“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is edifying. No one should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
Many people are reacting today to the news of the breakup of the marriage of Josh Harris, the author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, that advocated a “better way” for Christians to maneuver the tricky waters of courtship and marriage.
I am never happy to hear of the breakup of a marriage, especially a Christian one. So I ask you to join me in praying for Josh and his wife, that they can be reconciled.
However, I have a point to make.
I believe one of the most misunderstood factors in today’s world of “political correctness” is the meaning of culture. We live not just in denial of the existence of culture and customs, but we live in ignorance that they even exist. No more poignant illustration exists of this fact that the latest tweet of President Trump criticizing four American congresswomen who are women of color. (By the way, I found his tweet appalling and an attempt to disenfranchise these women, three of which were born in the United States.)
However, there is a back story here, a background of ignorance and denial that cultural perspectives are real. This is the elephant in the room, and needs to be taken into consideration in a positive but realistic way. In the public debate about immigration there seem to be two sides who are both equally ignorant. One says all immigrants are great, no matter how different their worldview and government assumptions are from those of the United States of America. The other says all immigrants are bad, regardless of the potential and the needs of families and individuals.
But back to Josh Harris and Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Culture is normally defined as a system of perspectives and values that have been accumulated by a certain society over their long existence, or the way a people think. Customs are normally defined as a system of the ways these values are expressed, or the way a people act. Customs are seen and culture is unseen.
As systems, they have balance and symbiotic relationship with one another, as well as checks and balances within the system. Cultures and customs exist together like the ecology of a certain natural environment, and as systems, you cannot mess with one part of the system without in some way shaking up other parts of the system.
Dating, courtship, and marriage are major parts of every culture and custom system, and you cannot tinker with one part of the system that has been developed over centuries without very likely missing something important.
I do not know Josh Harris and certainly do not know his marriage problems. But I thought his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” was well-intended but ill-advised as a “solution” to what ailed the American system of courtship and marriage. Radical social solutions generally do not work in cultures simply because they generally are one person’s or one generation’s idea to correct a solution that society as a group has made over several centuries. Some key components are bound to be missed.
Josh himself wrote on his blog:
…to those of you who benefitted from my book, I am so grateful that something I wrote helped you. The fact that a flawed man could write a flawed book and somehow that could help some people is amazing to me. But, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, if a car serves some people but a flaw in its design causes damage to others, good intentions by the carmaker and even the endorsement of other customers don’t override the problem. I cannot recall all the copies of my book that have been published. However, my public critique in written and documentary form, and the numerous media interviews I’ve done in the past two years, are my attempt to both apologize and spread the word of about the problems I see in it.
There is some audacity in the very idea that one person could re-invent courtship and marriage for a society. Such ideas as best taken as suggestions to be considered. The old saying, “Never tear down a fence until you know why it was put there in the first place,” respects this idea of the working-together of elements of a culture. So, I am disappointed that his marriage failed, but the general advice of generations of Christian cross-cultural missionary work is to seek to redeem the cultural institutions and let the Holy Spirit lead to gradual change.
The culture of the Kingdom of God is found in the Bible, and particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, but there Christ dealt with deeper issues of the heart and did not seek to tinker with the many outward institutions and customs of society. Eugene Nida stressed that Christianity teaches moral ideals but in their application there is a “relative relativism.” The Bible says, “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).
Step by step, bit by bit, we redeem the time in whatever culture we exist in. There is no one single “Christian Culture” mandated on earth that requires that all Christians must wear the same clothes, pray at the same hour, eat the same foods, or go through the exact same customs of life. We have freedom under the Lordship of Christ, under the freedom of the Spirit, and under the teachings of the Word to follow Christ as He leads us.
The teachings of the apostle Paul were to seek the good of others, to see how we might improve life on this earth as we bow our knees and submit our hearts to the Spirit of Christ, and the word of God. So it is best to go slow and seek the Lord’s leadership step by step.