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marriage

2 years 5 months ago
There is always a hot market for books on marriage, even among men. Every husband is aware of his inadequacies and every husband is genuinely eager to find solutions, especially if the solutions are simple and step-by-step (just like laying laminate flooring or changing oil). Writing a good and biblical book on marriage—now there is a challenge. Few have done it with excellence. Stepping into the fray is Justin Buzzard with his new book Date Your Wife. It’s a great title, a good idea, and a helpful imperative that is, unfortunately, substantially flawed.

The book’s greatest strength is drawn straight from its title: Buzzard wants men to build dating into their marriage; he wants men to continue to romance their wives throughout marriage. Any man who reads this book will come away with a greater desire to pursue his wife and greater conviction of the inherent goodness of doing so. The book’s foremost application is valid and good, but there is quite a lot of weakness along the way.

The book is fueled by one core conviction: If you want to change a marriage, change the man. Looking first at the sexual relationship and then widening the scope to all of marriage Buzzard says this: “Your wife isn’t the problem. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. Men are the problem. If you want to change a marriage, change the man. If you want to change your marriage, you must first see that you are the main problem in your marriage.” He goes on: “You are the husband. You are the man. And God has given the man the ability to be the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to a marriage. Before you can be the best thing that ever happened to your marriage, you need to see that you have always been the worst thing that happened to your marriage.”

These are strong and near-universal statements for which he allows no meaningful exceptions. To prove them he goes in an unexpected direction: Genesis 2:15. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” He says this:

Fundamental to his manhood, God gave Adam this double calling: work and keep. These Hebrew verbs can be better translated: cultivate and guard. God commissioned the first man to cultivate the garden and guard the garden. God gave the first man immense responsibility, immense power, to cause the garden to flourish or to fade. … God gave Adam a job before he gave him a wife. So, when God presented Adam with his bride, what did Adam know he was called to do as a husband? If you had to summarize it in a sentence, what was Adam called to do for his marriage and for his wife? Cultivate and guard it. … After giving Adam a calling, God gave Adam a wife—the crown jewel of his calling. “Cultivate and protect this woman I’ve given you; cause life to flourish. Take the raw materials of this marriage and develop them—build, invent, create—so that your wife will flourish and thrive in this environment. Develop and protect what I’m entrusting to you,” God said to Adam.

This is an unusual interpretation and application of Genesis 2:15. Certainly this is a text that gives man his job description in this world, but it is quite a stretch to take that same description verbatim into the marriage relationship. It would have been far more helpful, I think, to look to Ephesians 5 where a husband is told to nourish and cherish his wife and where he is told to wash her in the water of God’s word. What Buzzard wants the husband to see is that if your wife is not flourishing, it must be because you, the husband, are not cultivating and guarding her. The key to fulfilling your mandate as a husband is an ongoing dating relationship that continues well past the wedding day.

Buzzard is right to an extent. Every husband is prone to abandon the pursuit once he has made his marriage vows. Every husband is prone to lethargy and to become distracted by the busyness of life, but it is too big a leap to go from there to the husband as responsible for all marriage problems. There is no doubt in my mind that the Bible clearly directs a husband to lead his wife in marriage. However, I fail to see a direct connection with Genesis 2:15 and I fail to see that all that is wrong in marriage is the husband’s fault. That makes it all far too simple and suggests that a husband’s leadership makes him responsible for his sin and for his wife’s. But leadership does not require assuming all blame. I can think of many marriages where it has been the wife who is the worst thing in that marriage—an ungodly or downright wicked wife whose husband lovingly, patiently cares for her and bears with her despite her sin. The husband is not at all faultless, but neither is he the heart of the problem. Buzzard’s argument fails the test of Scripture and simply does not line up with the evidence.

Working with a faulty foundation, it will not be a surprise when a book comes to some unusual conclusions and applications. One example has to do with sex. Only a couple of chapters into the book he offers a glimpse into his own marriage and the frequency with which he and his wife have sex. He quotes an email his wife wrote to another woman who had heard that sex twice a week or every three days was a useful goal. Taylor responded:

I guess this is a question our husbands can best answer, since they typically have the bigger ‘sex tank,’ and we definitely don’t want to send them out into this sex crazed world with their sex tanks on low. Satan is prowling. One other brief thought is that when I’m aiming for 4x a week, that doesn’t have to be roses, chocolate and lingerie encounters every time. Quickies are an ace in our pockets. :)

I find this counsel problematic on several levels, especially considering the book’s target audience of young, married men.

  • Though a husband and wife may wish to consider issues related to “a low sex tank,” they also ought to consider a husband’s growth in self-control. If a wife is to push herself toward greater sexual frequency, a man whose “sex tank” seems to unfuel itself in a day-and-a-half probably ought to pursue growth in self-control; I am sure that this will prove more beneficial to his marriage and his spiritual state than regularly indulging in “quickies.”
  • Sex four times a week may be sustainable at certain periods of life, at certain ages or in certain circumstances, but there will be times and situations when this is simply not feasible. Holding it out as a kind of rule or target is neither helpful or sensitive.
  • When you discuss the frequency of your sex life with others, you necessarily invite comparison; such comparison may lead to pride or discontentment, but I am not convinced that it very often leads to greater sanctification.

Despite such concerns, the book is not uniformly weak and there are several sections that are genuinely helpful. Buzzard states at one point that the most important truth in the book is that Jesus can lead men from being the worst thing in their marriage to being the best. He puts the gospel at the center of marriage and draws the reader to the cross as the source of hope and transformation.

When the book gets to the practical component of what an ongoing dating relationship looks like, he divides it into two sections: the air war and the ground war. The air war part of marriage “is planning for when your B–52 Bombers will fly overhead to drop major artillery and troops in support of your marriage, helping you push your marriage forward in significant ways.” He recommends crafting an annual plan that will take the couple away for two nights per month, and he even provides a list of the getaways he and his wife enjoyed over the course of a year and an accounting of their expenditures. The ground war is “the daily and weekly work on the ground and in the trenches that often goes unnoticed but makes a big difference in the long haul.” These are things like doing chores and putting the kids to bed and holding hands and sharing quick, romantic moments through all of life. There is much here that is useful. Simply the idea of planning your dates well in advance, that is just the kind of thing a young man does when he is smitten with a girl, but tends to stop doing once he has married her. I trust that for most men who read this book, their primary takeaway will be “I ought to spend more time with my wife.” That is well and good and truly helpful.

Ultimately, I think the most significant issue with Date Your Wife is that it does not carry enough authority, whether that is authority derived from careful explanation and application of key Scripture texts or authority gained through many years of marriage expereience. At one point Buzzard says:

I think I date my wife well. I think I’m a good husband. So does Taylor and so do people who know us and know our marriage. I don’t have any secrets or special tricks. My only secret is that I feel deep in my guts that God has given me a life and a wife that I don’t deserve. Grace is my secret.

He recounts how early in his marriage he and his wife spoke to friends who had been married for decades. These friends assured the young couple that sex gets better year after year. Then he says, “I didn’t get it then. I get it now.” But he doesn’t. Not really. After all, as he says early on, “Last week my bride of seven years gave birth to our third son, giving us three boys under age four”. This is a book on marriage written by a man who has been married for seven years. I don’t want to say only seven years, but I suppose I cannot help but imply it. Seven years is not inconsequential, but neither does it carry a great deal of authority. There is a humble and even painful realism in John Piper’s This Momentary Marriage (Who can forget the statement that the first twenty-five years are the hardest) and Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage that is missing here.

Ultimately, Date Your Wife is not quite the book I was hoping it would be. It is useful in its applications, but I wish those applications had been built upon a more solid Scriptural foundation; this would have made them far more powerful and far more compelling. With so many titles on marriage available to us, I would be hesitant to recommend this ahead of the others.

2 years 10 months ago
It must be intimidating to write a book on marriage. Store shelves are groaning under the weight of titles that claim to have the key to a happy marriage, or a biblical marriage or a gospel-centered marriage. To rise above such a crowded field a book needs to offer something different, something unique, something that distinguishes it from the pack. Tim and Kathy Keller have jumped into the fray with their new book The Meaning of Marriage and the distinguishing feature of their book is a deep gospel-centeredness. This leads the Kellers to invite the reader deep into the gospel of Jesus Christ and also compels them to show how the gospel extends to every part of marriage.

Though The Meaning of Marriage is written primarily by Tim Keller, his wife Kathy contributes in several ways, and most notably by contributing one of the chapters and by being the wife to whom Tim has been married for almost four decades. Tim explains that the book has three deep roots. The first of these is his marriage to Kathy, the second is his long pastoral ministry, particularly in New York City in a church dominated by singles, and the third and most foundational is the biblical teaching on marriage as found in both the Old and New Testaments. “Nearly four decades ago, as theological students, Kathy and I studied the Biblical teachings on sex, gender, and marriage. Over the next fifteen years, we worked them out in our own marriage. Then, over the last twenty-two years, we have used what we learned from both Scripture and experience to guide, encourage, counsel, and instruct young urban adults with regard to sex and marriage.” They speak from the powerful combination of Scriptural grounding and real-world experience.

The book is comprised of eight chapters that flow logically from the biblical basis for marriage all the way to the sexual relationship within marriage. In chapter 1 they offer the very basic biblical teachings on marriage, showing how marriage is God’s idea and that it is meant to reflect the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ. In chapter 2 they show how the work of the Holy Spirit is fundamental to battling the main enemy of marriage: sinful self-centeredness. Chapter 3 is about love, looking at how the feeling of love relates (or doesn’t relate) to actions of love. Chapter 4, “The Mission of Marriage,” turns to the purpose of marriage and offers a long discussion of spiritual friendship while chapter 5, “Loving the Stranger,” teaches three skills that every husband and wife ought to pursue.

Chapter 6, written by Kathy, celebrates the differences between the sexes, looking to the tricky subject of gender roles and complementarity. Singleness and wise thinking about pursuing marriage are the subjects of chapter 7 and the final chapter looks to the sexual relationship, showing why the Bible roots sex in marriage and how this relationship can best be celebrated within marriage.

Gospel, Gospel and More Gospel

I said from the outset that the distinguishing feature of this book is its deep dependence on the gospel. This distinguishing feature is also the book’s greatest strength. Marriage simply cannot be properly understood or practiced without being rooted in the gospel. “If God had the gospel of Jesus’s salvation in mind when he established marriage, then marriage only ‘works’ to the degree that it approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ.” For that reason the book goes nowhere until Keller has first exposited Ephesians 5 where we are told that marriage is a “profound mystery,” that reflects the relationship of Christ and the church. Next to our relationship with God, there is no relationship more important than marriage, “and that is why, like knowing God himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful yet rewarding and wondrous. The most painful, the most wonderful—this is the Biblical understanding of marriage, and there has never been a more important time to lift it up and give it prominence in our culture.”

When Keller moves to “The Power For Marriage,” the subject of chapter 2, he again builds from the gospel. Jesus Christ did not leave us on our own, but provided the Holy Spirit as the power to fight against and overcome sin. “The Holy Spirit’s task is to unfold the meaning of Jesus’s person and work to believers in such a way that the glory of it—its infinite importance and beauty—is brought home to the mind and heart.” And when it is brought home to the mind and heart, it works itself out in marriage. This counters the self-centeredness that is intrinsic to our sinful natures. “To have a marriage that sings requires a Spirit-created ability to serve, to take yourself out of your own. The Spirit’s work of making the gospel real to the heart weakens the self-centeredness of the soul. … The deep happiness that marriage can bring, then, lies on the far side of sacrificial service in the power of the Spirit.”

This gospel focus continues chapter-after-chapter, underlying discussions of friendship, singleness, sex, and complementary roles.

Covenant Renewal

The chapter on sex merits special mention for its power and careful attention to dignity. Keller begins by showing why it is so important that sex remains within the context of marriage. Only then does he turn to the actual ways that a husband and wife relate within the sexual relationship. Setting the sexual relationship within the greater context of the marriage covenant, Keller says that sex is a kind of covenant renewal ceremony in which you “rekindle the heart and renew the commitment” already made. “There must be an opportunity to recall all that the other person means to you and to give yourself anew. Sex between a husband and a wife is the unique way to do that.” He goes on to say, “Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less.”

Only a few pages are given to “The Importance of Erotic Love in Marriage” but they are instructive. They focus less on deeds than on the motives of the gospel-centered heart. “The Christian teaching is that sex is primarily a way to know God and build community, and, if you use it for those things rather than for your own personal satisfaction, it will lead to greater fulfillment than you can imagine.” I dare say that by the time you’ve read this final chapter, you will want to run to your spouse and make love just to experience all the joy and fulfillment that the sexual relationship brings. It won’t be about trying this or attempting that—not primarily—but just enjoying the beauty of what God has given us in the gifts of marriage and love-making.

A component of the book that merits special attention is its usefulness to singles. Keller’s church is comprised predominantly of singles and anything he teaches must be applicable to them. This leads him to focus a significant portion of this book on being single and on pursuing marriage. What he teaches will be encouraging and helpful to those who have chosen a life of singleness and for those who are seeking a spouse.

Conclusion

This is a powerful book; it is my new favorite book on marriage and the best of all the books I read in 2011. The Meaning of Marriage elevates marriage, making it something beautiful and holy and lovely. And with it comes friendship and companionship and sex and everything else God has packaged into the marriage relationship. This book celebrates it all and it does it within the greatest context of all—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Having read the book through two times, I’ve found myself wondering how to best measure or evaluate it, but perhaps these criteria are useful: Would I want to read it with my wife or would I encourage her to read it on her own? Would I recommend it to the people in my church? In both cases the answer is an unreserved yes. In fact, I bought the audio book and listened to it with my wife and her assessment is the same as mine: Though there are many great books on marriage, this is the one we will recommend first.

2 years 11 months ago
I am hoping that this will be my final article on the Driscolls and Real Marriage, at least for the time being. I do not want this subject to dominate my web site, but I do have one more thing to say. Before I say it, I want to review a few things I haven’t said. I have seen several things in the comments and out in the blogosphere attributed to me that I haven’t actually said, so let me take a moment to refocus the conversation.
  1. I have not said that any particular sex act is wrong. The purpose of writing this little series is not to point to any single act and say, “That is wrong.”
  2. I have not said that Real Marriage is all about sex or sex acts or sexual deviancy or that the book has no value. There are several parts of the book that are actually quite helpful; I will cover these in a review closer to the release date.
  3. I don’t hate Mark Driscoll.

The reason I am writing these articles is to (hopefully) show that the grid the Driscolls use to evaluate sex acts that are right or wrong is faulty and that introducing that grid to a marriage could be very harmful. In my last article I showed that the grid does not do an adequate job of evaluating heart motives. Today I want to show that the Driscolls seem to have misunderstood the very passage they use to construct their grid.

By way of review, here is the method they teach to evaluate which sex acts are right and which are wrong. Speaking of 1 Corinthians, they write:

Paul answered their questions, but he also went further. In addition to teaching them what to think, he taught them how to think. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, amid his teaching on sex, Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

This simple taxonomy is brilliantly helpful because it is simultaneously simple enough to remember and broad enough to apply to every sexual question.

From this taxonomy they draw three questions which they apply to a list of specific sexual acts. Is it lawful? seeks to ascertain whether an act violates the laws of government or the laws of God; Is it helpful? seeks to ascertain whether that act draws a couple together as one or pushes them apart as two; and Is it enslaving? seeks to ascertain whether that act could become obsessive, out of control, or addictive.

1 Corinthians 6:12

The Driscolls are seeking to help pastor people through difficult issues—issues too difficult to take to your own pastor. Yet it seems that they miss the point of the passage. They look at Paul’s statement “All things are lawful for me” as a foundational understanding of Christian freedom. But most commentators—all of the ones I looked at—disagree that this is what Paul is driving at. Gordon Fee says, “‘Everything is permissible for me’ is almost certainly a Corinthian theological slogan. This is confirmed by the way Paul cites it again in 10:23; in both cases he qualifies it so sharply as to negate it—at least as a theological absolute.” The Corinthians may have made up this phrase or they may have taken something Paul once said in a narrow context and turned it into an absolute slogan. “If so, their error would lie in making absolute what for Paul would always been been qualified by his ‘in Christ’ perspective.” In other words, Paul is not teaching, “All things are lawful.” He is either directly contradicting that statement or qualifying it so strongly that it ceases to have any real value. Leon Morris agrees, as do Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner along with David Prior. All of these commentators agree that “all things are lawful” is not the point of what Paul is teaching.

This then impacts the first question the Driscolls ask: Is it forbidden by the Bible or the laws of the land? This was not what Paul wanted the Corinthians to take away from “All things are lawful.” He did not mean for them to understand that anything not strictly forbidden may be acceptable. Instead, Paul teaches that “truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those around me.” Paul’s first thought is not, “Am I forbidden from doing this?” but “Is this how I can best express love?” He was saying, “All things are lawful…but who cares! It doesn’t matter that there isn’t a strict command forbidding it; the important considerations are whether this is profitable and whether it is enslaving.”

Within the context of marriage, we know that our love is to reflect the love Christ has for the church. Our marriage, including the sexual relationship, is meant to flow from and point to Christ’s love for his people. How did Christ love? He laid aside his own desires—what we might even call needs; he considered his own comfort and desires far less important than doing the will of his Father and serving the people he loved; he died to self; he laid down his life. This kind of love needs to inform and motivate us. It needs to be in our hearts and minds as we consider what we think is a need; it needs to be in our hearts and minds as we consider asking any of the “Can We ________?” questions.

Here’s the thing: Christian freedom is not just the freedom to do, but the freedom not to do. You don’t understand freedom until you willingly and joyfully deny yourself what is technically lawful (or not expressly forbidden in the Bible) but contextually unwise or inappropriate. Commentator David Prior says it well: “In chapters 8-10 we shall see Paul arguing passionately and persuasively that the essential Christian freedom is the freedom not to be free, i.e. a deliberate choice to restrain my freedom for the sake of the gospel. The man who has to express his freedom is actually in bondage to the need to show he is a free man. The genuinely free man has nothing to prove.” He has nothing to prove and understands that even though he has technical freedom in some areas, those things do not promote love and true intimacy. The Christians at Corinth were glorying in their rights and freedom and using this to express themselves sexually. Never mind love! They had freedom—freedom to gratify their desires. But freedom, if not properly understood and applied, can be used to express allegiance to idols just as easily as it can be used to pursue noble ends. It turns out that there is a counterfeit kind of freedom that is actually slavery. 

What the Driscolls miss, at least in their teaching on this passage, is the wider gospel context. This grid is not meant to be taken on its own and it is not given as a grid we are use to evaluate what is acceptable or forbidden within marriage. The freedom to have is not the point; rather, it is the freedom to love by not having. You need to read more than this one verse to see this. We are not meant to read this verse and walk away with a list of ways a spouse might have his own sexual needs met. If anything spouse should read this and walk away with the determination to seek only the how he might serve his spouse. And this is where the gospel is truly lived out, not in celebrating the freedom to enjoy this or that sexual act, but in the freedom to deny yourself, trusting that not every desire or “need” actually needs to be met in order to be beautifully satisfied and fulfilled.

All of which is to say, this grid, drawn from 1 Corinthians 6, is just too simplistic, it is inadequate. It does not call you to examine and even doubt your motives and it does not call you to ensure that your actions are a display of a life that has been radically transformed by the gospel. It does not call you to the deepest kind of Christian freedom—the freedom not to do.

2 years 11 months ago
Yesterday I began a discussion of Real Marriage, the new book by Mark and Grace Driscoll (to be released on January 3). This was not a review as much as an attempt to think through the issues raised in the one chapter that is bound to be the source of the most controversy. I wanted to think about whether certain issues need to be discussed and the manner in which they are discussed. The context is the “Can We ________?” questions that pertain to the marriage bed. Today I want to move to a related discussion and show how the Driscolls attempt to answer such questions.

As the Driscolls answer the common “Can We ________?” questions, they apply a grid they have drawn from 1 Corinthians. The city of Corinth was a city known for its debauchery and sexual excess, and even the Christians there were indulging in all manner of sexual sin. They had apparently written to Paul with some of their questions, and what we call the book of 1 Corinthians is his letter of response.

The Driscolls write:

Paul answered their questions, but he also went further. In addition to teaching them what to think, he taught them how to think. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, amid his teaching on sex, Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”

This simple taxonomy is brilliantly helpful because it is simultaneously simple enough to remember and broad enough to apply to every sexual question.

From this taxonomy they draw three questions which they apply to a list of specific sexual acts. Is it lawful? seeks to ascertain whether an act violates the laws of government or the laws of God; Is it helpful? seeks to ascertain whether that act draws a couple together as one or pushes them apart as two; and Is it enslaving? seeks to ascertain whether that act could become obsessive, out of control, or addictive.

Before they get to questions and answers they make it clear that “we are explaining what a married couple may do, not what they must do. The Bible often gives more freedom than our consciences can accept, and we then choose not to use all our freedoms.” While I appreciate that they seek to allow conscience to play a determinative role, for many of us there can be a kind of pressure that comes from an authoritative source saying, “This act is good.” I believe many of these questions are best addressed in the context of marriage instead of coming from an outside authority. That relieves the pressure of thinking, “Maybe I need to ignore my conscience or change my conscience because this person says this act is acceptable and good.” We need to be very careful anytime we determine what is lawful and acceptable for other people. Our freedom can apply unfair pressure to them which has the potential to cause great difficulties for marriages in which one spouse is scandalized by certain activities and the other one is not.

Some of the things the Driscolls pass through the grid are more controversial than others. Some are more obviously related to our time and our culture (cybersex being a clear example since no generation before our own has ever had to consider it). It is worth pointing out that in the end the only acts they deem unworthy of Christians are those that are explicitly forbidden by the Bible (abortive birth control and sexual assault). Everything they put through the grid, except the two that are clearly forbidden in the Bible, are found to be acceptable. That includes a range of acts from some most Christians would consider acceptable to ones that many or most Christians would find repugnant.

Obviously there is value in using a biblical grid to evaluate issues like this one. My concern is that this particular grid has at least two fundamental flaws: (1) it does not adequately account for heart motives, and (2) it reflects a serious exegetical misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 6:12. In what follows, I want to focus on the first flaw (related to motives), and next time I will return to the exegetical issue.

How the Grid Works in Actual Practice

Let’s use their example of cosmetic surgery, since it clearly displays the shortcomings of the grid and because it relieves some of the tension we would feel with the more controversial acts. Here is how they evaluate cosmetic surgery:

Is it lawful? The Driscolls say, “It is legal to have cosmetic surgery. Furthermore, it is not forbidden in Scripture, because it is a more recent medical invention.” They go on to provide some statistics showing who tends to have the most cosmetic surgery and which procedures are most popular.

It is helpful? They say, “There are many reasons cosmetic surgery may be beneficial. It can make us more attractive to our spouses. And if our appearance is improved, we feel more comfortable being seen naked by our spouses, which can increase our freedom in lovemaking.” They also point to four negatives: (1) the danger of death or disfigurement, (2) cost factors, (3) the desire to attract sexual attention from someone other than your spouse or (4) the desire to have your spouse change his or her appearance in order to look like someone else.

Is it enslaving? Here they point to the danger of being obsessed with achieving some kind of elusive perfect appearance and the danger of Body Dismorphic Disorder in which you can become dangerously enslaved by body image.

Thus cosmetic surgery passes through this grid. But did you notice what was never addressed? Heart motivation. This may be the motivation of the wife who wants to have her breasts enlarged—she may feel that she will only ever be attractive if she goes up a cup size or two. It may be the motivation of the husband who believes that his wife will be far more appealing to him if her breasts are a bit larger or her tummy a bit flatter.

This is not the time to head to the surgeon; it is the time to evaluate the heart. Why is it that you want to undergo plastic surgery? What is it that you believe it will accomplish? What is it about this procedure that will give you greater sexual freedom? Why is it that in your current condition you cannot be “naked and unashamed?” Is this surgery addressing a genuine issue or is it actually exposing idolatry? And what of the gospel? How can we send a person to the surgeon without first making sure that he or she knows the source of identity and acceptance, who he or she is in Christ?

There will always be motives—heart motives—behind that desire to have surgery. There are times those motives may be good; there are times those motives may be bad. When it comes to cosmetic surgery, it is quite likely the motives will be poor or a mixture of good and poor. At the very least, motive merits serious, prayerful consideration. If you have the surgery based on idolatrous motives, it will never—it can never—deliver the results you are hoping for.

I am not saying that cosmetic surgery is inherently sinful or that it is always wrong. But at the very least we have to see that it very often is sinful. It often—if not always—arises from sinful desires rather than good ones. It is often meant to feed sinful lusts and desires. This grid the Driscolls provide does nothing to address the heart issues. Without looking first to the heart, that breast augmentation will simply be the feeding of idols. And that may also be true of any other sexual act.

What is true of cosmetic surgery will also be true of anything else related to sex and sexuality—there are motives at play. Those motives may be good, and they may be bad. They may be self-centered, and they may be spouse-centered. And this is what any grid needs to include. Why do I want to do this act? What do I think this act will accomplish? What kind of fulfillment will it bring me? Is this first and foremost an act of love? Does this reflect that relationship of Christ to the church that my marriage is meant to image?

The problem with the grid—quite apart from the exegesis (which we’ll look at next time)—is that it allows virtually anything that Scripture does not explicitly and expressly forbid. In fact, it is difficult to imagine any act or desire, except those clearly forbidden in Scripture, that wouldn’t make it through this grid. In practical use, the only acts it filters out are the ones overruled by the first question.

(click here to read the third part of this little series)

5 years 2 months ago

The summer is drawing to a close. Though I love summer and will be sad to see the days grow shorter and the skies grow colder, fall does bring with it some great benefits, not the least of which is a long list of new books. For that reason I anticipate squeezing in a few more book reviews than usual over the next few weeks. I hope you don’t mind!

Very often when I do radio interviews to support my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment the host will ask me, “Is this a particular low point for discernment in the history of the church?” And usually I answer, “I would tend to think so, and yet I think Christians from any period of history would answer the same way. Things always look darkest to our own eyes.” This is as true of sex as it is of discernment, I am sure. We look at this sexualized culture with its mainstream acceptance of pornography, we look at a culture that more than ever seems surrendered to sex, and we despair. Yet we need only pick up the Bible to read of other cultures in other times where ritual prostitution was normal and where even churches accepted outrageous sexual sin to realize that this has always been a problem and will, in all likelihood, always be a problem. But it is in our particular cultural context that Dr. Harry Schaumburg brings his new book Undefiled. For decades Dr. Schaumburg has been counseling Christian couples and much of what he has learned in all those years is distilled into the pages of this book.

The subtitle of Undefiled is Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships. I think the word “redemption” is particularly instructive and particularly important. Today the vast majority of people enter marriage with a complex and often extensive sexual history, whether that involves only one partner or hundreds, whether it involves abuse or pornography or anything else. It is the rare couple, even the rare Christian couple, who can attest on their wedding night that this sexual experience is their first. This means that almost every sexual relationship is in need of redemption, in need of God’s grace to heal it, to renew it, to strengthen it. Thankfully we know that God is able and willing and eager to do this, to redeem sexuality that has strayed far from his purposes for it. But it is not only fresh, new marriages that suffer; many long-term marriages are rocked by confessions of adultery or pornography addiction. These marriages are in need of both redemption and restoration. And that is exactly the purpose of this book, to give the reader the tools to begin to rebuild what has been broken, to restore what has been lost.

One of the great strengths of this book is that Schaumburg never allows sexual sin to become a kind of psychological disorder. He does not shy away from calling a spade a spade, or calling a sin a sin. He avoids the all-too-popular therapeutic “disease” approach and focuses instead on the sinful human heart and its evil desires. And having laid bear the heart he is ready to shine upon it the light of the gospel. This he does with precision and with grace, with a gentle forcefulness strengthened by the truths of Scripture.

Woven throughout the book is the story of a couple named Jim and Carrie whose story is all-too-typical with one spouse betraying the other. From chapter-to-chapter Schaumburg tells of how he counseled them, how he brought the gospel to bear on their awful situation. And he tells of the redemption of their relationship. This story provides a framework of sorts, to give examples of what he teaches. Of course the book contains many other stories and anecdotes, collected during many years of dealing with couples as they face their deepest troubles. And yet so often we see how God can and does restore those relationships by extending grace to the hurting.

The book includes a list of helpful appendices that deal with topics such as masturbation, how to react to marital unfaithfulness, sexual dysfunction, divorce, modesty and the like. I just noticed as well that at restoringsexualpurity.org Schaumburg now offers a study guide called Sexual Redemption. It is “a fifteen week program for individuals, couples and groups. It guides the reader through each chapter of Undefiled providing Bible study, questions for personal reflection, resources for further study, a section for women, and a section for men.” I am sure this will prove useful as supplementary material.

In the opening pages of Undefiled Schaumburg says, “To be spiritually mature, you must be sexually mature; to be sexually mature, you must be spiritually mature.” This book seeks to achieve both of those goals, to help Christians grow up both in spiritual maturity and in their understanding of God’s great gift of sex. This is a book that, when read by those in the midst of dark days, will bring comfort and reassurance that God can make all things new. It is a book that will also be of benefit to those who have never faced such dark days. Not only will it equip them to bring comfort to the hurting but it will also arm them with Scriptural truths about God’s plan for sex. It is a book for anyone who wants to know redemption from sexual sin.

7 years 4 months ago

Theologians sometimes speak of the ordinary means of grace, a term that refers to the preaching of the Word, the sacraments (or ordinances, if you prefer, as most Baptists do) and prayer. These three means are to be the foundation of the church’s activity. They are simple measures and ones that can often be overlooked. We tend to encounter these means on a regular basis and for that reason these ordinary means of grace can really begin to feel, well, ordinary. Yet they are ordinary only in the frequency of their use and the fact that God provides them as the most common means by which He nurtures our faith.

In an article at the web site of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Ligon Duncan writes about churches that find their primary call to ministry in these means. “Sometimes I am asked, ‘what exactly do you mean by ‘ordinary means of grace-based ministry?’ Good question. Let me repeat and elaborate. The ‘ordinary means of grace’ are ‘the Word, sacraments, and prayer.’ These are the ordinances given by God with which spiritual life is nurtured. By ordinances we mean spiritual instruments of grace and growth in grace appointed by God in the Bible. So, when we say ordinary means of grace-based ministry, we mean a ministry that focuses on doing the things God says are central to the spiritual health and growth of his people. Hence, the key things that the church can do in order to help people know God and grow in their knowledge of God are: (1) emphasize the public reading and preaching of the Word; (2) emphasize the confirming efficacy of the sacraments; and (3) emphasize a life of prayer, especially expressed corporately in the church.”

The Baptist Catechism (as printed by the Charleston Association in 1813—a Baptist-friendly adaptation of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) discusses the necessity and definition of these means, calling them the “outward means.”

Q. What does God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?

A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life (Acts 20:21), with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption (Pr. 2:1-6, 8:33 to the end; Is. 55:2, 3).

Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are his ordinances, especially the word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and prayer; all which means are made effectual to the elect for salvation (Mt. 28:19, 20; Acts 2:42, 46, 47).

According to Duncan, “Ordinary means of grace-based ministry believes that God means what he says in the Bible about the central importance of these public, outward instruments for spiritual life and growth.” These ordinary means may appear foolish to the world, but God chooses to use these to draw people to Himself and to strengthen people who have already experienced His saving grace.

Those of us who attend Grace Fellowship Church here in Toronto were privileged to experience each of those ordinary means of grace yesterday. In the morning service Paul, our pastor, preached from Colossians 2:13-14 in a sermon he titled “Dead and Debt-ridden: Made Alive and Forgiven!” He looked first at God’s Diagnosis of Men and taught that in our natural, fallen state we are dead and debt-ridden. He then showed from the text God’s Action to Save Men, teaching that God makes alive and that He forgives sin. It was, in short, a powerful, convicting presentation of the gospel in all its power and glory. I could tell, just from his demeanor and excitement in the pulpit, how much Paul enjoyed sharing this message with us. And God was pleased to work through his words. At the conclusion of the sermon we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, remembering together the body and blood of the Lord.

The church met again in the evening, this time to celebrate the baptism of four young men and women. Two of these people had been saved after growing up in the Roman Catholic tradition. The other two were the children of members of the church. We heard their testimonies about how God saved two of them primarily through the witness of their families and from the other two how they were saved by the witness of others. We saw the power and faithfulness of God in reaching His people through the witness of the Word. After they gave their testimonies we walked to a nearby pool and rejoiced together as they were baptized, publicly proclaiming their trust in Jesus Christ and their belief in His death and resurrection. Paul had the immense privilege of baptizing his daughter, rejoicing with her as she took this step of faith, showing that God had answered innumerable prayers on her behalf. As Paul raised Chloe from the water, she leaped into his arms in joy. I had to step outside to compose myself and couldn’t help but pray that God would allow me to soon witness the baptism of my own children. You may wish to read Paul’s poem written for this occasion.

After the baptisms we returned to the church and Paul again preached the gospel, primarily for the benefit of the friends and families of those who had been baptized. There were many unbelievers there to witness the baptisms and they heard the gospel preached briefly, but in power last night. After rejoicing together in song, the evening closed with a time of fellowship and celebration. It was a truly blessed day.

Yesterday we were able to participate in each of those ordinary means of grace. Is it any wonder, then, that I returned home last night both edified and refreshed? Is it any wonder that I found my faith stirred and my heart warmed with affection for my Savior?

The Catechism tells us how the Word is made effectual and how we are to attend to it.

Q. How is the word made effectual to salvation?

A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation (Neh. 8:8; Acts 26:18; Ps. 19:8; Acts 20:32; Rom. 1: 15, 16, 10: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17; 15:4; 1 Cor. 14:24, 25; 1 Tim. 3:15, 16, 17; ).

Q. How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?

A. That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence (Pr. 8:34), preparation (1 Pet. 2:1, 2), and prayer (Ps. 119:18); receive it with faith and love (Heb. 4:2; 2 Thes. 2:10), lay it up in our hearts (Ps. 119:18), and practice it in our lives (Luke 8:15; James 1:25).

It tells us also how the ordinances serve to become effectual means of salvation.

Q. How do baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation?

A. Baptism and the Lords supper become effectual means of salvation, not for any virtue in them, or in him that administer them, but only by the blessing of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21; Mt. 3:11; 1 Cor. 3:6, 7), and the working of the Spirit in those that by faith receive them (1 Cor. 12:3; Mt. 28:19).

Yesterday we were able to heard the Word preached and were convicted of sin and built up in our knowledge of the One Who saves from sin. We were able to listen attentively and prayerfully as the Spirit did His work. We remembered the Lord in His supper and celebrated His work in the lives of others through baptism. He added His blessing to these ordinances. He brought much blessing through these ordinary means.

We live at a time where these ordinary means are increasingly falling out of favor. Preaching is kept short and light, public prayer is forgotten (except immediately preceding the offering) and the sacraments are often de-emphasized or kept hidden. Ligon Duncan speaks a warning. “These are the main ways God’s people grow. We are saved by grace through faith, faith alone in Christ alone. But the instruments, the tools of God’s grace to bring us to faith and grow us in grace are the Word, prayer and sacraments. Nothing else we do in the church’s program should detract from these central instruments of grace, and indeed every thing else we do should promote and coalesce with them.” And yet far too many churches allow other things to intrude into the life of the church.

It was just over a year ago that Aileen and I began to attend Grace Fellowship Church, evaluating whether it was a good fit for our family. I told her almost immediately that one of the things I liked most about the church was that it does not try to be sexy. This church does not allow whatever is the evangelical flavor of the day to detract from the church’s purpose. Ligon Duncan helped give me words to express this. I am privileged to attend an “ordinary means of grace-based church,” one that keeps the main thing the main thing. It is a church that sees the extraordinary power of the ordinary. And God is blessing this church, allowing it to be a powerful light in the midst of the great spiritual darkness of Toronto.

8 years 11 months ago
I believe it was in a Tom Clancy book I read many, many years ago where I found a statement that daughters are given by God to punish men for what they did, said and thought when they were young men. Obviously I know that is purely the imagined theology of a writer, yet I do think that having a daughter causes a man to take a look deep within himself. Every man instinctively feels the need to protect his daughters. For some reason men do not feel as deep a desire to protect their sons. Just yesterday I received a Christmas Newsletter from a family friend. He wrote about a young man who has shown interest in his daughter and will soon be coming to spend time with the family. “[He] is quite a gentleman but just in case, when he comes I intend to be cleaning my .45-caliber pistol. I also told him that if he ever touches my daughter I have no problem at all with going back to prison.”

Sure he is writing tongue-in-cheek but there is a definite truth behind the humor: men desire to protect their daughters and are probably far more protective of the purity of their daughters than they were of women with whom they related in their younger days.

As with all parents, Aileen and I have sometimes paused to think about our daughter’s future. We truly hope that in due time she meets a godly young man who will treat her like the princess she is. When we consider her future we simply cannot picture her, at age sixteen, heading off for an evening out with a young gentleman caller and just expecting him to bring her back sometime long after we have gone to bed. How could I let her out of my sight with a guy who, well, may just have motives for her that are consistent with the motives of most young men? At the same time, I don’t feel that every good dad involves the parents!

And so, when I gaze into the future, I wonder how my children will begin a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. In Christian circles there is no end of controversy about the best way of doing this. While most believers agree on the necessity of maintaining sexual purity and of every young person submitting his or her life to the Lord, opinions differ on whether kids should date, court or even be betrothed. 5 Paths To The Love Of Your Life, edited by Alex Chediak, addresses five of these philosophies. Five authors contribute a chapter outlining what they feel is a biblical method of finding a potential spouse.

Chapter 1 - The Countercultural Path: Lauren Winner begins by tracing the evolution of dating and relationships in American culture. She shows how dating changed from being centered around the woman’s home and family to heading outside the home to theatres and restaurants. In this transition the “power” in relationships passed from the woman to the man. In modern times dating has returned to the home in the form of casual sexual encounters. She proposes that Christians adopt a countercultural path which emphasizes chastity, love and marriage. She emphasizes the importance of community in relationships. She feels that dating should be done with a view to marriage but that breaking up is not necessarily improper.

Chapter 2 - The Courtship Path: Douglas Wilson, in a very funny essay, proposes that courtship is the most biblical solution. He stresses the importance of parental responsibility and guidance and defines courtship as “the active, involved authority of the young woman’s father (or head of the household) in the formation of her romantic attachments leading to marriage.” When parents are unavailable or unsuited for the task, the couple should appeal to the church authorities for guidance. During the early stages of a relationship there should be no physical contact and contact after engagement should be limited to minor physical contact. Wilson emphasizes the importance of a lifelong committment of a father to his daughter so that he has credibility in her eyes when he has to make difficult decisions regarding her potential marriage partner. He distances his model from the type espoused by fathers who are overbearing and care more for rules and control than for the well-being of their daughters. It seemed to me that this view presents courtship at its best and at its least-offensive.

Chapter 3 - The Guided Path: Rick Holland suggests a guided path in which couples are guided by ten principles of a God-centered relationship. He feels that young couples should be guided by their parents and ultimately by the Scriptures as they seek to honor God in their relationships. The principles he lays out are more important than the methodology a couple adopts. While this allows either courtship or dating, he is sure to emphasize that casual dating is not acceptable, and neither is dating done before a couple is old enough to actually think about marriage.

Chapter 4 - The Betrothal Path: - Jonathan Lindvall proposes what is easily the least-familiar path. Betrothal, he feels, is a biblical mandate given by God and mirrored in Christ’s relationship to the church. He feels that an irrevocable covenant union must be established that defines the process between singleness and marriage. I found that his method relies quite heavily on the leading, guiding and confirming of the Lord wherein we have to ask direction from the Lord and so on. Most people will immediately reject his proposal and perhaps for good reason as I am not sure he proves that the betrothal’s of biblical times were more than a cultural mandate. Having said that, it does provide some valuable fruit for thought.

Chapter 5 - The Purposeful Path: - Jeramy and Jerusha Clark argue for a purposeful path which is far less-structured than any of the others. They refer often to other books they have written on this subject and propose that young couples ensure that, while they are not turning down opportunities to enjoy the company of the opposite sex, they are also not engaging in practices that Scripture forbids. As with the other authors, they emphasize the important of parental involvement and support.

Having read these five approaches I feel that my preference for my children would lie somewhere in the first three chapters. I am already seeking to build a strong, vibrant relationship with my children so that I will have some measure of credibility in their eyes if and when I am forced to make difficult decisions on their behalf. I don’t know that there is a “one size fits all” approach to relationships that will work with every couple and I am open to allowing and even encouraging flexibility in how they engage in romantic relationships.

I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed reading this book. It is too late for me to apply the collective wisdom in this book to my own life, but I trust it will give me much material for reflection as my children get to the age where they begin to believe the opposite sex to be something a little less than yucky. Just the other day my daughter confided in me that she would like to get married some day, but doesn’t feel she can because she would have to kiss a boy on the lips. I know that, before too long, she will have a change of heart.

I recommend this book to parents and young people alike and trust that it will benefit all who read it.