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Kiss? Date? and More Questions

with Joshua Harris | October 24, 2017

Joshua Harris, popular author of the book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," recalls where he was in life when he wrote that book in his 20s. Harris, now married and a father of three, rethinks some of his earlier statements about dating, and voices concern that his book might have given people a reason not to pursue relationships with the opposite sex.

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'

Joshua Harris, popular author of the book, "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," recalls where he was in life when he wrote that book in his 20s. Harris, now married and a father of three, rethinks some of his earlier statements about dating, and voices concern that his book might have given people a reason not to pursue relationships with the opposite sex.

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'

Kiss? Date? and More Questions

With Joshua Harris
October 24, 2017
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Twenty years ago, when Joshua Harris wrote the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a lot of people thought they had found the formula: Do this and life will go well for you. Joshua says that was never his intent.

Josh: God doesn’t promise we’ll have a trial free marriage or that our sex life will work perfectly or any of those kinds of things. Yet I think that part of the over simplification that my book communicated, you could walk away with that impression and “if I just make these sacrifices my life is going to turn out in this way.” That’s just not the Christian life.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 24th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. So what does 40-year-old Joshua Harris think about what 20-year-old Joshua Harris thought about dating? We’ll hear from Joshua Harris today. Stay with us.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think I’ve already established this week that I’m glad that there’s no permanent record of what I was thinking about dating when I was 21 years old. I’m also glad that that chapter of raising kids through the dating years---That’s gone man. My kids are married. I’ve got other issues, but not the dating issues. Those are tough waters to navigate.


Dennis: They are tough. You had five. I had six. All six of ours are married as well. But our guest---he has the distinct honor of having written a book about dating before he got married.

Bob: Before he had kids.

Dennis: Before he had kids. Just to kick things off, Josh Harris, we’re going to play a clip from 20 years ago when you were on FamilyLIfe Today talking about your book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Let’s hear it.

Josh: I’m not even sure if my voice had changed yet.

Dennis: Let’s hear it Keith.

Bob: Listen to this and see if you still think that this is what you believe; okay?

Josh: Okay.


[Previous interview]

Dennis: I found it fascinating in your book you made the following statement. You said, “I’ve come to recognize that I had no business asking for a girl’s heart and affections if I’m not ready to back it up with a lifelong commitment.”

Josh: And I learned that from that relationship---that I was asking for her heart / asking for---really her future in a lot of ways. We used to talk about what we were going to do together, but I was not in a position to back it up and really was like I said---had no business doing that.


Josh: I have to say, 20 years ago, I remember coming here and I thought you guys were old then. [Laughter] I’m telling you this is amazing to be back.

Dennis: Yes. [Laughter] What do you think?

Bob: “I’ve come to recognize I have no business asking for a girl’s heart and affections if I’m not ready to back it up with a lifelong commitment.”

Josh: Well you know there’s one side of that that I say, “You know what, that’s absolutely true.”

Bob: Yes.

Josh: There’s a way that you can be selfish with another person and you can use them.


You can use their emotions and play off of desires they have in a way that is really wrong. There’s another way where that idea can cause a person to so not want to make a mistake, so not want to get things wrong, that they withdraw into themselves. They avoid relationships. They’re so concerned with making mistakes that they’re not living their life and taking risks, and trusting God, and believing that God’s going to be with them even in the midst of those relationships. So, I think that’s kind of where I’ve come to see that “yes that’s true,” but if you try to apply that so perfectly and if you’re driven and motivated by fear---the fear that I’m going to make a mistake, that I might get hurt myself or that I might hurt somebody else---you’re going to take yourself out of the process which is life, which God wants to meet you in and which God is able to oversee even your mistakes---

Dennis: It’s a mess.

Josh: It’s a mess. Relationships are a mess.


Dennis: They’re messy.

Josh: I think you know you talk about parents and being in the midst of parenting teenagers and when you’re parenting teens, you so want to get things right. You don’t want to mess your kids up. You want to protect them from all the mistakes you made. You’re just looking for something that somebody can give you that will fix things so that things will be right, and that’s just not the way life works.

Bob: When you wrote that book, I was in the thick of raising my kids. I’m thinking “Thank you Josh” because you’re giving me some guidance on how I can help my kids navigate away from the rapids, the rocks that could leave them shipwrecked. But the other side of that is you can get over in the kiddie pool, in the part of the water where nothing happens, and that can be damaging as well.

Josh: Well and it reminds me of what Jesus said when he was challenging the religious leaders. He’s saying you tie up these heavy burdens and you put them on people but nobody can actually carry all that.


It doesn’t mean that we don’t have standards. It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to walk in obedience to God, but I think it is a mindset that says, “God is going to be with me. I’m going to make mistakes, but God’s grace is going to be there. I don’t have to live in fear. I don’t have to be motivated by fear.”

Dennis: The apostle Paul concludes his letter to the church at Rome with this exhortation---almost sounds like a parent of teens. It’s chapter 16 verse 19 “For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” You’re not going to do that perfectly with kids today. But it’s okay to have a standard like Paul had.


He said I want you to be wise in what is good as you live out your life, but I also want you to be innocent--undamaged by evil. But as a parent if and when your kids do choose evil and they are damaged by it, you wrap your arms around them and you help them get up.

Josh: Well, that’s right. I think it’s so important to remember that Paul was writing, as he did to these different churches, to people who were in the first century. There was no Christian faith. Maybe there was some Jewish heritage that was informing what they were doing. But you think about the church in Corinth, all these people were dealing with lives of sexual immorality and that whole backdrop.

God’s grace was there for them. So I think we do want to strive for being innocent of evil. In other words, don’t immerse yourself in the evil just so that you’re relevant or just so that you’re knowledgeable. I think we also have to be careful that that desire for innocence, or holding up a standard of purity can in different ways create a self-righteousness. It can create the feeling like “If I do make a mistake, then what’s the point.”


I’ve interacted with so many people. I think of one girl who---she was trying to apply the ideas in my book. She didn’t want to kiss until marriage. Again, that’s fine if you want to have that---I advocated that in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It’s not in the Bible. It’s not a law in the Bible. Yet she’s trying to do all these things right and when she was at the end of high school, she kissed a guy. She kind of felt like “Well, there goes my purity.”

It was almost like she gave up and ended up having a child with this guy and doing all these things that she didn’t have to have this mindset of “Oh well you know what, my purity and this standard that I’d held myself to, now that’s gone. So I’m no longer that person. So it doesn’t matter.” I think that that’s one of the kind of the flip side to so emphasizing the importance of purity is it can create a legalistic environment. It can also create this place where people feel like “if I do make any sort of mistake, I’m damaged goods.”


Dennis: And what I would say to parents is, it’s okay to have a high standard. It’s okay to challenge your kids to a high standard, but you better have the grace of Jesus Christ to back up that standard when---and it’s just a matter of time---when they fail, and when they need you to put your arm around them and say, “You know what, you’re not loved any more or any less because you failed.”

Josh: That’s so important. I’m working on a project, a documentary, with a fellow student at Regent College. Her name is Jessica. She was someone who grew up reading my book. She was the biggest fan of my book---from Australia---thought that applying this and living this out was going to mean she was going to be happily married in her early 20’s. Well now she’s getting close to 30 and she’s saying, “Wait a second. This didn’t work out the way that I planned.” She really didn’t appreciate Josh Harris and his book. Then we both end up at this graduate school of theology at the same time.


We’re working on this project to kind of tell the story of me going and meeting with people who have read my book. Some like it and some don’t. I’m really processing what was good and bad about that book. But one of the things she told me in a conversation, which I felt was so powerful, is she went through her own season of basically rebelling against all of those standards, because she felt like it hadn’t delivered for her. She said one of the hardest things that she was facing a really difficult time, she didn’t feel like she could call her parents.

Dennis: Yes. Yes. Sure.

Josh: And I think as she was talking to me she said, “I want to have the kind of relationship with my kids that as I hold up that high standard, they know that even if they fail, I’m the first person they think of calling.”

Dennis: And you almost want to tell them that, “If you fail, you need to know I’m here.”

Josh: That’s right.

Dennis: The other thing I think as a parent you need to demonstrate what humility to admit a mistake looks like.


Let your kids in on the interior of some of your mistakes you made, and show them how to repent---show them how a broken person comes to Almighty God and says, “God, I failed.”

Bob: Dennis has heard me say this over and over again. It’s not original with me. We had a guest on FamilyLife Today who said this. He said, “Most evangelical parents are raising their kids to be sin avoiders and sin concealers.”

Josh: True.

Bob: Stay away from it. If you do it, don’t tell anybody because you’ll get in big trouble. He said, “We’ve got to teach our kids how to be sin confessors and sin repenters. We teach them that by modeling it. So they have to see us doing it.

Josh: Right.

Bob: They have to know that it’s okay in the rhythm of life to do that and that we celebrate repentance. Then they’ll learn that it’s okay for me to come to mom and dad and say, “I blew it here,” and mom and dad can say, “I’ve blown it too.”

In fact, I shared a story Josh, if I could do a do over. I came home from a trip one time.


I checked out the computer’s spy software on our home computer. I found that there had been some sites visited by one of my children, while I had been gone, that were not appropriate. So I took that young man out to lunch. In that moment, if I could do the do over, instead of saying, “Well here’s what’s going to happen. There’s going to be a grounding. You’re not going to be on the computer for the next two months. I’ve got a list of Bible verses you’re going to memorize.”

Instead of that if I had said to him, “You know what, I get tempted by that stuff, too. I’ve slipped and I’ve looked. I want to be on this journey with you. I need you to hold me accountable the way I’m trying to hold you accountable here. So how could we do that together? Maybe it’d be good for both of us to memorize some of these verses.”

Josh: That’s good.

Bob: There would still be a grounding from the computer for a couple of months as healthy discipline--as a healthy fast--given the fact that we need to break some habits here.


Dennis: Right.

Bob: Here’s something you said back 20 years ago when we were interviewing you. Just listen to this and see how you would react to it today, okay?

[Previous Interview]

Josh: I’m not encouraging people to give up romantic relationships forever. What I want to challenge them to do is make sure they’re being guided by biblical truth not just culture.


Bob: Okay.

Josh: Absolutely

Bob: You’d still affirm that, right?

Josh: Yes. Definitely.

Dennis: That was a good statement.

Josh: That was a good statement. [Laughter]

Bob: So would you nuance that statement at all?

Josh: No. I wouldn’t nuance that statement. I think that we absolutely need to be guided by biblical principles. I think that what’s so important to recognize is that it’s easy when you write a Christian book to start with an idea that you think is good, and then define scripture that backs up that argument you want to make. That’s very different than starting with what scripture has to say about who we are as human beings, what it means to be created in God’s image, why relationships matter.


One of the things that I think is a real problem in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, is that I was starting with the idea of there’s a problem with dating. Now let me prove that, and let me convince you, and let me use scripture to show that. And that’s ideology. That’s starting with your own idea and then working to prove that, I think I made some convincing arguments, but that’s not the best use of God’s Word.

Bob: One of the things I’ve heard over the years as a critique of the book is that it made guys more passive. Have you heard that as a critique? In fact, Lisa Anderson who works at Focus on the Family---Do you know Lisa?

Josh: I don’t.

Bob: Okay, Lisa’s got a book out called The Dating Manifesto. It’s a good book.

Josh: Excellent.

Bob: She’s a young woman in her 40’s---who’s single---never been married. We asked her about your book because it was part of what informed her growing up. Here’s what she had to say.

[Previous interview]


Lisa: What I think was problematic with it and what I hear from our audience---especially the men---is it put an unrest in people’s souls of, “I’m afraid to pursue anything with this person if I’m not moderately or more so confident that I can marry this person.” So it took away that kind of carefree nature of dating which is---kind of sounds like I’m talking about polar opposites here. I am. Let’s get a little crazy making but…

Dennis: You’re just describing a guy feeling like he has to be all in from the beginning.

Lisa: Exactly. So with a generation of men who didn’t know how to relate to women basically on any level, all of a sudden they’re supposed to be basically betrothed to them or you know be---

Bob: Before you go to Starbucks, you better have a ring.

Lisa: be ready---right---be ready to commit to them. So it really paralyzed a bunch of people to think that “What if I haven’t made the right choice? What if I’m going to start moving in seriously with this person, committing to them, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. But I read this book, and so I should know what I’m doing. So as a result, we have a generation of guys that kind of sat on their hands because they were afraid to take action.



Josh: Yes. I think that’s a great insight. I think that’s spot on.

Bob: So if you’re coaching a young man today, who’s 16 or 17 years old, would you coach him to “Part of what you need to learn how to do is to ask a young woman out and start to relate to her. How do you put boundaries around that?” What’s your guidance for guys trying to navigate this?

Josh: Yes. I think that it is an important skill. I think that the culture is shifting and changing in so many different ways, but I absolutely think that that skill of taking risk, of pursuing a young woman, of treating her with respect and recognizing that you can’t have all those things perfectly figured out. You can’t go into and know---and it actually wouldn’t be healthy to go in with some idea of “Well I got a message from God that you’re the one. So let’s start a courtship.” That’s not good.

Dennis: Real relationships are messy and risky. I’m now 44 years into our marriage, okay.


Real relationships in marriage are messy and risky. I mean if you’re going to go the distance in a marriage relationship over a lifetime, there’s going to be disappointment. There’s going to be unmet expectations on both sides, and there’s going to be risk. There’s going to be a risk of being known and a peeling back your heart one layer at a time. I think what people are looking for today is a guarantee. Some kind of guarantee like they get on a car battery or something. If you’re looking for that, don’t get married.

Bob: But here’s what I got out of the interview 20 years ago and raising my kids. Hang out in groups---get to know one another in groups. That’s a great way to kind of get to know other people. Don’t pair off until you feel like maybe God is opening a door for marriage. You should have a job by that point. Certainly, don’t become so emotionally transparent with somebody else that you go beyond what you ought to do with somebody you’re not committed to.


And certainly, don’t become physically involved. So that was kind of the guiding philosophy. How would you nuance that?

Josh: I think the people that I hear from who say the book was helpful to them basically take away that message from it. I think that that can be a healthy balance to the mindset that says you have to constantly be in a relationship. You should be dating someone, and that’s going to involve a physical relationship---and this deep fast rush to intimacy and so on.

I think part of it is recognizing there are different audiences. I think a lot of I Kissed Dating Goodbye is directed toward the teenage kind of years and those relationships can be such a distraction and such a waste of time. But that doesn’t apply to the person in their early 20’s, in college, and beyond. I think that it really didn’t nuance that well and make those kinds of distinctions.


It didn’t focus enough, I think, on the fact that you are learning in these relationships. So how can you be learning, without practicing selfishness---not just actively like “I’m going to be a jerk and use people”---but recognize “You know what; you do need to develop certain skills. You do need to learn about people and the fact that there are different kinds of people.”

So how do we do that in a God honoring way? Well if you are a parent of teens that sounds so scary, because in every generation teenagers are always pushing the envelope sexually. There’s new technology. What’s this app, this new social media thing? What are they talking about? What’s going on there? So it’s easy to just rush in with fear and control, and think that that’s going to fix things. But that’s not going to prepare people to think with wisdom, to learn to apply general principles in new situations and new circumstances, and believe that God’s grace is going to be there in this messiness of relationships.


Dennis: I want to underline what you just said, because at the point we interviewed you, Barbara and I had four teenagers at home. For all practical purposes we had a 12-year-old, who was a teenager just hadn’t declared it yet publicly by her age, all the way to 18 and a couple of kids in college. So we were learning some of the nuance that you’re talking about, of not being so hands on and so protective of our college kids, realizing they’ve got to make their own choices out there on the college campus, but coaching them as they do leave home.

But with the ones that were home, increasingly Josh, I think what your book did was bring a dignity to the opposite sex, both male and female, of saying, “Let’s be careful how we treat one another because this thing is risky. It’s a relationship, there’s intimacy, and you can break one another’s hearts.” By the time we finished, Josh, raising our last one---she can tell you. Laura was our last one. We discouraged dating, just one on one dating---not that we prevented it. We just didn’t allow it to happen all that frequently.


The reason for that was the emotional and spiritual maturity was not in place to handle the level of risk and the in-depth relationship. I think your book tipped people off. It was a warning to parents and to teens, “Heads up; this is dangerous here. This is a series of rapids you’re about to go into. You need to think this through a little more carefully, and not just be herded in with the rest of the culture and just mindlessly go off into some dangerous territory.”

Josh: That’s encouraging. I’m grateful that it did kind of shift the conversation a little bit in different ways. I appreciate that.

Dennis: Yes. It helped Barbara and me a ton. I just have to tell you.

Bob: That’s where I think even 20 years later, get a copy of the book---read through it as a mom and a dad, but read through it this way. Go “Do you agree with that? What do you think about that? What could be the down side of that?” Have that dialogue around the book rather than “Okay, we’ve got to do this. Then we’ve go to this, and then we’ve got to do that.”


Josh: Well I think that that’s good. I also would encourage people to drop by my website. We actually have asked people to share their stories in relationship to the book. There’s some really painful ones. I think hearing some of those stories will help you see some of the pitfalls that can come with trying to apply this too narrowly. I’d encourage people to listen to those voices.

Bob: We’ve got a link on our website at to your website, so listeners can come to out more about the documentary that you’re producing. There’s also information about Josh’s book if you want to get a copy. Order from us online or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.

I’ll just say here, you need to start having conversations about these subjects with your children early. I’m thinking about the Passport to Purity® resource that we’ve created for moms and dads. That’s really designed to get you and your kids talking about these things early on.


Then Passport to Identity when they are a few years older.  Dennis, your books Aggressive Girls Clueless Boys and Interviewing Your Daughter’s Dates. This is an area of life where you need to be vigilant. Again, find out more of what’s available from us online at or call 1-800-358-6329. 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”

This is one of those areas where I think every parent has some level of anxiety. Parents think to themselves “I want to help my child get from where they are today to adulthood and perhaps to marriage in as healthy of a way as possible. I want to help them have as few scars as possible.”


At FamilyLife, our goal is to try to provide practical biblical wisdom so that you can do the best job possible as a parent to help guide your kids. There are no guarantees, and there’s no formula. We’ve said that today. But we can be alert and attentive and in tune with what God’s spirit is teaching us and what God’s word is teaching us. And that’s our goal to effectively develop godly marriages and families.

Thanks to those of you who are financial contributors to this ministry. We’re able to reach more people more often with more practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families than ever before. Your donations go directly toward enabling us to reach more people more often. We appreciate your partnership with us in this endeavor. If you’re a regular listener and you’ve never donated to support the ministry of FamilyLIfe Today, this would be a good day to do it. Go online at to make a donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.


You can also donate by writing to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223. Tomorrow we’ll talk more with Joshua Harris about dating, about what he thinks today and how he is coaching his own children as they enter into the teen years. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us 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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