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DVD series available:

What's the Big Deal about Marriage?
Reclaiming God's Plan for Men and Women

Marriage is up for grabs in our society today. Is it just any "two people who love each other," or is there something more to marriage than just feelings of affection? Why just "two people"? Television shows now cast a favorable light on polygamy, and a number of states have redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. Some people are asking, "Why bother with marriage at all? Isn't it just a piece of paper? Maybe marriage is obsolete." 

Such doubts arise even within the church. And they are having an effect on behavior. Fewer people marry today. More people divorce. Increasing numbers of people move through a series of relationships without ever forming a lasting marriage. How should the church respond to these trends?

Alan Wisdom takes us back to the basic question. "What does God our Creator mean for marriage to be? In this seminar Wisdom reclaims the rich biblical heritage of teaching on marriage.

Outline of Sessions

Back to Creation: Matthew 19, Genesis 1-2
From Old Testament to New Testament: Marriage in Law and Gospel
Church Changes the Culture
Where Marriage Stands in Our Culture Today
What Can the Church Say about Marriage?
What Can the Church Do about Marriage?

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Theology Matters,
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Fredericksburg, VA 22402

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What is Marriage?  by Sherif Girgis, Robert P. George, Ryan T. Anderson.  Girgis is a Ph.D. candidate in Philosophy at Princeton University.  George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University.  Anderson is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.  This article is adapted with permission from the Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol 34, No. 1, Winter 2010, pp 247-287.     May/Jun 2012 Theology Matters,   Footnotes to Article

The authors posit two competing views of marriage: the conjugal view and the revisionist view.  In the conjugal view, "marriage is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other of the type that is naturally (inherently) fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.  The spouses seal (consummate) and renew their union by conjugal acts--acts that constitute the behavioral part of the process of reproduction, thus uniting them as a reproductive unit. Marriage is valuable in itself, but its inherent orientation to the bearing and rearing of children contributes to its distinctive structure, including norms of monogamy and fidelity. This link to the welfare of children also helps explain why marriage is important to the common good and why the state should recognize and regulate it."

In the revisionist view, "Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life.  It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable.  The state should recognize and regulate marriage because it has an interest in stable romantic partnerships and in the concrete needs of spouses and any children they may choose to rear."

The authors write their critique of the two positions from a secular perspective.  They don't appeal to biblical authority.   Instead they observe, "marriage is the type of social practice whose basic contours can be discerned by our common human reason, whatever our religious background."

With a lawyer's exacting arguments and clear thinking the authors address topics of:

  • Equality, Justice, and the Heart of the Debate;
  • Real Marriage Is--and Is Only--the Union of Husband and Wife;
  • How Would Gay Civil Marriage Affect You Or Your Marriage;
  • If Not Same-sex Couples, Why Infertile Ones?
  • Challenges for Revisionists
  • Why Not Spread Traditional Norms to the Gay Community?
  • What About A Partner's Concrete Needs?
  • Doesn't the Conjugal Conception of Marriage Sacrifice Some People's Fulfillment for Others?
  • Isn't It Only Natural?
  • Doesn't Traditional Marriage Law Impose Controversial Moral and Religious Views on Everyone?

May/Jun 2012 Theology Matters,   Footnotes to Article



Two Views of Marriage by Alan F. H. Wisdom is a study guide helping readers compare the Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage with the Minority Report of the Committee. Both reports were received by the 2010 General Assembly and sent to the presbyteries to study.  The committee report represents a liberal, progressive view of marriage while the Minority Report of the committee presents a biblical view of marriage.  Mar/Apr 2012 Theology Matters,

The progressive committee report presents “biblical passages mainly as reflecting the opinions of the human authors or the prevailing practices of their cultures,” writes Wisdom.  The minority report rests on the foundation of Scripture saying, “In matters of faith and practice, the church turns to Scripture to hear the testimony of the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow the Word of God incarnate in our changing world.”    This article is an important guide to use in understanding the two positions that are being argued in the church.

Wisdom contrasts the two reports on:

  1. View of Scripture
  2. God’s Design in Creation?
  3. Does Marriage Have Anything to Do with Sex? 
  4. Is Marriage the Norm for Sexual Expression?
  5. What the Confessions Say About Marriage
  6. The Book of Order on Marriage
  7. Definition or Description?
  8. Authoritative Interpretations on Marriage
  9. Is Conscience Bound by Biblical and Confessional Teachings?
  10. Two Equal Positions?
  11. Local Option on Marriage?
  12. Mutual Forbearance or Mutual Accountability?
  13. Marriage As Pastoral Care?
  14. Is It Discrimination to Say Some Relationship Aren’t Marriage?
  15. Must the Church Conform Its Doctrine to State Law and Social Trends?
  16. What Would It Take to Change the Church’s Definition of Marriage?

Each section guides readers through a comparison of the two reports and then has discussion questions for further reflection.   Mar/Apr 2012 Theology Matters, p. 1

Marriage on Trial by Glenn T. Stanton and Bill Maier.  The article is an excerpt from their book by the same name.  Presbyterians Stanton and Maier use question and answer format to respond to the most frequently heard arguments of same-sex marriage advocates. This quick reference format will help General Assembly commissioners and other church leaders respond biblically to these often-heard arguments of same-sex marriage advocates.  Mar/Apr 2012 Theology Matters,, p. 8

Is Marriage Worth Defending?  Part II   by Alan F. H. Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).  The full paper is available on the IRD web site  Reprinted with permission from IRD.
"The modern era has profoundly altered marital patterns.  Several trends have shifted the emphasis within marriage and the relationships between the married couple and the rest of society.  In most cases, these trends have tended to weaken the marital bond."   Wisdom then explores two of these trends:  locating "the substance of marriage within the subjective feelings of the spouses...two people who love each other"  and seeing marriage merely as a legal contract where individuals "set the terms of their contract however they please."  Wisdom looks at how these two trends have weakened marriage so that today 39.7 percent of children are born out of wedlock. Divorce and cohabitation have had devastating effects on adults and children. Wisdom offers several options to consider and concludes that strengthening marriage is the church's call so that men and women might experience God's blessing and society might prosper.  Mar/Apr 2010 Theology Matters, p. 1.   Footnotes;   Figure1Figure 2Figure 3Figure 4Figure 5

Is Marriage Worth Defending?  Part 1   by Alan Wisdom, vice president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD).  The full paper is available on the IRD web site:  Reprinted with permission from IRD.
Marriage is under assault today. Alan Wisdom describes the state of marriage: "By many measures, marriage has weakened in our society over the past two generations. Fewer people marry. More people divorce. Increasing numbers of people move through a series of sexual relationships without ever forming a lasting marriage…Now pro-homosexuality advocates are seeking to radically redefine the institution, reducing it to a relationship between any ‘two people who love each other.’"

Wisdom continues: "The Bible teaches that God brought together man and woman in marriage for the good of all human kind. The love between husband and wife is a temporal image of the eternal bond between God and his unites the two sexes as ‘one flesh,’ provides the appropriate setting for childbearing and childrearing, offers a legitimate channel for sexual desire, and fosters faithful lifelong companionship between husband and wife."
Wisdom covers topics: Marriage in the Bible, The Church Changes the Culture, What Scripture does not say in Galatians 3:28, Arguments from Nature, and What's the Harm in Same-Sex Marriage.  The second part of this article will appear in the Mar/Apr issue of Theology Matters.   Jan/Feb 2010 Theology Matters p. 1
Marriage and the Public Good: Ten Principles   Endnotes   Signatories    This article is reprinted with permission from the Witherspoon Institute, 2006.  It is the result of scholarly discussions that began in December, 2004 at a meeting in Princeton, NJ sponsored by the Witherspoon Institute.  This conference brought together scholars from History, Economics, Psychiatry, Law, Sociology and Philosophy to share with each other the findings of their research on why marriage, understood as a permanent union of husband and wife, is in the public interest.  A consensus developed for sharing the fruit of their collaboration more widely.  The Witherspoon Institute is an independent research center located in Princeton, NJ.  The web site for Witherspoon Institute is    May/Jun 2009 Theology Matters, p. 1

The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience originally drafted by Charles Colson, Founder of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview; Robert George, Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University, and Timothy George, Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University.  Others are now invited to sign the statement which seeks to uphold the sanctity of human life, marriage as a union of husband and wife, and freedom of conscience.   Particularly helpful are the on-line resource links to other groups supporting life, marriage and freedom of conscience.  

The Declaration states in part, "Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non-believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image."    Manhattan Declaration

Five Rings & A Wedding: Marriage & The Concentric Communities That Surround It by Allan Carlson
Marriage is not a private act.  The couple's vows are made not only between themselves, but "with concentric rings of others, all of whom have a vested interest in the making and preservation of their marriage." These include: the parents and their unborn, the extended family, the neighborhood, the community of faith, and the nation.  Mar/Apr 2005 Theology Matters  p. 1

The Holy Bond of Marriage, a sermon preached by John Mabray    
Scripture text Genesis 2:18-25    Mar/Apr 2005 Theology Matters p. 7

A Christian Vision of Marriage, a sermon preached by Lee Wyatt      
Scripture text Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 28:16-20  Mar/Apr 2005 Theology Matters  p. 10

Clothe Yourselves with Love, a sermon preached by Ralph Hawkins    
Scripture text Colossians 3:12-17  Mar/Apr 2005 Theology Matters  p. 13

The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America 2003 by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe.
This article is reprinted from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers, the State University of NJ.  The Marriage Project is co-directed by Popenoe and Whitehead.  "The Project's mission is to provide research and analysis on the state of marriage in America and to educate the public on the social, economic, and cultural conditions affecting marital success and well-being."  Mar/Apr 2004 Theology Matters,  p.1

What Marriage Is For by Maggie Gallagher
Gallagher argues that the purpose of marriage is "that children need mothers and father, that societies need babies, and that adults have an obligation to shape their sexual behavior so as to give their children stable families in which to grow up."  Contrast that historic view with the highest court in Ontario Canada that ordered gay marriage on June 10, 2003 saying, "marriage is without dispute, one of the most significant forms of personal relationships...Through the institution of marriage, individuals can publicly express their love and commitment to each other. Through this institution, society publicly recognizes expressions of love and commitment between individuals, granting them respect and legitimacy as a couple."  Mar/Apr 2004 Theology Matters, p. 8

I Do? by David Blankenhorn
Blankenhorn argues against couples writing their own vows because this leads the couple to assume that they are creating the institution of marriage tailored to meet their needs and feelings.  Their personalized vows convey that marriage is "a loving relationship of undetermined duration created of the couple, by the couple, and for the couple.  The couple should be helped to understand that they are entering an institution ordained by God, not one that they personally craft.  Mar/Apr 2004 Theology Matters, p. 12

The Nordic Track by Gene Edward Veith
Veith highlights Stanley Kurtz's work on marriage in Scandinavia where not only marriage is disappearing, but consequently the birth rate is plummeting.  Mar/Apr 2004 Theology Matters, p. 14

A Crushing Disappointment: The Proposed PCUSA Policy Statement on 'Living Faithfully with Families in Transition" by Alan Wisdom
Wisdom critiques the "Families in Transition" paper that was sent to the 2003 General Assembly.  It was approved by the Assembly.  Mar/Apr 2003 Theology Matters p. 12

Let Marriage Be Held in Honor by Alan F. H. Wisdom
Wisdom responds to the cultural question of how would same-gender marriage harm heterosexual marriage.  He examines the biblical, confessional, and historic reasons why the church and state cannot condone same-gender marriage without destroying marriage.  "Ultimately, the choice is between Christian marriage as God's gold standard--or no standard at all."  Mar/Apr 2002 Theology Matters p. 1

New Video Introduces Kids to Same-Sex Couples, by Ed Vitagliano
This reprint from the American Family Association critiques the 1996 video "It's Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School" that is used to orient teachers and "That's a Family?" that is shown directly to children. Mar/Apr 2002 Theology Matters  p. 5

A Critical Review of "Changing Families" a Churchwide Study Document by Christine A. Bruce
Bruce, a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors, critiques the "Changing Families" paper being circulated for comment before being submitted to the 2003 General Assembly.  Mar/Apr 2002 Theology Matters   p. 7

The State of Our Unions by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead
 Popenoe and Whitehead are co-directors of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.   In this 1999 report, they discuss what is happening to Marriage; the marriage relationship; marriage as a right of passage; marriage in the life course; marriage as a social institution; women and marriage; some good news about marriage.   Mar/Apr 2002 Theology Matters   p. 9    Additional information on The Marriage Project at Rutgers University can be found at

Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Unions by Stephen F. Noll, Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA.  Noll writes, "This is an article about marriage, not about homosexuality. ...If these relationships cannot fulfill God's will for marriage, then to place them on an  equal footing is to dishonor marriage."  He looks at: 1) Revising Marriage; Sexuality and the Transformation of Intimacy; Straight Talk about Terms of Endearment; 2) Thinking Biblically about Marriage; the argument from silence; Can Biblical Sexual Norms be Revised?  3) The Natural Design of Marriage: the Purposes of Marriage, The Essential Nature of Marriage; Marriage Under the Power of sin and Death; Homosexuality and the Natural Purposes of Marriage;  4) Marriage and the Law: Same-Sex Marriage and the Traditions of Justice; Liberationism and the Context of Same-Sex Marriage;  5) The Sacred Character of Marriage: Holy Matrimony as a Sign of the Gospel; Marriage as a Means of Grace; Same-Sex Marriage and the Life of the World to Come;  6) Th Unchangeable Glory of Marriage.  May/Jun 2000 Theology Matters p. 1