After a decade of struggling themselves, as well as years of counseling engaged and married couples, Rob and Amy Rienow realized that most couples have little grasp of the biblical mission and purpose for family. With their book Visionary Marriage, the Rienows devote themselves to helping couples create a “God-sized vision” for their families. The authors admit that early in their own marriage, even though they believed that “God created the family as the fundamental institution upon which all human life and civilization rest…we never gave it serious theological thought.” Through a serious consideration of scripture and God’s good design for marriage, the Rienows set out to help other couples not fall into the same pattern.
Visionary Marriage begins with the simple question “Why marriage?” (and for those already married, “Why still married?”). In other words, what is the purpose of it all? While there are plenty of how-to marriage resources available, sometimes what is lost is the purpose that stands behinds it all. Why does God care and what does he intend? The Rienows focus not on items to add to the relationship to-do list, but the grand purpose for marriage and family. Like they say, “When our purpose for marriage is God’s purpose for marriage, an everyday marriage turns toward becoming a visionary marriage.” In 150 pages, the authors lay a biblical foundation for God’s intentions in marriage (chapters 1-2), the husband’s responsibilities to love, serve, and lead (chapters 3-5), the wife’s responsibilities in helping, reverence, and training (chapters 7-9), and concluding chapters on oneness, spiritual transformation, encouragement, and mission as a couple and family. Drawing primarily from Genesis 1 and 2, Ephesians 5, and Titus 2, the Rienows offer a book that is biblically faithful, clearly written, and tremendously practical.
Three strengths stand out in particular. First, men are appropriately challenged. A visionary marriage like they describe “begins with a husband who has a dynamically Christ-centered, Bible-driven, multi-generational vision for his life.” Furthermore, they rightly state that “generally speaking, as the man goes, so goes the marriage. As the marriage goes, so goes the family. As the family goes, so goes the church. As the church goes, so goes the nation.” Second, chapter thirteen offers a helpful perspective on the topics of purpose, marriage, sex, and children. The authors argue for an interconnectedness according to God’s design, such that these are not four distinct categories to be viewed and pursued independently of each other, but that rather these are what the authors call “four life connections” that must be seen as a greater God- designed whole. Third, the Rienows finish strong with an encouraging vision that stems from the mission of their own family. They pray for a legacy-leaving discipleship ministry that over the next 200 years shapes and develops 336,000 men and women for kingdom purposes, with over 3,000 serving as pastors, 1,600 as missionaries, and giving (from modest salaries) over $53 billion to strengthen local churches, agencies of compassion, and mission teams.
One weakness of the book comes in the form of assumptions. While the authors do not avoid the idea that marriage is a picture of the gospel and that a God- honoring marriage must be empowered by the grace of the gospel, it also does not stress the idea in any extraordinary way. In other words, the gospel is more implicit than explicit, leading to the assumption that readers have the new hearts necessary to implement the “God-sized vision” that the Reinows commend. Even in our evangelical culture, we cannot afford to make such assumptions. This assumption also narrows the usefulness of the book, as non-Christians may walk away believing they can implement the book’s prescriptions apart from a saving relationship with and the empowering work of Jesus Christ.
Still, by way of a biblical framework, clear and accessible writing, and their own visionary example, the Rienows have indeed provided a strong foundation on which to build a God-sized vision for marriage and family.
[Editor's Note: Nick Ostermann is an Ed.D. Student at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Pastor at The Rooted Church, Fort Worth, Texas. This review originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 3.2 (Spring/Summer 2013).]