The Dating Debate
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Dating in the United States and most other developed countries is in serious trouble.
Don't misunderstand—the practice of dating is very much alive. The problem is what has happened as a result of current normal dating practices. Teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, emotional scars and a host of other problems often result from modern dating habits.
From I Kissed Dating Goodbye to I Gave Dating a Chance, the books about dating in the Christian realm run the gamut, with all of them saying they have biblical backing for their approach. Which is truly right in God's eyes? If you are eligible for marriage, how can you know what you should do—give dating a chance or kiss it goodbye?
Big change in dating practices
Beth Bailey's book, From Front Porch to Back Seat, chronicles the dramatic changes that took place in the world of dating and courtship during the 20th century.
As the title indicates, the automobile has played a big part in those changes.
By giving young people more mobility, one-on-one boy-girl contact has gone from a public, almost family setting in the parents' home to a private and intimate setting. This often leads to sex before marriage in defiance of God's command about keeping sexual activity within the bounds of marriage (Exodus 20:14; 1 Corinthians 6:18).
God has consistently told His people to be different from the people around them—from His commands to ancient Israel to statements like the one in 2 Corinthians 6:17. Christ said those who follow Him are to be the "salt of the earth" and the "light of the world" (Matthew 5:13-14). He inspired Paul to refer to faithful Christians as lights that shine brightly in a crooked and perverse world (Philippians 2:15).
As dating practices from the 1960s on became more focused on physical intimacy before marriage, authors familiar with Scripture began to draw attention to the fact that modern dating practices were going against God's Word.
Dating with a biblically based focus
Joshua Harris grabbed a lot of attention with his best-selling book about kissing dating good-bye, which was published in 1997. In 2000 he wrote a sequel book after his courtship and marriage, titled Boy Meets Girl. As the back cover of the book says: "Boy Meets Girl is an honest, romantic, and refreshingly biblical look at relationships. It's about dating with a purpose."
So despite what might appear to be a prejudice against any kind of dating by the first book's title, the book is really about avoiding the wrong kind of dating.
So if his first book is not really against all dating, what's the point? Was it just a catchy title for marketing purposes? Perhaps a quick review of the book will help.
The first chapter deals with the importance of doing what is good, not just doing whatever feels good. Having a series of short-term relationships that include physical intimacy not only means you give away part of your heart to many partners before marriage, it also sets up a person to view marriage as a potential short-term relationship instead of the lifelong commitment God intended (Matthew 19:6).
Chapter 2 gets to the heart of what's wrong with the typical dating scene by focusing on the negative tendencies of defective dating—that is, dating the way most people have done it for decades. He points out that the wrong kind of dating can have the following negative effects:
It leads to intimacy but not necessarily to commitment. When couples eventually break up, they simply move on to another similar relationship.
It tends to skip the friendship stage of a relationship. Friendship can be described as two people walking side by side toward a common goal or interest. Typically dating tends to focus on being a couple with the goal of intimacy.
It often mistakes a physical relationship for love. A later chapter talks about looking up "love" in God's dictionary to see what it should entail. Sex does not equal love, yet it is often mistaken for love. Though the excitement of the physical relationship is intoxicating, real love extends far beyond sex.
Sex before marriage often isolates a couple from other vital relationships. Many authors have noted the importance of making a lot of friends of both sexes while young so you have a good idea of what others are like. Often in isolated relationships when a breakup comes, other friends have been or will be alienated, leaving the former partners even more isolated and lonely at a time when they both really need friends.
In many cases it also distracts young adults from their primary responsibility of preparing for the future. The most obvious thought might be of higher education, but even developing skills and talents can be stunted when one's attention is focused on steady, intimate dating.
An undesirable consequence is discontentment with God's gift of youthful singleness. Some might disagree with the choice of phrasing, but the focus is that being unattached while young means you have opportunities for growth, learning and service that will be more difficult if not impossible when married. The author urges people to take full advantage of their single years. The teen and early adult years especially should be a time for refining many areas and facets of personal development.
Defective dating creates an artificial environment for evaluating another person's character. Being fun on a date doesn't necessarily say a lot about how a person will be as a husband or wife. Real-life settings around family and other friends show much more of what a person is really like.
Avoid the negative, focus on the positive
The rest of the book focuses on how to avoid such negative effects and, beginning with chapter 4, it focuses on godly love.
Harris accurately points out that Christ said if we love Him, we will obey Him. So true love always expresses itself as obedience to Christ and service to others.
In contrast to that, the focus of defective dating is usually gratifying self and going against God's commands concerning righteousness and purity in our lives. There is a chapter on putting past mistakes behind and realizing that even if you have made mistakes, you can live a pure life from now on.
There are also suggestions on how to keep your focus on being singles and truly friends in a "couples" and "just do it" world. The final section includes some thoughts on what really matters in a life partner—the character and attitude issues that will be a blessing to one's spouse. The book ends with a chapter encouraging readers to be sure their stories of how they came to marriage are ones they will be proud to tell.
So the dating debate is not really about giving up on dating completely. It's about giving up going out exclusively with one person until you are ready to marry. It's about being sure that your dating practices are godly and done at the right time and in the right manner. It's about rejecting the kind of dating that is so common in today's society and making sure that you follow God's instruction about purity and holiness in everything you do. GN