Many years ago I wrote a book critiquing the courtship and betrothal movements, with particular emphasis on the teachings of Jonathan Lindvall and Bill Gothard. I am pleased to say that the book has now been updated and is available for free download.
Since writing this book in 2001, I have received many positive responses from people all over the world who have been helped by my work. Esther and I have been very blessed to meet a variety of people who have contributed their insight and stories to the discussion.
Not all of the responses I have received have been positive, however. People on both sides of the debate have sometimes drawn erroneous conclusions about my position and even my motives. In the minds of some critics, my cautions about certain tendencies within the courtship movement has been equivalent to a full-scale advocation of recreational dating together with a rejection of parental authority.
For this reason, I would like to use this new edition as a chance to set the record straight, in addition to charting some of the areas where I have changed in my outlook.
First of all, I do not and have never advocated recreational dating. Neither have I ever thought that parental non-involvement in the marriage decision is the Biblical norm. Rather, my objections to courtship and betrothal fall roughly into five areas, all of which are fleshed out in the book:
1) a technique-based approach to life and relationships which often underpins courtship and betrothal proposals;
2) faulty exegesis which is sometimes used to defend courtship and betrothal;
3) the unbiblical theory of emotional purity, which sometimes plays a key role in the courtship movement and plays a necessary part of betrothal;
4) authoritarian and oppressive patterns of parenting which are sometimes present in the courtship model and permeate the betrothal model.
5) a general attitude of pessimism towards romance and sexual attraction which can sometimes accompany both courtship and betrothal.
It should be apparent that the above points are concerns about principles rather than particular schemas. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or right with any method for finding a spouse so long as Biblical principles are being observed. Even my objections to Jonathan Lindvall’s theory of betrothal are, at root, concerns about a framework of wrong thinking, of which betrothal is merely a symptom.
Having made these clarifications, some qualifications are now in order.
Preparing this new edition has forced me to revisit the subject of courtship and to think these issues through afresh. I do so from a vastly different standpoint than when I first wrote the book. I am now not merely a researcher, but a parent of teenage children, forced to deal practically with the very issues I wrote about. Moreover, I am now part of a church community that is generally sympathetic with the concerns of the courtship movement. This has forced me to re-evaluate some of my earlier contentions.
While still standing by the substance of what I wrote eight years ago, I am now prepared to say that where courtship is absent of the five errors above, it has the potential to be a valuable alternative to the modern dating system. In his book Her Hand in Marriage, Douglas Wilson has made some progress trying to understand what Biblical courtship/dating might look like without these added factors, while being acutely conscious that, in the hands of the wrong kind of man, his teaching on authority would lead to disaster. While I do not agree with everything in Wilson’s book, Esther and I have been quite happy to give it to our teenage son and daughter to read and follow. Other books we have given our teenagers to read and which I would recommend to those wanting to study the topic further are Rick Holland’s entry in 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life, John Holzmann’s book Dating With Integrity and Debbie Maken's book Getting Serious About Getting Married.
"You complain that my last letter does not make it clear whether I regard being in love as a desirable state for a human or not. But really, Wormwood, that is the sort of question one expects them to ask! Leave them to discuss whether “Love”, or patriotism, or celibacy, or candles on altars, or teetotalism, or education, are “good” or “bad”. Can’t you see there’s no answer? Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us. Thus it would be quite a good thing to make the patient decide that “love” is “good” or “bad”. …get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favourable either to us or to the other side. It is simply an occasion which we and the Enemy are both trying to exploit. Like most of the other things which humans are excited about, such as health and sickness, age and youth, or war and peace, it is, from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material."
I cannot guarantee that I have successfully expunged all traces of unbiblical romanticism from the present edition and I welcome reader input to help in the ongoing revision process.
The Way of a Man With a Maid has been criticized for failing to show the shape that a truly Biblical approach to courtship might take. In so doing, it has been argued, the book presents a misleading caricature of the entire movement. There is some merit to this objection. I would urge my readers to see this book as the beginning, and not the final say, to the discussion. Anyone wishing to know what a positive approach to courtship might look like should refer to the above recommended books (although not all of them use the term courtship).
It has been said that an author is his own worst critic. I am certainly no exception. Upon re-reading The Way of a Man With a Maid to prepare this new edition, I was struck by the fact that many of the truths presented in this book are simply assumed rather than defended with rigorous Biblical exposition. I would urge my readers to play the part of faithful Bereans and search the scriptures to see if the things I have written are true.
If these qualifications are kept in mind, I believe my basic message is one which still needs to be heard, if only so that the air can be cleared for a truly Biblical approach to “courtship”.
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