Monday, May 28, 2012

On Commitment

One of my current pastors and one of my former pastors recently released a new book titled Sex, Dating, and Relationships: A Fresh Approach. The current pastor is Gerald Hiestand, senior associate pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, and the former pastor is Jay Thomas, formerly college pastor at College Church in Wheaton (where I attended while at Wheaton) and presently lead pastor of Chapel Hill Bible Church in North Carolina. In their introduction, Hiestand and Thomas state their intent to show that
[S]ex, dating, and relationships find their ultimate meaning in the relationship between Jesus and his people; the former testify to the latter. In other words, sex and relationships are about the gospel. To miss this central truth, we believe, is not only to miss the whole point of romance and sexuality but also to confuse God’s clear boundaries regarding sexual activity between men and women. (Hiestand and Thomas, 13)

Of course, everything finds its ultimate meaning in the gospel (as the authors affirm in their conclusion). Hiestand and Thomas provide a thorough, layman’s-terms discussion of that principle as it relates to human sexuality, and, on the whole, I found both their logic and their theology sound.

In keeping with their layman’s-terms approach to their subject, the authors devote substantial space in their book to discussion of practical issues. Their heartfelt cautions about guarding one’s heart is one of the strongest facets of the practical discussions, in my opinion. I found their discussion of the issue of commitment in relationships (Chapter 4), however, to be a bit lacking.

Two people who are dating appear in many ways to have a real and established relationship. … They are expected to remember anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays. They place upon each other certain obligations and restrictions… On the surface, this does give an impression of commitment. But is the commitment of a dating relationship really a commitment of any substance? … Very likely, many dating couples have not really thought about what they mean when they use a word such as commitment in the context of their relationship. …they usually ascribe the idea of commitment to the fact that they have agreed to date only each other. Thus, it is the exclusive nature of the relationship that separates it… But…the so-called commitment of a dating relationship can end at any time for any reason. … Unlike a dating relationship, the commitment and exclusivity of a marriage is involuntary. … It is an irrevocable commitment. … Unlike a marriage relationship, there’s nothing in the contractual agreement of a dating relationship that prevents a guy from breaking up with his girlfriend on Thursday and seeing a different girl on Friday. (Hiestand and Thomas, 58-59)

Here is where I draw my first objection. I believe that there are different degrees of commitment, and one commitment is not necessarily less substantial than another because it is of a smaller scope. That the authors call marriage an irrevocable commitment speaks to this truth.

For an example, when a person buys a ticket to a sporting or arts and entertainment event, the presenting organization has made a commitment to provide the entertainment paid for. But suppose the venue is struck by a tornado? Certainly the ticketholder, while perhaps upset at the lost money, would not seriously expect the organization to not revoke its commitment to present the event. Yet was the commitment represented by the ticket illegitimate?

Or, consider employment contracts. Excepting federal courts and most educational institutions, there are few organizations who grant virtually irrevocable guarantees of employment. The employer commits to pay the employee, and the employee commits to render specific services for the benefit of the employer and its clientele, but it is of course not uncommon for employment to end.

Obviously, social relationships are not the same as customer-merchant and employee-employer relationships. But there are non-permanent social relationships, and yet I do not think it is either a linguistic or a moral error to ascribe commitment to parents, siblings, accountability partners, and close friends. No one would question parents who no longer provide food and shelter for their self-sufficient, adult children, or the accountability partners who no longer meet weekly for coffee after one moves halfway across the country. Were those commitments lacking in substance?

I think the authors would respond to my objection by saying that in modern American society, the problem with dating relationships is not their level of commitment but their tendency to give the impression of a higher level. Theirs is a fair point, but I think it is too general. Is not the goal of a dating relationship to investigate the viability of a more committed relationship, i.e., marriage? Granted, it is probably an ineffective exercise to define the “goal” of a dating relationship – as our authors point our more than once, there is no biblical prescription for such a relationship; it is a wholly modern (and Western) invention. Each couple, ideally, sets their own goals and, also ideally, communicates about them with appropriate regularity.

And therein lies my main point. Should two people find themselves with a mutual attraction, it is on them to communicate about their feelings and their intentions – and their level of commitment, which of course is organic and should be expected to change over an extended period of time. Indeed, a successful marriage requires substantial communication as well. Assumption of the other’s intentions is often the first step toward heartbreak. By contrast, there will be no “false security” if all parties understand the other’s level of commitment.

The authors acknowledge elsewhere in the book that there are different kinds of social relationships. Good communication is key to the success of any of them, and it is even more vital when the possibility of eventually giving the other person one’s heart presents itself. True, no one is legally bound to a girlfriend or boyfriend, but I would hope that any Christian would not simply break up with someone at the first sign of boredom or discouragement – or if so, it would be a sure sign that that person is nowhere near ready for marriage, because boredom and discouragement will certainly occur in a marriage, and jumping ship would not be a God-honoring solution.

Consider the parable of the talents, as recorded in Matthew 25. Upon his return, the master says to the first and second servants (who were given five and two talents, respectively), “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (25:21 and 25:23, ESV). How much more important to demonstrate faithfulness in interpersonal relationships before one is entrusted with a spouse! I have a friend who says that having roommates (e.g., while in college), is excellent preparation for being married, and I think he is right.

Hiestand and Thomas make an important contribution to the discussion of a biblical view of sexuality. Another important discussion that I believe the church needs to have is on commitment, and it is my humble opinion that such a discussion will positively inform not only our understanding of sexuality, but of our call to love God and proclaim Christ’s kingdom.

This is Rubio, over and out.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Articles of the Week - May 26

I have the usual variety this week. Enjoy!

Ray Pritchard: "Four Benefits of Bible Listening" (Keep Believing Blog, May 19)
Eric Zorn: "6 Arguments Against Gay Marraige (And Why They All Fail)" (Chicago Tribune, May 19)

Jason Hood: "What Words Can Express" (SAET Blog, May 21)

Elesha Coffman: "Teach Us to Pray: Learning from Prayer Partners in History" (Christianity Today, May 22)
Great figures from church history have much to teach about talking with God.

Sister Christian: "Gaysubtlety, Sexuality, and Christianity" (A Daily Miracle, May 22)

Rich Tucker: "Here's a Fair Question: Are You Happy?" (The Foundry, May 22)

Lindsey Burke: "Romney's Education Agenda: With a Few Edits, It Could Be Great" (The Foundry, May 24)

Leslie Leyland Fields: "Throwing Christ Over the Cliff" (Stones Into Bread, May 24)
How the church can help the faithful stay faithful.

Michael Gryboski: "Book of Common Prayer Turns 350" (Christian Post, May 24)

Ray Pritchard: "What Do We Do Now?" (Keep Believing Blog, May 24)

Joseph Gorra: "Why Civic Engagement Belongs in Every Church's Mission Statement" (This is Our City, May 25)
Churches can commission their members to vocationally bless their community, says California pastor Michael Decker.

Jason Hood: "Transformation" (SAET Blog, May 25)

Rich Tucker: "Constitutional Countdown" (The Foundry, May 25)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Articles of the Week - May 19

This week's pick seem to have more variety than usual. There's politics and political philosophy, ecclesiology, social theology, and literature. Enjoy!

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun: "The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes and No" (Gifted for Leadership, May 7) 
Learning how to respond to life's many invitations.

David E. Sanger: "Is There a Romney Doctrine?" (The New York Times, May 12)
Dozens of subtle position papers flow through Mitt Romney's policy shop, but they seem to have little influence on his hawkish-sounding pronouncements.

John Piper: "How Does the Command to Honor Father, Mother Relate to God?" (Christian Post, May 13)

Prospero: "England, My England" (The Economist, May 13)

Thom S. Rainer: "Seven Things in the Church That Will Not Change" (Christian Post, May 14)
The Bible is still the Word of God. God is still in control. Sometimes the pace of change confuses and disorients us.

Dennis Byrne: "The 'Essence' of Marriage" (Chicago Tribune, May 15)
While the inevitability of same-sex marriage now is a given the only question remaining is when I'm still trying to locate the way.

Keving DeYoung: "If We Believe All the Same Things, Why Do Our Churches Seem So Different?" (Christian Post, May 15)
Here are ten things that distinguish between what I would call a vibrant, robust Bible-believing church and one that gets the statement of faith right but feels totally different.

Ericka Anderson: "America's Necessary Loyalty to Human Freedom" (The Foundry, May 16)

Katrina Taylor: "From Heartbreak to Joy" (World Vision Blog, May 16)

Ryan Messmore: "Gay Marriage and the Golden Rule" (The Foundry, May 17)

Josh Moody: "Work at the Crossroads" (God-Centered Life, May 17)

John Kass: "Some Lessons in Chicago-style Diplomacy" (Chicago Tribune, May 18)

Lillian Kwon: "Can People Who Have Never Heard of Jesus Be Saved?" (Christian Post, May 18)
Pastors confronted with questions and some dissent over the idea that no one can be saved apart from faith in Jesus Christ are reaffirming what they assert is a hard yet clear truth.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Articles of the Week - May 12

There were, not surprisingly, quite a few pieces this week responding to the president’s announcement of his personal support for same-sex marriage. I tried to limit my picks to a representative sample of those pieces, hence the mere three in this week’s list. Also included are two interesting pieces about prayer.

Philip Graham Ryken: "Wheaton College Opposes Health Insurance Mandate" (The Daily Herald, May 2)
Tanya Luhrmann: “Why Women Hear God More Than Men Do” (Christianity Today, May 7)
To pray, you need to use your imagination. And men of this generation are given few tools to do so.

Bridget Doyle: “Nine Disturbing Behaviors on Social Media That People Need to Stop Right Now” (Chicago Tribune, May 8),0,3619311.story

Todd C. Ream: “Dollars and Moral Sense: What Money Can’t Buy” (Christianity Today, May 8)
There’s more to life than relationships of economic exchange.

Tobin Grant: “President’s Evolution is Over: Obama Commits to Supporting Same-Sex Marriage” (Christianity Today, May 9)
Obama says support for same-sex marriage is consistent with his faith.

Rachel Sheffield: “Wall Street Journal: Conservatives Oppose National Standards” (The Foundry, May 9)

Ryan T. Anderson: “Obama and the Truth about Marriage” (The Foundry, May 10

Steve Chapman: “Moderates Only Look Dead” (Chicago Tribune, May 10)
Don’t look now, but the center is holding

Kevin DeYoung: “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage” (Christian Post, May 10)

Patrick T. Reardon: “Memo to NATO Diplomats: Ignore the Chicago Hype” (Chicago Tribune, May 11) 

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Article of the Week - May 5

I again had to cut down my list this week (I like to stay under 20 recommendations), but I think I still achieved quite a variety. Politics, theology, arts and culture, and one article my a friend of mine.

David Bratman: “Recordings to Save Classical Music? Cheers to That” (San Francisco Classical Voice, April 21)
Let’s end the parade of sameness – and save classical music.

Tom Service: “The Five Myths About Contemporary Classical Music” (The Guardian, April 26)

Frank Bruni: “The Imperiled Promise of College” (The New York Times, April 28)
Student loans are just a piece of the puzzle of higher education.

Sister Christian: “Wheaton College Career Services: How to Market a Liberal Arts Degree” (A Daily Miracle, May 1)

Helle Dale: “New York Times: Every Day, In Every Way, Obama is Getting Even Better” (The Foundry, May 1)

John Piper: “Some Complementarians Deny Women More Opportunities Than the Bible Does?” (Christian Post, May 1)

Carolyn Arends: “Defending Scripture. Literally.” (Christianity Today, May 2)
Not everything the Bible has to say should be literally interpreted. But that doesn’t make it less powerful.

Arian Campo-Flores: “New World Symphony Tries Remix of Classical Music for iPod Generation” (The Wall Street Journal, May 2)

Richie Siegel: “Virtual Intimacy is ‘Like’ This” (Chicago Tribune, May 2)

James K. A. Smith: “Artificial Grace: Why the Creation Needs Human Creativity” (Christianity Today, May 2)

Jason Hood: “The Normal Christian Life (in the OT)” (The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology, May 3)

Ray Pritchard: “I Struggle with Assurance of Salvation” (Keep Believing Blog, May 3)

Brandon Stewart: “A Better Life for ‘Julia’” (The Foundry, May 4)

Editorial: “Natomageddon” (Chicago Tribune, May 5)
Mark Monday, May 21, in red on your calendar, Chicagoans. You won’t be able to get from there to here.