I just read the Love Dare book everybody in churchianity is talking about. My wife brought it home for me yesterday evening (at my request). It took me a few hours to read it cover to cover. It consists of a forty day series of devotion-type writings, a dare to implement some challenge from the authors and a journal to record the outcomes and lessons learned. I'll give a preliminary thought and then review the content.
This book is all the hype right now and I'm sure Gary Chapman of Five Love Languages fame, and Emmerson Eggerichs of Love and Respect fame are really happy that the newest marital quick-fix has dethroned them for awhile. Bummer. Love Dare is currently ranked #11 on Amazon.com. The little sticker on the front of the book advertises it as a #1 New York Times Best Seller "from the hit movie Fireproof." That's funny. I've not seen Fireproof yet, but I don't know who's world one has to live in for it to be described as a hit. Actually, I'm afraid I do know. I'm not sure which came first - the book or the movie. In other words, I don't know if the movie was made as an outlet for the book, or if the book was written because it was referenced in the movie, thereby creating a market for the book. I don't suppose it matters much, but I'll admit it's a distraction for me. It seems like a lot of hype to me.
The movie and book piggyback on each other, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But I hate the hype. Does the movie have to be described as a hit movie in order for the book to help my marriage? The Dark Knight is a hit movie. I dare say Fireproof is not a household name, even if folks think it should be. Why is the movie on the cover of the book? Hype. Why do the publishers have to remind me the book is a #1 best seller? Hype. Can the book deliver? Maybe so, maybe not. But judging the book by its cover, it better.
I am happy that so many couples are saying this book is helping them in their marriage. Just the number of positive reviews on Amazon says a lot. Marriage is threatened on many fronts in our culture, so it is wonderful to have tools to strengthen them. I'm also thankful that the writers are finding innovative ways to penetrate the culture through media like Facing the Giants and Fireproof. I'm sure there are people God has called out of the darkness and into the marvelous light using this material. So in giving this review, I am not at all trying to diminish the work of faithful Christians.
Now for the content. The content seems rushed to me. It seems like the writers said, "We need this list of challenges for the movie plot," so they put together a loosely knit set of dares based on some loosely formed thoughts about love and marriage. They put it in a forty day format because it worked so well for Rick Warren, the publishers stamped it together in a book and pushed it like crazy, and presto! The Love Dare sweeps across churchianity. This doesn't mean there aren't helpful things in the book. There's just not a lot of order to them, so that it seems like it would be difficult to connect the dots from the front of the book to the back.
It could be argued that coherence wasn't what the authors were going for. Their intent was to give a list of things that would revitalize a failing marriage. If that was their intent, it might work for awhile to lift up marriage. But here's the reason I find it ultimately lacking: It is not gospel-centered. I measure the quality of any marriage book on how gospel-centered it is. Life is about the gospel, not marriage. So if a book is going to promise me a better marriage, it had better do it in a way that puts Christ in the center and not a spouse.
Now, to be fair, let me say that a form of the gospel is in there, though it focuses more on how man is supposed to respond than on what exactly God accomplished. It's on day 20 of 40. Under the title "Love is Jesus Christ" we read a few random verses about Jesus, and then come to this: "Dare to take God at his word. Dare to trust Jesus Christ for salvation. Dare to pray, 'Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. But you have shown your love for me by dying to forgive my sins, and you have proven your power to save me from death by your resurrection. Lord, change my heart, and save me by your grace.'" Under this dare we see this: "____ Check here when you've completed today's dare."
Wow. The reader is dared on day 20 to pray the sinner's prayer and to check when that step is accomplished. The gospel is given as one dare among 39 others on the way to a better marriage. I think this was intentional from what I can tell. I think the reason the gospel is put in the middle of the book is because the first half of the book shows the reader how doing the things that love requires is impossible without help. So the book is set up to crush the person under the law of trying to measure up to love's perfect standard. Then on day 19, the reader is led to realize how difficult (impossible) it is to do these things. Day 20 gives the gospel to show how the difficult work of love is truly motivated. Because God "unconditionally" loved you, you can do the same for your spouse. I find this format unhelpful.
Readers have been led to carry out acts of "love" without any gospel motivation for half the study. What is motivating them over that time? The desire for a better marriage. Whatever the authors had in mind, the reader is left seeing how the gospel serves marriage, rather than how marriage serves the gospel. This is flat backwards to how it should be, and I couldn't see how the book recovers from this fatal flaw.
By the time the reader gets to day 21, entitled "Love is satisfied in God," he has no grid through which to filter such a statement. The reader is shown "There are needs in your life only God can fully satisfy. Though your husband or wife is able to complete some of these requirements - at least now and then - only God is able to do it all. Your need for love. Your need for acceptance. Your need for joy. It's time to stop expecting somebody or something to keep you functioning and fulfilled on a non-stop basis. Only God can do that as you learn to depend on him." That should have been on the first page of the book, rather than halfway through after the reader is counseled to do a bunch of stuff the book claims is impossible without help. The book has already laid out 18 or so days of using "love" to make much of marriage. Then the old bait and switch tactic comes along to pull the rug out. God is put at the center for a couple days. Then the other 18 or so days are back to ways we can use biblical principles to make much of our marriage.
I hate giving out a negative review, especially of something so popular. But Love Dare consists of forty days of "do this and live" with a little "God is great" thrown in the middle for flavor. You can see this without ever buying the book by reading the reviews on Amazon. The positive ones are from those who have used the book to successfully make much of their marriage - "This book is better than sliced bread because our marriage was almost over but now we get along great." The negative ones are from those who couldn't manage to carry out the dares - "This book isn't that good because my husband won't do none of the dares." These aren't real quotes from reviewers, but my distillation of them. Marriage problems are God problems. Marriage is an idol for most people in our culture. So I want to read a book about marriage and come away with a bigger God. I don't want to read a book about marriage and come away with more focus on marriage.
If you want a couple books that are far less popular, but not as fluffy, read When Sinners Say, "I Do" by Dave Harvey or Love That Lasts by Gary & Betsy Ricucci or This Momentary Marriage by John Piper. They keep the gospel at the center rather than the fringe.