Part 1: Who Am I and Why this Blog
To write a blog about marriage is a brave task. We live in a world where it is dangerous to talk about anything relating to men and women because there is no unanimous agreement about what men and women are. Narrowing our focus a bit, even among Bible-believing Christians there is great disagreement about the relations between men and women, especially with regard to marriage. Traditional understandings of marriage have been challenged, and sometimes for very good reasons. As Jesus so often reminded us “traditional” does not automatically equal “biblical,” much less “godly.”
So why me? Why would I choose to write a blog on this topic when I know that, no matter what I say, I am painting a target on my back for some groups (maybe all, I shall step on many toes before I’m done). And what on earth would make me dare to think I am qualified to write on such a subject? And why should anyone care what I have to say? To answer these questions I am going to begin by telling you a story. A story of a boy and girl who fell in love and…
A 20 year old Pete Vik was full of juice, full of dreams, and full of himself. Embarking on the beginning of his biblical studies, in preparation for future ministry, he met a girl who was full of love, compassion and humility – Andrea. No doubt, you see how this combination had dangers lurking in the shadows. Pete and Andrea had a shared love for Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the purity of the Christian gospel. This led to a close friendship, a dating relationship and a marriage. Two starry-eyed kids in love. As Tom Petty so eloquently said, “The future was wide open.”
But instead of going to Hollywood and getting tattoos, we went to Dallas Seminary – enter the conflict.
I will not bore you with the many details of the seminary journey. Suffice it to say this was a great challenge to Pete and Andrea’s marriage. But why? Why on earth would the place that is jokingly called “The Center of the Theological Universe” present such a challenge? The truth is that Pete loved seminary too much. He didn’t love Jesus too much, you can’t do that. He didn’t love the Bible too much, you can’t do that. He loved seminary too much. You can do that.
Pete had spent his life in the world of the second rate. Second rate academic, second rate athlete, second rate karate guy…I could go on, but as the Austrian beauty famously said, “let’s not.” But Pete was not second rate at seminary. He was really good at it. He had an aptitude for speed reading theological books and understanding them. He was a wiz at writing papers. He had great questions in classes, and he even became halfway decent at biblical languages. Finally, Pete had found his place. Finally, he had his chance. A chance not to be sidelined and ignored. A chance to matter. A chance to be somebody! A chance to be somebody! A chance to be somebody! Yes, finally, it seemed that Dallas Theological Seminary afforded Pete Vik a chance to be somebody. Pete was to spend many years realizing just how important this was to him. Man, this is getting embarrassing. But we must press on.
Just for a humorous insert, for Pete the prospect being somebody didn’t mean being a movie star, or even a megachurch pastor. It meant earning advanced degrees and a chance at publishing technical works on theology and New Testament Greek. We all have our universe.
Pete got so focused on his education and later career that he neglected his wife’s needs quite significantly. Had Andrea not had such a strong commitment to Christ and to marriage, their marriage would have failed. This kind of thing is all to common in intense academic programs, including, if not especially, seminary programs. But why? Allow me to talk about some of Pete’s assumptions:
Theologically, Pete had a complementarian view of marriage (and still does). This means that he believed the Bible teaches that, while men and women are equal before God, God has set different roles for them, and a husband’s role is to be the leader of the home (this will be flushed out biblically in other blogs). This, as I say, was Pete’s understanding of the Bible exegetically and theologically, but it had very little real, practical relation to anything he did. He had no real desire to lead in his marriage. His basic approach was something like this: “If I’m the leader, I say that you can do whatever you want.” Doesn’t that sound generous? It did to Pete as well. But there was a corollary, “I will also do what I want.” In other words, “You do your thing and I’ll do mine, and we’ll support one another in them. We’ll both chase our dreams and have a happy marriage in the time we find to spend together.” Sounds pretty good until one realizes a very important point “IT DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT!”
The above “leadership premises” became a means for Pete to live selfishly and sacrifice his wife’s welfare. Andrea was suffering. Her health was crashing, and they didn’t know why. The rigorous lifestyle in which they were engaged required a stamina that her developing chronic illness could not sustain. And she told him. She hinted at first, but as it got harder and harder she told him that this was not working for her. And Pete would always look for a compromise: “I’ll work more, I’ll do anything so long as I can stay in Dallas and finish my looooooooooooong program.” What was the right thing to do? Quit seminary and go home. Reset, give attention to what mattered. Perhaps eventually transfer to another (less awesome and prestigious) program somewhere else. Why wouldn’t Pete do it? Because from his outlook, it would be the end of his life. He would come home beaten. A failure! So Pete continued to fight for his right to fail at something far more important. His marriage.
In the days after seminary, much discussion was needed for healing. Many painful conversations, many tears, many late nights. But for me (Pete, if anyone missed that), the most important point that came out was this: I had made a mess of things because of a failure to take leadership! And Andrea knew this. I came to find that she had spent countless hours wishing I would step up and make decisions for the good of our marriage. Wishing I would take the responsibility God had given me, and not knowing how to communicate about this. Her feelings were well expressed in a song that she would often listen to, of which I was oblivious:
“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life
I know we call this our home
But I still feel alone.” (Sanctus Real, Lead Me)
Now, society would tell us that we just grew apart. We had different goals and different dreams, and we should have gone our separate ways recognizing that things had changed between us. Society would have told us to part as friends and pursue what was important to each of us. Society is wrong! For the Bible-believing Christian, very few things are as important as the sanctity of marriage. I know that they way many Christians behave in regard to marriage does not always bear that out – hence the need for this blog series – but I speak in the ideal. The Bible teaches us that marriage gives us a picture of the love of Christ for his church. Marriage is a picture of the eternal, unbreakable covenant whereby Jesus Christ redeemed a people for himself by the shedding of his own blood. If you are reading this blog, and you are not a Christian, this makes very little sense to you. But if you are a Christian, let the reader understand! Jesus Christ has established a relationship between his people and himself that cannot be altered or undone, and that people group includes you! Your sin deserves hell, but Jesus has given you an unconditional gift, securing your place in Heaven! And your faithfulness to your spouse, despite his or her imperfections, is a picture of that. And as one who believes in male headship, I believe that husbands bear the greatest responsibility.
This truth is precious. But why are there so many failed and failing marriages among those who profess to believe the Bible that teaches this? Part of the answer is that many Christians just don’t know this. Part of the reason for these blogs is to tell them. Part of the answer is that, while many Christians know marriage is precious, that God frowns on divorce, they have not put this in its full theological context. Oh, I went and did it. I used the TH word. But I must! The biblical teaching about marriage fits into the broader biblical teaching about how people should treat each other. Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 6, the Majestic Christ hymn in Philippians 2. This names but a few examples, some of which we will return to in later blogs. For now, suffice it to say that if you try to put the biblical teaching about marriage in a vacuum, divorced (pun intended) from the broader biblical teachings about Christ, the cross, and the bearing this has on human relationships, your understanding of marriage will be tortured and distorted. And it will not work! Perhaps you will suddenly find out that your wife who doesn’t believe in divorce wants one anyway, because she just can’t do it anymore. Or perhaps you will become one of those couples who will not divorce, but live in separate rooms and have separate lives because they just can’t stand each other anymore. On one level, the obedience in these situations is commendable, but what a tragedy!
So let us return to our protagonist form the beginning of this blog. Pete! Yours Truly! Within the first few years of my marriage, a lot of things went wrong. Thanks to a faithful God and a faithful wife, the marriage pulled through. But crashes and burns create a fine climate for reflection, especially when healing does not happen overnight. In the past decade or so, I have done a lot of thinking, a lot of praying, a lot of discussing and a lot of studying. This blog series represents some of the fruits of that process. I truly hope that some of the things I have found might be helpful to others, particularly men, who stumble over concepts like “male headship,” “godly servant leadership,” etc. Some blogs will be more theological and exegetical, some more philosophical and observatory, but I believe they will come together in a way that brings out what I want to communicate. While there is a possibility that I will feel compelled to add other subjects along the way, the following is a rough outline of some of the blog subjects that will be addressed:
“Full Theological Context” or “The Bible and How We Treat Other People”
“Patriarchy vs. Male Headship”
“Leadership is Service”
“King of the Castle and Princess Too?”
“Lessons from Peeta Mellark” (Yes! That would be the literary character that Suzanne Collins has so generously given us)
“Technical Mumbo Jumbo” or “Hard Core Exegetical Data on Ephesians 5”
I’m excited about writing this series, and I hope you will come along with me. I hope that together we can get closer to understanding the full and glorious meaning of the Apostle Paul’s command in his famous letter to the Ephesian church about the love of God; “Husbands, love your wives!”