Walking
the aisles of Barnes & Noble bookstore with my girlfriend, I turned
the corner into the Inspirational aisle, looking to see what they
happened to have in Frederich Buechner.


Instead I happened upon a classic, one that both she and I love to discuss.


“Hey babe, should we get this and a study guide to go with it?” I asked, holding up Joshua Harris’ bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye


.


Her
reaction was what I was going for. A slight gagging noise, roll of the
eyes and misplaced kick communicated more than any words could have.
Now please understand me, I am


not


opposed
to Harris. In fact, I have grown in respect for him in the last two
years after reading more of his sermons. What I am against is how
people turned his book (and many others since) into gospel truth


on how to conduct relationships


.


C


oincidentally, Harris


isn’t happy about that either, stating “


I’ve never claimed that the ideas I share in


[my book]

are for everyone, nor that my book is or should be the final word on
Christian relationships. The book is simply me at 21 years old sharing
my personal journey of learning to honor God with romance and
relationships




I also add that, while I stand by what I wrote, I don’t always like the way other


people represent or champion t


he concepts I’ve written about.”

If only Harris’ book stood alone. It doesn’t. And Christians aren’t the only ones who publish horrible dating advice books. Why is there a market for these things anyhow? Some classic titles include The Art of the First Date, The Automatic 2nd Date (sadly, no book to tell me what to do on the third date), Dateworthy (as if there are things you can do that make you deserve that first date), Chocolate Kisses for Couples,and of course The Complete Idiots Guide to Dating.

What did people do back in the day, when our parents were kids falling in love? My parents just celebrated their 37th anniversary and though they would be the first to say they have experienced rough patches, they managed to date and get married without reading a 240-page book on how to get a second date. If you have to read that much just for a second date, where do you go when the relationship actually starts to get complicated?

When
people inscribe their relationship rules in concrete, subscribing to
[insert Christian author]’s rules to finding a spouse, 99 percent of the time they screw up somewhere. I am not saying they will sin, I am saying they will make a mistake in the relationship. (I
only leave that one percent because he/she is probably out there with a
book that only has bible verses in it, with no commentary. And who am
I to disagree with that?)

This brings us to the crux of the issue. What does Scripture say about relationships, specifically romantic ones? What guidelines are given for the “before marriage” aspect? Surprisingly, given the number of experts who have such strong opinions, there is not much.

There is no talk about “the One” and searching for him/her. No complex guidelines about how to navigate the very modern thing called dating/courtship. It does say no sex before marriage (1 Cor. 7) and no lust (Matt. 5:28) but there is not much more even in that area. There is no verse that reads, “Young men, you must define the relationship after three evenings out, perhaps four if the first date is at a coffee shop.”

What
affect do these paint-by-numbers books have on relationships? For me,
it meant a lot of voices all clamoring for attention in an already
noisy world, rarely providing a clear path. I saw people in the
Christian movement I was involved in during college swing between the
extremes of “date as many as you can” to “you better be ready to
propose on the first date.” And it wasn’t until post-college life that
I stumbled my way into a dating relationship, relying more on grace
than on my smooth pick up lines.

For pre-married people out there today, the voices
have only gotten more numerous, more diverse, and not necessarily more
helpful. For every quality book, there are hundreds (literally, go
check out your local bookstore to see if I exaggerate) that are at best
a waste of money, at worst will make you want to stand in traffic
because the quality is so bad.

I
know I am over-exaggerating, that there are principles we can glean,
wisdom to be learned from the world, books and those with experience.
But to borrow an idea from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the
responsibility for navigating a relationship falls upon the shoulders
of those in the relationship. Not on some self-help book that will
answer all the questions or show a 12-step path to success.

Instead, like much of the Christian walk, we are given rough guidelines with certain specifics and the overarching call to follow Christ above everyone and everything else. The result will probably be a journey that is painfully beautiful, filled with failure, awkwardness—and grace and redemption.