They were upset - really upset!  After I finished preaching that Sunday morning, they charged me like I was a matador.

"Rick, don't you think dating is wrong?  Isn't courtship the way they did it in the Bible?"

Before I could answer, another girl instantly added, "Rick, the word courtship isn't even in the Bible, is it?  And God never says that dating is wrong, right?"

I am a pastor of nearly one thousand collegians in the Los Angeles area.  LA is a college town like few others.  Over fifteen colleges and universities are represented in our ministry, and many of these students come to our church from a variety of backgrounds.  Each brings a set of ideas about how to do relationships.  I think it is fair to say that we have just about seen it all when it comes to ideas about romance.

The above interchange characterizes much of what's happening in the great dating debate.  Many people are more passionate about the process they use than the person God has called them to be.  Oftentimes, method is emphasized over theology; process is emphasized over personal maturity; and premarital methodology, which is short-term, is emphasized over marital understanding, which is long-term.

The collision of ideologies about how to do premarital relationships can be ugly.  I saw it on the faces of those two college girls who approached me that Sunday morning.  I had no choice but to decide what I believe about relationships and romance and unabashedly teach it.  This chapter summarizes what I've concluded.

Each contributor to this volume has been invited to participate because of a commitment to conducting  relationships biblically.  But the fact that you are holding this book is evidence that there is no consensus on what that means.  The number of books promoting models and methods for acquiring a spouse grows almost monthly.  Perusing the relationships section of a Christian bookstore is much like walking through the cereal aisle at the grocery store.  New options seem to show up every time you visit.

All that said, I believe we can learn and apply much from each of the relationship models presented in this chapter and in the chapters before and after mine.  But I also believe it is unwise to conclude that the Bible prescribes a specific blueprint for finding your one and only.

A Closer Look at the Dating Controversy

What is good about this debate is that Christians are taking dating and romance seriously.  The controversy has forced us all to evaluate the source of our beliefs.  Even better, it has launched a reengagement with the Bible as the authority for whom and how we marry.

As with many discussions about biblical issues, the dating debate has involved some unfortunate elements.  One example is the problem of definitions.  Not all in the dating camp agree on what dating actually is and what regulates its standards.  It is not fair to categorize all dating ideologies as the same (as is true in this book).  In many books and Web sites that criticize dating from a Christian perspective, seldom is it admitted that dating could be approached in a way that honors God.  Often the criticism is built on worse-case-scenario dating relationships.

And those in the courtship/betrothal camp have no consensus on what courtship is either.  Try reading the courtship books by Doug Wilson, Josh Harris, and Paul Jehle back-to-back.39  These courting approaches have much in common, but they also include some major differences.  Unfortunately, most books and Web sites assume there is agreement on the meaning of terms. 

In reality, there exists a spectrum of beliefs within each relational model.  Not all courtship systems are the same.  And the term dating can refer to anything from sharing a cup of coffee to a serious relationship.