Josh Harris has been in the news in recent weeks, and it isn’t good. The author of the controversial Christian bestseller I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and the impetus behind a youth ‘purity movement’ twenty years ago, announced first that he and his wife, Shannon, parents of four children, were ending their marriage. Then, in an Instagram post, Harris revealed a deeper change – in his personal faith in Jesus Christ:
I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.
In a subsequent communication, he apologized to the LGBTQ community for his views on sexuality. It will not surprise me if further revelations about his personal life are forthcoming. The fallout from this event – like other well-known Christian leaders who have ‘fallen away’ from the faith – will be painful. It is my hope many will ‘turn their eyes upon Jesus’ as a result – and all of us can take some vital lessons from this sad episode.
First, this is nothing new. The New Testament church was brought to its knees more than once by respected leaders who abandoned their faith: Phygelus, Hermogenes, Hymenaeus, Philetus, Demas, and Alexander the coppersmith – Paul mentions these all in 2 Timothy! The process of losing one’s faith often begins with a loss of respect for God’s Word. The Christian life is not a sprint; it’s a marathon! Scripture adjures us to run with endurance the race set before us (Heb. 12.1). If you don’t intentionally fight the battle to keep your fellowship with God alive and fresh, it will wither and die.
Second, beware of ‘shooting stars’ in the Christian universe. Paul wisely instructs the church to not put young men on a pedestal of leadership (1 Tim 3.6); the lure of pride is dangerous to all Christian leaders, especially young ones. Josh Harris was a ‘star’ in the Christian home-school movement as a teenager, and was adored by thousands who ‘hung on his every word’ over the next fifteen years. I don’t know if his ‘superstar’ status contributed to his downfall, but we in the Christian church would do well to ‘give God time’ to mature leaders through the crucible of life.
Finally, keep God on the throne, and His Word as your unassailable source of truth. Some deny the Bible is God’s Word at all, of course, but perhaps more dangerous are those who add to God’s Word, and thus dilute its unique power. Perhaps unintentionally, Josh Harris did this by enshrining an approach to relationships (kissing dating ‘Good-bye’) as ‘God’s way,’ and turning obedience to God’s comprehensive design for life into a ‘fad’ that swept tens of thousands up in its wake. Bernard of Clairvaux is credited with originating the axiom, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” God’s Word, not good intentions, will keep us strong in our faith.
When I was in Bible college, the former pastor of a fellow-student – the man who personally led him to faith in Jesus Christ – committed suicide. The shock of having his ‘spiritual father’ take his own life shattered my friend’s confidence in God. He left school, and I have never heard from him since. Satan seeks to wreak havoc where he can; some who respected and followed Josh Harris will find their faith shaken to the core. But God is still on His throne. He is loving, forgiving, and unchanging. Hold on to Him and His Word with both hands!