The book “5 Paths to the Love of Your Life”, while accurately titled, is also potentially misleading. This isn’t a “how to” guide on finding a romantic partner. Rather it covers a range of philosophies on moving from singleness to marriage for Christians—what is descriptively called by one author, “premarital relationships”. I think the premise of the book is great: have five intelligent authors representing a range of views each write a chapter describing their thoughts on this topic. The book is eight to nine years old at this point; it was written in the wake of the dating controversy sparked by Joshua Harris’ book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in the late nineties.
The views contained in this book range from betrothal on one end to several approaches to dating on the other. Though not ordered this way in the book, I chose to read the chapters in order from most conservative to least conservative. (This is possible since each chapter stands on its own.)
The first view I read was that of betrothal. While the author is intelligent and well written, I found his views to be ridiculous at points. My take is that he regrets hurting some the of women he dated in the past, so he wants to control relationships such that other Christians don’t get hurt or hurt others. He proposes to do this by means of locking people into their first relationship. (He instructs minimal contact between people of opposite genders—being friendly is flirting and defrauds the other person—until a betrothal has been made, at which point it would take a divorce to break.) This doesn’t fully or fairly represent everything he said but is the heart of it in my opinion.
The next view was that of courtship. The author was very reasonable and gracious. However the big disagreement I had with him (which also held true for most of the other authors) is his beliefs in complementarianism and authority. This is hotly debated topic in Christianity. My impression is that at present there is a fairly even split between the number of those who believe in complementarianism verses egalitarianism. Though digging in can get complicated, in a sentence, complementarians believe that men and women are made differently, and that part of this means that men are in some way over women. Those who hold this view correctly recognize that men tend to be certain ways and women tend to be other ways. The problem is that they use this as evidence to say “this is how all men (or women) should be”. In other words, they take gender stereotypes and indoctrinate them as God’s holy will. Often time they subsequently condemn or criticize those who don’t fit the stereotype. (I talk about this more here.)
The author of the chapter on courtship made an analogy of a backhoe verses a vase. He says that neither one is better than the other, that they both have certain things which they do well. Consequently they have roles which they ought to stay in. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to plant flowers in a backhoe, or use a vase to dig a ditch. The author used this analogy as a metaphor for men and women and as an explanation of complementarianism. However I believe it supports my point. I don’t believe we should force a person to act like a backhoe—even if they’re made more like a vase—just because of their gender. I don’t believe that just because a person doesn’t fit their gender’s stereotype in some way doesn’t mean that they are made wrong or aren’t a good man or woman. This is why I’m egalitarian and not complementarian. (Egalitarians hold that people aren’t limited in what they can do because of their gender and that men and women are equal in authority.)
Another disagreement I had with most of the authors was how they held onto the traditional view that men and women should remain “at arms length” except in marriage. Many of the authors talked about “guarding your heart” and advised this distance for that reason. Getting emotionally entangled in an unhealthy way is certainly possible and something we should attempt to avoid. However, in the kingdom of God (expressed in the community of those who are following Christ presently), I believe we are intended to relate as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, etc. In other words, we are to be close like family—even between members of the opposite sex. This is a kingdom paradigm of bold love and won’t work if people are only thinking about how they can hook up. Cross-gender friendships are just beginning to be debated, but I believe the way forward is to work to move beyond the fear of the opposite sex. Again, this is a large topic on its own (I’ve written an introduction here and have written a number of other times on the subject).
Moving on, though the authors diverged significantly in some of their application, what stood out to me is how similar most of the views were in many respects. All of the authors acknowledged that people could misuse their approach if they chose, meaning that a certain amount of maturity and spiritual commitment are required no matter what method is used. The principals therefore are of first importance ahead of the methods. The difference in views then is not so much a range of methods as it is how strictly a method needs to be adhered to. The author espousing betrothal acknowledged that the principals are more important than merely going through the steps. Nevertheless, he feels that betrothal is the most biblical model and should be adhered to as much as possible. On the other hand, the authors which allow for dating do so because they believe that the principals can be followed without adhering to a strict method of courtship.
It was also good that most of the authors acknowledged that many people use the same terms differently, whether it be dating, courtship, or betrothal. Some specifically stated that the term used isn’t what is important. What is most important is to keep focused on God and acting in love and respect toward everyone. In understanding the terms, Lauren Winner did the best job of giving a brief history of how our culture moved from arranged marriage to “calling” to “going out”. One of the other authors had the best definition of date which I’ve heard: a prearranged social engagement. Recognizing this broad definition explains in part why there is so much confusion about dating—it could mean almost anything—or nothing at all. That’s why it’s important to clarify intentions and direction on a routine basis (DTR).
More similarities included how all authors instructed receiving counsel from families and/or friends (diverging more on the strictness of application), held sexual intercourse to be out-of-bounds, offered caution in regards to emotional engagement, and held marriage to in some way be the end goal of these relationships. I believe this makes a strong case for these being considered as the Christian views on premarital relationships and as wise counsel; they are widely held values recognized by Christians of differing viewpoints. While I imagine some would consider Lauren Winner—and perhaps even a female author at all—to represent a fairly liberal viewpoint, I felt that the range of views ranged from quite conservative to moderate. I didn’t feel like any of the views were too loose, liberal, or libertine. (Granted, one’s opinion of the conservative-liberal continuum is significantly weighed by one’s own disposition.)
As mentioned, the views shared by all the authors speak to them being widely accepted as the Christian beliefs about premarital relationships. So it strikes me that the majority of Christians in practice seem to approach dating in a less cautious way than even the most liberal view shared in this book. I don’t believe this is because the book didn’t cover a broad enough spectrum of viewpoints. Rather, I believe it speaks more to the significant gap between Christians’ practice and Christians’ beliefs in this area.
Overall I thought this book was a good way to approach this subject. I certainly don’t agree with all the viewpoints, but I think it is good to learn about them from an intelligent author who holds that particular view. A downside of this book is that some people may come away more confused and with more questions than answers. Also, though the authors share general advice, overall the book is more about philosophies of premarital relationships than it is practical guidance on relationships.