Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Courtin’ and Datin’

[Editor's note: The following was written as a follow-up to my previous post on Christians and internet dating (linked below) that I posted nearly 6 years ago (6 YEARS AGO! - how time flies). In the comments under the original post, a reader or two asked me to clarify my "hostile" views toward the courtship model. I did respond, and so I thought I would repost my response for current readers. I updated the original and refined my thinking in some areas].

In my defense of internet dating, I made a comment that poked a little bit at what I call the courtship only camp.

I distinguished the two models by noting that the dating model could be defined as, "a nice young man taking a nice young lady out for dinner." The courtship model, however, could be defined as, "a nice young man taking a nice young lady and her entire family out for dinner."

I was asked to elaborate a little more as to why I don't like the courtship model.

To begin, I think it is a tad unfair to say "I don't like the courtship model." I do appreciate the concept of young Christian couples having their families involved in their relationship as they move along to getting married. My wife and I want to disciple our children to think biblically about relationships, courtship, and (if the good Lord is willing and tarries longer) marriage. We want them to want us to be involved in their lives at that point.

What I am reacting to is two-fold:

First, let's face facts. The courtship only crowd do not have a clear, biblically defined reason for their convictions.

Oh yes, I realize we can make "good and reasonable inferences" and develop some "regulatory principles" on how to govern relationships, but honestly, is there a clear cut passage commanding, say for example, a young man to ask permission from a girl's father to get married? Well, no there isn't. It may be a noble idea, and one I will exhort my boys to do when they seek to get married (I'll demand it from the guys who want to marry my daughters), but do they really have to?

Take a real world example:

What if the girl's father is a boneheaded idiot who has left his family years ago and currently lives in emperor decadence in the Hamptons? The guy has divorced the girl's mother and could care less about what his daughter does with her life. Are you telling me the Bible would demand that a young guy, seeking to marry this girl, go and ask her estranged father's permission who despises her and could care less? And what does the young man do if, God forbid, he says "no."

Again, the Bible certainly provides some guidelines as to the type of person we should want to marry, but it doesn't provide any hard and fixed rules as to the means we take to marry that person. Being mentored by committed Christian friends, and if so blessed, by godly parents, is certainly the way to go. A spirit-filled Christian should want to seek out those avenues. But that isn't the norm for every person.

Think of Paul writing the Corinthians. Paul was giving divinely revealed principles to readers who came from what we would call today, "dysfunctional" backgrounds. Many of them were slaves and had been involved with rank paganism, including temple prostitution and other wicked activity.

Though I heartily agree what Paul writes is God's Word, notice he doesn't specifically outline a particular relationship model for people to follow. He talks about the blessings that come from both singleness and marriage, he tells married couples not to engage in celibacy, and tells people to marry each other "only in the Lord." Nothing is mentioned about the steps taken leading up to the marrying part. In other words, Paul wasn't writing this for Vision Forum families.

Second, I just don't care for some of the courtship only proponents, and their arrogant proclamations that if a person doesn't follow their courtship theology, then God cannot truly bless any relationship. I especially don't care for the attitude of "I kissed dating good-bye and my courtship model is the only true spiritual way to attract, woo, and conquer a woman."

Now perhaps some may think I am exaggerating, but believe me, I have encountered way too many courtship families. A young man attempting to "court" any of the daughters in some courtship families I know will find a much easier time joining the Italian Mafia. The hoops the parents make him jump through are just absurd.

I had a guy friend tell me how he attempted to "court" one of the daughters from a courtship only family. The parents insisted that he type up a detailed itinerary of everything he had planned for the evening. If they found out that he deviated from it in any way, the deal was off, so to speak. It is those kind of legalistic vices masquerading as "purity hedges" that bug me. I just see parents who don't trust their daughter or the guy she is courting. Parents do not want to cultivate this attitude with their children.

There is also a lack of practicality with proponents when older, more mature people are involved with each other. For example, my wife and I were 29 and 30 respectively when we started liking each other. We didn't have any parents providing us direction. We were dependent upon our own personal convictions, discernment, and collective spiritual wisdom to know if marriage to each other is what we wanted. What may be "wise advice" for 17 and 18 year-olds may be silly for older folks.

Maybe I can conclude my thoughts by offering some positives about courtship.

I'll make it clear once more: I certainly believe it is wise for parents to be involved with their kids choosing a guy friend or a gal friend. And to Christian kids, if you are blessed to have godly parents, listen to them in these matters. They have more insight than you.

I also think there is wisdom in dating in large numbers. Meaning, getting to know someone of the opposite sex in the context of Church, a Bible study fellowship group, or some other social function.

And then finally, I like the fact that courtship is preparing a young person to take marriage seriously. The emphasis on marriage forces a young person to grow in maturity. This is not just another prom date, but a man or a woman who you will live with the rest of your life.



Blogger Tom said...

I had no idea that some proponents of the "courtship model" went so overboard like that. What I gleaned from "I Kissed Dating Good-bye" ten (?) years ago was, "date with marriage in mind and if you're not thinking with that in mind, what's the point". At least, that's what I walked away with.

So what does the "dating model" look like in your eyes? Should marriage be at the forefront or on the back burner? Should folks date "casually"?

My girls are not at the dating age yet but I'm thinking on this stuff already. Meanwhile I'm trying to come up with a way to prevent them from growing up at all so I never have to give them away to some bum. :-)


11:43 AM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger David Kjos said...


You make some valid points, but it seems to me that your impression of courtship is poisoned by the example of Gothard types. Not every proponent of courtship is a cultish lunatic.

11:55 AM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

"Dating with marriage in mind" is more of a heart attitude than a practical model. I went out with different ladies when I was single with "marriage in mind" but I was dating them, not the rest of the family. The family was often times in another state.

I would also ask how one is defining "causal" dating. I certainly wouldn't endorse a gal just going out with a guy she just met at the drop of a hat. However, I certainly don't see anything bad about her going out with a guy she sort of knows from work, or Bible study, or whatever.

With younger kids, obviously the discernment is immature and thoughtful parents like yourself will need to have some forethought as to what is acceptable and unacceptable "dating." How parents go about determining that how that plays out will probably vary from one family to another.

12:00 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

That is certainly true not all courtship folks are cultish, at least in the Gothard style. But I would say that even with the Vision Forum variety, there can be a bit of weirdness. Especially when they insist their way is the only way. Like I wrote, there are some good things I appreciate about the philosophy.

12:05 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger David Kjos said...

Right, I left out Vision Forum. I think there is more than "a bit of weirdness" there. (Have you seen the pictures from the father-daughter retreat of the daughters shaving their fathers? Creeeeee-py!)

What I'm saying is that courtship should not be defined by goofballs like them. There are a lot of us, beyond the Gothard and VF folks, who teach courtship that have a different, less iron-clad, philosophy and consequently take a much more casual approach to method. Your definition of courtship (a nice young man taking a nice young lady and her entire family out for dinner) is a pretty fair satirical description of the Gothardites I've known. You might not be aware of the rest of us who recoil at that kind of insanity, because we don't have newsletters and seminars and websites trumpeting our view of the family as the gospel (because it isn't). There are more of us than you'll ever know, because we mostly keep our mouths shut. On the surface, we probably don't look any different from dating families, except that our young children who have no business thinking about marriage, and aren't, aren't dating.

1:10 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

If that is your understanding of "courtship" I am probably a courtship person.

1:12 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger Patrick Chan said...

Thanks, Fred! These recent posts have been very helpful, especially for Christians like me who are in the thick of it all. What you write helps us to get a better handle on things. Plus I think I can tell you're writing with very practical, down to earth, rubber meets the road experience and knowledge. So it's all much appreciated. Thanks again.

1:43 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger David Kjos said...


I don't know about that. All I've really said is what I don't believe. I don't think we're really very far apart, though.

7:13 PM, July 06, 2011  
Blogger Robert said...

Thanks for clarifying your position in the post and comments, Fred. I think where people (especially parents) lose their way is when they get prideful about how they do it. I think that the best parents are those who are humble enough to listen to other parents and learn from them (must use discernment here) instead of trying to force their model on everybody else. Also, I think it is important to show your children you trust them to some extent and let them know that ultimatley, God know what is in their heart and if they are following Him or not. They need fear of God, not fear of parents.

4:40 AM, July 07, 2011  

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