500 Years On: Let’s End the Sale of Self Indulgences

When I read these words in the kickstarter campaign: "Harris has felt pressure from all sides to do or say something," I kinda want to say, “Joshua don’t. Don’t say anything.”

A defining feature of modern cultural Christianity, and those who have either gotten it spectacularly wrong or have fallen badly, is that the gap between the fall and the next tweet, blog or online interview has shrunk dramatically. Silence is a base metal these days, no longer golden.


The Protestant Church could do worse this 500th Reformation year than ending the habit that has gripped so much of the church at the pointy end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries, namely the promulgation of self-indulgence.

Just as the Reformation was birthed by Martin Luther’s revulsion at the sale of indulgences to build St Peter’s in Rome, how about we put our hand up, and say “Nein!” to what, quite frankly is self-indulgence espoused in the name of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

Self indulgence by an over-bloated, self-focussed Western Protestant Church that, in the midst of a cultural tsunami, is content with navel gazing; is in thrall to celebrity; and is all too eager to sanctify dodgy methodologies with sub-scriptural, or non-scriptural reasoning.  A bit like those medieval indulgences were if truth be told.

Carl Trueman and Amy Bird made this point succinctly and strongly in Mortification of Spin, their weekly podcast on all things grumpy and Presbyterian (tautology anyone?).

Trueman takes aim at a particular prevalent example of this self-indulgence; the move by a group including Joshua Harris, to kick start fund a documentary entitled “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye”.

Now it’s 20 years since Harris’s book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, published by the good people at Multnomah Publishers. Here’s what Christian bookstore, Koorong, still says about the book online:

Joshua Harris’ first book, written when he was only 21, turned the Christian singles scene upside down. . . and people are still talking. More than 800,000 copies later, I KISSED DATING GOODBYE, with its inspiring call to sincere love, real purity, and purposeful singleness, remains a benchmark for books on Christian dating. Now, for the first time since its release, the #1 bestseller has been expanded with new content and updated for new readers. Honest and practical, it challenges cultural assumptions about relationships and provides solid, biblical alternatives to society’s norm.  

“New readers”, or as we might put it, “fresh meat”.

And the book doesn’t. It doesn’t provide solid biblical alternatives to society’s norm. It didn’t then.  And it doesn’t now. But then what would you expect from a 21 year old’s pen?

The past twenty years has revealed the answer to that question: Not much. And certainly not much in terms of depth or experience when it comes to the long haul of marriage in the “adult trenches of life”, as David Foster Wallace would have put it.

Sadly the fallout for many single Christian people in the two decades since this book has been a cautionary tale of how a cultural phenomenon spawned by a Christian culture first filled them with hope, then let them down.

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