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Everyone has a desire to be fully known. On FamilyLife Today, hosts Dave and Ann Wilson talk with author Carolyn Weber, about how purity relates to that topic in today’s world.
Bob: As a student at Oxford, Carolyn Weber was confronted with the claims of Christ. She correctly understood that to become a Christian would have an impact on more than just what she believed about God.
Carolyn: When I became a Christian, and I started to think about relationships differently, I started to look back and think, “Oh, I wish someone had told me this.” I didn’t expect so much grief to wash in. Once I was a believer, and I was engaged to a non-believer, who I tried to share the gospel with and remained resistant, I realized: “Wow; I’m either going to have to get married, unequally yoked; and what does that mean?” or “This really needs to be reevaluated.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, December 17th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The Christmas story/the coming of Jesus—it’s a story of personal revolution in the lives of every person who believes. We’ll hear about that from Carolyn Weber today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was on a radio interview a number of years ago; there were two of us being interviewed. The question was about the purity culture and whether the purity culture—that’s been connected to evangelicalism—“Has that been a negative thing or a positive thing? Should we be doing it differently?” Of course, FamilyLife® has a resource called Passport2Purity®. We’ve been encouraging moms and dads to be engaging with their children, young, about principles of purity when it comes to human sexuality.
I remember, in the conversation, we were talking about how some people were damaged by messages that were a part of the purity culture. They felt like there was a lot of shame attached to people who made mistakes as they were growing up. I thought, “That’s all true, and we need to be careful that we’re not Pharisees; but we can’t throw the purity baby out with the bath water here.”
Ann: Yes; I agree, because we still need to talk about it.
Ann: I think for Dave and me, as we were going through seminary, and we looked back on our early years of dating before we knew each other, there were some things that we really regretted. We were talking about that; Dave decided to write his master’s thesis on an interesting topic.
Dave: Oh, we’re going to go all the way back to that?!
Ann: I was thinking of that. [Laughter]
Dave: I haven’t thought about that in 40 years; but yes, you know, most master’s theses are about theology.
Dave: I go to my readers and say, “Can I do a master’s theses about the effects of premarital sex on marriage?” They looked at me like, “What?!” “I’d love to study that, biblically and experientially, with people: ‘What did that say?’” That’s what I wrote it on.
Bob: Yes; and it was well-received?
Dave: Yes; it was a very interesting study. The purity culture was actually trying to get at that: “There are consequences that you don’t even know are going to be consequences in your life and on your future marriage.”
Bob: One of the reasons that we want to talk about this is because it’s almost the default today that—once you meet someone, and you’re attracted to them, and you feel a connection, and you think, “Maybe, we’re in love,”—that the next thing you do is you have sex with that person.
Dave: I don’t think that’s new, Bob.
Bob: But I’ll tell you—you watch movies or—
Bob: —television programs today—
Dave: Yes; it’s more blatant.
Bob: —and that’s where it goes. Nobody even raises a hand and says, “Oh, no; that’s too bad,” or—
Bob: —“You would be better off you didn’t make that choice.”
Ann: It seems it’s more commonplace than ever before that couples are living together before they get married.
Bob: We want to just step in here and say, “Hang on! Time out. The Bible still speaks to the fact that human thriving is connected to God’s plan for sexuality, and God’s plan for sexuality is that it happens inside a covenant relationship/a covenant commitment—marriage—and outside of that, you have a good gift from God that is being wrongly used, and that sows seeds that are not going to bear a good harvest.
We’ve got a friend, who is both friend and expert, Carolyn Weber, joining us. Carolyn, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Carolyn: Thank you so much for having me. I wouldn’t identify myself as a sex-pert. [Laughter] I’m certainly glad to join the conversation here. [Laughter]
Bob: Carolyn is an author/a professor. She lives in Canada with her husband Kent and their four children. She’s been a guest on FamilyLife Today before. We heard the story of her surprising conversion from being a secular feminist at Oxford to becoming a follower of Jesus in the first book that she wrote called Surprised by Oxford. Then, she wrote another beautiful book called Holy Is the Day. We’ve talked about that; we talked about the miracle C-section that you almost did not survive.
And you’ve just released a beautiful new memoir called Sex and the City of God that is a look back at your transition from how you viewed relationships prior to being a follower of Christ to how you started to view relationships, and particularly marriage, as a follower of Christ; how you met Kent; how he was instrumental in all of that.
Let’s go all the way back to when you were in high school. Your family of origin—your mom and dad—their marriage broke down; right?
Carolyn: Yes, it did. I think I came from a family that many would recognize or identify with. I defined it in Surprised by Oxford as loving enough to get by but broken enough not to deserve God’s attention. My parents were not believers. My home was not shaped by faith—maybe a loose Catholicism by my grandparents/kind of a European Catholicism—but not really any sort of faith. My father had been a self-made man. He had been very successful in business, and he lost that business and went through some very difficult times. He ended up, actually, having a nervous breakdown as a result.
I would have defined myself, by high school, as definitely needing to be independent/self-sufficient. I wasn’t going to trust a father, let alone a heavenly Father/eternal Father. I didn’t really know any Christians. I was—probably, like many—I didn’t really know Jesus at all. The Jesus I knew was this media-sort of presented-Jesus. I didn’t really think religion was relevant to my life, so that’s where I was at. By the time I arrived at Oxford, I was really quite determined to be self-sufficient and independent and in no need of a Savior.
Bob: How did that worldview/how did that way of thinking inform dating relationships?—your view of human sexuality? I mean, in high school, you had boyfriends. You were engaged to be married when you went to Oxford; weren’t you?
Carolyn: Yes; I mean, in high school, I think I was fairly busy. I was Student Council President, cheerleading captain, all those kinds of things. I loved high school: I was really focused on my grades, focused on wanting to go to university, focused on knowing that I needed a scholarship because, at that point, my family was very, very poor. My father was not in the picture at all; my mom was really struggling. I worked a lot of jobs in high school and in college. My mother also dealt with alcoholism, so a lot of the support of the family fell to me. I was really joyful and happy and enjoyed school, and all that sort of thing; but I was too busy for boys.
By the time, I entered college. I started dating. I was actually quite seriously engaged, then, to my college sweetheart by the time I left for my graduate work. I would have defined myself as agnostic, because I couldn’t disprove God. He would have defined himself as really quite overtly atheistic as was most of my circle of friends. Christianity wasn’t really seen as intellectually acceptable or viable. It really wasn’t even talked about. I didn’t really know any Christians. That’s pretty much the position I was at, so I was really entering Oxford without any worldview of Christianity.
Dave: Yes; as I listen to your background/your story, I don’t know if my wife Ann is sitting over there, going, “Oh my goodness! It’s very similar to mine, even the fact that I went to the Oxford of the Midwest, Ball State University.” [Laughter] I’m kidding, but Ann actually found Christ at the university.
Here is my question, because my dad walked out when I was seven years old. My mom was an alcoholic; she was working tirelessly to provide. I grew up sort of as an agnostic—sort of went to church—but never really read the Bible myself until college. But I realize now, looking back—and I wonder if you experienced the same thing—I still had, even though I wouldn’t have known it at the time, sort of a father-hunger/a desire for a dad; I didn’t have one. I looked at God as an absent father; you know? He is not around, just like my dad wasn’t around; why would I be interested? Some of it, I now know, was living in denial; but there was definitely this sense—from six/seven years old all through my life—I’m longing for/looking for a father’s love.
Did you experience that, or is that part of your story?
Carolyn: Absolutely; and you know, Dave, I’m so grateful you would share that. I think that’s an integral and deep part of who we are. When I studied the literature, there is what we call the monomyth, which is the great search for the Father; right?
Carolyn: There is this deep archetypal search we have for the Father that really runs through so much of who we are. I really/I would, in retrospect, identify this having this longing/wanting to be close to our fathers—there’s/when I did my minor in psych, there is a lot of research that shows that we shape our idea of eternal Father/of a heavenly Father based on our relationships with our earthly fathers.
Well, my earthly father was loving, and I knew he loved me; but he was intermittent, and difficult, and volatile, and untrustworthy when I was growing up. I think that that, in many ways, shaped that idea in exactly the same way. Yet, it doesn’t negate the longing—and that is what I wanted to explore in this book—what C.S. Lewis called son-soaked. You know that longing/that deep longing we have that can only be filled by God. We feel that ache, and we have twinges of that joy. It’s sort of a foretaste of the heaven or the happiness that we are created for; but I felt that deep, deep within me. It’s just I was also busy kicking against it, because we are fearful of it as well. It leaves us incredibly vulnerable.
Ann: Well, I know that I tried to fill that need and longing. Even though my dad was in the home, he was emotionally absent in many ways. I think I was trying to find that even through relationships with men or boys, even growing up, of just wanting validation—wanting someone to see me/someone to know me. Do you think that’s pretty common for women?
Carolyn: Oh, Ann, I think it is very common for everyone—men and women. Women, perhaps, vocalize it more because that’s what we do; but I think/I think we all—I haven’t met a single person, who hasn’t longed to be known. That’s why I was so moved when I first read the Bible—how much sense it made—the notion of a fallen world made sense, the way that the story moved from Genesis to Revelation. There isn’t anyone that doesn’t long to be fully known, and how powerful a verb that is in the Bible, in terms, of marriage as well—to be fully known.
That’s where—you know, marriage, to me, felt like this mini-covenant—because in a sense, it’s the only relationship where we make a promise/we have a covenant. We don’t do that with any other relationship; but it’s also where we’re really, really intimately known. We all long for that, and nothing else can replace it.
Bob: Carolyn, what shaped your thinking about sexuality as you were growing up? You didn’t have a covenant marriage, where mom and dad are living happily together, to give you that picture.
Bob: So you are a teenager, faced with desire, and pressure, and interest, and questions; and you’re making choices in that moment. What’s informing those choices for you?—and what’s causing you to make the choices you made, as a young person, to get involved sexually with the boys you were dating in high school and college?
Carolyn: Well, I think what it was—it was like for many people in mainstream, even North America, right?—I probably knew more divorced couples than I knew married couples. I think the big bell-ringer for me was when I became a Christian, and I started to think about relationships differently. I started to look back and think, “Oh, I wish someone had told me this, or this, or this; because this made sense. This made sense on things that hurt now or things that didn’t work now.”
Once I was a believer, and I was engaged to a non-believer, who I tried to share the gospel with and remained resistant, I realized: “Wow; I’m either going to have to get married, unequally yoked; and what does that mean?” or “This really needs to be reevaluated; because if I am starting on this foot, that’s something different. What’s going to happen when I can’t even pray with this person, or we don’t even share the same worldview?”
That’s where I was really drawn to Augustine with all of this, because I was really interested in his notion of the two cities—that when things boiled down, there is the city of God and the city of man—they are actually called to live in peace together, but they have two very different theological ends—that makes all the difference. You have to decide which citizenship is yours; and that means, you answer to a whole different set of rules. Actually, for the Christian, the bar is higher; and it’s different. There was more social responsibility: you are your brother’s or your sister’s keeper.
As I began to think about my life being/my citizenship—choosing to be/wanting to be part of the city of God—wanting to live in the eternal city, wanting to have the eternal inheritance and not a temporal, that begins to shift and color everything. Thinking about my responsibility to someone else in a relationship, too; that was, as well, ordering my loves, which is again what Augustine brings up. But I kept going back to that first commandment because, before I was a Christian, it really irked me. It really made me think God was heavy-handed and jealous—sort of demanding my love but not really delivering, often, Himself—I thought, “Wow; this Old Testament God seems like He has got a screw loose!—sort of this stalker—and He wants all of me/wants all the other commandments based on this.”
But as I became a believer, and even thought about something like what Augustine explores in the city of God, and when we organize our loves according to that first commandment—that’s the first commandment for a reason; everything else does fall into place. How, then, does that make me think about my relationships differently? I think that’s kind of where the hummingbird hit the glass.
Ann: Take us back to your conversion experience, and you tell your fiancé about how you are now following God. What’s his reaction? I’m sure that your lifestyle/your views on premarital sex—all of those were kind of shifting—what was his reaction?
Carolyn: His reaction was—I think, like many—“Oh, that’s good! Great! I’m happy for you. That’s wonderful. You can do your thing, and I’ll do mine. We can entirely get married. This is fine; this isn’t an issue.”
Then, I was in a situation: wow; I had known him for a long time/many years. Our families were close, and it was looking like we were just going to be getting married. I could have just kind of continued to roll on into it, and hoped for the best, and think, “Well, maybe, he’ll warm up after we’re married,” or “Maybe, he’ll be open to this.” It was actually, in many ways, more difficult.
Bob: You said, when you came to Christ, you found yourself thinking, “I wish somebody had told me some of these things earlier.”
Bob: We’re talking to people today, who may need to hear some of those things about being unequally yoked, and what that can lead to, and why that’s a problem, or about God’s design for sexuality and why we ought to observe His ways and not just go with what the culture is telling us. If you were sitting down with that young person today, who is saying, “Okay, so tell me what you think and why you believe these things,” what would you tell them?
Carolyn: What’s a great metaphor? I mean, I love the Bible; you can’t make this stuff up. It is so brilliant; you can’t ever get to the bottom of it. As a literature person—I just love it to the moon and back—there is nothing I’ve ever read that doesn’t point more to the glory of God, secular or Christian. The Bible is just amazing.
Being yoked/equally yoked is a great metaphor; because living on a farm, I understand it. When you put the yoke around the oxen, if it’s not equal, they will go in circles.
Carolyn: They’ll go in circles until they go crazy, which is a great metaphor for marriage—[Laughter]
Carolyn: —until you kind of get your yoke together. But if you are going into that, and it’s not even equal to begin with—wow!—that’s just a recipe for disaster. There is/the Bible is such a blueprint—not for perfection because we are in a fallen world—but for righteousness/for trying to become holier in God and helping your closest, most intimate person in that journey together in life doing the same and having that responsibility.
Sometimes, if you’re not married to that person, you still have a responsibility for being in relationship, thinking about the effect of your actions or your heart on them as well. I’m a big believer in Proverbs 4:23: you know, guarding our hearts/protecting our hearts, because everything else we do flows from it. I think especially, looking outside, on the inside at Christians, they think, “Oh, you know, purity and innocence—isn’t that ridiculous? And keeping your heart pure—that’s just so not relevant—they are so naïve.” There is nothing naïve about cultivating a pure heart; it takes a lot of work.
Carolyn: And I think we give our kids so much information and no wisdom. When I’ve been talking with students before, and I’ve had numerous conversations along those lines, how can you be faithful in really thinking about what the Lord is trying to teach you through His Word and through His example as you’re bringing your own deal into the relationship?—because there is still going to be a lot of troubles, and struggles, and everything else; we’re told that. We are also told that He is with us in that.
But when you’re purposely choosing to not equal the yoke/when you’re purposely choosing to defy—and not be obedient, which is seeing in the dark; it’s another form of faith—sometimes, obedience is harder than sacrifice; it’s a form of sacrifice—
Carolyn: —but it is always blessed—that faithfulness is always blessed out into ways that we can’t always see.
Bob: You know, I think, for moms and dads/for all of us raising the next generation, we’ve got to recognize that our kids are just like us, being inundated with cultural messages that are antithetical to what the Bible teaches. They are coming loud and often. Our mutual friend, Dr. Michael Easley, often says, “Don’t let the culture catechize you.”
To fight against the culture, we have to make sure we are telling ourselves, and telling our children: “Here is what God’s Word says,” and “It’s going to be different than what you are seeing in the movies, what you’re hearing from your friends/from all of the cultural messages; but there is a way that leads to destruction, and there is a way that leads to life. God’s way is the way that leads to life.”
I think, as Carolyn said here, it’s a hard path sometimes. It requires much more of you than to go with the flow; but when we can stake out our position and say, “You know, I’m going to do it God’s way, there is thriving that comes with that.”
Dave: Yes; and I think, as I listen to you, Carolyn, I know that, when I was in college—again, at the Oxford of the Midwest—I remember it was my first real encounter with the Word of God. I never really listened when I was in Sunday school. I never read it on my own. When I started to read—and that’s what you do so well in your book, Carolyn, is you lay out what the Word of God ends up—the implications are about sex, about love, relationship. It’s so beautifully done. I was just starting to encounter that, and I had never heard these thoughts.
Dave: “Who thinks like this?” At first, I thought, “This is ridiculous! This is not thriving.” Yet, now, just as you say in your book, it’s like, “This is God’s wisdom. If you will obey it, it will literally lead you to life.”
Bob: This is a memoir that I would be jealous to give to a college student—
Bob: —and say, “You’re going to delight in this story, written by somebody who is brilliant, somebody who is passionate for the things of God, somebody who understands that the gospel makes claims on our lives; and we have to, not just believe, but to obey.”
Carolyn’s book is called Sex and the City of God. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can find information about the book, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us, online, as well; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The phone number to call to get a copy of Carolyn Weber’s book, Sex and the City of God, is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, a week from today, we’ll be preparing for our celebration of Christmas; it will be Christmas Eve. Two weeks from today, it will be New Year’s Eve; and in just over two weeks, it will be 2021. I think all of us are thinking, “I can’t wait for the new year.”
Here, at FamilyLife, we’re hope the next two weeks will be busy and active. We’re asking FamilyLife Today listeners to consider making as generous a yearend donation as you can possibly make for a couple of reasons. First of all, because there are a lot of friends of FamilyLife who, this year, can’t make a donation because of the circumstances they find themselves in. So those who can—we’re asking you to be a little extra generous if you can to make up for those who can’t.
The second reason we’re asking is because we’ve had friends of the ministry, who have agreed they will match every donation we receive in December, up to a total of
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The flash drive and the book are our way of saying, “Thank you for helping us take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity with a generous yearend donation.” You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We’re grateful that you would consider it, and we do hope to hear from you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Carolyn Weber about the impact that believing the gospel has on relationships/our marriage. In fact, we’re going to hear a great story tomorrow about Carolyn’s first kiss from her husband-to-be, Kent. She’ll share that story with us tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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