Category Archives: Commentary

Lori Alexander is right: serious Christian men prefer debt-free virgins without tattoos

Marriage stability vs sexual partners,(Teachman et al. JAMF, August 2010)
Marriage stability vs sexual partners,(Teachman et al. JAMF, August 2010)

Christian writer Lori Alexander recently wrote a blog post (H/T Lindsay) urging Christian women to do 3 things:

  1. be a virgin before marriage
  2. be debt-free before marriage
  3. don’t get any tattoos

She also urged women to be cautious about college, because it often gets them into debt. I disagree with her a little here. I always urge young women to earn a STEM degree in college, then work a few years to pay off their loans (if any) before marrying. This is because women, like men, need to have the experience of doing something hard that they don’t “feel” like doing, in order to grow. STEM degrees teach young people that the world doesn’t revolve around them, and that their feelings don’t matter when trying to solve a problem in the real world. It’s a very useful way for women and men to break themselves out of the desire for free and easy happiness that is so common in our time.

Lori’s article drew enormous opposition from both secular and Christian sources. So far, the only people defending her are men’s rights sites, like Dalrock (Christian) and Spawny (non-Christian). Every other “Christian” blog or news site that I read disagreed her article, and argued that premarital sex was no big deal, that having debt was no big deal, and that having tattoos was no big deal.

Let’s take a look at her three points, then I’ll explain why her article is largely correct, and why she is correct about what she asserts about the criteria that godly men have for women.

Even one non-husband premarital sex partner raises risk of divorce
Even one non-husband premarital sex partner raises risk of divorce

Virginity

Regarding her first point, virginity is commanded by the Bible, it’s in line with peer-reviewed studies on marriage quality and stability. The reason that people find this difficult is that they want the freedom to give in to sexual desires without feeling shame. They want to believe that there is no permanent effect. It doesn’t help that parents and pastors are terrified of telling young people, and young women in particular, that promiscuity harms marital stability. Right now, the culture is drowning in feminism. Feminism tells women that the traditional male roles of provider, protector, and spiritual leader are “sexist”. The “best” men are good-looking pro-abortion bad boys. If a Christian woman is not able to think through the meaning of sex with respect to marriage enough to control herself, it seriously harms the stability of her future marriage.

Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)
Starting and Mid-Career salaries by profession (click for larger image)

Debt-free

Regarding her second point, almost everything a serious Christian man might plan to do for Christ with his marriage is impacted by finances. From education, to marriage timing, to number of children, to home ownership, early investment, to the success of children. to age of retirement. Less money means fewer choices, and less ability to counter challenges. Think of how important money for legal defense is to Christian-owned businesses who are being persecuted, for example. The reason that many people find the Bible’s teaching on stewardship difficult is that they don’t want to exercise self-control with money if they don’t feel like it. They want to waste money seeking fun and thrills, and then act like their poverty could not be avoided. Being debt-free is an indicator of practical wisdom and self-control in a woman.

Hugh Hewitt's "In, But Not Of", Chapter 9: Tattoos, Don't
Chapter 9 of Hugh Hewitt’s “In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition”

Tattoos

Tattoos are a problem for serious Christian men for several reasons. First, they cost money and for no gain, and can even cause you losses in your career. Second, most people get them because of low self-esteem or vanity or to look rebellious or to look dangerous. None of these motivations should be acted upon by someone with a robust Christian worldview. The money could be better used on charity, or investments, etc. Women show what their priorities really are by how they spend their money and time. Show me a woman’s bookshelf, and I’ll tell you how seriously she has thought about what it means to be a Christian in all areas of life. Instead of showing me your tattoos to demonstrate your “spirituality”, show me your apologetics books, to demonstrate your intellectual engagement. And tell me how you used that information to engage in conversations with educated non-Christians to answer their challenges to your faith. That way I’ll know that you use your money to train do hard things in order to have an influence for Christ in serious, practical, effective ways. A woman who can defend her faith and discuss Christianity with non-Christians is demonstrating her ability to raise Christian children in a secular society.

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

The goal of marriage is to serve God

Today, young people have been taught to follow their hearts, and to deny that there is any authority or practical wisdom that should govern their decisions. They always imagine themselves to be exempt from moral rules, statistics, cause and effect, etc. They think they know better than everyone else – even though they do almost no research on their own. Every adviser who tells them to study computer science instead of creative writing is wrong. Their same-age friends know more about what causes divorces than peer-reviewed research papers. And money should be spent on skydiving and zip-lining, regardless of what financial experts like Dave Ramsey might say.

A woman who has made many mistakes cannot fix those mistakes with words. Rationalizations, evasions, and blame-shifting do not work to show that there has been real repentance. The man can only assess whether grace has caused any real re-prioritization of goals by evaluating her outward actions over a long period of time. Furthermore, if a woman who has made mistakes attacks those who correct her from Bible’s teachings on chastity, stewardship, etc., then it’s a sign that there is no real repentance.

Choosing a wife wisely doesn’t mean that Christian men treat OTHER Christian women poorly. Christian men love all the Christian women. We care for them and support them. But when a man chooses a wife, he is choosing someone who will have more influence on his ability to serve God than anyone else. In my case, the goals for my marriage involve making a difference with apologetics in the church, having many children who will receive the educations and careers they need to have an influence, influencing government to promote Christian-friendly policies, charitable giving, mentoring young Christians, modeling a good marriage to others, and having a home that can serve to host discussions about issues that matter. These things are not free – they take careful planning and execution to achieve.

Lori’s advice is  intended for men who are serious about making their marriage produce a return for God. Men who are chaste themselves. Men who accept the Bible as an authority. Men who earned STEM degrees, instead of easy nonsense degrees that don’t lead to good careers. Men who earn 6-figure salaries, who buy houses for cash, and who are on track have a 7-figure net worth by age 50. Men who made good decisions cannot risk marrying someone who hasn’t prepared for marriage. The wrong woman in the home could ruin the man’s effort to produce a marriage that gives glory to God.

Not every man intends to achieve something for God with his marriage, but those who do need to choose a woman who has demonstrated ability at doing the job. For example, if the job requires marital fidelity, then chastity is a good indicator that the woman has the necessary self-control. If the job requires frugality, and practicality, then being debt-free, having a STEM degree, and having some private sector work experience are good indicators that she’s qualified for the role. Nothing valuable in life is ever been achieved by being lazy, wild and irresponsible. Serious Christian men look for wives who have applied themselves to difficult tasks that they didn’t feel like doing, who achieved success by remaining committed to the plan, in spite of their unhappy feelings and unmet desires.

We have a problem in the church such that we aren’t serious about teaching young people to develop marriage-ready character and to make serious plans for marriage. We are teaching them to follow their hearts, and that their feelings and desires are clues about God’s will for their happiness. We are teaching them to be uncomfortable with responsibilities, expectations and obligations to others. We are teaching them not to do their own research. We are teaching them not to make practical, wise plans. We are teaching them to ATTACK those who try to get them to be serious about doing what is likely to work. This approach is not working.

My own criteria for a wife are more demanding than Lori’s. My advice there is only for serious Christian men who want their marriage to serve God.

Does the Bible teach that all judging of other people is wrong?

Policeman investigates crime scene for evidence
Policeman investigates crime scene for evidence

Today, most people seem to think that the most wonderful thing is to not judge anyone else. We’re told that morality is like personal preference… you just choose what you like. There is no standard of morality that exists objectively, in the same way as mathematics or logic exists. And besides, even if there were, the only reason to judge someone else would be to hurt them. Right?

I found an interesting article about judging from Christian apologist Timothy Fox, on the Freethinking Ministries web site. He starts out right away with one very good reason for judging – judging allows people who have experience and demonstrated ability to help those who are making mistakes to get better.

Timothy writes:

When you study to be an educator, you have to spend a certain number of hours as a student teacher, under the guidance of a veteran teacher. I remember my cooperating teacher telling me one of my strengths was that I took criticism well and was very open to it. I was shocked to hear this! I wanted to tell him he was crazy and that I hate criticism! But I was also well aware that he was the master and I was the apprentice and that it was his responsibility to help me to be the best teacher I could be. So I needed his criticism. (And I received a lot of it!) Whenever he gave me feedback, positive or negative, it wasn’t intended to stroke my ego or hurt my feelings. It was so I can learn and improve, to keep doing the good and to change the bad.

The same goes for many other things, such as sports. Athletes have coaches that train and guide. But what about normal, everyday life? That’s when we want people to leave us alone. Don’t tell me how to live. Don’t judge me.

In my life, I’ve been able to have success at a few things. Education for sure – I have a BS and MS in computer science which has allowed me to earn a good living. Finances… well, I’ve made a lot of mistakes with investing, but I was able to succeed (eventually!) just by maxing out my 401K and Roth IRA contributions every year. And I’m just coming up on my 21st year of full time work. So when I give people advice, it’s usually in those areas, or maybe in apologetics.

But that advice is not always well-received. Usually, the people I’m advising just find themselves some nice yes-men and yes-women who will agree with them that having fun “in the moment” won’t close any doors down the road. It doesn’t work, but that’s how judging is received. Cut off the judge, and find yourself some yes-men and yes-women. And when your plan doesn’t work, just say that it wasn’t your fault.

People often cite a passage in the Bible about not making judgments, Matthew 7:1-6. But does it really say that?

1“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Here’s what Timothy Fox had to say about those verses:

Jesus’ point is not not to judge (note the double negative). It’s “Don’t be a hypocrite!” Verse 5 commands us to clean up our own junk, then to help clean up your friends’. He’s stating the obvious, that when you criticize people, they will turn around and criticize you back. So make sure your closet is clean first! And how do you know who the “dogs” and “pigs” are (v. 6)? Wouldn’t you have to judge them?

And then there is John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Here Jesus is differentiating between proper and improper judgement. But he still commands to judge!

The reason for many of Paul’s letters is to correct some kind of nonsense going on in a church. In 1 Corinthians 5, he writes angrily that the church is not judging sin in their midst (and it’s quite the sin – go read it!). In verse 12, he rhetorically asks “Are you not to judge those inside [the church]?” And in the following verse, he plainly states to remove the “wicked person” from their midst. Here Paul is criticizing the church for not judging when they should have, even to the extent of excommunicating an unrepentant church member.

He concludes:

More often than not, the ones who cry “Don’t judge me!” the loudest are the ones who need it the most, whether it’s due to insecurity, pride, or flat-out rebellion. But let us not forget that Jesus was full of truth and grace. We desperately need both in our dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ, when we give correction as well as when we receive it. It’s never pleasant to hear some hard (but loving) truth, but remember the first half of Proverbs 27:6: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Do we like it? Of course not. But we need it. And more than that, the Bible commands it.

Obviously, it doesn’t feel good to admit you’re wrong, but if you want to achieve results, then the quickest way to do that is to listen to people who have already achieved results. The world isn’t as “random” as many people want to believe. You get to make choices, and there are best practices. When you see someone failing to achieve their goals, it doesn’t do them any good to tell them to follow their hearts and it’s not their fault when they fail. The best thing to do is to show them what to do differently, and help them to do it.

Don’t dismiss best practices for Christian living as “legalism” and “denying grace”

Telling a woman how to make wise decisions protects her
Telling a woman how to make wise decisions protects her

On Sunday, I listened to a very interesting discussion between Sean McDowell and Jessica van der Wyngaard on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable show. The topic was on the pros and cons of purity culture. I didn’t know a thing about “purity culture”, and had never read any books about it. I didn’t really disagree with anyone on the podcast, but I did want to say something about it in a blog post.

Description:

20 years ago Joshua Harris was the poster boy of the evangelical ‘purity movement’ having authored the bestselling book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’. Today, Harris regrets writing the book, and has also recently changed his mind about Christianity.

Justin is joined by Jessica van der Wyngaard, director of the documentary film ‘I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye’, and Christian apologist Sean McDowell, to discuss purity culture, singleness and the Joshua Harris story.

The MP3 file is here.

First, here’s a brief summary of what everyone said on the podcast:

  • JW: the book urged people to give up dating in favor of courting and suggested other rules that would guarantee a successful marriage to your soul-mate
  • JW: some of the rules proposed by the book were not Biblical
  • JW: I’m not a virgin and I’m in early-30s, but I accept that we should teach what the Bible says about abstinence
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you remain sexually pure, God will give you a spouse and bless you in the future
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you have premarital sex, you will be tainted forever
  • SM: I’m afraid that those reacting against purity culture will build a sexual ethic solely based on their shame, their hurt, their concern about legalism, and this will not help the next generation
  • SM: let’s have a balanced Biblical approach to sexuality instead
  • SM: there is scientific data to back up the Bible’s teaching that marriages work better when sex occurs only within a marriage
  • SM: it’s a mistake to define your spiritual standing based on whether you are a virgin or not
  • SM: following the Bible’s rules for sexuality is an important part of discipleship
  • SM: the Bible is replete with examples of people restoring their standing before God through forgiveness and redemption

Right now, we are living in a secular culture where people are hooking up, having premarital sex, living together, and breaking up far more often than in the past. There is this pattern of choosing partners based on secular criteria: outward appearance and ability to entertain. And this approach to dating – choosing people for the wrong reasons, and trying to force a commitment using premarital sex – is now common practice, even among Christians.

I think people should have a plan to counter this trend that’s realistic and guided by studies and evidence. For example, studies show that people who have no sexual partners before marriage are more likely to still be married 10 years later. Studies show that cohabitation negatively impacts the stability of a future marriage. It’s difficult to accept that this is the way the world is, but if a stable marriage is a goal for you, then you should care about the best practices for having a stable marriage.

Take a different example. Suppose you have a lot of shame and bad feelings over having run up $90,000 of student loans. Now your retirement will be much more difficult. The answer to these feelings of shame is not to say that you can invoke “grace” and that will make everything OK. It won’t. It might help you to make better decisions going forward, but that debt is going to affect your future spouse, your future marriage and your future children.

There are real costs to these behaviors for your future, and being forgiven through Jesus’ atonement isn’t going to instantly make the effects of those choices disappear. It’s good to warn young people about these costs. It’s also good to help people who have made mistakes undo the damage by investing in them. I don’t want us to throw out evidence-based best practices as “legalism”, because they help us to reach the discipleship goals specified for us in the Bible.

The goals of the Bible (e.g. – not aborting, not divorcing) are good goals. If we find out from science that premarital promiscuity or cohabitation reduce our odds of achieving that goal, then it’s a mistake to dismiss that evidence because it make us feel bad about our past. It’s not legalism to investigate evidence and consult wise advisors in order to choose how best to achieve goals like marriage. That’s actually being wise.  Making good decisions doesn’t give you the right to be proud and compare yourself to others, but it is good to make good decisions for yourself, and to share your reasoning with those who ask you.

I agree with the speakers that purity culture is wrong to promise people a happy marriage if they only keep their virginity. That’s just the prosperity gospel, and it really is not a Biblical view of the Christian life.

People who choose to have premarital sex haven’t separated themselves from marriage. But studies indicate that they have damaged the stability of their future marriage if they do nothing to counteract the effects of their choices. And I think there is more to counteracting these bad effects than just stating to your partner “Jesus forgives me, so you can’t judge me”. The focus of the “no-rules because I feel ashamed” crowd doesn’t seem to be on taking the damage seriously and fixing it. Their focus seems to be on not being judged.

I don’t think that a cursory response (“don’t judge me!”) is adequate to undo the damage from premarital sex. But if a person is willing to be honest about their past, and put in the work to understand the effects of premarital sex on their future marriage, renew their minds, and re-establishing their bonding ability, then they should be able to fully counteract the damage. I have met people who have done this, and you can see in their choices and lifestyle that there’s been a complete turning against their former use of sex for fun and attention and self-esteem. It’s not “idolizing virginity and idolizing marriage” to look at the data, and make choices that are likely to lead to a stable marriage.