Dating. . .

Yeah, I’m bringing it up. What can I say? I’m a romantic.

As a single guy, it’s something that’s on my mind quite a bit. But as a guy in full-time ministry, it’s something I try to avoid doing too much. I mean, I’ve certainly gone on my fair share of dates in the past, not to mention a fairly long and serious relationship that God decided to put an end to. But I’m slowly learning that, while dating isn’t off-limits to me, it’s unwise to do so prolifically.

I’m sort of just rummaging through some of my thoughts here, and I doubt I’ll have anything terribly insightful, meaningful, or even coherent to say. I’m mostly just journaling and posing some questions that I hope those of you who are single and following Jesus will take into consideration or perhaps even answer.

coupleWe’ve all heard the clichéd statement, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” For a follower of Jesus, that sea is considerably smaller. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but our standards should be higher than others around us. For starters, if you’re truly seeking to obey Christ, you’re not going to date someone who doesn’t, at the very least, believe Jesus to be Messiah, Savior, and King over all.

But if you’re reading this blog, odds are that you’re following Jesus and want to mirror him in your decision-making, particularly in this area of life. So you’re probably not looking for someone who is a nominal Christian, but instead you’re looking for someone who is actively following and obeying him. The sea gets even smaller still.

Allow me to pause here on my “sea” analogy and reflect on something that takes place in Christianity that kinda bothers me. There’s an awful lot of pressure on dating. Why? Why can’t we just go out for a movie/dinner/coffee with someone of the opposite sex? Why is there such a stigma surrounding it?

coffee-dateWhy does it feel like the pressures of marriage surround our attempts at going on dates? Yes, it’s true that every girl I go out with is a potential wife, but dwelling on that thought is only ruining the good time that we could be having.

I don’t know how true this is in your life, but I have a tendency to put an inordinate amount of pressure on a first date. Yes, I want to make a good impression, but seriously, it’s a first date. I really should just be having fun, enjoying her company, and taking it one step at a time.

Anyway, back to the fish in the sea. I’ve established that the sea is small for Christians, smaller still for obedient Christians (which, shouldn’t we all be?), and now for me. Because this blog is about me anyway, right? ☺

I had a friend who was in full-time ministry who began dating a pretty awesome girl. She loved Jesus and was certainly committed to growing closer to him. She was an active part of the church community, and while they were dating, she was quite supportive of my friend. (I’m going to call them Stan and Brita from now on.)

This is far more nuanced a story than how I’m recounting it, but for the sake of my post, I’m going to stick with relevant portions of the story.

Stan and Brita got engaged, and over the course of their engagement, it became pretty clear that in order for their marriage to work, Stan had to leave the ministry. It wasn’t because Brita was the wrong girl or anything, and there were other reasons for Stan’s departure besides the upcoming marriage. The couple is still actively engaged in their church, even volunteering in the ministry that Stan once shepherded. But he left full-time ministry to marry Brita.

I guess the point I’m making is this: there appears to be a unique kind of girl that can be in a relationship with a guy who is in full-time ministry. I could be wrong here, but a girl who can’t handle the rigors of her significant other’s ministry—which will undoubtedly put a lot of strain on their relationship given the necessary stressors of his job—probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who is in full-time ministry.

Granted, biblically, the relationship a guy has with his wife should come before all other responsibilities. And so, given the charge to properly “love your wife,” a guy should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of his wife. But by the same token, the life of someone in full-time ministry looks very different from someone who’s job stays at the office. Even someone whose work comes home from time to time.

I suppose that really narrows it down for me, doesn’t it? Or, in keeping with my analogy, shallows it out.

Again, I could be way off base here. Because what’s to say that a woman can’t learn to adapt to her husband’s lifestyle?

Another thought, and this one is again pretty specific to me. I have a rule for myself where I’ve decided that I won’t date anyone on my team. Period. I have another rule where I won’t date anyone that I’m ministering alongside, regardless of whether she’s on my team. I’m considering extending that rule to the congregation at large. I can’t think of any healthy scenario in which I started dating someone who attends the church where I lead a ministry.

I like my rule, and it helps keep me safe and above reproach. But it’s been challenged even by the story I mentioned above. Brita was one of Stan’s volunteers. It worked for them.

(I also have a rule about not dating someone I’ve met online, but that rule is in place for a whole different set of reasons.)

Practically speaking, dating someone you serve with seems a little unhealthy and just a bit dangerous. And I wouldn’t use Stan and Brita’s story as a model for normative dating scenarios. At my college, you weren’t allowed to date anyone you were serving in a ministry together with. It’s a bit extreme, but I think I understand the heart behind it. You’re there to complete a task in serving Jesus through blessing your community. It’s unwise to throw a dating relationship into that mix.

For me, everything that I’ve mentioned in this post really limits my dating options. Which, as I type out this sentence, I’m discovering is actually a very beneficial thing for me. My life, vocation, and career are all completely devoted to serving Christ in overt ways. I really shouldn’t be muddying that up by dating within my ministry environment. And limited dating options helps to keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be doing: serving Christ full-time.

So there’s my thought vomit on the topic of dating. Like I said, this isn’t a post where I wanted to share any valuable insights or coherently discuss a topic. I just wanted to put my thoughts out in the open and see what you think.

Rob Bell vs. John Piper. . .

I’ve decided to return from my blog hiatus with a different type of post than I’ve done before.

Rob Bell’s upcoming book Love Wins is already on trial more than a month before it’s released.

On February 26, Justin Taylor denounced Bell in a post on his blog, and John Piper dismissed Bell in a post on Twitter.

Here’s the trailer for the book in question:

So where do I fall on this?

It’s no big secret to my friends and co-workers that I’m fascinated by Bell’s teaching techniques, his writing style, and his ability to captivate an audience through an artistically smart medium. He’s culturally savvy, yet not flashy or in-your-face like so many pastors and churches are becoming these days (arguing ad nauseam that in order to be hip and cool you’ve got to be loud and obnoxious. . . I love you, Perry Noble, but please, relax a little).

But now accusations are being thrown in light of the possibility that Bell might be a universalist.

This battle is nothing new. Bell has often fallen under fire from Neo-Calvinists like Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris who follow in Piper’s footsteps and view Bell as a liberal compromiser (though perhaps not in the same way that a Fundy might call someone a “liberal compromiser”). Ever since Velvet Elvis was released, the Reformed camp has been searching for one opportunity after another to roast Bell.

And in response, Bell’s supporters and the hipster evangelicals hurl accusations at the side where Driscoll, Harris, Piper, and Taylor rest, calling them “smug, legalistic jerks who care nothing for loving people.”

Lines are drawn in the sand. The Neo-Calvinists attract intellectuals because of their systematic approach to studying scripture. They work hard to affirm the orthodox tenets of historic (whether traditional or non) evangelical theology. The hipster evangelicals attract artists and their ilk because of their narrative approach to theology.

The sides are angry with each other because one side appears to be spurning the Apostles’ Creed while the other side appears to be punching people in the face with it.

“Even worse, both sides often make the assertion they stand in for God, even as they both deny they do so. When statements like, ‘Either believe this or you aren’t an orthodox Christian’ or, ‘I think God is tired of iron clad,’ get thrown around, you know that both sides believe they are speaking for God.”

~Rev. Jonathan Weyer

I’m reminded of Christ’s parable “The Lost Son” from Luke 15.11-32. We often think of this as the story of a prodigal son, but in reality, it’s a story about two sons and their father’s transcendent love.

The younger son, like Bell and his hipster evangelical followers, dismissed his father’s love by spurning the home he’s built for his children (the “home” of theological orthodoxy). The older son (Piper and the Neo-Calvinists), while staying close to home, dismissed his father’s love by rejecting his embrace of the younger son.

I want to approach this debate in a different way. If you pinned me down and asked me what my beliefs are, I would affirm the truths set forth by Driscoll, Piper, and Taylor. But I can’t line up with them on this debate.

I think there’s more at play here than orthodoxy vs. liberalism. If it were simply about that, I’d fall on the side of orthodoxy in nearly every argument. But it’s not anymore.

It’s quickly becoming about how one side of evangelicalism treats the other side of evangelicalism with disdain. “You don’t love people like we do! You’re a bunch of jerks!”

Or “You don’t affirm the tenets set forth in the Nicene Creed. You’re preaching a false gospel!”

I’ll wait to talk about Bell until after Love Wins comes out. And afterwards I will continue to read his writings, listen to his sermons, and watch his Nooma videos regardless of whether he skews orthodox or universalist.

But I will do so as I always should have—with one or two grains of salt.

Why continue gleaning from his teachings? First, because he teaches from a fresh perspective on Jesus. He still preaches Christ, the Son of God. He still preaches Christ, crucified and resurrected, however off his interpretation of heaven and hell may (or may not, we’ll have to wait till the 29th to find out for sure) be. And second, because he remembers something that many Neo-Calvinists sometimes forget: part of being missional is being approachable.