Getting Married: Dating? Courtship? Betrothal?

Rightly regarding the dart throwing approach of serial, casual dating as sinful and unhealthy, many Christians have opted for a 'courtship' approach. Though a nice, traditional title, the details of courtship have left many young Christians as confused as ever. Confused and seeing the rampant divorce culture, many remain fearful and linger indefinitely unmarried as they age beyond early adulthood into middle age. Some remain unmarried all their days.

In his latest book, What Are You Doing?, Vaughn Ohlman addresses the current quandry head-on. In this fast-paced Socratic style dialog, problems are accurately diagnosed and solutions boldly proposed. All with many footnotes to modern courtship literature and various scripture passages. Many reading the book lightly will doubtless judge the offered solution - that even older, more traditional idea of betrothal - as archaic and unworkable in modern society. However, those who have seriously pondered today's marriage crisis will welcome a fresh approach.

The book's solution is not immediately evident and may require careful reading and re-reading to properly discern. Unfortunately, the first several chapters' attempt to reinforce the plight facing young singles may distract readers. I encourage you to plod on, as insight awaits the patient reader. The opening chapters focus on a dating relationship between the main character and a casual girlfriend. Talk of their mutual sexual interest dominate in the early going. The sexual theme remains prominent throughout the book and, again unfortunately, may bias many readers against the proposed solution of betrothal.

The basis of the book's betrothal solution is that any man and woman who are not celibate (that is, they have sexual interest) and are willing to "do good" to their potential mate are eligible to be married to one another. Further, since this sexual interest is abiding it will immediately impact any possible relationship between the potential man and woman. Therefore, they should not seek to discover a potential spouse themselves, since that will inevitably lead to a sexually charged relationship of some sort. Even a verbal relationship without touching will quickly lead to sexual thoughts that defraud the couple if they do not eventually become man and wife. Therefore, the fathers of the man and woman should be the ones to initiate any possible discussions of marriage. The man and woman can certainly know each other and have a friendly relationship, but considering each other as potential mates leads to trouble.

The involvement of parents in the choice of a spouse will undoubtedly be decried as "arranged marriage". Again, careful readers will understand that the author is not proposing a medieval plot where a young girl is chained in a dungeon awaiting puberty and certain marriage to an old man. Rather, sensible families are counseled to welcome a reintroduction of a multi-generational vision in which parents assist their children through life's major milestones. Today's individualistic culture demands that a young couple stand on their own, living alone, working along, raising children alone - distant from wiser, experienced parents. This book directly challenges this assumption and shows the advantage of wise fathers leading, not dragging or forcing, the next generation throughout the important step of marriage and establishing a vocation and household.

The book deliberately sets aside a 'laundry list' of qualifications a father may have in judging a suitor - again insisting only on confirming the suitor's non-celibate status and their desire to 'do good' to the potential mate. Since 'do good' is not explained in detail, the book leaves the impression that the qualifications are minimal and that any sexually charged young man or woman of basic competence is ready for marriage. Again, since the father is involved in the process it is up to him to determine if a possible spouse can 'do good'. As 'good' is a highly subjective term, the father can rightly inquire regarding any requirements he feels necessary to a healthy marriage. And as the fathers will not be blinded by sexual interest, as the young man and woman would be - they can more wisely judge the 'goodness' of the two involved and thus better sense God's will in the matter.

Not withstanding the weaknesses mentioned, I recommend the book. I hope it will help move the courtship/marriage discussion in a more biblical direction, encourage families to share a common vision between generations, motivate early marriages, and sustain those new marriages within a biblical church community and extended family context.

What Are You Doing? by Vaughn Ohlman

Wow, thanks

Wow, thanks Mark!
A disclaimer, Mark knows me personally. Now which way that influences his review it is hard to tell :)
I would like to add a couple of things if I could. The first is, although rather handicapped by the fast paced fictional format I chose to use, I made every attempt to make my conclusions as Biblical as possible, not merely my own invention.
To that end I have written a non-fiction book, far more of a 'plod', which attempts to do an exhaustive study of the subject... covering every single marriage in Scripture, and attempting to cover all of the teachings, laws, parables, etc.... and determine from them the principles that, we believe, should cover the path to marriage. The book is called 'The Covenant of Betrothal' and is available on Lulu as well.

Thanks again, Mark. You've given me a lot to rewrite :)

More reviewers needed

By the way, I would love more reviewers and would love to send a review copy to anyone wanted to write a review. An electronic copy... free, of course.


Thanks for the blog. I will have to admit that the amount of unmarried young adults that I know from "Conservative Christian" households has me a bit perplexed given "our" emphasis on marriage and family. I have some half baked theories of why this is so but would be very interested in looking at any new ideas to fix this. I know the Pearls from "No Greater Joy" talk about how their Children all chose spouses that met the basic requirements and approval of their parents, but would not have been the parents "first choice" as a spouse. And later on the parents came to realize how their children did a better job of picking then they could have so I am a bit leary of too much parent inolvement...but some inolvement defitetly. But thanks, I am all for anyone who has some solutions here. I will have to check this out.

Unmarried yet 'pro-marriage'.

The issue that perplexes you is one of the very issues that started me down this path, and definitely one that motivates me to continue.

The 'teaser' for the book reads:

There are thousands of Godly young people who want to get married, are ready to get married, and should be married… indeed should have been married long ago… who are not married. Their church, their friends, and their families have all prepared them for marriage, for early marriage, for early, fruitful marriage… and they are not married. There is no persecution, no law, there are no physical infirmities that prevent them from being married… but they are not married.

This is not a ‘panic’, it is a crisis. We have many of the very best and brightest of our Christian young people who are already well past the flower of their age, and they are not married. That is beyond a crisis, it is a catastrophe. Scripture provides clear answers to this crisis: which we have ignored because they run counter to our culture. It is time that we began to take every thought captive to Christ, and throw off the chains of bondage to this world. It is time we ‘let them marry’.

I will be at the CHEACT book fair this Friday and Saturday if you wish to discuss it, and you can feel free to email me at for a free, electronic, review copy of the books.

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