The problem is ultimately caused by our culture’s mistaken view of what love is. Our culture views love as primarily a feeling, as something that it is not controllable, and that it is primarily to satisfy ourselves. Thus we talk about “falling” in love (although never about falling out of love) and give the line “if you really loved me you’d sleep with me” (only probably not so bluntly). By contrast, God’s view is just the opposite. Christ did not feel like going to the cross to pay for our sin—witness his prayer in Gethsemene—but he did so by a conscious choice and because he loved us. True love is not self-centered and is a commitment that we are in control of.
The solution to a dating culture that is misdirected towards sensuality is not abandoning dating so much as it is pursuing relationships with godly values. The first of those values that Josh discusses is timing, or rather, delayed gratitude. We want a relationship right now, but we should not rush into something if God is not ready for us too. Josh does not spend much time speculating on the reasons God may have, but simply observes that He asks us to trust him. He cites a study of four-year olds, who were given the choice of one marshmallow now, or two when the researcher returns to the room. The children who waited ended up more successful later on in life than those who did not. Likewise, we should trust God to return with His best when He is ready.
Next Josh talks about purity. There is a tendency among Christians to view purity as a line that can’t be crossed, but in reality, purity is a lifestyle, or as Josh says, a direction. First of all it requires a respect for physical intimacy. Physical intimacy can be wonderful, but without the commitment of marriage it is not only forbidden, but also harmful, because you are sharing yourself at a level that will be harmful to your relationship with the person you eventually do marry. Furthermore, physical intimacy is designed to progress to intercourse, so it is dangerous to try prevent this by setting an artificial limit. Better to simply save the pleasures of physical intimacy (even kissing) for marriage. Second, purity requires setting standards too high, not just barely high enough. Billy Graham is highly respected among evangelists, even by non-Christians, because early in his ministry he set up guidelines for purity and has kept to them. Third, purity is concerned with protecting the purity of others. Here Josh has some specific guidelines. Guys should be honest with gals, not flirting or leading them on, because gals’ sinful struggles tend to be related to their emotions. Likewise, because guys’ sin tends to be in the area of lust, gals can help protect their Christian brothers’ purity by dressing modestly.
The pursuit of a godly lifestyle can be aided in several ways in addition to a concern for purity in relationships. Most important is to change what needs to be changed in your current relationships, if they are not leading in the direction of purity. This may mean breaking up or keeping a budding romance at the friendship level because one or both of you are not committed enough to each other for intimacy, or because the relationship is simply just a physical one. We are immersed in a culture that is always urging us away from godly lifestyles. We may need to examine what we are listening to: television shows, movies, songs, friends, etc., and stop spending time in situations that tempt us to be dissatisfied with what God has given us, or that promote an ungodly lifestyle. Another suggestion, probably more applicable to teens than post-college singles, is to enlist your parents—they want to see you pursuing godliness, too.
Once we have stopped pursuing questionable relationships through the couple-focused dating setting, we can start to build relationships in a healthier way. At the heart of Josh’s recommendations is the principle that relationships should be kept to the level of friendship until such time as both parties are willing to explore the commitment that marriage requires. Until that time, we should treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ—not just mere friends, but siblings whom we love and care for. One important realization that will help us do that is realizing the difference between friendship and intimacy. Friends have common interests that are outside of both of them, but when the focus has changed to the relationship itself then it has moved beyond just friendship. So unless we are ready to consider a commitment to the other person, we should keep the relationship at the friendship stage. Another important aid to building godly relationships with each other is to serve with each other, such as in a soup kitchen. Much like common interests, common ministry also builds relationships. Then, when someone arrives whom we can commit to, there will be a strong friendship at the base of the relationship.
How can we judge whether someone is a candidate for commitment? Although outward appearance is a tempting guide, appearance is not going to matter thirty years from now. What will matter is the character and attitudes of the person you married. So look for godly character and attitudes. Obviously the most important is that the other person has a good relationship with God, since our relationship with God affects all our other relationships. Furthermore, God has clearly said, ‘Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers’ (2 Cor 6:12, NLT). Next in importance are the person’s relationships with authorities, parents, and members of the opposite sex. How those relationships are is a good guage of their character and how they will treat you. Another good barometer is the type of people who are their friends. Josh quotes A. W. Tozer as saying “There is a law of moral attraction that draws every man to the society most like himself. Where we go when we are free to go where we will is a near-infallible index of character.” Yet another test is to look at their personal discipline: how do they spend their time and their money, and how do they treat their body. Attitudes are also important: an attitude of willing obedience to God, humility, industriousness, contentment, and hopefulness. Ultimately the question is, does this person have godly attitudes, or self-centered attitudes?
Finally, there will come a time when we have found someone through our pursuit of godly friendships who might be worth committing to for the rest of our lives. The first stage is to build a good friendship with them. Then, the guy should talk to the parents of the girl and give them an opportunity for them to ask questions of his character. If they agree, then he should broach the subject with the girl, expressing his interest but also noting that this would be a time for her to test his character. Should she also be interested in determining if he is worth committing to, the couple then moves to the courtship stage. At this point they should spend some time together, but also a lot of time in regular situations. Josh particularly recommends serving together. Then, whenever they both decide that they are willing to commit to each other for a lifetime, they should get engaged. This approach will lead to a healthier marriage than considering feelings first and commitment second.
Josh Harris has put together a discussion of Christian principles in relationships that is easily readable but also fairly comprehensive and likely to be convicting as well. Each of his concisely written points is illustrated with or introduced by a real-life example and the writing style and vocabulary will not be daunting. Although the book is written in the simplistic, intro, five-point, conclusion style for each chapter, it still contains a lot of content. It is not a book written to argue his points—none of the points are backed up by an argument of any rigor and, indeed the flow of argument between chapters is somewhat disjointed in places—instead, it is written to persuade the reader to follow a godly lifestyle. Here the stories and text work to provide both a background of what God’s view of relationships is and a compelling suggestion of what to do. In fact, the book is so persuading that it has impacted many readers who were initially opposed to the book based on their (mistaken) impressions of what the book was about (including this reviewer).
The audience of the book is primarily teenagers, as evidenced the copious stories of 16 and 17 year olds who regretted relationships of questionable purity. Some of his advice, like involving your parents, is more applicable to teenagers than to older singles. Thus, older singles may be a little frustrated with the book. Singles in their late 20s are unlikely to be the sort to have done much dating in the first place, so many of the examples are likely to be irrelevant, particularly the ones about teenagers’ questionable purity. Likewise, the book is rather optimistic about God’s provision, but singles pushing thirty probably got over a simple-minded optimism on that score and want something a little more substantial. Many are likely to feel that they already trusted God and it did not work, which while not correct, is nonetheless a compelling complaint. Since Josh was 21 at the time he wrote the book (and got married a few years afterwards) it would be easy to have the attitude that he has nothing much to say to older singles—good ideas for romantics like you who had mistaken values, but what about us, who have a (reasonably) godly understanding of love, but can’t find anyone? While this is a tempting criticism, I Kissed Dating Goodbye can be seen as saying “learn to build your walk and godly relationships before expecting to find someone to marry.” This probably is not what older singles want to hear, but it is still good advice nonetheless. Plus, such is the nature of our age that it is unlikely that older singles have not absorbed some values from the world, and Josh does a good job of convicting readers who unknowingly hold values contrary to Biblical values.
A great book for teens and a good book for anyone who is single to read. One cannot pursue too godly of a relationship and Josh argues for the very highest.
Content is very good and well needed in our age. I felt myself to have a reasonably good grasp of Christian principles regarding love, but I discovered that I had absorbed a good deal more from the culture than I had suspected. The writing has too much of a simple pop-feel for my taste, and probably ranks about an 8. (Although, anyone who can write this book at age 21 has much writing talent and a great relationship with God) However, the content is so relevant that the book ranks higher than the quality of writing dictate. The writing is not worth keeping for 100 years, but the content is likely to keep selling for many years. Part of the score includes the fact that the book is very accessible to teens, which is really the audience Josh intended to read it. Although my preference would be for a book of less persuasion and more depth, this would limit the number of teens who actually read the book. Thus, it is a well-designed book for an audience whom it will greatly help.
- “The joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment.” (28)
- “Recreational romance” enjoys intimacy without any commitment, so when we leave, we hurt the other person.
- “Proverbs 3:3 states, ‘Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.’ God wants love and faithfulness to be connected. In His plan, the personal benefits of an intimate relationship—emotional or sexual—are always closely linked to self-sacrificial love and commitment to another person’s long-term good. The way of sin is to divorce the two.” (31)
- “And I think that’s the story of our generation’s pursuit of fulfillment in relationships. We wished for intimacy without obligation. We wished for sex with no strings attached. We wished for the pleasure of love with none of the work, none of the vows, none of the sacrifice. And we got it. But the results aren’t what we hoped for. And we’re left feeling emptier than before.” (34)
- Defective dating:
- “Dating tends to skip the friendship stage of a
relationship”. Dinner and a movie unintentionally focus more on
being a couple than on friendship.
- “Dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love”
- “Dating often isolates a couple from other vital relationships” because they spend all their time with each other. “When Garreth and Jenny mutually decided to stop dating, they were surprised to find their other friendships in disrepair. It’s not that their other friends didn’t like them; it’s just that they hardly knew [them] anymore.” (42)
- “Dating can distract young adults from their primary
responsibility of preparing for the future.” Relationships suck
up time that could be spent getting the experience necessary to succeed
- “[Recreational] dating can cause discontentment with God’s gift
- “Dating can create an artificial environment for evaluating another person’s character.” “On a date, a person can charm his or her way into a date’s heart. He drives a nice car and pays for everything; she looks great. But who cares? Being fun on a date doesn’t say anything about a person’s character or ability to be a good husband or wife.” (45)
- “Dating often becomes and end in itself.”
- Ways to avoid defective dating:
- “Every relationship is an opportunity to model Christ’s love.”
- Singleness is a gift from God: “As a single you have the freedom right now to explore, study, and tackle the world.” (51)
- Don’t pursue romantic relationships before you are ready for marriage.
- Don’t feel that you can “own” someone outside of marriage
- “Avoid situations that might compromise the purity of [your] body or mind”
- The world’s view of love:
- “First we must understand that all of the world’s deceptions flow from the belief that love is primarily for the fulfillment and comfort of self." (65)
- “Next we’re told that love is primarily a feeling. ... But when we make our feelings the most important measure of love, we place ourselves at the center of importance. Our feelings by themselves don’t do others one bit of good.” (66)
- “The third common fallacy about love deals with personal responsibility. The world tells us that love is beyond our control. ... We think of love as something beyond our control and thus excuse ourselves from having to behave responsibly.” (66-7)
- God’ view of love:
- “True love is selfless.” Christ gave his life for us.
- It is not a feeling—Christ “clearly didn’t feel like enduring the beatings, hanging on the cross, and enduring God’s wrath for sin.” (68)
- “Love is under our control” Christ chose to love us. “We cannot justify doing what we know is wrong by saying that love grabbed hold of us and ‘made’ us behave irresponsibly. That’s not love. Instead it’s what the Bible calls in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 ‘passionate lust.’” (68)
- Love must be sincere, not trying to get something for yourself.
- “Many of us have fallen prey to the idea that we can and should
pursue romance for its own sake. In other words, ‘I’ll become
intimate with you because it feels good, not because I’m prayerfully
considering marriage.’ This attitude is not fair to the other
person and is terrible preparation for marriage. Who wants to
marry someone who will ditch a relationship the moment romantic
feelings wane? Who wants to marry a person who has developed a
habit of breaking up and finding someone new when the going gets
- “The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.” William J. Bennett: “Too often, people want what they want (or what they think they want, which is usually “happiness” in one form or another) right now. The irony of their impatience is that only by learning to wait, and by a willingness to accept the bad with the good, do we usually attain things that are worthwhile.” (76)
- Tells about a study where 4 year old were given one marshmallow now or two in a little bit if they don’t eat the one now. The ones who didn’t eat it were generally more successful in the future. Similarly, do we trust God to give us two marshmallows later?
- Purity is not just a line that can’t be crossed (e.g. kissing, or sex), but a outlook on life.
- “Respect the deep significance of physical intimacy” Physical intimacy brings feelings that tend to want to go further down
- “Set your standards too high.” Billy Graham is honored even by non-Christians because he set high standards, apparently unlike many other evangelists who have been taken down by scandals.
- “Make the purity of others a priority”
- Guys struggle more with sex drives and gals with emotions. Guys need to be honest with gals and not flirt or lead them on. Gals should pay attention to what they wear.
- In case you haven’t been pure, Jesus takes the responsibility for our lack of purity through his death. Josh tells a compelling story about a dream he had that illustrated this (103-106)
- “Building a Godly lifestyle”
- Change direction in any relationships that are not going the right way: this may mean breaking up or just readjusting the direction of the relationship.
- Don’t make excuses: “I told her I’d been a terrible example of a Christian and that ending the relationship was what I believed God wanted me to do.” (114)
- “Make your parents your teammates.” They want to see you have Godly relationships, so help them help you. [This is probably more applicable to teenagers than older singles]
- “Establish clear guidelines” of what situations are too tempting, when going out with someone leads to premature intimacy.
- “For me, being alone with a girl in an empty house is one such situation. ... [If the situation arises] I don’t have to weigh the situation or pray about it—I already know that I won’t accept the invitation.” (117)
- Watch out what influences you: don’t watch TV shows, movies, or songs that tempt you to be dissatisfied with where you are or that promote impure lifestyles.
- When explaining why you aren’t dating, don’t try to explain why dating is wrong, but just say why you think that God has called you to this attitude. If you reject dates for this reason, suggest some situations that would help build a good friendship.
- Being Christian brothers or sisters to each other
- “Understand the difference between friendship and intimacy”
- “Be inclusive, not exclusive:" don’t just have someone else along to make it not a date—make it fun for them, too.
- “Make a priority of same-sex friendships""
- “Seek opportunities to serve, not to be entertained” Focus more on serving others, such as with community service, before seeking to entertain yourselves. It helps build friendships a lot more than watching a movie.
- “Guard your heart” against:
- Infatuation: infatuation tends to make us imagine that the other person is perfect. But they aren’t, and it flows from the idea that a human relationship can completely fulfill us. “Don’t nurse a crush.”
- Lust: how would we feel if someone lusted after us? Josh tells a story about being the object of some homosexuals’ lust.
- Self-pity: “In a sense, self-pity is the worship of our circumstances. ... We turn our focus from God—his goodness, His justice, His ability to same in any circumstance. And as we turn away from God, we cut ourselves off from our only source of hope.” (148)
- “Someday I want to be a godly husband. I want to nurture my wife, love her, respect her, and protect her. How can I train for that [now, while I’m single]?” (157)
- “Practice seeking God with others” since you’ll need to do it with your spouse and eventually family.
- practice good finances
- practice parenthood—help others with children
- practice practical skills—home repairs, cooking, shopping, etc.
- Marriage is the first institution, how Jesus describes his relationship with the church. Something that important should be honored highly. (e.g. no jokes about flowers and being in the doghouse)
- Although singles have a tendency of viewing marriage as an event (gals) or opportunity for sex (guys), “marriage is a refining process. ... We come to warm our hands by the fire of marriage; God wants to throw us into it!” (170)
- “What matters at Fifty?”
- How a person relates to God
- “The question is not merely ‘Are you and a potential spouse saved?’ but rather ‘Are both of you in love with Jesus Christ? Will you place Him before even each other?’ ‘This is one of those beautiful paradoxes of biblical truth,’ write David Powlison and John Yenchko. ‘If you love and want your spouse more than anything, you will end up selfish, fearful, bitter, or disillusioned. If you love Jesus more than anything else, you will really love and enjoy your spouse. You will be someone worth marrying!’” (177-178)
- How a person relates to others:
- Authorities: “A guy who can’t follow legitimate orders
will have difficulty holding a job or receiving pastoral correction
when needed. A girl who can’t respect a teacher’s or coach’s
authority will have difficulty in honoring her husband.” (178)
- Parents: “You’ve probably heard this sage advice before: ‘The way a guy treats his mom is the way he’ll treat his wife.’ It’s true. The same goes for the way a girl relates to her dad.” (178)
- The opposite sex: Nobody wants to marry flirt.
- Companions: A.W. Tozer: “There is a law of moral attraction that draws every man to the society most like himself. Where we go when we are free to go where we will is a near infallible index of character.” (179)
- Personal discipline: how someone uses time, money. How they take care of their body.
- Attitude of willing obedience to God
- Attitude of humility: “One of the things I respect most about my dad is his willingness to humble himself before my mom and the rest of the family by confessing sin. If he has spoken a harsh word or acted uncaringly, he doesn’t hesitate to seek forgiveness. A lesser man can’t do this.” (182)
- Attitude of industriousness: William Bennet: “Work ... is not what we do for a living but what we do with our living. ... The opposite of work is not leisure or play or having fun, but idleness—not investing ourselves in anything.” (183)
- Attitude of contentment and hopefulness: “Does this person have complaint or praise on his or her lips/ does he or she nitpick at the faults of others or consistently encourage? Does this person view his or her circumstances with a spirit of hopelessness, or does he or she remain confident of God’s faithfulness?” (183)
- He tells a story about Rev. E. V. Hill. He he lost most of his money in an unwise service-station investment. Shortly afterwards, he came home to a candlelit dinner. When he went to wash up in the bathroom he discovered that the electricity was off. His wife didn’t want him to know. “‘She could have said, “I’ve never been in this situation before. I was reared in the home of Dr. Caruthes, and we never had our lights cut off.” She could have broken my spirit; she could have ruined me; she could have demoralized me. But instead she said, “Somehow or another we’ll get these lights on. But let’s eat tonight by candlelight.“‘" (184)
- How should we go from friendship to marriage?
- Start with casual friendship, then move to deeper friendship before going romantic:
- Just like flowers look better if we wait to pick them until after they bloom, so marriages are better if “built on a solid foundation of the mutual respect, appreciation, and camaraderie of friendship.” (191)
- Pray about it:
- Would a marriage with this person go against principles God has said in His Word?
- Are you ready for the responsibilities of marriage?
- Do your friends and parents think you are ready?
- Do you have God’s peace?
- “Courtship: purposeful intimacy with integrity”
- Guys, ask her something along the lines of “we have a good friendship and with your parents’ permission I’d like to explore the possibility of marriage. This is not a boyfriend/girlfriend thing, but I’m ready to be tested by you to see if you’d like to marry me.” Girls, reply honestly, even if this means keeping things at a friendship state.
- Ask her parents (or maybe a pastor if they aren’t active). Offer them the opportunity to ask questions about motives, the future, etc.
- Do things as a couple both alone but especially serving together .
- Engagement: once you both have become confident in each other’s character, get engaged. But still hold off on physical intimacy. “A couple once told me their motto was, ‘Where physical progression begins, depth progression ends.’ In other words, as soon as they began to focus on the physical side of their relationship, the spiritual and emotional side ceased to deepen.” (201)
- Write a love story that you’d be proud to tell.