Thursday, August 30, 2007

Love Languages?

While I'm on the topic of love, my friend Tony Romano, of Upstream Current fame, posted yesterday on The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I recommend reading his post. He had some excellent insights. As I read his post, it got me thinking about how well the concept taught in that book would illustrate what I've been writing about the last couple days.

I appreciate Dr. Chapman's desire to help couples. However, I believe The Five Love Languages helps to achieve the wrong goal. The premise of the book begins with man, not God. Therefore the conclusions are skewed from the beginning, and lead to idolatry. I'll interact with a couple examples.

The second chapter is entitled, "Keeping the Love Tank Full." In it we read, "At the heart of mankind's existence is the desire to be intimate and to be loved by another. Marriage is designed to meet that need for intimacy and love."

In The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another I showed how this argument is faulty. I don't read in Scripture where the heart of man's existence is a desire for intimacy and love. In fact, I read quite the opposite. Since the fall, at the heart of man's existence is a desire to use and destroy. But even before the fall, I don't think that was the heart of man's existence. Let's think about this. If the heart of man's existence is a desire for intimacy and love, then why did Adam and Eve sin? Were they not enveloped in the most precious love of God and one another? Did they not enjoy a level of intimacy that we could only dream of?

In addition, I don't think that marriage is designed to meet the "need" for intimacy and love. Jesus Christ is the "last Adam" and the perfect Man. He didn't need marriage at all. Adam and Christ both nullify Dr. Chapman's premise. Marriage is designed to serve God's eternal plan of redemption by being a shadow of the relationship between Christ and his church, by fighting Satan through sexual intimacy, by providing a furnace to refine faith, and by bringing forth the offspring that will one day inhabit heaven.

Am I just being mean, and picking apart this poor man's book? No. This book is ranked around 1,000 on Amazon, and has sold so many copies, Stephen King is surely jealous. The reason it's so popular is because its premise scratches a carnal itch. That premise leads to subtle idolatry.

If I'm led to believe that I'm designed to desire love, and have a "love tank" that "needs" to be filled, then I can justify all manner of selfish feelings and behavior under that banner. While the book is written to help you serve your spouse by speaking his or her love language, that's not the only route sinful man is going to go. Sinful man is also going to use the book as a sledge hammer against his spouse for not speaking his love language! "You don't love me right. My love language is changing the oil in the car." Think I'm exaggerating? On the book's Amazon page, we read, "Gifts are highly important to one spouse, while another sees fixing a leaky faucet, ironing a shirt, or cooking a meal as filling their 'love tank.'" Do you see how this kind of talk leads to self-centeredness. Where is Christ? Not in The Five Love Languages.

In a chapter entitled, "Loving the Unlovely" we read, "When the tank is low... we have no love feelings toward our spouse but simply experience emptiness and pain." I wish I had the space to share the context of that sentence. I'll paraphrase. If we make much of others, they're bound to reciprocate after a time and start making much of us. Again, when does Christ get his? How does this serve Christ's purposes for marriage? Where's the gospel?

This psychology is flawed. Dr. Chapman is saying that the reason we come to the place where love is cold in our marriage is because our love tank is low. We're not feeling loved enough. The question I have is this, "What if both spouses' love tank is low, and neither wants to fill the other's? I'll tell you what happens. Divorce happens. Rather than being counseled away from self-centeredness, or even spouse-centeredness, this book counsels to make man and his whims the end-all of marriage. What the couple really needs is the gospel. They need to not look inward, or spouse-ward. They need to look Heaven-ward.

In the same chapter we also read, "If you claim to have feelings that you do not have, that is hypocritical... But if you express an act of love that is designed for the other person's benefit or pleasure, it is simply a choice." What? And what purpose does that choice serve? There is no scriptural warrant for that claim. In fact the apostle Paul says the opposite in 1 Cor. 13. Paul seems to think you can choose all day to benefit someone, even giving away all you have, and dying in the process; and without love, that accomplishes nothing. I have argued in my book and on this blog that true love is never less than a feeling. All love starts with a feeling. Trying to divorce action from feeling is dangerous, and leads to legalism. I've seen couples continue to carry out nice actions to each other right up until the time they sign the papers. What good is that?

I could go on and on and on, picking apart almost every page of this book. I don't want to do that. I'm not trying to be controversial. I want to see couples experience the joy and freedom that comes from a Christian Hedonist, gospel-centered marriage. I think The Five Love Languages illustrates what I've written the last couple days about the difference between self-centered love and Christ-centered love. Unfortunately, I think this book is a handbook on how to perfect self-centered love.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Thanks to both you and Tony for writing about this, and showing the importance of knowing sound doctrine, so that books like this, which seem so helpful and useful, can be shown for what they are. I took part in a class on this book, and what you say about it promoting selfishness is so true, but I didn't see it at the time.