Book Review Series, The Excellent Wife, Martha Peace, Complementarian Doctrine, Abusive Behavior
This is a book review series of The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace. If you are just joining us, you may click on previous chapter reviews if you’d like to catch up.
Chapter One – Chapter Two – Chapter Three – Chapter Four
Chapter Five – A Wife’s Understanding of Marriage: God’s Purpose
We have finally come to the crux of this book – a wife’s role in marriage according to God’s plan. I’m sure we all can figure out where this is going, so let’s dive in.
The first part of this chapter rehashes how we are to deal with sin. Yes, again with the sinning. This time, Martha Peace lets us know that mutual sanctification helps husbands and wives become more like Jesus. According to Peace, it works this way:
The husband as spiritual leader of the family and “fellow heir to the grace of life” is to help his wife grow and mature as a Christian (1 Peter 3: 7). The wife as a “helper suitable” is also to help her husband grow and mature as a Christian (Genesis 2: 18).
Mutual sanctification means that husbands and wives must point out, or reproof, the sin in each other’s lives. This is not an option in marriage. If you love your spouse, you must lovingly reproof. Likewise, you must accept your spouse’s reproof.
How you respond to your husband’s reproof is a reflection of your desire to become more godly. Begin with considering his reproof to be, at the least, possibly valid. Next, consider the following right ways to respond to reproof.
1. Take time to think about what you have been told.
2. Search the scriptures to determine what the sin is and how to “put it off.”
3. Ask your husband to give some specific examples of how you could have better responded to his reproof.
4. Confess your sin.
5. Show the fruit of repentance.
6. Do not justify or defend yourself.
Stuart Scott and John MacArthur wrote a similar book as Peace’s titled “The Exemplary Husband: A Biblical Perspective.” It would be interesting to know if husbands are given the same advice of how to take reproof from their wives. If anyone has access to this book would you be willing to let us know? Is taking reproof from a wife even allowed?
Peace then offers suggestions for how to reprove your husband. At first I thought her suggestions were different than most of the “godly wife” books out there, but they really aren’t. Her suggestions of finding the right time, saying the right words, offering comfort while correcting, and speaking the truth in love are similar to other books out there. I think the only variance is that there is an expectation that husbands and wives will correct each other versus someone like Lori Alexander who thinks that you have no business trying to change your husband.
The book ends the same way it begins: talking about sin. Come on! Did you know that you can sin when receiving reproof? Uh huh…. Here’s how you know you are sinning when receiving reproof:
1. You become angry and lash out at him.
2. You feel hurt, resentful, and unforgiving.
3. You focus on the things he is doing wrong.
4. You suffer intense personal hurt.
Here’s my problem with this list of “sin:” These are normal emotions to feel, and I am bothered by the fact that emotions are labeled as sin. Not only are these normal emotions to feel, but these are valid reactions by someone who has experienced abuse. On that note, Peace leads us to Chapter Fourteen, Resource #5 on how to deal with an angry spouse.
Resource #5 is titled, “Respond Biblically to Foolish Demands.” Peace uses the following example of a foolish husband and foolish wife:
Biblically, a foolish man is one who rejects the Word of God and does what is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 1:7; 12;15). Immature Christian husbands may act foolishly from time to time by making harsh or unreasonable demands or accusations against their wives. Likewise, a wife can be foolish in how she responds to her husband’s foolish demands. Husbands may particularly act this way in pointing out their wive’s failure to carry out responsibilities. This may be especially true if the husband has not yet learned how to lead his wife biblically. Instead of leading her in a loving way, he may sinfully resort to intimidation, manipulation, harsh criticism, or hostile teasing to accomplish his purposes. This abuse of his God-given authority often throws a Christian wife into total confusion. Such behavior is not only hurtful, but can be extremely provoking – even to a wife who is committed to biblical submission.
Here we have an example of an emotionally abusive husband who has not learned how to lead his wife. Simple, right? How is a wife supposed to respond in a biblical way? By quietly and gently responding with scripture, by not answering during the heat of the moment (let him know you’ll get back to him with your answer if you need to), and by acknowledging if she has done anything wrong (if she has sinned in any way).
There is so much wrong with this chapter and this advice that I don’t even know where to begin. First, like other authors of “godly wife” books, Peace does not have a grasp of understanding how abuse works. She doesn’t seem to understand the power dynamic involved in abusive relationships. She certainly doesn’t understand that emotional abuse is very confusing to victims. And she definitely doesn’t understand how her simple “respond with Bible verses” or “tell him you’ll get back to him” is not going to be welcomed by an abuser.
Finally, what she fails to grasp is that if the marriage is abusive, her focus on sin is spiritually abusive. A wife who is a victim of abuse should not be forced to think about how her “sinful actions” contributed to abuse. This constant reminder of sin can keep a victim trapped in an abusive marriage longer than she should be. Victims will often say that they could have done something to avoid the abuse. The truth is that no one deserves to be treated in an abusive manner, and the full blame lies on the abuser.
While Chapter Five does not specifically address domestic abuse, Peace does describe abusive behavior. I am heartbroken that Peace does not fully place the onus of abusive behavior on the perpetrator. By not doing so, she shows victims that they are not valued and worthy of being treated with respect. How is this God’s purpose for marriage?
19 thoughts on “Book Review Series – “The Excellent Wife” by Martha Peace – Chapter Five: Wives, if You Experience Abuse, Acknowledge Your Sin”
Martha Peace used to be a friend of mine. To answer your question, YES. “The Exemplary Husband” was the book my ex-husband was doing as part of his first Bible study, and YES, one of the questions it had the husband ask the wife was in any way he was sinning. I was too intimidated at the time to get into the deep issues (control; anger; rages etc.) and kind of made a joke about it, but to be fair, the book does ask the husbands to approach their wives humbly in this way.
Within the patriarchal authoritarian framework, one questions how much good it would do, but to be fair it was in there.
This stuff is nauseating. In the 13 years I have been married to my husband, neither one of us has ever reproved the other or cited areas where we feel the other is sinning. The notion feels more like spiritually-legitimized shame. And clearly,the woman doesn’t acknowledge spiritual or emotional abuse as being unacceptable in a Christian marriage but instead promotes the typical Christian-sounding drivel we so often hear or read. Mrs. Peace’s book belongs in the dumper.
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Ugh! I saw this book at the thrift store yesterday, and thought it looked familiar (from your posts!) . I should have bought it just to destroy it. I live in the Bible belt and stumble upon such books fairly often.
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The 6 steps in responding to reproof are a recipe for morbid introspection, self-condemnation, and guilt induced depression. In a healthy marriage we sincerely apologize when we hurt our spouse and we move on. In an abusive marriage the wife can do all those steps endlessly and she will NEVER be forgiven or able to move on. She will have to grovel at his feet indefinitely and search indefinitely looking for more sins she may have committed and then repent some more and grovel some more. And he will have the upper hand and love every minute of it. And if she ever tries to reprove him… well, she’s a fault finding nag.
The trouble with these books is that they actually think they have marriage “formulas” that they can impose on the world at large. They don’t. The Christian life is not a formula. Every situation is unique and what we need is the guidance of the Holy Spirit… not more marriage books.
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Marie – Thank you for confirming that information is in the husband’s book. At least it’s consistent. I was concerned that this only applied to wives.
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I also would love to see a review of the men’s book. TEW is so patronizing & puts the relationship in such a “parent/child” role that I’ve wondered how sickening the men’s version is, too.
I find this to be in line with other authoritarian instructions – specifically, the steps of dealing with the husband’s reproof. It does seem to hedge with “Begin with considering his reproof to be, at the least, possibly valid.” but then, by the end, it says, “Do not justify or defend yourself.”
One of the root problems with authoritarianism is that it doesn’t know how to deal with sinful or abusive authority. What if the reproof is flat out wrong, or what if the reproof is maybe an issue, but not what God is working on at the moment with you? In authoritarianism, that is never considered as a possibility. Once the authority identifies X sin, then you must root it out (step 5: show the fruit of repentance), or you are not godly. It’s the same thing with Biblical Counseling.
I think it’s a valid argument to say that books like this make the husband to be an idol because they essentially wave away any real depravity in the husband, and assume that the husband knows more, is more holy and has unique insight into what the real issues are, and, conversely always assume that the wife is unaware, less holy, and is missing key insights.
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And Serena Joy keeps on lecturing the Handmaids with wagging finger…
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So, lemme’ get this straight:
Wife has a black eye and a split lip that she’s gonna’ have a helluva time trying to hide by a hodge-podge of methods before church in the morning.
And it’s all her fault from the get-go because of her ‘sin’?
And it can all be proven from the Bible?
Okay, I think I get it.
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Helps if you remember “Bizarro World” from Silver Age DC comics.