Joshua Harris, Purity Culture, and the Danger of One, Defining Narrative


A couple of weeks ago, a friend from high school youth group sent me Ruth Graham’s excellent article in Slate Magazine. “I’m sure I’m not the only person who is going to send this to you,” she wrote. “But I thought you would be interested.”

The article, of course, is about Joshua Harris – the bestselling author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, that troubling, formational text for so many of us who grew up in the 90’s evangelical culture. According to the article, Harris has been recently “re-evaluating the book’s impact,” and soliciting stories from readers – both the good and the heartbreakingly bad – on his website.

“Part of the reason this has been so hard for me is that I have so much of my identity tied up in these books. It’s what I’m known for,” Harris tells Graham. “It’s like, well, crap, is the biggest thing I’ve done in my life this really huge mistake?”

I’ve been thinking about that article, that quote from Harris, for weeks now.

I’ve been turning it over in my mind as my family has transitioned, from summer to fall, to schooldays and bus rides. To the newness of being alone in the house with time and space to work.

I haven’t thought about I Kissed Dating Goodbye in a long time. Though it deeply affected me as a teen, writing about that experience in my first memoir seemed to lessen the power of it for me in ways that were both healing and quieting.

But now, as I’m newly without small children and thinking about what my next writing work might be, I’m haunted by that book. Not the content itself anymore…but the fact that someone who was clearly trying to be true to their faith perspective and obedient to their calling – someone who truly and deeply loved God – could write a book that detonated like a landmine and caused so much harm to an entire generation.

As a writer who finds herself dealing with matters of faith, this is absolutely terrifying to me.

Joshua Harris was only 21 when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which released in 1997. The oldest of seven children, he’d been homeschooled his entire life.

From what I can tell, Harris would have been launching into young adulthood right around the time Purity Culture took off. DC Talk’s album Free at Last, which contained the song “I Don’t Want It [Sex For Now]” released in 1992, when Harris was 18. (Seriously.)

The True Love Waits movement started a few months later with its abstinence-until-marriage pledge cards and its purity rings, and the first year 102,000 teens signed the pledge across denominations. Even Evangelical powerhouse Josh McDowell, got in on the conversation, releasing a popular book called Why Wait?: What You Need to Know About the Teen Sexuality Crisis, which was meant to alert parents to the dangers of teen sex. I’m guessing it didn’t take much. After all, the 90s weren’t all that far removed from the terrifying outbreak of AIDS in the early 80s. We were all still so afraid.

In short, the evangelical culture was a powder keg of fear about sex and enthusiasm for sexual purity.

And then some handsome 20-something came up with a way to rebrand dating to better aid in the pursuit of abstinence and wrote a book.

Just one book.

Just a little spark of an idea.

And the whole damn thing exploded.


I had an on-and-off high school boyfriend whose faith journey deeply impacted to my own. He loved I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He used it, more than once, to break up with me, and so in that way, it left deep, red mark on my soul that has never entirely gone away.

But while I was completely devoted to abstinence itself, Harris’ whole “courtship” thing always rang a little off-key to me. After that boyfriend moved on, I went on to date – and kiss – a few different fellows without regret or crippling emotional anxiety.

Higher up on the list of kind-of-destructive-high-school reading for me was, ironically, the pastel-colored Christian teen romance series, Christy Miller. While these books didn’t parrot Harris’ language – no one was courting anyone on Newport Beach – the basic message was the same.

Here was a group of characters who called themselves God Lovers, who saved themselves – some of them even saving their first kiss – until marriage, who never seemed to doubt God’s presence or love or providence. And why would they? Every miracle they hoped for came to be…though never quite in the way they expected, and always in God’s perfect time. They, all of them, ended up married – young. They, all of them, managed to stay completely sexually pure until then.

It was these maddeningly perfect stories of faith that I read over and over in junior high and high school and even (secretly) in college. It was these books and this Christian Romance Novel kind of faith that fueled my cynicism and pain and anger in really profound and furious ways in my 20s.

And I’ve been thinking about these books and about Joshua Harris and his research project. I’ve been wondering about author intent and also about author responsibility.

Who’s fault is it when a book – particularly a Christian book – causes pain and damage and fallout? Who do we blame here?

The overly passionate 21-year-old homeschooled kid?

The kind-hearted woman, God-Lover mom, drinking her English Breakfast tea and writing books in the early morning that she hopes will be impactful for teen girls?


To be sure, it is a weighty responsibility to set pen to paper, to try to communicate such a difficult, beautiful, complex, imperfect thing as one’s faith journey – especially as it intersects with other deeply important parts of wholeness, like sexuality.

Certainly, as authors, we should approach the page with a sense of humility, with fear and trembling, with the understanding that the things we write there have the potential to move quietly into the hearts of others and shift the landscape there.

And yet, also, we can never be entirely sure that we’re doing it right. Not any of it. Parenting, pastoring, dialoguing, writing. Friendship. Work. Love. Life.

Authors, pastors, anyone speaking into matters of faith are fallible, broken. They are growing – hopefully in a whole-hearted direction – but sometimes not. We have new life experiences. We learn and listen and change. We don’t think the same things that we thought five years ago, let alone when we were twenty-one.

“The book is not you,” my spiritual director made me repeat, like a liturgy, when my second memoir came out, and I was nearly hyperventilating with the vulnerability of it. “The book is not you. The book is not you. The book is not you.”

And it’s not. It’s something I wrote. I would write it differently now, a year later. Differently still in 20 years.

I imagine that Josh Harris would too.


I spent most of my morning reading the stories that people posted on Joshua Harris’ blog. Some of the responders are entirely pissed off. Others are defensive: “Your book is fine! It’s great! I loved it!” Most, though, come off somewhere in the middle, recognizing the damage…but also recognizing that it was greater than just this one particular book.

“I don’t begrudge the book you wrote,” an anonymous reader from the UK wrote. “I just wish I’d read another one.”

This comment struck me, because I felt the same way. I wish I’d read other things. I wish there had been other things to read.

In the Christian bookstore, when I was 14, every bit of fiction for teens was aimed toward this one version of the story. Sexual purity = spiritual purity. There was no deviation. Everything in the store seemed to be a pulsing arrow toward this point, even the wedding magazines and music.

And I think this is what made those books damaging. Not that they existed, but that they were the only thing that did.

Joshua Harris’ method, as kooky as it is, was just one method for approaching dating. But because it was really the only narrative happening in Christian circles and Christian books, it became the method. The defining narrative.

Robin Jones Gunn’s books were just one pastel-colored version of faith, but there was nothing else, so it became the faith story I believed.

But of course, neither of these is the only version, the only method, the only story.

The life of faith is so much bigger and more complicated. Stories of grace are dirty and messy and varied. This is, I think, why the Bible contains such a range of characters and narratives, all of it merging into this big, wide, complex, inclusive story that begins God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

Some wise and lovely people have suggested that pulling Harris’ books from the shelves is the best course of action, and perhaps they’re right. But to me, that seems like a step back in the fight against censorship. I don’t believe that we should ban the “dangerous” ideas in Harris’ books any more than we should ban the “dangerous” curse words in mine.

But what then?


Last year, around this time actually, I ended up having an awkward live radio conversation with Robin Jones Gunn, the author of the Christy Miller series, after an angsty article I wrote about those books went moderately viral. During the conversation, Jones mentioned that she was among the first generation of Christian writers doing books for teens, and that if it doesn’t resonate, we should write our own.

At the time, it sounded dismissive. (It still bums me out a little that she doesn’t seem to “see” this generation of Christian young adults with all their baggage and questions and cynicism…at least not enough to do a series of books where Christy Miller turns into a tired 30-something with a lot of doubt and a thing for cabernet.)

But, also, I think there’s something to it.

Listen: the internet has blown the publishing industry wide open.

The Christian bookstores are a dying beast. They are disappearing, turning into Walgreens and Paneras. The Moral Gatekeepers no longer have the only say over what gets published and what gets read. And there is so much possibility in this, so much beauty, so much hope.

I walked through the YA Lit section of my library the other day. There is so much there. Of course, there are the token vampire books and the voyeuristic, sexy ones. Christy Miller is still there, though now in three hardcover volumes instead of 12 thin paperbacks.

But there are also books that deal with divorce and mental illness and loneliness and suicide and pain and fear and love and sex in healthy, nuanced ways.

There is room for new stories. There is so much room.

There is room for a new generation of writers to write complex and hopeful books about dating and sex and love and faith and adolescence. There is room for new novels, new work around the theme of pursuing a faith life not only as a teenager…but also as an adult.

And while I recognize the importance of sharing our stories in forums like Harris’ blog and in online spaces like Life After IKDG, I hope that we don’t stop there.

I hope we don’t stop at the places where we were wounded. I hope we don’t stop at the anger, at the reflexive response, at the rage.

I hope we move farther.

I hope we write new books. New stories. New songs and plays and movies and shows.

I hope that we write it all.

I hope that this generation who once maybe kissed dating goodbye will expand, expand, expand the bookshelves until they are filled with stories of the grace and doubt and beauty and the hard goodness of this varied life of faith.


47 thoughts on “Joshua Harris, Purity Culture, and the Danger of One, Defining Narrative

  1. I am profoundly glad the Spirit led me to you, your writing, and your heart. You have been a tremendous blessing, Addie. Thank you for your transparency, your honesty, and for honing your writing craft so marvelously. Blessings on your new “quiet time.”

  2. i hope we talk so much more about critical thinking and media literacy, too, and not being afraid of questions. that’s it’s possible to be critical and creative at the same time, to find the good and praise it and to eat the meat and spit out the bones (and to light a few bonfires, too). we can put all these works in conversation with one another, asking ourselves and each other, is this what we believe? is this what we think God is calling us to? which part? what’s missing? what can we learn? to me, what’s most dangerous is the way our enshrined sense of authority keeps our faith small and fearful.

    i don’t think too many folks are stopping at anger, either. just like you gotta clear a garden to grow something new, they’re making room, and that work is bearing fruit, too.

    glad for your perspective in this conversation, addie.

    1. Love this: “it’s possible to be critical and creative.” And yes — stopping at anger was a bad way to say it. I wrote more about that to Bethany below.

  3. Addie, thanks so much for writing this. Both you and Ed Cyzewski have written about the Christian publishing industry’s role in this, and I think that aspect of it is so important, because while I think Harris deserves ample critique, I also think it’s necessary to critique the culture and environment that in very real ways created him. And I do think it’s important to have grace for people like Harris and Robin Jones Gunn for being human. I think Christian culture in general has issues with expecting one pastor, one author, one theologian, to represent everyone, when the reality is that they can only share their own perspective. Nuanced, divorce stories, will indeed be the balm that heals these wounds.

    But I also just wanted to weigh in as one of the contributors for Life After IKDG, because you brought up a critique of that project that I keep seeing. I’m not trying to single you out, but since you mentioned it, I wanted to dialogue with you here. I wrote my own post for Life After IKDG and I’ve been helping a couple of friends write theirs, and I’ve interacted with several people in the twitter chats. One of the most amazing things to come out of that project was a message from a married couple that led my youth group. They’ve always been a bright spot in my otherwise cynical view of the evangelical culture in which I was raised. They messaged me to say that they read my Life After IKDG post, and that night the two of them talked for hours about what they want to teach their kids on sexuality and relationships. They said they were proud of me, and that they were grateful for the hard work I had done to deconstruct purity culture. They’re in their late 30’s and have four young kids now. If I’m doing the math right, they’re around the same age as you. While they were a lot more progressive and whole-hearted about discussing that stuff than our elders, they were raised with purity culture just like you, so it was all they knew when they were leading my youth group less than a decade later. After I read their message I cried, a lot. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that they read my post and others in the project, and took it to heart. And the thing is, theirs was not the only message I received like that, and they reminded me that the anger and the rage and the deconstruction is healing, necessary work – not just for me personally, but for my community. Knowing that at least half a dozen people read our posts and understood our pain gave me this surge of hope that maybe the next generation of teens will have it better.

    I see this recurring admonition, this wringing of hands, that because we wrote about the pain of IKDG, we can’t move on from it. When the truth is, we’re writing those stories and talking about that pain *so that we can* move from it. These critiques seem to overlook the fact that many of the people who participated in that project are already writing blogs and books that offer the nuance and diversity that we need – Dianna Anderson’s book “Damaged Goods” is a good place to start. Emily Joy is producing spoken word poetry like her album “All Prodigal Daughters & Sons,” which is a brilliant indictment of purity culture and life-giving affirmation for people trying to heal from it. Lola (@seelolago on twitter) leads the No Shame Movement, which creates space for people who grew up in conservative evangelical culture to unlearn purity culture and work toward a healthier sexual ethic. Samantha Fields has dedicated most of her blogging to help people heal from fundamentalist purity culture who have also suffered sexual abuse. Eliel Cruz leads the #faithfullyLGBT community on twitter, which affirms LGBT people of faith, who have their own unique wounds from purity culture. Do you see where I’m going with this? The positive, hopeful, nuanced, diverse work is there. It’s a both/and thing, not an either/or. Anger is a healthier indicator and a motivator, it is a means to an end. So when I see people say “but don’t stop at anger” it’s like someone walking into my kitchen and interrupting my cookie-baking to say “raw egg is bad for you, please make sure you bake that”. That metaphor might need a little work, but I hope you get my point, that anger and deconstruction are necessary parts of healing. We’re not done.

    1. I so appreciate this comment and our discussion on Twitter the other day. I worded that poorly above, and I apologize. You are absolutely right — sites like IKDG are doing such important work, and doing that work makes it possible to move on. I am proud of you. I am amazed by the beauty and rawness of all of these stories and I’m SO GRATEFUL that they are being told.

      I think what I was thinking about when I wrote that was not this healing narrative work that is happening, but the rapid-fire comments that sometimes appear in social media spaces. How easy it is to let rage spiral unproductively, to compare those angry wounds without ever really doing the hard work of writing about them or exploring them in dialogue and relationship with others. But I never should pointed to Life After IKDG, because that is clearly not what’s happening there, or in a lot of these dialogues. Please forgive my careless wording.

      It was also the part of the post where I was beginning to think a lot about BOOKS. I was thinking of bookshelves and series. I was thinking a lot about Christy Miller. And so also, when I was saying “don’t stop at anger,” and “don’t stop at Life After IKDG,” I was thinking about the books, the series, the songs, the art that might occur outside of the internet spaces.

      Dianna Anderson’s book has been on my TBR list for a while, and I can’t wait to read it, and I am so interested to listen to Emily Joy’s album. I love that those things are happening, and I should have pointed them out, because that’s exactly the kind of thing I meant.

      Anyway, sorry again for the careless wording here. I AM so grateful for you and your story and your healing, cleansing anger that is making space for so much to grow.

      1. Thank you, Addie. You’re one of the few published authors that I feel still know how to listen and engage in a healthy way, even when people critique you. It’s been my experience that a lot of fellow bloggers lose this as their platform grows. So thank you for handling our criticisms so graciously. I hope you didn’t feel bombarded. I will reiterate that the majority of this post is rich with insight and I agree with you, and I’m so thankful that you weighed in on this topic. Be well, friend.

  4. Well said, as always, Addie.

    You know what word I always think of when I think of your writing? Gentleness. Your words come from a soft and compassionate heart that has been through rough places. You are a gentle, caring writer. Especially in your Q & A columns….you respond so gently to the doubting reader. Thank you and keep up the beautiful work.

  5. Over the last few weeks I’ve been asking people about their experiences of Christian teaching about relationships and how these helped or hindered their own real life experiences, for a book on how to navigate healthy ways through. While I’m looking at a much broader range than the ‘purity’ teaching that is still causing shockwaves, this area has come up a lot. In less than three months I’ve had over 1000 responses to an in-depth survey (here if of interest and the honesty and depth of what people have shared does suggest we are in a time when people desperately need to process what they were taught. I’ve been struck by how many authors of existing books are absolutely sure God told them to write words that now seem so harmful. As you say, that certainty is scary – or should be. Thanks for speaking up about it.

    1. I love this project that you’re doing, Vicky, and the way you are making space for people to process. Very cool. Thanks for sharing about it here.

  6. This was a great article. Both my wife and I just missed the impact of this book by a year or two. But we were certainly deeply involved in everything that led up to it. What I take away from that era in that type of Christianity, was that it/we were defining ourselves as a separate culture, and that definition was both fluid and mounting. It was almost a one-upmanship of sincerity, following in the spiritual challenge of Keith Green type leadership.

    One way of thinking about it is to make it comparable to our chickens. 🙂 We used to keep them in their pen and they were fine. One night, Jen said that she thought that we should close the door on their coop and latch it at night to keep them safe. So we started, and now we can’t stop. I have no idea if they would get killed if we left their little door open, but I can’t leave it open because it will be my fault if the die.

    Christianity was like this… mounting and changing and if you fell away, or cause others to stumble, it was a serious offence, punished by being “spewed” out of the mouth of God. The stakes continued to get higher as people tried to prove their piety/purity. The result was an impossible challenge of absurd, and although very sincere, completely made up codes of conduct that pronounced your dedication to a God that demanded it. This all in our formative years of angst and hormones.

    It is no wonder at all that a powerfully stringent book came out, set an impossible standard, and then damaged everyone that couldn’t keep it. (As well as, and counter-intuitively more damaging in my opinion, those that did) We believed we were separate (that is the meaning of the word “Holy after all) and that we should not conform to the standards of the world. So we piggybacked on each other and made a giant tower of threshold demands that was bound to fall down and damage everyone along the way. Honestly, I am so thankful that it fell and don’t miss the culture of Christian Bookstores in any way.

  7. Wonderful, as always. Thank you for your nuanced, balanced perspective on this issue. Kind of makes me want to try my hand at fiction again, which is a terrifying idea, but you never know. 😉

  8. Addie,

    Thank you so much for this. I never read IKDG, but I heard a lot about it growing up, and even as a teenager. I’d first read about it in another teen Christian series that’s similar to Christy Miller, and then one of my youth group leaders recommended it to me. Something about it seemed weird to me, but that’s not to say I wasn’t exposed to purity culture. I experienced several now-weird sex talks from my church and read plenty of Christian romance books that had purity undertones. I never had a purity ring or signed a pledge, but I always wondered if I was dating the “wrong” way, especially in high school.

    I used to be afraid of dating Christian men because I thought they wouldn’t want to hold my hand or kiss me. I thought the relationship would be all about avoiding sex as opposed to getting to know each other and deepening our faith because of that. I’m trying to let go of that fear because I know I need to be with a man who loves Jesus. But I can’t help but think there are a lot of guys out there who have been severely effected by purity culture (along with women); if I meet a guy who’s still recovering from that culture, how do I support him?


    1. That is a great question, Alyx, and one I’m not sure I know the answer to. I think giving one another a safe space to be honest is always a great place to start though, and I can already tell that you’re good at that. 🙂

  9. So much yes, Addie. So much this. I also have had to wrestle with purity culture and its effect on me – not only IKDG but the damaging attitudes around sex, purity, womanhood – all of it. And there IS room for new stories (good, hard, nuanced ones). So much room. Thank you.

  10. I grew up in the same kind of evangelical household. Somehow in highschool I started dating a very attractive older girl from a non-christian family. Still not sure how that happened. One day she invited me to join her family at a local water park, she would meet me at the front gate with my wristband. As my mom drove me up, there was my girlfriend, looking stunning in a bikini. I forget exactly what my mom said, but it was not a positive comment. It was something about immodesty. As a boy I was used to following my parent’s lead about the world and what to believe, but at that moment, something changed. See, I was blown away by the sight of that beautiful girl in that bikini, but there were two very different reactions happening in my head. One was the typical reaction that you would expect of a 15 year old boy – the horny drooling reaction. But the other was quite different, and I had never experience a reaction like that before: it was a pure appreciation of beauty. And not just beauty in the abstract, but the very specific beauty that was being expressed by her sexuality. I think I might have been getting just a peek into how God originally viewed human sexuality: as a beautiful thing that is good. I wouldn’t have thought of it then, but today I might compare that moment to Peter’s vision when the animals came down from heaven on the sheet, and while my mom may have been rejecting what we were looking at as impure and immodest, I was hearing God say “do not call impure that which I have created.” It was the start of being able to recognise and appreciate the beauty of sexuality, rather than simply being afraid of it as the evangelical purity culture inculcated.
    That moment stuck with me, slowly affecting my thinking and worldview. By the time IKDG came out, I was in bible college. I hadn’t heard much about the book except that it was the latest greatest thing and that everyone was reading it. I fancied myself a youth-pastor-in-training at the time, so I ordered a copy from the college bookstore. The day the order arrived, I was accosted in the hallway by one of the most attractive girls in the college. “The bookstore has one copy of IKDG, the copy you ordered in. I *NEED* to read that book, I can’t wait for them to order a copy in for me, will you please let me by your copy today?” Wanting to be nice, and not realising how much the other guys in the college would soon hate me for it, I agreed. Shortly thereafter she shaved her hair short, started wearing baggy trackpants and sweaters everywhere, and announced she had kissed dating goodbye. Not sure whatever happened to her. Surprised by that, I went and finally got a copy of the book and read it. Had I read it earlier in life, I likely would have fallen for it, but at that point in my life, when I read joshua harris all I heard was my mother condemning that bikini all those years before. And I rejected that. A lot of his arguments still made sense to my still-evangelical brain, but I just couldn’t accept his conclusion, because it seemed to demand rejecting – or at least being scared of – something that I saw as wonderful and beautiful in its own right – not in terms of some future great future day, but beautiful now. I’m not saying I advocated young people hop in the sack all over the place, I just meant that I realised that your sexuality is a part of your person, like all the other parts of you, and it should be appreciated, explored, and understood just like any other part of you. Even if we conduct that exploration under some moral limitations, that is still a whole lot different than what Harris seemed to be advocating, which was to lock that part of yourself away in some back room somewhere, lock the door, and pretend that it doesn’t exist until the day you walk down the aisle.
    Anyway, all that to say I think I was saved from IKDG because of an experience I had when I was 15 – an experience of the world out in the world. And that I think was the key. Christians are famously called to be in the world but not of it. But still in it, yes? Yet the chief effect of the evangelical subculture was isolation and separation from that world. We were anything but in it. And not being in it, we didn’t have those experiences in it. And that’s how we missed so much of what God was trying to say to us.

  11. I’d like to comment on one thought in your post: the responsibility of writing. So we know that “we all make many mistakes”, but if fear of errors is to hold us back we are guaranteed never to write anything, ever. And that would be burying our talents in a field and bringing them profitless back to our Lord. On the other hand we are also going to make some right steps and do some right things too, and these things can bless people for hundreds and hundreds of years! Just think of Julian of Norwich, who wrote “Revelations of Divine Love” at the end of the 1300s, or Thomas Brooks in the 1650s. Both she and he have inspired and helped people right up to our day.

    And God has called us to fulfill His purposes, so we have to be bold and go ahead, yet weigh out our productions with people we can trust to bring constructive counter-balances to our assertions.

    As to IKDG etc, we heard about the purity movement over here in Norway, and it encouraged young Christians to stand up for their principles with their heads held high. It clearly touched a social need to hit back at the “sleep-around-if-you-want-to-be-normal” popular culture that has dominated Euro-American culture ever since the end of the First World War and been used to undermine healthy sexuality and denigrate Christian self-confidence all the way along. So in a larger context than merely Evangelical Christian circles the purity movement was in itself a counter blast to a very one-sided media environment. It was not really Joshua Harris’ fault that nobody was wise enough at the time to bring balance, or that Christian circles are given over to fads and phases.

    1. Yes. I think that absence of balance was the biggest problem. IKDG was such an extreme response, and it was used by the Christian culture at large in such legalistic and shame-inducing ways. But you’re right — I don’t think that was necessarily Harris’ fault.

      May we be wise enough and grace-filled enough to be people who bring balance and honor the gray areas.

  12. Does pointing out that Joshua Harris was only 21 and homeschooled his entire life become an excuse? hm. That seems irrelevant.

    1. I think that with life experience comes wisdom. And having been home-schooled his entire life means that his worldview was restricted to what his parents taught him. I don’t think it’s an excuse, but I do think it informs the book that he wrote.

  13. Really? And you were saying……what?
    Trying to be gentle here, but I just invested several minutes on your article and I feel a little disappointed.
    So…are you a Christion or not? The overall tone of your article points to much bitterness, and lots of other negativety. And….yes, I’m offended by your lack of vocabulary skills. Reverting to foul words….if you’re a writer shouldn’t you be able to express yourself without using curse words?
    Content ? Context?
    So, you didn’t like a book because….?
    Seems your trying to say something more than what your saying ….which is really exhausting.
    Let me just say…..if you’re a Christian….go to the Bible. Test every lofty argument with the Word of God.
    2 Cor 10:5.
    No error there.

  14. I’m a mom who is trying to wade through these waters after growing up in the 60’s and 70’s culture of the sexual revolution. In our home, we did the purity ring/discussion but the bottom line for us is continual discussions. At 13, a teen may quickly, on their own, draw the line at no kissing, but teens grow and change and these discussions need to be continually revisited. We want the discussions and them to know that they need to pray with a constant question of what is the Holy Spirit telling them, personally. Which is more difficult than picking up someone else’s convictions and lists and making it their own. But legalism has only wounded. In my opinion, IKDG is a Christisn man’s personal experience. It became a problem when Christians took what the Holy Spirit spoke to this young man and claimed it as a message to all. That is a problem in our culture across the board. Very few read these books and go on to the next step of reading the Bible and praying to find out what the Holy Spirit’s leading is for them, personally. That’s our ongoing discussion at our house. Today, in this moment what is the wisdom the Lord is giving you? Are you following Josh Harris or are you following the plan God has for you? Maybe it isn’t saving your first kiss, but the Bible is clear on what does need to be saved. (Just as it is clear on gossip and a multitude of other things) And quite frankly grace, mercy, love and forgiveness covers a lot. As a mom, I hope I can in some way help to steer to avoid the pain of wrong decisions but ultimately I want my children to rely on the Lord for guidance and wisdom…not a book or a common theme in the culture. There is no greater joy than seeing your kids seeking God’s plan for themselves even (especially) if it sparks discussions counter to what the parents may have “thought” was best. I surely trust Him over me.

    1. Love this reply Dee and the way you’re parenting your kids. Thanks for sharing here.

  15. I don’t mean to belittle what you or others felt through all this but it sounds like everyone is just trying to find someone to blame for those feelings. IKDG might have been the only option at the time but the reality is that the Bible was there too and it has not changed. The same way that Harris came to the conclusion that courtship was right for him is how we should all be approaching it first. We need to really KNOW the Word of God. We need to ask God his will for our lives in things like dating. We need to be raising a generation that seeks Him first and we need to be doing the same so we can guide our kids through dating years in a way that his helpful and encouraging. I believe that my mom, who ran away from home at 15, didn’t know how to teach me through those years but she wanted so much better for me. As a result when this book came out, she pounced! I too have mixed feelings about everything I read, the ways it convicted me, and the ways it impacted my dating life. I know, though, mom was on her knees and her prayer for me had the biggest impact on my relationships. I was pure at my wedding day and so was my husband and I do believe that had at least a little to do with the book so for that, I am grateful. We as a society have got to stop putting so much value on the opinions of other human beings – no matter how spiritual! All these books can be insightful and encouraging but ultimately, they are still just the wisdom of man. No, we cannot blame Harris for some “explosion” any more than we can blame E.L. James (50 Shades) for making raunchy unmarried sex so acceptable. And like you said, if you don’t like the options, write your own. Many other books were likely written as a result and might otherwise never have been written without the presence of IKDG. Ultimately “one defining narrative” is exactly what we need – just not from man.

    1. “Ultimately “one defining narrative” is exactly what we need – just not from man.” — This is good. I would agree. And yet, I think that having lots and lots of stories about how that defining narrative can be lived out is one way that we can help each other navigate through this difficult, lovely faith life. Thanks for commenting Bek!

    2. Bek, well stated, I wrote some things similar to what you wrote, but not as eloquently. I’m but a farmer and photographer and Biblical Christian, having been saved out of the Occult New Age movement. The tone of this article is very akin to the tone of those who believe we need to reach out to the East and dialogue with Hinduism, Buddhism, and “desert fathers mysticism”, and to that I say, “rubbish.” If one narrative happens to concur with Biblical wisdom about purity, so be it. I don’t need many messiahs, like I used to have, just One…

  16. Makes me wonder….if we create an atmosphere of faith that realizes a cookie cutter method us NOT the way to holiness (in any aspect of the Christian walk from birth to death) we, nor our children will hop on any exclusive trains (yes, following the Savior is exclusive) to train wreck alley by way of individual leaders of any sort. Setting our eyes on Christ, while being well versed in ALL of Scripture in its entirety, and being open to discussions on the questions of people’s hearts lends itself well to wrestling to find answered that the holy spirit gives 🙂 Everyone will make foolish mistakes, misguided choices and take wrong roads in life, to some degree or another and “following” a method or movement or person may have less impact if we … chew the fish and spit out the bones instead of swallowing the while fish 🙂

  17. The biggest problem I have with the majority of the Christian mindset is that they don’t like to think for themselves. They want someone else to do the thinking and then to just follow the instructions. No where in the Bible did it say becoming a Christian meant that you were going to have an easy life. That you were going to instantly find that guy or girl you were going to spend the rest of your life with. I have only read part of Harris’s book and most of this article. I don’t think we need to sit on the couch next to our kids while they date. But I also think that group dates are great, I think that there is plenty we can find out about one another without giving into every desire. We really need to open our eyes, use the minds that the good Lord gave us and do what He says instead of what we want. It can help us to not ruin our lives or make big mistakes. But we also need to understand that even when we do screw up God is there to forgive and we can go to Him with open arms. Sex is a very beautiful thing we should not be ashamed of, but it is meant for the married, it is meant as a special covenant between two people. We shouldn’t be ashamed of talking about sex with our kids or about our relationships but we must also be careful what we share and to not gossip.

  18. Did I miss something? What exactly was so “damaging” and “hurtful” about IKDG? Also, growing up is hurtful, regardless of what we read, etc. When it comes to anything in life, whenever people are vaguely critical of something, I always ask, and what do you propose as an alternative? If the alternative is better, then go with that. Because purity is very difficult in today’s culture, are we supposed to by cynical about it because so few of us obtain a close approximation to it? Confused by your article, please clarify. Or teach me how to read English better. Thanks!

  19. Also, if you are haunted by that book, I would hope you would be traumatized and devastated by Harry Potter, J. RRRRRR Tolkien books, C. S. Lewis, and a host of other Occult books. Having been delivered out of the New Age Occult culture, those are the things that I’m haunted by, not by a young man sharing his ideas about how to best obtain purity of heart and mind, regardless of how imperfectly he might have expressed those ideas…

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