After reviewing “Sacred Marriage,” an insightful book suggesting that Christians would do well to view their marriages as a means to holiness, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a thoughtful response from the author, Gary Thomas. His remarks are published below.
A Response to the Review of Sacred Marriage on “Mere Orthodoxy”
I’ve read your primary critique once before: that “if marriage existed in a sinless world (it did) then it strikes me as fairly obvious that it cannot have been primarily designed to address the sinfulness and selfishness of human beings.” I’d encourage you to think just a little deeper. You’re assuming that God was caught by surprise by the fall; doesn’t it make more sense that God would design marriage as he knew it would be lived by every couple after the fall? Since Adam and Eve also eventually lived in sin, every marriage has been the journey of two sinners. Does it really seem so odd to you that God wouldn’t prepare for this? I believe God knew the fall would happen; therefore, it “strikes me as fairly obvious” (to use your phrase) that he would design marriage accordingly, since that’s the reality of what every man and woman would live in—even including the very first marriage of Adam and Eve (after they sinned). If I’m going to design and build something, I’ll design it for how it is really going to be used, not how it would exist in a perfect world that wouldn’t last for long. You risk describing God as a short-sighted sculptor who makes something beautiful out of metal and then is surprised when it starts to rain and the sculpture starts to rust.
Consider this very biblical analogy: God created the Old Testament temple and the entire sacrificial system as a precursor of what would be fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ. Why does it strike you as so odd that he wouldn’t also create marriage looking forward to what would come?
Am I implying that marriage is built as an institution exclusively to address the effects of the fall? Of course not. In my mind, that would be as foolish as suggesting that God designed marriage without taking the eventual fall into account. But it stands to reason, and I believe is consonant with Scripture, to suggest that God would take the foundational human relationship—between a husband and a wife—and use it to assault our primary spiritual failure (pride) as well as invite us to cultivate lives as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)
I’m not trying to be overly contentious here as I appreciate healthy dialogue and even debate, but I believe your second objection to Sacred Marriage is refuted by your second review. You state, “Thomas largely views marriage (and life) as being a training ground for eternity,” but then in the second review you go on to talk about how I discuss God using marriage to shape our prayer lives in the here and now, and how God uses sexual experience to help us live in the now. You were either prematurely superficial in your first review, or overly generous in your second! In fact, you paraphrase my thinking with something so beautifully worded I wish I had written it myself: “All the glory and wonder of entering into the presence of God is shadowed in sexual union.” Yes, marriage prepares us for eternity, but it is about much more than that. Let’s not fall into either/or thinking in this regard. Scripture doesn’t force us to choose one or the other, but rather encourages us to see both as complementary realities. I talk about how marriage prepares us for heaven, and also about how it affects our relationship with God and others here on earth. If I had to qualify every statement that talks about heaven, Sacred Marriage would be a whole lot longer and much more boring.
I respect what you’re trying to do with your blog and website, and I certainly appreciate the many kind things you mention about Sacred Marriage, but I also encourage you to reconsider some of your critiques, particularly in regard to their logical conclusions—which may take you places you’d prefer not to go.
Look for a response from Tex later this afternoon…