Christian marriages need all the help they can get. Books on marriage abound, and it’s hard to think of anything unique or fresh that needs to be said. I think James Reeves has succeeded in saying something fresh and helpful, which is what draws me to his workbook, Life Change for Couples. The book originated with another book entitled Life Change for Every Christian and Reeves found it helpful to apply the same principles to marriage relationships.
Using the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as a template, Reeves brings couples face to face with a variety of issues that tend to fragment their relationships with their spouses. Some Christians may be turned off by this feature, thinking the steps as only applicable to “addicts” of various kinds. I think it worthwhile to explain why I think this is a wrong conclusion to make. It was actually a drawing point for me personally, because I believe that the 12 steps in general reflect well what churches should be about generally. Too often, words like “change” and “transformation” are thrown about in the church without any clear pattern or path to follow in actually seeing it take place. The steps provide a reliable path to follow in seeking transformation in a variety of relationships and settings. Dallas Willard highlights this point beautifully.
“Another illustration of the "general pattern" of personal transformation is provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and similar "twelve step" programs. . . . A desirable state of being is envisioned, and an intention to realize it is actuated in decision. Means are applied to fulfill the intention (and the corresponding decision) by producing the desirable state of being: in this case, abstinence from alcohol and a life of sobriety, with all the good that that entails. The familiar means of the traditional AA program—the famous "twelve steps" and the personal and social arrangements in which they are concretely embodied, including a conscious involvement of God in the individual's life—are highly effective in bringing about personal transformation.” (Online article, “Living A Transformed Life Adequate To Our Calling,” found at http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=119)
In practical terms, it must be remembered that this is a workbook best suited for a small group made of married couples who have agreed to go through this process together. It can be done individually, but the results will be less profound I think. Also, the role of group facilitator is vital in helping the group stay on task in a balanced and life-giving way. A wise and gentle group facilitator can help apply the “steps” to particular situations. If read individually, there should be some basic background in Christian counseling and/or biblical recovery for this purpose (i.e., not for beginners). The chapters follow the general pattern of introduction, introspection and interaction.
Prior to getting into the specific steps, Reeves lays the groundwork for couples by showing the relationship between emotional and spiritual maturity, particularly through concepts like integrity and gratitude.
The greatest strengths of this workbook are threefold:
1) The focus is on each individual’s own behavior and is not about changing another person’s behavior, often the pitfall in marriage counsel.
2) Related to #1, there is the assumption that everyone is broken and wounded and in need of the healing of Jesus, in community with his people. Too often marriages fail simply because there is no support and accountability from trusted Christian friends.
3) The workbook provides a well laid out plan, a way to deal with marriage issues that wisely navigates the painful realities of daily married life. Not all plans or paths are equal, but I think this approach holds the most overall value to the majority of married couples.
For these reasons, I recommend use of this workbook to help couples strengthen their marriages and find healing for the areas where they are experiencing brokenness. It could be a real lifesaver!
Thanks to Kregel Publishers for a review copy in exchange for an unbiased review.