Sufficiency Of The Bible And Dating

One of the things we are taught in Christian culture or at least the evangelical/protestant version of it, is that in every area of life we should ask what does the bible say about it?  In other words if I have a question in a certain context, I can look to the bible to find the answer to that question.  This is because not only is the bible inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, it is also sufficient.

This is supposed to work on all moral issues obviously, but the idea here is that it also works for everything else.  The bible is the “road map” that we are to follow. It is God’s instruction to us.  In it is everything we need.  Some will go so far to say that not only is a way to hear God’s voice, but it is the only way.

Now this works pretty well on a lot of moral issues.  It can even work when you think about how we as people are supposed to treat each other.  However, we can sort of start to run into some problems in certain contexts of life.

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Does The Bible Tell Me So?

Here’s a quick bible quiz.  Tell me where it asks someone to become a Christian.  How about this one – where does Jesus say that I should accept Him into my life/heart?  Find for me the “sinner’s prayer.”  Where does it say to go to church?  When did Peter become a Christian?

Should I go on?  You get the point.

As protestants we love to say that the Bible is ultimate authority.  Whether protestant or not, we all agree that it is authoritative.  The problem is that it is not authoritative in the way that we often want it to be to make our point.

What we want are simple clear rules, answers and one liners. No where is this more clear than in the realm of singleness, dating, and marriage.

I remember when I was in my twenties the big push in much of evangelical dating (just typing that phrase is sort of disturbing) was the idea of courting.  Now I don’t really have a problem with courting per se.  But what these folks tried to do is to say that their version of courting was the biblical way to find a spouse.  What I failed to realize at the time is that they had absolutely no biblical backing for this.  As I’ve written before there is not a biblical dating model.

But we want so bad for it to be simple.  We want a tweet sized answer to sexual ethics. #whatcanIgetawaywith #justifymyactions

What’s funny about this is that many on the evangelical right keep arguing bible verses that aren’t clear and others that don’t even exist while many of our more liberal churches are arguing contextual loopholes against those very same “verses”.

For example, one night I was having dinner with some friends and the topic of homosexuality came up.  One gentlemen said, “Jesus said that it was an abomination.”  Uh which verse was that again?  In a different conversation a friend said, “Jesus never addresses homosexual marriage.”  Sort of, except that He does address marriage.

The problem is that when we try to make verses mean something they don’t or insert our Christianese into the bible we set ourselves up to be discredited or worse set someone else up to fall when they later realize it.

But the problem with the other way of looking at the bible – using the context of a particular verse that we don’t like to say it doesn’t mean that or “the bible doesn’t really say. . . ” – is that we end up all over the map

Here’s what I mean.  Sticking with the “hot” homosexual issue, I’ve heard some pastors and leaders say that the bible really doesn’t say explicitly (as in an exact sentence) that a monogamous homosexual relationship is wrong.  They say that whole point is the one on one relationship for a lifetime.  They point to the couple of verses that deal with the homosexual act and say that it wasn’t talking about one of these types of relationships.

The problem with that – and it’s a big one – is that the same could be said of a lot of other things. So I ask the people who believe this are you then ok with:

  • The bible doesn’t say explicitly say that two unmarried people can’t have sex
  • It doesn’t say that two unmarried people can’t live together, have sex together or even have children together – so why even worry about marriage
  • The bible says nothing about viewing pornography, masturbation or reading shady literature.
  • It says nothing about oral sex.
  • It doesn’t say anything about appropriate dating behavior.

So basically by this argument, until I’m married, short of sex with an animal, I’m good to go. You can say that’s a slippery slope argument, except for the fact that we are already there in our culture.

(Whats ironic of course is that neither side seems to follow the very explicit instructions on divorce and remarriage.  Did anyone picket state capitols as almost every state instituted no fault divorce? Do they stand outside divorce courts?  Do they avoid making wedding cakes for two divorced people getting remarried?)

The key to all of this is obvious of course.  No straight reading of the bible by anyone without an agenda could lead you to believe any of the above was acceptable.  And there in lies the key – the bible as a whole is authoritative and it shows us what is right and wrong.  It’s not rocket science most of the time.

The bible does indeed speak to sex and marriage.  From front to back actually.  It always speaks of them together as a good thing or apart as a bad thing.  There is zero exception to this.  Sex has a purpose higher than orgasm.  It’s apparent that it is from God for marriage and all other uses are out of bounds.

What does this have to do with singleness and the church?  Everything.

We are confronted with a culture that has been and is still in a sexual revolution.  Our answer to that can not be picking one liners from scripture and trying to make them say things they don’t.  When we do that, we end up arguing over stuff that we don’t have to. It also can’t be ignoring the whole of scripture so that we can do what we want.  When we do that we take away any authority whatsoever.

The bible does lay out the answers – it’s just not tweet-able.

Managing Attraction – I Can’t Help What I Feel

Do you remember who you were attracted to back in your high school days.  Even maybe middle school?  I sure do remember.  I even had a list in middle school – a top ten list. Haha and all ten were so out of my league so to speak.  I didn’t understand how anything worked.  I just knew who I was attracted to and that I wished they were attracted to me.  I spent most of early to mid adolescence in that place.

But here’s an interesting thing.  When you are all “into” someone, they become even more attractive.  It’s as if our attraction scale slides based on how bad we want someone.  This leads to the feeling of “the one” or of “one that I can’t live without”.  I have a post coming soon to talk more about that idea, but for today I want to focus on a different side of attraction.

As I’ve stated, and fully believe, the feeling of attraction is not a choice.  You either feel attraction or you don’t.  It’s not a conscious in the moment decision.  It just is.  I believe we can do things to be more or less attractive in a moment to someone else (more coming here as well) but I don’t think I will myself to feeling attraction for someone.

However, we can manage what we do with attraction.  Attraction does not require a particular action.  And just because we don’t feel attraction (especially 100% attraction) doesn’t require inaction.

Today I want to talk about the first part, because honestly it’s maybe more important.  Just because you are attracted doesn’t mean you have to act on it.

I’ve had a lot of people (probably more women) tell me something to the affect of, “I can’t help what I feel.”  In other words, I’m attracted to this person and therefore I am going to be with them.  This is a very immature way of handling it.  An adolescent way really.  (No offense to our many fine adolescents 🙂 ).  It is not how you make a mature decision on who to marry – which as a Christian adult (read 18 and over) should be the goal of dating.

This is dangerous on so many levels.  First we should not be controlled by our feelings and desires.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t count.  They do.  But I put my feelings and desires up against the Truth of the scriptures and teachings of the Bible and Church.  I don’t just act because I feel.  This is a part of what it means to be mature.

Paul speaks to this when he says in 1 Corinthians 6 when he says that he will not be mastered by anything.  He is talking about sexual immorality but it’s true for all things. The idea is that while I might feel something or desire something, I don’t HAVE to act on that.

This is where the list of qualifiers I mentioned a couple of weeks ago comes into play. Attraction (whether its creating it or being attracted) opens the door.  It means it’s time to find some stuff out.  If I’m attracted that means I need to find out more.  That’s all it means.

If we don’t bring the feeling of attraction under our control and under the Lordship of God we are setting ourselves up to fail in all sorts of different ways.

  • We can end up dating/marrying someone we know we shouldn’t.  I lost count a long time ago of the people I’ve watched date people they said they never would, simply because they “can’t help what they feel.”
  • We can waist our time pursuing someone we know we wouldn’t marry.  Hard to find the right person while dating the wrong one knowingly.
  • We can set ourselves up to consumer date.  In other words, “I’m not as attracted today so I break up” or “I met someone more attractive so I moved on”.
  • If we do get married we set ourselves up for an affair.  If I “can’t help what I feel” then  what happens when after being married for a while I meet someone else that I’m attracted to?  That will happen you realize.  There are a lot of attractive people.

Attraction matters.  It matters for sure in our context that we live in.  I don’t think we can pretend that it doesn’t.  I think a bunch of verses about beauty fading probably aren’t going to change that.  We aren’t going back to arranged marriages. But while attraction is the starting point its not the ending point.  It’s probably going to be part of the process, but it’s not the end goal.

I want to say more about managing attraction.  Things like how much attraction do you have to have, how do we help ourselves be more attractive so to speak, more on how to flee when you are attracted but shouldn’t be, and some ways to quit comparing everyone to the mystical 15 that I talked about last time.  I’m even going to give a couple of new “qualifiers” that you should look for in someone’s character when considering marriage.

But for today, how driven by attraction are you?  Are you and adult about it, or an adolescent?  Do you control what you do with it, or are you controlled by it?

The Theological Cop Out

A few weeks ago I was perusing some Christians singles sights and I came across one with a question and answer section – kind of a Dear Abby for Christian singles.  Most of it was pretty good.  However one of the most real questions got answered in a way that too many people answer singles’ real questions – namely without actually answering the real question.

A woman wrote in and basically said, “Hey I’ve read all the books on singleness and gone to church my whole life where I’ve heard plenty about what to do and not do, and what marriage is about.  However almost no one seems to address getting a date to begin with. What if I don’t have anyone to set boundaries with because I never actually have anyone? How do I know if it’s me?  How do I attract the guy to begin with.”

Now that’s called being real.  She’s saying, “I’m in.  I believe in dating and marrying right.  I’m following Jesus.  Now tell me how to start.  How do I get a date?”  I love this because she has the right heart, commitment and desire.  She just needs help forward. And she is even willing to learn, change and improve.  She’s not even mad.

So does she receive real talk back?  Not so much.  In a nutshell they tell her, “Dating is not the goal, an Ephesians 5 marriage is.  Just because you don’t ever date doesn’t mean you can’t get married.”  And this rich, “The goal is not to get dates but to discern if the person you are dating is a marriage candidate.”  What the . . . ?!  That’s why she is asking the question!!!  She would love to be discerning a candidate – how the heck does she get one.

The really long answer ends with saying, “while you are waiting for this person just focus on the Kingdom and all else shall be added.”

The thing is, it’s not that the person answering her is completely wrong.  We should seek God and the kingdom first.  We should engage community and live life well.  We should look to mature and grow. We should for sure keep in mind that the goal is not to go on 100 first dates.  It’s to find someone to marry.  But this woman was trying to go on one date, not 100.

It all sounds holy and is technically right.  It’s good help you sleep at night theology. Need a job?  Just seek the kingdom.  No reason to put a good resume together or apply anywhere.  God will bring you “the job”.  Now God might dang well bring you a job – but you still apply right?  Or you need to lose 10 pounds.  Just seek the kingdom.  God is in control.  He has you over weight for a reason.  AHHHHHHHHHHH!  In His time he will have you lose that weight.  I mean would you say that?

This sort of Oprah, postmodern “it’s all good crap” combined with bad Calvinism is killing us – and not just in dating.  But dating is one of the biggest places it shows up because it’s an easy answer – or lack of answer as the case may be.

This is especially important as guys.  We have to figure out how to actually act. Now I know some will say that they act and nothing happens.  I get that, I really do.  I’ve been there. For me that meant I needed to bring some others into the conversation at a deep level.  I needed some men to help me quit over thinking and over spiritualizing the whole thing.  I needed some people to challenge what part of my being single was my fault.  People to sit in it with me.

In the end it was that familiar combination of me dealing with my sin (including insecurity – which is a sin) and God bringing someone great into my life.  But I don’t think it would have “just happened”.

Here’s what I’m really getting at.  We need to deal with the reality whatever that is. Yes we need to know the need for sexual boundaries.  We need to keep the end in mind. We need to grow in Jesus.  We need to use discernment. But to get married, especially if you’re over 25, you’ll probably need to first figure out how to go on a date.  Hopefully not 100.  But at least one.

It’s ok to ask those real questions.  Why do women turn me down?  Why do I clam up when I’m around someone I like?  What am I afraid of?  Why is no one attracted to me? Why am I not attracted to anyone? Why can’t I commit? How do I increase attraction early on?  How do I get a date or two?  There are all sorts of answers depending on the situation.  There’s not one nice little answer for everyone.  

To some extent there is theological truth in every situation, fair enough.  But sometimes it’s not the only answer we need.

Why Church People Hate Singleness

I’ve determined that church people really hate singles issues.  Now they don’t hate singles (even though some singles might feel that way).  I think they for the most part really do care.  But I think they hate it and avoid dealing with it.

I’ve been thinking about why they feel that way, and I’ve come to some conclusions. This is not meant to be exhaustive, just my first thoughts.

First of all, people they care about are hurting.  There are people that church leaders care for that really want to get married.  They see the desire in their people’s hearts and it bothers them that they aren’t met.

Secondly they hate it because it leads to all sorts of messy problems within the church that they don’t have good answers for.  This guy won’t leave this girl alone.  These two went out three times and now the girl thinks because it didn’t work out that the guy is a player out to do harm.  A single man has the qualities to be an elder, but what if he dates someone in the church, what if it doesn’t work out?  What if he dates someone from a different church?  What if a woman from the church likes him and he isn’t interested? Is he more likely to fall into sexual sin than a married man?  What does that scripture about the husband of one wife mean? (For the record it means don’t have more than one wife).

It’s a mess.  It’s not supposed to work this way.  But our culture has changed.  Marriage is in the decline.  If we were to continue on the trend we are on right now, married people really will be in the minority in our country.  But the church isn’t set up for that.  It also isn’t set up to help us navigate our way out of it.  And that is freaking frustrating.

Thirdly, church people hate singleness because there is no easy biblical answer to the problem.  There are some biblical answers, but we don’t like most of them.  So what mostly happens instead is that we end up trying to make them up.  We like nice little bible answers.  We like when we can say to a married man, “Love your wife in this way or that, because a verse in the bible says it that way.” Or to a married woman, “respect your husband this or that way because there is a verse or two in the bible that says it that way.”

One of the reasons the Church likes to talk about marriage and family (not the only reason) is that it makes a really good sermon.  Singleness. . . . not so much.  Not only that but you can toss a word or two into a marriage sermon about singleness because most single people in the church want to get married.  Married people aren’t interested in the single sermon.  They should be, but they’re not.

The word singleness isn’t even in the bible.  Actually I guess the word is in 2nd Chronicles but not the way we mean it.  Dating is not in the bible.  Neither is courting in case you thought it was.  Taking a wife in the bible often meant literally taking one – and that probably won’t preach.

You see the problem with dealing with singleness is that you actually have to get dirty to do it.  To give any sort of answer that matters you have to jump in with the single person.  You can’t quote a verse, do a study and walk away feeling good about yourself because it won’t do the trick.

To deal with singleness we’d have to deal with things like the call to celibacy.  That actually is in the bible, but in 20 years in church I’ve never once heard a pastor do it justice.  I for sure have never seen a small group set up to determine if you might be called to it.

To deal with singleness we have to get in with the single person and help them navigate why they (that one person) is single?  It requires actually walking through things like, fear of commitment, awkwardness with the opposite sex, communication with the opposite sex, confidence around the opposite sex, insecurities and sin, not to mention the sins of consumerism, sexual immorality, and laziness.  It means dealing directly with people’s wounds over an extended period of time. It means dealing with fear – not creating it. 

We can tell men to man up and women to dress up until we are blue in the face but at some point we have to actually know the man or the woman and find out what’s up.  We can talk all day about God’s timing and waiting on the one He has for you, but at some point we have to move beyond sounding deep and go deep with people.

It means not pretending that there is biblical answers where there aren’t.  And church people hate that because they want there to be a biblical answer even where there isn’t one.  By the way this includes single church people too.

If the Church is interested in changing the trend and reaching out to the unmarried (50% of America is unmarried. 80% of those between 18-29 are) then maybe it’s time the Church “Man’s Up” itself and rethinks how it goes at this deal.

 

 

 

 

The Myth Of The Christian Soulmate

This last weekend my fiancee and I were discussing our attempts to read Christian Fiction. First, what does that even mean exactly?  Fiction written by Christians?  Fiction about Christians? Is it always about white people living in the old west?

At any rate, one of the biggest genre is the Christian Romance Novel.  So I decided to go to my favorite resource for books, Amazon.  Wow!  Ok, here we go.  For starters apparently only Christians can write “religious fiction”.  Anyone else I guess either never writes fiction or they just don’t get a section.  Then we get to the breakdown of different types of “Christian Fiction”.  There are 183 books under Biblical fiction 3700 books under historical fiction and . . . wait for it. . . almost 8000 books under Christian Romance.

Moving past the fact that most of these appear to be about Amish people let’s get to why I’m bringing this up.  The Christian culture has been inundated with a false sense of romantic love.

It’s not really about the books which even most Christians don’t read.  It’s about the fact that we play along with what the world says and just Christianize it.  The world says that I have to have another person to be complete, that there is someone out there for you who is exactly right for you.  We say, God has someone for you.

This reminds me of back when Christian rock was getting started.  Here was the sell.  “Hey man did you hear these guys?  They are just like Metallica man – except Christian.” Really!?

One of the things that drives me the most crazy about all of this is we are never first. Never. Everything we do is a freaking reaction to what we see as “wrong” with culture.  There’s hard rock music, let’s make a Christian version.  There’s romance novels, let’s make a Christian version.  Ahhhhh.  The latest is of course, there’s online dating so let’s make a Christian version.

The truth is we should have thought of most of these first.  But we didn’t.  Worse though, most of the time “our” version isn’t as good, and we end up preaching mostly to the choir. The most effective way to make a difference as a Christian artist – don’t get labeled as one.

But here is my point today.  We have invented what I call the “Myth Of The Christian Soulmate.”

It’s everywhere.  Christian Mingle’s about section reads, “The ideal place for Christian men and women to find friends, dates, and even soulmates.”  I can’t count the times in my 20 years of singleness that someone has said something to the effect of “God has someone for you” or “God just hasn’t brought you the one yet” or “Make sure you wait for “the one” God has – don’t settle”.  What could be more paralyzing than that last one?

All of this is some sort of weird cross between romance novel, misplaced Calvinism, and what I call Help You Sleep At Night Theology.  And it is no where in the Bible.

In an attempt to encourage the hurting and lonely, as well as be protective (and often controlling) of the flock, we end up giving platitudes that aren’t really helpful in the long run and just aren’t true.

There is nothing in the Bible about soulmates.  Nothing.  It is not there.  There is nothing about how to find someone to marry.  There are some, and I mean only some, principles for marriage and getting married.  But there are no promises about God bringing you a spouse, let alone a perfect one.

The soulmate idea is bad for a lot of reasons.  The idea that I’m incomplete without someone and if I just find this other person I will be whole.  No person can fill that role. We need to be complete in Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that because we have Jesus that we shouldn’t want a spouse.  But a spouse (real or wanted) should not be put in the savior role.

It can make us mad at God.  If He has my soulmate and hasn’t brought them to me, then it’s His fault.  This is also a convenient way to avoid any responsibility what so ever. Perfect.

Finally, judging every encounter through the soulmate lens pressurizes the whole process. Some of us can never even get into a relationship at all because no one “meets” the soulmate criteria.  Others think everyone they fall for is their soulmate and then when it doesn’t turn out they have to either try desperately to hang on or beat themselves up for “missing it.”

As I’ve said before, I believe that God can and does send people into our lives.  But guess what, we get to choose what to do with that.  And isn’t that what we want anyway?  Isn’t it more romantic to be chosen than to be destined?