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Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Thoughts on Deepak Reju's "She’s got the wrong guy"

Sometimes a pointed comment sticks with you for years. A decade back, a dad of two unmarried mid-twenties daughters exclaimed in exasperation, “I really don’t know what guys are looking for in a girl.” I knew those young women. They were beautiful, talented, educated, faithful Christians. The one in particular even had a delightful sense of humour. So what are guys looking for? And when they don’t make a move, what is the girls’ response? Sometimes it means that a woman – a smart woman – will “settle.” That is the premise of Deepak Reju’s book, She’s Got the Wrong Guy-Why Smart Women Settle. Deepak Reju, a pastor of biblical counseling and families in a Baptist Church in Washington, DC, writes from a wealth of experience with the sad consequences that arise when women make poor choices in marriage. He writes with genuine empathy for the realities 21stcentury Christian women face. Some problems are ageless. When confronted with the spectre of the single life, women have always questioned themselves. What is wrong with me?  Am I never going to have children? Doesn’t God care that I feel lonely? Today there are added challenges. Sex is everywhere, more than ever. Both men and women are single longer and marry later, requiring a sustained commitment to purity. Technology has changed the way we do relationships. Face-to-face conversations, always more risky, become the exception.  There is comfort in hiding behind a screen. “It’s a lazy man’s dream – no intentionality, no commitment, and no risk” (p. 5). Online dating allows optimal, but not necessarily honest, presentation of oneself. Another reality is that today more women are educated, accomplished and talented as they enter the workforce. With university degree in hand they move into successful careers. This may be intimidating for some men. The secular world generally does a better job valuing women for their intelligence and capabilities. Christian women are affirmed and rewarded in the workplace, but often treated like second-class citizens in their church. Dating as a conservative Christian woman is hard; dating as an intelligent, gifted and self-confident Christian woman seems almost impossible (p. 6). Added to this mix of challenges is the current confusion over sexuality, gender, the value of marriage, and the rising number of divorced singles and single parents. Reju suggests that faced with such a confusing, complex world of dating, women too often make the choice to simply settle for an OK man. It could be that a woman thinks of marriage as the most important goal of life, a sort of idolatry. “As Christian women, we teach the gospel, pray the gospel, sing the gospel – and we secretly hope for marriage” (p. 7).  One can hardly blame her, since that is typically an unspoken expectation in church communities. Or “settling” could be the result of personal baggage that makes a woman undervalue herself. I don’t really deserve better. It’s the best I can do.  She might have blinders on, refusing to see the problematic aspects of a dating relationship. He’s not very spiritually minded now, but I’m sure that’ll change after we’re married. She may live with anxiety, fearful that she is not really lovable, or seen as too picky, or that she’ll always have to fend for herself. Fear of loneliness is real. It’s good to reflect what it would be like attend several weddings each year as a single (Will I ever walk down the aisle?) and baby showers after that. And how about never having a reason to go to the church nursery except to babysit other women’s children?  I remember the exasperation of one single woman in her early thirties who still visited with her married girlfriends: “If I hear another breast feeding or diaper rash story, I’m going to scream….or puke!” Men to watch out for Reju is not dismissive of the discouragement and loneliness single women feel, but he urges them not to forget Jesus. Instead, desire him above all else. As Christians, our goal, male or female, is to form our lives around growing closer to Jesus. Marriage and family life are valuable, but they are earthly treasures. Christ remains the greatest treasure. That said, the bulk of the book deals with the ten, yes ten, categories of men to avoid in dating. It’s a formidable list. Avoid the following: the control freak the promiscuous guy the unchurched guy the new convert the unbeliever the angry man the lone ranger the commitment-phobic man the passive man and the unteachable guy Each of these types will present significant issues in a marriage. It will be more difficult for the wife to mature as a Christian. It is unlikely the relationship will be truly loving or of mutual benefit. Likely the woman will suffer. Each chapter of about ten pages includes an engaging story of a couple that highlights the serious challenges that develop. A brief look at one of the stories – that of Janelle and Dominique – will give a taste of Reju’s approach to the complex topics he’s addressing. Janelle, from a Christian home, met Dominique, a relatively new believer, at church and began dating. It wasn’t long before she noticed his controlling patterns. When she was with girlfriends he would call to ask where she was. He would check with her multiple times a day. She rationalized his behavior, “He’s protective of me.” But his behavior was sometimes accompanied by anger, jealousy, and insistence on his own way. Despite realizing that her relationship had problems and that her guy didn’t meet the biblical criteria of a loving husband, she carried on. She thought, “He knows me; we are making it work; he’s fun; and I like him.” It seemed like too much work to untangle the relationship and start over. Besides, that would be admitting failure. And things would change once they were married. But warning flags should be flying! Such a man displays a warped perspective on what the Bible says about male leadership. He uses Scripture to make his girlfriend or wife do what he wants. He lords it over her through spiritual language that is twisted to support his demands.  Maybe such a man could change with growing maturity, but it’s better and much safer not to date this sort until he does. Don’t assume that you can change him. Better to break off and not marry him, than face a lifetime of emotional abuse, and worse. Interestingly, Reju devotes a whole chapter to the topic of ending relationships: “Breaking up for the Glory of God.” Who’s left? As I made my way through chapter after chapter on men to avoid, I began to wonder, “Well, who’s left. Now what? Should women just stay single?”  Thankfully, the author offers a way forward. There are godly men who desire to serve the Lord within the context of marriage. Women must realize that there is no perfect man, even if he is a committed Christian. It happens that good men are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations in superficial or non-essential things, like physical appearance, age, or charisma. Furthermore, a woman cannot expect complete maturity and thoughtfulness from a man in his twenties or even thirties. Christian maturity takes time. So it is possible to choose wisely while choosing an imperfect man. Choose to be attracted to one who is growing in Christ and demonstrates interest in continued growth in Christ together with you. Don’t settle for the problematic man who is far from God and shows little sign of change. Reju devotes a final segment explaining that waiting is OK. Yes, waiting is hard, but there is a way to wait well. I think it’s fair to say that in many churches singleness is not seen as a beautiful thing. Scripture presents a high view of marriage, with only a couple passages highlighting the benefit of being single. Reju suggests that singles may be made to feel incomplete. I would argue that at times we are even guilty of taking advantage of our singles, counting on them for some heavy lifting for our church programs and duties. One mature single confided to me, “They say, ‘Well, you’re alone anyway so you have more time.’” She continued, “They should realize that I have to do everything myself, including groceries, home repairs, painting and car maintenance. I have no one to share the workload. I work full time. I probably have less not more time.” So, church involvement, yes, but certainly to be accompanied with a lot of appreciation and support. The author argues that what makes waiting hard is that it exposes the heart. You begin to believe that what you “want” is what you “need.” Waiting is hard because it shows what you really worship.  Patience is difficult. What do you pray while you are waiting? And then there is the challenge of maintaining sexual integrity. Desire for sex is a healthy thing. Desire for children, no less so. These are challenging realities to face, while not knowing if the desire for marriage will ever be fulfilled. But it is possible to wait well. Scripture does portray singleness as a positive thing that allows a single-minded devotion to the Lord. Remember, marriage is temporal, singleness lasts to eternity, for everyone. The goal is to wait on the Lord, not to wait for marriage. Be willing to share your heartache and pain with others. In the church we live in community; singles and marrieds need each other as we wait together. Remember that no man will ever fulfill your ultimate desires; only one bridegroom does that and he’s planning the ultimate wedding banquet. Conclusion 192 pages / 2017 Would I recommend this book? Yes, certainly for single women who are dating. The book offers pertinent questions and issues to consider before making any commitment to marriage.  Breaking up for the glory of God may be necessary. The book also offers helpful advice for single women not in a relationship. It will expose the heart’s desires, and help her not to settle for being married to an unsuitable man, but to wait, relying that God’s grace will be sufficient. Single men should read the book as well. They will gain insight into the typical longings of a woman’s heart. If they find a chapter or two that serves as mirror for them, there is the choice to put away ungodly attitudes and become the mature man in Christ. It will also be a helpful read for friends of singles and those who counsel them. And while I agree the title is catchy, I wonder if it might put off exactly those who could benefit most from reading it. I was also left with the thought there could be a second volume, warning men which women to avoid: the manipulator, the gossip, the passive-aggressive, the I’ll-change-you-for-the-better-agent and of course, the unbeliever, the unchurched and the angry woman. All in all, I appreciated the honesty of Reju’s book. He writes with empathy and understanding. His advice rings true. Some final reflections: I read this book with keen awareness of the many beautiful, talented, educated, godly young women (and some men) in our church communities.  I wonder what it’s like to be a single in our churches. That would be worthwhile to explore. Are they lonely even while being part of a congregation? Are they appreciated for who they are as singles, or perhaps somewhat pitied? How well do our churches serve and support our singles in their twenties and thirties, and beyond? Do our conversations revolve around our families, our spouses, and children with scant thought what that feels like to someone who longs for marriage and children? Do we encourage post-secondary education for our young women according to interest and ability, or do we fear that will make them less marriageable? Do we expect singles to shoulder tasks in the church because, “Well, they have the time, anyway?” Are we as inclusive as we purport to be? It’s a good thing when a book makes the reader reflect on the broader issues at play in our churches. She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle is one of those books, and well worth the read!...

Documentary, Movie Reviews

I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye"

Documentary 78 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Aug 3, 2019 UPDATE: This past month Josh Harris used his Instagram account to announce he was rejecting God, separating from his wife, and endorsing the LGBTQ+ lifestyle. The review below is of a documentary he made last year, while still a professing Christian, in which he took a critical look at the book that first made him famous, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." While the film's director, Jessica Van Der Wyngaard, is also critical of his book, she is worried that, in light of Harris's apostasy, Christians will now think it dangerous or wrong to ask hard questions, lest doing so lead to the same sort of turning away from God. But as she shared in an email sent to the film's many Kickstarter backers: "This wasn’t the case for me, the rest of the crew, the film's interviewees, or numerous people we spoke to for 'I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.' It is possible to ask hard questions about sexuality, relationships, God’s morality, church culture, marriage, and not lead to the same conclusion as Josh." So, even as the principal figure is now working actively against God, this documentary remains a useful and helpful resource. ***** Twenty-one years ago the then 21-year-old Joshua Harris struck a nerve with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was written for Christian young people by a Christian young person, on a topic that every young person was interested in – how to find that special someone. It sold more than 1.2 million copies and was a big part of a purity movement within the Church that helped shape the way a generation of Christians thought about sex, dating, and looking for a spouse. Fast forward to today, and in a just-released documentary the now 42-year-old author revisits his book and meets Christians who were impacted by it, for good, but also for ill. With a title like I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" it's no surprise that the documentary presents a rather negative overall assessment of the book. Early on Harris's wife Shannon puts it this way: I think it was a good book, and a well-intentioned book...well, I don't know that I can say it was a good book. But it was a well-intentioned book. So why watch a documentary about a seemingly-not-so-good 20-year-old book? Because the film is about much more than a single book. It tackles the Purity Movement overall, and more specifically, what it got wrong. Of course, the Purity Movement got a lot right – hey, they want young people to abstain from sex until marriage, and that's even in the Bible! But it's because the Purity Movement seems so obviously good, that the unveiling of their errors is so instructive. As Spurgeon once noted, discernment isn't the ability to tell right from wrong, but rather to tell right from almost right. The Purity Movement is almost right – if we weren't worried about grammar Nazis we might say they are so very, nearly, almost right. So if we can learn to spot their mistakes, then we'll be able to apply that lesson to most any other well-intentioned, but similarly misguided Christian movement. THE BOOK AND HOW IT'S MISREMEMBERED While I love the documentary, my one big criticism would be that it isn't fair to the book. If you just watched the documentary and hadn't ever read I Kissed Dating Goodbye you would think it was completely against dating, and all about courtship. But after rereading it this week I would describe it as a strong condemnation of dating as it was commonly being done in the Church. Harris was against the recreational dating that had guys and girls paired up quickly, intensely, and most often briefly, with the focus on pleasure or prestige, and no thought spent on how to honor God through dating. He was cautioning against teenagers experiencing too much too soon: too much physical intimacy, too much emotional intimacy, paired with too much immaturity – selfish and uncommitted kids pressuring each other to go further and further. Harris was speaking against turning girlfriends and boyfriends and dating and sex into idols that push God out of His proper place as first and foremost in our hearts. But in taking a stand against an Archie Andrews-type of dating, was Harris pushing the courtship model? Well, there's courtship and then there's courtship. Under one definition, courtship would require a man to first ask a woman's father before he could take her out on a first date. But a broader definition would define courtship as dating done with the specific intent of seeking a marriage partner – dating that isn't done just for fun – and conducted with some level of parental involvement/supervision. In I Kissed Dating Goodbye Harris does encourage more parental involvement, and also intentional, marriage-focussed dating. But the book spends far more space highlighting all that's wrong with modern dating than it spends prescribing a cure. And when it does come to presenting the alternative, Harris is more about general and often clearly biblical principles, than any specific outworking of those principles. He argues at one point: The Bible doesn't provide a one-size-fits-all program for moving from friendship to marriage. Our lives are too different, our circumstances too unique, and our God too creative to have only one formula for romance. While a lot of what he says does align with a courtship model, Harris simply wasn't pushing that model as hard as his critics in the documentary make it seem. THE PURITY MOVEMENT'S FALSE GODS In the documentary, the book serves as the leap-off point for a look at the Purity Movement. It turns out it wasn't just reckless, immature kids who were turning sex into an idol. Strangely enough, the Purity Movement was doing it too. I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" begins with Harris traveling to Washington DC, where he recalls a 1994 conference he attended there with 25,000 other young Christians. A part of the conference was a "True Love Waits" rally. With rubber mallets in hand, young people staked more than 200,000 True Love Waits commitment cards into the lawn of the Washington Mall. These commitment cards read: Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship. As good as that sounds, there's a hint here of the Purity Movement's big mistake. It comes down to one question: Who, or what, is the god here? Calvin noted it is in man's nature to perpetually be manufacturing one new idol after another – we continually put this god and that in God's place. So in this pledge who or what is the "god"? Is it God? No. He's only one of several this commitment is being made to. But this commitment is being made in service to a very specific desired outcome: the securing of true love. That's the "god" here. In a conversation with Christine Gardner, author of Making Chastity Sexy, Harris discusses how the Purity Movement sold abstinence, not so much as a way to please God, but as the way to secure the very best sort of sex. There's truth to what they were saying: studies have shown that on average married people enjoy sex more than sexually active unmarried people - married sex is best. But while "great married sex" can be a reason to stay abstinent, there's a problem when it becomes the reason. The Purity Movement lost its way when it started placing something – even fantastic married sex – ahead of God. FALSE GODS AND FALSE GUILT In setting up a variety of false gods, the Purity Movement also caused people a lot of false guilt. As my wife put it, false guilt happens when we sin against, not God, but the idols we've made. These idols of our own making are often entirely unforgiving. Consider the idol some have made out of maintaining their virginity. Serving this god, they've been told, is the way they can secure the spouse of their dreams (false gods always offer some version of the prosperity doctrine – serve your god in just the way it asks, and you can force it to give you just what you ask). But what of the boy or girl who has lost their virginity? What offering can be given, what forgiveness can be had from this god? You can't become a virgin again. No wonder then, that the followers of this god feel unrelenting guilt – where no forgiveness can be had, guilt remains. Isn't it amazing that we keep setting up these false gods? They bring us only misery and guilt, while the one true God offers us real forgiveness....and we don't have to earn it! CONCLUSION Of course, false gods and false guilt aren't limited to the Purity Movement: money, career advancement, exercise goals, new year's resolutions, the spotless home, the perfectly behaved child – all of them can become idols of our own making. That, then, is what makes this is a must-see documentary. The discernment it fosters is desperately needed in every sphere of life. More could be said: the film also explores legalism, and critiques how Christians will often treat certain books as if they were on par with the Bible itself. And while I have a far greater appreciation for I Kissed Dating Goodbye than the author seems to at this point – the film concludes by noting that Harris and the publisher have agreed to stop publishing I Kissed Dating Goodbye – I'd agree there are some notable flaws....but nothing that would keep me from sharing and discussing it with my own daughters. And I'll be just as enthused to share this film with them, knowing it will be a springboard to all sorts of great conversations. You can watch the trailer for I Survived "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" below and watch the whole film for free here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com. ...

Dating

Dude, where’s your bride?

As I speak at different venues across the country, one of the recurring questions I get comes from women, young women in particular. Their question usually goes something like this: “What is up with men?” These aren’t angry women. Their question is more plaintive than petulant. I’m not quite sure why they ask me. Maybe because they’ve read Just Do Something and figure I’ll be a sympathetic ear. Or maybe they think I can help. They often follow up their initial question by exhorting me, “Please speak to the men in our generation and tell them to be men.” Boys aplenty, but where are the men? They’re talking about marriage. I have met scores of godly young women nearby and far away who wonder “Where have all the marriageable men gone?” More and more commentators – Christian or otherwise – are noticing a trend in young men; namely, that they don’t seem to be growing up. Recently, William Bennett’s CNN article “Why Men Are in Trouble” has garnered widespread attention. The point of the post is summarized in the final line: “It’s time for men to man up.” Sounds almost biblical (1 Cor. 16:13). Virtually every single single person I know wants to be married. And yet, it is taking couples longer and longer to get around to marriage. Education patterns have something to do with it. A bad economy doesn’t help either. But there is something even more befuddling going on. Go to almost any church and you’ll meet mature, intelligent, attractive Christian women who want to get married and virtually no men to pursue them. These women are often in graduate programs and may have started a career already. But they aren’t feminists. They are eager to embrace the roles of wife and mother. Most of the women I’ve met don’t object to the being a helpmate. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of mates to go around. What’s going on here? Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon? Women can make things more difficult... Maybe women have impossible standards. That is a distinct possibility in some circumstances. I’m sure there are guys reading this thinking to themselves, “I’ve pursued these young women, Kevin! And they pushed me over the edge of the horizon.” Some women may be expecting too much from Mr. Right. But in my experience this is not the main problem. Impossible standards? Not usually. Some standards? Absolutely. On the other end of the spectrum, some women may be so over-eager to be married they make guys nervous about showing any signs of interest. There is a fine line between anticipation and desperation. Men don’t want to spot the girl they like inside David’s Bridal after their first date. The guy will panic – and be a little creeped out. ...but there's a serious problem with the guys This path of prolonged singleness is a two way street. But I think the problem largely resides with men. Or at least as a guy I can identify the problems of men more quickly. I see two issues. 1. Where's the drive? First, the Christian men that are “good guys” could use a little – what’s the word I’m looking for – ambition. Every pastor has railed on video games at some point. But the problem is not really video games, it’s what gaming can (but doesn’t always) represent. It’s the picture of a 20-something or 30-something guy who doesn’t seem to want anything out of life. He may or may not have a job. He may or may not live with his parents. Those things are sometimes out of our control. There’s a difference between a down-on-his-luck fella charging hard to make something out of himself and a guy who seems content to watch movies, make enough to eat frozen pizzas in a one room apartment, play Madden, watch football 12 hours on Saturday, show up at church for an hour on Sunday and then go home to watch more football. I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men? 2. Where's the commitment to Christ? The second issue is that we may simply not have enough men in the church. Maybe the biggest problem isn’t with nice Christian guys who lack ambition, maturity, and commitment. Maybe we have lots of these men in the church, but they’re all married and there aren’t enough of their brethren to go around. I don’t know which is the bigger problem, the lack of good men or the lack of men in general. It’s probably a combination of both. The church needs to train up the guys it has. And by “training” I don’t mean “clean ‘em up, plug ‘em in the singles ministry and start matching them up with a spouse.” I don’t believe most unmarried Christians are looking for a church community full of Yentas. But a church full of godly, involved, respectable, respected, grown up men? That’s a project worth undertaking. What we can all do to help So, what can be done about the growing tribe of unmarried women? Four things come to mind. Everyone, pray. Pray for a joyful accepting of God’s providential care, believing that godliness with contentment is great gain. If you are single, pray more for the sort of spouse you should be than for the sort of spouse you want. Pray also for the married couples and families in your church. If you are married, pray for the single people in your church, for those never married and those divorced or widowed. All people everywhere, pray for ways to start serving the Lord now, no matter what stage of life you are in or wish you were in. Women, don’t settle and don’t ever compromise on requiring solid Christian commitment in a husband, but make sure your list of non-negotiables doesn’t effectively exclude everyone outside of Mr. Darcy. Churches, don’t make church one giant man cave or machismo, but think about whether your church has been unnecessarily emasculated. Do you challenge and exhort? Do you sing songs to Jesus that men can sing with a straight face? Does “fellowship” at your church always focus on activities men don’t typically excel at, like sitting around and talking about how you feel? Does your church specifically target the discipling of men – particularly young men in high school and college? Grab them young and get them growing up in their teens instead of their twenties. Men, you don’t have to be rich and you don’t have to climb corporate ladders. You don’t have to fix cars and grow a beard. But it’s time to take a little initiative – in the church, with your career, and with women. Stop circling around and start going somewhere. It’s probably a good idea to be more like your grandpa and less like Captain Jack Sparrow. Even less like Peter Pan. Show some godly ambition. Take some risks. Stop looking for play dates and – unless God is calling you to greater service through singleness – start looking for a wife. This article first appeared on The Gospel Coalition blog is reprinted with permission of the author (h/t to Reformed Outfitters)....