Some books I would recommend to people who are interesting in how God, the person who created marriage in the first place designed it to work, and how we enter into marriage in our modern society (dating). This post was original made in 2012. Some updates in 2023.
Seems like I have been talking with a number of younger folks who are figuring out what “Christian” dating means. This may, or may not be connected to our young adult fellowship being in the middle of a series which is looking at relationships which includes dating. A couple of weeks ago I started to write up what was to be a short post about dating and marriage based on my 27 years of marriage to Libby until cancer took her and many years serving college age students and young married couples. There are so many interconnected issues. It was clear that it was going to be a bit before I posted anything. In the mean time, I thought it might be useful to suggest two books. UPDATE: make that three books. I would recommend reading the first two books as a pair because they compliment each other well. For folks in YAF… you would be welcome to borrow either of these books, just send me email.
by John Mark Comer. An enjoyable read. I think it would be an excellent book for someone born after 1985. In modern idioms explains how romantic / emotionally passionate “love” is inadequate to sustain a relationship, it paint an enticing picture for marriage and why marriage should be for life. It honestly talks about sex and hold out for no sex until marriage… not for arbitrary religious / moral resource, but because the nature / power of sex. I disagree with his “we leave a part of ourselves” with the person we have sex with, I think it would be more accurate to think of it as an entanglement which is great if you are sticking together, but can trip you, pull in, etc if you separate. The book directly takes to the modern issue of gender identity… starting with an needed apology for how the church has behaved in an awful way, but then makes the case for a classical biblical take on gender without stigmatize people. I think that Keller’s Meaning of Marriage is a stronger book, but Loveology will be more approachable to people who are younger.
The Meaning of Marriage
by the Kellers. This is the single best book I have found on the topic of marriage. It provides an excellent framework to think about marriage. I believe they make a compelling case for why marriage is good and worth considering. This is a great book for someone who is “grown up”. It doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about how to date, the readers should come to this book with a decent understand of how relationships work. The Kellers tell several personal stories to illustrate how you need to work to effectively communicate, how you will bring in unspoken expectations which will be different from your partner which can led to serious miscommunication.
Dating and Waiting – William Risk
This book was written while Bill was attending to PBC Palo Alto. Anyone who knows Bill will hear his voice and immediately recognize his wit. I found this to be the most gracious book I have read on the topic of dating. Unlike many books on dating which focus on the mechanics or rules for dating, this book asks the reader to consider what God is doing in their heart. Each chapter ends with a short list of questions which are appropriate for both people in a dating relationship and those who are single. I appreciated the gentle way the book encouraged the reader to evaluate their values and priorities in dating, as well as the strong emphasis that what we seek can only be found in God. There are several chapters which explore how being single, and that “waiting” can be rich times that God uses to grow and change us. As with every every Christian book on dating there is a chapter about appropriate attitudes / restraint in the physical / sexual realm and a discussion of why it is important to be dating someone who shares a vital Christian life.
This book is written by two of the pastor / elders of the church Libby and I attended when we lived in Columbus. This book captures much of what guided Libby and I as we dating. I believe the guidance was sound, and what we learn during this time in our lives provided a framework that enabled our marriage to thrive in the midst of difficulty.
This is not a book to make you feel warm and fuzzy about dating or marriage. Rather, it a practical book that will challenge you to grow in your ability to love others, and by doing that, become prepared to have a successful marriage. The first chapter is a critique of modern society’s infatuation with “romantic love” which is pleasant but unable to sustain a relationship in the long run.
The authors suggest that the only force sufficient to produce lasting relationships is sacrificial, agape love. The key to a successful marriage? “… is not to find the right person, but to become the right person: a person who has learned to practice Christian love at the most intimate level”. A simple framework is provided to think about how one builds relationship: shared experience, understanding the persons inner workings, and emotional sharing. Building strong same-sex friendships develops skills that are critical to lasting marriages. It is often easier to gauge growth in these friendship rather than romantic relationships, because when romance is involved, things often seem better, deeper, more intimate than they actually are.
The next section of the book discusses how important it is for both people in a relationship to be equally yoked (sharing the same spiritual beliefs and commitments), and that both parties are vitally involved in the life of people in church, serving others both as individuals and as a couple. The book next moves into what is the appropriate perspective on sexual love suggesting appropriate boundaries are about attitude. The book concludes with several chapters that discuss how to deal with baggage from past relationship and life choices. I believe this is a very valuable book, but it can be applied in a external fashion, and fails short in conveying how God’s at the center on things in a very personal way. Bill’s book nicely addresses this deficit.
While not ready for prime time, if you are looking for other books about relationships, you might want to look the books I have tagged relationships on goodreads. This list is incomplete right now, but in the next week or so I should finish updating this list with notes I have made over the years.