Anybody remember this book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye? I remember it very well. It was a very trendy evangelical book when I was in the Navigators and Campus Crusade back in 1998 and 1999. The basic thesis of the book is that dating is wrong, and that you shouldn’t even be alone with a member of the opposite sex until you are married. Thus, the author Joshua Harris distinguishes between dating, which is bad, and “courting,” which is good. The problem is that he doesn’t do a very good job of distinguishing between the two, and apparently he didn’t even follow his own advice, going on a “date” for bagels with the woman he is now married to. I wrote a fairly negative review of the book for Amazon.com, a review which just happens to be the first review most people see when they visit the book’s page on Amazon. I tried to be balanced in my review of the book, which I found superficial, and largely based on the personal negative dating experiences of the author.
My negative impression of the book developed because of what I witnessed before I ever read the book myself. It was all the rage in the evangelical circles I was a part of. You couldn’t go to any retreat, meeting, or whatever, without hearing about this book, and its philosophy, as if it really was the gospel. New converts to Christianity I knew often owned multiple copies of the book and would pass it out to anyone and everyone they met. People would go to dinner and a movie with someone of the opposite sex, but bend over backwards to call it anything but a “date,” because they had been taught, and believed, that “dating” is sinful. Of course, these new converts couldn’t tell you much about who Jesus was, or what he did for us, and hadn’t even begun to read the Bible, but they had the details of this book memorized. Perhaps I was cynical, but I often wondered how some people I knew could claim such sure knowledge of “biblical” love, without ever having opened a Bible.
My review on Amazon.com doesn’t mention this, but Harris’ attitude toward love strikes me as rather Gnostic-like. Even something as mild as holding hands was seen as violating “biblical” principles of courtship, so people I knew literally were getting married within months of meeting, because they craved any type of physical contact with that person (and I am not talking about sinful contacts, but simply holding hands or being alone outside of a group). It created an environment that essentially said “before marriage, no contact, after marriage, do whatever you want,” or at least that is how I heard it presented. I certainly agree that physical contact before marriage must be kept within certain boundaries of chastity, but to suggest that an unmarried couple cannot even spend time alone denies people important bonding time, including time to pray together.
My biggest gripe with the book, and the movement that followed, is not the basic underlying point, which is that the way secular society goes about finding love is very, very, screwed up. I can agree with this. My biggest complaint is the way that this book and movement dominated people’s lives, far surpassing virtually any other aspect of Christianity, including the Bible, basic doctrine, and social justice. New converts I knew learned nothing of the Trinity, helping the poor, Church history, the Bible, the person of Christ, etc, but became fully immersed in one 21-year old’s interpretation of “biblical” love, which was in reality based on a few proof-texts taken outside of any cultural context. “The Trinity? That’s boring. Let’s get back to Joshua Harris.” In other words, this method was the evangelical “flavor-of-the-day,” like the Prayer of Jabez was awhile back. I think following Harris’ principles is spiritually healthier than finding love the secular way, that is for sure, but the movement certainly had a “flavor-of-the-day” feel to it.
No matter what your opinion of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, we have a long and thoughtful tradition that is suspicious of flavor-of-the-day type movements. This is one thing that drew me to both of these Traditions. What I read of Catholic and Orthodox authors (including the Fathers) was far more deep, thoughtful, and enduring than the “flavor-of-the-day” stuff I was often exposed to as an evangelical. Granted, many evangelicals themselves criticize this tendency among some of their brethren, so I am not saying that evangelical=flavor-of-the-day, but many secondhand stores are littered with yesterdays’ “flashes-in-the-pan.”