About six weeks ago, I was contacted by Patricia Hartman asking me to read and review her book The Christian Prenuptial Agreement. She had read an earlier post in which I had disagreed with Dave Ramsey’s premise for prenuptial agreements. She sent me a copy of the book, challenging me to read it and change my mind on the issue. As part of the agreement for receiving the free book, I agreed to write a post about the book—positive or negative. So here it is. As you will see below, the author has offered some interesting ideas, but her book has not swayed my opinion that prenuptial agreements are unbiblical.
Hartman approaches the task of writing her book from a very practical standpoint. She is a forensic CPA aiding clients who are going through divorce. Also having experienced “losses when [her] ex-husband had left [her] years earlier” (7), it is clear that she wants her readers to avoid the struggles and pain that she and her clients have experienced. There is no doubt in my mind that Hartman wants to protect marriage, but it appears that her personal experience is driving her conclusions.
The author places a great deal of importance upon the prenuptial agreement. She notes:
Your Christian prenup may be the very document that holds your marriage together when life gets tough. (8)
Your prenup has the ability to release an amazing power and energy into your marriage. (35)
Your prenup gives you the opportunity to thwart Satan’s attempts to derail your marriage and is your greatest insurance policy against his attacks. (58)
Unfortunately, I believe this trust in the prenuptial agreement is misplaced. She has elevated the prenuptial agreement to the place of a covenant and fails to distinguish the practical effects of what she calls a “Christian” prenuptial agreement from the effects of a secular one.
A Biblical Mandate?
Is the prenuptial agreement a biblical mandate? Hartman states:
Based upon God’s revelations in Scripture, Christians have a duty to write a prenuptial agreement to acknowledge their vows and covenants that follow God’s laws and precepts, rejecting the counter-Christian laws and culture as a witness to the glory of God. We have a duty to right the wrongs that exist or may be imposed by the government. Further, God recorded His covenants as a witness to His commitment and love for us in His Word. In the same way, we have a duty to record our covenant agreements as a witness to our commitment and our commitment and our love for one another. (25)
Building on the idea that talk is cheap and most couples do not understand the implications of their verbal vows (235–236), Hartman argues that couples ought to have a prenuptial agreement that includes their vows. In addition, she claims that God’s covenants are written and we should follow suit with marriage.
By contrast, most of the covenants recorded by Moses, God’s “first official scribe” (23), were verbal covenants in force for generations before Moses ever wrote the Pentateuch. The first explicit covenant in Scripture—God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:1–17—was a verbal covenant that was binding hundreds of years before Moses ever recorded the words. In fact, most covenants were not written in the Old Testament until long after they were established. To apply the standards of the OT covenants to marriage today, one need only express the covenant verbally, and it is binding. Sure, there are advantages to recording one’s vows, but there is no biblical mandate to have a legal document drafted by separate attorneys and signed before a covenant is biblically established.
A Lack of Trust
Hartman correctly notes that trust is a major issue for prenuptial agreements. She writes, “One of the most common objections to prenups is that they imply a lack of trust. That is indeed true for a secular prenup, but if we truly grasp the depravity of man, should we trust our fiancé?” (45). She goes on to explain that our sinfulness makes it difficult for someone to trust us. Since God is the only one we can trust fully, she believes that a prenuptial agreement reminds us that God is the only one we trust.
The problem with this perspective is that the prenuptial agreement effectively places trust in the legal process in case of problems. It does not point to trust in God but trust in the courts. When surveying the sample Christian prenuptial agreement in the book, the vast majority of it describes remedies for the court in case of separation or divorce. This does not put trust in God’s provisions; instead, it trusts the court and the prenuptial agreement to make provision for the parties in case of marriage failure.
The sample prenuptial agreement is actually the most intriguing part of the book for the issue of trust. Besides a testimony section, vows, and some references to Scripture, most of it looks much like a secular prenuptial agreement. It spends three pages addressing provisions for divorce, another page on separation, and significant portions on how much each spouse is going to work, how finances will be handled, and how to divide the estate upon death.
The section on divorce opens by saying, “The parties agree not to use violation of the terms of this agreement as a basis for filing divorce” (264); however, it immediately proceeds to discuss the grounds on which divorce can be filed and how the process will play out. Despite a critique of the lack of trust in secular prenuptial agreements, the Christian version offers little more in the way of trust.
Missing the Forest for the Trees
The final area of critique for the Christian prenuptial agreement presented by Hartman is an overwhelming focus on details. There are a host of issues that most engaged and newly married couples do not yet grasp about marriage. Pre-marital counseling can certainly help them see some of these issues in advance; however, Hartman’s book provides a list of details to be discussed (and many included in the prenuptial agreement) that could be overwhelming to a couple. Included in the prenuptial agreement are decisions about how much each spouse will work, investment goals, how to educate children, and the sale of property owned before marriage. In addition to some of these details in the prenuptial agreement, the author directs engaged couples to make decisions on issues such as how to use vacation time, how often to have sexual intercourse, whether to give children allowances, and what types of food to keep in the house. These are details that often come up over time in a marriage, but are not of the utmost importance to a successful marriage. Many of the decisions related to these issues could change a number of times just in the first few years of marriage.
With such a focus on the minutiae, I fear that Hartman has lost the larger picture of marriage. The covenant of marriage is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church. When we first come to faith in Christ, we do not have a full picture of all the details. As we grow in our faith, we recognize the sacrifice of this covenant relationship and how it impacts every aspect of our lives.
Up to this point, my discussion of the book has been rather critical; however, I want to close with a few positive points about the work. First, there are a number of questions and exercises in the book that are beneficial for pre-martial counseling. In addition to some standard discussions of faith, finances, and in-laws, I found her suggestion to discuss medical history quite helpful. Most young couples do not even think about family medical history, but a tragedy could make such information very useful to a spouse.
Second, I appreciate Hartman’s desire to end the cycle of divorce. While I do not agree that a Christian prenuptial agreement is the solution, I can appreciate her heart for seeing marriages thrive.
Third, her discussion of God’s desires for married couples in chapter 6 was encouraging. Apart from just a couple minor disagreements, I believe she clearly articulated the biblical expectations for men and women in marriage. She is to be commended for her focus on these theological matters.
At the end of the day, I stand where I have stood for years on the issue of prenuptial agreements—they do not accurately depict the biblical vision of marriage. When a man and woman come together in marriage, they reflect the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church. In giving himself for the church, Christ gave up everything. The church then submits herself to Christ. This is the model of marriage found in Ephesians 5:22–33. As Christians we are called to depict this relationship in our marriages. Even as sinners, we are called to holiness. Our faith in Christ is enough to unleash the power of marriage. No legal document is necessary to protect God’s design for marriage.
I close with this admonition for those who may face difficulties in marriage and wonder what to do.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:13)
Christ had everything to lose entering into a “marriage” with the church. He knew we would be unfaithful, but “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” When all hope seems lost, trust in the fact that Christ remains faithful—that is the motivation you need to unleash the power of marriage.
13 thoughts on “Is There Such a Thing as a Christian Prenuptial Agreement?”
While I appreciate that Dr. Lenow took the time to thoughtfully review the book and consider its premise, what I did not expect was that Dr. Lenow, a professor at a respectable seminary, apparently sees no use in the written Word of God. I agree that God could have continued with his oral tradition and that would have been good enough for God to keep up his end of the deal, but the problem is that He is dealing with us, a sinful and broken lot whom He loves so much that He gave us the gift of the written Word, Otherwise, we would rationalize our bad behavior (just like Satan in the garden) and question, “Did God really say…” (Gen 3:1)
Dr. Lenow’s review left me wanting to ask him the following questions:
WHY DID GOD WASTE HIS TIME IF HE DID NOT FEEL IT NECESSARY TO PUT HIS COVENANTS IN WRITING?
According to Dr. Lenow, He only had to speak them.
WHY DID JESUS REFER TO THE WRITTEN WORD WHEN HE WAS PREACHING AND TEACHING IF IT WAS NOT CRITICAL TO MANKIND’S UNDERSTANDING OF HIS DEITY AND PURPOSE?
“Have you not read?” was a question Jesus asked that gave weight to His words. The written Word is what Jesus used when he fought Satan in the dessert.
WHY DID GOD HIMSELF INSCRIBE THE TEN COMMANDMENTS WITH HIS OWN FINGER IF HE DID NOT FEEL THE LAW WAS IMPORTANT? (something Dr. Lenow believes the book over-emphasizes.)
WHY DID GOD SAY, “WRITE THEM [HIS COMMANMENTS] ON THE DOORFRAMES OF YOUR HOUSES AND ON YOUR GATES?” IF WRITING WAS NOT IMPORTANT (Deuteronomy 6:9, NIV).
WAS GOD WRONG TO INCLUDE MINUTIA IN THE LEVITICAL LAW?
Dr. Lenow suggests that I miss the “forest for the trees” and get too involved in the minutia. I wonder if Dr. Lenow has the same critique of God’s minutia included His Levitical laws?
GOD CLEARLY EXPLAINED THE NEED FOR WRITING
This is perhaps the clearest explanation of why we need to put our vows in writing, because just like us at the altar, the Israelites promised to do what was said. In Exodus 19, after Moses had been on the mountain for 40 days…
‘So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said”’ (Exodus 19:7-8a, NIV).
Did you ever notice that couples at that altar say, “I will do everything I just agreed to in our vows?” Dr. Lenow said that should be enough. Based upon his premise that the spoken vow should be sufficient, the divorce rate among Christians should be zero, and man should never fail, because we said we didn’t want to. Therefore, we don’t need a savior, because we said so.
Did the Israelites do everything they vowed to do, which was “everything the Lord said?”
Within DAYS, they went back to the Egyptian gods and ways of life, forgetting the covenant they just took with God. (This is more amazing when you consider these are the same people who had been delivered from the Egyptians and had seen the Red Sea parted.)
As I say in the book (page 238), “clearly, man has a proclivity to put little weight on the oral promises. Thus God had Moses write the Law…
“After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: “Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them” (Deuteronomy 31:24-28 NIV).
Dr. Lenow suggests that my trust is misplaced. Personally, while I strive toward holiness, I mess up daily (actually moment by moment). I don’t trust myself to fulfill my vows perfectly, because I am a sinner. I don’t trust my husband to fulfill his vows perfectly, because he is a sinner. And if I fail my husband, I want there to be a witness against me, both spiritually and legally, to protect my husband from my sin nature. (He deserves that for putting up with me.)
WHY DID GOD TELL MOSES, “WRITE DOWN THIS SONG AND TEACH IT TO THE ISRAELITES AND HAVE THEM SING IT, SO THAT IT MAY BE A WITNESS FOR ME AGAINST THEM,” if writing is irrelevant?
In Deuteronomy 31 and 32, God tells Moses that His people “will forsake me and break the covenant I have made with them.”
God’s basis for writing is the same basis I prescribe for writing our marital covenant, because we will forsake each other on many levels and break the covenant we have made with our spouses because we cannot love perfectly. Only God can do that, and we need a witness for God against us to help us strive toward holiness.
WHY DID GOD GIVE US LAWS?
It is not because we are to place our trust in them. It’s because He points us to our depravity through them. But God did not say that we are good. In fact, Jesus said, “No one is good—except God alone. (Luke 18:19)
In fact, the law was given because we are broken and the law helps us to understand our brokenness and is a witness against us when we stray from the covenant we accepted when we accepted Jesus as our savior. That’s when we SAID we repented from our sin, we agreed to turn from our sin and pursue Jesus alone. How are you doing with that vow, Dr. Lenow?
We’re awful at fulfilling our end of the deal. That is why we need the Bible, to help us get back on the right path. And it is my hope that by writing our agreements with each other, we clarify what we are agreeing to, we memorialize our covenant, and we recognize the depth of the commitment we are making to each other, one that is supposed to mirror Jesus’ commitment to us, recognizing that we are sinners and perfection in this pursuit is not possible. Otherwise, we would have no need for a savior.
God demonstrates that the writing is important, if not critical, to the pursuit of holiness, both in and outside of marriage.
God demonstrates the law is important, both inside and outside of marriage.
“When a Christian lives in a land that has laws that are, or may become, contrary to Scripture, and when that Christian is allowed to avoid those laws in favor of scriptural laws and precepts by merely writing them down and signing them, does that Christian not have a duty to do so?” — Glenn Curran, Esq.
Patricia, thanks for the comment, but you put lots of words in my mouth that I did not say/write, and which are not true. Also, please remember that you asked me to review your book. I did not pursue it myself.
First, I never said that I have no use for the written Word. I was responding to your premise that it is a biblical mandate to write down all covenants. This is just not true. If so, then anyone who does not write a covenant has sinned for violating a biblical mandate. My life has been dedicated to studying the written Word of God. I just cannot make the connection that all covenants are required to be written.
Second, God did not waste his time writing his Word. However, it was fully in force when spoken as well. I never said it was a waste of his time.
Third, I never said your book over-emphasizes the writing of the Ten Commandments. I never mentioned the Ten Commandments. The minutiae to which I referred dealt with the questions about how much a spouse will work, how to educate children, where to spend vacation time, etc. None of those are referenced in God’s Word as required for a healthy marriage.
Fourth, your minutiae question above implies you are equating the questions and exercises in your book with Scripture. I never made that connection. Each element of the law in God’s Word is not minutiae. It is important. Please do not imply that I believe such a thing about God’s Word.
Fifth, I never said writing things down is not important. However, your argument that it is a biblical mandate was not upheld. I can also bring verses like Matt 5:37 and James 5:12, which say in effect that your yes should be yes and no should be no. The spoken word is sufficient. Yes, people break their word all the time. They also break promises that are written. If the written were enough, there would be no need for 3 pages of divorce provisions and a page of separation provisions in the prenuptial agreement.
Sixth, there is trust in God. There is trust in people. There is trust is institutions. Only God will not break his trust. But the prenuptial agreement is still built on the idea that you cannot trust your spouse (or yourself). That leads to suspicion. My wife trusts me. She believes that I will uphold the vows I spoke nearly 12 years ago. If I fail, she trusts that the Holy Spirit will convict me of sin and cause me to seek forgiveness from her. No legal document (because that is what a prenuptial agreement is) will ever make her trust me or God more.
Seventh, I never said writing was irrelevant.
Eighth, I agree the law is given to show us our sin and need for a Savior. It is a tutor to point us to Christ as Paul said in Gal 3:24.
Ninth, I believe you have conflated marriage laws with divorce laws. In addition, you seem to consider divorce laws to be forced upon us as Christians. Marriage laws (as they stand now) are compatible with Christianity. You are allowed to marry another Christian. Nothing prevents that. Also, the government does not force divorce upon anyone. One spouse has to file suit for divorce. Do I wish divorce weren’t so easy? Absolutely. Is no fault divorce terrible? Certainly. But the law does not force divorce. Another person does.
Thanks for your comment, but please do not accuse me of saying things that I did not say. I appreciated the opportunity to read your book, but I did not agree with your premise or your argumentation.
In biblical terms, a contract asserts that I will keep my word, so long as you keep yours. A covenant, on the other hand, asserts that I will keep my word regardless of what you do.
A prenuptial agreement that provides for dissolution of my “covenant” responsibilities converts the covenant, by definition, to an ordinary contract. Its purpose becomes protection rather than commitment, no matter how much we hope for the opposite.
My wife and I wrote our vows and hung them on the wall. No provisions for protection or plan against faithlessness, only vows to faithfulness. Writing can be a good reminder, but converting a covenant into a contract, especially the marriage covenant, is an act of faithlessness against God at the beginning.
Bravo for you signing and hanging your covenant on the wall. That is a step so many fail to do and I have known couples whose reflection on that writing has helped to keep them together. May that writing be an ever-present reminder of the covenant you have entered.
I agree that a traditional prenup provides for self-protection and is really little more than a dating contract. The idea is “If I’m not happy, I can leave and take my stuff with me.”
That is not what I am proposing. I am proposing an agreement that clearly demonstrates that I am all in. God wrote the Bible to give us an assurance that He is all in. Aren’t you glad He did? I consider it a gift, and am comforted by it. My husband is comforted by my written declaration that I am all in,and I am comforted by his. I don’t trust the document, but I sure do love my husband all the more that he would stake everything that he is and has to lift me up and provide for me spiritually and physically.
What if you had an agreement that said that you promise to love, honor, and cherish your spouse, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, until death do you part. Further that you acknowledge you are a sinner and will strive with all that you are toward holiness and sacrificial love, but if you lose your mind and leave or cheat on your spouse, you would give them everything? Would you sign that?
You say that a prenuptial agreement provides “for dissolution of my “covenant” responsibilities.” The prenuptial agreement that I propose does not provide for a dissolution of my “covenant responsibilities,” but rather their fulfillment, no matter what.
I have struggled with the distinction between a covenant and a contract. Historically, the term was used interchangeably. However, when God gave His covenant, He promised to fulfill our part, because He knew we could not. When we accept God’s offer for eternal life, we make certain promises that God knows we are not able to keep. Could it be that there was a penalty clause for lack of performance, but because God had mercy on us, and He paid that penalty when we failed. And, if you read my comments above, God clearly anticipated our inability to be perfect. I sure seems to have the elements of a contractual transaction that occurs between God and us, one that He gives eternal life in exchange for our faithfulness, and then when we fail to perform, He pays our part, too.
I thank God everyday that He wrote His covenant agreements for me to have in the form of the Bible. I read them and am comforted by them. I thank God everyday that my husband strives to provide for me according to his agreements with me. He strives to honor God in all that he does, especially where I am concerned. What an honor that both Jesus and my husband love me sacrificially. Praise God.
The problem is that the prenuptial agreement included in the book does not say that you would give your spouse everything if you divorced him. It makes provisions for the division of property, how to manage the kids’ lives, and then requests that certain things not be done for the sake of the spiritual development of the children. Since those faith-based requirements are not really enforceable (at least not in Texas), then the Christian prenuptial agreement becomes much like a secular one.
All in means leaving everything–even when the other defrauds or leaves you.
The real issue still comes back to your idea that there is a biblical mandate for a prenuptial agreement. Please point me to a passage of Scripture that states such. Even an inductive argument would work. There are plenty of covenants between humans described in Scripture. Did God mandate that they were written? I’m not talking about the fact that God recorded them in Scripture. Nor am I asking about God’s covenants with man. Perhaps the covenant between Jonathan and David or between Joshua and the Gibeonites could serve as examples. Both were verbal covenants. Most likely, neither were recorded in writing during the lifetimes of those involved. Is this a mandate?
The covenant with Joshua and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9) is actually the most interesting. the Gibeonites deceived Joshua and the Israelites. they were inhabitants of the land who set out to deceive Joshua. He took the bait–hook, line, and sinker. In the face of such deception, the covenant still stood. Joshua had to honor it and the Gibeonites got to remain in the land. Joshua was the “innocent party” to the deception. He lost the ability to uphold God’s instructions to drive out all the inhabitants of Canaan. He lost everything in a sense from that covenant. That is more what it is like to be all in.
Great comments, Dr. Lenow.
First, you are right that the legal document that I included does not say that I give my spouse everything if I divorce him. There are two reasons for that. First, lawyers tell me that clauses cannot be unconscionable and that a judge would not enforce that. Secondly, because my husband loves me, he would not under any circumstances want to leave me with nothing, even if I behaved badly. But my attitude is that I want God’s best for my husband, even in the event of divorce, adultery or any other great sin that might besiege our marriage.
Back to the mandate… You are right about God not calling us to write our covenants as an ongoing pattern for covenants between men. However, God did write his covenant with us. That establishes at a minimum a God-honoring tradition of putting our covenant with each other in writing, and that indeed is a prenuptial agreement, and a God-honoring one at that. Just like the Owen’s, they strive to honor God with their marriage.
Taking it a step further, God calls us to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2). When we sign our marriage license and follow through with our wedding, we are agreeing to subject ourselves to marriage laws. Here is a link to the Florida Family Law book that Florida requires couples to read prior to marriage: http://www.flclerks.com/PDF/2000_2001_pdfs/7-99_VERSION_Family_Law_Handbook.pdf. In it, you will find divorce law. By reading these laws and then getting married without a writing to the contrary, are you not conforming your marriage to the world’s view of marriage? If we have the opportunity to agree for our marriage to conform to God’s laws, is it not our duty to do so? Lawyers tell me that without a document, there you have effectively agreed to conform to the world’s (your state’s) pattern for marriage. I do believe that we are mandated to do all we can to make our marriage conform to God’s ways, and I believe the way to obey God in this is to write a document that brings my marriage into line with God’s plans for marriage. Is it not our duty?
Patricia, if that is the definition of a Christian prenup (as you noted in the book), then your example does not live up to the standard you set. In fact, your prenup is conforming to the standard of the world. Marriage from a Christian perspective is unconscionable from the world’s perspective. The minimum worldly standard (as imposed by the legal system) does not meet the biblical/theological standard.
Thank you for agreeing that the Bible does not require that covenants be written. As a result, your argument that having a prenup is a biblical mandate falls apart. This is one of the biggest issues I had with the book. I would suggest changing this in future editions.
This is still a very pragmatic approach that depends on the wisdom of secular judges to enforce spiritual matters. If you are concerned about conforming to the world on marriage laws, then it is actually best not to get married. The government does not force anyone to divorce, another person does. I certainly believe that couples should prepare before marriage. They need to think and pray hard about the person they want to marry. In almost every very difficult case of marriage break-up I have seen, the innocent party can usually identify red flags even prior to marriage that they should have paid more attention to. We are often blinded by love, but it is my job as a counselor to help them see through that and ask the tough questions. That is why I do it.
Tom Elliff, retiring president of the IMB, is a good example. In over 30 years of pastoral ministry, I have heard him say only two couples he married ever got divorced, and one admitted to lying to him in pre-marital counseling. He refused to marry a lot of people. He also married a ton of couples because he served thriving, growing churches. None of them needed a prenup. In fact, he would not marry those who had one. You can see a 2007 interview with him at http://familylifetoday.com/program/pre-marriage-pre-requisites-part-1/ and http://familylifetoday.com/program/pre-marriage-pre-requisites-part-2/. It’s been nearly 10 years since that interview, and nothing has changed. I will say that if my review made you personally angry at me, his interview probably will as well. But I encourage you to listen to it with an open heart and mind. He speaks from years of pastoral experience with a highly successful marriage ministry.
I apologize for misrepresenting what you said. It was the interpretation that I gained from reading your review… and as you said in your e-mail to me, I did find your review negative and even personal.
Unfortunately, when we marry, we acquiesce to the laws of the state by obtaining a marriage license. Matrimonial laws do include divorce laws. It only takes one to divorce. At that point, the outcome to the children and the finances fall into the hands of secular courts. I have had many a client in my office asking how it is that the laws do not uphold the promises that Christians make to each other in their vows.
Even so, that is not the point of the book. The point is that the standard for marriage in our society has declined to the point that it is virtually dating. A common prenuptial agreement essentially says that, “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll take the marbles I came with and go home.”
When I married my husband, my divorce attorney friends asked if I was going to have a prenup, and I said, “No, Christians don’t have prenups… they show a lack of trust.”
But then I got an idea, and my answer changed to, “Yes, I’ll have a prenup, and it will say, “If you leave me or cheat on me, I get everything.”
My friends said, “He’ll never sign that.” But the truth is that he would, and I would. It’s a commitment to being all in. It raises the standard of marriage.
Then a friend commented that I really had the wrong perspective, because the truth is that it should read, “If I leave you or cheat on you, I will give you everything.” That’s it… it’s the recognition that I am a sinner. I will strive to love my husband like Jesus loves us — sacrificially. I recognize that I will fail on many levels, but I will strive to be intentional in my love. I am not foolish enough to believe that I cannot fail. Paul admits that he does things he does not want to do and does not do things that he wants to do. It’s a struggle we all face against our sin nature.
I love my husband so much that I want to protect him and will stake all that am I and all that I have on that commitment. We say, “With this ring, I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” But do we mean it? If we write it, doesn’t it become more real?
And that is the point of the book… are you really all in? Will you sacrifice all that you are and all that you have to honor, love cherish your spouse and be the Jesus in their life? Will you put that in writing?
Patricia, I am still uncertain how you gleaned the ad hominem attacks against me and my beliefs from my review. I interacted with the words you wrote. I did not impugn your motives. I gave you the benefit of the doubt in your desire to see marriages thrive and divorce to become non-existent.
From my perspective, the prenuptial agreement you included in the book does not do what you claim the purpose of the book and Christian prenuptial idea is. It is a legal document that gives instructions for what to do when a couple divorces. In addition, I showed it to an attorney friend of mine and asked how much of it was enforceable legally. As you noted in an early chapter of the book (and as my attorney friend concurred), there are questions about how much of the specifically Christian nature of the prenup is actually enforceable in court. If questions of what a spouse can and cannot do regarding faith after the divorce are not enforceable, then does it really accomplish what you claim it does?
I hate the divorce laws of our states, but still the state does not force divorce on anyone. Another individual does so. If one spouse files for divorce and the no-fault laws allow it to go through, what makes you think that the unenforceable Christian aspects of the prenup will be upheld by one who has already not kept his/her verbal word in the vows?
How might you interpret this legal document in light of 1 Cor 6:1-8? Why not allow yourself to be defrauded? Why not allow yourself to be wronged? Where does church discipline (Matthew 18:15-18) come into play? If both people claim to be believers, should not the church hold him/her to the vows?
As Waylan Owens commented above, writing vows (even signing them) and putting them in a place of prominence in the home is a great idea. Having separate attorneys draft a legal document to state the provisions for what to do in the case of divorce does not promote trust. Being all in means being willing to lose everything when someone else does you wrong.
You make great points, Dr. Lenow, some of which I included in the book.
Indeed, I have had many a conversation with both judges and attorneys about the legal enforceability of the document. That is why there is an severability clause which allows the rest to stay in tact in the event of divorce.
When we marry, we get a marriage license. That’s a legal document that says we agree to come under the marriage laws of the state. The marriage laws of the state are usually primarily made up of divorce laws. How many people know what divorce laws that are agreeing to by signing their marriage license? What if you disagree with those laws because you believe they counter your faith and you want to make them right, or at least jointly want to agree to denounce them when you marry (whether you enforce them or not)?
Recently, there was a court case where a woman’s husband was trying to preclude his ex-wife from taking their child to a Baptist church. He had fallen from the faith and now saw the church as brain-washing the child. How will the court rule? She did not ask for the divorce. She could not stop the divorce. It only takes one. Lacking a document to the contrary, what does the court have to go on to make their ruling? If they had a prenup in which they pledged to raise their children in the church, would that not give the court the clear understanding that this was an agreement prior to marriage? I know what it looks like when there is no prenup.
And while I am suggesting a legal document, the prenup is a tool that accomplishes a number of things. The very definition of a prenuptial agreement is coming to a meeting of the minds prior to marriage. Often couples marry and have polar differences in their ideas of what their marriage will look like. Are they even marrying with the goal of honoring God or having a marriage that will produce Kingdom fruit? By writing the agreement, my goal is that they take each aspect of life, discuss it, hold it up to God and ask for His guidance on the issue, and then include language that will help guide them as a couple to honor God in all their marital pursuits.
You elude to allowing yourself to be defrauded and point to 1 Cor 6:1-9. Didn’t I make that exact same point on page 138. “If you have exhausted all your reconciliation attempts [speaking of cases where God allows divorce] or your spouse files for divorce unilaterally, then divorce may seem inevitable. It is important to understand that filing for divorce is techically filing a civil lawsuit against your spouse. The Bible has some very clear admonitions regarding lawsuits…” I even suggest some church ruling and assistance in these matters. I ultimately pose the question posed in 1 Cor 6:8) (page 139) “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
What about the “allowable” events for divorce. What about adultery? We commit adultery against the God daily, and yet, I meet very few who would stay married to a serial adulterer. As the Owens pointed out, their covenant is no matter what, and no matter what includes a lot of behavior that few in the church would recommend remaining married for… serial adultery, an unbeliever leaving, and physical abuse.
Finally, it seems like we are in agreement on your last statement. I am all in, and that is why I would have a prenuptial agreement that says that. In fact, signing a covenant agreements such as the Owen’s have is a type of prenuptial agreement, and may, in fact, influence a court by its existence. Truly, I believe the more we can discuss ways to honor God and agree upon them prior to marriage, the higher the success rate for the marriage. If things are discussed prior to marriage, and the couple is not on the same page, God is honored if that couple does not marry, because they have avoided a marriage that ultimately would not have honored Him. If you craft your agreement with honoring God as your ultimate goal, and you put it in writing as a witness for God and against us, does that not honor God?
The severability clause is necessary from a legal standpoint in the case of unenforceable clauses. The problem is that what it leaves is a typical, secular prenup. The effect is little more than a secular prenup. The divorcing spouse has already violated the agreement, There is nothing to stop him/her (legally or spiritually) from violating the unenforceable clauses. When you sign a marriage license, you do not sign that you are going to divorce. Yes, the divorce laws are part of the matrimonial laws of a state, but the state does not compel you to get divorced. Based on your view of the law, it would be best not to get married.
You mention 1 Cor 6, but the net result is going to court before a secular judge to have your prenup enforced. You are even asking a secular judge to enforce the spiritual elements of the prenup. This seems to be in direct violation of 1 Cor 6.
There is actually quite a bit of disagreement on what are allowable events for divorce. Protestants of today have what they consider a consensus opinion, but the position of the first 15 centuries of the church was much different. I would recommend reading Jesus and Divorce by William Heth and Gordon Wenham to see the numerous Christian positions on divorce and remarriage. What you will find is that the contemporary Protestant church has one of the most liberal positions on divorce and remarriage in history. The early church fathers (those closest to the writing of the New Testament) believed in only two grounds for divorce (unbelieving spouse leaving and unrepentant adultery), and only after significant church discipline was employed. They unanimously disallowed remarriage unless a spouse had died.
We do have some points of agreement, but our biggest divergence seems to be your pragmatic look at how marriage interacts with the law (since divorce law is not in our favor, we need a written contract to circumvent it as much as possible) and my theological perspective of marriage that says we reflect the relationship between Christ and the church, trusting the Lord to preserve our marriage without the help of the state, and trusting his provision even if our spouses turn away from him. When it is all said and done, the prenuptial agreement is a contract to be enforced by the state, not God.
Patricia, I am happy to continue going back and forth in the comments of this post on this issue; however, I want you to know that my writing schedule will preclude me from doing much over the next 48 hours. I would encourage you to write a post on your own website noting any place that I have misrepresented your argument and reinforcing the biblical nature of your version of the prenuptial agreement. There you will have the freedom to say as much as you want without waiting on comments to be moderated. You may have overestimated the influence and size of readership of my blog anyway, Your website may very well get more traffic. Plus you can link them directly to where they can buy the book from your own site.
Dr. Lenow, thank you. And I thank God for you that you are standing firm in the faith and aspiring to elevate the Christian culture. You clearly have a love for God that runs deep.
At a minimum, my goal for couples is that they take a hard look at the agreements that they make at the altar, whether they be verbal or written. Writing those agreements has certain psychological effects causing the agreements to become real. Dealing with them on a legal level helps them to comprehend how the world views marriage and helps them gird themselves up for Satan’s attacks. Even if couples wrote a non-legally enforceable document, it would help them to understand what they are signing up for… a sacrificial love that strives to model Jesus’ love for us.
All the best in your endeavors for God’s Kingdom. Many blessings.
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