What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?

A college professor name Abigail Rine has an important article over at the First Things website titled “What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?” She says that in the last several years, she has noticed a change in the evangelical students that she teaches. Whereas students used to be on board with a biblical view on marriage and sexuality, that is no longer the case. She tells what happened when she recently assigned for her students to read “What Is Marriage?” by Robbie George, Ryan Anderson, and Sherif Girgis:

My students hated it, as I suspected they would. They also seemed unable to fully understand the argument. As I tried to explain the reasoning behind the conjugal view of marriage and its attitude toward sex, I received dubious stares in response. I realized, as I listened to the discussion, that the idea of “redefining” marriage was nonsensical to them, because they had never encountered the philosophy behind the conjugal view of marriage. To them, the Christian argument against same-sex marriage is an appeal to the authority of a few disparate Bible verses, and therefore compelling only to those with a literalist hermeneutic. What the article names as a “revisionist” idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem “new” to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.

You should go read the rest of Rine’s article. Her observations here are important because they show that evangelicals lost the marriage argument long before gay marriage was even on anybody’s radar screen. Evangelicals succumbed to an unbiblical view of marriage a generation ago when they let the ubiquity of contraception and no-fault divorce go unchallenged. She is undoubtedly right about this. We have sown to the wind, and we are now reaping the whirlwind with the Millennial generation.

The practical upshot of this for pastors and church leaders is that we need more biblical instruction and formation on these issues, not less. Yes, we need clear instruction about what the Bible says about homosexuality, but that by itself won’t be enough. Our children need to learn what the meaning and purpose of marriage and sexuality are. And this involves not only teaching them the truth, but also providing models of healthy marriages and family life. And we have to show them that God’s design for marriage and family is the best way of life, not just the best theory. In short, we have to be a bona fide counterculture if we are going to win the next generation.


  • Alistair Robertson

    Hi Denny. Would it not be wise to go deeper? Would it not be a stronger foundation to develop and teach biblical understanding of gender that then leads to these other topics? This would undergird the whole gamut of sexual, relational, ecclesiological issues we struggle with today.

    To be clear, I’m not suggesting merely the work of CBMW, but a deeper, richer view that is rooted in why we were made.

    For the record I do appreciate CBMW but I see it as a necessary response to a current moment which stops when the culture’s questions are answered. We need to develop a fully orbed Christian understanding of gender that does not rely on outside challenges for it’s formation (though I recognise historically such challenges have been a catalyst for doctrinal development).

  • buddyglass

    “when they let the ubiquity of contraception and no-fault divorce go unchallenged”

    Meaning what, exactly? That past evangelicals should have fought to criminalize the sale of contraceptives?

    Would you say it’s wrong for Christians to limit the number of children they have without a medical reason to do so? Consider the question to be general and not specifically with respect to methods that are alleged to be abortifacient.

  • Ian Shaw

    Not trying to bag on the man, but evangelicals should place the blame for no-fault divorce on Ronald Reagan. If “we” want to try and maintain any credibility in the public sphere about marriage (when divorce rates among Christians and non-Christians mirror each other), all of us, or specifically people in the evangelical world that have loud voices should offer a mea culpa for that.

    As much as evangelicals/conservatives praise Reagan, no-fault was his baby (pardon the expression).

    • Shaun DuFault

      Though Reagan did sign the bill, it is a bit myopic to center complete blame on him. Was this book not passed by the legislature of California? Did Reagan force the other states to follow suit? Where sad the Christian opposition to this during this period of time?

      Yes, Reagan did help make out a reality. At the same time, he did publicly regret signing this bill later in his life. If we are going to lay blame, we also ought to give him credit for his willingness to admit to this grave mistake.

        • Ian Shaw

          True, I give him props for admitting the problem later in life. He didn’t have to sign the bill though. Just bothers me that it gives so much fodder to the lost in their attempt to further vilify Christianity with more hypocrisy rhetoric.

      • Chris Ryan

        Oh, c’mon Reagan was the biggest hypocrite of all. He played us like a stradivarius. How could he have opposed No Fault divorce as a divorcee himself? We had a chance to choose a true Bible believing, Sunday School teaching Christian and instead we we went with the guy who couldnt even be bothered to go to church. Jerry Falwell said at the time, “we’re not electing a pastor-in-chief”. This is like so many evangelical leaders who also refused to back Huckabee when he first ran.

    • buddyglass

      “when divorce rates among Christians and non-Christians mirror each other’

      For what it’s worth, this is somewhat of a myth. Check out Brad Wright’s research.

    • Chris Ryan

      Yeah that took me by surprise too. There is no Protestant case against contraception. It is a strictly Catholic dogma thing. Trying to create one is reactionary politics: They support gay marriage so we have to oppose contraception. Ummm, not until someone points out that scripture. I havent seen “Thou shall not use contraception” yet.

      • buddyglass

        There are protestants who make that case. They’re pretty fringe. The Duggars are one example. Or anyone in the “Quiverfull” movement, most of whom aren’t Catholic.

        The argument is basically that God declares that children are a blessing and it’s wrong to refuse God’s blessing.

      • Ryan Davidson


        The argument flows from the notion that the telos of sex is procreation. Therefore, engaging in sex without procreative intent is a misuse of it. I’m not sure that I agree with that argument entirely. Even so, I have difficulty squaring I Corinthians 7 with our evangelical tendency to construe marriage as a playground for the free expression of heterosexual desire.

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