On Boston, Prayer, and James

As almost everyone knows, the Boston Marathon Bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was captured yesterday. After hours of a citywide lockdown, and a massive manhunt, the suspect was finally captured. Boston has lost a lot of money, business, and shed many tears in the last few days—but it gained something much more important than those… or did it?

Something that kept popping up on Facebook, Twitter, and even in daily conversation was the phrase: “Praying for Boston!” But I have to ask—are people actually praying for Boston? I’ve heard that phrase come out of several people’s mouths who, by and large, have no religious leanings. These are people I would never have thought: this guy/girl is a praying person.

Whether that’s my problem for judging them, or their problem for not actually living according to the Word of God (James 1:22-25), I won’t explore here. But I think this is a great example of a problem most Christians—serious, praying, Bible-reading Christians—face. Our natural reaction to our friends breaking up, our sister not getting the job she wanted, or even the bombing of a major city’s marathon is, “I’ll be praying for you.” This is a good thing. We ought to pray for others, and their problems. We ought to carry their burdens with them; we ought to confess and pray with them (James 5:16)!

But how many of us actually pray? I’ll admit, I’ve told several people I’d pray for them, and didn’t. I know friends and Church family who have even asked forgiveness for not praying when they said they would.

Prayer is serious. It is “powerful and effective,” contrary to popular American opinion. Prayer is our communication with God, and we do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2-3). Praying for others is a noble thing, but when we say we will do it, we need to actually do it. When we say we’ll pray, we need to pray. We need to let our “yes” be yes and “no” be no (James 5:12).

The question is this: are we in the business of praying for people or just simply ‘thinking’ about them? And in the grand scheme of things, which one actually does something?

THRIVE

This morning, Erskine Students had the pleasure of listening to a panel discussion about calling and vocation. This unique convocation was pretty eye-opening into the personal lives of Dr. Brad Parker, Dr. Robyn Agnew, Tobe Frierson, Cliff Smith, and Mark Peeler.

THRIVE, if you don’t know, stands for The Human Restoration InitiatiVe at Erskine. Its goal is to have a conversation about human restoration and social entrepreneurship. Interestingly, there’s been a whole lot of nothing said about THRIVE, and its goals. Specifically, there has been no definition of what a “restored human” looks like. THRIVE, as far as many students are concerned, is a joke.

I wouldn’t say I’m one of those students, but that doesn’t mean I have a positive view toward THRIVE either. It has this tendency to be a conversation we have during convocation rather than outside convocation. The conversations that typically happen about THRIVE are how this student disagrees with what was said, or how that student thinks the whole thing is ridiculous. I’m on board with human restoration and flourishing, but Dr. Norman and I are going to diverge, I think, on how to accomplish that.

For example, a restored human, in my eyes, is someone who has accepted Christ as his or her savior, and is undergoing sanctification. We are only restored in Christ, for He is the one who brings us back to the being we were created to be. He is our restoration, and the organization that makes money and gives that money back to the community (the social entrepreneurship aspect) is the Church.

Think about it for a second; Erskine is a school that has ties to the ARP Church. It receives almost half a million bucks a year from this organization to teach young people in the liberal arts fashion–with faith added in there. This organization, this church, exists to point people to Jesus as their physician and restorer. It makes money and it seeks to serve people in need–both generally in our collective need for restoration in Jesus, and individually to orphans, widows, the poor, and others. It’s the perfect organization to team up with for this THRIVE initiative.

So why are we moving away from it?

Are All the Good Christian Men Really Taken? A Young, Single, Christian Man’s Objection (Part Two)

In my earlier article, Are All the Good Christian Men Really Taken?: A Young, Single, Christian Man’s Objection (Part One), I explored a statistical claim by Thomas Hardesty in his World Magazine article concerning young Christian men and women. In my analysis, I explain that numbers can’t show the picture Hardesty or the young women consulted are trying to paint. I also examined the arguments presented by both Hardesty and Kevin DeYoung in his blog post, “Dude, Where’s Your Bride?” My conclusion was simple: the arguments were formally and informally fallacious, and more edifying and fair discussion needs to take place. The other half of the picture needs painting.

Moving away from statistical analysis (which, in the end, proves to be unhelpful for both men and women) and towards a biblical look at relationships, everywhere you go you’ll hear people say something to the effect: “dating isn’t found within scripture, so there isn’t one way to do it.” This is true, of course. Dating isn’t explicitly found within the Bible, but then again neither is our formal doctrine of the trinity, our Christology, Presbyterian form of government, nor original sin. The substance of all these teachings is present, but at the end of the day, we have to infer and form our doctrine from these implicit passages.

There are things we can learn about dating from Scripture even though it isn’t explicitly mentioned. For example, a dating couple is commanded to abstain from sexual immorality (Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). This immediately sets up a tight fence in terms of intimacy. Furthermore, there is no explicit command for a girl to submit to the authority of her boyfriend (much less that he has any), nor even that the boyfriend is called to be a leader in a dating relationship. Finding what is commanded and what is up to our Christian liberty requires discipline and perseverance. The problem, however, is that both men and women are forcing expectations upon one another—something that is definitely not Christian liberty.

Let’s take a time-out. There ought to be an understanding of the term dating before proceeding. Dating, as I use it, means an exclusive, intimate relationship with no special divine obligation on either party, yet aimed towards marriage. What this means is dating isn’t something we do casually as Christians, but do with 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17 in mind. Dating is ultimately aimed at the glory of God, and his divine plan for men and women to marry. Some call this courting; others don’t know what to call it. I call it dating.

Part of the problem, as far as I can tell, is simply that Christian men are nervous of rejection. Of course, this is no excuse, but this fear isn’t irrational by any means. Interestingly, some are even fatigued by rejection, saying to themselves that their emotions and time can be better spent elsewhere. As an RUF Campus Minister said, “Ladies you deserve to be driven, you deserve to be lead around and a guy be your driver—but you have to hail the cab.” A biblical marriage is rarely ever a man pursuing a woman, and her sitting back and enjoying the ride, evaluating his leadership. In fact, most of the biblical marriages we see are mutual pursuit. The woman in Song of Songs gets a side, too. If dating is aimed toward marriage, we should see similarity in pursuit rather than difference.

DeYoung explores the other part of the problem, unfortunately rather briefly; it is the idea that, “Some women may be expecting too much from Mr. Right. But in my experience this is not the main problem. Impossible standards? Not usually. Some standards? Absolutely.” DeYoung stuck gold, yet walked away from it. As a married man who has been out of this game for a while, he uses his experience to say impossible standards aren’t the main problem. Of course it wasn’t for him—he’s married! However, something all the single men I know share in common is rejection from young women who then turn around and complain about the lack of men. Contrary to DeYoung, in my experience impossible standards (perhaps better phrased as too many standards) are, in fact, the main problem for young Christian women. Young men don’t have a problem with women who have some standards—they cherish them!—but it completely depends on what those standards are.

If a young woman’s standards include that the guy she dates be interested in traveling because that’s what she’s interested in, there is no biblical merit for that. Nowhere in the entirety of scripture are women commanded to marry a man who has the same interests. So what about Christian liberty, Jim? Didn’t you use that before? Yes! Women are free to say no to people who don’t share their interests! But in doing so they have no right to claim there aren’t any good Christian men available. They are also under no biblical obligation to deny men who don’t have similar interests, something that probably isn’t said enough.

This leads me to expectations. I divide dating expectations into two categories: biblical expectations and extra-biblical expectations. Simply put, expectations both men and women have are either biblical (e.g., I expect someone I date to be a Christian), or found outside the Bible (I expect someone I date to be reformed). Some men and women mistakenly use Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to be equally yoked to mean that some extra-biblical expectations (such as being reformed) are actually biblical. A reformed believer, then, must marry a reformed believer. When this happens, the phrase “with an unbeliever” is often dropped, making the text say something it quite positively does not.

Biblical expectations are binding upon all Christians, because they’re biblical. So all Christians should only pursue dating relationships (as defined above) with other Christians. They also are bound to expect repentance, confession (not directly to them, but certainly to the Lord), participation in the sacraments, and a reverence for the Lord from their significant other. These things can be firmly found in Scripture, and this is not an exhaustive list of biblical expectations. These expectations should be priority number one for Christian daters.

Sadly, extra-biblical expectations are often mixed into those biblical expectations. For example, my aunt once told me that she expected whomever she were to date and marry to be taller than she was. Now married to my uncle, she recognizes that simply because my uncle is shorter than her doesn’t mean his love is somehow diminished, or his character somehow less than other sinners—he still needs Jesus. We have extra-biblical expectations for the physical appearance, doctrinal commitments, interests, and a myriad of other things. These expectations should not be, by definition, expectations. They should be preferences, and they almost never are recognized as such. There is no divine law, ordinance, command, or decree that I should pursue a reformed woman, but I would like to. I would prefer to. Young women are buying into standards that are really preferences rather than an obligation—and DeYoung and Hardesty aren’t helping. And again, if you deny someone based upon preferences rather than standards, you immediately forfeit the right to the claim that there are no good Christian men available.

In the end, it comes down to this: both men and women are sinners. Both men and women are failing at being who they should and are called to be, and neither party is encouraging the other. Hearing women say, “all the good Christian men are taken” (Hardesty) doesn’t encourage me to pursue those women. I’m a single Christian man, but because I’m single apparently I’m not “good.” I’m not dateable. I’m too immature because I play games, but women can go make definitive generalizations and they’re mature? I don’t think so. It’s time for double standards to stop. It’s time for this tirade only against young Christian men to stop. It’s time for an edifying discussion on how both men and women fail, but also on how they succeed. When the Apostles go after men, they also go after women (Eph. 5; 1 Cor. 11; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This one sided painting we have doesn’t do justice to the real issue. The issue isn’t just men, hasn’t been just men, and will never be just men, and it’s time for someone to say that.

Are All the Good Christian Men Really Taken? A Young, Single, Christian Man’s Objection (Part One)

Recently, a good friend of mine posted on his Facebook page a World Magazine article by Thomas Hardesty discussing a problem young Christian women seem to be facing. This article came as no surprise to me, as Kevin DeYoung wrote a blog post that discusses a very similar point just under a year and a half ago. Both discuss young, gospel-centered women who seem to have trouble finding marriageable Christian men. As a young Christian man about to leave college single, this subject naturally interests me a great deal. In this article, I’ll be exploring the logic used in both DeYoung and Hardesty, as well as examining the statistic cited by Hardesty. In part two, I’ll examine the biblical merits to their arguments and offer a fuller view of this issue.

From the outset, let me say I have a problem with these articles and this line of thinking. Nothing against DeYoung or Hardesty, but with all the great Christian guys I know studying at RTS campuses who are single, I simply have to diverge with most of the ideas presented in both. Hardesty and DeYoung disregard reason in arriving at their conclusions, using fallacious argumentation, and assumptions found outside of the Biblical witness (which will be explored in part two). Hardesty even uses a statistic that cannot be construed in the way he does. Quite frankly, they only give one side; they only paint half a picture.

Hardesty says, “Behind the jokes and smiles lies a serious, and sad, situation too many Christian women find themselves in today. They must either lower their standards for a mate so they can settle down now or hold to their faith as they pine for what is becoming an endangered species: Christian men worth waiting for.” Is it a serious situation that women must lower their standards or wait for a so-called endangered species? Absolutely. But is that actually the case? I’m not convinced.

Hardesty’s article is, as a good friend of mine said, an article with no foundation. The only people spoken to and quoted in the article are married men or single women. Essentially, the logic is that some single women say young men are immature, therefore they are. I’m honestly stunned that Hardesty didn’t ask a single Christian man his opinion—and for that matter, neither did DeYoung. Do young Christian men not get a say in the matter, even though it’s about them?

Hardesty mentions that women may be a part of the problem by wanting a career first, then a housewife position later: “Some of the blame for delaying marriage falls on women, with many wanting to spend time working and living a life of independence before settling down—choices the secular culture encourages.” This is true; some women want their cake and to eat it, too. But then Hardesty closes the paragraph with, “But Christian women who do want to marry young say men stuck in perpetual adolescence are a bigger part of the problem.” This is hardly anything other than a straw man and argumentum ad populum. Simply because most Christian women say that men are a bigger part of the problem does not logically imply or require that young men are a bigger part of the problem. Further, isn’t this to be expected? Of course women want to say men are the bigger part of the problem—just like young men want to say young women are the bigger part of the problem.

DeYoung makes a claim with a similar conclusion when he says, “This path of prolonged singleness is a two way street. But I think the problem largely resides with men. Or at least as a guy I can identify the problems of men more quickly.” DeYoung, interestingly, uses the opposite line of thinking of “well, if it happened with me, then it happened with other men.” This isn’t a very good line of thinking, and without any hard evidence, without allowing young Christian men to have a say, DeYoung’s claim that the large portion of the blame resides with men isn’t helpful for a meaningful conversation.

Young Christian men aren’t consulted. The hasty generalization fallacy says that a generalization taken from too small a sample is fallacious, and is certainly applicable here. It seems as though logic is abandoned in this discussion, which decisively eliminates many young men’s interest in it. As soon as we abandon logic and any meaningful sense, many young conservative Christian men are inclined to chuckle and walk away—but I suppose because they aren’t being consulted in the first place, this isn’t a large problem.

Perhaps the largest problem is the words “immature” and “adolescent” are being widely applied to most young Christian men. Not only is this approach unedifying (which will be addressed more fully in part two), there is also the lack of a coherent definition of what these are, much less what they look like. These are negative terms being tossed about with no clear consensus as to what they mean in context, but are used to paint with a broad brush across American Christianity. A clear definition of terms is most certainly needed for an edifying, constructive, and biblical discussion to take place.

The only evidence used in either article is Hardesty’s statistic, which is the average marrying age of women. He says, “In 1991, the average marrying age for women was 24. Today, it’s 26.5…Christian women who do want to marry young say men stuck in perpetual adolescence are a bigger part of the problem.” Interestingly, the rate of increase for women from 1991 to 2011 is identical to the rate for men in the same time period. Men married at 26.3 in 1991, which increased by 2.4 years to 28.7 in 2011. That comes out to a 2.4 year shift for men, and a 2.4 year shift for women (going by the Census Bureau’s 24.1 in 1991).[1] According to the numbers, both males and females are waiting longer to get married—and numbers can’t tell if it’s because of maturity or not. If the problem were simply that men are more immature today, we would expect to see the men’s rate substantively higher than women’s. The rates are, in fact, exactly the same.

Ultimately, if any definitive statement is going to be made, especially concerning others, it needs to be reasonable, at least. I’m willing to jump on the bandwagon, harping on young Christian men for the reasons DeYoung and Hardesty present, but I’m going to need a more sensible discussion—that is, an actual discussion with both parties involved, with good reason and evidence—and I think other young Christian men want that too.