In her chart-topping single “Love Story,” an 18-year-old Taylor Swift sings about her loneliness until meeting her Romeo while enjoying “the summer air.” After a brief courtship and some minor trouble from her initially disapproving parents, Romeo purchases an engagement ring and she purchases “a white dress.” Unlike the Shakespearean tale of Romeo and Juliet, Taylor and her beau easily sail off into the sunset to their happily ever after. Taylor Swift is not the only pop singer who has made millions selling us a fairy tale version of relationships where all obstacles are easily beat back and a Prince Charming is the must-have accessory for any happily ever after.
In his book Breaking the Marriage Idol, Kutter Callaway argues that Christians have accepted Taylor Swift’s romanticized view of marriage and relationships to the detriment of not just single and married adults, but also the church as a whole:
We have not only uncritically adopted a distorted and distorting vision of marriage, singleness, and sexuality from our cultural environs, but we now organize our entire common life together as if this vision were normative for everyone within the Christian community. As a result, we are no longer aware of all that is hidden from our view. We are wearing blinders, but have mistaken them for spectacles.
Marriage has become so normative that the implicit and sometimes explicit message of many churches is that singleness, divorce, and widowhood makes you a backbencher in church life. Callaway takes aim at the marriage idol within Christian communities and encourages readers to critically examine that message in light of Scripture.Marriage should not be the norm that orients the communal life of the church, and Christians have an opportunity to show the world a better way rather than falling into the same obsessive focus on finding our Prince or Princess Charming.
Callaway takes readers through pop culture teachings on relationships and convincingly demonstrates the ways in which the church has uncritically adopted those teachings. He examines Scripture and then begins to develop a new theological framework for considering not just marriage and singleness, but also the communal life of the church. Smartly, Callaway (who is married) includes a chapter written by someone who is single and committed to celibacy.
Callaway wants his readers “to prioritize singleness and marriage differently—to develop internal language and devotional practices and organizing frameworks that allow both single and married persons to pursue their vocations as fully functioning members of the Christian community.” Marriage should not be the norm that orients the communal life of the church, and Christians have an opportunity to show the world a better way rather than falling into the same obsessive focus on finding our Prince or Princess Charming.
As a single person, I was both encouraged and challenged in my thinking about my singleness and my place in the church. But this book is not just for singles who hope to be married; it’s also for those content in their singleness, marrieds looking to develop a more Christ-centered marriage, and pastors and lay leaders who want to build more meaningful relationships among those in their church community. I love Taylor Swift, but I would rather take relationship advice from the Bible, and Kutter Callaway’s Breaking the Marriage Idol aptly illustrates this better way.
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