I’m truly thankful to be sharing my space at TrueLoveDates.com with Joshua Harris today. But I’ll be honest, it’s a little surreal for me. It feels like just yesterday I was that 16-year-old girl, sitting under a tree at Creation Fest East, listening to him share about his best-selling book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It swept the nation like wildfire and totally changed the dating culture within the Church. Fast forward a couple decades, and here we are today, taking a second look at how his book impacted the dating scene – in both good ways, and not so good ways.
While my message of True Love Dates offers a different approach to dating than Joshua’s IKDG, what we have most in common is that we both believe in the importance and significance of this on-going conversation about love and dating within the Church. I’ve been so impressed by his heart and humility displayed through the process of the documentary he’s working on. If you haven’t heard about it, please read on.
I’m honored to have him here, sharing his heart and giving you a glimpse of what God is up to! We would love your feedback in the comments below! — Debra Fileta
When I was 21, I wrote a book offering suggestions to Christians on a more intentional way to approach relationships and romance. It was called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” When it first came out in 1997, a lot of people read it.
A lot of readers liked it. And many others thought it was terrible — and told me so. For a long time I ignored the voices of those who didn’t appreciate my book or its ideas on relationships. It was easy to label the critics “haters” and bask in the warmth of those who found my book helpful. But twenty years later, I regret that I failed to carefully engage with criticisms of my book. So why am I doing it now? There are many factors but three reasons stand out.
1. I started listening to hurting people in my own church.
About six years ago when I was still a pastor I was sitting in my living room with members of my church who had come to talk about weaknesses in our church’s leadership and culture. The gathering came about following a sermon I had preached from 1 Peter 5:3 that says pastors are not to “Lord over” or be “domineering” towards the people in the congregation. As I concluded the message I said, “If there are ways that the leadership of your pastors has been unhelpful I want to hear from you.” Wonderfully, people responded. So we held a series of meetings in my house where people could gather together and tell their stories.
As I listened to those stories I began to see a new side of church life. Ever since I had come to the church I had been a leader of one kind or another. I was the one speaking. I was the author of books. I was an advocate of the church and our values. But as I sat there listening I realized how different the experience of the average person could be. I heard how values could be applied in graceless ways. I heard about people feeling rejected if they didn’t measure up. I heard about people who felt like the only way to be accepted by God was to do the things the church culture seemed to demand and live up to a standard that the “good families” set. I heard about ways that we leaders hadn’t listened to those who disagreed with us. And I knew it was true because I saw that mindset in my own life.
My eyes were opened to the fact that in a church culture even well-intentioned practices and godly values can be applied in a way that deeply hurt people. That was the beginning of a dawning realization that my own book could contribute to this kind of unhealthy culture in a family or in a church community.
2. I became a student.
Two years ago I stepped down from being a pastor to attend a graduate school of theology (it’s a long story and I talk more about it here). Stepping away from being “the leader with answers” to being “a student with questions” gave me a willingness to engage with new perspectives—even those that made me uncomfortable. Studying church history helped me see that every generation of Christians has blind spots and makes mistakes. Why should we be surprised that we will need to reevaluate? Then fellow students began to graciously share ways my writing had negatively affected their approach to relationships. They weren’t just faceless people on the internet, they were my friends. Listening to their stories gave me the courage to invite others to honestly share their experiences with my book.
One conversation with a fellow student was with a woman named Jessica Van Der Wyngaard. During a dinner with other students who’d worked together on a professor’s film, I asked her what the dating scene was like at our school. Unbeknownst to me, Jessica had read my book as a teen, passionately championed its ideas but then had experienced painful disillusionment with its ideals (you can read Jessica’s story here). She had a vision to create a documentary to talk about the real experiences and challenges faced by Christian singles. When I told her about my journey of reevaluating my own book we began a discussion that eventually led to a documentary film project called I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye (You can learn more about this project here).
3. I realized the issue is bigger than my book.
Many people have wanted me to quickly make a statement about how I view my book now—either an apology or a defense. But I have purposefully drawn out the process. I asked one of my professors to oversee a process of study in which I examined the historical, spiritual and sociological factors at work in the church when I wrote my book and in the twenty years after its release. I read hundreds of stories from people who were influenced by my book and had phone conversations with many of them. I reread my book and examined how it aligned with Scripture. The vision for the documentary is to capture more of this journey as I meet face-to-face with both readers as well as Christian authors and thinkers who are addressing the topic of singleness, sex, romance and dating.
The reason I’ve taken a slower route is because I want to get at root issues and not just provide flippant, quick-fix answers. Part of what I’ve learned is that the issues at stake run deeper in me and in my generation than just what was good or misguided about a single book. I’m learning that it has to do with whether we approach life from a posture of fear or one of faith. It has to do with our attitude toward what it means to be made in God’s image for relationship. It has to do with the kind of Christian communities we form. It has to do with how we conceive of healthy practices for Christian living. Is there always one right way to practice principles? And what does it mean to know God’s blessing? If we do things “exactly right” or “by the book” does God promise us marriage or a great sex life?
I’m still walking through this process of reevaluation. Jessica and I want to produce a high quality documentary to help tell this story and spark conversation among Christians about these important topics. In hopes others might value this too, Jessica launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for our volunteer crew to complete filming and ultimately give the film away as a free resource. (I won’t make a penny from it.)
I’m hoping that my personal journey of revisiting the good and bad of my book will help individuals, families and churches have an honest conversation about what is healthy and what has hurt us in the way we’ve thought about dating, relationships and marriage as Christians.
We will never get everything perfectly. But we’ll never grow if we’re not willing to admit that and own up to our shortcomings.
Comment below: How do you think the Christian Dating culture was impacted by IKDG? How did it affect you personally?
Please tune in to Joshua’s Facebook page Wednesday night at 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT for a special Facebook Live event announcement about a 24-hour matching challenge that will run from 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT Thursday, Aug. 3 to 3 p.m. ET/Noon PT Friday, Aug. 4. During that time, all those who make a Kickstarter pledge commitment to Jessica’s “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye” film project will have their dollars matched.