Well, three days ago I took this picture, only hours before presenting what you see to my very special person. She said yes to the obvious question. Thought that it would be good to document it here so as to seek my limited readership’s prayers for God’s mercy on this poor woman for what she has agreed to.
Please see Nick’s comment before reading further.
Some of you may have heard the joke that goes like this:
Mike and Larry were out hiking. They came to a beautiful area of the countryside that was ideal for a picnic, so they stopped and sat down. Larry began taking food out of his knapsack to share with Mike, and last out of the bag was a shiny container that looked like a cross between an artillery shell and a time capsule.
“What’s that?” Mike asked Larry.
“Oh, some new thing I saw at the store the other day,” replied Larry. “The salesperson called it a ‘thermos’. He told me it was ideal for storing liquids on long hiking trips ’cause it keeps hot things hot and cold things cold.”
“Fantastic! So, what have you got in there?”
“Coffee and a couple of cherry popsicles.”
Okay, groan or laugh, but you know why it’s supposed to be funny at least, right?*
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
I’ve been thinking about this text a lot lately, and I’m sure I’m probably way behind the curve on understanding and appreciating it, but so be it. One of the purposes of this blog is for me to catalogue my thoughts as I go through Scripture, so I’ll just put them here even knowing full well that they’re probably redundant.
The thing that used to perplex me about Christ’s words here was His apparent insistence that it is better to be one of the extremes – either cold or hot – than to be what we might call moderate, or “lukewarm.”
The other thing that has perplexed me more recently is the existence of three categories. We know from Christ’s words that “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters,” (Matthew 12:30) which demonstrates the existence of only two categories: the faithful and the unfaithful, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares and – I have in the past thought – the hot and the cold.
So the questions for me have been: (1) how is it that here we have three categories instead of my expected two, and (2) why would it be better to be cold than lukewarm?
Starting with one, it seems to me that my previous understanding of hot and cold as belief and unbelief (or vice-versa) was on the right track, but not fully accurate. Rather, what we have in these three is not simply belief or unbelief (for then we would have only two categories, hot or cold, as stated above), but rather attitudes about belief.
That is, you have in the hot the attitude of devotion, even passionate devotion, to God and His word, and to Christ our Savior. You have what James talks about as true faith accompanied by works; not merely a head-knowledge of the fact of Christ’s work unto salvation (which cannot save and even the demons have), but a deep and abiding trust in that work which then brings works of one’s own to bear fruit in service of the neighbor.
You have in the cold an attitude of deliberate shunning of God, of the Gospel message, and the Christ it represents. It represents a blatantly antagonistic view of the Christian faith. One can see that this cold is the opposite of hot which, while like the hot remaining passionate, is in this case passionately opposed to the truth of salvation.
Which leaves the third, or lukewarm. This attitude is less an opposite of hot or cold and more of a simple negation of them. This is simply apathy. If “hot” is spiritual life, and “cold” is spiritual deadness, then “lukewarm” is spiritual failure to thrive. It is that head-knowledge of the Gospel that even the demons have. It is a lack of passion either for or against God and the Gospel, and unless cured it is the effect of the seed sown upon rocky ground or among the thorns.
Which brings us to the second question, the question of why it would be better to be passionately against God (cold) than to be merely nonchalant about Him and cavalier towards His gifts in the Gospel (lukewarm). I mean, if there’s a continuum with hot on one side and cold on the other, wouldn’t it at least be better to be lukewarm in the middle, since at least it’s closer to hot than cold is?
Obviously Christ doesn’t think so. And after some pondering, I think I begin to see why. Though hot or cold are polar opposites in terms of belief, the one thing they have in common with each other – and not with the lukewarm – is passion about God.
Yes the hot and cold do approach Him differently – one in fear and love, the other in anger and contempt – but in a sense they both do approach Him. Not so the lukewarm, whose apathy keeps them from caring overly much one way or the other. And while it may be that even a cold person can become a hot person as their passion against God leads them to be at least curious enough to interact with believers who can proclaim the Gospel (remember, C.S. Lewis started as a cold person), a lukewarm person has no time for the subject of God, as it is of no interest to them.
Revelation paints them as the picture of self-satisfied. The next verse in Revelation (v. 17) says: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,’ not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Lacking any concept of their need they do not seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, and so languish in self-imposed obliviousness, making them easy prey for the roaring lion that tolls like the bell for them. Each attempt from their neighbors to rouse them out of their stupor is met with irritation, if it registers at all.
Upon due consideration, I would indeed rather a person be cold than lukewarm. I can talk to a cold person, reason with a cold person, proclaim the Law and preach the Gospel to a cold person, and they will at least engage the subject with their heart and mind. But spare me from the lukewarm person, who though he may sit in the pew contenting himself as being among the faithful, his heart and his mind are farther from the things of God by virtue of his apathy than the cold person by virtue of his unbelief.
Don’t get me wrong, the cold person is still going to hell unless he repents. But at least in his case the situation lies cut and dried before him. For the lukewarm, the situation does not appear that stark or that dire and he may continue to sit like a frog in a pot of water, which though it may begin as lukewarm, doesn’t stay that way for long.
*A thermos only keeps hot things hot if the only thing in there to start with was hot. Likewise with cold things. It’s all about the insulation from the outside temperature, not anything magic about the thermos that makes things retain whatever state they were in when they were put in. If the coffee and the popsicles are both in the thermos simultaneously then the heat of the coffee will have melted the popsicles and the cold of the popsicles will have chilled the coffee, resulting in a lukewarm swill of nastiness.
From the time I heard about Sye Ten Bruggencate’s film “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” I knew that I would end up purchasing it. That’s partially because I consider myself a presuppositionalist, and partly because I first heard about it through the trailer that was released on Youtube, which made the pitch very well. Even so, I figured I would wait a while before buying it for myself, maybe talk someone into getting it for me for Christmas or something (ever the penny-pincher). However, Sye’s interview with Chris Rosebrough on this film convinced me to go ahead and get it its first week out.
I did so, and have watched it completely through twice now, in addition to viewing some of my favorite scenes several more times on top of that. I’d like to report here what I thought, which will make this the Chi Files’ first real product review (as far as I can remember, anyway). I know there are a lot of other reviews out there already (though I’ve only read about 2 of them), so instead of writing out some exhaustive thing, I’m going to stick to talking about the 7 elements that stood out to me in particular and leave the comprehensive stuff to the folks who are more experienced at reviews than I.
1) The thing about the film that is immediately striking is the raw-ness of it. And I mean that in a good way. In one sense it reminded me a lot of Ray Comfort’s films, with the street preaching aspect interspersed amongst the teaching aspect. I’ve long enjoyed watching good street preachers interact with the people that stop by, and Sye is as good as they come. In fact, I would list as my biggest complaint with the film the fact that there wasn’t more street preaching footage involved.
I certainly understand the need to be selective with footage so that a certain point can be illustrated without dragging on, and the necessity of keeping the film clocking in at a reasonable time, but I was disappointed that the bonus features did not include more video of the encounters. In fact some of the street preaching footage from the trailer – conversations I was hoping to see in their entirety, or at least less abridged – must have ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor as well. I know DVDs have limited storage capacity, so maybe American Vision, Crown Rights, or Sye himself will make this footage available through other means at some future time.
2) Throughout the film, Sye makes excellent use of parables to illustrate specific points. This keeps what can be a very abstract subject that much more tangible, and I think memorable as well. Through the use of these stories he deals with such issues as: a) why it is not appropriate to let the unbeliever use our worldview to argue against us, b) what presuppositions are and why they matter, c) why it is important to exercise this apologetic method with gentleness and respect, and others. This is a definite strong point to the film.
3) On the other hand, another complaint that I would register is what felt to me to be a little bit of a frenzied pacing to some of it. What I mean is that there are times when the scene is cut abruptly and we move to something else, only to have the same thing happen again several times in what feels like rapid succession. Early on this was not so bad, but at the beginning of the second half it felt like there were a lot of arbitrary cuts (Sye could be in the middle of a parable to a group and then we cut to him telling it straight to the camera in another setting, and then another setting, etc.) that felt a little excessive to me.
However, I have to remember that I as an individual enjoy sitting down and watching an hour and a half lecture uninterrupted, and don’t care for a whole lot of action scenes in my movies. Most of my generation, and even more of the following generations, have more of an ADD temperament that have to have something change and grab their attention again every few minutes to keep them engaged. Blame the TV commercials or whatever, it’s the way things are. So, what to me is somewhat of a weakness may actually be a strength when it comes to a different type of audience who might be more accustomed to this kind of cinematography, which may serve to keep them better tuned in.
4) One thing that is hard to walk away from this film without noticing is the boldness with which Sye proclaims the Law and the Gospel. He is fearless in the face of verbal attacks, veiled threats, and even those of profess to be Christians but who deny fundamental truths of the faith. But all the while he is respectful, gentle, and compassionate, which the viewer will see to fullest effect in the last scene of the film. His approach to apologetics is worth studying not just in the sense of a cut-and-dried “2 move checkmate” apologetic method as he calls it, but in the way he interacts with unbelievers as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.
I think my favorite scene of the film is where Sye is engaging a certain TV host about his denial of Biblical truths, challenging his claim that he loves Jesus in no uncertain terms. The exchange verges on heated at times, but all the same exemplifies Sye’s repetition of the Scriptural admonition to give a defense with gentleness and respect. It is to be commended highly.
5) A good portion of the film amounts to a polemic in favor of presuppositional apologetics, exposing the weaknesses and false assumptions of the evidentialist/classical school of apologetic thought, most of which viewers with a background in the presuppositional method will already have a handle on. However, that is not to discount the use of the polemic in any way, as it is vital for an introductory presuppositional work (which this is) to establish the existence of a difference in approach and explain why that difference is there and is important. And goodness knows that the evidentialist school rarely wastes an opportunity to polemicize against us.
6) I will point out here that – as inferred above – there is not necessarily much new in this film for avid readers of Bahnsen, Van Til, Oliphant, and other presuppositional authors. If you are expecting advanced level presuppositional instruction, this film is probably not going to do it for you. Of course, it never makes the claim to be an upper division presuppositional apologetics course, it claims to be a guide on “how to answer the fool,” and in particular a tool for small group or Sunday school classes. And in that it succeeds wonderfully.
7) Throughout the film, Sye’s enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. Even more contagious is his love for the Lord. And in opposition to our modern culture that often assumes paradoxically that loving the Lord excludes critical examination and confrontation of opposing worldviews, Sye here brings his enthusiasm to the table in a wonderful work that will surely introduce many to God-honoring apologetics.
I want to thank Sye, American Vision, and Crown Rights for putting together this tool for learning, and look forward to sharing it with others.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
– John 15:4-5
One thing about growing tomatoes that has always frustrated me is how finicky they are about water. Once the plant matures and begins to bear fruit you can no longer water from above – say, by way of a sprinkler or something – since if the tomatoes get wet they will become diseased and rot. You have to water the root.
Sanctification is the same way. Let me explain.
Often, when dealing with sanctification, we find ourselves wanting to talk about good works. What they are, how to do them, and the like. If we see a neighbor who is not bearing the good fruit we think they, as Christians, should be, the assumption is that they need some good old-fashioned exhortation to straighten them out. So we turn their hearts and minds towards considering their own works and ways, so they can improve them.
This is all well and good if one is intending to apply the Law, because that is what the examination of one’s own dead-in-sin works is. And like all Law it will lead either to pride (the sinful heart thinking its own works are better than those around it and deserving of praise), or despair (the heart acknowledging its own wretchedness by the grace of the Holy Spirit). However, in neither case will it change the fruit for the better. It is addressing the fruit, watering the fruit. It can only produce rot; either by further tainting the fruit with sinful self-satisfied pride, or by exposing the corruption that was already there (as in Is. 64:6).
No, if a person is to produce good fruit – really and truly good fruit – it is the root that must be watered. And that root, just as the vine, is Christ. The Christ who saved them by His death. The Christ who has redeemed them by His blood. The Christ who washed them in Baptism and feeds them with His Supper. Point them to Him, crucified and risen. Show them that they abide in Him, and as such nothing can separate them from the love of the Father. And when you have bolstered their faith in so great a Savior, then they will indeed do good works, because He is in them and they in Him. When their root of faith has been watered by the streams of living water from Christ’s word about His person and finished work, how then can they fail to produce good fruit, a nourishment to their neighbor?
Water the fruit, and the fruit will rot and die. Water the root, and there will be fruit in abundance.
*Alternate Title: “Your sanctification is spoiling my ketchup.”
I had in mind to write a review of Sye Ten Bruggencate’s new film, “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” but it seemed good to me to first write a little blurb about how I came to have an interest in presuppositional apologetics in the first place as contextual information. Unfortunately, it ended up being a little too much for a blurb, so I’m going to go ahead and post it for the kicks and giggles. God willing the actual review will follow a little later on.
As a Lutheran who became interested in apologetics about the time I graduated college, my initial exposure to apologetic methodology was in the form of the evidentialism espoused by Lutherans Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and Craig Parton, among others. It must be noted that this is not necessarily the same evidential approach (also called “Classical”) as used by William Lane Craig and his ilk, as it seeks always to have a more Christocentric focus than the general “theistic proofs” such as the cosmological argument and such. The approach advocated by Montgomery is to prove via the presentation of evidence that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, and that His own interpretation of this miracle was that it vindicated His claims of being Who He said He was – namely God – and as He is the most qualified to interpret His own resurrection, we should follow Him as God.
Granted this form of evidential approach is a sight better than the arguments for general theism (or, deism) that Craig and others waste breath on, it does still suffer from its implicit granting of the unbeliever’s professed ignorance of God. It still makes the unbeliever the judge, and God is still the one on trial. In fact, Mr. Parton’s book on the subject completely affirms that idea from the title onward. I am speaking of course about Religion on Trial.
This did not feel right to me at the time, but it was all I knew, and after all, it was Lutheran. Reading these books inoculated me against presuppositionalism from the start, for they were quick to speak against them and were highly critical of the method. As a result, when I started listening to Dr. James White’s podcasts, when the subject of presuppositionalism was raised, although I would download the episode, I would neglect to listen to it thinking it was a waste of time.
Some time later, I purchased Jason Lisle’s DVD series titled, “The Ultimate Proof of Creation.” Through a mistake in ordering them I accidentally had them shipped to my parent’s house (they live 2 hours away), and gave my dad the go-ahead to open them up and watch them. During the time he was making his way through them we spoke on the phone a couple of times, and he told me how much I needed to watch them because they showed very clearly how foolish unbelief is. Some time later I was in town for a visit and dad put one on to show my mom. I watched a little of it myself and fairly quickly recognized it as the dreaded presuppositionalism I had been warned of! I told my dad that he could keep the DVDs (or better, throw them away), because of how completely useless they were to me, seeing as Montgomery and Craig had recommended keeping a good distance away from presuppositionalism.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and dad convinced me to at least give one a shot. He gave me the one he thought best and I disappeared into another room to watch it on my laptop, preparing myself to laugh at the silliness. Instead, I, and a friend who had joined me at that point, ate it up. Dr. Lisle’s presentation spoke to issues that my head and my heart had always intuited, but had never really been clear to my conscious mind.
But even though I agreed with Dr. Lisle, I didn’t like it at first. All my evidentialist reading had conditioned me to oppose it. So I let it sit on the backburner. Cooled it on the apologetics reading for a while, and got into other things. It was not until several months later when Nick Norelli – a blogger I have much respect and admiration for, who for some time insisted that the evidential method was superior – posted some things about his reading of presuppositionalist literature that got me to think on it again.
I went back and listened for the first time to James White’s critique of the evidentialist approach of Mike Licona (whose method is extremely similar to Montgomery’s) that he applied against Bart Ehrman on the Unbelievable? radio program. Dr. White’s critique was solid and hit on the weaknesses of the evidentialist method that I had tried to ignore before; after all, my own faith was bolstered by the evidentialist method prior to that time, and to grant that there were failings to it left me feeling very vulnerable indeed. I’m sure those several months away from apologetics were used by God to bolster my faith for when the evidential card house came down. Unfortunately, Dr. White did not spend a great deal of time laying out the presuppositional approach during those broadcasts, but I was intrigued by what I heard.
I greatly wanted to learn more about presuppositional apologetics at that point, so I downloaded an interview on the podcast “Theopologetics” with Sye Ten Bruggencate. I was blown away by what I heard, my ears being finally opened to it. Throughout the interview, clips of a certain debate Sye had had with an atheist on Unbelievable! were played, and so off I was to download that debate, along with the subsequent rematch. From that point on I devoured whatever presuppositional literature I got my hands on, and in short order had worked through most of Sye’s lectures and videos on his web site (there are many more now than there were then).
At some point in there I friended Sye on facebook, which he graciously accepted, and has been kind enough to respond to questions I’ve asked here and there as his schedule allows. When another Lutheran blogger took issue with the presuppositional method on a very widely circulated blog site, insisting that it was not an approach Lutherans should be using (indeed, sounding like he had not read any presuppositional materials for himself but instead just repeating Montgomery and Parton’s warnings against it, as I had once done), it was Sye that helped me formulate my response.
Since I’ve taken my stance on presuppositionalism, I have certainly received some flak from other Lutherans. However, just this past week Sye himself was interviewed by Chris Rosebrough on Fighting for the Faith, and since then I understand that Chris has been busy reading Greg Bahnsen. Thanks to that interview, I think my days of feeling like an apologetic oddity among Lutherans are coming to an end (kinda like my days of being critical of a view because the powers that be tell me to, instead of examining it for myself). 🙂
I’ve just begun reading the “Atheist Manifesto” by Michel Onfray this weekend. I wanted to find something in the current atheist mainstream to try and better understand their arguments. I had first thought to get Penn Gillette’s book, “God, No,” but after glancing at a random page I concluded that I would try someone who could express themselves with significantly less vileness. This particular one had an endorsement from Stephen Colbert emblazoned on the front, so I figured it’s probably sufficiently mainstream.
Anyway, going through the preface and the introduction the author accuses religious adherents (of the Abrahamic faiths) of having a “pathological grip” on our “death fixation” which prompts us to turn to “pure fiction” rather than “see reality in all its naked cruelty.” As I read this and considered it, it seems to me that saying Christians, Jews, and Muslims have a death fixation ends up being a rather blunted accusation coming from this man.
Why? Because his god, and the god of all atheistic evolutionists, is Death itself. Which makes it rather duplicitous for him to say that we are the ones with the death fixation.*
We can understand this assertion of mine by looking at the commonly understood three-fold work of the Triune God (Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier) and seeing that, for the atheistic evolutionist, Death is what accomplishes these three purposes.
In the atheistic evolutionary paradigm, this universe came about through death; specifically the death of a previous universe. Their theorists are still working on a theory for the origin of life, but suffice it for now to say that at the very least the belief is that – whatever the exact origin – death through natural selection is the driving force for creating new kinds of life as those lifeforms less fit/competitive go extinct and those with greater survival advantages thrive. All thanks to Death.
But of course, creatures of lower survival value do persist. So what can be done with them, waste of resources that they are? They can be redeemed, through Death, to in turn become resources for some more highly-evolved being. Death redeems them in the form of food for animals, fertilizer for plants, or even simply by removing them from the population as a competitor for those resources so that the spot they take up and the air they breath may go to a more advanced cause.
To sanctify is to set apart and/or declare something as holy, and that is what Death does for the atheistic evolutionist worshipper. Death takes their meager body (which is all they are in their thinking, remember) and makes it transcendent (or as close to transcendent as one can come in the naturalistic materialist paradigm). “We come from the stars,” they say, “and to the stars we shall all eventually return after death.” It is Death that consecrates them as sacred atoms in the universe.
You can see their faith in this impersonal-yet-immanent god expressed in their houses of worship (which you may know as the “Museums of Natural History,” filled as they are with death both actual and metaphorical), their rituals and sacraments (casual sex and subsequent abortions), their sacred institutions (homosexual “marriage,” which can never, ever produce life and in fact often spells early death for those who are, shall we say, “intimately” involved), and their catechesis (where children are taught that they don’t need a parent’s permission to murder their baby, only to buy cold medicine). Examples of each of these could of course be multiplied.
This may be a good time to pass on this flier that I came across recently, which funnily enough speaks implicitly to the religious nature I’m pointing out here. You’ll notice throughout it is confirmation of my points that Death is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of the atheistic evolutionist, and the last bullet point in particular sums up all three. (also, make sure to note point 3 if you thought my “Sanctifier” comments were a stretch)
Anyway, I look forward to reading more of this book to see how it backs up its worldview, but so far I’m not impressed with its presentation. If anything, hopefully it will supply more to blog about.
*Of course, another response to the accusation of having a “death fixation” would be to point out that death is really the supreme problem facing mankind, and so it’s kinda more important than whatever other pet problem you might have. And, hey! Christianity has an answer to it! And, incidentally, it involves you dying. At least once in Baptism, and possibly twice if you pass through the gloomy portal at the end of your present life on your way to Christ, should He tarry. Our Maker died for us to live, dude, darn right we have a death fixation, because it is by His death that He defeated death. And for us, death isn’t the end.
I can’t even listen to the President of the United States speak anymore. There’s never anything of substance there; instead, it appears his entire goal is just to keep “hitting his marks,” so to speak – that is, making sure he injects in the focus-group tested phrases at every possible opportunity – and the only value of it at this point seems to be as a drinking game. Which is to say, if I was into alcohol without moderation (which I am not, let the reader understand), I think I could bring myself to suffer through it if I took a shot every time the president uttered the phrases “balanced approach” or “common sense.” Good thing I live only minutes away from the nearest hospital so I could get speedy treatment for the inevitable alcohol poisoning brought on after a single twenty-minute press conference.
That said, I’m sure we all recognize the obvious tactics of a demagogue here. The dependance upon the emotions that the phrase “common sense” elicits in one’s hearers, with the goal being that they will follow you due to your lip service of common sense instead of leaving due to your lack of ability to demonstrate it. Mind games, in other words.
But as bad as this is, spiritual demagoguery is worse, because it can be eternally damning. Or, at the least, presently frustrating. Which is probably why my dentist has prescribed me a mouth guard for all the teeth grinding I do when I hear the words “Biblical” or “Godly” appended to this or that concept these days.
That’s not to say that phrases like “Biblical worldview” or “Godly living” aren’t meaningful and appropriate, or that the words should never appear as adjectives; rather, what I’m aiming at is how traditions of men are often packaged and sold with these words on the wrapper to convince the consumer that there is something special, even Divinely commissioned, about them – when really it’s just as empty as the word “natural” on your lunch meat.
If it’s Biblical, don’t just assert it, demonstrate it. No one needs your perpetual ipse dixit refrain about how this or that is “Biblical” or “Godly,” but we could all use more time in the Bible itself. If you’ve got a great idea for how dating could be done better, great! Let’s hear it! But if you want to call your method “Biblical dating,” you’re gonna need a license for that, so show me the Scriptures! And by that I don’t mean a couple of out-of-context passages; we’re talking serious exegesis here.
So to sum up, I write this in good humor (I can only be snarky when I’m smiling 😉 ), and I know that often there IS legitimate Scriptural backing for this-or-that, no mistake. But since that is the case, when someone touts X or Y as “Biblical” it behooves us to act like the Bereans and check whether they are speaking from the oracles of God, or whether they are simply spiritual demagogues.
Rob Bowman (co-author with J. Ed Komoszewski of the fantastic book, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ) has started a series on his blog on the personhood of the Holy Spirit, another point of disagreement between Trinitarians and Unitarians of various stripes. I am going to post links in this post to his articles as they appear.
Bad Arguments Against the Personhood of the Holy Spirit
I read an interesting article from World News Daily this past weekend titled: “Dating is Dangerous, Christian Leaders Say.” The title alone is eye-catching, and my reasons for looking at it are multifaceted, some of which the observant reader will glean from what follows.
For starters, I’m well aware of the current existence of what we might call a movement of many Christians away from using the term “dating” and towards the term “courting” when it comes to ostensibly romantic pre-marital interactions between individuals of opposite sex. This movement has its own distinct literature (think “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh McDowell) and leaders (many named in the article), and has certainly amassed quite a following over the past decade or so since I first learned of it. Having been homeschooled through my primary education, I’ve floated in the circles more likely to grab on to so-called “courting” as the way to go for people, and have even been engaged in it myself in the past (more on this later), so it continues to be a topic that rises slightly above casual interest for me.
Now, let me say that, while I do understand what the “courting movement” (hereafter CM) is reacting against,* I am not particularly fond of the movement’s alternative or their general approach. I want to be clear that I am not at this time seeking to provide a positive apologetic for dating** other than to note that the CM tends to paint it with a broad brush and ends up demonizing a lot of good people with their hearts and minds in the right place who do date in some form (I chalk this up to carelessness in many CM proponents’ use of terms and consistent inability to give a fair definition of the word “dating”). What I do want to argue, however, is that in its overreaction against “dating,” the CM often ends up overreaching in its theory and practice, commits the Pendulum Error, and can have its own troublesome problems.
First, I want to show how the spokespersons of the CM mischaracterize dating. What tends to happen is that the CM proponents engage in what is effectively a misleading ad hominem against the word dating, applying definitions to it that we can all agree as Christians are bad and better off avoided, without recognition of the great many (majority of?) dating relationships in existence that in no way match those definitions.
Take this excerpt from the article, for instance:
SaveCalifornia.com President Randy Thomasson cites family expert Stacey McDonald when contrasting [dating and courtship]: “Dating is random, while courtship is deliberate; in dating, the goal is romance, while with courtship, the goal is marriage; dating leaves the couple unprotected, while courtship protects the young couple; dating is an unnatural setting of perpetual recreation, but courtship creates a natural setting of real life and family; and finally, dating gives the couple rose-colored glasses, but courtship brings in a magnifying glass.”
Let me ask the obvious question here: doesn’t this establish somewhat of a false dichotomy? That is:
- In addition to falsely characterizing all dating as random (I have personally never dated someone for any reason other than to evaluate them as a potential spouse, and that far from randomly)…
- …it absolutely ignores any type of continuum of dating behaviors (e.g. some daters spend a lot of time with one another’s families, esp. if they are close by, while some may lack the opportunity, such as if they are far away)…
- …and makes arbitrary characterizations where none naturally exist (dating gives rose colored glasses and courtship brings a magnifying glass? Really? As if no dater ever considers a person’s warts? And no courter allows themselves to be swept away by pure romantic idealism?).
Thomasson and McDonald speak as though something as organic as a real relationship between real people can only fall into one category at one time, but the reader will recognize this as hardly an honest representation of the complexities of relationship reality.
The article goes on from this point to cite Thomasson’s extolling of the virtues of courtship over and against dating, and falling into a briar patch of non-sequitors. Take this jewel, for instance:
“…when you look at it closely, the dating culture has led to widespread heartbreak, sexual immorality, STDs, abortion, abuse, and divorce,” Thomasson points out. “All of these ills are much more likely to come from dating than courtship.”
This is an example of the logical fallacies post hoc ergo propter hoc and cum hoc ergo propter hoc. That is, “after this, therefore because of this” and “with this, therefore because of this,” respectively. It is simply not reasonable to assume that if two behaviors appear one-after-the-other or even simultaneously (in this case dating and sexual immorality, etc.) it automatically means there is a cause and effect relationship, or even a relationship at all. I can cook dinner at the same time my pet fish is dying, but that does not mean I am cooking my pet fish. Thomasson doesn’t seem to realize that sexual immorality et al come from out of a heart in rebellion towards God, and that the dating can be only incidental to this (i.e., so-called “friends with benefits” can be sexually immoral without dating, and my parents dated for years in high school and college without falling into sexual immorality). But perhaps the argument is that dating puts a greater strain on a couple trying to avoid these ills? Maybe, but if it is Thomasson’s point that dating tends towards these things then he needs to make it without painting with the broad brush and treating it like it’s inevitable. And anyway, I’d like to see the studies he’s using to back up these claims, because I doubt very much they exist. I think more likely these are just bare assertions (another fallacy) on his part, though I’m open to being proven wrong.
Thomasson then adds, “For God did not intend for parents to cut their teenagers loose to follow their own foolish feelings.”
Here I can actually agree with him (putting aside for the moment that teenagers are not the only ones who date, which the CM as a whole – and especially this article – tends to assume) in that the younger the person, the more parental supervision is necessary in any venture, not just dating. I don’t think this rules out dating, generically defined, but merely sets some additional parameters for those who engage in it at younger ages. However, if the parents have not cut their child loose to some degree at, say, 20 years old (i.e. no longer a teenager) and still demand to be intimately involved in their child’s romantic life, I think we have a problem. To be sure, children of all ages should honor their parents and their council – even and especially when it comes to romantic engagements – throughout their lives, but this hardly needs to mean letting them run the show, least of all once you’ve become an adult.
I think the next line of the article was my favorite:
The dating mentality, reports Thomasson, is responsible for many of the social ills witnessed throughout America…
I mean, I guess you’d expect an article titled “Dating is Dangerous, Christian Leaders Say” to be somewhat alarmist (not to mention it came from WND, which has something of an alarmist vibe itself), but that’s actually quite a statement! The next paragraph elaborates on this claim.
“Where does abortion come from? Primarily sex out of wedlock. Sexually transmitted diseases? The same. What has the highest domestic violence rates? Unmarried relationships. What reinforces a divorce mentality? The constant breakups of dating.”
Which is of course another example of correlation not proving causation as discussed above. And even if one accepts that having unmarried sex and being divorced does cause abortions, STDs, and domestic violence (and I would object in the case of domestic violence, as abusers are more likely not to be married or to get divorced due to their actions, which flips the causation scheme on its head, at least in that case), it still does not follow that dating, generically defined, is to blame for the unmarried sex and divorce in the first place. Besides which, people who are courting can still succumb to temptation – there is nothing magically effective about courting that makes lust vanish – and people who are married after having courted can still have problems that lead to divorce – even including domestic violence. I’m willing to bet the incidence of both of these is not as low as the CM proponents would like to believe.
To his credit, Thomasson does stress that courting is not a panacea. But then the article continues apace, caveat forgotten, blasting away at “dating” as it is characterized and extolling the virtues of courtship. I won’t go into that more (although certainly more could be said) since I think my point has been made. Indeed, just reading what these folks have to say about “dating” speaks volumes already to anyone with the critical thinking capacity to see the over-generalizations inherent in every one of them, where they take the actions of a segment of the dating population and act as though they are representative of dating itself on a generic level. Instead, let me turn to my second point, regarding the overreaching that – at least to my mind – takes place in the theory and practice of courting.
What I will note here is that down a bit in the article we have an equivocation. All of a sudden “courtship” becomes “Biblical dating.” This is the only time in the article the word “dating” is used in a favorable way. If the author is all of a sudden going to grant that there are different types of dating (I would argue there is a spectrum), I wonder why the earlier use of the term wasn’t modified by some other word or phrase such as “pop-culture” or, even more bluntly, “anti-Biblical” dating, for the sake of clarity and to avoid over-generalization. I would chalk it up to oversight or poor writing if not for the fact that I’ve seen the same thing in the majority of the CM material I’ve read. Ah, the joys of semantics.
Anyway, what I really want to key in on in this phrase is the term “Biblical.” The article never makes clear why courting is a “Biblical” method of dating. Certainly there is no dating method prescribed in Scripture (i.e. set forth as the standard by God or one He has sent) that I am aware of – or else I would expect a chapter and verse from the author of the article. More likely, I should think, by Biblical dating is meant a method of interacting with a prospective spouse that takes Biblical values and principles and applies them towards that specific type of relationship. Things like “love your neighbor as yourself” or, perhaps more pointedly, the prohibitions against things such as fornication found in both Old and New Testaments. And if that’s all it means, what Christian wouldn’t want to do that kind of dating?
However, when examining what this so-called “Biblical dating” or “courting” looks like as set forth in the article, it becomes clear that, while that is included: just as in most all of the other CM literature I have come into contact with, more is meant.
“We may define biblical dating as a method of introduction and carrying out of a pre-marital relationship between a single man and a single woman that [typically] begins with the man approaching and going through the woman’s father or family; that is conducted under the authority of the woman’s father or family or church; and that always has marriage (or at least a determination regarding marriage to a specific person) as its direct goal,” Scott Croft[, an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.,] explains.
I don’t know about others reading this, but I do not find in Scripture where the relationship beginning “with the man approaching and going through the woman’s father or family” or being “conducted under the authority of the woman’s father or family or church” is explicitly advocated. Anywhere. At all. Is it a bad idea? Not necessarily. However, I find it rather duplicitous to claim the label “Biblical” for this when it is in fact nowhere held up as the ideal by God or His agents. I think this is where the theory of courting overreaches, in claiming a title that insinuates it is prescribed, which it is not.
But… it is DEscribed. And I think it would be instructive to take a look at the places in Scripture where something resembling this method is present in the Biblical narrative and see if we can come away with any themes.
So let’s go through some of the marriages we see in the Scriptures and evaluate, starting at the beginning:
Did Adam and Eve practice the “Biblical dating/courtship” model? Not in any meaningful way; there was no need. They were the only people on earth, literally made for one another. They don’t fit.
We aren’t really given another description of any type of courting situation until Isaac and Rebekah, so we turn to them next. In this case there is no approaching of the father or family by the party to the first part, that is Isaac, but rather by his own father’s servant. And it’s kind of a whirlwind deal, which defies Tracey Bartolomei’s description of “courtship” in the article as taking “a more thoughtful, long- term approach to a premarital relationship. The emphasis is on developing friendships and seeking compatibility in ones [sic] future mate. Courtship doesn’t actually begin until each feels that the other person could be a perspective [sic] marriage partner. Their time together is spent getting to know each other better through conversation and group socialization, rather than sexual intimacy.” Wow! Hardly a description of Isaac and Rebekah who, as far as the text would indicate, immediately upon meeting secluded themselves from others and consummated their marriage within the day. They don’t fit either.
Next we come to Jacob and Rachel. Now then, here surely is an example of Biblical dating/courtship. Jacob makes his desire for Rachel known to her father first and promises to work for him for 7 years in order to marry her. Yep, that all fits – you’ve got the suitor going through the woman’s father, the entire courtship is to take place as Jacob works for Laban, so it will certainly all be conducted under the authority of the woman’s father, not to mention it will take 7 years. Surely that’s enough time for Bartolomei’s “long-term approach!” And what happens? The girl’s father cheats him, and manipulates him into 7 more years of servitude to get what he’d already been promised in the first place.
Hmm, ok, so maybe not a shining example of a successful and happy courtship. Avert your eyes. Nothing to see here. And we’re walking… we’re walking…
Next up are the sons of Jacob, but there’s really no detailed information for us here. We come to Moses next, and though there is a bit more detail, it’s not enough information to give us any kind of solid picture. Samson is the next person for whom a substantial portion of the narrative is given to his finding a wife, but it does not meet the Biblical dating/courtship criteria either. Nor do Ruth and Boaz, to be sure. That is, unless uncovering and laying at the feet of a drunken man is some kinda courting ritual, like a secret handshake or something.
But then we come to David, who technically went through the girl’s father when Saul offered him his daughter Merab. And like with Jacob, things were conducted under the authority of the girl’s father and time passed, yet David was double-crossed as Merab was given to another man. Then, Saul offers David his other daughter, Michal, but in order to get her, David has to round up 200 Philistine foreskins. Saul was trying to use his authority in the relationship (not his authority as king, but as Michal’s father) to get David killed!
Right then, there are other marriages we could examine later in Scripture (though not a great many), but we will let this suffice. What I’m demonstrating here is that there are few enough examples in Scripture of a “Biblical dating”/”courting” model in practice, for one thing. Clearly it’s not just grossly pervasive or even normative, at least in the narrative if not in the culture. And besides, just because you see it described does not mean it is prescribed. If that were the case, the Hosea model would probably be the way to go; after all, unlike the “Biblical dating”/”courtship” approach of those we’ve identified above as descriptive, Hosea’s act of taking a prostitute for a wife has the additional boon of having been demanded of him by God, so there you have it! We have a winner!
But beyond that, I also want my readers to notice that the times when the so-called “Biblical dating”/”courtship” method (as laid out in the article and other CM literature) is most closely followed in Scripture, each time it ends up with the suitor being taken advantage of by his prospective father-in-law. In other words, far from being protective of the couple as Thomasson claims “Biblical dating”/”courtship” is in the my first citation of the article above, the Biblical accounts give us the picture of fathers abusing their authority by manipulating the man, taking advantage of the suitor’s interest in his daughter to string him along towards some other end. If the CM folks have a problem with this, don’t argue with me, argue with the text.
Now, does that mean anything at a broader level, such as its application as a model for us today? In other words, will the father always abuse the authority that the “Biblical dating”/”courtship” method gives him so brashly? Maybe not (although that’s just how it happened with me), but isn’t it incumbent upon the proponents of a method they call by the name “Biblical” to explain why every time we see their approach as they describe it put to practical use in that Bible it ends up badly for the suitor, not to mention the women that end up hurt as well? I think that it is.
The point I am trying to make here is not that every father who makes use of this method engages in bullying, abuse, or manipulation, so please don’t misunderstand. My concern with what I perceive to be an almost militant push from the CM towards embracing this method of premarital relations between prospective spouses is not without its blind spots and its weaknesses. I understand that this is a tough issue for many (though I think we tend to make it much more difficult than it needs to be), and that there are very real fears associated with the idea of one’s children growing up and getting married, and that the protective impulse brought on by that thought is not a bad one.
On the other hand, the drive to protect one’s child needs to be tempered with the understanding that children do grow up, and that there comes a time when it may even be better to allow something that is potentially painful (i.e. forming a romantic relationship) and take a step back from the situation, so that something better can come of it. I think of a child who must go under the knife for appendicitis; yes, surgery may not be ideal, yes, the child may bear a lifelong scar, but if the parent does not take a backseat, sit in the waiting room for a while, and chill out, but instead decides to not allow the surgery because of the potential for complications – or worse, tries to take the surgery into his own hands – that child will have far from an abundant life, if they have one at all.
Another element to this, from personal experience, and then I promise I’ll shut up:
I courted a young woman when in college, and I have dated several since then, and honestly I was more hurt by the failure of the courting relationship than the dating one, in several senses of the word. One reason for this is that, as the CM proponents note, courting is very marriage driven, almost singularly so. The effect of this is that once a courting relationship commences, the pressure to reach a decision about one another and your potential for starting a life together is immense.
This is made all the more burdensome by the fact that the entire family of one or both parties (usually the woman’s) is by definition intricately involved with the entire process, which multiplies the pressure exponentially. We’ve all heard the jokes about overeager men or women who want the person they are interested in to meet mom on the first or second date. The reason it’s funny is that we can all relate to and understand the embarrassment that comes secondary to the pressure it places on a relationship in its early stages, and in particular for the person meeting the parents (heck, entire movies are based on this premise). Now, add to that the fact that parents are encouraged by the leaders of the CM to bring a magnifying glass (and I can tell you from experience that it’s often more like a very large, very oppressive microscope), and you have a recipe making for a very tense situation, if not an outright smothering of the relationship under the weight of expectations and assumptions.
Is it any wonder why a simple one-on-one Coke date at the local food court is more appealing to so many? Not only is the pressure significantly diminished, but the distractions of the family and their expectations are avoided so that the two persons can investigate one another and determine their level of interest, or lack thereof, before getting little sister Suzie’s hopes up. Unfortunately, in a courting scenario, your attention is divided and more time is spent interacting with mom, dad, and X number of siblings than with the person you are actually trying to decide your degree of interest in. I know some will throw the old saying in my face, “you don’t just marry the girl, you marry her family,” and that’s all fine and stuff, but I don’t plan on living with them. I want to have some one-on-one time with the girl, preferably early on, to get a basic feel for chemistry and compatibility sooner than later instead of investing untold hours getting to know and love the family, and then finding that you can’t stand each other when it’s just the two of you.
Another reason that the end of the courting relationship hurt was that, while the CM proponents like to pretend that their method avoids emotional attachments (you’ll hear the mantra about “guarding your heart”) until the proper time, much down the road, the fact is is that this kind of emotional lock-box approach has no basis in reality. Ladies, let me ask you: can you honestly tell me that, if a young man (assuming he’s one you think well of) has approached your father about courting you, spends much of his free time coming over to your house to spend time with your family, and is clearly oriented towards pursuing you as a possible or even likely spouse, you will be able to maintain an inner stoicism until your emotions are given the father-sanctioned go-ahead? Because I guarantee that if the young man is doing all of those things, he for his part is already emotionally invested in you. To pretend otherwise is to ignore human nature at its most basic levels.
And yet CM proponents fill our ears with platitudes like this quote from Thomasson in the article: “Courtship produces a deeper love because the young couple gets to study each others’ character and mind without their judgment being clouded by emotional rushes and premature attachments.” Frankly, this is abject drivel. Any two young people engaged in studying “each others’ character and mind” is going to be subject to quite a lot of emotional rushes and attachments. Heck, even older people work this way, which is why many marriage counselors recommend avoiding doing this with members of the opposite sex other than your spouse, due to the fact that it can lead even otherwise happily married people into an adulterous relationship. To pretend that investigating someone of the opposite sex is or can be an emotionally sterile activity is sheer denial on the part of CM proponents and many of the practitioners.
And the final reason I will mention here for being so hurt by my failed courtship (and this feels entirely too personal to blog, but it is ever so relevant and, I feel, important in understanding the depth of my concerns) is this: the entirely eerie devotion and control demanded by the parents, particularly the father. That is to say, within the context of my courtship in particular, the function of the father of the girl was not as a source of earthly wisdom and experience, as it should be, nor a help and an aide who could help us in our investigation of one another, also as it should be, nor really even a fallible human being at all. Instead, his role was as ruler and arbiter who would judge our relationship and its progression, had ultimate say in where we would go and who we were with during the rare days we were permitted time away from her family, and for all intents and purposes possessed and exercised all power over both her behavior and mine, not to mention – it would seem – her thinking, though he tried and did not succeed with mine. Our relationship in every facet was subject to his whim, and the reason the relationship ended was that he also tried to subject my will to his… and I walked away.
Maybe this was unique to my experience, and perhaps cannot be taken to be representative of other courting relationships, but when I read the Biblical accounts that present an actual courtship following the guidelines proposed by the CM (as discussed above), I for myself conclude that my experience is not unique at all. And when I hear stories from other young men trying to make headway in a CM system, this is a theme that continues to appear.*** And it does grieve me.
That said, were I to judge all of “Biblical dating”/”courting” based off of this experience, I would be doing exactly what I chide the CM folks for doing: painting with a broad brush. I am perfectly content to accept courting as one method among many for establishing and moving forward a relationship, and completely understand why it is the preferred route for an increasing number of people today. However, in the same way as the CM folks have recognized the pitfalls of dating and done their due diligence to bring them to light, so too I have here sought to honestly identify what I see as potential issues with courting and expose them as well.
At the end of the day, there is no perfect “method.” Least of all one which will work for every couple in every individual situation. I think the body of believers is served far better when we allow iron to sharpen iron, helping to build one another up by pointing out the flaws in different approaches honestly (instead of overgeneralizing) and with compassion and understanding, and allowing one another to live in Christian freedom to choose the approach most suited to the unique situations different folks find themselves in. And it must be recognized by the CMs that when you start calling your method the “Biblical” one (implication: the others are not Biblical) without a lot more Biblical capitol than you seem to have, you deserve to be called out a little more harshly for binding the consciences of believers to your traditions (in this case, funnily enough, more of an antebellum or Victorian tradition than a Biblical one) when the Word is silent on the matter.
In any event, this is a big subject, but for now, in the words of the immortal Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
*Let me stress again that I do understand what the CM is reacting against. Certainly “dating” as a term has come to carry a lot of baggage – not all of it deserved, I think – and the practice of young people going out by themselves with zero parental guidance starting at a fairly young age (I had non-homeschooled friends who were going on non-supervised dates at 11 years old) is certainly harmful for many and varied reasons. Beyond that, dating can (though not must) certainly lead to the broken hearts and crossed physical boundaries that the CM crowd cites as their main areas of contention with dating; that is, the possibility exists that some folks could be hurt for the rest of their lives by carelessly and thoughtlessly conducting themselves when dating. I understand this and I understand the strong reaction away from it. However, dating is a tool, and like any tool, its use or misuse is largely in the hands of the wielder, as opposed to any inherent defect in the tool itself. I think there is a right way to date that is more successful at avoiding these cons than most in the CM will want to give it credit for, and maybe in a future post I will turn to elaborating on that subject.
**By dating this author refers simply to the condition of someone engaged in setting up and attending ostensibly romantic appointments with another individual, whether with a group (possibly including family) or as a couple alone. That is, the action of going on dates. It is also worth noting here that where “dating” appears in quotations I am referring to dating as (mis)characterized by the CM.
***Usually in circles where there is also a strong Patriarchal/Patriocentric Movement (PM) presence. To be sure, there tends to be a good deal of overlap between the CM and the PM. Indeed, one could say that most PMs are CMs (not all of course, for some are moving into arranged marriage according to word on the street), but most CMs are not, to my knowledge, necessarily PMs.
I’ve been, like many I think, reading newsfeed after newsfeed and listening to talking head after talking head dissect what happened today.
One thing that is trending (over and over) is the idea that we need to “get God back into the schools,” in order to prevent atrocities like this. “If only we could return to the morality of the founding fathers,” the lament continues, “then this would not have happened!” I must say, that idea is absolutely…
It is wrong because it assumes that we – by an act of legislation – can change the hearts of sinners. We can no more curb such despicable evil by moralizing than the Israelites could return the Shekinah glory to the temple by rubbing their hands together. It is only the folly of a theology of glory that could imagine it to be so.
But. We should restore scripture readings and prayers (in Jesus’ name, very important) to schools for another reason. And that reason is this: we need a theology of evil. We need it to be able to cope with, even if not comprehend, the abhorrent behavior of those who rebel against their Creator in the worst possible way: killing those who bear His image, all the while bearing it themselves as well and so impugning His character. Without a theology of evil, and a greater context of theology to locate it in, all we are left with is senseless violence. Nature red in tooth and claw being what it has always been since the Fall… red in tooth and claw.
And, most important to any full-orbed theology of evil, we need a theology of redemption. An understanding that the murder of an innocent child has happened before, on Calvary, and the child concerned was God’s own.
And in the murder of that child is hope; hope that the parents who lost children today may one day be reunited with them, even if the wood of today’s crosses has sprouted thorns for now.