Wooing as Warfare, part 3: strategy

(David) In warfare it's essential not to confuse primary and secondary objectives. Stalin's son was captured by the Wehrmacht in World War II. Stalin refused every rescue plan, unwilling in any way to take the focus off the invading Germans.

The primary objective in the war of love is the heart of the potential bride. A suitor can win a father's approval but that's not the ultimate objective. A young man can win all sorts of hearts--his beloved's mother's, sisters', brothers', dog's, even her third-grade teacher's--but if he fails to claim hers, he loses the battle.

One might hope that by winning the daughter the suitor will gain the embrace of her family. But it doesn't always work that way. David gained Michal without ever winning her father's heart; Jacob never truly brought Leah and Rachel's family on board.

Modern "courtship" rightfully elevates the role of fathers in the wooing process. But in elevating that role it may have confused young men about the ultimate goal of courtship, causing them to think that winning the father's approval is tantamount to winning their bride. Young men must still pursue the woman they love--even with her father's approval. Ultimately they must woo and win her, not just her father or family.

It's at this point that modern courtship theory often leaves young men unprepared to successfully prosecute their pursuit. In courtship's renewed emphasis on father and family, the suitor's approach to the father--the official starting point for the process of courtship--often becomes a surrogate proposal. As a result courtship often begins where it should end, with an appeal to a father not far removed from a request for the daughter's hand. Once a young man talks to a father everyone knows something significant has happened, but what exactly is it? Has the young man started down the path to courtship--or to marriage, and is there a difference between the two in the mind of the father? In the mind of the young man? In the heart of the daughter? Is the daughter now limited to the young man in her romantic interests? Has he trifled with her heart if he decides he's no longer interested in her?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter what name the pursuit is given, dating, courting, wooing, its objective is the heart of the young woman. And because the woman's heart is courtship's goal, it must also be be its starting point. The guy must win the girl. Everything else is secondary--not unimportant, not incidental, but still secondary.

Young men must understand that there isn't a worthy marriage in Scripture where the woman wasn't won before the marriage took place. The pursuit can be straightforward, like Adam with Eve. It can be intense and intrigue-filled like the romance of Song of Solomon. It can be sweet and gentle like Boaz with Ruth. Even those marriages in Scripture which we might think violate this rule actually follow it. Abraham sent his servant to arrange the marriage of his son, Isaac, to a girl from his homeland. An obviously arranged marriage, right? Well no. In fact, we read in Genesis 24, that when Abraham's servant wanted to leave with Rebekah the day after he met her, Laban and Bethuel...

...called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.” So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

     Our sister, may you become
               thousands of ten thousands,
      and may your offspring possess
               the gate of those who hate them!”

Yes the father is important. Yes, he has a vital say in the process. But the girl is the prize. Winning a father's heart while losing his daughter's is failure. Gain the daughter's heart and you've come close to conquering the father as well. Courtship's starting and ending point is the heart of a woman.


When you say what "modern courtship" does or means, what is your source?

Thanks so much for this series. It has been great to hear someone say "out loud" what I always suspected. And, it has been a great help to me as I attempt to "win" the heart of a woman.

"Has he trifled with her heart if he decides he's no longer interested in her?"

Quite possibly, yes. But was he committed to marry her? No. I think we call that 'engagement', not 'courtship'.

On the other hand, I tried very hard to follow the principles I gleaned from the "courtship" movement (primarily Doug Wilson's book), and found that my intention to proceed with the father's permission was well received but also extremely awkward since it's so rare. Things went much more smoothly when I simply pursued the woman and didn't worry too much about talking to her father until after she responded positively and before we started "dating".

But that woman (who became my wife, praise be to God) was very different than the ones before, so I think God's gracious crafting of the situation had much more to do with it than any change in my approach.

However, I don't see how I was "at war" with her father, in any sense. He's a godly man, and there was the usual and necessary "security-clearance" type stuff, but I never felt that I was in conflict with him where our goals were incompatible.




I think that the point David is trying to make is more that you are at war for her affections/attention. When my husband and I were dating and then engaged there was a very strong conflict within me because I had so many attachments to my father that needed to be broken and remade with my husband.

Where do I go when I need help with something I'm struggling with? Where do I go when I'm upset? Where do I go when I need someone to rebuke me? Where do I go for encouragement and tenderness? Can I trust this man the way I know I can trust my father? In essence, who do I turn to as the authority in my earthly life? My entire life was spent in submission to my father. I literally idolized him.

Jeff (my hubby) really had to help me to see that those bonds had to be broken and that I needed to turn to him as my spiritual leader and the person in whom God had placed my care. This was a violent and painful process for us to go through. It may not have been gory on the outside, but the battle for my heart was quite y and I am constantly grateful that God provided me with a husband who was ready for that battle.

I could be way off with David's point, but this is what I've been thinking about since he posted the first on this subject.


Laura Moore

Dear Laura,

You put it better than I could. Thank you.

Your brother in Christ,


Ah, thank you.

Certainly, in marriage a part of a body is being torn away to form another body. The only time that won't be bloody and painful is when amputation has already taken place (and I don't think that can happen without tragedy of some sort).

I think the conflict wasn't as evident in our case (I'm a bit dense, y'know), but I do see that it was there.

David: I am most concerned at some of the parallels you draw and how often you flip back and forth between scriptures and your opinions. Stalin’s Son? Come on. I think we all know Stalin’s Objectives!

Biblical courtship: Is it not the objective (of it and ultimately in our own lives) to glorify God in every area of our lives including the selection of a wife and the ongoing growth and sanctification of them and their family? Why must you bash family’s attempts to approach choosing a wife through keeping God at the head of such a process? Was David (the Biblical David of course) a perfect example of choosing a wife, No! So does God tell us to follow his (David’s) lead in every area of our lives, absolutely not? I think God reveals the actions of David and others’ lives in order to help us learn what God found both pleasing and displeasing to God. Let me ask you David. Would you advise a young Christian man, who is sometimes /often confused about their own motives or intentions and just their overall lack of maturity and who often do not consider everything, to go against the wisdom and council of a Christian father & mother whose primary concern is for the young lady, their son, the consequences of a wrong choice to the both families and their relationship, and their relationship together with our Heavenly Father?

This attitude resonates in a number of discussions I have heard/read from you. If we follow your logic to its ultimate conclusion, then what I am hearing is “Boys, what the Bible tells us doesn’t matter, we should just do whatever and suffer the consequences cause that is the way we learn.” Where are the sermons/note that encourages one another to love and good deeds? Or considering one another more than ourselves? And specifically, how do you reconcile this with the 5th commandment -- Honor thy Father and Mother and your days will be long on the earth?

Brother, I think this is what God calls us to do! I truly do not read the opinions expressed here in the scripture anywhere, and would certainly appreciate the biblical correction if I missed it! As a father of young men, and one who feels a biblical responsibility to train them, and lead them, and encourage them to have respect for authority, I cannot agree with what you have written. I read once where someone cited Rom 13:10 - "true love does no harm to a neighbor and fulfills the law." So we must find a lawful way for our young people to fall in love and prepare for marriage. And have respect for those God has placed over them.

A Concerned Father in Christ.

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