Book Review – Stop Dating the Church (Joshua Harris)

This book has to win the prize for the most innovative title of all the books I have read so far on the subject of church. Joshua Harris made his name with a book entitled “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” which argues for “biblical courtship” over against the custom of “dating”. In this book, he uses “dating” as a metaphor for the approach that many Christians have to church – ‘trying out’ churches, but without any intention of commitment. In other words, we have a consumer mentality towards the Church. The point of this book is to challenge Christians to stop dating the Church and “fall in love with the family of God”.

The church is earth’s single best place – God’s specially designed place – to start over, to grow and to change for the glory of God

He makes it particularly clear that he is talking about commitment to a local church. It is not enough to claim to be a part of the universal church if we have no vital connection with other Christians.

If you and I identify with and love the idea of church, we must consider how we can identify with and love an actual church

He reminds us that the Church is “the bride of Christ”. Jesus loves his Church, and we should do the same. He explains from Ephesians 3 that the gospel is not just about reconciliation with God, but with one another. He does not view the existence of many denominations as being a incompatible with unity, but calls us to reject a denominational spirit.

The strongest argument I know for why you and I should love and care about the Church is that Jesus does. The greatest motivation we could ever find for being passionately committed to the Church is that Jesus is passionately committed to the Church.

He explains why we need to be part of a local church. He cites John Piper who says “Sanctification is a community project”. He warns against the sins of selfishness, pride and a critical spirit that can keep us from community. We should see our church’s faults as an opportunity to love and serve. “Stop complaining about the faults of the church, and become part of the solution.”

We’ve believed the lie that we’ll be happier the less we sacrifice or give of ourselves and or time. But the more we clutch our time, money, and comfort and selfishly refuse to give to our church, the less we receive back.

He then goes on to list the ten most important considerations when choosing a church. He strongly emphasises faithful teaching of the Word and proclamation of the gospel. He also looks for a commitment to evangelism, serving, discipline and community. The omission that many of my friends have noted is that of the charismatic element. Maybe he was trying to be non-controversial and reach a broader audience with his message (and this message certainly does deserve a broad audience), but nonetheless it is a little disappointing that nothing was mentioned of the importance of an openness to the work and gifts of the Spirit.

There is a chapter devoted to Sunday, in which he calls on us to prepare ourselves before the Sunday meeting, because we should place a high priority on the gathering together. These days we are so attuned to the danger of “legalism”, that perhaps what he says in this chapter (for example, going to bed earlier on Saturday night) might be rejected without due consideration. That would be a shame. We might see more of the gifts of the Spirit in our meetings, if we arrived ready and prepared to meet with God, rather than barely awake because we watched television into the early hours of the morning. We also need to stop judging the quality of the worship and preacher, and be ready to receive what God has to say to us.

Most of the books I have read on the subject of church have been aimed primarily at leaders, and those affecting the direction of their churches, but this one is aimed squarely at ‘ordinary’ Christians. Its seven short chapters could be read in about 10 minutes each, so it should not be intimidating towards those who are not used to reading a lot. Joshua Harris has written a compelling book, and giving a copy to someone who is on the fringe of their church, or is church-hopping, may prove very beneficial to them.

Check out this video about the book here.

1 thought on “Book Review – Stop Dating the Church (Joshua Harris)

  1. Although Harris has plenty of good things to say in his book there are a few weaknesses, especially reading it from a non-American non-Mega Church perspective. While you read the book you must keep in mind that Harris leads what would be classified by our standards here in Wales as a ‘mega-church’, he is the Pastor of Covenant Life Church, the founding church of Sovereign Grace Ministries, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, USA. It is obvious that Harris has never come face to face with some of the main problems a lot if not most Christians face. This is no criticism on Harris, it’s just a warning to those who would be tempted to apply his words exactly as they read in the book to their own specific situation. One must contextualize. He comes to the subject with a blank page and therefore gives no advice to those of us who’s got a page blotted already with nonconformist scribbles; i.e. the legacy of Christendom.

    Despite the weaknesses and the US culture-specific aspects of his narrative I would strongly recommend this book especially if your interested in Church renewal.

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