When I saw the subtitle for Carrie Miles’ book The Redemption of Love: Rescuing Marriage and Sexuality from the Economics of a Fallen World, the business major in me was extremely excited about the prospect of reading it—a synthesis of marriage, sexuality, and economics; what could be better?
But when I saw the endorsements on the back of the book included one from Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, I knew that I could be in for a frustrating experience. Though Miles’ gender convictions are vastly different than mine, the book offers any reader a rewarding experience as it chronicles the interchange between the sexes in the economics of a fallen world.
Miles’ approach to gender analysis is unique. She is forthright in claiming that the book is a biblical theology of marriage (16), but it is done in an innovative way. As she explains it, “This book takes a novel approach: looking to the Bible not just for solutions to today’s problems but, first, for a clear understanding of their causes. Looking for these causes, I apply to scripture the relatively new tools of socioeconomics or economic sociology” (11).
The crux of the book centers on Miles’ analysis of the fall in Genesis 3:1-6. Her central argument is that it accurately “describes the economic and in turn the social, emotional, and spiritual consequences of living in a world in which the ground is cursed” (35). According to Miles, prior to the fall there was no scarcity of resources. Therefore, there was no economics as we know it. However, the fall, the subsequent removal from the garden, and the curse of the ground result in economic situation driven by self-interest and self-preservation.
To accomplish her efforts, Miles begins with a biblical analysis and then shifts to historicocultural considerations. After analyzing the impact of the Genesis account, Miles goes on to attempt to demonstrate the continuity of biblical teaching on marriage among Jesus, Paul, and the Song of Songs. The cultural analysis offered by Miles is by far the strongest point of the book. Her insights are penetrating into the state of marriage and family today.
For instance, she turns conventional wisdom about the demise of the family on its head, “The error is slight and subtle: this explanation simply has cause and effect reversed. The sexual revolution, rising rates of divorce, promiscuity, and out-of-wedlock births are the results, not the cause, of the breakdown of the family” (13).
She also draws attention to what she considers to be the false notion that previous societies were driven by Christian values that are not present today. Instead, she argues, “The near total collapse of traditional structures and morality, and the disparagement that meets Christian attempts to counter them, suggests that the ‘family values’ of the past were not so much values as just the behaviors that were rewarded by the way things worked then” (135).
Her line of argument in this regard is very convincing as she draws a dichotomy between the way people’s economic priorities shape their decision making vs. how their values shape their decision making. How should we respond to these issues?
Her solution balances a right understanding of the role of politics in these efforts, “The problems of family, marriage, and sexuality in the twenty-first century are not political ones….Laws are not the answer anyway….This is not to say that Christians should refuse government services or stay out of politics” (205, 208).
As an egalitarian, Miles draws conclusions about the biblical data and cultural realities that contradict what I believe that scripture teaches. One of the main tenets she puts forward is that the system of patriarchy is a result of the fall that was not intended by God. As she explains it, “Socially, the fall resulted in patriarchy” (11-12). What she misses is the fact that God’s intention was always patriarchy, but what happened at the Fall was the corruption of patriarchy. It was not the initiation of a new regime, but the corruption of a timeless institution that took place.
She goes on to argue for equality in roles among genders, ““There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that the traditional sexual division of labor reflects God’s will, and there is much to suggest that it does not” (174). As a result, Miles comes to the following conclusions about gender roles in the home: She proposes dual parenting with minimized child care. While it is acceptable for the women to stay at home as long as husband is involved in child rearing, she also finds it acceptable for the man to stay at home. Her practical application is consistent with her convictions in this regard.
Miles looks to the Song of Songs as God’s picture of the return to the equality between genders that God intended where love at last replaces economics as the driving force in the relationship. She writes, “In the Song of Songs, man and woman are once again perfect equals, as they were in creation” (159). Though there are major flaws in her gender presuppositions as an egalitarian, Miles’ arguments rooted in economics are more convincing than most egalitarian discussions that I have come across.
Another area that Miles analyzes for the effects of the economics of the fall is sexuality. In her historical analysis, Miles discusses the ‘sexual cartel’ created by women to restrict sex to marriage only in order to meet the economic needs of their time. However, the shift in economics in the 20th century resulted in marriage no longer having “enough economic importance to warrant the extensive policing and restrictions required to enforce the sexual cartel” (129). This is why sexual promiscuity ensued.
Miles also looks at the influence of contraception and the freedom from agrarian dependence to conclude that “In the world of thorns, sexuality, for all the fringe benefits it offers, is just another tool of production. In the new world of wealth, sex is uncoupled from reproduction and has become an item of consumption that can be enjoyed for its own sake” (129).
In the final analysis, Miles recognizes an ironic truth about sexuality, “For all the talk of women’s controlling their own sexuality today, in many ways single women have less control than ever” (200). The strength of her insights about sexuality is rooted in the way that she combines correct biblical understanding with accurate cultural analysis.
For all the strengths and all the controversial points in this book, there were also some bad insights offered. Though she puts so much emphasis on Genesis 3, Miles comes to an incorrect conclusion about the curses, “…the text in Genesis 3 actually records curses on the serpent and on the ground but not on the people” (35). This skews her understanding of the impact of the fall on God’s good intention for marriage.
Miles also contradicts scripture’s teaching on the normativity of marriage, “There is no biblical mandate to marry or have children, and certainly none to suggest that people could not live without sex” (168). All three of things are established by God before the fall, and are, therefore, normative. But Miles sees it otherwise.
Miles repeatedly demonstrated the ability to miss the main point of things. This is best evident in her comments on the purpose of marriage, “If happy marriages, happy children, and happy lives are the goal, following biblical norms leads to great success” (192). While the Bible is a recipe for happy marriages, this is by no means the goal of marriages. Instead, Ephesians 5:22-33 paints a picture in which the purpose of marriage is not just to make us happy but to make us holy.
Carrie Miles’ book The Redemption of Love is a well-written treatise on the effects of economics in a fallen world on marriage and sexuality. Miles’ excellent cultural insights are often offset by her misguided presuppositions and wrong conclusions to leave the complementarian reader both challenged and disappointed. The end result is a thought-provoking experience that causes the reader to assess how economics fit into the marriage picture.