Friday, October 27, 2006

Guest Review of "With One Voice"

I recently received a review copy of Alex Chediak's book, With One Voice: Singleness, Marriage, and Dating to the Glory of God, published by Christian Focus.

I decided to ask my friend and colleague, Lydia Brownback, if she would be willing to pen a guest review for me. Lydia is the author of Legacy of Faith: From Women of the Bible to Women of Today, and Fine China Is for Single Women Too.

I thought it would be helpful to hear the response of a single woman on these issues, rather than to hear my thoughts as a married guy. I'm thankful for Lydia's insightful thoughts below.

Here is her review:

Is there a “right” way to approach Christian courtship and marriage? Recent debate in evangelical circles—much of it heated—reveals that a once simple path has become an intricate and confusing maze. What happened? Clearly we have latched onto some wrong ideas—worldly ideas—and in our attempt to widen the narrow way, we've gotten way off track. Our toleration of feminism and the accompanying loss of cultural masculinity have further obscured our approach. But since the culture has always been opposed to biblical principles, we cannot perpetually point a collective accusatory finger at the latest repackaging of rebellion.

So while it is only wise to recognize the influence culture has had on our compromised practice of Christianity, we do well to acknowledge that we, contemporary evangelicals, are the real core of the problem. When we allow feeling to replace thinking, when we orient ourselves to self-fulfillment, self-actualization, and every other self-centered ideology, when we blend secular psychology with biblical principles—what else can we expect but an erosion of biblical authority in all areas of life? Singleness, marriage, and spanning the gap between has certainly been altered by our culture, but only because we evangelicals have allowed it to do so.

As a result of all this, books advocating a variety of views on singleness, dating, and marriage have hit the Christian market with fresh fervor. With so many to choose from, how do we know the good from the bad? We may consider the experience of the author. Has he or she practiced what’s being preached for any duration? How about training? Has the author sat under the wisdom of experienced mentors? Such categories are helpful for evaluation, but the only criteria that really matters is this: is it biblical? A book with a strong scriptural foundation is not one in which the author has latched on to a passage or two to reinforce his or her views; rather, it is one in which the material presented is based on the Bible as a whole, i.e., one in which Scripture has been used to interpret Scripture.

With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, and Marriage to the Glory of God by Alex Chediak (Christian Focus Publications) is just such a book. Adding a balanced voice to the current debate, Chediak speaks pastorally—and biblically—to young men and women entering the contemporary landscape of courtship.

Chediak sets the stage for his advice with an insightful survey of recent social history and how it has impacted evangelical courtship practices. He explains that in previous decades men and women got to know one another in the company of family and friends. A man set his sights on marriage and wooed a fit companion. His goal was marriage, not amusement. Today men and women go out on dates centering around entertainment, which can easily obscure or displace long-term relational goals. The inevitable consequence of this practice is a skewed view of marriage as little more than a means for emotional fulfillment.

The result of our now insatiable quest for entertainment has led to a prolonged adolescence. Chediak writes:

The concept of a stage of adolescence for teenagers was developed in the early to mid 1900s; today we're seeing adolescence increasingly prolonged into the mid to late twenties or beyond. Sometimes this is referred to as the 'singles' culture. . . . The assumption is accepted that such a young adult phase of irresponsibility is normal. Never mind the fact that this demographic statistically did not exist prior to 1950.

Chediak astutely addresses another reason for the frenzied evangelical debate regarding courtship and marriage: "Numerous conservative Christian countercultures have arisen seeking to take us back in time to 'the good old days.'" Although the motivation is good, the means is wrong, because we cannot go back. "Say not, 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this" (Eccl. 7:10).

After detailing where and how evangelicals have gotten off track, Chediak seeks to challenge men and women of all ages caught in the drift. He asks young men, "Are you passive in your pursuit of a marriage partner?" He challenges single women, "Are you afraid to lose the security of singleness?" and with the precision of a laser beam he exposes this truth: "The longer we are single, the more settled we become. We know how to live single, and the thought of embarking on an intimate, committed relationship can really rock the boat, even if it is one of our deepest desires."

A chapter in the book titled, "The Normality of Marriage?" goes a long way toward centering current arguments on the topic of singleness. He describes how to discern the difference between godly, biblical contentment in a state of singleness and godly discontent that ought to be viewed as a call to marriage. This chapter is particularly helpful.

However, this chapter is also where I found the one point in the book that I believe doesn’t incorporate the whole of biblical teaching. In advising women on how to be marriageable, Chediak writes, "They can learn to be content with their wages and resist the lure of the corporate ladder." Such advice fails to take into account the wisdom of the Proverbs 31 woman, for example, who was shrewd in financial management. Single women must consider the possibility that they may never marry, and in so doing prepare financially for solitary elderly years with no children to care for them. Additionally, too many women today do not maximize their gifts and talents, fearing that doing so will scare off potential husbands. However, this is to make of marriage a higher priority than serving God with the best of what we can offer. I know very few single, Christian women—committed believers—who are climbing a corporate ladder for the sole purpose of ego gratification. Many of them are simply "redeeming the time" in the best way they know how.

One chapter in Chediak's book, "Choosing Wisely," presents a list of questions for men and women to ask when considering a potential mate. There is nothing new here; what we find are tried and true bits of biblical practicality: "If he isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life, if he takes an inordinately long time advancing your relationship, if all his free time is spent in front of the television, consider whether he is ready to lead you and your family." And "does she have a nurturing disposition or is she self-absorbed?

Chediak gives advice for developing a romantic relationship within the safeguards of biblical parameters. Even good things require wisdom when a relationship is in its infancy: "Please note that certain kinds of praying together, in private, can still breed excessive intimacy. A brief prayer of thanks before a meal or a prayer for the health of a cousin might be fine. But it is still too soon to be confessing sin together. . . . " Each person is trying to pursue God at this time, and prayer together tends to communicate that you are making decisions together—as a couple. But you aren’t; that's what engaged and married folk do."

Chediak ends the book with a chapter of hard-hitting FAQs, addressing topics such as pornography, homosexuality, and dating unbelievers. The end, like the beginning and almost everything in between, will be helpful to both men and women—young and old—seeking to reorient their approach to singleness, courtship, and marriage around the glory of God.

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