In his recent book, Young and in Love: Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage (Cook) pastor Ted Cunningham joins a conversation that hit the media spotlight a few years ago with Christianity Today's cover story "The Case for Early Marriage," which I responded to on Her.meneutics. This February, sociologist Mark Regnerus, author of the cover story, broached the subject again in an interview with Katelyn Beaty, where he discusses his new book on Premarital Sex in America (Oxford).

Cunningham adds insight from his own experience pastoring Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, Missouri Cunningham, coauthor with Gary Smalley of Great Parents: Lousy Lovers (Tyndale), encourages couples to not let youth inhibit marriage. Couples considering rushing into marriage against the advice of godly parents and friends, while dating new believers, or while in high school should be cautious, Cunningham says; yet if you're considering delaying to, say, finish a college degree, he says, "Why wait?"

Her.meneutics' Ruth Moon talked with Cunningham about his pro-marriage philosophy.

What was the impetus for this book?

It was based on our marriage ministry at Woodland Hills. The more I started meeting with 20-somethings, it made me realize you guys just need somebody to picture a special future for you. Your parents didn't do it; your colleges didn't do it; the churches you grew up in didn't do it. They didn't tell you that marriage is a great thing, something to look forward to, and something you're going to enjoy. You're delaying it because you're doing exactly what you were modeled and taught, so I want to give you a different perspective.

Your book is geared toward a very specific demographic: people who are young and in love, and people are saying they're too young for marriage. What can other demographics—like young singles—get out of the book?

I'm not pushing the book on people who want to stay single and selfish—which is who I meet most of the time. I get the I Corinthians 7 argument. I totally understand it. I don't meet many people in their 20s who are staying single out of service to Christ. Most 20-somethings I meet are pursuing independence, which has become a socially acceptable term for selfishness. It's, "I want more years with me. I want more years to do my own thing, to be my own person, to care for myself, to buy things for myself, to consume."

The young women I know who are single are not so because they rejected 50 eligible men, but because they haven't met anybody they feel is worth spending their life with. What's your advice for them?

I get pretty frustrated with that. If you're going to be a pro-marriage church like Woodland Hills, you also have to be a pro-dating church. You have to teach young men to take initiative, which they really haven't learned. They've been taught to fear love and be paranoid of marriage; how are they going to make a move, a first step on asking a young lady out? Don't just go to a community where there are singles; that's not enough. They search for churches with singles groups and churches with marriage groups. That's not enough; you have to go to a pro-marriage church. You have to be part of a community where the little boys are being challenged to become men.

You said in the book a couple times that marriage is normative and singleness is not, yet also mention the obvious counterexamples of Jesus and Paul. Why is marriage normative?

You can take it from the social aspect; you can take it from the biblical aspect; you can take it from the reproductive aspect. The health of the church rides on the marriages. I do think singleness has a strong purpose, but we don't want the message getting out there to young people that singleness is better than marriage. And the reason I use the word normative is that I don't want singles to hear that marriage is better; it's just the standard. God gave it to us. It's what keeps the human race moving; it's what builds the church. It's what models the gospel of Jesus. The exception of singleness has its purpose—service to the body of Christ; devotion to Christ; loyalty to Christ. But if I'm going to have to pick a message on Sunday morning and encourage something, I'm going to encourage marriage.

Toward the beginning you talk about flirting and pursuing as a woman. Can you explain how a woman ought to show interest?

I'm an old-fashioned guy to the hilt, so I believe wholeheartedly in letting that guy make the first move. But here's what I'll challenge young ladies—I get in a lot of trouble for this and I'm okay with it. 'Present yourself' would probably be a better way to say it than pursue. I don't know too many guys who are into the rolled-out-of-bed look. Fix yourself up a little bit when you know you're going to encounter a guy you're interested in. Communicate eyeball to eyeball.

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Here's what young men tell me: They feel intimidated. A lot of young ladies put out an aura that they don't need anybody. Put out those feelers that no, I enjoy your company. Give those cues, give those signs and present yourself. Those are just a few things, I don't claim that's my expertise but I think anything you can do to take down the walls of "I'm living the fabulous single life, I don't need a man"—I think a lot of people are taking those cues seriously and turning around and walking the other way.