Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Getting Serious About Getting Married by Debbie Maken

Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the Gift of Singleness
By Debbie Maken

Crossway Books, 2006

This book comes at a crucial point in my life. Over the past few years, I have gradually become aware that many of my firmly entrenched beliefs and pet philosophies have absolutely no Biblical basis. This is quite a painful thing for my prideful self to admit, for agreeing with God has meant that I’ve had to restructure my life in almost every area.

One major area that I have had to rethink is life purpose. As God has opened my eyes to see more clearly His design, I find myself becoming distressed as I see how far the world has strayed. Speaking candidly as a twenty-four year old woman longing to follow God’s pattern of marriage and family, I am saddened to see the many other singles who wait…and wait…and wait for that special someone to drop on their doorstep. I’m horrified at the rampant immaturity of young people who put off responsibility in favor of self-indulgent autonomy. And I have a bone to pick with today’s stupendously protracted, ineffective educational system.

It’s been said before that the Christian’s theme song shouldn’t be "Que Sera, Sera" (What will be, will be). And yet many seem to embody this lackadaisical attitude in regards to marriage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered people who refuse to think or talk about it for fear of discontentment or disappointment. They would rather suddenly experience the Big Surprise: one day, poof, they’ll get married. Permit me a cynical laugh.

After reading this book, I don’t feel any better. If anything, the situation is worse than I’d imagined. Debbie Maken doesn’t hesitate to make some rather bold statements about current popular teachings on singleness. She’s not just being a reactionary. She’s careful to point out that what she has to say is nothing new, rather, it has strong Biblical, as well as historical, basis. On this point, of course, I must encourage my readers simply to read the book in its entirety, and to study their Bibles for themselves. I’m not foolish enough to miss the fact that there are plenty of books that say exactly the opposite of what Mrs. Maken sets forth.

The first surprising idea that Mrs. Maken suggests is that marriage and singleness are not two equally valid options for the Christian. In fact, she believes that marriage is God’s normative pattern for His children, with only a few clearly defined exceptions.

“Marriage remains God’s revealed will (revealed in his Word, the Bible, as what he wants), even if as a culture we have made its attainment an elusive, secret, perpetual guessing game. Scripture states that ‘God created man in his own image…male and female he created them’ (Genesis 1:27). This means that the male-female union is for God’s own glory; marriage reflects his image far better than either sex individually.” (p.22)

Second, she posits that intentionally prolonged singleness (as distinguished from celibacy—see chapter 10) is sin. “…The belief that remaining single is legitimate and godly is a work of the devil. Read that again: Satan dishonors marriage by fooling us into believing that singleness is okay.” (p.43) While discussing the meaning of Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone”, she quotes Martin Luther:

“It is not good…[this means that] God knows what is better for you than you yourself…. If you deem it otherwise…you neither understand nor believe God’s word and work. See, with this statement of God one stops the mouths of all those who criticize and censure marriage.” (p.24)

Third, she states that a lack of male leadership in both families and churches is a major reason that there is such confusion about what God says about marriage and life purpose.

“ It is no longer considered cowardice not to take on responsibility. Many men wish for a return to their collegiate days, preferring to live in an environment requiring little responsibility, maximum autonomy, and few, if any, expectations of family or for family. They want all the pleasures of childhood and the pleasure of being treated like an adult without the pain of adulthood.” (p.72)

Many other equally explosive observations and conclusions are contained in this small volume. But most revolutionary of all, Debbie Maken actually suggests that the Christian’s life and thought should be based soundly on the Bible and not on what’s currently popular, socially acceptable, or traditionally taught. Biblical Christianity is not defined by what makes us feel the most comfortable.

It’s much easier to point out a problem than to present a solution. I would have liked more elaboration from Mrs. Maken on this point. But perhaps she is wise, for what she suggests is hard enough: a radical change in our thinking. As A. W. Tozer said, “The dearer the error, the more dangerous and the more difficult to correct, always.” (The Divine Conquest, p. 16)

It is humanly impossible to write a book free from error or omission. In this respect Debbie Maken is no different than any other author. I think she has more to learn regarding the differing, yet complimentary, design of men and women. She greatly underestimates the effect of radical feminism on the church and fails to fully delineate the paradoxical nature of Biblical contentment. But these are minor faults compared to the great service she has done in issuing the call for a return to a Biblical understanding of marriage and singleness. I am extremely grateful.

Go here for a Q&A session with Debbie Maken.


Lydia H. said...

Great review, Kara. Very well-written. It certainly made me want to read the book. :)

As you might guess, my biggest struggle in all this talk about pursuing marriage and desiring marriage is "what are us unmarried women supposed to be doing to encourage or bring this about?" I certainly don't think it is my place to lead or initiate a relationship with a man. This would definitely be breaking the Biblical pattern for godly marriage relationships. I know that it is fully my responsibility now to work toward preparing myself for marriage both practically and in spirit. And while I am very content with where the Lord has placed me in the present I also fully desire to be married someday.

I think the aspects you alluded to from the book are very real hindrances toward marriage (protracted education, selfish autonomy, wordly ambitions etc.).

You may find it interesting to read of a fast and earnest prayer called for by a homeschooling father and pastor of a Reformed Baptist congregation on behalf of unmarried daughters that they may be married.

Check out the link here:
You have to scroll down because I couldn't get the link to work for the individual post.

Well, that is all I will share for now. Any practical suggestions from Mrs. Maken or yourself would be greatly appreciated.

BTW, is Debbie Maken married? I thought I had heard that she never had been but perhaps I was mistaken.

Thanks for the review. Maybe you should submit it to Amazon or CBD. It was very helpful. :)

Kara Dekker said...


I just lost the lengthy reply I typed up…I’ll try to remember!

To answer the easiest question first: Yes, Debbie Maken is married. Here’s her bio from the book’s cover:

“Debbie Maken lives in Florida with her husband, Mayur, and their two children. Besides being an author, Debbie proudly wears the badge of homemaker. Prior to her marriage she graduated from the University of Alabama Law School and then worked as a litigation attorney and an advocate for various conservative causes.”

I completely understand your concern as to what a young woman can do. I too believe that it is not my place to go out and initiate relationships on my own. Not only does it go against my belief, it also goes against my personality! :)

My primary solution has been prayer. I do not understand everything or know exactly what to do, but I have a Friend and Advocate Who is in control of all.

Secondly, I am actively preparing. This means conforming my thoughts to God’s word, and learning what He says about life purpose, marriage and family. It also means perfecting the various necessary homemaking skills.

Thirdly, (and this is probably the hardest thing for me), I am learning that I don’t have to “go it alone.” My parents are here to lead and protect me. I have to learn to trust them and work on communicating better my desires, struggles and questions.

Here are some of Mrs. Maken’s solutions:

1. Change your thinking.
2. Reject unbiblical methods. (dating)
3. Be under your parents’ authority and ask for help. (or, as she says, “enlist agency”)
4. Encourage men to be men. (As sisters, we can do a lot on this point.)

Thanks for the link. I found the newest posts to also be pertinent.

Thanks also for your encouraging words. They’re greatly appreciated!

Lydia H. said...

Great additional thoughts for what we can be doing as unmarried women. In all honesty, I am implementing most of those already. I certainly have much room for improvement (esp. in the home-keeping department as my parents would probably testify) :)but I am working in those areas. I am loving being active in a ministry role with BSF. I feel that the training I am receiving to teach the Bible to young children will come in very useful as I homeschool my own children someday, Lord willing. It has also given me more of a heart for evangelism and an eternal perspective.

Thanks for your follow-up thoughts. You may enjoy some of the articles on the Boundless Webzine from Focus on the Family in regards to marriage and relationships. I link to it on my sidebar near the bottom.

Lydia H. said...

Interesting thoughts, John. I too, wonder how to encourage men to be men. I feel that I can do this to some extent as an older sister toward my three brothers but to do this for other young men may be stepping out of bounds on my part. I think we can encourage them to be leaders and to take initiative but beyond that I see that a more critical, not to mention effective, response is to pray for them. It seems such a practice of actively encouraging them rests largely on the sort of relationship we already posses with a given man, or even the culture of the local assembly where we meet. I guess one could also thrust this book in their faces and say, "You desperately need to read this book!" But I digress...

I also have wondered about the notion that the Bible makes an air-tight case for asserting that our purpose in life is to pursue marriage. We are told repeatedly to "seek after righteousness and holiness, be about the work of the ministry, grow in grace of the Lord," etc. Where does it say that, "Your chief concern should be in obtaining a godly spouse"?

Perhaps in the culture when the Bible was written, both OT and NT, it was already expected and so ingrained in society that this would have been a non-issue. "Like, duh, of course you are supposed to get married!" (sorry for the irreverent sarcasm) :)

This thinking was the basis for my post several months back on why I do not believe marriage should be seen as a "goal" for our lives but rather as a "calling." It also undergirds why I chose to write on my profile "My goals are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," rather than "My goal is to marry young and have many children." It is certainly something honorable to attain and a godly desire to have but as the most pressing ambition? I don't think so.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts. You are free to agree or disagree with me. Hope you don't mind me entering further into this conversation, Kara. Looking forward to seeing you this evening at the Bible study. :)

Kara, if you would happen to think I am in error in any way or unbalanced in my philosophy, I am open to hearing how and why as based in the Scriptures. :)

Kara Dekker said...

Mr. Dekker,

Thanks for your questions. I doubt I can answer them completely satisfactorily, as I don’t completely understand the topic. But I’ll try. I find it’s a good way of learning!

It’s true that God is totally sovereign over all things. So, in this sense, saying “what will be, will be” isn’t inherently wrong. The danger I see is the attitude implied behind the words: that since God is in control, I am therefore relieved of any personal responsibility.

This leads to your next question: “is marriage a duty?”
Interesting choice of words. Duty is exactly what Mrs. Maken says it is. I can see how this will rub the wrong way for a lot of people. It’s a hard concept for me to understand myself. But it makes sense, in light of the purpose implied in God’s first command to Adam and Eve. (Whom I understand to represent, in a sense, the human race) This command is commonly termed the Dominion Mandate, and includes, among other things, “be fruitful and multiply”. It’s hard to see how that would happen (at least lawfully) without marriage entering the picture. If we say, “but that was before the fall”, then it is interesting to note to the command was reiterated to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9). These are all things I’d been studying before I read “Getting Serious About Getting Married”. Debbie Maken basically says similar things, pointing to the Genesis account as the time when God instituted marriage.

As to why singleness and marriage aren’t equal options, here’s a pertinent quote: “…does the Bible validate singleness? If so, where and under what circumstances? After lots of study, I’ve found that Scripture does not categorically authorize singleness. It does allow singleness for a limited few and establishes clear parameters by which they can be legitimately single (see Matthew 19:4-11 and 1 Corinthians 7). The converse then is also true: People who don’t meet the singleness requirements are under the general rule of marriage that God established in Genesis.” (p.29)
Rather than rehash what takes a good portion of the book to say, I’ll simply recommend “read it yourself!”
I found the section on 1 Corinthians 7 especially interesting. She takes the view that it was written to specific people for a specific situation (i.e., persecution of early Christians).

Understanding the distinction Mrs. Maken makes between singleness and celibacy is key to understanding the book. Singleness is simply the state of being unmarried. Celibacy, on the other hand is “the removal of sexual desire in a minority of people [and] is…considered a gift.” (p. 87) There is a discussion of the three characteristics mentioned in Matt.19:11-12. She gives some very interesting quotes from Martin Luther: “apart from these three groups, let no man presume to be without a spouse.”(p.32) And, “whoever finds himself unsuited to the celibate life should see to it right away that he has something to do and to work at it; then let him strike out in God’s name and get married.” (p.136)

As to what guys are supposed to do, here’s my advice: get up and get your hands dirty! As my brother says, “Jacob worked his heart out for 14 years to marry Rachel”. If you really believe that marriage is important, than you will be actively preparing. This might mean rethinking your career; it probably does mean taking responsibilities seriously. (Whatever those may be) Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have all the time in the world. Scripture says “rejoice in the wife of your youth”—not middle age.

I doubt lowering your standards is a valid option. Unless they’re unbiblical to begin with. ;)

Sorry about the ambiguous nature of point 4 (Encourage men to be men.). I knew when I typed it that it was rather vague; I was operating on the assumption that Lydia knew what I meant, and forgot about other readers. So, in practical terms, I mean things like holding up God’s standard of living as something good and worthy to work for. Remind your brothers, friends, cousins, whoever, that the decisions they make now will effect the rest of their lives. Encourage them to not live for the moment, but rather to have a vision for the future. Remind them of their responsibility of leadership as laid out in the scriptures. Don’t condone “wimpiness” and apathy.

Kara Dekker said...

Hey Lydia,

I know we already talked about this tonight, so I don’t really have to comment here. But I’ll do it for the sake of whatever other readers are out there…

On the matter of goal setting, here’s how I think of it: I don’t see marriage as a goal, but rather as a part of the way God designed me. It’s not any more my primary goal than is eating or drinking, (no matter what some may think! ;) yet I do that every day. Is marriage any less important because failure to be married produces less visible negative results? I see marriage as part of the underlining design of life, and as yet another situation that God will use to accomplish that larger goal of conforming me to His image. I don’t know if this makes sense?

I appreciate your reiteration of the importance of prayer. We can’t pray too much!

I think it is true that the culture of Biblical times (and even later) was largely different from our own. One of the most fascinating chapters in “Getting serious…” was the one on historical views of marriage/singleness. It made me want to go find some old books!

Thanks for keeping the discussion going…I think we may have set a record for Comments Not Posted By Me. ;)

Lydia H. said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Kara. I enjoyed our conversation this evening very much. I would be interested to know what other thoughts you have pertaining to this topic. Let's keep the dialogue open as the Lord wills.

One thing we have to be careful of is assuming that if the young men around us are not pursuing marriage than they are not interested in it. This might not necessarily be the case. I don't think you can fault a man at all if he is not attracted to any of the young ladies around him or if he doesn't feel led to pursue a relationship with one of them. I think this is the conclusion I finally arrived at about perhaps why some men don't seem to be eager to marry. Again this is where the prayer part takes preeminence. We must pray that God will lead the right spouse of his own choosing to us in his perfect timing. Easier said than done, of course. :)

And then, are people maybe being too picky about finding a spouse? I have asked myself this from time to time. So far, I haven't been led to think that I am. It does seem that the whole "soul mate" philosophy may have gone a bit too far in our culture. I don't know.

Glad you enjoyed the Scott Brown articles. I also liked the list he included about the young women of our generation having changing philosophies for the glory of God.

I'll send you the links to the conference I spoke of.

Good night. =)

Kara Dekker said...

We can’t pray too much!

"Actually, that's an ambiguous statement. ;)"

How so? I'm curious, because I want to work on my communication skills...

I'm going to be pretty busy over the weekend, so it's unlikely I'll be able to address the points you bring up until sometime next week...

It is true that understanding 1 Corinthians 7 (or at least one interpretation of it)is vital to understanding the issue at hand.

Kara Dekker said...

Mr. Dekker,

There are several points about 1 Corinthians 7 that have helped me in beginning to understand the chapter.

First, it wasn’t until last year when I started reading the English Standard Version that I realized that a portion of verse one is actually a quotation: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” According to the notes in the Reformation Study Bible, possibly this was a saying of an ascetic group advocating abstention from marriage, as well as from sexual relations within marriage.

Paul counters this idea in verse 2, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

The idea that Paul’s recommendation of singleness (vs.8) is rooted within the context of hard times and persecution comes from verse 26, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” See also verses 28-35.

Another important point that I have to remind myself of when reading such difficult passages is that I cannot isolate verses. I need to compare them with the whole of Scripture. What I find in this particular situation is that marriage and families are the normative. The exceptions are not the rule.

When citing Mrs. Maken’s definition of celibacy, I failed to mention another crucial distinction: (besides the lack of sexual desire), being able to better serve God singly than as a married person. (E.g., a missionary to a war-torn country)

Saying that a command applies to a whole, but not to the individuals who make up the whole seems to me a logical impossibility.

To all who have participated in this discussion:

Thanks! It has been very beneficial for me, and I hope it has been for you as well. My original intent in posting this book review was to prompt some thinking “outside of the box.”

And now, let’s move on to the next thing…