I work in campus ministry, which means I am constantly around students who are dating and talking about marriage. And for all the good that comes out of these relationships, I have become convinced that the church is heavily influenced by our society’s approach to dating, love, and marriage.
I don’t believe that we should return to arranged marriages. I also don’t think there is a Christian form of dating. I don’t think Christian courting is the answer. But there are Christian principles that should inform and govern the way dating is done in the church.
A lot could be written about this topic. I want to focus, though, on the difference between how we think about dating and marriage, and how that affects the transition between the two.
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 are not attracted to one another, then this is a good reason for their marriage to end. But Christianity has never taught that the absence of compatibility is a good reason to divorce.
But, while the Christian and non-Christian view of marriage is fundamentally different, the Christian and non-Christian view of dating is fundamentally the same.
(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 safer, than that in dating.)
Notice, though, how difficult the transition between “dating love” and “marriage love” becomes for a Christian couple. Marriage is not a deepening of the dating relationship; it is a radical restructuring of the foundations of the relationship. We expect a couple to radically change the foundation of their relationship.
Many people don’t realize how radical the change is. And this is a problem. 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. Courtship isn’t the answer, and I don’t think discouraging dating is the answer either. Maybe it is just a matter of having more extensive and effective pre-marital counseling.
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