If you were like me going through adolescence in the late 90s or early 2000s (or were a parent of teacher to adolescents in that time period), I’m sure you heard of or read Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was the gospel on relationships to many Evangelical, conservative, and/or homeschooling families.
Some, like myself, found some helpful principles in the book and moved on. Others believed it contained a God-blessed formula for finding the perfect mate. Still others had it used as a weapon against them.
Best case scenario, it made friendships between the opposite sexes extremely difficult. (You felt like you couldn’t talk to someone of the opposite sex without him/her thinking you were interested in marriage!) Worse case scenario, it put extreme pressure and guilt on its readers. And some just gave up on finding a Christian spouse altogether.
There were some helpful principles in the book, such as not wasting time on relationships that were doomed from the get-go. Or making sure God was the center of the relationship. Another helpful principle was getting counsel and accountability from others (one that applies in all areas of life).
And Josh still stands by those principles.
However, as he began to hear more and more how his book was held up as the gospel on relationships, as he heard from people who were shamed or hurt from the legalism in his book, as he realized there is no black-and-white, fail-proof formula for a God-honoring relationship, Josh began to rethink much of the content in his book.
For me, one of the most compelling moments in the documentary was when he discussed the idea that any good or moral wisdom elevated on par with Scripture leads to legalism and turns its followers into Pharisees. You see the Pharisees added thousands of laws to the Torah (God’s inspired Word) in order to make their followers pure and acceptable to God.
Even today, many Christians are prone to the same thing. We add rules on dress, relationships, entertainment, marriage, child rearing, etc. These rules change as our culture changes. But one thing stays the same–if you don’t follow them, you aren’t spiritual.
Sometimes the command to be separate (II Cor. 6:17) is taken to the extreme. Yes, if the world is doing something that the Bible clearly defines as sin, we are to stay separate. But it doesn’t mean everything in our culture is bad. We are not called to separate just for the sake of separation. How can we reach a culture if we’ve totally isolated ourselves from it? But I digress!
Many readers of I Kissed Dating Goodbye took it as a command to form a new culture. Josh’s ideas (and he was 21 and single!) became God’s new truth. It was a formula with a guaranteed outcome. Followers felt they were promised a wonderful, happy, perfect marriage if they followed his ideas.
Those who did not follow the book to the letter, or who had a history of failed relationships, were made to feel inferior. The documentary talks about how once someone had a failed relationship, his/her chances of finding a spouse in those circles decreased dramatically!
It also put too much of an emphasis on one kind of purity–virginity. The all-consuming goal was to remain a virgin until marriage. (And, yes, Josh still believes God designed sex for marriage.) But what about those who were molested as a child or who did not grow up in a Christian environment? What about those who didn’t make it to the altar before sleeping together? Does God care about sexual purity more than any other kind of purity? Is that one sin so much worse than any other sin that people deserve to be branded as impure for the rest of their lives? Of course not! Is it possible to be sexually pure and yet live an impure life or vice versa? Absolutely!
I am amazed at Josh’s humility. When was the last time a Christian superstar made a public admission s/he was wrong? What would Christianity look like if every Christian in the world, no matter how famous, revisited his/her words (written or spoken) on a regular basis and made adjustments or apologies as needed?
A lot of people were helped by Josh’s book. But a lot more were hurt. For that reason, Josh has decided to stop publication of his best seller. While he still stand by many of the principles in the book, he has come to realize that there are many that are not Biblical or helpful. It’s time to let go of the rules and seize onto our relationship with God.
(Currently Josh’s documentary is available to watch for free: https://www.isurvivedikdg.com/)