Mishandled – Dating Advice

How are young people supposed to be preparing themselves for the real world when Christians are preventing them from experiencing anything on their own? When Christians turn natural affections into taboo or demonize a particular worldview, they do not prepare the next generation for what they will have to face as adults. I think it is safe to say that many Christians have mishandled the teachings of Scripture by imposing personal values upon others instead of teaching Biblical principles. In doing so we have under-equiped the next generation and set them up to fail.

I’ve been contemplating this issue for some time. I’ve even considered writing a book on the topic. But what I have actually learned leaves me discouraged and without hope. We have so demonized the nature of dating that I fear I can’t reference it without presupposed ideas thwarting my argument.

What I hope to come to is a place were we recant from teaching our own prejudices and resort to emphasizing Biblical imperatives. If the Bible doesn’t say something specifically within a context, scholars should be wary of absolute statements.

We, as Christians, were given the imperative to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). My prayer is that we will come to a place of realization where we can truly determine what is conduct worthy of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).

As a single, 26 year old man, I have had a lot of difficulties approaching relationships. Part of the problem was how I was raised to think about dating and the timidity I had to get past before I could be confident in my own intentions. The other issue I’ve had to face is how girls view my advances. If I just talk to a girl, it gives off the wrong impression. Unfortunately, I was left to discover my philosophy of dating on my own. What is worse, the church was not at all helpful in shaping my worldview of relationships and most of what I learned came from the world. I’ve had the temptation before me of abandoning the Christian hotspots as I attempt to meet girls. I’ve found it was easier to go out to coffee with my unsaved co-workers than it was to approach a girl at church. There is an underlining problem within our church and college campuses when it comes to teaching people about dating.

Here is an article I hope you will take the time to read. It addresses the issue of how we’ve handled the topic of dating in the past with our youth and the consequences that follow.

The Good Christian Girl: A Fable

“God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

Please feel free to offer your thoughts and share this article with others.

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12 Responses to Mishandled – Dating Advice

  1. Amber Monroe says:

    I have a lot of messy thoughts on this topic….I’m glad you’ve started posting these articles.

    Let me just say at the outset that while I have my own frustrations and disappointments around this issue, it’s difficult for me to really wrap my mind around all facets of the problem. You can blame anyone, really. You can blame the church. You can blame the world. You can blame men. You can blame women. You can blame the feminist movement. You can blame the impact of technology. You can blame the rapid increase of divorce rates. Whatever. Blame can lie wherever you want it to lie. There are far too many sides to consider and we have to allow for the particularity of each given situation. Generalities can only get us so far. But that’s really all we can deal with in this context.

    So speaking from within the bounds of generalities, I agree with your article. The particular church in which I spent my high school years offered the same sort of unhelpfulness you refer to. I remember those summer Sunday school classes where the boys and girls were split up to address gender-specific issues. Mostly, it was a lecture on dating and sexual purity year after year. And I’ll be honest, the only things I remember from all those summers is (1) avoid physical contact in “swimsuit areas” (…yeah) when dating and (2) no French kissing until marriage (a principle which my teacher pretty readily admitted not sticking to in her dating relationship with her now husband). That’s all I remember. Yeah, I fell prey to the “Jesus is my Boyfriend” and “I’m God’s princess” movements and whole-heartedly believed that it was more spiritual not to date. This only fed my pride, gave me an excuse to elevate myself above others who did date in high school, and confirmed the anti-gospel notion that because I was doing all the right things God should reward me. It didn’t take Him long to shatter that last notion. What can I say, I’m a recovering Gnostic and Legalist—a terrible combination. And that church (I hesitate to blame the Church in general) only encouraged it.

    Honestly, at this point in my life I am more apt to blame popular philosophy which has subtly infiltrated the Church that to blame the Church itself for screwy ideas about dating. Maybe my provocations are misplaced. But despite my own frustrations with the seismic fallout of feminism (yeah, this is a pretty big hot-button issue for me right now) and the unhelpfulness of the church dating culture (which seems to be increasingly stagnant), I have to eventually stop myself mid-thought and remember that the LORD, who was sovereign over my salvation before the creation of the world, is also sovereign over all the other constituents of my life. I have to believe that I was born at the exact time, in the exact culture, in the exact country, to the exact parents that the LORD intended. This is the context in which He has chosen to sanctify me. (Does that make sense?) Yes, I need to be discerning and have an awareness of the philosophic movements of which I am a product. But it’s not ultimately helpful to kick and scream against the times in which I live.

    I have been thinking about these ideas a lot over the past year, especially since the release of (500) Days of Summer. I know you really enjoyed the film, and I did too, insofar as I though it was a well-made movie. But it struck some chords that are still resounding in the back of my mind. I sketched out a review of it after it was released on DVD, and have only recently returned to it to refine my thoughts. Maybe I’ll post it sometime soon as a more concentrated discussion of some of these concepts.

    I agree with your post in principle. We’ve talked about this concept before—the idea of actually walking with the Lord in a living, breathing relationship (working out your own salvation) instead of just coming up with a bunch of rules in order to have a tangible, measurable standard of spirituality. I still struggle not to resort to rules to absolve me of guilt and make me feel like I am successfully living a Christian life, but that is not ultimately a thing that can be measured.

    That’s quite enough for now. Keep posting. This has the potential to be a really interesting and helpful discussion…..

    • Adam Miller says:

      Thanks Amber. You’ve addressed a much broader issue than I had set out intentionally, but you certainly can relate to the issues of mishandled dating advice. I have a tendency to make generalizations that are too encompassing, but I’ll stand by my statements in the fact that this tends to be the rule and anything different would be the exception. I hope to be that exception.

      I’m not trying to blame the church or lash out on those who mishandled me, I am purely trying to make a point that we cannot simply make statements to live by without going back to the authority. Individuals should develop their own standards to live by, but they should flow out of devotion to God not duty or societal responsibility. My frustration does not lie with the church as a whole, but with the mentality of the church that teaches prejudices instead of imperatives.

      You hit the nail directly on the head in referencing pop philosophy. Christians are completely unaware of where their values come from and they simply assume that their values come from Scripture when in reality they come from western philosophy, post-modernity, Hollywood, or heritage. Not all values carry the same weight and only Scripturally based values should be taught as imperatives in the church.

      This does not mean that other values have no place in the church though. That’s the other problems. There are things we aren’t addressing at all with our youth and they have to go to society to get the information. We should teach about dating in our churches, but it shouldn’t be given the same weight as conviction and it should be emphasized that they are not Biblical imperatives.

      This has been brooding in my for some time now. I thought it might flesh itself out into a book, but I haven’t been able to singularly focus on it in order to fully track down my ideas. Perhaps discussing it on the blog will allow me that opportunity to flesh out my contemplations.

  2. Amber Monroe says:

    “Christians are completely unaware of where their values come from and they simply assume that their values come from Scripture when in reality they come from western philosophy…” This is a huge problem within the church today and is a large part of my intrigue with the study of philosophy. If we as Christians are not aware of the ideologies which pervade our own thought processes, then we have essentially bound ourselves to the course of this world and have let our proverbial limbs go limp within its current. We become no different from the world. No one intends for this to happen, of course, but it’s the only alternative to active awareness. Nancy Pearcy writes in her book Total Truth, “The danger is that if Christians do not consciously develop a Christian approach to the subject, then we will unconsciously absorb some other philosophical approach” (44). I cannot reiterate this enough—we have a responsibility as believers to discern our culture, the philosophies which pervade this world in which we live, and to teach our children to do the same. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about this with people without getting yawned at or being accused of unduly intellectualizing the problem when we should just be teaching our youth what the Bible says and believe that everything else will fall into place. I’m still working out some of these thoughts…

    “There are things we aren’t addressing at all with our youth and they have to go to society to get the information.” You’re absolutely right. A lot of churches do cater to the idea that Christianity is a “heart” religion which should be confined solely to matters of faith. This teaches us to compartmentalize our lives, and keeps the Gospel from functioning at its full potential across the whole of our lives. This is an unhelpful dichotomy in general and has affected the mindsets of our youth in regards to dating in particular. We teach them that Christianity is really confined solely to matters of faith and has nothing to say to the other areas of our lives—and it is those areas which, in all honesty, make up the vast majority of our lives.

    It is really difficult to develop a holistic Biblical worldview because (1) it often requires the discovery and uprooting of unbiblical philosophies to which we have effortlessly—even mindlessly—acquiesced (breaking habits, especially mental habits, is never an easy thing to do), and (2) it demands that we stop operating out of our fear of man or our insatiable desire to be approved of by others. It’s easy to set up rules for ourselves and measure our own spirituality by them. It’s even easier to let others do it for us, because if we follow someone else’s rules, then surely we will be accepted by them as spiritual and godly people. Pearcy writes of this struggle, “We should expect the process of developing a Christian worldview to be a difficult and painful struggle—first inwardly, as we uproot the idols in our own thought-life, and then outwardly, as we face the hostility of a fallen and unbelieving world. Our strength for the task must come from spiritual union with Christ” (51). This union must be the focus of the way we train up the next generation, though this is a lot more difficult to propagate than a list of rules is to teach.

  3. Lilly Dickerson says:

    This is such a tricky topic, but something that pervades our lives no matter where we go, because, as humans, our natural inclination is to look for a mate. Although there are billions of potentials out there, sometimes it really does seem impossible to go about finding one in a Christian manner, especially with so many outside influences pressuring us to do otherwise. It would be nice if we could simply maintain a “holistic Biblical worldview,” as Amber states. However, it can be incredibly difficult to translate Biblical principles to the world and society as it is today because of how much it has changed, and what things are now deemed “acceptable” in comparison to when the Bible was composed. Perhaps many of these changes arose because of our deviation from scripture?

    Nevertheless, I completely agree that a great deal of trust in the Lord, and a faith that He will guide us toward the happiness He desires us to have, is necessary throughout this journey. A more modern philosophy on dating that is rooted in scripture should be taught in the church community, but should also then be something that can easily be applied elsewhere as we move and grow as beings.

    I really enjoyed the “The Good Christian Girl: A Fable” article because I felt it was very relatable. Even at 20, I’ve already started to get “spinster” comments from my friends, and taunts of, “What are you, a lesbian?” I’m not so much bothered by the fact that I’m at the receiving end of comments like these, than by the fact that people I associate with consider these labels demeaning and worthy of derision. However, I digress.

    The point is, no matter how difficult it may be at times, patience and trust in the Lord are key. Even if it may seem like a person is being “too picky,” I think that this is much favorable to the alternative. Right now at least (and I realize I’m still young), I’m ok with waiting for awhile to see where God guides me. And hey, if that means that I end up a “spinster” eventually, I’m ok with that too.

    • Adam Miller says:

      Hey Lilly. I’m glad you joined in on the conversation. I’m actually surprised that my article on dating would generate so much discussion, but it’s really good. You’ll have to check back with the blog when I start writing my articles in the series, I Hugged Dating Hello. But if you haven’t already heard of Joshua Harris, then that wouldn’t make sense to you. Still, I am planning on writing more on this topic and addressing more issues and concerns.

      You’ve hit on something I’d like to build off of, if I may. You’ve pointed out that society has changed from biblical times to today. I couldn’t agree more. This creates an interesting situation because the practices of biblical times were not the same as they are today. I hope at some point to address this in a future article. Since we don’t live in that time period this means we have to be discerning as we develop new practices for our current culture. I think what Amber’s suggestion in cultivating a ‘holistic Biblical worldview’ is not one particularly on dating, but on worldview: our understanding of human nature, the world, and ourselves. I’ve mentioned in my introduction to prejudice that all of our positions in life are built on an authority. As a Christian, my authority is the Bible. Therefore I acknowledge my presuppositions in how I think of mankind, the world, and myself in a particular way.

      Where, then, should we start to re-examine our cultural misconceptions of dating? How can we implement practical, appropriate, and respectful principles within a postmodern society, subset by the information age, subset by the digital age?

      I think I might have bit off a little more than I can chew with this topic, but I’m hoping my next article, an introduction the the series Mishandled, will give more clarification to where we can begin in discussing some of the things we need to change in our worldview.

  4. Amber Monroe says:

    Hi Lilly! I’m glad to see you’ve commented on this article. It’s always helpful to get different perspectives to challenge and refine your own. I did have a couple questions about a particular point you made in your post:

    “However, it can be incredibly difficult to translate Biblical principles to the world and society as it is today because of how much it has changed, and what things are now deemed “acceptable” in comparison to when the Bible was composed. Perhaps many of these changes arose because of our deviation from scripture?”

    I do think there is a difference between applying Gospel-saturated Biblical principles to specific circumstances and applying first-century cultural traditions. But before I attempt to address this, I’m really more interested to hear (and better understand) what you mean by this :). I guess I’m specifically wondering what you mean by “changes.” What sort of changes?

    So I really don’t know you at all—but, my goodness, ignore those “spinster” and “lesbian” comments. That’s ridiculous. The Bible itself regards singleness with utmost dignity (see 1 Corinthians 7.25-35; Isaiah 56.3-5). You can get comments about being single anywhere—within the church or without. It’s not as if being married is “better” or more godly than being single, or conversely that the freedoms of singleness are better than the bondage of marriage. It’s primarily about learning to live out the Gospel in whichever circumstances the LORD has placed you in (I realize that last sentence is pretty vague, but if you want we can work on fleshing that out as well).

    We are dealing, at least in part, with the issue of contentment. True contentment can see the beauty and benefit of things you do not have and yet be happy without them. George MacDonald puts it simply and articulately: “I do not think that the road to contentment lies in despising what we have not got. Let us acknowledge all good, all delight that the world holds, and be content without it.” I bring this up within this context because I have friends who try to “justify” their singleness or feel better about their lives by pointing to people who have gotten divorced or by saying that they couldn’t give up their freedoms or whatever. Essentially, they create a false-contentment by teaching themselves to despise the alternative when that alternative is, in itself, wholly good. Does that make any sense? I also bring it up because I have to guard against this myself. It’s a daily battle to find joy not in my circumstances but in the God who knew me in Christ even before the foundation of the world and who now fashions my circumstances in such a way as to most efficiently and effectively make me into what I ought to be (which is, ultimately, to be conformed to Christ).

    I tend to go on rabbit trails that aren’t directly related to the issue at hand (which I may have already done), so I will exercise some self-restraint here for the sake of taking it one step at a time :). It’s hard for me to keep the conversation on track when there are so many facets to consider, so maybe I’ll lean on Adam a little bit to keep us on course (?). Anyway, I’d love to keep up this conversation and further explore some of these issues!

  5. Pingback: Mishandeld – An Introduction | Worthy of the Gospel

  6. Lilly Dickerson says:

    Ooh, I guess I was a little vague by just saying “changes” up above there. To a degree, I’d like to let that phrase be somewhat vague because I think that in this situation it could blanket a couple different things. However, for clarity’s sake, I’ll try and hone in on what I was mostly trying to say (or at least what I think I was trying to say, haha), in that phrase.

    By “changes” that occurred over time, I’m largely referring to how social interactions between individuals adapted as the years went by. People became more open, honest, frank, and casual with one another in their relationships. In the past, it was once deemed impudent for a child or adolescent to speak to an adult when not spoken to, yet today many children are accustomed to retorting to their parents on a daily basis. Likewise, many subjects that were taboo, like disease, puberty, sex, and others, are now much more openly discussed in public. Advancements in technology also helped to foster more open and easy communication between individuals. From the telephone to Facebook, these mediums began offering people myriad options for expressing their feelings and thoughts to one another. The decrease in formalities between individuals and the increase in technological advancements toward communication fed one another, and helped each of them to grow.

    Therefore, as people found new ways to express their feelings for one another, and became more accustomed to doing so, I think this may have helped to create the natural progression toward more public and physical displays of affection. This then also may have aided in a decline in Biblical principles such as modesty and humility, because in some ways (maybe through being able to spew out thoughts instantly via the internet even) people were learning to become less self-conscious and reserved about their relationships with others.

    Furthermore, I think that some medical advancements also took a part in transforming the mindset of the public to adhere less firmly to some practices stressed in the Bible. For instance, the invention of “The Pill” was groundbreaking in both medical, and more broadly, world history. Apart from simply being a contraceptive, “The Pill” became a huge symbol to many women. Whether it really should have or not, it became representative of liberty, freedom, and equality among women, and something that empowered them. Although this is by no means true to all cases, I think that in some situations, this led to a gradual equation of promiscuity and freedom.

    I probably deviated a bit too much in trying to explain what I was trying to say in the first place… sorry! But what I’m really trying to convey is that the standards set in the Bible for courting someone of the opposite sex have been warped in so many ways by random extraneous factors that have popped up throughout history. And as Adam mentioned in different words, I think that due to these factors, it can be a real quandary as to how we can approach dating today in a way that respects the Gospel’s teachings, but doesn’t throw us back into the stone age.

  7. Amber Monroe says:

    You’re absolutely right about how technology has affected communication patterns. I wonder very much how my current relationships would be affected if facebook did not exist. Not to discredit all advancements brought on by technology—there certainly has been some benefit, but I think a small part of the present difficulty is that we have opened up too many relational options by means of the internet (dating sites, facebook, myspace, blogs, whatever). I mean, back in the 1800’s you might know 8-10 people of the opposite gender who were about your age, not related to you, and available for courtship/marriage. Today….the “possibilities” are seemingly endless and it is a source of anxiety for many. I mean, countless options don’t always make our lives easier.

    I also like what you said about the increasing acceptability of characteristics such as immodesty and pride in our culture today. Just to clarify, I think that the propensity for every sin is bound up in the heart of man. I don’t think that people were more inherently godly in the 1800s or in the first century BC than they are today. Scripture makes it clear that man is depraved from birth. Even the prophet Jeremiah describes man’s heart as “deceitful” and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17.9). So there’s a difference between the heart of man becoming increasingly sinful (which I don’t believe is the case) and culture increasingly affirming that sin as acceptable, even expected and necessary for survival. This said, we can see throughout the course of history how these traits have come to be widely accepted.

    Concerning a general lack of humility—I think this can be traced in large part to the Industrial Revolution. Men were taken out of the home, breaking the joint sphere of the family. This had a huge affect on family life as there was no more productivity of the home. Men left the home to go off to work for The Man, engaging in dog-eat-dog capitalism where unbridled greed was (and is) allowed to run rampant. The burden then fell on women to refine men, and the home became the place where virtues were protected. Consequently, the roles of moral and spiritual leadership were no longer viewed as masculine qualities (and responsibilities). Men were handed a stunted definition of masculinity which characterized men as tough, competitive, and pragmatic. This had severe ramifications on the church as well, as it failed to stand up to these redefinitions of femininity and masculinity, and largely acquiesced to the novelty.

    Concerning immodesty—I blame the feminist movement for thus objectifying women. This was the product of the 3rd “wave” of the feminist movement, which really (ironically enough) devalued women. This is what we’re living with today. This wave was brought on by the daughters of the 2nd wave-ers, who fought between the years of (roughly) 1960-1990 against things like pornography because they believed such things to denigrate women. Their daughters, sick of the victim mentality, said in effect to their predecessors, “Look at you; you’re angry; you’re afraid of being objectified; well, we’re going to objectify ourselves.” Women then made themselves a sort of competitive caricature of male sexuality, saying that we can be just as promiscuous and vulgar as men (they were feeding off of the redefinition of masculinity which came out of the Industrial Revolution). This had a huge effect on the fashion industry in the mid 90’s—it became almost impossible to find anything that could actually cover you up and qualify as clothing…The Pill, as you mentioned (you really did hit the nail on the head), was the crowning achievement of the 2nd wave. At this point in history, women were largely cut off from community with other women via the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent development of suburbia. Women were encouraged through media advertisements to be satisfied and fulfilled with their things. Well, women weren’t satisfied (and rightly so). The problem was accurately diagnosed, but the solution proposed by Margaret Sanger—namely, liberation from home and traditional roles through sexual promiscuity—only dug women deeper and deeper into a hole of an unsatisfied life.

    This may be more information than you ever wanted, but I think it’s important to understand and discern the effects that worldly philosophy and cultural movements have on our own personal mindsets. But, again, I do think it’s important to keep that distinction articulated above (sinfulness of man vs. acceptability of sin within the culture).

    Anyway, historical implications aside and back to the central issue, I think part of Adam’s point is that the Bible does not directly lay out courtship rules. I don’t think such standards exist explicitly in scripture. (What are you thinking of when you refer to these standards? Are you referring to the Mosaic Law?) Really there are two categories of people addressed in Scripture: people who are married and people who are single—very little is said concerning definitive rules for Christian courtship. The most basic way in which we are called to treat one another is as brother or sister. Problems arise when people lay out certain personal convictions (perhaps genuinely derived from Biblical principles) as authoritative Biblical imperatives which are binding on all peoples. The point isn’t how clearly we can draw the lines once and for all on what is appropriate/proper behavior in such relationships—there are certain lines for sure which must not be crossed, which are clearly laid out in scripture as sin if they are crossed. Implicitly, the Bible does deal with issues of dating and courtship, but not in the way we’re all looking for—Scripture is much broader (This is where “living out the Gospel” comes into play).

    This is where I have a difficult time maintaining conversation on this topic. I mean, we can talk about generalities or about how historical movements have contributed to the current “predicament” all day long, but the truth is, each person carries their own particularities (upbringing, temperament, past experiences, etc.) and it is really up to each individual to apply the general principles of the Gospel to those particularities…

    So, generally speaking, the first step in proper dating conduct is an accurate understanding of yourself in relation to every other person you come into contact with. Pop culture has been pretty effective in perpetuating a mindset that people of the opposite gender are mere sexual counterparts (for lack of tact and eloquence) rather than fellow humans, fellow souls, or (in the believer’s case) fellow heirs with Christ. A right understanding of man’s origin is key. George MacDonald, to whom I defer once again, speaks to this necessity: It is the man fulfilled of God from whom he came and by whom he is, who alone can himself love his neighbor who came from God too and is by God too. The mystery of individuality and consequent relation is deep as the beginnings of humanity, and the questions thence arising can be solved only by him who has, practically at least, solved the holy necessities resulting from his origin. In God alone can man meet man.”
    I’d like to develop that last paragraph more, but my brain hurts and I’ve already bitten off more than I can chew…..Thoughts?

  8. Lilly Dickerson says:

    Haha, yes I think we probably could keep going around in circles discussing every detail about why Christian dating is so difficult, and never really come up with an end-all-be-all solution. For now, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of recognizing the issue, and as you said, at this point, can only try our hardest to “live out the Gospel” as best as we can.

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