June 21, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 3)

PART III: Chapter 2 - "What the Bible Says About Being Single" (So What Kind of Eunuch Are You, Dude?)

What does the Bible say about single people? In the second chapter of Getting Serious about Getting Married, Debbie Maken attempts to answer this question. However, as in Chapter One, we find that her exegesis misses the mark.

Jesus and Matthew 19:11-12

A key text Mrs. Maken cites for her claim that most people must get married is Matthew 19:11-12. Here, we have Jesus discussing a group of people who should not marry. Are we to assume that the people Jesus mentions are an exclusive class who alone have the right to be single? Is everyone else nonexempt from marriage? Debbie Maken apparently thinks so. Speaking of Matthew 19:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 7, she says, "People who don't meet the singleness requirements are under the general rule that God established in Genesis" (p. 29).

However, let's look closely at Matthew 19:11-12. Jesus did not say, "Not everyone can be single except for a select group." He said, "All cannot receive this saying, but only those to whom it was given ..." (v. 11, NKJV). What was the "saying" that not everyone could receive? The "saying" in question was the disciples statement in v. 10: "If such is the case of man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (NKJV). A more literal translation would be: "It is not good to marry."

There is an issue here that Mrs. Maken has overlooked (although to be fair to her, other commentators have probably overlooked it as well). If Jesus negates the statement that "it is not good to marry" with only a few exceptions in mind, are we to assume that everyone else is required to marry? The answer is No. Let us not commit the logical fallacy of posing a False Dilemma. Readers should take note: To deny that marriage is "not good" is not to deny that singleness is good. If neither marriage or singleness were good, then God would not recommend either state for anyone. As it is, the Bible affirms that both marriage and singleness, in principal, are good (1 Corinthians 7:38).

The people Jesus addresses in Matthew 19:12 are people for which the saying "it is not good to marry" holds true in a way that it does not hold true for others. They are eunuchs either in the literal sense or the figurative sense. Indeed, very few single people fall into the category considered here. For many other people, it is good to be either single or married. Granted, there are those of whom it can be said, "It is not good to be single." I refer, of course, to people who are already married, for matrimony definitely comes with obligations (1 Corinthians 7:2-7). But conceding this is not akin to embracing the kind of far-reaching claims that Mrs. Maken makes about the need to get married.

So, What Kind of Eunuch Am I, Mrs. Maken?

Having established that Jesus did not place restrictions on singleness, per se, in Matthew 19:11-12, let us therefore consider Mrs. Maken's statement on page 32:
"I once went on a date with a thirty-seven-year-old bachelor. Curious about why he was still single at that age, I asked him, 'So what kind of "eunuch" are you?' I know it's not your typical conversation starter on a first date, but I wasn't going to waste my time dating someone who wasn't looking for marriage ...

"... We talked about singleness according to the Bible--that if he was legitimately single, he'd either been called to be single for full-time kingdom work that made family life impossible, as it was with Paul and Jeremiah, or he must have a medical file somewhere that proved he was exempt from marriage because he was unable to perform its duties. If either of those two things were true, he had no business dating me or anyone else."
Mrs. Maken's conduct in this account is regrettable. Her confrontational demeanor was needless, as it was clearly based on a misunderstanding of what Matthew 19:11-12 teaches. All the same, I want to make an additional point about Mrs. Maken's exegesis and Matthew 19:11-12. The passage mentions three types of "eunuchs":
"For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake ..." (v. 12, NKJV)
The first two categories of "eunuchs" refer, of course, to people who are are biologically ill-suited to have conjugal relations. The third category refers to those who are unmarried because of their service to God. It is this last category that merits our attention.

Mrs. Maken claims those who are "eunuchs .. for the kingdom of heaven's sake" are those who have "received a clear direction from God to be single" (p. 32). However, a careful look at Matthew 19:12 reveals something rather interesting. It says the third category of eunuchs "have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake." In other words, the singles in question exercised choice about there status.

This exercise of free will flies squarely of the face of any assertion that people have to be "called to singleness" by God. It also indicates that Christians do not need a supernatural "gift" of diminished sexual desire in order to remain pure (although on p. 34, Mrs. Maken assumes a priori that single people who take on exceptional ministries must have such an endowment). Finally, one should note that the choice of becoming a figurative eunuch undercuts any assertion that people are to "be fruitful and multiply". For if God indeed still commanded people to have children, then there would clear directives on who could remain single and thereby exempt themselves from the command. Mrs. Maken would like us to believe there are clear directives, but we see that Matthew 19:12 shows otherwise. In essence, it is ironic that the very passage Mrs. Maken uses to support her position actually devastates it.

Singles in the Bible

On pages 34 to 36, Mrs. Maken calls attention to some figures in the Bible that were unmarried. She supposes that these individuals support her assertion that people must have a special calling from God in order to be single. What interests me, however, is her mention of the Apostle Paul and Barnabas. I agree with Mrs. Maken that their missionary work would have made married life a difficult proposition. Yet, notice what Paul claims about Barnabas and himself in 1 Corinthians 9:5: "Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?" (NKJV). Apparently, Paul thought that he had the same right as any other red-blooded male Christian had. He must have not been familiar with the theology of some modern commentators who assume the he was mysteriously endowed with a low sex drive or that the Lord gave him no choice in the matter of marriage.

A "Present Distress" over 1 Corinthians 7

I suppose if there is one passage that causes no small amount of consternation for those who take Debbie Maken's position on marriage, it is 1 Corinthians, chapter 7. In this passage, the Bible commendation of the single lifestyle cannot be any clearer. How then do those who demand most people get married handle this passage? They may do like Mrs. Maken does: explain it away by assuming it only applies to the first century. Mrs. Maken writes:
"Paul had very different advice for different categories of singles. He began with widows and widowers (v. 8), moved on to those who were married but on the brink of separation or divorce (vv. 10, 15), and then addressed never-married singles (v. 25: 'now concerning virgins' [literal translation]). To this last subset, Paul said that 'in view of the present distress,' those who wished to temporarily delay marriage could do so. What was this 'present distress?' Historians uniformly believe that Paul was referencing famine and persecution. In light of such events, marriage and family--especially young children--would only add to the stress. It was only because of the highly unusual circumstances surrounding the Greek countryside that Paul gives this advice to this one group of Christians ..."

"... When Paul gave his answer to the question, he allowed that difficulties such as famine and persecution are justifications for postponing marriage, but he did not lend any support to ascetics looking for excuses to shun marriage ... Paul walked a fine line, but he did not say that singleness and marriage are equal options in the eyes of the Lord."
(pp. 37-38)
Mrs. Maken's approach to 1 Corinthians 7 is not new to me, as I have run across other writers who take the same position. Needless to say, I am not convinced by the line of reasoning employed by Mrs. Maken and others. It seems that Mr. Maken and, by extension, the commentators she follows read too much into the phrase "present distress."

Mrs. Maken may claim that "historians uniformly believe" that Paul was addressing famine and persecution in Corinth, but well-respected Biblical scholars do not "uniformly believe" this. Other commentators, such as C. K. Barrett and Richard Oster, believe the "present distress" points to a more generalized tribulation that Christians endure. If we were to concede a temporal understanding of the phrase "present distress," we are still left with the task of explaining Paul's words in vv. 29-31, which end with the statement: "For the form of this world is passing away" (NKJV). Paul's focus here is clearly eschatological. Even Simon Kistemaker, a commentator Mrs. Maken selectively cites in support of her position, states:
"Whether we are married, cast into sorrow, given to joy, or acquire possessions, Christians should not become absorbed by them. They should see the transient nature of these things and know that after having passed through this earthly vale, believers will enter eternity. In this life, then, they ought to prepare themselves for the life after death." (Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993), 244.) (emphasis mine)
Perhaps Mrs. Maken's fans should examine their own personal feelings in light of the above statement. At any rate, if Paul's advice to single people in 1 Corinthians 7 stopped at verse 28, I could perhaps grant something to those of Mrs. Maken's persuasion, but vv. 29-31 exhibit a shift in subject matter, as do vv. 32-38.

The Married vs. the "Eunuchs"

When we come to 1 Corinthians 7:32, we see Paul commencing a general discussion of the differences between married people and single people. Consider the following language of v. 34:
"There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be hold both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband." (NKJV)
Are we to believe this verse is only talking about times of exceptional distress? Paul's distinction is between the "unmarried" and "married," not between those who are persecuted and those who are not persecuted. Moreover, Paul says nothing about being anxious for the necessities of life here. Instead, we simply have a statement about "pleasing" one's spouse. The word "pleasing" does not connote times of dire distress, even in the original language of the text. Paul then goes on to say:
"And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction" (v. 35, NKJV).
Paul's application cannot be more clear: he is not proposing a set of statutes and case law for matrimony. He advice indicates that there is choice in the matter and that he simply desires that the Corinthians be able to "serve the Lord without distraction." If there is any doubt about whether or not Paul leaves the matter of marriage and singleness up to the Christians he addresses, consider the language of vv. 37-38:
"But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his own heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. So then, he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better." (NKJV) (emphasis mine)
I find it puzzling how Mrs. Maken and others could fail to acknowledge the very clear language of the above passage. Here, Paul indicates that the decision to marry is a matter of one's "own heart" and "own will." There is simply no hint of the matter of matrimony being predetermined by divine fiat. In short, God leaves the choice up to us, and by extension, the notion that we are commanded to "be fruitful and multiply" is again swept away in the wake of this passage.

Distresses That Really Are "Present"

Let the reader assume for the sake of argument that all of 1 Corinthians 7:25-40 pertained to an exceptional circumstance, namely persecution or famine. Was the situation that the Corinthians faced so unique and unparalleled in whole history of Christendom that they merited a special exemption from marriage? How dire did life's circumstances have to be before one could refuse matrimony? Mrs. Maken's suppositions to the contrary, the Bible does not give us any details. The text merely says that Paul wanted the Corinthians "to be without care." We cannot make God to be a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). At the very least, we have to allow for a present-day application of 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, whether it is wholly couched in terms of a "distress" or not. Today's Christians, like the Corinthians, should be able to forego marriage in order "to be without care." Maybe we are not faced with famine and persecution in today's society, but those who want to start families today face many antagonistic forces in the legal, economic, and social realms.

The Battle of the Commentaries

We have already noted that one commentary Mrs. Maken cites (viz., by Simon Kistemaker) does not agree with her overall position on 1 Corinthians 7:25-40. Another work Mrs. Maken uses also does a disservice to the theology of those who share her beliefs. I refer, in particular, to Gordon Fee's commentary on 1 Corinthians. Contrary to what many believe about 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, Fee does not take this passage as an encouragement for single people to marry. He carefully considers the original Greek language of the text and comes to two striking, but correct, conclusions. The first is that 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 is addressed to Christians who are already married; the Apostle's exhortation is for husbands and wives to continue to have intimate relations with each other "in order to avoid fornication." The second conclusion worth noting is that 1 Corinthians 7:9 does not hold forth marriage as a solution for youthful desires, per se. The English translation "cannot contain" is inaccurate. The people under consideration are those who will not practice self-control and thereby are already caught up in the sin of fornication. Hence, the Apostle Paul indicates that marriage is better than being involved in sin, but he does not necessarily indicate it is better than being single (Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 278-290).

Granted, I will admit that I do not entirely agree with Fee's conclusions on 1 Corinthians, chapter 7. For instance, Fee, like Debbie Maken, assumes that the gift of which Paul speaks in v. 7 is some exceptional resistance to sexual desire (Ibid., 284). I have already noted that such a conclusion is strained in light of Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 9:5. For all one may know, Paul could be referring to the undivided devotion he had to the Lord as a single man (7:32, 35). Such a "gift" of undivided devotion would certainly fit the context of the preceding statements in vv. 5-6. Having said this, I agree with Fee when he states:
"The irony of our present situation is that Paul insisted that his own preference, including his reasons for it, were not to be taken as a noose around anyone's neck. Yet we have allowed that very thing to happen. Roman Catholicism has insisted on celibacy for its clergy even though not all are gifted to be so; on the other hand, many Protestant groups will not ordain the single because marriage is the norm, and the single are not quite trusted. The answer again lies in our becoming eschatological people who live in the present with such a clear vision of our certain future that we are free from such anxiety, and therefore also free from placing such strictures on others as well as on ourselves." (Ibid., 348-349) (emphasis mine)
I cannot but wonder if Mrs. Maken actually read this portion of Fee's book. All in all, whether it be Bible passages or commentaries, I again note with irony how the very sources Mrs. Maken uses to support her position actually devastate it.

Debbie Maken's Book - The Rest of Chapter Two

When one moves the beyond the faulty exegesis of Mrs. Maken's book on pages 29-40, there is no much left to consider in Chapter Two. What is left is a series of assertions which are patently baseless. For instance, with respect to the so-called "biblical criteria for lifelong singleness," she tells us the "Bible requires voluntarily and permanently renouncing marriage and all that goes with it" (p. 41); this, of course, utterly contradicts the very "right" that Apostle Paul claimed for himself in 1 Corinthians 9:5.

Finally, Mrs. Maken closes the chapter with some comments about single men that I find, as a man, to be quite condescending. Such are unfortunately a foretaste of what we will encounter later in the book. Suffice it to say, by the end of Chapter Two, Debbie Maken's book is still-born. Devoid of any meaningful and sound exegesis of the Bible, the rest of Mrs. Maken's volume is little more than conglomeration of historical trivia, colorful suppositions, and diatribe. I shall, nonetheless, attempt to address the rest of Mrs. Maken's book in upcoming installments of my critique.

June 15, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 2)

PART II: Chapter 1 - "What the Bible Says About Marriage" (God's Blessing or Mrs. Maken's Commandment?)

In the first chapter of Getting Serious about Getting Married, Debbie Maken attempts to lay forth her case that marriage is prescribed by the Bible for most people. She states that "God does not change" and what people "learn about him from the Bible--whether in Genesis, Joel, James--is just as relevant for us today as it was in the past" (p. 22). But such an observation misses the point. I agree that God's nature does not change, but his expectations for humanity most certainly have.

Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, are ignorant of the fact that the Bible is a book of four religions, each expressing a covenant God made with an elect group of people. We have the religion of Adam and Eve, the religion of the Patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, etc.), the religion of the Jews, and finally the religion of the Christians. A crucial event paved the way from one spiritual epoch to another: the Fall, Mount Sinai, and the Cross. There can be no going back to a previous set of expectations. Contrary to what Mrs. Maken might claim, there is no way back to Eden. If anyone questions what I have said, they need to read the book of Hebrews, for example, and see what God has to say about those who try to follow the Old Testament. Bear this in mind as you consider my review of Mrs. Maken's claims.

Marriage and Loneliness

One of Mrs. Maken's proof texts is Genesis 2:18. Here we read that "it is not good for the man to be alone." Which man is the Scriptures describing here? Adam. A "helpmeet" was made for him. Many commentators, including Mrs. Maken, want to point to Genesis 2:18 as being a normative statement on marriage in general. That is, at best, debatable. Look at the text again. God did not say "it is not good for man to be unmarried." He said it is not good for "the man" to be "alone." Adam was indeed alone in the sense that no other human being alive.

Even if we understand Adam's state of being "alone" as referring to his marital status, God's comments are with respect to Adam in particular, not necessarily to men in general. For if we declare that men in general are under purview in this passage, then there can be no exceptions for singleness. Why? Because the Bible never encourages people to embrace that which God declares to be "not good." However, since Mrs. Maken concedes that some people are encouraged by the Bible to be single under some circumstances, then she must either call "good" what God says is "not good" or concede that Genesis 2:18 has a limited application. What limited application shall we embrace? Let the Bible speak for itself: "I will make him a help meet for him [Adam]" (ASV).

Mrs. Maken goes on to write: "Had God intended a buddy system of friends and family to be a happy compromise in the fight against aloneness, he could have simply made more people from the available dust and removed Adam's loneliness through community" (p. 24). This statement is about as compelling as saying, "Had God intended for most everyone to be happily married, we could just fall asleep and wake up to a spouse and a missing rib." Neither statement is substantive, because conjecture about the mind of God and the alternatives he might have otherwise picked is no substitute for exegeting the Scriptures.

There is one other matter to consider: God's plans for marriage in heaven-- that is, no marriage (Matthew 22:30). In both the beginning and at the end of history, we find God in perfect fellowship with humanity. We cannot assume that marriage was created for a fallen world because we find it instituted in an ideal world (Eden). However, we also cannot assume it is essential to an ideal world, per se, because it will not be part of the Resurrection. If marriage, per se, is not a provision for a sinful world nor an essential component of an ideal word, then what is it for? As it is, we cannot say with any certainty that the purpose marriage fulfilled in the Garden of Eden is one that it needs to fulfill today or one it fulfills in the life to come.

Marriage and Work

Mrs. Maken claims that marriage was designed to give meaning to work. This is a peculiar notion because God did not say, "I will make a suitable rationale for Adam to work." On the contrary, Eve is referred as a "help meet" to assist Adam in the work that was already purposed for him. Mrs. Maken confuses the means with the end. Woman is not the focus of man's work; God is. We work in order to glorify Him (1 Corinthians 10:31). If work is so dependent on marriage for meaning, shall we exempt singles from their labors until they get married? Why not? As it is, there are Scriptural reasons to work in spite of marriage (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Ephesians 4:28; Ecclesiastes 2:24).

Marriage and Children

It is beyond the scope of this review to address the issue of whether or not God commands married people to have children. Suffice it to say, if God does not command marriage of everyone, it is a logical conclusion that the same can be said about children. And that brings us to a favorite proof-text of Mrs. Maken and many other religionists: Genesis 1:28. In this passage, we read where God said, "Be fruitful and multiply." Unfortunately, it seems that too many commentators ignore a few words that proceed that statement (viz., "And God said unto them"). Why should we suppose that a wish for two people to be "fruitful and multiply" applies with equal force to six billion? It is also worthy to note that in Genesis 9:1 and 9:7, God does not say, "Let every man be fruitful and multiply." The addressees in these verses are also specified: four men alone on a planet with their wives.

Mrs. Maken's Reading of Malachi 2:15

Apart from Gen 1:28, Mrs. Maken takes comfort in Malachi 2:15. On page 27, she quotes the ESV: "Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth." One may come away form this verse believing God wants people to marry and have children in order to bring more believers into the world.

There's just one problem. Malachi 2:15 is a notoriously difficult passage to translate from the original language. John Calvin, one of Mrs. Maken's favorite religious figures, conceded as much (though he seems to support Mrs. Maken's reading nonetheless). When conservative scholars admit there are serious textual problems with the Hebrew manuscripts of Malachi 2:15, we should not be surprised when our English Bibles manifest a variance in translation. Let us look at some of the English versions of the Bible that do not support Mrs. Maken's reading of Malachi 2:15 ...

1. The following translations mention God "seeking godly offspring" but do not make any reference to marriage in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, Malachi 2:15 could be referring to the children of Jews in particular as opposed to humanity in general:
  • New Revised Standard Version
  • Revised English Bible
  • New English Bible
  • Douay-Rheims
  • New Living Translation
  • New American Bible
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible
2. The following translations don't even specify God "seeking godly offspring" much less anything about marriage in the Garden of Eden:

  • The Peshitta (Lamsa translation of Ancient Near Eastern Manuscripts of the Bible)
  • New American Standard Bible
  • American Standard Version (alternate reading given)
  • English Standard Version (alternate reading given - yes, the version put out by Mrs. Maken's publisher and quoted by her)
We see that those of Mrs. Maken's persuasion can ill-afford to be dogmatic about their position. However, if one wants to latch on to some possible gloss of the text, then it is best to look at the context and take the most plausible reading. Which reading shall we embrace? I agree with Markus Zehnder's understanding of Malachi 2:15:

"The phrase zerah elohim ["godly seed"] connects in the most meaningful way to the preceding verse if it is used as a designation for the offspring resulting from the marriages of the addressed men. According to the prophet, this offspring constitutes 'godly seed' only if the children are born out of the relation between members of the YHWH-congregation and Israelite wives, whereas the children born by women of foreign faiths cannot be called 'godly seed'." (Zehnder, Markus, "A Fresh Look at Malachi II 13-16," Vetus Testamentum 53, no. 2 (2003): 249.) (emphasis mine)
Unlike the Israelites, Christians do not constitute a physical kingdom, but a spiritual one. In a spiritual kingdom, "godly seed" does not come by physical means, but by spiritual means (Mark 4:30-32; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 1:22-23). I understand my remarks on Malachi 2:15 may seem like overkill, but the passage is a popular proof-text for religious pundits who promote marriage and childbearing. That Mrs. Maken or anyone else would try to make a such modern day application of Malachi 2:15 is simply unwarranted.

The Natural Law Flaw

Near the end of Chapter 1, Mrs. Maken makes the following statement: "Natural law simply means the 'way something is made is the way it should act'" (p. 27). Thus, Mrs. Maken assumes that it is just "natural" for us to marry and have children. Obviously, the fact that we are created "male and female" points to the design of marriage being the norm early in humanity's history. However, what else was the norm for human beings in the Garden of Eden? The norm was that they were "naked and unashamed." Innocence allowed for sexuality's full expression. There were no unpleasant repercussions. If we want to look at nature, as Mrs. Maken suggests, then we must look at animals who wear no clothing and have no artificial constraint on their sexuality.

Indeed, the proponents of "natural law" sound, at times, very much like Darwinists. Of course, Evangelical "natural law" proponents would never encourages us to do what "comes natural." Many fall back on their Calvinistic position of total heredity depravity to explain that our natures are flawed by sin. But there is nothing flawed or sinful about being "naked and unashamed," per se, so why do we cover up?

We see from the matter of nakedness that people must, at times, forego even that which was originally declared good in God's eyes. The same holds true for marriage. The issues of nakedness, sex, marriage, and reproduction stand or fall together. If the Fall necessitates constraints on any one of these, then the same holds true for others. We live in a fallen world of scarcity, poverty, hunger, stress, pain, disease, sadness, covetousness, hatred, and death. If nakedness and sex are not unqualified blessings, then neither are marriage and children (Proverbs 30:21, 23a; Luke 21:23).

Conclusion about Chapter 1

Maken's comments about marriage in the Garden of Eden are proof of nothing except how things might have been under more ideal circumstances. It seems that she wants us to embrace marriage enthusiastically and unreservedly regardless of what the Fall did. If we are going to expect human beings to replicate one component of the Edenic experience in such a manner, then perhaps in addition to promoting marriage, we should join a nudist colony. Needless to say, I won't hold my breath for any to take me up on that offer.

June 13, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 1)

PART I: Debbie Maken's Introduction to Her Book (Disaster Ground Zero)

Getting Serious about Getting Married. This is the book that is supposed to cause a sea change in Evangelical thought about singleness and marriage. No longer are we to excuse singleness as an acceptable lifestyle for most people. On contrary, most Christians (and especially men) are supposed to heed God's call to "be fruitful and multiply."

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, had the following to say about Debbie Maken's book:

"Now comes Debbie Maken with sound advice, serious thinking, and an honest approach to this question that will help all Christians think about our responsibility to get serious about getting married. This book should be a must-read for all Christian young adults--and for all who love them." (Back cover, emphasis mine)
So is this book a "must read" for "all" Christian young adults? I decided to give it a read. It soon became apparent, however, that this book is not for all Christian young adults. In actuality, the book was not meant to be for me, but to be about me ... as a man. It holds those of my demographic out as the punching bags for Mrs. Maken's intended readers. The target audience is single women, and the book is little more than a pep rally for the same. Her publisher may refer to her as an "Esther" (p. 9), but it soon becomes apparent that Mrs. Maken is an Esther without a cause.

In the introduction of her book, Mrs. Maken tells about how her life was in her early twenties:

"When I was in my early twenties, I didn't really mind being single; after all, my life was full. I had a successful career as an up-and-coming attorney. I liked my family, church, and friends. I had a nice car and an active social life. I was involved in various civic and church ministries. I had a beautiful home and was decorating it to my heart's content. As the saying goes, I was cute enough, smart enough, and--don't you know it--people liked me. The one thing I didn't have was a husband, but I considered that only a minor inconvenience that time would fix." (p. 11)
What are we to make of this quote? Here we have a young woman that is materially blessed in so many ways that very few people of either sex are. She goes on to talk about her "rotating boyfriends" who were "mostly frogs who refused to become princes" (Ibid.), so we cannot assume that she was failing to receive any attention from men. It is at this point, at the very outset of the book, that I've lost sympathy for Mrs. Maken. Her statements are very akin to what the Apostle John would describe as the "boasting" of what one "has and does" (1 John 2:16). I could frankly care less about her worldly achievements, so why does she belabor them ("I was cute enough, smart enough, ...")? Here, her narrative smacks of self-importance and detracts from the main points of her book.

She spends the rest of the Introduction bewailing her singleness that she experienced well into her late twenties (although many have been single for a lot longer than that). On page 15, she tell us that God showed her that she "was never going to get true spiritual peace about singleness" because she wasn't "called to singleness", and that "the Spirit does not give peace about something that is outside of God's calling." Perhaps the Spirit does not give peace in something outside of God's calling, but I find myself curious about Mr. Maken's statement just the same. How did Mrs. Maken arrive at her conclusion? Was it through a hunch or some form of intuition? Did she hunt for the proof-texts later on to justify a stance she already purposed in her heart to take? The reason I ask these questions is because the Bible warns against feelings and emotions being a guide in religion (Jeremiah 17:9).

Elsewhere in the Introduction, Mrs. Maken alludes to some social research that supposedly proves married people are happy, healthier, and wealthier than single people. But this ignores other research that suggests only one in four marriages are happy, and that unhappy marriages are detrimental to self-esteem and health. There is also at least one study that suggests that happily married people are not happier because they married, per se, but because happy people are already prone to matrimony. If only marriage was the panacea that some make it out to be.

At any rate, Maken adjures us: "As you read, let Scripture be your measuring stick for truth--not psychology, not culture, not what you accepted thus far, not what sounds good or catchy" (p. 16). However, I find that the exact opposite is true with Mrs. Maken's book: it relies on psychology, acceptance of cultural norms, and yes---what sounds good and catchy (especially in her characterization of single men). I've already indicated where I think Mrs. Maken's book stands in regard to a sound exegesis of the Bible; I will address this concern in the upcoming sections of my critique.

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (Intro)

In the following posts, I am going to present what I hope to be a Biblical critique of Debbie Maken's book Getting Serious About Getting Married. Mrs. Maken's book puts forth the proposition that God expects most people to get married. It is a book that has gotten favorable reviews from some religious pundits who are alarmed at the increase of single Christians. However, I argue contrary to Mrs. Maken's position, and plan to show how fundamentally flawed her understanding of the Scriptures is. Stay turned for the installments of my critique.

June 7, 2006


So this blog is called Scripturally Single. What gives? Perhaps you have heard some recent rumblings in your religious community about singles commiting the "sin of delaying marriage." Perhaps you have heard someone declare that God expects people to get married unless they don't have a normal sex drive. Is there any truth to these statements? This is what this place is about. This blog endeavors to take a sober and informed look at what the Word of God says about these matters. It seeks informed exegesis over proof-texts, traditions of men, celebrity status, demagoguery, and emotionalism. Are people required to get married? Let's find out ...