Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Book Review: “When Sinners Say ‘I Do:’ Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage” by Dave Harvey

Review: “When Sinners Say ‘I Do:’ Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage”
by Dave Harvey
Shepherd Press, 2007
You can buy this book here.

One entire shelf in my office is full of marriage books. Books on manhood, womanhood, roles, sex, love and other issues that married couples face. Now your Freudian side might be asking why that is so. “Does he have a bad marriage?” “Is he a husband set adrift in the sea of great expectations?” Well, it probably boils down to the fact that I am just a guy who, like you if you are married, wants to have a good marriage.

Last week I met with the couples of our local church and referred to those “little foxes” that Solomon describes burrowing into the vineyard of his loving marriage. Pressing the illustration, I suggested that too many of us spend time shooting at those foxes with a pellet gun, when we should be erecting giant walls to keep them out in the first place. To think of it from another angle, what our marriages need is to be laid out on the beach and have a cleansing tide come in. We need the Truth of God’s Word to wash over us in a big way, with each successive wave bringing new hope and life.

This is precisely what Dave Harvey has done in this excellent book. Rather than get caught up in a lot of useless “chicken soup moralisms” or bogged down in tedious particulars, Harvey has written 10 chapters of encouragement. Each chapter is like another wave on the beach, some with greater intensity than others, but all of them washing away the dirt of this world that so often weasels its way into our thinking and living.

The book begins with how we think about God and marriage. That is so essential, and in brief, but penetrating chapters, Harvey details a Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, God-glorifying vision of marriage. He then proceeds to consider how our sin wrecks this image... and he wields the scalpel quite effectively! The author makes it quite clear that it is really a “sinner” who says, “I do.”

Yet, he is just as skillful at pointing us to the grace that is found in Christ Jesus alone. And this is where the book sings. Harvey’s mission is not to make you feel bad, it is to increase your delight in Jesus. In my own reading I have to respond: “Mission Accomplished!”

But I think the greatest strength in the book is in describing how grace should work itself out in our unions. I say “greatest strength” but I might just as easily have written, “greatest conviction.” One thing I love about Sovereign Grace Ministries is there commitment to real sanctification – especially through servanthood. This book models much of the “how” that is to happen in a marriage. Not by giving “10 steps for this” and “5 ways for that,” but by painting in broad strokes some of the fundamental requirements of a married sinner – and in such a manner that the way forward is quite obvious to any who dare take it.

This is a book that could be read on your own, as a couple, or in a small group. It does not include discussion questions, but you will not need them! There is so much in each chapter to prompt a lot of talking.

One small area I would alter is in Harvey’s exposition of the parable of the unrighteous steward from Matthew 18. He makes the comment that the second slave in the story (the one owed the first slave 100 denarii) was only in debt about one day’s wages. However, I think most commentators would agree that is far too low an estimation – one denarius was a typical labourer’s daily wage. Why I bring this up at all is only because, if that is the case, then the first slave really was owed something of some substance – about the equivalent to 1/3 your annual salary. To me, this only makes Harvey’s point better, as it intimates that even if the sin against us by our spouse is really quite severe (the 1/3 salary variety – the kind of sins that really hurt!), it is still only 1/600,000th of the debt we owed God! Those who grasp how much they have been forgiven in Christ are able to forgive the worst sins committed against them in marriage.

Without any hesitation I gladly commend this book to you. My hope is that we will see much more from Harvey’s pen in the years to come. The Lord has blessed me with this work!