“The biblical purpose for marriage, you see, is not man-centered or needs-centered. It’s God-centered.”
The preceding quote does well to sum up the idea behind this book. In a time when there is much talk concerning the ‘sanctity of marriage’, where divorce and gay marriage steal the headlines, the actual basis of the institution is often lost within the shuffle. While I am not the target audience of this book I think it is probably safe to say that foundations of marriage are often lost even on Christian couples. In this book, Sex, Romance And The Glory Of God, C.J. Mahaney seeks to tackle the obstacle of how to properly glorify God within marriage, specifically in the avenues of sex and romance.
Naturally in analyzing how best to glorify God through this aspect of our lives Mahaney looks to Scripture (which is not only filled with plethora of verses on marriage as well as the Song of Solomon, but is also the first place we must always look for such questions). One of these key scriptures is the comparison that is made between Christ and the Church, and it is here which the author says we may look: “We don’t look to marriage to understand the relationship between Christ and the Church. Instead, we seek a clear, biblical understanding of the relationship between Christ and the Church so we can better understand the purpose of our marriage.”
He goes on to state that “Something of the selfless love, care, and sacrifice that Jesus shows towards the Church is supposed to be evident in you as you relate to your wife. Something of the respect, submission, and devotion that the Church shows toward Jesus is supposed to be evident in your wife as she relates to you. That’s the purpose of your marriage. That is why God has given her to you, and you to her.”
With this set as the foundation upon which marriage sits Mahaney goes on to make his case on how best the husband might seek to instill this romance into his marriage. The key principle he establishes here is that “In order for romance to deepen, you must touch the heart and mind of your wife before you touch her body.”
What follows is the author laying out from his own experience and wisdom how best to go about this: by being intentional, by learning about your spouse, by gathering information and following a detailed plan so that you may cater to their desires, by reviewing and setting goals for date-nights and romance.
All in all this is a book which would do good for any husband to read. The first half has an almost devotion tone while the latter half pulls at the more practical senses, and all in a brief 126pgs.
-“Motherhood is exceptionally important. It calls for immense sacrifices and deserves great honor. But I can say with full conviction that according to Scripture, motherhood is never to be a wife’s primary role. In fact, I think the most effective mothers are wives who are being continually, biblically romanced by their husbands.”
-“Your children should be able to look at your life and know beyond any doubt that they have the great privilege of being the most important people in the world to you… right after their mom.”
-“But they do not desire to be together simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love… As a married couple, they have great sex because they love one another so completely, not the other way around.”
Somehow despite the deep message of the first part of the book I felt myself at a loss during the second part, not because I’m not the target audience, but because all the beauty and depth of the first section slowly began to fade into little more than good advice (albeit good advice with scriptural references). This is not to detract from the advice given, the advice is sound enough, practical enough and even scriptural enough.
Where I think it fails is in straying from it’s initial thesis. Mahaney sets out to show the God-centered nature of marriage, romance and sex; to feed off of the analogy of Christ and the Church, demonstrating marriage as (again) “something of the selfless love, care, and sacrifice that Jesus shows towards the Church.” The practical application part of the book does not build upon foundation but suffices to offer varying amounts of advice and demonstrating these tidbits as scriptural.
And yet I can’t help but think it would have been much more to the point, even much more practical, to base the entirety of the book upon the analogy of Christ to the Church: upon that selflessness, upon that God-centeredness, upon that sacrifice. The author would have done better to demonstrate the pouring out which should be present in love and use this for his springboard into practical dating, to delve into the selflessness of the fact in discovering how best to touch the mind of your spouse and ever reminding that none of this analysis of sex and romance is first for God’s glory, second an expression of your love to your wife, and not about fulfilling your own desires at all (even on the tertiary level) – your needs are not your prerogative, they are God’s and your spouses.
Any other to romance in which one party is attempting to get something they want is an approach from the wrong angle (which is coincidentally the entire problem with relationships today, they are based upon selfishness). I think the latter part of the text is too tied up with the personal aspect of ‘how to get the most out of your relationship’ (even if not intentionally so) rather than ‘how to give the most to your relationship’. As A.W. Tozer says “[Love] considers nothing its own but gives all freely to the object of its affection.”
The practical aspects of the book simply fail to address how one might glorify God in their marriage, save for pointing out that a healthy marriage is something which good desires. Yet striving for a strong romance and a healthy marriage first is again the wrong direction; we should be striving for God, with the result being a strong romance and a healthy marriage (and again, save for its introductory remarks I think the text strays away from this point).
Finally, it is worth pointing out that Mahaney’s credibility has been somewhat tarnished in recent years by due to scandals revolving around abuse of leadership, blackmail, and child abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries. These have no bearing on whether the ideas presented in this particular book are valid, but it is worth pointing out.