Today, Kait has a conversation with Jon Tyson, a fearless pastor who, if this gives you any idea of his fearlessness, most recently did a sermon series called “The Controversial Jesus,” that talks about controversial topics like the transgender movement and cultural sexuality. He is originally from Australia, has authored many books, has an incredible accent, and has pastored a couple of prominent big churches in New York.
In this conversation, we answer questions that YOU sent in about regarding singleness, a theology of dating, and sexual formation! We get honest and real as Jon provides his incredibly insightful thoughts and wisdom on these topics. So, let’s get right to it!
The Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about dating. How did you come to develop a theology for dating?
Jon says that since the Bible really doesn’t talk directly about it, it’s kind of impossible to make a direct theology for it. So, he says that developing theology for adjacent topics is the way to do it: theology of gender, theology of marriage, theology of sexuality etc… “You can’t just pull it straight from the pages,” he says. “You have to do a little work.” And, well, we know that we are all about doing the work here in the dating world.
Jon’s perspective of Christian sexuality is to model the story we long for: a relationship with Christ. It is holistic, not just about technique – where our culture so focuses – and is also about witnessing to the world about a greater Christian story. He says that our culture tends to think about sexuality and relationships only reactively, not proactively (i.e. “I have broken my heart. What does this teach me?” rather than “Who am I becoming because I am doing this?”). Having a framework to enter dating with is better than just winging it.
What dating principles in the Bible do you see that we can incorporate into our culture now?
Jon says that dating was not just absent in Biblical times, but all across human history. It is a completely new phenomenon! Most marriages were arranged or business setups, and then dating emerged, initially with courtship. Really though, our idea of dating didn’t appear until the early 1900s, where the man stopped going through the family to get to the woman. Now, we have dating culture, hookup culture, dating apps… so many different kinds of methods to approach dating. That being said, Jon doesn’t really see many Biblical principles behind dating, but rather principles of respect, dignity, honor, and love that we can incorporate into our approach.
This is where Jon asks Kait what her definition of dating to measure if they’re even trying to evaluate the same thing. Kait defines as “As opportunity to get to know someone different than yourself for the purpose of honoring them, and getting together for the glory of the Kingdom of God.” Jon defines dating, however, as, “The heartbreaking, painful, confusing, murky journey of meeting people with a vision of moving toward marriage.”
If Jesus was alive and dating today, how would he do it?
After laughing about the image of Jesus – the Son of God – dating in our world today, Kait and Jon redefine the question to “What does godly dating look like?” Jon starts off by quoting C.S. Lewis and talking about how our culture demands the four different kinds of love in an ungodly way. The four loves are Eros (erotic), Storge (empathy), Philia (friend), and Agape (sacrificial care). Our culture, he says, has a valued hierarchy of “Sex, attraction, friendship, the commitment.” We immediately approach dating and find interest in another person based on our physical attraction to them. However, Jon claims that Jesus would completely reverse that: we should start with the importance of commitment and relational friendship, and lately build its way up to sexual bond.
What scares you about the new dating culture today? What do you like about it?
He says that dating in our culture is very self-centered, in the sense that we are only focused on how we feel in our relationship versus who we are becoming. And that self-centeredness is very apparent in a lot of aspects of dating. First of all, the way that people are connecting with each other is so impersonal and detached – rarely anyone asks each other out in person anymore! He quotes an article that says, “Dating apps are like Amazon Prime for delivering hot people.” And thanks to their increase in popularity, people are now more infatuated with the idea of the other people “out there” in the world.
“And I’m not saying that attraction is not important,” Jon says. He makes it very clear that it is. However, he reemphasizes that our culture values physical attraction too much more than the other, far more important kinds of love in our world. He also says that our increase in technology makes it very hard for us to be contemplative. “That lack of process and self-reflection is dangerous to our humanity, not just our dating life.”
In terms of positive aspects of dating in our culture now, Jon brings up eHarmony, which is consciously designed with thoughtful science meant to help people connect holistically. And many weddings that he does nowadays are relationships that started online. It’s nothing to be ashamed about, friends.
You’ve said before to not “waste your singleness.” What do you mean by that?
This is where Jon lets out a biiiiggggg sigh. It’s kind of funny TBH. He’s got a lot to say.
Jon says that all Christians are already in a primary marriage: with Christ. And he says that we should orient our temporary earthly singleness around our eternal vision of being united with Christ.
Dang. Mic drop.
He also says that we need to evaluate the purpose of our singleness. It is a gift to be able to focus on ourselves and grow, especially spiritually. Jon then references eunuchs and talks about how many people actually chose to live that life for the glory of the Kingdom, so there definitely is some merit in sitting with the idea of singleness. Singleness is actually very apparent and respected in the Bible (and not just with, ya know, Jesus). In fact, Jon has some great insights on why singleness is so of value according to Paul. We’ll call them the 4 D’s: devotion, difference, distraction, and discovery.
Devote yourself to Christ, at least for a time! We get to have a close proximity to God during our time of singleness, grow in your identity with Jesus, and learn to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, make a difference; level your margin for the kingdom of God. What you do with your non-vocational time when you’re not married is so different than how you spend it when you aren’t single. Next, you get to free yourself from distraction. We live in a trivial culture and being single allows us to separate ourselves from that. Lastly, it is a time for self-discovery. The best way to get into a relationship is to know who you are. What do you love? What brings you joy? What do you hate? Bring who you really are into a relationship; that way, we don’t become who the other person wants us to be because we want that person.
DANG. Didn’t know he had that many mics to drop!
How can we celebrate singleness, but not sit in it so much that it hinders us from dating?
Another big sigh.
Jon says that most churches in America are built around families, and most every time that a single person shows up to a church celebration or event, the subject of their future marriage and relationship status comes up. Jon says that church should start coming up with alternative celebrations marking milestones of single people’s lives as well. “Reclaiming the Christian vision of friendship in the church is so important,” he claims. “Healthy relationships and dating will com out of that healthy culture.”
Now we answer YOUR questions:
What are some practical steps that Christians can take to overcome both our natural and culturally manufactured urges to engage in sexual experiences?
Jon says that sex is important to acknowledge as an important and powerful urge in our lives. He reads 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
He emphasizes the importance of the lines “know how to control his own body in holiness and honor” and says that that does not mean to suppress our urges. Rather it means to start forming, shaping, and redirecting bodily urges in a way that honors God. “What is my attitude” and “What is my direction of life regarding sexuality” are two key questions to ask when it comes to sexual sin. It’s important to ask these questions to form our identity in regards to sexuality.
He also highlights the dangers of porn and masturbation (Clay Olsen, anyone?). It gives us unhealthy and dominating perceptions of what the opposite sex and sex itself should be like. It shapes our sexual tastes, preferences, and sensitivities, and it is so incredibly dangerous.
Jon leaves us, though, with the image of Jesus’s mercy He shows to sexual failure. He highlights His kindness toward people in inappropriate relationships and emphasizes that all he is trying to do with these conversations is point people back to Jesus.
Boom. Last mic drop.
What is your biggest nugget of dating advice?
Even though he already said it, he reiterates: get your act together through Jesus. Seek out a better life in Christ and then present that in any potential relationship versus seeking for another person to fulfill you. “We don’t need better Christian dating,” he says. “We need better people. Better Christians.”
We hope you loved this conversation as much as we did!
Church: Church of the City New York
Podcast Series Referenced: The Controversial Jesus Series