Tag Archives: Marriage

Against the Separation of Marriage and State

It’s been a tumultuous year in the battle over marriage. We’re losing, and we need a new strategy. The good news is, almost everyone has now seen this need. The bad news is, just as we are leaving behind the dangers of overconfidence, we are facing the dangers of discouragement.

At this tough time, we must be especially careful to avoid wishful thinking. More and more Christians think they have found an easy way out of our marriage dilemmas through a “separation of marriage and state.” The idea is to avoid a political debate about marriage by removing that question from the realm of law, policy, and regulation. Let anyone who wants to call themselves married call themselves married, and keep government entirely out of it.


Don’t get me wrong—such an approach would not be the worst possible outcome of the current debate. It would probably be better than full-blown legal institutionalization of gay marriage. Politicians and activists need not fight to the death for perfection; their job is to obtain the most palatable result from a menu of alternatives that is always imperfect and often downright unappetizing. In the coming years, something like a separation of marriage and state is likely to be the least-worst among the bad selection of possible outcomes in many localities.

But many supporters of natural marriage are starting to think a separation of marriage and state is actually the most desirable policy on the merits. If that view prevails, we will have made a considerable error; one that will tend to lead us into even worse errors far beyond the marriage debate. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” is sound advice. But it is equally important not to mistake the good—still less the only-sort-of-okay, or even the lousy-but-it’s-the-best-we-can-get—for the perfect.

No End

To begin, a separation of marriage and state would not end the political battle over marriage. The vast legal and regulatory apparatus of the modern state does millions of things every day that require it to make assumptions about who is married. From divorce and child custody courts to health care policy to government employee benefits, any serious attempt to make government agnostic about marriage would require policymakers, bureaucrats, and lawyers to make literally millions of decisions about how each of these specific questions would now be handled under the new rules.

There is no way to make those decisions without creating unpredictable and intensely painful disruptions in the lives of large numbers of people. Inevitably, neither side of the marriage debate would be satisfied with the results of the process. Each side would demand that the questions be settled more favorably for its constituencies. And none of these decisions would ever be permanently settled, because both sides will always have opportunities to reopen areas of debate and keep fighting for more turf.

The fact that you can’t actually avoid a political battle over marriage points to a deeper problem: the attempt to separate marriage and state would institutionalize a false view of reality. The existence of civil government presupposes the existence of natural marriage. People form political communities to serve social needs that only arise after households already exist.

This is not an exclusively Christian teaching. Until just the other day, it was the prevailing view in every human civilization, including those in which homosexuality was accepted. For ancients like Aristotle and Confucius, political society exists essentially to mediate between households. For moderns like Locke, the natural law that human life is to be protected and increased leads us first to get married and have children, and only later to form governments that help us protect and increase life more effectively.

A separation of marriage and state would institutionalize the view that government need not presuppose natural marriage. That error would probably be less damaging than the error of gay marriage. But it would still have bad consequences.

All About Individuals

For all the important differences between ancient and modern views, they agree that the political community is not something we create because we want to get something for ourselves out of it; it’s something we create because we want life and justice to increase. A society that really practiced a separation of marriage and state would come to think—even more strongly than our culture already does—that politics is not about how a community can order its shared life for justice and flourishing. Politics would become, even more than it already is, all about how individuals can satisfy their desires. This is a major contributor to almost every public problem we have today, from the economic crisis to the breakdown of the family to the inability of government to perform even its most basic tasks.

The attempt to make government neutral regarding marriage would also encourage the broader cultural illusion that government is, or can be, morally neutral. People want to be able to live in peace with their neighbors, but public moral commitments that are shared in common make them uncomfortable. The desire for morally neutral government is an attempt to have our cake and eat it, too. It is what lies behind both the collapse of integrity in public institutions and the relentless campaign to force believers to live like secularists whenever they are in public. A separation of marriage and state would encourage this cultural environment further.

For all these reasons, a separation of marriage and state would not be a stable, permanent solution to the marriage dilemma. It’s not clear at this point what would be, although some promising ideas have been proposed. We do have to find a way to live in peace with our gay neighbors, accepting them with love as equal citizens. In time, their cultural narrative will fall apart. Until then, we have a messy political problem to navigate—and it does no good to try to avoid the inevitable.

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage and New Birth

My wedding was last Saturday. And I didn’t marry the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos and a history in drugs, alcohol, and heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike. My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

It wasn’t my dream to marry a complicated girl. I never dreamed I’d sit on a couch with my future wife in premarital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.


This isn’t my dream—it’s better.

Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and me together. In high school, we probably would not have been friends. She probably would have thought I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl who guys like me are supposed to avoid. People like us, with our backgrounds and histories, are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.

But everything changes when people meet Jesus. He takes rebellious teenage partiers and goody-two-shoes homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own handcrafted, perfectly planned love story.

Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life. She believed in him, and he transformed her. The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born. A new person with new desires and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasure Jesus Christ above every other pleasure.

And this is how I see Taylor. She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean. This is not because she joined a helpful program or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her white as snow. He took all of her sins, placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfectly white wedding dress.

In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well. As she walked down the aisle toward me, I was reminded of how much I don’t deserve the precious gift she is to me. I’ve spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song. Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever. Yet God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.

I love Taylor with all that I am. She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving. I don’t deserve to be married to someone like her. I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I didn’t get what I planned for.

Last weekend I was reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges the sin of our past for the perfect righteousness of his Son. Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day was not our wedding day; it was a display of the most stunning reality in the universe—that God sent his Son to redeem a people made clean by the blood of his Son.

God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and me together is to uniquely display his grace so that other people will praise him (Eph. 1:5-6). That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large. Taylor and I have taken part in that display, and we hope you will too.

Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at the Unspoken blog.

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S1NGLE—God’s Gifts: Our Plans

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Livestream this sold-out event at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. 

For the 25 years Redeemer has existed, the majority of its attenders have been single. There are thousands of singles at Redeemer seeking to engage the culture with hope and integrity. Join Redeemer for this conference to hear personal stories, theological reflections, and a Q&A dialogue about being single. This conference is for you whether you are single, have single friends, are praying for singles, ministering to singles, or just want to encourage the ministry of the church.


  • Brent Bounds: Introduction, Q&A Moderation
  • Wesley Hill: I Love You Because You’re Mine: Friendship and the Single Life
  • Jessica Hong: Expectations vs. Reality
  • Bethany Jenkins: Why I Hate the Term ‘Single’ (And Why You Should, Too)
  • Tim Keller: Theology of Singleness
  • Kathy Keller: Singles and the Rest of the World: The Commonalities of Suffering
  • Jordan Tanksley: What You Didn’t Know About Being Single
  • Janice Worth: Testimony
Date: Saturday, March 1, 2014

Time: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. EST

Watch the livestream.

When Gospel-Loving Churches Undermine Marriage

When sociologists chronicle how the West redefined marriage, they will cite many factors, including progressive social pressure, willing media, and liberal theology. But thoughtful evangelicals shouldn’t only point the finger at the outside world.

church-weddingEven among gospel-preaching congregations, we’ve contributed to the steady erosion of a once-strong institution. And I’m not primarily talking about divorce or the wink-and-nod treatment for cohabitation. Here are three practical but powerful messages we’ve sent to our young people, the outside world, and to ourselves about how we really think about marriage.

1. Marriage is important, but not as important as immediate stability.

As a pastor, I can’t tell you how often I saw fear in the eyes of parents with children in college. But they didn’t fear that their good Christian kid would shipwreck his faith in the secular university or that their daughter would get pregnant. 

No, quite often these Christian parents feared that their son or daughter would find a suitable mate, settle down, and get married, while still in college. I once had a nice Christian mom tell me, “I tell my son, every week, ‘Don’t you go off and get married now. You’ve got to at least finish graduate school.'”

To be sure, some young men and women just aren’t ready to tie the knot. As the father of three daughters, I will make sure the suitors who come to my door (and they will come to my door or they will not be suitors) are mature, spiritually and emotionally. I want to know my daughter isn’t marrying a slacker who will live in my basement until he’s 35, having mastered every level of Angry Birds.

However, sometimes we treat marriage while young as a plague to be avoided at all costs. We’re telling our children, in effect, “All that stuff we say all the time about marriage, it’s important. But pay no mind. Really smart people put off marriage until it’s convenient.” If our kids listen to this kind of advice, we rob them of this blessed, sanctifying tool in the hands of God. These rhythms of life, these cycles of repentance and forgiveness, make them more like Christ.

Yes, some couples should wait. But no one enters marriage perfect or even ready. More often than not we should encourage young couples to get married and watch the inevitable grit and grace of marital intimacy weave a gospel story.

2. Marriage is important, but not as important as our church activities.

Several years ago I attended a wedding at a church in one of the most concentrated areas of the Bible Belt, where traditional marriage still polls well. This couple had come to the altar after a life transformed by God’s grace. Their story was one of brokenness, beauty, and redemption in Christ. But you’d think this event was a major disruption to the church calendar.

The bride and groom paid handsomely for use of the hall—and that’s what this venue felt like on the big day, a rented hall. This wedding might as well have been celebrated in a sterile city hall building. And I’m not just talking about the lack of Christian symbols in the décor, but the stunning lack of interest, on the part of the church, to celebrate this wedding. To be fair, this megachurch probably couldn’t give every single wedding the type of fanfare that family and friends want.

But on this day, the wedding seemed like a nuisance, a speed bump in the highway of the church’s important weekend activities. The wedding party had a hard time finding help getting in the facility, finding the right rooms, and figuring out the sound system. The pastor, to his credit, was kind and helpful and had shepherded this new couple toward this day. But the couple heard a not-so-subtle, contradictory message: ”Yes, we are happy you are getting married, but don’t do anything to ruin our really awesome big idea we are doing on Sunday so we can draw people into our church so they can hear the gospel.”

Few things demonstrate the gospel like weddings! Christian weddings aren’t merely secular ceremonies. Each one celebrates God’s loving, intentional design for the people he has pursued, rescued, and appointed as future kings and queens of the universe. The intimate union of man and woman before God helps us peer into another world. It’s a signpost for another kingdom, a city whose builder and maker is God.

Weddings shouldn’t be incidental occasions in the life of God’s covenant community. They prompt celebration and worship. The church should gather around this new couple and bear them up by their presence, by their prayers, and by their generous giving.

3. Marriage is either the utopia at the end of your dreams or your worst nightmare.

More than one social commentator has suggested that long before the gay-rights movement, evangelicals undermined marriage by modeling in real life the opposite of what they preached. The problem isn’t just no-fault divorce. Sadly, many lifeless marriages resemble business partnerships more than intimate union. No wonder many young people seem so disinterested in marriage. They’ve never seen marriage modeled well in real life. The intimacy, spark, and love evaporates just when the kids start paying attention. Avoiding the seeming hassle of marriage, young people check out all together.

In correcting this problem we can swing wildly in the opposite direction. We sometimes present marriage as something more than it was meant to be. Hoping to cultivate healthy sexuality, we sell marriage as utopia, the ultimate destination for hopes and dreams and good sex. We set ourselves up for disappointment. Even the most vibrant Christian marriage only offers a foretaste of a far better gift, Christ himself.

Marriage is neither the nightmare some portray it to be, nor is it heaven. Instead, it’s a temporary theater where Christ is sanctifying us and working out his glory. Let’s not preach the gospel from the pulpit but deny it in our attitude toward marriage.

Why I Married a White Girl

Whenever I post pictures of my family on social media, the responses are fun. Most common are “Your son is so handsome!” or “What a beautiful family!” But one of the other frequent responses is “Is your wife white?” People ask me at concerts sometimes too. The answer is yes. My wife is a mix of Hungarian, Italian, and Polish—which to most people just means she’s white. This is irrelevant to some, but shocking or even disappointing to others. I don’t think anyone should be shocked or disappointed by interracial marriages, but I still wanted to address why I married outside my race.

The decision to marry someone from a different ethnic background wasn’t tough for me. I never sat down and wrote out a pro-con list. (Though, if I did, the fact my wife has never seen an episode of Martin would be in the con category.) I didn’t agonize over it or seek counsel about whether it was okay. I was convinced she was the woman for me to marry, even though she wasn’t black.

Some would never consider marrying someone who didn’t share their ethnicity, so let me tell you why I did.


I always expected to marry a black woman. I found women of all backgrounds beautiful, but black girls were my “preference.” When I arrived on my college campus in 2006, though, I wasn’t looking for a wife at all. I just wanted to grow in my faith and get a good education. My first album had just come out, so I had plenty of other things to focus on. But as I met people at the school, a sophomore named Jessica really caught my attention, and we became friends.

We ran in the same circles and ended up joining the same church, so we saw each other a lot. And the more I got to know her, the more I was drawn to her. She really loved Jesus, and she had this childlike willingness to do whatever he asked. Her compassion for needy people challenged me, and she had a humble heart that responded to the Word. Over that first year I watched her sacrifice countless hours of her time serving at our church. On top of all of that, I loved being around her. Our conversation, whether serious or silly, always flowed with ease. So I eventually started to ask myself, Should I marry this girl?


Jessica didn’t look like I expected my future wife to look, but that didn’t matter to me. Don’t get me wrong, I thought she was beautiful from the first time I met her. And I was never opposed to marrying a white girl. I just didn’t think I would. But as I grew in my faith and my heart began to change, my preferences started changing too. My main preference was that my wife be godly, and Jessica was. So I wifed her.

Never for a moment did I feel like I was settling. It feels more like settling to overlook a godly woman merely because of her ethnicity. I never wanted to value my preferences for a wife over what I needed in a wife.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having preferences, but we have to hold them with an open hand. I know certain people who overlook a potential godly spouse because they don’t fit some random preference. Some of our preferences really don’t matter that much. Some may even be foolish. Needless to say, we have to submit all of them to Scripture.

When you and your spouse are in the middle of conflict, skin tone doesn’t matter. Body type and social status seem insignificant. You want your spouse to be godly and humble. And as my wife and I begin to raise our first child, I couldn’t be more grateful for her. She’s an amazing mom and godly influence on my son—neither of which has anything to do with her ethnic background. It’s okay to prefer certain things in a spouse, but we have to submit our desires to what God wants for us in a spouse. What I wanted and needed most was a godly partner, and that’s exactly what he provided.

How the Church Makes the Trial of Infertility Better (or Worse)

Five years ago, my wife Andrea and I sat in our church’s Sunday evening prayer service, listening as another couple talked about their struggles with infertility and asked the church to pray for them as they endured surgeries, tests, and the misery of fertility drugs. It didn’t occur to us, at the time, that we might go through the same trial.

Three years later, we found ourselves in the same place, offering up the same prayer requests. We felt left behind by the constant stream of pregnancy and birth announcements in the church, and felt an acute sting when members would jokingly speculate that “there must be something in the water!” For us, infertility was a painful reality.

You will most likely know someone affected by infertility, and you’ll be better prepared to love and minister to them if you know a bit more about what it’s like to go through this trial.

Bigger Problem than You Think

The statistical data on infertility can be difficult to understand. A recent CDC study suggests infertility rates in women have fallen over the last 30 years, to around 6 percent of women, but that doesn’t account for the whole picture, including men who are infertile, unexplained infertility, and women who have difficulty carrying a pregnancy to term. One source estimates that one in eight couples (12.5 percent) are affected by infertility; the Mayo Clinic suggests it may be as high as one in six (17 percent).

Infertility is a private issue, fraught with embarrassment and shame. Because fertility is so bound up with issues of intimacy and sex (taboo topics in their own right), people are reluctant to talk about it publicly, especially in the church. When baby-making machinery doesn’t work correctly, we’re even less inclined to talk about it—after all, the ability of men to father children and of women to carry them is a cultural touchstone of manhood and womanhood. We’re afraid that admitting something is wrong will reflect on us negatively. He’s afraid a low sperm count makes him less of a man. She’s afraid her inability to become a mother means she won’t be able to fulfill what the church often implies is her highest calling.


Infertility can wreak havoc on our relationships, too. What’s wrong with me? can, all too easily, lead to Does he wish he’d married a woman who could give him children? Is she disappointed in me as a husband? Two women who have been friends for years can find their friendship suddenly strained when one gets pregnant, has her baby, and enters the Mom Club while the other is left on the outside, struggling with feelings of discontentment, jealousy, and grief.

My wife and I attend a church full of young families where people seem to have children all the time. Not only does such a church remind infertile couples of their infertility with painful regularity, it can also leave them feeling isolated and alone, out of step with everyone else their age in a different stage of life.

And then there’s the whole world of assisted reproduction and infertility treatments, which can be at times as much a curse as a blessing. Sometimes God uses those treatments to end a couple’s struggle with infertility. Often he doesn’t. And the longer would-be parents pursue them, the more easily they can get wrapped up in the endless cycle of hope and despair recently noted in a New York Times op-ed.

Infertile People Need the Church’s Love

I’m painting a bleak picture of infertility here, I know. There is no way to ignore how painful it is. It’s certainly the biggest trial my wife and I have ever faced, individually or together. But God has used this trial to grow us spiritually and demonstrate his love for us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. And the church—that network of loving, supportive, prayerful relationships we have in Christ’s body—has been used by God to comfort and sustain us and others like us.

That’s not to say relationships in the church are easy when you’re struggling with infertility. Those aforementioned feelings of isolation and alienation are real. Friends in the church have seemed thoughtless at times, not considering how things they say might be hurtful; at other times they’ve been awkward, aware of our struggles but at a loss for what to say. Often the strain has been entirely our own fault—we’ve promised in our church covenant to “rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows,” but sometimes jealousy and bitterness sap our motivation to do any rejoicing or accept any comfort.

Nonetheless, our church family has been a major pillar of support and source of comfort to us through this journey of infertility. Sometimes that comfort has come through friends asking us how we’re doing with it, and telling us they’ve been praying for us. Sometimes the comfort comes through talking with others who have experienced infertility, too, reminding us that others know what we’re going through. But far more often, God has simply used the regular preaching of the Word and ordinary fellowship with the saints to keep us connected to himself and remind us that he’s with us and loves us.

If you know people in your church who are dealing with infertility, be prepared to sympathize when the topic comes up, but you can do so much to encourage them simply by being a friend. Make a point of getting to know them, spending time with them, and encouraging them spiritually in the ordinary course of life. Sometimes when infertile couples are in the throes of feeling isolated and desperate to be normal, they just need you to be a friend, to remind them that they are normal, that you like them, and that you want to live the Christian life side-by-side with them.

Infertile People Need the Church’s Accountability

In his book Adopted for Life, Russell Moore points out that the grief and pain that come with infertility can put infertile people in a spiritually dangerous position. While a godly friend might confront someone who’s struggling with anger or lust, few people with an ounce of compassion would dare to confront a fellow Christian over the sins infertility can give rise to—anger, discontent, jealousy, bitterness, and idolatry among them.

If you have a friend in the church struggling with infertility, the best thing you can do in this regard isn’t to confront them at the first sign of a sinful response. When someone is hurting, it’s extremely difficult to untangle the angry cry of a heart that’s bitter toward God from the anguished cry of a child who wants his Father to make things right.

Instead, cultivate the kind of open, honest relationship that makes your friendship a safe space for them to vent their pain, confess their sins, and ask for accountability and prayer. Take the lead by being willing to confess your own sins and make yourself vulnerable. When sin has grown so malignant that it’s poisoning everything around an infertile person, there may come time for gentle, loving, humble confrontation and correction. But most of the time, just being a willing confidant and confessor will be enough for God to use you to encourage and protect your friend.

If you’re a pastor or church leader, make your church’s teaching and worship as scripturally and confessionally robust as possible. God intends to use them as guardrails to keep hurting people in your church from sin, and as signposts pointing toward our hope in Christ.

Following Him through the Valley

Infertility is a terrible plague, a legacy of the fall we’re forced to confront all too often in the church. But if God has put infertile people in the pews next to you—and he almost certainly has—he’s given you a tremendous opportunity to sympathize with them, to love them by being a friend, and to encourage them. Be thoughtful, take note of the hurting people around you, and show yourself ready to be a friend.

In my own walk through the trial of infertility, God has made the preaching, reading of Scripture, prayers, confessions, and singing of the church come alive with hope, comfort, and encouragement. My wife and I have been reminded from the pulpit of God’s sovereignty and care for his sheep, and we’ve come to a new understanding of how he intends even this trial for our good. We’ve recited the creeds and remembered the saints who have confessed them for thousands of years despite suffering far more than we have. We’ve sung lines from old hymns about following Christ wherever he leads and realized that, for us, that means following him through the valley of the shadow of infertility.

Editors’ note: This article is available in Issue #14 of the Christ and Pop Culture MagazineFor more features like this, download the Christ and Pop Culture Magazine app for iPad and iPhone from Apple’s App StoreAfter a one-week free trial, monthly and yearly subscriptions are available for $2.99 and $29.99 respectively. New issues are available every other week. More information here.

Let’s Talk About . . . You-Know-What

Excuse me, are you glorifying God with your sex?

That’s the incendiary question on the table in Denny Burk’s What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway), a new book that traverses delicate territory, to say the least. In it, Burk seeks to bring a Christian worldview to bear on current hot-button issues ranging from gender to homosexuality, singleness to marriage, birth control to intercourse. Rooted in Scripture and written for us sinners, this readable and relevant work engages a confused culture—and many confused Christians—with a God-exalting, joy-inducing vision of human sexuality.

I talked with Burk, associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College and prolific blogger, about where this debate is heading, whether pro-life Christians should use the pill, what God thinks of singleness, and more.


Debates over sexuality aren’t new in the church. They’ve been dividing Christians for as long as any of us can remember. What can Bible-believing Christians say that’s new or likely to persuade long-time antagonists? And where do you see these debates headed in the coming years?

The sexual revolutionaries have indeed been long-time antagonists of Christian sexual morality. I think, however, that the challenge is becoming more acute in recent years because of the normalization of homosexuality. Christians are under enormous social pressure to revise the Bible’s teaching on the definition of marriage, and there are many so-called Christians who have been willing to accommodate the spirit of the age. But this kind of sellout is not an option for true disciples of Jesus.


Where are these debates headed in coming years? I think 21st-century American Christians need prepare for a new reality. The so-called “silent majority” of those who hold to traditional sexual mores is no more. Our views on marriage and sexuality draw a sharp contrast with a culture that has imbibed deeply of the sexual revolution. Christian need to embrace their calling to be a counterculture—to bear witness to an increasingly hostile culture. The Lord Jesus calls us to be in the world not of the world for the sake of the world (John 17:15-21).

Do you think pro-life Christians should avoid using oral contraceptives?

The question of contraception for unmarried Christians is pre-empted by the Bible’s prohibition on fornication (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:18). The Christian sexual ethic boils down to chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within it. Those pursuing chastity have no use for oral contraception.

Having said that, there’s great debate among some evangelicals about whether married couples are free to use hormone-based contraceptives. Our Roman Catholic friends believe each and every sexual act must be equally procreative in intent. Most evangelicals disagree with this position on biblical grounds, and so the primary issue for us is whether hormone-based contraceptives are truly contraceptive. Are there cases in which birth control pills cause the destruction of a human embryo? Some Christians say yes, while others say no.

FDA-approved labels for hormone-based contraceptives (e.g., birth control pills) indicate that these pills work through three mechanisms of action. The first is to prevent ovulation (a contraceptive mechanism). The second is to thicken cervical mucus, thereby making it difficult for sperm to pass through (also a contraceptive mechanism). The third is to inhibit the uterine lining, thereby preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus (an abortifacient mechanism). This third mechanism has caused controversy.

A number of pro-life Christians believe the existence of this third mechanism for the pill is inconclusive. Others claim the third mechanism is in play when women use it. My personal view is that if there’s any chance at all the third mechanism comes into play, then pro-life Christians cannot legitimately make use of such technologies.

How helpful are heterosexual marriage arguments rooted in natural law (e.g., the recent book What Is Marriage?)? What are the benefits and drawbacks to this approach?

Natural law arguments are good and helpful. They’re based on a teleological approach to ethics, and that’s the approach I advocate in my book. God’s intention for our sexuality has been clearly revealed through how we have been made. It’s obvious, for example, that our biology reveals a heterosexual, procreative purpose for our sexuality. Natural law draws attention to this truth and draws rational implications from this truth that are publically assessable even to those who don’t otherwise share our Christian commitment.

Nevertheless, faithful Christians should understand the limits of natural law approaches. Natural law is good so far as it goes. But some truths we proclaim about sexuality aren’t apparent to fallen minds through natural law alone. This is why we need to comprehend special revelation as well as natural revelation in framing a sexual ethic.

A case in point is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. In this text, Paul’s understanding of natural law is constrained by Scripture and the gospel. Paul wasn’t the only one with a teleological understanding of the body. The Corinthians had a teleology as well. They observed the sexual complementarity of male and female bodies and construed from that observation that sex was the purpose of the body. Yet they wrongly concluded that frequent trysts with prostitutes were a legitimate way to use the body according to its purpose. They concluded that just as food is made for stomachs, so also male and female bodies are made for sex.

Here we see the limitations of applying reason to natural revelation. The fallen mind doesn’t always make the correct ethical judgments based on observation of nature alone. And that is why teleology and reason are ultimately subject to the witness of Scripture. Paul doesn’t refute the obvious sexual complementarity of male and female bodies. Rather, he quotes from Genesis 2:24 to show that promiscuity isn’t part of God’s design for sex. He also argues on the basis of the gospel that the body isn’t for immorality, but for the Lord Jesus who promises to raise and renew physical bodies. Paul does this by quoting Scripture (Gen. 2:24), and by reasserting the gospel truth that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead so also will he raise up believers to blessedness (1 Cor. 6:14).

You describe marriage as a covenantal, sexual, procreative, heterosexual, monogamous, nonincestuous, gospel-symbolizing union. Does the inclusion of “procreative” as a constitutive category risk invalidating, or at least minimizing, marriages of infertile couples or those incapable of sex?

No. The heterosexual purpose of message is not diminished by the results of the fall—which sometimes means that couples must walk the difficult road of infertility. Infertility is known in the scriptures (e.g., Gen. 11:30; 25:21; 29:31; Judg. 13:2). Still, infertility is never presented as invalidating God’s purposes for the conjugal bond. Perhaps an analogy would be helpful here. The fact that some people are born blind does not invalidate the fact that eyes are created by God for seeing. Blindness is a testimony to the tragic aftermath of living under the curse (Rom. 8:20), not an indication that other people’s eyes are no longer meant to see.

In the name of promoting a high view of marriage some complementarians have at times communicated, even if by implication, a low view of singleness. What is the purpose for gender and sexuality outside of marriage?

Jesus and Paul both commend by example and by teaching the nobility of the single life. It is not a second-class mode of existence. Indeed, it’s the life that the Lord Jesus chose for himself. It’s also the life he sometimes chooses for his disciples as well. This is why Jesus says, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given” (Matt. 19:11). The Lord gives this gift to a select few, and it allows them to leverage their lives for the sake of his kingdom (1 Cor. 7:32). This is a remarkably high calling, and every Christian and every church should recognize it as such.

Singles who have an abiding desire for the joys of conjugal life should pursue marriage. Even though the culture increasingly favors delaying marriage well into the late 20s, Christians who wish to marry should probably consider early marriage as a means to chastity and adulthood. Nevertheless, for as long as God allows a person to remain single, he or she must remain sexually pure. That means abstaining from all sexual activity outside of marriage, including solo sex and the use of pornography. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from fornication” (1 Thess. 4:3).

Scowling at the Angel

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” —Galatians 5:22-23

SunlightWe sat together, just the two of us. The sun would be coming up any minute. We didn’t say much. We couldn’t. We were on the verge of bursting into tears, but neither did. What we did say was mostly of a lighthearted nature.

It was our 18th anniversary.

“In sickness and health,” I joked.

“Yeah, well,” she said, “it’s only fair. You stuck with me through four labors and deliveries. It’s the least I can do.”

A man wearing black scrubs and carrying a clipboard entered the waiting area and barked, “Ramsey. Ramsey.”

Together we stood and made our way to the shouting man who led us to the elevator.

“I’ll be right out here,” my wife said. “I’ll see you just as soon as they’re done.”

I squeezed her hand, gave her a kiss, handed her my wedding ring, and then stepped into the elevator as it closed and carried me up and away.

The man in black said, “If you have any modesty issues, now is the time to get over them.”

He spoke as though I’d done something wrong and was about get my comeuppance. I don’t know why he did this.

He continued, “I’m taking you to the pre-op ward. The first thing they’re going to have you do is strip down to nothing.”

What he lacked in bedside manner he made up for in accuracy. A nurse met us at the door and led me to a room filled with beds separated only by curtains. He gave me a hand towel and told me to strip down so he could shave me.

“Um, what?” I asked.

“I need to shave you from your neck to your toes. Standard procedure for open heart surgery,” he said. “I’ll be right here on the other side of the curtain. Go ahead and lie down on the bed when you’re done. You can cover yourself with that towel. Holler at me when you’re ready.”

With no option but to comply, I played my only card: “You’re going to bring me a sedative soon, right?”

He said, “Just as soon as I’m finished your surgical team will pay you a visit and set you up with an IV. They’ll give you something then to help you relax.”

I did as instructed, and after he at last clicked off the electric shaver, my nurse draped a white cotton blanket over me, and then a second one, tucking them in tightly under my legs and sides, as if to say, “Sorry, friend. Here’s a little of that modesty back.”

I hadn’t been that vulnerable since the day I was born.

As I waited I thought about my wife down in the lobby. Never in 18 years of marriage would we have imagined I’d be lying in this bed, not at my age anyway. I thought about how strong she’d been in the weeks leading up to this day, and how she’d carried so much with such grace. Though we’d kept the mood light in the waiting room, I knew, in a way only a husband of two decades could, a bit of the sorrow she now sat with. And I loved her for it.

The Puritans used to say you got married in order to fall in love. They reasoned: How can a man and woman possibly hope to know the wonder, joy, and depth of real love—the kind where you are truly known and truly loved at the same time—without making those two lives into one thing?

The qualities I love most about my wife were largely unknown to me when we married. We’d known each other for a few years, but we both brought oceans of deep, unexplored waters to that altar. We promised to stay together in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, but neither of us knew what those words would cost or where they would take us. How could we? We were kids. Yet there we stood, she in her shimmering ivory and me in my rented tux—the angel and the penguin—promising, like a couple of immortals, to sound those depths together until one of us died.

But I couldn’t have known how she would pour her love into our kids; how she would build them up and guard their hearts. When we moved them away from their friends in one city to a place they didn’t know, I watched this woman join them in a sorrow they were too young to name. I watched her grieve their heartache and risk new relationships to help them begin again.

I couldn’t have known how she would lay down her life to support God’s call on mine, or how she would count that as God’s will for her as well without complaint, resentment, or doubt.

I couldn’t know how she would fight for me to return to her when I’d withdraw into myself out of fear, or how she would comfort me with gracious words when I felt lost and alone, or how she would confront me with a loving rebuke when I needed someone to break anxiety’s spell.

I couldn’t have known the home she would make for us—practical, happy, and beautiful. Or how she would remember her friends’ joys and sorrows throughout the years—always ready to celebrate with real joy or to mourn with genuine tearful sadness.

Now here we were, 18 years later. With four cities, four kids, and probably four dozen W-2’s between us, I marveled at the woman in the lobby making good yet again on her promise to stay. The penguin had no idea.

Soon my surgical team began their rounds. No fewer than a dozen people passed through my curtain, each armed with a medical device or a clipboard full of forms. After they’d asked every question they needed to hear me answer—Did I know where I was? Did I know why I was there? Did I know my name and birthday?—they injected a warm liquid into my IV that left me awake but set me free from all of life’s carking cares.

And so I went off to surgery in much the same way I came into this world—completely vulnerable and swaddled in warm hospital cotton, watching the tiles overhead pass as they delivered me from my familiar warmth into the cold air and bright lights of the operating room.

The last thought to pass through my mind before they took me completely under was that I would either wake up in recovery or in glory.

I first opened my eyes to a blurry figure in white standing at the foot of my bed, shining so bright I had to squint. Was this the angel dressed in lightning who sat atop Jesus’ empty tomb that first Easter morning, coming to tell me I’d risen to newness of life (Matt. 28:1-10)? Or had Abraham’s visitor by the Oaks of Mamre appeared to tell me to hang on just a little longer (Gen. 18:1-15)? As I adjusted to the light I realized the vision in white was my wife in the sweater she put on that morning. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen—my friend, my heart, my love. Her glory flooded into the fog of my waking and I came to.

My nurses were determined to get me up on my feet as soon as possible, but due to the stroke I suffered during surgery, I had lost the use of my left foot. I couldn’t stand. This detail was irrelevant to my caretakers. They hoisted me and my lifeless leg to the standing position and forced me to walk by pushing and pulling one leg in front of the other. Eight feet from the bed to the window and eight feet back.

Every step was an exercise in defeat. I couldn’t do it. I sulked. When I was young I used to walk wherever I wanted. But now I stretched out my hands and others carried me where I did not want to go (John 21:18). I tried to object, but the stroke had also shut down a significant part of my ability to speak, so I couldn’t express my frustration. As they carried me across the room and back, my wife stayed where I could see her, encouraging me. She said she was proud of me. She told me she believed I could do this and that she loved me.

I lifted my eyes to the vision in white—the wife of my youth—and focused all my confusion, pleading, anger, and frustration into a single venomous glare that said to her, “You leave me the hell alone.”

Anesthesia is a strange monster. Anyone who has been through something even as simple as having their wisdom teeth removed has likely provided at least a few minutes of entertainment for their loved ones. It’s one of those rare times when a man gets a free pass for whatever comes out of his mouth. But it’s also true that traumatic situations don’t create a person’s character so much as they expose what’s already there. Silence a man’s inner dialog and take away the filter through which he runs what he chooses to say and what he keeps inside, and what comes out of him will likely fall closer to the truth than to fiction. If this is true, then it is in me to belittle kindness and glare at beauty. It is in me to tell the ones who love me most to go away. It is in me to reject the advances of grace. And it is true. I know it is.

I remember the first time I saw my wife. We were freshmen in college, less than a month in. I was sitting in the lounge outside the library when she passed through. My initial reaction was one of disbelief. She was the most beautiful girl I’d seen in my short but attentive life. I had to do a double take just to confirm my eyes weren’t playing a trick on me. Could someone really be that pretty? I resolved to find ways to put myself in her path in the hope that our roads might eventually converge into one.

Over the next four years we danced a dance that led us to this hospital room. She remained so radiant that when I woke from surgery I mistook her for an angel, or at the very least someone draped in the splendor Moses brought down from the mountain to a fearful people (Exod. 34:29-30). But as it went with Moses and the children of Israel, my eyes grew accustomed to her glory and I quickly moved from wonder to a familiarity that bred in me a heavily medicated yet nevertheless contemptible scowl. She took it without a word, dissolving my wrath with the soft answer of a smile (Prov. 15:1). She pulled her chair up next to my bed and lay her head down by my side.

After I’d been home for a couple weeks, I asked her if she ever noticed that I gave her a few dirty looks. I remembered doing this, but never knew if she’d noticed. She told me I glared at her many times those first few days.

“Did it ever get to you?” I asked.

She told me she knew they came out of frustration. I was hurting and medicated, exposed and weak. I couldn’t take myself to the bathroom or pour a drink of water. Often I couldn’t even find the words to ask for help. Like a baby on his back, I made my needs known through tears and protest.

“Still, I’m sorry,” I said. “What did you do when I scowled at you?”

“I cried,” she said. “But never so you could see. I’d step out into the hall or into the bathroom, cry my tears, and pull myself together before coming back.”

“I made you leave?” I said.

“No,” she said. “Most of the time I would wait for you to fall asleep and then I’d scoot my chair up next to the bed so that I could lay my head by your side and cry there.”

I had no idea. All I remembered was that she was the picture of grace—steady and ever-present, deflecting my misdirected frustration with a gentleness that won my heart. Hers was the voice of wisdom; all she spoke were words of kindness (Prov. 31:26). She lavished me with goodness and mercy. She filled the room with love, joy, and peace. She put my ring back on my finger, just as she’d done 18 years before, to say to me, “I still choose you.” Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:23).

There in my brokenness I had so little to give. But grace, she never left. She met me in all my frailty, raw and wrathful, as exposed and defenseless as the day I was born. There she stayed, tending to me with kindness and mercy, weeping both for her sorrow and mine while I slept, in a chair scooted up next to my bed so that she could lay her head by my side because she loved me.

Editors’ note: The last in a five-part series titled “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” this article originally appeared at The Rabbit Room.

Should the Church ‘Get Out of the Marriage Business’?

Christians are frequently tempted to excuse themselves from the kerfuffle over same-sex marriage by insisting that the church should get out of the marriage business altogether. Many suggest that we should separate the conception of marriage into the “sacred” and the “secular.” These evangelicals aren’t questioning the Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality. Some Christians just want to bypass debate and focus on weightier matters within the church’s walls—like preserving the theology of marriage from being corrupted by democratic fiat.

This argument assumes that Christians can maintain and safeguard their own definition of marriage by refusing to impose a particular viewpoint in the public square. Often with good intentions, some Christians wish to privatize marriage into a strictly ecclesial practice, treating it like we would the Lord’s Supper or baptism.

marriage-certificateBut therein lays the problem: The church’s theology on marriage, while certainly ecclesial, isn’t sectarian. Marriage leads one outside the walls of the church and into the public square because marriage, by design, reveals a certain cosmology about our essence as being made male and female. Marriage has an innately public purpose by bringing together the two halves of humanity. If you embrace man as man and woman as woman, you might be on the losing end of a culture war over marriage, but you’ll be on the side of truth when the dust settles about human nature.

One Type of Marriage

The government is not in the business of upholding theological positions or propagating sectarian ethics. The government forbids stealing, for example, not simply because the Decalogue forbids it, but because stealing violates the public trust. Because stealing undermines cooperation and a well-ordered civil society, common belief about the harms of theft leads to outlawing it. Of course, as evangelicals, we believe everything has God as its author, and so we view stealing as breaking God’s commandment. But that is not government’s interest in making theft illegal.

While marriage may be ultimately Christian, it’s not exclusively Christian. Arguments that conflate theological meaning with direct public application ignore this division and treat a theology of marriage as akin to a theology of baptism. How a church administers baptism, however, is an ecclesial ordinance where the church marks out its members. The same cannot be said about marriage. It is entirely permissible for the government to uphold a view of marriage that comports with theological truth, but that is not held or promoted for theological reasons.

When we speak of marriage as only a theological construct, we do a disservice to the institution’s public significance. There aren’t two kinds of marriage—one secular, one sacred. There’s only one marriage with one purpose, regardless of how different religious traditions handle or interpret the institution. Government does not uphold a particular theological interpretation of marriage; it upholds a view of marriage that differing theological and non-theological systems rightly accommodate. That’s why civilizations across human history—some of them irreligious—have acknowledged marriage.

As Christians, we understand that marriage reflects the deepest truths of the gospel. As Christians in America, we also understand that government has an interest in promoting marriage as a social policy apart from any theological backdrop.

Marriage for the Common Good

If marriage policy actually matters for all persons, not just Christians, how should we understand the social purpose of marriage?

Government ensures and facilitates access to the institutions that benefit the common good. As a matter of social policy, we have to ask what marriage is and why marriage is important to the common good. Marriage is a natural and public institution whose purpose—at least in the interest of the state—is to make a man and a woman father and mother to any children their union produces. Government recognizes marriage because this function of the institution benefits the common good. Marriage, for instance, is the greatest weapon against childhood poverty.

While marriage physically unites a man and woman, it also aims to ensure child welfare and protection. We know from numerous studies, which use the best research methodologies, that children do best when raised in a home with a married mom and dad. There simply isn’t a substitute.

None of these arguments is theological in nature or based upon Scripture. Instead, they appeal to our shared moral grammar as Americans. But none of these arguments contradicted Christian truth claims about marriage, either.

When the church declines to speak the truth about marriage, it invites competing and false views to rob marriage’s purpose. Were the church to “get out of the marriage business” as some are tempted to demand, two mistakes will follow. First, the church will allow a false understanding of marriage to dominate the public square. Second, the church will becomes a secularized version of itself. Christians long ago insisted that a culture of no-fault divorce would not affect Christian marriages. But today, we’re all too familiar with the testimonies of scarred Christians who have endured divorce. The reality of divorce within the church bears out this truth: If the church is not holding fast to the truth of marriage, it will bend and accommodate itself to the dominant marriage ideology of the public square.

In truth, if marriage loses, it’s not just Christians who lose but all of society. Society will be deprived of the norms that lead to healthier cultures and sound social policy, of which marriage is the first and most fundamental.

Broken Vows, Broken World

A few years ago I unexpectedly, unwillingly, and at times ungracefully walked through the pain of divorce. And I’m thankful.

Of course, it wasn’t that I wanted my former wife to commit adultery or that I was overjoyed to watch her walk out on me. It wasn’t that I was glad to see my marriage end, either. It’s just that I wouldn’t trade what I now know of God’s grace for anything in the world. Now more than ever, I am convinced God’s goodness is higher and wider than this world’s brokenness.


When the wound was new, Jesus was my only comfort. As I began to heal, God’s Word guided me through the process of grieving and forgiveness. And as I began to move forward with my life, my heavenly Father directed my steps, drawing me closer to him—closer than I’d been before—in a world that now seemed so uncertain. I can attest that God is able to work all things for good and that he is a refuge in times of uncertainty and trouble. God’s goodness in my life has been more extravagant than I could have imagined—as if the truth, beauty, and goodness of heaven were poured into my life from above.

Casualties of the Culture War

Yet during the most difficult season, I experienced what I now refer to as the “murdered puppy phenomenon.” It was like I had lost my dog—like he had dug a hole under the backyard fence and wandered out into the street only to be hit by a passing car. But instead of receiving sympathy and compassion for the loss of my dog, I heard sermons and platitudes from well-meaning people who suspected I’d left the back gate wide open. Mostly, they just wanted to make it clear they were against the murder of innocent pets.

It’s not a perfect analogy, of course. And I wasn’t a perfect husband either. The prophet Isaiah said our righteous acts and best efforts are nothing more than “a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6) or “filthy rags” (NIV). This was true even during my best moments as a husband. Still, the fact remains that I was a faithful husband who tried with his entire imperfect being to honor Jesus in his marriage. Divorce wasn’t something I sought or desired, but it came knocking all the same.

I understand what’s happening, though. We live in a culture that condones and minimizes the damaging effects of puppy murder—er, divorce—while God intends for the marriage covenant to last a lifetime. When I arrive with leash and collar in hand but no puppy, people assume I agree with the culture. But of course, I don’t. In fact, I know better than most just how tragic the shattering of a marriage can be.

Divorce is a third-rail topic, one about which there are a variety of opinions within evangelical circles. Gospel-centered people who love Jesus and his Word can draw markedly different conclusions on the issue based on the same biblical texts. While everyone would agree marriage is a good gift from God that should be upheld—defended from the inside by a husband and wife and protected from the outside by the local church and the broader Christian community—we’re often unsure how to proceed when the brokenness of this world infects a marriage and it succumbs to the disease. Disparaging the existence of the morgue won’t raise the dead, and it certainly won’t bring comfort to those who mourn.

Divorce Is Not Always Sin

Even in writing this article, I realize some may interpret my words as being “soft” on the issues of marriage and divorce. I believe sin is always and necessarily to blame when a marriage ends in divorce. Every time. Without exception. However, divorce itself is not always sin. It can be sinful, of course, but not necessarily so. The problem comes when compassion for those who have experienced divorce gets squeezed out in an attempt to draw easy, clean lines of demarcation in the culture war.

This reaction is, in reality, a cousin of the health-and-wealth gospel—one in which we imagine Jesus has already and completely eradicated the effects of the fall for those who are counted as his bride. For months following my divorce, it felt like I was wearing a scarlet “D” on my chest in church. I imagine it’s somewhat like walking into a prosperity-gospel church with holes in my clothes and a case of the measles. I can’t be counted among the faithful if their theology dictates that faithful living means surviving unscathed.

Jesus will one day return and reverse the fallenness of this world. The effects of sin will be wiped from our hearts along with the tears from our eyes. But that day has not yet come. We still live with the consequences of sin. There is no utopia yet, no unspoiled promised land—not even in the church. Perhaps I needed the reminder more than most, and that’s why God allowed me to walk through the valley I did. But let’s remember we’re not home yet, that we all walk with a limp this side of heaven, and that spurring one another on to holiness is an act of kindness, not a weapon in the culture war.