When I saw that the RFPA had published a book on dating I was concerned that it might be a preachy how-to book on the dos and don’ts of dating. I might have had it in my head that it would be a book calling the youth of the PRC to being more pure in thought and action. And while I wasn’t necessarily wrong, the book exceeded my expectations.
Rev. Joshua Engelsma managed to write this little book with a conversational tone that makes it akin to an interaction between someone who is seeking advice and a relative who is willing to give it graciously and without judgement. Rev. Engelsma makes very clear already in the preface of the book what he intends to do with it and what he hopes the reader will walk away with. “But I do hope,” he says on the first page of the book, “this main thought sticks with you: as Christians, we date differently than the world around us.” Rev. Engelsma also acknowledges the length of the book and admits that he made it short intentionally. Not, he says, because he doesn’t think the youth of the church can’t handle a long book, but because he “thinks there is value in a short book that gets right to the point, that hits some of the highlights of dating, and that gets you thinking.”
And get to the point he does. The chapters are set up to get the reader thinking about dating in a prioritized manner. All of the titles of his chapters are phrased as questions. Rev. Engelsma starts out with the help that is available to those who aren’t sure how to begin dating, or those who have questions at all. “Who in your life can you turn to when you aren’t quite sure how to proceed with this whole dating thing?” Rev. Engelsma asks this in the first chapter: “Is There Help?”
His second chapter seems to get a bit ahead of himself by asking “Where is This Headed?” This chapter deals with the fact that when you start dating, you should be thinking about the person you’re with as the one you will potentially marry. Rev. Engelsma begins the book with marriage, and he does acknowledge that this concept might seem backwards. “In fact,” he says, “I’m convinced that marriage is so essential that it’s the only way to begin the dating discussion.” He proceeds to give two main reasons for this conviction: first because dating must be purposeful, and second because marriage is not only the goal of dating, but also the governing factor of dating. Both points are further explained.
From there, the rest of the book is straightforward and takes a step by step approach to how to think about dating differently within the Reformed tradition. When to start, how to know if this person is “the one” or not, what to do on a date, how to incorporate the other people in your life while you date, and more. Each chapter thoughtfully deals with an aspect of dating that one might feel lost on. There is even a chapter that deals with how to be single in the church. “What If I’m Single All My Life?” is a chapter that explores what it means to be called to a life of singleness and shows that singleness is not unbiblical. This was a chapter that I was surprised to see in a book about dating, but I’m glad that Rev. Englesma took the time to incorporate it.
The chapters are brief enough that they are able to hold the attention of the reader for their duration. Rev. Engelsma includes relatable examples, both fictional as well as using stories from his own experience and others’ experiences, which help the reader understand that these are real questions that come up in dating. I could always place myself into these examples and think about how I might manage the situation, a helpful exercise to be prepared for what can come up in a relationship.
This book affirmed a lot of what I already thought about dating, as well as offered some insight on how to think of things I hadn’t yet taken into consideration. This short book helped me to organize my thoughts and prioritize what’s important when going into a new relationship, something I am actually going into at this time in my life. While it wasn’t what I expected when I first picked it up, I’m glad I took the time to read it. It’s a book that clearly lays out how and why we date differently.