Marriage is in trouble today. Cunningham thinks early marriage is not the problem. In fact, it might be the solution to the problem of staying sexually pure.He believes Satan has convinced people the lie of delaying marriage. Cunningham married at twenty-two. “Unprepared? Yes. Too young? No.” (19)
His book is for young people wanting to marry yet who are being told they are too young to do so. His heart is to “validate young love and provide a framework to make sure you are ready...” (20) Cunningham wants “to challenge you to embrace maturity and adulthood at an early age.” (21)
A major problem with the book, in my view, is that he never explains the process of becoming mature and “adult.” Young people are on their own to become mature.His advice to young women waiting to be asked on a date? In the words of his wife, “Girls need to learn how to appropriately flirt.” (23) (So much for the sovereignty of God and trusting Him.)
Cunningham has strong words for those advocating delayed marriage. “Some are simply misled. But still some others are false teachers.” (31) He says, “And I would go so far as to say that encouraging young people to abstain from marriage falls into the category of demonic doctrine.” (31) (Wow! That's strong. Does Cunningham really think Paul was teaching demonic doctrine when he encouraged single women not to marry in 1 Cor. 7:25,26 and men not to marry in 1 Cor. 7:27?)“Marriage is the greatest tool on earth for maturing us and making each of us like Jesus.” (58) (Sorry, Holy Spirit, and the Word. And wait a minute. I thought back on page 21 he wanted young people to be mature before marriage. In fact, on page 123 Cunningham encourages young people to, by their behavior, prove people wrong who say they're too young. Doesn't that require mature behavior? So which is it – be mature to marry or marriage is the best tool to mature? Am I the only one who thinks this is confusing?)
“The reason I believe you can get married at a young age is because I believe you can accept personal responsibility at any age.” (69) (So, how young? Fourteen? He does admit on page 116, “Determining the right age to marry can be difficult...is a major challenge.”)
He does “not encourage couples to marry in high school.” (87) But, if you want to, “First of all, make sure you grow up and leave your adolescence behind.” (88) Again, no instructions as to how this is done. He says to gals, “Be sure he is ready to grow up and let go of the Xbox...before you marry him.” (147) He gives similar advice to guys. Again, there is no path to get to that place.
He does admit, “If you're not careful, you may jump into marriage with haste.” (84) “Marriage only works with character and commitment.” (84) And, “A secure, maturing faith is the foundation for character.” (90) Again, what this book lacks is explaining to young people how to get the mature faith, the character, the commitment necessary for marriage.
Cunningham gives a glance at 1 Cor. 7:8 (“good for them to stay unmarried”) and answers with a number of Old Testament passages. He never goes through the entire passage, especially verses 23 onward where Paul really argues for devotion to God through staying single. Cunningham says “...the ability to stay single and celibate is for the few who can exercise self-control.” (76) He says if a Christian can exercise that control, “...you are the exception, not the rule.” (76) So, one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. (Gal. 5:22) I guess Cunningham thinks the Holy Spirit's empowerment does not cover sex. Also, I live in a navy community where spouses go out for eight or nine month cruises. We certainly expect them to stay celibate while they are away, don't we? I disagree with Cunningham's weak view of a Christian being empowered by the Holy Spirit to remain celibate.
Cunningham uses Scripture out of context to support his view of marriage. One example is his discussion about work and marriage. He quotes Col. 3:23 to show that Paul advocated “working a job with seemingly no eternal value in order to fulfill an ultimate purpose of extreme eternal significance.” (184) He argues, “If necessary we must be willing to adjust what we do in the working world for the sake of our marriages.” (184) So, it would seem, the “extreme eternal significance” of marriage trumps your job. The only problem is that marriage is not of “extreme eternal significance.” Marriage is significant only for this earthly life. Ravi Zacharias, in Has Christianity Failed You?, reminds his readers, “This amazing gift to experience sexual love is built-in only as a transitory expression.” (Zacharias, 92) He understands that God has established marriage only for this earthly life. (Matt. 22:30; Mk. 12:25; Lk. 20:34,35)
Cunningham makes much of God's description of the man and woman being together as “good.” Zacharias, unlike Cunningham, takes into account the fall of man and what that has done: “But the price of rejecting God's law is that marriage is no longer the beautiful thing it had been intended to be.” (Zacharias, 96) Zacharias also puts marriage in its proper perspective in relation to one's life of devotion to God. He speaks of “...that lesser act of worship which is marriage...” (Zacharias, 97) And let's not forget Exodus 9:15 where people had to abstain from sex for three days in preparation for meeting God. That example shows the place of marriage in comparison to one's relationship with God.
And what of ministry passions? Cunningham says his wife to be, before they got serious, served in an impoverished village on the island of Moloka'i. “I received several letters from her while she was there and knew that her heart was being directed toward missions. Her letters were filled with passion and vision for her life.” (191) So what happened? She married Cunningham. Did they go to the mission field? No. I have a friend who wanted to go into missions but married instead. She still has that desire to be on the mission field – unfulfilled because of marriage.
How about this? “Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, we spent four years and a lot of money on an education that we weren't yet mature enough to choose.” (191) So you weren't mature enough to choose a career (you can change) but you were mature enough to choose a wife (for life)? Am I the only one troubled by this?
College: “College isn't wasted because we are not yet matured. You could argue that college actually plays a part in the maturing process.” (191) So why is it wrong to encourage young people to finish college before marriage, when you say maturity is a requirement for marriage?
Cunningham gives counsel as to how to make the marriage work and last for life. (201-203) The only problem with his counsel is that it requires maturity. “Live out your commitment to each other...plug into a solid church... Give those in the community the freedom to speak into your lives. … Follow their leadership by obeying... Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.” (201-203) So one needs to be mature to make marriage work? It is rare indeed, I think, to see that kind of maturity right out of high school.
“Most people would point to Ephesians 5 as the primary marriage text of the Bible. But to do so overlooks a major marriage nugget in the Old Testament. I get that we are to lay down our lives for our wives, guys, but I think God never intended for us to choose between our life and our wife. Solomon said we can and should enjoy both.” (205) Hmmm. Didn't Cunningham read Ephesians 5:25-26? Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and He gave up His life for her! This is a good example of Cunningham's philosophy of basing his marriage teaching on Old Testament passages.
And I just cannot pass up this strange plan of his on page 153. He notes, “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Eph.5:3).” He encourages young guys to treat a girl on a date like he would his sister. If he's going to kiss her, “it'd better be like kissing your sister.” Then he says, “Here's my plan for Corynn's very first date. As I'm walking her and her date to the car, I will walk between them with my arms around them both. As we approach he car, I'm going to kiss him right on the lips. And I mean a good one. Then I'm going to say, 'Whatever you plan on doing with my daughter tonight, I will do to you when you get back. So you just keep that in the back of your mind.'” (153)
First of all, there's not to be even a hint of sexual immorality and he is kissing a guy on the lips? What kind of a message is that? And if the guy has already gotten kissed on the lips by Cunningham... The whole thing is just a bit strange to me.
There is good news and bad news about this book. The good news is that Cunningham does a very good job of defending marriage even as we live in a time when respect for marriage is declining.
The bad news is that I feel he has not, by any means, proven his case for young marriages. If anything, his repeated call for maturity tells me most young people are not ready for marriage. I would read this book with a great deal of caution. I just cannot recommend it.
See more from Cunningham at youngandinlove.com
David C Cook, 216 pages.
I received a copy of this book from The B & B Media Group for the purpose of this review.