A while ago, a blog post, “Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Flawed,” went viral on Facebook and provoked significant numbers of reactions on either side. Although I don’t understand why. There is no good reason to get worked up over romantic relationships, especially between Christians.
It’s so simple, guys. I mean, can you even think of anything more straightforward than relationships between complex and nuanced individuals who are struggling between sin nature and being made in the image of God as they work toward making a life commitment to another person in a culture that has completely distorted their views of love and sexuality?
Me neither. I don’t know what all of the fuss is about.
Particularly since the Bible is expressly clear on exactly what format romantic relationships should take. It’s practically a handbook on the subject, with a detailed list of dos and don’ts so you can know that you’re doing everything exactly right.
Wait, what’s that you say? Some of you are finding “consider others as more important than yourselves” a little vague on the details of dating vs. courting?
Huh. How funny. I guess you have a point.
To rescue this from being a really short, really not-helpful post, here are some things I think about the dating/courtship debate:
We can do just about anything wrong. There are dating relationships that are selfish and hurtful, tempt single people to get too involved physically, and maybe shouldn’t have existed in the first place. And there are courtship relationships that struggle with legalism, don’t allow the couple to think for themselves, and start with too much commitment too soon. We can’t throw systems and blog posts and good intentions at our sin nature and expect that to fix everything.
We have a good reason for debating. Love it or hate it, the dating/courtship debate is a thing in the Christian culture because we want to do this right. We actually care about how we find the person we will eventually marry. Divorce rates in the church scare us. We’re trying to treat our brothers and sisters in Christ respectfully and figure out what that looks like. Sometimes we’re not super good at it, but darn it, we are trying!
We should all—for sure, without a shadow of a doubt—love people. Love people enough to listen to their different view, to respond respectfully when you disagree with them, to stop demanding that everyone’s relationship with God and others should look just like yours. Love people more than you love being right.
And here’s one last thing I think is really important: live in freedom.
The whole romantic relationship thing can be an emotionally-charged subject. “Is there a better way to do dating? What if I’m a complementarian and fall in love with an egalitarian? If I ask that girl out for coffee, will she think I’m proposing? How do I process these emotions? What do I want to do with my life? Who am I?”
(Okay, I’m stressed out just from writing that.)
Some things aren’t supposed to be easy, guys. If you care about something, you’re going to have to put in some effort thinking about it, deciding what your opinions are, and working up the courage to actually live by them.
That said, let’s remember 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
“Wait a minute,” you are probably saying right now. “There is no way the context of that passage is talking about awkwardness in the Christian dating/courting debate.”
Oh, but it is. Really. Let me explain.*
If you read the whole chapter, the passage addresses the old way of life under the law—when you had to add extra rules to the rules to make extra doubly sure you weren’t breaking any. When you couldn’t enter God’s presence without a veil over your face, separating you from him. When you had to live in slavery to legalism.
Can we please kiss that goodbye? Because Jesus came, and with him came freedom. Not the freedom to do whatever the heck you want—woohoo, I’ve got a get-out-of-hell-free-card, let’s go party! But the freedom to do what’s right out of love instead of fear. The freedom to stop holding non-essentials with an iron fist, because my entire faith depends on what I believe about worship styles and don’t you go questioning that or I’ll lose my grip and everything, everything will be lost.
And maybe…just maybe…the freedom to approach the dating/courtship debate with a little less stress, to listen to others, change your mind, and pray for wisdom. The freedom to apply biblical truths about humility and love and service to a romantic relationship that might have a different structure, a different label, than the person in the pew next to you.
I think we’ve forgotten that mindset. We want a little more condemnation, a few more rules, a bit more structure so we can say, “This system. Right here. This is the right one for everyone.”
But do we want that, really? Do we want what comes with it?
God gives us permission to live in freedom. Let’s take him up on it.
*Stuffy Theological Footnote For the Dedicated Reader: My whole logic here is built on the idea that theological truths are not just these random abstract things—they matter. They matter in actual real-life ways, and were never meant to be put up on the top shelf of some exegetical cabinet. They were meant to change us, even in the little, daily things.