(Computer generated audio of this post)
When dealing with emotionally charged issues it is quite common to find muddled thinking on both sides. I have found this to be particularly the case regarding the subject of dating/courtship. I have three adult sons, and daughters who are 17 & 18, so I’ve had to give the subject a lot of thought. A few years ago I scoured the internet for ideas about courtship and dating, and was unable to find anyone promoting a view that I could entirely agree with. On the courtship side, I found what I would consider overreaction to dating culture. I even heard some insist that it was wrong or sinful for a father to take his daughter’s feelings into consideration when he dealt with the issue of whom his daughter should marry. On the other side I found a great deal of misrepresentation of what courtship proponents believe. I remember one respected Reformed Baptist pastor, in a series on Christian dating, insisting that the best example in the Bible of what courtship adherents propose was Samson, but they were unwilling to admit it because of the dire results. I do not know what specific courtship literature he was responding to, but I have a hard time believing that anyone is recommending that the proper way to find a spouse is for a young man to find a woman who it is unbiblical for him to marry, and then insist that his parents arrange a marriage with her!
So I have come to my current views on courtship/dating, not by following any model proposed by a group on either side, but rather by my own meditations upon the word of God. Indeed, the Bible does not set forth a specific pattern for courtship, but there are a number of Biblical principles that we must take into consideration. I have never pressed my conclusions on others, nor am I claiming to have all the answers. My wife pointed me to a recent blog post by a former proponent of courtship that she saw a friend endorse, and I saw a number of problems with it. As we discussed the matter she suggested that I write a blog in response and my immediate answer was “No way”. However, the amazing number of Christians I find praising this blog has, I feel, forced me to point out what I see as a number of fundamental flaws.
Link to the blog article I refer to: http://www.thomasumstattd.com/2014/08/courtship-fundamentally-flawed/
The blog article is authored by Thomas Umstattd Jr., the founder of PracticalCourtship.com. In a nutshell, he claims that the modern idea of courtship is fundamentally flawed, and the best solution to the problems in that system is to switch to a system of casual dating. Now I agree with him on some points with regard to some problems with modern ideas about courtship. However, I believe that many of what he calls fundamental flaws are merely difficulties, and that those difficulties can be overcome by better means than throwing the whole courtship idea out the window and beginning the practice of casual dating. I believe there are also a number of Biblical principles that he does not take into consideration, and some of his suggestions are directly contrary to those principles.
Within the article I can find only two reasons that he had formerly advocated courtship instead of dating. He had believed that courtship rather than dating would ensure a happy marriage that would not end in divorce. “The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later. The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.” And courtship promised less heartbreak than dating. “One of the promises of courtship is that it can lead to less heartbreak than dating. I laugh at this to keep myself from crying. This could not be further from the truth.”
One of his fundamental arguments is that many marriages that began with courtship have ended in divorce, but most of the marriages from a past generation who engaged in casual dating did not, therefore casual dating leads to a lower divorce rate. It doesn’t even seem to cross his mind that while casual dating was the social norm in those days, divorce still held a great social stigma. He admits from the start that the generation whose model he now advocates were nominal Christians at best. “People went to church on Sunday but that was the extent of their religious activity.” He is proposing that we adopt the dating practices of those who did not take Biblical principles into account, simply because they had a lower divorce rate.
The very idea that the way one goes about finding a spouse will ensure a good marriage in the end is unsound. Neither is it logical to assume that the reason a marriage that was entered through courtship and ends in divorce failed because it was entered through courtship. A marriage is kept from failure by both spouses loving Christ more than each other, loving one another more than themselves, and living according to the commands of scripture. No amount of “doing things right” beforehand, whether that be courtship or dating, can ever ensure a marriage that endures unless both parties are determined to do things right for the rest of their lives together.
As for the promised lack of heartache, we can never expect to be free from heartache in a fallen world. He points out a number of ways that young men and women still have their hearts broken while practicing courtship, and I recognize the truth of them all. But his new view of casual dating will not eliminate heartache either. He is correct when he points out that exclusive dating is more dangerous than casual dating in this regard, but the model he promotes still includes exclusive dating, just not until you’re out of junior high. “The Greatest Generation was encouraged to date and discouraged from going steady while in middle school.” & “Do what your grandparents did and go out on dates with lots of different people before going steady with any of them.” We can never ensure that our children’s hearts will never be broken, but teaching them not to give their heart to someone whose only commitment to them is to keep hanging around as long as they make them happy will indeed prevent a great deal.
Another assumption of the article is that courtship does not enable a person to learn what kind of spouse they will be compatible with, and the best way to know who you are compatible with is to date a large number of people.
“How can you tell who you want to marry if you aren’t going out on dates?”
“…by the time she graduated from high school, she had gone out on dates with over 20 different guys. This meant that by the time she was 17 years old she knew which Bob she wanted to marry.”
“’If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband,’”.
“We need a system to help young people make good decisions. Fortunately, we have one: Traditional Dating.”
First of all, as previously stated, what makes a marriage last isn’t the fact that the couple is “compatible”. Commitment to Christ, commitment to one another, and commitment to nurture the relationship are what makes a marriage last. But I find this concept flawed at another level as well. Is a young man or woman really unable to know what kind of person they want to marry without previously engaging in casual dating? How about looking to the Bible to determine what kind of character you need in a spouse? Does my daughter really need to date a few Arminians before she knows she doesn’t want to marry one? Does she need to date a handful of liars before she realizes it’s not a good idea to spend the rest of her life yoked to one? I stand by the age old maxim that the way a man treats his mother is a good sign of how he will treat his wife. You can seek out godly character in a future spouse without dating around first.
He makes another statement related to this point that I will shortly address. He writes: “Dating also trains people to continue dating their spouse after they get married. It is important for married couples to be able to have fun with each other. The kind of parents who are the strongest advocates of courtship are often the ones who go on the fewest dates with each other.” Couples do not require any “training” to date each other after marriage. Sure, they will have the fond memories of the dates from their earlier years, but they will also have all the memories of all the dates with others, and those are hardly helpful in the pursuit of keeping marriage fun. It may be true that some couples who entered marriage through courtship do not relate to one another as they ought, but they can change that at any time without the “benefit” of having dated before marriage.
Mr. Umstattd repeatedly makes the claim that temptation will be less in his system of casual dating than in the courtship model.
“The lack of exclusivity helped the girls guard their hearts and kept the boys from feeling entitled to the girl. How could a boy have a claim to her time, heart or body if she was going out with someone else later that week?”
“It is easier to justify promiscuity when you are exclusively committed to just one person, even if that commitment is only a week old.”
“– It is hard to fall in love with Bob on Tuesday when you know you are going out for coffee with Bill on Thursday. This lack of emotional commitment leads to less physical temptation. Less temptation leads to less compromise. I have no idea how women are supposed to guard their hearts while in an exclusive relationship with the purpose of marriage.”
“The commitment, exclusivity and intensity of dating is what lead to temptation and compromise in the first place. Courtship makes the problem worse by increasing the commitment which intensifies the temptation. The advocates of courtship know this, which is why chaperones are so critical to the system.”
The only way I can figure that he came to this conclusion is that he is familiar with the temptations that do exist in the courtship culture, but is looking at his grandmother’s model through rose colored glasses. He’s bought into his grandmother’s naiveté, when she told him, “The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!” Yes they did. Those middle school boys may not have had the courage to try, but they wanted to.
Again, he is correct in his observation that temptation is not as great a problem when going on a few casual dates with different people as it is once a couple is dating exclusively. But what happens in this system once a couple has decided they really like each other and do not want to date others? I’ve already pointed out that exclusive dating is part of his process of getting from casual dating to marriage. But now the couple has already eliminated the hedges that can be wisely used to avoid temptation to sexual sin. They are already used to spending time alone together. Are they likely to now limit themselves to group activities? They eliminated accountability structures before they even got to the point that the temptation will be greatest.
In his description of courtship he lists “High accountability (chaperones, monitored correspondence, etc) and “Rules about physical contact and purity” as elements, but he gives no sign of the need for such in his “traditional dating” model. He tells my daughters to go out on dates with Christian men I don’t even know. Does he not know how many professing Christian men have less than honorable motives? Is he unaware of the promiscuity level among professing Christian teens? If I, as an adult, am to flee youthful lusts, can I ignore the fact that they lie in the bosom of every male who would ask my daughter out? Am I to assume that since a man professes Christ he is truly godly enough to mortify those lusts when I haven’t even met him?
The Problem with Fathers
In that last paragraph you were probably able to sense what’s coming next. Mr. Umstattd seems to have quite a problem with the idea that fathers typically play in the courtship model. He describes it here: “Fathers typically hold a ‘permission and control’ role rather than the traditional ‘advice and blessing’ role held by their fathers. He later complains that you can’t have blind dates if you must first get permission from a father. And he does point out some realistic problems that exist when fathers behave badly.
This is an issue that rests upon Biblical principle. This post is too long already so I will not take the time to exegete the texts, but I believe the Bible makes it quite clear that a daughter is under the authority and protection of her father until that time at which he gives her to a husband. Ex. 22:16-17, Num. 30:1-5, Deut. 22:13-21, 1 Cor. 7:36 (For a faithful exposition and discussion of these pertinent texts see: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=12703112322 , while I do not agree with everything Pastor Coleman teaches on courtship, his treatment of these texts is excellent.)
God has given me the responsibility to watch over and protect my daughters until they are married. There is nothing anywhere in scripture to indicate that this ends when they get a driver’s license, when they turn 18 or 21, when they go off to college, or when they are “mature enough” to live on their own. That doesn’t mean I can’t let them out of my sight. It doesn’t mean I must keep them locked up at home. It does, however, mean that I am responsible for their emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. I need to train them to have the proper attitude toward men. I need to train them to take care of themselves in situations they may find themselves in. But I don’t need to allow them to go out alone on dates with men I do not know, or do not approve of.
His advice to any man who would ask out my daughter is to just move on.
“If she says you need to talk to her dad first, just move on to the next girl. Don’t let the fact that some women have controlling fathers keep you from dating the girls with more normal families. There are a lot of fish in the sea and some dads are nicer than others. Remember that this man would have become your father-in-law, and controlling people tend to control everything they can. So avoiding women with those kinds of fathers can save you a lot of heartache down the road.”
All I can say to any man who takes this advice in regard to any of my daughters is that he is missing out on getting to know one of the most wonderful young women on this earth. You can find a girl with a more “normal family”, but I must point out that a young man ought not to be looking for a girl from a normal family, but from a Christian family. If the fact that a father takes his Biblical responsibilities seriously scares you off, it is your loss.
(Not quite “normal”)
He does bring up some realistic problems with fathers that I will address.
“I know several godly, hardworking and attractive homeschool guys who have been rejected by as many as a dozen fathers. I respect their tenacity. Getting turned down by courtship fathers is tough on guys because the fathers are rarely gentle or kind. So if you are a courtship-minded girl wondering why the guys are not calling, you may want to ask your dad how many guys he has run off.” (emphasis his)
“It is easy for “no guy to be good enough for daddy’s little princess”. The sad result of enforcing this mindset is a daughter who becomes a spinster.”
First of all, I don’t think a father should be “running off” guys without his daughter having any knowledge about it. Secondly, my previous comments may lead one to believe that I fit in the category of fathers in the “little princess” quote. But allow me to make this clear.
From the very day my daughter was born I have been praying earnestly that God would raise up a godly husband for her. When a young man comes to me I do not intend to converse with him while I polish my Glock. (Though I admit there is a part of me that would like to.) I will treat the young man with Christian dignity and respect, he may be the man I have been praying for. I do not expect a Charles Spurgeon or John Murray to show up at my door. I will not turn him away if he doesn’t have all his theological ducks in a row, if he is willing to be taught. However, any young man who professes Christ, who would not be willing to sit down with the father of a girl he is interested in, and learn from her father’s experience and wisdom, is not the man for my daughter.
I also do not think that a young man needs to be ready to marry my daughter before he comes to me about getting to know her better. When Mr. Umstattd states that “the fact that ‘the purpose of courtship is marriage’, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage.” I believe he has a point. What I am looking for is not a commitment to pursue marriage with my daughter before getting to know her better. What I am looking for is the assurance that he is not desiring to have a romantic relationship with her without any commitment involved. We rightly teach our children to reserve physical relationships for marriage, we must also teach them to reserve their hearts for their future spouse as well.
The author complains about the downside to limiting personal contact among members of the opposite sex to group activities.
“The problem with group settings is that not all personality types open up in group settings. Many married couples include one spouse who is more comfortable in group settings than the other. These couples may have never found each other if they were limited to ‘group dating.’
In group activities, it can be hard for the wallflowers to be discovered for the flowers that they really are. They need a less intense 1-on-1 setting in which to bloom. Group settings are particularly rough on women who grew up in communities where they were trained to value submissiveness, meekness and quietness.”
While I recognize some truth in this complaint, I do not believe the problem is insurmountable. I would simply recommend smaller groups. A wallflower does not need to be in a 1-on-1 setting to ever open up. In a small group that is comprised mostly of her intimate friends she should be able to open up to some extent. The fact remains that the temptations that are inherent in 1-on-1 time between members of the opposite sex that are interested in one another are too great to be ignored so that a wallflower may open up. How many dates would it take for the wallflower to open up? In this casual dating system any man who could not recognize her beauty in a group is not likely to continue casual dates until the time she lets her guard down.
Here we come to what I believe is the greatest difficulty for Christian singles. Mr. Umstattd asks, “Where is a stay-at-home daughter who attends a small family integrated church supposed to find groups of young people to hang out with?” He has an excellent point, but I find his suggested answer to be unacceptable. He advises singles to:
“Find a church with lots of single people. There are still churches out there with a healthy culture of traditional dating. If no one in your church got married last year, don’t expect to break that trend. You can always move back to your parent’s church after you find your sweetheart.”
Is this in any way a Biblical directive? We ought to teach our children the importance of joining themselves to a church where the whole counsel of God is faithfully preached and the pastors conscientiously nurture and care for the souls of the people. Are they to set that aside until they have accomplished the more important task of finding a spouse and then return? Perish the notion! It is indeed difficult for singles in small faithful churches to find potential spouses. There are conferences that can be attended in which a potential spouse may be met. I’ve contemplated visiting other faithful churches as a family occasionally in order to seek out other faithful Christian singles. But ultimately we must trust in the Sovereignty of our Almighty and caring Lord. I have been praying for God to provide a godly spouse for each of my children since their infancy and I trust that He will answer that prayer without requiring me or my children to compromise Biblical principles. I must also point out the obvious fact that the difficulty singles in small faithful churches have is in no way fixed by deciding to casually date. Who exactly are they supposed to start casually dating? His claim that the more people you date the faster you will find your future spouse is also problematic. God will use His means to bring your future spouse into your life in His timing. Going out on a lot of dates with a lot of people who you will never marry can do nothing to move up God’s time table. Trust in Him to answer your prayers, His grace is sufficient to sustain you until that day comes.
Mr. Umstattd has pointed out many of the problems and difficulties in the modern system of courtship. These things do need to be addressed, but the solution he proposes, changing to a system of casual dating that was used by his grandparent’s generation is not an acceptable answer. He’s ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater. He fails to recognize the dangers inherent in the system. He fails to take Biblical principles into consideration, and offers suggestions that are directly contrary to those principles. I do pray that God will help us to discern solutions to these problems and trust that he will do so. I also pray for all those who are committed to Biblical principles on these matters and are suffering because of it. I pray that God would sustain them. I pray that God would keep them from compromise. I pray that God will mercifully provide godly spouses for them. And I know that our God answers our prayers.
His Throne is Forever and Ever!