The Theology of Marriage
About the Guest
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Curt HamnerCurt Hamner is a pastor and cofounder along with his wife, Rhonda of Between Two Trees (betweentwotrees.org), a marriage ministry designed to resource couples and communities with tools and coaching to pursue God's design for marriage. Together Curt and Rhonda speak at conferences and retreats throughout the US and around the world, with messages grounded in a biblical theology of marriage, recent research and practical tools for couples to nurture...more
John TrentJohn Trent, Ph.D., is President and Founder of StrongFamilies.com, a ministry committed to building strong relationships in these stressful times. Dr. Trent’s main focus includes writing and speaking at retreats, conferences, business settings, churches, and seminars across the country. In addition to building family teams, Dr. Trent regularly speaks to corporate America on teambuilding, recruiting and retaining outstanding employees. He has authored an...more
Curt Hamner and John Trent talk about how God had a specific purpose for Adam and Eve, but since the Fall, marriages have been in trouble. Together they explain that, even during difficulty, marriage is still important.
The Theology of Marriage
Bob: Both our understanding of marriage and our understanding of the gospel are under attack in our culture today. Curt Hamner says the best defense is to make sure that we get marriage and the gospel right.
Curt: Spurgeon made the statement—he said the gospel doesn’t need to be defended. The gospel is like a bulldog. All you have to do is reach down and remove the leash, and the gospel will defend itself.
We think the same thing is true about marriage. If we declare the beauty/the glory of a marriage, as God designed it, the world will be flocking to the doors of the church, will be asking questions of Christians: “How do I get a marriage like that? What is that really about?!”
This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Do you think rightly/biblically about marriage? Is the way you think about marriage being reflected in how you are living it out? We’re going to find that out today with John Trent and Curt Hamner. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I hope you guys brought your scuba gear with you today because we’re—
Dave: —we’re going deep! [Laughter]
Bob: We’re headed to the deep end of the pool.
Before I introduce our guests, let me remind our regular FamilyLife Today listeners we are about to kick off our spring season of FamilyLife® Weekend to Remember®marriage getaways. We’re going to be hosting about five dozen of these getaways in cities all across the country this spring. This is your last opportunity, this week, to sign up for an upcoming getaway and save 50 percent off the registration fee—this offer is good for [this] week.
If you want to take advantage of the savings and have a great getaway as a couple this spring, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; find out when a getaway is coming to a city near where you live or a city you would like to visit this spring. Mark that off on your calendar, plan the getaway, and register this week so you can save 50 percent off the regular registration fee.
Again, the Weekend to Remember is a fun and relaxing time away for couples; it’s refreshing. We’ve heard from so many couples, over the years, how important this weekend has been for their marriage. Take advantage of this special offer; register this week—go to FamilyLifeToday.com—or if you have any questions, call us at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, let me introduce our guests, who are joining us this week. We’ve got Curt Hamner and John Trent joining us again. John, welcome back.
John: Thank you!
Bob: Curt, welcome for the first time.
Curt: Thank you so much.
Bob: Nice to have both you guys here. These two guys have been working—I’m thinking, Curt, you and I sat out in your living room, in Southern California, more than two years ago. You were laying out your vision for—this is not just a book; this is a project that you guys have been working on. Tell us how all of this came to be.
Curt: Yes, it is. The ministry that Rhonda and I have—we spend a lot of time coaching and counseling couples and teaching. Really, the background began during our seminary years, under the leadership of Dr. Howard Hendricks at Dallas Seminary, in a class that he called Christian Home. At the beginning of class, Prof would set us up with developing a theology of marriage, out of Genesis 2:24.
For 40 years, we have practiced and followed that idea of a theology of marriage. We began to look around and realize that was really wanting—not only in the lives of couples—but in churches and even in the pulpit. We realized that an organization that our son-in-law is involved with—ETS, the Evangelical Theological Society—was coming into our neighborhood for their conference. We gathered some people together and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could talk about what a theology of marriage ought to be?”
John: What we began to talk about was, “What if you took a really awesome theologian—and then you took some practitioners/people that are in the trenches with families—what if we got them to talk together about how great marriage is?”
Curt, I was shocked, frankly, when we went to talk to some of these world-class theologians. Most of them had never written, really, on marriage; but they all had wanted to; right? It was amazing who we got to write and how that came about.
Curt: Yes; there was no reason that they should have received a phone call from us or responded to our emails when we inquired; and then, when we did, each of them, beginning with Darrell Bock at the Howard Hendrick’s Center at Dallas Seminary, responded with the idea of: “That’s something that I’ve been wanting to do. That’s something that is needed in the church; it’s something that’s needed in the culture.”
Bob: Anytime you talk to a pastor and ask him: “Pastoral ministry: what are you spending most of your time dealing with?” What he is spending 50 percent or more of his time on is marriage and family issues. He may have gotten one class on that when he was at seminary. Here he is, now, in real life, going, “Where do I get the help I need?”
Dave: I’ll add to this; because I’m doing it still, as a pastor. I’m not just spending time on the practical application side of marriage either; I need theology.
John: Yes! Yes.
Dave: I mean, it’s big, especially now in our culture.
Ann: Why would you guys think those things are really important to include together—the practicality with the theology?
John: I think some of it really comes from the idea that, when we ask a lay person or we ask a pastor, “Do you have a theology of marriage?” and they say, “Yes, I do”; they don’t realize how much their theology has been influenced by the culture and by the thought propositions that are outside of the church.
For us to be able to bring together the theologians—they don’t talk to each other—so the theologians write on: “These are the things that come from philosophy, and from the Scripture, and from theology”; yet, the practical is not part of that. At the same time, the practitioner/the therapist will work on helping somebody really grow their marriage; but it’s not necessarily rooted in Scripture—it’s more psychological; it’s more sociological. To bring the two together—it’s just been brilliant on the part of God to give us this opportunity.
Dave: I know, when I first started reading the book—and I didn’t know the back story from Dallas and Genesis 2:24—but the first several articles were that!
John: Yes; when you look at the Scripture,when the people of Israel are entering into the Promised Land, those first five books—the Pentateuch—are the Orientation Handbook that Moses is preparing for them. He takes them back to remember who they are, as a people—that they are the people of God.
Part of it takes them all the way back to the Garden of Eden, in the beginning of time, and that relationship between Adam and Eve—it’s Genesis 2:24. That kind of brings the transition between Adam and Eve and the rest of history; because from that point, it enters into Genesis 3 and the Fall, and the rest of history of those people.
Again, when you find the New Testament: when Paul begins to talk about marriage, where does he go? When Jesus is questioned about divorce, where does He go?—Genesis 2:24. It really is the watershed; it is the central verse of what God wants us to really understand about His design and purpose for marriage.
Bob: Some of our listeners are going: “I don’t know that I know Genesis 2:24. Sounds like it’s pretty important.” If you’ve been to a wedding, you’ve probably heard it recited; right? What is Genesis 2:24?
Curt: Genesis 2:24, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh; and the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed,”—I like that part. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s pretty simple. We hear it said and it’s kind of like, “You’re telling me you can write chapter after chapter about that verse?”
John: If you think about it, from a theological position, really what it is—is, when you break it down, you realize they were created for a purpose; it’s missional. Part of this book—it kind of falls into several different areas. It starts off with just the foundation—this book on marriage: “Why is it such a big deal?—well, it reflects the very nature of God.”
And then beyond that: “Well, yes; but isn’t it broken?” Well, there’s a whole section—we got several people to write on brokenness; because we see marriage in its imperfect state—but when people understand the majesty, and the encouragement, and the healing, and the hope for marriage—right now, some people are listening and going: “Are you kidding?! Nobody even gets married anymore, and you look at the stats on different areas.”
Curt, one of the things you talk about is how the case—and one of our writers wrote about for marriage—talk about that. It isn’t just the fact that—really, the case for marriage hasn’t been made in a lot of ways for a lot of people.
Curt: It’s really interesting—when we look at marriage as a culture; when you look at marriage as a church—the idea is: “Marriage is in trouble.” We see this from same-sex marriage; we see that in co-habitation; we see divorce; we see the rising out-of-wedlock birth rate.
We begin to panic in that, and we want to think that it has just happened; but it’s been going on for a long time as our culture has broken down. We can go back to the ‘60s in the Sexual Revolution; we can go back to the beginning of no-fault divorce—those are the things that begin to unwind marriage/unwind the stability of the family.
The idea is not that marriage has to be defended; marriage needs to be declared for what God designed it to be. If we can take marriage—and we can lift it up on a pedestal/if we can, like a jewel, put it on that velvet pedestal—it will draw the world to itself.
I love it—I think it was Spurgeon, in the beginning of the 20th century, when the gospel was under fire—and the whole fundamentalist movement. Spurgeon made the statement—he said: “The gospel doesn’t need to be defended. The gospel is like a bulldog. All you have to do is remove the leash, and the gospel will defend itself.”
We think the same thing is true about marriage. It’s not that it will defend itself; but if we declare the beauty/the glory of a marriage as God designed it, the world will be flocking to the doors of the church, will be asking questions of Christians: “How do I get a marriage like that? What is that really about?!”
Ann: As people in this culture are saying: “Why do I need that piece of paper? Why is that so important? Why can’t we just live together? This is fine; we love each other; why is it so important to have that marriage title?” It’s changing; more and more people aren’t getting married, and they are saying it’s not that important. Why is it, and why will that be the beacon?—marriage, the beacon of the future?
Curt: Absolutely, Ann. It’s not about a piece of paper, but it is about commitment. The idea of commitment is not: “How do I feel about you today?” or even about tomorrow; but it is a long-term, life-long promise that you make—a promise that provides the security.
In the book, we reference Robert Sternberg, out of Yale University. He defines love as being three dynamics: the dynamic of passion, commitment, and intimacy. The truth is that a couple cannot move from passion—the things that draw them toward each other—to intimacy and oneness without being naked and unashamed/without living vulnerably with each other and taking risks.
It would be imprudent to live in that kind of nakedness, without a commitment/without the idea of saying: “Listen, no matter what I find out about you, I’m here for you. This is long term; I’m in it with you, and we’re going to do it together.” It’s not about the paper; but the paper declares what is important; that is, the idea that this is a commitment.
John: I’ll jump in there to say, “Here’s the reality of our culture too.” I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, in a single-parent home, a long time ago. In fact, we were the only kids—we went to a big public school, called Kachina Elementary School. Our football team was called the Kachina Dolls. We struck fear in the heart of all the other teams we played: [Laughter] “The dolls are coming!!”
Dave: You’re not kidding?
John: No, no.
Ann: The Dolls?
John: The Kachina Dolls! Anyway, the point is we weren’t very good. [Laughter]
Think about this—we were the only kids in our grade school—not just our class; the entire school—from a divorced home. My wife is a first/second grade teacher. Last year, she had 22 kids in her class; 18 out of the 22 were from single-parent or blended families.
I think part of why people don’t think the piece of paper is a big deal—is they see so much brokenness and so much hurt; we don’t know what health is. I think that is one of the reasons I was so excited about this book—to be able to get people that could, at a depth level, explain: “Okay; why is commitment such a big deal to God? How does it get to lived out? Where did intimacy first begin?”
Then we get people—you know a lot of these people; you’ve had them here on your program; you guys do such a great job all the time, of just declaring, “Lets build these great God-honoring relationships,”—a lot of the practitioners are in this book that can really help you figure out how to live it out. But to take that deeper dive with these theologians and really realize, like Curt is saying, “Man, it’s a diamond.” We just don’t see the diamond very often anymore and so this helps do that.
Dave: It is interesting, if you think—even my experience in the church, growing up in a church with my single mom—I’m a little bit like you, John—I was the only kid in my elementary school without a dad.
Here’s what’s really interesting—the first time I ever heard a theology of marriage from Genesis 2:24 is—guess when and guess where—at a Weekend to Remember, as an engaged couple, two weeks before our wedding. I went there and I’m thinking: “I’ve never heard this in church. I’ve never heard it anywhere; and here I am, at an outside-the-church event; and there it is.” I’m sitting there, going, “This is from the first Book of the Bible?” I didn’t even know that!
Here’s my question: “How does the church now, or the Christian community—how do we bring that? We’ve got your book; how do we bring this into this culture, where marriage, and not getting married, and same-sex marriage is the talk of the day? You can’t go on Twitter®/you can’t go on any social media, any hour, and not see discussions about this topic that you’re writing about. How do we enter into that conversation in a way that makes a positive difference?”
Ann: How do we become the diamond?
John: I’ll throw out one thing and then throw it to Curt. This book, from the very beginning—and I know this is Curt and Rhonda, his wife—this is their heart and their ministry—and everybody that’s involved in this—that it wouldn’t just be one of these: “Okay, lets get a bunch of people that are dinosaurs to write about stuff,” and then it will go up on the shelf.
[Instead], it’s called a continuing conversation. I think what we’ve got to do is give the church, not just permission, but really the challenge to: “Well, let’s step in to all those issues and talk about them.” We hit every one of these things: gender, divorce, commitment. I think part of it is—we’ve got to continue the conversation and, really, get it started in some cases.
Bob: Did you find that the theologians are in lock step on these issues? I mean, if you’re going to get into divorce/if you’re going to get into gender—[Laughter]—even among conservative theologians—there’s divergence on some of these things.
Curt: In fact, that’s been part of the challenge in trying to find: “Who are the ones who can agree enough to be in a book together?”—right? [Laughter] “And who will the publisher allow us to include in that? and “As that continues to grow/as that community continues to grow, who is willing to speak to whom?” because, again, often, the therapist would not be willing to speak to the theologians; the theologians to the therapists; and then the theologians with the theologians, as you said.
It was really interesting for us to have two of our editors that were working with us—one that was from California, the west coast; one was from the southeast—both theologians; both holding to very similar views, but having different perspectives on the same view. The editor on the west coast was looking at what needs to happen to men: “The men need to step up and take leadership and not act like such pansies and not be so soft about everything.” The guy on the east coast/our editor—he’s looking at that; and he says, “Men are not defined by what kind of gun rack, what kind of truck they drive, and whether or not they go to NASCAR; they need to soften up and be more tender.” [Laughter]
We sat in a room like this, with those two guys arguing with each other—trying to bring them back to a place, and saying: “You know what? You’re both right,” and “We need to think through this together.” That’s why the conversation is so important.
Bob: I look at this book and I think to myself: “God designed marriage for our good and His glory. Here’s what is missing today. First of all, we think it’s all about our good. That’s our whole focus: “This has got to be all about my good. If I don’t feel like there’s good in it, then I’ll go find something else that I feel like there’s good in.” But we’ve lost sight of the fact that He designed it for His glory.
For couples to say, “It’s not just about this,”—it’s back to what Gary Thomas said in the subtitle of his book, Sacred Marriage: “The Purpose of Marriage is Not Just Your Happiness but Your Holiness. What if it’s about putting God on display for the whole world?” We have lost sight of that as a fundamental priority of the marriage relationship. Even when it’s hard, even when we’re in conflict, even when there are challenges, we have to ask the question: “How do I reflect the glory of God in this relationship?—because that’s what I’ve been called to do, fundamentally.”
Ann: I don’t think most people have any idea that’s a part of the purpose of marriage. I would agree with Dave; when we sat at that marriage conference, the Weekend to Remember, it was the first time I realized and heard: “Our marriage is a reflection and a mirror of God.” It excited me, like, “Whoa; it’s more than about us and our love for one other; it’s a reflection of who our Father is to the world.” It’s so attractive.
Dave: I’ll throw this in—here’s what theology can do when you get/you understand proper theology. I’ve never, in 40 years of marriage, not had a day that I don’t remember that. I didn’t know it two weeks before I got married; I should have, but I didn’t. Maybe it was taught and I missed it; I don’t think it was really taught.
I heard it that weekend; and I haven’t gone a day without thinking, “This isn’t about my happiness; it never was,”—even though, two weeks before our wedding, that’s all I was thinking about: “I want to be happy,” and “I’m picking her, and she’s going to make me happy,”—and that didn’t happen.
Ann: That didn’t work. [Laughter]
Dave: There better be something bigger than that; right? But that’s why you wrote it. That is so important—the foundation of a doctrine that says: “Here’s the truth that you live out of.” That’s why you wrote; thanks!
John: There’s something so powerful—we have a daughter that lives in Seattle. You all have been to Seattle; right? The first eight times I went to Seattle, it was cloud cover. I’d fly in, and everyone kept saying how pretty it was. I thought, “Yes; right!” And then, all of a sudden, the ninth time I fly in—and the way our hotel was—I walked out of the hotel; and there was Mt. Rainier, popping out of the clouds, and just spectacular.
I think that’s what we are trying to say with this book. There are terms like unity, sexuality—God’s view on it. Man, it’s like, all of a sudden, you realize: “These have been here all the time,”—now there’s been so much smoke blown over/so many clouds—but man, when you realize those mountains aren’t going anywhere—and these principles/these biblical principles. For a group, just to dig into each one of these and realize: “Oh my goodness! There’s so much here.” It really is encouraging; because no matter what goes on in culture—a lot of it is smoke and mirrors—and we get to blow away some of those clouds and really see those mountains.
Bob: I know some of our listeners are thinking, “We just need first aid for our marriage. [Laughter]
Ann: “Tell us what to do.”
Bob: “We’re in triage; so we need a bandage, and we need some pain killers, and whatever else.”
We understand that; but long term, for your marital health, you need to be soaking in the kind of stuff you guys are talking about here; so when you’re out of the ER—and you’ve gotten the help you need, or before you get in to the ER/maybe to avoid being in the ER—get a book like the one Curt and John have helped put together: Marriage: It’s Foundation, Theology, and Mission in a Changing World.
Get a group of other couples and just start going slowly through this book. Slowly, I’m figuring, Dave, this would take you—
Dave: Hey, wait a minute, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: —with you and a group of other couples—
Dave: Oh, definitely!
Bob: —if you were going slow through this, I mean, you could spend—
Ann: —would take a while.
Bob: —six to nine months—
Bob: —a week or every other week—going through a different chapter/a different article and having some really great conversation.
Dave: There’s people that would think: “Oh, it’s going to be boring; it’s going to be dry.” Oh, no! It’s going to be rich. It’s going to take you—like we started the program today: “We’re going in the deep end. You’re not in the kiddie pool anymore; you’re swimming, and you need to.”
Bob: Yes; of course, we’ve got copies of the book, Marriage: It’s Foundation, Theology, and Mission in a Changing World. It’s available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find out more about the book. Order it from us online when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to get a copy of the book: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number. Again, the book is called Marriage: Its Foundation, Theology, and Mission in a Changing World. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
While we’re on the subject of marriage, again, I want to remind you—if you’d like to save 50 percent off the regular registration fee for one of our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, now is the time to contact us to sign up, either online or by phone; and plan to attend a getaway this spring.
I can’t tell you how many people I run into, and we’re talking—they say: “We love FamilyLife. We listen to you guys all the time. We really like the program.” I say, “Have you ever been to one of our getaways?” “Oh, no; we’ve talked about that. We’ve just never been able to do it.”
Make this a priority—you’ve got to decide: “We’re going to do it this year. It’s going to be a hassle. Yes, we’ve got to get somebody to watch the kids; we’ve got to find a weekend.” It’s always a challenge, but it’s so worth it to get the time away together and invest in your marriage. Of course, if you sign up now, you save 50 percent off the regular registration fee; and you’ve got it on the books, so you can start planning for it.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to register or to find out when a getaway is coming to city near where you live or a city you’d like to visit this spring. Or call us if you have any questions or if you would like to register by phone: 1-800- FL-TODAY is our number; it’s 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we going to talk more about our marriages and how they can be the masterpiece that God intends for them to be—the kind of masterpiece that people look at and go, “I want to know more about Jesus, because of how I see Him at work in your marriage.” John and Curt are going to be back with us, again, tomorrow. I hope you will be back with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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