News Articles

An interview with the man who ‘kissed dating goodbye’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Last summer, Christianity Today featured Joshua Harris as “The Man Who Ignited the Dating Debate.”

And who can argue with the assessment? With nearly 1 million copies of his first book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (Multnomah, 1997) in the hands of Christian singles, Harris has perhaps more than anyone popularized “courtship” as a God-centered alternative to traditional dating relationships.

But to classify Harris’ ministry as one-dimensional would be a misinformed judgment. Harris currently directs New Attitude, a ministry to young adults, and serves as a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md. His passion — as exhibited even in his books on dating — is for young adults first and foremost to be passionate about God and the local church.

New Attitude and Covenant Life Church are affiliated with PDI Ministries — a church planting and support ministry that offers guidance, counsel and oversight to approximately 50 churches. Harris also hosts the national New Attitude conference each January – held in January in Louisville, Ky. — and several regional conferences throughout the year.

Following is an interview with Harris by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student Bryan Cribb during the Louisville New Attitude conference.

Cribb: Joshua, most people identify you with the issue of dating and rightly so. Your first and most famous book sold close to a million copies. Your second book, “Boy Meets Girl” (Multnomah, 2000), was popular as well. You obviously struck a chord with the young adult Christian audience.

Harris: I struck something (laughing).

Cribb: What was it about the books that really hit home for thousands of single Christians out there?

Harris: The books came at a time when a lot of Christians were questioning their practices when it came to dating — seeing a lot of problems, experiencing a lot of heartache. And these books became sort of the spark that lit what was already there ready to be set aflame. I think that they provide a biblical perspective. … I think by God’s grace a lot of people want that. They want to be challenged. They want to be asked to step up to a biblical standard.

And so, I think that’s part of the reason that they’ve been successful. But, ultimately, it’s just been God’s blessing on them.

Cribb: I get the feeling, though, that the message of Joshua Harris in these books is misunderstood if people think they’re just about dating?

Harris: I think you’re right. I spoke with someone just this weekend who came up and said, “You know, I read your book. And what I got out of it was not about dating and relationships. It was about loving God more than anything else.” I love it when I hear that because that is the ultimate purpose behind what I seek to do.

Cribb: So most people know you through these books, and they hear about your New Attitude conference, and then they come to hear you expecting to find out how they can fix their dating life. Well, if they came to this conference, they heard about holiness and discipline. But I don’t think people are disappointed, because I see people walking away changed. This leads me to a question about your current ministry and what you have tried to do in these conferences.

Harris: When we started New Attitude three years ago, we had a desire to affect college-age students who are at a very strategic point in their lives — making decisions about what they are going to live for, making decisions about career and education and marriage and all of these really life-changing decisions. And we wanted to bring them together and challenge them primarily in three areas — to love God’s Word and sound doctrine, to be passionate about pursuing his presence in worship … and then third to challenge them to see the importance [and] the centrality of the local church in God’s plan for demonstrating his kingdom [and] demonstrating his gospel to the world. … Noticeably absent is the issue of dating and courtship, which has confused some people.

We have had people who have showed up expecting a singles’ conference on dating, and they never hear the word mentioned. What I love are the people who say, “I came here for dating. But I realize what I really needed to hear was about the grace of God and about the cross and about how I can change.” And that in turn changes their whole approach to dating and relationships and so on. We wanted to hold up God as the most important thing, as the highest priority.

Cribb: So New Attitude is a subset of PDI. Many people only know of PDI through its worship music, if at all. Can you give a brief synopsis of PDI and the relationship of New Attitude to it?

Harris: PDI stands for “proclaiming God’s grace, developing local churches and influencing the world with the Gospel.” It is a church planting and support ministry that is led by a team of pastors that offers guidance, counsel and oversight to approximately 50 churches primarily in America, Mexico, Canada and Great Britain. … New Attitude became the young adult division of PDI. And so, in addition to the church planting and support, PDI does conferences across the country for different churches for leaders and for pastors.

Cribb: When you developed your vision for these conferences, did you see them as responding to a particular need or lacking in the local church?

Harris: Well, we don’t view ourselves as fixing some big problem … but definitely what we do is motivated by wanting to address things that we think a lot of college students aren’t necessarily thinking about. So many college students today are not interested in doctrine. Sadly, they’ve gone so far down the experience route — touchy-feely religion — that they don’t have any stomach for sound teaching and the doctrines of grace and talking about justification and sanctification and sin and these kinds of things. …

We think a lot of Christian students just assume the local church is something they’ll go to, but there’s no conviction, there’s no biblical motivation behind that. It’s just a cultural thing. So yeah, we do want to play a part in serving local churches. There are a lot of things that it’s not easy for local pastors to say, but we can say that on their behalf and challenge these students to go back and get involved — and not only involved, but be committed to and active in their local church.

So we view New Attitude as a way to serve local churches. If it ever stops doing that, we’ll shut it down. If it ever becomes something that takes people’s energy away from the local church, we’ll end it, because it is not an end in itself.

Cribb: I heard a message from you last night, and it was expository and rich in doctrine. A lot of times, people say that youth can’t handle teaching like that. Do you think a lot of churches have sold their young people short?

Harris: Yes, I do. And I don’t say that to be judgmental in any way towards anybody. My youth pastor back in Oregon built a youth group that was very entertainment-oriented. He had a huge group — hundreds and hundreds of students coming out. The band. The drama. The games. The activities. Not a lot of meat, to be honest with you. Not a lot of the gospel being presented and a real call to holiness.

I love him. God used him in my life. But I would view that [style] as sadly too typical — a desire to entertain. I ran into him last year at the grocery store when I was home visiting. We started talking, and he started sharing with me how he’s really changed his emphasis. He has his students reading “Bible Doctrine” by Wayne Grudem.

He said to me, “You know, you learn a lot as the years go by. You learn a lot of the things you do that seem so exciting and get everybody jazzed up really don’t lead to lasting fruit.”

He’s got these students now who are digging into the truth of God’s Word. They’re reading this systematic theology book. And they’re just loving it. And the fruit of that is they’re being evangelistic. They’re sharing the gospel. Kids are getting saved. That just brought me so much joy to hear that.

I think that answers your question. I think we can too quickly assume that God’s Word, God’s Holy Spirit, are not sufficient. We’ve got to pad it. We’ve got to cloak it. We’ve got to add all this fluff to keep people’s attention. I don’t think we see fruit from that.

Cribb: Well, I know you have a busy schedule, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about dating though. What kind of special challenges await singles in the realm of dating? And what advice would you offer them?

Harris: There’s a chapter in “Boy Meets Girl” called “Courtship is a Community Project.” I truly believe that a godly relationship — whether you want to call it dating or courtship — a relationship that is centered around God, that is pure [and] that is purposeful [and] clearly defined needs community. That starts in the local church.

So the counsel that I would give any single person … is first make the local church a priority and build your relationship into that so that you’re benefiting from the wisdom of your pastors, from your friends, from other families, so that that season of courtship when you’re pursuing the possibility of marriage is surrounded by a multitude of counselors, a multitude of settings [and] a multitude of people who are able to both give advice on the relationship, as well as just encourage you in it.

Cribb: How about any general advice?

Harris: The thing that God has been doing in my own life … is revealing to me where I’ve placed productivity and effectiveness above my own communion with God. And that’s not an original thought. But, for me, I know it’s going to be life-changing. Spiritual leadership flows out of a personal relationship with God. …

And yet, I see now as a pastor, all the holy things that I do in my role don’t necessarily equal communion. And I have to make that the first priority in my life. And all the effectiveness — if there ever is any effectiveness — will flow out of that. …

I would rather be better praying in private than I am preaching in public. I want to know God personally, and I know that that will take care of so many of the issues that I know will face me in leadership.
For more information about PDI or New Attitude, see www.pdinet.org. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: THE BIGGER PICTURE.

    About the Author

  • Bryan Cribb