Books

Book Review: “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

June 21, 2011
I remember when I Kissed Dating Goodbye first came out – my older sister was reading it because she had started dating, and so I skimmed through it when she was finished. Since I grew up in the church, attending a private Christian (and classical) high school, most of Joshua Harris’ ideas were not new to me at all. I never dated in high school, and only ended up dating (or courting) at the end of my senior year of college. I honestly don’t regret how little I’ve dated in life – but I also can’t honestly say that my decision not to date growing up was because of reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye

Although the title leads you to think the book is all about “dating” (or not “dating”), the emphasis that Josh makes is primarily on how to live as a single person – and the path he lays out he warns is counter-cultural. Harris starts off in the first part of the book by discussing the pitfalls of the contemporary “casual dating” scene in America. He concludes that we should ditch modern “dating” with it’s inherent difficulties for a new approach to romantic relationships – primarily waiting until you’re ready for marriage to pursue intimate relationships with the opposite sex. The reasoning for this is that Harris proposes that “intimacy costs commitment,” thus if you’re not ready for the commitment of marriage, you should not be pursuing intimacy with someone yet. In light of this, the majority of the book is about how to live in your singleness. Harris redefines love and purity as he sees them biblically, and then lays out his understanding of how to be a single person who develops friendships with others and works on his or her own character during the season of singleness. The rest of the book then gives an outline or overview of how to do romance and relationships in a better way (according to Harris) when you are ready for marriage.

From the people I’ve spoken to who have read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the books seems to have a polarizing effect. People either love it or hate it. My reaction after reading it again recently was somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I agree with the overall idea that Josh presents about singleness and appreciate many of his points, yet I think he can be too simplistic and make a one-sided picture at times (especially regarding dating). I will grant him some grace though since he wrote the book when he was only 21 years old.

On the positive side:

1) I agree with Harris that our modern “casual dating” notion is not beneficial and is rather detrimental to relationships (and in the future, marriages). I think that dating for fun with no intention of moving towards marriage is foolish. Generally, it seems that dating in high school fits with this model, and so I would typically advise against it. However, I do know a few friends who married the girl they dated in high school – who remained pure until marriage. Not all dating fits in with the overly caricatured picture Harris gives in this book.

2) I think that Harris does a great job of emphasizing that the point of singleness is not to figure out how to stop being single, but rather an opportunity to be completely focused on serving God. Singleness is actually a gift. St. Paul will heartily agree with that, and even wishes that everyone would remain single as he was, so that your attention is not divided (1 Cor. 7:32). Our culture does not seem to get this – single people tend to be looked at like there is something wrong with them. We need to change our attitude about singleness – and so I am thankful for Josh’s emphasis on this.

3) Along those same lines, I appreciate the emphasis on building character during your time of singleness rather than simply spending all your time trying to find “the one.” This is a good reminder to those who are young (and old) and still single – don’t waste your singleness.

4) I appreciate that Harris admits that “kissing dating goodbye” will not fix all of your problems in relationships. It won’t guarantee that you’ll never have emotional pain anymore, or broken relationships. He recognizes that sinful people have messy relationships regardless of what method you use. So he admits that dating isn’t all of the problem. Sinful people are the primary problem.

5) And finally, along those same lines, I appreciate that he recognizes that his method isn’t the perfect path and solution to all the problems. He simply lays down some principles that will guide a relationship which he sees as better and more biblical. He also says he doesn’t care what you call it, even though he prefers the term “courtship.”

On the negative side:

1) One of the issues I see with the book is that Harris tends to be far too simplistic – both in his understanding of dating, and in his suggested path towards better relationships. While many people’s experience with dating lines up with what he describes in the book (a lot of that being from his personal experience), many people have very different outcomes and challenges in the midst of both dating and “courting.” What I’ve found is that relationships are messy – they don’t all fit into a certain box that is easily definable. One path has worked for some people and yet that same path has caused serious issues for others. Harris, (who admittedly is young at the writing of this book) seems to portray each side in very simplistic terms and with stories that highlight his point alone. This can give a very deceptive  and one-sided picture of both dating and courtship. I know many people who have had very godly dating relationships that ended in beautiful marriages. I have also known many people who’s courtship has caused more problems than solutions, and the model of courtship itself led to more sin than godliness. I can include my own experience in this: the one time I followed the model of courtship (much like what Harris proposes in this book) the result was much worse and prone to a sinful and deceptive relationship than my one experience with dating. The courtship lead to a broken relationship, poor communication on all parts, and more opportunities for sin in the end, whereas the dating experience ended much better in light of clear communication, mutual understanding, and no deep emotional scars or great shame or sin. My point is not that one is better than the other, but each has it’s own problems, issues, and tendency towards sin. Again, relationships are messy and complicated and when we try to fit them into a box and cram them into a certain model to follow, we miss the point.

2) Along those same lines, it appears that Josh writes this book as a reaction to casual dating – which makes the book a pendulum swing from one extreme to another. He does make many caveats within the chapters saying that his path is not the only right one, but the overall flow (and title) pushes for a strong reaction to modern dating. We should be careful about books written in reaction to something, especially in light of the movement this book caused. His passion often appears to come from his own personal experiences, and while he does say that this decision not to date is a personal one that he does not recommend for everyone, again, the overall tenor of book pushes in the direction that dating is sinful and Harris’ approach is much more godly in and of itself.

3) When dealing with dating, Harris presents the modern dating system as a cart that swerves – meaning that it is fundamentally flawed and will require more self control to keep in line with God than the alternative. But in his language about dating I was struck by how often Harris litters the chapters with statements about how dating “can” lead to this, or “often” causes problems, or “tends” in one direction. Yet when he begins to discuss his “new attitude towards romance and relationships” he uses much more hard and concrete language (even though he admits a few times that these aren’t hard and fast rules). I’m not sure if this is part of the updating that Josh has done in the new version of the book or not, but that shift in language suggests that he is less sure about his stance on dating and yet more convinced that his “new attitude” is clearly biblical. I’m not so sure about that stance.

4) Along the lines of simplistic teaching, I am wary of the way Harris uses his stories in the book. While the constant use of examples makes for more interesting reading, the way in which they are portrayed is again very one-sided. He oversimplifies his examples which seem to clearly support his own principles – but relationships are rarely as simple as the isolated stories he uses for each example. They serve as great illustrations, but often fail to tell the whole story of the relationship. From what I remember of Josh’s own story leading to marriage (retold in his book Boy Meets Girl), his relationship is slightly different from everything he espouses in the end of this book – precisely because it is more complicated then the 21-year-old Josh paints it to be. Most relationships don’t follow his Casual Friendship – Deeper Friendship – Courtship – Engagement process flow (his own included), so the stories and examples that are isolated for each principle or stage give a false picture of relationships as a whole – which can be dangerous.

5) Finally, as is sadly the case with far too many popular Christian books, and particularly Christian relationship books – there is a tendency to take Scripture out of context and do poor exegesis. I don’t have time to point out each individual instance, but Harris tends to use isolated verses and isolated stories to prove his points. That is not to say that everything he proposes is unbiblical and unrealistic, but rather that the verses and stories don’t always back up only what he proposes. Often times the principles he gives are good (and can be supported from Scripture), but the specific passage he cites within it’s original context does not back the point. He devotes a chapter to “guarding your heart” – which many relationship books find all the rage these days – but takes the image from Proverbs 4:23, a chapter where one is hard pressed to find much about relationships in the context. Thankfully Harris does not conclude that “guarding your heart” is protecting it from emotional pain, but he does read our modern concept of the heart being primarily romantic feelings into the reference – which is a stretch at best. Another typical example of missing the context of Scripture that Harris falls into is the quintessential graduation verse: Jeremiah 29:11, which is addressed to Israel promising return from their exile in Babylon – not to Christian singles promising the best future spouse if they trust God. Again, these don’t always necessarily disprove or discredit what Harris says, but I would have appreciated a more thorough interaction with Scripture in it’s context to support his principles rather than proof-texting.

Conclusion:

 Keeping in mind that Harris was young when he wrote this, I appreciate what he was trying to communicate in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, although I think he could have communicated it much better in some areas. For many people, this book will be a good awakening to the inherent problems of their lifestyle of casual dating with little commitment. I commend Josh for his fresh perspective on singleness and the blessing it can be, as well as his practical guide to growing in godliness during that season. However, there is much left wanting in terms of how simplistic Harris’ solution to modern dating is and in how isolated his examples and proof-texts can be in support of his conclusion in courtship. This combination can lead to a dangerous pendulum swing to the opposite extreme of “courtship-only” for Christians, which can be legalistic and self-righteous – and sadly many people have followed that reactionary path (although I don’t think that Harris would condone such a thing if we sat down with him today). So I would recommend the book only to certain people, not to everyone.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

Note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jacob June 25, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Hi Jason,

    Did you know that Josh Harris delivered a pair of sermons in 2005 that offer a more nuanced view of dating and courtship? I found them very helpful and edifying. You can find them here: http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/MP3-Audio–Multimedia/Christian-Life/Courtship–Dating/

    Jacob Douvier

  • Reply Danmark February 13, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I Kissed Dating Goodbye is an incredible book! The ideas and experiences of Harris are refreshing and inspiring. It's a must read for any single Christian who desires a more godly outlook on the dating scene.

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