October 27, 2006

We Know Them by Their Fruits, Too

I've taken a breather from my critique of Debbie Maken's book, but plan to resume it very soon. In the mean time, I have noticed some reactions to this blog. Here is what one respondent to a post at a marriage mandate blog had to say ...
"Unfortunately, there is very little merit on the Scripturally Single blogspot. It seems to be a group of overgrown men [sic?] who are looking for biblically inventive ways to justify their perennial bachelorhood. Their sole purpose is to trace sightings of pro-Maken entries and interject themselves into a debate they are hardly capable of managing. More disturbing is the fact that many of the arguments on that site are misogynistic in nature. Mr. Wilson, I know you do not have the time to double check everything that everyone posts, but on this one, you might want to terminate those blog posts with that site reference ...

"Gordon, A tree is known by its fruits. Maken's fruits include a group of supporters and converts ready to take a serious look at the error of the modern church on singleness. Scripturally Single and other similar blogs however show unrepentance and anger just because Maken dared to say that the emperor has on no clothes. These collaborators are window-washers by day, theologians by night. They seem to be individuals that can barely manage their own lives, much less spiritually steer people in the right direction. Take a look at that sight and judge for yourself who the followers of the Gift of Singleness are-- perennial bachelors twisting Scripture to say they are under no obligation to marry in a timely fashion, men constantly complaining of child support and alimony payments, overgrown adolescents who have no desire to lead a woman but can find plenty of faults with women. The problem is not that we cannot have a good faith disagreement, but your side is always so prone to self-servingly label Makenites to shut them down. The problem in this discussion like other blogs discussing this book is that people like Hackman
[have] yet to read the book. I saw in comments from Chris Witmer warnings about 'contentment' and 'God's will.' My point is that if Chris and Hackman would just read the book, they would see a whole new (actually an older) way of thinking about this subject, and then they could actually interject some meaningful critiques, if even necessary."
Indeed, a "tree is known by its fruits." What are the fruits of this marriage mandate proponent and of many others? Let us count the apples. My readers and I are said to be ...
  • "overgrown men" [I suppose we are all over 6'3" here. LOL.]
  • "misogynistic"
  • "window-washers by day"
  • "perennial bachelors"
  • "individuals who can barely manage their own lives"
  • "overgrown adolescents"
Also, I note a request to a site owner that he should "terminate those blog posts" that point back to this place. Finally, there is the allegation that people haven't read Mrs. Maken's book and therefore are not sufficiently appreciative of what she is trying to say. How strange that my critique of her book is chapter by chapter with actual quotes and page references.

So, instead of dealing with the arguments that those of my persuasion raise, some marriage mandate proponents of the blogosphere have decided to resort to personal attacks, censorship, or maybe just benign neglect with respect to counterarguments we make. Yes, we know at least some of them by their fruits, too (Proverbs 10:18b). To my regular readers who are in agreement with me, you might want to consider yourself honored (Matthew 5:11-12).

October 2, 2006

A Biblical Critique of Debbie Maken's Book "Getting Serious about Getting Married" (part 10)

PART X: Chapter 9 - "'Being Single = Knowing and Serving God Better'" (You Don't Know Like I Know)

I am certain many, if not most, of my readers are familiar with 1 Cor. 7:32-34. In this passage we read that the unmarried "cares for the things of the Lord" whereas the married "cares about the things of the world," that is, pleasing a spouse. Many probably come away from this passage believing singleness has its advantages if only for the benefit of offering service and devotion to God without distraction. Debbie Maken, of course, takes issue with this notion. In fact, Chapter 9 of her book tries to prove that married people have an intimate understanding of God that single people do not have.

Singles, Sherpas, and Selfishness

At the bottom of p. 119, Mrs. Maken says the following about her former life:
"I never understood why I was expected to pull such a large ministry load just because I was single. It's not like being single automatically gives you more hours in a day than a married person. Not having a family doesn't mean more time on your hands; it means that you alone bear all of the responsibility of living in today's world instead of sharing it with a spouse. A married couple can divide labor to accomplish daily tasks more efficiently. Instead of having a helper, a single person bears a sole burden of laundry, housekeeping, cooking, paying bills, grocery shopping, running errands--and working to support herself. When I was single, life was often so busy there was hardly any time left for anything else let alone ministry."
We should applaud Mrs. Maken for challenging the myth that single people always have more time for church activities than married people. Still, I have to wonder why do so many religious leaders act as if the personal time of single people is more expendable in this regard? Maybe the reason is because many think singles have a proclivity towards being selfish. I have previously discussed how the charge of selfishness is often hurled at single people, but I want to say a little more about this matter. Consider what one marriage mandate proponent recently wrote about single men:
"Are there not biblical indicators of whether one should seek marriage? Would you agree that immature men who employ their singleness for selfish indulgence (e.g., excessive golf or other hobbies, spending a high percentage of their salary on entertainment) would be well-served (with respect to their Christian sanctification) by having to bear the huge personal responsibility of a wife? Granted, they must have a modicum of maturity even to marry, but that minimum standard being met, marriage matures and sanctifies them (far beyond the accountability of male roommates, I might add). Many married men readily testify that their wife has been used of God as a great (even the greatest) instrument towards their sanctification. To lack this instrument would have been to stunt their sanctification, would it not?"

"... a Christian single whose 'contentment with singleness' is based on his being able to live entirely as he pleases and enjoy zero inconveniences to his self-absorbed, pleasure-craven, comfort-seeking schedule has a lot less biblical grounding to base his 'gift' of singleness! Sure, he should get busy reading his Bible, serving in his church, and giving his money sacrificially to the spread of God's kingdom. But as he does so, ought he not seek a wife, lest the absence of significant, intimate relational involvement leave him more susceptible to his lusts (for unlawful sex, for excessive pleasure, comfort, or autonomy)?"
(Alex Chediak, "Open Letter to Andreas Köstenberger," available at www.alexchediak.com)
So are married people, by default, less selfish than single people? Or is the selfishness of one often simply traded for the selfishness of the group? Apparently, some are not familiar with the old saying about God blessing "us four and no more." This saying pretty much sums up the shallowness of what often passes for religious conservatism in this society. He who without sin in this matter may cast the first stone at single people. A bachelor may indeed have his "golf or other hobbies" but married people have their weddings, receptions, honeymoons, McMansions, oversized SUVs, pontoon boats, family vacations, amusement parks, toys for the kids, and piano lessons for Junior to make the parents proud. As a lawful as these things are, I fail to see how they bring a soul any closer to God than the time a single man spends in front of the computer playing NetHack.

In fact, if marriage is a cure for selfishness, then why do we hear of rampant divorce, adultery, domestic violence, and all the other social ills that seem plague only those who insist on finding a mate? As it is, singles may have extra time to pursue their individual interests, but married people have the privilege of enjoying physical and emotional intimacy with a given spouse. Life is full of trade-offs, so why do we begrudge others the fruit for which we were not willing to pay the price? When a married person criticizes a single person's use of time, such criticism may be an indication of an envious heart. Some commentators simply need to consider their motivations for being so censorious towards the unmarried.

The bottom line is marriage is neither a necessary nor reliable cure for selfishness. So many married people who claim to have less time for the Lord than single people seem to have plenty of time to do all unnecessary things they want to do, including enjoying many things a single person cannot enjoy. Let's look again at what 1 Cor.7:32-34 says. It does not say a married person has less time for church activities than a single person. It says a married person's interests are divided between the Lord and a spouse. Think about that.

What application can we make from what I've said? Simply this: Religious leaders have no business treating single people like a band of Sherpas to take up the loads that married people ought to bear. Too many married pundits who talk of single people "having more time" sound a lot like the man in Luke 14:20: "I have married a wife, and therefore cannot come." The fact of matter is that all our time belongs to the Lord, including the time we spend on recreational pursuits not only as single people, but as families as well. Just because a single man has more time for individual interests than a married man does not mean we can engage in arrogant surmisings about what the single man is doing or should be doing with his free moments. Such judgments are between a single person and the Lord (Romans 14:1-13).

The Church - Family of God or Just Godly Families?

Continuing on in Chapter 9 of Debbie Maken's book, we read that families play a necessary part in the expansion of God's kingdom. Mrs. Maken writes:
"God's plan for kingdom expansion has always involved marriage and family. Even the New Testament gives priority to the nuclear family when it comes to increasing the kingdom: 'For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our Gods calls to himself' (Acts 2:39). The early church grew as families were saved 'household to household.'

"This expansion always starts at home and works itself outward ('in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,' Acts 1:8), not the other way around."
(pp. 121-122)
With all due respect to Mrs. Maken, she is simply misapplying the Scripture in a rather egregious manner. That people were saved "household to household" no more implies the need for families in God's plan of redemption than God's call to the poor (James 2:5) implies that we must embrace poverty in order to be saved. Family or no family, every soul must come to Christ individually. The faith of a given family cannot sanctify or save a person (Ezekiel 18:1-23).

Sure, family units do have something to contribute to a local church, and some do indeed learn the gospel from their parents. There is, however, no guarantee that this always holds true. Family religion can sometimes be a stumbling-block to one's acceptance of Biblical truths (Matthew 10:34-36). Let us also note that Mrs. Maken cannot defend her statement about the expansion of the Church always starting "at home". The passage she quotes (Acts 1:8) has nothing to do with families; it simply draws attention to the fact that salvation came to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles (Romans 1:16).

You Don't Know Like I Know

As if Mrs. Maken's understanding of the scheme of redemption wasn't flawed enough, the rest of Chapter 9 only gets worse. Mrs. Maken says on p. 124:
"God has purposely made himself known through familial relationships. Such relationships--husband, wife, daughter, son--show us part of the divine nature of God. When we fail to marry, whether through our own fault or cultural fault, we miss out on this means that God has established to know him more deeply and intimately."
Really? Has marriage mandate theology finally come to this? Are we to embrace a wacky form of Gnosticism where the deeper mysteries of the Godhead come through an initiation into the Cult of the Married Ones? I thought a Christian received "all things that pertained to life and godliness" through knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 1:2-3) and that such knowledge came by hearing and obeying the Word of God (John 20:30-31; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Romans 10:17; 1 John 2:3-5). Perhaps we should cover ourselves with duct tape, roll around in a pile of sheared wool, get on all fours, and start chewing cud so that we may know how Jesus cares for us the way a shepherd cares for sheep. Seriously, do we appreciate the difference between metaphorical and literal language, or the difference between types and antitypes? What vital knowledge does marriage give me about the Trinity that I cannot already glean from the Scriptures?

Have we forgotten what Eph. 5:25 says? Paul did not say, "Husbands, know that God loves you the way you love your wives." On the contrary, the Apostle already took for granted that his male audience knew how Jesus loved the Church. In case they didn't know, the Apostle clues them in on the essentials in vv. 26-27. What wasn't so certain was if the Ephesian men knew how to love their wives. Here is clear proof that marriage does not impart the special knowledge of divine realities that some people think it does. The Ephesians seemed to have already grasped the relationship between Christ and Church before knowing what marriage was intended to be.

In essence, Chapter 9 is yet another section rife with implausible statements. I concede we cannot be so presumptuous to think that single Christians are, by default, more devoted to God than married people. Those who take Debbie Maken's position on marriage are justifiably opposed to such thinking. However, claiming that married people have a special knowledge of God that single people do not have is utterly preposterous. Mrs. Maken simply ought to know better than proffer such a claim, but considering what I have covered thus far, I am not surprised she goes to such extremes in her writing.