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When the Bible doesn’t offer Dating 101

Why are we so eager for a guidebook to romantic relationships?

When the Bible doesn’t offer Dating 101

(KucherAV/iStock)

I’ve figured out a quick and easy way for WORLD to instantly boost its following from Christian millennials. 

First, brainstorm content ideas about dating and relationships with catchy titles, such as “7 ways to love Jesus more on Valentine’s Day.” Second, write these articles using no more than 500 words, sprinkling in a healthy handful of Bible verses. Third, find nice stock photos, preferably ones with a cute girl or guy with perfect hair that glints under a soft, rusty sunlight. (Bonus if that model is praying with a beatific smile or has a little-worn Bible nearby—and extra bonus if there’s also a steaming mug of coffee.) Fourth, keep producing content about sex and dating in every angle possible, at least once a week, then spray it all over social media with creative hashtags. Follow these steps, and you will attract those elusive young readers. 

I say this only partially in jest. I’m a 30-year-old evangelical millennial, which means these kinds of posts regularly target me on social media—and there are a lot of them, because that content always get clicks. I fall into a subgroup where we’re young but no longer so young (and aware of it), typically dating or single, and still clinging onto faith while concerned about being relevant to the world. That means we straddle both secular culture and kingdom values, one foot in a broken, messy world and the other in a Christian community that’s also broken and messy. 

Thanks to modern technology, we millennials derive information and influence from all sorts of political and religious spheres. But that bombardment of material also disorients us: Who’s right, who’s wrong? Pastor John says this, but Pastor Tim says that, and my favorite Christian rapper/blogger/podcaster says this, so ... what’s the truth? Today we receive advice from more sources than ever, and it’s hard to first withdraw into the inner chamber of prayer and listen to the Spirit’s voice—and much harder when the subject is this thorny, weedy wilderness called Relationships.

One example: I recently had dinner with three of my closest girlfriends, none of them believers. One is happily married, and the other two are dating with hopes of marriage. None of them believes in sexual abstinence like I do, yet they also don’t sleep around, but saved their virginity for someone they thought was special. Somehow, our dinner conversation turned to the value of watching porn to learn about sexual needs and proclivities. My friends talked about letting go of shame and enjoying the freedom to explore and experiment. At some point in the discussion, they noticed my silence, saw the look of discomfort on my face, and burst out laughing. They respect my faith-based values, but also find my stance on sexual purity restrictive and baffling. 

Another example: A pastor once told me that the whiniest people in his congregation were the singles, and though as a single woman I bristled, I also understood what he meant. How many times have I heard women groan that no men in church are asking women out, and men grumble that women have too-high standards? But I’ve also heard the moans of many who are dating, agonizing over whether their dates are “spiritually mature” enough, pure enough, love God enough. They fret over how much physical touch they can allow before they breach purity, then worry whether they’re being too legalistic—a four-letter word among Christian millennials. I have friends who were deeply hurt by Christian boyfriends or girlfriends—and their wounds sting with the confusion that they had truly believed God was blessing their relationship. From one perspective, it seems like while our non-Christian friends enjoy certain liberties, we Christians have an extra chain of rules and standards that bind us from enjoying the whole dating process.

WORLD recently featured my story about Christian dating called “Kisses of Regret,” which tells the stories of six millennials who were affected by the famous book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. One of them is the author himself, Joshua Harris, with whom I talked at length on the phone. By then I had read his best-selling book, and I was surprised to hear him say he wouldn’t recommend his book to his own teenage kids. The younger Harris who penned I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which sold more than 1.2 million copies and inspired many young millennials to swear off dating, had seemed so convinced that he was right, so assured that the type of courtship he prescribed was the most Biblical path to marriage. Now, at age 42, he’s not so certain, and he’s dealing with backlash from now grown-up readers who feel his book was misleading or harmful.

Harris was 21 when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Whatever people took away from the book, I saw in his young self a genuine desire to honor God when he wrote, “Every relationship for a Christian is an opportunity to love another person like God loves us.” The big picture of love, he wrote, is “serving others and glorifying God.” I said “Amen” to most everything he wrote—yet when it comes to applying that general principle of love into each individual’s unique, complicated relationship, the area within the perimeters of that principle can feel so vast, so cloudy, so abstract. What does it look like to love someone like God loves us, to serve someone, to glorify God in a dating relationship that’s not yet in covenanted matrimony? 

The Bible doesn’t offer a “Dating 101” guidebook, but we want one. We want it so badly because we fear the unknown, the ambiguity, the risks of failure and heartbreak. That fear, Harris said, is what he regrets most, because it carried into his writing and passed on to his readers. No wonder dating books sell and wield such power, why articles about dating and singlehood entice so many eyeballs on social media. 

But perhaps by keeping silent on certain fine details, the Bible in fact gives us more freedom. Scripture sets some clear boundaries to keep us from chasing our own fleshly appetites off the cliff, but within those borders is a garden, a fertile land with enough room for freedom and creativity for us to speak our desires to God and hear His voice. And when we invite Christ, through trust and unceasing prayer, to breathe air and sun into our garden, it blooms with original beauty and exotic fragrance that matches our God-given gifts, personalities, and purposes.

Comments

  • Bob C
    Posted: Tue, 02/13/2018 02:05 pm

    “Somehow, our dinner conversation turned to the value of watching porn to learn about sexual needs and proclivities. My friends talked about letting go of shame and enjoying the freedom to explore and experiment.”

    If one feels they have shame to let go of, I think there is a reason for the shame to exist, excusing it is dangerous. Porn is extremely dangerous. Play with fire and you will get burned, guaranteed.  The effects of this kind of fire seldom show up immediately, but the delayed damage is still real.   

    There are plenty of Christian authors with great material on enhancing sex in MARRIAGE.  The Re|Engage MARRIAGE web page has a lot of material.

    I think the Believer’s extra chain of rules and standards don’t stop them from enjoying the dating experience, they protect them from themselves.  No matter how Godly a believer thinks they are, they are still a fallen sinful human.  

    When looking for resources I always check out the credentials and get recommendations from people I trust.  The more serious the topic the more research I do to make sure I get highly qualified information. There were probably not much in terms of reviews for Mr. Harris book 20 years ago but there are plenty today for other resources.

    “…I was surprised to hear him say he wouldn’t recommend his book to his own teenage kids…” 

    Ms. Lee I suspect that the reason Mr. Harris would not recommend his book is because he has learned a lot in the last 20+ years since he wrote it.  The reason you are surprised by that, is because he knows more about real life that you don’t know, yet.  

    If romantic relationships (marriage in particular) had an easy pain free step by step formula, they it would not be worthwhile.  You millennials need to understand and accept that and move forward.     

  • AlanE
    Posted: Tue, 02/13/2018 02:16 pm

    "The reason you are surprised by that, is because he knows more about real life that you don't know, yet."

    "You millennials need to understand and accept that and move forward."

    And us older folks need to pause, take a deep breath, and consider how these statements might impede further conversation before we make them.

  • Rozy's picture
    Rozy
    Posted: Tue, 02/13/2018 04:52 pm

    The Bible doesn't talk of dating specifically, but it has an awful lot to say about being honest, kind, thoughtful, serving one another, and a host of other virtues and values that can guide the dating experience. If we treat each other the way the Lord and Savior of us all would have us, we will be on the right path in our relationships. As to controlling our physical urges, I used to tell our five children they could do to and with their dates anything they would feel comfortable doing to and with their parents or siblings. Abstinance before marriage and full fidelity after marriage is still the Lord's standard and helps us avoid a whole lot of heartache.

  • DAVID EASON
    Posted: Thu, 02/15/2018 10:15 am

    Thank you for this thought-provoking article, Sophia Lee. 

    I think your point about fear, fear being an element in young Josh Harris's approach to relationships and that fear being communicated to his readers through the book, is very important. Choosing a spouse wisely requires engagement of the heart as well as the head, and fear is an obstruction to both. 

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Fri, 02/16/2018 04:26 pm

    I think Harris' books were so popular because they offered a fresh, "radical-for-Jesus" response to what was a real and growing problem for young people: shortsighted dating focused on gratification (whether sex or not). That was what so many of my peers even in church did, and watching them, I agreed wholeheartedly with Harris that dating as our generation saw it was a foolish ticket to heartbreak and sexual compromise. He was sounding out an alarm against the trend that has led to the hookup culture devastating young people today.

     

    But, as this article points out well, he was idealistic and formulaic in his counter-proposal, as were, it turned out, most Christian courtship advocates' recommendations. In his sequel "Boy Meets Girl," Harris promoted the idea of courting a full 24 months before engagement, whereas others suggested six months of courtship and six of engagement. I even attended one presentation advocating a system in which the parents arrange the relationship and make the rules, and all the young couple in question gets to decide is whether to go through with it or not. A couple whose parents paired them that way swore by it, but my parents sure never would have chosen my dear husband! I came to the same conclusion you did, that there's not going to be one system that suits everyone, and that's by our creative God's design and for His glory.

  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 02/18/2018 05:42 pm

    There is no formula.

    I asked, "How will I know when I have found the right woman?"

    Mom answered, "You'll know it."

    She was right!