My wife and I recently found ourselves comparing notes with friends who have children moving into the teenage years. We are anxious voyagers readying ourselves for stormy seas. Some of these discussions have pondered the best approach for “the talk”—on sex, dating, and marriage. And this has raised a fundamental issue for us: What is the basis for the Christian teaching on sex and marriage?
Of course, there is a strong biblical basis for the importance of marriage, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 19. But as an economist, I’m also interested in how to explain the biblical teaching on sex and the institution of marriage to millennials today. Economists like myself are infatuated with the study of institutions, but we mostly concern ourselves with rather stolid ones, like the ones that regulate capitalism. Yet in our creative displays, we engage more dynamic institutions such as dating and marriage.
When economists study institutions, we ask: What has caused such an arrangement to win out over others? Marriage is an institution that has arisen independently throughout the entire world in nearly every civilized era. But what natural basis is there, for example, to favor the institution of marriage over, say, cohabitation? What possible logic is there in criticizing something as appealing as extramarital sex? These are questions that teenagers want answers to. They will make sacrifices, but they need to know that the sacrifices make sense. Our rules and norms in local churches must be presented as rules and norms that will lead to our children’s flourishing.
I want to argue from the perspective of social science that the Christian teaching on sex and marriage is much more than a dated rule that ruins the ...1