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.


7 thoughts on “Joshua Harris Is Not Your Opportunity

  1. Sometimes the unrelenting siren call of the world can overwhelm even the most ardent Christian. Perhaps, this is what happened to Mr. Harris. It might be temporary. If we believe that the Lord is faithful, and we do believe it, than the Comforter will not let any single soul ordained and predestined to eternal life fall away permanently. Oh…so easy these days to just give up the walk, step off the path, follow your own dreams, your own will, your own brand of foolishness…preferring the applause and compliments of the ungodly worldlings as we join hands with them and drop into the abyss. When one abandons the faith, having become enlightened by the culture of spiritual death which surrounds the child of God, it is a sad day indeed, Did Our Lord say following Him would be easy? You are correct to say we should not judge Mr.Harris, as that is God’s authority to do so, but we know Mr Harris has fallen away, at least for now, and we must view this soberly. It is a warning to us. The Old Testament prophet received the instruction of God in three words…”Consider your ways!” We might take note of this ourselves, and pray that we stay the course with the help of the Holy Spirit.


  2. Bob, if you want the church to pray and fast, maybe just say that.

    But instead, we get the Jagged Word treatment: Berating those, whose job it is to teach and to speak, for teaching and for speaking. Always the Church’s accuser, never the Church’s advocate. Silly Church, we’ll show you how silly you are, how simple you are. If you were smart like us, you’d say nothing. But we’ll say something, we’ll find a way to accuse the Church for trying to speak, then excuse our speaking with a reference to “my hypocrisy,” and an “I repent.” Really?

    If I seem unkind or angry, Bob, it’s for two reasons:
    1) It’s become a predictable formula. It’s your M.O. Accuse the Church as she struggles to process data, to interpret it meaningfully, for trying to do it. Accuse the Church. Always.
    2) You assign motives. This one really, really pisses me off.

    Dear God, Bob. If Journalism 101 didn’t teach you not to assign motives, then Logic 101 should have. And if that didn’t take, how about simply “Pastoral Care 101”? You. Assign. Motives.

    Stop it. Stop it.

    Listen to yourself:
    –“Harris’ self-avowed apostasy has given everyone in the conversation an opportunity to prove how right they are about, well, how right they are.” You speak unconditionally–“everyone”–with a sweeping asssumption and accusation. So that’s why these people spoke up? They just want to prove how right they are? Do you actually know that?

    –“I’m sure Harris will now have his own regular spot on the hip ex-evangelical podcast…his apostasy will be an opportunity for someone to make some money,” says nothing about him or the truth. It simply demonstrates your cynicism. Cynicism looks almost like wisdom, but it lacks any kind of love.

    –“Harris’ announcement has changed nothing for anyone. Everyone [is] just using his announcement as the newest talking point.” Really, Bob? You know that about “everyone”? What a bloated assumption. “The point is to use Harris to prove me right!” Bob, that is a sweeping, presumptive accusation? Do you do not see that?

    –Those who speak regard this as “an opportunity to wax-philisophic on our views as to why the purity culture was so dangerous or why Lutheranism is better than Calvinism,” then “Joshua Harris is not your opportunity.” So that is the motive for those who speak up? Opportunity? Not love for neighbor? Not grief? Not brokenheartedness? Not love for the truth? They see it as an “opportunity”? You know this about all of them? How?

    Unconditional statements (“everyone”) are the death-knell of sound argument. Qualified statements (“Some may,” or “We may be tempted to…”) are valuable both because they show humility, but also because they speak the truth more clearly. You undermine your own argument by the way you make it.

    And I will not be silent when I see others’ motives, even those with whom I may have severe disagreement, assigned so blatantly and so callously.

    This is clumsy, presumptive writing.


  3. I like your summary on the situation. I also enjoyed his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It gave some of my youth something to think about, in terms of “purpose” for “dating.”

    Do his prior “teachings” still stand? Does a pastor’s sermons become void if he falls away from God or commits a sin people find out about? Do I need to ban all his books now? Do they somehow become more readable in light of the scandal?


  4. mpopp85, let me answer you on whether or not a “fallen” pastor’s books or sermons should be banned after a scandal is exposed. In my humble view…it depends. For example, we still read the psalms of David, even after the infidelity with Bathsheba was exposed. True, he repented later. We still read the Proverbs despite the fact that Solomon was influenced to set up false idols for some of his pagan wives and concubines, a major issue in Israel. Solomon acted sinfully and contrary to the wisdom he taught and wrote about. No icon of the Bible was free of the tarnished legacy of their sins, Our own Martin Luther taught many truths which we have embraced as Lutherans and Christians, yet he also made many anti-Semitic comments and was often rash in his words. I suppose we should look at the things these Christians have said through the prism of God’s word, and where what they said was Biblical, it can be accepted. Where it was carnal or extra-Biblical in substance, we must not accept it. Most of us cannot follow our own advice, even when it is good, and when it is Biblical as well. But in the case of one who denies the faith, turns away from God, rejects Holy Writ, embraces evil or heresy, we would be wise to put away their books and sermons. There are many other good sources and faithful commentaries available, but the first and primary reference is the Bible on your night table.


    1. So in other words, I don’t have to burn my Joshua Harris books? At least not any more than I should have before “the fall.” 🙂 Good examples.


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