Get Naked . . . and Unashamed: a book review

My wife and I have been married for 16 years. Over that time, and in my role as an erstwhile and intermittent pastor, I have read my share of marriage books. There are some good ones, but a lot of them are pretty terrible. I am always on the hunt for a good marriage book which will help couples, especially those who are engaged, think about how to be married, and do it well, particularly from a Christian faith perspective. So I was pretty excited to read Naked and Unashamed by Jerry & Claudia Root with Jeremy Rios. Naked and unashamed are literally my two favorite ways to be married! I’m kidding (no I’m not).

Naked-and-UnashamedJerry Root was Jeremy Rios’s mentor and professor when he attended Wheaton College.  The material in this book parallels the material which Jerry and Claudia had used for Jeremy and his wife Liesel’s premarital counseling. Later when Jeremy became a pastor, they used this same material for premarital counseling with other engaged couples, corresponding with Jerry to fill in the gaps in what he was missing in their notes. Jerry had a manuscript for a book he and Claudia wrote which he sent Jeremy to use in counseling. Jeremy used it in counseling, refined it and helped prepare the material for publication. As Rios says, “Jerry and Claudia’s wisdom is the beating heart of the book, and it is the wisdom I have sought to inhabit and live in my own marriage” (201).  The Roots bring wisdom won by 42 years of marriage. Jeremy and Liesel Rios have been married for 14 years.

The premise of the book is that marriage asks each of us to reveal ourselves wholly to our spouses. Rios and Roots encourage couples to open up about our histories, our understandings, our spiritual lives, our understanding and experience of gender, our expectations for family and parenting, expectations of finances, and of course, sex.  The hope is that women and men would enter into marriage fully, holding nothing back from their spouse, and entering into the sort of relational covenant which God intended for marriage.

Rios and the Roots describe this opening up and revealing’ in four sections of their book. In part 1,  they describe undressing the areas that allow for greater relational intimacy for couples: sharing our stories (personal histories), our hearts (how we give and receive love), our minds (our goals and dreams), and our souls (our relationship with God). In part 2, they unpack gender, dynamics of communication and woundedness, Part 3 is about exploring expectations shaped by our family and cultural identities (race, nationality, etc), our expectations about parenthood and child raising, and finances.  Part 4, intentionally left to the end, describes undressing our sexual selves for the life of sex, and expectations for the wedding night.

The Roots and Rios operate from a conservative, evangelical perspective on marriage and they say a lot that is really helpful. In fact every area they address, or. . . ahem . . . undress, is necessary for the type of life sharing which enables the sort of covenantal life-sharing where the two become one. There is not a single area they discuss, which is unimportant. Part 1 of their book  “Unmasking for Intimacy” is really good and they say some wonderful things about exploring each others’ histories, how we express intimacy, our life goals, and our spiritual life. They also explore communication well, drawing on the research of John Gottman. Throughout the book, the chapters each end with an assignment for couples to explore together their thoughts on the topic. A couple who reads this book on their own or in the context of premarital counseling would share with one another their hopes and hang-ups, expectations and understanding. This is all really good stuff.

This is a book I could use as a pastor in leading others through premarital counseling, but not without some caveats. I didn’t agree with everything Rios and the Roots had to say. For example, I am a Biblical egalitarian, and what I read in the chapter on gender advocated a sort of soft complementarianism, advocating for gender roles, where my tendency is to see mutuality. They quote Ephesians 5:22-33 to show that wives are called to “submit” and husbands are called to “sacrifice” (73-74), without referencing Ephesians 5:21 which describes mutual submission and supplies the whole ‘submit’ verb for the phrase, “wives submit to your husband” in Ephesians 5:22—the more literal rendering being simply, ‘wives, to your husband’. They describe male headship as the husband getting to cast the final vote if the couple is at loggerheads and can’t agree on a big decision(76). However, the Roots and Rios do present their views on gender humbly and acknowledge you could be complementarian, egalitarian, or not identify with either camp and have a successful marriage “so long as you acknowledge the complexities of gender, discuss them together and are striving to love one another sacrificially according to the command of Scripture” (74).

One of my pet peeves about marriage books is that I don’t always find myself in their description of the characteristics of ‘the genders.’ Now, I am a cis-gender heterosexual man, and not a particularly feminine one, but whenever someone says ‘men are more like this’ and ‘women generally are more like this,’ I discover I am the exception to their rule. Rios and the Roots do this a little bit, sometimes gendering things which were perplexing for me, such as making Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 4:26 a  description of how the  genders get angry (103-105): “Be angry, but do not sin (men lash out), and do not let the sun go down on your anger (women hold grudges). I didn’t find this description of the male and female halves of anger a helpful distinction at all.  I can hold a grudge with the best of them.

Another area some will find disagreeable is their discussion of the discipline of children, they make the case for physical punishment of kids, ” One of the principles of the world, it seems evident that where you will not be taught by reason or reward you will be taught by pain. This is simply a principle of how the world operates and in parenting we are instructing our children in these rules” (144-45).  How they frame it, they are careful to underscore the purpose of discipline (training a child) and they bracket out an abusive lashing out, but readers who are suspicious of the value of corporal punishment will disagree on this point.

But agreeing with the Roots and Rios on every point is not the point. The point is getting naked . . . and unashamed. There is a lot of wisdom in what the Roots and Rios discuss here, and even when you disagree with the authors, they have framed the discussion so couples can explore together what their convictions are and understand each other in each of these areas. I give this four stars. ★ ★ ★ ★

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review. I also know Jeremy Rios, having attended Regent College with him.

 

Dear Jeremy: a ★★★★★ book review

It is no secret that we Evangelicals have a leadership fetish. Yet leadership remains important and a worthwhile pursuit. Pastors and ministry leaders need to lead well if our ministries are to be successful We also need to develop the leaders around us. However, a look at the requirements for elders (cf. 1 Tim 3, Titus 1) reveals a leadership, in the New Testament sense, is more about character than specific skills. Jeremy Rios wrote People of a Certain Character with this conviction in mind.

people-of-a-certain-character-cover_thumbnailJeremy blogs at Mustard Seed Faith and Toolshed Meditations. He and I attended the same seminary (Regent College) and we share an appreciation of C.S. Lewis, Benedictine Spirituality, and Baron Fredrich von Hugel. He once T.A.ed a class I was in and commented that my writing was a ‘pedantic plod.’ He has a series of ‘Dear James‘ posts on his blog which make me feel self-conscious, especially since we blog about similar themes (I don’t think he’s really talking to me, but I am never completely sure). He has been a pastor and is currently working on his Ph.D. in Scotland. He is more successful, prolific and smarter than I am. I console myself that I’m much better looking (not actually true, but it is a comforting lie).  I’ve wanted to read one of his books for a while and was excited about this one because leadership development is a growth edge for me as a pastor.

There is nothing plodding about Jeremy’s prose. He has produced a handbook of short leadership meditations—twelve scriptural passages organized around twelve questions, discussion and reflection questions, and twelve suggested spiritual practices (plus an introduction and concluding word which follow the same format).  This booklet is user-friendly and not heady.  This book will be useful in church or ministry lead team discussions, staff retreats, in one-on-one mentoring relationships or even among youth leaders. This is so accessible! Jeremy’s questions help us leaders press into what it means to lead from the right source

In his introduction,  Jeremy offers a meditation on John 21:15-19, the passage where three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  This is a significant passage for Christian leadership and Jeremey identifies three essential lessons for leadership:

  1. Loving and serving Jesus will mean loving and serving Jesus’ flock
  2. Loving and serving Jesus will mean being bitterly confronted with our own sense of failure and inadequacy.
  3. Loving and serving Jesus will mean giving up control of our future (6-7)

These three observations on the character of Christian leadership, prepare readers to count the cost of leadership and set the tone of humble dedication as we embark on this study (8).

The chapters that follow are divided into two sections. The first section probes our identity in Christ as leaders, the second traces out the implications of our mutual priesthood. The tables below show the chapters in each section with corresponding scriptures and suggested practices.

Part 1: Identity in Christ

1.Do you know you are loved by God?

1 John 4:7-21

Spiritual Practice: Meditation

2.Do you have a Conviction of Holiness?

1 Peter 1:13-16

Spiritual Practice: Confession

3.Are you Filled, and Being Filled, with the Holy Spirit?

John 15:1-11

Spiritual Practice: Petition

4.Are you Aware that God is in Charge of your Ministry

Psalm 24

Spiritual Practice: Release

5.Do you have a right relationship with Mammon?

Matt 6:19-34

Spiritual Practice: Giving

6. Are you willing to  Submit?

Hebrews 5:7-14

Spiritual Practice: Fasting

Part 2: The Priesthood of All Believers

7.Do you know how to connect with the Lord devotionally?

Hebrews 4:12-13

Spiritual Practice: Memorization

8.Do you know how to listen for the Lord’s interruptions?

Acts 9:10-19

Spiritual Practice: Walking

9.Do you know how to share the Gospel?

Acts 8:26-39

Spiritual Practice: Testimony

10. Do you know how to minister in the power of the Lord?

Acts 19:11-20

Spiritual Practice: Worship

11. Do you know how to care for others?

Job 2:11-13

Spiritual Practice: Journaling

12. Do you know how to restore yourself?

Luke 10:38-42

Spiritual Practice: Retreat

His ‘concluding word, based on 1 Timothy 4:6-16 reflects on the crucial components in Christian mentoring.

One criticism I have is that Jeremy’s suggested practices are almost wholly private. The exception is he suggests that ‘if you are in a tradition that utilizes confession to a pastor or priest, avail yourself of that system” (25), and writing out and practicing your testimony is designed so that you can share it.  I believe, as Jeremy does, in the need for cultivating personal devotion, though I wish he articulated corporate, communal spiritual practices more explicitly alongside these, as I think what we do in community also has a major impact on the quality of our leadership.

This is a small (and nitpicky!) critique,  especially since I believe the value of this resource is in the way it will deepen our discussions on how to lead well as a follower of Christ. I recommend this book  for those who have a hand in training others (though any leader can read through this profitably for their own benefit). I plan on using this book in future leadership and mentoring conversations. I give this five stars – ★★★★★

So: Dear Jeremy, Great job!

Note: Jeremy provided me with a copy in exchange for my honest review.  He didn’t ask me to say he’s smarter than me. It is just true.