Millennials and Marriage: a changing landscape

After starting the discussion about Millennials and Marriage with a view of the data, perhaps a good second step would be to consider some primary issues affecting how Millennials are viewing and experiencing marriage.

Driving the conversation about Millennials and marriage are two issues which must be handsrecognized at the beginning of any discussion, especially by older generations:

  • Almost near universality of sexual experience prior to marriage by Millennials in America
  • The explosion of cohabitation among Millennials


These two factors are influencing the understanding and experience of marriage that Millennials will have and are part of any realistic conversation. On the first point, it is reasonable to assert that 90% of Millennials will have sex prior to marriage, whether in a previous relationship or the existing relationship. Christian Millennials have no notable difference than their secular counterparts in this area.  So how does this compare with previous generation? One study has pointed out that premarital sex rates have always been high since the 1920s. In fact, as USAToday reported in 2006 (which is still accurate for historical numbers), the rate of premarital sex has been steadily rising since the post World War II times. Of course this surveys all races. The challenge for Christianity in the later half of the 20th century is that it primarily understands itself as white, middle class, educated Americans. When considering trends in that socio-economic class, the rates look entirely different than other classes and races. One could say the great white myth of 20th century America has tainted our understanding of the rest of America.

However, there is a difference rising in Millennials.

Millennials MarriageBetween the generational shifts in behavior the most notable change in categories is the number of sexual partners and how religiously faithful people have increasingly engaged in this behavior. In other words, the lines between those who are not Christians and those who are, and how they approach issues of sex and sexuality has disappeared. For Millennials, first time experiences of premarital sex are only delayed by religious adherence. There still is a movement towards sexual purity and abstinence among Millennials, but is given lip service and not validated by actual actions.

The heightened, and openness, about promiscuity among Millennials has led to the second factor that is changing the landscape of Millennials and marriage: cohabitation.

Since the 1950s, cohabitation has exploded by 900%. As of now, for Millennials, 75% will cohabit ate before they are married. (Of course that number might be soft and it could rise as high as 80%-85%)  There are plenty of reasons for increased cohabitation: lower financial achievement, increased student debts, social acceptability, and even a media saturated environment that promotes this lifestyle. It is likely a reasonable statement to point out that cohabitation is here to stay socially.

There are certainly drawbacks to cohabitation. I’ve listed these in the previous post and will simply refer you there. Many pastors and well meaning leaders will cite “studies” that say a cohabitating couple is 50% more likely to divorce than non-cohabitating couples. The challenge here is that too many of these studies reflect data from a time prior to social acceptance of cohabitation. Indeed, it is likely that over the next 5 years the commonality of cohabitation will effectively nullify its effects on divorce rates for Millennials.

What cohabitation does do that is a negative is it: delays marriage, increases the likelihood of childbirths out of wedlock, creates a negative emotional impact on the relationship, has negative developmental impacts on children, increased promiscuity outside the relationship, and other factors.

Along these lines, it is too early to tell at what rate Millennials will divorce and how often. Since the preceding generations, particularly their parents, divorced at a rate unseen in history, they have seen this situation. What does seem to be happening is that Millennials are not only delaying marriage, but also have a significantly lower view of marriage than previous generations. With first-time child births to unmarried mothers in their 20s exceeding 50%, there are many issues to deal with in this entire category.interest in marriage

It is a different conversation to have with Millennials about marriage than the generations before. Particularly in light of the rising post-Christian culture that has arrived, the Church stands at an odd crossroads where it needs to carefully choose its stance and approach.

There are opportunities though, and if we look carefully we can realize them and address them appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll take a some time to talk about what these opportunities are and some ways to initially address them.

Mar 2014



Strange Fire and Demography

I don’t have a lot of thoughts about this conference that haven’t already been said better by others. I do believe a happy middle ground on an assessment is important, because mischaracterizations going both ways are quite overwrought.

As I listened to Dr MacArthur’s podcast, I do appreciate his preaching style for many reasons, there were several installments over the last several months that framed out his approach and thoughts on this conference.

Perhaps the only thing I can contribute at this point is a couple of thoughts about demography and what it looks like to have a global face on theology.

It has been noted by a number of researchers, that the growth of Christianity across the world is being driven by those in second and third world countries and is primarily among Pentecostal congregations. Most specifically, Philip Jenkins has provided some insightful data to support these claims in his book The Next Christendom. This means Christianity across the entire world probably looks very different than what is taught and caught at churches like Dr MacArthur’s church in southern California.

This makes me wonder (as I did on Twitter) about what the demographic cross-section of the Strange Fire Conference would have been. Is the conference representing a global ethnic group, or one slice of the demographic pie? 

Granted, I was not in attendance nor am I aware of any data like this which has been put out. As a result, I cannot speculate as to what happened beyond a few of the pictures of the conference that were posted on social media and news sites.

It would seem that if this kind of conference were to move forward it would be bolstered by a diverse section of believers who were able to engage in compelling conversations and robust debate. For any of us that would visit Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations around our communities, we would find that they are highly integrated ethnically and often have prominent leaders from minority groups. Now this isn’t a strike against white evangelicals (as I am one of those,) but it does give a moment of reflect. If we are truly hoping to develop and represent a global reach in our theological conversations, it might be important to have recognition of the global realities we are facing.

Now, sheer numbers of adherents do not blindly qualify a theology or religious position. Yet if we are honest about what we see in our own churches it should provide us reason to either continue these conversations, or at least get another perspective. No one is helped by aimlessly talking to those who look like us, talk like us, think like us, or live like us. Instead, thorough theological reflection and conversation is deepened when we engage those who are not of our tribe.

As a white evangelical, who holds the “Open but Cautious” view of miraculous gifts, I am challenged by my brothers and sisters in Christ who are from other places in the world and report seeing these things and activities in authentic encounters. My own position has moved, because of robust conversation with friends while at college, from a cessationist position to this current one. The primary expression of these miraculous gifts, in my theological beliefs, is for the burgeoning church in communities and countries where the Gospel is not readily accessible. Having been around several experiences where these gifts were both forced and unbiblically practiced, I am challenged to think there is open license to experience all the giftings of the New Testament times in all churches today. These giftings seem, at least in my own theological and biblical research, primarily spontaneous and not planned or organized.

However, I could have stayed in my cessationist position to this day, but the kind encouragement of friends who were different than myself pushed me to reconsider and actually research that position. 

So my only though concerning Dr. MacArthur’s conference would be, are the organizers and attenders willing to engage others who differ in their perspective and have authentic dialogue. I do disagree with the harsh assessment of our brothers and sisters in Christ given by several speakers. We need not see fellow Christians as our enemies, but should see them as friends even if we disagree over theological issues. Likewise, the unfair categorization of all Pentecostals and Charismatics by extreme examples is a straw man that aids no appropriate reflection.

There are plenty of issues within these movements. Each of these excesses can be, and should be responded to and correction made. Of course this will never be accomplished if you begin the conversation with open disregard to their salvation.

A global theology for a global church necessitates a global audience.

Yes, I am worried about the continued colonialization of theology. Convinced tribes of any stripe will only rediscover their own beliefs. If there is any movement to be made in our conversations it must begin by seeing the realities that different people might practice differently but are still received legitimately.

So, what did you think of the conference and its global face? Can an evangelical audience from southern California appropriately engage a global theology in this way? What demographics do you see in the global spread of Christianity? How am I wrong?


Evangelical Views of Inspiration

With the recent hullabaloo over a three minute clip of a twenty minute presentation by a noted evangelical pastor, perhaps it is timely to think about what is an isn’t an evangelical view of Scripture.

The truth is that the most contentious issue in defining evangelicals doesn’t have to do with worship style, Christology, or any number of important theological topics. To get evangelicals all hot and bothered just bring up their book: the Bible.

Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe it is inspired and authoritative.

This has been one of the more agreed upon positions within evangelicalism historically.1 There are many points to this discussion, but the one which might be worth camping out on concerns the inspiration of the biblical text. Inspiration refers to the supernatural process whereby the author(s) of Scripture were moved to compose the texts of the books which make up the canon of Scripture.

One of the statements I’ve made in the past, and continue to hold to, is that there is not a consensus view of inspiration of Scripture among evangelicals.

To get into this discussion, let’s look at a chart detailing some views of inspiration in all theological conversations:

The six views represented here have unique meanings:2

  • Intuition – the authors have a proclivity to grasping divine action but there is little no influence from an external force in the process of writing the words of Scripture. Christian Scripture is no different from other religious writings. (Bultmann, Tillich)
  • Illumination – the Holy Spirit is involved in the process of inscripturation, but only existentially and there is no communication of information to the authors. (Bruggemann, Kaufmann)
  • Dynamic – the emphasis here is on the inspiration of the authors more than the words they actually penned. The Holy Spirit inspires the authors in guiding their thoughts, focus, and concepts while allowing the personality and cultural context of the authors to be evident. (Berkouwer, Strong, Mullins)
  • Verbal plenary – as the Holy Spirit inspires the authors it moves from the concepts anddirectly to every word that is written in the Bible. The human element is not overridden, aspects of the authors’ personalities and context still are evident, but they are divinely sanctioned elements. (Warfield, Grudem, Henry)
  • Dictation – as the authors of Scripture sat to write the Holy Spirit filled them and removed all traces of personality and context and the authors became the stenographers of God’s revelation. (Rice, Dodd)
  • Multimethodological approach – this is the idea that different texts of Scripture are inspired differently, but that all of Scripture is equally inspired. Here various approaches listed above are evident in different books of the Bible. (Goldingay, Marshall)3

I have not added one or two views (the neo-orthodox and Roman Catholic views for a host of reasons4 ) but in these which are listed above, you can easily see the spectrum of theologies they represent. Several of these views are clearly outside the realm of evangelicalism. Both intuition and illumination develop a text which is bereft of divine sanction, influence, or meaningful authority. In these views the text of Scripture is not separated much from other religious texts (the Qu’ran, Bhagavad Gita, etc.)

Of the remaining three primary views (I’m going to remove multimethodological for now) it is possible for an evangelical to embrace any of these three.5

It is most easily noted that the verbal plenary view established a large middle ground for evangelicals. This has been the default view since the evangelical emergence following World War II. However, because of the influence of fundamentalism6 dictation theory has remained part of evangelical views of inspiration. In that same way the dynamic view, often called the dynamic theory, of inspiration has been an effective leftward boundary for the view among evangelicals. Through the influence of several theologians and those evangelicals who are less than convinced of inerrancy, preferring infallibility, the dynamic view has maintained in evangelicalism.

Perhaps the larger challenge here is in that watchword for many evangelicals: inerrancy. When we consider the history of this  word in evangelicalism we are reminded that it has, for many, become a kind of “Maginot-line” in the fight for biblical authority and theological conservatism.7 Some authors have suggested that anyone who does not affirm inerrancy is not an evangelical.8 Others have pointed out the challenge of establishing this kind of litmus test for the category.9

If one takes the three categories for inspiration and evaluates how they influence the doctrines of inerrancy and authority, you find there are acceptable limits in these three categories. You can affirm inerrancy while holding one of these three categories of inspiration.10

So why the attempt to confine the evangelical view to verbal plenary inspiration?

Well, perhaps it is because of the theological traditions that one finds themselves within. Though many conservative evangelicals ultimately must appeal to the concept of “mystery” to explain their view of inspiration, that same appeal by other segments of evangelicalism is called out by those same individuals. The reality is, historically, that while verbal plenary inspiration has held the wide middle ground in evangelicalism, there have been others who make legitimate claims for their positions.

One of truths that we must recognize in this discussion is that if we do accept some aspect of mystery in our definition of inspiration. (Does anyone really want to claim they absolutely know how inspiration works? Well other than a dictation theorist?) We must default to the central question: where does it leave your view of biblical authority? Is the Bible authoritative in your position?

Evangelicals have a wonderful tradition of upholding an authoritative and divinely inspired text. Part of this is because the divine inspiration gives validation to the authority. However, the evangelical view takes the Bible seriously and applies a rich historic tradition that is, in fact, Scripture’s own view of itself.  As George Eldon Ladd has said, “Furthermore, the evangelical accepts the Bible’s view of itself as the inspired, normative, authoritative Word of God (I Tim. 3: 16; II Pet. 1:21).”

Our view of inspiration should leave us with a text that is divinely inspired and part of a process whereby the Holy Spirit uniquely and directly influenced the authors of Scripture to produce a series of texts that accurately tells the story of God’s redemptive plan across the actual history of mankind from creation to consummation at the end of the age.

If your view of inspiration removes the Holy Spirit from uniquely and directly inspiring the authors, you simply do not have an evangelical (and I might say biblical) view of inspiration.

Inspiration should leave us with a Bible that is clearly from God and an act of His providence.

  1. 1 See Mark Noll’s essay, “Evangelicals and the Study in the Bible” in Evangelicalism and Modern America ed. George Marsden pgs 103-121 

  2. 2. I’ve drawn from two primary sources, Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology and Steve Lemke’s chapter “The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture” in Biblical Hermeneutics 2nd Edition edited by Corley, Lemke, and Lovejoy. As a side note, both texts were written by professors at Southern Baptist seminaries. 

  3. 3. Each of these listed individuals next to a view is, to the best of research, appropriately noted. Please let me know if you think otherwise. 

  4. 4. Here is a pretty comprehensive list presented a well researched post from James Sawyer

  5. 5. Also, there are some wonderful historical treatments on views of inspiration. I’d particularly point out David Dockery and William Evan’s respective pieces. 

  6. 6. Particularly from the early set of volumes called The Fundamentals, in which there is featured James M Gray’s essay on inspiration

  7. 7.  Many times in the history of evangelicalism the greatest battles have been over this text, how to understand, and the theology around it. FF Bruce once referred to this issue as “The Maginot-line mentality where the doctrine of Scripture is concerned.” Quoted by Robert Johnston in Evangelicals at an Impasse 160, n5 

  8. 8. See Harold Lindsell Battle for the Bible, 1976 

  9. 9. Specifically Bernard Ramm After Fundamentalism. One additional, I am a happy member of the Evangelical Theological Society and sign my statement affirming my belief in biblical inerrancy every year. 

  10. 10. One test would be to take the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and consider articles VI through X as it relates to this conversation and these categories.