Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor
American feminism and wimpy ‘masculinity’ have conspired to blur gender distinctions, making the biblical picture of marriage about as foreign in our culture as typewriter ribbons are to bloggers. The difficult task of communicating the biblical role distinctions of masculinity and femininity did not stop John Ensor from taking a shot in Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway: 2007).
Ensor is the director of Heartbeat International, and he establishes pregnancy help centers throughout the word. Seeing the effects of broken relationships and the consequences of romantic idolatry is his profession.
Let me say from the beginning, I’m not exactly certain the overall purpose or audience of this book. At times it reads as though it’s advice being given to already-married Christians, sometimes to those engaged, and at other times, advice for single men and women seeking to pursue a relationship. The content is broad enough to cover all audiences effectively. This is a must-read for any Christian pursuing or thinking of pursuing relationships.
The title is unclear as well: Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart. Are the “Matters of the Heart” the heart as it relates to the pursuit of romance and relationships, or is “the heart” a reference to the seat from which our personal affections and motivations originate? A clearer title (or the inclusion of a subtitle) could have been more specific on its true emphasis — providing biblical wisdom for roles in marriage.
Enough of that. This book is wonderful for a number of reasons.
1. Ensor clearly defines biblical manhood and womanhood. His picture of marriage as couples figure skating is unforgettable:
In the Winter Olympics, figure skating events are the hottest ticket in town. Pairs figure skating has occasionally been the highest-rated event among viewers. At its best, it displays the strength and beauty, the power and grace, of true unity. The gold medal is awarded to the couple who has most mastered the skills of male leadership and female support.
He leads her onto the ice and initiates each part of their routine. She receives that leadership and trusts in his strength. His raw physical strength is more on display than hers; he does all the lifting, twirling, and catching. She complements his strength with her own – a more diminutive and more attractive strength of beauty, grace, speed, and balance. His focus as the head, or leader, is to magnifying her skills. Her focus is on following his lead and signaling her readiness to receive his next move. He takes responsibility for the two of them, and she trusts his leaderships and delights in it (p. 88).
The second half of the book is devoted to unpacking male leadership and female support. Chapters include titles like the following: he initiates … she responds; he leads … she guides; he works … she waits; he protects … she welcomes protection; he abstains to protect … she, to test; his unmet desire drives him toward marriage … hers is rewarded with marriage; he displays integrity … she, inner beauty; he loves by sacrificing … she, by submitting; he seeks his happiness in hers … she seeks hers in his; he is the primary provider for the family … she, the primary nurturer. These chapter titles just give a glimpse at the biblical, complementary roles of man and woman.
But the masculine/feminine distinctions are under serious attack in our culture. “Where gender differences are acknowledged, they are far from appreciated. Instead they are considered remnants of patriarchy that by nature are unjust and oppressive. All differences are considered imbalances, and imbalances must be corrected and made equal. Equal makes things fair. To be fair, masculinity and femininity must be deconstructed. A new androgyny must be created and then imposed” (p. 72). In chapter four, Ensor masterfully draws the distinctions between the two, showing God’s wisdom in creating us male and female and illustrates the fallout when things go amiss (see pp. 65-83).
2. Ensor balances gender distinctions within gender equality. “Men are apt to reduce women to playthings, at worst demeaning them as ‘bitches’ and forcing them into obsequious servitude. Any hope for doing things right in matters of the heart must begin with a clear appreciation for our equality of value and dignity as men and women created by God in his image” (p. 71). This equality comes in the Cross (1 Pet. 3:7; Gal. 3:28).
3. Ensor masterfully builds from biblical principles. Shakespearian quotes are peppered throughout, but it’s Scripture that saturates the whole. The architect of marriage is our all-wise God, and only in His wisdom do we find fulfilling marriage relationships, and so to His wisdom do we turn. No reader will close this book without being convinced that Ensor’s primary goal was to explain Scripture.
4. Ensor is unafraid to define and attack worldliness. “Sisters, if the only charm you have is your physical appearance, beautiful as you may be, you are foolish and will come to rue the day you scoffed at the value of inner beauty. You will find a man for whom physical beauty is also the main thing. What then happens as you age? You will grow more insecure with every birthday. In vain you will subject yourself to chasing cosmetics like a dog chasing a meat wagon. You will become one of the empty, frighteningly sad women who submit to face lifts, breast surgery, and Botox injections (if you escape the deadly grip of anorexia). By midlife, you will be popping antidepressants” (p. 127).
When it comes to finding Christ as one’s greatest joy in the context of relationships, this book could have been stronger and more consistent throughout (John 4:1-18 would have been a great addition to the first half of the book, especially in light of Ensor’s experience on page 28). But when it comes to readable and accessible definitions of the roles of husbands and wives in the bond of marriage there is (to my knowledge) no better book. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart is excellent and must rank in the top-10 best books of 2007 to date and a front-runner for the TSS Book-of-the-Year award.
Title: Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart
Author: John Ensor
Reading level: 1.75/5.0 > popular level (very easy reading)
Dust jacket: no
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no (would have proven very valuable)
Text: perfect type
Price USD: $11.99 from Crossway
ISBNs: 9781581348422, 1581348428