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Courtship in Crisis Paperback – August 1, 2015
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Courtship in Crisis is a well-reasoned, Spirit-infused breath of fresh air for anyone wanting to re-think their dating habits. --Mary DeMuth, author of The Wall Around Your Heart
About the Author
Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the former head of PracticalCourtship.com and co-founder of the Austin Rhetoric Club, a homeschool speech and debate club in Austin, Texas. He is an international speaker and CEO of Castle Media Group, LLC. Thomas sits on the board of directors for several nonprofits, including the Texas Alliance for Life.
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I HIGHLY recommend this book to all single Christians, as well as all pastors / counselors who may be part of a singles ministry. Before blindly embracing the so called “biblical courtship” model, it helps to hear the other side of the story. As Proverbs 18:17 says, “the first one to present his case seems right, until somebody steps forward to cross examine him.” If you have only heard the courtship side of the story (via Bill Gothard, Douglas Wilson, Vision Forum, Geoffrey Botkin etc), you owe it to yourself to hear the other side of the story. The so called “biblical courtship” movement sounds good on paper (since it tends to prevent pre-marital sex), but it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Thomas Umstattd is a very qualified cross examiner (Proverbs 18:17), who reveals not only the shortcomings of modern dating (with its ubiquitous premarital sex), but also the shortcomings of the “biblical courtship” movement, which sought largely to stem the premarital sex problem, but in so doing has created many other problems of its own.
Umstattd Presents essentially 3 Models.
1. Modern Dating…
Advantage: At least people get out of the house and meet each other.
Disadvantage: Overabundance of pre-marital sex, which ultimately breaks hearts and leads to a decline in the marriage rates. Since it operates under a mentality of “Why buy the cow if you’re getting the milk for free?” – modern dating seems to discourage marriage, because selfish men, who are already being sexually satisfied by the women that they are dating, would feel absolutely no urgency, and no incentive to get married.
2. Modern Courtship
Advantage: It tends to prevent premarital sex
Disadvantage: The reason it prevents pre-marital sex is that no guy wants to date a 35 year old woman who is being guarded by what Umstattd calls a “dragon father.” Who wants to date a 30+ year old woman who can’t even go out for coffee unless she gets her daddy’s permission first? Umstattd writes that there are 7 reasons to avoid going out on dates with “dragon-guarded” women, and I agree with all 7 reasons, especially the following:
“There may be maturity issues.
If she doesn’t feel mature enough to give you a direct answer [without her father chiming in], there’s a chance she’s not mature enough for the relationship. The kinds of girls protected by Dragon Fathers are often the kind of girls who don’t have a lot of freedom to make their own choices, and that can stunt their emotional maturity. They may still live at home and lack the real-world experience for the kind of serious, marriage-bound courtship the dad will likely insist you have.” (p. 182)
Umstattd ultimately concludes that we are currently experiencing a “Marriage Crisis” in America (p. 17). He says that today, only 20% of adults aged 18 to 29 are married. In 1960, 59% of people aged 18 to 29 were married. He attributes this massive decline to primarily the two factors above.
A. Modern Dating: Why bother marrying a woman when she is already providing free sex without requiring a commitment?
B. Modern Courtship: I don’t want to jump through all sorts of hoops to impress the father of a 35-year old woman. If she is too immature to go out for coffee without her daddy’s permission, then she is not marriage material.
Umstattd offer option #3 as the solution.
3. Traditional Dating
This appears to be the method that prevailed in the 1940s and the 1950s, and was characterized by the following simple rules:
Rule #1: Don’t go steady too soon.
Rule #2: Don’t stay out too late. (Age appropriate curfews recommended) (page 86)
Umstattd noted that this method was recommended to him by his grandmother. His grandmother’s generation seemed to operated by a principle which encouraged young women to “play the field” and date a whole bunch of guys. Yes, I’m serious. And he claims that this tended to prevent premarital sex and/or unnecessary heartbreak.
His grandma had a rule that she couldn’t go out with the same guy two times in a row. If she had a date with Bob on Tuesday night, she couldn’t go out with Bob again a second time until after she had gone out on a date with Jim on Friday night. Because she knew that she had a date with Jim on Friday, she naturally was able to “guard her heart” (Proverbs 4:23) during her date with Bob on Tuesday. The tendency to not be overly attached emotionally to any one guy naturally served to protect young women from the temptation to engage in premarital sex. Another advantage of dating a lot of people was that it allowed his grandmother to make comparisons, and take note of the qualities that she might like (or dislike) in a future husband. By dating a lot of people without an overabundance of emotional attachment, his grandmother (and others in the 1940s / 1950s generation) were able to avoid the premarital sex pitfall common in modern dating. But they were also able to develop social skills, and avoid the introverted isolationism that characterizes a lot of young women trapped in the modern courtship movement.
On a personal note: I have witnessed firsthand the damage that has been done by the modern courtship movement, and the extreme teachings of people such as Bill Gothard, Vision Forum, etc. I think it is a bunch of “holier-than-thou” pharisaical legalism. It seems that this movement is populated by a bunch of holier-than-thou Pharisees, who make a point of bragging about the fact that they did not kiss their spouse until their wedding day.
To me, this seems to violate the words of Proverbs 30:5-6, by incorrectly adding an 11th commandment (Thou shalt not kiss before marriage)
Proverbs 30:5 – Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to what he has commanded, or he will rebuke you, and prove you to be a liar.
It seems to me that the “biblical courtship” movement isn’t biblical at all. In my experience, it seems to be based upon a fundamentally flawed interpretation of Numbers chapter 30. From there, the proponents of “biblical courtship” speculate that a 35 year old adult daughter, living 500 miles away from her 70 year old father, is still under her father’s authority. Therefore, she is not free to date without her father’s permission.
This seems EXTREMELY unbiblical to me. It seems to be a direct violation of Proverbs 30:5-6. It seems that the “biblical” courtship movement is arbitrarily adding to the Bible by making up it’s own commandments.
The 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not kiss before you get married.
The 12th Commandment: A 35 year old woman shalt not go out on a date without her daddy’s permission.
Umstattd rightly criticizes the totalitarian tactic of the Purity Police, which are so prevalent in the “biblical” courtship movement. He writes:
“Righteousness doesn’t come from the Purity Police enforcing the rules. We can’t beat one another into purity. It only comes from the Spirit of Christ living in our hearts. If the Holy Spirit isn’t in us, following the rules is like painting a coffin in an attempt to make the corpse stop stinking.” (p. 75)
Ultimately, I think that “biblical” courtship isn’t biblical at all. It is simply a set of Pharisaical rules, contrived by overprotective fathers, who fail to realize that they do not have any authority over their 30 year old unmarried daughter. (They attempt to assert that they do in fact have such authority, but this faulty assertion is based entirely upon a flawed understanding of Numbers chapter 30.) A 35 year old woman is NOT sinning if she chooses to go out on a date with a man that her father does not approve of. Nor is she sinning if she chooses to kiss him on the lips prior to marriage. Nor is she sinning if she chooses to go out on a date without informing her father at all.
In summary, the “biblical” courtship idea isn’t biblical at all. Does it protect women from the sin of premarital sex? Yes, probably so, but at what price?
At the price of disobeying the clear command of God in Proverbs 30:5-6. The Bible repeatedly warns us not to add to God’s commandments. (In addition to Proverbs 30:5-6, see also Deuteronomy 4:2, Deuteronomy 12:32, Revelation 22:18, which also tell us not to arrogantly add to God's commandments)
In my opinion, the “biblical” courtship fathers need to humble themselves and let God be God. God gave us TEN commandments, not 12 or 15 or 27 commandments. It seems to me to be the height of arrogance to suggest that God was too stupid to not know what he was doing when he made only 10.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
At some point, we need to TRUST our adult daughters to make their own decisions. We need to set them free when they leave home at age 18, and trust that God’s promise in Proverbs 22:6 is in fact true. The overprotective fathers in the “biblical” courtship movement need to let God be God, and they need to trust the Holy Spirit to provide leadership to their unmarried daughters. An unmarried 35 year old Christian woman is under the authority of Jesus. She is NOT under the authority of her father.
1 Timothy 2:5 says that there is only ONE mediator between God and humans. And Jesus Christ is that mediator. Therefore, an adult Christian should NOT pray to the Virgin Mary. That is idolatry. Likewise, and adult Christian woman should NOT seek her daddy’s permission before going out on a date. (This is also a form of idolatry) She should seek the guidance of Jesus (via the Holy Spirit). 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us to “cut out the middleman”... there is only ONE mediator between adult Christians and God. His name is Jesus. The Virgin Mary is NOT a "co-mediatrix" And neither is our earthly father. The title of "Abba, Father," in the lives of adult Christian women, belongs to God alone (see Romans 8)
The so called “biblical” courtship movement in my opinion, is in direct violation of 1 Timothy 2:5. It is also in direct violation of Matthew 23:9 (for similar reasons). And it is in violation of Proverbs 30:5-6, for reasons stated above. And it encourages a form of emotional incest and idolatry between adult daughters and their fathers.
In Summary, I see it as follows.
Modern Dating – Do this if you are a non Christian looking for the immediate gratification of premarital sex.
Modern Courtship – Do this if you are an arrogant Pharisee, or an overprotective father, who likes to make up additional, unbiblical rules, based on your flawed understanding of Numbers chapter 30. Lock your 35-year-old daughter away in a heavily guarded castle, and then she can live her entire life as an unmarried single. But hey, at least you can brag that she is morally superior to all those “worldly” Christians who had the audacity to kiss before marriage.
Traditional Dating – Thomas Umstattd had a VERY wise Christian grandmother. Umstattd does an excellent job of sharing her God-honoring wisdom which not only aligns with the Bible, but creates a common sense vision for helping Christians to find spouses.
This is easily a 5-star book.
For a more in-depth sneak preview, I recommend reading Umstattd’s article entitled, “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” It is available for free download at Umstattd's practical courtship website.
P.S. - Please excuse any tone of bitterness toward "Modern Courtship" that I may have displayed in this review. I was burned pretty bad by the so called "biblical" courtship movement, and so I try to expose it as unbiblical whenever I can. Umstattd's book was a much needed corrective, and his criticisms of the courtship movement was arguably written in a more gracious, irenic tone than my criticism of the same movement. That being said, Umstattd did provide appropriate use of humor / sarcasm to expose the overly legalistic attitude which underlies a large portion of the courtship movement. My aversion to the courtship movement is based on my own personal experience, and I would be happy to discuss my experience, if anybody wishes to write a comment on my review. But in terms of Umstattd's actual book, it is a much needed corrective to the bad, unbibiblical ideas promoted by Bill Gothard, Douglas Wilson, Vision Forum, and Geoffrey Botkin.
In this book, Thomas Umstattd, a former passionate proponent of courtship, discusses why courtship is fundamentally flawed and contributing to the decline of new marriages in the church. Mr. Umstattd also shows how courtship is doing GREAT HARM to people. Besides making a strong case against courtship, he also compares it with three other approaches and strongly encourages traditional dating.
I LOVED this book!! It was so refreshing to read something that was full of practical and sound advice. I loved the fact that he addressed so many of the fears singles have and that he challenged people to wisely co-labor with God, (and others), in their pursuit of the relationships He has for them. It's my hope and prayer that books like this will take root in the church in such a way that the fear based pernicious passivity that has been dominating the single scene in the church will be seen for the toxic smokescreen that it is.
Here's a few quotes to whet your appetite -
"The promise of less heartbreak in courtship is sadly unfulfillable unless you marry the first person you court. Otherwise, Modern Courtship can prove just as heartbreaking as Modern Dating."
"I’ve received multiple comments from young women who had no idea how abusive and controlling their boyfriends were, because they didn’t have enough time to get to know them. When they did spend time together, the girl’s father supervised and the man stayed on his best behavior."
"...for years I also felt Modern Courtship was “the holy way,” and dating was “evil.” Once I dug into the historical and biblical examples of courtship, I realized I was wrong. Modern Courtship is not in the Bible. Calling it “biblical dating” doesn’t make it biblical."
As a homeschool dad of 5, I’ve watched the homeschool community and observed much of what Thomas Umstattd has penned. By kissing dating goodbye in an attempt to protect my children’s hearts, I’ve also made it difficult to find a spouse. Short of God the Father sitting down at my table and telling me who my children’s spouses are, there just isn’t a “safe” avenue. As my children have grown, I have looked around our community—which is comprised of the most Godly, impressive young people on this planet—and seen the sorrow and frustration.
In an effort to protect our children from the slippery slope of worldly ideas many of us survived in our own romances, we jumped off the other side of the mountain. This book brings us back to the top of the mountain. Thomas Umstattd, through personal experience, extensive research, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has brought to the forefront a discussion that needs to happen. For the sake of our grandchildren, let’s have the discussion. For the sake of our children, let’s give them this book.
This book address both the slippery slope and the other side of the mountain. It compares and contrasts them in an effort to find where the top of the mountain really is. The top of the mountain will be controversial for many people, but by the end of the book, you can’t help but see the logic in it. and the hope! It is definitely thought provoking.