What I’m Reading: Not Even a Hint

I’m preparing for a short topical series during which I’ll be preaching on gender issues, including dating/courtship, marriage, lust, cultivating a “family” mindset toward brothers and sisters in Christ, and parenting in a sensual world. As part of my preparation, I took a couple hours today to reread Joshua Harris’ little book, Not Even a Hint, which has now been republished under the title Sex Isn’t the Problem (Lust Is). I read the book with profit almost 3 years ago, and today I was again helped by it, both as a pastor preparing to preach and as a sinner desiring to grow in grace and fight my own flesh more effectively.

I commend the book to you. Among the book’s strengths is the fact that Josh deals with lust with a careful balance of unblushing honesty (dealing with such real-life issues as pornography and masturbation) and loving discretion. In other words, the book doesn’t dodge the hard issues, but neither does it tantalize the reader and feed the very passions it’s intended to help fight. Another strength is that the book is extremely practical (addressing such things as entertainment, accountability, the need for local church involvement, and the importance of cultivating satisfying fellowship with God) without promising an extra-biblical “silver bullet” to deal with lust once and for all.

I do have one question as I reflect on the book, and it’s one that really relates to the matter of sanctification in general, not just lust. Josh begins the book by warning against any plan for purity that relies on mere willpower. He gives several examples of failed strategies that depend on the flesh, including his own vows, contracts, and efforts. He rightly warns against solutions that omit the gospel:

“Willpower won’t work. Only the power of the cross can break the power of sin that keeps us on its treadmill.” (p. 25, NEAH)

I agree with him on this point. On the other hand, he also promotes common-sense helps like recognizing particularly tempting times, avoiding tempting places (like the video store), setting up accountability relationships, leaving the TV off in a hotel room, etc. I agree with him on this point, too. But it seems like the two points could easily contradict each other—in practice, if not in principle. So, how does one set up helpful guidelines to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14) without allowing those very guidelines to morph into “confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3-4)? How does one depend on Christ’s work to defeat the flesh even as he works to kill it himself? In one sense, I think I know the answer. I’ve often referred to the cooperation of God’s work and my own—the synergism of sanctification—as “diligent dependence.” But describing the balance with a pat answer and actually avoiding passivity on the one hand and legalism on the other are two different things. Hmm.

While you’re thinking on that, if you have other books or sermons which you believe would be a help to me as I prepare for and preach this series, I’d appreciate your recommendations!

I’ll close with a quotation which I think is pure gold:

“I don’t think we should make overcoming lust our primary preoccupation—we need to make the gospel and God’s glory our focus. We need to give ourselves to knowing Him, worshiping Him, and meeting with Him every day. The result will be the weakening of lust and a growing passion for godliness.” (p. 169-70, NEAH)

Give this book a read, both for your own sake and for those who hear you.


25 Responses

  1. A few years ago Piper’s conference was on Sex and the Supremacy of God. There is now a book out by that same title. You can probably download the sermons from the DG website.

    Also at Southern Seminary, Al Mohler did a thing a few years ago. It is about an hour long as I remember, but I couldn’t tell you how to find it on their website. It was a Saturday morning thing for men if I remember correctly.

  2. Thanks, Larry.

    If anyone has a link to Mohler’s lecture, I’d appreciate it.

  3. Try this Chris: http://www.albertmohler.com/audio_archive.php

    3/13/04 … You will have to scroll down. I am not sure that is the same one, but I think it is. I

  4. Chris,
    Mark Dever is doing a topical series right now on gender issues at CHBC. You may want to listen to them at http://www.chbcaudio.org/index.php?s=+Male+Female+Created.

  5. Chris,
    Mark Dever is doing a topical series on gender issues at CHBC right now. You can hear his messages at http://www.chbcaudio.org/index.php?s=+Male+Female+Created.

  6. Huge Caveat: I have not read the book.

    Anyone please counter me if I’m off. My initial reaction to this kind of group that has this obsession with courtship is to run, as fast and as far away as I can! They remind me of some type of strange Texas cult or a strange Gothard group that has sequestered themselves away from society and created their own little group of people who “court”, but don’t dare date.

    Life is big. I “courted” or (gasp!) even dated my wife many decades ago! Does that mean I’m an outsider? Even my kids gave up dating many, many years ago because they got married. These groups that have this obsession with courtship remind me of Utah Morman clans, Texas cults, and strange Gothardites.

    Life goes on. Dating is one small segment of life. Most people, believe it or not, aren’t scared of dating. They date and then get married and then go on through life and don’t constantly obsess over it. Again, if anyone from this Josh group wants to correct me, please do. I’ll admit I may be wrong. But I’ll also admit up front these groups who take on some odd topic that is just one very small phase of life and make it their life’s goal to make sure everyone “dates” correctly scare me. They come pretty close to joining the ranks of these familial cults that occasionally make the news.

  7. There seems to be a variant of a constant theme: Obsession with dating or “courting” correctly, the strength of the “family unity”, complete obsession with sexual purity, etc. And then of course what usually happens? An outsider finally breaks free and we find out there is rampant sexual abuse (or “free will” marriage of young girls to men old enough to be their fathers), women are treated as 3rd class citizens to be abused by men, and the group is generally just creepy and odd. It’s ironic that the very thing they were completely obsessed about – moral purity – is the one area where they are living in the grossest way possible!

    My conscious is getting the better of me. I did NOT say this Josh group or all Gothard followers or Mormons, Texans, etc. are that way. Please don’t misunderstand me. For all I know this Josh people may be a completely legitimate group. But I will admit that from my outsider’s point of view I would thoroughly check them out before endorsing them. Maybe you’ve done that.

  8. Wow, Steve. That was just reckless. You’re way off.

    The post is about a book by Joshua Harris that promotes purity. Purity is a good thing.

    When someone compares a writer’s position to a cult and insinuates child molestation on the basis of his questioning the wisdom of the typical American dating game—without having even read what he said!—my initial reaction is to run away as fast as I can. Mercy. I too have seen some wackiness in the name of courtship, but it’s not responsible to assume that you understand Josh’s position based on whatever you’ve seen in the past. I’d suggest that you give his books a read.

    On the bright side, I don’t imagine that Sovereign Grace folks are generally criticized for their conservatism. It’s downright funny.

    Now, no more comments like Steve’s or addressing Steve’s, please.

  9. Excellent, Paul. Thanks for the link. And I enjoyed meeting you in KY, friend!

  10. Chris,

    He may cover the same material as in the book, but Josh preached an excellent series on 6 sermons on Purity at Covenant Life Church. You can find them at http://www.covlife.org/sermons/archives/ They are from 1-7-07 to 2-11-07. I also have the book, but have not read it, yet. Thanks for the review and reminder.

  11. Chris, have you read Gothard’s material? Without trying to be mean spirited in the least I don’t know what to say other than he has some very good material on one hand that I would recommend to anyone and it would be helpful, but he has some other materials that are just off base, strange, and frankly make me wonder about the group. For a single man to write books about what time of the month it’s ok to engage in private things is just nutty. Who thinks about this kind of stuff?! And why would you care and want to go around telling others how they should approach the subject?

    I can’t stress enough that I’m not trying to be mean. But on the other hand, how can you ignore weirdness like that? Are you seriously saying you endorse this kind of weird stuff and you seriously think MY comments are odd for not challenging this??

    BTW, I know we’re talking about the Josh group and not Gothard, but from the exposure I’ve had, the same types of people run together. Maybe this is just my experience and it’s an anomaly. Also, many of these are very nice, sincere people that I’ve met and I don’t mean to be unkind. I’m sure Gothard himself and Josh are both great people. But if I still had teens in the house I’m not sure I’d want them exposed to these bizarre teachings.

  12. “The post is about a book by Joshua Harris that promotes purity. Purity is a good thing.”

    Chris, I agree 100% that purity is a good thing. If this is all that this group teaches, then I’d be for them. Gothard has some excellent teachings which would help the character development of young people which I would endorse. The bad thing is that some of these groups have great teaching, but it’s mixed in with other utterly bizarre, outlandish stuff that tends to get in the way. My own anecdotal experience has been that people who like Gothard also like this Josh group. That throws up huge red flags for me. Even though someone may be a great teacher, I’m not sure I’d want my kids exposed to the weird stuff mixed in with the good stuff.

    I’m open to critique. You obviously are more familiar with them than I am. Maybe I am off base and they are a group that can be endorsed.

  13. Okay, I’ll make one more comment on this, and that’s it.

    I think Gothard is an exegetical hack, and I agree that much of what he promotes is outlandish. I’m not endorsing anything like that. Frankly, I can’t imagine how what I’ve said in this post would even hint at that.

    I don’t know of any connection between him and Josh or SG. Maybe a SG reader can clear that up with more certainty.

    Now…no more. Seriously.

  14. Ok, I’ll drop it too. This will be my last post on the topic.

    Let me just end by saying that I know Gothard has some excellent teaching and I’m sure he’s a fine Christian man. I’m sure Josh has some great teaching and I’m sure he’s also a fine Christian man. In no way do I mean to be unkind, mean or speak ill of anyone.

    I suppose my only concern is that, just from my own personal experience, Gothard followers and Josh followers are often one and the same and have the same vein. Maybe my personal experience is totally odd and against the norm and not true in a larger context at all.

    Even though Gothard has some excellent materials, I have a hard time with some of his other materials that, in my opinion, are better left alone.

    To use the title, I don’t want there to even be a hint of unkindness in my posts. I vehemently disagree with much of Gothard’s teachings, but that doesn’t mean I think he’s a bad person. Christians can disagree about issues and do it in a kind way.

  15. Larry, I found the Mohler lecture to be particularly insightful. It’s available in print, too, either as a pdf or a Word document. There were several other messages at the link you provided that will be helpful, as well.

    I’m also reading Piper’s Sex and the Supremacy of Christ at your recommendation. I had listened to Piper’s message from that conference last year, and am glad to reference it again in print.


  16. Piper addresses the balance between dependence on Christ and the use of “make-no-provision” means ably:

    “There are many practical strategies for being sexually pure in mind and body. I don’t demean them. I use them! But with all my heart I know, and with the authority of Scripture I know, that the tiny spaceships of our moral strategies will be useless in nudging the planet of sexuality into orbit, unless the sun of our solar system is the supremacy of Christ.”

    And again later…

    “[T]he deepest cure to our pitiful addictions is not any mental strategies—though I believe in them and have my own…—The deepest cure is to be intellectually and emotionally staggered by the infinite, everlasting, unchanging supremacy of Christ in all things.” (Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, pp. 38 and 44)

  17. Was my post too long, or did you delete it because you didn’t like the content (which is fine, it’s your site)? In case it was dropped because it was too long, here’s a shorter excerpt:

    As an offshoot of Gothard’s teachings on authority, Gothard teaches that young people must allow their authorities to determine whom they will marry, and that God can bless no marriage if it goes against parental counsel. In his booklet titled Establishing Biblical Standards of Courtship, beneath a picture of a couple riding bikes, Gothard writes: “Is this couple dating, or courting? The answer will have an important effect upon their lives, the lives of their families, and (if they marry) the lives of those in ever generation which follows. There is a definite and vital difference between courtship and dating. Unless this difference is understood and the principles of courtship are applied, defrauding and hurts can result, as well as lasting physical, mental, and spiritual consequences.”

    Gothard must view dating as an abominable sin if it can have consequences “in every generation which follows!” Courtship, on the other hand, “is a father’s agreeing to work with a qualified young man to win his daughter for marriage …” “the Lord has warned us not to follow our natural inclinations but to receive His precise guidelines for carrying out a Godly courtship.”

    In defining dating and courting so tightly, and then juxtaposing them, Gothard creates a false dilemma by asserting that all who date do so for their own personal pleasure rather than with the motive of forming a mutual commitment, leading potentially to marriage. Why must Gothard’s idea of “courtship,” which is, in effect, arranged marriage, be the only alternative to casual dating, rather than serious, conscientious dating? In creating this false dilemma, he has set up his followers to accept the idea that there is only one divinely inspired, God-ordained method of finding a spouse. Any other way is sure to bring God’s cataclysmic judgment on the couple and their descendants for generations. We find Gothard’s courtship teaching to be unbiblical, unfair, unreasonable, unworkable, and, ultimately, unwise.

    One of the reasons Gothard gives to ban dating is that “through the deception of dating, Satan is able to reduce the fruitfulness of one’s ministry both in singleness and in marriage.” He reasons that single people spend too much time pairing off and enjoying companionship with members of the opposite sex. Hence, when they marry, they may soon get bored and “neglect the responsibilities of marriage to enjoy the benefits of singleness.”

    Gothard argues that when a single person feels the need to have companionship, he or she is not being content with the Lord and “… unless we are content with the Lord in singleness, we will not be content with another person in marriage.” In other words, feelings of loneliness indicate a spiritual problem.

    It must be emphasized again that in Gothard’s system, under no possible circumstances is a courtship to be entered into without the consent of the parents. In his seminar Gothard says, “I’m firmly convinced that God never intended girls to turn down dates. He intended for their father’s [sic] to.” This principle applies equally to marriage. In Gothard’s booklet Establishing Biblical Standards of Courtship, there is a page for sons and daughters to cut out, which is a covenant they sign with their fathers to “… demonstrate your commitment to God’s plan for courtship instead of man’s philosophy of dating. …”

    The young person must say to his or her father, “I will wait for your full release before entering into marriage.” The father, in turn, tells his daughter that “I will protect you from unqualified men.” To his son the father says, “I will protect you from strange women.” This covenant is “between a father and a son as witnessed by the Lord Jesus Christ,” and must be signed by the child, the father, and the family’s pastor.

    In all of Gothard’s writing and teaching on the subject of courtship and marriage, there is a complete absence of any understanding of this special kind of intimacy between a man and a woman that cements a marriage together. In Gothard’s booklet Understanding the Biblical Foundations of Marriage, no mention is made of anything even relating to intimate love. When Gothard does mention love, it is cold and clinical. Although Gothard’s teaching on courtship does not explicitly forbid romantic love, one gets the impression that if it happens it’s a bonus, not an essential ingredient for marriage. Safety is what matters, and giving one’s heart can truly be scary in an insecure world. (Source: Veinot & Henzel, A Matter of Basic Principles, pp. 253-256; 258; 276-277)

  18. Credit given where credit is due:


    What’s ironic is that I quite often disagree with that site because they are much more conservative than I am. Although, in this area I think they are spot on correct.

  19. Why all this attention on courtship? The post and the book are about moral purity. I specifically tried to avoid this discussion by referring to “dating/courtship” in my original post. I don’t care what you call it. Parents should be involved but not autocratic. That’s my take.

    Now, can we leave Gothard out of this? Please? I’ve not mentioned anything about red notebooks. I read Not Even a Hint.

  20. I’m a little perplexed by the long-winded responses, too, Chris. Never heard of the book, but I’m pretty sure that some of the responses to your OP have absolutely nothing to do with what you are saying. Kind of disjointed, imho. It detracts from what you are trying to get across. And, btw, I am totally for purity.

  21. Oh, one other thing…having just celebrated 27 years of marriage a couple of weeks ago, my wife and I can probably give our own advice on faithfulness and purity. Who needs whatever that guy’s name is anyway those long-winded responses discuss. The holy scriptures are sufficient for all righteousness living. Godly authors as described on this blog are icing on the cake. God is indeed merciful, gracious, and greatly to be praised!

  22. For what it’s worth, I always had a similar “eeew, it’s the crazy courtship people again!” reaction when I came across people recommending “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” I had a few unpleasant incidents with strong proponents of courtship in college and didn’t want anything to do with them.

    Then I got a little older and came across Josh Harris’ follow-up / companion book entitled “Boy Meets Girl.” I read it and have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Courtship, as Harris defines it, seems a lot more like dating with a mindset of purity than what I’d run across before. I’ve not read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, but if it’s got half the helpful content of “Boy Meets Girl”, we ought to be handing this book out left and right in our youth groups.

    All that to say, this book is NOT the anti-relationship manifesto many people assume it to be.

    And Chris, I’d seriously consider picking up “Boy Meets Girl” too. It’s an excellent and very practical book.

  23. Thanks, Nathan. I’m profiting much from I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I’ve got a copy of Boy Meets Girl to follow it up with. Very helpful stuff. I’m grateful for Josh’s ministry.

    BTW, I think these concepts must be taught before kids are teens—like to parents of young children.

  24. I’m still shaking my head how the Bill Gothard seminars got into this conversation!

    Josh Harris is a young man whose hand I would like to shake someday. I am overwhelmed how Jesus has used him in His services. His frank and honest books about dealing with purity/sexual lust, dating/courtship, and the adventures in his courtship and engagement with Shannon have the hand of the Master all over them.

    If I ever have the privilege of meeting Josh and Shannon I want to thank them for their humility and honesty in sharing their story, from the sublime to the tragic. I am humbled and awed how God took Shannon’s sad story and transformed it into something beautiful. Josh praises and loves his wife very much. We all could learn from his example. May all of us who are fortunate to be married seek to serve our Savior by allowing Him to glorify Himself in our lives.

  25. Oh yes, if anything in my above post is incorrect or inappropriate, Chris please accept my apologies. I have a very high respect for the Harrises, though I have never met them.

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