Joshua Harris and "I Kissed Dating Goodbye": 2 Warnings and an Example
Last week bestselling author Joshua Harris issued a statement apologizing for his 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In the book Harris, only 22 at the time, denounced traditional dating. He proposed courtship as the exclusive ticket to godly relationships.
I no longer agree with [the book’s] central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. … [In the book] There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology or relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture."
I think Harris’s current view reflects a healthier understanding of romantic relationships than the one espoused in I Kissed Dating Goodbye (IKDG).
But this post isn’t about my thoughts on dating vs. courtship. (You can read those here and here.) Regardless of whether you agree with 1997 Harris or 2018 Harris, we can all take two warnings and an example from his statement.
Warning #1: Don’t Attribute Scriptural Authority to Things That Aren’t Scriptural
Harris admits that his book “emphasized practices … that are not in the Bible.” As someone who grew up in Christian homeschooling circles, I saw some families elevate IKDG to an almost scriptural status. For them, there might as well have been a Bible verse reading, “Thou shalt not date, nor kiss, nor ever be alone with the opposite sex before marriage, lest thine heart be torn into 100 pieces and ye become undesirable to thine future spouse.”
This is a common pitfall for Christians. We hear an idea that sounds good, or is proposed by someone who seems smart and godly. Then we latch on. We add it to the list of rules to follow in order to become a truly good Christian. And when other Christians don’t follow that rule, we view them as less-enlightened, less-committed or unrepentant.
This is a major problem!
When we add extra-biblical criteria to the list of what it takes to be a “truly good Christian,” we get weighed down with baggage God doesn’t want us to have. Most egregious, we cheapen the real gospel, which is complete in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Warning #2: Be Careful About Placing Youth on a Pedestal
As I mentioned above, Harris was just 22 when the book was published, which means he was even younger when writing it. He admitted to NPR in 2016 that the rules he outlined in IKDG were “very speculative.”
“I had not walked through that relationship yet myself,” he said. He was full of idealism and short on real-life experience. He was immature.
But many Christian parents, fearful of their kids’ budding romantic lives, saw a godly young man who offered a way to avoid the heartache and danger of traditional dating. Many teens saw a savvy guy who promised them a magnificent love story if certain steps were followed. So people began viewing the naive Harris as a Christian relationship guru. They put him on a pedestal he wasn’t ready for.
This is another common pitfall, and not just for Christians. When a fresh, young face says something we like, we get excited. We treat them like experts when they aren’t.
Does that mean we should never listen to young people? Of course not. Earlier this year at The Stream, while criticizing adults in the media and on the Left who treated teen survivors of the Parkland school shooting as experts in gun policy, I wrote:
Some of you are angrily flipping your Bibles to 1 Timothy 4:12, ready to hit me over the head with the words “Let no one despise you for your youth.” There are plenty influential young people God uses, you say. Trust me, I know. I believe young people should be a vocal part of civil discourse, not silenced because of their age.
As a high school student, I regularly wrote columns for my local newspaper. I spoke at and organized local political rallies. Looking back, I thank God for those experiences. But I also thank God I wasn’t catapulted into the national spotlight just then.
Why? Because my opinions changed. The ones that didn’t became more nuanced, thanks to real-world experience and exposure to diverse viewpoints. In short, I was the furthest thing from an expert, still figuring out my own beliefs.
The same was evidently true for Harris. He was a vocal and active part of his faith community — which was good. But he was still figuring out his own beliefs, even if he didn’t realize it at the time.
As I wrote of the Parkland teens, “in the long run, they’ll benefit much more from wizened adults who balance encouragement with guidance, than adults who praise them nonstop and shove them into an arena for which they’re ill-prepared.”
Older adults must have the boldness to offer loving guidance and correction, as well as encouragement, to the youth in their communities. And when a teen or young adult finds themselves in the spotlight, they should seek guidance, be eager to learn and remain aware of their own inexperience.
Example: Be Willing to Self-Correct
Anyone who operates in the public eye for any length of time is bound to change their opinions at least a little. They’ll likely do, say or write things they eventually regret. And that’s okay.
But how many people are willing to draw attention to their past mistakes? Very few, I’ll wager. It’s easier to brush the past error under a rug and hope everyone forgets about it.
Harris did the opposite of that. In this, he shines as an example.
Not only did he admit his own error, he did so with extreme care. His statement is the culmination of a two-year “process of re-evaluating the book.”
This included inviting people to share their stories with me on my website, personal phone calls with readers, an in-depth study of issues surrounding my book overseen by one of my graduate school professors, and finally, creating a documentary film that captured the conversations with people who were reshaping my thinking.
I can only imagine how tough, even painful, it must have sometimes been for Harris to invite, study and document criticism of his own work.
That took openness, humility and courage. How many of us would do the same thing?
Say Farewell to I Kissed Dating Goodbye
It wasn’t enough for Harris to state publicly that he now disagrees with IKDG. In his statement last week, he announced that its publication will be discontinued. He is also offering a free eBook called The Books that Changed my Mind, for “a more in-depth explanation of my thought-process and for anyone who wants to engage more with this topic.”
And so the 21-year-long era of I Kissed Dating Goodbye comes to a close. Even so, the pitfalls that many Christians succumbed to with its publication still litter the ground today. I hope that going forward, we remember the warnings from many Christians’ reactions IKDG. And I hope that all of us — including myself — can follow Harris’s example of openness, humility and courage when addressing our past mistakes.
Hear more on this topic from Harris’s 2017 TEDx Talk, “Strong Enough to be Wrong.”
Photo credit: TEDx Talks via YouTube