Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn
Reviewed by: Zachary and Sandra Siggins
A Gospel-Shaped Marriage: Grace for Sinners to Love Like Saints, by Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn. Crossway, 2022. Paperback, 160 pages, $17.00. Reviewed by OP pastor J. Zachary Siggins and his wife, Sandra.
Perhaps the most straight-forward recommendation we can give for A Gospel-Shaped Marriage: Grace for Sinners to Love Like Saints by Chad and Emily Van Dixhoorn is that reading and talking about it together has been an encouragement to us and our marriage. Among the book’s many strengths is its brevity while still covering a comprehensive range of topics, including ones that are not always found in other marriage books—relationships with in-laws, parenting together, and growing old. Though its brevity makes it very accessible, it occasionally left us wanting more (for example, we’d recommend reading chapters one and two together since chapter two clarified questions we had after chapter one).
The book’s greatest strength is that it is true to its title. Gospel-Shaped Marriage is infused with the gospel, and the Van Dixhoorns regularly remind the reader to love their spouse as they have been loved by Christ. Real gospel grace and power are offered and practically applied to each area of marriage as they take readers through a survey of Scripture passages on marriage. Reflective readers will find themselves growing both in love for Jesus and their spouse as they read.
The Van Dixhoorns also ably and appropriately show how the pattern of the gospel provides for and empowers the respective roles and responsibilities of husbands and wives. Unique to many marriage books, they introduce this section with a chapter about mutual submission from Ephesians 5:21 and then focus on the specific callings for wives and husbands. Though the section on decision-making may seem a little rigid at times to some, their overall focus in these chapters was on the heart attitudes of submission, respect, and sacrificial love, inspired by the gospel and resulting in good works, rather than on prescribing an overly defined role for either spouse.
They are also careful to guard against potential weaknesses, even if only perceived, and, while they follow the general pattern of a work by the Puritan William Gouge, they clarify that, “not everything in it is helpful” (14). We encourage all readers, regardless of their thoughts about Gouge, to engage this book on its own terms, since he is brought in only at his most helpful, like his encouragement for each spouse to make the other’s call to sacrificial love or respect as easy as possible, which is described as “a guiding principle of this book” (44).
Finally, the Van Dixhoorns offer the important caveat that Gospel-Shaped Marriage is not a resource to help those in an abusive marriage. Their purpose is to provide a “normal baseline of marriage and what it looks like to give oneself to another” (52). But for gospel-shaped people, Gospel-Shaped Marriage will be an excellent resource to help prepare for, heal, strengthen, or grow your marriage.
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