Shortly after his third book, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust, was published, Joshua Harris talked about the genesis of the book and his plans to speak on this and other relationship topics for the first time at his New Attitude conference
Sovereign Grace: What inspired you to write about lust?
Josh: The idea for this book started when my senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney, asked me to give a message on lust at Celebration East 2001. It wasn't an interest or a burden for me previously. But when I was preparing that message, I sensed the working of the Holy Spirit in it. I remember praying as I prepared, and weeping as I thought about the people enslaved to this sin. Because of the depth of I remember thinking, "Whoa! This is going be a special message." I sensed that God was going to do something.
When I gave the message there was a very strong response. In fact, I even told people, "I haven't had people respond to a message like that since I first gave the I Kissed Dating Goodbye message." It was that kind of response. That's why I'm not surprised that Focus on the Family is broadcasting that very message, and not later versions.
Sovereign Grace: You are transparent and honest in this book. Is that ever awkward for you?
Josh: When I was writing Not Even a Hint, I was so focused on the task and the interaction with God and his word that sometimes I lost sight of the fact that thousands of people will be reading about my own struggle with lust. But in response to my earlier books and the initial message on lust, I received many letters, letters that really encouraged me to be open and honest. So it was easy for me to be honest because they were so honest. People – men and women – would write and say, "Please write about this, because this is where I am." So I think just being immersed in the realization of where a lot of people are helped me to be open with what I said. It seemed that when people wrote me, they felt the freedom to share things that maybe they've never shared with anybody else. So it was with all that in mind that I wrote the book.
But I do remember when my wife, Shannon, read different draft of the chapters, she said, "Wow! You're really honest in this!" It hit me then that a lot of people would be reading what I'd written. Now that the book's published, I do have uncomfortable moments where I'm out and people will come up to me to thank me for the book. At that point, I'll think, "Oh, they know this about me. That's kinda weird." But I think the important thing to remember is that God is already aware of all these things.
In general, I think Christians maintain this veneer of common decency – which we all get used to, and which is good – but it is contradicted by our hearts and where our minds are. I think writing this book hasn't made me less concerned about these sinful patterns or issues; I think I've actually grown in my hatred for lust. I'm no longer surprised at the reality of what's underneath, in myself or others. I think the veneer has come off in the process of writing, if that makes sense.
Sovereign Grace: You're going to speak on this at your New Attitude conference in January. After five years of not talking about relationships at New Attitude, why are you going to tackle it now?
Josh: I think that part of the reason to "go relational" with New Attitude started with the revisions to I Kissed Dating Goodbye. For a number of years, I've been thinking, "I want to move on from that topic. I want people the think of me as something besides that topic." But in revising the book, I realized, "You know what? The Lord is the One who blessed that message, and this message is a message that's needed, so I'm not going to downplay that." So when I was at New Attitude last year, I had this moment when I realized that all the people there are thinking about and dealing with relationships. I thought, wouldn't it be fun to break my self-imposed rule, and tackle this topic in a New Attitude sort of way? I was working on Not Even A Hint then, and I was thinking of addressing this topic there, as well.
Recently, when someone found out that New Attitude was going to be about relationships, this person came to me asking questions about it, and I could tell he was concerned. He was so appreciative of the tone of New Attitude, that the idea of being practical and talking about dating made him wonder if the conference would be the same. I told him, "We're not going to do this topic the way you're afraid we will. We're going do this topic in a way that is exalting who God is, and bringing Him to the center of our discussion." For example, we want to meditate on the attributes of God and how that informs the way we approach relationships, and then let it transform our perspective. So, it's still going to be New Attitude, but we're going to be addressing and applying all these amazing truths of who God is and what the Gospel means to an area that is very relevant for singles.
Josh: Yes, I would speak to a mixed group. Lust is a human problem, and there's a way you can address it without getting graphic. I've done that at two or three music festivals now, so I'm really used to it – but other people aren't! Obviously, we wouldn't have a discussion on lust in a mixed small group, but there are ways to talk about this topic in an appropriate way to larger groups. The funny thing is that I think people in this generation have a real strong desire to be challenged on this topic – and I don't think there's as much of a concern about listening to this in a mixed setting. When I was at Creation, there were 10,000-plus people – men and women – listening to me talk about lust and I heard nervous laughter at different points. But the truth is, we're all thinking, "This is about me, and God is really addressing me." So if it's done right, it's not about who's sitting next to you. It's about God and the bigger question – does my life reflect his holiness?
Sovereign Grace: Many past New Attitude participants are now married. Are they still welcome?
Josh: Everything we do at New Attitude is going to be rooted in the gospel. It's going be God-exalting. It's going to be a conference that anyone can take something from. For example, if the message is about contentment in relationships, even married people realize that we need to practice contentment in the season we're in. So, all of the topics apply to married couples, as well, and I think it will be a good reminder and inspiration for them.
Sovereign Grace: What are the other speakers going to talk about at New Attitude?
Josh: We're still praying and thinking a lot about the order of the messages. If you've been to New Attitude, you know that the order can change at the conference. But I know that I'm going to start with a message from Psalm 73 about "whom have I in heaven but you?" That message really ties together all the others because it's asking the conference theme question, "Is He Enough?" That's a question that applies to everyone. It can apply to temptations with lust, it can apply to trusting God in the timing of a relationship, to trusting God with the pace of a relationship as it unfolds, and more. I also know Dr. Mohler is going to be in the middle of it with a challenge and a perspective on marriage. Mark Dever just agreed to come speak, too, which is exciting because he's been at the last three.
Sovereign Grace: You said you're throwing open the doors this year for singles of every age. In the past, New Attitude has focused on the 18- to 29-year-olds. How will it change this year?
Josh: New Attitude has gotten a reputation for being the "young singles conference," and predominantly that's what it has been in the past. This year we almost called it a Singles Celebration because we wanted everyone to know that it's not limited in age. This conference is a chance to gather all the singles in our family of churches, and beyond, to address a topic that I think is just as relevant for older single adults as it is for younger singles. From the way we structure community groups to the activities in the evenings, we're trying to have options for both career and college-age singles. We are making even more of an effort to make sure New Attitude is really serving older singles, and I think that's going to be a really helpful time. Even if people don't know if they will be married, or if they sense they are to remain single, I think they will still be ministered to there. New Attitude is really about how we view relationships in general in light of who God is.
Sovereign Grace: For those who've already read your book, do you think it's still worth it to come hear you talk about it?
Josh: Definitely. There's something invaluable about gathering with other Christians who are walking through similar seasons of life, worshiping together, experiencing God's presence in worship, and hearing his Word preached. I'm aware as a writer and a speaker how very different those forms of communication are. There are things that you can receive in a book – things you can go back to and reflect on – that are very powerful, but God's Word preached is its own form of communication and I think the Spirit uses it in a unique way. So even for those who have "kissed dating goodbye," read all the books, and agree with everything, I think God will meet us in a unique way when we come together with a spirit of faith.
I also think there will be aspects that are going to be emphasized in a fresh way at the conference. It's not like we'll be reading chapters from the books! I think you're going to get fresh perspectives, fresh applications on these topics. That's really one of the most powerful things about New Attitude: you get to hear a message, and then you get to go and talk about it with others. You'll hear things through them that you didn't even hear in the original message.
For more information about New Attitude, click here.
Lust isn’t just a guy problem—it’s a human problem. And unless we’re willing to honestly confront it, lust will destroy our relationships and our lives. Joshua Harris, author of the runaway bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, isn’t afraid to tackle a subject many keep quiet. In Not Even a Hint, he calls a generation bombarded with pornography and images of sexual sin back to God’s standards and the freedom and joy of holiness.
Laying a foundation of sound doctrine, Carolyn Mahaney teaches women the specifics of practical living that glorifies God in Feminine Appeal.
C.J. Mahaney's latest book, The Cross Centered Life, came about after he gave a series of messages at Sovereign Grace conferences called "Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing."