Note from Dr. Denison: While my wife and I are on vacation, our oldest son, Ryan, is writing The Daily Article. Ryan is an MDiv graduate of Truett Seminary currently completing his PhD in Church History. He has written The Daily Article in my absence in the past and was the co-author of our latest publication, How Does God See America? I am honored to share this ministry with him.
Joshua Harris became an internationally prominent Christian when he published his first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, at the age of twenty-three. The 1997 guide to dating focused on maintaining sexual purity before marriage by guarding against the kinds of physical contact and situations that could lead young people to give in to their lust and sin.
I didn’t read the book when it was released. But, as someone who graduated high school in 2004, I remember how the principles he espoused seemed to impact so many around me.
Harris went on to author several more books and pastor Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, from 2004 until resigning in 2015 to pursue a graduate degree at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Around the time he left his position as pastor, he publicly apologized for what he’d come to see as errors in his writings. He still maintained that there were certain aspects of those works with which he agreed. He even expressed gratefulness for the positive impact his words had had on some.
However, he came to see the work as a whole as being too restrictive and fostering a fear-based understanding of relationships.
But Harris is in the news again today for a different reason.
‘I am not a Christian.’
After recently announcing his divorce from his wife of twenty years, Harris stated this week that he has left his faith as well. As part of a long post on Instagram detailing the decision, Harris explained, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
He went on to describe the many regrets he’s had from his time as a Christian leader before speaking specifically to the LGBTQ+ community, stating, “I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”
The Instagram post concluded with a note thanking his Christian friends for their prayers but warning that “I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.”
The weight of public faith
We do not have the space today to discuss the extent to which a person can truly leave the faith (for more on that topic, please see Dr. Denison’s article, “Is it possible for me to lose my salvation?”) However, Harris’ example brings up another important issue with which many believers struggle today.
Joshua Harris is by no means the first well-known Christian to fall away from the faith that helped make him famous. If the Lord tarries, he likely won’t be the last.
At the end of the day, famous Christians are still simply people who face the same temptations and doubts as the rest of us. They just have to wrestle with them under the added pressure of living in the public eye.
What makes their fall so damaging for the kingdom, however, is that it impacts people in ways that extend far beyond themselves. Because Harris helped define the way so many young Christians saw not only their relationships with others but also their relationship with God by extension, his decision to leave the faith has caused many others to question their own.
And, if we’re being frank, that he has such power is a much larger problem, and one for which he does not bear the primary responsibility.
Be like the Bereans
In a time when podcasts, online videos, and a number of additional outlets make it possible to listen to the sermons of essentially anyone who stands behind a pulpit on Sunday, it can be easy to base our faith on the teachings of other people rather than on the teachings of Scripture.
Ideally, it shouldn’t be necessary to make that distinction. One would hope that those who claim to speak from the Bible are doing so faithfully. But we do not live in an ideal world, and I have yet to meet a pastor, Sunday School teacher, or anyone else who has publicly taught Scripture who didn’t have at least one lesson they wish they could take back.
If our relationship with God is based primarily on the relationship with our favorite pastor, speaker, or teacher, then it’s eventually going to lead to trouble.
All of us would do well to follow the example of the Bereans, who received Paul’s “message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 NIV).
The day we take for granted that those who teach us are doing so in a manner that’s faithful to the Scriptures is the day we open ourselves to deception and a faith built upon sand rather than the firm rock of God’s word.
Own your relationship with God
Ultimately, you are the only one who bears the responsibility for the quality of your relationship with God.
When you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, you cannot blame poor preaching, misguided teaching, or the decision to question his faith by someone like Joshua Harris for any deficiencies in yours.
God has given us everything we need to know him and trust him as our Lord and Savior. And while the missteps of public figures and doubts of famous Christians can absolutely make that process more difficult, if they cause us to question the very foundations of our relationship with the Lord, then perhaps that faith was not built on the most solid of rocks to begin with.
Fortunately, God would love nothing more than to help you reexamine your walk with him and come to a better understanding of who he is and just how much he cares for you.
My prayer for Joshua Harris is that his decision to walk away from his faith as he previously understood it will eventually lead him right back into the arms of his heavenly Father.
My prayer for each of you (and for myself) is that our faith will remain so firmly rooted in God that the same will never need to be said for us.
What are you doing to make sure that’s the case today?
NOTE: Without a doubt, we live in complex times.
Our culture would have us think that absolute truth is no longer absolute or true. Consequently, we’re led to believe that whatever answers make us feel best or seem the most popular are the right answers.
But how can any answer be “right” without a foundation of absolute truth?
God’s inspired, authoritative word is that foundation, and we can and should glean insight into today’s toughest questions from its pages.
That’s one reason Dr. Jim Denison wrote the series, Biblical Insight to Tough Questions. Volume 3 is now available, and it covers ten of today’s challenging questions, like “Should we expect our culture or government to observe Christian values?”