Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is My Daughter Going to Date?

My oldest child is almost 14-years-old. I'm not sure how that happened, but the reality is that Caroline is now much closer to going to college than she is to diapers.

I have to face the fact that she is a teenager. By the grace of God, she does not fit the stereotype of the typical moody and disrespectful teen. Actually, I think many teens act that way because parents expect them to do so.

One aspect of teen life in the USA is dating. This is almost universal in our country. Despite this, Alice and I refuse to just accept this societal norm without thinking through its ramifications.

We have searched the bible to see if we can find dating anywhere. We cannot. In fact, what we see is the parents arranging the marriages of their children. Jesus grew up in that culture. He never said anything against the arrangement of marriages whatsoever. He did make clear, however, that once a person is married, that marriage should be permanent.

Interestingly, when we lived in India we met many young people who thought that their parents should arrange their marriages. They thought this because they realized that their parents had been married for a while, had experience in marriage, and would make a wise choice. The divorce rate in India is far lower than it is in the USA; part of that has to do with the arrangement of the marriages.

Alice and I have looked at what dating has wrought upon our culture in America. The best way to put it is that it has provided practice for divorce. Many teens go through multiple relationships relatively quickly. Furthermore, teens continue to engage in pre-marital sex at an alarming rate, in large part because of dating. I see little difference in the behaviors of Christian and non-Christian teens in this area. Most teens who engage in sex do not end up marrying the person they were dating when this happened. Their breakup (if they were even together in a non-physical way) sets them up for later divorce.

What option is there today? I think the bible gives us an excellent answer for that. In the bible we read about a betrothal period that took place prior to marriage. That model could be used today like this: it would begin with the parents meeting regularly to talk things over. I would hope that the young man and woman would be given the opportunity to meet each other, and be given veto power over the marriage if their proposed spouse seems like a real dud to them. Assuming all parties are in agreement, the young man would then begin to court his future bride. This would occur with supervision so that they would not be placed in tempting situations. After a time of courting, they would then enter the actual betrothal period, which is much more serious than just a regular modern engagement.

During the betrothal period in the bible, the young woman would go to live in the home of the young man and his parents. This may have been exactly what was going on at the time Mary (the mother of Jesus) became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because things are so different in our culture, I doubt that we would have our daughters go to live in the home of their future spouses. However, I would make every effort to have our children, during betrothal, get to be with their future spouses during all different kinds of situations.

The purpose of all this is to honor God by setting our children up for the best marriages possible. Courtship and betrothal do this. Dating does not.

Of course, if all else fails, I could always get a trunk monkey (ha-ha)...


Brian said...

You should consider checking out Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries in Dating. It might offer another perspective.

Eric said...


I'll have to take a look at that and let you know what I think.


Eric said...


I have not read the book, but i looked at the Boundaries in Dating website.

Trying to set up boundaries for dating strikes me as trying to make something work that simply cannot work because God did not design it. I realize that in ministry we have to face the reality that people are going to date; however, that doesn't mean that we have to encourage it. Long before suggesting boundaries for dating, I would encourage courtship and betrothal.


Tia Lynn said...

I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with dating or courtship, but its more about how you date or court. Each is a manmade systems neither ordained by God. Even arranged marriages in the bible were not mandated by God, but a cultural, often business-driven, practice. Each method has pros and cons, but none are divine. In fact the only divine pairing recorded in the bible is Adam and Eve, where God CHOSE Adam’s spouse, and even that didn’t turn out perfectly. :) Basically, we have been given standards of purity to live by-the method is up to each individual person/family, quite honestly a hard and fast rule does not exist biblically on the method.

I would also be careful to hold India up as a beacon of marital bliss. Yes, their divorce rate is lower, but in parts of india, women have no options, can be outcasted if they were to leave the marriages, and it is socially acceptable for husbands to beat their wives. Women are forced to marry men they have never met at very young ages. This is not the ideal situation.

Oh, and I read Boundaries in Dating, it was an excellent book. It might be good for you to read another perspective. :)


Eric said...

Tia Lynn,

Thank you for taking the time to read this post and leave a comment. I enjoy being stretched by others' viewpoints.

I agree with you that the writers of the bible did not set forth a commanded method that leads up to marriage. I believe both dating and courtship/betrothal are permitted. However, I don't think that means that they are equally wise. Since dating became the norm in our country, the divorce rate has risen substantially. I believe this is partly due to the fact that dating provides "divorce practice". After all, very few people who date end up staying with the first person until marriage. Also, dating often places a young couple in tempting situations that are unwise and unnecessary. Since the advent of dating, premarital sex has skyrocketed.

As to India, my intention was not to imply that the marriage situation there is one of "marital bliss." Having lived there, I have seen some of the difficulties. My intention was simply to comment on the correlation between arranged marriages and a low divorce rate. It is interesting that India (which is only 1-2% Christian) has a far lower divorce rate than does the USA (whose largest religion is Christianity).

In Malachi 2:16, God says, "I hate divorce." Those are very strong words from our Lord. We should do all we can to help lower the rate of divorce within the church (which is pretty much the same as that of the un-churched). If courtship/betrothal has a much better chance of helping my children have strong, happy marriages, then I will certainly promote this method over dating.

As to the book "Boundaries in Dating," I will probably read it. I hope to be a pastor someday soon, and the reality is that some people in the church do date. Thanks for the advice.


tmagskjohns said...

Tony and I have just begun to think about these issues, as our oldest daughter is now 12. We have not done enough reading about courtship or talking to parents who follow this plan to have made a decision yet. One question that comes to mind immediately is, how does the whole courtship plan work once she's in college, possibly in another state? I can see it working while she's still living with us, where we can have the young man over for dinners, family events, etc. But how is it supposed to work when/if they are both hundreds of miles away?

Eric said...


You ask a good question that we have been thinking about also.

First, a family has to decide whether or not it is wise for its daughter to attend a college that is hundreds of miles away. I think we have freedom in that decision, but it certainly is an important one.

If she (or he) is going to be far away, then courtship/betrothal certainly becomes more difficult. In light of that, the key is going to be the teaching that the parents give to their children before they leave home.

Once in college, to-date-or-not-to-date is ultimately going to be a decision that the child makes. If he or she has decided before going to college that dating is not an option, then it becomes easier. So if the child doesn't date in college, what can he or she do?

First, the child would certainly be more selective than those in the dating scene. Second, once the child meets someone that they like, they would explain very early on that they do not date. If the person he or she is interested in likes this idea, then it is a step in the right direction. At that point, both sets of parents should get involved and discuss how the relationship can move forward, ultimately toward marriage.

Will this be easy, especially if it is from a distance? No, it will not. However, if the end result is a strong marriage, then it will be worth it.

Anonymous said...

I know my name will say Anonymous but this is Jessica Auner from Ephesus Church.
As the mother of two boys I have thought about this alot but since they are 4 and 2 it's a while away. However my thoughts are this. Ya'll have raised GOOD kids. Your oldest daughter is a gem. she is grounded biblically and you can tell with 5 seconds of conversation with her that she has strong moral values. I think that above all else will be the difference in her path of finding a husband. I think that it doesn't matter if a child is allowed to date or if you do the courtship thing God will put the two He wants together. I know Bobby and I (and I strongly suspect that ya'll do too) pray for our future daughter-in-laws, even now. No we will not allow them to date unchaperoned,if they are home. But if they go off to college (my fervant prayer) then I know that by then I will have taught them all I can teach. I have instilled in them all the morals I can, and by then they are adults. It will be in God's hands then. I know it's scary but I think ya'll have done an awesome job in raising your children.... Ok I know this was long and kinda rambly but you get my point?

Eric said...


Thank you for your kind words about our kids. We have tried our best, but we still make our share of mistakes. God has given us great grace in the whole parenting process.

I agree that God is sovereign and will put together our kids with whomever He see fit. However, I also think that if we try to follow the biblical model (courtship), we will help our children avoid harm that dating can bring. We want to assist them in reaching marriage while remaining pure. Avoiding dating takes away some of the temptations.


von said...

An interesting discussion. We have come to a slightly different conclusion, much more radical :) We believe firmly that Scripture teaches 'betrothal', a binding covenant instigated by the grooms father.

An entire discussion would be too long for a mere comment, but you are welcome to join in the discussion at, or, if you are really interested, our private site (just leave a comment with your email address at our public site.)

Eric said...


I can't argue with your conclusions. Whenever we follow the biblical model, we honor the Lord.