Why Do Missionaries Get Depressed?

It comes as a surprise to many to find out that some of their heroes of the faith, overseas missionaries, go through difficulties in their emotional and mental health. But when you think about the added stress of raising your family in a new country, along with the challenge of sharing the gospel among the unreached, should we really be surprised?

Below are just a few reasons that missionaries are especially prone to depression, and, in the conclusion, I’ll share some of the ways that you can help missionaries that you know.

1. Missionaries want to change the world.

One of the ironies of depression is that high expectations can only make depression worse, and missionaries often have sky-high expectations. As a teenager, I remember reading the stories of Bruce Olson, Adoniram Judson, and Don Richardson, and thinking, “What greater privilege could there be, than to take the gospel and the Bible to a people who never in human history have heard it before?”

Wanting to change the world is only half of the equation. Missionaries have to put the rubber to the road by putting practical steps into place that start with bridging culture, learning language, and sharing life relentlessly. This is no small task for a set of visionaries, idealists and discoverers that often arrive to the mission field bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—not to mention twenty-something. Often a missionary’s first term overseas is simply a time of adjusting expectations, of reining in what they can’t do and learning what they can.

2. Missionaries have unique health challenges.

Anyone that emigrates will have health and diet challenges that come from the new environment. And missionaries are often sent to the places of greatest need, which can mean health care is scarce or poor in quality. Even if there is good health care, they have to learn a new medical system. For some missionaries I know, they are the health care—there is no hospital for miles around, and the only medicine is what they bring in.

What we gain in the excitement of travel we lose in health and hygiene obstacles. I have eaten from a roasted goat along with half-a-dozen Arab men, none of whom used utensils. I have been quarantined on Air France because they thought I was at risk for MERS. I have been to a gym that had a “communal water cup” that everyone used. Since becoming missionaries, my wife and I have had diarrhea on five different continents. I have been to the ER with a poison ivy rash that was not only unknown to the pharmacist, it was impossible to even get in that country because that plant doesn’t grow there.

Depression tends to correlate with a host of other health problems; diabetes and depression, for example, can cause each other. That means that if you have diabetes, you are more likely to fall into depression, and if you are depressed, you are more likely to get diabetes. So it’s no wonder that, along with all the other health challenges of living overseas, come challenges to a believer’s mental, social, and emotional health.

3. Missionaries share a prophetic calling.

Have you ever noticed that the prophets of the Bible were not a particularly cheery lot? The Bible is realistic in its portraits of human character. Moses interceded intensely for the entire nation, placing his own life on the line (Ex. 32:1-14). Jeremiah was nicknamed the weeping prophet. Joel commanded the priests to “weep between the porch and the altar” (Joel 2:17).

In biblical narratives, prophetic success is almost as bad as failure. After the great victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah prayed that he might die because of the threats and isolation that success had brought on him (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was dragged by God to Nineveh, and when his message had succeeded, he became suicidal (Jonah 4:3).

Other examples of emotional hardship in the Bible are directly connected to calling. As part of his missionary consecration, Ezekiel was commanded not to grieve the loss of his wife (Ezek. 24:16). Hosea was commanded to marry an unfaithful woman as a demonstration of God’s overwhelming faithfulness. Abraham left behind his pagan family in Ur, and his family was nearly torn apart when God came down to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.

All of the above are examples of the cost of the prophetic calling. Jesus himself was called “a man of sorrows,” and this emotional cost was not limited to his atoning work on the cross. His life of holiness led him to grief at his hearers’ hardness of heart (Mark 3:5), anger at religious hypocrisy (Matt. 23:33), and to weep and feel troubled at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:33, 35, 38). Jesus’ emotional suffering culminates, of course, in Gethsemane, where his “soul is overwhelmed to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38, Mark 14:34).

Success, failure, family pressure, and spiritual pressure—all of these are scriptural situations that can lead a missionary to feel depressed.

4. Missionaries are isolated.

Missionaries are called to build communities of faith where there are none, so it goes without saying that they are often isolated from their peer groups. Historically, some missions agencies wanted their missionaries as dispersed as possible. You can read memoirs, for example, of Sarah Stallybrass in eastern Siberia, or James Gilmour in Mongolia; although their ministries were impactful, isolation took its toll on their overall health, and they were frequently depressed. More agencies are turning towards a team mentality, and away from the mentality that one family—or one man—can do all the work.

Isolation can be especially rough today for women in cultures where women are expected to remain at home or curfews are in effect. Isolation, culture shock, and rejection by your host culture can become a potent cocktail for negative thoughts, and security can be another roadblock to communication.

5. Missionaries are humans.

Depression and anxiety are staggeringly common today. Current estimates are that around 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s also estimated that 15 percent of American adults will experience depression at some time in their life. It should be no surprise that pastors and missionaries suffer from it too.

But ministerial life, with its spiritual and social pressures, has strangely high rates of depression according to some surveys:

The September/October 2000 edition of Physician magazine reported that 80 percent of pastors and 84 percent of their spouses are discouraged or dealing with depression. [source]

If depressed Christians ask for prayer and aid from their pastor and their church in times of trouble, who does the pastor ask for help? Do pastors and missionaries have anyone they can go to for advice and counsel, other than fellow pastors and missionaries, who often suffer from the same issues?

How can we help?

Unless we break the silence and create new strategies for our changing world, mental health issues will likely to continue to abound both inside and outside the church. But hopefully we as believers can take time to identify the causes, and show that we care for our missionaries and pastors by taking some steps in the right direction.

1. Share failures and successes.

Missionaries that are on a fundraising model can be pressured to put on a brave face and regale their listeners with tales of changing the world. We are either on the way to the field, sharing pictures of potbellied pagan orphans, or we are on the way back, sharing videos of new converts singing joyous hymns. Needless to say, neither is a complete picture of missionary life. In fact, it’s the in-between that is so hard to write and speak about—the humdrum of having only one or two inquirers here and there, of feeling that your role in God’s kingdom has gotten smaller since becoming a missionary. Whether missionaries, pastors, or laymen, we all need to re-imagine a missionary life that is less about us and our successes and more about Jesus, his Church, and his glory.

2. Share the load in times of stress.

Missionaries have tremendous psychological pressure, and often they just need someone to sympathize. When one of their converts is murdered by a family member, or their church has decided to split, what a missionary needs more than anything is a listening ear. One of the predictors of healthy adjustment after trauma is simply how much a person was able to get support (i.e. communication) from their family and friends—so if you know a missionary who’s in a rough time, don’t be hands-off; let them know you are there for them.

3. Share the mundane in times of monotony.

Isolation is one of the biggest contributors to missionary depression, and it is ironic in a time when most missionaries have access to Facetime, Messenger, WhatsApp, and Zoom. If security is an issue and you don’t feel you can discuss their work, you can always just talk about everyday life. And most missionaries would love to hear news from their home country, too. More so than newsletters can ever do, this kind of contact can help us to share together the highs, lows, and even the monotonous “middles” of missionary life.

4. Ask a missionary how they are doing—not how their work is doing.

One of the greatest problems with pastors and missionaries is that they can become so closely identified with their work, to the point that when someone asks “how are you?”, the response always involves how your Bible study group is doing, the recent opportunity you had at the market, or who is becoming curious about the gospel. Just like anyone, often missionaries and pastors need to be asked a second time, “how are you doing?”

5. Pray for a missionary.

It goes without saying that prayer is the best thing you can do for a missionary; but it is not the only thing you can do. Take a moment now and think about the missionaries you know—is there someone that is in need of extra prayer? Is there someone you should reach out to or renew contact with, even now?


Cover image: Rembrandt van Rijn, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, c. 1630.

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New Catalogues

For the first time, I am publishing PDF catalogues of everything published under Pioneer Library, sorted by author (31 paperbacks and 142 ebooks). These PDFs include current prices, and the newest titles are highlighted.

Pioneer Library Ebook Catalogue (5-31-2019)

Pioneer Library Print Catalogue (5-31-2019)

Have any questions about books in our catalogue? You can comment below or contact me personally at thepioneerlibrary@gmail.com.

Free George MacDonald Books

George MacDonald was a Scottish preacher and author who holds today a profound unseen influence in the genres of theology and fantasy. His realistic fiction was a blend of romance and theology; he also had his own way of telling “fairy stories,” which helped popularize fantasy as a genre.

MacDonald passed away in 1905, so everything published by him in his lifetime is out of copyright. Here is where you can read his works for free:

Free George MacDonald books (PDF) on the Internet Archive (50+)
Free George MacDonald books in the Kindle Store (40+)
Free George MacDonald audiobooks on LibriVox (40+)
Free George MacDonald books on ManyBooks
Free George MacDonald books on the Online Books Page (60+)
Free George MacDonald books on Project Gutenberg (50+)

Free George MacDonald PDFs

The following is a complete list of George MacDonald’s books that are available for free in PDF format from the Internet Archive. Abridged titles are given in parentheses.

Adela Cathcart, containing “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
Alec Forbes of Howglen (= The Maiden’s Bequest)
Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (★★★★★)
At the Back of the North Wind
Beautiful Thoughts from George MacDonald 
(compilation)
Cheerful Words from the Writing of George MacDonald 
(compilation)
David Elginbrod 
(= The Tutor’s First Love)
Dealings with the Fairies, containing “The Golden Key”, “The Light Princess”, “The Shadows”, and other short stories
Diary of an Old Soul (★★★★)
“The Disciple” and Other Poems
A Dish of Orts
 (essays)
Donal Grant
 (= The Shepherd’s Castle), a sequel to Sir Gibbie
Dramatic and Miscellaneous Poems
The Elect Lady
 (= The Landlady’s Master)
England’s Antiphon
 (a history of religious poetry)
Far Above Rubies
The Flight of the Shadow

The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Tales (= Stephen Archer and Other Tales)
Guild Court: A London Story (= The Prodigal Apprentice)
Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius (= The Genius of Willie MacMichael)
Heather and Snow (= The Peasant Girl’s Dream) (★★★)
“A Hidden Life” and Other Poems
Home Again: A Tale (= The Poet’s Homecoming)
The Hope of the Gospel (★★)
Lilith: A Romance
Malcolm (updated under the same title)
The Marquis of Lossie (= The Marquis’ Secret), the sequel of Malcolm (★★★★)
Mary Marston (= A Daughter’s Devotion or The Shopkeeper’s Daughter)
The Miracles of Our Lord (sermons) (★★★★★)
Paul Faber, Surgeon (= The Lady’s Confession), a sequel to Thomas Wingfold, Curate
Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women
 (★★)
The Portent
The Princess and the Goblin (★★★★★)
The Princess and Curdie, a sequel to The Princess and the Goblin (★★★★★)
Rampolli: Growths from a Long-planted Root
Ranald Bannerman’s Boyhood (= The Boyhood of Ranald Bannerman)
Robert Falconer (= The Musician’s Quest) (★★★★★)
A Rough Shaking (= The Wanderings of Clare Skymer)
St. George and St. Michael
Salted with Fire (= The Minister’s Restoration)
Scotch Songs and Ballads
The Seaboard Parish, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood (★★★★★)
Sir Gibbie (= The Baronet’s Song) (★★★★★)
Thomas Wingfold, Curate (= The Curate’s Awakening) (★★★★★)
There and Back (= The Baron’s Apprenticeship), a sequel to Paul Faber, Surgeon (★★★★★)
The Threefold Cord: Poems by Three Friends
The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke: A Study With the Test of the Folio of 1623
Unspoken Sermons (1st series2nd series3rd series) (★★★★★)
The Vicar’s Daughter, a sequel to Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood and The Seaboard Parish
Warlock o’ Glenwarlock
 (= Castle Warlock and The Laird’s Inheritance)
Weighed and Wanting 
(= The Gentlewoman’s Choice) (★★)
What’s Mine’s Mine (= The Highlander’s Last Song)
Wilfrid Cumbermede

The Wise Woman: A Parable (= “The Lost Princess: A Double Story” or “A Double Story”)
Within and Without: A Dramatic Poem

Although all of George MacDonald’s works are out of copyright, this list does not include everything he has written. If you want a more complete list, you can check out our Complete Bibliography of George MacDonald.

Free books by Samuel M. Zwemer

Samuel M. Zwemer worked as a pioneer missionary in Iraq, Bahrain, and Egypt, but his most lasting influence was through his conferences and books. He worked tirelessly as a missions mobilizer to make Christians aware of the challenges and opportunities of missions among Muslims.

The following list links to free PDFs of Zwemer’s books from several sources, many of them prepared by the Zwemer Center or by muhammadanism.org.

Across the World of Islam
Arabia: The Cradle of Islam (4th Edition)
Call to Prayer (site down)
Childhood in the Moslem World
The Cross Above the Crescent (site down)
Daylight in the Harem (with Annie van Sommer)
The Disintegration of Islam
Evangelism Today: Message Not Method
The Glory of the Cross  (Arabic Translation)
The Glory of the Manger
The Golden Milestone
Heirs of the Prophets
The Influence of Animism on Islam
Into All the World
Islam, A Challenge to Faith (2nd Edition) (German Translation)
Islam and Missions (editor & contributor)
The Law of Apostasy in Islam
Lucknow, 1911
The Mohammedan World of Today (with E. M. Wherry)
Mohammed or Christ. (Fleming H. Revell edition)
The Moslem Christ
The Moslem Doctrine of God
The Moslem World (revised for students from Islam, A Challenge to Faith)
A Moslem Seeker After God (Arabic Translation)
The Nearer and Farther East (with Arthur J. Brown)
Our Muslim Sisters (editor & contributor)
Raymond Lull: First Missionary to the Muslims (Spanish Translation)
The Solitary Throne
Sons of Adam: Studies of Old Testament Characters in New Testament Light
Taking Hold of God
Thinking Missions with Christ (3rd Edition)
Topsy-Turvy Land: Arabia Pictured for Children (with Amy E. Zwemer)
The Unoccupied Mission Fields of Africa and Asia
Zigzag Journeys in the Camel Country (with Amy E. Zwemer)

This list only includes full-length books. For an exhaustive list of Samuel M. Zwemer’s publications, see our bibliography for Samuel Zwemer.

 

Passion and Purgatory

Joshua Harris, Elisabeth Elliot & the ongoing search for balanced teaching on Christian romance

Recently, I have been revisiting the love story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot while reading The Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot. As a missionary who has spent many weeks exploring Ecuador, I was well aware of the “Palm Beach” canon, which includes a shelf-full of books and two documentaries—most notably the works of Elisabeth Elliot and Steve Saint—related to the martyrdom of five men seeking to reach the then-untouchable Huaorani of the Ecuadorean jungle.

A notable element in Elliot’s repertoire is her advice on Christian dating and relationships, which are boiled down into a palatable form in two books, Passion and Purity and Quest for Love. Simply stated, Elliot is quite disdainful of what she calls “the dating mess.”

Although some know her for books on missions, Elisabeth Elliot’s impact on the Christian dating scene is by no means trivial. Her 1984 book Passion and Purity is more or less the root of the entire “purity movement,” and was ample inspiration for Josh Harris’ 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Her endorsement helped launch that book, in fact. Elliot’s and Harris’ books advocate “courtship” over “dating,” believing that, as Don Raunikar put it, “Christian dating is an oxymoron.” [1] Over against “dating,” these authors seek to define “courtship” as a patient, prayerful process in which a couple more or less never escapes the supervision of a Christian chaperone.

While revisiting the story of Elisabeth Elliot’s “courtship” and eventual marriage with Jim Elliot in The Shadow of the Almighty, the whole tale of their romance strikes me as incredibly overspiritual. I can only write this in disappointment as a missionary who was impacted by Elliot’s books as a young believer. I believe that her writings on romance and those that follow in her train are symptomatic of a breakdown not so much in Christian romance as in Christian decision-making. Let’s look at their decision-making process:

Elisabeth Elliot’s Slow Courtship: Purity or Purgatory?

Jim and Elisabeth believed that God had led them to a life of singleness. They cite passages like Isaiah 54, Matthew 19:10-12, and 1 Corinthians 7 in support of this specific guidance. But this doesn’t come from the whole counsel of God: it comes from a few cherry-picked verses which they believed at the time to be the Spirit speaking in the Word. I cannot say that God had not given them “special guidance”—but I only state the obvious: these Scriptures are not sufficient guidance to keep someone from marrying.

They believed that remaining single greatly enhanced their effectiveness on the mission field. Edith Schaeffer gives this as a helpful rationale for Christian marriage: our ministry and outreach should become more, not less, through marriage. [2] Jim Elliot reasons in his journal, for example, that language school would be impossible while married. I have spent much of my married life in language school, and I can’t say that I found this argument convincing; to Jim Elliot, though, it was such a conviction, that he required his fiancée to learn Quichua for the mission field before he would marry her.

Jim also mentions the extreme difficulty of starting married life as a new missionary. This is one piece of counsel with which I can agree: major life shifts should, whenever possible, be tackled one at a time! Moving to a new country and joining a new spouse are two of life’s greatest psychological stressors, and combining them could increase the stress exponentially.

But again, I would not prescribe this as being from the Spirit of God. God may guide some to make that double leap, and they may make it gracefully. I speak especially for myself when I say that I would expect to flounder under the stress.

Just a few days ago, I read of James Calvert, famous missionary to Fiji:

Early in 1838, it was resolved to send men to reinforce the mission to the Fiji Islands, and the missionary committee, unexpectedly finding themselves able to send three [missionaries] instead of two, called upon Mr. Calvert to go. Forthwith he consented, and went down to Buckinghamshire and asked Miss Fowler to share his lot. The proposal was sudden, but probably not altogether unexpected. There was little time for delay . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Calvert were married in March, and in about a month afterwards . . . set sail on a four months’ voyage to New South Wales [en route to Polynesia]. [3]

The Calverts were exemplary missionaries for 17 years in Fiji—more than thrice as long as Elisabeth Elliot was with the Huaorani. They were fluent in Fijian, well regarded by the people, and ministered widely across dozens of sparsely-laid islands.

Like singleness on the mission field, marriage has its advantages and its dangers. But neither the Calverts in rushing nor the Elliots in dragging their feet are finally normative. The Bible warns against both hastiness and delay in the specific context of marriage (Song of Songs, 1 Corinthians 7).

Jim Elliot was disdainful of marriage ceremonies in general. Based on her writing, Elisabeth Elliot tacitly shared this opinion, or she would not have published her late husband’s opinions at length. But this, along with most other negative statements in Jim’s journal, seems to stem from his Brethren upbringing more than from Scripture. Scripture neither bashes ceremonies nor dictates how they should be done.

All of these rationales to delay and avoid marriage run directly athwart of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . .  Now to the unmarried [marg., widowers] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Contrary to his own counsel, it is obvious from his journals that singleness was a distraction for Jim Elliot on the mission field, however it may have freed up his schedule. Given that Paul clearly wrote a whole chapter addressing these issues, it seems like a huge blind spot for someone so consecrated to Scripture. Jim writes more than once that he could not stop thinking about Elisabeth, but continues to rationalize why they must keep waiting, even though they are mature believers, living on nearby mission fields.

I say this with greatest respect for all that was accomplished by Jim, Elisabeth, and their associates: This doesn’t sound like purity—it sounds like purgatory. Purgatory, in Catholic teaching, is where believers go to finish atoning for their guilt. We have a hard time accepting the grace that God has for us; we would rather gain a sense of moral achievement by making things more difficult than his Word. (See 1 Tim. 4:1-4, quoted below.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose very life reminds us of “the cost of discipleship,” wrote that we sometimes try to be “more spiritual than God” in making our decisions.

From a glance at the cross of Christ there comes to many the unhealthy thought that life and the visible, earthly blessings of God are in themselves at least a questionable good, and in any case a good not to be desired. They take, then, the corresponding prayers of the Psalter to be an incomplete first stage of Old Testament piety, which is overcome in the New Testament. But in doing so they want to be more spiritual than God himself. [4]

Joshua Harris’ Slow Backpedal

When we were getting acquainted, my wife and I both read Passion and Purity. We both found the book challenging at the time. Last year, after many years of marriage, going back through Shadow of the Almighty, I felt that I had been sold a bill of goods. Elisabeth’s book came off as prescriptive, touting imbalanced ideas about church life and relationships, lacking a Scriptural rationale for avoiding marriage as long as they did.

When I shared with my wife my strong misgivings about the Elliots’ “courtship” advice, she reminded me that Joshua Harris had issued a retraction of sorts regarding his own book in 2016. Although it took many years, the dialogue on Christian purity is making a much-needed course correction. (In some camps, this is an 180-degree course correction, but that’s a topic for another article.) In fact, Harris has made an agreement with the publisher that they will have no more print runs of his first book:

I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating. [5]

In addition to his partial retraction, Harris just released a documentary to better understand the negative impact that his book had. The documentary premiered just a few weeks ago.

Harris can be excused for lacking balance back in 1997—he was only 20 when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, while the executives at Multnomah, who made him their poster child, might have known better. Although Paul tells Timothy to let no one despise him for his youth (1 Tim. 4:12), in the same letter he warns against giving too much leadership to new believers (1 Tim. 3:6).

Harris’ writings are, for the most part, biblically grounded, but lack the kind of balance and finesse that leaders gain with age. Martin Luther is credited with saying that we are like a drunk peasant riding home in the dark—to avoid falling off the horse on the left, we fall off on the right. [6] Rejecting modern dating norms, Harris swings the reins hard, and—with a hand from Elisabeth Elliot—tries to transplant “courtship” in place of “dating.”

Does Courtship Cast Out Fear?

What Harris regrets most, though, is that he was motivated by fear, not by a heart of grace.

Fear is never a good motive. Fear of messing up, fear of getting your heart broken, fear of hurting somebody else, fear of sex. [6]

Part One of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is titled “Isn’t There a Better a Way?” and the first sentence of Don Raunikar’s similar book is, “If dating is so wonderful, why does it hurt so much?” This points to the overall negativity of the purity movement—it’s not “look how great courtship is,” but “look how bad dating is.” Ian Maclaren warned us against this in an 1897 article:

The Gospel is never negative—an embodied threat—”refuse if you dare”; the Gospel is ever positive—a living promise, “Come and be blessed.” [7]

F. W. Boreham echoes Maclaren numerous times in his preaching:

No man ever yet helped the world by publishing a negation. Iconoclasm is the policy of despair. The hunger of the human heart can never be satisfied with denials. [8]

The solution to Christian relationship problems will come, not as an iconoclasm, but as an affirmation of life, steadfastly focused on the Redeemer whose grace teaches us how to live (Titus 2:11-13).

An Eschatology of Dating

In his advice on Christian marriage, Paul reminds us that the true motivation for balance in our romance is eschatological:

The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none . . . and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:29, 31, ESV).

His words echo those of the Savior, who said that the end would be like “the days of Noah,” with men eating, drinking, and getting married (Matt. 24:37, Luke 17:27).

In his great little book, Love Not the World, Watchman Nee points out that we should not think that we can live without “secular” things like careers, cars, or candlelit dinners; but our attitude toward these things should be directed by the reminder that they are not eternal. In his words, they are “under a death sentence.”

Conclusion: Prescriptions or Principles?

We’re right about what’s wrong but wrong about what’s right. The problem has been incorrectly stated. We don’t just need more boundaries and rules; we need God himself.

A. J. Gossip, a Scottish preacher, said the following in a sermon on “What Christ Means by a Good Man”:

Our dull and prosy minds ask for little invariable rules and a full code of minute by-laws, and are given instead, much to their discomfiture, mighty principles which we are left to apply for ourselves. Newman went over to the Church of Rome largely because it told him definitely what to believe and what to do, took the ordering of things away from him, and so saved him from the turmoil of uncertainty in his own mind, and the bother and the danger of decision. [10]

Let’s make a few positive statements that can help young believers:

1. Marriage is a good thing. Let them marry!

When someone wants to marry, they should not undertake it lightly. But if someone decides to marry, our Scriptural default reaction should be positive.

Some ministry internships for young people have strict no-dating policies that are meant to maintain the consecration of that time period. I have friends in their thirties who have been forbidden from pursuing marriage by such policies. “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom … but lack any value in restraining indulgence.” (Col. 2:23, NIV)

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). Jim Elliot was horrified when a ministry colleague decided to get married ahead of joining the mission field. Paul tells Timothy, though, that avoiding marriage because of asceticism is not a Christian behavior:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith . . . forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving. (1 Tim. 4:1, 3-4)

2. Singleness is a great thing.

As great as marriage is, Jesus says that there is for some a lifelong gift of singleness, and that those who are able to receive it should. If you believe that you have this gift from God, then nothing should make you feel forced to marry; but if you haven’t received this gift, and you are a mature believer following godly counsel, there is no reason to feel forced not to marry.

3. Children are a gift.

If Scripture defines marriage as integrally good, then that includes children. One of the causes of abortion is the belief that children are a burden. One of the ways that we can reverse this trend is by relentlessly affirming that children are a gift.

4. Flee from sexual immorality.

This is the theme of Henry Cloud’s books: “boundaries” are a way of staying as far from sexual immorality as you can. Sexual immorality, contrary to what our culture might say, is clearly defined in Scripture over and over, and part of that definition is that sexual intimacy belongs inside marriage.

5. Our hope isn’t in the past—it’s in the future.

On a theological level, the biggest problem of the anti-dating movement is the “Golden Age” fallacy. The Golden Age fallacy is the idea that the past—-whether Victorian-era England or 1950s America or even 1st-century Palestine—was more moral, more spiritual, or had a holier generation of believers. But a candid look at Victorian-era England shows that teenage pregnancy was not especially rare; nor was homosexuality, though it was less accepted. America in the 1950s was undergoing its own sort of middle-class revolution; and Scripture never tells us that everything recorded about the 1st-century church is perfect or even normative.

All of the “Christian purity” books I have read are filled with appeals not to Scripture, but to an age when English-speaking Christians had stronger mores about marriage. And we need stronger norms as a culture. But the way to come about them will be an affirmation of life, singleness, sex, marriage, pregnancy and children—not just a rejection of their abuses.

The Church’s brightest heroes act as lighthouses, not iconoclasts. Dashing idols in the dark like Gideon only leaves God’s people wondering on waking, “how then shall we live?” It is the positive exposition of Scripture that provides the answer, not criticism of our culture, however flawed.


1 Raunikar, Don. Choosing God’s Best.

2 I believe she says this in the book The Tapestry.

3 Rowe, George Stringer. Memoir of Mary Calvert. London: T. Woolmer, 1882.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Psalms: The Prayer Book Of The Bible. Fortress Press. Kindle Edition, p. 43.

5 Harris, Josh. “A Statement on I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”

The earliest available source for this saying is Richard B. Wilke’s 1973 book, Tell Me Again—I’m Listening.

Klett, Leah Marieann. “Joshua Harris Apologizes for Mistakes in ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’ in Powerful TEDx Talk.” The Gospel Herald Ministries, 8 December 2017.

8 Maclaren, Ian. “The Positive Note in Preaching.” Christian Literature, 1897.

9 Boreham, F. W. The Crystal Pointers, p. 142. London: Epworth, 1925.

10 Raunikar, Don. Choosing God’s Best.

11 Gossip, Arthur John. “What Christ Means by a Good Man.” In The Hero in Thy Soul: Being an Attempt to Face Life Gallantly. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928.

FREE CHRISTIAN BOOKS

Although our website has loads of information about your favorite Christian authors like George MacDonald, F. W. Boreham, Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, E. M. Bounds, and others, not everyone knows that most books by these authors are available for free online in digital format. There are also free audiobooks for most of these authors.

In time, this will become a whole new section of my website—free books.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting links explaining the best websites for each author, and why certain books end up online but not others.