Sunday, June 30, 2019

Addressing Same-Sex Marriage

Flowers in our back yard

(I'm re-posting and re-editing this, to keep the discussion out there among followers of Jesus.)


"We must acknowledge that when some American citizens are fearful of expressing their religious views, something new has snaked its way into the village square:
an insidious intolerance for religion 
that has no place in a country
founded on religious freedom."


For Christian theists concerned about the way the same-sex marriage discussion has gone in America, I suggest there are two issues: one legal, the other religious.


The Legal Issue
Regarding the legal matter, the issue is about the definition of “marriage.” Might we in America have a civil discourse about this? The truth or falsity of the statement We should allow for same-sex marriage rests heavily on the meaning of the term “marriage.” Some of us, myself included, feel like many of our government leaders have rushed forward to change the meaning of marriage, without discussion. 

The term "marriage equality" changes the definition of marriage, without discussion. Of course if "marriage" is defined as a union between consenting adults, irregardless of their gender, than same-sex marriages should be legally allowed. But that has not been the legally prevailing definition of marriage. If marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, anything outside those parameters is irrelevant, and no injustice is involved in disallowing gay unions to be called marriages. As Ryan T. Anderson has written, "A truth acknowledged for millennia has been overruled by five unelected judges." (Anderson, Ryan T. Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Kindle Location 89) Without allowing for an extended, civil discourse. Any citizen ought to feel troubled by such an act of unrestrained power.


Read the editorial in CNN by Robert George (prof. of jurisprudence at Harvard and Princeton), Sherif Gergis (Princeton and Yale), and Ryan T. Anderson – “Gay Marriage, then Group Marriage?” They write:

“Of course, if marriage were simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance, then two men or two women could form a marriage just as a man and woman can. But so could three or more in the increasingly common phenomenon of group (“polyamorous”) partnerships. In that case, to recognize opposite-sex unions but not same-sex or polyamorous ones would be unfair — a denial of equality.” Please read this entire editorial. 

For a more complete version see their recent, essentially non-religious book What is Marriage? Man and Woman – a Defense. As you read it jump off the cultural bandwagon and think your way through it.

The Religious Issue

There is a second debate going on, this one within religions, and within Christianity. (Irreligous people, of course, will be uninterested in this.) It is over the statement: Does the biblical text disaffirm same-sex unions? I believe it does. 

Stop here. I disagree with Christians who think that, somehow, the biblical text does not disaffirm same-sex unions. I can say this without hating anyone. Disagreement does not equal hatred. Even if I was not a Christian and was asked to look as objectively as I can at what the Bible says about same-sex unions, I would conclude: it does not affirm them; indeed, it speaks against them. One can surely admit this without hating anyone. Again, to disagree is not to hate.


If someone says they are a “Christian,” then I reason as follows.
1. We are obligated to follow God’s will.
2. God’s will is given to us in the Bible.
3. The Bible forbids same-sex unions.
4. Therefore, same-sex unions are against God’s will. 


On P1 (Premise 1): Virtually all Jesus-followers affirm this to be true.


On P2 – again, Jesus-followers will have little problem with this. There may be discussion on the nature of biblical authority. That is another, and important, discussion.
Note again: Let's say you are an atheist. As an atheist you see little or no authority in the Bible. But of course. Christian theism is not your worldview. The Bible means little or nothing to you as a life-guide, just as Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion means nothing to me as a life-guide (and yes, I read it, and made about 45 posts in response to it).

But if you are and claim to be a follower of Jesus, then it follows that you place a high premium on the words of the Bible. The Bible is our metanarrative (everybody has a metanarrative, even post-modern theorists who reject metanarratives). For those few billion people in this camp, we can and should have discussions over the meaning of the biblical texts, their interpretation, and the nature of their authority. And, again, we can discuss without hating one another. (A good book on explaining the biblical text as metanarrative is N.T. Wright, The Last Word.)


Re. P3 – this is where the intra-Christian discussion lies. If you want to go straight to the heart of this discussion I can suggest nothing better than Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, by Dan O. Via and Robert Gagnon. See, e.g., these reviews, which I copy to defend the scholarship contained therein.
“Christians challenged by questions surrounding Scripture on same-sex relations will find an invaluable chart for navigating these confusing waters.” — Joel B. Green, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“Gagnon’s brilliant condensation of his arguments should be a significant asset for clergy and laity, while Via opens new challenges.” — Catherine Clark Kroeger, Associate Professor of Classical and Ministry Studies, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no finer presentation of all the main issues.” — Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge (endorsement inside book)
“I know of no other work that so clearly illumines the biblical issues at the heart of the controversy.” — Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School (endorsement inside book)
“Presents a vigorous, illuminating debate about the implications of scripture for contemporary attitudes toward homosexuality. I strongly recommend this book.” –James F. Childress, Hollingsworth Professor of Ethics, University of Virginia

Via is pro-gay marriage, Gagnon is against gay marriage. Both are New Testament scholars. But note this. Via agrees that one cannot interpret the biblical text as supportive of same-sex marriage. So he gives us a principle that seems of God to him as a justification for allowing same-sex marriages today.

Note: I have extensively studied and been involved in this discussion since the 1970s. Yes, I have done all the contextual studies and word-studies relevant to the context, plus read everything available by Christians who disagree with me. (BTW - just because someone disagrees with me on this does not mean, in my mind, that they are not a Christian. Disagreement with a person's theology is not equivalent to judgment of a person.) 


For Gagnon’s more complete biblical argument against textual support of same-sex marriage see his The Bible and Homosexuality: Texts and Interpretation. Of this book reviews include:

“…In its learnedness, [Gagnon’s] book will…be in the vanguard of its position and cannot be ignored….” — Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, and author of Homoeroticism in the Biblical World (From the Jacket Flap)
“…the fullest and best presentation of the conservative position….expressing the case same-sex intercourse sympathetically and convincingly.” — I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament, Emeritus, University of Aberdeen, Scotland (Blurb Inside Book)
“…the most thorough examination of the scriptural and theological…perspectives on same-sex relations….a tour de force.” — Marion L. Soards, Professor of New Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (From Jacket Flap)
“Gagnon has offered a learned, judicious, and comprehensive examination of the biblical testimony….fair and compassionate…a major resource….” — Brevard S. Childs, Sterling Professor of Divinity (Hebrew Bible), Emeritus, Yale Divinity School (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s book is an extremely valuable contribution to the current debate….I recommend this book wholeheartedly.” — C. E. B. Cranfield, Professor of Theology (New Testament), Emeritus, University of Durham (From Inside Book)
“Gagnon’s incisive logic, prudent judgment, and exhaustive research should make this book a dominant voice in the contemporary debate.” — Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem (From the Back Cover)
“I believe that this volume will become a classic in the ongoing discussion of the church’s…response to homosexuality.” — Duane F. Watson, Professor of New Testament, Malone College (From Inside Book)
“I know of no comparable study of the texts and interpretive debates that surround homosexual behavior.” — Max L. Stackhouse, Stephen Colwell Professor of Christian Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminary (From the Jacket Flap)
“No Christian concerned with homosexuality can afford to ignore this book.” — John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford (From the Back Cover)
“This is a brilliant, original, and highly important work,…indispensable even for those who disagree with the author.” — James Barr, Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible, Emeritus, Vanderbilt University

We have rushed over the cliff without a civil discussion. (Five white Ivy-league lawyers decided on the meaning of "marriage" for our nation. What if there had been a national discussion, and then a national vote?)

I think the area we should be most concerned to address is the legal issue, and not the religious issue. This is because, overwhelmingly, we don’t legislate biblical morality. For example, biblically, gossip and gluttony are sins. Engaged in, they mitigate against human flourishing. But I don't think we should legislate against them. I don’t think we should make a law against gossip, or a law against gluttony. 

Continue to address the meaning of “marriage.” 
Don’t be intellectually seduced by the bandwagon fallacy.

***

Character (Now For Something Completely Different)

Glen Arbor, Michigan

When I was a boy I remember being encouraged by my parents and teachers to watch the first presidential debate on TV. I don't remember what it was about. Probably, I was bored. Children were told this was an historic event. So, my family and I settled down in our living room and watched John F. Kennedy debate Richard Nixon.

That was September 26, 1960. Today things are different.  

We should pray for parents who have to figure out how to shield their kids from this amoral political catastrophe. We should, as Scripture tells us, pray for our government leaders, especially that they would have moral integrity and character. And, we should focus our hearts and minds on something even more important than "the issues."

Let me present you with something completely different. A different world. An alternative kingdom. Another path. It's given to us by New York Times writer David Brooks, in The Road to Character.

Character. 

Brooks begins by making a distinction between two opposing sides of human nature, He calls the two sides Adam 1 and Adam 2.

Adam 1 wants to do things that strengthen his résumé. Adam 1 strives to have high personal status and win victories.

Adam 2, on the other hand, wants to embody certain moral qualities. Adam 2 longs to have character. Adam 2 has a non-self-promoting sense of right and wrong. Adam 2 not only wants to do good, but to be good.

Adam 1 self-promotes; Adam 2 sacrifices self in the service of others.

Adam 2 lives in service to a transcendent truth that is bigger than himself.

Adam 1 wants to conquer the world; Adam 2 wants to serve the world.

Brooks writes:

"While Adam 1 is creative and savors his own accomplishments, Adam 2 sometimes renounces worldly success and status for the sake of some sacred purpose. While Adam 1 asks how things work, Adam 2 asks why things exist, and what ultimately we are here for. While Adam 1 wants to venture forth, Adam 2 wants to return to his roots and savor the warmth of a family meal. While Adam 1’s motto is “Success,” Adam 2 experiences life as a moral drama. His motto is “Charity, love, and redemption.”" (Brooks, Kindle Locations 81-85)

Adam 1 lives by a utilitarian logic; viz., the logic of economics. Effort leads to reward. Pursue self-interest. Maximize your utility. Impress the world.

Adam 2 upside-downs the logic of Adam 1. Brooks writes:

"It’s a moral logic, not an economic one. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
To nurture your Adam 1 career, it makes sense to cultivate your strengths. To nurture your Adam 2 moral core, it is necessary to confront your weaknesses." (Kindle Locations 90-95)

Our narcissistic culture applauds and feeds Adam 1, while dismissing Adam 2. The media feeds on Adam 1 types. Adam 2 types were not made for consumption.

"We live," writes Brooks, "in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life." We live to satisfy our desires at the expense of developing a deep, moral life. "We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character."

Since our culture judges people by their abilities, and not their worth, Adam 2 increases, while Adam 2 decreases. Thus most people live with a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.

Adam 1 lives for "résumé virtues"; Adam 2 lives for "eulogy virtues." Brooks writes:

"The résumé virtues are the ones you list on your résumé, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success. The eulogy virtues are deeper. They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being— whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed." (K63)

A eulogy-virtuous person has been freed from Facebook self-promotion. "Sometimes you don’t even notice these people, because while they seem kind and cheerful, they are also reserved. They possess the self-effacing virtues of people who are inclined to be useful but don’t need to prove anything to the world: humility, restraint, reticence, temperance, respect, and soft self-discipline." (K160-162)


Adam 1 is morally dis-integrated.


Adam 2 has character. This is important, isn't it?

(God is still working on my own spiritual character development.)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

An Infilling Today, an Outpouring Tomorrow

(Me, photographing the sunset, Ludington beach, Michigan - photo by Josh Piippo)

Linda and I return to Monroe today. We've been at the HSRM Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin.

I wanted to write a fresh blog post this morning but I can't. God poured so much freshness into me, and into us, that I just have to simmer in it. I am infilled.

Tomorrow morning, as I speak to my church family, it will be poured out. I will be outpoured.


SUMMER SEMINARY - Study Spirit Hermeneutics With Me


Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost by [Keener, Craig S.]

An invitation to Study Biblical Interpretation 
with me this summer.

WHEN: June-July- August 2019

CLASS: Spirit Hermeneutics

A discussion of New Testament scholar Craig Keener's Spirit Hermeneutics: Reading Scripture in Light of Pentecost.

HOW:

June - purchase and read the book.

July/August - meet with me 4-5 times to discuss. Dates and location TBA.

Long-Distance - for any interested pastors: If you are a pastor or church leader and would like to study with me this summer, please contact me. We can schedule some conference calls in late July and August to discuss.

TEACHER:

John Piippo, PhD, Northwestern University
Visiting Professor, Faith Bible Seminary, New York City
Adjunct Professor, Payne Theological Seminary, Wilberforce, Ohio

Former professor at...
Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div. and D.Min. programs)
Palmer Theological Seminary (D. Min. program)
Asia Theological College (Singapore)
Ecumenical Theological Seminary (Detroit)
Monroe County Community College (Adjunct Professor of Philosophy)
Pastor, Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe, MI

CONTACT ME at: johnpiippo@msn.com




Thursday, June 27, 2019

ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT now on Kindle!


Encounters with the Holy Spirit by [Piippo, John]

Encounters with the Holy Spirit  (co-edited with Janice Trigg) is now available on Kindle - $3.99.

This book is a collection of essays on the Holy Spirit from Christian leaders who are active in Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries. It is the story of a conference that became a family. The chapters present a biblical and theological understanding of the Holy Spirit, with stories of experiencing and encountering the Spirit. 

Like both wings of an airplane are needed to get off the ground and soar, soaring with God’s Spirit requires good thinking about the Spirit and encounters and experiences with the Spirit. We believe you will discover both in this collection of essays. You will gain deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit’s ways.

We pray this will culminate in a life of greater experience with God. May the Holy Spirit encourage, strengthen, illuminate, and empower you as you read this book!



The Presence-Driven Church Discerns, Not Decides

Pine forest, near Bozeman, Montana

Our leadership team at Redeemer is a discerning group, rather than a deciding group. Our questions are,

God, what would you have us do?

What is God doing in our church family?

What is God saying to us?

I assume God already knows the answers to these questions. Our task is to discern what God is saying, doing, and leading us towards.

Discernment is in direct proportion to familiarity. The more intimate we are with the Lord, the more we hear his voice.

Not everyone in a church family discerns. All are not committed to their ongoing spiritual formation. As a result, such people are unskilled in discerning God's plans and purposes. Don't expect to hear from God if you are not spending much time with him.

Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"It is... important that we involve the right people. A prerequisite for community discernment is that the individuals involved are committed to the process of personal transformation. It is essential that these individuals are experienced in personal discernment as both habit and practice in their own decision-making. One very common leadership mistake is to think that we can take a group of undiscerning individuals and expect them to show up in a leadership setting and all of a sudden become discerning!" 
(Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 198)


***
My three books are:


Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (Co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I've begun working on three new books:

Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation

Relationships (co-writing with Linda)

Monday, June 24, 2019

In the Absence of God's Presence, Church Becomes a Circus

(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)



The first class I taught on prayer was in the M.Div. program at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. That was 1977. Today, after forty-two years of teaching prayer and spiritual formation to four thousand pastors and Christian leaders, my discovery is that 80-90% of them do not have a significant prayer life. They, like most, say "I don't have time to pray."

If a pastor or Christian leader is from a non-Western, Third World context, the odds are they do have a significant prayer life. The general rule is this: the more stuff a person has, the less they pray; the less stuff a person has, the more they pray. There are exceptions, but not many. As Jesus said, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the absence of a deep life of prayer-connectedness to God, what does Christian ministry look like? Henri Nouwen writes:

"Most Christian leaders are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization: getting people together in congregations, schools, and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the Spirit within. I am afraid that in a few decades the Church will be accused of having failed at its most basic task: to offer people creative ways to communicate with the divine source of human life." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 207-210)

The #1 thing a pastor-shepherd must do is plant themselves by the living waters and green pastures of God's earth-shattering presence, and then lead their people there.

Teach them, as Jesus instructed, to abide in Him. (John 14-16)

Then their lives will bear much fruit.

**
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

I'm now working on Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.

J. P. Moreland's Argument From Consciousness for God's Existence


(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)
(If you're interested in this check out U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, What Is a Person? Smith explains emergent properties, and how they are irreducible to their components.)

I was privileged to have neuropsychologist-theologian James Ashbrook on my dissertation committee. My research was on metaphor theory and included neural studies on how the brain processes language and, especially, metaphor (in distinction from the other tropes, such as "simile"). Ashbook (now deceased) was immersed in brain-mind-personality studies and a pioneer in theological mind-brain issues. (See his The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.)


Today we are immersed in a sea of neurophilosophical and neurotheological issues. A core question that is much-discussed is: Is "mind" fully reducible to the physical brain? The moral implications of answering "yes" to this are huge. 

Philosopher J.P. Moreland answers in the negative. We see this in his dense Consciousness and the Existence of God, his little article "The Argument From Consciousness,"  his contribution to the recent Debating Christian Theism (Moreland, Khaldoun Sweis, and Chad Meister, eds.), and his recent book The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters


Moreland argues against philosophical naturalism (atheism) and for the existence of God via mind-body dualism (supernaturalism). The question is, as philosopher-naturalist Colin McGinn asks: "How can mere matter originate consciousness?" On naturalism, finite mental entities ("minds") seem inexplicable. This is not so on theism. Thus the existence of finite mental entities provide evidence for the existence of God, via inference to the best explanation.


Moreland argues that mental states "are in no sense physical since they possess five features not owned by physical states:

(a) there is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain; [See Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?"]


(b) at least many mental states have intentionality—of-ness or about-ness–directed towards an object;


(c) mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them; [The "problem" of first-person subjective consciousness; aka "the really hard problem" Pinker and Owen Flanagan, among others, write about.]


(d) they require a subjective ontology—namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them;


(e) mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language."


How, on naturalism (atheism), can one explain "mind" coming from brute matter? Stephen Pinker at times seems to think it could never, in principle, be done. Moreland offers four reasons "for why there is no natural scientific explanation for the existence of mental states (or their regular correlation with physical states)." They are:


a) The uniformity of nature. Briefly, Moreland asks: "How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like an inhomogeneous rupture in the natural world."


b) Contingency of the mind/body correlation. Moreland writes: "For the naturalist, the regularity of mind/body correlations must be taken as contingent brute facts. But these facts are inexplicable from a naturalistic standpoint, and they are radically sui generis compared to all other entities in the naturalist ontology. Thus, it begs the question simply to announce that mental states and their regular correlations with certain brain states is a natural fact." Mental states are unique. On naturalism, as naturalist Terence Horgan states, "supervenient facts must be explainable rather than being sui generis.”


c) Epiphenomenalism and causal closure. "Physical effects have only physical causes... [I]f mental phenomena are genuinely non-physical, then they must be epiphenomena–effects caused by the physical that do not themselves have causal powers. But epiphenomenalism is false. Mental causation seems undeniable..."


d) The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations. "[B]oth the sheer existence of conscious states and the precise mental content that constitutes them is outside the pale of evolutionary explanation."


Real atheism is philosophical naturalism (PN). On atheism-as-PN there are no non-natural events. It is difficult, if not in principle impossible, to deny mental causation (such as "choosing" to argue against the existence of God). Atheism is, therefore, false.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Prayer and the Basic Question of Psalm 23





I'm re-posting this this video I made in July 2013 when I taught Spiritual Formation at Payne Theological Seminary.

Today Linda and I are at our summer Green Lake conference. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

Secularism Rules in Western Churches

Duck family in my front yard

Two years ago I read The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, by Rod Dreher.

Dreher said the culture wars are over, at least in the West. The sexual revolution and the technological revolution have won. I agree, at least for the extended moment.

The American Church was not prepared for this. "The public square has been lost." (P. 9) American churches have succumbed. 

C.S. Lewis referred to the secular world as "enemy-occupied territory." The enemy is within the camp, ruling over hearts and minds. Many churches are not safe places for followers of Jesus. They are "mostly about improving one’s self-esteem and subjective happiness and getting along well with others." (P. 10)

Dreher writes:

"Not only have we lost the public square, but the supposed high ground of our churches is no safe place either...  The changes that have overtaken the West in modern times have revolutionized everything, everything, even the church, which no longer forms souls but caters to selves. As conservative Anglican theologian Ephraim Radner has said, “There is no safe place in the world or in our churches within which to be a Christian. It is a new epoch.”" (P. 9)

"Don’t," warns Dreher, "be fooled by the large number of churches you see today... If the demographic trends continue, our churches will soon be empty."
 (Ib.)

In my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church my concluding chapter is, "God's Presence Will Win the Day." I believe this. What is needed is:

1) decolonization; and 
2) return.

Dreher writes, "many of the churches that do stay open will have been hollowed out by a sneaky kind of secularism to the point where the “Christianity” taught there is devoid of power and life." (P. 10)

Needed: God's power and life. Not human staging and hype.

Dreher writes about how Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has colonized the Church. (Years ago I read Christian Smith's Soul Searching, which introduced MTD.)

Dreher's book still resonates with me (except perhaps for his negative evaluation on the Reformation). At least he doesn't have his head in the sand.

***
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Marriage Is Not the Greatest Thing

Image may contain: bird, grass, outdoor and nature
(Duck in my back yard.)

When I became a Jesus-follower God told me to take a full year off from dating. I did. It was a wonderful experience. I focused on what Colossians 1:18 calls "the supremacy of Christ." Christ was my "head," I was part of his "body," the body of Christ, his "Church." (Col. 1:18 again)

I felt free from cultural pressure to date. My life goal was no longer to find some "soul mate," because my soul was mated to Christ. My desire was to know Christ, and be found in him. I was allowing God to change me in ways that would be good for any future relationship I might be in.

If you are not dating, or not married, give thanks to God. You have a Pauline opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:8) to draw close to the Only One who purely loves your soul. Take advantage of this and rejoice!

If you feel pressure to date and mate, ask yourself, where does this come from? I have met many who get into a relationship to satisfy cultural expectations, or to please their mother and father. Or, who have the idea that without being married I will be unfulfilled. This pressure is not from God. It's a very non-Pauline idea, since Paul himself seemed to do more than fine without being married. It creates the idolatrous idea that marriage is life's greatest thing. It is not. 

I've seen Christian marriages that are toxic, not because of "irreconcilable differences" or "incompatibility," but because of spiritual and emotional immaturity. These marriages are hellish. If you are not in a marriage like this, give thanks! You have been spared from a dark existence. Be thankful you are not in a world where adult babies are making babies, and then abandoning them in divorce (at a 50% rate).

Simply because a husband and wife are Christians does not guarantee a wonderful marriage. There is a ton of ongoing marital work to be done. This never ends. Few people count the cost of marriage, and end up paying in ways they never imagined.

There's nothing wrong in desiring and praying for a life partner. There is something wrong with the idea that life will never be flourishing without one. Imagine how Christ feels about that! Overwhelmingly, marriage is not God's greatest thing.

Ben Witherington understands this ("Family First!— Not a Biblical Viewpoint"). He writes: 

"Anyone who has carefully read 1 Corinthians 7 will know that Paul says that being married in the Lord or being single for the sake of Christ are both good stations in life, and BOTH require a certain ‘charisma’ or grace gift to live in such a state. That is, Paul does not agree that marriage is the normal default for every believer. He doesn’t think we should think that way at all. It is not the highest goal that everyone should strive to reach. Frankly, says Paul, I would prefer various of you be single like me, for the sake of the Kingdom. But each according to his gift. 
   
What is radical in its day, and even now, about the teaching of Jesus and Paul (remembering Jesus in Mt. 19 says disciples can be eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom) is what they say about the viability and goodness of never marrying, or remaining single after you lose your spouse. Frankly, Jesus would have been appalled at the name of a Sunday school class at my old church— ‘Pairs and Spares’. Single persons are not like spare tires. They are not like fifth wheels. 
  
Indeed the NT warns us that some people are just not cut out for or gifted [or called] to be married, and we should stop trying to goad all believers in that direction. [Stop doing this please!!!!!]  Instead, we need a more viable theology of and support for single persons. We need to stop exalting marriage as if it were the only good state of being for any true believer. It isn’t. As Christians our highest good and highest calling is to follow the example of Christ and the teaching of Christ, and neither of these things encourage us to put up banners that say ‘Family first!’. Rather the body of Christ needs desperately to get on with being a family towards all of its members and learning what in fact that means and entailed." [Parenthetical remarks and emphasis mine.]


*****
What if you are in a marriage that is struggling? See my post - How to Save Your Failing Marriage.

***
***
My three books are:

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Encounters with the Holy Spirit (co-edited with Janice Trigg)

After a break I'll continue writing Transformation: How God Changes the Human Heart.

Then: Technology and Spiritual Formation.

Then, the Lord willing, Linda and I will write our book on Relationships.