A few years back I was doing a seminar for singles in the Midwest when the question came from the floor, “Dr. Cloud, what is the biblical position on dating?” At first, I thought I had misheard the question, so I asked the woman to repeat it. And the question came out the same as the first time.
“What do you mean, ‘the biblical position’? ” I asked.
“Well, do you think that dating is a biblical thing to do?” the woman explained.
Once I heard her question, I thought she was kidding, but I soon realized she was not. I had heard people ask about the biblical position on capital punishment or euthanasia, but never on dating.
“I do not think the Bible gives a ‘position’ on dating,” I said. “Dating is an activity that people do, and as with a lot of other things, the Bible does not talk about it. What the Bible does talk about is being a loving, honest, growing person in whatever you do. So, I would have to say that the biblical position on dating has much more to do with the person you are and are becoming than whether or not you date. The biblical position on dating would be to date in a holy way.
“In fact, God grows people up through dating relationships in the same way that he grows them up in many other life activities. The question is not whether or not you are dating. The questions are more along the lines of “Who are you in your dating and who are you becoming in your dating? What is the fruit of your dating for you and for the people that you date? How are you treating them? What are you learning?’ And a host of other issues that the Bible is very clear about. It is mainly about your character growth and how you treat people.”
“So, you think it is okay to date?” she pressed.
“Of course, I do, but it is only okay to date within biblical guidelines, which by the way are not burdensome. They will save your life and help you to make sure you end up with a good person to marry,” I said, chuckling on the inside about how often Christians want a rule. I thought this was the end of it until the same question kept coming up around the country whenever I would speak to singles. Over and over again, I was asked if dating were an okay thing to do or not. I was curious about why people were asking the same question.
So, one day, I asked where these questions were coming from. I was told that a movement was arising from a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. The premise of the book is that dating is not a good idea, and many people were giving it up. As I continued to investigate, the movement went even further than the book in some circles. Many Christians were saying that dating was sinful in and of itself; others were at least feeling as if people who were still dating were less spiritual than those who didn’t. It was becoming the “Christian” thing to forego dating. I thought at first that this was just in some circles, but the more I traveled around I was hearing it all over the country.
So we read I I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and in this chapter we will share some of our reactions. We strongly disagree with the idea that all people should give up dating for several reasons. But before we get into the specifics, we want to validate the reasons behind this movement.
No one would take such a stance against dating without good reason, and the reason people are giving up dating seems to be this: pain, disillusionment, and detrimental effects to their spiritual life. In other words, dating has not helped them to grow, find a mate, or become a more spiritual person. So, it makes sense to kiss it good-bye.
And we empathize with this pain. As we have seen over the years working with many singles and being single for a long time ourselves (both of us were well into our thirties before we married), dating can cause a lot of hurt and suffering. Many people become disillusioned in the process, and they feel like they do not know how to make it work. They experience heartbreak, they repeatedly pick the “wrong type,” they can’t find the “right type,” or they find the “right type” and they don’t like him or her as much as the wrong type. They have trouble integrating their spiritual life into dating. And they question what to do with physical attraction and moral limits, as well as wonder when to move from casual dating to a more significant relationship.
For many people the pain and suffering of dating becomes too much, and they are ready for an alternative. And out of this motivation, we concur with the followers of the no-dating movement and its proponents. The pain of dating is not worth it if it does not lead to anything good. We understand Mr. Harris’s motive for writing this book. But we disagree with his conclusion. While we agree that the hurt must stop, we don’t think that dating is the problem. We think people are. In the same way that cars don’t kill people, drunk drivers do, dating does not hurt people, but dating in out-of-control ways does. Paul’s advice to the Colossians is sound: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ?Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Colossians 2:20 ? 23). Paul cautioned the Colossians that making rules and abstaining from certain practices would never develop the maturity they needed to live life.
Human problems are matters of the heart, the soul, one’s orientation toward God, and a whole host of other maturity issues. As Paul says, avoiding certain things you could engage in destructively does not cure your basic problem of immaturity, which is internal not external. You may be immature and not able to handle dating, so you abstain from dating. But, unless you do something to grow up, you will still be immature, and you will take that immaturity right into marriage.
Avoiding dating isn’t the way to cure the problems encountered in dating. The cure is the same as the Bible’s cure for all of life’s problems, and that is spiritual growth leading to maturity. Learning how to love, follow God, be honest and responsible, treat others as you would want to be treated, develop self-control, and build a fulfilling life will ensure better dating.
From Boundaries in Dating, Copyright © 2005 by Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend and published by Zondervan. Used with permission.