Mark Regnerus, a leading Christian sociologist has done extensive research on marriage. In a recent article he observed that among many academics, marriage, “is now considered the ‘M’ word, almost in the same category as other dirty words.” He has found, “the institution of marriage is under severe strain.”
Regnerus warns, “marriage is getting rarer. Fast.” It is declining even among conservative Christians. “Studying the demise of marriage, ” writes Regnerus, “has been live watching a invasive fungus slowly destroy a stately old oak tree. Despite all this bad news, though, there is reason for hope. The oak will not perish. In fact, marriage will increasingly become ‘a Christian thing,’ which means the church will bear increasing responsibility for an institution with an uncertain future.”
What is expected of marriage today has changed profoundly, while what marriage actually offers has not. Men, he gives us a challenge that we should take to heart. “It’s time for the church to re-demonstrate to the world what marriage is. We have on our side a timeless and transcendent motivation for matrimony. The task is not a glamorous one. But it just might work.” The challenge – is our modeling of marriage going to make a difference.
He wonders if the West is not, “living off the fumes of countless sacrifices” of Christian marriages of the past. He sees marriage as being, “a corporeal and spiritual act of mercy…..The West’s successes have been built upon this family social structure.”
After 55 years of marriage and being in the last quarter of our journey, Judy and I can testify to the blessing of our marriage. But it has not always been a “bed of roses.” Marriage is a covenant gift of God. A man and woman are invited into relationship with the triune God of grace. But there is a lot of “death and resurrection” in such a covenant. Russell Moore sees marriage becoming more, “a vehicle of self-actualization” rather than “self-sacrifice”.
I personally praise God for the gift of my wife and the strength I have found through our life together. Her support, encouragement and spiritual counsel for her “ragamuffin” husband has been a continually source of thanksgiving to the Lord for my soulmate. She has been truly “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen. 2:23). In other words, I would not be who I am in the Lord without my “suitable helper” (Gen. 2:20).
Regnerus warns against two trends that we need to avoid in “this hard-but-hopeful space” of modern marriage in which we have all the “raw materials for reviving marriage.”
The first trend is among young Christians having, “a high expectations for matrimony and a low tolerance for sacrifice.” Today younger believers see marriage as a capstone on a successful young adult life, rather then a “foundational hallmark of entry into adulthood.” A capstone puts the finishing on a structure, while a foundation rests on a lot of work. I agree marriage is sacrifice and work. “In the foundational vision, being newly married and poor was common, expected and difficult, but often temporary.”
The second trend is expecting too much of a marriage partner. One psychologist called this the “suffocation model.” Tim Keller has said, “people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.” Fewer people are interesting in participating in demands of marriage. It is more then sharing affection. Regnerus points out that marriage, “still concerns the mutual provision and transfer of resources within a formalized sexual union.” Younger adults shy away from the “specialization and exchange” expected in marriage. Demand too much without giving and there will be disappointment.