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Michael Bittle SID 8943314
Old Testament Wisdom Literature OT 2CO3 Instructor: Edward Ho June 11, 2010
Nelson, Tommy. The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says about Love, Sex, and Intimacy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998. Pastor Tommy Nelson, author of The Book of Romance, What Solomon Says About Love, Sex and Intimacy, is a rarity in the field of religious education. On the one hand, he has served as the pastor of Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas, since 1977. On the other hand, he is also a best-selling author (Better Love Now: Making Your Marriage a Lifelong Love Affair, 2008; A Life Well Lived: A Study of the Book of Ecclesiastes, 2005; The Problem of Life with God: Living With a Perfect God in an Imperfect World, 2002; and The Big Picture: Understanding the Story of the Bible, 2000). He is a popular national marriage conference speaker and is a national platform speaker for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Crusade for Christ, Navigators and other national ministry organizations. He has been the featured speaker for the METRO Bible Study in Dallas, Texas, since 1993, reaching approximately 2,500 young adults each week. He has been featured on television and radio shows such as Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Josh McDowell, For Faith and Family, and other national broadcasts in the USA. With both a Bachelor's Degree in Education and a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies, Nelson describes himself as “a dynamic teacher and communicator of God’s Word.” (book jacket). In The Book of Romance, Pastor Nelson sets out to present the Song of Solomon (as he refers to it throughout the book) as God’s romance and relationship “instruction manual so that we might truly live with the joy and intensity of satisfaction that He created us to experience.” (p. xiii). Nelson represents the Song of Solomon as describing the relationship between “a young woman from a lowly place” who fell in love with
2 Solomon, and he with her. It presents their story as a gradual progression from their first meeting, to courtship, to marriage, and spending life together. Nelson’s book offers a proscriptive guideline for individuals and couples to develop lifelong, committed relationships and, as such, the book reflects Nelson’s pastoral style and personal beliefs about the nature of marriage in the 21st century. Over the course of nine chapters, Nelson reflects on his personal experiences with his wife of 30 years and follows a hypothetical couple as they pass through five phases in building their lifelong relationship (attraction, dating, courtship, sexuality and marriage) and relates their experiences to specific selections taken from the Song of Solomon. In addition, Nelson gives considerable attention to marital conflict and conflict resolution. In the opening chapter, “Who Are You Looking For? (Song of Solomon 1:1-8)”, Nelson discusses how we typically use physical attractiveness to identify future mates, and contrasts that with the biblical example of Abraham seeking a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:3-8), and relying upon God to provide guidance. By interacting with select passages from Song of Solomon, Nelson offers pastoral advice on how to discern “spiritual” attractiveness by looking at how a prospective dating partner responds to stress, by learning about their reputation with others, and seeing how they submit to authority, and recommends that men “marry a girl with some grit in her” who is hardworking and obedient to authority (Song 1:6). The second chapter, “The Person You Choose to Date (Song of Solomon 1:9 – 2:7)”, uses an analogy about the requirements for building a successful fire – starting off with kindling and lighter fluid and then adding some “serious firewood” – for building a successful relationship. Nelson goes on to use selected quotes from Song to provide a
3 formula for successful dating: time, a “no-strings attached” policy, and respect. For example, in a message of restraint and caution against premarital sex, Nelson interprets Song 2:7 as an admonition by Solomon: “I adjure you, young women, do not … awaken sexual passions before they can be rightfully expressed within the marriage relationship” (p. 39-40), which is an odd comment coming from such a sexually active man. In the third chapter, Nelson discusses “The Wonderful Period of Courtship (Song of Solomon 2:8 - 3:5)”. He begins by describing courtship as a “growth experience”, employs Proverbs 25:16 as a caution against “too much, too soon” (p. 61), and then uses Song 2:10-14 as a “wonderful picture” of a relationship that is becoming deeper, exclusive, and naturally leading to being “together before God” in marriage. In Chapter Four, “The Wedding God Desires for You to Have (Song of Solomon 3:6-11)”, Nelson unabashedly cites several passages in Song to support his charge that young couples should “have a holy, pure, joyful wedding celebration” followed by a “glorious, rapturous, and steamy wedding night”. For example, Nelson says that a couple’s wedding should have parental approval, and quotes Song 3:11 as an illustration. The fifth chapter is entitled “The Honeymoon … at Last (Song of Solomon 4:1 – 5:1)”. This chapter contains perhaps the greatest number of references to Song, not surprisingly, as it deals primarily with sexual activity between a husband and wife that is described in great detail in Song. Nelson talks about having mutual respect, building passion and desire, and enjoying the sexual encounter fully. Chapters six and seven deal with “Conflicts (Song of Solomon 5:2 – 6:3)” and “The Resolution of Conflict (Song of Solomon 6:4 – 13”. Nelson draws Biblical quotes from Proverbs, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Peter, John, 1 Kings, Romans as well as multiple
4 quotes from Song to present a 6-stage program for avoiding and dealing with marital conflicts. In Chapter Eight, “Moving to Deeper levels (Song of Solomon 7:1 – 8:4)”, Nelson talks about factors that kill romance in a relationship and how to keep romance “alive” in a marriage, quoting Song 7:11-12 twice in this chapter to emphasize his points. Finally, in Chapter Nine, “Faithful Commitment (Song of Solomon 8:5-14)”, Nelson emphasizes the need for a lifelong, faithful commitment. Nelson’s interpretation of the Song of Solomon makes for interesting reading but reflects mostly "personal opinion" unsupported by the biblical text or any underlying research. The book is replete with interesting stories with significant entertainment value, and offers solid advice to couples looking for a D-I-Y (do-it-yourself) guide to relationships. A close read of The Book of Romance, though, shows his use of the Song of Solomon to underpin his arguments is simply masterful marketing. He offers only the most simplistic two-character dramatic interpretation of what is possibly the least understood book in the Tanakh. He ascribes one-dimensional character traits to Solomon (for example, spousal faithfulness), which can not be construed as realistic under any circumstance and essentially “plugs in” quotes from Song simply to lend Biblical credence to his own thoughts about dating and marriage. Indeed, he assigns Solomon as the author of the Song of Solomon without any reflection on alternative sources. Essentially, Nelson has offered a typological interpretation of the Song of Solomon. He has adopted a literal-didactic view of the Song, reading the romantic expressions in the Song quite literally while embracing the idea that the Song teaches us a moral lesson about enduring love. As such, the book offers no critical analysis of the
5 Song of Solomon: Nelson avoids even mentioning the various alternate interpretations of the scripture and any implications of its genre and structure. He has completely ignored the possibility of a three-character approach and thankfully has not fallen into the allegorical trap offered by the Targum, Origen or Martin Luther that, while it might be academically fascinating, would not translate well into popular literature. The book offers no footnotes or bibliography. Over the past decade, Pastor Nelson has developed a media ministry and The Book of Romance was an early piece of his “media pie”. Indeed, he succeeds admirably in achieving his primary purpose for this book - to be popular literature. His writing style is ‘auditory’, which is to say that the book appears to have been intended to be read aloud. This is not surprising, as the book originated out of a teaching/ preaching series which Pastor Nelson delivered to his church, entitled “The Song of Solomon: A Study of Love, Sex, Marriage and Romance” which is also available for purchase. The book is logically presented, moves from section to section seamlessly, and is an “easy read” with a FleshKincaid grade level of only 8.9, particularly well-suited for a primarily American audience. Even though Nelson handles the Biblical text lightly and loosely, at the same time, he offers solid practical advice based on over twenty years of pastoral experience. The two chapters on conflict resolution could be especially helpful, particularly to couples unaccustomed to positive and effective communications and problem solving. As a teaching tool for a Christian marriage preparation/counselling course, or even for personal reflection on a specific relationship issues, The Book of Romance could be a very useful resource.