Turn on any rom-com, listen to a sappy love song or watch most sitcoms, and you’ll likely encounter the same message: The key to finding love is committing to finding “the one.”
Pastor and author Andy Stanley, however, thinks that message is backward.
In his new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating Stanley talks about why, in order to find the person we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with, we should focus on being the person that our future spouse is looking for, as well.
We recently spoke with Stanley about dating, why preparation trumps the idea of commitment and the proper view of premarital sex.
What’s the thesis of your new book, The New Rules For Love, Sex & Dating?
The theme of the book is We should become the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for. Are you the person you’re looking for is looking for?
The reason that’s important is because, in every area of life, we understand that preparation is the key to success, but when it comes to relationships, we think that, no, commitment is the key to success: I don’t need to prepare for a relationship, I just need to meet the right person and commit to that person.
In the book I talk about “the right person myth.” The “right person myth” is When I meet the right person, everything will be all right. But every single married person, every single divorced person knows that’s not the case, because 99 percent of the people who are married, when they stood at the altar and made their commitment or vows, thought they were making a vow to the right person.
Preparation trumps commitment every single time. The whole notion that “Once I meet the right person everything will turn out alright,” is predicated upon this lie that, “Hey, relational preparation is irrelevant, I just gotta meet the right person.”
You include a chapter in the book curiously called “designer sex.” Can you tell us what it’s about?
Designer sex is the old-fashioned approach to sex, that says, “Relationships are more important than sex. Build a relationship before you get involved sexually.” In the book, I kind of do twist on this, because our churches are designed for unchurched people. So I’ve written this book with the assumption not that every person is going to assume everything in the Bible is true.
So I’ve tried to back way up and ask some tough questions. For example, when people break up—whether it’s dating couple that breaks up, somebody who’s been living together that breaks up or a marriage that breaks up—people do not break up for sexual reasons; people break up because of relationship problems.
In the book, I argue that it makes sense that if there’s a God who loves and there’s a God who created sex—which is an interesting idea in of itself—that what God has to say about this topic is important, and common sense actually supports the New Testament as it relates to sex.
Sexually compatibility is easy, relational compatibility is not. So it just makes sense if you’re thinking in terms of a long-term relationship, we need to load up on the relational aspects of the relationship rather than sexual.
What I’m saying in this book is look, you don’t need a chapter and verse for this; you don’t need to be a church person for this; here’s what we know experientially: That the relationship is the key to happiness, and getting involved sexually on the front end of a relationship masks unhealthy relationships and ultimately undermines sexual satisfaction. Because every married couple and every couple that’s been together 15 or 20 years who has a healthy sexual relationship would tell you that it’s the relationship that drives the sex, not the other way around.
In the book, you talk about a Q&A event where a man asked what’s so wrong with sexual promiscuity. Can you describe that interaction?
This guy was probably 40 years old. He raised his hand—there were about 200 people—and he said, “Look, Andy, I’ll be honest. I’ve been married. I’m divorced. I’m dating. I don’t want to ever get remarried. Why in the world should I adhere to a New Testament approach to sexuality? Why should I not have sex?”
I said, “Well, there’s really no reason for you not to.” I pushed back on him. I said, “Gosh, if all there is to this life is life, you should have sex with whoever you want to, as many times as you want to.” And, of course, everyone in the room got a little uncomfortable.
I said, “If all there is to this life is life, then you’re biology, so just go with your biology. And you’ll have a string of hurt people behind you. Women will become a commodity. You will be disrespectful to women. That’s just what’s going to happen if we’re just biology.” I said to him, “If there’s more to you than biology, and if there’s more to this life than this life, then it’s a really big deal.”
Your worldview should determine how you manage your sexuality and the way your approach sexuality. If there’s a God who loves you and a God that has invited you to address in His heavenly father, that means that every single woman you meet is a daughter to your heavenly father. That should determine how you approach sex, and it should determine how you treat women.
The broader context for any conversation—but especially one about sex and sexuality—is What’s the broader perspective in terms of my worldview, and Do I really believe that there’s a personal God whose invited me to call Him “father,” which means that the people I’m eyeball to eyeball with and are considering a relationship with, they too are valuable to God?
What did you learn in the process of putting this material together?
What I came away with personally after going through that process is: A New Testament worldview and a New Testament view of sexuality are so consistent with our experience as human beings.
It feeds and plays into our humanity. Every single person wants to know they have value. And the way we are treated sexually is a large part of the message about our personal value. In a culture that works so hard to separate sex from intimacy, in a culture that wants to basically say sex is only physical, every person knows that sex is not just physical. Everything in culture makes it physical, [but] the New Testament says it is much, much deeper.
Aaron Cline Hanbury is a contributing editor for RELEVANT. You can follow him on Twitter at @achanbury