16 min readEarnestly Contending for the Statistics

Jun 13, 2017 | Article | 20 comments

16 min readEarnestly Contending for the Statistics

Jun 13, 2017 | Article | 20 comments

A few weeks ago, TBN released a short clip of an interview with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke of Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus fame. Jeff and Alyssa have a wildly popular website, filled mostly with content on how to have a happy, successful marriage. Right around the time their marriage will turn five years old, their book, Love That Lasts, will launch. Commentary not necessary.

I would happily give Jefferson’s spoken word skills and charming YouTube channel an A+ for verve, creativity, and savvy marketing. The guy seems genuine and caring, even as a talking head in a rectangle screen with no visible audience. Totally believable. Candid. Relatable. While I find so much of his advice vapid and devoid of basis in actual, Biblical truth, it’s not that he’s unlikable—and that’s part of the problem. With a large audience comes large responsibility.

The clip from TBN is troubling, and not just because it’s a clip from TBN. It’s troubling because when Christian-marriage-advice-giver-Bethke is asked about Christians living together before marriage his answer is that they shouldn’t, because statistics. “Stats are not on your side,” he says emphatically. “If someone told me, ‘Hey, you statistically have a less chance of relational success if you live together than if you don’t, uh, which one would you pick?'” As if this is a no-brainer. Don’t you know, sweet, young, Christian couple, you should always do what is best for you?

The problem, of course, is that this is pragmatism, not Christianity. And most of us, left to our sinful desires, don’t choose what’s best for us. If sex before marriage is as simple as choosing between an apple or a brownie for a snack, most of us are going to prefer the brownie, and those that don’t are lying. That’s the thing about pragmatism. It’s the code of self-preservation, dependent on favorable outcomes, and leaves us to make decisions based on what we think will yield the most self-serving result. A perusal of the comments on YouTube would inform you that so many who chose to live together before marriage (read: have sex before marriage) mentally assent to the idea that it was wrong—but naturally, they’re the exception, not the rule.

It would be unfair to judge Bethke’s approach based on a clip that is a whole one minute and fifteen seconds long, so I searched his page. Turns out, he’s done an almost 8 minute video on the topic, titled Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage? If you’re hoping that at some point he’ll appeal to Scripture or use the S-word (sin, obviously), you will be sorely disappointed. He uses a lot of S-words, like “sensitive” and “social scientists”, but not sin. He never, ever calls premarital sex what it is: sin. He poses a question around Scripture, but never answers that question and moves on to “science.”

“Now there’s a few different ways we can look at things. First, we can look at Scripture. What does Scripture say about our life and how does that bear weight on what we should do to answer this question? But also, there’s empirical evidence and in researching this topic, I want to define that, I want to define what social scientists said, and what people of that nature said, and I found some really crazy and fascinating things.”

He goes on to mention studies older than he (studies from way back in the 80s! Goodness!) that unanimously state that living together before marriage actually leads to more divorce, break-ups, damage to the children, etc. He expounds on this for another six minutes. He says it is so crazy. These statistics you guys! They’re shocking!

Are they, though? Are any Bible-believing Christians surprised by this? You mean that when we go against God’s design for marriage and family, it doesn’t turn out well?! I find the shock and surprise and any treatment of this revelation as ground-breaking to be tiresome. Christians know that sin is harmful, because the Bible tells us so. We don’t need statistics to inform us of this. More than that, marriage advice rooted in Scripture isn’t pragmatic. The message of Scripture isn’t, “Don’t sin! It might make you sad somewhere down the road!” The message of Scripture is, “Don’t sin! It is an offense to a holy God!”

Sin separates us from God, and sin hurts those around us. Sin tarnishes our relationships. Living together with your boyfriend or girlfriend is not loving them, it’s helping them sin. It’s helping them separate from God. It is good and right to point out that it won’t go well for you—but your first love, Jesus, is who you ultimately sin against when you choose to sin with another person. We are commanded in Hebrews 13:4 to honor marriage and abstain from premarital sex. The verse does not end sensitively, it ends with God judging the sexually immoral. This is not a “hey, this might not end well for you” choice. This is a “the judgment of God will come upon you” choice.

Speaking of choices, the Bethkes have two: begin rooting their marriage advice in Scripture, or drop the charade. Being a pragmatist isn’t the same thing as being a Christian.  Scripture doesn’t look to social scientists to tell us of the judgment that comes upon unrepentant sin. If your first love is Christ above all else, curbing your sinful desires isn’t going to require peer-reviewed research: it’s going to require a new heart. My prayer and call to the crazy-likable Bethkes is that they would earnestly contend for the faith, not the statistics. The stats won’t save you. The truth of the Gospel will.

A few weeks ago, TBN released a short clip of an interview with Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke of Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus fame. Jeff and Alyssa have a wildly popular website, filled mostly with content on how to have a happy, successful marriage. Right around the time their marriage will turn five years old, their book, Love That Lasts, will launch. Commentary not necessary.

I would happily give Jefferson’s spoken word skills and charming YouTube channel an A+ for verve, creativity, and savvy marketing. The guy seems genuine and caring, even as a talking head in a rectangle screen with no visible audience. Totally believable. Candid. Relatable. While I find so much of his advice vapid and devoid of basis in actual, Biblical truth, it’s not that he’s unlikable—and that’s part of the problem. With a large audience comes large responsibility.

The clip from TBN is troubling, and not just because it’s a clip from TBN. It’s troubling because when Christian-marriage-advice-giver-Bethke is asked about Christians living together before marriage his answer is that they shouldn’t, because statistics. “Stats are not on your side,” he says emphatically. “If someone told me, ‘Hey, you statistically have a less chance of relational success if you live together than if you don’t, uh, which one would you pick?'” As if this is a no-brainer. Don’t you know, sweet, young, Christian couple, you should always do what is best for you?

The problem, of course, is that this is pragmatism, not Christianity. And most of us, left to our sinful desires, don’t choose what’s best for us. If sex before marriage is as simple as choosing between an apple or a brownie for a snack, most of us are going to prefer the brownie, and those that don’t are lying. That’s the thing about pragmatism. It’s the code of self-preservation, dependent on favorable outcomes, and leaves us to make decisions based on what we think will yield the most self-serving result. A perusal of the comments on YouTube would inform you that so many who chose to live together before marriage (read: have sex before marriage) mentally assent to the idea that it was wrong—but naturally, they’re the exception, not the rule.

It would be unfair to judge Bethke’s approach based on a clip that is a whole one minute and fifteen seconds long, so I searched his page. Turns out, he’s done an almost 8 minute video on the topic, titled Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage? If you’re hoping that at some point he’ll appeal to Scripture or use the S-word (sin, obviously), you will be sorely disappointed. He uses a lot of S-words, like “sensitive” and “social scientists”, but not sin. He never, ever calls premarital sex what it is: sin. He poses a question around Scripture, but never answers that question and moves on to “science.”

“Now there’s a few different ways we can look at things. First, we can look at Scripture. What does Scripture say about our life and how does that bear weight on what we should do to answer this question? But also, there’s empirical evidence and in researching this topic, I want to define that, I want to define what social scientists said, and what people of that nature said, and I found some really crazy and fascinating things.”

He goes on to mention studies older than he (studies from way back in the 80s! Goodness!) that unanimously state that living together before marriage actually leads to more divorce, break-ups, damage to the children, etc. He expounds on this for another six minutes. He says it is so crazy. These statistics you guys! They’re shocking!

Are they, though? Are any Bible-believing Christians surprised by this? You mean that when we go against God’s design for marriage and family, it doesn’t turn out well?! I find the shock and surprise and any treatment of this revelation as ground-breaking to be tiresome. Christians know that sin is harmful, because the Bible tells us so. We don’t need statistics to inform us of this. More than that, marriage advice rooted in Scripture isn’t pragmatic. The message of Scripture isn’t, “Don’t sin! It might make you sad somewhere down the road!” The message of Scripture is, “Don’t sin! It is an offense to a holy God!”

Sin separates us from God, and sin hurts those around us. Sin tarnishes our relationships. Living together with your boyfriend or girlfriend is not loving them, it’s helping them sin. It’s helping them separate from God. It is good and right to point out that it won’t go well for you—but your first love, Jesus, is who you ultimately sin against when you choose to sin with another person. We are commanded in Hebrews 13:4 to honor marriage and abstain from premarital sex. The verse does not end sensitively, it ends with God judging the sexually immoral. This is not a “hey, this might not end well for you” choice. This is a “the judgment of God will come upon you” choice.

Speaking of choices, the Bethkes have two: begin rooting their marriage advice in Scripture, or drop the charade. Being a pragmatist isn’t the same thing as being a Christian.  Scripture doesn’t look to social scientists to tell us of the judgment that comes upon unrepentant sin. If your first love is Christ above all else, curbing your sinful desires isn’t going to require peer-reviewed research: it’s going to require a new heart. My prayer and call to the crazy-likable Bethkes is that they would earnestly contend for the faith, not the statistics. The stats won’t save you. The truth of the Gospel will.

SUMMER WHITE

Writer | Sheologian
Summer White is @SummrWrites on Twitter. She is a mother of two and she occasionally blogs when taking a break from making crock-pot meals. She grew up traveling with her dad and watching him debate all over the country. She does not like long walks on the beach.

@SummrWrites

Facebook

sheologiansblog@gmail.com 

20 Comments

  1. Dan Paugstat

    Well said.

    Reply
  2. Celia

    So true!! Thank you for writing this!! 😀

    Reply
  3. Lisa

    Very good assessment. It’s sad to see people claiming to love Jesus not using their platforms to point others to Jesus! Statistics?! What about the gospel?

    (P.s. gramatical error: *Bethke’s* is in the last paragraph is plural and shouldn’t have an apostrophe😉)

    Reply
  4. Valentina Cuevas-Brackett

    I’ve been receiving the mass emails from the Bethke’s for some time now and have been turned off by a lot of their source choices for advice (marriage, in particular) for almost as long. Thank you for this. It really confirms my concerns. Keep up the awesomeness!

    Reply
  5. The Dirty Christian

    I’ve been very disappointed in what I thought was a promising ministry from Beth.

    Reply
  6. Arthur Sido

    Jefferson is a very odd situation. He gets internet famous for a “spoken word” rant against institutionalized religion, and much of his criticism was spot on, only to walk a lot of it back right afterward and then turning his 15 minutes into a nice little career of vacuous feel good utterances. He seems like a nice guy and a genuine fella but really other than that his stuff is Ramen noodle level theological nourishment.

    Reply
  7. Benjamin Mensah

    This is fantastic and such an important truth. This is what it means to live for Christ.

    Every choice, every decision isn’t for our personal gain, but for the glory of God.

    Reply
  8. Angela Hogan

    Excellent points, Summer, and it could easily be applied to much of what passes for evangelism today as well in terms of skirting around sin and the *actual* good news about Jesus’s death and resurrection and instead focusing on more “practical” matters about how Jesus offers you peace and purpose if you’ll just “come to him” (no knowledge of offending God through sin necessary). I hope that Bethke and his wife will see that what you have written as a corrective and that you want the best for them and their ministry. We need each other to help us with our blind spots and this is one for them that I trust they will consider and move forward with a different emphasis in their marriage instruction. God-speed, Bethke’s!

    Reply
  9. Matt Conroy

    Summer, I believe your intentions are pure and you have expressed some good thoughts in this article. However, I wouldn’t attack the Bethkes for supporting their Christian positions with pragmatic answers. From what I’ve seen of the Bethke family (especially Jeff), they are still Christians who support Christian values. Jeff’s YouTube channel has plenty of videos on faith-based topics that you can watch for more evidence of that. I believe they take a more pragmatic approach in their videos on relationships because they know their audience for each video. They know fellow Christians (which most of their viewers are) have likely already heard the biblical reasons for living separate until marriage. They also know many Millenials (a large portion of their audience for their relationship videos) are tired of hearing, “Because the Bible says so,” as the obligatory Christian answer to all moral issues. This is a generation of believers that thrives on multi-layered explanations and gets turned off by simplistic answers. The Bethkes may approach these topics very pragmatically, but it seems to me they are pragmatic Christians who strive to find pragmatic answers for a generation that seeks to answer the questions they face with as many reasons and details as possible.

    Reply
    • Summer White

      Christian positions require Christian answers. Tiring of “Because the Bible tells me so” is no excuse for looking to the world to define what is right and wrong.

      Reply
    • Kofi Adu-Boahen

      Here’s the thing: one can still offer all the reasons *and* say “Because the Bible says…”

      As Christians, our basic epistemology is that in these last days, God has spoken by His Son. That’s where everything ought to begin. All other reasonings (at least on issues where the Bible has spoken) ought to be subordinate to that.

      Reply
    • Laurette

      It seems disingenuous to reduce the idea of a comprehensive Scriptural answer to “because the Bible says” and then call it simplistic.

      Reply
  10. Stephanie

    I shared this blogpost with two friends today. One didn’t reply, the other one was livid. I probably lost a friend, nonetheless, it is a great article Summer.

    Reply
    • Summer White

      Frankly, if your stance on something like this is going to cause you to lose a friend, you may not have had a friend in the first place? I mean yikes I have Catholic friends who are aware I believe they are heretics and we still love each other.

      Reply
  11. Amber Taube

    I’ve watched minutes of their infomercial and was immediately turned off. Now I’m reminded why. Crazy stuff.

    Reply
  12. Missy

    Bam.

    Reply
  13. buddyglass

    It’s hard to say whether living together before getting married actually causes the negative outcomes, or if the negative outcomes are due to the fact that the set of people willing to live together before marriage is already disproportionately likely to experience negative outcomes. It’s really hard to tease out the difference.

    I’m not suggesting its necessarily a factor, but, for instance, compared to the set of people who refuse to live together before marriage, folks who live together before marriage are likely to have more past sexual partners. Maybe it’s the past sexual partners driving the bad outcomes and not living together before marriage per se? That is, if you were to sleep with no one prior to marriage except the person you eventually marry, maybe your outlook is roughly the same as someone who didn’t sleep with anyone before marriage. i..e living together before marriage, by itself, might not be causative.

    That’s just one example of a possible explanation. It could also be that the act of living together before marriage indicates a lack of confidence in the relationship. If the couple were more confident they’d just get married before living together. If that lack of confidence is based on real flaws in the relationship, then it could explain the negative outcomes. In this case the negative outcomes aren’t *caused* by living together before marriage; it’s just a symptom of other stuff.

    Reply
  14. Brutha Mark

    Why is a couple that ain’t been married five years writing books on successful marriage?
    Boy ain’t got no street cred yet.
    And your critique is on point.

    Reply
  15. Gia French

    Always solid writing and lovingly challenging our brothers/sisters in Christ to make the gospel the priority. Thank you Summer! Coming out of a Pentecostal upbringing I’m seeing where the gospel has taken a backseat to social issues and the very bedrock of social issues are rooted in the gospel. Without God’s illuminating grace and the Holy Spirit opening my mind to His truth I would be theologically lost. Your writing is a huge help to me.

    Reply

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SUMMER WHITE

She is a mother of two and she occasionally blogs when taking a break from making crock-pot meals. She grew up traveling with her dad and watching him debate all over the country. She does not like long walks on the beach.

@SummrWrites

Facebook

sheologiansblog@gmail.com 

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©2017 Sheologians is kept nice and tidy by netflud

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