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.