Does Only Dating Have Defects? Courtship/Groups are Defect Free?

One of the biggest concerns I had when I read the I Kissed Dating Goodbye book was that the author only noted “defects” about dating. I saw no acknowledgment of possible defects with his approach. Is his approach without its own problems as one would be lead to assume since none were mentioned?

Reading his approach and not seeing any problems with his system acknowledged reminds me of a salesman, who when trying to sell me his product, only tells me the advantages of his product not the disadvantages. The only problem is that in this case one shouldn’t be selling a product; they should be trying to help singles find out what approach would work best for them.

With almost anything, be it a new approach, a new product, a new system, there are almost always pros and cons. Rarely are there only advantages to one way over another. One just needs to be careful that advantages of a new approach outweigh the disadvantages that accompany it. When someone tries to sell me a new product and states only the advantages I always wonder what are the disadvantages he isn’t sharing.

One reason I have heard for the author not mentioning problems with his approach is that he was only 21 when he wrote the book. Thus he didn’t have that much experience with the system that he is promoting. He was also possibly enamored with his approachsince it proved to be the answer for his situation.

The only problem with this excuse is the church/organization that he was a part of when he wrote the book (Covenant Life Church/Sovereign Grace respectively) had considerable experience this approach before the book was written. In fact they have been promoting at least the group concept since 1978. Surely someone with more experience with this approach from his church could have shared this with Joshua Harris. Being more enlightened he could have considered including problems with his approach in the book.

I was also shocked to see that Harris didn’t share anything about the history of this approach including what has gone wrong with its implementation. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to share about the history so that people reading his book could benefit from what was learned? I sometimes wonder if both he and other leaders of his group have ever acknowledged the problems that have occurred with the group/courtship approach. Isn’t there an old saying that states that those who don’t study and learn from the past are destined to repeat it?

It is normal when one institutes a new system for mistakes to be made. Why not admit them so others can learn and benefit? It is a shame that when you read his book you would think that no problems occur with his system.

The only other reason I can think that he didn’t share any of the problems is that he wrote this book as more as a quasi testimonial of how it worked for him vs. a handbook. When one writes something as a testimonial of what worked for them there is always a risk that people assume that this system is the only way and is will work for everyone. Maybe this is what happened with his book?

As shared in a previous blog, Harris has admitted that people apply his approach in a legalistic manner but he can’t control that. My answer to that is maybe if he had shared some of the disadvantages of his group approach, maybe it would have reduced how much his approach was implemented legalistically. That is certainly something he had control over.

So what are some of the disadvantages of the courtship/group approach? If you look at my previous post about not dating being harmful you will see where a respected Christian counselor gives his views on this. Here are some others:

  1. Many times this makes single men and single women afraid of each other. Even as they move into their 20’s and 30’s, the singles are afraid of each other like teenagers are. This being afraid of each other usually means that there aren’t many friendships between single men and single women.
  2. The teaching many times gives single men an “excuse” to stay away from single women and not pursue relationships.
  3. If you can’t develop many friendships with people of the opposite sex it is harder to find out what type of person of the opposite sex you would be a good match with.
  4. In some groups, a couple that is “courting” are under pressure to either get engaged and married or cut off seeing each other. This can and has lead to couples marrying before they fully knew each other and that they weren’t as good of a match as they thought. Imagine making a commitment that God wants you to honor and where you aren’t that good of a match. I am sure that isn’t pleasant.
  5. It can be applied in a legalistic way. With this system people tend to gravitate toward it being done legalistically especially if the church leadership doesn’t do something to counteract that tendency.

There are more and I will add them as I come up with more.

By not sharing the “defects” of the group/courtship approach I wonder if a lot of people as result of seeing it misapplied do the old “throw out the baby with the bathwater?”  Thus, ironically, by Harris not giving a balanced perspective on his approach vs. dating he destined what he promoted to be short lived due to unintended abuses.


Revised 2/25/08

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17 Responses to “Does Only Dating Have Defects? Courtship/Groups are Defect Free?”

  1. Naomi Says:

    Enthusiastic just-out-of-teens speaking to enthusiastic teens… GAHHH any wonder the silly thing’s caused chaos?

    Regarding problems with the courtship model – I think one of the biggest is that people often have a fairytale kind of view of it. The girl stays in her tower till her prince comes to rescue her, they marry and live happily ever after. And because she’s never had an impure thought or touched herself ‘there’, and he’s struggled heroically to deny impure thoughts (can’t expect as much from a man, right?), their sex life will be wonderful, because they’ll have nothing to compare it to. Oh, the mind boggles. But I meet people in their teens and beyond who take this all as established fact. Sadly, I also meet people on the other side, who’ve believed and failed to live happily ever after. Their prince wasn’t so shining, their princess isn’t perfect, their sex life is hindered at every turn by guilt and repression (it’s very hard to go from “can’t think about that” to “must enjoy this now”).

    To be fair, JH made some good points in that book. I think a big part of the problems are actually caused by older people in a church seeing the title and thinking, ‘AHA! A way to discourage our teens from having sex!’ … and just promoting the book, rather than sitting down and properly educating their kids about relationships.

    Speaking of education… I think this is an area in which the church in general really fails our young people. There’s a lot of discussion about staying ‘pure’ … and often not much discussion about how to find a GOOD relationship, why it is that some people are more tempted toward sex than others, how to work through your own problems rather than expecting a relationship to fix them… etc.

    I was about to ask if you’d read “Boundaries Before Marriage”, but then had a quick look at previous posts and yes – you’ve come across Drs Cloud and Townsend. (BBM s the Aussie name for Boundaries in Dating). I’d love to start a class on relationships based in part on their books… far more sense than in a lot of ‘christian relationship’ books I’ve seen.

    PS. many apologies for the length of this comment! 🙂

  2. steve240 Says:


    No apologies are necessary. Thanks for posting your comment. There is a lot of good points you make.


  3. Edmund Bertram Says:

    Where there supposed to be links on this post that didn’t publish properly?

    “I was also shocked to see that Harris didn’t share anything about the history of this approach including what has gone wrong with its implementation. ”

    “History” and “wrong” were underlined in a manner indicative of a link.

  4. steve240 Says:

    Those aren’t links but general underlines. Perhaps I should revise the page.

    I have pages on my blog that talk about Josh Harris forgetting the history.

  5. Edmund Bertram Says:

    Thank you.

  6. Leisa Says:

    Joshua Harris aims to encourage Purity in an ‘anything goes’ society. It is not a method, it is the will of God, and is clearly defined as ‘of the mind and the body’.

    In proving methods to be right or wrong we are taken from the core issue: the will of God. And man’s jury will always be confused by what seems right to one, will seem wrong to another. If we want to avoid the will of God, then keep up the debate over the methods and the real issue is avoided; keep using the weapon of ‘legalism’ to defend your position. It is a good one.

    Legalism is the key ingredient in ‘people’s methods’, and every doctrine is full of it, even athiesm. They are all belief systems, and so function within the boundaries of their doctrine. Dating is rife with legalism too, if you like: the rules are that there are no rules, no definition, no expected outcome. There is no room for another’s opinion in that either. It is every bit a method.

    Dating is a relatively young method and only now is reflective annecdotal evidence surfacing about its pros and cons. This explains the emergence of these other methods (courtship) – the reaction to emerging evidence. This is merely a predictable historical cause-effect debate, with Joshua Harris being a Round One introductory speaker.

    Any publication, especially by a young man who has been there, tried an alternative to dating, is a good witness the committed who have seen the flaws of dating. It has been to several young people I know, as they were surprised to find someone who understood their struggle to clearly define relationship in attempt to avoid defrauding another. They have read his publication with an open mind, and have been able to make committments aimed at edifying others.

    Dating is a relationship that is now difficult to define apart from marriage, which is also no longer permanantly binding (defacto, legal divorce).
    In a dating relationship, the moral boundaries are set by the couple autonomously, according to their values. Moral values that the couple may hold to are severely challenged by the physical attraction that is present in the intimate situations an independent dating couple may be in. No matter what has been shared between the couple, there is no boundaries to the consequences they can impose on one another if it doesn’t work out. There is no accountability to others who have the best interests of the person at heart, so therefore no conscience of protection.

    It’s great to see people becoming fed up with a method that practices divorce, to see them get up and try something old or new, but to have the courage to make change.

  7. steve240 Says:


    Welcome to the blog and thanks for your comment.

    My big point in this blog entry is that there can be defects with both approaches. Harris for some reason failed to mention them. That is quite disappointing.

    Harris’s group approach might make sense for younger people. I have seen it with older singles produce situations where single men and women in the their 30’s and older were afraid of each other etc.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to get these items on the table including admitting them and finding a way to deal with them?

    Why present one alternative as defect free when it has been known to produce problems? Why not be open and honest vs. pretending that Harris’s group approach has no problems.

    Welcome and thanks again.

  8. Leisa Says:

    Thanks Steve, for making me welcome to your blog.

    Harris’s focus was the problems with the dating approach, and the indepth task of presenting an alternative. I’m not sure that Harris claims his approach has no problems. We can hope that he will reflect as time and experience reveal the problems with this renewed concept. It is a shame he didn’t put in a disclaimer, as seems necessary in a balanced point of view.

    I wonder why Harris’s approach might work for younger people but be more difficult for older? Perhaps the water under the bridge of past experience in relationships can play a role in this. Experience reduces our trust, that is for sure. Previous heartbreak leaves scars and even open wounds. Maybe someone else has some ideas on this?

    Problems occur with all methods, this is unavoidable. We don’t all fit into the same ‘experiences’ mould. I believe it comes back to faith in the one unchangeable – the Word of God – in Him we can trust, and it is as clear as day that purity is for the best for God’s people. We cannot avoid the desires of our flesh, but a greater love of God than self can overcome the temptation. This is a deep heart experience rather than a method.

  9. steve240 Says:


    Harris might not claim his approach has no problems but if he is even aware of these problems he left them out of his book.

    I would say doing things in groups is more appropriate for younger people. It is a form of “training wheels.”

    Have you read my other entry that talks about Harris not sharing problems he observed in his church on his website? He gave a message to his church and admitted problems with how singles related. Harris never acknowledged this on his website. I wonder why.

    Since Harris didn’t warn people of the shortcomings of his approach and oversold it, I am sure that is why it was more of a fad vs. something that lasted.

  10. Leisa Says:

    Steve, I noted your mention of the problems in his church. Once again, where method becomes doctrine, there will be problems. I agree in that there needs to be accountability for popularizing ideas in the media.

    The single scenes that I have witnessed in churches have lots of problems no matter the culture of the group. Older singles tend to feel isolated and find it difficult to connect with one another, especially since some are from broken relationships and fear being abandoned again.

    Getting back to the culture of courtship or dating within a church – where an idea becomes the ‘acceptable’ cultural norm of a group, it won’t necessarily become a spiritual commitment for every individual within that group. Rather, some people will just do it to conform and feel accepted by the group. Either way, there is isolation. If dating is the norm, a person choosing courtship will be isolated, and so on.

    This would be more difficult for older singles for sure, as they don’t feel as inclined to conform to group culture since they possess more life experience. Older groups are more complex and varied.

    Harris has to realize that people will be people, and he will have to be accountable to them. No-one can replace the living spirit of God in the heart of the individual as the number 1 guide.

    It would be good to contact Harris and ask him some questions. Has anyone tried this?

  11. steve240 Says:


    I think what you are saying is that one needs to avoid legalism in deciding how you relate to the opposite sex.

    I have sent a number of emails to Harris. The best I have gotten is emails back from his admin assistant saying Harris was too busy to respond and thus probably didn’t even read the comments. The person who wrote the online book about courtship /betrothal had similar experiences. I have even posted comments on his blog and heard nothing back.

    Harris’s apparent unwillingness to more widely share problems he has seen with his approach is quite disappointing. Some have speculated that it is hard for Harris to back down and admit problems with a system that made him known etc. If that is the case, it is quite sad that feels he can’t do that.

    Who would be better than Harris to try and correct the problems with his approach. He has said on his blog that he is “sorry” if you’ve been subjected to his ideas in a legalistic manner. It is nice to know he is sorry. 😉

    As I have said in another entry, Harris’s approach was more of a fad vs. something that lasted. Had the system been presented with a willingness to admit the pitfalls of his approach his system might have been more than just a fad.

  12. Leisa Says:

    Steve, it is certainly disappointing that Harris is not responding, and it seems that pride is the same issue for him as it is for all. I hope he grows in this area and can one day make a careful assessment of his ideas which he has confidently put forward to the public.

    Just as plastic bags come with air holes so that babies don’t smother, and toys and appliances have warnings about dangers that verge on ridiculously obvious, so that the unsuspecting do not injure themselves with the product… so too do theories and ideas need warnings. But where has personal responsibility and discernment gone? People are jumping on ideas (the fad) and making them law (made to be broken), when Jesus came to cut the law and give us freedom (lasting) from pharisaical condemnation (legalism).

    Grace could be extended to Harris with regard to his age, that he may be unaware of the fact that age does not spell maturity, necessarily:)

  13. Naomi Says:

    I suspect that it’s not pride, but lack of answers, that’s holding Mr Harris back. It’s often not considered acceptable to say, “Hey, these are problems!” without being able to offer solutions at the same time. :-\

  14. steve240 Says:

    Well there are a number of cause and both parties are responsible for this approach moving towards legalism. One certainly can’t fully blame Harris but then he certainly has some complicity in this problem. As I have said before, had he acknowledged the problems in his book or even acknowledged these problems on his website would certainly have helped reduce this from moving towards legalism.

    The people certainly are to blame that allow this to happen and don’t question. Of course in some church cultures including the one Harris is a part of, Sovereign Grace Ministries, reportedly questioning is not encouraged and sometimes perceived as being rebellious. When a book like Harris’s is introduced in church’s with this type of environment, it can be much harder to question and go against the flow. Thus making it harder to fighg legalism. (See or to read more about this side of SGM.)

    One online book mentioned concern that Harris’s book gave credibility to the even more extreme approach of betrotha though the author of that books didn’t feel Harris himself was endorsing betrothal.

  15. SavvyD Says:

    hi Steve,

    You are totally welcome to republish my article, blogroll me, etc. 🙂


    Effective Dating vs. Defective Dating
    My Non Dating Dude
    Both at

  16. DieM Rockel Says:

    With the different forms of courtship in different cultures and through different time periods I wonder where Josh gets off defining courtship.

    In the 1500’s if the man could support the family on an ongoing basis a tribute from the parents was expected to help the couple on their way. (by not way this was not paying for part of the ceremony.)

    I don’t get why any form of courtship is preferable to dating, arranged marriage, or even a variant of matchmaking.

    This is why he should have gone through the positives and negatives there is more than two systems and choosing one requires weighing the pros and cons.

  17. Seven Bible Truths Violated by Christian Dating (TBB) « Scarlet Letters Says:

    […] perfectly, all the time, everywhere, for everybody, is either delusional or dishonest. Steve at his blog came to a simliar conclusion about another courtship […]

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