Blog Wars: Does Marriage Negatively Impact a Man’s Service to God?

The Wintery Knight and The Pugnacious Irishman: sounds like something out of a Monty Python movie.

WK and I agree on most things there are to agree about.  There is one subject, however, that we tend to tangle over: men and marriage.  We’ve had a row or two about it on this blog before, and the other week WK wrote a post titled Does a Man’s Decision to Marry Negatively Impact His Service to God?” where he offered more punditry on the topic.

I consider him a friend and good blogging partner. Again, I’m a big fan of him, and I know his post was more of a rant than anything else. I’ve written rants before, so I’m not going to pretend that everything he writes needs to be written with academic rigor. Still, he made a few ill-advised comments in the post that have itched at me ever since. As I told him when I emailed him a rough draft, he’s a big boy—he can handle the heat.

Let’s get right to it. Quickly out of the gate, WK prepares the female part of his audience by saying, “this post is the meanest thing I have ever written on the blog. Please don’t read it, especially if you are a woman.” I find this a very curious thing to say, especially if you think you have a good point. If what you write is true, why discourage a portion of the audience from reading it? The only reasons I can discern for issuing that kind of warning are a) deep down, you know your case is weak and don’t want to face the flak for it, b) you think your case is solid but don’t want to deal with the ish that it will inevitably suss up, or c) you are trying to subtly suggest something about the character of the people to whom you refer.

Now, Wintery and I have never met, but I read his blog regularly. I recommend reading it, despite our current quibble. I’ve read his blog enough to know that a) or b) are pretty unlikely. WK is supremely confident in the truth of just about everything he writes (not a bad thing, necessarily) and he loves dealing with “blog ish.” He is quick to engage with almost any dissenting male and female commenters. That leaves c). Is he coyly suggesting, to paraphrase Col. Jessep’s one-liner, that women can’t handle the truth?

Perhaps I’m missing more possibilities, and reading between the lines sometimes gets me into trouble, but an insinuation like that about a whole gender deserves a bit more directness. If I’m right about what WK is suggesting, then such passive-aggressiveness is very off-putting and distracting to anyone, male or female, that reads the post, not to mention unfairly condescending to the fairer gender. Of course, he is welcome to correct any misinterpretation that I made of the above warning.

Wintery gets into the Bible a bit to justify his claims, and this part deserves more scrutiny than a rant.

He quotes a number of verses, but fails to take into account both the context of the Bible as a whole and the context of the particular verses. What’s more, he rushes on and states his interpretation like it is plainly obvious to anyone and dismisses any critics with alternate interpretations by saying: “I have seen theologian after theologian explain these verses away, rather than incur the wrath of women in the audience. But it seems to me the verses are pretty clear. Don’t marry. (Note: there are exceptions – I think a marriage to Michele Bachmann would be an ennobling experience).”

Even without going into the particular topic he’s addressing, this is very shoddy work, even for a rant. Let me narrate this comment to you: with a few strokes of the keyboard, he paints those that disagree with him with quite a broad and damning brush–they don’t hold their views for rational reasons. Rather, they hold them because they can’t handle the ire of women. Even if true, he needs to go into much, much more depth offering evidence for his view and critically evaluating the views of his critics before saying something like that. It does not matter if he is merely getting something off his chest: where I come from, them’s fightin’ words, and it’s best not to toss them out there so blithely. A few weeks ago I skewered the bulk of my students in my research class for doing this very thing.

As for his view itself, there were a few things biblically that I think WK missed. For one, he chooses to start in 1 Cor 7 (which he merely quotes and gives a summation of what he thinks it means. There’s virtually no exegesis.). I think it’s better to start at Genesis 1 and 2 and interpret 1 Cor 7 in light of that. Genesis 1 and 2 is more foundational when it comes to God’s vision and calling for the genders and when it comes to God’s vision of the family in the Kingdom economy. The first few chapters of Genesis is the account of creation, afterall, and it therefore sets the pace for the institution of the family and the metaphysics of humanity (including what it means to be a man/woman). I am not saying 1 Cor 7 contradicts Genesis. Scripture is a unified whole, so verses should not be set against one another in competition–but we can gain better insight into the other parts of the Bible if we let Genesis set the pace. Besides, 1 Cor 7 presents Paul’s recommendations for an abnormal time of crisis. This is not the first time he’s used the Bible to support his discouragement of marriage. He’s pretty consistent on this, and I think he should take the points I just offered into account next time.  I know his view is at least somewhat popular, so I know there are dissenters out there, but my points are good ones, I think.

Next, WK misses a very crucial insight: his main point was to suggest that marriage, overall, hinders a man from devoted service to God. That is why he titled the post the way he did. However, if marriage does negatively impact a man’s service to God, then why has God called so many men to marriage? I don’t know the exact stat, but somewhere in the ballpark of 80%-90% of men will marry sometime in their life. Even if we shave off a significant portion from that due to men that aren’t mature enough to marry, it’s still a large percentage. A portion of those who don’t marry still intensely desire to. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say the desire for companionship that most men experience is not due to only cultural conditioning or base, overgrown sexual desire….it is put there by God. It might be distorted by the sin nature (just like everything else is distorted by it) or twisted by environment (our sexual design is especially prone to this), and that doesn’t mean that men will always make the wisest decisions when it comes to marriage (far from it!), but God still has a hand in hard-wiring the desire for female companionship (not just a buddy companionship, but a one-flesh agape love relationship that reflects the relationship of Christ to His Church) in the overwhelming majority of men. Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are designed to fit hand-in-glove with the opposite gender. I say it again: this is a God-thing, and He wouldn’t call so many men to it if it so clearly got in the way of service to Him. Celibacy is a gift that should be honored, but it is a gift for the select few. For the rest of us, God gives the gift—yes, the gift—of marriage.

Yes, Jesus and Paul were single men…but some of the other apostles were not. Also, if marriage was and is such a large obstacle to service to God, then why is it a central requirement to be an elder in 1 Timothy? Even if you take the alternate interpretation–that it is not a requirement–Paul seems to almost take it for granted that the male leaders of the local churches will be married. He doesn’t bemoan their married state at all (“darnit, your marriage will hinder your ministry, but since divorce isn’t an option, here’s how we deal with your situation if you still want to lead in the church”).

Furthermore, the institution of the family is absolutely central in the Kingdom. All throughout Scripture there is a background assumption and cultural reality: that families are constantly forming and operating, and this is a good thing. Sure, you can take a verse or two out of its larger context (exegetically and culturally) and make it look like singlenss is favored, but at the macro level, from what I can tell, in no book of the Bible is a culture of singleness the norm.

Isn’t this all a bit odd, if marriage is such an obstacle to men’s service to God?

Wintery also makes a few points about his experience, but this leaves much to be desired as well. After reading the post, I was left wondering if perhaps he should expand his circle of female acquaintances. Or perhaps he’s being a bit myopic in his assessment of the women he knows. At any rate, the point he takes from one of his friends’ experiences (the one that provides the main thrust of his post) is not the point that very friend draws from said experience!

After I read his post, I thought, “is this true? Is the experience he talked about the experience of the faithful men in my life?” In a few moments, I came up with so many counter examples that my head was spinning.

Greg Koukl: married. Ravi Zacharias: married. Brett Kunkle: married. Doug Geivett: married. Greg Ganssle: married. Gary DeWeese: married. Mike Erre (my pastor, and author of 3 books): married. Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (the Way of the Master guys): married (but not to each other!). JP Moreland, RC Sproul, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Alvin Plantinga, Hugh Hewitt, and the Verum Serum fellas: all married…and that was just off the top of my head. All these men are in full time ministry, and many have Phd’s and operate in intensely intellectual fields.

In addition, my wife and I financially support 6 overseas missionary families (most of which minister in closed countries hostile to the gospel) and 4 college campus missionary families monthly. One other family we know has recently relocated to France to do an apologetics ministry! Yet another family–a young couple in their early 20′s–has just relocated to inner-city Long Beach, CA to plant a church. On top of this, I am friends with a man–who recently married–that leads an evangelistic ministry in downtown Hollywood to drug addicts, homeless, and gang members. His wife supports and helps him in the ministry. For the men in these families, their wives might have had to be convinced (in a select few instances), but the wives are by no means obstacles…they are integral parts in the ministries.

Virtually every single man that I look up to ministry-wise is married with children, and most got married quite young (Koukl, who married at 48, is an exception to this. I’d say he’s hit his stride ministry-wise since his marriage.). None of these men have had to “kiss their ministry goodbye” (WK’s words, not mine) because they got married. It is ok if WK wants to buttress his claim with experience and anecdotes, but what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. A few anecdotes coupled with a half-baked stat pulled out of thin air ( “In my experience, women often–70%–approach Christianity as a subjective experience, not as objective knowledge.”) is not convincing, especially when I’ve got a few more anecdotes suggesting the opposite.

Even in instances where the wife is not gung-ho into the ministry, a man can do a ministry without his wife being 100% “into” it. Take Greg Koukl, for example (I hope I’m not crossing boundaries by saying this). His wife, Steese, is a lovely woman, and she gives great service to God in a myriad of ways. I’ve seen her a few times at events, but by no means does she accompany Greg to even the majority of events he goes to. She respects and supports his ministry, but she’s not nearly into apologetics as much as he is, and it’s ok. Greg Koukl did not marry another Greg Koukl.

The same is true of many of the married Phd men I referenced above, and it’s true in my life in my job. In the time we’ve known each other, my wife has only been to 2 wrestling competitions out of about 30. The sport just doesn’t turn her motor like it does for me. That’s ok, though. I don’t need to “kiss my coaching career” goodbye. She respects my passion and supports me in her own way, and that’s enough. She doesn’t need to be like me for us to have a great marriage and for me to be a great coach.

In some ways, marriage can make a man a better servant of God. How? Because it reveals to a man how self-centered he really is. Sure, other things can do that for a single guy, but marriage does it in a unique and intense way. Like my pastor puts it, “my wife is a 5 ft 3 mirror.”

Commenter Matthew (who commented on WK’s post) puts it best:

For better or worse, marriage is a fantastic honing tool for us as people. I thought I was a decent, rather above average guy before I was married. Now I know I’m a selfish, lazy brute who doesn’t take too kindly to significant commitment and who is very quick to point out others flaws while ignoring his own. And that isn’t because my wife keeps telling me so.

That’s because I see how my actions and reactions affect me wife, as I see how hers affect me.

This is uncomfortable at times and difficult at others, but it is always worthwhile.

That can only help a man in his ministry. Actually, the whole comment is worthwhile, so let me post it in it’s entirety:

First off, regarding strong christian women: I must be very lucky, but most of the women I’ve become friends with in my lifetime have been those who, while not quite “male” in their appreciation of theology and the logic and mental side of Christianity, are far from the “spending more time arranging the tables than picking the speaker” variety you are familiar with.

And it’s not just my Christian female friends either. Women who are concerned about the deeper things in life are more common than I think you’ve experienced. They are just so beaten down with the culture that insists they have no thoughts deeper than their own mascara. They need an environment where others want to know what they think and feel and encourage those deeper pursuits.

Regarding the either/or of marriage or God-following:

It is not true that once you get married you have to please your wife before you please God. Paul says that once you’re married, the way you please God is by pleasing your wife.

You’re taking an “if I can’t have it now it’s not worth having” approach to ministry result.

I’d rather take the “down payment and work long and hard” approach to ministry. I married my wife (down payment) and we’re raising a family now (work long and hard). Eventually I hope to release several strong, mature, driven people into the world to accomplish even more than I could.

The point of marriage, as in the point of any successful business, is to, through the mingling of our individual strengths into one cohesive unit, accomplish more together than we could have apart.

My wife and I don’t participate in every ministry together. I work in the men’s ministry at our church, building a Band of Brothers by assisting in the role of communications coordinator. My wife is a missionary with CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) and at church participates in a ladies bible study. She was a student at Moody Bible Institute studying linguistics with the hope of traveling overseas as a missionary training indigenous peoples in their own language.

What we do apart though, we come back together and share. I’m better able to support our Band of Brothers because I share with her what’s going on in the team and she is able to provide her own ideas and hone mine. She’s able to give her strength to the children in the after-school clubs because she knows I’ll be there when she gets home, ready to hear about her day and give her that support.

Without each other, we’d be struggling alone, without the balance that comes from being so closely intertwined emotionally.

Regarding the men who had an enthusiasm for a particular form of ministry, we can say that their wives were God’s way of telling them that was not His calling for them.

There are not levels of holiness in our work. Going to Egypt as a missionary is no more inherently holy than sitting on my duff in a chair fixing people’s computer problems all day. It is how we work, not where we work, that determines the holiness of our ministry.

Rather than come home and say “Hey honey, pack your bags! We’re going to a third-world country where you’ll be walking into the desert at night to use the restroom and we’ll be around people who want to kill us for our beliefs! Isn’t that exciting!!!” to which he should deservedly get a slap on the face, he should communicate to her this tug on his heart.

By commanding this change of life, he is not honoring or respecting her. He is expecting her to go along with whatever he planned regardless of her own feelings in the matter.

I believe it wouldn’t be out of line to say that if he didn’t feel strongly the need to minister overseas before he was married, this sudden onslaught of such feelings is not necessarily God telling him the way it is to be.

For better or worse, marriage is a fantastic honing tool for us as people. I thought I was a decent, rather above average guy before I was married. Now I know I’m a selfish, lazy brute who doesn’t take too kindly to significant commitment and who is very quick to point out others flaws while ignoring his own. And that isn’t because my wife keeps telling me so.

That’s because I see how my actions and reactions affect me wife, as I see how hers affect me.

This is uncomfortable at times and difficult at others, but it is always worthwhile.

So first, you should probably start looking elsewhere for a wife. Your current selection is not what you need.

Second, you’d probably benefit from being married.

Third, don’t blame the woman for being her own unique person when the husband is showing how very unaware of hers he is.

Fourth, get your big plans together before you marry, and in going about bringing your plans to fruition you may find a fellow laborer who is already headed pretty much the same way as you who makes you such a better person.

Who knows, you might even enjoy the ride.

In his own defense, WK clarifies on his “don’t marry” words in the comments section:

When I say DON’T MARRY, I mean DON’T MARRY unless you’ve made sure that your wife is going to be OK with these plans up front. And I mean DON’T MARRY for any other reason except that this woman is committed to your plan, because if you marry for some other reason, your plan is doomed. She won’t go along with it.

I’m thankful for the clarification, and I agree with it, but that is not how he came off in his original post. Time and again, he belittled women, then followed up with the words “DON’T MARRY” written clear as can be, with the “unless” part as little more than an afterthought.

Here are some examples of his thoughts about women:

  • Many women resent the idea that Christianity might be objectively true, because the truth of Christianity would limit their ability to invent their own version of Christianity based on their intuition
  • Many are certainly not interested in learning about God as he is, and then in shaping their lives to serve him in the most effective ways, regardless of the cost.
  • Many prefer to spend their time reading fiction, like Stephanie Meyer instead of evidential stuff, like Stephen Meyer. Dan Brown stuff is also popular because it allows them to doubt the Bible when the Bible disagrees with their intuitions.
  • So the problem is that the Bible seems to be calling for bold action to evangelize and persuade others, but women seem to be more interested in more subjective, inward-focused activities that make them happy.
  • Once you get married, unless you’re married to Jan Craig, then you can pretty much kiss your ministry good-bye. You have to uphold your marriage first, and God comes second.
  • What many women want, in my experience, is to make you like them so much that they can control you. But if they see that you are resisting and evaluating them critically, they give up and move on to easier prey. Many women have no intention of trying to help you to achieve your vision. You are just a tool in their toolbox for pursuing happiness.

All these are direct quotes from his post. My problem isn’t that there is absolutely no truth to them–we can find hints of the truth here and there, such as the suggestion that women *tend* towards more emotive expressions of faith, and biblically, the desire to dominate her husband is part of the curse for woman–the problem is the belittling tone and little swipes at several places (“Dan Brown stuff is also popular because it allows them to doubt the Bible when it disagrees with their intuitions.” Are you kidding me?!). He did issue a caveat and did clarify later, but the words above simply overwhelm the caveats and clarifications. When you write stuff like that it makes any caveats appear as mere bits to keep guys like me from crying foul. Maybe I should give him more charity, but the clarifications don’t appear genuine; I’m not buying. That’s why I say that the “unless” part of his post seems a mere afterthought.

The whole thrust of the post was to suggest that women in general can be a drag on a man’s service to God. Choosing a good mate and dating with wisdom was not the focus of his post. If the clarification above is what he meant, then he should have chosen his words more carefully.

For the record, I’m not against using experience as evidence for one’s claim…I’m not even against issuing generalizations and rants (I’ve done so on this blog many a time, mostly in regards to men..as I said in one such post, you sometimes just gotta get it off your chest.), as long as they are somewhat accurate. I just think WK’s claims are near-sighted and they amount to mere assertions and hasty generalizations.

Also for the record, I am not suggesting that there are no gender differences in how men and women approach the faith. There is some truth–in my experience–to some of the things WK says. For instance, I have no beef with his suggestion that men choose their mate carefully, and women, in my experience, tend to be more emotive than men. I’ve also run into some men who have been emasculated by feminine influences in their lives. Chew the meat and spit out the bones in his post, if you will–but there are a lot of bones in that there carcass.

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One response to “Blog Wars: Does Marriage Negatively Impact a Man’s Service to God?

  1. I realize that one example doesn’t dismantle the whole theory, but I, as a woman, much prefer to read Lewis, Chesterton, and Zacharias than Stephanie Meyer. In fact I haven’t read any of her books — I’m just not interested. Also, I believe that one of my greatest callings in life is to be a support to my husband’s work/ministry — whoever and whatever that may be (meaning, I’m not married yet, but I believe it’s in my future). I will admit that these may not be widespread characteristics among women, but they are not nonexistent either.

    I grew up in a charismatic church, so I had a lot of “emotion” as part of my church experience. But I can tell you without hesitation, my passion is for TRUTH. I believe God’s word because it is true, not because it makes me feel good (subjectively). There are a lot of things in Christianity that I could wish were different or easier, but I understand that what I think I want and what is true and good might not be the same thing, and that God’s word trumps my superficial desires.

    That said, if so many women have never had any kind of experience with apologetics or seeing Christianity as rational and logical, it’s because our churches (including Sunday School teachers, pastors, and fathers) have failed to teach it at church and at home. It’s a failure of church leaders and parents for not instilling these virtues in our children. I came to love apologetics because a friend of mine in college (a guy) introduced it to me, and I realized what a prize it was. But not many women have that experience.

    If WK disapproves so strongly of marriage because it will hinder a man’s devotion to God, what does he believe a woman’s role in life is? If men don’t marry, obviously that means women won’t be marrying either.

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