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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Should You Pray For A Spouse?

One of the things I did a lot as a single person is pray for a spouse.  That took a lot of different forms.  Sometimes it was simple and relaxed.  Other times it took the form of crying out (read begging) for God to bring me The One.  Often when I really thought someone could be the one it was praying for God to “make it happen”, sometimes before I’d even been on a date (that hurts a little to type – Ha!).

But over and over again for years, it never happened.  God didn’t “answer” my prayer.

This really begs two different types of questions.  First, should we, and if so how should we, pray about gaining a spouse.  Second, why is it that God doesn’t seem to answer this prayer or as I like to say, why doesn’t God just “poof” us a spouse.

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Is Getting Married In God’s Hands?

I recently received an email from a reader asking some questions about a particular situation.  I won’t go into the details but one of the things she said was that she was trying to leave the situation in God’s hands.  This is similar to some things I’ve talked about before but I want to revisit this idea.

This message of waiting for God to bring me the one or that God will bring the right one at the right time is super problematic if not wrong entirely.  And yet it comes from everywhere.  I remember once sitting in church and hearing the pastor in a marriage sermon say that he knew there were frustrated singles because God had not brought them the person yet.

It’s used often as a spiritual platitude spoken to singles as well as by singles themselves.  Especially women.

It’s extremely shaky.

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Look For A One, Not The One

I want to continue today to respond to a message from Al Mohler.  I’m using several posts for this because I believe that a lot of what Mohler is saying is representative of the kind of things that church leaders believe and teach.  It’s not a Mohler problem.  It’s our problem. To his credit – at least he flat out says it.

We’ve talked previously of the idea that our walk with Jesus is seen through the lens of marriage mainly and how that makes the nuclear family an idol as well as how using young men as the scapegoat of our society is not right and obviously not working.

Today I want to address a smaller part of Mohler’s statement that leads to total confusion and frustration in the Church’s singles.

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A Good God And Singleness

In my last post I shared some thoughts in response to what Scott Sauls wrote at Relevant’s site about why we in the Church focus so much on the nuclear family.  The focus of that post was to point out that we need to focus on God’s family not the nuclear family.  Simply saying that the nuclear family is not the savior or necessary for salvation is not a good enough starting point.

Today, I want to talk about the idea that God is running every aspect of our dating lives.

I want to again say that I’m not trying to go after Scott but simply saying that what he writes, while better than what a lot of Church leaders are doing, is frankly not enough.  I believe he represents what many people in leadership are thinking.  There are assumptions here that I believe are at best short sighted.

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Spouse or Robot?

This last weekend I was leading a discussion that centered around the idea of that we are not to be OF the world.  In the world yes, but not of it.  We were discussing 1 John 2:15-17 which tells us not to love the world.  But if we are not to love the world, then we have to know what the world or “Spirit of the Age” is.  If we don’t name it, then it is very easy to get lulled to sleep and passively get sucked into being a part of it.  We came up with three Spirits of the Age: Busyness, Tolerance (which really means accepting anything as truth) and Consumerism.

As I’m sure you can figure out, these worldly trends have a huge impact on us when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Now I’ll spend some time on each of these in different ways in the following weeks but for today, I just want to mess with us a little in case you think these things aren’t impacting where we are going.

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The Big Decision

A little while back I was leading a small group discussion about sex and dating as it relates to working with adolescents.  Various ages of people were in the group.  Let’s call it 19-30. None of them were married (which makes sense because 80% of people in that age range aren’t).

It’s always interesting to me in these type of conversations to see what people talk about. Two things almost always rise to the surface.  First is that everyone knows that sex outside of marriage is wrong.  That message in the church is pretty clear.

But the second thing that always comes out is that people are lost on most everything else. No one knows what to do as far as dating and marriage and the messages are so mixed that confusion reigns.

The church’s message and the worlds message has become completely entangled.  The church thinks it’s being different, but really they are mostly being confusing – except of course for the sex part.

We are ok at telling people what to do in marriage.  Not great, but ok.  But my goodness our message to the unmarried is crazy.

We leave celibacy out completely which creates a giant vacuum in the conversation.  Most protestants don’t even know what it means.  We then assign the gift of singleness to all the unmarried people.  This of course screws over both those who have the gift and those who don’t.

But today I want to tackle and maybe cut through a different point of confusion.

This starts with the idea that we can avoid divorce or marriage disfunction by choosing the perfect person to marry, otherwise known as the “one” God has for us.  This of course creates the fear of choosing wrong.  So the goal is to get married – but only to the right person.

I can remember being taught (and teaching) that the second biggest decision you will ever make is who you marry.  The biggest decision of course was what you do with Jesus.

I get the point of this platitude.  You can add in all the other things we get told along this line as singles.  “Better to be alone than marry the wrong person”, “God will bring you the right one at the right time.”  I could go on, but you get the idea.

The idea here is seek marriage but be really careful.  There is truth in that.  But taken even a little to far it moves from caution to fear and/or unfair standards.

Here’s what I mean.  If we are waiting for THE ONE then we start getting into our heads what that ONE should be like and anyone who doesn’t match that we dismiss.  That leads to this weird sort of consumer dating where people are really good for us, but they just aren’t the right one.

But maybe worse, I think we have created a false fear.  We end up creating this huge pressure situation.  I mean if the second biggest decision ever, for all time, is the person you marry – how can you be sure you are making the right decision?

Let me offer a different view.

First, there is not THE ONE – or any of her cousins (the right one, God’s one, the one for me, my soulmate, the perfect match, the one God has for me, etc…)

Second, marriage is a choice – a decision.  But who you marry is only a part of that choice. Here’s what I mean.  You make a decision that you are called to be married.  In other words you are not called to celibacy. Then there is a decision to pursue that.  Then there are the qualifiers that you are looking for – the type of person.

Now when you stand in front at your wedding you get to make another choice. That is you make vows before God to this other person.  Now this actually is the big decision, regardless of who is standing there.  Marriage is not a contract. There is a legal contract but that really is irrelevant in some ways.  Marriage is meant to be a covenant and sacrament before God.

When you say these vows you are choosing to make a promise.  You are deciding that you will love, honor and cherish this person no matter what and in all circumstances.  Once you make that decision now you get to make a series of decisions over the rest of your life – the choice of whether or not to honor those vows – regardless of what else happens.  And you get to make that BIG decision over and over again.

Love is a choice – a decision.  Feeling love isn’t.  Attraction isn’t.  But love is. Otherwise God wouldn’t be able to command it.  No where in the bible does God command a feeling.

The funny thing is that until recently in history, a lot of times people didn’t really get to choose who they married.  Most of them were teenagers.  And yet everything in the scripture about marriage was true for them.  They were called to the biblical principles of marriage.  They had to choose whether or not to follow them.  Same deal today.

We get to choose who we marry.  It is a big deal and it is a powerful picture of both choosing someone and being chosen.  But it’s only part of an endless series of decisions. It isn’t the final decision and when we make it that we are setting ourselves up for failure, both as singles and as marrieds.