Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Awed

Thomas Umstattd Jr. recently made a splash with his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” To be perfectly honest, I thought a number of his points were very good, like frosted flakes in the bowl glinting in the morning light of your quiet breakfast nook. But I also thought, retaining the honesty theme here, that a number of his other points were like mushrooms that somebody stuck in there.

His good points were the kind of points that would be made by sane people anywhere, whatever steps in the mating dance they might want to use. I am a courtship advocate, and yet have often said that the courtship model too frequently means that six idiots are involved instead of two. So my purpose here is not to defend indefensible things, like courtships from Hell, or power-tripping fathers.

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

So, Suzy, I have been praying a lot about this, and I have taken the fact that your last name is Lordschoice as a sign . . .

Nor do I want to be dismissive of some of his other good points — such as courtship ramping up an unnecessary intensity for some folks. Sometimes courtship is treated like a done deal, like a fait accompli. Billy is courting Suzy, let us say, and people bustle up to Billy at say, “Congratulations!” That is like being congratulated that you applied to Harvard, and you haven’t even taken the GREs yet.

Whenever you have a lot of human beings doing something, a good number of them are going to do it with less wisdom than others. The bell curve follows large populations inexorably. So nothing said here should be taken as a dismissal of Umstattd’s right to point out the problem cases. I myself have seen more than a few.

But as someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map, I do think I have a responsibility to respond to some of the mushrooms. The mushrooms in this instance would be those areas where he solves problems that are not necessarily problems, or where he fails to account for other obvious possible explanations for the problems he sees.Courtship3

An example of the first would be his discussion of divorce, and the problem presented by those who thought that courtship was divorce insurance. Why are so many couples who courted now getting divorced? His whole article is directed at solving this problem (along with the problem of people who haven’t been able to get married at all), but he acknowledges that we don’t really know if the divorce rate is a problem.

“Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce. The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”

His reasons for writing include this high divorce rate, but his evidence for this is anecdotal, which he acknowledges. But he still assumes — in one of his headers — that the courtship divorce rate is in fact high. “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High.”

He calls for research on the courtship divorce rate, knowing that we don’t really have hard numbers to go on. But if this is the case, then why are we calling for solutions?

The Edge of the Sword

“It is a matter on which preachers seldom bestow any thoughtful attention; and yet few things are so important to their real success, as the possession, the culture, the control, of imagination” (Broadus, Preparation and Delivery, p. 396).


Proclamation and Theology (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2005)

I found this book very helpful. Willimon is writing from a different place theologically, but his observations here were very shrewd and biblically grounded. A lot of good food for preachers here.

Surveying the Text: Exodus


The three great themes of Exodus are the deliverance God brings to His people, the giving of the law, and the establishment of the tabernacle. There are other important themes as well, such as the recurring disobedience of the people. Remember as we work through the Bible, each book contributes to the grand theme of all Scripture, which is the redemption of God’s people, accomplished in the context of His reconciliation of all things in Heaven and on earth (Col. 1:20).

The Text:

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:5–7).

Summary of the Text:

What are the dates of the book? The book of Exodus begins with the death of Joseph (c. 1600 B.C.), but most of it centers on Israel’s encampment at the base of Mt. Sinai (c. 1440 B.C).

The first part of Exodus is simply narrative (Ex. 1-20), showing the deliverance from Egypt and culminating in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In chapters 21-24, we find a collection of assorted laws which amplify the Ten Commandments, and then the last part of the book concerns the building of the tabernacle (25-31). Woven throughout the whole thing we find the grumbling and disobedience of Israel.

The Definition of Israel:

This is the book that defines Israel for us. There are three distinctives that set Israel apart from other nations. The first is their national deliverance from the tyranny of Pharaoh. They have a historical foundation as a people together. Second, on the basis of this deliverance, this exodus, God gives them His law as a sign of His grace to them. Note particularly the preamble to the Ten Commandments. God identifies Himself as the one who brought them out of the house of bondage, and so the law represents moral liberty. Third, God establishes His tabernacle in their midst so that His presence might be with them. This means that God delivered them, God instructs them, and God accompanies them.

See Your Neighbor in the Supper

We are here to discern the Lord’s body. We are not here to do metaphysical speculations about what might be happening to the bread and wine on the subatomic level—although we do confess that God ministers to us spiritually with these material elements. We are not here to go spelunking in the deep caverns of our mysterious lusts, although healthy self-examination should be a normal and healthy prelude to our enjoyment of the Supper. We are not here to fight with other Christians who understand this meal differently than we do, although it is important for us to understand it as biblically as we can.

Our central task is to discern the Lord’s body, and to see that this body is seated all around you. This means that the meal is given to us so that we might understand that we are the meal. There is one loaf, and you are that loaf. We partake of the body of Christ which means that we must be the body of Christ. But there is no way for you to be the body of Christ without coming to the conclusion that your neighbor is also part of that body.

You cannot partake of Him without also partaking of him, and him, and her, and them. This is why this meal knits us together. We are eating, drinking, meditating, listening and singing, and we are doing it all in love for God, and in love for one another.

Some of the things we have made the Lord’s Supper into are things which can exclude little children—just like the disciples did when they kept little children away from the Lord. The Lord didn’t like it at all and said that coming to the kingdom involved becoming more like them. It is not like insisting that they become more like us—which is to say, clueless. Children may not be good at metaphysics, or at morbid introspection, but they can see their neighbor as well as you can. So love God, and love your neighbor.

Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.

Keeping It Grateful

One of the common sins that the people of God in Scripture commit is the sin of forgetting God’s deliverances and mercies. And one of the great reasons for forgetting His mercies is the fact that we continue to enjoy them.

When God delivered His people from Egypt, after they were out of Egypt they didn’t have to deal with it anymore. In the wilderness, this meant that they remembered Egypt falsely, which is to say fondly, and once they were in the land of promise, Egypt became a distant memory—something that ancestors went through in the history books. And when we change the curriculum, we forget all about it.

So ironically, ongoing mercies make us forget the establishment of those mercies. As we are considering the building of a church sanctuary, we want the building to remind us of God’s kindness to us, and not to be a new environment which we can take as our birthright, just the way things are, just the way this congregation rolls.

The key is gratitude, gratitude that is expressed and not just dialed in. We know how to dial it in. We all know, for example, how to say grace at the beginning of meals. That is something we just do, and wouldn’t dream of not doing it. But suppose the head of the home stopped the meal in the middle, and told everybody that the food was really, really good, and why don’t we say grace for a second time? That would seem odd, weird, contrived, and perhaps . . . more grateful. It would highlight how the initial grace we say is sometimes said on cruise control.

When we have our new building, we do not ever want our gratitude for it to go on cruise control. We want to be constantly thankful, and to be fresh in that gratitude. The way to do this is to be a people who are thankful every day for the sun coming up, for the milk in the fridge, for the grass in your lawn, for the forgiveness of sin.

So let the stones cry out.

No High Like the Most High!

Okay, this is for all you people, like me, who need to get out more. Apparently there is this Christian rock star, Vicky Beeching, who has written worship music that lots of people sing, and who has come out of the closet as being something that rhymes with say. You can read a brief interview with her here.

I want to pick up on a couple of expressions used in the interview because they will serve us well in identifying the basic move here. It is the opening gambit — “not that we expect everyone to go along with this, but we need to establish this as something upon which people can agree to disagree.” But in order for evangelicals to agree to disagree about something, there needs to be some principle of unity. If we let lesbianism inside the fence, we still need to have a fence, and we need to know what it is.

As this particular move gets run on us, that principle of unity is having “a high view of Scripture.” That adjective, like love, is supposed to cover a multitude of sins. Notice how she says it — “I value the Bible highly,” and “my very high view of the Biblical texts.”

But high is not necessary a good thing, as those who have dealt with stoners should know. Once I saw a church sign that perfectly represented an inadequate view of the power of this word: “There is no high like the Most High!”

“I value the Bible highly” does not have the same semantic range as “I read the Bible accurately.” Someone who believed that the book of Romans is actually a coded numerological message from aliens might have a very high view of the book, meaning that he did not think about anything else, but having this “high” view is not the same thing as knowing anything about it. Vicky Beeching

The whole thing is the classic bait and switch. You start with a high view of Scripture, detached from real exegesis, and what you wind up with is a low case of the hermeneutical uglies. How this sad woman looks provides us with a metaphor. You start with Vicky Beeching — quite a pretty woman — but when this story is over and done what we will have later on is Miss Hardcastle in orders. Not quite as alluring.