Interpreting Biblical Images of Marriage and Christ

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in Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God

by Tim L. Anderson

Western Romance: A Foreign Body Applied

Applying romance to these metaphors of Christ and the church is like adding more of an ingredient to a cooking mixture because if the recipe calls for some, more must be better. It is a matter of degrees. An extra quarter-cup of flour to a biscuit recipe that calls for four cups may not be disastrous. An extra quarter-cup of diced habanero chilies into a four-egg omelet will demand a call to the fire department. Christ indeed loves us and we are to love Him. However, adding romantic love to this mixture is too much. Adding this is often applying a foreign body. Let’s look at the characteristics of this so that we can know if it is a foreign concept or just too much of a good thing.

The Concept of Romance

Romance is an energizing positive feeling that does have noble aspects. It makes us feel alive and vibrant.[1] It is something that God uses for good purposes. As such it is a part of natural human experience that brings people together into a marital relationship. Managing and experiencing relational intimacy, dealing with change, communicating needs and feelings,[2] interpersonal union, and self-sacrifice are some of the positive aspects of romance. These ingredients can even help stabilize people who struggle with depressing, anxiety, and insecurity.[3]

However, because romance is also a powerful feeling or emotion, it has significant problems when not under control. It is at times irrational when it seeks an exclusive attachment or union with another person.[4] Christian psychologist Dr. John Townsend defines romance as “a temporary idealization of the other person that increases passionate and sexual attraction.”[5] When people make romance equal to love, they can become romance addicts. Townsend adds:

These people live for romance and only feel alive when they are in love. They love the intensity of the passion, but it is based upon some idealization either of the person or of the entire process. Then, when reality comes in the form of a conflict or weakness, they feel disappointed and search for the next romance. It is a tough existence, having serial romances and watching the years pass by with no direction, purpose or progress in finding deep and lasting love.[6]

Increasing trends of individualism show it will continually grow as a personal and cultural force.[7] Bergler provides a very helpful summary of the famous anthropologist Helen Fisher’s study of romantic love:

The person who is “in love” thinks obsessively about the beloved. She idealizes that person and ignores his flaws. He may believe that he would be willing to die for her. Lovers experience “extreme energy, hyperactivity, sleeplessness, euphoria, mood swings.” Obstacles or adversity can heighten their passion. Many become emotionally dependent on the relationship and rearrange their life to spend more time with that person. They will neglect other obligations and relationships in order to pursue their beloved. Above all, the lover “craves emotional union” with the beloved. But all this passion is “involuntary and difficult, if not impossible to control.” And it inevitably fades.[8]

Thus the romantic lover may tend to value their feelings above all else and thus find it difficult to sustain commitment in place of infatuation. Bergler entitles this “romantic spirituality”[9] when it is joined with one’s Christianity.

[1].     John Townsend, Loving People: How to Love and Be Loved (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 174.

[2].     S. Grey, “Positive Effects of Dating for Teenagers”, October 19, 2013,

[3].     Jaleesa Baulkman, “Romantic Relationships Have a Positive Effect on Personality Development,” University Herald, May 9, 2014,

[4].     See for example, Bergit Brogaard, On Romantic Love: Simple Truths about a Complex Emotion, Philosophy in Action (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 12–163.

[5].     Townsend, Loving People, 174.

[6].     Ibid., 177.

[7].     Susan Hendrick and Clyde Hendrick, “Romantic Love,” in Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, eds. S. J. Lopez and C. R. Snyder (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 447–54.

[8].     Thomas E. Bergler, “ Pastoral Process for Leading Churches toward Spiritual Maturity” *unpublished manuscript, 2009), 14–15. See Helen Fisher, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2004), 1–25. See also her Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, completely revised and updated with a new introduction (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2016), 19–42, 147–67, 265–80.

[9].     Thomas E. Bergler, From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014,) 23–25, 126–39, 167–69.

This post is adapted from Into His Presence by Tim L. Anderson. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

“In the cacophony of voices about spiritual formation, Into His Presence brings us back to a believer’s lone priority: moving closer to the Lord. Tim Anderson sorts through the many cultural elements that influence Christians’ perceptions of God. The biblical light he sheds on our ideas also moves us to a better way to know Him. Having know Tim for nearly thirty years, I can testify that this book is written from a deep well of passion for the Lord’s people to know Him better.”
—Greg Trull, Dean of the School of Ministry, Corban University

“Dr. Tim Anderson has given the church a gift. This thoughtful and well-written study on intimacy with God deserves a place on the shelf of every pastor and Bible scholar. Every move the author makes is carefully and conditioned, calculated, and monitored by the language of Scripture.”
—John A. Beck, Ph.D., Faculty at Jerusalem University College


About Author

Tim L. Anderson is professor of theology at Corban School of Ministry in Salem, Oregon.

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