In contrast, Love Languages continues to pick up speed. During its first year of publication, the book sold about 8,500 copies, far exceeding the expectations of its publisher, Moody, a division of the nonprofit Moody Bible Institute; Love Languages itself is published by their more secular imprint started that same year, Northfield Publishing. The following year, the number doubled. In 2009, sales hit 5 million copies, and Moody relaunched the Love Languages with what they called their “most aggressive marketing campaign in a decade.” As part of the new campaign, John Hinkley, the director of marketing at Moody at the time, remarked that “our goal, our vision is to help reduce the number of divorces.” As a nonprofit, Moody uses the book’s proceeds to fund the Moody Bible Institute, which exists to “educate and equip students for Christian ministry.”
In a world hell-bent on trying out new stuff until the world ends, whatever the cost, Chapman’s vision of accepting each other’s need to be loved is downright radical.
The world of the love languages is simpler than the world most of us live in. There’s no manipulation, or duplicitousness, or gaslighting—just people trying to fulfill the basic human need to feel loved, or, as Chapman puts it, to “fill up their love tanks.” Chapman’s old-fashioned family-values vibe turns some people off. But its resistance to a vision of perpetual self-improvement makes the book quietly subversive.
Chapman’s religious background asserts itself through what it omits rather than what it states.
“I don’t think that Dr. Chapman intended this, but the love languages can resonate with our selfish parts. [The book] can encourage couples to say, ‘You know what my needs are—why won’t you give me that?’ As opposed to learning what kind of love your wife or husband needs. I’m not opposed to the idea of the love languages—and I think Dr. Chapman’s done a great job of identifying some simple ways that we like to receive love. But I know that most of the clients I meet start out using the love languages in a selfish way as opposed to in a loving way to minister to their spouse.”Canright, also a Baptist, situates Love Languages within an “integrationist” approach to psychology—which takes basic tenets of human psychology, and occasionally integrates religious scripture into its practice. Canright himself practices what is known as “Biblical counseling,” which takes a more fundamentalist approach to applying scripture to everyday life.“The integrationist approach is based on the idea that man is good, and he needs to have good self-esteem to be happy. The Biblical approach to counseling believes that man is God’s enemy. Man’s greatest need is to be reconciled to God. Life is not about me. It’s about Christ living in me and through me.”Chapman’s integrationist approach doesn’t hold much appeal to Baptist counselors like Canright, who prefer to use Biblical scripture as a strict guidebook rather than a set of general suggestions. Chapman’s influence, however, can’t be denied, even by those who disagree with him. “Most people wouldn’t critique [Chapman],” said Canright. “Most people wouldn’t in any way disparage or think critically about the book because of the reputation that Dr. Chapman has.”
He reminds us that humans have a fundamental need to feel loved, but frames this as an opportunity rather than the reason that all humans stagger through most of life suffering.