April 26, 2011 by Tony Reinke
Knowing how high a priority C.J. places on surprising his wife Carolyn, Southern Seminary’s interviewer asked him this question in an interview published in the new issue of the Seminary’s magazine, Towers (April 11, 2011; page 16).
Before answering the question with specific examples, C.J. set the context:
Let me say that I have a wife whom I don’t deserve. No one has influenced me more than she has. There’s no one I respect more than her. There’s no one I love more than her. I am devoted to building as many romantic memories with her and spending as much time with her as possible. And I want Carolyn to live aware that I am always planning or working on a new surprise as an expression of my love for her.
Then he talked specifics:
The most recent surprise was a trip to sunny and warm Florida in the midst of a very cold winter at home.
Normally trips will be planned well in advance to coordinate schedules. By planning in advance you can build anticipation and in some ways something planned in the future has a way of serving your soul in the present. But the trip to Florida didn’t receive a great deal of planning and this spontaneous trip was great fun. And the largest snowstorm of the year hit the D.C. area while we were in Florida so that made it even sweeter.
Before that, in December, I surprised her with an overnight trip to the W Hotel in downtown D.C. At any given time, there are actual multiple surprises in the planning stage ranging from the small expressions to more significant ones. Surprises don’t have to be expensive to be meaningful. Something as simple as bringing home her favorite candy at the end of the day is another way to say, “I love you.”
Why all the surprises? If you met her, you’d understand why. I have been the object of her affection and support for 36 years now. I want to do all that I can to communicate my gratefulness. I don’t deserve my wife.
As C.J. writes elsewhere, meaningful surprises are normally the result of thoughtful and diligent study and planning by the husband. But many husbands are thickheaded and don't study their wives or plan surprises very well. So where can we start?
To find specific help and suggestions on how to study your wife and her particular interests (with the goal of eventually surprising her), C.J. has written a few resources that may prove helpful for husbands. First, see his free ebook Biblical Productivity where he further explains how his role as husband motivates him to study, serve, and surprise Carolyn. And also consider reading "Learning, Leading, and Loving," chapter three in his book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know (Crossway, 2004). "As a romancer of my wife, I know that my essential role is that of a student and a planner," he writes (32). Behind the meaningful surprises for a wife is this intentional study and careful planning of a thoughtful husband.
When a pastor is criticized, his wife will likely be tempted to become offended on his behalf against the one bringing the criticism. Because she loves him, she may want to defend her husband from all attacks, criticisms, and corrections.
That can be the initial temptation, and it may seem appropriate, but it isn’t. Instead, she can play a different and much more important role, one that can make all the difference in the heart and life of her husband.
Let me explain.
Preserving and Sharing Content
When criticism arrives, the pastor is wise to share the criticism with his wife. But in doing this he must protect his wife from these predictable temptations. He does this in these ways:
First, he should examine his own heart and his motives, humble himself, and review a biblical understanding of criticism’s value in his life.
Second, and as much as possible, he should listen to the criticism and correction with an objective ear, not being preoccupied with the attitude of the one bringing it, nor becoming distracted by details in the criticism that may be inaccurate. Further, the pastor must learn to separate any concern he might have about the person bringing correction from the content of what he is saying. He can then turn to his wife, share those points of criticism, and ask: “Can you confirm this from your experience? Do you see this in my life?”
Third, when he shares the critical observation with his wife, he should avoid letting the conversation deteriorate into criticizing the critic. He must avoid the temptation to merely seek her support, her defense, and her agreement.
My Wife and My Godliness
Nobody knows us better than our wives. And if there is any level of accuracy in the criticism brought to my attention, there is nobody I trust more to help me see it than Carolyn. By protecting her from very common temptations, and by providing her with the content of the criticism, I can allow her to play an invaluable role in helping me discern the legitimacy of the correction.
Countless times Carolyn has made all the difference in how I have received correction and responded to it. Many times over the years I would have simply dismissed the correction of others if not for Carolyn’s helping me to perceive what was accurate in it.
Each husband needs the kindness of his wife in this way. But again, this isn’t my preference! Many times I have found myself sharing the criticism I have received, assuming she would join me in dismissing both the criticism and the critic…only to realize that as I am talking, her facial expression suggests there is some legitimacy to the criticism. An ominous feeling sweeps over my soul as I realize she isn’t going to confirm my disagreement and dismissal of this criticism!
But this is an act of kindness on her part. It’s obviously not kindness as I would prefer it. I would prefer to only experience Carolyn’s kindness through her supporting encouragement, her loyalty, her defense of me (and she provides me with all of these). I would prefer that she join me in disagreeing with criticism, not helping to confirm its accuracy!
But I have learned that God’s kindness comes to me in many forms, and one form is through a wife that will not become offended on her husband’s behalf, but will instead come alongside him, help him perceive where his critic is accurate, help him see where sin remains in his heart, and help him seize the redemptive purpose of the criticism.
And even though I don’t desire her help in confirming criticism, by doing this Carolyn has shown herself to be the suitable helper I so desperately need.
Speaking of Carolyn, she has wonderfully addressed this very same topic (but from the wife’s perspective) in a blog post we published back in 2008. You can read her comments here.
Conflicts are to be expected in marriage. But why do they happen in even the most mature marriages?
At a recent monthly gathering with the Pastors College students and their wives, C.J. abbreviated his sermon on James 4:1–3 and shared a recent example of how the passage protected his marriage from conflict during a date night.
Listen to C.J.’s 7-minute message here:
Cravings, Conflict, and Marriage
Dec. 4, 2009
Download here (7.9 MB)
Here’s the second installment in our “five minutes with David Powlison” series (you can access the first one here
I asked David to elaborate on this quote:
I have yet to meet a couple locked in hostility (and the accompanying fear, self-pity, hurt, self-righteousness) who really understood and reckoned with their motives. James 4:1–3 teaches that cravings underlie conflicts. Why do you fight? It’s not “because of my wife/husband…”—it’s because of something about you. Couples who see what rules them—cravings for affection, attention, power, vindication, control, comfort, a hassle-free life—can repent and find God’s grace made real to them, and then learn how to make peace.
—Seeing with New Eyes (P&R, 2003), p. 151.
To hear David expand on this quote, download the 7-minute audio recording here
(5.9 MB) or listen online:
August 13, 2008 by C.J. Mahaney
An endorsement for Joshua Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye
(Multnomah, 1997) has come from an unlikely source: Donna Freitas, a feminist and liberal professor of religion at Boston University.
In the August issue of Christianity Today
, Freitas is interviewed in the story “Zipping It,” which spotlights the rising interest in modesty and relational caution at one liberal college. Students, Freitas says, are growing disillusioned by the cultural status quo and being drawn towards modesty and sexual purity.
Near the end of the interview, Freitas discusses her course, her textbooks, and the surprising effect it all is having on her students. “Almost all the students were as liberal as liberal can get,” she said. But after reading a book on modesty, she said, her class began talking of modesty positively, as a virtue, and began to discern the vulgarity of the campus. She says, “I actually had students who for their final project proposed a modesty club. I’m sitting here thinking, This is Boston University
At different points I have received flack from scholars for the in-class resources I use. You’re not supposed to teach Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye [and others] because they’re not “ivory tower material”—except that it’s in these books where robust conversations are happening about the things students care about. I’m a feminist and a liberal, but this is something beyond ideology. It’s not a Left or Right issue. It’s about responding to young people who are struggling. It’s a mistake of many people to tense up about ideology in the middle of this kind of conversation. Part of my job is to figure out what professors do about the issues students are struggling with. They want modesty. And we can give them rich resources on modesty. So why don’t we then?
To learn Josh’s book is included in the college curriculum at Boston University is shocking and thrilling! But these words also reveal that students at a liberal college are questioning the cultural and campus standards of relationships and sexuality. As I reflect on my conversion in 1972, I can relate to their disillusionment with the status quo of dating and relationships.
Upon my conversion from the drug culture and into the church, I found myself perplexed at the apparent absence of the church’s critique of cultural dating standards and an absence of a biblical alternative. From my limited perspective, the evangelical church seemed to leave unchallenged numerous assumptions about dating and its importance before marriage, failing to sufficiently recognize the temptations to selfishness and sexual sin present in the culture of dating.
At the inception of Covenant Life Church in 1977, we sought to teach and apply a biblical alternative to the sinfully selfish and lustful approach to relationships that characterized many of us prior to conversion. We sought to preserve sexual purity, to apply the gospel message, to teach the “one anothers” of Scripture in light of relationships between men and women, and to protect and preserve the emotions of a woman for her future husband and of a man for his future wife.
So from the beginning of the church we were responding to this seeming widespread acceptance of dating by the evangelical church and seeking to build an alternative in theology and practice. We were young (I was in my early 20s), zealous, and no doubt arrogant as well, in our reaction to what we observed in evangelicalism at the time. Having previously come from the drug culture of the world, and having sinned and felt the consequences of that sin, we desired something relationally distinctive, informed by Scripture, not culture.
Little did I anticipate that, decades later, Joshua Harris would make his way to Covenant Life Church having just finished his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye
. Joshua’s book was one of the first in print to challenge these cultural assumptions and provide a biblical alternative (along with Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity
). And after having written the book, Josh transitioned into a church that had already modeled the content of his book for the duration of his own lifespan. It was a sweet providence that God would place him in a church in wholehearted agreement with the teaching of his book.
When Joshua wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye
, I told him he was writing a conversation-defining book for the church. Years later, it remains that very thing. It has now for several years defined the discussion for those who agree with the book, and for those who disagree, within the church. It will continue to shape the substantive discussions within the church (provided the discussions do not drift into unnecessary debates over the use of the word “dating” or whether one agrees with all the practices Josh recommends). May this book continue provoking discussions within the church about gospel-centered relationships and what Scripture reveals as the wisdom of God for Christian relationships prior to marriage.
But little did I anticipate how this book would affect a liberal classroom, transcending liberal/conservative animosity, and provoking students to challenge cultural and college campus assumptions about relationships. Perhaps they—like those of us saved from the drug culture many years ago—have felt the sting of the cultural dating status quo, the effect of sin, and are looking for something different.
May the church and its pastors take note of a Boston University classroom and be freshly challenged to start substantive discussions, and to challenge the cultural assumptions of dating relationships and sexuality prior to marriage.
Last week 9Marks released their new eJournal (July/August 2008), containing a number of resources on marriage, helpful for pastors and for all married couples.
The eJournal includes a chart of 30 books on marriage, manhood, and womanhood all ranked and compared on issues of theology, practicality, suitability for group and individual study, and topical value on the issues of communication, romance, and money.
Sovereign-Grace-related authors ranked well in the comparison chart. Carolyn Mahaney’s Feminine Appeal
(Crossway, 2004), C.J.’s book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God
(Multnomah, 2004), Gary and Betsy Ricucci’s Love That Lasts
(Crossway, 2006), and Dave Harvey’s When Sinners Say “I Do”
(Shepherd, 2007) all received favorable reviews. You can view the full chart here
The eJournal includes an article by C.J. titled “The Gospel & Deliberate Complementarian Pastors
.” In the article, C.J. writes:
Biblical manhood and womanhood is the life-transforming effect of the gospel on full display. When a church teaches, practices, and honors gender distinctions determined by our good and wise God, the gospel will advance. But this will only happen where there are humble and courageous pastors who lead every member and ministry of the church by personal example and with strategic pastoring.
Access a table of contents to the entire eJournal here
or download the eJournal as a single PDF document by clicking here