Wooing as Warfare, part 4: triangulation

(David) Okay, a couple assumptions at the outset.

First, a father has authority over the marriage of a daughter living in his home. This is demonstrated in Scripture by the father’s right to negate a marriage occasioned by a man’s seduction of his virgin daughter.

Second, nowhere ever is sex permitted outside marriage. However, it’s also the case that sex between unmarried adults establishes marriage when promises are exchanged and a father doesn’t veto.

Third, respect for authority is vital. But respect doesn’t require agreement. Nor does it necessitate absolute, unwavering, slavish obedience. Abigail respected Nabal by going to David with her caravan of goods, thus saving Nabal’s life—though he may not have seen it as respectful submission in the midst of his drunken stupor. Authentic authority is not always wise or godly authority. And just as we seek to change the hearts and minds of earthly rulers, so a suitor’s attempts to win a wife don’t necessarily have to come to a clanging stop at a father’s no, though the heart of the father’s authority over his daughter’s marriage must be respected.

Now, having established these baseline assumptions—and I mean them folks, don’t think I don’t—several thoughts about wooing as warfare when the father and family oppose the marriage.

First, let me say very clearly that parents can be—and often are—wrong in their opinions about daughter’s suitors. You may think you’d never act contrary to God’s will for the good of your daughter. Fine, let’s stipulate the truth of this in your case and move on to Ralph, your unwise, not-so-devout friend who just might let personal feelings, biases and plain old ignorance interfere.

Ralph doesn’t want a manual worker for his precious dancer/free spirit/artist daughter. She deserves a doctor, better yet, a professor like himself. Or he doesn’t want a hopeless patriarchalist intruding upon and blighting his daughter’s freedom. Now, here’s the thing: courtship and parental authority aren’t just for Christians. If you’re committed to courtship and parental authority and you just happen to be attracted to the godly daughter of a raving lefty at the local university who hates Christians on principle, you can’t just back out of your commitment to courtship and the father’s authority. You’ve got to beard the man and win his approval, knowing that he’s probably going to say no to you simply because you’re a Christian. What do you do then?

Here are several things to bear in mind….

First, and slightly off the point of the question I pose above, approaching the father at the very outset of your interest in his daughter is probably unwise. Get to know the girl. Get to know if you’re interested in her. See if there’s a reciprocal spark of enthusiasm in her.  And remember the assumptions we began with. No sexual acts, not even holding her hand. But go for the girl. Go as far as you’re honestly able in gaining her heart before approaching her father. Speak to her father when she tells you she can’t go further in good conscience or when he asks you what you’re up to. Don’t borrow trouble. Don’t go to dad when neither you nor the girl know exactly what you think about each other.  Don’t awaken love before its time.

Remember, the girl you’re pursuing is going to read the world into your approach to her dad. Make sure you’re ready to awaken that kind of emotion and man enough to prosecute your suit in the face of it. And, though I hate to mention this, it’s also possible that you’re persuaded something wonderful is there when she’s merely suffering you. It happens, men: you think something great is happening and she’s simply being kind. Go to the father when the daughter’s uninterested and you’ll awaken scorn rather than love.

Second, if dad opposes, ask yourself if you’re pursuing the right woman. The answer here isn’t obvious either way. It may be that God is demonstrating His “no” through the father’s. But—and this is equally possible—the father may simply need more reason to say yes.  Not every no is final. Many are probationary. Is there something you can do to alter his opinion? If so, seek it and do it. Perhaps he’s made his objections to some part of your relationship quite clear and you can meet those objections in good conscience. Well then, do so.

Third, if dad opposes and you believe God wants you married to his daughter, consider triangulation. This, brothers, is where war becomes serious. Triangulation turns a daughter into an ally against her father. Now you will already have begun triangulating simply by gaining a place in the daughter’s heart—this is, after all, your strongest suit with any father. But a further step in this direction is to take the opposite tack. If you are committed to obtaining the father’s approval and he unreasonably withholds it—and if you’re certain God wants you to marry the girl—then consider making very clear to both daughter and father your continued interest and desire for marriage and the impediment his refusal places in your path. Make this fundamentally clear to both, then tell them that because of the father’s refusal you are forced to break all contact with the daughter until and unless the father changes his mind. Finally, do as you say: break contact. Do it absolutely and unflinchingly.  Be brave. Don’t say one thing and do another. Totally break contact. Trust God and give her up.

This is war. But it’s also love. You might just have to sacrifice your hopes to gain the girl. Does God want you married to her? If so, trust Him by renouncing her. Remember, Abraham did the same with Isaac and received him back. Do so in faith. Demonstrate to the father the seriousness of his refusal by acting in accord with it. Put the pressure entirely on him. Make his daughter your ally by forcing him to face her desperate unhappiness at your departure from her life. Give him no other option than a stark choice between total responsibility for her unhappiness and capitulation to your suit.

If the man who sets out to woo a woman gives up simply because her father refuses his approval, I question his manhood and the extent of his commitment in the first place. Take it to the father, men. Wage war. Do so respectfully. Don’t betray foundational commitments. Don’t sin in the way you fight your battle. But do fight, man, fight for your bride, fight every foe: change yourself if necessary, fight your own weaknesses and sins; change her father; make it clear to all that you’ll fight to the end to gain her. A real man will do no less.



I thought this is where you were taking the subject. Makes a lot more sense now. I enthusastically agree except that the sentence "Give him no other option than a stark choice between total responsibility for her unhappiness and capitulation to your suit" rings caution bells that such brutal manipulation is walking a *very* narrow road with big ditches (i.e. sin) on either side.

Sort of like seeing someone drive 140 mph in a 45 zone. No sign of an accident, but surely such behavior *will* cost lives at some point or another.

But sometimes life doesn't permit safety, and you have to floor it. God have mercy.


Excellent. Sounds like you have been thinking about this a lot lately. Is Elizabeth growing up or something? :)

Love you,


What follows below was written since last night, before reading this latest edition in the series. As will become obvious, Mr. Bayly and I disagree on a major point. God has ordained fathers, good or bad, as protection for their daughters. A godly young man has no business going around the father. I doubt that we will come to an agreement on this point, so I will post my comments and move on.

I do also want to ponder aloud about the scenario posed with the daughter of the Christian hater. Are we to suppose that the daughter is not a Christian, or is hated by her father? Bad cases make bad law. This seems to be building on a very shaky foundation.

In the discussion as it had progressed as I left it yesterday evening, David Bayly had set out two points that comprised at least a portion of his view of "courtship". Since I disagree with both of those points as I understand them, I will attempt to deal with them in more detail than I have so far, mostly by dealing with the broader picture of courtship in general.

“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.”

Courtship: A process where a young man seeks to gain a wife.

In this process the father plays a certain definite role. He is placed by God, and therefore stands, as the protector of the interests of his daughter.

At the start of the process the father stands between the daughter and the vast numbers of theoretically possibly suitors, most of whom are unlikely candidates, and many of whom are real threats to his daughters long term happiness in this life. None of the potential suitors have any standing or rights at all to make any claims or demands.

It is the hope of the godly father that at some point out of this sea arises a young man who has noticed his daughter and screwed up enough courage to take a chance at becoming better acquainted with her, and if all goes well, winning her hand in marriage. Simply taking an interest does not changes this young man's standing in the least. He is still an outsider and has no rights or claims.

I will digress momentarily to deal with the case where, prior to the father's approval the young man has gone around her rightful protector and stolen her heart and affections. This is wrong, and having done so he has gone a long ways toward declaring himself unworthy of gaining her hand. He has no right to complain if the father summarily sends him away. The father may ultimately determine this to be a youthful indiscretion and overlook it in the best interest of his daughter, but that is for the father to decide.

Returning to the young man who we now assume has not started out wrongly. He is asking the father for access to the daughter, with the goal of winning her love and affections. The young man has no right to demand, and the father has no obligation to grant such access. The sea is large and the poor fish outnumber the good. We should not be surprised if some fish get tossed back summarily.

At the point the father grants access a major change takes place in the dynamics of the situation. The young man has been granted standing, and the father ought not treat that grant lightly. The focus now shifts to the daughter, and she becomes the primary center of attention of the young man. As has been said, just because the father is "won" does not mean that the daughter is.

However, the father is not completely out of the picture. He is still there watching over and protecting his daughter, but now more by guidance and advice than by outright access control.

This does not mean that the young man does not still have two major hurdles to overcome. The first is winning the heart and affections of the young woman. The second is the approval of the father for the marriage.

While it should be done with great caution, it may become necessary for the father to rescind access. Remember, the daughter is under the protection of the father until she marries. This may be a very awkward situation, but the father would be failing in his responsibilities if he allowed a situation to continue if he figures out that he has made a mistake. Compounding the original mistake of granting access by a second, greater mistake of allowing access to continue when the young man has subsequently demonstrated unworthiness, is foolishness indeed.

But, at some point, in the wonderful providence of God, some young men actually succeed in passing through the courtship process and winning a wife. At that point the young woman leaves the protection of her father and comes under the protection of her husband. When that happens the father has ceded his rights and responsibilities and needs to make sure he does not meddle with the new family.

There are many places that human weaknesses and foibles can and will make a mess of this process. But, that does not mean the process is flawed and should be changed or overridden.

I think Ray summarized well the overall perspective of how courtship is to work properly.

I did want to make a point related to what you said in the post, David:

"...parents can be—and often are—wrong in their opinions about daughter’s suitors."

"if you’re certain God wants you to marry the girl"

Parents can also be more clear-sighted than their children at times as well. Fathers can have a clearer view of a young man than their daughters.

Young men can also be wrong. How are they certain that God wants them to marry a particular girl? Because they know down deep in their heart? The father's permission should be part of the process that confirms God's will; a young man should not go into the process thinking "I know God wants me to marry her, so if her father refuses, it must be unreasonable." If the young man does this, he may not correct certain things that he ought to. In this situation, the "triangulation" approach you offer would be disasterous. The young man "knows" the will of God, but he himself is insufferable. The daughter, however, is swayed by his loving attention--and will you tell me that girls' affections are never captured by the wrong sort of guy?--and together they oppose the father, who is the one who actually has authority in the situation.

These are just some balancing points to you post, which I agreed with overall. And Doug Wilson has addressed many of these errors of courtship in his books, articles, and sermons. Again, though, the circles in which I find myself do not have a problem with taking courtship too far, but rather with not taking care to think biblically and protect young people in the process of choosing a spouse.

By the way..

"if you’re certain God wants you to marry the girl"

What's the difference between believing this (let alone articulating it to woman or father) and declaring "thus saith the Lord"?

The warfare analogy is one thing, but I figure you don't want to bring the penalty for false prophecy into this ;)

this is one of the more idiotic things i've ever read. thanks for wasting my time.

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