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Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A Review by Rev. Grant Van Leuven

Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A Review by Rev. Grant Van Leuven

What follows is a book review by Rev. Grant Van Leuven as it appeared on the blog of reformation21.org on March 19, 2021. The review can be found at https://www.reformation21.org/blog/preparing-for-dating-and-marriage

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When my eldest daughter entered her senior year of high school last Fall, we had a Daddy-daughter brunch date to plan her future together. We enjoyed navigating through ideas toward her ideal major, place of study, and vocation. But I surprised her when I brought up the importance of looking for a husband. I reminded her (per Jeremiah 29:6 and Genesis 24) that it is my covenant duty to help her find a husband and that she shouldn’t be left alone on her own to do so.

In God’s wonderful providence, I was shortly thereafter introduced to Rev. Cory Griess’s book, Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A 31-Day Family Devotional (Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2020).[1] It was perfect timing. Not only would I be helping my daughter (and all my children) find a spouse, but I would have something to prepare us all for the process.

The book nicely covers a wide selection of important topics with a rich range of Scriptures in a concise and extremely manageable format for today’s busy household. Days 1-2 cover “What Marriage Is”; Days 3-7 review “The Goals of Dating and Marriage”; Days 8-16 consider “Whom to Look for and Who to Be”; Days 17-22 address “Principles to Undergird Your Search”; Days 23-26 alert to “Beware of Dangers”; Day 27 marvels over “A Mysterious Joy” and “The Way of a Man with a Maid” (though short and sweet, this might be one of its most special studies); and Days 28-31 close with “An Example to Emulate” studying Boaz and Ruth with one of each of her chapters.

A husband, father, and pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches of America, Rev. Griess was looking for something to help himself, his wife, and other Christian parents especially within his church and denomination to prepare their covenant children for equally yoked marriages serving Christ’s Church. The book developed from a concern for Christian parents to be more proactively involved in preparing their children to date and marry. In the book’s preface, he notes, “ … training about dating and marriage belongs chiefly to the sphere of the home. And it is the responsibility of the home to teach on this point before the children start dating” (2). Citing the example of Abraham sending his servant to find Rebekah for Isaac, he later advises in Day 21, “A Parent’s Responsibility”, that “Abraham, as head of the home, knew God gave him a certain responsibility regarding who his child married … Every father must take the responsibility up, even as Abraham did” (65).

Pastor Griess thus provides fathers and mothers this very useful family devotional to make it easy for them to begin walking their children down the aisle of early adulthood toward giving them away one day at the “altar” of meaningful matrimony. And he did so because he also recognized a dearth of resources to equip parents to so personally guide their children. In fact, he points out in his preface that the book is not intended to be given to the children to read on their own and discuss later, but for parents to lead them through with very useful questions at the end of each chapter that foster further engagement.[2] This book nicely helps parents raise the subject of dating and marriage to comfortably, deliberately, cheerfully, and efficiently talk about through the Scriptures in an orderly way with an emphasis on practical preparation and application.

The devotional gives father and mother ample (and memorable) advice. This is a thorough book, both in the subjects covered and the Scripture passages cited and applied. Yet it is also a succinct book; parents can simply read through each daily chapter and its assigned Bible references and follow up questions in only a few pages over ten-to-fifteen minutes.

Even apart from the discussion, dads and moms will have done an amazing job letting Pastor Griess into their homes to be their guiding voice on such an important matter of family discipleship.

The book is well written and engaging, holding everyone’s interest and drawing out questions and comments from children and parents alike. It is carefully crafted and organized, yet it feels informal and fun. Our family indeed experienced the “fellowship” Pastor Griess said he hoped it would encourage through the training and teaching. And it lent to a special time of praying together over each of our sons and daughters by name and for their future spouses.

This fellowship experience is one of the book’s special strengths. The devotional is relational. It is ready-made for the whole family to be devoted to one another’s future families as it develops an excitable, purposeful, palpable sense that “We’re all in this together!” For example, on Day 21, Rev. Griess points out that Rebekah’s brothers were likewise involved in her courting. I found it a catalyst to asking great questions and eliciting conversation from all family members. It felt safe and very satisfying to share. And a sense of how important this is to be doing together kept growing at each gathering. In fact, while Pastor Griess advises that this devotional is intended for children grades seven and above, I used it for our family worship to maximize time with the limited attention span of our toddler (and ours with our infant) and yet I never felt I was shortchanging my family or our Lord. Our teenage daughters (15 and 17) and our preteen sons (7 and 12) were animated and refreshingly engaged by being given an environment to ask about topics we sometimes wouldn’t have even thought to inquire of them (nor did the devotional always directly address)—often simple things: sometimes serious, sometimes silly, but all important issues we might have neglected or overlooked.

Beyond all this, I found the book to be one of the most Scripturally engaging and spiritually uplifting devotionals I’ve used in private or family worship. I kept finding myself saying, “I never would have thought of that Scripture or subject, but it’s perfect and wonderful.” As well, Pastor Griess has a way of saying things with a profound simplicity in earthy and vivid connections and wise and memorable applications that reminds one of the Bible’s Proverbs. For instance, as he compares and contrasts the kind of men and women for our sons and daughters to both search for and become in their respective wedded roles, Griess shares:

"Do you see how God made the marriage relationship to fit together? A woman needs love and security, and when her husband gives it, she has a strong respect for him. Likewise, when a woman has a strong respect for her husband, he is spurred on to love and protect her physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Picture it like a bicycle. You push down on one pedal and the other comes up—push on the other and the previous one comes up. God’s design is wonderful!" (25).[3]

This book is pastoral, polemical, and appropriately practical. It will be required reading for my future pre-marital counseling in ministry; and because of its balance of depth, reach, and conciseness, I even plan to have it replace the various other premarital counseling books I have used before. I expect this devotional to better serve all in one place to comfortably and beneficially return to after the honeymoon and into anniversaries of silver and gold that it will have contributed to reaching. It will also be something we will revisit several times throughout the years in our home as our younger children come of age.

I heartily call upon all Christian parents to take advantage of this unique approach to preparing our children for marriage that provides an incubator for a proper outlook on life and seeking first Christ’s Kingdom through one of the main ways He both builds and grows His church. And let us be sure to do so while we can. For, as Pastor Griess says in his opening preface,

“ … parenting is a lot like putting drywall mud on a wall. You have a little bit of time to mold and manipulate the material and then when the time is up that opportunity is over, never to return … Remember, the drywall is setting!” (1, 3).

[1] Cory Griess, Preparing for Dating and Marriage: A 31 Day Family Devotional (Jenison, Mich.: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2020).
[2] The author of this article generally does not prefer questions to discuss at the end of chapters as they usually feel forced and tedious. In this case, he reveled in them as extremely practical and found them fueling excited family chatter.
[3] The wisdom in this illustration reminds me of another go-to book to minister to marriages with that is well worth looking at as it challenges one spouse to be willing to get off “The Crazy Cycle” providing unconditional love or respect depending on being the husband or wife and watching how the other spouse responds in kind in time: Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs.

Grant Van Leuven (MDiv, RPTS) has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Evangelical Church of America in San Diego, CA, since 2010. He also serves as an editor and community engagement coordinator for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon.

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