Wooing as warfare, part 1...

Three things are too wonderful for me;
        four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
        the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
        and the way of a man with a virgin.

(David) The way of a man with a woman is one of life’s great mysteries. From every perspective the process is mysterious, resembling a blindfolded sabre dance on uneven ground. The young man who pursues marriage enters a foreign land where he wages war. On the hinges of that battle lie happiness or shame.

But though a potential bride may be deeply loved, she’s also at some level the foe. To achieve victory the young man must not only win her, he must defeat her and her family, snatching her from their bosom, converting her to himself, breaking her natural bonds with father and mother, brother and sister, nurse and friend, dog and home. There’s little that’s tender about it. At funerals we cloak harsh reality in kind words and soft colors. So too, at weddings soft words and vibrant colors disguise a bloody truth. The wedding ceremony is really a mini-Versailles, an Appomattox-in-a-nutshell of capitulation and triumph, the surrender of one woman to one man, the victory song of groom over both bride and family.

Scripture tells us that a king should count the cost before sending his army into battle. In the same way a young man should count the cost and weigh the odds before entering the lists of romantic battle. It’s not an easy course. Rewarding, pleasurable, wonderful, yes, but pitched conflict fraught with danger as well.

Is such thinking antiquated in this day of feminist equality? Not if we take at face value Scripture’s statement that Christ’s relationship to His bride, the Church, is the template for human marriage. Christ came to woo, but to woo He first had to conquer. And not just conquer Satan, but woo and conquer His bride as well.

It’s ironic that modern Christian thinking about wooing seeks to domesticate an inherently conflicted and dangerous process. The desire of many Christians in the realm of romance seems to be to render warfare safe—as though, unlike Christ’s battle for His bride, the way of a man with a virgin should be entirely risk-free and controlled.

The obvious problem with such an approach is that it doesn’t eradicate danger, it merely delays the necessary battles of courtship and wooing until after marriage—when the stakes are even higher and the costs of failure even greater.

The one great danger we should seek to preserve our children from in the process of their moving toward marriage is sin. But even here, the solution to sin is not mere avoidance of temptation. The solution ultimately must be victory over temptation. Which of us would think we’ve successfully inoculated our children against the dangers of alcohol if we’ve only kept them from seeing wine or tasting beer?

The modern courtship movement is in many ways a doomed attempt to render the wooing process conflict free. It seeks to keep temptation at bay. It seeks to manage the relationship of potential groom to potential bride. It provides forms which guide the man’s approach not only to his potential bride, but to her family. It is, in a word, safe. And for that very reason it is ultimately dangerous, because marriage is not safe, and the wooing which leads to marriage is not safe. It is war, and the quicker our children understand this the better. It is war against sin. It is the breaking of families and established orders. It is secession and union all in one, penetration and insemination, not merely lacy ruffles and Pachelbel canons but velvet-gloved violence. All this courtship conceals. But it will out—in marriage if not before.

It doesn’t matter what we call the wooing process: courting, dating, wooing. In the end, the goal is to establish bonds that last. At times that will require things our safe forms rebel against—for instance, a long journey by a man and espoused virgin with none accompanying them, with no protection for the woman’s virtue save the man’s honor. This, my friends, is the kind of danger we need to train our children to meet. And, this, I fear, is the kind of danger the courtship movement seeks simply to avoid.



I think your conclusions are dead on with respect to courtship. In fact, this seems to be the approach many evangelicals take with regards to any possible temptation - take the safe route and shelter their children from all manner of temptation right up to the day they are married.

However, I am a little troubled with your comparison of wooing to warfare. Hyperbole to make a point?

What does "wooing" look like? First, I heard (too late) that "dating" is wrong. Now, you're saying courtship is dangerous. Are you just saying that courtship simply seeks to remove temptation without providing strength to resist it? Again, my question is, what is the alternative to dating and courting? What specifically does it look like?

Amen to this hyberbole-free post. Forgiveness in the aftermath is harder when the war takes you by surprise.

I'm not sure I'm following you.

Put aside the poetic rhetoric for a second and describe what this *looks like* in some random examples?

The modern courtship "movement" (and it's not unified in any way fair to call it that) is predominately a reaction against the societal, date this one, date that one, date another one, and see how many hearts can be broken before marriage even is considered.

When I read your post, though, I would get the idea that the father of the potential bride has nothing to do with this process at all. Nope, I just wait around for the knight in not-so-shining armor to come and woo my daughter. He's a drunk who will likely beat her? No problem--she'll figure it out before she's swept off her feet by his wooing.

Now see, I know that's *NOT* what you're saying.

But one could get there with it--and I'm wanting you to clarify what it is that you *are* saying.

What you very simply label "modern courtship" is a hundred different things in fifteen different corners of american Christendom. Therefore your critique needs less broad brush and a bit more "what to do instead."

That also and I'm not quite sure that any amount of wooing before marriage eliminates the necessary wooing after the fact, which also seems to be what you're saying here.

So can I get some clarifying thoughts?

James, I think you may have missed this in the post, "But though a potential bride may be deeply loved, she’s also at some level the foe. To achieve victory the young man must not only win her, he must defeat her and her family, snatching her from their bosom, converting her to himself, breaking her natural bonds with father and mother, brother and sister, nurse and friend, dog and home."

The young man must engage in battle with her father as well. Not a picture of passive observance, is it?

To me, the courtship movement sounds like a sanctified version of how the professional managers want to raise our children. Have you seen a playground lately? Our entire society is trying to tame life and we end up getting something that looks very much like Budziszewski's thesis, "Revenge of the Conscience". Life isn't safe. Nor is it meant to be.

Forget playgrounds. If some Christians are trying to injury-proof the mating game by making it fool-proof, look at what the professionals have done to sex for our children (yes, children). Give them a bit of latex and a few chemicals and they think they have made the most dangerous act of all injury-proof.

If life were really as safe as the "professional" try to make it, I'd be looking for work!


It is an interesting hyperbole or metaphor. And it’s loose enough that anyone could pretty much take it any way they wanted. Thus, I kinda don’t know what you’re talking about.

Breaking bonds with family seems a bit dangerous. It seems to me it might be more appropriate to win the affection, admiration and acceptance of the family so that they are eager to add a man as a member. I suppose one could say that is a battle to be won in the sense that it takes effort and strategy to accomplish.

The potential bride seems to be too far out of the picture. Young women need to be taught how to protect their own virtue so that a man does not think she is a time bomb that he has to keep under control or it will go off.

I think both of them need to be protecting self and each other. And both of them should be viewing the potential commitment with fully open eyes. A young woman needs to think carefully before accepting a proposal, just as a young man needs to think carefully before making such a proposal.


I dunno about the wooing vs courtship vs dating debate---all I know is that your first two paragraphs were wonderful. The idea of being conquered and won by a godly man is simply beautiful to me.

What is the Biblical approach and view?

What is the appropriate role for the family of the potential bride both before the marriage and after the marriage?

In the wedding ceremony, the father often answers the question, "Who gives the bride away?" My friends who recently "gave their daughter" in marriage did so joyfully. They did not see themselves as conquered but instead rejoiced as they watched their daughter marry a godly man. Is their view Biblical? Should they have seen this as defeat?

I'm trying to understand this reformed view.


Dear KC,

It's interesting, isn't it, that the two countries the US primarily fought in WW2 are among its closest allies today--Japan even approaching the UK in closeness to the US.

War doesn't have to produce long-term enmity. But it is a contest where there are strategic objectives and goals, including subordination and long-term relationships. Marriage ends in the submission of a bride to a groom and her departure from her family and friends for the groom's family, God and home. Now, unless you think submission comes easily, that transfer of authority is perfectly natural, you've got to admit that the process leading to marriage is far more like war and battle than we generally admit.

Because we don't like to admit this, we pretend that godly families are usually just perfectly happy to give their daughters to godly men, that they naturally get along, etc. But, you know, it may be that the warfare is just subterranean.

There is no single "how" to the process. Every battle is fought on its own terrain. Some are easy, some are tough. Some are screaming and bloody, some are fought largely in parlors over tea and crumpets.


David Bayly says: "Marriage ends in the submission of a bride to a groom and her departure from her family and friends for the groom's family, God and home."

The Bible says: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

(Genesis 2:24)

I understand that you are describing warfare. Your comparison with the Japanese explained that again, and I appreciate that. The part that is not clear to me is the Biblical attitude of the parents of the Bride to be. If the bride's parents desired to be Biblical and honor Christ in their actions, thoughts, and words should they view the marriage of their daughter as defeat? Should they view a potential suitor as a threat to their family? As warfare, in terms of attitude and thinking how should they approach this part of the Christian life?


I apologize if I am completely failing to grasp the point. But, the rhetoric here seems to border on nonsense.

'The young man who pursues marriage enters a foreign land where he wages war. On the hinges of that battle lie happiness or shame."

There ought not be shame for any godly young man to pursue a godly young woman in a righteous manner, if after prayerful consideration one or both of them determine that a marriage between them is not God's best for them.

At the same time winning a "war", the prize of which is a bride, hardly seems like a guaranteed recipe for happiness, if the match is not of God's doing.

While I am convinced that scripture portrays marriage as the expected state for most people (with Paul even exhorting widows to remarry so they don't become gossips and busybodies), portraying happiness and shame as described in the original post seems badly framed.

I am the father of several daughters, the oldest two being at or near marriageable age. I have no expectation of any sort of warfare with prospective son-in-laws. If they are godly young men with honorable lives and demonstrated ability to support a family, and the interest of my daughter, they will not find me fighting against their efforts. If they lack any of those qualifications, there will be no war, because their will be no opportunity for it.

As for a "long journey by the man and the espoused virgin with none accompanying them for the woman's virtue save the man's honor," this passes the border of nonsense and lands at home right in the middle of it. I do not find anywhere in the Bible the encouragement to create situations for temptation. There are plenty of those without creating any extras. Rather we are called to flee temptation, to look for the way of escape provided.

"Lead us not into temptation."

I appreciate this site and many of the ideas presented. But, this one is too wrong to let pass. I am not sure why the harangue against godly family involvement in guiding the path to marriage, but I certainly don't see any Biblical justification for it, either in the post or in scripture. Maybe you would like to try again?

Dear Ray,

I'm not sure my second try would make you any happier. I'm suggesting that in the end even a godly man such as yourself could be an impediment to his daughter's happiness and the marriage God desires for her, and I'm calling on young men to realize this could be the case even with godly prospective fathers-in-law.

Brother, does it give you no pause to recognize that Manoah and his wife opposed a match between their son and a Philistine woman that Scripture tells us God had ordained as a means of humbling the Philistines?

I'd like to see a bit more humility in our assumptions about how capable we are of leading our sons and daughters.

"There will be no war because there will be no opportunity for it." Well, I hope you're right. But just maybe a young man will have to establish that's he's destined to be the man of his house even against a godly man such as yourself.



It seems to me your examples are mixing apples and oranges.

An example from the time of the judges, when “Men did what was right in their own eyes” seems hardly the best example for a father today. God is able to work his will as he did with Samsom’s father, mother and Samson himself in the midst of rebellion and neglect of God’s ways.

In the New Testament there are better examples and clearer teaching for those in the Church today. We are clearly called today to have believers marry only other believers. Should I look back to Samson and disregard the current teaching?

Paul instructs us that it is OK for us to let our virgins marry. I hope I made it clear that not only am I not seeking to prevent my daughters marriage, using the best of my understanding of scripture I intend to help them.

“But just maybe a young man will have to establish that's he's destined to be the man of his house even against a godly man such as yourself.”

My daughter is not part of another man’s house until I give her to him. It seems to be a pretty sorry state of affairs if the default setting is to expect battles among inlaws who are all believers. Is God a God of division?

I understand that my knowledge of God’s will is not perfect. I have been wrong before, and God has overridden my plans. I will be wrong again in the future, and I expect him to override my will (for my good) in those times as well. But, I will not willingly or intentionally abdicate the responsibility he has charged me with as a father.


It seems your images may be too direct for some not to see past them. But what is at stake, after all? Ray says, "if they are godly young men. . . " and what is that but not a battle of sorts, for the young man to prove his worth to the father, so the father does not stand in the daughter's way?

It is a battle, a test of will and worth, a battle for trust and affection - it must be won and not easily given simply because a young man proves himself godly at some level.

I keep thinking of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe:

Never, never, never,

"Faint heart never won fair lady!"

Every journey has an end,

When at the worst affairs will mend –

Dark the dawn when day is nigh –

Hustle your horse and don't say die!


(who is, admittedly, thinking of not so young men and their seemingly faint hearts)

It may be that Kamilla has given a helpful clue.

It appears that there is some heartburn with the “courtship” movement, as though this is some monolithic creation. If that is the case, then maybe a more direct approach would make the point clearer than the rhetoric.

But, the “courtship movement” does not exist as a monolithic entity. There are all sorts of variations, probably almost as many variations as families trying to do better than what American culture has offered in the past.

Could it be that the simple point trying to be made is that the “courtship” movement has made cowards out of Christian young men, possibly in part because they are afraid of dealing with potential father-in-laws? In the past they simply had to seduce (sorry if that is not the best word, but godly young men sin also) a young woman, and the family then generally went along.

If the point is to exhort godly young men to step up and fill their proper role, then maybe we (the Bayly’s and I) have some agreement. I am looking around and I see way too many godly young women drifting about without a godly young man in sight. But, it is a feminized culture that is more likely to blame than godly fathers looking out for their daughters. I don’t think godly young men need to be encouraged to “attack” their prospective in-laws as they simply need to be encouraged to grow up and act like men.


Dear Ray,

You've nailed part of the issue in your last comment. I do think there is occasionally the need for a potential groom to deal somewhat forcefully with a woman's father in a way that courtship seems to deny. I also suspect that there are times when the girl's own voice is lost in the equation because she's taken for granted by the man once he's spoken to the father. Yet he must still woo and win her. I've seen men think they've accomplished things by speaking to fathers that they've not come near to accomplishing in the mind of the girl.

I'm going to write more about this in the future.

Your brother in Christ,


Dear David,

I remain pretty much in the dark about exactly what about “courtship” is bothering you, or what particular variant you are dealing with that has started you on this discussion, because you are painting the picture with a pretty broad brush. At a pretty basic level the two items you list…

“I do think there is occasionally the need for a potential groom to deal somewhat forcefully with a woman's father in a way that courtship seems to deny.”

“I also suspect that there are times when the girl's own voice is lost in the equation because she's taken for granted by the man once he's spoken to the father.”

… do not seem to me to be inherently linked with courtship.

With regard to the first, I can’t picture the situation you have in mind. While I have not had to deal with it personally, my expectation is that “My yes will be yes” and “My no will be no”. There is a problem somewhere else, not necessarily with courtship, if a prospective future son-in-law thinks he needs to “deal somewhat forcefully” with me. I really doubt that it would be a good idea.

As for the second, that just sounds plain dumb to me. Maybe it happens, but again, if it is “courtship” then it is a variant that hardly deserves the name.

So, in closing, I would like to suggest you step back a little and in clear, plain English make your points clearly and specificly. I am by no means an expert, but I teach debate to high school students (and I tread with some trepidation here because I suspect you know more about formal debate than I do) and Step 1 is to define your terms so that everyone knows what is being discussed. Then, you clearly lay out exactly what problems you see. Finally, you present your proposed solution. At this point you seem to have your rhetorical canon aimed at some vague concept and are blasting away for reasons that are not completely clear.



Dear Sir,

Marriage is war, dangerous and wives are enemies? You reference scripture relating to counting the costs of going into war which encourages us to count the cost of following Christ but how does this have any relation to marriage? Please I ask for direct scripture from where you have drawn your conclusions so I might better understand your point of view. Thank you.

Dear AC Koelln, 

Marriage can be warfare at times. But I referred to wooing in this post. Read it from that perspective and perhaps it will make more sense to you.

David Bayly

For people who don't believe in Passover, Kosher laws or ethnic Israel's rights to her land, you sure like the Old Testament when it suits your purposes.

The woman or man who wrote the comment immediately above lied when he signed in to our commenting software, giving a fake e-mail address. And for the record, here is a video of "Casu Marzu."

Add new comment