This post originally ran April 11, 2016.
I want to argue that the war on marriage has many fronts. And while evangelical Christians have done a decent job in resisting some of the more outlandish attacks (e.g. Obergefell), in other areas we have tended to go along with the secular flow completely. One area where acquiescence is evident is when it comes to the age when young people marry.
We do have a pressing problem. According to The Atlantic, right now the average age for a first marriage is 27 for women, and 29 for men. In 1990, it was 23 for women and 26 for men. In 1960, it was 20 for women and 22 for men. This is a grease fire disaster.
The factors driving all this are largely out in the secular world, but the repercussions are very much being felt in the church. Those factors include the availability of sex apart from marriage, the ubiquity of porn, the hostility of feminism to any useful social role for men, and so on. Under this pressure, a number of thinkers in the church have come up with various accommodations which allow us to register our concern about this or that motive, while going along with the general drift anyway.
So here is my suggestion. I think we ought to agree together than young men ought to be expected to find somebody cute and godly by their 23rd birthday. That should be the baseline social expectation, and we will reluctantly make exceptions on a case-by-case basis as they arise. How about it?
Here are seven reasons for believing this.
1. There is no such thing as gift of singleness. That is not a Bible thing. Paul does teach that there is a gift of celibacy. “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Cor. 7:7).
For someone who is gifted with celibacy, marriage would constitute a distraction (1 Cor. 7:33). But for someone without that gift, the absence of marriage would be the distraction. Burning with passion does have a way of distracting.
If someone is single (who very much wants to be married), that condition is only a gift in the sense that every affliction is a gift. Those who are single involuntarily must still worship the Lord, must still love Him, must still live productive lives in the church, and so on. The one thing they must not do is try to talk themselves into the view that singleness is a positive ideal like sunshine and upland meadows. It is a trial, and nothing is served by pretending it isn’t a trial.
If someone is unmarried and the other sex is a distraction, then we are not talking about the gift of celibacy. And if we are not talking about celibacy, and there is no pending persecution (1 Cor. 7:26), then the young men have a duty to initiate marriage, sooner rather than later. Find out what her name is, and ask her.
2. The temptations of porn do not disqualify men for marriage. Rather they qualify men for marriage. God has a solution for sexual temptation for those not gifted with celibacy. That gift is called sex, bounded and surrounded with covenant vows.
Porn can certainly become a disqualification for marriage, but it doesn’t necessarily start that way. There are two major ways that porn disqualifies. If a man despises women, hates his mother and sisters, and seeks out the kind of porn that specializes in degrading women, then no one should be surprised that marriage will fix nothing. Something else is wrong with him — the issue is not self-control of a biological appetite. The issue is malevolence, and the repentance must occur elsewhere. Here the porn is merely a symptom of a much deeper problem.
But the other way porn can become a disqualifier is as catechesis, and this is far more common. We are talking about many years of catechesis and training. Say a young Christian man gets into porn when he is thirteen. Say he marries when The Atlantic says most men do these days, when he is 29. That is 16 years of sex with the best-looking cartoon twinkies on the planet. They make no demands. They are seen and not heard. They bear no children who get sick in the middle of the night. No grocery bills for a teeming brood. Nothing interferes with the weekends of rock climbing or wind surfing. I can’t imagine worse preparation for living with an actual woman.
In short, for most young Christian men who are vulnerable to pornography, waiting for marriage is going to create a bigger problem than it will solve. We ought not to be like those banks that will only loan you money after you prove to them that you don’t need the loan. How many fathers want a suitor for their daughter who doesn’t really need their daughter? In most cases, postponing marriage until absolute purity without marriage is achieved is a bad idea.
3. Men need help, and they need help as soon as they have assumed the full responsibilities of adulthood. Women were given by God to help men because men needed the help, and that help has to do with their vocation and calling. If a woman is called to be the wife of a doctor, she can step into that calling by being the wife of a med student. God does not say “it is not good for man to be alone after grad school.”
4. Marriage is a wonderful way to deal with false ideas of the self. Who we actually are does not unfold out of us over the years like we were unpacking a suitcase. Who we actually are is who we become in long-term relationships with those appointed to us by God. In other words, I am not the same man that I was when I married Nancy, and she is not the same woman she was. We have become who we are now together, and this is the central way that God does it. Put another way, a large part of me was imported from my relationships.
5. Children take a lot of energy, and children are one of the central reasons for marriage. Why did God make them one? Because He was seeking godly offspring (Mal. 2:15). The work that is involved in this is intense, and those parents who are carefully planning to have their eldest hit kindergarten when they are in their mid-thirties are not, shall we say, “thinking ahead.” Delayed marriage is problematic pacing.
6. If we had an expectation for our young people to marry young, this would help head off unrealistic standards from developing. The longer men and women live apart from one another, the easier it is to get crotchety, or even persnickety. This affects many areas of life, but one of them is the area of evaluating the looks of others as though one were a refined and discriminating connoisseur of feminine pulchritude. But you can’t actually become a real connoisseur by walking briskly through every restaurant in town.
An unmarried person should have high standards for their future spouse when it comes to Christian commitments, basic responsibility, compatible personalities, and sexual attractiveness. But this needs to be balanced against the temptation (which comes very easily to men) of not having any awareness of what league they are actually in. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3).
When standards are adjusted in the direction of God’s reality, this is actually raising the standard, not lowering it. Getting your head out your daydreams is a salutary activity. If you actually met a woman who fulfilled all your exacting daydream standards, what on earth makes you think she would have anything to do with you?
7. Feminism is a toxic mess. The best and only complete answer to it is for men to find a woman early, love her completely, feed and educate her children, and bring her as much happiness as you are capable of bringing someone. As one Puritan put it, and man should first choose his love, and then love his choice. Young Christian men should marry in such a way as to make celebration of a 75th anniversary a much greater likelihood.
In the words of the great saints of yore, it is time to shake a leg. Get a move on. We are burning daylight.