Visions from the Vincents

June 26, 2008

Holding Hands Holding Hearts

Filed under: Books,Youth — Joshua @ 6:43 pm
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Holding Hands Holding Hearts (H4) by Richard and Sharon Phillips is perhaps the best book on dating I have read.

The basic gist of the book
The Phillips say, “Our challenge is to think biblically about an activity that isn’t in the Bible” (12).  The biblical approach that they present–dating is an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace–stands in stark contrast to that which, even, many Christians hold–dating is the pursuit of romance and meeting emotional needs.  Too often, the Christian’s understanding of dating is shaped more by the world than Scripture.  The beauty of the approach found in Holding Hands Holding Hearts is its simplicity.  Dating is more that holding hands, and more than seeking to manipulate situations into mere self-gratification.  Dating involves holding hearts, and taking responsibility for the present and future spiritual condition of the individual. The main point of this book is that Christians need to freshly apply the gospel to relationships between men and women.  The Phillips flesh this out in two parts.

Part 1: A Biblical view of dating and relationships
In the first part, the authors explore the three-act-drama: God’s design in creation, the relationship fallen through sin, and the relationship redeemed by God’s grace.  Instead of beginning with dating and trying to work towards marriage, this book begins with the biblical principles of a healthy marriage (as seen in the primordial garden of Genesis 2) and works backwards to describe a healthy biblical dating relationship, because the foundations for a healthy, godly marriage begin while dating (cf. 13).  They list three dynamics in particular.

Three dynamics bind couples together. H4 draws three dynamics that bind couples together from Genesis 2: commitment, intimacy, and interdependence.  These helpfully display the trajectory of a relationship that seeks to be faithful to the Lordship of Christ and to love your neighbor as yourself.  These three should increase with codependency as the relationship evolves.

Commitment “involves an increasing exclusivity in terms of relationships with others; it means giving time to the relationship; and it involves a growing attention to the needs of each other” (32).  Commitment begins low and so should expectations for time and exclusivity.  In other words, “their obligation is little higher than that toward any other brother or sister in Christ” (33).  This progresses and increases steadily until the two are married.  If commitment doesn’t grow, neither will the relationship.

Concerning intimacy, they say, “Men and women are made to fit together for the most intimate ministry one to another–spiritually, emotionally, and physically” (34).  This is both beautiful and profound.  But, it is for this reason that H4 claims, “the breaking of these bonds does so much damage” (34).  The connection between intimacy and commitment is as follows: “one is foolish to expose the secrets of his or her heart to someone who has not made a tangible commitment to faithfulness” (35).  So, intimacy should follow commitment.

Interdependence is the final dynamic.  This involves the fact the idea that they man and woman are not “just two people doing their own thing” (35).  This means that marriage is about more that cohabitation.  Couples must be able to work together for the glory of God.  As relationships grow, all three dynamics should grow.  With this foundation laid they move on to offering some practical guidance.

Page 85 offers a list of 7 suggestions as to what submission and respect look like for a woman in a dating relationship.  This can be quite dicey given that dating is not marriage.  The Philips helpfully council a woman as to what that progression of intimacy commitment, and interdependence looks like before moving on to considerations of practice in part 2.

Part 2: Biblical Wisdom for Dating and Relationships
This second part considers the practical topics of attraction, first dates, commitment, and growing from dating to marriage, and struggling with contentment as a single person.  Chapter 5 challenges men to reevaluate what kind of beauty they are looking for.  They should seek the kind of beauty that God values.  Interestingly, this book doesn’t get to the first date until chapter 6.  From this point on, wisdom flows freely on the practicalities of dating in light of the gospel.  Some helpful examples include:
•    Page 115 considers the ideal situation in which the man would approach her father for consent, advice, and oversight.  On 116, a number of ideas are given to protect the woman’s heart.  Given a fallen world, they suggest that, if the father is absent physically (or otherwise), the woman should seek counsel from a pastor or a trustworthy friend.
•    Chapter 6 addresses issues like where to go on a first date, how to dress, and even when to call the girl back after the first date.
•    Page 155 provides 5 questions a couple should ask before engagement.
•    Page 160 contains a list of 5 essential matters a couple should talk about, pray about, and strive together for if they are hoping to be happily married.
•    H4 clearly articulates the dangers of dating a non-Christian, the particular sinful proclivities of men and women that result from the fall, how a man should lead the relationship in light of God’s intended purposes for marriage and how a woman is to faithfully live our her God-intended purposes.
•    Chapter 9 addresses how not to be dating.  In other words, they acknowledge that thinking through dating naturally leads some to be discouraged over not being in a relationship, and that dating isn’t a gift for everyone.  Instead, for many, it is a great trial.  The Phillips’s gentle counsel to those who hate being single carries the gospel specifically to their situation and challenges them to fight sinful desires that exist outside of relationships.

Hot thoughts to consider
This book flows steady with wisdom on dating in light of revelation in such a way that purifies a Christians vision of dating like fire purifies metal.

H4 applies the gospel to dating. “It is only as a man and woman come in faith before the cross of Jesus and find themselves restored to God that their own relationship can be redeemed from the guilt and the power of sin.  We find the ability to love one another rather than using one another to meet our needs and desires…In Christ, the Christian finds the ability to leave selfish manipulative relationships for a relationship that is empowered by the love that flows from the cross” (55).  H4 intends to say that just because the Bible doesn’t use the word “dating” doesn’t mean that it is a realm that stands outside of the Lordship of Christ.  In fact, Scripture actually has a lot to say about the relationship between a man and woman.  It is a theme that is central to the storyline of redemptive history.  H4 shows that the Bible has an answer for why relationships, including dating, are so messed up; sin!  The first part is actually a reflection on the effects of the gospel—God, man, Christ, Response—on marriage and dating.  The authors spend much of this book showing how the gospel can be applied as a redemptive tool for relationships. First, marriage is looked at prior to the fall.  Next, the effects of the fall on marriage are considered.  Finally, the work of Christ and its meaning for marriage and, thus dating, are considered.  So, it applies what the main message of the Bible has to say to this timely topic.  They say, “This is the glory of Christianity: that we are saved not just from our sin but also to the blessings for which God first created us and now has redeemed us through the blood of his only Son” (53).  This means that we can share in the blessings intended for man and woman by and through the power of the gospel!

H4 is incarnational in its approach. Far from being so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, the Phillips provide a model that considers the cultural context in which our younger people find themselves.  For example, they say, “Dating is essentially a twentieth-century invention” (12).  But, instead of jettisoning the whole project and hiding under a rock, they say, “it is nonetheless something that most of us can’t simply kiss goodbye” (12)—which could be a bit of joshing.  They conclude, “Under anything like typical circumstances, an adult man ought to be married. Given the way things are today, he probably needs to date someone.  And it also means that when he dates, it should be with an eye toward marriage” (21).  So, they focus not so much on what you call dating, but how you think about dating and the practical outworking of those thoughts in light of the gospel.  An example from above is the need of counsel in a woman’s life when considering a relationship with a man.  Ideally, that would be her father.  Given this fallen world, the Philips suggest thinking outside the box for wise counselors who can speak truth into the girls life and provide protection.

How the best could be better
I have already said that this is the best book on dating I have read.  The only potential drawback I see with this book concerns a vision for what dating looks like for those younger than college.  To be fair, the authors prepare you for this in the second line of the “Preface” saying, “It is geared especially toward single adults rather than to teenagers” (p. 9).  This book makes an assumption at the onset that “readers possess the maturity to enter into marriage” and that it is thus inappropriate for teenagers.  Given the detailed and helpful thoughts of this work, a chapter on the implications would be an asset to the numerous parents and ministers seeking to help teenagers consider relationships with the opposite sex in a more biblical way.  Then again, maybe its silence regarding the subject says something all together more powerful than words could communicate.

Conclusion
If you are single, read this book!  A flood of helpful thoughts contained in this book will help you make the decisions that will effect the rest you life, especially the one that will shape the rest of your life more than almost any other—marriage.  If you are currently dating someone, make reading this book a priority for you and your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Use it to educate and transform your relationship.  It is almost sinful for you not to read this book.  If you are the parent of a youth, encourage him, or her, as much as possible to read this work.  It may not be geared for them, but it certainly will prepare them for where they are going.  If you are a married person, it is valuable as well.  Because it begins with a model of marriage and then displays dating in light of working towards a healthy marriage, it offers a great deal of counsel for those who are married.  I just read the book for a second time and was freshly reminded of my own shortcomings and need to repent.  So, in short please read this book!  I am confident that it will reveal fresh venues for you to experience the grace and peace of God in your life.

(more…)

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June 24, 2008

Gloucester 17 on children and sex

Filed under: Society — Joshua @ 8:10 pm
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This past week the Associated Press reported that “17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four time sthe number of preganancies the 1,200-student school had last year…All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. Then the story got worse. “we found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless,” the principal says, shaking his head.”

I find this sobering article provocative on a number of different levels as an evangelical Christian and a somewhat thoughtful individual (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive descriptions).

What a difference eleven years makes!

Do you remember Melissa Drexler?  I do.  As a senior in highschool, I remember the CNN story line of a highschool girl giving birth to a baby in the bathroom during prom and then sufficating the baby and leaving his lifeless new born body in the trashcan.  The contrast between the Gloucester 17 and Melissa shows a shift in cultural understandings of our children towards children and sex.  Sex and its fruit–even outside of marriage–are far from frowned upon by much of our culture.

The shift isn’t all bad, and neither is this story…

To be honest, it is a delightful thing, on one level, to know that the story line does not read, “17 girls under 16 had abortions this past week.”  I praise God that these girls are not seeking to take the lives of these children.  So, even this story, which clearly is filled with sorrow, contains the undeniable marks of God’s grace.

but much of it is.

A number of facts surrounding the events are troubling: all of the girls are under 16, the girls agreed together to get pregnant, one of the girls carries the child of a 24-year-old homeless man, etc.  One stands out.  The girls are far from feeling the necessity of stitching a scarlet letter A to their garments as Hester Prynne did in the Scarlet Letter.  In fact, the public, corporate display was the point.  These girls developed a sub-community in which they developed truth for themselves.  Together, they made a covenant to develop a community with values, which they themselves would define, even though, their values stand in contrast to those held by the larger community in which they find themselves.  These girls created their own culture with its own values.  The media’s shock displays that this is appauling.  Time magazine describes the responses as “soul-searching” and “finger pointing.”  So, at least the media is upset.  But, again, I ask, “What are they upset about?”  I would suggest two things.

They are upset because of their image

First, they are upset, because all have been created in God’s image.  Though all of us are fallen, God’s grace causes hints and echoes of his image to continue in all of humanity.  So, I hope, their is something deeply rooted in people, that says it is wrong for a woman to seek to have children outside of marriage.  God intends children to be the fruit of marriage.

They are upset because of their freedom

A second reason they are upset is probably a little less idealistic on my part.  It has to do with humanity’s sinful lust for autonomy.  They look at these young women as having given up all of their potential value for the sake of children.  Many are thinking to themselves, what a waste!  But, is this the reason that we should be upset?  Far from it! Children are a blessing.  They aren’t meant to line the bottom of trashcans.  They aren’t meant to be treated as impediments to joy.  In fact, God blessed humans with the ability to give birth to children created in his image.  Every child that is born is born in the image of God.  So, just as it is wrong to treat children as trash, it is also sinful to see children as an incumbrance to happiness.  As Christians, we need to be prepared to fight thoughts that marriage and children are hinderances to joy with a call to seek our joy in the ways that God has created us to.

One final thought

As Christians, we need to make sure that we view life rightly, in light of revelation.  In The Reason for God by Tim Keller, he noted the silliness of the philosophy that says that laws can be rightly conceived in a theological vacuum.  Notice, these girls created a community with their own laws.  How can anyone say that these girls have less significance in making their own laws than anyone else.  Why can they not have freedom to choose their own way of life?  By what standard can we judge their actions?  John Frame was correct in asserting that ethics and morality are simply subsets of theology.  The more we seek to create laws apart from the one true and living God, the more difficult it will be to speak to situations like that of Gloucester.  Only special revelation carries the force necessary to determine right from wrong and truth from error.  Only the gospel provides the light necessary to help girls like Melissa and the Gloucester 17 see.

June 13, 2008

Southern Baptist Convention 2008

Two words describe the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention: honest and encouraging.  Six things in particular struck me as provocative.

  1. The Convention chose to pass a resolution repenting of gross error in membership numbers–a decision that was mocked just 2 years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina.
  2. Frank Page was the model of humble leadership during the convention.
  3. Danny Aiken, president of Southeastern Seminary, pointed out ten points of agreement all Southern Baptists shared and then demanded that Arminians and Calvinists quit disagreeing in such an ungodly way that it is inhibiting the missional purposes of the Convention.
  4. Al Gilbert stood in front of the messengers of the SBC and challenged them to rethink how churches give to the Cooperative Program and state conventions.  I am not sure what kind of practical outworkings he has in mind.  He clearly wasn’t seeking fame in the convention.  More than that, his heart wrenching plea for parents to pray for their own children to become missionaries coupled with his own testimony of struggling to desire after that for his own children (three of which are now involved in missions) left me just short of tears.
  5. Eric Redmond 2nd Vice President of the Southern Baptist Convention preached an edifying message at the Founder’s breakfast preceding the Convention at 6:30 am on Tuesday challenging pastors not to loose the book of the law like those of Josiah’s day had.
  6. Southern Baptist elected the first American Indian, Johnny Hunt, (from the Lumbee tribe) as their president.

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