The Man Who Ignited the Debate
No book on dating has generated more heated response than Joshua Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Multnomah, 1997). In addition to enormous sales (nearing a million), four years later, many young Christians are passionately for it or against it. Though Harris has subsequently gotten married and written Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship (Multnomah, 2000), it is his first book that still provokes the most discussion among singles. CT managing editor Mark Galli sat down with Harris to ask him about the book's genesis and the ongoing controversy surrounding it.
What prompted you to write I Kissed Dating Goodbye?
I was editing New Attitude, a national magazine for homeschooled teens, and relationships was a big issue. At the same time, I had been going out with a girl in my youth group, and I was acting like a typical high-school Christian kid. I knew sex before marriage was wrong, but I was involved in this dating relationship where we were pushing the line, and we were being dragged down spiritually. Many homeschoolers talked about the concept of courtship, but I basically wrote it off. I remember my youth pastor saying how he hadn't kissed his wife until he got engaged, and I just laughed at that: "Oh my goodness. Get real!"
At that time, God began to do a work in my life. I ended that dating relationship and began to ask some serious questions about my lifestyle. I had wasted two years of my life—in terms of time, emotional investment, and energy. That relationship had been my focus. I realized I had promised my former girlfriend a lot of things—and I hurt her because I was the one who broke off the relationship. And so I started to look at these ideas about courtship.
I wrote an article, "Dating Problems, Courtship Solutions," that generated a lot of letters. I was seeing a number of books with titles like How to Date as a Christian, How Not to Go Too Far, and Why Wait? The more I thought about the issues, the more I realized there is something wrong with the way we do things. At the same time, I was having some questions about the courtship model advocated by homeschoolers. It was legalistic; it wasn't biblical; and it wasn't very practical in our culture.
As I read the book, I didn't think it was ultimately about dating.
What most people don't know is that when I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I was the liberal dating guy in the homeschool community, because I was saying, It's not about courtship rules or structures; it's your attitude. I chose to not use the word courtship in that book because I saw people getting caught up in figuring out the rules of courtship. I wanted people to examine their hearts and see what they were living for.
So what is it ultimately about?
Dating is the hook; it's an issue that every single person is thinking about. But if you go up to a single person and say, "You need to stop being selfish; you need to see your life as being lived for God," they're not going to read the book.
Why do you think the book has been so popular?
The reason we went with the title is because we wanted it to be different from all the other books that assumed that dating is necessary. I wanted to grab people's attention. But ultimately it's a book about trusting God, living for him, viewing your whole life in light of what the Bible has to say versus what culture has to say. Dating is one expression of that trust.
I think people are looking for a different outcome in their relationships. The reality of the gospel should have some effect on our relationships. But you look at a Christian couple in a dating relationship, and you'd be hard-pressed in a lot of cases to see the difference between that couple and a non-Christian couple.