Volume 9, Issue 5: Childer
Courtship Horror Stories
The center must always be the law and wisdom of Scripture, and never our various actions and reactions. As the bankruptcy of the modern dating system becomes increasingly obvious, the temptation to react will be present with us on every side. But reactionary behavior is always destructive, and this does not even include the calamities brought on by overreaction.
It is not enough that our children are "not dating." It is not enough that we call whatever it is we are doing "biblical courtship." Calling our driveway gravel gold doesn't make us rich.
A few cautions for parents considering the courtship model are therefore in order. First, the authority of the father must be applied differently depending upon whether a situation is a negative or positive one. In other words, a world of difference lies between a man refusing a suitor his daughter might like and a father insisting on a man his daughter does not like. In the first instance, he is providing a covenantal fence and it is likely that he knows far more than his daughter does. His wisdom is exercised the way a father's wisdom should be--in a defensive and protective way. But in the latter instance, it is far more likely that his daughter knows more about the situation than he does. A man who tries to insist that his daughter develop an interest in someone he likes is a fool; he is not choosing a hunting partner for himself. Far from being a protection for her, she now needs (and does not have) protection from him. A man with an attractive daughter will become accustomed to the routine of putting off suitors. But a wise man will be extremely reluctant to exercise his authority in this area in a positive, prescriptive way--"This is the man you must marry." Now the world is a complicated place, and so we can imagine situations where this rule might not apply, but as a general rule this is really the difference between a defender and a tyrant.
Second, the tendency to trust the "system" of courtship for "sure results" is actually the sure road to disaster. Fools can grow older and find themselves with children of marriageable age. When they do, we will start hearing the courtship horror stories as they trickle in. Suzie Q was excommunicated because she couldn't bring herself to like the pastor's son. Billy John was attacked by the parents of a plain girl in the congregation for his obvious lack of spirituality, as evidenced by his most grievous interest in that pretty one over there. But biblical patterns of behavior are only a blessing when they are followed by biblical people. As a proverb in the mouth of a fool reminds Solomon of the legs on a lame man, so the phrase biblical courtship in the mouths of fools is equally incongruous.
Third, we need to face up to the "too late" factor. A man who picks up a book on biblical courtship when his daughter is already living with a guy at college really ought to be reading something else. We glory in the truth that sin can be forgiven, but God has not arranged the world so that the consequences of sin are automatically erased whenever sin is confessed. We are individuals who will live forever, and in our children God has placed everlasting souls under our charge. This means that disobedience by parents can screw someone up eternally. Disobedient children should always be in our prayers, but we must not intimate that twenty years of parental sin admits of a quick fix. When a seventeen-year-old daughter has been dating for five years, and the full-tilt courtship model is used to clamp down on her, the only thing that will come of it is some really interesting pastoral problems.
Fourth is the pernicious problem of the spiritual pride associated with courtship. "We practice biblical courtship." "Ooooooo. Can I touch you?" "No. That's kind of the point, actually." Such pride is often the result of embracing a practice which is not mainstream, and which sets the practitioner off as being weird. When pretending not to be weird would clearly be unsuccessful, the alternative frequently comes out in various weird and proud manifestations. But even if the pride is a defensive one, it remains pride and ought to be confessed as sin.
The last warning is that we must avoid allowing the courtship model to develop a subcultural uniform, which would then lead people to think that this is only a subcultural practice of a particular subcultural group, and not a biblical principle which God requires of humans. Unless we watch it, the uniforms will develop on their own. Just as we know that a kid is a skater, or at least a wannabe, by his baggy trousers hauled down to mid-thigh, we might soon come to recognize the courtship boys through their pants hitched up to the armpits. "Hello. I've come to sit on the couch in the living room with your daughter." And then you wake up with your sheets drenched with sweat.
The central principle involved in courtship is biblical and constant. The parents of a young woman are to be authoritatively involved in the process of her courtship and marriage. The cultural practices will vary. The amount of wisdom displayed by the young people and parents will vary. The humility and grace will vary. But at bottom, this is a normal pattern of living for normal people who want to live biblically.