While hunting around for another document just now, I found a review of I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Josh Harris that I wrote for an online magazine that I never sent for publication. This is a book that was very influential to me when I first read it, and I recommend it for anyone thinking about what God’s role is in their relationship life. Unfortunately, I always have to clarify that this book is not about promoting not dating, rather, God’s place in all aspects of relationship.
Review – I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Joshua Harris, Author
Review by Cary McCall
The Right Thing at the Wrong Time is the Wrong Thing
I sat on the kitchen counter in our student center at OU.
“What do I do?” I asked a spattering of older students who stood around me. These students, of course, were the two senior girls who had somehow officially declared their major to be Relationship Advice.
I was a new freshman and had enthusiastically rushed onto the college scene with guns blaring, ready to explore a new life and new people. However, I had declared my love to a girl from Kansas who was still in high school but starting to look at wedding dresses. We had given big portions of our hearts to each other, as well as our bodies. She was ready to take that commitment to the grave, but somehow I knew I was immature and needed the freedom to grow into this new university world and become the person that God wanted me to be. But to her, the prospect of a breakup seemed equal to divorce.
This relationship had just been a camp fling – how was it now a matter of emotional life and death?
It wasn’t until years later – when I was almost out of college – that I realized this relationship had gone the way of a vast majority “hook ups” in our culture: begin with fun and flair in mind, enjoy the “benefits” for a while, give away big portions of yourself that aren’t even yours, and then watch as it crashes in flames and pain.
Is there any way out of this cycle that is plaguing us and creating one fruitless relationship after another?
A New Attitude
Josh Harris thinks so. After enduring the age-old dating scene that took him from one girl to another in a world that worships self-gratification, he developed powerful convictions based on his relationship with God and the call to a Christian lifestyle. As a 21 year-old, he explained these decisions in his first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Over a million copies later, I Kissed Dating Goodbye has drawn international praise and is now published in thirteen languages. Others, however, remain skeptical of what some feel is an extreme message. Either way, I Kissed Dating Goodbye has played a key role in the relationship philosophies of thousands of young Christians, and has become a book that cannot be ignored.
Below the Surface
Harris, realizing the defenses that many will initiate at no more than the very title of his book, immediately works to dispel the preconceptions some may have of his message. The first is this: “Dating isn’t really the point.” He tells the reader that “[the] ultimate purpose is not to figure out if Christians should date, and if so, how.” Instead, the reader should examine “the aspects of your life that dating touches – the way you treat others, the way you prepare for your future mate, your personal purity – and attempt to bring these areas into line with God’s word.”
True to his word, Harris never makes a judgment call on dating itself but develops a careful, detailed spiritual analysis of the way our culture has taught us to form relationships. From this he makes a case for the Christian response.
A Radical Change
Based on his analysis of how the world goes about dating, Harris develops a list he calls “The Seven Habits of Highly Defective Dating.” Harris contends that many relationships, even among Christians, demonstrate these characteristics:
- Dating leads to intimacy but not necessarily commitment.
- Dating tends to skip the “friendship” stage of a relationship.
- Dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love.
- Dating often isolates a couple from other vital relationships.
- Dating, in many cases, distracts young adults from their primary responsibility of preparing for the future.
- Dating can cause discontentment with God’s gift of singleness.
- Dating creates an artificial environment for evaluating another person’s character.
Avoiding these pitfalls, Harris states, takes a set of “new attitudes,” which he outlines in five philosophies:
- Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ’s love.
- My unmarried years are a gift from God.
- Intimacy is a reward of commitment – I don’t need to pursue a romantic relationship before I’m ready for marriage.
- I cannot “own” someone outside of marriage.
- I will avoid situations that could compromise the purity of my body or mind.
Harris makes it very clear that each one of these attitudes involves a radical shift of mindset and behavior for even the most ingrained Christian. But until each one of these attitudes can be accepted and mastered, dating remains a dangerous minefield controlled by a self-indulgent society. Thus, Harris recommends, as he has, to put dating on hold until God grows you to a point of being able to face dating with the spiritual maturity that God demands of it.
Assuming this decision, Harris then spends the rest of the book tackling what he considers to be the real issue: developing a full-bodied, passionate relationship with God. This, Harris claims, is what will turn singleness into a blessing and transform loneliness into contentment. This is what will eliminate the artificial “need” for romantic relationships.
Josh Harris steps on a lot of toes with I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His gentle writing style, seasoned with poignant stories and dialogue, softens the fact that he is calling to the carpet a lot of self-indulgent Christians. His message, although critical of worldly thought patterns, is clearly written for those who say they follow Christ. But Harris shoots red hot spiritual flares into the air in a lot of religious circles that unconsciously promote a message of “date fast and marry early”; a message that Harris believes is informed by a relationship-dependent culture. To Harris, even traditionally noble ideas such as wanting to raise a family can, in the wrong mindset, be a mask for codependency that subtly keeps God from being the priority relationship. God must be first, and if dating has to go away until God can be there, then so be it.
Josh Harris’ message in I Kissed Dating Goodbye is strong and challenging. It forces a personal analysis at least, if not a total recommitment. Either way, Harris ruffles feathers with a book that is carrying a lion’s share of weight in the way young Christians are forming attitudes about dating, sex, and purity.