A bride is walking down the aisle toward her beloved on their wedding day.Stained glass, string quartet: Everything is perfect.As the couple begins to say their vows, a woman in the congregation stands up and walks toward the front of the church, silently taking the groom’s hand.
, written by Joshua Harris and first published in 1997, argued that traditional dating was “a training ground for divorce” because it puts people in the habit of quitting relationships when things get tough.
Aimed at teens and twentysomethings, the book discouraged teen relationships and proposed that courtship, in which a couple moves purposefully toward marriage with their parents’ blessing and involvement, was a superior model to dating.
And it argued that any kind of physical intimacy before marriage was a violation of the sacredness of married sexuality, and could lead to lifelong regret.
became a phenomenon in conservative Christian circles.
It inspired both praise—from the likes of purity matriarch Elisabeth Elliot and Focus on the Family—and book-length rebuttals.
Harris was already a popular speaker at conferences for Christian home-schoolers and had started his own magazine, but the book’s influence quickly outpaced its modest built-in audience—it has sold more than 1.2 million copies to date. You weren’t just not having sex, you were adopting “a revolutionary pattern of living” that would make you both a better Christian and, someday, a better spouse.It was even better not to even kiss before you got to the altar, Harris suggested, and beware of “emotional hookups,” too.He shared scary and supposedly true stories like Ben and Lisa’s: Christians who dated seriously, had sex, eventually broke up, and years later still “expressed emotional trauma and guilt.” .He was a virgin who had been home-schooled his whole life—an unusual profile for the author of a book proposing “a new attitude toward romance and relationships,” as the subtitle put it.He married at 23 and later served as the pastor of an evangelical megachurch in Maryland for more than a decade.Over the years he wrote more books about dating and marriage, including , he is the father of three kids—two of them teenagers—and he is pursuing formal education for the first time in his life.