I remember when I was in middle and high school, if you wanted someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend you would ask, “Will you go with me?” My parents would always laugh at our expense saying, “Where are you going?” I would just roll my eyes because obviously they didn’t understand these important matters. Now, my daughter is in the 7th grade and I’m hearing how Alice is dating Daryl, and on it goes. And as a mother, I find myself wanting to roll my eyes again.
I have tried to explain to Solanna that dating involves first of all a guy who is old enough to drive, and secondly, employed enough to pay for your date. Then I explained that much of this “dating” goes on before you ever make any kind of commitment to a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. They have it all backwards, and they aren’t anywhere close to old enough to turn it forwards.
In middle school, “dating” seems to be more of a status than anything else. But we all know how quickly things can move to “anything else” if we ignore these situations or think they are just cute. So, Matt and I have been discussing these issues with our daughter, and last summer I started a mother/daughter book club, inviting other parents to read up on some books on this matter. I also picked up Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. It’s been my favorite on the topic so far.
One of my biggest praises is how deeply theological it is. While these two pastors have certainly backed their claims with Scripture, it is far more than proof-texting or isolating all the “don’ts.” They explain, “…the Bible’s commands regarding sex are never arbitrary—they are endowed with great purpose” (29).
This purpose is far greater than passing some morality test before marriage, or even bearing children. “God ordained human marriage—from the very dawn of creation—to testify to the coming wedding supper of the Lamb…In the end, our final hope of salvation is that we have been married to Christ” (24-25). They had me hooked with that line. But when Hiestand and Thomas started using the language of types and shadows that point to the reality of our future hope in Christ, I wanted to stand up and clap. Sex is about the gospel, just like every other thing in life. That’s why these two authors can say, “[God] desires your sexual satisfaction more than you ever will, for through the proper expression of your sexuality, both you and the world will have a window through which to see the window of the gospel” (30). It is an image of Christ’s monogamous unity with his beloved church.
Is our sexuality consistent with the image of Christ and his church? Hiestand and Thomas do not leave us to subjectively try to figure this out, they give us clear, biblical categories for God-ordained relationships, and what our boundaries should be within them. How far is too far in dating?
Well, first of all, what the heck is dating? These two authors articulate better what I was trying to explain to my daughter. The idea of dating in our culture has moved from an activity to a category. We see in Scripture how we are to behave sexually with our family (Lev. 18:6), our neighbor (1 Cor. 7:7-9), and in marriage (1 Cor. 7:3-5). In two of these categories sexual relations are forbidden, and in one it is commanded.
But what about the dating relationship? This is not a category that we find in Scripture. It is new to our culture, and so we have somehow given dating a different level of sexual expression than the neighbor or the family relationships. We teach purity, but what does that mean? Where is the line? What can a dating couple do that mere friends cannot? Nowhere in Scripture are we given a special license for sexual activity of any kind outside of marriage. To answer the question, “How far is too far,” Hiestand and Thomas guide the reader with 1 Tim. 5:2:
Paul suggestively ties together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with absolute purity. In this often overlooked verse he writes, “[Treat] older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (NIV). Most helpfully, Paul here links together the familial treatment of the opposite sex with sexual purity. In the context of this passage Paul is instructing Timothy—a young pastor—as to how he should interact with the women of his church, in other words, his neighbors (40-41).
I said that I love how theological and biblical this book is. I also love its practicality. How do you kiss your mother or your brother? When that question is asked, we all know how far is too far. From here, Hiestand and Thomas lay out some very wise advice for singles who want to pursue marital relationships. They make so many good points about the problems with the modern-day dating category that I will not go into here, but they do give an alternative, and it’s more than just physical. They call it “dating friendships.” But I will leave you wanting for their teaching here so you can pick up this great read for yourself.
Also, quickly, I wanted to note that Hiestand and Thomas do touch on related issues such as modesty, singlehood, and purity as a lifestyle. My only short critique is that sexuality is mainly defined in this book as sexual activity, and while I agree that sex itself is a type that will be ultimately fulfilled in our consummated union with Christ, I do not believe that we surrender our sexuality in the new heavens and the new earth. I don’t really think that the author’s do either. That is why I wish they would have maybe mentioned some of the gifts our sexuality offers to our neighbor, and family members that are different expressions than what our spouse receives. Our sexuality is part of how we communicate to the world. It is a body language that speaks an awareness of the gift and power of our gender. I do understand that we use the word in it’s narrow sense to talk about sexual activity, but it also defines our sex…which has many God-ordained distinctives and modes of expression. While the authors value singlehood in a way that has not been written about as often in these kind of books, I would have liked to see them talk about how our sexuality is not only for our spouse.
Parents, please buy this book! Church members, pick up a couple of copies for the church library. I really think we need to articulate these categories well as adults before we can lovingly share our wisdom with our children, teens, and singles. Especially if we want to keep the eye-rolling to a minimum.
*Originally published on August 21, 2014.