Defending Marriage in our Contemporary Culture

Greg Strand – April 30, 2013 4 Comments

In yesterday’s post I included Peter Leithart’s assessment of our Christian defense of marriage using the Bible. As he pondered that further, he had some additional thoughts: “The World Can’t Hear Us on Marriage.”

Of this earlier post Leithart writes,

I pointed out that opposition to gay marriage faces a steep uphill struggle. Virtually all the cultural and political momentum is in the other direction. Arguments against gay marriage are theologically fraught, and Christians and Jews who try to mount biblically or theologically based arguments will find themselves ignored or denounced by secular gatekeepers precisely because they offer biblically and theologically based arguments. I concluded that “it will take nothing short of a cultural revolution for biblical arguments to be heard, much less to become persuasive.”

Some have found my diagnosis too gloomy, or worse, cowardly.

Leithart strongly affirms the biblical view of marriage. He is also convinced that the cultural mores have shifted such that most do not affirm a biblical understanding of marriage. This does not mean Christians retreat; it does not mean that Christians ought not to use biblical arguments in defending God’s view of marriage. But his caution is in expecting a sympathetic hearing to this message.

He concludes,

By all means, defend marriage, invoke the weight of tradition, make all the arguments you can invent with all the passion, compassion, and cunning you can muster. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking any of this readily touches the experience or intellectual habits of a majority.

The truth will out, of that I have no doubt. People do, mysteriously, get persuaded. Cultural revolutions happen. No one can defy creation forever. Beauty is the best persuasion, so Christians should above all aspire to form marriages and families that are living parables of the gospel. The Spirit wins. Between the present and that victory of the Spirit, we are in for what may be an extended period of dullness, when truth about sexuality and marriage will fall on deaf ears until the obvious is relearned. It’s not a hopeless place to be, or even a bad place. It puts us in the good company of Isaiah and Jeremiah, of Jesus and Paul.

This is one of the implications/entailments of living in a postChristian day. It does not mean biblical truth changes. But this new day does mean the way in which we communicate that truth and the way in which that truth is heard and responded to and the way the church understands and engages in its ministry changes.

How do you think about and process this?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

4 responses to Defending Marriage in our Contemporary Culture

  1. I tend to agree with Leithart when he says that”Christian should speak the truth without persuasiveness, and that probably God has closed the ears of those on the other side”, however I would add that the truth should be spoken with love and not hate, for it is the Spirit that will convict and and convince and not our flowerly words or debate. God is Love and love conquers all.

    • We are always to speak the truth in love, as our Lord and Savior. Today this is especially a challenge. Truth is considered relative, so it is what I determine it to be. Love is considered tolerance. This means that true love is granting concessions and permissions to whatever one wants to do. This, of course, will simply not do. We speak the truth that is absolute, and we love those with whom we speak. True love means we we speak the truth lovingly. And that truth is absolute, and that love is sacrificial. Like Jesus, as we keep in step with the Spirit we are to be full of grace and truth. Our response is to be “convictional kindness.”

  2. I wonder if one of the things that Dr. Leithart is touching on concerns what James Hunter calls the problem of dissolution. That problem is a breakdown in trust between the word and the world, that is, between our language and the “realities that make up human experience.” Consider this quote from Dr. Hunter (To Change the World, 205):

    “The modern world, by its very nature, questions if not negates the trust that connects human discourse and the ‘reality’ of the world. In its mildest expressions, it questions the adequacy of language to make the world intelligible. In its more aggressive expressions, however, it fosters a doubt that what is said has anything to do with what exists ‘out there.’ Indeed, it is an aggressive form of dissolution that we see most prominently and pervasively today in both intellectual discourse and popular culture.”

    Dissolution clearly has an impact on how our culture today talks about marriage and sexuality. Christians need to understand this new challenge in order to be able to communicate what the Scriptures say about these topics. We cannot assume that our understanding of what the word “marriage” corresponds to in the world is a connection being made in the minds of our modern day audience.

    • Bryan, thank you for your response. I appreciate the quote you include from Hunter. I believe Leithart and Hunter are saying something similar. What both address is a manifestation of living in a postmodern and postChristian culture. I often say that as Evangelicals we have known this is true for some time, and have even talked about it for some time. But now, in a way that was not true in the past, we are feeling and experiencing this in a way we have only intellectually acknowledged in the past. This does not call into question the truth of God’s Word and our commitment to it, that it is inspired, inerrant, sufficient and authoritative. But it does have a great deal to do with how we communicate this truth. Let’s remember that this does not mean updating the Word of God. Any time we believe we need to help the Scriptures along so that they can be understand and embraced by the contemporary culture is a move away from the authority of the Scriptures. That we must not do. But standing on that unchanging Word, with our changed and changing culture, we need to stand on that unchanging Word and engage in pre-evangelism before we can engage in evangelism. Paul’s message to the Pisidians in Antioch (Acts 13) is an example of the latter, those who knew the OT Scriptures. Paul’s address to the Athenians (Acts 17) is an example of the former, those who were pagans. In the past we could engage in evangelism because people generally knew the truths of Scripture, even if they did not believe it. Today it is not only not known, when it is communicated it is scorned, mocked and ridiculed. In the midst of this, we continue to be faithful, to keep in step with the Spirit, to communicate God’s truth without apology and with love, and to reaffirm our belief that the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).

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