Joshua Harris Is Not Your Opportunity

By Bob Hiller

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Joshua Harris, the evangelical who found fame with his “purity culture” classic “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” has left the faith. Of leaving his current situation, Harris posted on his Instagram page, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian…I have lived in repentance for the past several years — repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.” Of course, he offered the obligatory apology to the LGBTQ community. The announcement comes in the wake of his divorce. He claims to be hopeful about what the future holds for him, “I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.”

Now, this may be review for you as Harris’ story has been the topic on social media. Tweets, subtweets, articles, and reactions have dominated my feed the last few days. Harris’ self-avowed apostasy has given everyone in the conversation an opportunity to prove how right they are about, well, how right they are:

+ From the ex-evangelical side, the demise of one of the “purity culture” heroes only serves to bolster their position. They are using this to show the futility of Harris’ former position and celebrating with him for the change.

+ More conservative Christians are using this as an opportunity to demonstrate the problems with celebrity culture in evangelical Christianity. A scholar no less renowned than Carl Truman has a thoughtful piece over at First Things in which he argues that Harris’ apostasy is just another inevitable casualty of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. Here is just more proof that religious movements built on celebrity and popularity are dangerous. (Though, let’s give those YRR guys some credit, they nearly accomplished the impossible by making Calvinism hip!)

+I’ve even seen my own brothers and sisters in the Lutheran church go after Harris’ abandonment of his faith as an opportunity to remind us that pure doctrine would prevent such results. Had he only truly understood the freedom he had in the true preaching of the gospel of forgiveness, then he would have remained in the faith.

+I’m sure I’ve missed more. Further, I’m sure Harris will now have his own regular spot on the hip ex-evangelical podcast and maybe even get a book deal out of the whole thing. After all, his apostasy will be an opportunity for someone to make some money.

So, basically, Harris’ announcement has changed nothing for anyone. Everyone is more confirmed in their views. He’s just offered an opportunity for everyone to say what they were already thinking. They’re just using his announcement as the newest talking point. To be fair, Harris has asked for this treatment by posting the news on Instagram. Maybe he wanted to start a conversation. If so, he succeeded. Nonetheless, for anyone reacting, this is entirely beside the point. The point is to use Harris to prove me right!

And I think this is quite disturbing. I was wrong to say a minute ago that Harris’ announcement hasn’t changed anything for anyone. It has. For his family. For his church. For his friends. For himself. Divorce and apostasy are not publicity stunts. They are tragedies. Tragedies to be wept over. For the church, Harris’ change of heart is not an opportunity to shoot our mouths off about how right we are. It is a time to lament and repent. If the Christian faith is correct, Harris’ decision is among the most tragic he could make. One that ought to terrify us. He’s not a sob-story we can turn into some sort of less. He’s a fallen soldier on the battlefield that we are at risk of losing. This is a sad and critical moment, not my opportunity.

I wish that when ex-evangelical leaders came out with these statements the church would agree to say nothing for a week. Instead, we should pray and fast. We should look in our own hearts to find where our faith is vulnerable. We should plead that the Jesus, who loves Joshua Harris more than any online author ever could, would pursue this wandering sheep. This is the loss of a brother, not an opportunity to wax-philisophic on our views as to why the purity culture was so dangerous or why Lutheranism is better than Calvinism.

I imagine at this point you’ve caught me in my hypocrisy. I’ve used this opportunity to publish my own thoughts on the situation. Likely, I’m coming across as more presumptuous than anything else you’ve read on the matter. For this, I repent. However, I pray that you will take this in the spirit it is intended. I pray the church would stop and breath and pray when we read stories like this. Pray for Harris, his family, his church. Joshua Harris is not your opportunity. It is not time for us to pass judgment on Harris. That’s the job of One far more just, and far more gracious, than any of us on this wretched web.

Lord, have mercy on us.