Getting Married: Dating? Courtship? Betrothal?

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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