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Marriage in Counterculture

American culture has turned God's plan for marriage upside down. From Hollywood film to social media, a committed relationship has been redefined from God's original plan. Chris and Tim invite guest speaker Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today to talk about what marriage looks like in counterculture and how to share that message with the rest of the world.


Speaker 1:

Welcome to The Art of Relationships. This podcast is produced by the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. For additional resources on healthy relationships, like videos, blogs, or events near you, visit our website at cmr.biola.edu.

Chris Grace:

Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. Tim, it is always fun when we have guests to come into our program and today is no exception. We have an amazing author, writer, speaker, pastor, and someone that you know and have worked with. So I'm going to turn it over to you, Tim, and let you introduce our guest.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Well, it's amazing to think that I've known this guest for almost 26 years. When we first met, I had hair. But we are both involved with family-life marriage conferences. Noreen and I've been speaking at these conferences for roughly 26 years. Chris, you and Alisa, brand new to the team.

Bob Lepine:

Yeah, awesome.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Awesome. And Bob Lepine is one of the heroes of family life. He's been there forever, has given guidance to it. As soon as you hear his voice, you're going to recognize it if you're fans of FamilyLife Today, but Bob Lepine is senior vice president at FamilyLife, as well as co-host of FamilyLife Today. Even though they have brand new hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, one of the stabilizing factors, of course, is Bob Lepine steering that ship. He is the author of Love Like You Mean It, which we're going to talk about today, but do check out a wonderful book called the Christian Husband. They live in Little Rock, Arkansas. His wife, Mary Ann is awesome. And Bob also is an elder and teaching pastor at Redeemer Community Church. And one little fun fact is Bob and I are co-presidents of Armenians for Christ. It's just this awesome group. We're biblically driven. We believe that God's word is clear.

Bob Lepine:

Yeah. Can I just say-

Tim Muehlhoff:

No, no, I'm still introducing you, Bob. I'm still introducing you.

Bob Lepine:

Tim chose the group, and I was foreordained to be a part of it.

Chris Grace:

Oh boy, here we go.

Tim Muehlhoff:

All right. That was one inside joke I've been holding on for literally months. But Bob, welcome to our podcast.

Bob Lepine:

It's great to be with you guys, and I am such a big fan of the work that you're doing at Biola, the work you do on this podcast. And we need a lot of voices who are promoting a biblical view of marriage and I'm just so grateful for what you guys do.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Well, man, thank you so much, Bob. We really appreciate that. So Bob, tell us a little bit about how you got into maybe radio and also how did you get into marriage ministry? And we have a bunch of questions about the trends that you've seen, but how did this all get started?

Bob Lepine:

Well, I got into radio because when I was eight years old, I used to go to bed with a transistor under my pillow. Some of your listeners don't know what a transistor is, but back in the day, we would listen to the top 40 songs of the day. And I would sneak my radio into my bed. Here's what it was. I was listening and it sounded like the guys on the radio were just having a party all the time. And I thought, I want a job where you just have a party all the time. So I went to University of Tulsa where I studied radio and television. My plan was actually to go to law school when I graduated, but I took a summer job at a radio station and wound up loving what I was doing and they liked having me there.

    And so that began my journey in radio. And I worked in local news talk radio for a while and then moved into Christian radio. Eventually had my own talk show on a Christian radio station. And one day in 1992, Dennis Rainey called me and said, "We're thinking about starting a radio program and we need some help." And long story short, I wound up in Little Rock, helping FamilyLife launch FamilyLife Today. And Tim you'll be interested in this, Dennis asked me the question when we were talking about the radio program. He said, "Does marriage make you weep and pound the table?" Which was kind of a favorite question of his, and I looked at him and I said, "You know, honestly, what makes me weep and pound the table, is theology." I said, "To the extent that marriage is on the heart of God, yeah, I'm passionate about that, but I'm more a theology guy than a marriage and family guy."

    What I didn't realize at the time was how much marriage and family are on the heart of God. I saw it being a few chapters. You know, here's Ephesians 5 here's 1 Peter 3, you've got Genesis 1 and 2, but outside of that, there's not a whole lot. Well, you start to look and everything the Bible teaches us about loving your neighbor as yourself, which Jesus says is the second greatest commandment, and all of the law and the prophets is summed up in either loving God or loving your neighbor. Everything that's about loving your neighbor as yourself applies to our marriage relationship. Then all of a sudden that insight caused me to pull back and go, "There's a lot more about marriage in here than I ever thought about or realized. I was applying this in relationships outside my home, rather than applying it in relationships inside my home."

    And that was a paradigm shift for me that caused me to see marriage is really on the heart of God. That, and the fact that marriage is the first institution that God creates. Before the church, before government, he puts the man and the woman together in marriage. Marriage is the last thing God creates in Genesis 2. After the man and the woman, his final act of creation is two becoming one in a marriage relationship. And then it's the first thing that the enemy attacks when the man and the woman come together. So all of a sudden I saw marriage and family as being central to human flourishing and God's plan for us on planet earth. And that began my journey that now 28 years on FamilyLife Today, and speaking and learning about this subject from so many of the guests we've had over the years.

Chris Grace:

Bob, do you feel like your message, your transformative moment when you realized what the Bible really was saying about marriage and how important this was to God's heart, have you seen the Christian community, let's say here in the U.S. grab onto that more in the time that you've been teaching and preaching? Is this something a message that is getting through finally? I mean, you have so many different books and programs out there that it would be hard to miss this. Or is it sadly, maybe part of culture where a lot of Christians really still are unable or don't grasp that as clearly as they should?

Bob Lepine:

Yeah, I would say looking back over the last 25 or 30 years, I have not seen it growing. I have not seen the Christian community increasing in their respect for and understanding of marriage. I've seen it evolving. I think it's a case of the fact that we are more often trained and catechized by the culture than we are by the scriptures. And so we take our cues about what matters more from what we see online and what we see on the Hallmark Channel than we do on what we read in the scriptures. So we don't have a high view of marriage today. I mean, that's evident in the fact that the typical path to marriage today is not what it was a generation ago. A generation ago, you met somebody, you dated, you fell in love, you got engaged, you got married, you moved in together, had sex, and had kids.

    That was the pattern. Today, you meet somebody, you date, you have sex, you decide whether you're in love, you move in, maybe you have kids, and then marriage comes at the end of all of that. And it's optional at the end of all of that for a lot of people. And so I just think we have taken marriage... Here's what I think. I think there are a lot of young people today who are really afraid of whether marriage can work or not. They either saw their parents split up or they saw their parents stay together and be miserable. And they said, "Well, I'm going to have to think long and hard about whether I want to walk down an aisle and say I do to somebody, but I do want a meaningful, caring relationship. I do want kids. I do want love." So they pursue all of that, but they're afraid to sign on for marriage just because they haven't seen a whole lot of validation that it can really work out in the long run.

Chris Grace:

And Bob, what they see... I teach a rhetoric class. So talk about the rhetoric of Hollywood, the rhetoric of film, it normalizes just what you said. I tell my students to go watch these movies and how many of the couples are living together, and how many of the couples that have passionate, romantic, sexual relationships. Just count the number that are married and students come back and say, "I didn't see one married couple anywhere that was doing well or having passionate sex."

Bob Lepine:

No, the narrative of Hollywood, whether it's movies or TV, is a narrative that says, "Once you look in each other's eyes and realize you are special to me, and I want to be with you, the next thing to do is go to bed." And so that's what everybody has been trained to think. If I have a special feeling for you and I look across the table and I think, "Man, I just really like you and I like being together and I want to spend time with you. I guess the next thing we do to progress in this relationship is we have sex together." And I think that's the normalized activity. It's why you see the statistics today that talk about the number of people who have had sex prior to marriage. And it's up in the 80s and 90s percentile of people, the thought of waiting until marriage is... Some people just look like, "What, who has that idea? That's completely old fashioned."

Chris Grace:

So Bob, let me tell you a really funny story. When I first got to Biola University, I've been here now for 16 years, Nightline had gotten word of the fact that the students at Biola University have to sign a contract that says they will not be sexually active for their four years at Biola University. It blew Nightline's mind that this happened. So they actually did a segment. Bob, you can YouTube it. Just type in... This is what they call the segment, the University of Chastity: Biola University, and they came here and a bunch of comm students were actually interviewed for it and it was like we were aliens from another world. They would show scenes of summer break at Daytona and then they would show Biola. And it was so great, Bob, because our students were perfect. They were awesome.

    This couple was dating and he's on the lacrosse club and she's on the soccer team, and they interviewed them separately. And the interviewer said to the guy, "Are you telling me right now that you don't want to have sex that woman?" And he looks at, he goes, "Are you crazy? Have you looked at her? Yeah, I want to have sex with her, but there are things more important that guide our lives." Bob, it was a beautiful moment, but that adds to how counter-cultural the church can be if we're falling in to what Jesus and the scriptures have prescribed, that sex is a beautiful thing, but reserved for a certain context, marriage.

Bob Lepine:

So let me tell you a counter story to that. It's a couple that we interviewed on FamilyLife Today, and I've never forgotten this story. This is a couple who met on a missions trip, a nine month long, kind of between high school and college, you go on a nine month missions trip. I think it was music ministry that they were doing around the United States. And the young man and the young woman said to us, "We were kind of the outsiders in this group. We were a little socially awkward. We didn't really click with everybody, but we found each other. And in the middle of the missions trip," he said, "We started having sex together." He said, "When we came home from the missions trip, we thought, well, okay, I guess we should move in." So she moved in to his house with his parents and they're continuing to go to church.

    And while they live with his parents, one day, he went to the pastor and he said, "We'd like to help with the second and third graders at church." Which of course, every pastor is like, "I'm loving anybody who will come and volunteer for that." But the pastor looked at them and said, "Well, we really can't because you guys are living together." And this guy looked at me and he said, "That's the first time in my life anybody had ever suggested to me that living together before marriage might be wrong. I'd never heard the message before." They met on a missions trip, they're active in their church, and the first time he hears that you shouldn't live together and have sex before marriage is when he's already doing it. He came to a Weekend to Remember getaway, the two of them did. And they were in the engage section that we do at the getaway.

    And we challenge couples in those getaways. Wherever you are in your relationship now, we challenge you to consider becoming pure between here and when you get married. If you're sleeping together, stop sleeping together until you get married. And he was convicted that that's what they should do. He said to his girlfriend, his fiance at that point, "I think we should stop having sex." And what she heard was he's breaking up with me because she thought the only reason he wanted to be together was to have sex. And so she was afraid to say, "I'm with you on that," because she was afraid it was a breakup message. They eventually agreed they would try that. And they didn't have sex again until they got married. And he said, "It's just because nobody ever told us." So I think we have to recognize in this counter-culture, we have to stand up and say, "God has a good plan for marriage and it's a counter-cultural plan, but it's a better plan than the one that we see being executed in our culture today." And let's tell people that story.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Bob, as you tell people this story, what are ways that you're finding that now the young people, I imagine we're talking primarily though, you could be dating in your thirties and forties and single, but primarily we're looking at a group of people that are in their late teens and early twenties who are dealing with this. But Bob, our culture has changed so much that a lot of movie theaters aren't even open anymore. And yet it doesn't seem to phase some of this younger audience. So how has your message changed given the new cultural dynamics of social media? As a teaching pastor, I'm guessing you guys utilize all of these different mediums and markets and ways to get that message out, but how you guys have been doing that?

Bob Lepine:

Well, I think, and you guys know this, the message is not what changes, but just as the apostle Paul, when he moved from down to town, he would exegete the culture before he preached the gospel. And I think this is what we have to do as communicators and as pastors. We have to say, "What's the reality?" We have to think missionally, what do people believe? What are the cultural norms that I'm speaking into? And then how do we present the truth of the gospel? How do we present God's plan for marriage, knowing what the cultural norms are? Rather than acting like, or pretending like, the cultural norms should be something different than what they are. I mean, if we all went to a country where arranged marriages was the norm, we would go, "Oh, okay, well, we need to help people understand that the Bible has a different perspective on this than an arranged marriage situation." But we would not think these are bad people.

    We would think they've been brought up with a different cultural perspective. I think we have to recognize, here are people who have been brought up with a different cultural perspective. They've swallowed it. So let's acknowledge where they are and let's come in and say, "There is a better plan than the one you seeing being executed." So I will say to couples, for example, young couples today, "How many of you in your twenties, how many of you saw a good, strong, healthy marriage in your home when you were growing up?" Most people will not raise their hand. Then I will say, "How many of you know, somebody who is already a peer or a near peer, who's gotten married and they're already divorced?" Most people will raise their hands.

    And in that situation, I will say, "Well, I can understand clearly why you would think, 'I don't know if I want to step into this pool, given the fatality rate that's going on here. If this was an airplane, we would not fly on this airplane.' But let me tell you that the reason for the failure is not the plan of God. The reason for the failure is the selfishness of people. And let's talk about it from that perspective." And people will stop and listen, if they go, "Oh, maybe it's not the plan. Maybe it's something else that is a problem." And so that's the way that I try to reframe the question when I'm sitting down and talking to people in this culture.

Chris Grace:

And I think Bob, we've fallen prey to what Deborah Tannen calls the argument culture a little bit, because let's say we go to that country where polygamy is being practiced. We can't walk in and say, "Okay, I'm looking at the way your culture does marriage and it's wrong A to Z, it's just totally wrong. The way you guys are doing it." Right. I like what the apostle Paul said. We know from the book of Acts what he thinks about idols. It literally says that it turns his stomach, but when he gets up on Mars Hill, the first thing he says is, "Men of Athens, I noticed that you're men of worship."

    And I think that is so powerful that we don't have to walk into another culture and say, "Listen, you're not doing it God's way, so nothing you are doing is of any value whatsoever." No, we can still look and say via God's coming grace, that I can see things that you're doing that I think are admirable, that I think are good, but is there a way that can help you flourish? Is there a way that fits underneath God's plan? And sometimes I think we miss that opportunity.

Bob Lepine:

Yeah. Tim Keller talks about this in the language of what he calls A beliefs and B beliefs and the A beliefs are where we're in agreement. So he says often he will come in to a situation and the first question he'll ask is what do we agree on when it comes to marriage? Well, we agree that for two people to be committed to one another and to love one another and to sacrifice for one another, we would all agree that's a good and noble goal to pursue. And so now the B beliefs are those things where you're thinking that as long as we're committed and we love each other, then it doesn't matter whether we've got a piece of paper or not, but we can step in and say, "Well, okay, let's explore that and examine that. Does that work out in real life? Do those people who move in and live together, do they live out that love and commitment over a lifetime that we all say we would value?"

    So I do think we have to start off and say, "What are the things that we can agree on that we value? And then let's talk about the different ways we're trying to pursue that and see which way works. And this is where the scriptures have a pretty good case for what works and why it works and why when we apply biblical principles to marriage, there's human thriving and human flourishing."

Tim Muehlhoff:

Bob, I love that. I think you and Tim have hit on this key point of what it means to reach an audience, especially an audience now that is shaped by so many different viewpoints out there that are not necessarily biblical, in fact may be anti-biblical. I also do think that when we do that kind of work and effort, one of the coolest things is, is not only can we appeal obviously to what we believe in together in the Bible, that science is backing this whole thing up.

    I mean, the findings from most research, when they talk about who's thriving out there from... And scientists who have no moral stake in what they're studying are finding that there is unhealth that happens when couples are having sex before marriage. And it's just a great to see support like that in some of the trends out there and in some of the research, finding that couples that are thriving the best are those couples. And it's primarily, they look at words like commitment or the number of partners one has had, and then faithfulness to a single person over time. But it's so cool when areas like psychology and science back up what the Bible says, and that's pretty awesome.

Bob Lepine:

It is awesome. And we should not expect anything different than that because God's word is truth and we can affirm it as truth. Now, our friends with whom we're talking might not see it as being truthful. So an appeal to social sciences or an appeal to hard or natural sciences can also help provide a platform. But at the end of the day, yeah, God has said, "This is what will work." And we've got thousands of years of human history to say, we can look at the evidence and we can see when a husband and wife are committed to one another, when there's self-sacrifice, when they follow a biblical pattern for what love should look like in a marriage relationship, there is flourishing and thriving that takes place in that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Bob, what I so admire about you is how multi-dimensional you are. You're a radio host. And by the way, Chris, let me just tell you right now, they ask really tricky questions at FamilyLife Today, it just ticks me off. I was on at one time, I think this was the spiritual battle book, defending your marriage. And the first question out of Dennis' mouth just made me angry. He goes, "How long you been married? How long you and Noreen been married?" Do you remember that Bob? Do you remember that?

Bob Lepine:

I do and there was spiritual battle cause Tim couldn't come up with the number, and he blamed it on Satan. So there you go.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Hey Bob, can I tell you a funny story?

Bob Lepine:

Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So Noreen's reading the acknowledgement page of Defending your Marriage. And in it, I say, "Has been happily married for more than 23 years," and Noreen comes back and says, "Yeah, cause it's 27." And I said, "Which is more than 23. Come on. That's basic math." So you're a radio host, you are a teaching pastor and let's bring your readers up to speed that you've also thrown your hat into the arts, that you're also a director and have done some amazing things. The Art of Marriage is one of the best things I've seen. Some of the stuff you did in that, we show a ton of it at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Just phenomenal, but you've also now directed a film. Tell us a little bit about this.

Bob Lepine:

Yeah. This was an unexpected kind of a serendipitous thing. As we sat down to work out the Art of Parenting video series, a teaching series, I had the thought, "What if we told the story of a family from pre-married to their 50th wedding anniversary and we traced their parenting journey through different stages of parenting?" And so each week when you would come to your small group to watch your Art of Parenting video, you'd see a little bit of their story. And so we sat down to map out what that would look like. What would the different chapters, episodes be?

    And as we started to work on it, we looked at each other and we said, "You know, this could maybe sew together and become a feature film." And that was not our objective when we started, but God by his grace poured blessing on that. And so what we came up with came out in 2018 was a movie called Like Arrows. That's on Netflix right now. It's a parenting story from pre-married and pregnant to a 50th wedding anniversary where we follow mom and dad, as they go on their parenting journey and see the mistakes they make and see the course corrections they make and get a chance to see how powerful parenting can be when we're pointing our kids toward Christ and when we're trying to disciple them in the faith.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And award-winning, I hear.

Bob Lepine:

It has won a couple of awards at some film festivals, yeah. My favorite thing is when it came out, it came out in limited release in theaters, but it got a rotten tomatoes score. And my rotten tomatoes score was 98 when it came out. So I'll take a 98 on rotten tomatoes all day long. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah. And five stars from armeniansandfilm.com.

Bob Lepine:

I love that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Just, we have a plaque for you we're going to send.

Bob Lepine:

Thank you. Thank you. I will receive it freely.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's awesome.

Chris Grace:

And just, if you guys want a teaser, it's called Like Arrows, right. And right now the subtitle is the Art of Parenting and you can find it. Just go, like you said, to Netflix and type it in. And I think for our listeners out there, what a great story and model, Bob, of something pretty powerful, and that is what it means to be a parent. And it's just an awesome thing. So, way cool. So, hey Bob, we're going to just wrap this segment up and I just want to say, thank you. Thank you for joining us on this podcast, Tim and I get guests in here all the time that we just value and appreciate, and for your taking the time, just want to say, thank you, thank you for taking the time to talk with us and to hang out. And we'd love hearing a little bit of your story and your journey.

Bob Lepine:

You know, what you guys are the best and the opportunity to connect with your listeners, I'm grateful for that. And just again, so grateful for the work you're doing and the ministry you're doing and how you're connecting with folks. And really this podcast has done so well over the years that it's been on, that it's an honor for me to be on with you guys.

Chris Grace:

Bob, thank you. We appreciate it.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Thank you, Bob.

Bob Lepine:

All right, take care.

Speaker 1:

Have you ever been asked to mentor a young married couple, but were afraid to say yes? Thankfully the center for marriage and relationships is here to help. The CMRs marriage mentoring curriculum covers important topics like communication, forgiveness, and the ever important sexual intimacy. It even provides tips on when and how to refer a couple for professional help. Sound interesting? Check out the resources page on our website at cmrdotbiola.edu.

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