Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When God Writes Your Love Story Review

Last weekend, I finally followed the advice of several friends and picked up When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. The book is one of several extremely well-selling books on the topic of dating that has appeared since Joshua Harris sparked an ongoing discussion about Christians and dating with the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye over a decade ago. Unlike many of the other books in the genre, though, this one does not aim to either directly contradict or reinforce the message that Harris presented (see, for example, my earlier review of Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries in Dating). Rather, the Ludys simply set out to provide, from their own history, a picture of how a God-centered view of relationships changes the very nature of those self-same relationships.

The book is essentially an historical narrative told variously by Eric and Leslie Ludy (each one contributing different chapters); the contents of each chapter being those useful for making the particular point that the Ludys are attempting to communicate at a given instance. We follow the Ludys from their teens through their early twenties, including some glimpses of their courtship, as well as pictures of previous relationships and the general church culture in which they were surrounded.

Their history is probably fairly typical for many Christian young adults today: they both grew up in a church that taught them "Don't have sex," and little more: no justification beyond "It's bad" and no explanation of the notion that chastity extends far beyond technical virginity. Both compromised significantly in their relationships during their teens - Leslie looking for commitment and sacrificing herself physically in vain attempts to gain it; and Eric as part of a desire to fit in with the other guys in his group of friends (notably, a group that includes Christians). Along the way, both encountered the truth of Christ in a way that forced them to reevaluate their life patterns - to examine their choices in the light of a God-centric, rather than self-centric, existence. Eric dedicated himself to waiting to date until God made clear that the woman in question was the one he was to marry. Leslie committed to wait for a man who would pursue her in a Godly way, setting Jesus Christ as the foundation of the relationship. Both decided to let God be the center of their lives - including their love lives - and then to bear the consequences of that decision.

The authors adopted a simple conversational style for the book, as has been common in books of this genre since Joshua Harris relaunched this conversation over 10 years. They address the reader with honesty and a candid tone that is simultaneously invitational and instructional, without ever crossing into lecturing. Half the chapters are written by Eric, half by Leslie; but their voices are similar enough that remembering which person is telling the story (or giving the challenge) requires glancing at the header for each chapter, where the narrator is specified, and paying attention to contextual clues throughout the chapter. I never got confused in the transitions, which speaks well of both their writing and the invisible editor's hand; getting lost in this sort of back and forth (especially when the changes are relatively random, as here) is easy enough to do. Each chapter includes both personal historical narrative and directed challenges to the reader; and each chapter closes with a set of questions for further thought and practice of the principles the Ludy in question had laid out.

The book has considerable merit: unlike many entries in the genre, the focus is not on rules or principles for improving one's relationships with the opposite sex, but rather on a complete change of heart and attitude with regard to not only relationships but life in general. The Ludys took the entry point of romantic relationship and used it as a springboard to discuss the notion of wholehearted pursuit of Christ - living a life that is truly centered on Him. Their central argument is that it is a Christ-centric and surrendered life that is truly worth living, in every aspect of our lives, including romance. They note that God's plans for us are far better than our own, and thus that He deserves our trust in this (as in all other) areas. This was a refreshing change from most of the books on the subject, which tend to focus significantly more on us than on Christ (to my knowledge, the only real exceptions here being Harris' books). Their picture of purity as being a matter of chastity rather than virginity was also pleasant - and unfortunately also rare. Their telling of their early history and the ways that God changed their perspectives, brought healing to their hearts, and prepared them for their future marriage is excellent, and the exhortation to follow their lead was encouraging - particularly to others brought up in the same church culture that they were (which is a significantly higher percentage than it ought to be).

The book has, in my opinion, two significant demerits. One of these actually stems from the merit listed above: in choosing to focus so intensely on the general question of surrender to Christ's pattern for our lives, the Ludys actually spent very little time discussing what God's writing of one's love story actually looks. This is not intrinsically a bad thing; however, in the context of a book proposing to do precisely that, the fact that they spent so little time on it was more than slightly disappointing. Their purposes would have been better served by either finding a better balance between the themes of general surrender and Christ-centric romance, or by writing a book that wasn't supposed to be about romance but about general surrender. The second demerit flows out of this, as well as out of their basic stylistic choices. By centering the lessons they tried to teach on their own lives, the Ludys created an expectation of seeing how their love story played out - what it actually looked like in practice once God was writing their love story. However, there was almost none of this: indeed, what is present is almost entirely incidental. The Ludys, though they did a good job of laying the foundation for why one should have a romance (and life) surrendered wholly to God, simply did not fulfill their unspoken but essential promise to then demonstrate it. I've no doubt they can do so, because the hints that we do get of their relationship sound wonderful and exciting. Yet by not expanding on that part of the story - in many ways, the most important for demonstrating the veracity of their claims - the Ludys simply leave the reader hanging. From a literary sense, the book never reaches a climax at any level - not in terms of its narrative, nor in terms of its lessons; it simply continues until it ends.

I think the book is good on many levels. Certainly I recommend reading it, especially for those who have come from a past with damaging relationships and broken hearts. While I still think that Joshua Harris' books Boy Meets Girl and Sex Is Not The Problem [Lust Is] (formerly Not Even A Hint) are the best books on dating/courtship and lust respectively, I rank this one as being best after those that I've read thus far. I very much appreciate their Christ-centric focus.

In Him,

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