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.

 

Lessons From a Bad Husband: Hosea 2-3

We already knew that Gomer was a bad wife. Hosea told us. A lot.  The words he lobbed at her in the first three chapters of the book bearing his name included things like: promiscuous, adulteress, harlot, unfaithful. He let her know how, and how often, she failed at their marriage. But was Hosea a good husband? Was he the faultless party stuck in a faulty relationship? We are accustomed to thinking of the prophets as the good guys of the Bible. They are, of course, but they were also human. If Hosea wasn’t bad, out right, he definitely was a hard guy to be married to.

Ancient Israel was a patriarchal society. Women did not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the men of that culture. One of the main problems with patriarchy is that it emphasizes that men bear God’s image, while forgetting that women, are also mutual image bearers (Gen. 1:27). Did Hosea ever see the Divine flicker in Gomer’s eyes? Perhaps; however, his prophetic poems compared his love for her to God’s love for Israel. Gomer, fickle and unfaithful was merely the mirror of Israel—a people who abandoned the LORD by chasing lesser gods. Hosea casts himself as an Analogy of Divine Being, and his wife,  as a stunted and fallen people.  How would you like to be married to that?

Did Hosea forgive Gomer for her past? Did he shame her throughout their marriage? Was he paranoid whenever she left the house? Was he jealous whenever she spoke to another man?  Hosea’s love for Gomer did reflect God’s love, but only through a glass darkly. Anytime God is created in man’s image (i.e. anthropomorphism), the analogy  breaks down somewhere. Hosea’s love for Gomer was only a shadow of  strong covenant love of Yahweh, not a detailed exposition of it.

An altogether, human Hosea was bound together with Gomer and their children within a family system. Therapist Lynn Hoffman defined a system as “any entity the parts of which co-vary interdependently with one another, and which maintain equilibrium in an error-activated way” (cited in The Family Crucible by Augustus Napier &  Carl Whitaker, Quill, 1978, p 47). In other words, the prophet and his wife, as co-participants in their family system, each bore some responsibility for their broken marriage. Gomer cheated on Hosea, but an emotional distance and lack of intimacy between them preceded any act of infidelity. There were ways in which Hosea’s love was not divine. He failed her too.  If their relationship could be restored, Hosea, and not just Gomer, would need to do the heart work.

 💔

Hosea was a jilted lover. He was angry and hurt by Gomer’s behavior. His reactions are understandable.  Hosea 2 relays the dissolution of his marriage, his  anger and heartbreak. This was a wounded man:

Say to your brother, Ammi, and to your sister, Ruhamah.

Plead with your mother, plead—
    for she is not my wife,
    and I am not her husband—
that she put away her whoring from her face,
    and her adultery from between her breasts,
or I will strip her naked
    and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness,
    and turn her into a parched land,
    and kill her with thirst. (Hosea 2:1-3)

These verses, and the next several, tell how Gomer betrayed him, and how he would make her pay.  Hosea spoke these words to their children. Triangulation occurs when “two parents are emotionally estranged from another, and they overinvolve their children in their emotional distress (84, The Family Crucible). Hosea draws his kids into a triangle (another bad dad moment?), then in his next breath he says, “I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace” (Hos. 2:4-5a). Hurt prophets hurt.

Hosea was a wounded animal lashing out. He was bitter and vindictive as he recounted how he would thwart Gomer and make her pay for her unfaithfulness. A bad wife was cast out by the just indignation of this (also bad?)husband.

💓

The first prophetic word the Lord said to Hosea was, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea 2 expresses a double entendre containing God’s judgement on Israel for their sins. Hosea’s relationship to Gomer embodied a nation’s spiritual condition. What began as a diatribe against his wife became the word of the Lord against Israel:

I will punish her for the festival days of the Baals,
    when she offered incense to them
and decked herself with her ring and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    and forgot me, says the Lord. (Hos. 2:13)

Yet if judgment and rejection were the final word, the book of Hosea would be depressing. Anger and sorrow are swallowed up by hope as Hosea describes Israel’s future—a restored relationship with God:

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips; no longer will their names be invoked. In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety. I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

“In that day I will respond,” declares the Lord— “I will respond to the skies, and they will respond to the earth; and the earth will respond to the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel. I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’ ”(Hosea 2:16-23).

Hosea 3 describes how God calls Hosea to reconcile with his wife. Recalling His first word to Hosea, the Lord said, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”(Hos 3:1, NIV). Hosea pays six ounces of silver and a butt-load of barley to get her back. He calls her to faithfulness, and pledges to her his own. Gomer must remain chaste for a season, the way Israel herself will be chastened by war and exile, but in the end,  God’s goodness awaits (Hosea 3:4-5).

💝

Prophets make vivid God’s heart. If Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a mere sham act for effect, then it really didn’t image God’s love. Hosea was far from perfect, but he came to love well. Abraham Heschel writes:

It seems absurd to assume that the prophet’s marriage was performed for effect, as a mere demonstration, as an action intended for public information. We must not reduce the fullness of an act to its operational meaning. We cannot adequately understand a person by the impressions he produces in other people.  A person is not a puppet, and martyrdom is not a masquerade. One thing is clear: the primarily given and immediate spiritual datum in the story of the marriage is the prophet’s experience. The event stirred and shocked the life of Hosea regardless of its effect upon public opinion. It concerned him personally at the deepest level and had a meaning of highest significance for his own life.

As time went by, Hosea became aware of the fact that his personal fate was a mirror for divine pathos, that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God. In this fellow suffering as an act of sympathy with the divine pathos, the prophet probably saw the meaning of the marriage which he had contracted at the divine behest (The Prophets: An Introduction, Vol. 1, 55-56).

Hosea 3 doesn’t  actually name Gomer and the prophet doesn’t mention her adultery again in the rest of the book, though he continued to speak about Israel’s adulterous heart. Maybe they lived happily ever after? Perhaps the point had been made, and Hosea (and the Lord?) saw no further need to subject his family system to further shame. In reflecting on Heschel’s words, I wonder if Hosea’s increasing circumspection about expressing family matters in public is that as he came to understand more fully the love and sorrow of God, he grew more loving towards Gomer. So instead of public shame, he protected her honor. Maybe, just maybe, this bad husband began in earnest to image the love of God to her.

How to Get(Stay) Married Forever: a book review

Are you married? Would you like to be married? Still looking for ‘the One’?

In Love, Sex, and Happily Ever After: Preparing for a Marriage that goes the Distance (previously titled Going All the Way), Craig Groeschel discusses how you can you can make love last forever . Groeschel’s first point is that ‘the One’ you are looking for is not a romantic interest but Jesus (see what he did there?). Your spouse would be your ‘number two’ He then goes on to discuss the dynamics and the personal commitments which will nurture a good marriage.

This is the third book by Craig Groeschel I’ve read (I’ve also read Weird and Chazown). In the previous two books, I liked a lot of what he had to say but found his hook a little gimmicky. In this book, Groeschel is much more straightforward in his presentation and says some great things; however I seem to be a little out of Craig Groeschel’s target audience. This is a book for those preparing for marriage. Actually, a good chunk of the book is for people who are still in the dating scene but maybe  thinking about marriage at some point. As someone who is happily married for 10 years, I found this book offered less constructive material for my own relationship (only the last few chapters).

But no matter, it was a fun read and Groeschel has good things to say. I am occasionally asked by single friends if I could recommend a good book on dating  and I think this could be a helpful book for college age singles.  There is a lot of practical advice here about making sure you keep Jesus central, developing a solid friendship as the foundation for marriage,  keeping sexually pure, why cohabitation is a bad idea, how to break up with the wrong person, how in Christ starting over and being healed from past mistakes is possible, keeping your relationship with Jesus and keeping your (future) spouse a priority. Groeschel is a good communicator and he does a great job of encouraging singles to live lives  that are holy, healthy and pleasing to God.

When he does get down to discussing married life, he offers what I would call a soft complementarianism. He believes that husbands were created to be the leader of the home (he bases this on the created order. Men were created first because they are hardwired to be the initiator of things. Just so you know, this is bad exegesis). While he overstates his case for male leadership a little, he is careful to put this in the context of mutual submission (Eph. 5:21) and certainly men need to be encouraged to take responsibility for their relationships rather than passively stand by.  Likewise he has some good advice to wives (or would be wives) to deal with insecurities in their hearts, but much of his discussion of wives is how to submit to their husbands leadership. As an egalitarian, I disagree with how Groeschel is parsing biblical data here, but he makes some constructive points.

One of the best chapters of the book is called Habits of the Heart where Craig discusses the sort of godly habits which will nurture a godly marriage. These include:

  • dealing with your past
  • growing with good people (accountability and mentoring and severing of unhealthy friendships)
  • learning to listen well
  • guarding your own heart
  • facing and resolving conflict well
  • being financially responsible
  • investing in your relationship with God

I think that each of these habits are important for maintaining vitality and health in my marriage (though I need to grow in a few of these).  But what makes this book an enjoyable read is not Groeschel’s good advice, but his humility and good humor. Groeschel is funny and is vulnerable enough to share about past mistakes he’s made. So even though I am the wrong person to read this book, I still liked it.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

 

Not Another Marriage Book!!!: a book review

If there is a genre of books which rivals the self help section of your local bookstore, it is maybe the relationship section. Personally I know of a rash of recent Christian books which dispense relational and marital advice. So when you are shopping for a marriage book you are really looking for what sets a particular book apart from the others, more ordinary marriage books. What set this book apart for me was not its snappy title, No Ordinary Marriage: Together for God’s Glory; rather it was endorsements from Kevin Vanhoozer (theologian and hermeneutical rock star) and Alice Cooper (actual rock star). Sorry Ed Young, Craig Groschel, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Tim Keller and whoever else is writing marriage books these days, but you just don’t have much street cred until rock stars start endorsing your books.  Maybe Kevin DeYoung can sit down with Brian “Head” Welch and get an endorsment for his new parenting book, Children of the Korn (I know of no such project but we can dream can’t we?).

Kidding aside, I think Tim Savage has written a decent book which helps Christians press into the meaning and sanctity of marriage. Drawing generously on patristic, reformers and puritan sources, Savage frames marriage theologically before turning toward practical questions. The book is divided into three parts:

In part one, he casts a vision of the meaning of marriage. Men and Women are joint image bearers of God are reflecting his glory as they love one another with self-sacrificing ‘cruciform’ love. In part two he addresses the particular words Paul addresses to women and men in Ephesians 5 and reflects on what it means to be ‘one flesh.’ Part three is where Savage addresses variously: sex, the way churches nurture marriages and family, learning to be realistic and gracious with one another and the gift of singleness.  I think part three is the least cohesive and feels more like a ‘catch all’ section of other things that Savage thinks he better say, but he does offer helpful practical and pastoral advice. Part one, which frames marriage theologically and talks about God’s intent for marriage,  is easily my favorite part of the book.

As a biblical egalitarian I did not agree with Savage’s exegesis of Genesis 3 or Ephesians 5 (Savage is a biblical complementarian). I don’t really feel like I have to, to  appreciate much of what he says here to women and men, as he addresses both and talks about how both husbands and wives should  love each other with cruciform (Christlike) love.  He posits that the particular word to women is to ‘submit’ to her husband (be subordinate to him) while the word to husbands is to love  their wives (Ephesians 5:22,25).  Certainly he is right to talk about how women ‘ought to submit’ to their husband but he is wrong to say that this is ‘the particular word’ to wives expressed in Eph. 5:22.  The verb translated ‘submit’ is not in that verse in the original Greek but is borrowed from the previous verse which says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The passage itself puts the wives’ submission in the context of mutual submission (of which the husbands love is also an expression).  I think you can certainly hold a complementarian view of gender roles from this passage, but you ought to at least signal the context of mutuality (which Savage does not do in his exegesis of Ephesians). My problem with his exegesis of Genesis 3, is that he interprets God’s curse on the man and woman as enshrining gender differences. Maybe, but there should at least be an acknowledgement that the curse represents a world gone wrong.

These small exegetical differences aside I probably agree with 90% of this book. Savage’s account of humanity’s creation acknowledges male and female as joint image bearers and he argues strongly that marriage done right should point beyond itself to our Triune Creator. I couldn’t agree more and found there was lots worth reflecting on (particularly as I near 10 years of marriage to a wonderful, godly woman).  There may be better books on marriage out there (there are certainly worse ones) but this book can be the start of a fruitful dialogue with your spouse. Those with a more pragmatic bent may find this book challenging as Savage tends to talk about theology and ideals more abstractly, though he does point to a few concrete examples.  I tend to think a lot of the more ‘practical books’ are fluffy but there might be a happy medium between those books and this one. Let me know if found it.

I received this book from Crossway Books in exchange for this fair and balanced review.