This is my second post in a series on analyzing Joshua Harris recent announcement to kiss Christianity goodbye. You can find my first one HERE. My style with this blog is to define the Biblical theses I’m going to interact with before using them at the analytical level. I think I’ve mostly covered the bases on what I’m going to discuss here so this post is all analysis.
The past posts that I believe justify the Biblical claims I will be making for this post can be found in those below:
I’m realizing now that I’ve never actually dedicated a blog post to specifically defining marriage. However I did present all or part of it Biblically in those above posts and I think there is enough Biblical content there to justify the claims I will be building upon in this post.
The question I will be seeking to answer with this post before the end of it is the following:
Is it a sin to date someone before you marry them?
To get there though I want to define purity culture to a certain extent. It’s a broad topic and I can’t objectively represent the whole of it properly because it’s spans many evangelical traditions. I can represent my personal interactions with it though and if those resonate with you then there we go.
The book that Joshua Harris is most famous for is titled I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It’s highly likely that you heard of it, particularly if you grew up in american christian circles anywhere between 1997 and 2005. I was 13 years old in 1997 so by the time I was in high school I was very familiar with the book and the courtship philosophy that the writer advocates.
The first person to introduce the book to me was my aunt. She had just read it herself and was explaining all of the details to me shortly after it was published. I remember being skeptical of it then. I also remember a few years later my dentist was giving me a hard time for mentioning my girlfriend I was dating at the time in high school. She told me in between adjusting my teeth that every time you date someone you give a piece of your heart away and it increases the likelihood that you will get a divorce.
Fortunately for me my parents didn’t agree with the book at all and didn’t push it on their kids. They didn’t believe dating was a sin. They just taught that you have to be abstinent until marriage. The problem though was that the families of most of the Christian girls I tried to date were employing some form of the courtship rules advocated in that book. It was a real pain too because the rules varied widely from one family to another and they all claimed their version of these rules were straight out of the Bible. I was supposed to be the hyper legalistic SDA navigating this maze too which is kind of ironic.
Courtship vs. Dating
Courtship isn’t a sin. I think its a very good way to find a wife. If I grew up in a small European village 200 years ago that’s exactly the way I would have found a wife. I wouldn’t have dated her first, romance wouldn’t have been the focus anyways because that wasn’t a cultural highlight at the time. Her family would be concerned about my faith, work ethic, trade, and ability to protect and provide for their daughter. We would have grown up knowing each other anyways so not much point in dating, and since you would know everyone in your community there’s no need for a social mechanism to facilitate meeting in the first place.
After getting married I would have had to be a good husband and in time love would happen or not. Either way we would have had kids and raised them. You can’t really divorce in that context mostly because privation would be the norm of your life and you would need each other to survive. No time to gripe about things that don’t imminently lead to death in that context.
Courtship is certainly in the Bible. The example that stands out for me is when Abraham sent his servant to the city to find a wife for his son sight unseen. Nowhere in this story is a command for all of us to do likewise though. Descriptive narrative (story) isn’t the same thing and Prescriptive narrative (law). We shouldn’t read Biblical culture as equivalent to Biblical law. If you are going to read the stories in scripture as law then you should do so consistently and at one point or another let poisonous snakes bite you like that church on TV.
Dr Jordan Cooper argues that dating evolved out of western romance culture in the 19th century and over time became what it is today. That sounds like a fair analysis to me. The relevant thing is that in our culture dating is the standard way of seeking a spouse. It provides a social platform for selecting a mate and since the details of the structure can be modified beliefs can be incorporated and expectations removed as necessary. Is it ideal? Is it the best way? Is it always consistent with scripture?
Secular Dating is problematic for many reasons. First and foremost is that the secular dating process presumes premarital sex with many partners as a rite of passage to sow your oats and take time to get your career established. After that cohabitation for a few years is advised before getting married for the tax break in your thirties. Lastly, you’re expected to adopt a dog from a rescue shelter instead of having kids. So no, that process is not biblical at all.
For biblical dating to work as a Christian norm we should be more understanding for couples who want to marry earlier than 35, or who may even forgo college immediately after high school and instead seek a cheaper and faster form of job training. Young couples also shouldn’t expect to catch up to their parents standard of living right after they get married either.
Neither courtship or dating is a sin. Scripture doesn’t give us law for choosing a spouse. Scripture defines marriage as between a man and a woman, commands that we abstain from sex until married, and that marriage is for having kids. How we find a mate is in the category of Christian freedom. The term reformers would have used would be adiaphora, things neither commanded nor forbidden.
That being the case though, I think applying biblical principals to dating is alot more expedient than inventing a new form of courtship. With instituting courtship we burden kids with alot of unnecessary and inconsistent rules that nobody will ever agree on. Modifying secular dating with Christian principals doesn’t add new steps or inconsistent obstacles, it just trims away a few secular expectations and traditions.
So to answer my question from the outset, dating is not a categorical sin. But lets be honest, at the end of the day purity culture wasn’t really concerned with sin that much was it? Sure they would touch on it, but at the end of the day purity culture was always a sexual precursor to the prosperity gospel heresy. The difference is it was about sex instead of money.
The Prosperity Gospel of Purity Culture
I’m not going to bother to quote anyone on this. If you were in the same circles as I was in the early 2000’s you saw all the evangelical books on biblical rules for family life. Ten easy steps to follow and you will never get a divorce. Follow these five biblical principals and your kids won’t do drugs. Follow the Daniel diet and you wont get sick. Follow David’s example and you will never commit adultery….
Okay that last one was a joke…
The point is there is no promise in scripture that God is required to bless you in a particular manner if you follow a particular law. It doesn’t matter if that law is Biblical or not. Even if you follow every rule perfectly, and nobody does, your marriage may end in divorce. Your kids might do drugs. You may even die of cancer no matter what you ate. You could even end up hanging upside down on a cross like the Apostle Peter did.
The natural state of man is privation, suffering, and death. Anything better than that is a blessing. The law kills, the answer isn’t more law the answer is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and even that is the answer in the sense that when you die you go to heaven instead of hell. In the meantime there is no easy button. Wouldn’t it be nice if all you had to do was follow a few rules and then ZAP! Your life is perfect! That’s simply not the case though, and treating scripture like that is the sin of witchcraft.
Final Thoughts on Biblical Purity
Scripture does tell men and women to wait until marriage for sex. Not for the purpose of improving your life or scoring purity points to cash in later. The reason we are supposed to do that is because Jesus commands us to. Jesus bled and died for us and we are called to follow his law.
Additionally, just because you may have failed to keep that law doesn’t mean you’re gonna get a divorce someday. Jesus bled and died for that sin. Go and sin no more, not because of what you will receive but out of a grateful heart for what God has done for you.
What Joshua Harris taught wasn’t just heavy on the law, it was a false law and a false gospel. The laws he taught were wrong and the promises that he taught came with them are empty at best and witchcraft at worst. The cost to himself was great and the cost to those who followed him were also burdensome. Being wrong about scripture isn’t always just a difference of opinion. There are painful real life consequences for false teaching, even on things that most would not consider to be “salvation issues”. More on that in posts to come.