“23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23”, And Other Myths

So, I’ve seen this article on “23 Things To Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23” get posted a bit lately. I read it. I get the appeal. I did want to offer a few quick thoughts from a dude who got engaged at well, 24, but was apparently so dumb he knew whom he was going to marry at 20.

Before I do that, though, a couple of quick caveats: I just watched two of my best friends get married last year right at about 30. Many of my other friends will. This is not a judgment on them, and there is certainly nothing inherently immoral or wrong about it. I am not saying that if you’re 23 and single, there’s something wrong with you. In fact, as a Christian, I think you can live a whole, healthy life without ever getting married. Singleness (and celibacy) were first elevated to an honorable lifestyle in Western culture through the spread of Christianity.

What I want to do is just push back on a few mistakes I’m seeing here that are easy to make:

1. Not everybody that gets engaged or married at a young age is doing it because they’re vulnerable, desperate, scared, or pathetically lonely. It’s condescending and arrogant of this young woman to suggest that. It’s turning the contingencies of her own situation into the virtue that we should all aspire to. In other words, “I’m young, single, lonely but not ready for a marriage so I’m going to tell myself that you must not be either, and you’re pretty much dumb for getting married young, which makes me super wise and self-knowing.” Honestly, I get that a lot of people our age feel the unfair pressure of people imposing the values of another age and time, the example of our parents, and so forth, on their shoulders. The problem is, this article is essentially making the same mistake in reverse.

2. “The divorce rate among young couples is high.” Yes, that’s true. But if you look at the sociology on it, this is not mostly talking about a couple of kids out of college who’ve decided to start a life together. A lot of that rate is affected by low-income, low-education couples, with unplanned pregnancies, marrying out of pressure. Actually, according to some of the latest sociological research, 22-27 is actually about the perfect age for getting engaged and married in terms of happiness and marital longevity. I would just say, beware of misleading sociology, or quickly assigning explanations to complex phenomena.

3. “I need to find out who I am before I can build a life with someone.” Yes, and no. One of the reasons that young couples divorce is due to the misleading, romantic, idealistic expectations they have about marriage. I would also point out there are similarly misleading myths about singleness and identity held by these very same people. See, there is this romantic myth that at some point in the future we reach this stable self, this pinnacle of self-knowledge and self-awareness that might be expanded on, but will essentially stay the same for the foreseeable future. The reality is that you will change, grow, and develop over the whole of your life. While the person you are at 23 is not the person you will be at 27, what’s also true is that the person you will be at 27 is not the person you will be at 35, and so forth. You will always be changing and growing. As theologian Lewis Smedes has said, “My wife has been married to 4 different men in her life–and they’ve all been me.”

Yes, many 23-year olds are immature and in transition. Yes, a number of them need to develop a bit before covenanting themselves in the bond of marriage. I shudder at the thought of some 23-year olds I know getting married in a rush. At the same time, I just performed a marriage for a couple of 22-year olds this summer that I am absolutely ecstatic for. They are sane, solid, stable, and have embarked on a wonderful adventure: they get to find out who they are together. They can still do the vast majority of the 23 things on that list, and, honestly, the rest of them aren’t worth engaging.

Let me put it this way: I didn’t marry my wife because I knew exactly who I was, or entirely knew who she was. I married my wife because I knew enough about her that I wanted to see the woman she is going to become, and want to be there for it. What’s more, I want her to be there as I grow and develop. I know that I’m a better man because I have been “finding myself” alongside of her for the last few years instead of apart from her. Now, the catch is, in our case one of the reasons I wanted to be with McKenna is because I knew she wouldn’t want me to find myself in her, but would always point me to Jesus. Still, my marriage hasn’t gotten in the way, but it has helped me keep on the way.

Actually, to follow up, one of the big issues that can plague later marriages between two people who have been single during this crucial developmental period is that you get so settled in your ways, so calcified in “being yourself” apart from the person you’re looking to marry that you don’t have the emotional elasticity it takes to make a marriage work. When I married my wife, I didn’t have 30 years of single guy habits build up around the way I did things, or thought of myself that I had to kill in order for a marriage to a sane woman to put up with me (although, McKenna is still a saint for putting up with me.)

Thing is you never marry someone who is a “perfect fit.” You’re always going to have to make compromises, sacrifices, and grow in order to make this thing work. I am not saying that you can’t develop the character traits you need to make this work if you’re single in your twenties. What I am saying is that it’s not at all obvious that you ought to stay single longer in order to be ready for marriage. For some people it might be a good idea. For some of us, getting married is what has to happen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Addendum: I wrote this in a bit of a rush, but here are two resources to check out:

1. The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller – This is my go-to book for understanding the purpose and practice of marriage. It’s simply beautiful.

2. Premarital Sex In America by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker – This study published by Oxford University press is where I’m getting my sociology. It’s exhaustive and well-sourced.

10 Principles for Reading OT Narratives

old testamentIt’s safe to say that “narratives” is the most predominant type of literature in the Bible. Leaving aside the New Testament, over 40 % of Old Testament are narratives.  Given that, especially in light of the New Year when a bunch of us will finally be tackling the OT again, it’s kind of important to know what you’re doing when approaching these texts, especially when reading for theological and moral content. For instance, what do we do with the story of Abram giving Sara to the king of Egypt out of fear and gaining great wealth (Gen. 12)? Is this acceptable behavior for us? I mean, he is a patriarch? Or what about the story of Gideon and the fleece (Jdg. 6)? Should we set up little tests for God in order to figure out his will for our lives?

With these sorts of problems in mind Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give 10 important principles to keep in mind when reading Old Testament narratives for moral and theological content:

  1. An Old Testament narrative usually does not directly teach a doctrine.
  2. An Old Testament narrative usually illustrates a doctrine or doctrines taught propositionally elsewhere.
  3. Narratives record what happened— not necessarily what should have happened or what ought to happen every time. Therefore, not every narrative has an individual identifiable moral application.
  4. What people do in narratives is not necessarily a good example for us.
  5. Frequently, it is just the opposite. Most of the characters in Old Testament narratives are far from perfect— as are their actions as well.
  6. We are not always told at the end of a narrative whether what happened was good or bad. We are expected to be able to judge this on the basis of what God has taught us directly and categorically elsewhere in Scripture.
  7. All narratives are selective and incomplete. Not all the relevant details are always given (cf. John 21: 25). What does appear in the narrative is everything that the inspired author thought important for us to know.
  8. Narratives are not written to answer all our theological questions. They have particular, specific, limited purposes and deal with certain issues, leaving others to be dealt with elsewhere in other ways.
  9. Narratives may teach either explicitly (by clearly stating something) or implicitly (by clearly implying something without actually stating it).
  10. In the final analysis, God is the hero of all biblical narratives.

Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas (2009-10-14). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Kindle Locations 1866-1879). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

This is not a full-blown hermeneutic for reading Old Testament texts, but these are sound principles that can help clear up some of the worst pitfalls an untrained-reader might fall into.

Soli Deo Gloria

My Top 12 Reformedish Posts of 2013

2013It’s been a year and half since I started this blog, but 2013 was my first full calendar year of writing. Because “Top 10” pieces are kind of a staple, and I saw all the other hip bloggers doing it, I figured I’d offer up my own summary post highlighting my biggest 2013 pieces on Reformedish as well as the posts I think did best on other sites. This will give some of you newbies a chance to catch up, and saves me the trouble of having to actually write some new thoughts.

Reformedish Posts – One thing I will note is that these are not necessarily my favorite posts, nor the posts I worked the hardest on. They are, for whatever reason, the ones that got shared, viewed, argued over, and so forth.

  1. 12 Tips on Keeping It Clean In Your Dating Relationship – This one went kinda viral, hitting 63,000. Kinda funny, hopefully helpful tips on keeping the sexy stuff in check.
  2. 7 Tips on How to Meet Reformed Men – Joke blog that’s pretty self-explanatory.
  3. 5 Things My Mom Taught Me About Theology – My mom is probably the biggest non-professional theological influence in my life. Parents, you have a bigger impact than you know.
  4. That Time C.S. Lewis God ‘Total Depravity Wrong’ Like Everybody Else – C.S. Lewis was awesome, but even he, like so many others, misunderstood Reformed doctrine.
  5. Christian Guy, Stop Trying to Date Yourself – Dudes, just…stop.
  6. The Cure that Killed the Patient, (Or, Sorry Zahnd, Marcionism Isn’t a Better Option) – In which I put on my argumentative Reformed hat and ‘dialogue’ with Brian Zahnd on pitting the Old Testament against Jesus.

Other Sites – Here I am kind of guessing. I don’t have the actual numbers, but these seem to have been shared and discussed the most out of the posts that I’ve written for other websites.

  1. ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Timothy Keller (CaPC) This one got me in sooo much trouble. I mean, with topics like sex, doubt, and Tim Keller, it was kind of expected. Still, for giggles go ahead and read all the comments. Things got crazy.
  2. I Am Not Abraham’s Mistake (CaPC and TGC) This was my first big piece. Some reflections on being Arab in the American Evangelical church. Plus some theology.
  3. How Much Theology Should Couples Agree On Before They Get Married? (TGC) Surprisingly important question.
  4. False Freedom and the Slavery of Autonomy (TGC) Here I reflect on the reality that Millenials have trouble making choices, the meaning of freedom, and our need for community.
  5. The Church Failed Millenials, Just Not In the Way You Think It Did (CaPC) The Church failed us, it’s true–it unfortunately never taught us to love the Church.
  6. Faith in Humanity Just Took Another Hit: A Horrifying Holocaust Revelation (CaPC, TGC) A few thoughts on some horrifying bits of Holocaust history, the doctrine of original sin, and the Gospel.

By God’s grace it’s been a fruitful year. I can only pray that my toils in 2014 yield a greater harvest for the Lord’s church.

Soli Deo Gloria

There is a Reason Everyone Still Quotes Athanasius Around Christmas

athanasiusblackdwarfThere is a reason everyone still quotes Athanasius around Christmas:

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.

He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death.

All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way.

No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father.

This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

–Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, ¶8

Soli Deo Gloria

The Journey of the Magi

journey of the magiAs anybody who has been on a long trip to a foreign land can tell you, these treks change you. You experience things on the journey, and encounter realities that reshape your understanding of the world. Eliot, as only Eliot could, peels the schmaltz off story the wise men from the East, to reveal the way their Journey to see the Christ-child must have changed them. Indeed, he points us to the way our own journeys ought to change us.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

–T.S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi

Soli Deo Gloria

Sane Stuff on Duck Dynasty–Because We Need It

robertsonI don’t watch Duck Dynasty. I don’t have the channel, nor the time. Looks funny enough, but honestly, I mostly hate ‘reality’ TV. There’s too much theology to read and I have plenty of Batman cartoons to watch. Given that reality, I never imagined I’d pay any sort of real attention to the Robertson clan. Still, everybody’s quacking (yes, yes, I know, horrible, obligatory pun) about Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality. The world exploded with commentary. SO MUCH COMMENTARY!!!

In the middle of it all the silliness, some sane stuff was said. I’d like to link some so you can read the sane stuff and ignore the silly stuff. In no particular order:

1. Brad Williams – “Apparently, that’s all the internet is allowed to be about today.”

2. Jared Wilson (<—link) – “This doesn’t mean we should bury our heads in the sand about genuine free speech and free exercise violations in our theoretically free nation; it just means we ought to be more circumspect than reactionary, more wise than whiny, more joyful than outraged. As “reality” just got the ironic quote-marks taken off of it, maybe this cultural shifting will serve towards a sifting of the “real” Christians from the real ones, the cultural from the Spiritual. Evangelicals need to get real.”

3. Russell Moore – “Let’s have genuine diversity, meaning let’s talk honestly with one another about what we believe and why. Muting one another isn’t what debate is for in a free society. It’s what remote controls are for.”

4. Wesley Hill – “But just because someone quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and is opposed to same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that they’re speaking up for a theologically informed, humane, pastorally sensitive view of what it means to be gay. Not by a long shot. And social conservatives should think twice before linking the concern for religious liberty to a vindication of Robertson.”

5. Brandon Ambrosino – “For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive, and not only to the LGBT community. But I also think that if I were to spend a day calling ducks with Phil, I’d probably end up liking him—even in spite of his position on gay men. It’s quite possible to throw one’s political support behind traditional, heterosexual marriage, and yet not be bigoted.

I’m reminded of something Bill Maher said during the height of the Paula Deen controversy: “Do we always have to make people go away?” I think the question applies in this situation, too.”

6. Tyler Glodjo -“Arguing against homosexuality based on the “yuck factor” is just plain gross. While Phil Robertson is free to express his beliefs and convictions in whatever manner he desires, I would argue that for someone with the platform he has been “given,” his comments were unwise.”

Alright, that’s all I’ve got to say on the issue.

Soli Deo Gloria 

He Must Go Lower Still

My Epic is one of my favorite bands. In this 5 minute song they capture the pathos the Son’s grimy descent in his incarnation, leading to the death-shattering resurrection and ascent to glory. Take some time to listen, meditate on the lyrics as we approach Christmas.

Look, he’s covered in dirt
The blood of his mother has mixed with the Earth
and she’s just a child who’s throbbing in pain
from the terror of birth by the light of a cave

now they’ve laid that small baby
where creatures come eat
like a meal for the swine who have no clue that he
is still holding together the world that they see
they don’t know just how low he has to go
Lower still

Look now he’s kneeling he’s washin’ their feet
though they’re all filthy fishermen, traitors and thieves
now he’s pouring his heart out and they’re fallin’ asleep
but he has to go lower still

there is greater love to show
hands to the plow
further down now
blood must flow

all these steps are personal
all his shame is ransom
oh do you see, do you see just how low, he has come
do you see it now?
no one takes from him
what he freely gives away

beat in his face
tear the skin off his back
Lower still, lower still
strip off his clothes
make him crawl through the streets
Lower still, lower still
hang him like meat
on a criminal’s tree
Lower still, lower still
bury his corpse in the Earth
like a seed, like a seed, like a seed
Lower still, lower still

Lower still, lower still…

The Earth explodes
she cannot hold him!
And all therein is placed beneath Him
and death itself no longer reigns
it cannot keep the ones he gave himself to save
and as the universe shatters the darkness disolves
he alone will be honored
we will bathe in his splendor
as all heads bow lower still
all heads bow lower still

Soli Deo Gloria