One of the strength’s of Andy Stanley’s teaching is is assumption that many in his audience are not committed to Christ. Too often in our United Methodist congregations we’ve been lulled into complacency. We don’t see any new people, so we assume everyone present is already a convinced believer. In my experience that is certainly not the fact. I’ve had regular attenders tell me over the years, “I’m not a believer. I come every Sunday because it’s a habit / I want to support my family.” If we assume that all present are already believers, we speak right past these folks. Additionally, even if all our regulars are convinced believers, a truly healthy church will have visitors, people who are not yet committed. We might not have them every Sunday, but by preaching as if we expect them, we’ll be better prepared to communicate with them when they do show up.
Stanley’s new book, The New Rules of Love, Sex, and Dating, is an adaptation of sermons he’s preached in the past. Although written from a Christian perspective, he isn’t writing for the convinced Christian, but for anyone who (a) wants to settle into a lasting marriage relationship, and (b) is open to considering wisdom from the Bible. At no place in the book does he assume that life in Christ is essential to a happy and successful marriage. He doesn’t even assume that commitment to Christ is a magic solution to overcoming relational troubles. In this way, the book is clearly in the wisdom genre, rather than the gospel genre.
The core of Stanley’steaching is found in his helpful question: “Are you the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.” Through logical analysis of this question and accompanying stories, he applies this to the life of dating and relationships. We have no control over the behavior of others – but we do have control over ourselves. As we put our energy into changing ourselves we are more likely to build lasting and healthy relationships. These healthy relationships will be decision rather than emotion driven.
Some have rejected the Christian ideal for relationships in the past, seeing the Christian ideal as necessarily patriarchal and thus, for women, limiting at best and destructive at worst. Stanley frames the ideal relationship in terms of mutual submission. He says,
Perfect love is love expressed through mutual submission. Mutual submission is an expression of fearless love that, in turn, drives out fear. It is a decision to trust, to put the other person first, regardless.
Stanley’s most radical suggestion – well, radical in the light of current cultural practices – is for those who have been frustrated in the area of relationships – is to take a year long sabbatical from the effort. This year will be given over to “making yourself the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.” This effort will often, given widespread pathologies, include elements of detoxification. During this year one will abstain from sex, porn, and other practices that distort relational practice.
Though younger teens would profit from the basic teaching of this book, it would be more likely appreciated for those who are older. More experience in navigating relational troubles will likely allow the reader to see a need for the teaching. Though singles are the obvious audience, given their interest in dating, married people who want to improve their relationship will profit from the book as well, given its focus on changing your self, rather than trying to change your husband/wife.
I received this book from North Point Publishing (http://andystanley.com) in exchange for this review.