Friday, November 21, 2008

The Way of a Man With a Maid

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 as a pdf by clicking HERE.

The new edition includes some changes in perspective which are detailed in a new forward. Following is a copy of the new forward.

It is a pleasure to present a new edition of The Way of a Man With a Maid.

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.

When I originally wrote The Way of a Man With a Maid, my perspective was predominantly that of an immature romanticist. Little did I realize that I was simply over-reacting to the viewpoints of my opponents in the same way that they had over-reacted to the perspective of dating culture. This led to certain extreme positions which I would now no longer defend. For example, since I believed that a divine spark was the only justification necessary for two people to marry, I vigorously denied the role that character can play as a father vets a young man for his daughter. By wrongly applying the principle of unconditional love, I argued that young men shouldn’t have to meet conditions in order to prove themselves ready for marriage. I now realize that there does need to be a “price of admission” to love. Simply put, it would be irresponsible for a young woman to say "yes" to a man who cannot support her financially and spiritually, regardless of how deeply in love they are with each other. If a marriage is going to stand the test of time, character not less than compatibility, needs to be an important consideration. I have attempted to edit the book accordingly to reflect this shift.

I am conscious that this was not the only area where my previous perspectives were tinged with an unbiblical romanticism. Ironically, I seem to have fallen into the same trap as my opponents by elevating one particular pattern (i.e., the “falling in love” pattern) above all other patterns and principles. In focusing on whether “falling in love” was good or bad, I unwittingly committed the same error that Lewis’ devil Wormwood made in The Screwtape Letters. When writing to the junior tempter on how to corrupt his Christian patient, the demon Screwtape remarks:

"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”.


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (London: The Centenary Press, 1942), pp. 98-100. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to his son in March 1941 about the tendency to make an idol out of love. He said: “There is in our Western culture the romantic chivalric tradition still strong, though as a product of Christendom (yet by no means the same as Christian ethics) the times are inimical to it. It idealizes ‘love’ – and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, ‘service’, courtesy, honour, and courage. Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake without reference to (and indeed contrary to) matrimony. Its centre was not God, but imaginary Deities, Love and the Lady. It still tends to make the Lady a kind of guiding star or divinity…This is, of course, false and at best make-believe. The woman is another fallen human-being with a soul in peril. But combined and harmonized with religion…it can be very noble. Then it produces what I suppose is still felt, among those who retain even vestigiary Christianity, to be the highest ideal of love between man and woman. Yet I still think it has dangers. It is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly ‘theocentric’. It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eyes off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) …It inculcates exaggerated notions of ‘true love, as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a ‘love’ that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts.) J.R.R. Tolkien, cited in Joseph Pearce, Tolkien: Man and Myth (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998, p. 48-49.

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