This post originally appeared on Engaged Pentecostalism on October 29, 2018.
If you were an American Evangelical Christian in the late 1990’s, you are almost guaranteed to be familiar with Joshua Harris’ culture-shaping book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Disenchanted with the idea of conventional dating, Harris penned his seminal work at age 21, inviting readers to reimagine the process of selecting a mate, proposing instead that courtship should be the ideal. He redefined Christian romance with the concept of emotional purity, whereby one does not “give his/her heart away” in dating relationships but rather saves all romantic thoughts and feelings for one’s future spouse. Harris purposed to solve many relationship problems by pursuing a partner with the intent of marriage, involving family in the selection process, encouraging group dates for preparatory social interaction, and revering certain relationship milestones – such as kissing – so much as to withhold those acts until after marriage. In so doing, marriages resulting from courtship were supposed to be more pure, holy, and satisfying than those that had spent their emotional energy dating.
If you’re having a strong emotional reaction right now — positive or negative — rest assured you are in good company. From the time of its release in 1997, I Kissed Dating Goodbye was met with overwhelming response from the Evangelical Christian community. At first, feedback was very positive. The book quickly became a bestseller and graced the shelves of Christian stores, church libraries, and teenage nightstands all across America. Youth pastors preached whole sermon series based on the book, while countless teens and young single adults pledged to “kiss dating goodbye” and follow the standard provided for finding “the One” God planned for them to marry.
This worked great for a lot of people… until it didn’t. As it turns out, while Harris’ suggestions brought peace and health to many young Christian relationships, they bound others in chains of shame, fear, and legalism. It’s probably hard to say if more people were helped or harmed in the wake of the I Kissed Dating Goodbye tsunami, but ultimately the most important opinion on the matter is from the one who is currently most vocal about it:
For the last two years, author Josh Harris has been publicly reevaluating his preeminent book and its effects both in Christian culture and individual lives. Last week, he released a formal statement disavowing the ideals he once espoused and committing to end all future publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye and any related supplemental materials, including two additional books he authored sharing similar content. (You can read the full statement here.)