I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

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Harris’ book has caused quite a stir in the Christian community and with good reason. He has dared to scrap the Western dating system and replace it with one that he believes more fully honors God. I Kissed Dating Goodbye, while certainly not the final word on the subject, is well worth reading and pondering. Harris has rightly observed that our present dating scheme is froth with dangers. First, there are the moral temptations that challenge the resolve of even the strongest Christian. Next there is the issue of over commitment at a time of life when lasting commitment is impossible. Add to that the broken hearts, distracted minds, lopsided relationships and spiritual retardation that often accompanies dating, especially of the young, and you start to get a handle on the problem.

Harris’ solution is to develop a different mindset. He encourages young people to focus on family, friends and God. Rather than giving in to the pressures of one-on-one dating he recommends socializing in small groups and family settings. Rather than being distracted prematurely by romantic relationships he suggests concentration on the Lord, ministry and personal growth. The author believes that commitment between a guy and a gal should not be pursued until marriage has become a real possibility. At that point, he prescribes four stages to godly romantic relationships: causal friendship – deeper friendship – purposeful intimacy with integrity – engagement (pp.205ff). Harris also calls for a “smart love” – one that constantly grows and deepens in its practical knowledge and insight; it opens our eyes to see God’s best for our lives, enabling us to be pure and blameless in His sight. The alternative is “dumb love” – choosing what feels good for me instead of what is good for others and what pleases God (pp. 21,22).

To all of this we say, “Amen.” Nevertheless there are a number of questions, issues and problems that must be resolved if Harris’ program is to be truly workable.

1. In Harris’ system a couple does not become serious with one another until they are ready for marriage. The intermediate steps from causal friendship to engagement seem to me to be a real concern. How does a couple know that they want to make a lifetime commitment to live together as one when they have never spent quality time alone? Harris would say that this knowledge is discovered not through dating but in the “purposeful intimacy with integrity” stage of the relationship. We must be careful here. Call it “purposeful intimacy with integrity” if you like, but it is dating nevertheless. Harris has not, when it is all said and done, kissed dating goodbye, he has redefined it and, I believe, improved it. Harris says, “True love nullifies dating” (p. 66), but his definition of dating is the worldly self-centered attitude that surrounds us. That “we cannot love as God loves and date as the world dates” (p. 70) is true. But we can date in a God-honoring way. Perhaps he is wise to rename what we now call dating to help us rethink the issue, but Harris is not truly scrapping dating. Some in the Christian community are doing so, calling for parent-controlled betrothal and marriages. This is not Harris’ plan.

2. Closely linked with our first issue is Harris’ idea that infatuation is idolatry. “Any time we allow someone to displace God as the focus of our affections… we become idolaters” (p. 141). This is fundamentally true, but if pressed would eliminate all marriages and children as well. Dating, Harris believes, involves many drawbacks including isolation, and time spent on one person and on the relationship at the expense of other pursuits (chapter 2). But of course, all of these drawbacks are true of marriage as well. How can we love a wife or adore our children without deeply focusing our affections and attention upon them? Is such love and attention idolatry? Certainly not. While our family must not displace God there is room in our hearts and lives for them, and for God. Harris seems to be condemning single Christians for what is excepted among the married.

3. In the specifics of Harris program there are some bugs that need to be worked out. For example, in the man asking the girl’s parents for permission to pursue the relationship (p. 215), what if they say “no.” What is the biblical mandate at that point? Harris is a follower of covenant theology and therefore drags this principle in from the Old Testament system. But he does not discuss the real possibility that Pops may say “leave my baby alone.” In addition, he mentions the option of asking mom and dad before the guy asks the girl. What if she is not that interested? Again, I believe Harris is imposing the Old Testament economy on the New Testament dispensation at this point.

4. Another bug is that in this system a couple commits to marry before they have “won each other’s heart” (pp. 216-217). I seriously question the workability of that order for most.

5. But the biggest area of concern, one that is interlaced throughout the whole system, is the unbiblical concept that God is going to tell us when and who to marry (pp. 23, 69,77,167-170,209,211,213,227-228). This is an unfortunate part of Harris’ concept of finding a marriage partner. He believes God has a person out there hand-picked for you. In the right time He will point him/her out and you will know it because of the peace that God gives you (p. 213). Or better yet you can lay down a fleece (pp. 227-228). And even better, God make speak to you through some mystical inner voice (p. 228). This is a serious flaw in a book on dating and waiting.

My first four concerns about I Kissed Dating Goodbye need to be personally worked out and resolved by each individual. Some latitude and adjustment will need to be made according to the given circumstances. My fifth and final concern is of deeper importance. I would suggest that the reader ignore Harris teachings in this regard. They are unbiblical and dangerous. As for the overall thrust of the book however, I give it high regards. Every Christian parent and teen should read and consider what Harris has to say. There are some things that the reader may filter out and adjust, as I have done, but this book and its concepts should not be dismissed.

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