A few years ago, the men of our church studied a video curriculum by Gary Thomas called, Sacred Marriage. It is a series for both husbands and wives but I thought it would be useful to study with just the men. It was fantastic. The study is based on the book by the same name. I have recently begun reading the book and, like the video series, it’s great.
One of the things that struck me as I watched the video and discussed it with other men was the focus on the foundation of (or, theology of) marriage. In particular, Thomas wants to get us thinking about God’s ultimate purpose in marriage. The book is not, as he puts it, a three, seven, or ten-step program for a better, happier marriage. Instead, Thomas does the hard work of looking at God’s real purpose of marriage, which is to make us holy, not necessarily happy. That’s a hard message to sell, especially in the era of romantic comedies and the Hallmark and Lifetime television channels.
In the first chapter of the book Thomas puts it this way…
…there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond how we can “improve” our marriage: What if God didn’t design marriage to be “easier”? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place?
As Thomas will say later in the first chapter, holiness and happiness aren’t necessarily contradictory, but a person’s happiness becomes illusory if they think, a.) that it’s the sole purpose of the marriage, and b.) their spouse is the one in whom they will find such ultimate purpose.
The real intention of the book, for Thomas, is to show his readers that marriage, in the same way as abstinence for celibates and isolation for hermits, is a context for spiritual growth. He says marriage can become the means by which we can “grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.”
If I might put it in Wesleyan terminology, marriage is a means of grace by which we draw closer to God and conform more to the likeness of Christ. That’s not a bad deal.
Below are a few links to websites and ministries I like that focus on, among other things, spiritual formation from a Christian perspective.
The Fellowship of Ailbe
The Center for Biblical Spirituality
Dallas Willard Center
The Transforming Center
Institute for Spiritual Formation
The Upper Room
Five Day Academy for Spiritual Formation (in Florida Conference of UMC)
Spiritual Formation at IVP
The Soul Care Project
The Fellowship of Ailbe
Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
C.S. Lewis Institute
The Gospel Coalition
The Institute on Religion and Democracy
Every Square Inch Ministries
Gene Edward Veith
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church and Culture