This was a fantastic book! Therefore, prepare ye self for a long review/summary!
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about “Biblical courtship” but they have often failed to really give any Biblical support other than the basic Biblical principles of love and serving others, which obviously go contrary to the modern dating model with is typically about self-gratification and manipulation–even if it’s subconscious.
“Her Hand In Marriage” is great from the start, opening with a fantastic introduction which I can easily relate to. Wilson lays down some ground rules about how he is going to approach the topic, and makes some great points.
1. He points out how there are success stories hidden among all of the bad of modern recreational dating. As Wilson says, “Nothing said in the following pages should be taken as directed against godly Christians who came together within the dating system.” Sometimes people can take offense when you say you think courtship is more Biblical than dating, and they think you are saying they automatically were sinning by dating. Criticism of dating is not meant to criticize individuals, but the system as a whole. “People survive plane crashes too, some of them without a scratch, and we should all be happy about it. But this acknowledgement does not disqualify us from opposing the general habit of crashing airplanes.” – pg.10
2. Wilson also points out how “generalizations are legitimate if they honestly describe an overall pattern. Generalizations are consequently NOT refuted through particular and individual counter examples.” So many people think that just because “I did it, and I turned out fine” that everything is just peachy. Deviants from the pattern don’t change the fact that there is still a pattern.
3. Sadly, “success stories” are not as abundant as they are assumed to be. “The modern dating system does not train young people to form a relationship…at the very least, this system is as much prep for divorce as it is marriage….”
Still lingering in the introduction, I loved what Wilson said on the topic of feminism and how, “The beauty of Biblical courtship is that it never leaves women unprotected.” – pg.13. This is just the opposite in dating, where there are relatively few risks for the young man, and many risks for the young woman. Wilson also touches on how men and women are created differently, and have different roles in courtship, as with life: men initiate, women respond. He also touches on the subject of “submission” in courtship and marriage, and how “headship in marriage does NOT mean that women submit to men; it means ONE woman submits to ONE man. Her submission to her husband protects her from having to submit to other men. Prior to marriage, her submission to her father protects her from having to submit to other men…the so-called ‘independent’ woman is not under any kind of protection. She is truly on her own, but with the result being that she is buffeted about by all sorts of men.”
Moving into chapter 1:
The book begins to focus on the authority of parents (especially the father of the young woman) in a courtship. The relationship between the courting pair should not be founded on romance. As Wilson says, “Romance is believed to be ‘the thing’ which ties a marriage together, and it is further thought that young people understand the dynamics of romance far better than their elders…What establishes the foundation for any godly marriage is covenantal faithfulness to the God who gives us marriage.” My translation is that marriage should be based on committed LOVE, not romance. Our culture gets the two mixed up. Consequently, founding a marriage on this covenant leads to strong emotional and romantic attachments. The world gets it backwards, which is one reason why there is so much divorce. Those marriages are “self” focused, rather than “other” focused.
The rest of the chapter focused on providing Biblical support for the authority a father has over his daughter, and his responsibility to protect and seek out his daughter’s best interests. Additionally, Wilson explains how in courtship, “the courting activity is publicly connected to the life of the family, most likely the family of the young daughter. With recreational dating, the privacy of the couple is paramount.” Not only does the privacy of dating create an unrealistic environment, but it almost unfailingly leads to sin.
This chapter focused on preparing sons for courtship, and how a man is meant to “grow up, leave his parents, and cleave to his wife. The wife, having been given in marriage, has transferred her allegiance from her father to her husband.”
Before a son can leave to take a wife, he must be instructed in certain key areas.
First, he must understand what the Bible teaches about marriage itself. “A son should know what constitutes the formation of a marriage, the obligations of a marriage, the boundaries of marriage, etc….”
Second, he must be taught what godly married life is like.
Third, he must be masculine.
Wilson gives an interesting example on this third point: “Courtship reveals how necessary this masculinity is. Many modern young men approach a girl, and thy are quite serious as far as their intentions go, but they are afraid of interfering with her life. ‘You know, she is going to graduate soon, but she wants to go to school at Notre Dame, and I don’t really want to go to Notre Dame, and showing interest in her would really disrupt all her plans.’ But the whole point of courtship is to disrupt a young lady’s plans. A godly young woman is not going to stand around waiting for marriage. Rather, she will be preparing herself for marriage. This means she will be heading in some particular direction, and not just marking time. A young man should not be afraid of disrupting, because marriage is by its very nature a disruption of her previous way of life. But there are many guys who have an ‘excuse me for existing’ kind of attitude–which is not very masculine–when it comes to a potentially serious relationship with a young woman…A son must not be afraid to take the initiative in such matters.”
I really like this idea, and it fits with what I’ve experienced. I have come across a lot of godly young ladies who are interested in marrying young, but there aren’t any marriageable young men around. Rather than wasting their time waiting, these young women put themselves to work for the kingdom. Yet if one is called to marriage, that takes a higher importance than any career or other ministry. How sad it would be if a young woman who wants to get married is never approached because all the young men are afraid to “disrupt” her plans.
This doesn’t mean, however, that he should be inconsiderate of her plans or her calling, but it does speak to the roles of men and women in marriage and courtship.
“Suppose John wants to marry Susan. But he knows that after she graduates, she is going to try to get a job in Seattle where her grandparents live. He goes to her father and says that he would like to ask her to marry him, but she has other plans. Now if John is really interested in Susan, and if he is masculine, he should cheerfully want to interfere with her plans. If she is not interested in marriage, she will not mind if he asks her father; there will be no imposition. Her father will just say no. If she is interested in him, it will not be an imposition either. Women are not supposed to sit on the couch and wait for somebody to marry them. They should always seek to do something productive with their lives in the meantime. Consequently, men who are seeking a helper are going to have to seek this helpmate from among women who are going in other directions at the time. A man who understands masculinity and marriage should know generally what he wants to do, and he should be seeking a woman who agrees to come with him. It is not the other way around. He is not coming into her life in order to help her with her vocational calling. Of course if a husband loves his wife as Christ loves the church, he is going to help her in many ways…The Bible teaches that the woman was made for man, not man for the woman (1 Cor. 11:9).”
This chapter addressed preparing daughters for courtship. The importance of creating the habit of submission and trust with her father is stressed, and then Wilson moves into the topic of modesty, which I found very good. He points out how it’s not wrong or a sin to look beautiful and to wear jewelry or make-up, but it becomes immodest when women attempt to make a display of themselves. “Women should seek to be beautiful by a certain means, through the hidden person of the heart…A man’s daughters should be taught to cultivate an inner beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Peace should pervade a young woman’s demeanor. There should be an absence of anxiety, so that the inner calm will work its way out. And such calm daughters will be beautiful on the outside.”
However, today, modesty is not valued, and fathers are allowing their daughters to date and interact with men and boys unprotected. As Wilson quotes C.S. Lewis, “a society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be, in the long run, a society adverse to women.”
Wilson also goes into the difference between morality and prudishness, which was also very interesting.
Mr. Wilson brings up the topic of “godly responses”, as well, and how Christian girls should be equipped to respond to suitors well. I liked how Wilson says, “Christian girls need to learn a godly rudeness. In a corrupt culture such as ours, this ability is increasingly necessarily.” I definitely agree. Sometimes, rudeness is definitely called for.
Chapter 4: The Culmination of Courtship
This chapter focused on “what standard should a future spouse be chosen?” I thought Mr. Wilson explained the drive of courtship well when he said, “Our situation would not be very much improved if it were to go from a system based upon a young girl ‘liking’ a guy–from the system of ‘recreational dating’ to a pattern of courtship based upon parental prejudice and whim. Such decisions are very important, and cannot be left to anyone’s current whims.”
I found this quote very interesting, since many I know consider courtship to mean parents wield power tyrannically and with absolute authority. Of course, a father can still veto a courtship if there are some legitimate concerns with his daughter’s suitor, or their compatibility of beliefs. However, the decision of who you are going to spend the rest of your life with is very important and serious. It will impact generations to come. Therefore, there should be a lot of things and a lot of people involved in the process, not just the whims of the courting pair or the parents. Ideally, all parties involved would work together to arrive at what is best and God-honoring. No one person’s feelings should settle the matter.
Wilson also points out how the gravity of the situation and the future implications also should not factor in. “We cannot make our decision based on what we predict might happen twenty years from now. Rather, we must proceed on what God has revealed in His Word. God does know the future so we must obey Him.”
Mr. Wilson goes on to explain how we must not be unequally yoked in marriage. Both the man and woman must be Christians, but not only that, but their beliefs about God must be compatible. A father, for example, should not let his daughter be courted by a man who disputes the sovereignty of God. “When a young couple has a child who dies in the first year, how will the young husband comfort his wife? How can he, if he has a theology which says that God wanted to prevent this tragedy but couldn’t?”
Like-mindedness is key, not only in beliefs, but in actions. Beliefs mean nothing if one does not live by them. If one does not act on their beliefs, they are not really beliefs at all (A very Dallas Willard idea). A man must be obedient to God for a father to permit his daughter to court him.
A man must also have financial stability. It was fascinating to learn more about how courtship was done in Biblical times, and how a man was expected to pay the “bride-price” before he could court. This demonstrates that a man can put his money where is mouth is, and he is serious, while also providing financial protection for a women in the event of a divorce. Many in our day, however, don’t like this idea.
“The romantic propaganda of our day typically portrays all such concerns as mean-spirited and materialistic–everyone knows ‘all you need is love.'”
Finally, Wilson also stresses physical attractiveness as being a Biblical principle, which I found interesting, as I’ve not heard many people stress this idea. However, he provided some very good arguments which make sense and stand with the Bible. Obviously, physical appearance should take its place in line behind more important attributes, because what if something happens and suddenly your spouse isn’t so attractive anymore? Accidents can happen. Now you’re stuck with someone who you married mostly on the basis of physical appearance, and now they don’t even have that anymore. All the same, attractiveness has importance.
In the 5th and final chapter, Wilson digs into the details of courtship.
It was fascinating to read about how Wilson described how a father should interact with a suitor, and it also made a lot of sense. He makes it very clear that if a daughter is not interested in a young man, then in virtually all circumstances, the father should get back to the suitor and simply say no. However, if the daughter IS interested in the young man, then the young man should be given permission to spend time with the family. Wilson continues, “If that goes well, he may begin to spend time alone with the daughter under the watchful oversight of the father. The young man is being invited to spend time with the family. Younger siblings get a good example of courtship lived out in front of them…”
Wilson also clarifies that these are not hard fast rules, but depend on the circumstances. “The father may give the young man permission to take his daughter to dinner, or to go out on what some people would call ‘a date.’ The point is not ‘how many times to the house before there is a proposal,’ but rather whether or not the father would be foolish to give permission to date, and other times such permission is wise.”
I found this part very interesting, and made me pause. I was wondering if this would be the one thing I disagreed with. But upon further reflection, I realized I agreed. Wilson is clear it depends on the circumstances, and I have to say I agree. I’m sure there would be some certain circumstances where that kind of interaction would be appropriate and helpful. No doubt, there would have to be a serious trust and commitment level, however.
If the family is impressed and the young man continues to show interest, then more one-on-one time can be spent together under the father’s oversight.
“If it becomes obvious during the courtship that the young man is not suitable, then it is the father’s duty to explain to him that he is not free to continue to come around in the same way.” – pg.78
Wilson then briefly touches on what the wedding should be like, that is, focusing on the convenantal aspect of it. A wedding is a ceremony where two people are making vows before the Lord, which are not to be made lightly, “the church therefore has an interest in /witnessing/ these vows, and insisting they be kept.”
Mr. Wilson concludes the book by providing some counter arguments to typical concerns with courtship, and then ends with an allegorical short story painting a beautiful picture of the relationship between a father, his daughter, a suitor, and God.
I can’t think of anything I really disagreed with in this book, which is rare for me. While a lot of these concepts I’ve heard before, Wilson’s perspective was new to me, and he also gave a lot of interesting practical insight and advice. I definitely would recommend this book for anyone considering going about courtship in a god-honoring manner.