Josh Harris Makes Good

Josh Harris Makes Good October 23, 2018

Ever since Josh Harris announced that he was questioning the beliefs he taught in I Kissed Dating Goodbye—a book that uses scare tactics to urge Christian teens and young adults away from dating out of fear of “giving their hearts away” and thus never being whole for marriage—I have been asking why he hasn’t pulled the book from publication. I actually have a post draft that I never finished titled “True integrity means valuing people over profit.” Harris’ name is front and center.

Beyond his not pulling his book, I found Harris’ comments about a documentary project he is participating in frustratingly vague. He has also engaged in a great deal of both sides rhetoric, emphasizing that even as some people say they’ve been hurt by his book, others say they’ve been helped by it. While I found his enrollment in seminary admirable—he’d been pastoring churches with no formal pastoral training, something he later stated was a mistake—I, like others, worried that his comments about his book—and his documentary project—were more about garnering attention than about making good.

Well, he has finally done it. He has made good—or at least, he has taken a real and substantive step toward doing so.

While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner. I recommend books like Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Henry Cloud and True Love Dates by Debra Fileta, which encourage healthy dating.

There are other weaknesses too: in an effort to set a high standard, the book emphasized practices (not dating, not kissing before marriage) and concepts (giving your heart away) that are not in the Bible. In trying to warn people of the potential pitfalls of dating, it instilled fear for some—fear of making mistakes or having their heart broken. The book also gave some the impression that a certain methodology of relationships would deliver a happy ever-after ending—a great marriage, a great sex life—even though this is not promised by scripture.

In these paragraphs, Harris is far more direct—and specific—than he has been in the past. He states outright that he no longer things dating should be avoided. He admits that he completely made up the concept of giving your heart away, with no basis in scripture or anywhere else. These direct admissions are huge.

Critics of I Kissed Dating Goodbye can now state directly that Josh Harris thinks dating “can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.” That latter part is huge, because it means that Josh Harris no longer believes that dating someone and then breaking up with them means losing a piece of your heart irreconcilably, which was one of the most damaging things readers took away from his book.

Josh Harris, the man who kissed dating goodbye, now approaches dating as something that is good and healthy. You may be wondering why I’m emphasizing this, given that Harris has already been publicly questioning the beliefs he taught in I Kissed Dating Goodbye for two years. It’s because even as he did so, he did not state outright what he was questioning. “I’m reevaluating,” he said. “Some people misunderstood my book,” he said. “That was not my intention,” he said.

Unless I’ve missed something—and I don’t think I have—this statement is the first time Harris has said outright that he no longer believes that dating should be avoided. It is also the first time he has put out a statement like this without arguing that people misunderstood his book, or that other people used his book to hurt people. He has finally stopped blame shifting.

To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry. I never intended to hurt you. I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God.

There’s a whole lot of “I” going on here—and that’s good. Harris appears to be serious about taking responsibility. The blame shifting is gone. He has dispensed with his earlier suggestions that people may have misunderstood his work, or that these misunderstandings caused harm. Instead, he is apologizing directly for what he wrote, and the harm he caused.

And to those of you who benefitted from my book, I am so grateful that something I wrote helped you. The fact that a flawed man could write a flawed book and somehow that could help some people is amazing to me. But, to borrow an analogy from the automotive industry, if a car serves some people but a flaw in its design causes damage to others, good intentions by the carmaker and even the endorsement of other customers don’t override the problem.

There is something here that Harris does not address: Those saying they benefited from his book may be saying so because they falsely believe that dating involves giving away pieces of your heart that you will never give back, or that kissing before marriage is damaging and should be avoided. Inasmuch as Harris’ book ensured that they did not date, or ensured that they did not kiss before the wedding, then, they believe it helped them. But this belief is built on a mistaken foundation.

At some point, Harris may need to address this.

I cannot recall all the copies of my book that have been published. However, my public critique in written and documentary form, and the numerous media interviews I’ve done in the past two years, are my attempt to both apologize and spread the word of about the problems I see in it.

In light of the flaws I now see in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I think it’s best to discontinue its publication, as well other supplemental resources tied to it (this includes the two books I wrote after it whose content is similar). My publisher, whose encouragement in this process has been deeply meaningful to me, supports this decision and will not reprint the books after the current copies in their inventory are sold.

This is huge.

While there will be used copies of I Kissed Dating Goodbye in circulation perhaps forever, there will no longer be new copies printed. Pulling the book from publication in this way means that Harris is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s also making a statement: Individuals who go to buy a copy to give to a teen in their lives will hopefully notice that it is no longer in print and wonder why, leading them to learn of Harris’ effective retraction—and perhaps to reconsider. In addition, being out of print, it will no longer be sold in Christian bookstores, where it has had a ubiquitous presence for two decades.

Several years back I found my teenage journal. I was surprised to find that I actually wrote about the first time Josh Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, in this diary. I was fourteen. I wrote that Harris’ book had made me realize that having crushes was wrong, sinful, and dangerous, and that I needed to stop thinking about boys. As far as I’m concerned, every fourteen-year-old who doesn’t have to go through the years of anxiety and self-hate that followed this take-away is a victory.

Good on Josh Harris. Well done.

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