Review of ‘The Good News about Marriage’ by Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead


The-Good-News-about-Marriage Shaunti Feldhahn with Tally Whitehead, The Good News about Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2014). Hardcover / Kindle

Marriage survives by hope. If a husband and wife believe that their relationship can get better, chances are that it will. They may have to tread a difficult path for a time, but eventually, the road becomes smoother and they arrive at their destination: a fulfilling life together.

Unfortunately, many of the statistics about marriage and divorce that are prevalent in our culture destroy hope. Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce, we’re told. For second and third marriages, the divorce rate is even higher: 60 and 73 percent, respectively. Few couples are satisfied with their marriages. Though Christians talk a good game about marriage and family, the reality of divorce and dissatisfaction is the same for them as for everyone else. Finally, making a marriage work requires bigger changes than most couples are willing to make.

The funny thing about these hope-destroying statistics is that they’re wrong, misleading, or both. Instead, as Shaunti Feldhahn and Tally Whitehead argue in their new book, there’s plenty of good news about marriage. Indeed, they identify five specific pieces of good news:

  1. The vast majority of marriages last a lifetime; the current divorce rate has never been close to 50 percent—it is closer to 20 to 25 percent for first-time marriages and 31 percent for all marriages—and has been declining for years (p. 39).
  2. The vast majority of marriages are happy (around 80 percent)! Most people are glad they married their spouse and, given the chance, would do it all over again (p. 61).
  3. The rate of divorce in the church is 25 to 50 percent lower than among those who don’t attend worship services, and those who prioritize their faith and/or pray together are dramatically happier and more connected (p. 86).
  4. The large majority of remarriages last. Among women in second marriages, 65 percent are still married to their spouse, and of those who aren’t, many are widowed rather than divorced (p. 101).
  5. In most cases, having a good marriage or improving a struggling one doesn’t have to be ultra complicated or solve deep, systemic issues; small changes can and do often make a big difference (p. 117).

The authors recognize that getting good statistics about marriage and divorce is not an easy undertaking. Different studies ask different questions. The sample is occasionally not representative. The data sometimes point in different directions. And not all family scholars agree on conclusions.

Nevertheless, Feldhahn and Whitehead make a reasonable case for their conclusions, drawing on the best experts in the field and the best studies. Those wishing to investigate for themselves can read the authorities cited in the footnotes for themselves and draw their own conclusions. My guess is that they’ll come away convinced that Feldhahn and Whitehead are substantially correct.

Who, then, should read this book? Although drawing on social science research, this is not a social science book. Instead, it uses good research to help couples, marriage counselors, and Christian leaders better prepare themselves and others for lasting, fulfilling marriages. This hope-filled approach is helpful, for as the authors say, “‘You can believe in marriage’ can become the new normal” (p. 124).

Let’s hope so!

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. For more good news about marriage, as well as practical advice for making your marriage good, visit http://www.shaunti.com.

Cohabiting women having more babies


Given that cohabiting before marriage correlates with divorce, and that many cohabiting couples express “ambivalence” about having a child, this trend seem ominous to me, both for the potential marriage and for the actual child.

The report found that about 37% of births in the USA were unintended at the time of conception, a percentage that hasn’t changed since 1982. The proportion of unintended births declined among married white women, but those accounted for a smaller proportion of births. Meanwhile, births to single or cohabiting women rose.

The report also reveals more details about contraception. In 2008, for example, 19% of births were unintended; 36% of women who had an unintended birth said they didn’t use contraception because they thought they couldn’t get pregnant. But 23% of those women said they “didn’t really mind if I got pregnant.”

“A lot seems to have to do with the fact people are increasingly ambivalent about whether or not to have a child,” says Karen Guzzo, a sociologist at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. “They’re in this committed relationship and are often cohabiting and not trying hard to avoid having a child, but they’re not trying to have one, either.”

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, June 21, 2011


“Why Liberal Religious Arguments Fail.” Over at Religion Dispatches, Peter Laarman reflects on what kinds of rhetoric are helping the pro-same-sex-marriage crowd, and concludes that religious argument is not one of them. Instead, personal testimonies are.

Every poll and every wise observer points out that gay-affirming folks have not been winning on account of superior arguments, whether arguments from the Bible or theology or science. They aren’t winning on account of their superior debating skills. They’re winning by being present and visible in faith communities: by coming out in ways that clergy and congregations can’t ignore. Gay people are winning because straight people who love and respect them are coming out right along with them.

The classic instance is the faithful older church woman—a devoted and beloved member of the community—who, at just the right moment in a congregational meeting, stands up and says, “Well, friends, I guess we can argue about all of this until the cows come home. All I know is that ________, my ________, is as dear a child of God as I will ever hope to be.” She then goes on to tell the story of she found out about ________, how they stayed close, and how her heart was changed. Bingo. Are we ready for the vote?

Those of us who oppose same-sex marriage need to pay attention to Laarman’s point. The momentum in the debate over homosexuality in general and same-sex marriage in particular seems to be shifting. This rhetorical strategy seems to be one reason why.

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Of course, the pro-same-sex-marriage crowd hasn’t given up on argument. For a taste of one such argument, which is becoming increasingly common, see “Bible condemns a lot, so why focus on homosexuality?” Expect to see more of this kind of argument in the coming days. Oh, and have a reply ready.

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“Offense and Criticism in the Marriage Debates” takes a meta-look at the attempt to shut down arguments against same-sex marriage under the banner of being offended by them.

The key realization is that offense operates within the realm of reason. When I am offended, I have not simply felt resentment, nor merely intuited a wrong; I have performed a cognitive act, namely, judging based on what seem to me to be good and understandable reasons for that act of judging. Whenever we make a judgment of fact (x is) or value (x ought to be), we commit ourselves to the truth and worth of our judgment. To do otherwise disqualifies us from reasonable discussion, as there would be no reason to be taken seriously if we did not claim that our judgment had worth.

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Maureen Dowd (predictably) mocks Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York for opposing same-sex marriage. George Weigel and Elizabeth Scalia are not amused. Meanwhile, Kathryn Jean Lopez notes the surprisingly positive coverage The Today Show gave Archbishop Dolan on a recent visit to Rome.

Successfully communicating Catholicism [or Christianity] is the same as it ever was: It’s about integrity. As Pope Benedict put it, “It must not be forgotten that believers’ style of life needs to be genuinely credible.” Even more eloquent than Archbishop Dolan’s words on The Today Show was the clear witness of his own humanity and faithful authenticity.

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“When Churches Play at Politics” helpfully explains why churches qua churches should steer clear of partisan politics:

The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are not governing blueprints, ministers are not policy experts, and the church is not a place for political advocacy. It is a place to minister to souls, to heal wounds, and to dispense grace. So while ministers certainly have a First Amendment right to express their political views, they should realize that there are substantial costs when the faith to which they have declared their allegiance is seen, with some justification, as merely a tool of a specific political ideology or subordinate to a political party.

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God Wins is Mark Galli’s book-length response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. Christianity Today excerpts chapter 1, which deals with two kinds of questions (and Bell’s book is full of questions). Here’s something good to keep in mind about questions:

…questions driven by faith and questions driven by self-justification can sound very similar. Sometimes they can be identical in their wording, but they are not identical in their motives. A question can be grounded in trust in God’s goodness—or it can be a demand for a sign. God is pleased with the former, but not so pleased with the latter.

You can read my own review of Love Wins here.

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“Tiger Dads vs. Sexualized Daughters.” Good stuff for dads trying to raise wholesome daughters in a highly sexualized culture.

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Apropos of the previous post: “Women Who Lost Virginity Early More Likely to Divorce.” Parental choices have consequences in the lives of their children.

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“Fathers: Key to Their Children’s Faith”:

In short, if a father does not go to church-no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions-only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). One of the reasons suggested for this distinction is that children tend to take their cues about domestic life from Mom while their conceptions of the world outside come from Dad. If Dad takes faith in God seriously then the message to their children is that God should be taken seriously.

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“NBC apologizes for cutting ‘Under God’ from Pledge of Allegiance.” Actually, I think NBC left out the phrase, “one nation, under God.” Were they trying not to offend Southern sympathizers and atheists? Stupid, stupid, stupid! Although, to tell the truth, I was offended that NBC inserted a comment about the Masters in the middle of the pledge. Perhaps golf is the new religion that will unite our fractious nation…

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Best. Conspiracy. Ever.

Make sure to watch it all the way through. And read the credits; they’re hilarious.

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“Egypt in crisis talks after Muslim mobs attack Christian churches” or “12 dead in Egypt as Christians and Muslims clash”? GetReligion.org tries to sort out the facts.

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Is a bad marriage better than a good divorce? “Social scientists are concealing the harm that divorce, single parenting and stepfamilies do to children. Not only that, they are also hiding the benefits which even unhappy marriages bestow, not just on children, but on the couples involved.”

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Is a national curriculum a good idea? “National control over curriculum creates a single lever you can pull to move every school in America. Would conservatives trust progressives, and would progressives trust conservatives, not to try to seize control of that lever to inculcate their religious and moral views among the nation’s youth? And if you don’t trust the other side not to try to seize the lever, is there any reasonable alternative to trying to seize it first?”

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In “Europe’s Concerned, Worried, and Doubting,” David Mills reflects on the differences between European and American reactions to the death of Osama bin Laden.

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California college adds major in secularism. Of course, on many college campuses today, students get a minor in it already, though without knowing it.

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“How Christianity and capitalism can ‘heal’ the world.” An interesting article about “social investing.” Theologically, however, I’d prefer to delete –ity and capitalism from the title.

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“LGBT ‘Welcome’ Ad Rejected by Sojourners, Nation’s Premier Progressive Christian Org.” I’m on the opposite side of the issues from Rev. Robert Chase, but I too wonder how a Christian magazine can avoid taking sides on this issue.

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In “Judas,” Lady Gaga goes clubbing with Jesus, who’s a Latin biker, and… Oh, who cares! There’s no “shock value” in this video, only “shlock value.”

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In closing, and a bit more reverentially, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gil shine on this country rendition of “How Great Thou Art”:

I totally want to go to whatever church these two provide “special music” for.

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 P.S. Shameless self-promotion: Check out my article in Enrichment: “Up There, Down Here, Among Us, In Me.” It’s about praying for God’s kingdom.