The Myth Of Reformed Romance

Have you ever gone into the Christian Fiction section in a bookstore.  It’s sort of unbelievable.  First of all, I still have not figured out what exactly counts as Christian fiction.  Why do we have our own section – why can’t it just be in the fiction section but written by Christians?  Is there a Jewish fiction section??  The truth is that we have our own section because we want it, and we are the only people that would possibly read it.

But the most disturbing thing about the Christian fiction section is the focus on what can best be described as Christian romance novels.  It’s incredible.  I would wager that close to 70% of the books in this section fit that category.  Probably more.  More amazing is that of those romance novels, probably 80% are either western or amish. Talk about a limited audience.

We’re in obvious need of better literature but that isn’t why I bring this all up.  I bring it up because rather than lead in what love, marriage, and singleness looks like (let alone what good literature looks like) we in western Christian culture have adopted what the world says and then arranged our theology and practices to accommodate it.  The impact of this runs much deeper than we realize and impacts not only Christians but everyone else.

We have made romance the thing.  We don’t say that directly of course. We’re more “holy” than that. Instead we couch it in what I call Reformed Romance.  This is where we sort of combine secular romance and shaky Calvinism.

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How Hollywood Is Helping To Kill Marriage

A couple of months ago I was flipping channels late one night and Jessica Simpson was guest on Conan. They were doing the usual chit chat when they began to talk about fact that she was pregnant with her second child with current fiance Eric Johnson.  She talked about how it wasn’t really planned, I mean they just had baby number one a year ago, but that they were excited.

Friends, our culture is backwards.  And Hollywood is for it.  To top it off, the media actually “covers” Hollywood.  Think about that. It’s funny, but it’s not.  

We live in a culture in which marriage is declining.  Less and less people are getting married.  And those that are, are doing so much later.  But they are not waiting to do “married” things, such as live together and have children.  In fact, in the United States today more women have their first kid out of wedlock than in it, and for many that is by choice.

There are so many reasons for all of this and I’ve debated on whether to even bring Hollywood into the discussion here, but I think if we are going to talk about singleness and marriage in our current culture we can’t leave it out.  Hollywood and the media are part of the reason that there is less and less marriage in America.

We are a media and entertainment society.  It’s everywhere, all the time.  Hollywood has gained power and influence because of it.  If we are going to walk with Jesus in the culture we need to be sure that we know what is going on around us.

First, there are the movies and TV shows that Hollywood puts out.  I actually believe there is more good writing, producing, acting and compelling entertainment than ever before.  I’m not really “against” it.  But because we are so inundated with it, we need to make sure we realize the subtle messages it sends including these four:

1. Romance almost always equals sex, and sex right now.  Quick, name one TV show or movie where the main characters fall in love and wait until marriage to have sex.  Sex is always for right now and not tied to commitment or consequence.

2. Ending up together is always the end, never the beginning.  The message is this, all the struggle, journey, and fun is in getting the person.  Ending up together is the end of the story.  In real life it is more like the beginning.  But when you grow up on TV and movies your expectations don’t line up with that.

3. Fewer and fewer shows have a working marriage in them.  There are some.  Friday Night Lights had perhaps the most realistic marriage I’ve ever seen on TV.  But compared to even 15 years ago the pictures of marriage are small.

4.  The married guy is almost always the one with the boring life.  The husband stereotype is extremely bad.  They are all either passive, distant, mean or stupid.  Almost never is the hero of the movie married.  Again there are some (Cinderella Man comes to mind) but they are in the minority.

But all of what I’ve said so far isn’t Hollywood’s only impact on marriage.  There are two other big factors to recognize.

We have allowed a group of people who are entertainers by trade to dominate our culture with their personal lives.  Their lives are a mess, and yet somehow what they do and say carries sway.

Now some of us watch the mess because we like to judge them and build our own self righteousness.  Others of us watch them (read about them, follow them on twitter, etc) because we are entertained by their chaos.  Oddly both of these negate the fact that these are actual people. They’re not “real” and yet we follow them – and they are not getting married.

Entertainment is always both a reflection of our current society and an attempt to influence it.  Which leads me to an important point I want to make.  I believe that the Hollywood Elites are basically opposed to marriage.  It’s not a conspiracy or anything but we need to understand that the people running the show (literally) are not on the side of covenant marriage with one person for life, and it shows in everything they do.

The only marriage the Hollywood Elites are for is gay marriage.  And frankly if it were legal everywhere they’d probably be against that.

Finally, because there is so much entertainment available it’s easy for singles to use entertainment and entertainers as their escape from loneliness.  It used to be that entertainment was something you went to – with other people.  Now it comes to you – on your phone.  This is not helpful for singles looking to engage others or pursue relationship.

What does this have to do with walking with Jesus in our culture?  Everything.  If we are going to love people around us we need to recognize that this stuff has impact on them.  And, like it or not, we are impacted by it.  We don’t have to turn it all off, but we do need to be intentional about how we let it influence us as well as recognize how it influences those around us.

How do you think the entertainment industry has affected your singleness?  How has it shaped your view of marriage?

God’s Plan For Marriage

Several months ago. while talking about my upcoming marriage, an encouraging friend said, “It’s amazing.  You’ve had to wait all this time.  And this whole time God had this plan and person for you.”  I just kind of grinned.  After 20 years of singleness in the Church, I’ve heard it all.

You know he might be right, but if he is then we’ve got a God who has changed his mind about marriage.

Here’s what I mean.  If we play out that there is one person for you from the beginning and that God has a plan to bring you a perfect Christian soulmate, then God has changed His mind about how to deliver it.

It seems that early on God wanted us to grow up and get married at about 14.  Now this makes some sense.  I mean we hit puberty in our early teens (or earlier) so let’s do this deal.  Besides, you might only live to 40 so all the more reason.

But it gets better.  God also decided that for centuries he would deliver this soulmate through arranged marriages.  Now before you get in your head the perfect scenario for this where all parents are believers and they only hook you up with the hot chick, think again and ask yourself if you’d like your parents to pick your spouse for you when you were about 10.  As the song goes, “At 3 I started Hebrew school, at 10 I learned a trade.  I hear they’ve picked a bride for me, I hope, she’s pretty. . . Tradition.”

Not only that, but this was only done within your caste.  God didn’t want anyone to marry up or down economically or socially.  He just wanted the deal done.

But then God decided that in the “New World” things would be different.  Each person should now go and find their own spouse and everyone would have full right of refusal. (Unless you were a woman who kind of had to say yes to someone because you couldn’t get a job).

But God wasn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  He decided that even though he had this perfect person “planned” for you, that he wouldn’t be revealing that right away.  Now early on, he only made you wait until you were 18-23 (after all, He had already pushed back adulthood by 4 years – he was just getting started).

God enjoyed holding out on us so much that He decided to keep pushing the limit. In fact over the last 40 years He has been dropping the amount of people to receive the “great reveal” before the age of 29 by about a percentage point per year so that now in 2013 only 20% of those people currently receive this revelation.

To sum up God’s “plan”, if you were born 500 years ago He revealed your “one” to your parents when you were a kid.  If you were born 100 years ago He revealed to you by 20. And now, He’ll reveal it to 1 in 5 of us by 29.

Is that the message we want to send single people?  Because essentially when we drop the “God has someone for you, just wait on it”, that is what we are saying.

Here’s the truth, this whole idea is way more about western culture affecting theology than the other way around.  But worse, when we combine it with our culture, it sets up to fail, both in finding a spouse and in staying married.

I believe that marriage was meant to be a calling and a choice.  So is staying married.  Like any other calling you can of course walk away from it.

But this idea of having to find God’s one person that is perfect for me is a crazy way to go about singleness, even if it were to be true.

Among a myriad of other problems, it helps turn us into consumer daters.  We end up looking for this person that fits whatever we think God would have for us.  Right away we are in trouble.  I mean find the person who says, “God has this person planned for me who doesn’t meet all my needs and has all these personal issues”.  At the very least, if you are going to believe that God has one person for you to marry, flip the script.  In other words ask who you are perfect for instead of who is perfect for you.  That will get you a step closer to truth – Heck, that’d I’d maybe buy.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we go back to having our parents marry us off at 14.  We don’t live in that culture.  We live in this one.  I’m also not saying God doesn’t bring people into our lives because I know for sure that He does.  What I am saying is that we need to quit treating our singleness as if God is the Great Witholder and I just need to be good, and wait out this person He currently refuses to reveal to me.

God’s main plan is for us to know and walk with Him.  That is our first calling and vow.  After that we need to ask, are we called to celibacy or marriage? Then we need to pursue that calling with God, figuring out stuff that gets in the way.  We in the Church to stop giving out sleep at night theology and help people do those three things.

Is Attraction Secular?

Two summers ago I was in a rough spot emotionally in terms of dating.  I’d worked through a lot of my personal stuff and had been on quite a few dates via online and set ups etc. But I just wasn’t excited about any of it.  It’s not that some of these ladies weren’t great but I just wasn’t into it.  I joked that my give a shizz was broken.

One night while hanging out with my brother, his wife and some other friends this subject came up.  My sister in law said basically, “well marriage isn’t all about attraction.  I mean it’s tough sometimes and really it’s a decision.  You don’t always ‘feel it'”

Now those are true and wise words.  And in a sense there is an even deeper truth – you could marry anyone and if you are committed great stuff could happen.  But, as I pointed out that night, that is not how we typically start out and almost no one marries someone they aren’t attracted to.  No woman wants this as a proposal:

“Hey Sally.  These last few months have been ok.  I know we don’t really have much spark but I think we match up pretty well.  I know we’d both be committed.  We love Jesus and could learn to love each other.  So what do you say?  Let’s get married.”

Now I’m not saying that it couldn’t work.  Heck, I’m not even saying that it shouldn’t work. But what I am saying is that is not the world we live in.

Here’s a question we need to ask in the Christian dating scene.  Does attraction matter? Or better asked, is attraction a secular phenomenon?

There are some in the Christian culture who would say, it’s not about attraction.  Now there is some wisdom in this.  It’s important for people to gain an understanding that marriage is not all about sexual attraction.  This is where the secular idea of romance has led us astray.  The secular model implies that you must always feel this or something is wrong and you should end it.  That is consumer dating/marriage and it is for sure wrong.

But, in the Church, often times we act as if attraction shouldn’t matter or at the very least, we don’t know what to do with it.  We know that it can’t be the only thing, but we don’t seem to know what role it should play.  Often in an attempt to push back against the secular idea that we must always be attracted, we end up negating it almost completely.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Attraction has to be part of the conversation.  We can’t just attack the secular version without owning the reality of attraction.

It’s a mistake we make all of the time.  Too many times throughout history the Church has denied the obvious.  We’ve basically said that science or reason or philosophy is wrong, just because we don’t like the reality.  Or, maybe worse, we acquiesce parts of the battle and fall back to a defensive position.  In so doing we end up with a God of the Gaps.  In the science example God becomes the God of the stuff we can’t explain by science.

The biggest problem with this is that God owns it all, including science and in this case, including attraction.

God created us and he gave us the feeling of attraction.  It’s not a bad thing.  It is part of what makes us want to get married.  Yes the secular world has perverted it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, we have to instead take it back and put it in it’s proper place.

We don’t get to just say that it’s not all about attraction and move on.  We have to actually deal with what healthy attraction looks like.

I get that “back in the day” there were arranged marriages and you got what you got.  (In fact one of the theories about the origin of not seeing the bride before the wedding was so that the neither party would make a run for it because they weren’t attracted).  But unless the Church is willing to go back to arranged marriages (future blog) then we are going to have to deal with attraction.

The truth is we need some serious help here.  There are some who unless they are “perfectly attracted” won’t commit.  That’s completely unrealistic and we need to step in. There are others who don’t know how to handle themselves when they are attracted and we need to step in there as well.  Finally there are those who unknowingly keep making themselves less attractive.  In true community we need to have the guts and honesty to help them as well.

We need to own and understand attraction because God does.  It’s not the problem, our response to it can be.

What has the Church (your Christian community) taught you about attraction?  Has it helped or hurt your singleness and/or marriage?

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?

Sexual Immorality Leads Away From Marriage

C.S Lewis once said, “It would seem Our Lord Finds our desires not to strong but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he can not imagine what is meant by a holiday at sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to what we have done with sex and marriage in our culture.  We have created a mess.

The problem is not desire.  The problem is that when we try to fill the desire the wrong way (not just sexual desire), it get’s in the way of the right way of fulfilling it.

Sixty years ago 60% of people aged 18-29 were married.  Today only 20% of that same demographic has ever been married.  That is a dramatic change. We are typically entering puberty earlier (there’s not space here to go into why) and yet waiting longer to get married.  So where as we used to say, “just wait 5 years or so to be married”, now we basically say, “just wait 15 years to have sex”.  Thats crazy!  The problem is cyclical because in one sense it’s harder to wait that long, but in another sense because people are giving up and meeting that desire other ways, it is making people have less desire to get married.

Paul writes in 1st Corinthians that if you want to have sex, get married.  He basically says, “rather than burn with unmet desire, get married and meet it the right way.”  But this is a far cry from where we are at today, even in the Church.

We mess this up a lot of different ways and none of them help us when we are single or even later when we get married.

One plan often offered is to kill the desire.  This is where we just basically tell people sex is bad, don’t have it.  We may not say it but we essentially end up leading people there.  This is a horrible idea because desire for sex isn’t bad  Being controlled by it (or any other desire) is but the desire for sex and intimacy is a huge part of the reason for marriage. Worst of all, if I get married, I won’t be able to just flip a switch that all of a sudden makes sex good.

But more often what we do is go out and meet our desire for sex in some other way. Sometimes this means having sex outside of marriage. This does not lead down a path to marriage.  That’s not to say that people who do this don’t get married but it doesn’t increase the chances.  This is why so many people who live together end up not getting married.  Playing house and being married are not the same thing.  Sex before covenant is never beneficial.

But the biggest problem in the church right now is what I call Lazy Sexual Immorality. This is where I don’t meet my sexual need with another person at all.  Instead I just watch, read or think about someone else doing it and “meet” my need that way.  Tony Campolo once said, “If you are going to sin, at least do it boldly.”  These are the opposite of bold. They are gutless.

If you are under 30 you have seen internet porn.  It’s just the truth.  You have.  The average age a person first sees it right now is 11.  Read that again.  Now this screws us up in all sorts of ways.  But fantasy and habitual masturbation are right behind it.  They are all ways that we can meet our needs without having to “involve” someone else.  And they are killing us.  I have a friend who says that every guy thinks marriage is going to be a porn movie and every girl thinks it’s going to be a romance novel.  It’s not either.  It should be better.  But that is what we are expecting, and when it doesn’t happen we bail.

When we meet our sexual desire outside of marriage it leads us away from marriage.  Either we get our desire met, and therefore don’t want to make the sacrifices to meet them in the right way, or we get wrapped up in our shame and guilt and therefore either can’t engage the real thing or feel like we don’t now “deserve” it.  Usually some sick twisted combination of all of the above.

It’s a nasty cycle and a lot of people are in it.  I’ve been in it many times in one form or another.  Fortunately, you don’t have to stay in it.  I’m going to write more on that soon.  But for today the question really is this: What are you doing with your sexual desire?  How are you meeting it?  Do you see how that affects you from engaging the real thing?