Friday, October 28, 2005

On the Book, "Emotional Purity"

I've just finished going over the book, "Emotional Purity," by Heather Paulsen. What follows are my thoughts and responses.

If the author were simply trying to say that men and women should watch how much they give of their hearts and emotions in a relationship, that would be fine. I would agree. If a man or woman continue in an undefined relationship after realizing they have feelings for each other, and do not talk it out, there could be problems. However this is not her point; her point is that you need to have a verbal commitment that you will either be looking at or not looking at marriage, and if you don't have that verbal commitment, don't hang out. The author assumes that young men and women not only don't have but CAN'T have the self-control to handle a relationship without defining it at the outset. So we see that this, like other legalistic teachings, substitutes teaching self-control through the Spirit with a set of rules and guidelines. This is a point at which the author's teaching is tragic, spiritually.
Another problem with legalistic teaching is, that is takes the responsibility of off the sinner and places it on the sin. For example, if a man sees a barely dressed woman at a bar and picks her up for a night of sin, its not the bar's fault, or the alcohol's fault, or the woman's fault for having hardly any clothes on. It is the man's fault. I am tired of hearing the line that women can defraud men with their dress, which the author uses in chapter four as a parallel to her idea of emotional defrauding. The fact that women should watch how they dress does not mean that the responsibility is not mine as far as lust.
Similarly, it is YOUR fault if you give another too much of your emotions and heart. That's your responsibility to set personal limits, and it doesn't require forbidding close relationships with the opposite gender.

Just because marriage is on the table doesn't mean marriage is in the future, just as those who have never talked about it can't rule it out. The question is one of God's will and when and how we know. Even following the author's teaching the type of heartbreak she is trying to prevent can still happen in a situation where a marriage minded couple breaks up because one of them has decided it wasn't God's will. The author's teaching limits God in how He can bring people together who He would have together, who might otherwise never consider each other for marriage. Consider the situation of a couple who have made a commitment to each other that they are not pursuing marriage. (Similar to one of the author's relationships that she describes in her book.) Then the man one day begins to feel that it is God's will for them to look at marriage. What is he to do?
More profoundly, the author's teaching violates the Scriptural principle of God's word being a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. God does not show us much of the future for very good reasons. He gives us the next step or two and expects us to trust Him and keep Him central in our lives.
Any disappointment we have concerning the outcome of situations stems not from our inability to plan, if we have been doing His will. It comes from our not being close enough to Him, and the solution is to seek God, not set out plans by which we hope to avoid disappointment in the future. In this way the author's prescription is tragic yet again, as it misses a unique opportunity for singles to find their way closer to God.
In any case, it is extremely presumptuous to say you are playing with the heart of another person's spouse when neither of you know what God has planned.

The author's theological justification for her teaching of emotional purity is extremely lacking. She posits that because Christ won't be intimate until a commitment is made (salvation), singles should not be emotionally intimate until there is a commitment. Keep in mind, the commitment the author is speaking of is not marriage, but a commitment to seek marriage.
This idea ends up in a number of absurdities. If intimacy is OK after the commitment to seek marriage, why not have physical intimacy as well as emotional intimacy? After the all, the author strongly equates the two.
Secondly, we have to come to the absurd conclusion that Christ won't be intimate before salvation because He doesn't want to be let down. This is in complete contradiction to the great foundational gospel truth that it is SIN that separates us from God. Christ would gladly be intimate with us were it not for sin, and He does become intimate with us once we become positionally justified at salvation. As for being let down, Christians let Him down all the time. Christ would have to refuse salvation completely if He didn't want to be let down.

In chapter three the author goes so far as to call emotional intimacy she considers inappropriate, "emotional fornication". She uses the analogy of a lollipop to illustrate that just as you would not want to have a lollipop that everyone has licked, so there is a spoiling that comes with being emotionally intimate with those who are not to be your spouse. This raises an important issue- is emotional intimacy intrinsically wrong outside of marriage? Maybe I am emotionally intimate with a relative. Do we then have "emotional incest"? I have a few close male friends with whom I am pretty intimate with about myself. Is this "emotional homosexuality"? So then to equate emotional attachment with fornication is completely false. I am afraid the author is guilty of sensationalizing like this at many places in the book.

In chapter four the author writes about "Defrauding". She uses I Ths 4:3-6 as her text to show that we should not defraud one another through inappropriate emotional intimacy. Having already attempted to tie emotional intimacy with physical intimacy, I assume she expects the readers to excuse the fact that this passage is about sexual sin, not emotions. She uses the NASB here which reads "sexual immorality". The KJV reads "fornication," which is basically the same. The Greek here is "porneia," which is definitely referring to the physical. That the passage is specifically about the body can be seen in v.4- "vessel," referring to the body, although some commentators say this is referring to a man's wife. As a matter of fact, the ESV translates it as "body." Also, cross referencing v.5 with I Cor 5:1 (reputation of the Gentiles) should help make clear the fact that this passage is much more specific to sexual sin than the author would make it out, or like it, to be. The author has no right or basis to use this passage to backup her argument.

In chapter six the author finally admits that you can have a honorable relationship without trying to define it, through self-control and closeness to God, but then chapter seven is titled "Commitment Equals Protection." She would rather the single person choose wringing a commitment out of the opposite gender rather than enjoying natural relationships where expectations are level because we keep God central and take His power.

The rest of the book deals with related topics and adds little extra information to the main idea. As you can see, the idea is not something I feel is helpful to Christian singles. It is the type of error that is overreaction to a valid concern.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Church Politics

Where there is a hierarchy, there is politics.

I was thinking about this because in a lot of churches, certain functions or jobs (volunteer, not staff) are limited to those selected by another volunteer leader who has backing from a higher leader. I am not talking about situations in which you have to gain trust- I am not advocating putting anyone quickly into whatever place of service they want. I am talking about situations where proven Christians can't break through into a certain area of ministry.

Where there is politics, there is at least one person with an agenda.

Hierarchial organizations may not be headed by those with an agenda but they are steered by them. Also to note that you may be progressing in a ministry that you would never suspect is under the influence of someone with an agenda and suddenly hit the wall and found out, that is the case. I am necessarily not talking about getting into leadership positions here.
Unfortunately most churches have handful of people, both volunteer and staff, that have decided how they want things and have the right connections and so there are agendas.

It's worse when the multi-layered leadership model (hierarchy) is implemented so strongly as to bind a leader from taking action on anything that is handled by a leader under him. This essentially means that there is no real grievance process.

My reaction to all this? I don't care. I'll volunteer in a few places and help some but I won't tie my sense of spiritual accomplishment or well-being to the function of the organization that I presently call church. God and I continue to work on me and I live my own life, and the organization called church is an auxiliary piece of that, that I include as something that God wants as a part of my life.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Emotional Purity

I am just starting to look at this whole "emotional purity" thing, I have bought the book sold by my church so I can study it more ("Emotional Purity" by Heather Paulsen, but right out of the gate I am really not buying it. It seems to me that while extremely conservative IFB churches have always advocated courtship, the hard-right "emotional purity" teaching has only gained the ascendancy within the last few years, with people like SM Davis, etc.
Basically, the whole emotional purity thing goes like this.
1. You wouldn't get involved physically before marriage, right?
2. Well then, you shouldn't get involved emotionally either, until such time as you have gotten parental permission to court the girl with the goal of marriage. You should have emotional as well as physical purity.
While SM Davis may be more of an IFB phenomenon, the "emotional purity" idea has attracted a fair amount of attention in the broader evangelical scene, especially with Joshua Harris' book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." The response seems polarized between those who despise the concept and those who love it. This type of response, to me, indicates a lack of serious grounding within the church on what the Bible teaches about the young adult years- a very broad topic that covers everything from parental authority to physical purity to vocational choices to relationships between genders. One important thing to note from the outset when attempting to understand what the Bible says about how a young person should conduct themselves, is that all of these subtopics are intertwined. We have too many books on these various subtopics and not enough writing on how these fit together to give us a model of a Godly young person.
I am going to put together some type of study/response to the book mentioned before, but having read up through the first two chapters I have made some observations. In her acknowledgement she tells us that SM Davis was basically a starting point for her on this. I wonder where Joshua Harris got the idea from... it will interesting to try and trace out the men who are sources of this idea, but right now SM Davis is the big fish so far.
Paulsen's book is more of high-level treatment of the subject, than a in-depth study of Scripture. In chapter two she begins to try and develop a Biblical case for the idea of "emotional purity," and she does not appear to have really thought through her use of Scripture, or paid enough attention to context, but I'll save criticisms for after I have read whole book. However, I am thinking I will have to buy SM Davis 9-tape series to really get a nuts and bolts treatment of the topic.
Another thing that stood out to me was the fact that the book seems written for women. The fictional story in the beginning of the book is about how a girl gets her heart broken by a guy who leads her on then dumps her. I would hope that later in the book the author would deal with this from a man's point of view. We'll see. If "emotional purity" is as important as she makes it out to be, she must do this.
One final note. Both in the forward and in the introduction the "emotional purity" issue us made out to be a traditional teaching lost in recent years. I do not know if the person who wrote the forward or the author is IFB or not, but if one thing has been demonstrated quite clearly to me in my studies of IFB error, it is that these people don't understand history. A solid understanding of historical facts is enough in most cases to debunk stuff like KJVO, dress standards, music standards, etc. without even picking up a Bible. So the cynic in me wins here and I don't expect to see the author back up this particular assertion. Why is it important that she do this? Because her statements in this regard form a "hook" that pulls the reader into giving more credibility to her argument because it is presented as a traditional belief.
While I am on the topic of historical ignorance as a cornerstone of IFB error, I will also point out another form of fundamentalist ignorance: cultural ignorance. Unfortunately this cultural ignorance manifested itself in out-and-out racism a la Scofield and the Hamitic Curse, among other things, like the BJU ban on interracial dating. The pairing of male and female is HIGHLY dependant on cultural traditions and expections and so I expect a lot of the argument for "emotional purity" to end up confusing cultural tradition with church teaching (yet again...sigh).

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rewards and I Cor 3

In the churches I have been in, the fiery test of I Cor 3 has always been taught as a test of the Christian's works at the judgement. I began to have doubts about that recently and so I did a check of some classic commentaries to see what others have to say.

Overview of Interpretation:

Darby, Geneva, Gill, Wesley, Henry, PNT commentaries:

Foundation: Salvation in Christ
Building: Edification
Materials: Solid or Worthless Teaching
Rewards: Successful life b/c of application of sound understanding of doctrine
Fire: Unsuccessful life lived vainly, not understanding God's word

IFB churches (Sword/Hammond):

Foundation: Salvation in Christ
Building: Work
Materials: Eternal or Temporal Works
Rewards: Rewards based on work performed, or work w. good motives
Fire: No rewards because no work was performed, or not out of right motives

The traditional view is seen to be quite different than the IFB view. Of course I’ll get to the text later but the thing that jumped out at me first was the jump from salvation to work, in the IFB interpretation. In the traditional view, work is implied as the result of teaching, either good or bad as the case may be.

I Cor 3 (KJV)

8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building.
10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

- Notice the change in focus. In v.8 and the first part of v.9 Paul talks about the individual’s labor and his reward for that. In the last half of v.9 Paul calls the individual, God’s labor. So there is a shift from what a man does for Christ to what work goes on in a man- a man’s spiritual growth.

11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

- Whatever spiritual growth takes place must start with a personal relationship with Christ.

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

- Build upon what foundation? Jesus Christ. Who is building? Those who edify to spiritual growth. Remember, the end of v.9 & v.10 set the context, as growth in grace, NOT works of ministry.

13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.
14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. (15) If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

- So what we are talking about here is what kind of Christian are you, as a teacher and discipler, producing? Are you producing a Christian sound in doctrine, able to gain rewards? Or, are you producing a Christian who barely gets in?

Looking at the text Paul actually deals with both types of work. In vs.8-9a Paul tells us that a Christian can labor for rewards. But in vs.9b-14 Paul tells us what produces a Christian that gains rewards- sound doctrine and teaching, without which the Christian can’t earn rewards, because they can’t labor according to God’s will.

I observe that the emphasis is not placed upon the laboring Christian so much as it is upon the equipper- the teacher. To Paul it seems that a well-equipped Christian would inevitably produce good works and gain rewards. Paul’s bigger concern was that those who teach, guide, and disciple other Christians do it properly, and teach thoroughly and soundly, and not teach vain and worthless “doctrines” that will not help the Christian weather the fiery trials of faith.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

A Random Bite of Obviousness

The parent who does not provide for their own future cares nothing about their child's.