTW, I wish Justin Bieber and Hailey Brooklyn all the very best as they prepare for marriage. May God in his grace and love bless your future together.


Photo: unsplash.com

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