Looking Back at 'The Mystery of Marriage'-- Part One
- Thursday, August 19, 2004
Well, at least I know how to strike a nerve. Earlier this year, I delivered a major address on marriage to the 2004 New Attitude Conference organized by Joshua Harris, author of influential books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Not Even a Hint. Now, a few months later, that message seems something like a bomb with a delay-action fuse. Those attending the conference seemed to receive the message with great appreciation, but in recent days a rather significant reaction has come from those who take issue with what I had to say.
Speaking on "The Mystery of Marriage," I tried to address the modern crisis of marriage from a biblical point of view. With marriage in eclipse--both in the culture and in some sectors of the church--I sounded an alarm directed specifically at young single adults who, by their very attendance at this conference, already showed that they shared this concern. With background issues including controversy over same-sex marriage, rampant divorce, and demographic trends indicating significant dangers for the institution of marriage, I went back to the basics.
Drawing from the creation account and other significant biblical passages, I sought to demonstrate that the Bible presents a conception of marriage that goes far beyond what most persons have even imagined. According to the Bible, marriage is not primarily about our self-esteem and personal fulfillment, nor is it just one lifestyle option among others. The Bible is clear in presenting a picture of marriage that is rooted in the glory of God made evident in creation itself. The man and the woman are made for each other and the institution of marriage is given to humanity as both opportunity and obligation.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible assumes that marriage is normative for human beings. The responsibilities, duties, and joys of marriage are presented as matters of spiritual significance. From a Christian perspective, marriage must never be seen as a mere human invention--an option for those who choose such a high level of commitment--for it is an arena in which God's glory is displayed in the right ordering of the man and the woman, and their glad reception of all that marriage means, gives, and requires.
Clearly, something has gone badly wrong in our understanding of marriage. This is not only reflected in much of the conversation and literature about marriage found in the secular world, but in many Christian circles as well. The undermining of marriage--or at least its reduction to something less than the biblical concept--is also evident in the way many Christians marry, and in the way others fail to marry.
In the larger culture of confusion, marriage is seen by some persons as an option for those who "need" it. Radical feminists have attacked marriage as a hopelessly patriarchal institution, binding women to home and family in what Betty Friedan called "domestic captivity." A revolution in the law has made divorce easy and quick, undermining the marital bond and redefining marriage as a tentative commitment. Some of these who desire marriage are driven by the wrong desires. Some are looking for social benefits as others see marriage as a form of self-expression. By any measure, marriage is in trouble.
All this cries out for biblical correction, and Christians must resist the accommodationist temptation to accept the marginalization of marriage. This generation of young Christians must lead the way in the recovery of the biblical vision, and build a Christian counter-culture that puts marriage back at the center of human life and Christian living. The young people who attended the New Attitude Conference represent a great hope for such a recovery. The heart-felt yearning for marriage so movingly communicated by those who have sent me such pointed responses to my message indicates that these young Christians are also committed to be agents of such a Christian recovery.
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