I work in campus ministry, which means I am constantly around students who are dating and talking about marriage. I have become convinced that the church is heavily influenced by society’s approach to dating. It is most troubling that the church does not seem to care that we have been so heavily influenced by our culture.
I don’t believe that we have to return to arranged marriages. I don’t think there is a Christian form of dating. But there are Christian principles that should inform and govern the way dating is done in the church.
So I am not arguing that we should replace the practice of dating with, say, the traditional practice of courtship. I do worry that dating is sometimes based on principles that make it more difficult to transition to marriage.
Recently I have been bothered by the way that Christians base dating upon compatibility and attraction, and then expect a newly married couple to understand that their relationship is no longer (fundamentally) based upon compatibility and attraction, but instead based upon covenantal commitment.
(Before anyone thinks I am crazy, let me just say that I’m primarily thinking about “serious” dating relationships, even engagements. I’m not talking about a couple who’ve been dating for a few weeks.)
In dating, the commitment and love is supposed to flow out of the physical attraction and the compatibility. If the girl no longer find the guy attractive, or if his and her life plans become incompatible, it is permissible (sometimes even expected) for the commitment to weaken and perhaps disappear.
In marriage, the commitment and love is the basis. If physical attraction lessens or compatibility issues arise, the commitment within the marriage is not supposed to suffer. That’s the Christian view on marriage, and it is how many churches try to teach marriage.
Dating — the attraction and compatibility are the foundations of the relationship, and the commitment and love is supposed to flow from this.
Marriage — the commitment is the foundation of the relationship, and the physical and emotional attractions, along with the compatibility, are supposed to flow from this.
It is obvious from watching most movies and TV dramas that the latter conception of marriage is not our culture’s. It is the Christian view of marriage. In the movies and on TV, if a husband and wife are not compatible or attracted to one another, this is seen as a good reason for their marriage to end. The Christian view of marriage is opposed to this.
But the view of dating is shared by both the church and the culture.
(If you’re wondering, I think that our culture’s view of marriage is that attraction and compatibility form the foundation of the relationship, just like in dating. The difference, though, is that the attraction and compatibility in marriage is proven, tested, and therefore more safe, than that in dating.)
Notice, though, how difficult the transition between “dating love” and “marriage love” becomes. We expect a couple to radically change the foundation of their relationship. Commitment becomes the basis of the relationship. This is a radical change in the relationship. It is not easy to make this sudden change of commitment.
Marriage is not a deepening of dating relationship, it is a radical restructuring of the foundations of the relationship.
The trouble is that many people don’t realize how radical the change is. Our culture has so affected the church that even Christians live as if the basis of the marriage relationship is emotions rather than commitment. And this is dangerous, because it means that many young marriages are still based on our culture’s foundation for dating. These marriages are built on sand, not stone. They are easily shaken, and many of them destroyed because of their weak foundations. No wonder the church has so many struggling marriages.
We have to creatively rethink the way Christians should view dating, especially the transition between dating and marriage. We have to think of a way for the foundations of dating do not make the transition so difficult.
A question for my readers: how do you think Christians should date? What principles should form the foundation of the relationship?