Complementarianism and Courtship

For those that follow the ongoing disputes over “dating” and “courtship” within the church and why people have such strong feelings over how singles go about finding a mate, it is important to understand that much of the discussion is rooted in gender role ideas. Complementarian author Scott Croft helps define the two terms:

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.

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.

While these definitions are a bit arbitrary if not tendentious, it is interesting to note that the courtship model seeks approval for the relationship from male authority. Presumably, this means the desired female is under such authority, though it is not clear what her role of submission is. It seems natural enough to suppose that she is to be submissive to her father’s rejection of the suitor, though it less clear if she is to submit to an arrangement with someone of his choice. Nonetheless, the relevant issue is one of transference of authority from the father to the potential suitor. Croft writes:

Numbers 30:3-16 talks about a transfer of authority from the father to the husband when a woman leaves her father’s house and is united to her husband. The Song of Solomon showcases the meeting, courtship, and marriage of a couple — always with marriage in view. I am not advocating arranged marriages; rather, I am pointing toward the biblical purpose for why young men and women associate with one another. These passages do not argue that marriage should be the direct goal of such relationships so much as they assume it.

Though, I think the biblical argumentation here is hermeneutically suspect (would a widow need to get permission from the deceased husband’s brother to remarry? See Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the paradigm is consistent with the patriarchal commitments of complementarianism.

Interestingly enough, a blog devoted to “biblical womanhood and other stuff” called Girl Talk tells the stories of how each of the daughters went through this process. Their father is C.J Mahaney, and their pastor is Josh Harris—the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl. Courtship, it seems, is as “biblical” as complementarianism as it is logically tied to it. And I admire the adherents’ consistency on this point, though of course I disagree.


One Response

  1. Just realize that Josh Harris is quick to share the defects with dating but fails to acknowledge the problems with his system. His approach has has its share of defects including at the church he now pastors.

    I have written about this on my blog:
    I Kissed Dating Goodbye: Wisdom or Foolishness?

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