A prominent Reformed theologian thinks it's unwise for teenagers to date while in high school, and says that youth, with some exceptions, should postpone it until they're spiritually mature and ready to move toward marriage.
In response to a question from a young person who wants to date, John Piper, founder of Desiring God, said Monday that he cautions against teenage dating for several reasons, particularly given how American society has changed.
"There was a time when the cultural expectations and the cultural supports were in place, partly to prepare young people to marry that early and partly to provide the structures and help after they got married. That's not as true today in America as it once was," Piper said.
He noted that many people in his generation typically married at a much younger age and that his own parents were 19 and 20 when they were wed. But he knows many people in his generation who also advise not pairing off in dating relationships while in high school.
Even if godly people you know married early, dating early is not necessarily a good idea, he said.
"Whether you see dating at age 15, 16, or 17 as wise will depend partly on your view of sexual relations, partly on your view of the meaning of dating, and partly on your view of the relative maturity of teenagers," Piper noted.
And the Bible is clear that sexual relations are for the marriage covenant, he added, referencing the Apostle Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 7:2, which read: "Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband."
This perspective stands in stark contrast to our modern, media-saturated society where the prevailing sexual ethic is that sex outside of marriage is fine as long as it's consensual.
Sexual desire, "one of the most powerful forces in human life is the awakening of a peculiar happiness and desire that comes from being liked by a person of the opposite sex," the theologian explained.
"I have watched otherwise strong, wise, and seemingly mature Christian young people completely lose their moral bearings when they find out that they are liked — that they are attractive to an unbeliever. It's as if every switch on the mainframe of their moral life gets turned off while one massive desire button is alive and well."
While "dating" is the current term — in Piper's day it was "going steady" — he thinks it is important questions like "What is dating?" and "What's it for?" be asked.
When teenagers date and do things together a feeling of "specialness" arises in the relationship which usually precipitates a sequence of events that leads to engagement and then marriage.
"The question becomes, 'Is it wise for a 16 year old to step into that river that flows toward marriage?' My answer is no, I don't think it is wise," Piper said, noting that exceptional situations do exist in our culture where two young people are very spiritually mature and marriage is planned for age 18 upon completing high school.
Falling in love is "beautiful" and "one of the greatest experiences in the world," he continued, and "what makes it so great is that God has blessed it with an appointed and thrilling consummation called marriage."
"If you turn that process into a high school pastime with revolving relationships, you are robbing yourself of the very best you can have."