Just last week, author and former pastor Joshua Harris announced the deconstruction of his faith—He described it this way on his instagram account: “the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” This heartbreaking news is the next step in the seeming evolution of Josh. He burst on the scene in 1997 as a young author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book advocating courtship as opposed to dating. The courtship idea proposed that singles have no physical expression of affection; no kissing or hugging as well as lots of parental involvement in relationships. Later, Harris became pastor of a megachurch in Gaithersburg, MD. A couple of years ago, he publicly renounced his book and apologized for his teachings about courtship. Then, revealed he was going to attend theological graduate school. A few weeks ago Josh announced his divorce and now this, what Josh calls the deconstruction of his faith in Jesus. Based on all the questions I’ve received about this painful announcement, I thought I’d try to present some ways to think biblically about it all.
My first thought, when Josh repudiated his book, was that even if someone didn’t want to “kiss dating good-bye” any longer, we still need to maintain sexual purity. Here’s what the Bible says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Notice that Scripture doesn’t call for an end to young people dating. It just reveals that it’s God’s will, and therefore the best for us, that people not have sexual relations outside of marriage. It was amazing that so many people equated Josh’s book with the biblical demand of sexual purity. Courtship may have been a way that Josh found to apply the principles of purity but this approach wasn’t specified in Scripture. Any attempt to equate the courtship movement with Scripture was legalism—considering human made regulations to be God’s standard and requirement.
Besides keeping our perspective about purity biblical, we shouldn’t be surprised when spiritual leaders bail on the faith. It happened in New Testament times also. Just think, Paul had a significant associate who served with him as a member of his apostolic team. At the close of Paul’s letter to Philemon, he even included greetings from this fellow-worker, Demas (Philemon 1:24). But, when Paul was in prison, facing execution for his faith, he wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy, that “Demas has deserted me because he loved this present world” (2Tim 4:10). If someone who served with the apostle Paul could abandon the work, and likely, the faith, why should we be shocked if it happens in our day as well?
Josh’s public announcement is also a cautionary tale about elevating young people to spiritual leadership. Josh was all of 20 years old when he wrote his best-selling book. The Bible believing world attributed to him a maturity he didn’t possess yet and gave him spiritual leadership he wasn’t prepared for. Paul warned that we’re not to “be too quick to lay hands on anyone” (1Tim 5:22). This is a warning about making anyone an elder too soon. Of course, Paul reminded Timothy, the pastor of the congregation in Ephesus, that “no one should despise your youth” (1Tim 4:12). But remember, Timothy was about 40 years old when Paul wrote that. There was a different standard of youthfulness in biblical days. Elders really were older.
What seems to be foremost in people’s minds is wondering how to think about spiritual defection. When someone, particularly a leader walks away, what is their spiritual condition? Frankly, God alone knows. Abandoning the faith may demonstrate that a person never really knew the Lord. That’s what 1 John 2:19-20 is saying: “They went out from us but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. However, they went out so that it might be made clear that none of them belongs to us.” But here’s another possibility: A person like this may very well know the Lord and so, will ultimately make the way back to walking in faith. According to Hebrews 3:6, 14, the proof of a believer’s election is perseverance in faith. The Josh Harris story is not over yet—he may still return to a walk of faith in Jesus.
Here are two quick take-aways: First, let’s keep praying and caring for Josh and his wife and others like them. God’s grace and mercy is great and that means we need to reflect that and be gracious and merciful to Josh and Shannon as well. Pray that they will come home to their first love.
Second, let’s remember to be careful about our own walk with the Lord. Paul tells us, “whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Draw closer to the Lord on a daily basis; read His Word and talk with Him. Also, deal with questions and doubts sooner rather than later—that’s how we prevent doubt from becoming disbelief.
One of my favorite parts of the Narnia Chronicles is when Aslan says he never reveals a person’s individual story to anyone else. Sadly, Josh Harris’s faith story is displayed all over social media. I’m counting on the Lord to keep dealing with him and his wife Shannon privately. Meanwhile, we need to keep praying for them.