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Courtdate: A Generation of Courtship Culture on Trial

By Jesse Jost

americangothicIn the 1980s, many parents were appalled at the heartbreak and devastation of a culture that had lost its biblical moorings. The abuse of sex and drugs and education were creating a living hell. Adults who were saved out of this environment decided that they wanted to make climate change a reality. Their fierce and passionate love for their kids motivated them to act drastically: Take their kids out of their schools and surroundings and give them a new culture based on biblical principles. These brave pioneers set out on uncharted paths and experimented with new methods of education, discipline and romance.

Baggage from the parents’ previous relationships and painful memories from the past only intensified the desire to protect their children in the minefield of love. Having seen the dangers of the casual dating and easy sex model that was becoming the norm, parents were hungry for an alternative. Josh Harris, Elizabeth Elliott, Michael Phillips, Eric and Leslie Ludy and Jonathan Lindvall, were just a few of the thinkers suggesting alternative relationship models categorized under titles like courtship or betrothal. Some common themes running through these suggestions were: more parental involvement throughout the marriage process, replacing aimless “recreational” dating with a focused courtship process, and a renewed emphasis on “guarding and saving your heart” for your future spouse. It was a call back to the ideal of being a one-woman-man and a one-man-woman for life. But while Josh Harris and many others were “Kissing Dating Goodbye,” others saw warning signs and wrote rebuttals such as “I Gave Dating a Chance” by Jeremy Clark.

There has been a lot of theorizing about the best model for finding a spouse but the test tube of life can reveal unexpected consequences. Now, a full generation after this movement started, we have plenty of real life data to compare with the theories. In the rest of this article I want to look at what I think have been the benefits of this movement and some unseen consequences that still need ironing out. I should admit upfront that I am a child of courtship culture. My teen years were filled with all of the authors mentioned above getting a chance to shape my thinking and my choices. I know this movement from the inside out and also married within it.


It identified sabotaging effects of casual dating

With a divorce rate spiraling upward the whole marriage process needed to be reexamined. I think this movement rightly identified some ways in which the current relationship practices were sabotaging marriage.

God made marriage to be exclusive. His divine equation for red hot romance is one man and woman. This is not controversial. It is readily acknowledged, even in our promiscuous culture, that to be in a romantic relationship is to have certain obligations to be romantic with that person alone. If romantic indulgence is shared with a third party several contaminating agents enter the picture: Insecurity, lack of trust, feelings of being compared, etc. Once you become physically involved with someone those actions become part of who you are. To end a physically involved relationship is to bring part of that person with you into your next relationship. The sacred equation has been violated. You now have memories of that person that you will be tempted to compare your next partner to. Trust will become more difficult because you have been betrayed in the past. You will become more guarded and more reluctant to open up because you don’t want to be burned again. The more partners that you become intimate with, the worse these consequences become.

Romantic physical affection is a powerful superglue; the more it is expressed the more the couple is joined in a permanent way. Even neuroscience is confirming this. The first time you become romantically active with a person, your brain becomes wired to be addicted to that person. But when you bond to a different person afterward, you scramble the wiring and the addiction becomes less strong the next time (please excuse my highly technical, scientifically exact language).

Courtship thinkers gave us an ideal vision of saving all your hugs and kisses and love letters for one person. Belonging exclusively to another person and having that person belong exclusively to you was a very romantic thought and an inspiring ideal. I married another person who had saved all of herself for me and it is a fact that I cherish almost daily. I love knowing that I am the only man she has ever kissed romantically. I also love the exclusiveness of our sexual relationship. Neither of us is plagued by thoughts of comparison. None of this makes us “better” than those around us. It’s just a gift that we are both truly grateful for.

Parental involvement

Sexual attraction is also a consuming fire. Love is blind and many young people who have dabbled with sexual affection find themselves in a consuming whirlwind. They abandon everything for a person who often turns out to be very different than they thought. Your parents are free from the blinding effect of raging hormones and want a satisfying marriage for you even more than you do. Because of this, parents can be ideal partners in the pursuit of a lifelong mate. I think there was so much wisdom in inviting the parents into the process. I say this as a man who had chosen to get the father’s permission before winning a young woman’s heart. This resulted in my being turned down by two different fathers. But when I consider how madly in love I am with my wife today, I am so grateful for how God led through fathers who were diligent to protect their daughters. ..(You know, from rabid wolves such as myself). I am also so grateful for the prayers and clear guidance I received from my parents as I navigated the enchanted forests of infatuation.

Renewed emphasis on sexual purity

God says in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (NKJV) Sex outside of marriage will receive God’s judgment. This goes against the cultural message that surrounds us. But this is your Creator’s standard! It doesn’t matter if it seems “unrealistic” or doesn’t make sense. This is what God requires of you. He is so quick to forgive when we fail, but he won’t let us wallow in self-destruction!

A challenge to be intentional and think long term

Growing up, I appreciated the reminders to think long term, to realize how my actions would affect my future spouse and to pray for her often. If you are aimless in your romantic involvement, you are at high risk for the devil’s sabotage. Purity does not happen by accident; it takes vigilance. Undirected dating can lead to being swept away in a tidal wave of desire that you are not prepared to handle. I think it is healthy for men to be challenged to take responsibility for their actions and not play with the affections of young women they have no desire to commit to.


As someone who had very loving and supportive parents, and found an incredible spouse the first time I entered a romantic relationship, it’s easy for me to have a very rosy picture of courtship culture. Sure, growing up I faced the embarrassment of not having a girlfriend and friendship with other girls had an element of awkwardness because there was awareness of not wanting to “defraud.” But those seem like such small sacrifices compared to the deep trust and delight my wife and I found through this culture.

But my experience is not universal. Talking with young people and observing others has led me to discover this movement has created a whole new set of difficulties that need addressing. Because of these challenges many young people are ditching purity principles altogether and letting the pendulum swing in the other direction, directly toward the path their parents wanted so much to protect them from.  I want to explore the dark side of courtship culture next.

Confusion about emotional purity

Several times we were warned about the dangers of giving our heart away through crushes. We were told our heart was like a pie and every time we let a crush consume us we gave that person a piece of our heart, and if we did this too many times all we would have left is a little tiny sliver for our spouse. I can see how this can create guilt over normal infatuation. Conviction is healthy, but guilt can bring ruin. Because your feelings of attraction are making you feel guilty, your shame will cause you to repress these feelings and hide them. What you need is a safe place to express them and learn to process them in a healthy way.

I had my fair share of crushes and they were pretty serious but thankfully they were not communicated to the girls or mutually expressed. My mom never made me feel embarrassed for feeling these things. She acknowledged the power of these God-designed feelings and prayed with me through them. Having the freedom to discuss them broke much of spell these feelings created. Today, Heidi has my whole heart, although it is a daily decision I must make.

Attractions are normal and healthy. The key is to submit them to the authority of Christ rather than letting them consume us. But if all you feel is guilt and shame for your feelings, you will never learn how to deal with natural attraction.

On the other hand, expressed romantic love celebrated through physical affection is bonding and does create soul ties that will last a long time. These ties should be avoided outside of commitment. Not out of legalism or because you are bound to a formula, but because we are commanded to put others’ needs ahead of our own. You don’t want your involvement with someone to be a thorn in his or her future marriage or a source of insecurity to your future spouse.

It concerns me when I observe couples tying themselves together physically before they have fully decided to commit. Not because I don’t want them to have fun or I think things have to follow a set pattern, but because it will just hurt that much more if they break it off and will make trust that much harder next time. And recent studies have shown that you are more vulnerable to have an affair with an ex-flame than with someone new. At the same time, we should never forget that God’s power can more than compensate for and overcome the natural weaknesses our sins create.

Fear of friendship with the opposite gender

There are clear warnings in scripture against defrauding our brother or sister sexually (1 Thess. 4:1-5) and it is wise to not become physically romantic with a person you are not going to marry. But the healthy idea at the root of this advice has been clouded over by fear of any friendship with the opposite sex. I think some young people have lost confidence in themselves and other young people’s ability to control their emotions. Because of this there is a fear that to have one on one conversation with another young person of the opposite gender will be defrauding to that person or will be misinterpreted by others, and so should be avoided. Or there is a fear that if there is too much communication you will “give your heart away,” and be ruined for marriage. Not to mention younger siblings who can be very vigilant in their desire to not have their older siblings do anything that has even a whiff of flirting.

We somehow need to figure out a way for young people to develop healthy, non romantic friendships. They need to learn how to love and serve each other in a Christ-like way. For me, there was the temptation of being so obsessed with marriage that the purpose of friendship was reduced to being a way to evaluate which girls were good marriage material. Wow, this is embarrassing to admit. But my friendships would have been healthier if I could have been more focused on blessing and serving these girls as sisters in Christ rather than just selfishly evaluating their potential!

We also need to help young people see that there is a clear difference between a physically involved friendship and non-romantic friendship. I think young adults should feel free to form the latter kind without other people putting pressure on them to commit. They need to learn how to have a platonic friendship that is not riddled with angst about the “deeper implications” of their last encounter. Girls, you would make it easier for guys to have this kind of friendship with you if you don’t automatically assume that any interaction is him “pursuing” you. And Guys, just because she liked your facebook profile picture does not mean she has a major crush on you.

I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and the opposite sex through healthy friendships. It is possible to have a deep healthy friendship that does not ruin you for marriage to someone else! In fact, that friendship might make you a better spouse. So don’t be afraid to be friends. Don’t feel bad if you felt attracted to that person or find yourself thinking too much about them. You will feel attraction to different people for the rest of your life. The problem doesn’t disappear after marriage. The key is to not let it control you, and to redirect these thoughts in prayerful surrender to God.

However, friendships can cross the line to the romantic when you become physically involved, when you feel like an item, or have expectations of exclusivity. Before you light the flame, make sure you have commitment in place and before you start gluing physically, ensure that you are ready for the long haul.

For the sake of clarity, I do need to add that our hearts are deceitful when it comes to relationships. Married couples understand the need for safeguards to prevent emotional affairs. Because of this, many choose to not spend time alone in a building with a non-spouse or spend too much time alone in a vehicle. I think for the sake of safety and protection, single people would be wise to follow similar boundaries. Not out of legalism or fear, but a desire to glorify God. The situation can also change as single adults grow. I personally don’t think it would be wise for 15 year olds to spend hours alone, but I can also see where it might be fine for a 30 year old to take someone out for coffee without it needing to be a high pressure date, or to mean they are now romantically involved. In the end, though, the only real safeguard is a heart that is surrendered to God.

Too much pressure early in a relationship

Many within this culture see courtship as nearly synonymous with engagement. When a couple announces their courtship (which usually means they have just become boy friend and girl friend) they are flooded with congratulations with people being very excited for them. Sometimes the couple knows each other quite well and marriage is just a short step away (such as it was with Heidi and me). But other times the couple doesn’t know one another that well at all. As the relationship progresses, they may realize this person is not who they thought he or she was. All the public pressure puts them in an awkward position and creates a lot of embarrassment if it falls through.

We need to allow for a no commitment, non-romantic time that enables the couple to get to know each other deeply before they commit. This should be a time that is under the radar. Snoopy neighbors shouldn’t be asking if “something is going on.” It should be normal for friendships to develop that allow the couple to go separate ways without feeling like they’ve just been through a break up.

Committing too early

When you are in your early 20s and have never been in a romantic relationship, there is a lot of pent up emotion. The first possibility of romance can set off an avalanche of emotion, especially when a courtship is seen as a guaranteed path to marriage. You barely know this person but you feel because you started a relationship, you have to commit. Because you feel committed, it will be easy to throw caution to the wind and you’ll start recklessly bonding before you really know this person. Now the courtship process, which was designed to protect you, will actually accelerate the problem of moving the relationship along too fast – making a break up even more painful than it needed to be.  Again, we need a time of no-pressure friendship that allows young adults to get to know each other.

False expectations

Another problem within the courtship culture is that it can create the expectation that if you follow this model perfectly, you are guaranteed a perfect marriage and a great sex life. Unfortunately, there are no short cuts to making a great marriage. It takes hard work and hours of tearful conversations. The key to a successful marriage is not found in a perfect courtship model, but in two people filled with the Holy Spirit and working, by His grace, to become the right person. It’s not enough to find the perfect person or follow the right formula. You have to be the right person! You have to have developed the basic relationship skills of servanthood and the ability to communicate with gentleness and respect. If you are not that type of person, no relationship process can give you a great marriage. If you think courtship provides a shortcut to amazing sex, or that God owes you an easy marriage because you have stayed “pure,” you are in for a rude awakening.

Feeling worthless after a break up

Possibly the darkest downfall of the courtship culture is the idea that the only way to have a great marriage is to marry the first person you fall in love with. You only have one shot at this. So if you fall in love or start courting and it falls through, then you are somehow damaged goods. You are no longer pristine. Your marriage will never be as good as it could have been.

A similar fallout is when young women feel like their value is found in their virginity or the fact that they have never been kissed. That they have something precious to offer their husband only if they have never been in a previous relationship. This is a demonic twisting of beautiful truths that can lead to devastating results. A relationship falls through; a night of indiscretion, or even a forced assault, and suddenly that young woman feels worthless. The inspiring vision of a godly marriage is gone. “What pure godly man would want a piece of trash like me?” As the self-loathing builds the woman spirals into self-destruction. A woman in this state of mind is ripe for exploitation. I am on the verge of tears for the women I know who have been led down this path.

If this is you right now, I hurt for you and I apologize if I have somehow contributed to this mess. I want to try to make some things clear. Your true worth is not found in your “purity.” Your value is not based on your track record of behavior. You are precious because you are sacred art work, lovingly and tenderly knit together by the Creator of the universe. He treasures you no matter what mistakes you make. God loves sinners with a holy passion. The sight of your bruises and scars fills His great heart with compassion! You are no less precious then the virgin in white! It was a prostitute, a woman dragged through the lowest dredges of human behavior, who melted Jesus’ heart when she gave all she had to him. He saw the gift of her love as exceedingly precious. He didn’t see scum washing his feet. He saw a treasure. He saw a beautiful woman with a worth above measure.

The only track record of purity that matters to God is the perfect record of Jesus.  You can acknowledge that you are a sinner and drop the rags of your own attempts at purity and put on the purity of Christ. You now no longer need to fear any condemnation because the only One’s opinion that matters sees you as a pure and spotless virgin. Sexual sin is still destructive and God still requires us to aim for holiness. But now He will empower you. He is ready to give you a fresh slate every day.

What makes a marriage beautiful is when it is filled with God’s grace. Before you can have a great marriage, you have to have tasted grace and be so overwhelmed by it that you can shower your spouse with grace. A broken and a contrite heart is what God desires and it is also what will make you truly attractive to your spouse. Conversely, pride is repulsive, to God and your spouse. If you enter a relationship with arrogance that you have fought the battle for purity and then feel a sense of entitlement, you know nothing about true purity. Any man who will only love you because you are a virgin or never been kissed is not worthy of you! The kind of man you want is not the one who is worried about your past, but the man who earnestly loves you today because he sees in you a reflection of the God he loves so much already.

Those who have truly tasted God’s goodness and beauty know full well their own worthlessness in comparison. You will be overcome with a sense of gratitude for all God has showered upon you even though you don’t deserve it. If a broken relationship has shattered your self-righteous image of purity and you now feel dirty and in need of grace…Hallelujah! That is where the magic is! That is where God meets you and restores your soul and fills you with awe and wonder and gives you a purity that can never be taken away.

In Conclusion

God has an amazing ability to restore what our sin has broken. But God still loves his design for romance. He created it to be a picture of the kind of intimacy He wants with us. So God can heal you, but He won’t change the design. He still wants romance to be exclusive and sex kept within the safe confines of marriage. If you have been part of a legalistic courtship culture that added burdens and rules that went beyond the Scriptures, you should feel free to abandon those. But if you still call yourself a Christian, then you have an obligation to put others’ needs ahead of your own and to seek to glorify God in every area of your life – including romance. God does want what’s best for you. His rules are for your pleasure! When you throw out your man-made rules, don’t throw out His life giving truth at the same time! Don’t act out of fear! All attempts at love include risk. There is no fail-proof way to achieve true love that does not also involve risk of pain. But don’t fear the pain. God can use it to refine you and shape you into spouse He intends you to be.


Saving the Baby: An Alternative to Courtship

  • Hateesha

    Wow, I grew up exactly like you- part of the courtship movement and married within it and I feel as though you wrote exactly my current feelings and thoughts on this with such grace and leading from the Holy Spirit. I really appreciate your balanced approach and wow I feel like you wrote my thoughts down … I’m glad to have this as a reference for our 3 daughters when they grow up. God bless you and your wife as you raise your children through your example to be spirit led, pure and full of Christ-living in humbleness and grace with those around you.

  • Jessica L. W.

    This soooooo good. I was just thinking this morning I should make a blog just so I could write something similar, but this is much better then anything I would have done. 🙂 Thank you!!!

  • Pam

    My husband and I raised our children at home and asked them to court, rather than date; for the same reasons your parents did. But we didn’t choose to be part of a “culture”. I think one of the problems with movements (courting movement, ATI, homeschool movement, large family movement, etc.) is that though people are going against the grain, they’re often STILL not thinking for themselves or asking the Holy Spirit to guide them. They’re just following a different piper. This almost always ends up in legalism which is dead.
    We weren’t going by books or dynamic teachers or whatever. We simply asked God our questions, and He gave answers. And my husband was a great communicator with our children. (I’m not boasting here. I’m only sharing what works. Our Life is in Christ. We can’t succeed without His constant guidance.)
    It sounds like your parents were the same way and that helped you to approach holiness in relationships with balance instead of legalism.
    Like you, my married children are seeing that marriage is wonderful and marriage is work. When you watch the fruit of your parents’ happy marriage, sometimes you don’t see how much they’ve sacrificed for each other in the big and little things, how much they learned to compromise and be selfless in their love—because it is a process. Marriage is a God-sent adventure. The best ever, I think. But real adventures aren’t like the movies where crazy devastation happens all around you without touching you. It’s real and you get hurt and you grow and you end up thanking God for all that you went through.
    Thank you for posting this.

  • Rachel

    Yes, I’ve had a lot of these observations and concerns about the “courtship” process myself, and have seen it in my younger siblings, especially. I and my sister happened to fall in love with and marry the first person we courted/dated, but the younger siblings did not, and I think they felt like something was wrong with them. And I can definitely relate to that every-person-of-the-opposite-sex-is-a-potential-spouse-needing-to-be-evaluated thing. Takes a lot of the joy out of healthy friendships!

  • Danelle

    This is amazing! I grew up in the courtship movement, and still in many ways support it. But the errors or difficulties you pointed out are so right on. Having been in only one relationship (and a rather odd one at that), before the relationship I am in now, and after the first one ended in a painful way, I did feel like I was somehow damaged. Not that I had sinned or even kissed before, but just by being in another relationship and it not working out somehow made me, “damaged goods”. Anyway, thanks for a balance perspective!

  • Ryan

    Thanks, bro!

  • Anne

    Thank you so much for this!! I’m growing up around the courtship model and my parents/family wouldn’t have it any other way. I fretted about the forced assault thing because I live near a large, extremely evil city :P. Not to say there has ever been a problem, certainly not. My father and brother are both very jealous of me and my sisters. But I just wondered if I would be trash after something like that since I’m not about to lie to someone who wants to get close to me properly. Thanks again!!

  • RW

    Having watched this through the “generations” of homeschooling and Christian School and Public School eyes, I thought this was a good synopsis of how things need…hope in dating, not suffocation.

    I am posting my response, not because I am “all knowing” but because I think…that anytime semantics or “rules” get involved in a “methodology”…that is what causes the problems.
    Here’s my take:
    Pretty good analysis of the history of how things grew and changed, dangers and strengths. I see a lot of this whole topic as…semantics. Meaning…a debate over wording. Behavior is always the issue. Marriages divorce due to..unwillingness to stick to the original marraige covenant of death do us part. They didn’t go there, but briefly exposed how much marraiges are falling apart. Bottom line, it doesn’t matter how you get to the altar of marraige, it can be this way or that, but it’s to be a one time deal. Period. Done. No escape, no running away when the “emotions” are raw, or the “challenge it too much”. Sadly, many parents are enabling this breakups, by doing exactly what they preach against in the public school world…many parents are now the “grandparent” babysitters for the children in this broken homes. This is giving their own children an unspoken message that…you can always run home to momma. But this fails to define the “leave and cleave” mindset. Some of this is due to the “authoritarian view” of how the “Umbrella of parent” is to always be “honoured”..which is really not…how it is to work. Honor is not…the same as submit. Once the couple marries, they are to honor, but they are no longer under ANY obligation to do what “mom and dad” say. They are now their own entity. But the “umbrella” mindset…from ATI and other groups like them, has somewhat really confused the whole “leave and cleave” mindset. Two people should only marry when..they are ready to pay bills, suffer hardship, go through good and bad…for the rest of their life, til death do us part, just as the wedding vows indicate. That’s why the vows are important. I say this..don’t fight over semantics, just do the right thing.

    Keep it simple is my motto:
    1.Don’t do sex before marraige, and don’t get involved with unbelievers at all in dating/courting.

    2. Don’t lie to anyone about what you are doing behind your parents back or friends back or churches back. Always be honest.

    3. Always be willing to accept advice, but recognize that you are responsible for any babies that happen, or any “baggage”, whether as a result of a relationship..or a parent bringing their own baggage into the relationship of “fears they will make the same mistake I did.”..Funny how that works though, because usually in their fear, they DRIVE the child to do the same mistake. Have no fear of being….honest, and accountable and truthful at all times about what you feel comfortable in regarding affection. Then when it goes to far, you’ll know it.

    4. The “rules” mindset never works. It’s about the heart, and in the heart we are either…deceitful or not.
    and when doing wrong, whether it’s dating/courting a person you shouldn’t or hiding the amount of texts or phone calls or whatever…truth is what always protects. Anytime someone is honest…it’s rare they fall into sexual sin. But anytime deciet happens, it’s almost a given regarding sexual sin happening.

    5. Consider..what you do to someone should never cross a line of…doing something that does belong in marraige. Yes, people do create baggage carried into a marraige that occurred in previous relationships, but living with a no regrets mindset doesn’t mean never get hurt. That isn’t baggage, that is…having learned that heartbreak is a part of life, and when it doesn’t work out, the Lord can heal the heart, and bring someone new. Just don’t be stupid in seeking someone whom you know…you will never marry and you are being selfish in “getting” what you want, rather than giving to the other person love and respect and honor and nurture and cherishing. Those qualities are what are found in marraiges that work, so practice those before marraige. And then…it’s a habit that will never work against your marraige, but always for it.

    Just my 5 point thoughts on this.
    Overall, pretty good article.

  • Leila

    Some really great observations in the blog post! I can relate to the awkwardness with the opposite gender thing, but I really don’t see any way to fix it. No matter what, teenagers are going to eventually wonder, “does he like me?”. I’ve known a lot of people who tried to have platonic friendships and it pretty much always ended up with someone’s feeling being hurt because they thought the relationship was going somewhere when the other person was just being friends. I think, ideally, brothers and sisters can be friends and help each other learn how to get along with the opposite gender and succeed in preparing each other for their future spouse, like you were hoping. If the teenager doesn’t have siblings, maybe the mother or father should make and extra effort to do that job.
    My husband and I did something rather unusual for our marriage. Instead of worrying about “courting” and using various methods to analyze each other to find out if this was “the one”, we let God direct us and got Betrothed, acting on Faith that He had shown us our life mate. Strange, I know, but we are very happy and didn’t have a lot of the problems that you’ve noticed in the “courtship” formula. You can read our story if you are interested. I linked to it.

  • jean

    This is truly the best article on courtship that I’ve ever read. I say that as a parent who has had two daughters go through two courtships. One ended in a happy marriage the other ended sadly. I so wish that other parents would realize that simply following the courtship model doesn’t guarantee perfect results. There have been many leaders in the homeschooling movement that tried to present the courtship model as an answer to all the dangers of dating and romantic love. But it is hearts submitted to Christ and passion for God first that protects the individual from these dangers, not following formulas, methods and rules.

  • Cowgirl

    “Many within in this culture see courtship as nearly synonymous with engagement. When a couple announces their courtship (which usually means they have just become boy friend and girl friend) they are flooded with congratulations with people being very excited for them. Sometimes the couple knows each other quite well and marriage is just a short step away (such as it was with Heidi and me). But other times the couple doesn’t know one another that well at all. As the relationship progresses, they may realize this person is not who they thought he or she was. All the public pressure puts them in an awkward position and creates a lot of embarrassment if it falls through.”

    YES. So much yes. Thank you for this whole post, it is so true.

  • thatmom

    James and Stacy McDonald who share their 163 questions (some of them absurd) for potential suitors at homeschooling conferences have stated that breaking an engagement is tantamount to divorce. Talk about pressure! http://yoursacredcalling.com/blog/courtship-questions-for-potential-suitors/

  • CZ

    Interesting that you label the ‘positives’ as positive, but the antithesis of positive is ‘negative’ not ‘unexpected consequences’. Expected consequences (‘positives’) certainly do not turn out positive for everyone who have broken courtships, etc. I thought it was a fair article but yet very PRO-courtship. Alongside that, in the start you mentioned that a generation later there is material evidence to prove it’s worth or not, yet no statistics are given, etc. I am wondering the divorce rate among courted marriages? etc? Thanks.

  • Joseph G.

    I appreciate this article.
    Something to remember in all of this: the goal is marriage. I embraced a particular courtship model so fervently that I lost sight of the purpose of it all. I was 100% committed to a ‘perfect courtship’ but I was not preparing well for marriage itself. The Lord was very gracious to me and smashed my ideals to smithereens and reminded me that godly marriage was the goal.
    I am blessed with a godly wife today. We honored God, our parents, and each other in the process of getting married. May our young people today not confuse a courtship model with righteousness, or replace the godly goal of marriage with a ‘perfect courtship process’.
    Blessings! Psalm 127 & 128

  • Rich Shipe

    Very good, Jesse! Thank you for this article!

  • Bethany Baird

    Awesome article! I really enjoyed reading it.

  • Matthew

    One stat you forgot to leave out; the divorce rate among people that followed a traditional courtship approach to marriage in the way you describe. What’s the courtship divorce rate? It seems like to paint an accurate picture you’d want to balance this out with some real data.

  • Lydia

    This is one of the best articles that I have ever read on courtship!!! So, so, so true!!! Praise the Lord! : D

  • Jesse Jost

    I was not arguing that courtship will prevent divorce. It might help get the marriage started on the right foot, but it certainly wont be what keeps the marriage together. I thought I made that point pretty clear. Besides I am leery of statistics as they are easily manipulated to prove almost anything.

  • Curt

    I agree with pretty much everything you said in your article. I feel you gave it a very honest evaluation and told both the good with the bad. I am amazed at how many people have the same struggles and Ideas that we have been through with our family in regard to courtship. I have made many mistakes in leading my family through this pilgrimage. I wish I could have had this practical advise when we started down this road 15 years ago. I do believe in courtship and continue to champion it, but I have seen the same warnings that you have pointed out. The biggest misunderstanding being that courtship is the answer to marriage problems and failures. I have learned a great deal from your article and see that God is working through you. I am excited to see the growth in the basic understanding of courtship, not as a perfect solution, but rather a practical tool to help keep each other in line with God’s plan for marriage. If there is anything I can do to help further this mission I would like to help. Thanks for sharing (even the parts you would rather have not shared). We need to hear the real not the facade. After 30 years of marriage I would say there is no one way that is right or wrong just keep God’s commands and do the best we can. Thanks again.

  • Hannah Jasmine

    I really appreciated this. I, too, grew up within the courtship movement, and while the model my dad set for myself and my husband was less strict than the one my older sisters had been under, I still am thankful for the courtship experience…but I’ve seen, far too often, the ideal of courtship becoming a false god and hurting people, especially in cases where fathers are motivated by power, rather than by love for God and for their children. I am thankful for people that point out that every relationship cannot be put in the same box, because God made each one of us differently. My husband and I were engaged less than two months after we met, and married less than five months after that, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way, but at the same time, realise that that model would work for very few people. The circumstances we met under were pretty rare (my husband was attending seminary with my older brother), and while I was not in the least attracted to my husband for a good while, nor did I fall in love with him for a month after our engagement began, we knew it was the path God was leading us on. I was very blessed for my first suitor to be the one I married, but I know many (including my husband) who have been bruised by prior relationships, and while that is something that can burden them horribly, it can also help them to make the right choices later on, and to blossom into a beautiful, God-glorifying spouse.

  • Rifqa

    Thank you so much for this. I have often had similar thoughts on the courtship culture, but never seen them addressed, especially in such a clear, balanced, God-centered manner. I appreciate your willingness to speak out. The idea of courtship is a beautiful one, and I am not against it. But I do see a need to address the problems it can create, many of which you address here. Thank you for bringing the topic up for consideration and discussion – we need more honesty like yours.

  • Ashley

    I appreciate this perspective and think it’s pretty balanced. There is, however, one puzzle piece that is missing — what happens when parental involvement goes awry? In my own case, my godly Christian husband and I pursued my parents’ approval for 2.5 years before finally striking out on our own to pursue a relationship without their approval. We are both believers, we agree theologically, we both come from solid Christian families, my husband is a responsible man with a successful career, and I was 25 years old at the time — a fully grown woman who had been walking with the Lord for a number of years, yet my parents refused to trust me as a decision-maker. In this scenario, is it right for parents to assert absolute authority over the woman (or the man, for that matter)? The courtship movement has failed to answer the question of, “How should parents interact with adult children in relationships?” and “What if the children and the parents disagree?”

    In my case, I believe my parents’ disapproval was based almost entirely on fear and dysfunctional communication with me and my now husband. But their response — an assertion of absolute decision-making power with no accountability — was destructive to my relationship with them. They refused to join me for counseling with biblical counselors or church elders, did not attend my wedding, and now nearly three years later our relationship is still strained. They did not come to see either of our precious daughters when they were born.

    I share this not to vent frustration or even to say “courtship doesn’t work!” In fact, despite what I went through I still lean toward a courtship-ish model. But sadly, stories like mine are very, very common, and the courtship movement needs to address this. Many parents have gleaned a false illusion of control from courtship teachings — an illusion which makes them an adversary to their children rather than a trusted counselor and teammate. Courtship should not be a tool for parents to wield power over their children. After all, if a man or woman cannot be trusted in any sense with regard to relationships, then he or she is not ready for marriage in the first place.

  • Christianna Hellwig

    I agree! And I think the main problem with all this is not so much whatever name you call it or what ‘group’ you are affiliated with but what it is you are actually doing. Other wise it becomes legalism. Call it Courting, call it dating or sparking, call it roast beef! But are you keeping your thoughts fixed on Christ and does He have first place in your heart? Are you keeping you heart pure before Him; no matter what you did in the past; every evening, as it were, God burns the records of the day; why shouldn’t we do the same? We can start with a clean slate! Are we being open with those around us? Because a relationship that begins with deception is likely to end that way! In short, are we doing all of it unto the Lord? Because if we are, we don’t have to worry about the name or what people might think; if we know that in the light of God’s scripture, nothing left out, we are doing what is right before God and we wouldn’t be afraid to do it in front of God’s judgement throne. Than nothing else matters!
    But, I fear I have gone on over long! Thank you for this post I enjoyed my perusal of it!

  • Heather

    Thank you for this article. As Christian parents who follow the ideal of mutual respect and God’s pattern of order in His loving design, I appreciate this being out there while we swim against the tide of society’s pull.

  • Ross Clark

    Agreed. As a long-term single, I am well in a position to see where the courtship approach has its pitfalls. In Britain (where I am now) the idea never caught on, partly because there was no culture in the churches of casual dating for it to react against. The ‘grey area’ between dating and courtship is extensive and quite well-populated.

    But I have a much more fundamental criticism of the movement. It has made Christian marriage into a reward; a reward for not dating, for not getting involved with non Christians, for avoiding p*rn, for being home-schooled (I saw Jonathan Lindvall say this!), for having your stuff together etc etc. So it really confused me, for years, when I saw Christians who’d broken every rule in the book, given the marriage and children I didn’t get (for whatever reasons, good or bad). Ref Luke 15:25ff; I know this guy rather too well.

    My point? Marriage is a *gift*, not a reward, and we do no-one any favours when we make it so.

  • Ross Clark

    Also, the other great flaw with the courtship movement is that it is not at all open about the likelihood of ending up as a long-term single (I’m 51). When you are so desperate to keep the teenagers on the sexual straight-and-narrow, telling them that there might not be a marriage to wait for, is not exactly going to help you make your case, is it?!

  • Carl F

    To read the article and comments one must conclude that it us not that courtship has failed (since it is biblical &; dating is not) but the way it is played out by a fallen people. To do a direct comparison of dating &; courtship from a biblical perspective one must court. How that plays out is different story. Scary how some have had a negative experience want to do away with the biblical system. No wonder they can’t tell Christians from heathens any more.

  • Jessica

    I love the comment about the life-long singleness. I know way too many girls in my circle of friends who followed courtship and although they wanted to get married, no suitor came to the father first and they are now in their forties and still single. I think dating and making more effort to get to know godly young men would have been more fruitful than “guarding your heart”. Unless you live in a homeschooling circle, that guarding can be interpreted as uninterested. There isn’t a good reason to not at least give a guy some hope that you would be open to a relationship. I don’t know…I just see a lot of young people waiting for the right person, only to find hat person never comes. I tell my sisters that they need to prepare their girls how to handle the circumstance where no guy comes along. I agree with another commenter that it is dangerous to view marriage as a result of following courtship model…it is a gift. And I believe that gift can come through courting or dating if it is done right.

  • LM

    Jessica, I am one of those single women in their 40’s, who have never had a potential suitor. (yes, there have been guys who have wanted to marry me – but nothing good would have come out of those options, so they were not options to begin with..) Just because we do not have that courtship culture in our country and churches, does not make it any easier to relate to the opposite gender. One has to be careful NOT to give wrong impressions, not to scare the single brothers off, not to appear too friendly etc. etc.. Those of us who have been single all oyr lives, have heard it all – from ‘just leave it to the Lord’ shands’ (of course), ‘try to be open’ (have been hopeful many times and nothing fruitful happened, only disappointments), ‘just be yourself’ (one should be the BEST version of themselves in order to be a blessing, and that truly requires constant walk with the Lord… and the other person still has their free will to reject you), ‘don’t give encouragement so you don’t appear too desperate’, ‘try to be more encouraging’ ad nauseam…
    While I have seen all kinds of appreaches and scenarios being used and redeemed by the Lord, in my own life I am at loss and do not try to figure anything out when it comes to relationships. Whatever one does, can be misunderstood and misinterpreted – it’s truly a minefield.
    Thankfully and gloriously, there have been enough godly friendships with genuine brothers to teach me that true sister- brother friendships do exist, and they are infinitely more rewarding and edifying than any carnal and akward attempts of ‘dating’ or ‘courting’… Apparently, those brothers who can see me as a sister in Christ, can look through my lackings and still see me valuable. Praying the same grace would be available with Mr. Right as well!

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