Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Should Christians marry non-Christians? Should Christians date non-Christians?

I think that the best way to answer the question, “should I marry a non-Christian?”, is to ask whether it makes any difference if your spouse is on board with your plans for your ministry and with your marriage. So let’s take a look at a case where someone chose a Christian wife, and we’ll see how much that affected his ministry and his marriage.

I want to draw your attention to a talk on “Vision in Life” given by William Lane Craig. Bill is the ablest defender of the Christian faith operating today, having defeated all of the best known atheists in formal academic debates, in front of thousands of university students. This list includes people like Christopher Hitchens and Victor Stenger. The Hitchens debate took place in an auditorium filled with 5000 students, and many thousands more were watching at churches all over the world. No one has done more to defend Christianity on university campuses. So how did Bill do it? Well, he owes a lot of his success to his amazing wife Jan, as we shall see below.

The MP3 file is here. (32 minutes)

This was Bill’s chapel address to Biola University students, and he is introduced by his son, John, a Biola grad.

The impact that a Christian woman makes on her husband

Here is a quotation that occurs about 11 minutes into the talk, as Bill describes the completion of his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton:

And it was at Wheaton that my vision began to focus on presenting the gospel in the context of giving an intellectual defense of the faith, to appeal not only to the heart but also to the head, as well. And so I determined that I would go on to seminary for further training.

But, my senior year, in chapel, we heard a speaker who challenged us, before going on to further education, to take a couple of years out, and to wring out the sponge, so to speak, that had been soaking up all that knowledge, and to work with university students while we were still about the same age.

And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.

And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.

It is at this point in the talk where Bill begins to explain just how Jan molded him into the lean, mean debating machine that travels the world striking terror into the hearts of atheists today.

Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:

And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”

And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

In an article on his web site, he talks about how Jan encouraged him to do his first PhD:

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

And in the same article, he explains how Jan encouraged him to get his second Ph.D:

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

Both of these Ph.D experiences are also described in the talk. And the talk concludes as follows:

I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.

And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages.

And now you know the rest of Bill’s story. The person you marry will have an enormous influence on the impact you will have for Christ and his Kingdom. It is up to you to decide whether that influence is going to be positive or negative, by deciding if you will marry, and if you do marry, by deciding whom you will marry.

Conclusion

The level of influence of a significant other in a non-platonic relationship greatly impacts your ability to achieve the vocational task that the Lord has set for you. My recommendation is to avoid engaging in any romantic relationship in which self-sacrificial service to the Lord is not the main focus. And remember, physical contact greatly reduces your ability to make objective evaluations.

Today, Christians treat the Christian life as a hobby that we engage in for our benefit. And this includes romantic relationships. One way of screening prospective mates is by assessing how well prepared they are to defend the Lord’s reputation, when it is called into question. An authentic Christian should care enough to have prepared to defend God’s existence and character in public. Don’t just take the confession of faith and church attendance as a sign of being a Christian. Ask them how they know that the things they believe are really true.

So ask your marriage candidates questions. Ask them to defend why God exists. Ask them to defend how they know Jesus rose from the dead. Ask them why other religions are not effective for salvation. Ask them why God allows evil and suffering. Ask them how they know right from wrong. Ask them what economic and social policies they favor. And ask them how they would explain the Christian convictions persuasively to a non-Christian. Do they have reasons? Do they have evidence? Don’t take these things for granted.

UPDATE: New William Lane Craig lecture specifically on the topic of Christian marriage:

  • Healthy Relationships (National Faculty Leadership Conf. 2008) (audio here)

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37 Responses

  1. george says:

    The problem is there are hardly any single christian women anymore. Or at least around my age group and where I live.

    I was looking for years for a devout Christian girl, but it’s like they don’t exist. It’s like single women from the ages of 20-30 don’t go to church.

    Well I finally found a nice catholic girl that I’ve been dating for months now, who isn’t religious at all, but she is still a great person. I did go through a few bad relationships with women before I found her, so I’m glad I finally found someone who is NICE and isn’t materialistic or all about herself.

    Anyways back to the point, it is extremely hard to find devout christian women in these times depending on where you live.

    • Mary says:

      George, if you’re Christian and she’s not (other than nominally, which doesn’t count), it’s asking for trouble. She simply won’t have the same priorities as you. Yes, non-christians can be nice. But they aren’t going to support you spiritually (other than “allowing you to be religious”, which is no support at all) or bring your children up to be Christian. Besides, you can’t marry a non-christian. It’s not allowed for Christians. For your good AND hers you should break it off. Sorry to be so blunt, but I’m telling you the truth. I’d rather be single than marry a non-christian – even a nice one.

      • George says:

        Mary in no way would I ever do that, I don’t think you were listening to a word I said.

        THERE ARE NO SINGLE CHRISTIAN WOMEN WHERE I LIVE. They don’t exist anymore where I live, and it is almost impossible to find them.

        • Mary says:

          George,I understood you perfectly well. I have two things to say in response:
          1) I think you’re exaggerating about there being NO single Christian women where you live – unless you live in a muslim country or something.
          2) Even if there *were* NO single Christian women where you live, that’s no excuse. We aren’t entitled to a spouse or to children. Christian marriage is not primarily about human beings. It is primarily about God. How does it honour God to ignore His commands and marry someone who isn’t interested in seeking after Him? I think getting a woman looks like it’s more important to you than what God wants.

          • I could NOT agree with Mary more.

          • George says:

            I wouldn’t worry about me marrying any Non-christian women considering everyone I date is a commitment phobe. Then they break up with me because I treat them too good, and afterwards fall for a dirtbag and get married.

            And I am not exaggerating when I say there aren’t any Single Christian women in my area that are around my age. Trust me, I’ve been looking for the longest time, they never go to church. It is what it is

  2. Being difficult to find a real Christian woman is not an excuse to go after one who is not Christian. We should not even think about dating a non-believer because, as WK pointed out, it makes objective evaluations difficult. I know two young men who understood this from the beginning of their Christian walk, but ended up dating non-Christians. Now one is engaged and the other is living with the girl looking towards engagement. Both have said that once they fell in love with the person, there is no way they could just say “good-bye.” It didn’t matter to them what the Lord wanted; it was what THEY wanted.

    We are told to marry only in the Lord. To do otherwise is to disobey God and bring trouble into our house.

    • I think men just need to read a lot to understand what they could achieve if they were faithful in choosing a mate, and to know the costs of a divorce. People need to understand how their behavior before marriage has statistically significant effects on the stability of any future marriage, which jeopardizes the mental health of the children and potentionally their faith in God.

      I.e. –
      Chastity and marital stability:
      http://www.economist.com/node/17956905

      Cohabitation and marital stability:
      http://www.mrc.org/cmi/articles/2008/No_Increased_Risk_of_Divorce_so_Living_Together_Must_Be_Okay_.html

      Fatherlessness and atheism:
      http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=14-01-026-f

      You’ve got an entire nation of churches filled with pastors and youth pastors and worship leaders who are COMPLETELY UNQUALIFIED to link what the Bible says about relationships and sex to research publications in the real world. Either we link Christianity to truth in the real world or we are sunk. Just saying “the Bible says” is not enough to deflect the powerful temptations of the culture. We need knowledge. We need evidence. Choices to conform to the Biblical standard or the cultural standard are not made in a vacuum. If you want to do the right thing, you need to convince yourself with the data. And the churches should be helping to provide that data. If they were truth-centered, they would be providing it – but they aren’t.

    • Mary says:

      I agree with Glenn. Yes, WK, the extrabibilical data is important, but so is the Bible and God’s word! We have to take a good look at ourselves if we’re not prepared to take God at His word in this vital part of life. Marrying a non-christian is out! And I can say this especially because I’ve had interest from non-christian men and I know how hard it is to say no when someone is seriously interested and they would marry me and they would respect my values on chastity before marriage, and they wouldn’t cohabit, and they’d be faithful, and they wouldn’t abandon the kids. It’s still NOT ON.

      They can’t pray for me or with me, they can’t share my faith, they can’t study God’s Word with me, they can’t help me to serve God, they can’t bring the children up in the faith, etc. It would be profoundly disrespectful to God and disobedient for me to knowingly marry a non-christian.

      I know I’m being tough here, but this is important.

      • I think that Christians need to understand that a lot of people (and by a lot I mean 99% of atheists who are raised by Christians and rebel) rebel agaisnt their Christian upbringing because it is “too strict”. That’s what the people in my office tell me. But when I do my apologetics thing of surveying different points of view, laying out the strengths and weaknesses of each and doing what the Bible says – which is giving reasons for why I believe things, then they have a lot less anger and rebellion. I have people in my office start to read the Bible for the first time to see what it says, and they are willing to go out for lunch and talk about religion for the first time since they rejected the faith of their parents.

        The main reason why there is so much atheism in the West is because we do such a lousy job of studying the evidence outside the Bible and being persuasive. It’s gotten to the point now where parents have no confidence to set boundaries on their children – because they have no defenses to the culture around them. When you talk about taking God at his word, people will just hear that as being a bully and dominating them. You have to give them reasons and lay it all out with evidence. Then they will agree with you without feeling bullied into it. The young atheists of today leave the faith because they are presented with at least some evidence for things like Darwinism, relativism, etc. in school. When they get home, their parents give them nothing but “the Bible says”. It hasn’t worked because it cant work. It’s not even Biblical – otherwise there would have been no evidence presented to non-believers in the Bible.

        The most important thing to realize about “the Bible says” is that it is not Biblical. Jesus was not willing to do it. He demonstrated his authority with evidence (miracles) everywhere he went. The example of Paul and the disciples reasoning with people and appealing to evidence is everywhere.

        • Mary says:

          But when reasoning with Christians, then “the Bible says” is perfectly valid. This is not about explaining to non-christians why they should be Christian. This is about explaining to Christians why they shouldn’t marry non-christians. Sure, all those things you mentioned are valid and good as supplementary support. But there are atheists who are chaste, who would agree to not cohabit, who would be faithful, and who would be responsible fathers. If those are the only reasons, then people will find a way to excuse marrying a non-christian. Pragmatism for reasons of worldly efficacy is not enough.

          For Christians, marriage is about God. If your spouse doesn’t share your faith, then you can’t make your marriage about God. It’s one thing if you convert after marrying. Then you make the best of it, as per the apostle Peter’s advice and witness to your spouse. But this passage is clear: “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 7_39-40) Take note that Paul gives his “judgment” on whether the woman should remarry after her husband had died. But if she does marry, it’s mandatory (“must”) that her husband be a fellow believer. This is not optional. People here make a big deal about complementarianism over egalitarianism (and I’m complementarian, so I have no problem with that), but that’s entirely based on the Bible, not extrabiblical rationale. If you can do that on that topic, why is this aspect (IMHO, more important) not suitably addressed from a Biblical perspective?

          And it’s entirely valid and Biblical to say “the Bible says”. Jesus referred to the prophets and the OT writings all the time. I’m all for apologetics, and you know that. But when talking to people who affirm belief in a particular source, then you can and should refer to that source. Jesus did when He spoke to Jews who accepted the OT. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also referred to the OT. When talking to Christians about Christian ethics, the Bible is the first port of call.

        • Jared says:

          Yeah, my parents left all of my education about the bible to the church. Big mistake. We went to pentecostal/charismatic churches when I was growing up and the only thing I learned in the bible was John 3:16. The rest of the time was devoted to the youth leader trying to be cool; he called that session “Jerry Springer Church”. I didn’t respect that, nor did I even learn anything about Christianity. That coupled with the regular adult service of trying to create a “move of God,” i.e., people attempting to get spiritual highs by way of dancing, yelling, and speaking in other languages led me to practical atheism and nihilism. Why would I be a Christian if that’s all Christianity was?

          Also, my parents left my education of sex up to the public school. Not a good idea either. Granted, my parents were very busy, so we didn’t have much time to talk. Also, my parents were and are still good parents (taught me right from wrong, I never wanted for anything, and taught me how to act in public), but I do wish they had taught me why they were Christians instead of trusting the youth pastor and the Church we were attending to teach me about Christianity. As far as I knew, my parents were taking Christianity on blind faith because they never talked about why they were Christians. So, I thought if they didn’t have good evidence for being Christian, then there wasn’t any. I learned later on in College how wrong I was for thinking that. :)

          • I’m reading Dr. Laura’s “Stupid Things Parents Do To Mess Up Their Kids” and the main thrust of the book is that parents are way too focused on making money and buy stuff instead of building relationships with their kids. The kids are getting their marching orders from their peers and the schools and the culture.

          • i like that well the last sentence

  3. mike singer says:

    As usual – great post WN ( the advice at the end is worth its weight in gold).

    I would really seek the Lord and His word to see what the scriptures say about being “equally yoked” before stepping into that minefield again.

  4. Neil says:

    No and no.

    Dating is an exercise to determine if someone would make a suitable spouse for life, so you should never date a non-Christian.

    • It’s not a recreational activity. It’s finding someone to love to the glory of God.

      • Vico says:

        ‘Courtship’ is the correct term

        Side note: There seems to be less and less Christian girls (those with Christian maturity) :(

        • There are almost no Christian women at all who can do apologetics, that’s for sure. That’s the easiest way to eliminate the bad ones from contention. Just ask them how they would convince a non-Christian that God exists using science, or how they would convince a non-Christian that Jesus rose from the dead using history. Dead silence. Because it’s all about their interests and feelings,not his. Although it’s not like there are tons of guys doing apologetics either.

          • I have been traveling in apologetics circles for 30 years, and from my observation there are just as many women interested in apologetics (sometimes not as in-depth) as there are men. The problem is that there really aren’t many men interested either! And I still say you limit your options by looking for an apologist. You find a godly woman who is interested in knowing and learning the Word, and you will find she will easily take to apologetics as an interest. Mine did.

          • Mary says:

            I agree with Glenn on this too. She doesn’t have to know it all. She “just” needs to demonstrate a godly character and a willingness to learn and you can guide her to increase her apologetic knowledge.

            I also agree that there are many men who are not that interested in apologetics either and many will be put off by women who instead of nodding and smiling at everything they say will consider what a man says and respectfully disagree from time to time. Many men (even Christian ones) don’t like women who think much for themselves. So the challenge cuts both ways.

          • I think she has to know a lot, learn even more during the courting, and learn everything else after marriage. Her husband’s job is to give her the time to do that by making her do as little work as possible. That way she has all the knowledge she needs to make the Jennifer Roback Morse / Stephen Harper child. Or something like that.

            Read this:
            http://mynorthwest.com/?sid=472544&nid=651

          • Again, WK, by your standards I should not have married my wife. She was a fairly new believer – as was I actually, although I had already begun apologetics – and didn’t have any interest in apologetics for at least our first decade of marriage. But she was a godly woman and wanted to know the Word. She learned through me and, although still not as knowledgeable as me in apologetics, she can hold her own against the majority of Christians! You might have a woman like this waiting for you, but she isn’t qualified for you and you miss out.

        • The word “courtship” really has so many meanings nowadays. It really came about mostly from the homeschool movement to differentiate from “dating,” which was seen as a worldly. Yet there is nothing wrong with “dating.” One isn’t more biblical than the other. The issue is WHEN you date and what the PURPOSE of the dating is. Courtship becomes a very legalistic procedure which really causes lots of heartache – just as much heartache as the wrong kind of dating can cause. I have studied the issue in depth due to many friends and friends’ children being part of this idea.

          • Mary says:

            Yay! Someone who is sensible on the dating/courtship issue! :)

          • Hey! What are you implying!

          • Mary says:

            lol! Not objecting to your writing on the subject.

            I just think the “dating is baaaad, courtship is gooood” thing is a little over-the-top. There was a godly way to approach dating/courtship before Joshua Harris. :-P

  5. Jared says:

    My wife and I were not Christians when we started dating. What’s most interesting, to us anyway, is how we both became Christians while we were dating. My conversion helped her, yet she helps me all the time to be more compassionate. Don’t misunderstand me, she’s tough, but sometimes I can be too tough, so she helps me to be balanced. One of the coolest things she has done recently was give her sister a copy of J.P. Moreland’s book, “The God Question.” That book was perfect because her sister is not a staunch atheist, she’s more of a skeptic that is open to following the evidence where it leads.

    My interest in apologetics, politics, and theology is not mine alone because my wife is interested too. We help each other, which is incredible because usually in marriages, the wife has her thing and the husband has his thing.

    • Jared, an unbeliever marrying an unbeliever IS a biblical marriage. Just as a believer marrying a believer is a biblical marriage. What isn’t biblical is the unbeliever marrying a believer. So your marriage started on the right foot. And you were blessed by it, obviously.

  6. mike singer says:

    Ran across and a very interesting article on the history of dating and courting in AMERICA.

    From my understanding courting takes its cues from the early Knights / Ladies in Waiting period.

    Here is the link

    http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001456.cfm

  7. mike singer says:

    Ran across a couple of scriptures that came to mind about “silly women” and “living together”.

    2 Timothy 3:6

    Thinking about it – it goes for both sexes.

    Dont kill the messenger..

  8. McSpinster says:

    Mike, great passage-here’s more of it:

    This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
    2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
    3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
    4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
    5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
    6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
    7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Further down: 13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

    And the most important part:

    16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
    17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

  9. mike singer says:

    Nice one McSpin…. The frightening part is “who” Paul is referring to ?

    It isn’t the secular world but the antinomianistic religious ( ie imo, followers of Judism and Christians who aren’t actively pursing righteousness ).

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