Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Review: Love That Lasts

Most books I’ve read by Christian authors on love, romance and marriage fall into one of two categories. There are those books that are heavy on psychoanalysis with a dozen warm and fuzzy illustrations to get the few common sense points across. Unfortunately, these rely more on the illustrations than on Scriptural support, if any. These books are usually easy and perhaps quite fun to read, but in the end don’t tell you anything you already didn’t know or leave you wondering if its advice has any foundation in the Bible. The second category of marriage books goes to the other extreme of turning the book into a theological dissertation that leaves the reader finishing the book and wondering what the author said. The idiom “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good” aptly describes these tomes.

Call me cynical, but when Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace by Gary and Betsy Ricucci was recommended to my Bible study group, I didn’t have my expectations too high in what the book would have to say. I definitely wanted something different, something that didn’t fall into the above mentioned categories, but didn’t expect it. As soon as we started reading the book, however, I knew that this book was indeed different. The further we got into the book, the more this fact was solidified. Right from the start, it was evident that, while there were certainly plenty of illustrations, the bulk of the book was solidly based on Scripture, but not in a way that made it read like a theological treatise. As author Jerry Bridges puts it in his recommendation on the back of the book, “Love That Lasts is thoroughly biblical, very practical, and quite convicting.” There is one small note worth mentioning in the preface. The authors point out that this book is actually an updated edition of an earlier 1992 printing. The original subtitle was “Making a Magnificent Marriage,” which as the authors point out was “certainly a worthwhile goal, [but] seemed to put the emphasis on human effort, for human ends. The new subtitle, ‘When Marriage Meets Grace,’ reminds us that it is God and his glorious power revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ that are the beginning, the means, and the goal of marriage.” This change in subtitles points the direction in which the authors are headed and right from the start reveals that this book was indeed different.

The Ricuccis start off by asking some very good questions in how a marriage is defined Biblically. The importance of laying this groundwork is essential in what would follow in the rest of the book. Without this basis, the rest of the book and the teaching of God’s grace in marriage goes out the window. Questions such as “Does your marriage find its purpose primarily in God?” and “Does your marriage find its hope in the gospel of grace?” immediately puts marriage in light of the gospel. While this may sound similar to what other theological marriage books say, the difference is that the Ricuccis don’t stop at talking about the nebulous and abstract ideas, but take it right down to where the rubber meets the road. For example, consider the following points made in discussing the second question:
-“Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.”
-“Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.”
-“Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship or suffering with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28)”

Each of these points brings the gospel into everyday life and shows how it should affect a marriage. They conclude this section by saying “Nothing is more essential to a marriage, and nothing brings more hope, than applying the gospel of Jesus Christ.” With these words, the authors are ready to launch into other areas of marriage more commonly thought of when marriage books are considered.

Gary and Betsy each write a chapter directly to either husbands or wives regarding the roles that each bring to a God-honoring marriage. Gary talks about the responsibility of the husband to lead and love his wife in the same manner that Christ leads and loves the church. Here they both do an excellent job of pointing out that while there are differences in roles, these differences in no way imply superiority or inferiority on either the husband’s or the wife’s part. This distinction is made while at the same time affirming the biblical concept of leadership on the husband’s part and submission on the wife’s part. You’ll have to read the book yourself to discover just how they do this!

Three chapters are devoted to the ever-important subject of communication, including what the goal of our communication in marriage should be (intimacy), how husbands and wives communicate differently, what hindrances there can be in developing intimacy, and how to restore intimacy in times of conflict. All of these are wrapped firmly in the cloak of the gospel and how it applies to what our marriages look like. Expect these three chapters to be convicting and to get your toes stepped on!

The last two chapters cover the parts that I’m sure many people turn to first – romance and sex. (I admit it, I skimmed these sections first!) Here, too, the authors bring the topic right back to how our marriage is to be built on Christ, reminding us that God “isn’t just interested in love. He is love (1 John 4:16).” After discussing the “why” of romance, the authors offer some very practical suggestions for the “how” of romance, such as being creative, giving little gestures, and offering spontaneous surprises, having date nights or weekend getaways, and many others. The chapter on sex is candid and includes a section for husbands and a section for wives, both discussing the importance of communication and frank openness that can lead to greater sexual intimacy. As with all the other chapters, this chapter ends by asking “In what area must I improve? Where do I need to grow in order to serve my spouse more effectively…”

What we found especially helpful was the included study guide at the end of the book. Most study guides simply point you to the chapter to find the answer printed somewhere in the text and doesn’t take much thought. These questions, however, while pointing back to the chapters, are more pointed and designed for some serious discussion on how the reader views such and such an issue, or what views the reader had that might agree or disagree with the authors and why. Again, these questions aren’t ones that can be simply answered then forgotten in order to move on to the next one. Questions such as “Ask your wife or fiancée if any person, activity or possession, at any time, seems more important to you than her,” while they may be difficult to ask and even harder to answer, are designed to put into action what the authors write about.

A key point made near the end of the book summarizes the point Love That Lasts is trying to make: “God’s ultimate purpose for romance is the same as his purpose for marriage: to bring himself glory, to bring us blessing, and to demonstrate the remarkable relationship between Christ and the church.” The Ricuccis write in such a way as to make it crystal clear that their goal was not to simply help people have better marriages, but to have marriages that reflected God and the church. And instead of coming across as either being a psychologist or by being preachy, they write as if they were an older couple mentoring a younger couple, complete with their own flaws readily acknowledged, but ready to help you and your spouse to keep growing in your relationship with each other.

1 comment:

LouAnne said...

AMEN! Thanks for that very thorough review. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Have you read "When Sinners Say 'I Do'" yet??? :-)