New Book Alert and Review – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating

dating-differently-JEngelsma-2019Just off the presses and at the warehouse is the latest Reformed Free Publishing Association’s ( title – Dating Differently: A Guide to Reformed Dating. It is with high anticipation and great excitement that we welcome this new book. And we may add that we are deeply grateful it has been written, as it not only fills a gap in the RFPA’s publications, but also in the writings of the Protestant Reformed Churches and in the offerings of the broader Reformed book world.

The author is Rev. Joshua Engelsma, a 2014 graduate of the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and currently pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Northwest Iowa. It is evident from the outset that pastor Engelsma writes not only out his own life experiences in dating and entering into marriage, but also out of his own pastoral experience. The chapters breathe genuine concern for the young people of the covenant as well as love for God, the church, and his own wife (to whom the book is affectionately dedicated). As you read through the book, you feel that you are being addressed by a true friend (a tried and tested friend!) who cares about how you go about making one of the most important decisions in life: whom you will marry. Young people – even very young people – will find a faithful guide here. And so will parents, pastors, and counselors involved in nurturing the youth of the church and kingdom of God.

But let’s find out a bit more about Dating Differently. What is it about and what makes it different from other Christian books on dating?

The publisher gives the following as a brief description:

We’re bombarded with antichristian messages everywhere in life, and from casual hookups to casual sex, our culture’s messages on dating are no different.

But Christians don’t have to follow these norms. The Bible gives us a better way.

It’s a way of chastity and wisdom. A way that understands that marriage—the end goal of dating—is for life. The person you marry will shape who you become spiritually. And that person will also be the father or mother to the children God is pleased to give you some day.

Pastorally and accessibly, Joshua Engelsma answers the practical questions of Reformed, Christian dating based on the truth that we must date differently—with marriage as the goal and scripture as the guide.

That description reveals the antithetical nature of this work – so vital in this age in which we and our young people are living! The author strives to guide the young people of the church in spiritual separation from the godless world in which we live, as well as from the apostate church world and its false guidance about dating. Rather, he shows them how to be devoted to God and to Jesus Christ as they date and prepare for marriage, or are called to singleness in their Christian lives.

With regard to the specific content, Dating Differently is comprehensive, as the chapter list indicates:

  1. Preface
  2. Is there help?
  3. Where’s this headed?
  4. When should I start?
  5. Who’s the one?
  6. What’s there to do on dates?
  7. What’s the place of my parents and others?
  8. What about sex?
  9. What if I’m single all my life?
  10. When do I get married?
  11. Conclusion

You will note from these chapter titles that Pastor Engelsma covers all the basics of dating with a view to marriage, including that question about being and remaining single, which he shows is also a good way of the Lord. And you will discern from this content that the author does not shy away from the tough issues involved with dating as a Christian – issues such as recreational dating vs. dating with a distinct purpose (marriage); who takes the lead in dating (male headship and male leadership while maintaining the full spiritual equality of the woman); the role of parents (maintaining parental authority over against the autonomy of the young man/young woman); and the place of sex in dating (none – it must be saved for marriage!).

While reading through the manuscript the publisher sent me, I was also struck by the practical nature of this book. In some cases, with very personal and practical subjects like this, pastors write out of principle (as they should!) but fall short on being practical, and the result is a book that is sound but not in touch with the real world of its main objects. That is not true of Dating Differently. Pastor Engelsma writes about dating in a most principled manner (grounded in Scripture) while also being personal and practical. Being not that far removed from the dating years, he writes as one who knows that world well and relates it practically so that young people can relate to his wise counsel. That means the book is also clear and direct without being condescending or condemnatory. Young people will receive the practical guidance because they sense the author knows his subject – and them.

Need an example of that principled practicality found in the book? Here’s a snippet from chapter 4, “When should I start?”

If you are fifteen or sixteen and consider yourself ready to date, take a moment to stop and think about the future. If you start dating now and continue to date the same person, when you graduate from high school you will have dated for two or three years. Two or three years is a long time to date, enough time for you to know whether you can marry this person or not. Are you ready at eighteen, freshly graduated from high school, to get married? As a young man, are you going to be ready to support a wife and family? As a young woman, are you ready to be a wife and possibly a mother? Or do you have plans of going to college and getting a degree? If so, do you think that after three years of dating in high school you are willing to wait through four more years of college before getting married? Is that really wise?

Perhaps there are some of you who at sixteen are ready for all this. But as a general rule, most are not. If you are going to date, be sure that you are spiritually mature.

But the book doesn’t simply cover these varied dating topics in a general or vague way. The author is Reformed and approaches all these subjects in a Reformed way. That means, first of all, that he is committed to showing young people how they must date according to the Word of God. That’s the guide he uses and points the reader to throughout. Each chapter is replete with Scripture references, and the study questions at the end of each chapter also point the reader to the Bible. Such an approach shows that the author is interested in confronting his readers with God and His way, not man and his way.

In addition, the author is Protestant Reformed, and writes from the precious and precise perspective of the PRC’s teaching on marriage – the Bible’s teaching! – often lost and forsaken in the Reformed world today. He explains that particular position in the Preface:

There are plenty of other books on dating on the market, some worthwhile, others not. In part what makes this book unique is that it is written from the viewpoint of the biblical, historically Reformed view of marriage as the union of one man and one woman for life, with divorce permitted only in cases of fornication and all remarriage forbidden while one’s spouse is living. This precious truth, still maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches in which I serve, is applied in the pages that follow to the practical subject of dating.

It should be evident by now that I highly recommend this short but trustworthy Reformed guide on dating. I encourage our young people – and their parents – to get this book and read it promptly. And then apply it, personally and practically. Use the wisdom found on its pages. And, of course, the book will also benefit pastors and teachers, elders and grandparents, and single believers. Add it to your personal or family library. Get one for your church library. Think about giving one as a gift to your local community library. Reading and following God’s way of dating as outlined in this title will reap a beautiful and blessed covenant harvest.

The book retails for $16.95 but can be purchased at a discounted price by joining the RFPA Book Club. Visit the RFPA website for more information and for ordering.

Nota bene: I plan to return to this book in future posts for some choice quotes, demonstrating the truth of what I have posted here.

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