REVIEW: Joshua Harris” new film explores flaws in “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”

I was a single, 20-something seminary student in the early 2000s when Joshua Harris’ bestselling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was still popular.

The book had its critics, but I found its core message refreshing. It questioned the motives and goals of the traditional dating model. It even encouraged single men and women to stop dating. Instead, they would “court.” Yes, “courting” was dating by another name, but courting had a different goal. The goal was marriage.

The result: Men and women would no longer hop from one relationship to the next, simply for fun. The big bag of broken relationships would be a thing of the past. Singles would find their fulfillment in Christ, and in time, He would introduce them to their future spouse.    

Of course, I Kissed Dating Goodbye also encouraged abstinence. It even urged singles to save their first kiss for the wedding.

I had seen multitudes of college friends enter and exit unhealthy dating relationships. Thus, it was easy for me to embrace the message of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, even if I didn’t agree with everything Harris said. Harris—I believed then and now—promoted a model that was spiritually and emotionally healthier for the single person.  

Within two years of reading Harris’ book, I found my future wife.

Harris’ story was similar. Shortly after the book was published, he was married.

But not everyone’s interaction with I Kissed Dating Goodbye had a happy ending. Harris discovered as much in recent years when he moved his family to Vancouver, B.C., so he could become a graduate student at Regent College. Students who had read his book had mixed reactions. Some loved it. Others, though, hated its message. A few even said it had caused them pain.

A new documentary, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, follows Harris as he interviews fans and critics of the book—most of them via Skype. He also travels around North America to interview Christian and mainstream experts on relationships.

In the end, Harris concludes that his book missed the mark on a few key points. The documentary is streaming for free on Amazon Prime. A DVD copy can be purchased, too.

“There were ways that I added to God’s Word that really didn’t help people and actually hindered people and hurt people,” Harris says.

Among his regrets: the book’s overemphasis on virginity. Harris still believes in abstinence, but he thinks the book devalued the worth of people who aren’t virgins. The message became one of “do I have this badge and this identity of being a virgin?” instead of the person being in a “relationship to God who loves and relates to sinners and shows grace to sinners,” Harris says.

“I’m seeing how the focus of the purity movement overshadowed the Bible’s central message of grace,” he says in the documentary.

Harris also believes the book overvalued the importance of sex in the married Christian’s life. By extension, that gave singles unrealistic expectations about their future spouse. Dale S. Kuehne, a professor at Saint Anselm College and the author of Sex and the iWorld, tells Harris that prior to the sexual revolution, society didn’t believe sex was the key to fulfillment. Instead, it was romance.

The sexual revolution impacted the church, Kuehne says.  

“We were advocating saving sex for marriage,” Harris says, “but we had bought into the idea that sex was essential for fulfillment and happiness, and so the implication for Christians is that marriage is also essential for fulfillment and happiness.”

Harris interviews several critics of the book who say courtship places too much pressure on the relationship between single males and females — whether or not they are courting. A mere casual conversation, these critics say, could give the wrong impression to a member of the opposite sex. Churches and parents made the situation worse by adding rules that weren’t found in Harris’ book.

“My book hurt people. My book helped people,” Harris says. “The tension of both of those things being true … reflects the complexity of reality. My thinking has changed since I wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think that its premise is flawed. I don’t agree with a lot of my own book.”

Harris isn’t abandoning Christianity or Christian ethics. He says he’s simply rejecting rules not found in Scripture.

I remain a fan of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Its core message about singleness and sexuality is closer to Scripture’s teachings on relationships than anything the world offers.

Still, it had its flaws, as Harris discovered.

We should listen.

Content warnings: The documentary contains no language, although it does contain non-graphic discussion about sex. One scene at a nightclub shows a performer throwing condoms to the crowd.

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

TEXAN Correspondent
Michael Foust
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