Do you remember the 1997 Christian book bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye? If you were a Christian teenager or young adult in the early years of the 21st century, chances are pretty good your youth group did a study on it. If you’ve been in ministry for a while, chances are equally good you led teens through a study on it.
The author of the book, Joshua Harris, was just 21 years old when he wrote it. Many have used this fact to discredit Harris and question the validity of the advice he gives in the book. After all, what advice could someone give another on relationships when that person hadn’t been in a significant one yet and had lived such a short time on earth?
Many found Harris’ idea to steer clear of dating until they were sure God had sent “the one” absolutely impractical. However, a decent number adhered to his advice, saving dating, pursuing, even kissing until after they had found “the one” they were sure would make good marriage material.
However, a lot of reports have surfaced in the recent years of young people who felt stifled and impaired by the advice given in the book. Many felt the book admonishing them to repress their sexuality and miss out on healthy relationships in their formative years. Some go so far as to say the book caused them to miss their chance at a happy marriage.
What does the author have to say about all this? Well, it looks like he’s starting to change his tune a little. According to Wikipedia, as early as 2005, Harris seemed to augment his stance. Addressing the congregation he was leading at the time (Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md.), he admonished the young people to remedy the “lack of freeness between men and women in cultivating friendships.” In fact, he goes so far as to say men and women should go to coffee with one another, one on one even (scandalous!).
Harris recently spoke to NPR about his book and his changing views. He tells the interviewer, “I think the problem (laughter) when I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye is that I had not walked through that relationship yet myself. And I was—it was very speculative.” Harris claims he’s at a place now where he’d like to hear the feedback of those who feel they have been wronged by the teaching of the book. And while he doesn’t feel responsible for the extremes to which some groups took the message of his book, he is ready to process this feedback. Harris has set up a page on his website where readers can submit such feedback.
While one author “recanting” a book he wrote almost two decades ago may not seem like that big of a deal, it points to a bigger issue plaguing the church right now. A quick search on Google will reveal a lot of people who are disillusioned by the purity culture movement that Harris is partly responsible for creating.
The church is at a crossroads where it needs to step back, evaluate some of the teachings we’ve held about purity, sexuality and relationships, and carefully consider how God would have us revise. In the meantime, there is a lot of ministry to do among those who have been hurt by the overly legalistic purity culture movement. Not only have relationships with other people been impaired by this movement, but our understanding of God and his nature have also been affected.