Where Logic Meets Love

What I Learned from Joshua Harris

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pin It Now!

As a follow-up to Wednesday's post on faith and feminism, here's an interesting conversation that happened recently on Twitter between two feminist bloggers I respect:

Danielle at From Two to One and I responded that we'd read his books, taken valuable advice from them, and both ended up in healthy relationships married to feminist men. I said I'd post about it, so here I am.

You may remember that I actually recommended one of Joshua Harris's books, Boy Meets Girl, in my first ever Three Books on Thursday post on Three Books Every Couple Should Read, with the caveat that I don't agree with all his views. In all fairness, I never read his original book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, so maybe my views on love would have been all warped and screwed up had I started with that. But a girl in our youth group in high school did read it and spent one night doing a presentation of sorts explaining the key messages, many of which are touched on again in Boy Meets Girl.

I am not a proponent of the idea that you must be right about everything or agree with me on everything to make a valuable contribution to people's lives. This is why, for example, I defend the work that Andrew Marin is doing to help conservative Christians become more accepting of the LGBTQ population, even if I disagree with his particular views about homosexuality. So while I don't think Joshua Harris gets everything right, his books were valuable to me, and I want to talk about why.

If I had come from a conservative, evangelical background, then perhaps his books would have reinforced for me ideas like "men are the head of the family" or "men and women have unique and specific roles decided by their genitals." But that's not where I was coming from when I read Boy Meets Girl. I attended public school up until college and was raised by a very liberal-leaning mother. I spent far too much of my time trying to get guys to like me and/or bemoaning the fact that nobody was interested in me. By the time I started college I had decided to stay single forever. Then a group of girls on my floor freshman year decided to do a book club (that only had one meeting ever) and read Boy Meets Girl.

Joshua Harris's books validated three main things for me:

The Value of My Life Independent of a Partner
When I read Boy Meets Girl I was still fairly determined to stay single, and it was clear from Harris's perspective that was a valid way to live one's life. Harris reiterates that God loves every person whether or not they're in a relationship, and that your value doesn't come from being in a relationship. After wanting throughout all of high school to be in a relationship, this was a lesson it had taken me a long time to learn, and I appreciated having it validated by this book. Here's part that I underlined: "If you're single, I believe that God wants you to see that your story has begun. Life doesn't start when you find a spouse. Marriage is wonderful, but it's simply a new chapter in life."

The Value of My Time and Emotions -- and Others'
I got in a fight with another girl the winter of my senior year of high school because I was talking about how I didn't want to start dating anyone as I'd be going to college in a few months and didn't want a long-distance relationship. She was trying to get it through my head that I could just have a "fling" with someone, that I was 18 and it wasn't worth taking my relationships so seriously. Note that very few people at our high school "dated" in the traditional sense of going out on a first date -- you got to know people as friends through school or clubs, and then if you were mutually interested you decided to start a relationship and be boyfriend and girlfriend. To me, it seemed wrong and deceptive to make that kind of a commitment to someone with the intention of breaking it off in a few months.

What Joshua Harris suggests is that it eats up a lot of time and emotion to "date" anyone you can't envision being with long-term. Interestingly, what I took away from this is the opposite of the traditional Christian idea, as well as cultural message, for women that seeking a spouse is an important part of your life. Parents and friends will ask a single person when they last went on a date and exclaim that they're "not even trying" to find a mate if they're not dating regularly. I didn't want any part of that. Even after Mike and I became close friends, even after I was pretty sure he was interested in me, even after I started to admit that I liked him, I had to ask myself whether there was a possibility that our relationship could lead to marriage. If there had been no way I could envision ever being married to him, then I wouldn't have invested my valuable time and emotion in dating him.

The Value of My Body and Setting Boundaries
When people in high school would start "going out" (being in a relationship), it seemed to come with it some kind of implied consent: You are my girlfriend, so I'm allowed to hold your hand or put my arm around you or kiss you. I hated that because it seemed to strip me of my bodily autonomy and instead put me into a role with pre-set boundaries (or lack thereof).

I read Boy Meets Girl well before Mike and I started dating, and it gave me a needed opportunity to reflect on what I was and wasn't comfortable with in a relationship. I made a decision at that point that I wanted to save my first kiss for marriage because I was fiercely protective of my body and felt that there were certain things I didn't want to share with anyone who hadn't promised a lifelong commitment to me. Mike read Boy Meets Girl around the time we started dating and it caused him to give much more thought to his body and to the physical component of our relationship than he had previously. It gave us a vocabulary to discuss our physical intimacy, and we regularly checked in with one another that our physical intimacy was growing out of our emotional intimacy and not outpacing it or being an end to itself.

Later in our relationship we read Joshua Harris's book that is now titled Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) -- our copy, printed in 2003, is called Not Even a Hint. Again, this gave us the vocabulary and opportunity to discuss some specific struggles we faced and to talk about our thoughts on sex as we looked toward marriage. It also was immensely helpful for me to understand what it feels like for someone (generally a man, and specifically Mike) to have a higher sex drive than I have. Without the conversations that came out of reading this book together about wanting sex to be something always done with and for each other, I'm not sure that we would be so successful in practicing NFP together.

There's also a ton of practical advice in these books. This is the reason I originally recommended Boy Meets Girl on my post about books for couples. Even if you don't agree with Harris's overarching beliefs about the meaning of marriage or the importance of gender roles, his day-to-day advice is spot on. There's advice about communication: Not trying to read each other's minds, really listening, setting aside time to talk, talking through conflict rather than trying to avoid it. He talks about having support outside of just the two of you -- to get a reality check, to find role models. He encourages partners not to keep secrets from one another about their past but to be open about those things they're ashamed of and to forgive one another, not think that their judgment is somehow better than God's -- but at the same time, to realize that ongoing issues may require counseling and you can't expect marriage to "fix" anything.

I also appreciated Harris's acknowledgement that different people have different comfort levels. Some couples who want to save sex for marriage can kiss without feeling that that tempts them to cross the boundaries they've set for their relationship. Some can't. One is not morally superior to the other; it's about being honest with yourself (as a couple) and making choices for yourself about what's important to you and what works for you. Similarly, Not Even a Hint didn't condemn masturbation in and of itself, but instead talked about particular issues with fantasizing about and lusting after another person's body independent of the rest of that person. I took away questions more than specific commands: What effect does this have on you and your relationship? Are you being honest with yourself and your partner?

So for someone raised in a conservative Christian environment, Joshua Harris's books may well be more of the same. But for someone like me, coming from a liberal, secular background in which my peer group and media told me my value came from being in a relationship; that I should always seek to date even with no intention of making a long-term commitment; that physical intimacy is dictated by social norms and not my own comfort level -- Joshua Harris's books were a breath of fresh air.

Here was someone telling me it was OK if I wanted to put very high standards on who was allowed to kiss me or have sex with me.

It was OK if I didn't want to date anyone I couldn't see myself being with for life.

It was OK if I wanted my spouse to seek sexual satisfaction from me alone, and wanted to keep porn out of our relationship.

Did I take his books as a word-for-word manual of how to conduct my relationships? No. Did I get validation I needed about my value and guidance for a healthy relationship? Yes.

Have you read Joshua Harris's books? What do you think?


  1. This was really refreshing to read. I've heard so many people bash his books, and I'll admit I've been one of those people. Granted- when I tried to read one of his books it was actually really bad timing and I was in a bad place when it came to relationships and I ended up having to leave the store cause I was crying... but that's besides the point. I'm not a HUGE fan of "courtship" and those conservative views of dating. I used to be and I understand where they are coming from and if that's good for some people - great. But it's not for everyone. Reading this though, it's good to know that he does have some good points and advice in there. Maybe someday I'll try again. I think where people stray though is when we take people's words as truth. "This guy is a Christian and wrote a book - it MUST be from God!" Um... not necessarily. He's still a human. He may have great points that you agree with, but that doesn't mean the whole book is gospel truth. And what works for one person may not work for another.

    1. Oh my goodness- "This guy is a Christian and wrote a book- it MUST be from God!" I totally used to think that way. It was very confusing trying to come up with a coherent theory of what dating was supposed to be- I didn't realize I was getting opinions from Christian sources that disagreed with each other.

    2. Yes, I think you hit the nail on the head -- the danger comes from seeing Christian authors as speaking divine truth rather than as humans with their own ideas and interpretations. I read his books when I was at a place maturity-wise to be able to critique them and take from them only went I found valuable, but if you approached his books (or any books, for that matter) as THE Word of God on dating, then I could see that that could be a problem.

  2. I also read "Boy Meets Girl" but didn't read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye."

    There's good stuff, like you said- I particularly remember reading some Christian books like that and being struck by the idea that dating is about serving the other person- not about my emotional need to have a boyfriend.

    I think one of my problems was that my motive for reading them was that I just wanted so bad to be married, and I wanted to know what I needed to do in order to make God give me a husband. (I talked about this in my blog post Follow God and Snag a Guy.) And most of those books do talk about how God needs to be the most important thing in your life, so that's good. But still, I was reading them because those were my motives.

    Also, particularly in "Boy Meets Girl", he says you have to be pretty sure this is the person you want to marry before you start dating. Combine that with all the warnings I heard about how sex/kissing/holding hands/having a crush/saying "I love you" is "giving away part of my heart" and I would regret it for the rest of my life, I'm supposed to be "saving" all that for my "future husband"... it made me so afraid of dating. Like I can't even give a hint that I like a guy until I'm sure I want to marry him. (See also my blog post How long should you pray before asking a girl out?)

    Maybe that's the part that gets criticized for giving Christians messed-up views of dating. The idea that dating has to be this SUPER HUGE BIG DEAL that's horribly dangerous and is going to ruin your life if you do it wrong.

    Anyway, when I started dating my boyfriend, 5 months ago, at first I was horribly afraid because was doing everything wrong, according to all I had heard about "purity". Like, sometimes I would send him a text message to tell him I like him and he's attractive. In the past, I would have thought that's totally off-limits because it just makes me more emotionally attached to him, and it does nothing in terms of giving me information on whether we can get married.

    So yeah. I'm working on trying to figure out how dating is ACTUALLY supposed to be.

    1. Also, particularly in "Boy Meets Girl", he says you have to be pretty sure this is the person you want to marry before you start dating.
      See, I took away a different message from that book. The message I got was that you shouldn't date someone if you could never see yourself marrying them. I never understood people who would say about their significant other, "Yeah, I don't think this is going to be long-term." I was like, "Why are you dating them then???" But the answer, of course, is that there are pressures from all over to be in a relationship, and so it's like, if this is the best you can do at the time, well... I guess I'll date them for now. I thought that sounded like a waste of time, and that I'd rather wait to date unless I could plausibly see myself marrying someone. But Harris even says not to start talking about the future too early in a courtship because you don't know where it's going to end up.

      Like I said in the post, I think I probably would have taken away different emphases from the book had I been taught things previously about purity, saving myself, being afraid of dating, etc., and it sounds like that's kind of what happened for you. If there's anything I can say that might help ease your anxiety, it's that I don't believe there's anything objectively wrong that you can do in a relationship. (Well, maybe with a few exceptions, like cheating on your significant other.) The most important thing is to figure out what's important to you and what you're comfortable with, and the same for your boyfriend, and to have open and honest communication about that regularly. There is nothing you can do that will irrevocably screw up your relationships for all time, so take that off the table. And the best way to avoid regrets, in my experience, is to know your own boundaries, not trying to follow someone else's pre-made rules.

    2. There has to be some middle ground between "you have to be pretty sure you want to marry this person before you can start dating" and "just date whoever, it's not that serious".

      I guess the way we should be thinking is, you can go ahead and date someone if there's no glaringly obvious reason you can't marry them. And that a relationship NEEDS to have uncertainty because it's 2 people who are figuring stuff out together and making choices- you can't predict what will happen.

    3. I guess the way we should be thinking is, you can go ahead and date someone if there's no glaringly obvious reason you can't marry them.
      This, and if you're not dating them simply because you want to be in a relationship / want to be married. That's what I got from it, anyway -- don't date for the sake of dating, date because you genuinely want to figure out if this is a person you could be with for a lifetime. And if you know the answer is no before you even start dating, then it's not worth your time.

  3. Interesting. I need to re-read this, I think. We were both raised with hyper-conservative courtship (Josh Harris was on the liberal end) and while I don't think that was beneficial for us, the points you made really resonated with me. I do not regret not having multiple relationships before marriage--I had lots of friendships with guys, but I always knew none of them were serious possibilities before I met DOB, and I'm glad I didn't waste a lot of emotional energy treating them as more than friends. I always felt confident in myself by myself (actually I didn't really expect to marry at all--few of the women in my family do, other than my mother and grandmother, of course).
    What really bothered me about courtship was having parents directing it, which when I look back now seems completely absurd--I mean, it's not like I was a naive sixteen year old, I had a professional degree and a job and a car and I knew exactly what I wanted in a guy and I knew I had found it. I didn't need my parents scrutinizing and OK'ing him for me, nor did we need our parents setting physical boundaries for us. Having them as friends and counselors would have been great; having them as supervisors and directors was not.
    But I don't see a lot of value in the modern view of dating either, of the assumption and pursuit of many vague and transitory relationships. Looking at things from the other end (the divorce court), it seems like people don't have the courage or background to bond fully with another person.
    So now that I realize that I'm going to blink and I'll have teenagers, I want to gather some resources from different perspectives that will be good for discussion in helping them form their own ideas.

    1. I do not regret not having multiple relationships before marriage
      I had a few (not very serious) ones, and Mike had one previous one. I know people who genuinely think you have to date many people in order to be sure you've found the right one, and I just don't think that's true.

      What really bothered me about courtship was having parents directing it
      That does seem to be the traditional model people think of when they think of "courtship," although that's not specifically what Joshua Harris advocates (maybe why he was considered liberal in your circle?). He talks about discussing his feelings for his now-wife with his adult mentors before asking her on a date to see what they thought of her, but then he went to meet her by himself. He says in this day and age some parents won't expect or even want you to talk to them before dating their child, and that doesn't mean you're doing courtship "wrong" somehow. He does caution against going behind your parents' backs -- telling them you're not dating someone and continuing to date them. So it sounds to me more like having parents in the "friends and counselors" role that you described.

    2. I have a question about this- "I know people who genuinely think you have to date many people in order to be sure you've found the right one, and I just don't think that's true." I'm wondering why you believe that- because I want to believe it too- I don't want to have to date a ton of people and deal with breaking up over and over, I just want to get married and not have to worry about being forever alone.

      But I'm wondering how one can make such a big huge commitment to someone without seriously checking into other options. How can you know that it's a good choice to be with just this one person for your whole life, if you don't even know who else is out there?

      My answer is that dating/marriage isn't about finding THE ONE PERFECT person who is the most compatible person in the world- instead, it's about finding someone that's awesome enough that being with them is WAY better than being alone. And there are a lot of guys in the world that I could be happy with, so if I find one of them, even if he's not the theoretical BEST one, so what? If he's awesome and I think we work really well together, there's no need to keep looking. What do you think?

    3. I agree with what you said, which kind of goes back to the maximizer/satisficer dichotomy -- i.e., do you have to know every possible option to pick one, or can you be happy with one that meets all of the important criteria for you? If you've found someone you love with whom you have a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship, do you really need to be sure they're the BEST person in the entire world for you? Because there's like 7 billion people in the world... you're not going to be able to try them all out as potential partners.

      Also, I disagree with the notion that you have to date someone in order to figure out that they wouldn't be a good life partner for you. I have a lot of male friends that would have been bad matches for me romantically, and I didn't need to date them to figure that out. When I met Mike, something clicked instantly -- not in terms of "here's my future husband" but realizing I'd found someone who shared my view of the world in a way that no one I'd ever met in my life did. Well before we started dating, I knew that he understood me and meshed with me in a way that no one else ever had. That didn't tell me automatically that he was meant to be my husband, but it told me that it was worth investing my time and emotion in figuring out if he was, which was a cue I hadn't gotten from other guys.

    4. Cool. I haven't heard the maximizer/satisficer thing before- that makes so much sense! And yeah, I totally agree that you don't have to date someone in order to conclude they're not a good match for you. There should be some "spark", whatever that means. :D

  4. When I was in high school, I went on a "I don't know what to do with romance so I'm going to read EVERYTHING" kick. I read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye." I also read "I Gave Dating A Chance." I ALSO read "Authentic Beauty," AND "God's Gift To Women."

    I felt overly inundated with all these opinions on how a young Christian woman should/should not date.

    I took wisdom away from each of these books, but none of the four ever really defined exactly what I was looking for or what I wanted to connect with. At the end of reading them, I still felt like I wasn't sure what I "should or shouldn't" be doing in my relationships. "Communicate. Set boundaries." Okay, that sounds great and all, but what about the rest of the story? What about when you aren't sure what setting boundaries even means? What about arming yourself with information, educating yourself about your body and about sex, so that if you do want to set limits, you know what it means to do that?

    One of the biggest problems I had was that NOT dating at all seemed like a sad way of growing up for me, I couldn't understand how you were ever supposed to find your perfect romance if you never dated. And if you never dated, then when you finally DID get with someone, wouldn't you be kind of immature and juvenile when it comes to the hard stuff of relationships, since you'd never dealt with it before? I didn't want to be unprepared for what was supposed to be the most important relationship of my life. Having a little experience is good for you, in my opinion. On the flipside, of course, I saw no gain in just having flings. I wanted to date people that I believed I could have real relationships with, that would last longer than three months. I think at this point in my life, now that I've hit my mid-twenties, I've created a nice balance for myself when it comes to dating. Relationships are a big deal to me. I don't mind going to dinner with someone, but it won't turn into anything official unless there's a real possibility of it developing into something beautiful and long-lasting.

    I guess I say all of that to say this: these kinds of works should always be taken with a grain of salt. Which is essentially what I think you are saying here. You take what is relevant and helpful to you, even if you don't completely agree with the rest of the author's opinions.

    1. I didn't want to be unprepared for what was supposed to be the most important relationship of my life. Having a little experience is good for you, in my opinion.
      People say this same thing about sex, and I've written multiple times about why I disagree with this idea. For one thing, this makes it sound like there's one right way to have a romantic relationship, and that you learn more of the secrets of this "way" the more relationships you're in. There may be certain skills that are valuable in any relationship (romantic or not) such as handling conflict effectively, but (1) I don't think you need to be romantically committed to someone to build those skills / mature as a person and (2) those are going to play out differently with different partners anyway because everyone brings different assumptions, experiences, personalities, etc. to a relationship, so there will always be a learning curve. Secondly, as with sex, I don't think there's anything wrong with learning as you go with your partner. Being more experienced in terms of number of relationships doesn't guarantee success with a specific partner, but being with a person who is a great match for you and being willing to learn from and with each other can lead to a fantastic relationship even if neither of you has ever dated anyone before.

      My point is not that I have any issue with your decision to date (I mean, I dated too), and I'm definitely glad you found a good balance that works for you. I just disagree that having a successful relationship requires coming in with prior experience (romantically, sexually, etc.), just as I disagree that having that prior experience (dating many people) will automatically ruin your future relationships, as some people seem to think.

    2. Oy, I just wrote a whole long reply to you and it got deleted. Sigh.

      But the basic jist was this: Ahh! I may have misphrased what I was trying to say, because I completely agree with everything you've said here. I've always been extremely discerning about who I date, because it's so important to me. Relationships, romance, connecting with other people, and whether or not I'm ready for or even want any kind of physical intimacy are all things that matter to me greatly. I hope I didn't make it seem like they don't. But I have had several serious relationships, and what I've learned form them has been so valuable to me. I feel like the things I've learned within the context of these relationships are things that I would NEVER have learned any other way. I feel more prepared, more knowledgeable of myself, more ready for the kind of relationship I want with my husband based on what I've been through. Mostly in terms of what I've learned about love: what it is, and what it isn't. That's certainly not to say that everyone should do what I've done--we are all different in what we need that way. But I am proud of the woman I've become, and I can't fathom how I could have ended up who I am without having had those relationships in my life.

      I'm sorry if I didn't explain myself clearly--I don't think at ALL that you have to had prior experience in order to have a successful relationship. I do however think that for a lot of people, having SOME kind of experience helps them. I seriously don't know how I would know how to treat another person if I hadn't had the experiences I've had. They taught me so much about respecting other people's differences and how to truly cherish and honor your significant other. Two of my most serious relationships had one thing in common: I was the first serious relationship for both of the guys. The first guy had nothing to compare me to, and thought that I was the end-all, be-all, and wanted to get married right out of school. We had very different ideas on where we wanted to go to college and what our career paths would be, and I just was not ready to say yes to an impending engagement. And when I told him that, he said that I was putting my career before my family--my 'family' that apparently included him and our hypothetical children. We were 19 when he said that! In that scenario, I felt like his lack of experience meant that he was putting all of his expectations on me, and was rushing into the endgame way too soon.

      My most recent serious relationship, which just ended recently, has a different story. Now that I'm in my mid-20s, I have a much better idea of what I want/need, and feel so much more ready for that kind of life-long marriage commitment. This boyfriend was not. His lack of experience made him feel like he wasn't at all ready for marriage, and was curious about casually dating, rather than continuing to commit to me. (Which royally sucks, because this was someone I could see myself marrying.) In both of these circumstances, the guy and I were not on the same page, and a lot of it had to do with our prior relationship experiences and where we were/are in our lives.

      I agree that certain topics like conflict resolution or respecting someone else's beliefs/habits/etc can be learned outside of a relationship, but there's so much I know now that I don't think I could have learned any other way. So for my life right now, I am pretty much over having my heart broken through relationships where he and I are not on the same page with what we want. I've told God this--I'm ready for the next one to be the last one. I'll be lonely with cats for the next ten years if I need to, as long as I can just find someone who will be a true match for me, where we can truly complement one another.

    3. Thanks for clarifying and for sharing your stories. I definitely agree with what you said here: "I am proud of the woman I've become, and I can't fathom how I could have ended up who I am without having had those relationships in my life." For me, the lessons I've learned and the growth I've experienced from being in a relationship are almost entirely from my relationship with Mike. So do relationships, of all kinds, teach you valuable lessons? Absolutely. Is it necessary to learn all those lessons before dating your future spouse? No. And that's really what I wanted to emphasize -- there's nothing wrong with dating people who don't turn out to be your future spouse, but you (i.e. anyone) shouldn't have a fear of being "unprepared" for meeting/dating your spouse. If you are very unexperienced or personally immature, though, then it's definitely wise not to rush into a long-term commitment! In other words, don't be afraid that you'll first learn how to "do" a relationship with your future spouse... but give yourself enough time to actually learn those lessons before making any lifetime decisions!

  5. The Joshua Harris craze started when I was already a senior in high school, so it didn't impact me, but I know quite a few people who really got messed up by it.

    A friend of mine called I Kissed Dating Goodbye "The worst book she's ever liked".

    I did read it and I found that Harris had some valid critiques of dating. But I never "dated" anyway. I knew high school relationships weren't going anywhere and didn't take them seriously. In fact, I never had a serious relationship until I met my wife. And we didn't really date either. We started as being friends, then went to being more than friends.

    Harris's solution of "courting" was the problem. Especially for those with a conservative evangelical background. It really DID reinforce a lot of bad, unhealthy, ideas about relationships. Instead of "I should not become overly emotionally involved with someone who I do not see a future with" it was often came out as "if I become emotionally involved with someone, I should marry them".

    Perhaps more troubling was his obsession with "sexual purity". It seemed to me that he was so concerned about couples "sinning" before marriage that he wanted them to put artificial barriers to intimacy between them in order to prevent this.

    For someone like you who was raised in a liberal, secular background who values body autonomy, I'm sure Harris was a "breath of fresh air".

    For girls who grew up in evangelical households and had high libidos, it was often a recipe for disaster.

    1. I'm looking back through Boy Meets Girl again, and either it's the lens I'm bringing to the text or he was more extreme in I Kissed Dating Goodbye (possibly a combination), but I'm just not seeing the things you're talking about. If someone reads "I should not become overly emotionally involved with someone who I do not see a future with" and takes away from it "if I become emotionally involved with someone, I should marry them" then they've gone far above and beyond what's actually written in the book. I would also say someone has an "obsession with 'sexual purity'" if they say they'd never marry someone who wasn't a virgin, which is not Harris's message at all. His wife was not a virgin when they started dating, and he talks about how to have an honest conversation about that. He does consider sex before marriage as a sin, but his emphasis is on how we're all sinners and your judgment isn't better than God's, so you need to forgive and let go. His advice to never, ever hold your spouse's past sin (of any kind) over their head, no matter how angry you get at them in the future, was something that has helped me to be a better spouse on multiple occasions.

      I don't agree with Harris on everything, but if people bring damaging messages about relationships to the text and conclude that those messages are reinforced by the text, I don't think that's the same as claiming that Harris originates and proclaims those damaging messages himself, which would imply that anyone picking up this book would take those same message away.

    2. It's been a VERY long time since I looked at any of that, but perhaps he toned things down in Boy Meets Girl.

      I Kissed Dating Goodbye could be taken very legalistically and Harris himself was disappointed in how it was received.

      Google showed me an article from the time and the culture that illustrates some of the problems with the book.


      Books rarely stand on their own, but are seen through cultural lenses. You read the same words, but your lens gave them a very different meaning than it had for others.

    3. The article points to the problem Emily was describing above -- if you read Joshua Harris's books, or anyone's books for that matter, thinking that they're the divine word of God and you just have to follow them to the letter and you'll immediately find eternal happiness... then that's a problem. But is that a problem with the book/author, or with the reader and/or culture? I completely understand if people want to point to what Harris actually says and explains why it's problematic, but I take issue with people who bash on him for larger messages in evangelical culture that he never actually says and may even challenge.

      In college I took an English class on the Beatles in Film and Literature, and we got in a particularly spirited debate with the professor one day after he gave us the text of "We Can Work It Out" and asked us to analyze it as a piece of literature. Our class argued that the text by itself actually was a pretty healthy approach to a relationship, whereas our professor said that it was a message of patriarchal oppression because it was sung by a group of men in the 1960s, even though he couldn't point to any actual evidence of that in the lyrics themselves. His argument was basically that because the Beatles were men in the 1960s, it didn't matter what they sang, their songs were evidence of patriarchal themes, which seemed -- and still seems -- pretty ridiculous to me. I see a lot of the conversation around Joshua Harris making the same kinds of arguments; i.e., because he is an evangelical Christian writing about relationships and being read by evangelical Christians who already have lots of unhealthy ideas about relationships, his advice (regardless of what it actually says) is unhealthy and wrong and no one should read it. As someone who found a lot of value in his books, I take issue with that kind of stance.

  6. I appreciate hearing this. I read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", along with "Authentic Beauty", "When Dreams Come True", and "When God Writes Your Love Story". Also "Passion & Purity" of COURSE. :)

    I have come to realize that the Ludy's way of thinking ended up being incredibly damaging to my relationship with God, but I do not remember Harris having the same impact on me. What I took from him was incredibly practical, as far as I can remember. Kind of like you mentioned. Now I'm thinking I should pick up "Boy Meets Girl"!

    1. I do think you need to be willing to take a critical eye to Harris's books (as with anything you read that gives you advice about life) and not, as Emily mentioned above, think that because he's a Christian author he is somehow speaking divine truth. But if you can do that, then I think there's a lot of practical advice to be gained from Boy Meets Girl.

  7. Oh man... This brings back memories. Forgive me, this might be long (then again, I'm not sure why I'm apologizing for that pre-emptively... Everyone's comments have been long). I read all of his books many years ago in between the ages of 17 and 20.

    Short version of my spiritual/family background which brings forth a lot of context on why I reacted the way I did to his books... I did not grow up in a church-going Christian family and my relationship with my parents was cordial but I have never felt a close emotional bond to them. I started sexually experimenting and lost my virginity at 16 and "found Jesus" and started attending church at 17... and the motif that emerged in my late teens and first two years of my twenties was pretty much everyone having their nose in my business in regards to the bedroom.

    The first two books loaned to me after the Bible were Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl and I was told by my peers to "Read what he says and live by it," but the books didn't really resonate with me at all... In fact, they caused me to shame spiral because I felt like they had set forth a lofty ideal which I could not attain because one, I'd already done just about everything "wrong" and two, since the courtship model did include soliciting the opinions of your support system (and in particular the elders of your support system, whoever they were) I felt very discouraged because at that point in my life... I didn't feel I even had a support system... I didn't feel comfortable speaking to my parents about such matters and I was new to church and didn't really know anybody who wasn't my own age.

    I don't have any strong memories of the third book... However, when I bought the third book, I wrote a blog post justifying the purchase which incidentally got re-posted by Harris on his PR blog for the book, I did some googling and dug it up... I wrote this about a month after my 20th birthday: http://josharrisweblog.blogspot.com/2004/02/this-blog-about-book-was-encouraging.html

    I'd be curious to go back and read all three and see what I get out of them now. I've been among the unchurched not-so-Christian-but-still-semi-observant-of-particular-concepts-therein for about 7 years now and my views about how I feel about how others view me and about my past choices have vastly matured. I suspect I might get something different.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for taking the time to share your story here. That would totally be unhelpful to have someone give you his books and essentially say, "Here's how to be a Christian." The blog post you wrote is really interesting, and seems to be similar to a lot of what I've been saying here in comments: "My criticism of the books have little to do with the books themselves, rather my criticism has to do with the way many people react to the books.... So, it wasn’t Joshua Harris. It was other people reading them and it was me." I'm sorry you had such a bad experience (just in general, not because of how it affected your opinion of Joshua Harris), and I do imagine you'd get something different from the books now. I definitely see them differently, and more critically, now than when I first read them, but I don't think that negates the value I did get from them at the time, and maybe you can now find what is helpful in them when you're not thinking you have to live out every word.

  8. This is so, so great Jessica. And it's uncanny how similar we are, even down to both marrying Mikes!

    1. Next time I go back to Chicago, we need to get lunch or something :)


Your thoughts matter, so join in the conversation! Disagreements are welcome, but please stay respectful and open-minded with your comments.

I reply to almost all comments, so check back here soon!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...