July 26, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 5)

PART V: Chapter 4 - "The Lack of Male Leadership: The True Cause of Protracted Singleness " (Methinks the Lady Doth Protest Too Much)

As a man, I believe Chapter Four of Debbie Maken's book, Getting Serious About Getting Married, represents what is probably the lowest point of her narrative. Others have noted with concern the degree of animosity directed towards single men in Mrs. Maken's book, and I must share in this concern. I would have expected such animosity from a woman who is a feminist or, more generally, has no familiarity with the concept of Biblical Womanhood. That such animosity should come from a "Christian" writer favored by some notable religious figures, however, is alarming to say the least. This disturbing attitude is manifest throughout the book, but it is in Chapter Four where Mrs. Maken's anti-male sexism reaches its nadir.

Of Sitcoms and Men

Chapter Four starts with a discussion of how single men are portrayed in popular media. Mrs. Maken complains, "Men are rarely pictured with wives and families (unless it's a mini-van commercial!). Instead, what's being sold is a life of fun and freedom; men are encouraged to pursue their own happiness and to extend their adolescence as long as possible" (p. 63). How does Mrs. Maken reach such a conclusion? She reaches it from considering sitcoms such as Seinfeld, Friends, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Personally, I cannot remember the last time I watched an episode of these negligible excuses for prime time programming, and I suspect the times I did catch a portion of these shows were due to unfortunate happenstance.

Seriously, are we to assume that our consumeristic, secularized media knows how to portray men in a favorable and accurate light? I invite readers to consider the scholarly research of Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young in their book, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture. I suspect that much, if not a majority, of the television programming available today manifests a pathologically demeaning view towards men. Women now represent a significant market share with respect to consumer goods and entertainment. I am therefore not surprised that television, movies, etc. portray women as empowered and benevolent while portraying men as incompetent and diabolical.

Moreover, shall we consider how female irresponsibility is portrayed favorably in our popular media? What should we think of a culture that spawns such noteworthy works as Thelma and Louise, The Bridges of Madison County, and Sex in the City? Surely, the whole female raunch culture (championed by the likes of Madonna) and the Grrl Power movement has not escaped Mrs. Maken's attention. I am certain that Mrs. Maken would protest that most religious women she knows are not like the disreputable women we see in society at large. Just the same, the attitude of female entitlement in our culture manifests itself in subtle ways. I do not believe that the sex that was deceived first in the Garden of Eden is somehow less immune to the worldly message of our popular culture than those of my own sex. If Mrs. Maken believes that Christian men are guilty of harkening to the cultural siren song of irresponsibility and narcissism, then she must acknowledge the same for Christian women.

Debbie Maken's Experiences vs. Objectivity

Continuing on p. 64, Mrs. Maken says, "Most of the men I observed on the dating scene were essentially boys in men's clothing." What are we to make of such a statement? Are we to believe that Mrs. Maken's personal experiences represent an authoritative understanding of eligible men? Many men are rightfully frustrated and downright annoyed when women complain about there "being no good men left." When Debbie Maken makes acerbic remarks about dating "frogs who refused to become princes" and "boys in men's clothing," we must remember that we are considering the personal viewpoint of one woman. Her book does not relate the perspectives of the men she interacted with in her single years. What would these men tell us about Mrs. Maken? Would our impression of who she is change? I do not mean to impugn the character of Mrs. Maken, but her personal judgments must be placed in proper context.

What Feminism?

The section of Chapter Four that I find particularly disturbing is the one under the heading "The Bogey of Feminism." Sadly, it is here that Mrs. Maken evinces an attitude that is brazenly insensitive to the issues that effect men today. Our society has become notably hostile to men (a fact well understood by conservative commentators and various experts). Government, education, commerce, and popular culture have spat in the face of men and boys. Now, regrettably even some religious leaders seem to have taken up the sport of male bashing. Feminism is squarely to blame for this sad turn of events, and more generally to blame for the breakdown of relationships between men and women.

Mrs. Maken states, "The argument against Feminism goes like this: Feminists produced easy sex, and therefore marriages aren't happening now .... When we point to Feminism as the cause for singleness, we show our own hypocrisy. If indeed easy sex has deterred single men from marriage, then we need to concede that today's Christian single man is not celibate but is probably a sexually satisfied single" (p. 66). This disparaging remark against Christian single men overlooks one consideration: higher status males have more access to women than lower status males. Before the Sexual Revolution, monogamy insured that most men were guaranteed reliable access to the opposite sex. Now, on the heels of feminism, women celebrate their economic independence from men and champion their freedom from the restraints of traditional mores. They freely give their bodies away--but only to men of a certain calibre. Power excites women. Drug dealers, hooligans, rock stars, ambitious pastors of megachurches, and corporate executives do not go without female attention. In short, women are "going after the bad boys" and the "hot shots." Meanwhile, the "nice guys" get ignored. When women have been burned enough times by their taste in aggressive men, then they settle for more socially responsible men in their later years. There are plenty of nominally "Christian" women who have defrauded men in this regard. My readers should consider Angela Foiri's excellent essay, "To Single Men on Today's Women: Caveat Emptor." The essay has a rather striking quote from a church leader:
"I've been in the ministry for 20 years and can tell you that pursuing jerks is definitely alive and well even among evangelical Christian women. They marry outside the faith about 6 times the rate of men because they think it's their will (not God's) to not only civilize the men but convert them to Christianity as well. No amount of reasoning will sway them. The end result is yet more broken families that the church has to take care of. Hence most 30s Christian singles classes are composed of 5-7 never-been-married men and 15 divorced women, a complete incompatibility. The women usually end up leaving after I point out that the New Testament (Matt 19:9, 1 Cor 7:10-11) forbids re-marriage for anyone divorced for a reason other than adultery and state that I have every intention of honoring this command. The wonderful result is that they burden liberal churches with the fallout of their past misadventures while I'm able to use my limited resources to preach the Word of God to people who are really interested in what it says."
In essence, we should in keep mind that many women have no right to complain about the low quality of the men they date. All too often, these women either subconsciously or studiously avoid men of integrity because such men are deemed to be "too nice," "too boring," "not confident enough," "not ambitious," etc. These women need take responsibility for their emotional immaturity and bad choices in life, instead of entertaining self-indulgent diatribes about how bad men are.

Female promiscuity, however, is not the only thing for which we can blame feminism. It is feminism that pushed no-fault divorce, and now we find it is mostly women who initiate these type of divorces. Many hold their children for ransom from the fathers and financially ruin their ex-husbands with draconian court settlements. It is feminism that pushed for the VAWA, and now we have men being handcuffed and taken from their homes on the most dubious charges of spousal abuse. Meanwhile, society is largely indifferent to the empirical findings about how women physically and emotionally abuse men at roughly the same level as men do women. It is feminism that demanded changes to our educational system, and now we have an educational environment that is hostile to boys. Boys are lagging behind girls in public schools, but strangely enough, are doing just fine when they are home-schooled. It is feminism that demanded changes to the workplace, and now a qualified male applicant for job can be passed up for a less qualified female applicant in the name of affirmative action.

Everywhere we look, we see women who sexually abuse minors getting a slap on wrist, whereas the same act by a man would most certainly guarantee him a lengthy prison sentence. The abuse of women by men is regarded as an outrage; the opposite is fodder for romantic comedies. Women who murder their children and husbands are presumed to have been the victim of some abuse or mental disorder, but the same acts by a man would earn him the label of "monster." All this because women refuse to hold other women accountable, and because too many men, in their warped notion of chivalry, come to the defense of dishonorable women.

Mrs. Maken opines that blaming feminist theory "is as untenable as pretending Adam's silence and lack of leadership had nothing to do with fall" (p. 66). In making such a bald assertion, Mrs. Maken ignores one point: God punished Eve--right after he punished the Serpent. Eve was held accountable. If there was a failure on Adam's part, it is that he did not hold Eve accountable, but instead deferred to her faulty judgment. It is our failure today. We need to stop automatically deferring to women, and start holding them accountable for their actions. Mrs. Maken and women like her may have tasted the fruit of gynocentrism, but men like me are not biting what she offers.

The Self-Deception of Conservative Women

Mrs. Maken would have us believe that women are entirely passive agents in the sorry state of affairs that confronts both sexes today. In this manner, I see very little difference between Mrs. Maken's attitude and the worldview of feminists who constantly portray women as victims and men as oppressors. The insistence of Mrs. Maken and other women that they are rendered helpless because it is men who supposedly initiate relationships is profoundly disingenuous. Even among traditional women, it is the female who signals receptivity to the men in which she is interested, and it is the female with either accepts or rejects the advances of men.

We must also consider those situations where women practice a type of preemptive selectivity by letting men know up front what their mating preferences are. In the online dating world, for example, profiles of women (religious or otherwise) mention a laundry list of demands with which men must comply before a response to said men is even deemed worthwhile (e.g., physical requirements, educational requirements, monetary requirements, etc.). Women are not pieces of fruit hanging on a tree, haplessly plucked by whatever man takes the initiative to reach forth his hand. No, they share in the responsibility for their protracted singleness. Their own demeanor, mating preferences, etc. are much a determining factor in their marital status as any chance male that comes across them.

Perhaps where conservative women have become rather selective is in presuming that having husbands who make more money than them is a birthright. Consider author Willard Harley's description of the type of man that women supposedly find “irresistible”:

"He assumes the responsibility to house, feed, and clothe the family. If his income is insufficient to provide essential support, he resolves the problem by upgrading his skills to increase his salary. He does not work long hours, keeping himself from his wife and family, but is able to provide necessary support by working a forty to forty-five-hour week. While he encourages his wife to pursue a career, he does not depend on her salary for family living expenses." (Willard Harley, His Needs, Her Needs, (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2001), 183).

How should we respond to this quote by a relationship expert renown among many Evangelicals? Do religious women demand the right to have exciting careers in order to make some discretionary income, and yet expect men to "exercise Biblical leadership" by making a larger paycheck than them?

Apparently, the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons is lost on said women. They do not understand the cumulative effect of women competing with men for money, status, and power in our society. It means there are less desirable men for women with hypergamous tendencies (i.e., those women who want to "marry up"). For every woman that takes a man's job, there is a man who is denied an income that he could have used to support a woman. It is a simple and undeniable fact. Mrs. Maken remarks: "We think women today deserve to be single for choices they made, like attending college or buying a house. How dare they be successful and leave men behind? As if one sex's success prevents the other's" (p. 67). All the same, we cannot indulge a fairy-tale view of economics where scarcity does not exist, where good-paying jobs are not limited by market forces, where the social pyramid isn't pathetically small at the top, or where the middle class isn't shrinking. The wedges of the pie can only be sliced so thin in order for everyone to have a bite.

We should not be surprised when an educated woman has difficulty finding a mate with a similar or higher level of education and earning potential. Men, for the most part, do not look at potential spouses the way women do. Often, a woman's social status is not as important to men as the woman's physical and emotional attractiveness. As long as a woman is reasonably attractive and well-mannered, men are going to pay attention to her. I'll be candid here: I think many men are much more realistic about the standards they set for women than vice versa. If a woman wants to compete with men in the most lucrative of careers, and yet insist on finding a husband who has achieved more than her, I grant her that prerogative. If the proverbial prince doesn't show up with the glass slipper, however, then she cannot blame men for the consequences of her own discriminating tastes.

Adam Made Me Do It

On pp. 67 and 68, we read the following from Mrs. Maken:
"I have heard people in the church say that when women take the lead, men retreat, pointing to Genesis and the actions of Eve. We have it backwards. When men sit in silence and forgo leadership, women start doing things. Adam was in the garden with Eve, had been given headship over her, watched the entire conversation (with a talking snake!), and yet did nothing. No intervention, no 'Stop talking with that animal!' It's like he sat back, popped open a beer, and then when everything went to pot complained, 'The woman you gave me ...'"

"... Just because women have careers in virtually every field does not mean they want the independence of being single. Women often have no choice but to prepare themselves to be market competitors because they cannot rely upon men to marry them, or for that matter to stay married to them."
I must admit that I find Mrs. Maken's retelling of the Genesis account rather imaginative. Just the same, God did not say to Adam, "Because you didn't' stop your wife from eating ..." Rather, he punished Adam for "listening" to his wife and taking the fruit she offered him. As for Eve, she could not make the kind of excuses many women make today and say to God, "If Adam had been a more responsible husband, I wouldn't have done this." Excuse-making is no more the prerogative of the distaff gender than it is of those who are "called to lead."

Mrs. Maken's exoneration of career women is nothing short of a cop-out. Why do women have to compete in the job market with men? They could stay under their parent's roof until they are married. If financial necessity compels them to work, why is it necessary for them to seek the most lucrative and prestigious of jobs traditionally held by men? If they feel their aptitudes are best put to use in a prestigious career, why must they then backpedal on gender roles and expect the men they marry to be the primary or sole breadwinners? Finally, I find it strange that women are insecure about failed marriages when they, as I have indicated, initiate most of the no-fault divorces and drain their ex-husbands' bank accounts. Indeed, how do we explain the phenomenon of husband hopping? Thanks to the Divorce Industry, many women have done quite well financially.

Stranger still is Mrs. Maken's about face in declaring that we should praise women for their educational accomplishments anyway. She says on page 68, "We mistakenly think that if a woman has her affairs in order, she's sending off signs of independence. We vilify her instead of complimenting her for industriousness and intelligence." She goes into detail about how educated women are valued in Eastern countries like India (implying that we in the West should have the same attitude). I am frankly puzzled. In one place, we have some reference to Adam's laziness and how women are forced to work, and in another, we are supposed to be holding up "educated" women as prize catches. Let's be honest: women do not get advanced technical degrees in order to do housework. They get degrees because they covet the same high-paying jobs as men do. Either the presence of women in the workforce is a good thing or it isn't. If it is a good thing, then we should stop blaming men if they don't do anything about it. If it is not a good thing, then we should stop praising women who are pursuing prestigious careers.

As if Mrs. Maken's logic wasn't weird enough, we have this statement at the end of p. 68:
"Most men interviewed on this subject today say they prefer independent women who can carry their own weight. Men, in general, do not want women to be dependent ... This proves that most men today want a 'pay your own way' type of deal where the mantle of adult responsibilities of assuming the care of another is avoided and their personal autonomy remains unchecked. This allows many men to keep jobs that resemble hobbies and to maintain hobbies as costly as their jobs."
Yes, you read that. First, career women are victims of male passivity. Yet, they are supposed to be praised as a prize catch like they are in India. Now, men are immature sloths for wanting the very women that Mrs. Maken says are a prize catch. Confused? I don't blame you.

It seems that many contemporary women suffer from a bout of collective amnesia. They feel oppressed because they cannot easily opt out of the drudgery of the workplace and stay at home with the children they love. They want to blame men for their woeful lot. How quickly they forget that it was mostly women who brought about this situation. Women can thank the feminists for despising motherhood, for demanding that women be able to compete in the marketplace with men, etc. Men did not wake up one day and put a gun to the heads of their wives and tell them to get to work. Mrs. Maken forgets the cries of "male chauvinist pigs," "female oppression," "desperate housewives" and "equality." Just what does Mrs. Maken propose men should do? Should we take away the political and economic rights of women? Shall we force women into a subservient position?

Yes, it is true that many men currently prefer educated women who can take of themselves. I am certain this was not always the case. We forget that the willing entrance of women into the workforce has probably created an employer's market as far as jobs are concerned. Wages have stagnated, and good paying jobs have been outsourced. Now, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle and it usually takes two incomes for most families to get by. It is no wonder then that men want wives who are willing to work outside the home. We should not assume from this that men find this to be an ideal situation, nor should we think most men are avoiding "the mantle of adult responsibilities of assuming the care of another." Indeed, if we equate the size of one's income with "the care of another," are we to infer from Mrs. Maken that women are entitled to not care very much about their husbands? I remind my readers that in the original Greek language, the subject of 1 Timothy 5:8 is neutral in gender and applies to both women and men.

Mrs. Maken and so many women have put the cart before the horse. Women will say that they can't follow if men won't lead, but the truth lies in the converse. Remember the saying, "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink"? Conservative women blame men for not sticking a feeding tube down the horses mouth, or balk at us if we actually try. No matter what happens, men are blamed. However, we need to stop blaming men just because women are collectively reaping what they have sown. When it comes to choosing between traditional gender roles and modernity, too many women want to have their cake and eat it, too. In the process, they are choking themselves on the dough. If a woman wants a man to "lead", then she needs to get out of the driver's seat.

The Princes of Zoan

On page 70, Mrs. Maken makes the following statement: "... because we have an unprecedented number of people entering college, there is a race to the top, where people feel the need to pursue an unprecedented number of post-graduate degrees to distinguish themselves from what is now considered the average." Should we be surprised? Generations ago, a man could support an entire family on a job that required no more than a high-school education. Now with the onslaught of women entering the workforce, automation, and jobs being outsourced to third-world countries with pathetic labor practices, people most certainly have to "distinguish themselves" in order to survive. It is high time that some pundits who want to blame men for the problems we face wake up and smell the coffee.

For too long in our society, we have taken ordinary men for granted. We have declared them obsolete. We have taxed them into destitution so that we may fund the very programs that we think will replace the need for men. Corporations, in their greed, have turned their back on working men and joined in "a race to the bottom." They make themselves out to be the fair winners in a game of "free enterprise," forgetting how much they have benefitted from government despotism and corruption. Religious leaders have been strangely silent on these issues; too many of them seem to pay homage to the wealthy and powerful in our society instead of heeding the cries of the oppressed. Do we think that God is indifferent to this turn of events?

There was a time when a family was responsible for its own food, clothing, shelter, education of youth, etc. Now, as a society, we have placed our trust in the captains of government and commerce to make our lives better. In Isaiah, Chapter 30, God condemned Israel for wrongfully trusting in Egypt for deliverance. In a similar fashion, a day of reckoning nears for many. Can our Egyptian princes of Zoan save us? Our government is infested by lackeys sold out to highest bidder. Commerce is run by the smugly indifferent who make their fortunes off the blood, sweat, tears of the faceless throng.

Let's stop sermonizing about what average men should be doing. We are hypocrites in that we have utterly betrayed them. We have sold them down the river. We were so busy shaming men, belittling them with our sermons about the Saturday-night sins of the working class. We nagged them about their sexual fantasies, their drinking, their yelling at their wives, etc. Meanwhile, the high places of consumerism, careerism, avarice, selfish ambition, bigotry, prejudice, authoritarianism, and misandry went unassailed.

We have talked a good talk about the need for "strong families" and yet failed to give help to the very bedrock of a strong family--the man. What "help" was given was little more than finger-wagging and demands that men be held accountable (viz., the PromiseKeepers movement). Mrs. Maken's book is just more of the same. Let our pundits go down to Egypt--to the ones in which they trusted. Can the government fund a program for Christian women to have children? Can commerce shrink-wrap strong families and place them on the shelves at Wal-Mart? Will our religious pundits start "outreach ministries" to provide husbands to lonely Christian bachelorettes? In short, the pundits who talk about "strong families" and yet refuse to appreciate the problems that plague ordinary men are akin to Rahab-Hem-Shebeth (Isaiah 30:1-7).

Dysfunctional Families - Immature Adults?

Near the end of Chapter Four, Mrs. Maken points to the failure of modern families to help young people transition to adulthood. I actually find myself agreeing with several of the points she makes on pp. 71-73, but naturally, I have my reservations as well. One problem is that Mrs. Maken understands marriage and family as a necessary transition to adulthood for most people. I understand why some see marriage and family as necessary for chastity, happiness, church memberships, and a healthy economy (although I disagree with such a view). That said, if marriage is necessary for adulthood, then are we to believe the Apostle Paul was an immature man? Surely not.

I think we need to back away from the assumption that marriage and family are rites of passage into adulthood, per se. In fact, my recommendation for single people is that they complete their rite of passage into adulthood before they get married. The world is already full of immature spouses and parents who married in haste and, all too often, end up repenting in leisure. Our social landscape is strewn with wrecked households that do not give glory to God. In this regard, the doctrines taught by Debbie Maken and those akin to her do not help.

Their Young Women Had No "Unchained Melody"

There is another matter that perturbs me about Mrs. Maken's discussion of dysfunctional homes and parental failure. She addresses these matters in a chapter discussing the "lack of male leadership." Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but women come from dysfunctional homes, too. Is it possible that many women have not been properly trained by their parents to assume the mantle of Biblical Womanhood?

Debbie Maken quotes Psalms 78:63 on p. 11, "Their young women had no marriage song." I think the reason many young women have no "marriage song" is that they have been too busy playing Cyndi Lauper's ditty, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" on their iPods. Indeed, Mrs. Maken admits on p. 11: "When I was in my early twenties, I didn't really mind being single; after, my life was full." Camerin Courtney echoes Mr. Maken's sentiments in a recent online article:
"Maken starts with a relatable description of many single women's experience: Singleness is easier to see as a grand adventure in your 20s, an unfettered time to figure out who you are and what path God might like you to take through life. Without a spouse, there's more freedom to travel and take risks, minister and invest in a burgeoning career."
How revealing these sentiments are. I suppose for many young women, male companionship seems unnecessary and perhaps an imposition. However, as women get older and their biological clocks start ticking, they expect men to start paying attention to them. Why weren't the suitors of yesteryear not good enough?

If women believe that marriage is a necessity, then why aren't they preparing for it in their younger years? As it is, what messages about womanhood do we think girls receive from our popular media? Instead of seeing boys as the ones they will marry one day, they see T-Shirts that say, "Boys are stupid. Throw rocks at them." Instead of seeing girls that extend courtesy and respect to the men in their lives, they see women who insult their fathers, brothers, and husbands. Instead of seeing women who take pride in motherhood and being "keepers of the home," they are told to find their fulfillment in the workplace. Instead of learning to compromise in human relationships, they are told to be aggressive and settle for nothing less than what they want. Instead of learning the value of objective truth, they are taught that their feelings are more important than what others think. Instead of embracing the accountably that comes with being a grown woman, they are taught to see themselves as "victims of the Patriarchy." Instead of seeing themselves as helpmeet for men, they are taught see themselves as competitors against men. Men are seen as tools to be used, obstacles to overcome, or even enemies to vanquish, but they not seen as human beings to be loved.

There has been a failure to correct these negative trends among our young women. Why aren't our families doing more about this situation? Granted, many religious women do not share the more obvious vices of women in the culture at large, yet the worldly attitude of entitlement can be found among women even in our churches.

Therefore, many women, religious or otherwise, should not marvel at why men seem hesitant to approach them. Men are increasingly eschewing those women who are insulting, condescending, ill-mannered, quarrelsome, materialistic, disloyal, treacherous, vindictive, petty, sanctimonious, autocratic, demanding, self-centered, and "the such like." The coarsening of womanhood in our culture is pandemic. No wonder, then, that some men have sought out foreign women to be their brides. Indeed, columnist Fred Reed once compared Asian women to American women, declaring that the latter had "the chip" (on their shoulders, of course). Many men do not want to keep women "barefoot and pregnant"; they just want be valued, cherished, and respected . Unfortunately, for many contemporary women in our culture, even this seems to be asking too much.

Dysfunctional Churches

I have to agree with Mrs. Maken when she claims that churches have failed singles. Of course, I believe it is for a different reason than what Mrs. Maken would hold to be the case. Churches have failed singles by propping up marriage as some means of sanctification that most people must undergo. Churches have failed singles by treating them as less than complete human beings. Mrs. Maken's teachings represent more of the same failure.

On pp. 74-75, Mrs. Maken wants churches to stand up for the truth on the matter. Unfortunately, as I have stated in my earlier remarks on Mrs. Maken's book, her teachings are not scriptural. If churches insist on pushing Mrs. Maken's hobby, they should be prepared for a fight. I do not doubt that congregations can be split, families fractured, and people turned off from a church over the radical pro-marriage agenda of some teachers. Of course, these teachers, who have a zeal without knowledge, will mistake their factiousness for the will of God. That is why those of us who oppose their harmful teachings must be ready to contend earnestly for faith (Jude 3), and stand like Paul did against the Judaizers, not yielding "even for an hour" (Gal. 2:1-5).

Mrs. Maken states, "The church has no obligation to match-make or start a dating service" (p. 74). Really? If marriage is such a necessary component of the human condition for most people, then a church would most certainly be involved. I remind my readers that one of the functions of a church is to provide benevolence to believers (James 2:15-16; 1 Tim. 5:16; 1 Cor. 16:1-3). In other words, it is to make sure that those believers who are not able to obtain the necessities of life for themselves are given what they need. A church is also to help believers to fulfill whatever individual responsibilities they have as Christians if they are not able to do so by themselves (1 Cor. 12:12-26; Gal. 6:2). So, for instance, if a believer does not have transportation to the church building, the congregation needs to provide it so the believer doesn't end up forsaking the assembly. In short, Mrs. Maken can't have it both ways. She can't rank sexual companionship among the basic necessities of life and yet say a church is not responsible for those who are unable to lawfully provide for themselves in this matter.

Mrs. Maken meekly grants that "it would not be unbiblical for a church to assist in this manner as examples of past Christian charities have proved. Having accountability groups for single men to examine their perennial singleness is on par with having accountability groups for other issues that trouble us" (p. 75). So her idea of being charitable is holding men accountable for something over which they may or may not have control. It's more finger-wagging once again, providing no substantive help to those men that face stiff social obstacles to getting married. Frankly, the word "accountability group" raises a red flag in my mind. I understand that a church can be a place to grow trusting relationships, make friends, etc. where we can share our struggles with fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. The manufactured, micromanaged confessions of some "accountability groups," however, smacks of an authoritarianism and cultish behavior that is out of harmony with what the Bible teaches (1 Peter 4:15; Matthew 20:25-28). A person who has never married simply does not need to give an account for his marital status to his religious leaders. As it is, Mrs. Maken's words are soothing in the ears of religious leaders who, like the Pharisees, want to bind heavy burdens on people but not lift one finger to help them (Matthew 23:4).

I also want to say that I sense a great deal of complacency among religious leaders. They and their followers have turned inward, insulating themselves from a world that is dying to hear the Gospel. Many churches want to complain about cultural issues, but they do not want to step outside their social comfort zones and minister to those who have never darkened the door of a place where Christians assemble. Expanding the borders of the Kingdom of God is just too inconvenient for some in this regard. So, many religious leaders rely on second-generation or third-generation believers to fill their pews. We are so fond of claiming that "God has no grandchildren" but we throw this saying right out the window when a discussion of marriage or church growth comes up. Mrs. Maken's teaching may provide some comfort to church leaders who see their membership rolls grow shorter and the hairs of their congregants grow grayer with each passing year. Perhaps church leaders think if they throw out a few false platitudes as Mrs. Maken does, the young couples in their midst will procreate and empty pews will be filled again. Perhaps they think they can secure a fresh supply of young, impressionable minds to catechize with their "commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). Is God impressed with this?

Church leaders may proclaim that "strong families" are the backbone of the Lord's Church, but they are wrong. Faithful Christians are the backbone of the Lord's Church. Faithful Christians may or may not have grown up in a religious household. It doesn't matter. Their obedience to the Lord is what matters (Matthew 12:48-50). As I have indicated in earlier remarks about Mrs. Maken's book, the Kingdom of God grows by spiritual means, not physical means (Mark 4:30-32; Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Peter 1:22-23). All must come to Christ by the same way: obeying his Gospel (2 Thess. 1:8). Therefore the question of making babies to help the Church is moot.

In a discussion about marriage and children, many commentators like to talk about "norms" in the Biblical record. Of course, some "norms" are culturally incidental and are not binding on Christians today (e.g., foot-washing). Yet, if we want to talk about "norms," why isn't anyone considering the New Testament "norm" for church growth--evangelism? We think having new families in order to spur church growth is par for the course. We should, in fact, regard such as scandalous. When we claim that families are the lifeblood of churches, we are saying that the Gospel has no effect on the lives of people and that religious conviction is merely a matter of cultural conditioning.

Perhaps some churches actually deserve to have their numbers dwindle and disappear. They have "forsaken their first love" like the Ephesians in the book of Revelation. Some of them are so politicized and held captive to their culturally-bound understanding of Christianity that they have ended up preaching a false social gospel of either the left-wing or right-wing variety. I say all of these things to make this point: Religious leaders should stop goading single men to "be fruitful and multiply" in order to fill pews. These leaders need to repent of pushing a distorted, fleshly view of Christianity and came back to the plain truths of the Gospel. If they sow according to the truth, then God will give them the increase, numerically and/or spiritually (John 15:1-8). Otherwise, "let the dead bury the dead."

One Tune Not Playing on Mrs. Maken's Jukebox

Finally, let me note that a recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control showed that men were more interested in marriage than women. Even among fundamentalist Protestants, 68% of the males studied favored marriage compared to 59.3% of the females. This revelation stands as an indictment of essentially everything Mrs. Maken says about men in her book. Her fanciful notion of "boys in men's clothing" is a canard. I think it's high time we stop asking what's wrong with men and start asking ourselves what external forces discourage them from marrying. On p. 65, Mrs. Maken says, "Don't get me wrong--I like men. I even married one." I do not doubt that Mrs. Maken "likes" men in that she is sexually attracted to them. The question, however, is whether or not she respects them. Sadly after reading Chapter Four of her book, I have difficulty seeing how such is the case.

July 17, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 4)

PART IV: Chapter 3 - "Historical Views on Singleness" (The Traditions of the Elders)

In continuing my review of Debbie Maken's book, Getting Serious about Getting Married, I would like to share with my readers a passage from the New Testament where the Pharisees confront Jesus:
"Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches. Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, 'Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?' He answered and said to them, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men-—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.'" (Mark 7:1-8, NKJV)
Here we have our Lord and Savior clearly condemning the practice of elevating religious traditionalism to the level of God's divine revelation. Religious traditions are not a safe and reliable guide in spiritual matters. That is why I find chapter three of Debbie Maken's book so disappointing. She spends the entire chapter detailing how notable theologians and religious communities of the past felt about single people. Apparently, the proverbial "cloud of witnesses" of the past stressed the necessity of marriage for most people, and that is supposed to make us think twice about embracing singleness as a lifestyle.

This will probably come as shock to some of my readers, but I will nonetheless ask this simple question: Who cares? The Bible declares, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11, NKJV). Bereft of sound, Biblical exegesis, Debbie Maken's cloud of witnesses becomes a puff of presumptuousness. Revered religious figures and Bible-believers of past ages can be woefully mistaken.

Quoting the Big Names

I do not think Mrs. Maken would like us to scrutinize the sentiments of the past too closely. She invokes C.S. Lewis' concept of "chronological snobbery," a term used to "describe our feelings of superiority when we glance back at the past" (p. 48). Her reference to such a renown writer is hilarious, given the fact that C. S. Lewis was pretty much a confirmed bachelor until his fifties. Surely all of Lewis' writing, lecturing and teaching would have not precluded him from seeking the companionship of a female. I thus suspect that if C.S. Lewis was alive today, Maken's supporters would probably dismiss him as an immature "cad" unable to live up to their idea of "Biblical Manhood."

Then there is the matter of John Calvin and Martin Luther. Mr. Maken quotes from these two figures extensively on singleness and marriage. Are these men infallible guides in all things pertaining to life and godliness? I wonder if Mrs. Maken would agree with Calvin that heretics should be put to death? Is she familiar with Sebastian Castellio's response to Calvin's views? Indeed, shall we consult the Reformers when writing a treatise on the "Historical Views of Religious Toleration"? Is our modern embrace of religious liberty sinful? Or is the early Reformers' insistence on persecuting those who disagreed with their theology sinful? Take your pick.

Shall we quote Luther on how to treat the Jews? Or perhaps we should consider this adage of Luther on living soberly and righteously:
“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” -Martin Luther, August 1, 1521
Should we thus take our cue from Luther and encourage Christians to sin more that grace may abound, in spite of what the Bible says (Romans 6:1-2)? Needless to say, I am certain one can find plenty of loyalists ready to defend the more uncomfortable pronouncements of the Reformers with complex explanations and apologies. That is another issue for another day. My point is that we cannot base faith our faith on dead, uninspired men, no matter how much our religious communities may esteem them.

This Is Not Your Grandmother's Faith

Let us lay aside the foibles of the revered Reformers and consider the sentiments of Bible-believers of the past. Shall we consult them on slavery? How about racial relations? We could sanctimoniously declare that miscegenation were largely frowned upon by Christians of yesteryear, and it was not until very recently that the idea of interracial marriages was tolerated. We could bolster our prejudice against interracial marriages by misquoting scriptures from the Old Testament, just as Maken and her followers have done in mandating marriage for most people. What an ironic twist this would be, given that Boundless.org (a internet site espousing views akin to Mrs. Maken's) has just recently published a positive piece on interracial relationships.

What about birth control? Mrs. Maken declares on page 57: "For centuries Protestants and Catholics shared the belief that birth control was wrong." Indeed. Also for centuries, the Roman Catholic model of clerical celibacy predominated in Western Christendom. I hold both traditions in low esteem, rejecting them as unscriptural teachings that fail to recognize the intrinsic, God-given worth of sexual relations between husband and wife. Mrs. Maken goes on to conflate singleness and birth control with obvious social evils such as divorce, abortion, and sexual immorality; it's simply guilt by association. If Mrs. Maken has a problem with birth control, as she seems to suggest, she needs to take her case to her compatriot Albert Mohler, who recently stated that "evangelical couples may, at times, choose to use contraceptives in order to plan their families and enjoy the pleasures of the marital bed" (Albert Mohler, "Can Christians Use Birth Control?", May 08, 2006, Accessed from www.albertmohler.com). Perhaps Mrs. Maken should also realize that the very same culture that was for so long critical of birth control also looked down on a woman openly celebrating her own sexuality to the extent that Mrs. Maken does at end of her book. On p. 189 she states, "I love the freedom to have legitimate sex whenever we want." The blue-haired ladies of days gone by would blush at such a frank remark.

A Cloud of Witnesses That Rains on Mrs. Maken's Parade

At any rate, how far back does Maken want to go through the annals of Christendom to find support for her radical message of mandatory marriage for most everyone? Certainly, she would not want to go back to the writings of the Church Fathers. John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, Athanasius, and Augustine are a few notables that come to mind that would be an embarrassment to her. These men went so far as to declare that virginity was spiritually superior to marriage (a position that not even I would defend).

In chapter four, Mrs. Maken states, "We must not assume that we understand singleness better than Christian thinkers of the past" (p. 74). What if the Reformers heeded this adage? Of course, if the great thinkers of the past paid obeisance to church hierarchy, historical tradition, and religious consensus the way many modern Evangelicals do, I suppose Protestantism would have never come about in the first place. Perhaps it's high time that some Christians write out ninety-five talking points on some sticky pads and affix them to the foreheads of some prominent religious leaders. All in all, Mrs. Maken commits the fallacy of "Appeal to Authority" in chapter three. She fails to make a Biblical case for her beliefs in first two chapters, so the reference to what religious authorities have thought about singleness and marriage in the past is gratuitous at best.

Whose Faith Anyway?

I believe in what some might call "soul competency." That is, the faith of my family or my church cannot save me, per se. It boils down to my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In light of this, what religious authorities have to say about a question is no more meaningful than the opinions of Joe Normal if their dogma is unscriptural. Their words are not what is going to judge me on the Final Day. Mrs. Maken may adhere to the Westminster Confession. I adhere to the Word of God. Let us never be afraid of reexamining the beliefs of those who have gone before. Let us base our faith on what the Holy Spirit clearly reveals in His written revelation, not on the ignorance and religiously motivated bigotry of our cultural forbearers.