Book Review: Dating with Integrity

reviewed by Adrian Smith

`Dating with Integrity: Honoring Christ in your relationships with the opposite sex' by John Holzmann [Wolgemuth and Hyatt; Brentwood, Tennessee (1992)]
Although this book is now out of print, we feel that this review in itself is a helpful summary of the author's thesis and will provoke further thought on a subject of vital importance to all Christian parents.

Don't be confused by the title, which is clearly an eye-catcher; the sub-title is a more accurate summary of the book, which is a powerful critique of `dating' - the American term for what is a near-universal modern Western pattern of unmarried male-female relationships among both non-Christians and Christians. Better still, the author offers a practical, Biblically-argued alternative.

The book (sadly out of print) is by a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (California) who is a pastor and is married with children. Though primarily aimed at the teenage/college-age groups, the work should be of interest to older singles, as well as to parents, pastors, youth workers, et cetera.

The author critiques scripturally and pragmatically all pre-marital romantic relationships (outside of binding engagement), regardless of the labels (euphemisms) employed: `dating', `going out', `going steady', `boyfriend-girlfriend', `pursuing the possibility of marriage', and so on.

The genius of this book is to expose the un-Christian core of all such relationships: they are pseudo-marriages, based on pseudo-vows (spoken or unspoken), namely, "I'm committed to you until I'm no longer committed." The pseudo-marital character of boyfriend-girlfriend relationships is exposed in several sharply-drawn analogies with marriage:

  • physical-sexual intimacy [usually]
  • exclusiveness
  • obligation [with the need for formal, spoken termination]

The one essential difference with marriage is that marriage is based on a binding, unambiguous vow ["till death us do part" - compare Malachi 2:14], whereas boyfriend-girlfriend relationships are based on a non-binding, ambiguous vow: "I'm committed to you until I'm no longer committed."

Holzmann argues that this double-speak is at the root of the range of evils commonly observed in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships - ranging from unwarranted pressure towards marriage, to the guilt and heartbreak and sense of betrayal which so often follows the `dissolution' of these pseudo-marriages.

Furthermore, pseudo-vows are unscriptural, since the Word of God demands that our commitments be binding and unambiguous (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12; 2 Cor. 1:17-20; Eccles. 5:5-6, Eph. 4:25; Psalm 24:4). This involves a rigour reflecting God's fidelity to His covenant promises.

What, then, is a Christian alternative to the boyfriend-girlfriend pattern? Holzmann proposes a "brother-sister" model for relationships between single men and women. The New Testament language describing fellow-Christians as `brothers' and `sisters' is so pervasive that we can treat the terms as cliches, forgetting that these words express the profound reality of unity in Christ that has many behavioural consequences: Rom. 14:21/15:2; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Philemon 16; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 John 3:16-17.

For a single man and a single woman to constantly remind themselves (and each other) that they are no more (and no less!) than brother-sister gives both power and direction for honouring Christ in their relationship. For example: "uncovering the nakedness" of one's spiritual sibling (through any expression of physical-sexual intimacy) should be as unthinkable as incest (Lev. 18:9).

More positively, a brother-sister relationship can be characterized by the profound New Testament concept of freedom for service (Gal. 5:13). Holzmann argues that a Christian who accepts the obligations and exclusiveness inherent in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship has surrendered their Christian freedom through an unbiblical vow (compare 1 Cor. 7:23). He counsels anyone caught in such a snare to implement Prov. 6:2-5!

By contrast, one who is determined to relate to the opposite sex as spiritual siblings is free to live out the gosepl imperative of putting others' interests first (Phil. 2:4), knowing that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

Holzmann argues that Christian singles should learn to relate to the opposite sex not for the purpose of illicit romance, nor even primarily in pursuit of marriage - but to serve, encourage and edify one another as Christians (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Thess; 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25). Healthy relationships like this would - incidentally - be excellent preparation for marriage (in which self-sacrifice and service are of the essence).

Some might view Holzmann's model as `idealistic' - but is it any more so than the demands that Jesus makes of His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48)? Furthermore, the power to live as brother/sister resides in the fact that a Christian man and woman already are brother/sister in Christ!

The book ends with a helpful section in the format of Questions-Answers, which draws a sharper profile of what the brother/sister model actually looks like in practice.

In conclusion, three comments:

  1. Whilst Holzmann's argumentation as actually presented in his book could be tightened up, the book is a thought-provoking challenge to implement Romans 12:2, and will stimulate Christian reflection even among those disinclined to accept the brother/sister model.

  2. To the extent that any model of behaviour partakes of the character of Law, it is inadequate for overcoming sin (Gal. 3:21-25; Rom. 7:7-13). Like any other model, the brother/sister relationship is capable of being abused to the extent that the participants are unsanctified.

  3. Nevertheless, Holzmann's basic ideas - both his negative assessment of `dating' and his positive alternative - are worthy of wide dissemination and discussion.

Copyright © Family Matters 1996

Adrian Smith is currently pursuing a Th.M. at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.