Top Ten Books of 2009, Number Three

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Andrew J. Cherlin, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today

As you go to your family gatherings this holiday season, you might wonder why so many of the twenty- and thirty-somethings there are on their second or third spouses, while very few of the seventy-somethings are. This book will help explain the trends in American culture that led to this hollowness.

This book is important because the author, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, understands that the crisis in marriage and family in contemporary society is about economics.

By “economics,” I don’t just mean money. That’s certainly part of it. The decline of the male breadwinner household structure has implications, as Cherlin shows. So does the shift from the idea of getting married and then working for a career, a house, etc. to the reverse now.

By “economy,” though, I mean in an Ephesians 1 sense of “order.” This about more than just, as we tend to put it with such impoverished language in American Christianity, “gender roles.” It’s about the place in the order of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, parents and children, families and churches, the old and the young, and so forth.

Cherlin ties the divorce culture in marriage to the prioritization of “choice” in “spirituality” and religion. Before we learn to divorce our husbands or wives, we learn first to divorce our parents’ churches. He is right, and we have the revolving door congregations and marriage licenses to prove it, to our shame and, ultimately, to our judgment.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is Public Theologian at Christianity Today and Director of Christianity Today’s Public Theology Project.