A few weeks back, I finished the renown Christian book on marriage, Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs. Until I picked up this book, I had yet to read a book on marriage, and maybe some would consider that a bad thing. So this was my first.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about the book. There is no doubt that, reading this book, one can learn a few things about themselves and their spouse. There is much attention given to the nature of both male and female, helping each grow in their understanding of how the opposite sex thinks and functions, especially in the marriage relationship.
So, let me start out by saying I think there are some good and helpful pointers throughout the book, maybe even very enlightening points to consider if one wants to build towards a healthy marriage that honours God.
And I agree with the overall, major premise of the book: women need to know love from their husbands and men need to know respect from their wives.
Eggerichs bases this out of Ephesians 5:33:
However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
He probably did not even need to quote this passage to make his point. I think that after years of studies, most would agree that, in general, women need to know they are cherished and loved above all else. And, with men, we feel most loved from our wives when there is a strong sense of respect for our decisions, our ideas, our plans, etc.
What is unique is that most of the times men hear, ‘Love your wives.’ And, of course, we must be challenged with what that means and living it out. But, most times, we don’t really hear the importance of respect for a man’s life. I think Eggerichs has done well to bring this focus.
But there are also some things that I feel need critiquing, if you will. I have two major critiques to bring up:
1) Forcing Scripture Into the Concepts
I think one problem that evangelicals fall into is that we feel we have to make sure everything we do, say and teach somehow has a Scripture verse to back it up. Or, maybe we realise that such is not always necessary, but we still look for a proof-text to back up our thought so that we might appease others who might challenge us.
I know I’ve done this myself.
Now, please know that I believe that the Scripture is our starting place for our beliefs and practice of our faith. Evangelicals agree that it is the foundational place and standard for our revelation of God.
So I’m not negating that we should look to found our understanding of life and its varied aspects in Scripture. But, I also don’t believe Scripture is some kind of ‘how to manual’ with regards to every single aspect of life. Again, I’m not trying to take a cut at the importance of the Bible in the life of the Christian. But I believe it is also ok if, at times, we cannot provide chapter and verse number out of a particular book in the Bible to support a particular action or teaching.
Thus, when reading Love and Respect, it always felt odd when reading some of the little Scripture passages quoted off on the side of the page. They seemed to relate to the concept being espoused by Eggerichs, but the important word is seemed.
At times, if one considered what the verse actually said within its Biblical context, the verse was really taken out of context. And, at times, he would only quote a handful of words from a verse and that’s it.
Now, to be honest, I don’t believe that quoting one particular verse (even out of its original context) is an evil practise. Of course, we have to be careful. No, I don’t have a list of ten guidelines to follow for doing this (though there are guidelines to consider). But I would say that one could quote, say, Paul’s words in Romans 1:5, ‘the obedience of faith’, to teach about the importance of 1) faith as our obedience to God (John 6:29) and 2) obedience will flow out of faith (James 2:14-26).
At times, it can be weird to simply quote four words to springboard into a particular theological teaching. But this is not an evil practise, per se. Our favourite verse to quote out of context is Psalm 46:10 in regards to quiet times. What we teach about a devotional relationship with God is right, but I’m not sure Psalm 46:10 is the place to start, if we consider what the whole psalm is really about.
But I’m not too bothered.
Still, my problem with Eggerichs was that he would quote passages from Song of Solomon or the Psalms or a New Testament letter as if they supported what he was teaching. But the words were never meant to support what he was teaching. His teaching was the horse (coming first) and the Scripture became the cart (coming second).
I’m not questioning what Eggerichs was teaching in his book. I’m just saying that we don’t have to find a verse to back up everything we teach. Scripture doesn’t deal with the issue of marriage in an overly detailed measure. And that’s ok. There are some good things in Scripture to help as launching points in understanding this thing called marriage (Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:22-33 being two helpful places). And there are some great accounts in Scripture to learn what not to do. But the Bible is not a manual on marriage.
So, I would have been fine for Eggerichs to have taught what he sees and has learned (from God) in marriage and never have quoted so many Bible passages. I would not have been offended in the least for less quotations.
I don’t know if he felt a pressure to quote Bible verses to appease the listeners (as I’ve said, I’ve been there before) or to make sure his message sounded Christian enough. I’m not sure. Maybe that’s not why he did it. But it felt that way.
So, for me, I would have said that authenticity would have been more present if he would have been honest that these are things he has learned from following Jesus rather than feeling the necessity to quote a Bible passage in the side margin on every third or fourth page.
Still, his thoughts on Ephesians 5:33, as his main premise on love and respect, are good.
2) Not Dealing With the Not-So-Positive
At times, the book felt like another best-selling self-help book for the Christian market. Do these things and your marriage will be A-okay. We have enough of those, right?!
Before I got to the final chapters of the book, it seemed he was trying to say that if a wife respects her husband, he will love her in return and if the husband loves his wife, she will respect him in return. In general, I would agree that this principle is true in life. But it’s not always so, as we can all testify to, or those who are honest with life. What about the many times where you love and no respect is reciprocated, or the wife respects and love is no where to be found from the husband?
Many, many a stories were shared of how the love and respect cycle helped marriages, even saving some. Yet very little was shared about how couples have continued to struggle even after trying the love and respect cycle.
Of course, when you are sharing a message, one you are convinced is good and right, you don’t share how things have continued to be difficult or failed in some marriages. If you do, you will probably find that your book is suddenly no longer on the best-seller list.
For me, this causes concern when we don’t address the issues of how to honestly deal with life (or whatever specific issue) when things don’t go as planned.
Now, by the end of the book, Eggerichs did hit on this more. He shared that it’s not about having your spouse reciprocate what you need, but rather it’s about honouring God no matter how the other responds. And, for me, that is important. But I’m not sure that kind of thinking came through the whole of the book. I would have liked to have seen more about how to deal with things when change does not come about.
Is it a good book? It’s ok. If people read it, I wouldn’t have a problem. I might even suggest it to some people that need to grow in their understanding of the marriage relationship. But I won’t jump at doing that.
I will say I am looking forward to reading through another book on marriage soon. I have coming to me in the next couple of weeks, Love and War, by John Eldredge. A little different title than Love and Respect. I have enjoyed John Eldredge’s books and I think he and his wife have some interesting thoughts on the male and female. And I think they will be a lot more honest and real about certain issues. So I look forward to reading through their book in the very near future.
And, as always, I have a lot to learn about what it means to be a faithful and loving husband. Teach me, Father, and help me to be open to what You are teaching.