Book Review: Help! My Daughter Wants to Date!
reviewed by Andrew Haylett
`Christian Education in the Home: Help! My Daughter Wants to Date!' by Greg Price. Still Waters Revival Books, 1994, 27pp, spiral-bound soft cover. Available from Still Waters Revival Books, 4710-37A Ave. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada T6L 3T5. Tel. 403-450-3730. Price Can $3.98.
Dating, going out together, going steady; the vocabulary may vary, but the phenomenon seems inescapable in modern Western culture. Can such a well-nigh universal practice be questioned, let alone corrected, by Christians? Or is the practice of dating, with all the associated problems of temptation and emotional turmoil, a 20th century worldly innovation that should be confronted by all parents that desire to see their children walking in the Lord? Greg Price, pastor of a Reformed church in Edmonton, Canada, and father of five children, wants us to be left in no doubt as to the principles at stake and has produced this study guide to direct the thinking and practice of Christian parents--and their children. As in so many areas of life, the truth of God's infallible Word confronts and destroys the philosophy and practice of the world. `Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?'
The structure of this booklet is straightforward. Firstly, the author lays down the principles involved. As the title suggests, the responsibility for training children for godly courtship is located firmly in the domain of Christian education. Just as the child is to be taught the Lordship of Jesus Christ in other areas of instruction, he or she is to be taught that their developing relationships with Christians of the opposite sex must also be honouring to Christ and consistent with His Word. The responsibility for imparting this teaching is with the parents; not the State, the school, the child himself (through socialisation with other children) or even, primarily, with the church. The children are to be accountable to, and under the supervision of, their parents while courting; their actions are not to be autonomous.
Secondly, the various terms used to define such relationships are presented and carefully defined, then subjected to the light of Scripture. The two main antithetical terms are `dating' and `courtship'. The former is defined as `a shared event between a male and a female who have made no binding, biblical commitment to one another and who are themselves primarily responsible for their own supervision while on the date'. It is described as a `twentieth century innovation', a rebellion against parental authority, and is characterised by immaturity, lustful temptation, selfishness and emotional manipulation. In contrast, `biblical courtship' is defined as `a relationship between a man and a woman which is entered into *with a view to* engagement and one in which the fathers of the couple exercise loving oversight' (emphasis in original). The antiquity of this concept is traced back to Puritan New England and, ultimately, to Israel as God's people. Courtship is shown as covenantal in nature, while dating is radically non-covenantal. The author also sets courtship in the context of preparation for engagement (a covenantal commitment; betrothal, espousal) and marriage, and describes what behaviour is appropriate for each stage.
Thirdly, practical advice is offered to those involved in a developing relationship; the couple themselves, and their fathers. Assuming that a Christian couple are committed to Biblical courtship, how should they conduct themselves? The author tackles this question in a forthright manner. No `sexual touching' is permitted; this includes kissing and even holding hands. Such acts, outside the context of a covenantal commitment, can easily result in confusion and guilt. Should the courting couple be alone together in absolute privacy? No, they should always be in the company of others, usually their family. And, most importantly, what is the goal of courtship? Courtship should only be entered into with a view to marriage; not just `to have a good time'. It is the natural precursor to marriage, assuming that full understanding has been reached between the couple, and with their parents.
The loving care and protection that parents have shown to their children during their upbringing must be extended to courtship and engagement. Scriptural examples are adduced; Abraham's proxy to find a wife for Isaac; Laban and Rachel, Saul and Michal. And, of course, ultimately God himself, giving Eve away to Adam as a `creation paradigm for all fathers to follow'. It should be noted that the author sees responsibility for supervision as primarily belonging to the father, though it is difficult to believe that he would neglect the considerable insight and support that the wife would provide in this situation.
The author deals effectively with anticipated objections to the practice of parentally-supervised courtship (one may be quite sure that all the objections identified, and more, would be raised in today's world). Objections dealt with are of a family, social or practical nature. The first of these are probably the hardest to deal with. How do we explain to our son/daughter that we do not trust them to be alone with someone of the opposite sex? We remind them of the deceitfulness of the human heart, and confess our own inability to resist temptation without God's help, and our need to flee from temptation. How do we reassure our daughter when she fears that the `screening' process will scare away all the men and result in lifelong singleness? We point out that it will only scare away those who are immature or unsuitable, and that it is far better to delay marriage than to end up with an unfaithful partner.
There will be other people to deal with, in the world and perhaps even in the church, who will raise criticisms; they will scoff at supervised courtship as old-fashioned, culturally obsolete, logistically impossible, et cetera. They will fallaciously identify supervised courtship with `arranged marriages'. Such people have to be pointed to the Biblical and historical evidence that clearly shows that courtship is both taught by God Himself and was practised universally in the church. It does not override the feelings of the children, who are responsible for making the ultimate decision, but protects them from temptation and unsuitable matches.
Some may feel that this material has little to offer them. For example, parents of younger children may feel that the time for thinking about courtship is a long way off. Maybe so, but the foundational principles upon which Biblical supervision of courtship is based are those which must characterise the whole of a child's education. These principles include the recognition of the parents' authority, the need for open and consistent communication within the family, and the need to teach, by precept and example, submission to God's revealed will in every part of their lives. These lessons can never be started too early. And what more effective way to teach the true nature of Christian love than for a husband to love his wife?
Others may feel that, since they only have boys and not girls in their family, they may, with relief, turn over the problems of supervision to the father of the girl. On the contrary, the author shows that cooperation between both sets of parents in this matter is vital. Still others may feel that since their children have left the home for study at college or for other reasons, supervision is impossible in practice. The author suggests that the elders of the church that the children are attending, or a Christian family in their area, might be asked to supervise in the place of the parents. Finally, others who are as yet unmarried, or even widowed or divorced, and who are in their twenties or thirties or older, and who have perhaps left their parents' home many years ago, may wonder how these principles apply to them. The author is at pains to emphasise that the stages of courtship, engagement and marriage, and appropriate behaviour at each point, apply to all people at whatever age. There is always a need for accountability, which may be provided by those within the church if not by parents, that the older single people may act in a manner that is beyond reproach and that is an example to younger Christians. Perhaps a larger degree of self-government and self-discipline would be required in these circumstances.
The author includes three appendices. The first is perhaps the most practical, and takes the form of a suggested procedure for `interviewing' the prospective suitor of one's daughter. Categories of questions suggested include background, Christian faith, character and intentions/goals. Around sixty specific questions are suggested. It may be that some would find the volume of proposed questions too prescriptive and somewhat daunting. The author would `strongly encourage parents not to allow too much latitude in theological disagreement between the potential suitor and [their] own theological convictions'. He rightly points out that `true unity in a home...is built upon a foundational agreement of biblical truth'. However, we must humbly acknowledge that we have all had to change our own convictions on certain aspects of Biblical teaching, as the Lord has dealt graciously and gently with us, and we cannot therefore expect from a young Christian a fully-informed and unqualified commitment in every detail to our own convictions. Of course, there are some issues which are non-negotiable; for example, a commitment to the Bible as infallible and all-sufficient, to Reformed doctrine, and to a biblical view of male-female relationships. But rather than looking for an exhaustive checklist of every doctrine (and the author includes views on instrumental accompaniment in worship and church polity in his list), assent to which may just as easily be a result of the young man's background rather than the result of genuine conviction, would it not be better to stress the need for a teachable spirit and for humility, as the means by which potential conflicts in marriage may be resolved? Having said this, the extensive list of questions provided by the author would be of substantial value to the parents in determining the suitability of the man as a prospective husband.
The second appendix is a treatment of the issue of head-coverings in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. The author presents a well-argued case for the abiding validity of the practice of female head-coverings taught by Paul in this passage. However, it is somewhat difficult to see why this appendix has been included. Granted, the covering of the head is closely related to, and built upon, the need for the recognition of authority; the head of the husband being Christ, and the head of the wife being the husband (verse 3). And the issue of headship is very germane to a discussion of biblical courtship and marriage. But the author makes virtually no reference to this principle, defending the practice of head-covering in worship without expounding the principle illustrated by the practice (although he does include an extensive footnote from Calvin that mentions this principle). It might also be noted that the biblical teaching requires only the covering of the head during prayer, not public worship in general as the author maintains.
The third appendix deals with the Biblical account of Ruth and Boaz, particularly chapter 3 of the book of Ruth. The author is concerned that some, referring to the episode where Ruth (under Naomi's instructions) comes in to Boaz and sleeps at his feet until morning, would use this to question the principle of supervised courtship presented earlier. He candidly acknowledges his concerns about the seeming impropriety of Naomi's advice and Ruth's actions (while acknowledging that their goals were righteous), and even suggests a course of action that could have made Ruth seem less bold and more wise. The ends do not justify the means. However, he also acknowledges the unique situation, as Ruth sought a kinsman-redeemer, and points out that no romantic contact took place, neither was the location isolated and private.
One question that might be raised, in connection with this, is whether the prohibition on unsupervised courtship elucidated earlier is always appropriate. There might be subjects of some delicacy to be discussed (for example, the author correctly identifies the use or non-use of contraception as an important issue in marriage that has to be resolved) which might occasion some embarrassment if discussed in the hearing of family or friends. Perhaps an anonymous (but non-deserted) public location, such as a restaurant, might be a more appropriate setting for such discussions.
The strengths of this material are manifold, and its weaknesses few and minor. The author's uncompromising stand on the truth and all-sufficiency of Scripture, coupled with his pastoral and parental sensitivity to the complex issues involved and his commitment to the true and faithful Christian marriage, make this small study guide a spiritual resource that is worth its weight in gold. Your reviewer would recommend it without hesitation to those responsible for supervising courtship, whether parent, pastor or elder, and to those involved in, or considering, courtship themselves.
It should be mentioned that Greg Price has also produced a two-hour video in connection with this guide, entitled `Dating or Courtship: Which is Biblical?', available from the same supplier for Can $8.99. I have not had the opportunity of seeing this video, and do not know whether it is available in European format. Other related material includes Paul Jehle's `Dating vs. Courtship', Heritage Institute Ministries, ISBN 0-942516-14-1, © 1993, $8.00 single copy price, published by The Plymouth Rock Foundation, Inc., Fisk Mill on Water Street, Marlborough, NH, 03455, 800-210-1620.
Copyright © Family Matters 1995