by Nathaniel Darnell from Persevero News – Three Lessons to Learn from Duggars’ New Courtship
Jessa Duggar is gone-a-courtin! The fifth oldest of the 20 Duggar children has begun a courtship with a young man named Ben Seewald, reports Yahoo!, and it appears the courtship will feature prominently in the family’s TV show 19 Kids and Counting. It’s a good thing the Duggars don’t seem to mind living in a house of glass because no doubt they are going to be getting a lot scrutiny as they look to give their first daughter away in marriage.
I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with the Duggar family on several occasions over the years, including Jessa Duggar, and it’s neat to hear about how their family is planning to use their courtship to take an approach to marriage very different from the world’s typical approach. They will be challenging many of the world’s “givens.”
The objective of any Christian approach to marriage should be to preserve both young people for their future spouse. Specifically, preserving their hearts and bodies to be united in marriage for the service of Jesus Christ. This requires thinking-through the process in advance from the standard of the Word of God.
There are some of valuable, Biblical things we can learn from the Duggar’s example already in this early stage of the relationship: First, Jim Bob (the father’s) leadership in vetting the courtier before the start of the courtship; second, their addressing the foundational matters of theology at the beginning; and, third, their up-front communicated policy on how they will limit their physical relationship through the process.
Marriage Is a Positive Command — Lose by Default
The command in Scripture to marry is a positive command. By “positive” we mean that it is a command that requires action. It is not a negative command that requires merely refraining from an action. However, many Christians today seem to think that marriage is a negative command. In other words, they seem to behave as if they thought one could measure their obedience to God on the subject by simply not doing something. In particular, not getting married “to the wrong person.”
The attitude is that by simply not getting married, a person wins by default. But Scripture shows us the reality: That to not get married under normative circumstances is to lose by default.
The command of God to marry was actually part of the first command given to the human race (even before the command not to eat of the Tree). (See Genesis 1:27-30; 2:18-25.) It is tied inextricably to God’s most basic purpose for creating the human race. Thus normatively, one cannot fulfill the “chief end of man,” as stated in the catechism, without serving God in marriage.
And yet we see a growing number of young people—yea, even Christian young people—not getting married. This is a problem.
Simultaneously, however, we see a growing number of marriages (even among professing Christians) ending in divorce and abandonment. We see families vexing over callousness and irresponsibility in the home. This also is a problem.
Although we may not realize it at first, these two problems are not entirely unrelated. They may seem on first blush like two entirely separate problems on two ends of a spectrum, but in fact they are two problems that are feeding upon one another.
The former problem of marriages being delayed in large part has to do with a growing number of young people who have witnessed the hard things their parents’ generation went through in their marriages. They saw the arguments, the verbal abuse, the neglect, the irresponsibility, the disharmony, and they reason that they should be in no hurry to experience similar troubles. Thus, they delay marriage until it can hope to be achieved in some kind of near utopian ideal in their own minds, and it either never happens or is delayed well into mid-life.
Ten-to-thirty years of child-bearing fruitfulness are postponed at the healthiest time in the life of a couple to bare and raise children.
Thus, it’s great to see Jessa and Ben approaching getting married at a fairly young age compared to the national averages of today. They are being proactive about marriage. Jessa is 20 years old and Ben is 18 years old. Getting married at a young age will enable them to maximize their ability to “be fruitful and multiply” as Jessa’s own parents have already been setting an extraordinary example.
Three Positive Examples from the Duggars:
1. Fathers Must Take the Lead
Dr. Voddie Baucham in his book What He Must Be observes: “So where do we begin? I believe we begin with fathers. That’s right—our children’s quest for an appropriate mate begins with their fathers. Throughout the Scriptures we see fathers guiding their children in marriage. From Abraham’s search for Isaac’s mate in Genesis 24 to Paul’s instructions to fathers of virgin daughters in I Corinthians 7, we see paternal involvement in marriage.” 
I have to commend Jim Bob for taking the time to shepherd Jessa by getting to know her courtier and vet him prior to turning Ben over to her.
“[Ben’s] the first one she has shown interest in that has a spiritual focus and legitimate calling about ministry work,” Jim Bob said in an article by People Magazine. “When a guy is pursing your daughter, you want to check him out and see if there are any red flags and with Ben, there hasn’t been. He is very sharp. It appears like a match made in heaven.”
One thing many people don’t seem to realize about two Christian people trying to seriously approach marriage is that the relationship is not static. It doesn’t stay on the same plain three months in as it did the first day. When the couple transition from a getting-to-know-you phase to an engagement, the relationship doesn’t then suddenly and mechanically jolt up 20 notches and stay at the same plain until the wedding.
Relationships with marriage in view are organic. They develop like a bezier curve as opposed to a straight line, ever accelerating and building momentum. If parents do not take the lead from the get-go, they will wonder how the two progressed so deeply so fast. Letting the two young people get close and attached from months of interaction, only to pull the rug out from underneath them well into it creates unnecessary harm.
People are not merely brains. They are not merely spirits. God, in His infinite wisdom created people as spirit, soul, and body (I Thess. 5:23) — with a mind, will, and emotions. When an approach to marriage starts, it is naive to think that the whole of each of the young people (including their emotions and hormones) is not going to be involved. They cannot turn off any part of themselves — they can only channel these resources God has given them in the appropriate direction. But letting two young people get deep into their relationship without parents expressing any feedback of misgivings or concerns only leads the young people to think that it is all right for them to begin opening up more of themselves to their prospective marriage partner.
If you put a seed into the ground, water it, and leave it in there long enough in the sunshine, it should not be surprising when it germinates, begins spreading roots, and blossoms. Waiting to pull the flower from the ground after that long a time will undoubtedly result in ripping the plant. So it is in a relationship with two courting people. Two people cannot be left alone and be allowed to congeal together as they talk far beyond foundational issues and into personal matters, begin to share intimacies and expectations for marriage, and not expect that damage will be done if things are abruptly and callously concluded. This is one chief reason for why fathers need to take the lead in the relationship from the get-go.
But there have been plenty of so-called “courtships” that have progressed too far before the parents decided to get involved and do some vetting. This is unjust to the couple who likely have been operating under the impression that they were doing everything with the parents’ tacit approval. If the parents of the young lady suddenly start to rip into the young man (or the parents of the young man start to rip into the young lady) months after the courtship has been going and two young people have grown close, great damage will result.
But the parents—especially the father—have a responsibility before God to shepherd their daughters in marriage. The Bible says that a father “gives her in marriage” (Luke 17:27; I Cor. 7:38), and that giving starts when the father plays the role of the gatekeeper by approving or selecting her potential marriage candidates. He first does that by getting to know a young man interested in his daughter and vetting him by Biblical standards before he allows the young man to attempt to woo her.
2. Addressing Theology At the Beginning
The modern picture of romance puts the cart ahead of the horse. Two people become deeply emotionally and physically attached based on superficial impressions and then months later realize that they had given their hearts (and possibly their bodies) to someone who wasn’t qualified to be a Christian marriage partner.
Theology (orthdoxy and orthopraxy) should be the first order of business in any potential marriage discussion. Theology is foundational. It is the starting point. Without it, there is no reference point for right or wrong. In any approach to marriage that I pursue, I know the first order of business for me is to talk with a prospective marriage partner about our theology.
The People Magazine article on the Duggar’s “chaste courtship” reports:
“Jessa and Ben met in church, Jim Bob says, and then asked to correspond via text and on the phone. The Duggars agreed – and were kept in the conversation as the couple texted each other, mostly asking each other questions about theology and scripture.”
“ ‘Jessa has a very steady personality,’ says Michelle. ‘It has been interesting to watch their interactions because for her personality type, they share very similar beliefs.’ ”
It’s important to note that personality compatibility was not nearly as important to the Duggars as theological compatibility. This is not just a neat idea, though. It’s tied to one of the most overt commands God’s Word gives concerning the minimal standards for selecting a spouse: They must be a Christian. (See I Corinthians 6:4.)
This leads one to ask: Are there other minimal requirements for a Christian spouse?
Minimal Requirements for Christian Marriage
We have spoken on this forum before about the minimal requirements for a civil magistrate, most of which are summarized in Exodus 18:21. We know that the Scriptures have minimal requirements for church elders, which are delineated in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. These minimal requirements from Scripture do not mean that it may not be desirable for a civil magistrate or church leader to possess more virtues or talents than are given in these specific Scriptural lists, but they do mean that these are the bare minimum lists of qualification from which we do not have the leeway from God to fudge. We cannot allow for a candidate to fall below these minimal standards. Any extent to which they exceed these minimal standards is cream on the top.
The Bible gives numerous teachings pertaining to marriage, some of which are more heavily emphasized than others. There are some things the Word of God directs, advises, or recommends for marriage. However, the question we ask here is what are the few most essential matters that God’s Word expresses as non-negotiables for everyone?
Occasionally, we catch ourselves saying something such as, “Well, for me this quality or ability [fill in the blank] would be absolutely essential for the future spouse I marry.” The key phrase in that statement is the words “for me.” That phrase reveals what standard we are applying: Ourselves.
The statement reveals that our standard is humanistic because it makes “me” (a fallible human) the standard for what qualities or abilities my future spouse should most essentially possess. As a Christian, however, I have a divine mandate to think God’s thoughts after him (II Cor. 10:5). As Dr. Cornelius Van Til used to say, to seek to be self-consciously “re-interpretive of God’s thoughts” rather than to seek to be original in my thoughts. So we have no option than to ask ourselves, “What qualities does God say are absolutely essential for my future spouse?”
In warfare, the most most essential thing for a foot soldier is that he must have a weapon. No weapon, no war. That’s the minimum. How effective a soldier may be in that war, however, may in large part be determined by the additional qualities of that weapon. Is it a sword, a bayonet, a gun? If it is a gun, is it semi-automatic or automatic? Pistol or rifle? A soldier may select a particular type of weapon because he believes it would make him more effective with it than without it, but we should not confuse the objective bare minimum essential qualities of something with the relative effectual qualities of something.
The history of warfare shows that often armies of lesser means have been successful at defeating armies of greater means because they were more strategic and resourceful with what they had. So effectiveness can often be determined not merely by what you have but by how you use what you have. So it may also be with a prospective marriage partner.
So a person may believe that it would be most effective for their life ministry goals for his or her future spouse to have had seminary training. or at least $50,000 in the bank, or been raised in a homeschool family, or be capable of speaking Spanish, or desiring to go to deepest darkest Africa to preach to the cannibals, etc. All of these may be beneficial qualities that might seem to increase the effectiveness of a particular person’s life ministry, but they are not the bare minimum essentials for a Christian marriage as God’s Word defines them.
To determine the minimal requirements for marriage, we must look to the passages in Scripture wherein God speaks with the greatest specificity and clarity to what is absolutely required for a marriage to be permitted by Him. Not the passages that speak of the most ideal marriage, or the aim of a Christian marriage, but the passages that speak of the starting points for marriage. The things without which God’s Words says emphatically a marriage should never happen.
To boil it down, what are the standards that Scripture makes so minimum for marriage that if you were trapped on a deserted island with only one other person indefinitely, you could not marry them?
Seven Minimal Requirements for Christian Marriage:
- Must Be a Christian (II Cor. 6:14)
- Must Be to Person of the Opposite Gender (Gen. 1:27-28)
- Must Understand that They “Two Become One Flesh” (Matt. 19:5-6)
- The Man Must Be Diligent to Provide for His Family (I Tim. 5:8)
- The Man Must Understand Himself to Be the Shepherd of His Family (Eph. 5:23-33; 6:4)
- The Woman Must Be a Submissive and Fruitful Help Mate to Her Husband (Col. 3:18)
- Must Work Together to Take Dominion by Bringing Greater Value to the Raw Resources of Creation. (Gen. 1:27-28)
This seventh would include “taking dominion” by being fruitful in child birth and raising up the next generation as well as managing other raw materials available to them in nature to bring greater order and benefit in God’s world.
3. Clearly Setting the Boundaries from the Beginning
Since I was 11-years-old, I have committed to the Lord that I would give my first kiss (to a lady outside of my family) to only my wife at my wedding. I have thus far been true to that commitment.
A friend asked me a few years ago whether we ought to dispense with kissing at a wedding because it seemed too physical. However, the kiss is a public symbol of the private consummation between a couple in marriage wherein the Bible says that they gloriously become “one-flesh” — a metaphor for Christ and the Church becoming one (Eph. 5:31-32).
Thus, the kiss is nearly as important an act to be reserved as the consummation. It is the moment at which the two publicly identify with one another as “one flesh” — similar to how baptism is a public identification with Christ after salvation (no offense to my paedo-baptist friends).
People Magazine reports that Jessa and Ben will likewise be saving their “first kiss” for marriage.
“Dad allowed them to do a side hug when they were officially courting,” Michelle, 47, explains. “Jessa and Ben have said that was the only contact they would have, when they initially greet each other, when he comes to visit for their first hello, they have a quick 30 second or less side hug and a goodbye side hug and they agreed that would be the only contact they should have.”
“They want to wait on the physical relationship until later,” she adds. “If there is an engagement that comes about, they will work together on their goals and standards for that.”
Note that Mr. Duggar (the family shepherd) is involved in setting the expectations and rules from the beginning of the relationship so that no one is surprised deep into the relationship.
Also note that the Duggars are allowing some degree of physical affection and touch between the courting couple. As we mentioned above, people are holistic creatures with emotions as well as spirits. It is unnatural for two people considering marrying each other to show absolutely no affection or physical touch of any kind prior to the decision to marry. They just have to be careful in how they go about this.
Touch is one of the five love languages, and a prospective wife has to determine whether her prospective husband can “love” her in all the senses of that word. (See Ephesians 5:25.) Physical affection is a dimension of godly love. So allowing some degree of physical affection is necessary at some point in the getting-to-know-you phase toward marriage. But it must be tempered. If parents have certain restrictions on this that they believe are prudent, it is best for them to state and set these up from the get-go as the Duggars are doing rather than playing “hide the ball” or “caught ya” well into the relationship.
Some folks I know really struggle with allowing some measure of physical affection in the getting to know you phase. I admit that I did when I was forming my views on this subject as a young man. I used to be very judgmental of people who allowed any display of affection prior to marriage. I later realized that I was operating under a pietistic view of spirituality. I was borrowing from the pagan dualism of the ancient Greeks, thinking that the material was bad and the spiritual was inherently good, and that approaching marriage should only be “spiritual.”
Dr. R.J. Rushdoony debunked that false ideology in his book The Flight from Humanity, in which he wrote:
“According to Scripture, it was not man’s flesh that fell into sin, but the whole man. The doctrine of total depravity means that the extent of the Fall is total, that every aspect of man’s being is tainted by sin, and that the root of it is the ‘heart’ of man, in his mind, nature and being. To seek refuge in the spirit to escape from the flesh is to seek sanctity in the capitol of sin, for it was and is man’s desire to be as God, to be his own god, determining good and evil for himself, which is the essence of original sin (Gen. 3:5). The ascetic quest thus took refuge in sin from sin! It flew from the suburbs of temptation into the central city of sin and was then bewildered to find the enemy there.” 
Thus, Rushdoony notes that the physical aspect of man is not the problem. It’s how a person governs his body, just as how he governs his spirit. Both the spirit and body must be brought into subjection to God’s Word. Pietism says that the physical can only be bad and the spiritual is always good.
“For such a [dualistic] philosophy, the soul is essentially good but it is held in a prison- house of flesh. Liberation and/or salvation means to despise material things and concentrate on spiritual things. For Biblical faith, there is nothing evil in the body, nor dos sin spring from the presence of the soul in the body and in the material world.
‘Conversion means not the turning of the soul to seek higher and nobler objects of desire, but a complete change of mind, whereby the self-centered will is changed to a theocentric will, subject to the Will of God.’ 
It is the same way with expressions of affection. While prospective partners should be careful to reserve their richest expressions of affection for their spouse in marriage, it is unnatural to attempt to completely subtract any affection from the relationship. Affection is inescapable.
I had a friend involved in a courtship several years ago who was afraid to tell the girl he was courting, “I love you.” However, he noticed that the girl seemed very disinterested whenever they were together. He grew afraid that he was being so stand-offish and reserved that he was actually sending her the wrong signals that he did not like her. So he finally told her, “Hey, I just want you to know that I’m being very guarded in my conduct with you because I don’t want us to do things wrong. But I do want you to know that I do care very deeply about you.”
When the girl heard that, she smiled and said, “That’s true for me, too.”
I told that story to someone else, and he said, “Well, then for all intents and purposes, they said they loved each other!”
Maybe so, but some degree of affection in an approach toward marriage is inescapable. We just have to be careful about how we go about it. Most importantly, we cannot allow our expressions of physical or emotional affection to imply an idolatry of the other person or of ourselves. God gave us affections to make obeying His commands pleasant. We can turn those pleasures into something idolatrous and erotic if we take them to excess, living as if we were our own gods. We play our own gods when we use a resource He’s given to do something the Lord expressly forbids.
Are Two “Getting to Know Each Other” as Possible Spouses, in Any Kind of Covenant with Each Other?
Occasionally the comment is made that before the marriage vows or the engagement, two Christians who are “getting to know” each other as possible candidates for marriage are in no covenant with each other and thus are not bound to each other in any way. This is partially true, and partially not true.
It is true that these two people are not in covenant to each other in the same way that they would be if they had entered into an engagement or marriage with each other.
But it is not true that these two people are not in any kind of covenant with each other that would govern their behavior and duties toward each other. There are several covenants that they share with one another. First, they share in the covenants that God made with the general human race presented to Adam and then to Noah. Those covenants have rules and expectations procedural to them that are revealed in Scripture. Then, if they are Christians, they are grafted into the Abrahamic covenant as well and all the duties that it entails. Finally, and most significantly, as Christians they are bound to each other under the New Testament covenant in Christ with all of its duties.
This means that neither party has the right to act arbitrarily in the relationship. They do have to be careful to follow the Biblical standards laid out in these covenants toward each other, and they should realize that they are subject to accountability for those duties — to both the Church and ultimately to God. They are to “bear with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3).
What does that mean? Among other things, it means that two Christians do not have the right to deceive each other (either deliberately or negligently) about the expectations of the relationship. In the Bible, this is called “defrauding.” (See, e.g., I Cor. 6:8; I Thess. 4:6.) It means, among other things, that they have a duty to deal with a bump or controversy in the relationship the way that God prescribes, and not to simply dump each other because things aren’t going the way that they want. (See Matthew 18:15-17.) As much as possible, they must realize that whoever they marry, they will be marrying a person who is sinner saved by grace just as are they, and thus forgiveness, patience, and long-suffering are necessary to work through challenges. But two people who cannot work through challenges, cannot have a lasting marriage, nor can they showcase to the lost world what it means to supernaturally love as Christ loved the Church.
No one is autonomous (a law unto himself) in a relationship entered into with marriage in view. Not the young man, not the young lady, not the father, not the mother. No one.
When two people (or two families) enter into an approach toward marriage, whether they call it “courtship” or “betrothal” or something else, all parties are still accountable to God’s Word in how they treat each other, and are accountable to the Body of Christ if one mistreats the other. Where one party to such a relationship deals wrongfully with the other, they are accountable through their church elders for counsel and correction. If a party believes they have been mistreated in such a relationship, both sides must subject themselves to the Matthew 18, Galatians 6, or similar Scriptural procedures for resolving the conflict. Church elders should not try to brush such a conflict under the rug.
Sometimes I hear someone say something like, “No courtship is a failure!” This is not true. If an approach to marriage ends because either or both parties violate the covenant of God’s Law-Word, it is most definitely a failure, and it is wrong to give those who do this false assurance by glossing over it.
Conclusion: Deliberate Duggars
Seeing a family like the Duggars starting a new courtship is exciting, and it’s a great thing to compel us to to be thinking more Biblically about how God wants His people to approach marriage. Ultimately, of course, we can’t put too much pressure on people to set a perfect role model for the rest of us on how to do things. The Duggars (like the rest of us) are fallible people subject to the same temptations we all have and susceptible to the same mistakes anyone can make.
But they are an exceptional family and should be commended in the areas where we observe them exercising God-honoring wisdom, and there are many exceptional Christians who are on this journey.
Whoever you are, if you are on this journey, you have the opportunity to be living epistles of this picture of Christ and His Church (II Cor. 3:2-3). Let us not squander the opportunity, nor turn it into an opportunity for the enemies of God to blaspheme the name of God (II Samuel 12:14). Let’s be deliberate.
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NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
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