Why is it that so many Christian books steer clear of actual research?
Today’s post is a little self-serving (well, maybe a lot) because we’re about to close our latest survey for women, and we’d love about 1000 more responses today! So if you’re a woman, please take it! (doesn’t matter if you’re married or not, a mom or not, 19 or 69, we’d love your input!).
We’re working on a book for moms of daughters, and we’d like to make it as research-based as possible.
Last year, I was talking to a man who frequently gave a marriage talk at an annual men’s retreat.
In the past, he had always used the book Love & Respect as his starting point, but he had read my critiques of the book, and was disturbed by them. He decided he couldn’t in all good conscience use his past materials, and so he needed something new. He asked if I had another book to recommend, and I told him that John Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work was awesome. It was our control book when we were applying our healthy sexuality rubric to the best-selling evangelical resources, and it scored the best (it tied with The Gift of Sex by the Penners).
Yes, it was a secular book, I said, but even if he just took the information about The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in marriage and gave a talk on that, it would be really interesting.
So he went out and bought Gottman and was blown away. He had never read a book like that, with research, that went deep into topics but was accessible. He asked me, “why aren’t Christian books like this?”
And I didn’t have an answer, except to say that I was trying to change that.
When I checked Twitter on Saturday morning, I was greeted by what I think is one of the nicest things anyone could say about The Great Sex Rescue: He compared us to Gottman.
A licensed marriage counselor, professor, and Ph.D. candidate that I don’t know at all said this:
Here’s something that needs to be said about Christian self-help books:— Branden Henry LPC, LMFT, CSAT (@BrandenHenry) May 16, 2021
they need to be well researched.
For instance, @sheilagregoire’s ‘Great Sex Rescue’ is stellar qualitative research that is also Biblically informed.
Books can be both.
His whole thread is great, and I’m going to paste it below (with slight editing because I’m not constrained by character count):
Here’s something that needs to be said about Christian self-help books: they need to be well researched.
For instance, Sheila Wray Gregoire’s ‘The Great Sex Rescue’ is stellar qualitative research that is also Biblically informed.
Books can be both.
To be blunt, so much of Christian literature on topics like marriage, sex, abuse, mental health, manhood, recovery is just lazy. Instead of doing the difficult work of researching an idea, many authors trust their experiences as absolute.
“This worked for me, so it will work for you.”
Or even worse,
“This worked for me, and here is some Scripture to support my thesis, so it should work for you because it’s Gods way of doing so”
This is not only lazy, but potentially harmful, and I’d say, dishonoring to God & his church.
Anecdotal ≠ True for the masses
Years ago, when I started working on a book on marriage, a mentor challenged me to make it as well grounded in research as any non-Christian marriage book.
At first, this seemed nearly impossible compared to the Gottman literature that I’m trained in.
But, why not?
Many of us have been conditioned to think research takes away from biblical truths.
But again, that’s just lazy.
We ought to set an even higher bar for ourselves. Excellent research can display the excellency of Christ and we shouldn’t be afraid of it.
So, as a licensed counselor, licensed marriage therapist, PhD student & professor, I want to publicly say:
Thanks Sheila, Rebecca and Joanna for writing a book that took both scripture and research seriously.
It’s been a breath of fresh air.
We are so thrilled at how many counselors and pastors are recommending The Great Sex Rescue!
We heard from another pastor in Texas who created a Bible study for men based on our book, and who is taking his men’s group through it right now. We’re going to have him on the podcast when that group is done to talk about it!
The Great Sex Rescue
Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?
Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.
We’re hoping and praying that we can set a new standard in Christian marriage and parenting advice, where it won’t just be someone’s opinion.
Jesus said that we will know them by their fruit. We have to be willing to test things. If something doesn’t work, then we have to say, “Maybe the interpretation of Scripture that this advice is based on is faulty.” But instead, we tend to just give advice that we say is backed up by God without seeing if it ever works.
This is something Christians especially seem to have trouble with. Two weeks ago I argued that pastors should stop insisting that husbands make the final decision in the marriage, because we know that the vast majority who believe the husband should don’t actually practice it–so they’re preaching what they don’t practice. Most decide things together. But then, if they do actually live it out, very bad things happen.
I was hoping that we could talk about the fact that very bad things do, indeed, happen. But instead almost all the conversation from people disagreeing with me on social media and on the blog revolved around “but the Bible says…” It’s like people wouldn’t even engage with the research if it didn’t say what they wanted it to say.
This is a problem that Christians have. We don’t seem to understand that “the fruit” actually is worth looking at. We’re so wedded to our own interpretations of Scripture and what that says about marriage that we won’t look at the real world implications.
But this stuff does have real world implications, and that should not scare us.
If we know that Jesus is real (which He is), and that He loves us (which He does), and that He is Truth (which He is), then seeking out research doesn’t put any of that in jeopardy. It simply helps us know God and understand God better.
We have so many different ways of looking at parenting and marriage. How do we know what interpretation of Scripture is right? Well, Jesus gave us a clue when He said:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
Obviously not all research is equal (as I showed in relation to Shaunti Feldhahn’s treatment of date rape in For Young Women Only or in the survey that formed the basis for Love & Respect), but I hope that we can at least be discerning enough to ask tough questions and to at least consider the fruit.
One of the peer-reviewed papers we’re working on for publication right now looks at the quality of research and advice given in the best-selling Christian marriage & sex books, and how that’s influenced counseling. Of the 13 books we surveyed, less than a dozen peer-reviewed papers were cited. That’s not less than a dozen per book; that’s less than a dozen across all 13 books. The vast majority of Christian books make assertions with absolutely no research to back it up. (In my books, I’ve always cited peer-reviewed sources, even before The Great Sex Rescue project).
Seriously, John Gottman’s book is great, and I’m glad others think The Great Sex Rescue fits in that category.
But this should have been what Christians were doing all along.
(And you can share this link with your friends, too: https://www.research.net/r/baremarriagehs
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UPDATE: I was talking with my daughter Katie on the phone this morning after this was published, and telling her about the Twitter thread that made us all happy this weekend, and about the problem with research. And she reminded me of something I should have mentioned–how even when Christians DO try to bring research in, we often do it wrong!
We did a podcast a few weeks ago on how Emerson Eggerichs has said for almost 20 years now that 85% of men stonewall, when the real stat is that 85% of stonewallers are male.
To understand the difference, the majority of murderers are male, but the majority of men do not murder (thank goodness). There’s a big difference! And that’s a pretty huge logical error to make. But his publisher missed it, and he’s been repeating it on his blog and in his sermons for years. You can take a look at the podcast where we talk about this here!
Why do you think Christian resources tend to shy away from research? Does it matter? How can we change this (f we should)?
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of Bare Marriage
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