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Dating Boundaries

with Joshua Harris | October 25, 2017

Author Joshua Harris took a stand for purity in the '90s when he wrote the popular book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." Now in his 40s and raising teens of his own, Joshua is rethinking some of his earlier ideas on dating, like saving the first kiss for the wedding day. While having high standards in dating is still desirable, Harris realizes that his personal standard goes above and beyond what the Bible calls for.

Show Notes and Resources
Joshua Harris reflects on 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' on FamilyLife's Facebook Page
Joshua Harris' documentary project 'I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye'

Author Joshua Harris took a stand for purity in the '90s when he wrote the popular book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." Now in his 40s and raising teens of his own, Joshua is rethinking some of his earlier ideas on dating, like saving the first kiss for the wedding day. While having high standards in dating is still desirable, Harris realizes that his personal standard goes above and beyond what the Bible calls for.

Show Notes and Resources
Joshua Harris reflects on 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' on FamilyLife's Facebook Page
Joshua Harris' documentary project 'I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye'

Dating Boundaries

With Joshua Harris
October 25, 2017
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: When Joshua Harris looks back today on the book he wrote 20 years ago, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, there’s a lot he can still affirm. And some things he wrote that today he has second thoughts about.

Josh: It’s so hard to argue with youthful idealism. It’s so hard to argue with a high standard. It’s hard to feel like you’re the compromiser. I think that that was part of the issue with I Kissed Dating Goodbye. That I came out with this really strong standard and I’m using biblical language---and some of it really was biblical but others were just personal convictions that shouldn’t be elevated to the same standard. It ends up weakening true biblical commands when you add commands to the Bible.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.


If Josh Harris knew then what Josh Harris knows now, he might have written a little different book. We’ll talk to Joshua Harris about kissing dating goodbye today. Stay with us. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if this was a conversation we had with a guest or if I just heard this in some other setting. I remember hearing a young woman talk about the fact that her relationship with her dad was such a close relationship that when she went to college the first time a guy asked her out in college she smiled and said, “Well, you’re going to have to talk to my dad first. She gave that young man her dad’s cell phone number. That young man had to either decide he was going to man up and call the dad or not.



Dennis: Right.

Bob: I remember thinking that’s how I’d like for it to be when my girls go to college. I would like to think that the first boy that asks them out they would say, “Well you’re going to have to talk to my dad first.” I never got a call like that from my girls in college.


I’m just telling you. I thought, “Okay, I apparently didn’t teach them the rules well enough when I was raising them.” But you remember the sense of as a parent wanting to make sure that we were doing everything we possibly could to make sure our kids didn’t get shipwrecked in a hyper sexualized culture, but that they had a healthy dating relationship.

In fact, the question that I’ve asked parents over the years---you and I’ve talked about this---I’ve asked parents, “How many of you would like for your kids to have the same experience in dating that you had when you were growing up?” There’s not a parent in the room that raises their hand when you ask that question. Maybe three or four.


Then you say, “Okay, so what are you going to do differently?” Well, there’s a little danger in even asking that question, because the presupposition is “Don’t you want it to be perfect for your kids?”

Josh: Right.

Bob: If you’ll just do the right thing, you can make it perfect for your kids. That’s just not true.

Dennis: And as we’ve been talking about this week, there is no formula---

Bob: Right.

Dennis: ---to insure perfection, but Josh Harris is a courageous man. He’s come back for three days this week to talk with us about his book he wrote 20 years ago when he was on FamilyLife Today back in 1997.

Josh: Amazing.

Dennis: I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Welcome back Josh.

Josh: It’s so good to be with you. I was just thinking how much I appreciate that you would have this conversation because I’ve found it personally difficult to process that I may have made mistakes. But for you guys to even say “Yes, we had this radio interview and we were thinking this way about parenting and here’s how we’ve grown and changed and so on.”


I just think that is such an important part of being a follower of Jesus, and being a part of the Church, and being a part of leadership. It’s so uncomfortable having those conversations. I think a lot of times we don’t, because we’re trying to protect ourselves--or trying to protect an institution. But I think the gospel calls us to this life of saying, “Of course, we’re going to fail and need to repent.”

That’s not just in our personal lives. That’s not just in moral issues. It also involves our parenting. It also involves those moments when we were trying our best to do the right thing. When we mess up in those areas, there’s still grace there.

Bob: Yes.

Josh: I’ve talked to so many people who have heard that I’m just even on this journey of looking back at what I wrote and trying to figure out where I got things wrong. They’ve said things like, “I’ve never had a Christian leader apologize for anything before. I’ve never had a pastor come back and say, ‘Maybe I applied my leadership in a wrong way.’”


When you think about how many mistakes we make as leaders, isn’t that really unhealthy, that people aren’t hearing that kind of thing?

Bob: Yes.

Dennis: Yes. Very.

Josh: It really doesn’t reflect the heart of God. I just really appreciate you men even giving me the platform to come back and process this with you, and the wisdom that you have as husbands and parents---not just talking to me, but sharing your own perspective. It’s very meaningful. So thank you.

Dennis: It’s a part of the DNA of FamilyLIfe Today. In our---I don’t know---first ten broadcasts---I don’t remember when it was, but I told the story of the night before having an argument with Barbara. And Bob at the end of the broadcast said, “Are you sure you want to leave that in?”

Bob: Yes. This is going out on national radio.

Dennis: “You’re about to confess that you had an argument---you and Barbara didn’t agree.” I said, “If I can’t minister from this book---the book that does uphold holiness, but also upholds forgiveness for when we fail---I don’t have a message.


Probably my best messages come from my failures, not from my successes.”

Bob: I was thrilled when I heard you were on this journey. I think I read it first on social media on your blog or a tweet or something that you were kind of setting off on this journey. But then one Sunday morning, I’m getting ready to go to church and like all good church goers I’ve got National Public Radio on in my home as I get ready to go to church---because that’s what gets you ready for worship is listening to weekend edition Sunday.


Here the host says, “And Joshua Harris is our guest and he’s talking about his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” When you got a call from National Public Radio, what did you think?”

Josh: Well I was surprised that that opportunity opened up. Part of the reason I did it is because I felt like there probably would be a lot of people who may not be in the church anymore---have walked away from their Christian faith---

Dennis: Yes. Right.

Josh: ---who would have had an interaction with my book and be willing to tell their story with me and help me along this journey.


Honestly, that’s a big part of my motivation, because I’ve seen ways that well-intentioned church cultures have hurt people and not really represented the heart of Jesus. There are a lot of disillusioned people out there. There are a lot of people who have left because they were treated unkindly, or unfairly, or they just saw the hypocrisy---they’ve got all these rules, but then other people didn’t follow them---and all those things. I see ways in which my own book played into that for people.

If I can in some way clear away some of the manmade Josh’s ideas and say, “You know what, God hasn’t changed. God’s heart for you hasn’t changed. He’s still the one who created you, and loves you, and calls you to a relationship with Himself.” If I can acknowledge ways, in which my book didn’t represent that, so they can see Him, that would be an awesome thing.


Dennis: Yes. I just want to commend you for attempting to uphold a biblical standard against a cultural norm of dating that people weren’t questioning. I think one of the big problems in the Christian community is parents aren’t asking the question. I may disagree with Josh, or Dennis, or Bob on this---or Barbara---on a stand they’ve taken, but they don’t come to grips---So what do you believe? So what do you think the Scripture teaches? One such issue that you---I think you took a stand on for yourself not for others---was that you kissed kissing goodbye.


Bob: Well let’s hear---you want to hear how you said this back 20 years ago?

Josh: I’m not sure I want to hear this, but sure. I know you’re going to play it anyway.


Bob: Here’s what you said when we asked you about this.

[Previous interview]

Bob: Where have you drawn the line for yourself Josh? Where are your limits?

Josh: Well, based on what I’ve learned about what true purity is---a direction and based on some of the mistakes that I’ve made in the past and regrets, I want to save it all for marriage.


This may sound archaic to some people, but I want my first kiss with my wife to be at the altar.


Dennis: Okay Josh. How did you do?

Josh: Well I did save my first kiss with my wife until our wedding day. So mission accomplished in that regard. But I look back on that as an example of a standard that goes above and beyond what the Bible calls you to. Which could be wise for some people. Which could be a very good thing, but it’s amazing how those personal examples and those personal convictions---those kinds of stories---are the thing that really jump out at people from a book.

They can read a whole book and that can be the thing they take away, “Don’t kiss before marriage.” It’s almost easier to have that kind of standard or commitment than it is to do the deeper work of trusting the Lord and grappling with feelings and all those type of things.


It can feel like you’ve got things kind of tied up, because I made this standard, I made this commitment. But again, when things don’t work out and you come back and say, “Wait a second. God didn’t come through for me. I did everything he asked me to do.”

Well the reality is that is not a scriptural command. That is something I came to, based on my own experiences and my own convictions. When you try to live up to somebody else’s conviction, you can end up feeling crushed when it actually wasn’t scripture that was calling you to do that.

That’s a really tough thing because it’s so hard to argue with youthful idealism. It’s so hard to argue with a high standard. Somebody else can up that---I mean we can talk about this when it comes to modesty. What is the standard for the length of the skirt? Well, the person that says it should be lower; well they have the high ground, right? Who wants to be the person that says, “No pull that thing up a little bit---knee---show some knee…


Josh: So, it’s hard to feel like you’re the compromiser. I think that was part of the issue of I Kissed Dating Goodbye---that I came out with this really strong standard and I’m using biblical language---and some of it really was biblical, but others were just personal convictions that shouldn’t be elevated to the same standard. It ends up weakening the true biblical commands when you add commands to the Bible.

Dennis: Yes. And if your adding it at the level of the Ten Commandments, no question about it, okay. You weren’t doing that. Here’s what I would commend you for though. You were doing the hard work of questioning how two followers of Christ develop a relationship in a world that has lost all standards. So I got to pound the table with you for upholding a banner that’s higher and challenging young people to do something different than what everybody else is doing.

Bob: You challenged your kids as you were raising them not to kiss until the wedding kiss.


Dennis: We did. And as I did that I told them the same thing, “This is not a biblical command. This is just---I just want to throw it out there. I want to challenge you with it.”

Bob: And did they?

Dennis: One did. Okay. I didn’t condemn the others. Now we’ve had some conversations about that. About how that made them feel when they didn’t achieve that objective. But I didn’t break relationship with my kids---


Josh: Right. That’s really good.

Dennis: ---over that. I didn’t shame them. We celebrated the one who did. I think that has to happen in this culture. We need some celebrations of purity. We can’t take the standard out of the discussion because we’re afraid we’re going to bring some harm to people.

Josh: Well, I think that’s absolutely true. I think we just have to recognize that that standard is going to be subjective if it’s not actually in scripture.

Dennis: That’s correct. That’s right.

Josh: There can be another parent that comes along and says they shouldn’t be alone in the same room until the wedding day.


Dennis: Of course.

Josh: I think we have to step back and say, “Alright. What does the Bible actually call us to? What is the principle here?” I think we have to recognize too, where even that statement from a parent saying, “I want to challenge you with this” can become a very weighty thing. Or if a pastor says it or if a Christian author writes something like that.

It takes on the kind of weight that becomes very similar to the weight of God’s Word. Then if you don’t live up to that standard, you can feel like “Well, just bag it all. I’ve failed.” When actually you were trying to live up to a standard that wasn’t in God’s Word. God’s Word doesn’t say thou shalt not kiss before marriage.

Bob: So as you’re talking to teenage kids today, even some who may live under your roof---and I’m not trying to pry into your family here,


but as a parent you’re trying to help your kids understand guidelines

Josh: Right.

Bob: and understand what’s good and what’s not. Every teenager is asking, “How far is too far?” and “How far can I go?” “What’s okay?” and “What’s not okay?”


Dennis: Well Bob, you know in Passport to Purity®, which is a getaway for a father/son before adolescence, or a mother/daughter. In that resource we challenge young people to think through “What is your standard?” prior to---

Bob: Where will you draw the line?

Dennis: Where you going to draw the line? How close to the edge of the cliff, do you want to draw the line? It’s up to you and if you don’t draw a line that in essence says you have no lines.

Josh: It’s so funny, because even in this conversation---this is hard for me to talk about these things because it can sound like I’m saying, “Fall off a cliff.” But even that language is making certain statements and assumptions about our sexuality, about---I use that kind of language in I Kissed Dating Goodbye; okay? I remember one of the first illustrations I had, which actually my friend Randy Alcorn read and said, “I think you should maybe take that one out.”


It was about this couple that’s driving super-fast towards---down this road. There’s actually a cliff.


And again, I’m not saying there’s not truth to it. Proverbs is filled with these warnings against immorality and stay away from these different kinds of things. But we can start to use language, and imagery, and a way of thinking about these things that I think can instill a sort of fear, and trepidation, and negativity even towards sexuality, which in the fullness of God’s Word is something that is celebrated and is something that is beautiful.

I think that this is something we have to work on. So often, the conversations that we have with our kids about sexuality are starting with fear and the danger. Are we working hard enough to talk about the purpose, and the beauty, and the design and the---I’m sure Passport to Purity is doing that type of thing. But if you actually think about the life of a child growing up in a home, I would guess that 99% of the time when anything related to sex is brought up in any kind of conversation, the vibe of it is awkward.


It’s danger. It’s stay away from this. It’s cliffs. It’s disease. It’s unwanted pregnancy. It’s all those types of things. Let’s look at the facts.

Evangelical Christians are tied up in knots when it comes to their sexuality. We’re consuming so much pornography. We’re having all these problems. People are acting out in all these different ways. There’s something about the way that we are approaching these things that is not fully healthy. I’m not saying that we lower the standards---

Dennis: Yes. Right.

Josh: ---or that we walk away from God’s Word, but I think we have to ask some of these questions to say are there ways when we give so much focus and we draw certain lines and make that the issue? Is that actually creating healthy disciples who are able to hold their sexuality as a healthy, beautiful thing not as a fearful, dangerous thing? I don’t have the answers. These are questions I’m asking.

Bob: I’ve got---Listen to 21-year-old Josh again. Listen to this statement you made.

Josh: I’m really getting sick of this guy. [Laughter]


[Previous interview]

Josh: I’ve never met a person who said, “Boy, I really wish my parents had let me just go out and play around at that time.” I’ve never seen it. I’ve never met anyone who has regretted purity.


Bob: So in the dialogue you’ve had since this book was released, and people who are now writing you and said, “This book harmed me,” have you met people who say, “I regret purity?”

Josh: Yes. I think there would be some people who would say, “I regret being so focused on this that I lived in fear.” Or even “I regret that I didn’t have any kind of physical interaction with my spouse and that made our first kiss is in front of all these people. It’s something that was awkward and we didn’t even have that sort of stage of puppy love.”

I have people who say, “We didn’t kiss until marriage. I’m so glad. We have the most awesome sex life in the world.” There are all different kinds of stories. But if your goal is to try to live a life, where there’s no regret, that’s just not going to work out perfectly.


You have to recognize you should have a conviction that is based on the Word of God. You should live that out and recognize that it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to work out perfectly. There are going to be downsides to almost every path.

Dennis: I’m smiling about our conversation, because all three of us are here attempting to represent Almighty God who has put His thoughts in a book that has 66 books / The Bible---

Josh: Right.

Dennis: ---and there’s some absolutes in the book. There are some warnings. “Flee immorality.” I mean the Bible is strong about these matters. I think today there is such a---I don’t want to call it an obsession, but I do think there is in our efforts to be tenderhearted to people who have been hurt or wounded---maybe by a number of things, and what you write just comes into a person’s context with where they are with the mistakes they’ve already made, or mistakes they’re getting ready to make.


This is back to what we’ve said all three days here on this broadcast this week. This is messy, because it’s between broken human beings who will make errors. But they need to know the God of the gospel.

Josh: Right.

Dennis: He went to a cross and died for our sins, our shame---all those feelings that we have. He defeated death, to offer life and to offer forgiveness. That’s really what parents who are raising teens today have to do. You have to bring the gospel into your home---the message of Jesus Christ---that parents are going to love them no matter what mistakes you make. God’s going to love them. There’s nothing they can do to earn God’s love. Nothing they can do to lose God’s love. They just need to have that relationship with Him, so they know how to handle it when they do fail.

Josh: It can feel like a very risky thing. The gospel and grace feels like a very risky thing because it takes the control from out of our hands, right?


Dennis: Yes. It’s not put in a box.

Josh: Right. It can even feel that way personally, like if God really loves me is that just going to send me down a path of just doing whatever I want. That’s the whole struggle that Paul talked about. He was accused of speaking of grace in such a way that he was saying, “it doesn’t matter how you live.” He’s like, “No of course that’s not the point.” Grace is that risky. It feels that dangerous sometimes.

Dennis: And as parents, you’ve got to know this God of grace to introduce your children to him. You are making the introduction through your imperfect life. Are you living an authentic Christian life in front of your kids? Which will mean you have to ask them to forgive you when you raise your voice and you yell at them, or you do something out of anger and they see you.


I mean, it’s fascinating. The privilege God gives us as adults to bring these little human beings / onto the planet. And then take their hand in ours and reach upward toward God and attempt in 18, 20, 25 years to introduce them to Almighty God---say, “Here’s who’s going to be here for you when I’m not.”

Bob: Your book I Kissed Tender Goodbye when is that coming out?


Josh: No more titles with I kissed in it.

Dennis: Bob. You’re just punishing him, Bob.

Bob: I just had to ask the question. We do have copies of Josh’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye in our FamilyLIfe Today resource center. I want to reiterate because you shared this with me. We asked you to come and be on the program and you were a little bit concerned that folks might think you’re just trying to breathe new life into your book. Honestly, what you’re doing right now is trying to explore the good and the bad of the book.


In fact, Josh is working on a documentary about the book and its impact on people’s lives. If folks would like more information about that film and when it’s going to be available, go to our website at There’s a link available there. Josh’s book is available. Other resources about dating for both parents and for teens. Go online at, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions or if you’d like to order resources by phone. Again, the website, or call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”

This subject we’ve talked about today is one of those subjects that over the years parents have said to us, “This is an area where we need help.” In fact, our goal here at FamilyLIfe is to provide regularly practical, biblical help and hope.


We want to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We want to give you biblical thinking on all aspects of marriage and family living. And not just you, we want to push this message out as far as we can to as many people as we can. You help make that possible when you support the ministry of FamilyLIfe Today. Your donations help us reach more people more regularly through radio, through our website, our events, our resources. All that we’re doing here at FamilyLIfe is made possible every time you donate to support this work.

If you’re a regular listener and you’ve never made a donation or if it’s been a while, make today the day that you go to and make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or mail in your donation to us. Our address is FamilyLIfe Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.


Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from pastor and author, Kevin DeYoung, about how we need to recalibrate our thinking around love in marriage. He thinks we have a somewhat muddled view of what real love ought to look like. We’ll hear from him tomorrow. Hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas: A Cru® Ministry.

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