Dating: Biblical Principles for a Cultural Practice
by Christensen Low
Throughout my dating experiences, I have asked many questions. What does it mean to be a godly boyfriend? What does the Bible truly say about dating, finding a mate, and other types of relationships before marriage? If I strip away my cultural background, both in the church and outside of it, what am I left with? What does the Bible really teach about the steps of pursuing someone that you are interested in—both for men and women?
A few months ago I went through a class at my church on biblical dating. I had blushingly told friends about it, but I defended my choice by saying that, if I spent nine years preparing for my career as a teacher, then I think I should spend some time on this aspect of my life that is as important as knowing God’s will for my career. We studied the book How to Get a Date Worth Keeping by Dr. Henry Cloud that challenged our thinking on dating by first stating that the Bible does not clearly include a list or set of commandments on the subject of finding a mate. So, we need to approach the issue from what the Bible does say. In talking with my fellow classmates, I kept hearing things like, “Well, I couldn’t start talking to the man because that’s his job,” or “We need to wait on the guy to call us back.” Where did these expectations come from? I do not believe these ideas are based on the Bible.
One of the fascinating articles on the CBE website is Brian Howell’s “Beyond Damsels and White Steeds.” Howell takes an anthropological look at gender roles and posits that dating is a very new invention, so even the rules of pursuing, calling, and such are also very new. He states in his article that “the actions of the boy to initiate a date are surely rooted in a cultural norm of men as the sexual aggressor.” If one looks closely at the “rules for dating,” they do seem to be rooted in the idea that men are superior to women or at least that they are the conquerors. In order to strip away ideas of hierarchy, we must view our ideas of dating and relationships as being culturally embedded. If we truly wish to pursue God and his will, then we need to consider carefully our “rules of dating,” recognizing that while they may appear to have come directly from the Bible, in actuality they may be more motivated by our cultural values. We must honestly put aside our ideas of roles and look very deeply at what God wants for us.
So, what are the “principles” that we must live by in relation to the opposite gender? What does the Bible say on this important subject? And, since most of us come from an egalitarian perspective, let’s discuss practical suggestions for the following questions too:
- Who initiates/how should a person initiate if it is not automatically assumed that the man will?
- Who—the man or the woman—should plan and pay for dates?
- Isn’t it simply a desire to be lazy and passive when men want women to initiate?
- How can relationship conflicts be resolved when there is no designated head?
- Doesn’t every man want to rescue a beauty and every woman want to be a beauty to be rescued?