Ray Ortlund, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 128 pp.

Besides following my wife on Facebook, of all the people I follow on social media—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and, yes, even LinkedIn—my favorite person to follow on social media is Ray Ortlund on Instagram. Ortlund is the pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of several books, including The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ and Whoredom: God’s Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Theology. He has also written commentaries on the Old Testament books of Proverbs and Isaiah, as well as contributing to the ESV Study Bible.

But why is this guy, this Ortlund fella, my favorite person to follow on social media?

Well, I just like him. I really do. Perhaps because, according to Instagram, it seems . . .

He’s part goofball (here, here, here).
He’s part hunter-warrior (here, here, here).
He’s part pastor-author-scholar (here, here, here).
He’s part passionate pet owner of a black lab (here, here, here).
He’s part lover-of-his grandkids (here, here, here).
He’s part cultural- and spiritual-agitator, often posting on racial injustice (here, here, here).

Nevertheless, if Ortlund is these in part, it would seem he’s also completely in love with his wife. He’s always posting pictures of her on Instagram with captions that sing her praises (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and many more). It’s because of this love for his bride that, when I saw Ortlund had written a book about marriage, I was immediately ready to hit “Buy Now.” Unfortunately, it just took me a few months to hit “Read Now” and post my review.

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel is part of a series by Crossway called “Short Studies in Biblical Theology.” Biblical theology is the attempt to track the development of a theme in the same way the Bible develops the theme—from the beginning of the story to the end. Hence, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel has a progression from Genesis; to the books of law, wisdom, and prophets; to the New Testament; and then finally to the present day. And throughout the book, Ortlund writes with a sympathetic, yet firm awareness that the biblical view of marriage is not highly esteemed by all—sometimes by those in the church who find the biblical view of marriage too passionate, and sometimes by outsiders who find it too restrictive.

A major focus of his book is not, as you might have expected, the human romance between bride and groom, which is the chief subject of so many Christian books on marriage. Rather, Ortlund’s focus is on the divine romance between The Bride and The Groom, that is, the passionate love of Jesus Christ that compels him to woo and rescue the church. Ortlund writes,

I want to lead you on a brief journey of discovery from the beginning of the Bible to its end, because the Bible is a love story. It is not a hodgepodge of religious thoughts. The Bible unfolds as a complex but coherent narrative of God gathering a bride for his Son—and he found her on the wrong side of town, too. What a story! (13)

As I read Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, I found myself longing to be able to articulate the biblical view of marriage the way Ortlund does. It’s one of those books, that if I had let myself, I might have underlined more sentences than I didn’t. In my opinion, his writing achieved an ideal I strive for in my own writing, namely, “accessible yet riveting scholarship.” I’m not sure how often—if ever—I live up to that ideal, but it was wonderful to read an author who truly does. 

But not only, or even mainly, do I long to articulate the biblical view of marriage as well as Ortlund does. More than this, the book made me long to live the biblical view of marriage. I want to live the beauty and passion and commitment and long-suffering and intimacy of biblical marriage. I want this for my own marriage and the marriages of those in my church.

The Gospel Coalition, as they sometimes do for new books, published a post of their favorite 20 quotes from the book (here). I won’t repeat this feat, but here are just four of my favorites to whet your appetite.

“It is not as though marriage is just one theme among others in the Bible. Instead, marriage is the wraparound concept for the entire Bible, within which the other themes find their places.” (16)

“The head-with-helper dance of complementarity sprang from deep within the intuitions of God himself. We men and women today do not automatically know the steps to this dance. We must learn. But if we will receive it by faith, trusting in the goodness and wisdom of God, we can then explore its potentialities for joyful human magnificence.” (23)

“The key to a lasting romance is not endless sex but believing hearts.” (54)

“So [Jesus] not only believed Genesis 2:24 to be valid and relevant, but he publically taught it to be so—and not because he was a man of his times, echoing what everyone believed back then. What got Jesus into trouble was that he was not a man of his times.” (80)

If you are looking for a short, but stout book about marriage, I couldn’t recommend this book more highly. And if you’re looking for someone new to follow on Instagram, ditto.


[Picture by Anne Edgar / Unsplash]