In my earlier article, Are All the Good Christian Men Really Taken?: A Young, Single, Christian Man’s Objection (Part One), I explored a statistical claim by Thomas Hardesty in his World Magazine article concerning young Christian men and women. In my analysis, I explain that numbers can’t show the picture Hardesty or the young women consulted are trying to paint. I also examined the arguments presented by both Hardesty and Kevin DeYoung in his blog post, “Dude, Where’s Your Bride?” My conclusion was simple: the arguments were formally and informally fallacious, and more edifying and fair discussion needs to take place. The other half of the picture needs painting.
Moving away from statistical analysis (which, in the end, proves to be unhelpful for both men and women) and towards a biblical look at relationships, everywhere you go you’ll hear people say something to the effect: “dating isn’t found within scripture, so there isn’t one way to do it.” This is true, of course. Dating isn’t explicitly found within the Bible, but then again neither is our formal doctrine of the trinity, our Christology, Presbyterian form of government, nor original sin. The substance of all these teachings is present, but at the end of the day, we have to infer and form our doctrine from these implicit passages.
There are things we can learn about dating from Scripture even though it isn’t explicitly mentioned. For example, a dating couple is commanded to abstain from sexual immorality (Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). This immediately sets up a tight fence in terms of intimacy. Furthermore, there is no explicit command for a girl to submit to the authority of her boyfriend (much less that he has any), nor even that the boyfriend is called to be a leader in a dating relationship. Finding what is commanded and what is up to our Christian liberty requires discipline and perseverance. The problem, however, is that both men and women are forcing expectations upon one another—something that is definitely not Christian liberty.
Let’s take a time-out. There ought to be an understanding of the term dating before proceeding. Dating, as I use it, means an exclusive, intimate relationship with no special divine obligation on either party, yet aimed towards marriage. What this means is dating isn’t something we do casually as Christians, but do with 1 Corinthians 10:31 and Colossians 3:17 in mind. Dating is ultimately aimed at the glory of God, and his divine plan for men and women to marry. Some call this courting; others don’t know what to call it. I call it dating.
Part of the problem, as far as I can tell, is simply that Christian men are nervous of rejection. Of course, this is no excuse, but this fear isn’t irrational by any means. Interestingly, some are even fatigued by rejection, saying to themselves that their emotions and time can be better spent elsewhere. As an RUF Campus Minister said, “Ladies you deserve to be driven, you deserve to be lead around and a guy be your driver—but you have to hail the cab.” A biblical marriage is rarely ever a man pursuing a woman, and her sitting back and enjoying the ride, evaluating his leadership. In fact, most of the biblical marriages we see are mutual pursuit. The woman in Song of Songs gets a side, too. If dating is aimed toward marriage, we should see similarity in pursuit rather than difference.
DeYoung explores the other part of the problem, unfortunately rather briefly; it is the idea that, “Some women may be expecting too much from Mr. Right. But in my experience this is not the main problem. Impossible standards? Not usually. Some standards? Absolutely.” DeYoung stuck gold, yet walked away from it. As a married man who has been out of this game for a while, he uses his experience to say impossible standards aren’t the main problem. Of course it wasn’t for him—he’s married! However, something all the single men I know share in common is rejection from young women who then turn around and complain about the lack of men. Contrary to DeYoung, in my experience impossible standards (perhaps better phrased as too many standards) are, in fact, the main problem for young Christian women. Young men don’t have a problem with women who have some standards—they cherish them!—but it completely depends on what those standards are.
If a young woman’s standards include that the guy she dates be interested in traveling because that’s what she’s interested in, there is no biblical merit for that. Nowhere in the entirety of scripture are women commanded to marry a man who has the same interests. So what about Christian liberty, Jim? Didn’t you use that before? Yes! Women are free to say no to people who don’t share their interests! But in doing so they have no right to claim there aren’t any good Christian men available. They are also under no biblical obligation to deny men who don’t have similar interests, something that probably isn’t said enough.
This leads me to expectations. I divide dating expectations into two categories: biblical expectations and extra-biblical expectations. Simply put, expectations both men and women have are either biblical (e.g., I expect someone I date to be a Christian), or found outside the Bible (I expect someone I date to be reformed). Some men and women mistakenly use Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14 to be equally yoked to mean that some extra-biblical expectations (such as being reformed) are actually biblical. A reformed believer, then, must marry a reformed believer. When this happens, the phrase “with an unbeliever” is often dropped, making the text say something it quite positively does not.
Biblical expectations are binding upon all Christians, because they’re biblical. So all Christians should only pursue dating relationships (as defined above) with other Christians. They also are bound to expect repentance, confession (not directly to them, but certainly to the Lord), participation in the sacraments, and a reverence for the Lord from their significant other. These things can be firmly found in Scripture, and this is not an exhaustive list of biblical expectations. These expectations should be priority number one for Christian daters.
Sadly, extra-biblical expectations are often mixed into those biblical expectations. For example, my aunt once told me that she expected whomever she were to date and marry to be taller than she was. Now married to my uncle, she recognizes that simply because my uncle is shorter than her doesn’t mean his love is somehow diminished, or his character somehow less than other sinners—he still needs Jesus. We have extra-biblical expectations for the physical appearance, doctrinal commitments, interests, and a myriad of other things. These expectations should not be, by definition, expectations. They should be preferences, and they almost never are recognized as such. There is no divine law, ordinance, command, or decree that I should pursue a reformed woman, but I would like to. I would prefer to. Young women are buying into standards that are really preferences rather than an obligation—and DeYoung and Hardesty aren’t helping. And again, if you deny someone based upon preferences rather than standards, you immediately forfeit the right to the claim that there are no good Christian men available.
In the end, it comes down to this: both men and women are sinners. Both men and women are failing at being who they should and are called to be, and neither party is encouraging the other. Hearing women say, “all the good Christian men are taken” (Hardesty) doesn’t encourage me to pursue those women. I’m a single Christian man, but because I’m single apparently I’m not “good.” I’m not dateable. I’m too immature because I play games, but women can go make definitive generalizations and they’re mature? I don’t think so. It’s time for double standards to stop. It’s time for this tirade only against young Christian men to stop. It’s time for an edifying discussion on how both men and women fail, but also on how they succeed. When the Apostles go after men, they also go after women (Eph. 5; 1 Cor. 11; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7). This one sided painting we have doesn’t do justice to the real issue. The issue isn’t just men, hasn’t been just men, and will never be just men, and it’s time for someone to say that.