Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Courtship Controversy
Part II
Is Intimacy Inappropriate Before Marriage?

I will be reviewing another Boundless article found here. This is actually a section from a larger book called Sex and the Supremacy of Christ. This article addresses what courtship advocates believe is the heart of their position. Joshua Harris always responds this way when asked what the central thesis of his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye is. The article is by an attorney named Scott Croft who wrote and teaches a Dating-Courtship core seminar for Capital Hill Baptist Church where he is also an elder.

Mr. Croft begins his article by stating that there are many opinions on both dating and courtship, and that he takes the courtship route as outlined by Joshua Harris. Mr. Croft begins by giving his definition of Courtship:

Let's begin by defining courtship. Courtship ordinarily begins when a single man approaches a single woman by going through the woman's father, and then conducts his relationship with the woman under the authority of her father, family, or church, whichever is most appropriate. Courtship always has marriage as its direct goal.

Of course, we are going to see that there are a whole lot of things that Mr. Croft is not telling us in this definition that will become more apparent as we go through the article. However, where he falls down badly is when he tries to give a definition of dating:

What then is dating? Dating, a more modern approach, begins when either the man or the woman initiates a more- than-friends relationship with the other, and then they conduct that relationship outside of any oversight or authority. Dating may or may not have marriage as its goal.

Mr. Croft does not site any sources. He does not tell us which authors define dating in this way. In fact, I have been very suprised at how much dating advocates admonish young people to seek help from their parents and friends when they date. So, Mr. Croft is simply mistaken in his definition of dating, as he is erecting a strawman from the beginning. In the last sentence, when he says "Dating may or may not have marriage as its goal," he appears to be admitting that there is a form of dating that believes that you should only date people you are interested in marrying, and you should pursue that relationship all the way to marriage. I think what he means to say is that, for dating to be dating, it is not necessary to have marriage as its goal. However, we could also say that, since many courtship advocates are willing to throw me into the pits of hell because I am a dating advocate, "Courtship may not have the belief that we should treat Christians with opposing viewpoints on this issue as brothers in Christ as one of its essential beliefs." Does that somehow cast any doubt on Courtship? The problem is that just because someone does something wrong while executing a system does not mean that there is something inherintly wrong with the system.

Mr. Croft continues:

Modern dating, on the other hand, need not have marriage as a goal at all. Dating can be recreational. Not only is "dating for fun" acceptable, it is assumed that "practice" and learning by "trial and error" are necessary, even advisable, before finding the person that is just right for you. The fact that individuals will be emotionally and probably physically intimate with many people before settling down with the "right person" is just part of the deal. Yet where is the biblical support for such an approach to marriage? There is none. How many examples of "recreational dating" do we see among God's people in the Bible? Zero. The category of premarital intimacy does not exist, other than in the context of grievous sexual sin.

We note, again, the strawman argument that Mr. Croft has brought up. As far as "trial and error," that would depend upon what Mr. Croft means. First of all, we do need to recognize that there are many people today who jump from person to person and they do not care about the people they date. A person who is a true biblical dating advocate would never say that this is acceptible. You do everything you can to end up married to the person you are dating. However, if for some reason you are forced to break up, then there is not Biblical mandate against this, and I would challange Mr. Croft to find one.

Of course, Mr. Croft also needs to explain what he means when he uses the phrase "physically intimate." If he means that when people date, they are going to hold each other, kiss, and hold hands, then he needs to say so. However, the ambiguity here means that someone could easily read it to mean that dating advocates believe premarital sexual relations are acceptible, which we do not.

As far as the Biblical support, there is no support for dating or courtship. Both came along much later and much further down the line, and hence, neither have Biblical support. However, Mr. Croft is wrong to say that premarital [spiritual] intimacy does not exist in the Bible. What do we do with Jesus and the women at the cross? Why is it that Jesus is spending his last breath with these four women? At the time in your life when the people with whom you are the most intimate are supposed to be at your side, we find four women, one of whom was Jesus' mother, and the other three were women to whom Jesus was not married. Hence, if Mr. Croft wants to argue that premarital [spiritual] intimacy is sexual sin, he can give up the sinlessness of Christ.

Worse than that, the Bible does not speak of premarital [spiritual] intimacy as sexual sin. The idea that this is somehow sexual sin is something that courtship advocates have to read into the text rather than drawing it from the text.

The motive for dating or courting is marriage. The practical advice I give the singles at our church is, if you cannot happily see yourself as a married man (or woman) in less than one year, then you are not ready to date.

Wow, talk about something with absolutely, positively, no Biblical support. Notice, this position is starting to seem really arbitrary. Perhaps someone could say that one year is too long. Perhaps someone could say that you must be able to see yourself happily married 6 months? One Month? One week? One day? This is totally arbitrary, and it is left up to Mr. Croft to decide what is the appropriate time that makes dating have "a goal of marriage." I would say that the time does not matter. What matters is if you are growing both in your relationship to God, and in your relationship to the other person.

The second major difference between biblical courtship and modern dating is the mind-set couples have when interacting with one another. What do I mean by that? Modern dating is essentially a selfish endeavor. I do not mean maliciously selfish, as in "I'm going to try to hurt you for my benefit." I mean an oblivious self-centeredness that treats the whole process as ultimately about me. After all, what is the main question everyone asks about dating, falling in love, and getting married? "How do I know if I've found the one?" What is the unspoken ending to that question? "For me." Will this person make me happy? Will this relationship meet my needs? How does she look? What is the chemistry like? Have I done as well as I can do?

Here, Mr. Croft states that it is inherently wrong to say you have found the one, because there is an assumed "for me." However, is that true? What if we finish the statement "How do I know if I've found the one God has been pleased in his soverignty to give me for marriage?" Where is the selfishness in that statement? Far from being selfish, it depends upon the lordship of Christ to bring the woman into your life that he wants you to marry.

Second, Mr. Croft, assumes that if you desire something for yourself, then you are selfish. We are, as Christians, to desire purity. Does that make us selfish? We are to desire to know Christ more and more intimately. Does that somehow make us selfish? I might desire a new Tin Whistle, and tickets to go see the Cottars in concert. Does that make me selfish? I might also desire to have the complete works of B.B. Warfield. Does that make me selfish? It is simply an error to define wanting a list of things for yourself as selfish.

Now, indeed, if those were the only things you looked for in a relationship, then you would indeed be selfish. If what you want becomes ultimate, then you have, indeed, become selfish. However, we need to make a distinction between this, and the idea of desiring something in a relationship. We need to remember that, while we may have wants in a relationship, those wants are secondary to meeting the other persons needs, and loving them with all of our heart. If we cannot have the things Mr. Croft mentioned on his list, then we need to be willing to sacrifice them for the other person. In fact, God himself said that the attraction between man and woman was "very good" [Genesis 2:23 compared with 1:31]. So if Mr. Croft is saying that it is selfish to desire a woman to whom we are attracted, then he is saying that it is selfish to desire something God has called "very good."

Selfishness is not what drives a biblical marriage, and therefore should not be what drives a biblical courtship. Biblical courtship recognizes the general call to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3, NIV). It also recognizes the specific call that Ephesians 5:25 gives men in marriage, where our main role is sacrificial service. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her. That means loving sacrificially every day. Biblical courtship means that a man does not look for a laundry list of characteristics that comprise his fantasy woman so that his every desire can be fulfilled, but he looks for a godly woman as Scripture defines her — a woman he can love and, yes, be attracted to, but a woman whom he can serve and love as a godly husband.

As we have seen, Mr. Croft does not know what selfishness is, so, he is simply repeating the previous error. However, can Mr. Croft show any Biblical passage that says that it is wrong to have a list of characteristics that would define someone ideal for you? The problem is if you look for the fulfillment of your desires as primary. That is, if you look at this list as a sine quon non of a person you want to marry. I think that, in the last sentence, Mr. Croft is at least admitting that having a list of desires, and desiring a woman to fill those desires is not wrong so long as it is not the primary thing for which you are looking.

In other words, modern dating asks, "How can I find the one for me?" while biblical courtship asks, "How can I be the one for her?"

Again, we have to wonder where Mr. Croft is getting his definition of dating. Modern dating says "how can I find the one God has ordained that I should marry, and how can I be the one for her." I again must assert that Mr. Croft does not know what dating is, and is simply erecting a strawman at this point.

Third, and most practically, modern dating and biblical courtship are different in their methods. And this is where the rubber really meets the road. In modern dating, intimacy precedes commitment. In biblical courtship, commitment precedes intimacy.

Now, I am going to have to define terms here. For the courtship advocate, when they speak of commitment, they mean marital commitment. What they are saying is that you cannot have intimacy without a marital commitment.

This, of course, would make nonsense out of our language. For instance, there would be something toutological in the statement "this is a commited marriage," and there would be something inherently incoherent about the statement "this is a commited boyfriend."

Also, for the courtship advocate, intimacy cannot occur outside of marriage. However, we must be careful to define terms. The Bible calls upon us to love the brothren, and hence, the must be intimacy before marriage. Courtship has a way of dealing with this, though. They make a distinction between appropriate and inappropriate intimacy. However, the astute student of philosophy will realize that this still has not answered the question as now we need to ask how we distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate intimacy. The Bible doesn't speak in this fashion. So, how are we going to define what is appropriate, and what is not appropriate intimacy? This becomes totally arbitrary. In essence the courtship advocate must engage in a long version of circular reasoning, begging the question. This comes out quite clearly in Mr. Croft's next statement:

According to the current school of thought, the best way to figure out whether you want to marry a particular person is to act as if you are married and see if you like it. Spend large amounts of time alone together. Become each other's primary emotional confidantes. Share your deepest secrets and desires. Get to know that person better than anyone else in your life. Grow your physical intimacy and intensity on the same track as your emotional intimacy. What you do and say together is private and is no one else's business, and since the relationship is private, you need not submit to anyone else's authority or be accountable. And if this pseudo-marriage works for both of you, then get married. But if one or both of you do not like how it is going, go ahead and break up even if it means going through something like an emotional and probably physical divorce.

Several things need to be said in response. First, as far as "growing" in "physical" intimacy, it is hard to know what Mr. Croft is saying. When it comes to the physical actions a man is not able to do outside of marriage, the Bible is perfectly clear, and no dating advocate denies that. Second, the idea that we do not submit to authority is a complete and total misrepresentation, and Mr. Croft needs to either cite a Christian author who says that, or remove it from his article.

Second, we also need to point out the inherent circularity of his position. Spending large amounts of time together, becoming each other's primary emotional confidants, sharing your deepest, darkest secrets, and desires, and getting to know that person better than anyone else in your life are all assumed to be inherently marital in character. However, Mr. Croft has not proven this. You won't find it in the Bible, and there is certainly no logical reason to assume that these are uniquely marital.

Such is the process of finding "the one," and this can happen with several different people before one finally marries. In the self-centered world of secular dating, we want as much information as possible to ensure that the right decision is being made. And if we can enjoy a little physical or emotional comfort along the way, great.
Clearly, this is not the biblical picture. The process just described is hurtful to the woman that the man purports to care about, not to mention to himself. And it clearly violates the command of
1 Thessalonians 4:6 not to wrong or defraud our sisters in Christ by implying a marriage-level commitment where one does not exist. It will have a damaging effect on the man's marriage and hers, whether they marry each other or not.

Again, we see total circularity on the part of courtship advocate who is despirately trying to support his position from scripture. He does not show how finding out deep information about someone is sinful before marriage. He does not show how it is hurtful, nor can he. He does not show how it has a damaging effect on each other's marriage, nor can he. Sin is an issue of the heart, not an issue of process, unless one can show that the process is wrong from the Bible.

When Mr. Croft tries to do that, he gives us a perfect example of how incredibly disconnected Courtship is from any meaningful exegesis of the Biblical text. Notice what he says:

And it clearly violates the command of 1 Thessalonians 4:6 not to wrong or defraud our sisters in Christ by implying a marriage-level commitment where one does not exist.

Let me post the entirety of this passage starting back at verse 1 and ending at verse 7:

1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. 2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

We see then how utterly disconnected from the text any idea of "marriage level commitment." Aside from the question begging in saying that there is a commitment that is uniquely "marriage level," we also must point out that the text is talking about unlawful sexual intercourse. The specific Greek word porneia is used in verse 3, and "lustful passion" is specifically mentioned in verse 5. Not only that, but the specific defrauding that is forbidden in this passage has to do with "the matter [unlawful sexual intercourse]," and not commitment. From the opening of his article, Mr. Croft might want to argue that this falls under the category of sexual sin as described in this passage. If that is the case, then he bears the burden of proof to show that the Greek term porneia, and the other words used in this passage mean that when there is not a Greek lexicon on God's blue earth that gives that as a definition for any of these words. This is simply a desparate attempt to find some support for a position that is just not Biblical.

Not only that, but if there is nothing uniquely "marriage level" about the things Mr. Croft has listed, then his whole argument falls apart. Mr. Croft has merely assumed that these are "marriage level commitments," but has not proven so. In that case, even if the Bible does say defrauding someone is wrong [which it does in many places], Mr. Croft must first demonstrate from the Bible that these things are inherently "marriage level."

In Biblical relationship, commitment precedes intimacy. Within this model, the man should follow the admonition in 1 Timothy 5:1-2 to treat all young women to whom he is not married as sisters, with absolute purity. The man should show leadership and willingness to bear the risk of rejection by defining the nature and the pace of the relationship. He should do this before spending significant time alone with her in order to avoid hurting or confusing her.

Of course, Mr. Croft has not shown this from the Bible, he just keeps begging the question. Notice that, again, Mr. Croft just assumes that there is something inherently impure about intimacy before marriage. Where does he prove that?

He should also seek to ensure that a significant amount of time is spent with other couples or friends rather than alone. The topics, manner, and frequency of conversations should be characterized by the desire to become acquainted with each other more deeply, but not in a way that defrauds each other. There should be no physical intimacy outside the context of marriage, and the couple should seek accountability for the spiritual health and progress of the relationship, as well as for their physical and emotional intimacy.

Several assumptions here. Again, we see the unproven assertion that premarital intimacy somehow "defrauds" people, simply his own pontification. As far as physical intimacy, I would point out that it only gets worse when you try to defend the idea that one should not kiss or hold hands before marriage. The Bible nowhere teaches this, and all one needs to do is open up D.A. Carson's book on Exegetical Fallacies, and you will see many exegetical fallicies from those who have tried to find Biblical support. I will deal with this in my next article.

Within this model, both parties should seek to find out, before God, whether they should be married, and whether they can service and honor God better together than apart. The man should take care not to treat any woman like his wife who is not his wife. Of course he must get to know his courting partner well enough to make a decision on marriage. However, prior to the decision to marry, he should always engage with her emotionally in a way he would be happy for other men to engage with her.

Again, Mr. Croft has just given us more of his ipse dixit. He cannot defend the idea that being emotionally intimate with a woman is inherently maritial. He also tacks on the idea that we should not engage someone emotionally in a way he would not be happy for other men to engage her. Again, he simply fails to prove this.

As I said, the courtship argument is, at this point, nothing but one long circular argument. Once you say that there is such a thing as appropriate and inappropriate intimacy, you then have to have a statement of ethics so we know what is appropriate, and what is inappropriate intimacy. Since the scriptures do not address the issue, courtship advocates have to make it up themselves, and they are left with one long circular argument...It is just a longer version of a circular argument. They have to go through more steps before they end up begging the question, but beg the question they do. Greg Bahnsen once said that John Frame told him that if you make the circle big enough, you can deceive yourself into thinking it isn't a circle. But it is, and it is just as fallacious as the simple:

Emotional intimacy is wrong before marriage.
Therefore, emotional intimacy is wrong before marriage.

We do need to be careful of making hasty generalizations. Just because we have shown that it is not inherently wrong or marital to have emotional intimacy does not mean it is always right to have emotional intimacy. For instance, there is nothing wrong with eating a candy bar...unless that is the 57th candy bar you have eaten today. For instance, the Bible explicitly forbids this kind of close relationship with an unbeliever. It also makes it a rule that, if you are married, you are to have a special love for your spouse. However, in each instance, notice how we are finding Biblical support for what we say. However, to limit this kind of close spiritual relationship between a man and a woman is to add a command to the text of scripture that God has not given.

Keep in mind, I have not even began to critique Mr. Croft's position yet. I have simply pointed out how he cannot even state his own position without engaging in very serious question begging.

Here are some very serious problems with Mr. Crofts position. He first of all takes the idea that marriage must be so unique, that anything having the characteristics of marriage before marriage is inherently sinful. By that logic, courtship would be wrong since marriage is a relationship just as courtship is a relationship. Therefore, since courtship has something marriage does, therefore, courtship is wrong.

Remember what I said in my first article. My thesis is that courtship is inherently idolatrious. Not only do we see in Mr. Croft's position the attempt to make marriage totally unique is a strong parallel to the uniqueness of God himself, but we must also notice that the morality of marriage is defining the morality for everyone else. Marriage has become definitional of morality. Again, we see that courtship is making a strong parallel to God himself in marriage.

All of these things and more find us right back at another criticism I must make, and that is that courtship cannot defend its position from scripture. Anyone reading the text of scripture, and expecially the text Mr. Croft brings up without ever reading any books on this topic would never come to this conclusion. Courtship is extremely artificial from an exegetical perspective, and we will show that in our next article.

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