Network television shows this fall have something to say about the single life. The recent pilot episode of “Cougar Town” on ABC consisted of a plot in which “Jules realizes that she needs a life and hooks up with a hottie named Matt.” In a recent episode of “Gary Unmarried” on CBS, Gary goes to a singles bar called “Fish in a Barrel” for the sole purpose of having a one-night stand to see if he can keep himself from becoming emotionally attached—as if that would be an admirable quality to possess. When he finds out he can’t do it, his friends make fun of him.
I don’t point these things out to tell you to stop watching television. The tendency of modern day evangelicalism is to run from culture to create a Christian sub-culture where everything is sanitized and safe. But I think that’s a bad idea. While it’s true that by staying engaged in culture there’s a chance we will be influenced by it, the reverse is also true, and from what I can tell, the reverse is the model Paul used.
While Paul was in Greece, here’s how he engaged the culture:
“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent . . .” (Act 17:22-30)
Paul mined the work of the Grecian poets purposefully. He knew the Grecian poets so well that he could not only quote them, but he could also use what they had to say to point their unbelieving culture toward God. According to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Paul was quoting a poet named Aratus—a native of Cilicia. Here’s what Henry says about the necessity of being able to speak to our culture in its own language: “By this it appears not only that Paul was himself a scholar, but that human learning is both ornamental and serviceable to a gospel minister, especially for the convincing of those that are without; for it enables him to beat them at their own weapons, and to cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword.”
So, how might we be able to use network television shows, especially ones that have something to say about the single life, to engage our unbelieving friends, family, and co-workers in conversations about the way God intended us to live the single life? In the case of the episode of “Gary Unmarried” I referenced above, there was one line in the episode that a believer could latch on to and use. The scene is set at the end of the episode when Gary is having a conversation with Allison, his ex-wife. She asks him how things went on his quest for a one night stand:
“It went good,” Gary said. “I mean, I had a one night stand, but I feel terrible. I had to run out of there. It made me feel like a real creep.”
“Gary, I told you. You’re not a one night stand kind of guy. It’s not just because you’re a creature of habit. It’s also . . . okay, here I go . . . listen, because I’m only going to say this one. You’re a nice guy.”
“Wow! That really had to hurt.”
Allison’s facial expressions and body language make it clear that she still thinks a lot of Gary. She just doesn’t want to admit it. She sees something redemptive in Gary. He’s not like the guys Gary hangs out with who have one night stands for the mere sake of it.
What a great conversation starter that scene could be for a group of single friends sitting around in a coffee shop or at work discussing the single life. And it could also be used as a teaching moment without really calling it that. A person could point out that God didn’t wire us to have one night stands. That’s why people feel so awful after experiencing them. In doing so, you’d be using something from the culture to call people to turn from their sin and to heed God’s ways.
Lee Warren is a forty-something-year-old single person who lives in Nebraska. He is the author of the book Single Servings: 90 Devotions to Feed Your Soul, published by Revell. Julie Ferwerda is a forty-something married person who has had a spectrum of experiences in the single’s life after divorce. She is the author of “The Perfect Fit: Piecing Together True Love,” and has written dozens of singles articles for CBN and other publications.