I am off to give a series of talks on “The Church and the Family” this weekend, so here is an old post to fill the absence of something new this week.
I suppose every Pastor would say that the issue of dating is one of the most important for him to have a clear stance on. A number of practical, not to say emotive issues are involved. In this short paper I would like to give what I believe is the biblical perspective. Others might well disagree with me, but I firmly believe that the following view is both God-honoring and “ in-line” with the life of faith to which all Christians, of whatever age, are called (2 Cor. 5:7).
It may help if first I say a word or two about my own experience. I was married to Gina in 1997. I was 35 years old. Prior to meeting Gina I had courted only one other lady, and that was for two months at the beginning of 1996! (By the way, we were not meant for each other).
As strange as it may appear, I had not had a girlfriend before I was 33. Even before I was saved I believed there was something shallow and self-serving about most of the dating relationships I knew of. But that is beside the point. When I became a Christian at the age of 24, I decided that I wanted God’s choice for me. Yes, I looked around, but I did not find anyone who shared the same zeal for learning the truth as I had. Too many of the Christians I came into contact with were more superficial and selfish than the friends I had in the world. I felt no spiritual affinity with the girls I met; though of course there were physical and personal attractions.
For my part, I can say that I am very glad I waited for God’s timing. I was enabled to overcome a number of obstacles to faith by concentrating on four questions:
a) Does God know how I feel?
b) Has He forgotten about me?
c) Should I compromise the truth as I see it in order to get a girlfriend?
d) Am I prepared to be single if God does not answer my prayers affirmatively?
I think the answers I gave to these questions (and I think they can only be answered in one way by the child of faith–cf. Rom. 14:23) exclude any concept of Christian dating; I believe that this conclusion is scriptural.
Scripture, History, and Jeramy Clark
Everyone must admit that the Bible never mentions dating. At least, I do not know of any example that has been brought forward by those who approve of it.
A case in point is the new book by Jeramy Clark titled I Gave Dating a Chance. For example, Clark employs two OT stories as pro-dating illustrations; the story of Rebekah (pp. 57-58), and of Joseph (pp.79-80). He does this without realizing that neither Rebekah nor Joseph were ever asked on a date, nor ever went on one. In fact, Rebekah’s story is a perfect illustration of why dating is unwarranted for a man or woman of faith.
However, not to be confused by the facts, on page 22, Clark has a table of the world’s dating rules vs. God’s dating rules. God’s dating rules are:
1) Look at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
2) Live for God’s will (1 Pet. 4:2).
3) Look out for others (Phil. 2:3).
4) Be real and honest (Eph. 4:25).
5) Follow Him (Prov. 3:1-2).
Of course, none of these references are about dating! This procedure is what is called “proof-texting”, and Mr. Clark is a master craftsman. Another instance is found early in his book when, in order to show that dating is God’s will he produces Psalm 37:4 as proof. One might prove a lot of things with Psalm 37:4 used in this way. There is simply no interpretative control.
It is difficult to keep up with Clark’s logic, but in order to pursue our point, we shall try. On page 12, he equates dating with falling in love. But his definition of dating (p. 16) does not even include the idea of love, and this definition dictates much of what he says in the book.
Again, although he talks a lot about God’s will, he illustrates his arguments with tales that contradict his advice. A classic one is about meeting a stewardess on a flight (p. 76). Upon setting eyes on this woman he asks the Lord why he couldn’t meet a girl like that. Well, sure enough “…that prayer got answered”. After 3 months they discovered they had nothing in common. Presumably it was God’s will for Clark to meet the wrong person; and not once or twice either. The book is replete with personal examples; indeed, we submit that Clark’s title for his book is an understatement! So we were not at all surprised to discover that Clark got his inspiration for his philosophy for dating from a TV commercial (pp. 8-9).
When we take a historical view of dating, we discover that it is conspicuous by its absence in the history of the Church. It seems that the Christians in past centuries have not considered dating to be an option. The Puritans, for example, would not have entertained it for a moment. Commenting on their view of searching for a companion, J. I. Packer writes,
“The wise way to form an opinion about possible partners is to find out their reputation, watch how they act in company, how they dress and talk, and note whom they select as friends.” (A Quest for Godliness, p. 268) We agree entirely!
A Spiritually Inclement Climate
Something more that needs to be considered is the present spiritual climate. For example, Dr. Gary Burge recently complained that a majority of his freshman Bible students at Wheaton College did not have any real Bible knowledge at all, even though most “come from strong evangelical churches and possess a long history of personal devotion and Christian involvement.” (Christianity Today, Aug. 9, 1999, p. 45) In his analysis of the problem of Bible illiteracy, Burge concludes:
“The Bible does not provide us with the mental furniture of our lives anymore. And…this is as true in the church as it is for the secular culture.” (Ibid, p. 48)
To this opinion, I should like to add another:
“There is a yawning chasm between what evangelical faith was in the past and what it frequently is today,…between the former spirituality and the contemporary emptiness and accommodation.” (David Wells, No Place For Truth, p. 135)
In such a spiritual climate, where “feeling is rapid, but learning is slow” (Ibid, 173-174) are we now to give the green light to a concept of dating that is seen neither in the Bible nor in the history of the Church?
One final thought, the doctrine of Providence is surely at variance with the hit and miss view advocated by Clark and his ilk. Morton Smith writes, “The Biblical view of Providence is that God has not left His creation alone, but continues to preserve and sustain it, and also to govern and control all that takes place in it.” (Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 209) Including life-partners? We think so!
In conclusion, we say that the terms “Christian” and “dating” are incompatible. We say this for the following reasons, not all of which we have had time to address.
· Scripture never mentions dating.
· Dating is a recent phenomenon.
· Dating contradicts the doctrine of Providence.
· Dating is not conducive to a life of faith and trust.
· The temptations are too great (as Clark, in his more lucid moments, seems to agree, see pp. 35, 109, 145, 157).
· The notion of experimental dating relationships has not restrained the scandalous rates of divorce within the Christian community, and stems more from pragmatism than from theology.
· Should Christians enter into relationships if they are not looking to marry (i.e. to court)? I am persuaded the answer is no.
Do we trust God? Does he know our desires? Then let us glorify Him by not looking for dates but waiting patiently for God to answer our prayers.