I wrote Dating with Discernment for three big reasons.
First, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, married couples now make up less than half of American households. Less than half. Something in our intimate relationships is going very wrong, and has been going very wrong, for a long while.
As American marriages crumble, everyone suffers. Even the Christian Church folk, who might like to think that they are above all that, are participants. I want to help. My experience as a pastor, and a friend, has taught me that the seeds of a marriage’s disintegration or dynamism are often planted at its very beginning.
I’ve watched many people get married and go on to bliss or bitterness, or something in between. And I have seen what makes the difference between later glee or gall as romance springs up. So this book focuses on that start of a relationship, when people are dating and deciding about marriage.
Check out the bottom of this post to get a free book!
The second reason why I wrote Dating with Discernment is that the median age of getting married rose by over seven years in the past four decades. In other words, most people feel unready to marry until nearly three-quarters of a decade later than before. Seven Years. Many have a deep feeling of not being ready.
In 1923, J. Gresham Machen, then a professor at Princeton Seminary, wrote his classic text, Christianity and Liberalism. The book was a response to the rise of liberalism in the mainline denominations of his own day. Machen argued that the liberal understanding of Christianity was, in fact, not just a variant version of the faith, nor did it represent simply a different denominational perspective, but was an entirely different religion. Put simply, liberal Christianity is not Christianity.
What is remarkable about Machen’s book is how prescient it was. His description of liberal Christianity—a moralistic, therapeutic version of the faith that values questions over answers and being “good” over being “right”—is still around today in basically the same form. For this reason alone the book should be required reading, certainly for all seminary students, pastors, and Christian leaders.
Although its modern advocates present liberal Christianity as something new and revolutionary, it is nothing of the sort. It may have new names (e. g., “emerging” or “progressive “Christianity), but it is simply a rehash of the same well-worn system that has been around for generations.
Prideful sin is no small matter. The biblical warnings against it are bone-chilling. And none is more frightening than this: “God is opposed to the proud” (James 1:6).
We’ve been told over and over: Pride is the root of all sin. Kill pride and your other sins will topple, too. Sounds easy but it isn’t. Pride is slippery. As soon as you think you’ve got a grip on it, it pops up somewhere else nearby—usually closer to your heart than it was in the first place.
Frontal attacks against pride usually fizzle out. Have you noticed that, too? If so, try the indirect approach I learned while working on a recent book on spiritual warfare.
Roots Grow in Soil
There are two sins that actually run deeper than pride. Picture them as the soil from which the root of pride draws its nourishment and support.
Thankfully, these are two sins you can easily battle head-on. In fact, you can “condition” these two soils (that is, poison them) every day. Do this long enough and consistently enough and you will find the root of your sinful pride withering, thus weakening the whole malignant ecosystem of sin in your life.[Tweet “Two ways to weaken the malignant ecosystem of sin in your life.”]
The Soil Called Ungodliness
Jerry Bridges is my friend, mentor, and sometimes co-author. In The Bookends of the Christian Life we wrote, “the opposite of godliness is ungodliness, the disregarding of God. All expressions of pride are rooted in ungodliness, because you must first disregard God before you can be prideful.”
Sinful pride requires disregarding God—that is, behaving as if he does not matter. When you realize this, it becomes much simpler to battle ungodliness. How? By remembering that God does matter, infinitely above and beyond everything else. In practical terms, you can do this by deliberately recognizing God, for who he truly is, in all things, and doing so until this kind of God-honoring becomes habitual. Try it, and I think you’ll soon discover this is a powerful, if indirect, way to poison a root of pride.
This approach amounts to an intentional, content-specific version of what some have called “practicing the presence of God.” The best way to do this is to study, memorize, and regularly recall Scriptures about who God is and what he has done for us in his Son.
The Soil Called Unbelief
Deeper still, below pride and below the disregarding of God, is unbelief, the deepest sin of all. If ungodliness behaves as if God does not matter, unbelief behaves as if God does not exist.
The opposite of this unbelief is biblical faith. Genuine faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit necessarily results in humility. Battling unbelief, therefore, is our second indirect yet powerful means of battling pride.
An excellent way to engage in this battle is simply to ask Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jerry and I have made it a habit to pray this nearly every day. [Tweet “The simple prayer that @JerryGBridges prays nearly every day.”]
Next, remember that when sin was about to strike, Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Then, remember that Jesus prays for you, too (Romans 8:34).
Jesus is concerned about your faith in him. Ask him to pray for you the way he prayed for Peter—that your faith may not fail!
My life is far from a picture of humility. In fact, I’ve been aware of pride mustering its forces within me even as I write this. But I will not approach this battle head-on (except to take my sin to the cross and repent from it). Instead, I will deliberately regard God, by remembering where every good thing comes from (James 1:16-18). And I will pray, asking ask him to help my unbelief, so that I might see his unseen hand at work in me.
I’ll pray the same for you, too. By the time you read this, know that I already have.
Almost every evening around ten o’clock, I am drawn downstairs from the family room to our kitchen with a gnawing craving for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is one of my favorite moments of the day. Waiting there in the pantry, simply for my indulgence, is a homemade loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a little bear-shaped squeeze-bottle full of honey, and a bag of potato chips. The other necessities await me in the fridge: an ice-cold carton of milk and cherry jelly.
Most evenings this ritual plays out perfectly, except for those rare, sad times when some key ingredient is missing. I can live without the chips or the honey, but every so often there is no milk, or we are low on peanut butter, and my hopes for the perfect PB&J vanish.
Some ingredients are simply necessary. This is one reason why I find cooking shows to be an exercise in frustration. When these chef-gurus prance out into their professional kitchens—the kind missing the one wall where the TV cameras go—all the latest high-end culinary equipment is at their disposal. They know things about preparing food that we mortals cannot grasp. Worst of all, they regularly cook with ingredients that have never once been on any shelf in my local supermarket. What is the point of showing people how to cook with ingredients they don’t have? Without the right ingredients, everyone knows that a recipe is useless.
Maybe you feel a similar frustration when you hear a pastor announce that it is primarily your responsibility to disciple your children. Perhaps you have inventoried your spiritual pantry of biblical knowledge and, if you are honest, it is not as well-stocked as it needs to be. You know you need ready access to fresh, useful spiritual ingredients if your children are to become, as the psalmist wrote, men and women who set their hope in God. But you’re not quite sure what those ingredients are, where to get them, or how to prepare them.[Tweet “As parents, the call to family #discipleship only ends when we die. #parenting”]
Tell you what, let’s go to the supermarket—a really nice one. It’s a supermarket of biblical truth. As we stroll the aisles and review the wares, you are probably going to feel overwhelmed. There is so much your children need to be taught! That’s OK. Embrace that feeling. Your sense of helplessness will push you to rely on the grace of God as you take the exciting journey of family discipleship.
Perhaps your children are not exactly children anymore. If so, remember that your call to family discipleship only ends when you die. You have a lifetime to cultivate truth in the hearts of your children. Even when they are adults with their own families, you should lovingly and prayerfully encourage your children in their walk with Jesus. The nature of the parental role changes as our children mature, but its essence does not, and we are called to steward faithfully all the days the Lord has entrusted to us.
As we walk through the supermarket of biblical content, I want to show you seven “aisles”—seven categories—of biblical truth. Thinking in categories helps us to understand and teach God’s Word clearly. Imagine a supermarket that stocked its shelves randomly. Trying to find a particular item in aisle after aisle of jumbled chaos would be a nightmare. In a similar way, approaching the Bible without appropriate categories will often produce a certain bewilderment. But categories help us think and teach far more effectively.[Tweet “Learn the 7 key ingredients of biblical #discipleship. #parenting”]
Theologians have worked for centuries to compile the biblical data into accessible categories. The seven key categories covered in Intentional Parenting are:
The Big Story (Biblical Theology)
The Big Truths (Systematic Theology)
The Great Commission
Yes, it’s a formidable list. Yet it helps create a manageable structure, ways of thinking about how and what you ought to pass along to your children. In fact, if you will commit to learn from each of these seven categories, you will have all the right ingredients at your fingertips for a lifetime of fruitful learning and teaching.