Virtual Voices
The Sacred Search (David C Cook), The Most Misused Verses in the Bible (Bethany House Publishers)

Weekend Reads: What do marriage and biblical hermeneutics have in common?

Books

One wouldn’t necessarily expect a marriage book and a hermeneutics book to have much in common, but both make the same point: Emotional connection is a poor substitute for rational analysis in the decision-making process.

Gary Thomas’ The Sacred Search (David C Cook, 2013) asks in its subtitle, What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Thomas answers with a blistering screed against “falling in love” and emotional infatuation. Selecting a spouse ought to be a process of ruthless evaluation of character—both your own and your potential mate’s. The emotional connection and sexual chemistry we have been culturally indoctrinated to look for is worse than useless. Neuroscience proves such a bond cannot last for more than two years.

The subtitle of Eric Bargerhuff’s The Most Misused Verses in the Bible (Bethany House Publishers, 2012)seems a bit optimistic: Surprising Ways God’s Word Is Misunderstood. Actually, what will surprise most readers is that those verses don’t mean what they are commonly purported to mean. Thus, 2 Chronicles 7:14 (“If my people … humble themselves and pray and seek my face …”) is not actually a promise from God to every nation, but a specific promise to the people of God as they lived in the Promised Land—i.e., to Old Testament Israel. Even the strong emotional resonances this verse has for patriotic believers do not warrant ripping it from its context and applying it to any modern nation. The same goes for Jeremiah 29:11-13 (“plans to … give you a future and hope”). Those verses are a promise to the citizens of Judah on the eve of exile. Therefore, to take them literally is to see them as a promise of corporate restoration after 70 years of devastation. In no sense do they make a “life verse” promising prosperity and the American Dream to the individual Christian.

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Thomas, too, takes on exegetical fallacies in The Sacred Search. Tongue in cheek, he tells the reader that he has searched the KJV, NIV, NASB, ESV, MSG, NLT, and a host of other translations looking for “the great exception”—the great exception, that is, to Matthew 6:33. Apparently most singles read that verse as “Seek first the kingdom of God, except when you’re looking for spouse. In that case, seek emotional connection, romantic attraction, and fun.”

The three most important factors in marriage are character, character, and character. Sure, some level of emotional and physical attraction is necessary. But marriage is actually about finding a life partner with whom you can pursue the Kingdom of God. Marriage is a mission, and you’d better be looking for someone who will help that mission. Thomas writes, “If someone is willing to marry you without doing the hard work of determining whether you’re suitable to be their spouse and their future kids’ parent, what makes you think that they’ll do the hard work of building a satisfying, God-honoring marriage?”

Both men know what they’re talking about. Thomas is writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston. The Sacred Search is stuffed so full of marriage anecdotes it provides a truly invaluable resource for those able to learn from others’ mistakes. Bargerhuff, a pastor, has a Ph.D. in biblical theology. His explanation of frequently misunderstood passages is compelling, and his methods are transparent. The Most Misused Verses and The Sacred Search are truly paradigm shifting, helping to liberate readers from an emotionally driven decision process. Some books explaining difficult passages give the impression that only an expert can read the Bible. Some marriage books imply a similar falsehood. But Bargerhuff and Thomas have this in common: They restore confidence to the ordinary Bible-reader and spouse-seeker.

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb grew up on a ranch in northern Colorado and is currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Greenville, S.C.

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