Good Christian Girl, Bad Christian Books

Having been married for nearly 15 years, and with five children in the back of the minivan, I’m rather unaccustomed to reading articles on singleness. But I was alerted to Gina’s column, "The Good Christian Girl: A Fable," by Christianity Today on Twitter and gave it a read.

WOW.

I don’t regularly give “WOW”s to columns, but Gina’s piece felt like a punch in the teeth. And somehow a well-deserved punch in the teeth. Due to Christians’ (shocker alert) undeserved certainty about certain “biblical” “truths.” “Truths” that mess with others’ lives if they listen to them.

I’m not talking about the central matters of the Christian faith. Churches and writers and thinkers and trend-shapers who cannot get orthodoxy right are one thing. They are a huge problem, yes. But what of the unintentional charlatans who just *know* the “truth” on secondary matters? Such as, as Gina explores, how dating should be … or not be … or who to date … or how to act to get dates? This matters, okay? I’m so weary of Christian know-it-alls who expound with certainty upon secondary matters, very carefully selected supporting Bible verses in tow, and tell us all what to do and not do, based upon their own story (and carefully selected stories like theirs).
Once there was a good Christian girl who dreamed of growing up, getting married, and having children. She read all the right books and did all the right things. She read about how she was a princess in God's sight and how he wanted the very best for her.
Yes, I’m probably the wrong person to weigh in on this, since I think that 90% of the Christian books sold are wastes of everyone’s time, contributing nothing to the Kingdom. Well-meaning or no, we ape the secular world by our various self-help trends. Each trend being a description of “how you should” … fill in the blank.
Some of the popular Christian books were talking about not dating at all, and just being friends, until God had made it clear that the guy she liked was exactly the right one for her. Her Sunday school teachers taught from a very popular book about how dating was unbiblical…
Here’s an example: Growing Kids God’s Way. Boy, there’s a humble title, huh? It screams “THIS is the ONLY way A Real Christian raises their child.” Rightly or not, it has always struck me as a book about how to beat personality and initiative out of your child, but let me be the first to admit that I’m surely being wholly unfair. And yet I groan every time I hear about another church group going through Growing Kids God’s Way. Ten years ago, we attended a church in which one only admitted with a whisper that one didn’t follow Growing Kids God’s Way.

Am I digressing? Maybe. So let’s get to the point. What’s my beef? This -- THE IDEA THAT GOD HAS COMMUNICATED ONE SET OF TECHNIQUES TO USE IN DATING OR RAISING CHILDREN OR FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT OR WHATHAVEYOU IS PATENTLY ABSURD TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER READ THE BIBLE ONCE. That’s my beef. And my side order of fries is -- HELLO, TREND-SETTING AUTHOR, YOUR LIFESTYLE TRUTH CLAIMS END UP IMPACTING REAL PEOPLE IN REAL WAYS, SOME BAD, WHILE YOUR BANK ACCOUNT FILLS UP.
She started to hear words like "spinster" and "bitter" and "self-absorbed" and "career woman" whispered around her.

And the girl grew tired.

She was tired of advice. She was tired of waiting. She was tired of hearing about Prince Charming and Mr. Darcy. Perhaps most of all, she was tired of shaking heads.
In my circles, “courtship” is the thing. And it is surely a fine way to approach dating and marriage. But that’s just it … it is **A** fine way. It is not **THE** fine way. If we could all just stop “knowing” secondary “biblical” “truths” that are not expressly stated in the Bible, we would all be a whole lot better off.

Comments:

Lol @ your reaction, Allen. But no, I don't think the Bible is unambiguously clear (in fact, I think it's quite *un*clear on the matter of homosexuality in the NT). See http://christianteens.about.com/od/whatthebiblesaysabout/a/wbsaHomosexual.htm for a basic but slightly wishy-washy perspective from this side.
Lee, Great comment. Love the ML quote.

Christopher, I think a full discussion of the matter of God's will in lifestyle matters certainly involves facing up to the "sins of omission", because you're absolutely right that this is an equally huge error. We shouldn't extrapolite "biblical" "truths" that aren't clearly there, but my goodness, we should certainly be LOOKING, because an awful lot IS there! And - truth be told - we more often make the latter mistake than the former. Great comment ... you really rounded out the discussion well.

Ben, great to hear from you - long time. I have to say that I think Christopher's comment really bears upon your own. As I read your comment, I was thinking something like "Hey, look, Ben agrees with me ... cool ... wait ... no ... NO! ... Ben, no, I didn't mean *that*!" There really are some "lifestyle" practices about which the Bible is unambiguously clear. Homosexual practice is one of them, like it or not. I rather don't like it, because I don't want people to think "Pshh, what a homophobic bigot" (when I'm certainly neither) given that approving homosexuality is clearly the socially approved convention of the day. But the Bible couldn't be clearer, you know? So what am I going to do? Agree with God or "the with-it crowd". The former ... even as I have to confess (regrettably) a desire to be approved by the latter.

Now the matter of how to act toward those who commit various sins is a wholly different matter. That the many among the 20th Century church were unbiblically horrid toward homosexuals is clearly true. I think we've begun to do better. We all sin, you know?
My $0.02..
I got quite lucky in finding my wife, I must say, although since I went to Asbury College - a Christian school, and about 2/3 females - the odds were on my side to find *someone*.

That said, I did it the "I Kiss Dating Goodbye" way, and found someone I could be friends with, and over about two years we grew together and eventually got married. And I think that dating friends is still the way to go, but I'm not going to sell a book telling everyone else so.


Allen, I think Christians are already far too certain about how others should live their lives, and not just on this one issue. We really should only be telling people "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself" - and judging every other doctrine by that one.

I look at issues like homosexuality, where there are a few scriptures about idol worship and a few other with ambiguous translations, yet we made the whole issue into one of the biggest Us vs. Them doctrines in modern Christianity. As you said, we've got this idea that we know how other people should live their lives, and it extends past just courting and raising children.
I can relate
I too look back on some horrible advice I received while young. Unfortunately, it's not usually from the sin of comission, the advice usually suffers from the sin of omission. Lots of Biblical principles left out of the equation. That makes it harder to identify the problems.

That's a big part of why I'm such a Christian jerk. Someone's got to be the voice that digs into Scripture and is at least willing to challenge the status quo when it can be shown to contradict scripture.

Anyway, nice fable. I hope Gina gets some positive responses, and can guide some younger people to sound Biblical advice. (BTW, I'm not a big advocate for dating. Haha, how can someone not love irony?)

PS "Growing Kids God's Way" was about as an offensive book as I have ever started. I can't speak to the whole book, since I stopped after the first few pages.
Allen, your paragraph in which you wrote "speaking for God as His representative" is spot on, as is your original blog post. I'm delighted to have liberals like Ben W around The Point, since his perspective makes me ponder mine much more thoroughly than I otherwise might. Without the counterPoint, it would be easy to lose humility. If I recall correctly, Martin Luther said he trembled every time he ascended the pulpit, fearing that it might be his own words he would speak instead of God's. As Gina's article so clearly points out, putting our own words in God's mouth is not merely an error worthy of divine judgement, it is also a callousness that leaves a clear trail of human misery in its wake. Fortunately, we've been given a Bibleful of instruction on how to avoid that.
Irene, thanks for the note from abroad! As you can imagine, it's a bit tough for me to comment on Christian dating trends (or lack thereof!) in Malaysia. But insofar as they seem similar to what Gina describes in her article, I'm sorry to hear it. Thanks for the visit and comment!
I'm not even American & have never been to the USA but the article was just as true for me, and sounded eerily familiar.

(I'm from Malaysia)
Dan, I think you really nail this. Certainty sells books. Allowing for multiple answers to the book's problem does not sell books. Ergo certainty.

And, to be fair (or charitable), most of these authors likely really believe that their way is the only biblical way. But this gets at the core problem: a certain comfort with claiming "this is what God says" ... speaking for God as His representative ... when the Bible does not clearly make the statement. We are on safe ground when we repeat core proclamations made throughout the Bible. But when we claim to know God's Will through any other means - our own stories, our Reason, indirect derivations from a few general verses in the Bible - we are on REALLY shaky ground. We risk inadvertently lying ... and lying in the worst way, by claiming to speak for God when we do not. At the least, we risk causing more harm than good. Worse, though, we surely risk God's displeasure.


Lee, thanks much - let me tell you, I could use that $100. Keep the pressure on Gina ... I think she'll eventually fold. (BTW, speaking of charity, your "hearing from Allen" comment is more than kind. Most would say - probably rightly - that I simply have blogworthy thoughts only a couple times per year...)

Jason ... I'd better leave that one for the ladies...
Sadly, people fall into this trap all the time. You don't sell a book by saying, "It's like this some of the time for some people." You sell a book by saying, "It's always like this for everyone."

The other problem I see is that people are very quick to evaluate (judge?) others and offer their advice based on that judgment. I understand the desire to do this, but it's usually best to bite your tongue.
But you could slip it to him *now*, G - five mouths to feed, y'know...

Or just pass the hat; hearing from Allen again is always worth whatever it takes.
Proverbs 31 could count as dating advice.
Believe it or not, I did not slip him a $100 bill to write that. :-) Thanks, Allen.




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