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(This originally appeared in the Summer 2000 edition of the MCOI Journal beginning on page 4)

It all started when Bill Gothard* began to get Christians excited about “courtship” rather than dating. This came at a time when numbers of Christian young people and their parents were ready for something completely new when it came to romantic relationships – something that would serve as an antidote to the trends of the world.

So courtship made a comeback. In reality, however, the movement that began was something very different from the one in the days when the custom of “courting” was regularly practiced.

Subtlety, and sometimes imperceptibly, “courtship” began to be a tool for an authoritarian pattern of relationships. Young adults were beginning to be asked, not only to allow their parents a say in whom they married but, in some cases, to completely abdicate that decision into their parent’s hands. A myriad of teachers and an endless array of websites have been promoting such ideas in varying degrees of severity. This has led to the development of a subculture, made up largely out of the American home-schooling community, in which such practices are becoming accepted and normal.

In this article, I would like to examine one of the many teachers within this subculture, Jonathan Lindvall. Jonathan and I have known each other since I was a small boy, as he used to stay at my parents’ house whenever he gave seminars in our town. Nothing I have to say in this article is meant to be a personal attack on Lindvall. Rather, it is a heartfelt plea for him to re-examine his teachings in the light of Scripture and common sense.

Those who follow the teachings of Bill Gothard will be aware that in the beginning of Gothard’s booklet, Establishing Biblical Foundations of Courtship, there is a one-page article by Jonathan Lindvall. Also, Gothard refers to Lindvall in his seminars, though not by name.

At first, Lindvall shared Gothard’s idea of courtship, which Lindvall defines as:

“… a relationship between a guy and a girl that both of them understand the purpose to be, to seriously look to a permanent relationship. That they are very serious about the expectation or hope of getting married.”1Jonathan Lindvall, Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating, from the taped lecture (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living, 1996)

Now, however, Lindvall has concluded courtship has unscriptural flaws because “it does not go far enough.”2Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2 This is because there is still the opportunity for either person to back out if they find they are not emotionally compatible. Lindvall suggests this sounds “vaguely similar to the rationale for a couple living together for a time before marriage – to find out if they are compatible …”3Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2

Lindvall concludes the only answer is what he calls “betrothal,” where the decision of whom to marry is:

“… based entirely on God’s will confirmed by our authorities, with a confidence that God would bring romance to us as a blessing of our obedience …

“… God wants young people to honor their parents … by voluntarily submitting their choice of a marriage partner to them.”4Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2 and “The Broken Heart Syndrome” in Establishing Biblical Standards of Courtship (Oak Brook, IL: Advanced Training Institute of America, 1993) p.3

The betrothal period Lindvall advocates differs from the usual idea of engagement in that, while one may break an engagement, a betrothal is irrevocable. Although consummation has not occurred, Lindvall says it should still be just as binding as a regular marriage.

Lindvall believes that no romance should occur until this period of betrothal has started. When romance does occur, it is what Lindvall calls “authorized romance.” For, argues Lindvall:

“Just as we teach our young people to reserve themselves physically for marriage, I believe the scriptures call us to train them to reserve their romantic emotions for the betrothal period immediately preceding marriage, having enjoyed the benefit of God-ordained protectors (parents) in helping them seek and find His will for their lifelong companion.”5Jonathan Lindvall, from a tract entitled Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns, (Springville, CA: Bold Parenting, 1992)

“In the Biblical model of ‘betrothal,’ the decision to marry is made based on God’s will, confirmed by parents and other authorities, rather than emotional and hormonal impulses. The betrothal period is provided for the emotions to catch up to the irrevocable decision made prayerfully and rationally. Our emotions are not to lead us, but to follow us.”6Lindvall, “Do Teen Dating Practices Prepare Young People For Marriage or Divorce?” article in Bold Christian Living Tape & Video Catalog and Seminar Schedule (Springville, CA: Bold Christian Living, received in 1998)

Notice here how Lindvall makes the alternative to betrothal one in which the marriage is based solely on “emotional and hormonal impulses.” The idea of marriage being based on love is not worthy for Lindvall to even mention as an option here! Elsewhere Lindvall does address this to say:

“God never intended for people to marry simply because they love each other. Love is not the basis for marriage. Love should proceed from the commitment to marriage. The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Marry the one you love.’ It says, ‘Love the one you marry.’ And there’s a vast difference between the two. Today people marry because they love each other.”7Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

The way Lindvall arrives at this conclusion is through a rather convoluted form of reasoning. He proposes an idea I have called “retroactive matrimony” since it implies marriage works backwards. Behavior that currently would be inappropriate for Lindvall’s wife to exhibit toward other men (i.e., going out with them, having a romantic relationship, etc.), would be equally wrong before she ever married Lindvall. Lindvall maintains that whether a person is actually already married or actually single is irrelevant to the fact it is wrong to have romantic emotions toward them unless you know for sure (through specific Divine revelation) this person will one day be your spouse. Thus, to an imaginary young man going out on a date, Jonathan says:

“So tonight you’re taking out a girl that probably will not be your wife, and in fact, someday she’ll probably be someone else’s wife. So you’re taking out somebody else’s wife tonight …”8Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

That is a very big leap! Just because a woman someday might be someone else’s wife does not mean to take her out is the same as taking out somebody else’s wife, for the very obvious reason the marriage has not yet occurred!

In the Old Testament, the sin of adultery was considered more serious than that of fornication and incurred a greater penalty (see Lev. 20:10, Ex. 22:16). The reason for this is adultery is a transgression against an existing marriage covenant – one that does not exist until it is ratified. Yet, Lindvall’s statements seem to imply the marriage covenant commitment extends not only into the future but retroactively into the past as well. Thus he argues, the same standards which apply to relationships between married people apply equally to relationships between unmarried young people. He asks:

“What kind of relationship is proper for me to have with your wife and for you to have with your wife and for my son to have with your daughter?”9Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

This idea of “retroactive matrimony” first originated with Lindvall’s mentor, Bill Gothard, who writes:

“Being a ‘one-woman man’ or a ‘one-man woman’ means that we have accepted the lifelong commitment of marriage. The wisdom of Proverbs praises the one who does the partner good all the days of his life (including before marriage, see Proverbs 31:12.)

“We do this by remaining morally pure in our thoughts and actions for the one we will one day marry. Because this commitment to reserve ourselves for one individual, every person is like a ‘strange-man’ or a ‘strange woman’ to us except the one God directs to marry through the confirmation of parental authority and the love He places in our own hearts.”10Bill Gothard, Establishing Biblical Foundations for Courtship, (Oak Brook, IL: Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, 1993) p.13

If consistently applied, this idea of “retroactive matrimony” would give rise to all sorts of absurd and unnatural situations. One of these is the suggestion by Lindvall that Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:12 and Titus 1:6 mean that a church leader literally should be a “one-woman man” might be referring to premarital emotions as well!11Lindvall, “Dating? Courtship? Betrothal?: Scriptural Romance” (Part 2) Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2

Lindvall carries his theory to its consistent conclusion: no young person should have any romantic feelings for anyone until they are engaged to their future spouse.

“I have concluded that God’s best for me is to teach my children not to allow themselves to cultivate romantic inclinations toward anyone until they know God has shown them this person is to be their lifelong mate … Ideally, they don’t even allow themselves to dream about romantic relationships.”12Lindvall, tract Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns

Lindvall sees this as the emotional corollary to physical purity. Thus, he says:

“God wants us to guard our hearts. Not only are we to be physically pure, but we need to be emotionally pure in our hearts.”13Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

Lindvall appeals to the example of Adam on this point. When, through naming the various animals, Adam realized that he, alone among all the beasts, had no partner, God put him to sleep. Likewise, argues Lindvall, when we get to the age when our interest in the opposite sex is stirred up, God asks us to “go to sleep emotionally!14Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2

Lindvall explains his attempt to impose this system on his daughter:

“At age twelve, I took Bethany out to dinner one evening and presented her with a golden necklace with a heart-shaped pendant formed like a padlock. There was a small keyhole and an accompanying key. I presented the pendant and necklace to her and asked her to ‘Give me your heart’ (Prov.23:26). I explained that I wanted to keep the gold key as a symbol of her trusting me with her emotions. I specifically asked her to not entertain romantic thoughts toward any young man until she and her mother and I together conclude that he is God’s choice to be her husband. (There is scriptural precedent for the young people involved to be consulted and consent to a marriage arrangement.) I explained that at the beginning of her marital engagement I would give the gold key to her betrothed, and that although she might not yet love him, she would then be free to aim her heart toward him. Bethany unreservedly entrusted the symbolic gold key into my care, and with it, her heart.”15Lindvall, tract Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns

“Some young man is going to come to me and say, ‘I believe God wants me to marry your daughter.’ And I’ll pray about it. And if God shows me the same thing, I’m going to give him that key, and I’m going to say, ‘You are authorized, and I’m going to help you woo my daughter, as she will be your help mate forever.’” 16Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

Part of Lindvall’s motivation for doing this with his children is that he and his wife “bear deep regrets” from the fact that they each had romantic relationships with others before they married each other. Even now, though he is in his fifties, Jonathan says:

“I sometimes ponder wistfully what a wonderful thing it would be if I were the first man she had knitted her heart with. She wishes the same about me, but with pain I recognize that I didn’t save my heart for her. It is my intention to spare my own children the regrets I bear.”17Lindvall, tract Youthful Romance: Scriptural Patterns

In his taped lecture titled, “Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating,” Lindvall suggests no young man would want the woman he one day will marry to date or to have romantic feelings for anyone other than himself. Building on that, Lindvall suggests that, in keeping to the Golden Rule of doing to others as we would have them do to us (Matt. 7:12), we ought to restrain any romantic feelings until we know for certain whom we will marry. A woman, he says, is the property of her future husband, and therefore, we should think in terms of property and ownership when it comes to romantic relationships. When a woman is “given in marriage” by the father to the groom, this symbolizes a transfer of ownership. But to have a romance with a woman before her ownership has been formally transferred is for that man to “defraud his brother” (1 Thess. 4:6) since he is stealing something that properly belongs only to the woman’s future husband.

“God intends for them to marry,” says Lindvall, “but God wants them to experience authorized romance. Authorization, not only for the physical but for the emotional ownership of one another.”18Lindvall, tape Youthful Romance: The Dangers of Dating

What seems most unbelievable is that Lindvall extends these ideas to situations where the parents are ungodly. Indeed, in his seminar Lindvall suggests that no matter how wicked one or both sets of parents may be, you must not marry without their consent. This is a direct violation to the very first Psalm in which we are instructed to “walk not in the counsel of the ungodly.”

I would like to consider this teaching in light of a number of different aspects. I believe these ideas do not merely affect how one views relationships before marriage, but how one understands the very essence of the marriage relationship itself. To start with, however, it is necessary to see where Lindvall goes wrong in his interpretation of the Bible.

Faulty Interpretation of the Bible

Lindvall’s frequent use of the phrase “the Biblical model of betrothal” is misleading. Lindvall has taken this term from Scripture and given to it a meaning that corresponds with his views on marriage. He then reads certain verses where the word is used in light of this nuance at the expense of historic and linguistic accuracy.

“Betrothal” in the Jewish culture simply meant a halfway house between engagement and marriage. It was just as binding as marriage, even though the marriage hadn’t been consummated. It had nothing to do with Lindvall’s idea of a father receiving direct revelation as to whom his child would marry, and it certainly had nothing to do with denying all romantic feelings until this period! On the contrary, Hasting’s Bible Dictionary tells us:

“… in ancient Israel the association of the sexes was comparatively unrestrained, and naturally led to personal attachments which sought satisfaction in marriage (Gen. 24:15, 29:10; cf. 1 Sam. 18:20).”19A Dictionary of the Bible, (5 volumes) edited by James Hastings, M.A., D.D. (T. & T. Clark, 1900) p.270

It is true that, in the Jewish culture, marriage mates were often selected by the father or a representative of the father. This custom wasn’t unique to the Jews, however, but was practiced by the surrounding cultures at large and is still practiced in many parts of the East today. The bride had to be “bought,” if you will, by the bridegroom’s father (either by money or service offered) in exchange for the bride’s father being willing to part with her. The bride received no dowry. It was not uncommon for the bride and bridegroom to be unconsulted regarding a match while sometimes being expected to marry someone they had never even met! In such cultures, marriage could be treated more like a contract than a relationship, and a husband could have many wives just as he would have many heads of cattle. If a husband grew tired of his wife, he could write her a certificate of divorce for an offense as trivial as cooking a meal in the wrong way!

While much more could be said about these cultural traditions, the point is it is futile for people like Lindvall to pick just one aspect out of this entire cultural context! He then argues for its application today, without appreciating the over-all mindset by which these people operated, which involved far more than that to which Lindvall would have us return.

While the entire framework by which that culture understood certain things left much to be desired, the Lord gave commands to show His people how to operate within that context. It is against this cultural backdrop that we must understand verses such as Exodus 22:16-17 where the Lord commands that if a man has premarital relations with a virgin, the father may refuse to give his daughter to him in marriage even though the young man must still pay the bride price. Some have argued from this Scripture, and Lindvall would no doubt agree with such an interpretation:

“If the father has the authority to say no when there is an existing sexual relationship, then how much more does the father have the authority to say no when there is nothing more than mild emotional or sexual interest?”20Douglas Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1997) pp.29-30

Although I understand the line of reasoning, one might question whether it is logical. To say that if a father has the authority to exercise veto power when it comes to his daughter marrying a man who enticed her – and who is, therefore, probably a man of doubtful intention – then how much more should he have veto power in an ordinary situation. If we look closely at Exodus 22:17, we see it merely says if her father utterly refuses to give her to him, then the man must pay the bride price. It does not necessarily imply it is God’s will for this contingent condition to exist. Similarly, the fact Deut. 21:15-17 gives laws to govern situations where a husband has two wives in no way gives God’s stamp of approval on men taking multiple wives. The whole point of the Exodus passage is not what to do in marriage at all, but the fact there is a responsibility a man acquires when he sleeps with a virgin – he must pay the bride price even if they do not marry.

Ancient historic sources, such as The Code of Hammurabi from Babylon, will confirm the cultural practices in Israel, at the time God gave Moses the laws, were more or less universal. The fact God gave Moses laws to show people how to behave in an already existing culture with its own traditions and practices does not, thereby, mean those traditions and practices acquire a Divine precedent. Those who argue otherwise are bound to do so only selectively and refrain from strictly applying laws or customs that would be absurd in our culture – such customs as polygamy, slavery, etc., and laws such as the Year of Jubilee.

To properly understand marriage, we must look to the New Testament. The principles laid down by Paul are clearly relevant for today’s culture. In this regard it is noteworthy, while Paul goes to great lengths to discuss the subject, he nowhere mentions anything even bordering on practices such as betrothal, arranged marriages, etc.. While the Apostle does not specifically repudiate such practices, the entire spirit of his words are clearly in opposition to the ethos behind the recent advocacy of courtship and betrothal.

Lindvall would be quick to disagree, however, based on his interpretation of 1 Tim. 5:2. In this verse, Paul instructed Timothy to treat the young women as if they were sisters and the older women as if they were mothers. If Lindvall is prepared to apply Paul’s parallel between young women and sisters so literally that one must not have romance with a woman before engagement (because one does not have romance with one’s sister), then why just stop there. Why not exclude engagement itself on the same principle? Indeed, if Paul’s words exclude the possibility of two people moving into a romantic relationship before engagement (since no man would be romantic toward his sister), then no man ever should actually get married at all (since no man would marry his sister)! Any analogy can be pressed to a degree (either pro or con) which can become absurd.

Surely what Paul was saying to Timothy was for him to show appropriate respect toward these women as one would toward one’s sister or mother. He was saying not to mess around or flirt because the bottom line in all relationships must be agapé love. If Paul had somehow been trying to say romance was wrong and most of the entire human race had been deceived by the romantic inclination, then why didn’t he simply come right out and say so?

The Meaning of Love

Lindvall assumes romantic love is all feelings and, therefore, may leave just as easily as it arrives. You fall into it, and you fall out of it. Therefore, asks Lindvall:

“If a couple marries based on love, what happens when the passion of romance settles down and they get used to each other – less distracted by their emotions?”21Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2

Lindvall’s answer is that marriage should be based entirely on agapé** love. He completely overlooks the sort of love that is not a feeling or a choice but a state or condition of two people who are right for each other. The sort that produces feelings but is more than feelings; and which is maintained by the will, but is more than an act of the will. C. S. Lewis compares natural loves to a garden full of flowers which would soon go to weeds if left alone. What is needed for its maintenance is agapé love. A man who falls in love with a woman quite effortlessly will find the love destroyed if he constantly acts selfishly and does not choose to act charitably towards her. Thus, in marriage, although the special kind of love that makes intimacy possible is not caused by an act of the will, it is either maintained or destroyed by the choices made in the arena of life (agapé love). This special kind of intimacy is not the sort of thing two people can simply decide to experience toward one another as soon as it has been “authorized.” Neither does Lindvall explain how it is possible for two people (who would otherwise be in love with each other) to push a button to not be in love until it has been “authorized.” Human beings are not robots.

Any Christian husband and wife, if they are mature enough, can choose to practice agapé love towards one another. But is this all that is needed for an intimate and happy marriage? If so, then it does not matter whom you marry as long as the person practices agapé love. Marriage thus conceived more resembles a business partnership than the joyful and intimate union God designed it to be.

Lindvall continually portrays scenarios where recreational dating is practiced in a way most mature Christians would find objectionable, and then juxtaposes this with his method of betrothal. Likewise,he describes a “love” based merely on emotion and passion and then juxtaposes this with his idea of marriage.

Thus, he reaches his conclusion using false dilemmas. When he portrays these as the only options from which we must choose, we are hardly left with much of a choice! By employing these false dilemmas, along with an emotional appeal to high standards, Lindvall is able to target that segment of young Christians who most sincerely desire God’s will but are unable to recognize the logical fallacies inherent in his reasoning.


By “emotional purity” Lindvall does not merely mean young people should reserve the expression of romantic feelings until after betrothal, but also those romantic emotions and thoughts must be stifled prior to parental authorization. When lamenting his inner-experiences with a girlfriend before meeting his wife, Lindvall contructs it as a case of “allowing” his emotions to focus on her as if an act of volition preceeds all emotional affection. What Lindvall apparently fails to realize is that the romantic feelings, crushes, and infatuations young people experience are things that, to a large extent, cannot be controlled by the will. What can be controlled is how the person responds to these feelings which can come and go like the wind. To try to tamper with the emotions themselves, however, is bound to be unproductive. The only way to prevent such “unauthorized” emotions from happening would surely be to build monasteries and nunneries to house our youth. When it’s time for the wedding vows – the vows can directly follow the introductions!

Let us consider what happens when a child reaches puberty. As the whole person struggles to adjust to the hormonal changes that are happening, it is natural for the child to be bombarded with an array of feelings, thoughts, and sensations connected with their sexuality. The body’s emotions and sexuality typically experience an influx of random sensations, the inhibition of which is not subject to the same volitional control we acquire later in life. As the body develops, things gradually settle down. In the case of our sexuality, this may not occur for many years.

If a child’s first awakenings to the world of sexuality are accompanied by an atmosphere of guilt and negativity, this may affect how that child responds to his or her sexuality later in life. If, however, the child can be helped to view their sexual awakening and intense inner experiences objectively and in an atmosphere of understanding, it may help not only to prevent the child from developing an unnecessary guilt complex but also to deter him or her from thinking these sensations demand an outlet for gratification and expression. Although children should be helped to see it is not wise to voluntarily entertain unhealthy sexual fantasies, this needs to be done in such a way that this does not become more serious in the child’s mind than it really is. Of course, Lindvall would totally disagree. I suspect he would say the sexual thoughts and feelings I (and others) believe are natural and largely uncontrollable for a child past puberty are on the same level of seriousness as a married person having adulterous thoughts (because the child is allegedly sinning against his or her future spouse). This would seem to be the logical consequence of a strict application of the principle of “retroactive matrimony.”

Deep-Regrets in Marriage

One of Lindvall’s central arguments is based on the need he feels to spare his own children the deep regrets he and his wife bare as a result of each other’s former boyfriends and girlfriends. I get the impression Lindvall’s entire teaching on this subject springs out of this personal aspect. Obviously, I cannot argue against Lindvall’s personal experience (nor would I want to), though I cannot relate to it personally. Throughout my adolescence, I had numerous crushes on all sorts of girls; and yet, my wife does not feel jealous because she knows she is the fulfillment of all my earlier romantic dreams and aspirations. I feel the same way about her. If, however, I had truly and intimately loved another woman before marrying my wife (a “knitting of heart” as Lindvall describes his regrettable experience with a former girlfriend), then it would be understandable if my wife might feel jealous. But where love is true, unconditional, strong, and exclusive in marriage, it would eventually swallow up any feelings of jealousy over past relationships through the solid reassurance it provides.

Where it is possible to have past relationships permanently harm a present marriage, the problem is probably not in the past relationships but within the marriage itself. While it is only natural for a husband to want to be the only man with whom his wife has ever fallen in love, and visa versa, we live in the real world and this usually will not be the case. Does this mean the marriage will automatically suffer – that the husband and wife will not be able to love each other as much as they otherwise might have been able, that they will be less able to discover God’s best, that their relationship will be less enriching, less fulfilling? Absolutely not! Now there are certainly going to be insecurities in just about every marriage and each partner will need to have their spouse’s love reassured. Such insecurities may result in anything from the thought of past relationships (which especially can be a problem when one or both have been married before) to one’s inability to believe oneself lovable because of abuse as a child. In each case, these are things a husband and wife can work through and be drawn closer together as a result. This is not accomplished by having a fatalistic attitude that says, “this has happened in my past, therefore, my marriage is going to be less good than it otherwise could have been.” It is accomplished by saying instead, “we love each other so dearly that our love is strong enough to cover over and heal whatever has happened in the past.”

Could it be the reason Lindvall and his wife are still so jealous of each other’s past girlfriends and boyfriends is because, as Lindvall has freely admitted:

“… my marriage to Connie … is not based on love”?22Jonathan Lindvall, “The Dangers of Dating: Scriptural Romance” Home School Digest, vol.8, no.2

Perhaps, if Lindvall came to understand the true meaning of marriage, he would be able to understand better what should happen before marriage.

Individual Responsibility vs. Ungodly Control

Lindvall says we must achieve certainty someone will be our future spouse before we allow ourselves to fall in love. Such a statement fails to recognize it may be precisely falling in love that gives us this certainty (although final, absolute certainty can never be achieved for fallen humans). Lindvall assumes this certainty can be achieved through God’s direct revelation to the parents before there is a significant relationship established. Now, of course, God could choose to do this, but my contention is with Lindvall’s assumption this has to be God’s only way. Lindvall has put God in a box and is dictating how God must always work – leaving no room for deviation.

It all sounds very good saying the father will pray about it and then God will reveal to him whether this or that person is the one for his child to marry. Nonetheless, it is difficult to disengage one’s own desires and preferences from what one believes the Lord is revealing – no matter how honest and upright the father may be. Furthermore, when a father assumes a “God-told-me-so” stance, it very likely will make the young person feel that to disagree with the parent is tantamount to disagreeing with God. When this happens, one moves out of the arena of counsel and communication and into the arena of control and manipulation.

Even in situations where the parents are very wise and discerning, it would still be counterproductive for a marriage to be based on a parent’s decision. When a young man, thus married, grows out of the dependent relationship with his parents, he may find himself dissatisfied. If a marriage gets rough and troubles arise, a couple must always be able to look back on the fact the decision to marry was based on their own desire to be married (not someone else’s desire). This includes their love for one another, and the mutual belief it was God’s will for them to marry – a belief that was not taken on the authority of someone else but reached directly by the two people as they individually sought the Lord’s will.

This idea of each individual being personally responsible before the Lord for his or her own actions is the antithesis of Lindvall’s more general teaching on the subject of authority. In order to understand anything about Lindvall, we must realize his basic misunderstanding of authority (together with the twin tendency of legalism). This permeates his thought like a continuous thread and forms a foundation from which all his other ideas have root. In his teaching on authority, Lindvall goes to the extreme – even beyond that of Gothard. One example of this is in his “Bold Parenting Seminar.” Lindvall stresses the need for children to pass on the tenets of their father’s teachings to future generations even when they believe such tenets to be lacking in scriptural precedent! This is regarding not only the decision whom to marry but regarding any decision. Lindvall argues that a man or woman is required to abdicate their conscience, reason, personal responsibility, and in some cases, even their interpretation of Scripture over to their father’s control.23In his Bold Parenting Seminar, Lindvall shares how he and his father had always disagreed over whether it was permissible for a Christian to drink a little wine. When Lindvall became an adult, he began taking a little wine, to his father’s extreme horror. One day Lindvall began to wonder if his actions in this area failed to honor his father. Then Jonathan imagined himself in a similar position with his own children. He realized it was inconsistent to expect his children to obey and pass on his teachings when they were grown if he did not exemplify the same toward his father’s. Eventually, Jonathan concluded he should accept his father’s position and teach his children to be teetotalers, and teach them to teach their children to be teetotalers, etc. ad infinitum. Only in this way could Jonathan realistically expect his children to do the same with his teachings.

Now what does this story tell you about the kind of father the senior Mr. Lindvall was? Should the father have been upset when his grown son began drinking wine? To answer this we must first understand the issue here is not who was right in the disagreement. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the father’s belief was the correct one. If the father knew his son was being honest about what he believed was true, and he had a heart that was right before the Lord, should it matter if Jonathan was sincerely mistaken? On the contrary, there should be no sense in which young adults are pressured to conform to their parents’ conclusions. Instead, there should be an underlying understanding they are free and, indeed, individually required to test everything by God’s Word.

When Jonathan came to his father saying he would accept his father’s view even though he did not agree with it, the father should have said, “Certainly not! God doesn’t want you to be dishonest, to deny what you honestly believe to be the Bible’s teaching. It would be a lot worse for you to live a lie, teaching your children something you don’t really believe, than to be sincerely mistaken.” Likewise, what kind of father is Jonathan if he expects his children to exercise the same sort of mindlessness? Can he really believe God is pleased to have him acting like a pope – telling his grown children not only exactly what they can and cannot believe, but what they must pass down to every generation to come without encouraging them to inquire and investigate the Bible for themselves? A father who acts like this is attempting to wear God’s shoes – which is nothing short of spiritual idolatry.

Broken Heart Syndrome

Finally, I would like to consider what Lindvall calls the “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Without quoting Lindvall directly, I simply shall summarize his argument.

  1. It is wrong and unnecessary for young people to experience broken hearts and, therefore, it should be prevented if possible.
  2. It is possible to prevent broken hearts by not allowing young people to have any private (individual) relationship with members of the opposite sex before betrothal.
  3. Therefore, no young person should have any private (individual) relationship with members of the opposite sex before betrothal.

Those who advocate “courtship” reason similarly. Let us consider this whole issue of “Broken Heart Syndrome.”

For every young person, the intensity of emotions is, perhaps, the hardest thing through which to work. The spectrum and intensity of emotions young people experience can seem unbearable as feelings create the sensation that life is unbearably happy one minute and unbearably sad the next. In retrospect, we may condescendingly smile on youth from our stable emotional vantage point of adulthood. Or, as is so often the case, we may have forgotten how real and meaningful our feelings were to us back then. That leaves us with little or no understanding and sympathy to offer our children.

Jonathan Lindvall and the courtship pioneers have taken it one stage further by questioning whether this stage of passion and intensity is really necessary. Is it a sort of appendage to which, due to lack of true perception together with cultural pressures, it makes us subject?

It must be realized this sort of broken heart (that has a teenager sobbing into his or her pillow one day and healing into hope the next) is a basic part of life. As adolescents, we need help to learn how to cope with this. We do not need the censor and subsequent guilt of being told we have done wrong or have been too weak. It is in getting through and learning to cope that we grow and not in becoming so emotionally contrived that we become hard and cold.

Crushes, fantasies, dreams, and feelings, which were very real to us at the time, eventually fade as we grow to see things more objectively. But, if at the time, scorn or ridicule had been met out to us during our period of vulnerability, we may have felt such pain and hurt that we, in fact, had closed up to everyone and kept closed our heart, thoughts, and feelings. If we had been brought up to feel there was something wrong with these experiences – something our parents disapproved of – then we might have hardened ourselves emotionally and formed a crust around our heart out of a desperation to be “correct.” Others, unable to do this, may live in a perpetual guilt ridden state – too ashamed to share their “sinful feelings” with anyone.

If a young person’s feelings are not seen in proper perspective by the parents/adults who should be helping them through the most difficult years, then this normal emotional intensity has added to them the parent’s unrealistic notion of life. Things which, in time, would die a natural death are given an extended life of prolonged guilt. It is all very counterproductive.

Parents who have this mentality will not only prevent guilt-prone youths from falling into the “sin” of having a crush on someone (or of admitting it if they do), but they will prevent that child from the natural healing of that broken heart. The parent who is trying to tie up their youth’s emotions is not at the same time able to help that youth come to terms with those feelings – to face them, accept them, grow from them, and grow out of them.

A broken heart, indeed, may be part of the Lord’s plan in a person’s life to help mature that person, to teach them valuable lessons about themselves and others, and to draw that person closer to His heart. If, however, parents simply assume broken hearts must be prevented at all costs, and that it is always contrary to God’s will when a person goes through a tragic relationship, then they are in danger of standing in the way of God’s plan for that young person’s life.

I am not saying having a broken heart is an inherently good thing because we can grow from it, or that we should try to get our hearts broken in order to learn lessons. I am simply saying what is true of any kind of suffering. Although it is not something we should go out of our way to try to experience, neither does God want us going out of our way to try to prevent suffering. Trying to experience pain or trying to avoid it never helped anyone to grow. Creating a plan for life that will safeguard us from pain, from our emotions, and those of others, likewise, does not help us grow. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants a relationship to end in tears; but if that does happen, does that mean we were sinning? Does that mean we should make sure we protect our children from such an experience by attempting to exercise tight control over their emotions?

It is the job of a parent to help growth and not to dictate it, to help young people grow from their suffering and broken hearts and not to try to artificially create situations to prevent any possibility of broken hearts. The only way to prevent the potential of a young person getting a broken heart is to prevent that child from ever feeling love. That is the most tragic thing a parent could do to a child. It is not sensitive and caring when Lindvall talks about wanting to spare his children the suffering of a broken heart. If you want a heart that cannot be broken, what you need is a heart that cannot love. CS. Lewis puts this well, with words that make a fitting conclusion to this article:

“I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness … We shall draw nearer to God, not be trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armor. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.”24C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves” in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis, (New York, NY: Inspirational Press, 1960) p.279Ω

*See MCO Journals vol. 3, no. 4; vol. 3, no. 5; vol. 4, no. 1; vol. 4, no. 4 (Sept./Oct.); vol. 6, no. 1 for more on Bill Gothard and his teachings.

**Agap̩ (Gr.) love is the kind of unconditional love God exhibits toward us Рan entirely unselfish love that seeks what is best for the other person.

Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. would like to thank Robin Phillips for this article for the Journal. Robin is 25-years old and lives in a country cottage in Lincolnshire, England, with his wife, Esther, and their three children – Joseph, Miriam and Matthew. He is a self-employed author of various biblical, theological, and philosophical topics. He has an interest in cults and has written a testimony (which can be read at about his experience in a denomination that used to be a cult. He performs locally on the classical accordion and is part of a local music trio. His wife home-schools their children. His hobbies include taking walks with his family, reading and listening to music with his family, and composing and arranging music.

© 2015, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

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