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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Patrick said...

The Orthodox Church has a rite of betrothal which is performed at the marriage ceremony of all Orthodox weddings. The theology of betrothal is central to every Orthodox marriage. A man who is intending to choose a wife from a parish community and following all the other ¨rules¨, regular confession---regular participation in the eucharist---would find it very difficult to fall into many of the pitfalls the diehard betrothal advocates warn so much about. Conservative Christians who look askance at the concept of alternative lifestyle would probably be horrified to discover that, in reacting to the 1960´s, had themselves embraced an alternative lifestyle radically different from that of the early church. (I´m paraphrasing Franker Shaefer.) But can you blame them? Where there is no parish priest it is only too natural for the role of the physical father to be elevated to fill the authority vacuume.

Moving on, I would like some clarrification and definition of terms because I don´t really see the difference between dating and courtship. The diehards of the betrothal movement view courtship as something that happens only once a potential mate has been selected. More broad-minded adherents may still use the term but not require a formal committment first. I have noticed that both definitions of courtship are used interchangably by advocates of courtship. But dating is seen, as well, from those who do it, as an opportunity where one can potentially meet your mate and therefore fits into this second definition of courtship because only through getting to know people can you see if they are right for you.

¨Recreational dating¨ is what I have constantly been doing for the last six months, but then----on the other hand---what is so wrong with two young people sharing a dinner, or a series of dinners, going to a dance or a movie afterwards as just friends to enjoy each others company and get to know each other better. The older people are the more likely they will want this and have little expectations of anything following on from it. That´s probably true even if they aren´t church goers. This would be seen by many Christians as ideal because it is absent of anything resembling sex. I said ¨getting to know each other as just friends¨ because if it were seriously something that could lead to marriage it wouldn´t be recreation but courting, according to the second definitions which you seem to now even be advocating. But nobody knows if a friendship might develop into love and therefore if courtship means getting to know someone in the context of their family and church then this overlaps with recreational dating. It seems that the definitions of all of these depend on motives rather than the actual activity, which seems a slippery slope at best.

It would be nice to have a very clear definition of the differences between courtship and recreational dating because it seems, even more especially in light of your recent recantings, that there are now two opperational definitions of courtship functioning, one put out by extremists like Lindvall and Gothard, and another put out by Douglas Wilson and your church---, the second of which I am failing to see how is different than dating or even ¨recreational dating¨. Help me out here?

Patrick Phillips

Chimene said...

Has it occurred to you that a daughter, especially a daughter who is old enough to contemplate marriage, is not yours to 'turn over' to another man?

Robin Phillips said...

"Has it occurred to you that a daughter, especially a daughter who is old enough to contemplate marriage, is not yours to 'turn over' to another man?"

Good question. Yes, that has occured to me.

Now a question of my own: what standard are you using to establish that a daughter is not the father's to "turn over"?

Chimene said...

The standard that no human being should be the possession of any other human being.

Robin Phillips said...

You would have to define what you mean by "possession." Clearly there are cases where one person is responsible for another person - as with parents and young children – and we often use the language of ownership in such situations. For example, someone will ask, “Is that YOUR child?” or “I like YOUR new baby!” On the other hand, if by “possession” we mean a relationship which denies somebody else’s separateness or individuality or treats the other person selfishly like an object, then that would be wrong according to the ethical theory in which I am working.

Finally, when you say that the principle that no human being should be the possession of any other human being forms the standard are you using to establish that a daughter is not the father's to "turn over", this only begs the following question: what standard are you using to establish the broader principle that no human being should be the possession of any other? Perhaps you think it is just self-evident, but there is a certain danger in that approach, given that throughout history the vast majority of societies have functioned as if possessing people (in both of the above senses) is self-evident.

Chimene said...

Of course the case of parent and child is different. My point was simply that if a woman is old enough to be considering marriage, she is responsible for herself. She is not her father's to 'turn over' or hand over to someone else. I found the term you used deeply troubling in its implications.

As for the 'what standard are you using' question, I suspected that was what you meant, but didn't want to get into a conversation about meta-ethics. I don't think there is any absolute standard for ethics. Ethics are something to be argued over and puzzled out, as people have done for millennia. Ethical inquiry comes from the fact that we are human, that all of us are vulnerable to suffering, and so forth. I'm sure you will find such an answer unsatisfactory, but to me your absolute ethical standard is a false one and is therefore even more unsatisfactory.

Robin Phillips said...

Patrick, some interesting points about the Orthodox church. Also, you ask some good questions about definitions. However, all those questions are answered in the book itself so that is where I would direct you.

Robin Phillips said...

Chimene, I have had a look at the paragraph you objected to and I can see that some of my language (“hand over”, “vetting”) could give the impression that I am treating my daughters impersonally like objects or even like cattle. I shall be changing that section, so thank you Chimene for your constructive criticism, which I have always found valuable.

I’d like to point out that this shift is only possible because my ethical system is rooted in the doctrine that mankind is made in the image of God, which excludes anything which would subtract from the dignity of the individual. To treat my daughters in an oppressive way would be inconsistent with my own Biblically-based ethics. However, since your worldview denies any absolute standard for ethics (as you write, “I don’t think there is any absolute standard for ethics”), it is hard to see how you can objectively justify your assertions in the same way. Without an absolute standard, why should anyone accept the functional values you have been appealing as ethically normative?
Further, if meta-ethics are a puzzle with no conclusive answer, then how can you justify your claim that my “absolute ethical standard is a false one”? Absolute truth-claims about meta-ethics (including your assertion that certain absolute ethical standards, such as mine, are false) seems inconsistent with your sceptical approach. That would be comparable to saying, “We can’t know anything for certain about science, but the heliocentric theory is false.” If meta-ethics are a mystery to you, then for all you know my ethical system might be right.

Patrick said...

I thank you for your offer to let me see your book, although I have much difficulty reading from just the computer. As someone who watched you write it ten years ago when I lived with your family, the changes in your perspective have extra meaning for me.

However, the problems with the definitions, as I saw them by implication, are contained within this new introduction and may or may not be present later. That it could be cleared up later doesn´t absolve the fact that there are ambigious implications in the introduction. (I wonder if it henges on assumptions within a specific religious subculture which is foreign to me and therefore makes me a bit thick.) But it seems that courtship is just spiritualized dating, the words are even used interchangably in your introduction, or dating with integrity. While the moderate wing of the courtship movement might mean something benign by the word courtship, it certainly means something very different to its more rigorous advocates. (It´s interesting that the fact that courtship as they imagined it never happened in American or British history is irrelevent.) Contrasting the moderate view of courtship, which you now seem to have grown into, with recreational dating...does the fact that I am 33years old disolve me from the responsibilty of the same purity as a niave 21 year old? Let´s say not, I ask again: what is wrong with me having dinners with ¨just friends¨? This has to be classified as ¨recreational¨ because if it were serious in terms of possible marriage, it would fall into the catigory of ¨getting serious about getting married¨. Now maybe people would say that, because I am older, I can afford to have friends of the opposite sex---but surely any discussion of sexual ethics would apply equally to all people regardless of age.

What I was trying to get out earlier about the Orthodox Church is that, even though now betrothals are no longer practiced, the theology of betrothal is still seen to be important and so the rite of betrothal automatically precedes all our weddings. It is similar to how sometimes someone is made a deacon really quickly before they are made a priest. This could seem unimportant, but it has huge significance. Those who say betrothal is entirely forgotten about in the Christian world need to look at this Orthodox ceremony. A proper understanding of the role of betrothal in our tradition, would also help our seperated brothers to understand why Joseph and the Mother of God could have lived so long together without having sexual relations. The gospels say they were betrothed, where does it say they ever got married? The courtship movement, as I see it, is trying to resurrect something good and something biblical from a lifestyle that never really died out and that still exists but that exists outside the framework of a Anglo-American Protestantism. Many Orthodox families don´t make use of this availability, but for those that want it, it is certainly there.

Patrick Phillips

Emma said...

Would you possibly be interested in material supporting your arguments against the stricter forms of courtship and spiritual betrothal? I have had several experiences at my school which illustrate the effect these movements have on teenagers and families, and would be glad to share it with you.
Please let me know if this is something you would be interested in!

Robin Phillips said...

Yes, Emma, I would be interested. You can email the information to me at phillips7440 [at sign]

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