Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: Date Your Wife

Justin Buzzard has written a helpful book entitled "Date Your Wife" which I would like to commend to you.

The premise of the book is quite simple: men should date their wives. Before marriage husbands often pursue their wives, once they are married, as Justin points out, we often stop dating and pursuing our wives. Once we "have them" as it were, we stop pursuing them and cultivating a relationship with them. We often leave our marriage in maintenance mode.

While the premise of the book is simple and straight forward as the title suggest, the path by which the reader is taken is one that we often would generally not expect when it comes to most treatments of the topic of dating. Justin is thoroughly gospel centered. I never thought I would see a book that expounds how and why to date one's wife so undergirded with a basic "two-Adam" scheme that is central to the gospel story line. To this I cannot say "Bravo" loud enough.

Justin writes out of a rich theology that is found in the pages to Scripture yet his style is conversational, down-to-earth, and pastoral. This means those who like theology will be enriched, but those who rarely read books and hate theological tomes will find this book winsome, applicable and engaging. 

The basic plot line of the book is creation-fall-redemption-restoration although the actual divisions are titled: "Good" (two chapters on God's creation of marriage), "Bad" (three chapters on what's wrong with husbands), "The New" (six chapters, first with the gospel, then with practical applications for action) and "The Perfect" (a final chapter on the goal of marriage and the future of our glorification).

If you are expecting a book that makes you feel guilty, this one will but not in a legalistic sense. Most relationship books make you feel guilt for all you are not doing by telling you everything you should be doing. This book gets right to the heart of the problem: the problem is sin. The problem is that every husband is in Adam. The problem is every husband has a "religious" view of marriage. We think if we just try harder God will bless our lives.

Justin Buzzard challenges us to find our sufficiency and identity as men and husbands in Christ and his work. The best part about the book is how it takes you back to the gospel at the core. So when Buzzard convicts you and motivates you it is always with an eye to Jesus.

As I read this book, I was impressed by how personable and relatable the book was. Often the basic content is wrapped in a story or example. The book is also quite practical with actionable solutions to build an "air war" and a "ground war" in cultivating your marriage. Each chapter concludes with a series on introspective questions. There is an appendix of 100 suggestions for dating your wife. The creative husband will be pushed to think of more in order to tailor things to his marriage.

I highly recommend this book. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This is the kind of book that you can give to husbands but pastors can give in the expectation that it not just builds husbands but will build disciples. This is also the kind of book you can read quickly without getting bogged down but you can also read richly finding deep gems to ponder. Justin's first main goal is to make you love Jesus more--and the book accomplishes that task while it teaches us how to date our wives.

Three minor theological points of question or disagreement:

1. Buzzard makes Genesis 2:15 as central to the husbands mission that he guard and cultivate his wife. Technically though, Genesis 2:15 is not instructions for how we relate to our wives but how Adam (and humanity) relate the the Temple-Garden and exercise vice-regency. The wife is the helpmate to that mission not the object of it. Justin's point is right (men should guard and keep/cultivate their wives by ministering to them) but his use of this Scripture is at best an implication rather than the command of Genesis 2:15 he wants to make it. That said, husbands should guard and cultivate their wives. One would probably be better making the point from Song of Songs or Ephesians 5 since Genesis 2:15 relates to the garden of Eden.

2. Buzzard confused me with his imprecise notion that there was "gospel" given in the pre-fall state. He writes the following:
"Adam's Genesis 2:15 calling was meant to flow out of Adam's Genesis 1:31 identity. God told Adam what he thought about him; he gave Adam his approval--before Adam lifted a finger in the garden. Adam received his God-approved identity before he had a chance to do anything to prove himself. This is what we call grace, or the gospel--the good news of receiving favor from God that we don't deserve or earn." (p.73)
Buzzard is right that Adam had a royal endowment as being made in God's image. Adam had an identity in God. However, Adam was, I think, put on probation. Not all theologians and scholars agree with a covenant of works, but if true Adam was certainly not created in the eschatological glory state. His full identity was not there yet. So Adam's job obediently finished would have secured the garden had he obeyed (see Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theology). Adam didn't have it all and even then failed. Thus, Christ had to be second Adam passing the covenant probation by offering Adamic-obedience as well as atoning for sin. Buzzard seems to have a notion that Adam's fault was he tried to earn his identity, a salvation by works. But this to me misses the clear covenant probation in the garden.

More important, while Adam was gifted with a role in the garden, and that was from the kindness of God, it was neither grace nor gospel. Grace should clearly be seen as post-fall. Grace is generally defined as favor extended where wrath is deserved. There was God's favor in the garden on Adam pre-fall but not grace, which is post-fall. There is certainly not gospel until Genesis 3:15. That said, Buzzard's over all point seems true that Adam should have believed and accepted his identity as an empowering to do the task he was given.

In his attempt to get sinful husbands today to stop thinking they will "earn" their marriage's health and cultivate it in religion's 'salvation by works,' I think Buzzard pushes the "we can't earn it" paradigm too far back into the garden where clearly covenant works were both possible and noble.

3. Buzzard states the following about God's resolution in Genesis 3: 
"God listens. Then God curses. God doesn't curse Adam; God curses the Serpent" (p.75)
Buzzard's larger point is there is gospel in this passage when the serpent is cursed. The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. Amen. Yet it is a misstatement and false to say Adam is not cursed. Yes, the passage surprises us that Adam is not cursed first and even given hope in the curse of the serpent. But Adam is cursed. This is why cultivating and guarding is a failed endeavor in creation now. This is why Adam is removed from the garden. This is why there is death in creation.

With those concerns, the book is still excellent. It grounds dating one's wife in Biblical theology and the story of the gospel. It gives practical advice. It motivates not through guilt but through the sufficiency of the cross. It relies on justification: my identity is secure in Christ, I have all I need because of His work. It relies on sanctification: the Holy Spirit empowers us and changes us to respond to our wives.

Over all, again, a very good book. I would gladly pass it on to men in my church. Husbands: please get this book.

(Cross posted at my blog "The Voyages")


Anonymous said...

Great review, Tim! I look forward to reading this one (but probably not as much as my wife looks forward to me reading it...).

Bob said...

Regarding point 3, I think what the author was trying to convey was that Adam and Eve are not cursed directly while the serpent is. The serpent is cursed while it is the work and child-bearing, not Adam and Eve, who are cursed. Perhaps a subtle point, but an important one I believe.