Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review: Date Your Wife

Justin Buzzard has written a helpful book entitled "Date Your Wife" which I would like to commend to you.

The premise of the book is quite simple: men should date their wives. Before marriage husbands often pursue their wives, once they are married, as Justin points out, we often stop dating and pursuing our wives. Once we "have them" as it were, we stop pursuing them and cultivating a relationship with them. We often leave our marriage in maintenance mode.

While the premise of the book is simple and straight forward as the title suggest, the path by which the reader is taken is one that we often would generally not expect when it comes to most treatments of the topic of dating. Justin is thoroughly gospel centered. I never thought I would see a book that expounds how and why to date one's wife so undergirded with a basic "two-Adam" scheme that is central to the gospel story line. To this I cannot say "Bravo" loud enough.

Justin writes out of a rich theology that is found in the pages to Scripture yet his style is conversational, down-to-earth, and pastoral. This means those who like theology will be enriched, but those who rarely read books and hate theological tomes will find this book winsome, applicable and engaging. 

The basic plot line of the book is creation-fall-redemption-restoration although the actual divisions are titled: "Good" (two chapters on God's creation of marriage), "Bad" (three chapters on what's wrong with husbands), "The New" (six chapters, first with the gospel, then with practical applications for action) and "The Perfect" (a final chapter on the goal of marriage and the future of our glorification).

If you are expecting a book that makes you feel guilty, this one will but not in a legalistic sense. Most relationship books make you feel guilt for all you are not doing by telling you everything you should be doing. This book gets right to the heart of the problem: the problem is sin. The problem is that every husband is in Adam. The problem is every husband has a "religious" view of marriage. We think if we just try harder God will bless our lives.

Justin Buzzard challenges us to find our sufficiency and identity as men and husbands in Christ and his work. The best part about the book is how it takes you back to the gospel at the core. So when Buzzard convicts you and motivates you it is always with an eye to Jesus.

As I read this book, I was impressed by how personable and relatable the book was. Often the basic content is wrapped in a story or example. The book is also quite practical with actionable solutions to build an "air war" and a "ground war" in cultivating your marriage. Each chapter concludes with a series on introspective questions. There is an appendix of 100 suggestions for dating your wife. The creative husband will be pushed to think of more in order to tailor things to his marriage.

I highly recommend this book. I would give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

This is the kind of book that you can give to husbands but pastors can give in the expectation that it not just builds husbands but will build disciples. This is also the kind of book you can read quickly without getting bogged down but you can also read richly finding deep gems to ponder. Justin's first main goal is to make you love Jesus more--and the book accomplishes that task while it teaches us how to date our wives.

Three minor theological points of question or disagreement:

1. Buzzard makes Genesis 2:15 as central to the husbands mission that he guard and cultivate his wife. Technically though, Genesis 2:15 is not instructions for how we relate to our wives but how Adam (and humanity) relate the the Temple-Garden and exercise vice-regency. The wife is the helpmate to that mission not the object of it. Justin's point is right (men should guard and keep/cultivate their wives by ministering to them) but his use of this Scripture is at best an implication rather than the command of Genesis 2:15 he wants to make it. That said, husbands should guard and cultivate their wives. One would probably be better making the point from Song of Songs or Ephesians 5 since Genesis 2:15 relates to the garden of Eden.

2. Buzzard confused me with his imprecise notion that there was "gospel" given in the pre-fall state. He writes the following:
"Adam's Genesis 2:15 calling was meant to flow out of Adam's Genesis 1:31 identity. God told Adam what he thought about him; he gave Adam his approval--before Adam lifted a finger in the garden. Adam received his God-approved identity before he had a chance to do anything to prove himself. This is what we call grace, or the gospel--the good news of receiving favor from God that we don't deserve or earn." (p.73)
Buzzard is right that Adam had a royal endowment as being made in God's image. Adam had an identity in God. However, Adam was, I think, put on probation. Not all theologians and scholars agree with a covenant of works, but if true Adam was certainly not created in the eschatological glory state. His full identity was not there yet. So Adam's job obediently finished would have secured the garden had he obeyed (see Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theology). Adam didn't have it all and even then failed. Thus, Christ had to be second Adam passing the covenant probation by offering Adamic-obedience as well as atoning for sin. Buzzard seems to have a notion that Adam's fault was he tried to earn his identity, a salvation by works. But this to me misses the clear covenant probation in the garden.

More important, while Adam was gifted with a role in the garden, and that was from the kindness of God, it was neither grace nor gospel. Grace should clearly be seen as post-fall. Grace is generally defined as favor extended where wrath is deserved. There was God's favor in the garden on Adam pre-fall but not grace, which is post-fall. There is certainly not gospel until Genesis 3:15. That said, Buzzard's over all point seems true that Adam should have believed and accepted his identity as an empowering to do the task he was given.

In his attempt to get sinful husbands today to stop thinking they will "earn" their marriage's health and cultivate it in religion's 'salvation by works,' I think Buzzard pushes the "we can't earn it" paradigm too far back into the garden where clearly covenant works were both possible and noble.

3. Buzzard states the following about God's resolution in Genesis 3: 
"God listens. Then God curses. God doesn't curse Adam; God curses the Serpent" (p.75)
Buzzard's larger point is there is gospel in this passage when the serpent is cursed. The seed of the woman will crush the seed of the serpent. Amen. Yet it is a misstatement and false to say Adam is not cursed. Yes, the passage surprises us that Adam is not cursed first and even given hope in the curse of the serpent. But Adam is cursed. This is why cultivating and guarding is a failed endeavor in creation now. This is why Adam is removed from the garden. This is why there is death in creation.

With those concerns, the book is still excellent. It grounds dating one's wife in Biblical theology and the story of the gospel. It gives practical advice. It motivates not through guilt but through the sufficiency of the cross. It relies on justification: my identity is secure in Christ, I have all I need because of His work. It relies on sanctification: the Holy Spirit empowers us and changes us to respond to our wives.

Over all, again, a very good book. I would gladly pass it on to men in my church. Husbands: please get this book.

(Cross posted at "Christians in Context")

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why I believe 29 Year Old Divorcees Should Be Forbidden to Write About Marriage

Ok, I don't really believe that 29 year old divorcees should be forbidden to write about marriage. But it is strange that this article actually got published at all:

Editorial standards aren't what they used to be.

In fairness here are my stats:
Current age - 32
Happily Married for just shy of 12 years
Blessed with four kids (the first one came when I was 23).
Met my wife at age 17.
Married at age 20.

So maybe I have an axe to grind, but then no more than the author of the aforementioned essay.

If this article is the standard bearer for thoughts on marriage eligibility, perhaps we should forbid allowing anyone under the age of 30 to write anything for public consumption. Or better, perhaps we should forbid people 29 year old with such ideas from voting--so that we don't have to suffer from their stupid ideas becoming law.

Of course, everybody would agree with that this is the wrong solution to the problem of one bad essay. But isn't that the point: we see the obvious when you put it that way---yet this author is able to seriously argue that marriage should be forbidden before the age of 25. What's the evidence? Essentially: a bunch of people do it wrong.

The lines of argument for the essay are basically two fold.
(1) Personal experience.
While personal experience builds connection with an audience, it isn't supposed to be an argument for serious thoughts on any subject. The obvious reason is obvious: personal experience varies widely. Anyone equipped to pass a freshman course in logic or public speech should recognize this--if someone can't well lets make a mandatory age of 30 for graduating college. Fair is fair. 

(2) Argument from statistics.
To validate the personal experience, the author then turns to statistics. Statistics can be good. They are certainly more solid that personal experience. However, statistics are tricky things. Here's why this author essentially misuses them:

(a) Correlation does not equal causation. Again, freshman logic classes should have drilled home this point. Just because you can show that many young people get divorced doesn't mean that you have proven that the reason they are getting divorced is caused by the age at which they get married. 

The author's argument is a young person hasn't matured enough to make decisions. Unfortunately, statistics do not prove this. Typically this argument should be made from social sciences. Other articles have made that case. But I was flabbergasted that the typical argument: "it's unwise to get married young" [which may be true in some cases] has now moved to: "it should be illegal to get married young."

(b) "Is" doesn't equal "ought" or "ought not". This argument is a bit tricker because it involves ethics and metaphysics... twenty-nine year olds can't be expected to grasp such subtleties of these disciplines since we don't legislate them.

Here's the problem: the author argues from "is" e.g. "approximately 60 percent of marriages in which the couple marries between age 20 and 25 will end in divorce" and makes the leap to "ought not" e.g. it's best if "we could change the law to prevent couples from getting married before the age of 25."*awkward record scratch*

The buried presupposition is divorce is bad/evil or at least undesirable and we should therefore eliminate it. But a statistic doesn't prove that. Not even a statistic that says "85% of divorced people are unhappy" can help you make that leap. After all, sometimes even unhappy stretch us and cause us to grow.

What about Personal Liberty?
Since the article is bad all around, maybe we should limit the free speech. Too much sarcasm? 

As someone who is politically somewhere between conservatism and classical liberalism, I bristle at the very suggestion that the government should make another law to regulate private individual behavior. Besides isn't it always the progressives telling us the government can't "legislate morality"? But apparently we can legislate paternalism to protect people from making free choices. Hey where'd my 16oz soda go?

Puppy Love vs. Covenant Love
The ending to the article takes the cake for foolishness:
"Who knows? Maybe there are 20-year-olds that get married and stay madly in love for their whole lives. Maybe puppy love can last forever. 
Could be. Maybe there is such thing as fairies and unicorns too. 
Just saying..."

Well, of course puppy love doesn't last forever. As a pastor, with those I do pre-marital counseling I always try to ferret out the differences between naive starry-eyed puppy love and the true love that builds covenant commitments. The pastor who married my wife and me did the same for us.

True love, should be like God's unchanging steadfast loyal covenant love. The Bible uses the word hesed to describe this concept. 

In marriage this love is built over time. You change but you change together as a couple. Of course at 20 I knew very little about the world and even myself. But I made a covenant commitment to walk with my wife. We agreed to grow together. Our souls were being knit together by God.

I can honestly saw, I love my wife much more now then I ever did at 20. We still have our seasons romance and puppy love. But it grows out a covenant commitment and those things take work. They aren't just magic. But what do I know... maybe I should quite blogging and go feed the unicorns in the backyard with my wife. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

God's Immutability, Covenant Condescension & Bavinck

For Sunday School I am currently teaching a class on the attributes of God. This has provided me with fruitful meditations of the character of God. 

For simplicity's sake, in the class I have stuck to the classic distinction in the attributes of God of incommunicable attributes and communicable ones. I realize theologians offer different ways to organize them {such as moral and non-moral}. I also realize that even this incommunicable/communicable distinction is problematic because it can lead to thinking that incommunicable attributes are qualitatively different {e.g. we have 'presence' in space but God has omni-presence} while communicable ones are quantitative {e.g. we have 'love' and God has 'love' but just more of it}. This is insufficient and the danger must be guarded against. For reasons I won't expound here, we should think of the attributes of God in a way that holds archtypal and ectypal distinctions in all our relationships to God. 

Nevertheless, introductions to the attributes need to stay introductory. The incommunicable/communicable distinction is helpful for remember how God is fundamentally unlike us but also how we truly can bear the image of God.

Before I started the class I started reading this book just for my enjoyment. Having finished it, I find it incredible helpful in a key area regarding the doctrine of God and God's relationship to all his creation. I believe it offers a helpful and correct theological grid for thinking about some of the knotty theological and exegetical problems such as how can God in Scripture be described as both changing and unchanging. How can God be beyond time and eternal but also interact with his creation. In full disclosure, I did study in seminary under the author, yet I do find his paradigm of covenant condescension and the appeal to Christology and the incarnation to be precisely the "key" to unlocking thorny issues that come up in the doctrine of God.

So when it comes to God's immutability, God does not change in His nature yet because God has freely and willingly connected Himself to creation and taken on covenant attributes, God is in real relationships with his people. This involves God's response within creation without compromising His Lordship and absolute perfection over it. Thus God's aseity, immutability, eternality, infinity, etc. are all left uncompromised.

It is amazing to me how God's immutability is a doctrine that has fallen out of favor in contemporary evangelicalism whereas in Scripture it everywhere grounds the promises, reliability and trustworthiness of our great God.

Even more it is assumed that once we show a few passages of Scripture where God is described as changing we have defeated the doctrine without any references to clear passages where God does not change (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17; Numbers 23:19, etc.) Such shoddy handling of Scripture will not do.

We should not think that 'immutability' is a philosophical doctrine or that the traditional approach ignored a host of Scriptures related to God's seeming 'changeability.'

Here I find this extended quotation from Bavinck to be very helpful and thought provoking:

"This immutability, however, should not be confused with monotonous sameness or rigid immobility. Scripture itself leads us in describing God in the most manifold relations to all his creatures. While immutable in himself he nevertheless, as it were, lives the life of his creatures and participates in all their changing states. Scripture necessarily speaks of God in anthropomorphic language. Yet, however anthropomorphic its language, it at the same time prohibits us from positing any change in God himself. There is change around, about, and outside of him, and there is change in people's relations to him, but there is no change in God himself. In fact, God's incomprehensible greatness and, by implication, the glory of the Christian confession are precisely that God, though immutable in himself, can call mutable creatures into being. Though eternal in himself, God can nevertheless enter into time and, though immeasurable in himself, he can fill every cubic inch of space with his presence. In other words, though he himself is absolute being, God can give to transient beings a distinct existence their own. In God's eternity there exists not a moment of time; in his immensity there is not a speck of space; in his being there is no sign of becoming. Conversely, it is God who posits the creature, eternity which posits time, immensity which posits space, being which posits becoming, immutability which posits change. There is nothing intermediate between these two classes: a deep chasm separates God's being from that of all creatures. It is a mark of God's greatness that he can condescend to the level of his creatures and that, though transcendent, he can dwell immanently in all created beings. Without losing himself, God can give himself, and, while absolutely maintaining his immutability, he can enter into infinite number of relations to his creatures." (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol 2 pp.158-59.)
This to me is the way forward in thinking about the doctrine of God and theology. God is infinite yet He condescends in covenant. But then I think that way because my seminary professor drilled Westminster Confession 7.1 into our heads:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God's part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...