What in the world is biblical dating? On the one hand, it sounds a bit ridiculous to label an activity as ‘biblical’ when it did not exist in biblical times as it does now. We don’t talk about ‘biblical car driving’, for example. On the other hand, there are biblical principles that we can apply to dating, just as we can apply to other behaviours, such as driving. There are dos and don’ts. Just as we want people to learn responsible rather than irresponsible driving, so dating is something to learn to do carefully and with skill. It takes skill and care to consider your own heart as well as the heart of another.
Twenty years ago, a movement began in the USA known as the ‘courtship movement’. Throughout American high schools and Christian universities, spiritual leaders looked for ways to help adolescents wait for sex until marriage. They were called abstinence preachers. It was well intentioned, and the idea was this: keep young people away from sex and dating in order to keep them from sinning. Joshua Harris, a young married pastor, then wrote the well-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which echoes this teaching. Set in the American context, he describes dating as having one relationship after the other, giving your heart away time and again.5 So dating, in his view, is getting to know someone and jumping right into relationship mode, until you have doubts and then you jump back out of it. His book is therefore a plea against dating, especially sex within dating.
That sort of dating in fact is both unhealthy and not helpful. But I don’t like Harris’s ‘solution’. He proposes courtship as an alternative to dating. He describes courtship as only moving on to date someone when you are ready for a lifelong commitment, and avoiding romance before God tells you you’re ready for it. It is the intentional process of discovering whether marriage is the goal of the relationship, seeking God’s guidance throughout the process. Courtship doesn’t begin until both parties agree to start courting each other. It usually involves asking the parents’ permission to do so, and involves supervised dates.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking God’s guidance throughout a relationship. In fact I think you should always continue to seek God’s guidance, also when you are married. The flaw of the courtship system, in my opinion, is the amount of commitment and intentionality required at the very beginning of a relationship. It makes dating almost into an engagement, and the way it is promoted puts so much pressure on the process of dating that it can be daunting for Christians even to begin.
The idea of courtship does have some value. Just as an alcoholic does better to abstain from alcohol altogether so that he or she doesn’t fall into former patterns of behaviour, the avoidance of anything potentially dangerous or harmful can be a solution. Have you been overweight? Stay away from chocolate. Have you ever been in a car accident? Don’t get into a car. Have you ever been mugged? Stay at home. These are simplistic solutions to the danger you were so afraid of, and you can try to exercise control through these avoidance methods.
But through avoidance something else happens. You begin to live your life led by fear. That isn’t to say that fear can’t be useful. It can sometimes protect us. Without fear we would be lucky to survive another half hour. Healthy fear makes us cautious. Unhealthy fear, however, can have a paralysing effect. Dating can be scary. You run the risk of your heart being broken. And how obsessed is our culture with a broken heart? Broken hearts are fodder for artists. Countless songs are about broken hearts. But is all of this obsession necessary? Your heart is a muscle, not a bone. Think about it. Bones can break but muscles are much more flexible. Of course, muscles can tear but in principle they are strong. You also run a risk by not using a muscle. Without use, muscles become weak and small, almost unusable. Give a grown man with a broken leg two weeks of bed rest and he will lose a significant amount of his muscle mass. So it is with your heart when it comes to dating. You must have the courage to continue to use it. If you’re a person who eventually wants to marry, then the continual use of your heart is vital. Healthy dating will be good exercise for your heart if it involves God’s biblical principles.
Extract taken from Dare to Date by Aukelien van Abbema, published 19 January, 2017. You can buy a copy here from today.
Come and here Aukelien, as well as Vicky Walker and other threads friends on Thursday 26 January, at our ‘Dare to Date’ event in London. More info and tickets here.