A review of the book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye
Author: Joshua Harris
Publisher: Multnomah Press, 1997
Pages: 232 pages
Once in a great while I encounter a unique young man or woman who is mature beyond their years; who by their strength of faith and greater understanding humble me. There are far more of such yet in this world than I will ever encounter in this life. The author of this book is one. I will likely never meet Joshua Harris in the temporal age, but his book has made a great and positive impression.
I Kissed Dating Goodbye is a book sometimes funny, but it’s theme is very serious. It is about the struggles of a man and his generation and the discoveries he has made about God and his own sinful nature. It is a book about holiness, particularly in the area of romance and relationships. He has some very frank questions concerning an accepted practice. Rebecca St. James, another of these impressively mature young adults, wrote in her foreword to the book, “The ideas in these pages are really quite revolutionary.” She is absolutely correct, but they are not new—just smothered, or buried; as much of the truth is these days.
It was not Harris’s intent to approach this topic from the aspect of God’s covenant of grace with His people as we understand it, and it may be he is unaware of our understanding of the covenant. Yet there are many among us (including myself) who can learn from him regarding how to reflect God’s covenant in our relationships. We often talk about the unbreakableness of the marriage bond. Dating, he asserts, is a defective means of getting there. By dating we are actually trying to get there by a practice which teaches us to break up. We go from one “steady” to another, and from one heartbreak to another. To have kept the same boy or girlfriend for more than a year seems a long time. Perhaps we make it through our high school graduation having our sexual purity intact, yet the heart damage which results is no small thing (as any teen can tell you). Yes, we are the ones who do the damage to one another in this pattern of dating, but there is something horribly defective with the method. As Josh points out, dating prepares us more for divorce than marriage.
Dating does not help us in our goals of holiness and marriage, contends the author. Rather, it teaches us to behave with the intimacy of those who are committed to another when we haven’t really committed yet (marriage). If we recognize that the object is the life-long commitment of marriage, not intimacy for the moment, then we must see dating as a faulty means of reaching the goal. The author points out that what is missing in dating is what he calls, “Smart Love.” This is the kind of love which is of God and is God Himself, and should be found in his people. It is a love built on sincerity, selflessness and commitment. Love is the opposite of lust in that love looks out for the best interests of the other at the sacrifice of personal pleasure and comfort. Lust looks out for what gives pleasure to me at the expense of what is good for the other. “Beyond what feels good—back to what is good,” says Harris. What is good, he points out throughout the book, is putting emotional and physical intimacy on the back burner until a commitment to marriage has been made.
Someone somewhere said, “It is better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.” Whatever the intentions behind such a thought, I agree with Josh that this kind of attitude is carnal at best, and it has had ruinous results among God’s people. How often have many of us pursued a relationship and promised the moon and our love forever, only to break up months later and find ourselves holding the hand of another? What happened to love? Josh is all for romance. He thinks, though, it is disastrous to indulge in romance for the sake of romance. Basically he says romance is for a couple on the threshold of becoming married. And thus he shall be labeled a kill-joy. But as we have “advanced” from a back porch to a backseat philosophy in our courtship habits, we have set aside wisdom which could make for much better marriages.
The Physical Side
Josh also has some “revolutionary” views toward the physical side of a relationship. He advises we save it all until the commitment of marriage is made, including such “harmless” things as hand-holding and kissing. He also has some things to say about modesty and some needed admonitions to guys as to how they view their sisters in Christ.
Patience And The Purpose Of Singleness
Harris not only talks about love, but also about having God-like patience and our attitudes toward singleness. Often we seem to think and act as if God is against us in leaving us as singles for a time. And we are all single for a while. The dating mentality wastes that precious time, says Harris. “While we’re single, dating not only keeps us from preparing for marriage, it can quite possibly rob us of the gift of singleness…. God wants us to maximize our freedom and flexibility to serve Him.” What a strange notion to most of us. Aren’t we only to give ourselves to God’s service when it becomes clear that God isn’t going to give us a spouse? This attitude is contrary to Harris’s thinking. His view of singleness is to grab onto it and to use it for God while we have it. “…A string of uncommitted relationships is not the gift! God gives us singleness—a season of our lives unmatched in its opportunity for boundless growth, learning and service—and we view it [instead] as a chance to get bogged down in finding and keeping boyfriends and girlfriends. But we don’t find the real beauty of singleness in pursuing romance with as many people as we want. We find the real beauty in using our freedom to serve God with abandon.”
Harris also shows that the dating couple may well learn to become a very good boyfriend or girlfriend to one another, but be totally unprepared to be good spouses. The teen years are a good time to learn financial responsibility and the household tasks which accompany marriage and family. It is time to evaluate ourselves. We might watch how we interact with others and ask, “What kind of friend am I to others and how can I improve?” He explains that if I am not a good friend to those whom I consider friends, how will I be a true friend to a spouse? “Marriage won’t transform us into new people;” he warns, “it will only act as a mirror, showing what we already are.” Perhaps we so often rush toward marriage without the preparation of heart which the trials of marriage will surely test. The season of singleness is built for shoring ourselves up spiritually, and for building a deeper devotion to, and friendship with, God.
“But if I don’t date,” you may protest, “how will I ever get married?” He points out that our problem often times is that we have a marriage focus, rather than a “God focus.” Josh works hard at trying to avoid the dating scenario, but he doesn’t lock himself in his bedroom with Twinkies and a Sega. He goes out, but only in groups. Josh’s attitude is that it may very well be that God has no intention that he marry at all. But if so, it will become abundantly clear to him when and to whom. Then there will be time to consider “coupleness,” and he will have many counselors to advise him who know him and his potential spouse because of his pre-marriage practices. He will especially lean on his parents and the parents of the girl he courts. Meanwhile, though he confesses it is no cakewalk, he is concentrating on being the best Christian he can be.
Throughout the book, the author draws from experiences of his own and others as examples to illustrate his points. He also uses many effective analogies. He quotes from respected writers and from the Bible itself; though the quotes from the modem translations took some of the thunder away for me. That was the only significant negative, and it can be alleviated by having a KJV at hand.
I recommend this book for teens and singles of all ages. I recommend it especially for parents, whether their children are infants or just beyond the teen years. It may take some humility to let a 22-year-old tell you how God would have you lead the children he gave you. If so, pray for it.
Elizabeth Elliot said that the message of this book “is desperately needed.” I concur. We need to review our system of courtship. The “dating game” has become a dating trap. The call is to a higher plane, far higher than I and many of my peers have known until now. This book has been at the top of the Christian Booksellers Association’s “trade paper non-fiction best-seller list” all summer, and God is using it to help many start the climb.
There is much more in this book than I could cover in such a short review. “Revolutionary,” said St. James of the book. Yes, but to me it is chock-full of plain ol’ biblical, sanctified common sense—the kind we know to be true, but need someone to slap us with in order to bring us to our senses. Read the book. Engage in a discussion with others about it.
Harris claims himself a kindergartner in God’s school of love, but in my eyes he is a graduate in Christ’s school of humility. And humility is what it will take if we are to choose God’s way—and kiss dating goodbye. ❖
Cassandra strolled over to the stone bench and plopped herself down next to Rebekah. The afternoon had that kind of cool that one anticipates at the start of autumn, and the sun was delightfully bright. The branches of yellow overhead gave these young women a comforting shade. A breeze occasionally brushed by and made the drying leaves rattle quietly.
The young woman shrugged the book bag from her shoulder onto the ground and flipped off her sandals. Rebekah was seated longways on the bench so that her feet were at the end of it. Cassandra threw hers to the opposite end and leaned against Rebekah’s back. Rebekah didn’t seem to notice the new bench mate—that is, until she found herself a living headrest.
“This isn’t going to work,” Rebekah protested. Cassandra sighed as she whirled her feet to the ground again. “But I’m tired! It’s hard to get up early after summer break!” Rebekah moved herself around to a proper sitting position. Together they could now see the line of students at the bookstore ahead of them. It was only at the beginning of the first semester that there seemed any time to be lazy and just talk. Today was such a day for Cassandra and Rebekah.
“There’s Amy again this year. Funny, I thought of her this morning.” Cassandra remarked concerning the young woman at the back of the line. “Oh, yeah?” answered Rebekah.
“Yeah. Like when I couldn’t find any of my skirts. I bet I left them at home and my little sister is before a mirror modeling each one as we speak. And, all my jeans were in the hamper. So I threw on this T-shirt and overalls. I couldn’t help but thinking how Amy…” Cassandra’s conscience halted her tongue. She leaned back, supporting herself on her arms and turned away from Amy to look up at the waving branches. “Rebekah, don’t you sometimes find her ways hard to understand? You know, how she dresses.”
Rebekah thought it good to lean back for a view of the branches as well. “I don’t know.”
“Have you ever seen her in something that Laura Ingalls wouldn’t wear?”
Rebekah cracked a smile at that, but only needed a second to reply. “Yeah, I know I’ve seen her in slacks once before. But I suppose more often than not it’s dresses and long skirts. If she has skin I know I’ve never seen it.” As Cass smiled she noticed that Rebekah fidgeted with the hem of her skirt, trying to pull it over her knees. The moment she seemed successful it stubbornly creeped up again.
“I think its taking things a bit too far.” Cassandra assured her friend. “I mean, I’ve got absolutely nothing against her personally. She’s certainly friendly to me and well, she’s neat, I guess. And so smart—and she knows the Bible inside and out. Maybe she could be a good preacher! But she’d sure look funny in the pulpit in one of those long-sleeved dresses like she’s wearing today!” Cassandra snickered as she imagined Amy in the pulpit with just such a garment.
Rebekah giggled, too, and bumped her friend’s shoulder with her own in mock chastisement. The two sat silently as the breeze animated the branches some more. Soon Amy disappeared into the bookstore as the line behind her continued to grow.
“She was over here just before you came. Amy, I mean.”
“And I asked her just what you said—like, if she ever thought about being a preacher.”
“And what’d she say?”
“She laughed for a long time. I was getting a little red-faced. I don’t think she realized I was serious. She finally saw I was upset. That’s when she apologized and explained that in her church, women don’t even vote at the congregational meetings.”
“You’re kidding!” Cassandra sat upright to face her friend again. “Did you tell her that you were thinking of being a minister?”
“Well, not right then. First I wanted to understand how her church could take a stand that seemed to me so——”
“Primitive,” Cassandra offered.
“I guess it would seem like that. Like Victorian maybe. She said that her church did it because the Bible said so.”
“And? You didn’t try to argue Scripture with Ms. Moses herself, did you?” And that provoked another spell of mutual giggling.
“Well, I was so mad I dove for my book bag and pulled out my Bible. I turned to Galatians 3:28 and read where it said there was neither male nor female for we are all one in Christ. I told her that we are all believers, and the Reformers and confessions would say that we were all prophets, priests, and kings in Christ Jesus. We therefore can work right alongside of men in the service of the church. I told her I know I could do things a lot better than some of the men in my church”
“Did she whip out her Bible and gun you down?” Cassandra giggled as she made the motion of a quick draw from the hip and shouted “Pow! pow!”
Rebekah liked Cassandra. She could talk seriously and still have fun. But now her friend’s lightness seemed out of place as she recalled the recent encounter with Amy. “No, Cass. It was neat. She was very reasonable. She said, ‘Rebekah, do you believe that God in the beginning made man and woman as it says in Genesis?’ I told her I don’t believe the garbage about evolution that they’re trying to dump down our throats in this so-called Christian school. And she said, ‘I appreciate that remark very much. And so you would have to say that God made men and women differently?’ Well, what else could I say but, ‘Sure.’”
“I take it she wouldn’t like Jimmy Grebekken’s earrings,” Cass jested.
“I suppose not.” Cassandra could tell now that her friend was not really interested in her kidding. Rebekah continued. “But she wasn’t just talking about how we dress. She was talking about behavior, too. She said the churches were in serious trouble today because they are blurring the distinctions right along with the world.”
“OK, grant her that for the sake of argument. But then I would have asked her point blank how she could justify women having no voice in the church. What about equal rights? That’s pure subjection!”
Rebekah smiled. “That’s the exact word I used. Subjection. She patted me on the back and said, ‘Exactly!’ Well, if that was designed to make me hot it did, but she didn’t seem to notice. Then she said that, being made different by God, men and women serve Him in different ways and places. For instance, she said God tells us to be subject to our husbands. He says women are to remain silent and not to usurp authority over the man. In these ways we are showing ourselves as subject to the One who created women for His purposes. At that point I just had to see the scriptures. And she showed them to me. Here. I wrote them down.” And she handed her Bible to Cassandra with the paper sticking out of it. Cassandra looked at all the scriptures Rebekah had written on the paper. The ones Amy had shared with Rebekah were I Cor. 14:34-35; I Tim. 2:8-15 & 5:14; I Pet. 3:1-6; Eph. 5:22-33; Tit. 2:3-5. But as Amy pointed out there were others that they could look at later. The Bible gives clear direction for how God would have us each conduct ourselves as women or men. It may take some effort on our part to search out all the answers to our questions and, granted, much grace to carry it all out; but the help is there. He promised it would be, and our God is faithful to His promises.
So Rebekah talked as Cass turned the pages. “She also explained that God made man first, and the woman was made for man. I told her I didn’t like that. She said she finds it hard, too, but in order to please God and honor His role for her, she must submit to the truth.”
“But tell me what difference it makes whether or not a woman votes in church. I mean, why do they have to be so strict?”
Just then both girls heard a giggle from behind. And standing behind them was….
“Amy!” Cass tried to not to look surprised but her face was crimson. Rebekah tried to be welcoming, but her tongue was a bit tied, too.
Amy came to the bench and set a pile of new textbooks on the ground. “I should be ashamed for eavesdropping, but I had just come to invite Rebekah over for pizza. Cassandra, would you come, too?”
“I’d like that,” replied Cassandra. Rebekah urged Amy to sit and Cass quickly made room on the bench.
“Really, I didn’t hear much, but I did catch the question Cassandra just posed. May I chime in? It’s sort of like my favorite topic.” And that invited a little laughter, easing the tension. Cass smiled at Amy and gave her a nod.
“As Rebekah and I had discussed, women in the churches are accepted by God as believers just as are men, but we are not the same as men. And we have different ways than men in reflecting and fulfilling that office of believer simply because God made us different inside as well as outwardly.”
“Different ways of serving. You mean like changing diapers, scrubbing floors and genuflecting to men while dressed like a Muslim grandmother?” Cass said sarcastically. “Did you know that girls call you ‘Queen Victoria’ and guys call you ‘Frumpy Amy’?”
“Cass!” began Rebekah.
But Amy was laughing at Cass. “That’s OK. I know all about it,” she replied. “Do the names and jabs hurt? Well, sure. Particularly when it comes from the guys ‘cause you’d think they would honor a woman who is trying to please God by adorning the inner man and trying to be modest for their soul’s sakes. But forget the guys so much. First of all, I want to please God. Look. For me, the principles that guide my attitude toward my behavior as a woman are femininity and modesty. When I am picking from my closet each day I should have those two principles in mind. I do it to glorify God by, as I like to put it, ‘Glorying modestly in my femininity’.”
The conversation halted for a few moments. There wasn’t much of a line at the bookstore anymore. The sun had moved and the trio was losing its shade quickly. Cass squirmed on the bench as if she were struggling with something to say. Rebekah extended her bared legs a bit, then drew them back under the bench. In the end, she decided to go ahead and be comfortable but to throw her jacket over them.
Something finally bubbled to the surface and Cass interrupted the silence. “Amy, are you and the women of your church truly happy?”
Rebekah jerked at the frankness of her friend’s question. But Amy didn’t miss a beat.
“I can only speak for myself, Cass, but I couldn’t be happier. I have found peace. The women at the NOW chapter downtown stomp in anger and play at glorifying the woman while trying so hard to be men! God has graciously taught me to glorify Him. I want to be noticed as distinctively woman—and, most importantly, as distinctively God’s woman—not my own woman. And in our church we women gladly allow the men to lead and represent our families in the church. We realize they are often weak, too. Though we might think we are better off wresting from them their authority when they are weak, we choose rather to support them to make them strong. That includes encouraging them to represent us in the decisions of the church. Understand that doesn’t mean Mom and I don’t have our say with Dad. Our family discussions can become rather lively! But Mom and I recognize that Dad is the one that ultimately must cast the determining votes. He is the one whom God will hold most accountable for how he guided our family and our church. And that because he is a man. When I really think of that it’s hard for me to envy him at all.”
“Why does that seem so strange to me?” Cass mused. “And why do you seem the odd girl out these days. And what about Rebekah and women like her? She feels God is calling her to be a pastor. Is she wrong?”
“I somehow don’t feel the call anymore, Cass.” Rebekah interjected. “I’m wondering if the principles which Amy lives out each day that bring her reproach are really God’s will for all women. I’m thinking at least at this moment of being a teacher like you and Amy.”
“If you dressed like Amy, I’d recommend you teach a living history class!” Cass retorted with sputtering laughter.
Amy laughed and then took up the reply. “Actually, I think rather we’d be great models to those classrooms of girls—and boys—of what it truly is to be women of God. But first your heart must convince you of the principles of femininity and modesty that scripture speaks of, Cassandra.”
Rebekah rose from the bench and reached for her book bag. “I’d like you guys to come back to my room for a prayer session—and I’ll buy the pizza if it’s OK with Amy. And I’d like to show Amy my wardrobe and talk some more about all this. I know some other girls to call over, too. Maybe Amy is onto some inward and outward changes that we’d best consider as Christian women—even if it will seem out of place at the end of the 20th century. Cass, I once heard you say in a class that anything not popular in this post-Christian era is probably something God-honoring, right?”
Cass sighed. “You would remember that. Well, I copied it from my dad,” she admitted sheepishly. “But in the back of my mind I know there’s truth in that. I know pleasing God comes first, though you know more than anyone, Rebekah, how I struggle so much with the kind of heart He wants me to have. Maybe Ms. Moses has got it straight. I don’t know. It’s definitely worth some prayer and more discussion. And pizza! Can I come, too?”
“Of course, you goofball!” Rebekah said as she pulled her friend from the bench. And soon the three of them headed toward the dorms, arm in arm.
“Jimmy Grebekken is an Ed major, too.” Cass observed. “Think we girls can convince him to sell his earring collection to us?” And that cued a long roll of laughter. ♦
Come with me, dear reader, as I sit down in my pew, awaiting the pastor to come to the pulpit. Soon the minister arrives and within minutes we are lifting up our hearts in song to the Lord our God. Afterwards we pray, glorifying His name and pleading His grace and mercy to shine down upon the needs and afflictions of His saints. Then the prayer and singing is finished for a while. The pastor bids us open the Bible with him. After reading from God’s Word, our pastor begins to preach.
Twenty-two minutes later he closes in prayer and we sing a Psalm. Yes, a twenty minute sermon. And on those Sabbaths and in those twenty minutes we may have heard the assurance of God’s election to grace mentioned, but most likely not. We may have heard some exposition of the text, but it was scarcely as thorough as it could have been. We may have gotten a glimpse of the holy God, but rare was the opportunity to stare full into His glorious face, though through a glass darkly. We leave yet hungry, though we came to be filled; cold, though we came to be warmed.
Let me take you somewhere else. Please—if only for a moment. We stand in another church. Here you and I are warmed and filled. Here the pastor is truly pastoral; he guides his flock to the green pastures and leads them by the still waters. Here Christ spreads out a wondrous banquet table before us. This man, having been before the face of God and well-trained to be a faithful minister of the Word, does not cease from speaking until he has opened the Scriptures to us. For perhaps fifty minutes he speaks, and the only thing to keep me from seeing my blessed Redeemer in that mirror before me is my own weak flesh. But the water is there. It is only I to blame if I do not drink. The meat is before me; woe to me if I do not partake.
Both scenes have been my personal experience. The former is a church which is Reformed in name, but has all but forgotten the Reformation. The latter is my present experience. As I write we have been without a pastor for nearly a year, and yet we have never been denied that blessed preaching. Though without a minister of our own, together we have nearly trekked through the Heidelberg Catechism by means of visiting Protestant Reformed ministers. And what a blessing that preaching has been to me! I feel I have grown by leaps and bounds under such preaching. Others have told me they are growing as well.
If you are a pastor reading this, mark well this note of appreciation. You are necessary, and it is necessary that as you awake each morning you meet with God on our behalf and that you begin your work diligently for our welfare. Such a true pastor is priceless to Christ’s church. Yes, God can replace one pastor with another so that one is not more valuable than another. But what I say rather is that humble, diligent and consecrated Reformed pastors are invaluable to us.
If you are a young man, perhaps you met me as a chaperone at our most recent Young Peoples’ Convention. I saw many of you there. Some of the few of you I got to know I judged to be mature and consecrated to God. Do you young men ever consider pursuing the pastorate? Do you seriously and prayerfully consider it?
If you are a father, please pause to consider the young men under your roof or even under that of your brother in the congregation. What buds do you see on these olive plants? What seeds sprout in those young hearts that can serve Christ in the ministry of His Word? If the Church could perhaps be served by him in the pulpit, do not defraud the Church of that young man. Nourish him heartily and lead him carefully that Christ through him may feed and lead others. When the books are opened and God demands we give account of our stewardship, let it not be said of us young men that we did not deal with God justly in this matter. May none be ashamed that we did not regard Christ’s Church; that we had the means by us in our children or within us ourselves to minister to others a most blessed gift—and we selfishly kept our talents to ourselves.
Once more let me take you with me. Only once more. Stand now with me among many who have fled other churches to this Protestant Reformed congregation. Here they are hopeful. They are hungry. They are cold. Oh, how they huddle here to be warmed and filled! A man walks to the front. You ask me if he is the pastor. No, he is not. What is that he is pushing, you say? You watch as a box on a cart is now set in place. A cord is unraveled and plugged into the wall. A button is pushed on a remote control. And instantly the room is filled with preaching. Blessed, Reformed preaching; the voice of Christ; able to feed a multitude. But it is second rate. It is not the same. Soon the switch is turned off and the pastor in the box is rolled away. Are you sick? He cannot come from the box to comfort you. Are you tempted? No chastening rebuke; no admonitions to halt you will come. He cannot switch channels when your questions are different from the topic of the sermon. He cannot write letters or books. He cannot lead our catechism class and he cannot join our children in a game of basketball at school. He cannot get on a plane to do true mission work. He cannot go to where others are lonely, cold and unfed.
I ask you young and old alike—Does Christ’s Church need preaching? “Of course,” you each say, “for by the preaching and by Christian discipline we know the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven are swung wide to the believing, and shut fast against the unbelieving. Without it the church and those within are exposed to the devil! We here and those abroad who hunger will lack that quickening Manna which is Christ!” Amen. Then let not you or I slight the preaching. Rather, let us thank God for our seminary and its fruit and pray for its work. Pray for young men among us to consider the pastorate and then support them who do. The need will never be satisfied as long as there are sheep yet wandering in the world, bleating to be led and to be fed. ❖