Of all the marriage books I've read over the past several years, this is one of the best. It is scriptural, written clearly, and understandable by ordinary people. It is also deeply practical, but the practical is never divorced from Scripture. Smith deals wisely with hot-button topics-sex and gender roles-in a way that draws out the underlying scriptural principles without resorting to one-size-fits-all formulas. The book's encouraging approach is summed up this way: "In every area of marriage we examine, we will explore both the whys and the hows of love." The whys are biblical principles, the hows are the practical way to put those principles into action.
In this gift edition, Zondervan has combined two books, Sacred Marriage and Devotions for a Sacred Marriage. Thomas looks at the purpose of marriage-to make us holy-and then draws from Scripture and various Christian writers to show what that looks like in practice. He doesn't come at the material from a counseling perspective like Smith's, but through historical sketches and personal stories makes clear our need to obey. The 52 devotions are short and meant to drive home the book's basic points: "The only question is whether our response to these struggles, sin, and unfaithfulness will draw us closer to God-or whether it will estrange us from ourselves, our Creator, and each other."
Since it takes prayer to make a marriage work, Ron Kincaid's wise counsel about prayer is important. He emphasizes committed prayer and has kept a prayer journal for 30 years, with 40,000 recorded answers. Kincaid presents 40 "dares"-short chapters in which he draws from Scripture and daily life different aspects of prayer. This isn't a book about getting God to give you what you want: It teaches readers to acknowledge who God is and draw near to Him with confidence, asking for things that are in His will, that will bring Him glory. It is designed to help readers develop habits of regular prayer.
Although Peterson's memoir isn't primarily about marriage, he shows through many stories the central role played by his wife, Jan: "Those years of graduate study could have marked the beginning of a slow withdrawal from a relational life into a world of books. She rescued me from that." He goes on to explain: "Marriage to Jan opened up an entirely new dimension to the pastoral vocation-hospitality. Our home-a place of hospitality. Congregation as a place of hospitality." Peterson, a wonderful storyteller, weaves stories about the people and places that shaped him, along with scriptural insights, into an overall story of his life as a pastor.
In Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent Is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think (Basic Books, 2011), Bryan Caplan presents an economic argument for having larger families. Caplan, who doesn't write from a Christian perspective, does not argue that parents should have as many children as they are able, but that they should have more children than they originally planned. He argues that people often consider short-term costs and don't factor in the lifelong enjoyment that children bring. He makes the case that Americans make harder than it needs to be the actual work of parenting. Using twin and adoption research, he concludes: "The science of nature and nurture says that as long as you raise your kids in a vaguely normal way, they'll turn out a lot like you."