The Gospel Coalition

I was walking down a street in New York City last year when my good friend Justin Buzzard called to tell me that he was writing a book (in his exact words) on "how to date your wife." Somewhat taken aback, I stopped walking and said, "Your writing a book on how to date my wife?" He laughed and assured me that it wasn't my wife he was trying to date. Rather, he explained that he was writing a book to help men think about how the gospel empowers them to be the romantic leaders in their marriages.

I know, I know. Why do we need another book on marriage? Why do we need another guy telling us already-struggling husbands what we're not doing well? Telling me to do more and try harder only makes me want to do and try less. Been there, done that. Give me a break!

Ahh, but this is the genius of Justin's book: he understands and clearly articulates the radical difference between a religious approach to marriage and a gospel approach to marriage.

A religious approach to marriage is the idea that if we work hard enough at something, we can earn the acceptance, approval, and life we think we deserve because of our obedient performance. Justin rightly points out that religion governs how most of us approach God and our wives: "If we live as a basically good person, we can earn God's favor and get the decent life we deserve. If we stay committed to our wives and don't go anywhere, God will give us a decent marriage with decent sex in a decent American town with a decent church down the street." In other words, in arguing for becoming the romantic leaders of our marriages, Justin argues against a guilt-driven, performance-oriented, approval-seeking, "do more, try harder", approach to marriage.

Instead, he argues for a gospel-empowered approach to marriage. Justin writes, "A man comes alive when he finally feels in his guts that religion can't fuel his life or his marriage, when he makes the painfully sweet discovery that there is only one fuel source can get the engine running again: Grace." Right on! See, I told you he "gets it." He understands that since we already have all of the affection, approval, and favor we could possibly crave in Christ, we are now free to love our wives without fear or reservation.

Sadly, the fear that our love will not be reciprocated is something that paralyzes many of our marriages. It prevents husbands from loving their wives "as Christ loved the church." We come to this conclusion: I will love you only to the degree that you love me. It's an attitude that enslaves us. But the gospel frees us from that.

I enjoy receiving love from my wife. I'm ecstatic when Kim loves me and expresses affection toward me. Something in me comes alive when she does that. But I've learned this freeing truth: I don't need that love, because in Jesus, I receive all the love I need. This in turn liberates me to love her without apprehension or condition. I get to revel in her enjoyment of my love without needing anything from her in return. I get love from Jesus so that I can give love to her.

This is what Justin is talking about. The gospel sets us free to become the romantic leaders of our marriages without fright or hesitation. Because we have been forever wooed by Jesus, we are now free to forever woo our wives.

This small book is biblically sound, theologically rich, sensitively illustrated, and profoundly practical. If you read it prayerfully, God will show you his heart for you which will in turn enlarge your heart for your wife.

Read it. It's good. It's really good.


Comments:

Lee Dyck

June 28, 2012 at 11:43 AM

My question still stands. While I am very thankful for the recent resurgence toward gospel-centred living, especially with regards to marriage in books like this, my concern is that we often fail to emphasize the need for gospel driven hard work and effort... not just gospel driven romance and dating (though my wife would say that this is the area I need to work hardest at :)

To paraphrase a recent TGC post...

"Without the biblical exhortation to effort we’ll be confused, wondering why [marriage] isn’t automatically flowing from a heartfelt commitment to gospel-drenched justification. We’ll be waiting around for enough faith to really 'get the gospel' when God wants us to get up and get to work (Phil 2:11-12). When it comes to [marriage], we need to understand two points: (1) holiness does not happen apart from trusting, and (2) trusting does not put an end to trying."

You can read this entire post in light of how it applies to marriage to see what I'm getting at: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2012/04/11/t4g-5-kevin-deyoung-spirit-powered-gospel-driven-faith-fueled-effort-1-corinthians-1510/

That said, I would love to hear your thoughts on this, not just with respect to this book in particular, but also in thinking about our preaching and counselling ministries.

Paul ST Jean

June 28, 2012 at 10:09 PM

Pastor
I've never been married and I don't have much to say about it. Except that it is a picture of Jesus Christ and his church.

Todd Van Voorst

June 28, 2012 at 08:51 AM

i feel foolish. my post two up has numerous spelling errors. more than my last post was able to apologize. i spoke quickly and did not polish my thoughts (which i realize can discredit to a certain degree their poignancy).

I apologize both for not being professional/polished in my presentatino and also for being so religious as to feel "guilty" over having misrepresented myself. Oh the stab of pride and the desire to be poignant. May in His mercies grant me courage to be foolish when it is for Him and grace for being foolish when it represents Him so poorly.'

Thank you Jesus for a life lived perfectly and a death sufficient to absorb my folly. Both of which are credited to my account as though I lived well and paid in full the debt I owe.

http://onceforalldelivered.blogspot.com/

Todd Van Voorst

June 28, 2012 at 08:36 AM

my bad, I typed "not" in my first sentence which should read "now."

God is good to humble bloggers :)

Todd Van Voorst

June 28, 2012 at 08:30 AM

RE: JOHN & TULLIAN THREAD

Jesus and Paul were both never married and yet had much to say on the subject matter (that which is not cannonized as Scripture and authoritative inasmuch as it is sin to "disagree" or act in defiance of their expositions).

It is God who sets the principles and the practices into motion.

It is well stated that we prefer plumbers with experience over plumbers wet behind the ears.

There is something proverbial to be said with regard to experiential knowledge and time-sharpened wisdom, but it is not a pre-requisite to denounce someone's insight into a subject area. It is porbably wise to take this into account (a grain of salt as it were).

But it would be overly presumptuous to dismiss insight on the sole basis of it being relatively speaking - green.

Besides, 9 years of marriage is a good run in wich much has been revealed and sanctified by the LORD. We all should be so lucky. I have been married for 5 years this August and I feel I have learned a great deal.

God uses novices and experts to communicate His grace.

http://onceforalldelivered.blogspot.com/

Todd Van Voorst

June 28, 2012 at 07:56 PM

Lee,

That is a great point. The Gospel informs our efforts and those efforts should and can be extravagant because they are fueled by the passion and joy of being loved first by God and nourishing our souls in that. Deyoung rightly points out that the Spirit empowers us to obey God's Law more and more, the Gospe drives our striving, and faith fans the flames in fueling dedication, loyalty, and selfless achievement. That Gospe is not anti-achievement in that It desires you to jump over shorter hurdles. It, rather, is about finding your source of satisfaction and effort in knowing that Jesus has already done and completed on your behalf.

Susanne Schuberth (Germany)

June 27, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Sleep Sally...Interesting insights in a pastor’s married life ;)

TT, pardon me, please, however this was a pleasure to read: “Your writing a book on how to date my wife?” Only in play but hard to stay earnest. Forgive, por favor – Sorry, today is my “Happy Alliteration Day” (isn’t it wonderful to have an alliterating name as well? :) ). Let me carry on by saying that I very much love the way you write about your (very beautiful!) wife; this clearly shows that you love her.

Have a blessed marriage furthermore, SS

Mike

June 27, 2012 at 10:19 PM

Tullian,

I truly appreciate that you preach Christ week in and week out. God has used you and the White Horse Inn guys to have a powerful impact on my life.

Thank you.

Richard

June 27, 2012 at 09:30 AM

I've been married now 31 years. It sounds like Justin gets it, for all his 9 years of marriage. It's about resting in the grace of God--which our marriages should reflect. For too long my marriage was driven by fear of real acceptance by my wife--it took me this long to rest in the acceptance which is mine in Christ. Good work, Justin!

Tullian Tchividjian

June 27, 2012 at 08:52 AM

Hi John,

With all due respect to you and Tim, the amount of time a person has been married (Justin's been married 9 years, not 7) has little bearing on whether they are qualified to share insights they've learned about marriage with others.

The line of logic that someone has to have experienced a certain thing for a certain amount of time before they are qualified at any level to counsel another person is preposterous. Do I have to get divorced to speak into the the life of someone who has suffered through a divorce? Do I need to die in order to speak wisely about death? I could go on and on. You get the point.

Tim understands this. Not only did he write a book on spiritual discernment when he was about the same age as Justin, he also blogs everyday on a wide variety of subjects. He expects people to consider what he's saying even though I'm certain he wouldn't consider himself a tried and true expert on everything he writes about.

John Stott, William Still, and many other great preachers NEVER got married and still preached on marriage as young preachers. Should they have refrained from doing so because they weren't married?

Anyway, don't take my word for it, or Tim's. Read it for yourself. As a man who has been married 18 years, I found it helpful and enjoyable.

Peace,
Tullian

PJ Tibayan

June 27, 2012 at 08:22 PM

Thanks for the gospel-explicit push Tullian. And thanks for interacting with some comments. I have yet to read the book. I assume you've read Tim's (Challies) review. Would you agree with Tim on his critique of the interpretation and application of Genesis 2 and the critique of the sex 4 times a week example? Or do you agree with Justin on those? Those seem to be Tim's substantial critiques.

Your brother in Christ,
PJ

Los Angeles, CA

Todd Van Voorst

June 27, 2012 at 08:20 AM

This is a great insight and relief. Religion does drive so much of what I do that I am beginning to lose my initial startle when it is pointed out to me. Rather I think "of course!" That is why I so often miss the mark. Not because I need to try harder to hit the mark, but because I can rest in Christ's perfect marks that He bares for me and hit on my behalf. I am freed to love and live in grace because religion and the Law are fulfilled and credited to my account.

http://onceforalldelivered.blogspot.com/

John

June 27, 2012 at 08:09 PM

Tullian:

First, in my response above I spoke of more than trade skills as an example. I also spoke of money matters, very young parents with very young kids giving very specific parenting advice and responded to your example concerning John Stott.

Second, I am not looking down on this young pastor in the sense that 1 Tim. 4:12 means. There Paul was speaking about elders who were looking down on young Timothy just because of his age and thinking that he couldn't possibly have the necessary, overall spiritual maturity for his position. It seems that it was an overall cuturally-based attitude he was getting. That is not what I am doing here. If it appears so let me apologize,for I have read many works by "young" authors and pastors and greatly benefited. But not by everything they said, theology degree or not.

I could give specific verses or other true life examples, but it looks like we will have to just agree to disagree on this one. Thanks for the dialogue, though.

John

Steve Martin

June 27, 2012 at 05:22 AM

Another 'how to' book.

Oh goodie.

(I'm sure it's a fine book - for what it's worth)

Tullian Tchividjian

June 27, 2012 at 05:21 PM

John,

We're not talking here about a particular trade or practical skill set (plumbing, mechanic, etc.). We're talking about a 30 something year-old man, married for 9 years with three children, called by God as a minister and formally trained theologically. Justin is a pastor and has been preaching and counseling for many years.

"Don't let them look down on you because you are young." 1 Timothy 4:12

Blessings,
Tullian

John

June 27, 2012 at 05:07 PM

Tullian,

Your points are well taken. As I said above, this is my opinion. However, in response to your saying that the length of time someone needs to experience a certain thing before they are considered qualified at any level being "preposterous":

Do you take that attitude in your everyday life? I mean for example if you needed a good plumber? I know plumbers and plumbing because I sell to them for a living. Time and experience makes a difference. How about financial advice? After the last four years I think we all know that experience definitely applies there. In all matters it is simply a wise thing to consider time and experience as to whether someone is "qualified at any level". As far as the great John Stott goes, no, he should not have refrained from preaching on marriage. But he was speaking as bit of an outsider, though, wasn't he? Going back to plumbing, it's one thing to sell the parts and tell someone how it's done. It's quite another to actually be the one under your sink or in your garage replacing your water heater or stopping your house from flooding. I remember once at the church I was a member of back home they had a special parents seminar during VBS. Very smart idea. What was not smart was having very young parents of kids who were all still in the single digit age group giving the seminar, ministry experience notwithstanding.

As for myself, I have married for 16 years. Four kids; 13, 11, 9, and 10 months (yeah, I know, I know).

Could I learn something new from this man? Probably so. In most marriages we tend to let the fire of passion for our brides die a little. There is much to be reminded of and learn from there. But seven years? I just don't think (again, my opinion only) that's enough time for anyone to be writing on such an important topic.

Nigel Hunter

June 27, 2012 at 01:47 PM

I've read it twice. Justin Buzzard says his secret to why is is a good husband is God's grace. It isn't fundamentally a book about marriage. It is, at its essence, a book about what it looks like for a husband to respond to the grace that saved him in relationship to his wife. Since that is the core message, the length of Buzzard's relationship is less important than the content of it. If you read his blog or listen to his sermons, you will see that he is incredibly mature beyond his 7 years.

Tim Challies gets a couple things wrong especially the idea that Buzzard places all the blame at the husband's feet. In the book he says:

"Every marriage involves two people, so both husband and wife are responsible for the problems in their marriage. And both husband and wife are responsible for addressing those problems and moving the marriage forward. But this isn't a book for women. This is a book for men. And this book is fueled by this conviction: if you want to change a marriage, change the man. (39)

Therefore, I don't think Challies was unduly critical and he raises a very good point about the foundational text being Genesis 2 and the application to marriage. But the exegetical disagreement doesn't undermine the message of the book as much as Challies thinks it does.

I also think Challies' point about specificity and intensity of discussions on sex ought to be considered. I do think the idea of sexual contentment as a barometer of spiritual and emotional intimacy is valid and useful. It is important to note that Buzzard is Acts 29 and, like Driscoll's last book, targeted to specific audience. The wisdom of specificity in mass distribution outside your immediate context is important to consider. I wouldn't do it, but that doesn't make it wrong.

However, as a high school teacher and a man who works with men, this book is exactly what young men and new husbands need to read based on what I see as it's two distinguishing messages. First, the grace of God's salvation must be the fuel of our interaction with our wives. We will only pursue our wives to the extent that we know we are pursued by God (79). So, it is the Gospel that makes a marriage good, not time.

Second, it is about moving the goal line back. I have yet to talk with men my age who were counseled through their 60th year of marriage. We were counseled through the 1st year and the 7 year itch, but not through to the end. When Buzzard redefines the mission as beginning with marriage and the finishing line being far away, he is speaking to a specific error that does exist today in the male marriage paradigm (57).

I do think this book is for everyone, in spite of the fact it was written by a man married less time than me, because it is ultimately about the Gospel. Also I couldn't do better to his haunting question in the intro:

"How many married couples can you think of that have a thriving marriage-a good, happy, alive marriage-the kind of marriage that makes other people want to get married." (15)

If you can come up with more than 2, it would be awesome for you to write a better book. I'd appreciate it and I'm sure Buzzard would too.

Brian Watson

June 27, 2012 at 01:17 AM

I'll second the Challies review. People should read that first. Also, he doesn't seem to have any vested interested in the book.

John

June 26, 2012 at 07:58 PM

No offense to Justin Buzzard, but I'm going to defer on this book due to Tim Challies review on his blog. Even if Challies review were to be unduly critical (which it may or may not be), I do not think it wise to take to heart teaching on marriage from someone who is only seven years into his own. Again, no offense, but it my opinion (please note that; my opinion only) he should have gotten a ways down the road first.

Lee Dyck

June 26, 2012 at 03:42 PM

While Justin rightly "argues against a guilt-driven, performance-oriented, approval-seeking, do more, try harder approach to marriage" does he then go on to talk about a "gospel-driven do more try harder" kind of approach a la Paul in 1 Co 15:10; Phil 3:12-16?

Will S.

July 1, 2012 at 08:20 AM

It is entirely true...only the Gospel will free a man's heart to love his wife, at an intimate heart level.

Genesis makes it clear..."It is NOT GOOD for man to be alone..." and God created the woman, a suitable helpmeet for Adam, that they would "cleave", marry and become one flesh. Now ask yourself...what is WORSE than being alone...? (this question has stymied more clergy than I can remember). Answer: Being married... and yet being "alone."

75% of all divorces are filed by women. Of those, 75% site "lack of affection / emotional disconnect" as the primary reason. It is ONLY the Gospel that can free a man's heart sufficiently to fulfill the Creator's purpose to become "one flesh", and bridge the gulf that exists separating the hearts of husbands and wives. "LOVE does not die easily. It is a living thing. It thrives in the face of all life's hazards, save one. Neglect" James Bryden

Keep preachin' it, Pastor Tullian...you keep on preachin' it!

Shelby Biggs

February 8, 2013 at 01:10 PM

I just bought Justins book Date your wife. Please pray for me as I learn how to be a husband/father. I got saved in dec 2012 so i got Jesus to help me :). Thank you brothers and sisters! I love you all.