It’s summer, and for a professor at a Christian college—an evangelical school in the South, no less—that means it’s wedding season. On my campus, jokes about “ring by spring” still abound.

Talk about a counterculture. Few things are less in tune with the zeitgeist. Americans are marrying and having children later than ever. And even in evangelical contexts, many young people’s parents, pastors, and professors are advising delayed marriage: Focus first on a degree, on establishing a career, on saving some money. Worry about a mate closer to 30 than to 20—and certainly don’t get pregnant! These things will take care of themselves.

This advice is well-intended, perhaps autobiographical. Many Christians in older generations remember and reject the old stigma of singleness into one’s 30s. They may have married young themselves, then come to regret it—or they may worry that young people, especially young women, will follow the script of early marriage and childbearing to their own regrets.

There’s also some real wisdom here: Don’t get married just because it seems like the next step on a checklist. Moreover, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Take marriage seriously, even if that means waiting for a few years.

The risk, though, is that a spouse may not be waiting for you. Marriage and children aren’t just arriving later; increasingly, they aren’t arriving at all. From my vantage point, the problem is not that too many of my students want to get married too young. It’s the opposite. They’ve gotten the memo from their families, churches, and secular culture alike. They know about the likelihood and pain of divorce. They know babies are demanding and expensive. They know pop culture rolls its eyes at lifelong monogamy. No one needs to remind them of these things.

But what a few of us might consider doing—I certainly do—is telling them how great marriage is. How wonderful children are. How beginning to forge a family in your 20s is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. How money is always a stressor; so why not share the load? How praying and stepping out in trust isn’t crazy, though it’s certainly risky.

As it happens, there is one part of the wider culture that doesn’t work at cross purposes with this message. And yet this phenomenon is also, in my experience, a whipping boy for Christian punditry and hand-wringing. I’m talking about the wedding industrial complex.

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I doubt I need to enlighten you on this topic. The billions spent annually. The ballooning budgets. The influence of Pinterest and Instagram. The fairy-tale wedding that caps the romantic comedy plot line, from meet-cute to happily ever after.

There is much to criticize here, I don’t deny. Gone are the days of a simple ceremony with your congregation, with cake and punch and decorations arranged by the same church ladies who changed your diapers so many years ago. Now the expectation is that the ceremony be picturesque, professionally photographed and recorded—the party of the year. (Guests have expectations, you know.) Parents go into debt. An already stressful time collapses under its own weight. And the point of it all threatens to be forgotten: Namely, that two people are being joined in holy matrimony.

Yet even if we can’t give three cheers for the wedding industrial complex, I can still muster one or two. So far as I can tell, it’s one of the few remaining cultural institutions that exert any kind of positive pressure on young people to get married.

For all its faults, our ritual of elaborate weddings presents marriage, family, promises, and love itself as beautiful. Desirable, even. The industry provides permission to want to be married, and to kick it off in grand style.

The wedding industrial complex also holds a connection to faith that most of our public life has lost. Even nonreligious people want to be married by a minister; churches remain popular wedding venues; God often gets more than nominal mention; Scripture or Communion or both are features of the ceremony. Tradition reigns. Like funerals, weddings are one of very few remaining occasions to follow wise scripts written long before we were born. We find ourselves, sometimes to our surprise, disposed to follow where they lead.

One place they continue to lead is the making of promises. Three decades ago, the theologian Robert Jenson remarked that in an age when our culture has lost faith in promise-keeping, the church could be an outpost of promises made and kept. Jenson was onto something. Year after year, we lose reasons to trust publicly made promises, including marital ones.

Yet there also endures an ineradicable hunger both to witness them and to be bound by such pledges. I continue to marvel at the earnest stubbornness of supposedly secular wedding ceremonies, in which grooms and brides simply refuse to stop making vows to each other. They do it in front of people who won’t let them forget it, and they persist in invoking the name of the Lord.

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I am not so foolish as to think this ceremonial persistence reflects abiding faith or that it mitigates the scandal of divorces, Christian and otherwise. But neither am I so cynical as to see in it nothing but empty formulas and rote traditions. And I think we should celebrate that, against all odds, people continue to see weddings as holy feasts worth the money, the time, and the headache.

This summer, I officiated my first wedding, and I have another one next month. My wife gave me a rule of thumb: If people I love or students I’ve taught honor me with the invitation, then I had better have a good reason to decline. She’s right. I want more weddings, not fewer. I’m the kook on campus telling these crazy kids to go for it, aren’t I?

If that means calling a truce with Brides magazine and The Knot and even Instagram, so be it. The world may mean it for ill, but God means it for good. Maybe “ring by spring” isn’t such a joke after all.

Brad East is an associate professor of theology at Abilene Christian University. He is the author of four books, including The Church: A Guide to the People of God and Letters to a Future Saint: Foundations of Faith for the Spiritually Hungry.