Book Review: Dating with Integrity
reviewed by Adrian Smith
`Dating with Integrity: Honoring Christ in your relationships with the opposite sex' by John Holzmann [Wolgemuth and Hyatt; Brentwood, Tennessee (1992)]
Although this book is now out of print, we feel that this review in itself is a helpful summary of the author's thesis and will provoke further thought on a subject of vital importance to all Christian parents.
Don't be confused by the title, which is clearly an eye-catcher; the sub-title is a more accurate summary of the book, which is a powerful critique of `dating' - the American term for what is a near-universal modern Western pattern of unmarried male-female relationships among both non-Christians and Christians. Better still, the author offers a practical, Biblically-argued alternative.
The book (sadly out of print) is by a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (California) who is a pastor and is married with children. Though primarily aimed at the teenage/college-age groups, the work should be of interest to older singles, as well as to parents, pastors, youth workers, et cetera.
The author critiques scripturally and pragmatically all pre-marital romantic relationships (outside of binding engagement), regardless of the labels (euphemisms) employed: `dating', `going out', `going steady', `boyfriend-girlfriend', `pursuing the possibility of marriage', and so on.
The genius of this book is to expose the un-Christian core of all such relationships: they are pseudo-marriages, based on pseudo-vows (spoken or unspoken), namely, "I'm committed to you until I'm no longer committed." The pseudo-marital character of boyfriend-girlfriend relationships is exposed in several sharply-drawn analogies with marriage:
The one essential difference with marriage is that marriage is based on a binding, unambiguous vow ["till death us do part" - compare Malachi 2:14], whereas boyfriend-girlfriend relationships are based on a non-binding, ambiguous vow: "I'm committed to you until I'm no longer committed."
Holzmann argues that this double-speak is at the root of the range of evils commonly observed in boyfriend-girlfriend relationships - ranging from unwarranted pressure towards marriage, to the guilt and heartbreak and sense of betrayal which so often follows the `dissolution' of these pseudo-marriages.
Furthermore, pseudo-vows are unscriptural, since the Word of God demands that our commitments be binding and unambiguous (Matt. 5:33-37; James 5:12; 2 Cor. 1:17-20; Eccles. 5:5-6, Eph. 4:25; Psalm 24:4). This involves a rigour reflecting God's fidelity to His covenant promises.
What, then, is a Christian alternative to the boyfriend-girlfriend pattern? Holzmann proposes a "brother-sister" model for relationships between single men and women. The New Testament language describing fellow-Christians as `brothers' and `sisters' is so pervasive that we can treat the terms as cliches, forgetting that these words express the profound reality of unity in Christ that has many behavioural consequences: Rom. 14:21/15:2; 1 Cor. 6:1-8; Philemon 16; 1 Pet. 3:8; 1 John 3:16-17.
For a single man and a single woman to constantly remind themselves (and each other) that they are no more (and no less!) than brother-sister gives both power and direction for honouring Christ in their relationship. For example: "uncovering the nakedness" of one's spiritual sibling (through any expression of physical-sexual intimacy) should be as unthinkable as incest (Lev. 18:9).
More positively, a brother-sister relationship can be characterized by the profound New Testament concept of freedom for service (Gal. 5:13). Holzmann argues that a Christian who accepts the obligations and exclusiveness inherent in a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship has surrendered their Christian freedom through an unbiblical vow (compare 1 Cor. 7:23). He counsels anyone caught in such a snare to implement Prov. 6:2-5!
By contrast, one who is determined to relate to the opposite sex as spiritual siblings is free to live out the gosepl imperative of putting others' interests first (Phil. 2:4), knowing that, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
Holzmann argues that Christian singles should learn to relate to the opposite sex not for the purpose of illicit romance, nor even primarily in pursuit of marriage - but to serve, encourage and edify one another as Christians (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Thess; 5:11; Heb. 10:24-25). Healthy relationships like this would - incidentally - be excellent preparation for marriage (in which self-sacrifice and service are of the essence).
Some might view Holzmann's model as `idealistic' - but is it any more so than the demands that Jesus makes of His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21-48)? Furthermore, the power to live as brother/sister resides in the fact that a Christian man and woman already are brother/sister in Christ!
The book ends with a helpful section in the format of Questions-Answers, which draws a sharper profile of what the brother/sister model actually looks like in practice.
In conclusion, three comments:
Copyright © Family Matters 1996
Adrian Smith is currently pursuing a Th.M. at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.