This entry is part [part not set] of 22 in the series Book of the Month

The church can get pretty weird about dating. Last Spring I did a series of blogs on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” The popularity of this series doesn’t prove that I had a solution for making dating in Christian circles less awkward, but it does show that this issue is on a lot of minds.

I’m telling you, we are weird about the road to marriage. We can’t agree on what it should be called, how often it should be done, how long it should last, how close a not-yet-married couple should get, and on and on. Yet most church folk tend to be pretty opinionated about these things. And perhaps more germane to the problem, we all seem to have an urgency to see every single person in our churches married. I don’t think anyone is trying to make their single brothers and sisters feel bad or pressured, but the pressure is there nonetheless.

AltaredAnd now to my point. Last week a book was released that I have been waiting to see for a long time. The book is entitled, Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We. For years I have been wanting a solid book that helps Christians navigate the road to marriage, but I haven’t been satisfied with the go-to books on this subject (though each makes helpful contributions). This is the book that I’ve been wanting.

The authors, writing under pseudonyms (Claire and Eli) in the tradition of Soren Kierkegaard, help us think this issue through in a variety of ways. They offer their experience of being young singles in the church world. Sometimes they heard it said aloud, sometimes it was more latent, but always there was an understanding that the single person’s goal (duty even) is to get married as soon as possible. This was their experience, and I think most of us who grew up in the church can relate. The authors then survey a number of statements from prominent Christian leaders to reveal that this pressure to marry quickly and at all costs comes to us from the top down as well.

Marriage is a good gift from God, and the authors are eager to affirm this. It is the perversion of God’s gift that makes the pursuit of marriage an all-encompassing goal and contradicts 1 Corinthians 7 that the authors want to challenge. Their concern is that we can get so caught up in finding “the one” to love that we neglect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors—not just our potential mates.

So the authors explore love and marriage from a biblical perspective. What should our priorities be when thinking about love in general and marriage and dating in particular? They also did the difficult work of incorporating some of the most helpful thoughts from church history that come to bear on the matter. This gives the book a richness and continuity that we often miss out on.

Probably my favorite part of the book, however, is the narrative. “Claire” and “Eli” teamed up on this book because they saw the way our marriage preoccupation affected their own dating relationship. Both authors are gifted writers and insightful persons in general, and their story is woven through the book, sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from his. The effect is a compelling exploration in which one is personally invested, rather than an impersonal treatise.

So if you want someday to date someone, if you are dating and want to think through it more effectively, if the concept of dating seems awkward yet you aren’t quite ready to kiss it goodbye, then you really ought to read this book. And for the rest of you, everyone in your churches is either married, on the road to marriage, or wrestling with issues of marriage, dating, and singleness. This really isn’t an issue that can be safely ignored.

If you’d like to get a taste for the writing of one of the authors, check out Eli’s recent article in Relevant Magazine.

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  1. I’m looking forward to reading this book! I didn’t read your post thoroughly but one thing caught my attention. You mentioned that you’ve witnessed and experienced the rush to marriage mentality in the church. I’ve witnessed the opposite for some reason. Not sure what the difference is between your experience and mine, youth ministry vs. college ministry, my marriage age vs. yours, individual church cultures…. My perception is that 5 to 1 I hear people pressuring couples to wait, till they graduate college, till they own their own home, till they have started their career, etc. So you have a young couple dating since they were Juniors in HS trying to maintain a pure relationship and being told to wait 7 years to get married which is a recipe for disaster if they are normal :). But, maybe what you’ve seen is people pressuring single people in college to HURRY UP and find their spouse when they should just relax a little. Anyhow, I love your posts, keep it up!

  2. Michael!

    First let me apologize for not seeing this until just now. Whoops.

    Second, that’s fascinating. I’m guessing that it’s a college or even post-college type of thing. Those are the people I’m interacting with most, so that’s where I’m seeing the pressure. It’s almost like they get a do or die mentality where if they don’t get a spouse before a set date, they’ll never end up married or they’ll never be accepted into a ministry position or they’ll turn into a pumpkin or something.

    So I guess we need another book for another demographic.

  3. […] I am convinced (perhaps naively) that if we do our dating right, our social lives won’t disintegrate into two-person love bubbles, our breakups won’t feel like divorces, and the single Christians in our midst won’t be treated like lepers. These are all major problems within the church. I don’t claim to have all of the answers for getting us to this point, but I’ve heard from many people over the last few years who have found the simple guidelines in that blog series helpful. So I’m summarizing and linking to those blog posts below, in the hopes that you might find them helpful as well. And for those over-achievers who want a book length treatment on the road to marriage and the accompanying dangers, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We. […]