Posts tagged ‘Romance’

Kissing Dating Goodbye

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Credit: Colin Maynard on Unsplash

I remember reading the book in college. Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye defined what romantic relational purity looked like for Christian kids like me in the late 90s. And yet, even back then, I looked at the book with some skepticism. “Is this really what the Bible teaches about dating?” I wondered.

The man who once gave countless Christian college kids plenty to ponder has now given countless Christian believers plenty to mourn. Recently, Mr. Harris announced that he and his wife were separating. But that wasn’t all. Shortly after announcing the dissolution of his marriage, he offered an even sadder revelation about his faith in an Instagram post:

I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.

Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years – repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.

A man who was once a prominent Christian author – and later also became a pastor – has now publicly declared he is no longer a believer.

The apostle Paul once admonished a pastor named Timothy to continue “holding on to faith and a good conscience” so that he might not, as some in his day did, reject Christ and suffer “shipwreck with regard to the faith” (1 Timothy 1:19).  There seems to be no other way to describe what has happened to Mr. Harris than as a “shipwreck.”

In an article for National Review, David French described the dangers inherent in Mr. Harris’s former view of sex and relationships when he explained that what Mr. Harris argued for:

…wasn’t wanton repression or cruelty. Many parents had entered adulthood wounded by past broken relationships. They regretted the mistakes of their youth and desperately wanted their kids to avoid similar heartbreak. Also – and this is crucial for understanding purity culture – they fervently believed in a specific earthly reward for their child’s youthful obedience. Courtship represented the best method of ensuring a healthy, sexually vibrant marriage to a faithful spouse. 

This is what writer Katelyn Beaty called the “sexual prosperity gospel,” an “if/then” transactional relationship with God that manufactures a series of promises from scripture and then creates a form of Christian entitlement and expectation. “I did what You asked, Lord, now may I see my reward?”

Mr. French’s analysis of the problems in Mr. Harris’s older teaching strikes me as precisely correct. Living legalistically before marriage does not ensure anyone a “happily ever after” sexually or otherwise in marriage.

And yet…

Perhaps, in our haste to highlight the problems with the evangelical purity culture of yesteryear, we have also managed to overlook a bit of its value. Joshua Harris once argued that a Christian should not date – or even kiss a girl – before marriage. Commanding such a thing is rank legalism. Holding up restrained and modest relationships as viable and valuable options, however, might just be okay – and even wise. We do, after all, live in a sexually obsessed society that, in many ways, despises just about anything that even remotely smacks of sexual self-control. In what other culture could a movie like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” be so self-evidentially funny? We love to spurn just about any sexual standard.

So, perhaps it’s not so bad to cut against the grain of our sexually licentious zeitgeist – not so that we can somehow present ourselves as especially holy or manufacture later sexual marital bliss, but because we know that inside of all of us lies a fair amount of sexual weakness. Recognizing that – and drawing humble boundaries in light of that – is not a bad thing.

Before Joshua Harris’s fall from faith, he had previously apologized for much of what he wrote in I Kissed Dating Goodbye:

To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry. I never intended to hurt you. I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God.

This was a much-needed apology. But what he wrote next is striking to me:

To those of you who benefitted from my book, I am so grateful that something I wrote helped you.

There were some blessings and benefits in what Joshua Harris once wrote in his now infamous book. In a world that idolizes sex and dating, his book offered a reminder – even if it was a broken and incomplete one – that the romantic relationship you have doesn’t define who you are.

Jesus does.

Sadly, Joshua Harris, in his recantation of his faith, not only rejected his Lord, but defined himself by his mistakes – by his wrongheaded guidance, by his failed marriage, and by the self-righteousness of his past. May I humbly remind him that none of that defines him?

Jesus does.

As Mr. Harris once wrote in his own book:

The world takes us to a silver screen on which flickering images of passion and romance play, and as we watch, the world says, “This is love.” God takes us to the foot of a tree on which a naked and bloodied man hangs and says, “This is love.”

God always defines love by pointing to His Son. This was the only way our sins could be forgiven. The innocent One took the place of the guilty. 

Which means the innocent One took the place of Josh, too.

I hope and pray Joshua Harris rediscovers this precious truth. And I hope and pray you, dear reader, hold fast to this precious truth.

August 5, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Black and White

Movie TheatreComing to a theatre near you this Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day: 110 minutes of expectation and titillation wrapped in the package of a movie based on a best-selling novel. E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has been widely panned by literary critics. Jesse Kornbluth, writing for the Huffington Post, admits, “As a reading experience, Fifty Shades of Grey is a sad joke, puny of plot, padded with conversations that are repeated five or six times and email exchanges that are neither romantic nor witty.”[1] A quick tour through a few of the novel’s more infamous lines quickly reveals just how bad the writing really is:

  • His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.
  • My subconscious is furious, medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
  • Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe.[2]

If you think the line, “Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe” makes for a good novel, in the timeless words of the professor from Waterboy, “There’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata.” I’ve never read either of these authors, but something tells me E.L. James makes Danielle Steele look downright Shakespearean. Something also tells me that when James was writing her novel, clicks on Thesaurus.com went through the roof. Yet, over 10 million copies of this stilted, silly prose have been sold worldwide.

In all honesty, though the awful writing really does bother me, there is a much more sinister side to Fifty Shades of Grey – something that deserves serious theological reflection. This novel unashamedly, unabashedly revels in its sexual depravity. It is a sick foray into all sorts of sexual sin. Some reviewers have gone so far as to call it “mommy porn.”[3] The overarching plot line explores the sexually abusive relationship between a wealthy 27-year old entrepreneur named Christian Grey and a 21-year old college senior named Ana Steele. Christian warns Ana that he is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy” and introduces her to his room full of BDSM toys. It is their masochistic sexual encounters that form the meat of the novel. Indeed, reports indicate that in the 110-minute movie version, over 20 minutes are devoted to sex scenes.[4] And people have worked themselves into a flurry of anxious anticipation to see them.

Let me cut through the grey and be black and white for a moment: You should not go see this movie. You should not read the book. That’s the bottom line of this blog. You don’t need to encounter the explicit contents of this book and movie firsthand to know its implications are evil.  Allow me to give you three reasons why I believe this.

1. Fifty Shades of Grey robs people – and especially women – of their dignity.

I myself do not know all the illicit details of the sexual encounters between Christian and Ana, nor do I care to. But I do know that BDSM – whether it be in a novel, in a movie, or in real life – is an affront to basic human dignity. Tying up another person and calling them all sorts of nasty names, as is common in these types of sexual encounters, cannot be anywhere near what God had in mind when He designed sex so “two [could] become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the description of the righteous woman in Proverbs 31 haunts me as I think about the relationship peddled by this book: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Ana is robbed of both her strength and dignity in this story. May what is fiction never become what is reality.

One additional note on this topic: even if you are married and trust each other implicitly, BDSM still degrades the divine design for human sexuality. It simply does not square with what Paul writes concerning the marital relationship: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). Sex and marriage need tenderness.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey portrays people as little more than the sum of their desires.

Somehow, we have bought into this myth that if we do not indulge whatever sexual desires, fantasies, dreams, or fetishes we might have, we are not being true to ourselves. We are repressing ourselves. First, allow me to say a word about our feckless use of the word “repression.” Repression is when a person pushes something – usually a memory – out of their conscious awareness as a defense mechanism against the pain it causes. Repression often requires psychological help. Suppression, on the other hand, is when a person consciously chooses not to indulge a particular appetite. Repression is almost always dangerous. Suppression, on the other hand, can often be good. For example, I have often desired to try to take out the 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, but I have suppressed myself. Why? Because there is no way that would be good for me. I also sometimes desire to sleep in rather than to get up early to work out. But I suppress my sleep and get up. Why? Because I know working out is good for me.

Just because we desire something doesn’t make it good or good for us. This is why the apostle Peter warns: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). You are more than the sum of your desires. And you are most true to yourself not when you’re following every whim and desire, but when you’re following Jesus.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey gives false hope for a happy ending.

Perhaps what disturbs me most about Fifty Shades of Grey is not its graphic descriptions of bizarre sexual encounters, but the arc of the broader plot line over the whole Fifty Shades trilogy. In volume two, Christian and Ana get married. By the end of volume three, the reader learns the couple has two children. Christian, it seems, has been tamed. And even though it’s left unspoken, the emotion of the ending is clear: “And they lived happily ever after.”

Here’s the problem with this ending: if the first part of the story is true, the last part cannot be. The Fifty Shades trilogy tells the story of light being born out of darkness. It tells the story of tender love emerging out of sadomasochism. In real life, however, this does not happen – at least not in the way Fifty Shades presents it. Evil does not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to birth something good.” No. Evil begets evil. If you don’t believe me, read up on the doctrine of original sin. The only way for good to emerge from evil is not by evil’s behest, but by evil’s demise. Jesus didn’t come and ask evil to be a little better. He came and nailed it to a cross. There’s where the hope for a “happily ever after” ending is. Not in some accidental stumbling of righteousness out of wickedness.

I hope this is enough – if you were thinking about seeing the movie or reading the book – to stop you. Researching the story and thinking through its repercussions is certainly enough for me.  And I also hope this is enough – if you’re trapped in a real-life abusive relationship – for you to get the help you need to get out. You’re too fearfully and wonderfully made not to.

_______________________________

[1] Jesse Kornbluth, “‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Is The Hottest-Selling Book In America Really Just ‘S&M For Dummies?’Huffington Post (3.12.2012)

[2] Brenton Dickieson, “50 Shades of Bad Writing,” A Pilgrim in Narnia (9.21.2012).

[3] Julie Bosman, “Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz,” The New York Times (3.9.2012).

[4] Jess Denham, “Fifty Shades of Grey movie banned in Malaysia for being ‘more like pornography than a film,’The Independent (2.5.2015).

February 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Dodging Dating Disasters

Date 1Recently, I was talking to a friend who is in the throws of the dating scene.  Over the course of our conversation, it began to strike me just how complicated, frustrating, and frightening dating really can be.  Her past few dates had not gone so well.  And she was beginning to lose hope.  “All the good ones are taken,” she said with a definite edge of resignation.  “I’m just going to have to take what I can get.”

The more I pondered her statement, the more concerned I became.  Her willingness to just “take what she can get” seemed to be nothing but a setup for a let down.  After all, if her past few dates had ended poorly because she just settled for what she could get, how much worse would things go if she married someone just because he was all she thought she could get at the time?

Over the years, I have shared with people a taxonomy that helps them consider who to date and who not to date.  The interesting thing about this taxonomy is that it is one we all use or have used, but we often use it only subconsciously.  Pulling this taxonomy from our subconscious to our conscious, however, can help us identify our patterns of thinking and, hopefully, save us from dating disaster.  So it is with this in mind that, if you are dating or would like to date, I would encourage you take a moment and create a three-column list.

Column 1: What I want.

In this column, simply write honestly what you would like in a companion.  And don’t sugarcoat it. If you’re a lady who wants the guy who looks like a cross between The Rock and Vin Diesel, write that down.  If you’re a guy who wants the girl with the perfect hourglass shape, write that down.  Hopefully, you also have some more modest and meaningful desires for a companion as well – someone who has a good sense of humor, a deep intuition, or a knack for solving big problems.

Column 2: What I need.

In this column go the non-negotiables.  The non-negotiables include items such as faithfulness, forgiveness, commitment, and, of course, a hearty trust in the Lord.  Think long and hard about this column and try not to confuse what you actually need with what you think you need.  For instance, you may think you need someone who meets some predetermined standard of outward beauty so that you will be intensely physically attracted to them.  But though physical attraction is important, outward beauty inevitably changes and fades.  Thus, striking outward beauty is not really needed – even if you think it is – because it cannot be kept.

Column 3:  What I’ll settle for.

In this column go the compromises you are willing to make.  And as I did in the first column of what you want, I would encourage honesty.  Sadly, many people are willing to make compromises morally to try to make a dating relationship work, engaging in intimate acts that are rightly reserved for marriage.  But, of course, not every compromise is immoral or embarrassing.  Some compromises are neutral.  For instance, if you want a person with a good sense of humor, but wind up dating someone who couldn’t deliver the punch line to a joke to save their life, that’s a compromise, but can your significant other’s lack of humor can also become endearing in its own right.

Now, think about each of your three columns and consider these questions:

  • How does column three affect column one?  Are there any things you want in a mate that you could live without?  If so, this is good!  This means that you know your wants are just that – wants – and not necessities.
  • How does column one affect column three?  Are there any wants on which you should be willing to at least consider a compromise, but you’re not, thereby treating a want from column one like a need from column two?  If so, you are in a danger zone.  For when you refuse to even think about compromising on a want, you are putting your desires ahead of another person.  And this is selfishness, which leads only to relationship breakdown.
  • How does column three affect column two?  Are there any things you know you need on which you are willing to compromise?  If so, you are in a danger zone.  Compromising on things like integrity, faithfulness, or faith is a recipe for a relationship disaster and great emotional and spiritual harm.
  • How does column one affect column two?  Are there any things that you want in a relationship that are opposed to what you need?  For instance, if you want someone with good looks, does this tempt you to become shallowly infatuated over how a person looks on the outside rather than being committed to who they are on the inside?  If so, you are again in a danger zone.  The righteous needs in column two should always trump the desired wants in column one.

As you can see, what matters most is column two.  Columns one and three are both negotiable.  This is why when I counsel those who are dating, I encourage them to give on columns one and three, but not on column two.  For column two holds the keys to long-lasting relationships.

So if you’re dating, or getting ready to enter the dating scene, think on these things.  Taking just a few moments to fill out these columns now can save you a lot of pain and heartache in the future because these columns can help you keep your priorities straight.  And keeping your priorities straight can help keep your heart in tact.

June 24, 2013 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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