Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Courtship, Round II

So my recent post about courtship generated some discussion, debate, and a response from the person I responded to about his brother-in-bloggery's response to- OK, I'll stop.

First of all, I praise God that said response was written graciously and in kindness. I'm also actually e-mailing with Mr. Ohlman personally, and I hope that our blog exchange, by being a public one, will be edifying those who watch it from the outside, and will represent Christ well by remaining cool-headed, gracious, and downright fun.  :-D

I shall first define two terms that I will use a lot:

"Courtship" - young man approaches father, discusses possibility of pursuing daughter, father eventually says yes or no, then young man courts daughter who also eventually says yes or no.  (I'm grossly and glibly oversimplifying and generalizing here.)

"Betrothal" - father approaches father, notes rather candidly that Junior and Junia are of similar age and bent, and they discuss the possibility of contributing an extra child to one another's households.  (Note that we are talking about arranged marriage, but NOT about forced marriage, which no one is advocating.)

Two different approaches which play out a lot of the same principles.

Now, to Mr. Ohlman's article.
Master Hudelson assumes that courtship is a Godly and wonderful method of finding a spouse.
This is true, at least for the purposes of my article, though you have to be careful with terms like "courtship."  I'm more concerned with the Biblical principles we're playing out than with the practical applications, which will differ wildly from case to case.  There are plenty of courtships that are neither Godly nor wonderful, and plenty of non-courtships that are both.
He points out, and agrees with, Jeff’s analysis that in courtship many men are turned down in the process.
Truer a word ne'er was spoken.
Given his assumptions that courtship is a Godly system (see #1), he then concludes that all of these rejections and delayed marriages are reflections of God’s will.
Now it's getting interesting.  I have a feeling we need to define "God's Will" here, or else we're both going to end up finishing the debate, raising our flags in triumph only to realize we're on two different battlefields.  "Hey, what's that flag over there?!?  Hand me them binoculars!"

But we'll return to this later; I'm going to skip down to some of the bigger issues here.  Mr. Ohlman provides a list of Scriptural passages (for which I am very grateful! HUZZAH for bringing Scripture into this discussion!) and then the principles that he derives from them.  I have no quarrel with any of the principles; all of the didactic passages given lend themselves explicitly to Mr. Ohlman's interpretation.

The principles given in the verses were, in summation:

- not good for man to be alone; woman is created as his helpmeet
- marriage provides relief from sexual temptation
- man is called to enjoy sexuality within the context of marriage
- marriage provides for Godly descendants

All of this is as Biblical as the Pope is Catholic.  (Or maybe just as Biblical as the Pope isn't.)

But then comes this paragraph:
We then examine courtship in light of these examples and commands and we see that the multiple rejections of marriage, the delay of marriage, and the denial of marriage is something that, at least on its face, stands in direct opposition to everything that God teaches about the importance of marriage, and yet many avid courtship advocates claim it to be “God’s will”.
We've made a leap here.  Mr. Ohlman has, in the above paragraph, added an element of time which was notably absent from any of the cited passages.  Marriage is good, for the reasons listed and many more.  (Paul also had a lot to say about the benefits of singleness, but let's save that one for later.) Yet I see no "Best By" date stamped by Scripture across the foreheads of the young men and virgin daughters of Israel.

Now, we come to the marvelous logical circumlocutions of mine which led to the title of Mr. Ohlman's response.

Courtship leads to either rejection or marriage.  Rejection or marriage clarifies God's Will for a young man's life.  That which clarifies God's Will is a Good Thing.  Therefore, Courtship is a Good Thing.

I don't think this is technically circular reasoning; rather, Mr. Ohlman is calling attention to a premise in my argument which, he says, I need to prove.  His whole point is that rejection of a Godly suitor is not a good thing.  Thus the premise of my argument- that these rejections are helpful to young men- is false, and my argument collapses like a Jenga tower.

Only problem is that I suspect we have here a case of pots and kettles. Mr. Ohlman, in saying that I need to prove that these rejections are A Good Thing, also assumes that the rejections are not a good thing; that they are not a valid way of discerning God's Will.  Yet that is one of the points that I would ask him to prove.

I have no desire to simply throw the logical ball back into his court, however, and engage in a hearty round of "you started it!" I believe the burden of proof is his, because the accusation is also his.  Mr. Wilson and I agree that rejections are a feature, not a bug, of the courtship model; we see those rejections as playing out Scriptural principles like a father's protective authority (Numbers 30).  If Mr. Ohlman wishes to overthrow our Jenga tower, he is obliged to do the removing of the sticks.

Mr. Ohlman makes an excellent point about "God's Will."
A quick theological point. Everything that happens is ‘God’s will’ in one sense. A drug crazed maniac drives his car through a mall and kills sixteen people… that was God’s will. God certainly could have stopped it, and God will certainly use the incident for good for those that love Him (Romans 8:28). 
But that isn’t the kind of  ‘God’s will’ that we are looking for in the courtship process. We are looking for the kind of will that indicates that we are acting in obedience to God.
Very well said.  I couldn't agree more.  Here is where our problem arises:
If courtship is, as we advocate, an unBiblical system that unjustly and sinfully rejects, denies, and prevents thousands of Godly marriages: marriages that would have, if they had been allowed, reflected the nature of Christ and the church and Glorified God… then the results aren’t ‘God’s Will’ in the sense required.
Does this not assume, then, that God could not be working His Will through the rejections and denials?  Mr. Ohlman's view of Courtship as some sort of Marriage-Be-Gone is not one I share; to say that Courtship prevents Godly marriages is to make a few large assumptions.  First, that Courtship does not often result in Godly marriages (which it does), and Second, that Courtship thwarts God's Will instead of guiding us into it, presumably because it sometimes- indeed, often!- results in non-marriages.  Said non-marriage is Very Bad because of the Best By date.  Don't want spoiled milk in the fridge of singleness!

I am still unconvinced that "rejection" is A Bad Thing in itself, or a bad way to discern God's Will, and would like to be convinced from Scripture that it is.  Personally, I find rejections quite helpful.

I also find myself wondering- how does betrothal address any of these perceived problems differently?  Does betrothal guarantee young marriage (if we assume that young marriage is, inherently, a good thing)?  Does it guarantee that there will be no rejections, no delays?  I don't at this point see how it does.

The previous article- the one I first responded to- objected to Mr. Wilson rejecting suitors for his daughters.  Again, I don't see how this is any different in effect from betrothal, where fathers would still be discussing and, presumably, sifting through prospective in-laws.
Courtship is not Scriptural, and we can demonstrate that. Scripture does teach a path to marriage; a path that does not boast in, but shrinks in horror from, the idea of thousands of Godly young men going to Godly fathers for the hands of their Godly daughters and being sent away rejected, frustrated, celibate, and childless.
First off, as a young man who has been through this process, I guess I technically am "rejected," and I'm certainly celibate and childless.  Yet life moves on, and I am happy to be single for as long as God wants me to be single, and to labor for His Kingdom within the household of my father until my Heavenly Father decides to bless me with a household of my own.

This is an underlying assumption in Mr. Ohlman's article which truly bothers me: that, for anyone who is not called to a lifetime of singleness, singleness is a less-than state, a holding pattern, a time in which fruit rots instead of ripens and one's effectiveness for the Kingdom of God is suspended indefinitely.

I'm a huge fan of youthful marriage.  Love it and hope for it myself. Marriage is A Good Thing.  But it isn't The Good Thing.  The goal is to walk in obedience to God and labor for His Kingdom, both before and after the wedding day.

I would very much like to see the Scriptural demonstration of why Courtship is not Scriptural.  My contention is not that the Betrothal approach that Mr. Ohlman advocates is unBiblical.  I see both Scriptural precedent for the model and Scriptural principle in the application.  So I am not opposed to Betrothal in the least.

What I am opposed to is the proclamation that Courtship "unjustly and sinfully" deals with the spouse-finding process, when as far as I can tell Courtship also plays out the Biblical principles in question very well.

Long story less long, I think finding a spouse is a messy, sloppy, happy, sticky process that can happen a zillion different ways, and that we should be more concerned with applying Biblical principles to the process than with worrying about exact formulas and titles.  Is the headship and protective role of the father over his daughter recognized?  Are the parents honored in the process?  Do the young people have accountability?  Does the process allow them to discover whether they are equally yoked?  And so on.

I see Biblical precedent for a Betrothal approach.  I do not see any Biblical commands for a Betrothal approach.  Therefore, to condemn a system advocated by believers desiring to play out God's Word in the spouse-finding process as malum-in-se when Scripture never does such a thing is to tread dangerous ground.  I would much rather stand on the principles that Scripture says should be than on the things that Scripture shows can be; to contend that one system better plays out the commands and the precedents than the other does is very different than saying that a system advocated by many and for Scriptural reasons
should be rejected by all God-fearing believers and should be damned to Hell as the false doctrine that it is.


Anonymous said...

I have a number of friends in very happy marriages who have a large age gap between husband and wife. Apparently God's chosen woman for each was not ready when these men got to marriageable age (since they were still children at the time!) Did that fruit rot or further ripen while they waited for God's plan to come to fruition? As you said, there's no best by date...I can see that their spiritual and emotional maturity further strengthened their respective marriages.

I have a desire to say "yes" to my children as often as is feasible. Obviously I draw the line at dangerous, immoral acts, but really, why should I say "no" to something just because it "might" be messy, time consuming or not on my agenda?

We haven't been tested much in this area yet, but I do hope to do the same with potential suitors. So far we have said yes to every Godly man who's come knocking, remembering that we are all imperfect people desperately in need of a Savior's refining work in our lives. If there are no serious red flags of safety or immorality, we will say "sure...proceed". We trust that either God will close the door or these two will be further sanctified by The Lord as He guides them toward a possible marriage. We believe they will grow together in wisdom and favor with God and men (including each other) during this process.

Heaven knows my husband and I are not who we were when we entered into marriage decades ago as very young adults! We were refined and sanctified TOGETHER.

No this doesn't protect our daughter's hearts against potential pain, but we think God can sustain and grow them in the midst of any suffering, emotional or otherwise. We trust them to guard their own hearts and minds as they proceed and they've done well so far...even when "rejected" for being imperfect by a potential suitor.

I'm not signing my name to this because I don't want word to get out that we're "easy"--lol! Have too many beautiful daughters to control that stampede to the door :)

Anonymous said...

Ack--I hate typos! I do indeed know how to do possessives but can't see my tiny screen well.

Should be "daughters' hearts..."

Anonymous said...

Very interesting discussion going on :)Also, I love the comment about 'spoiled milk in the fridge of singleness'. That's a great line :D
I'd like to add a few things:
1. Ruth and Boaz. Not only was there a large age difference between them, but there was no 'betrothal' going on. In fact, it was more like Ruth courted Boaz :)
2. When I was quite a bit younger, I was desperate to get married. From the ages of 14 to 18 I couldn't imagine anything worse than reaching 20 and still not being at least engaged. Then I was courted by two different young men in the space of a year. I am very glad that a marriage was not arranged with either of them; in many ways, they might have seemed very good marriage material, but one had some strange and very rigid beliefs which were so out there that I'd never heard of them before; the other was not super respectful to either my parents or me. If my dad had just gone to the second one's dad, the marriage might have been arranged and only later after we were married found out that, no, respect wasn't high on his priority list. The first one didn't have a dad involved in the first place (parents divorced, he was living in a separate city, etc); just knowing him for a short time made me feel suffocated by all the rigid rules he believed in, and I can't imagine being married to him.
3. This isn't really an argument, but I am quite glad that I've been able to settle down and find contentment where I am, instead of desiring marriage so much that I forgot to enjoy my family and wasn't interested in literally *anything* else.
4. I also like to think that I have a bit of common sense, so that if my dad allows a young man to get to know me, I can determine whether I would like to marry him or not.
5. Mr. Ohlman assumes that every betrothal will result in a Godly marriage (he certainly uses the word Godly a whole lot); but it won't, because humans are fallible. A father can still pick the wrong young man for his daughter; a father can still approve the wrong young woman for his son; no 'method' is failproof because of our sin natures.
6. My brother was rejected by two fathers when he asked to get to know their daughters, but now he has met a wonderful young lady and he is engaged. I wouldn't say that that's the same as a drunk driver killing sixteen people, would you?

Lydia said...

Gabriel, you have such a sound, Godly/biblical, right on (in my humble opinion)understanding of this topic on courtship. you are far beyond you years in wisdom and I applaud you. Great job tackling this in such an honoring,humble and wise way. keep it up. I also applaud your parents for their obvious Godly and in depth training. may God bless you abundantly in Godly marriage in His perfect time!

Gods Country Boy said...

Wonderful logic hashing. Excellent points. Awesome deduction. Honestly, it sounds like some people out there are a little burned and not wanting to 'wait', and are trying to take a faster way out. The whole thrust of those main points was time, and waiting, and how that was bad.
Rather pointing, it seems. This becomes not an issue of what is best, but what I am not willing to wait for. :)

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Mrs. Hoppman... you're just such a precious blessing. Thank you for always being so encouraging.

L. C. Bryan said...

Awesome article! I firmly believe in courtship and know several young couples that are living Godly marriages as a result of "great" courtships. I was in a courtship for a few months with a good friend of our family. We said from the get go that courtship was about finding God's will for our relationship. I agree that any result from a courtship is in reality an answer from God. I know I learned a lot about myself and about God's love for me through the "failed" courtship (I hate that term - sounds rather like a proving ground for test pilots) There will never be a guaranteed "system" that leads to marriage. My brother is in a courtship now and we are blessed to see the Lord leading and guiding their relationship. Thank you for writing such a great article!

sooooo not telling ;) said...

Hello, Gabriel. I followed the Internet breadcrumb trail to your HSLDA article and was pleased to see these two articles on courtship as well. All of them have been graciously and wisely written (more than I could do in these collar-heating debates, I fear)--thank you.

Particularly this article. I've read a few of the things up on the True Love Doesn't Wait website and, while the articles have strengthened my already pretty cast-iron conviction that early and eagerly-besought marriage is a Good Thing, they have also left me mystified and feeling a little beaten, as if I am indeed spoiled milk in the fridge of singleness! This, despite a) living in an area where the number of vaguely likeminded young men of an appropriate age (ie no more than 5 years younger) could be easily counted on the fingers of one hand--and I am well-known in my area; b) having known my father to contact at least one young man on my behalf only to be rejected; c) asking my father to contact a church in another country for potential matches; and d) being in possession of a number of married friends who have to my knowledge contacted at least three different young men on my behalf, from various parts of the world.

And then I look at the True Love Doesn't Wait website and I think, What for heaven's sake do you expect me to do next? Run down the nearest young man, stun him with my club, drag him back to my cave, and force him to marry me? Yeah, that sounds Scriptural. I guess I'm just in disobedience to the Lord because I didn't marry the man who was interested in courting me when I was 19, whom I eventually turned down for a combination of factors including that he was amillenial, didn't want to home educate, and an old earth creationist.

*deep breath*

I'm so glad the Lord has kept me single this long. I've had enough close shaves with the blessed state of matrimony by now to realise that I could have easily been married several years by now but in each case (with the sole exception of the chap just mentioned) the Lord just shut off the young man's interest. I can truly say that the Lord has done this and not me and not my father and not the courtship "model". Meanwhile it's been a great time of sanctification for me and I remain in faith that the Lord will make marriage happen in His time and not mine, as I continue to ask, seek, and knock.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Soooooo. Thank you for your comment. :-D

I trust that God will work these trials for your good and His glory! Keep the faith, sister!

Wealthy Man said...

Followed the bread crumbs as well. Thanks for entering in on this discussion with your rapier wit and logical sledgehammer. Rare that a blog will make you laugh out loud. My wife and I "courted" 14 years ago and it worked for us. Our daughter will be 13 in two days so I am glad to see an active, fruitful discussion of these topics.

Anonymous said...

"...we should be more concerned with applying Biblical principles to the process than with worrying about exact formulas and titles."
This is an issue (title and formulas, that is) I've seen in too many households, and which sadly seems to result in a "stressed" courtship/betrothal, putting pressure on everyone involved. As though they will anger God if it isn't done exactly right, like a tribal ritual.
Yes, seek and do the Lord's will. But for goodness sake, let guy take girl bowling without the rest of the family. One-on-one time is important (in a safe, public environment).
Courtship and betrothal have always been two words I've linked with quiet, poised, don't-look-boy-in-the-eye, try-to-be-perfect girls, and humble-to-the-point-of-slightly- unmanly guys!
Please understand, this is targeted at no one, and I certainly do not intend to demean anyone. But this is, sadly, the representation I have seen.

Thank you, Gabriel. I always enjoy your posts and agree with much of what you say!


Anonymous said...

then young man courts daughter who also eventually says yes or no

Please forgive me ... I'm unschooled when it comes to courtship, yet the concept intrigues me. So, I've got a question for you. When you say, "then young man courts daughter", what does that exactly and specifically look like?

Thanks, Gabriel.

Gabriel Hudelson said...

Anonymous, good question. That really isn't something that I have the right to define unilaterally for everyone. It could look different in each case. But the basic idea would be that the young man and young woman enter into a get-to-know-you stage that is more purposeful and asks more intense questions than would be appropriate for your average friendship. Principles of accountability, the father's authority, etc. would still apply at this stage.

Vaughn Ohlman said...

Did I post my latest article?

Kimberly Grace Bowman said...

These are excellent posts. I have a question....You may have already answered this so I'll apologize ahead of time. What is your opinion regarding the role of the young lady in a courtship? Especially if she has taken an interest in a young man before she even knows if he is interested in her or in asking her father/mother and pursuing a proper courtship. What should she do since it is technically the young man who would initiate the process after prayer and consideration has taken place?

Gabriel Hudelson said...

I would think if any... nudging... was to happen, it should happen from the father of the girl to the father of the young man. Honestly, from the way I see it right now, I would encourage girls to do their best to just rejoice and be faithful where God has them and love the young men in their life as brothers, and leave it to God to bring the right guy.

There are exceptions. Ruth nudged Boaz. But I think the general practice should be to let the young man start the process, and until the process has been started just love all the young men you know equally and as brothers.

Justin Megna said...

Gabriel, you used the following argument in your post...

1: Courtship leads to either rejection or marriage.
2: Rejection or marriage clarifies God's Will for a young man's life.
3: That which clarifies God's Will is a Good Thing.
Therefore: Courtship is a Good Thing.

The argument is valid (it logically adds up), but it isn't biblically sound. Premise #2 is biblically false. Saying rejection or marriage clarifies God's will for a person's life is based on the idea that it's God's will for an individual to marry a particular person (unless God wants the individual not to marry at all) and will lead the individual to that particular person. This idea is very popular in modern Christendom. Unfortunately, it's simply unbiblical. For a full explanation on why, please see my blog post on the subject at

Justin Megna