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Notable Books | Four books to build a stronger marriage > reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Gulf toil," June 5, 2010

What Did You Expect??

Instead of offering a list of exercises or well-intentioned advice, Paul Tripp offers straight talk. Your marriage isn't what you expected because you are a sinner married to a sinner, and you both live in a fallen world. Before you throw up your hands, take heart. Christ came to save sinners and marriages just like yours. Drawing from his extensive counseling experience and deep, practical knowledge of the Bible, Tripp can help you understand what's gone wrong-but he also has a pastor's heart that delights in pointing people to the grace sufficient to bring a marriage back to life. His book is profoundly realistic and hopeful.

Counsel from the Cross

Counsel from the Cross combines biblically grounded teaching and immensely practical guidance for working through personal issues, including marriage. Like Tripp, Fitzpatrick and Johnson practice gospel-centered counseling. They want us to come alive to the gospel story, to see the Savior in Scripture, and to see the immensity of God's love for sinners-and then to understand how that relates to counseling. They show how we are prone to become Happy or Sad Moralists, either understating our sin or understating God's mercy. The book shows that through "the gospel story-and only through it-are men and women changed." It connects Christ's incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to our ongoing struggles in this life.

A New Way to Love

"Imago" workshops, based on the teaching of this husband-and-wife couple, are popular. The authors, featured on Oprah many times, include Scripture and a vague spiritual component in their workshops, but the foundation is humanistic psychology and a mannered communication style: "Is now a good time?" "I feel, I love, I need. . . ." (Spouses are supposed to respond, "Let me see if I've got you. You said. . . .") If our only problem was a failure to communicate, this course might be helpful, but in many houses such scripts would produce laughter or sarcasm. Our marital problems are deeper than Hendrix and Hunt acknowledge, and our hope more profound.

The Radical Disciple

Stott's book is not a marriage book, per se. It is a discipleship book, but most of the chapters (excluding the one on creation care) have direct application to marriage. If we become Christlike, we will be different in our marriages. As we understand, pursue, and develop other neglected aspects of discipleship-non­conformity, maturity, simplicity, balance, and dependence-we should become better marriage partners. Stott, writing as though this is his farewell book, offers wisdom from his long pastoral experience. His transparency about his own mortality-"As I lay down my pen for the last time at the age of 88"-brought me to tears in several sections.


This month my husband and I celebrate 34 years of marriage, which made the prospect of reading books on the subject particularly appealing. Most books look at marital communication or intimacy, but Paul David Tripp in What Did You Expect?? gets to the painful heart of marital problems: "You both bring something into your marriage that is destructive to what a marriage needs and must do. That thing is called sin." Tripp says sin "is essentially antisocial. We don't really have time to love our spouse . . . because we are too busy loving ourselves." We turn our spouses into "vehicles to help us get what we want or obstacles in the way of what we want." Hope and encouragement exist: God's grace "is meant to bring you to the end of yourself so that you will finally begin to place your identity, your meaning and purpose, and your inner sense of well-being in him."


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