I knew what they were asking me. Sure; they’d tried to cleverly disguise the question with another one, but I knew.
“How many kids do you have?”
The question came to me from a pastoral search committee. I was applying for a job as an associate pastor, one whose job description had to do with a program oriented toward the intersection of faith and culture. Yet this was one of the first questions I found myself facing. And I knew what I was really being asked: Are you married?
Since I wanted the job, I gave a diplomatic answer, citing singleness as a God-given opportunity for ministry and service.
I was rejected within a day’s time.
The swiftness of their response (and others like it) came as a valuable lesson: what was on my resume would never be as valuable as what was on my left ring finger. Marriage. Children. These were the unspoken “qualifications” I was deemed to lack. And I suppose many in the church also feel that these are the standard by which we are judged—what it means to be happy or at least “normal.”
My point is simply this: while I can hardly compare my experience to those of others, I recognize that talking about God’s supposed “design” for love, marriage, and family presents a certain difficulty. For some this standard shines as a beacon of hope; for others a harsh glare of judgment. I understand that for many people, it’s hard to talk about God’s “design” when your experience doesn’t match the picture on the box.
But don’t you see? We need marriage, we need families to form the social institutions we depend on—regardless of whether we’re married or single. Yet in recent years these institutions have become more fluid, measured not by absolute standards but by personal perspective. Recent court decisions regarding same-sex marriage only amplify this issue in the public square. Christians have often been accused—sometimes rightly—of adopting a posture of condemnation rather than compassion.
At Tri-State Fellowship, it has never been our desire to target specific sins, as though sexual sin were somehow worse than all others. No; this sermon series has less to do with exposing sin and everything to do with extolling virtue. But first, we need to pause to examine just how virtue got lost in the sea of individualism.
NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE
Throughout our series, we’ll be adopting an approach used by Dale S. Kuehne in his book Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships beyond an Age of Individualism. Kuehne (whose name rhymes with “cane” or “lane”) gives us three different ways of understanding human culture:
- tWorld: The “tWorld” is the world of tradition. It’s the world of the Bible, but also cultures whose emphasis is on social obligation rather than personal satisfaction.
- iWorld: The “iWorld” is the world of the individual. If the tWorld was asking: “how can we benefit?” the iWorld asks: “how can I benefit?”
- rWorld: The “rWorld” is the world of relationship. It’s not quite a return to tradition, but instead envisions a society that unifies around public virtues and not merely personal preferences. And, for Kuehne as well as ourselves, these virtues can be found in the pages of Scripture.
It seems almost too obvious to say that we live in the “iWorld.” The term itself is a reference to the various “iDevices” that have become part of our world: iPods, iPhones, iPads. We have become a world of absolute individualism—and this has had a profound effect on our morals.
How so? In the tWorld—the world of tradition—human societies could be organized around absolute standards. For most, this meant the pages of the Bible. But the iWorld has come to assume that things like “truth” and “morality” are the inventions of society. They are “social constructs,” nothing more. And if man invented them, then is he not free to reinvent them?
Thus, says Kuehne, the iWorld has reduced sexual ethics to three basic imperatives:
- One may not criticize someone else’s life choices or behavior.
- One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others.
- One may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent.
In such a world, virtue can impose herself only as a set of shackles. Follow Jesus, and there’s a good chance you’ll be accused of bigotry and hate. In the iWorld, Christianity represents a throwback to an era when women were consigned to the kitchen, and blacks to the back of the bus. Why stand in the way of social progress?
AN INVITATION TO THE “rWORLD”
Our series aims to answer this very question. Each week, we’ll examine how things like love, gender, and sex have been understood by the tWorld, how they’ve been distorted by the iWorld, and how they can be renewed in the rWorld. It is in the rWorld, the world of relationship, that our hearts find their true home—starting with the most important relationship of all: a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. None of us are perfect; all of us are broken. It is only by being “in Christ” that we find hope and renewal. Therefore, the gospel grants us both confidence (because we are secure in what Christ accomplished) and humility (because we know that salvation was achieved for us, not by us). It is with both these attitudes that we approach this subject.
Why is love so important? What is the purpose of family? Now, more than ever, we need a robust theology of sexuality and marriage. We need a renewed understanding of human love; we need a reaffirmation of its enduring value for society. We need a refined understanding of human relationships—one that avoids the extremes of treating sex either as a deity to be worshiped or a disease to be feared.
This series is an invitation to do just that. And yes, even a young, single pastor has some things to share about God’s design for marriage.
 Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationships beyond an Age of Individualism., p. 71.