What to Make of Joshua Harris' 'Decision?'
The announcement was posted on Instagram and was, in so many ways, reflective of the spirit of the age: the 'liberated' man, standing in a picturesque setting, looking off into the distance, thoughtfully sharing his 'journey' his 'truth.' His 'truth' and 'journey' his 'story' was moving in a new direction. He realized that his decision would disappoint and hurt many, anger many, but he personally felt liberated and hopeful.
He was not only abandoning his marriage, he was also renouncing his faith in Christ. He was 'no longer a Christian.'
The man was Joshua Harris, a prominent evangelical figure. At the very young age of twenty, Harris was elevated to celebrity status in the evangelical community with the release of his book entitled 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye.'
Harris' ideas on courting and what purity looked like, became very popular in many evangelical circles. As his ideas became popular, so did Harris. Now, Harris has joined an increasingly long line of formerly prominent pastors who have left the faith or embraced various heresies, and, a growing number of celebrity pastors who are dangerously flirting with heretical ideas.
What are we to make of such times? What are we to make of stories like Harris'? What are lessons to be learned?
First, we should pray for Harris' salvation. It may well be that he never was converted. Many people have subjective, emotional or 'spiritual' encounters and combined with knowing the 'facts' of the gospel, mistake those feelings and head knowledge with actual conversion. Unless there is actual, genuine repentance and regeneration and trusting in Christ and Christ alone, there is no salvation. We need to pray for the man.
Second, we need to pray for the restoration of his marriage. Marriage is hard work and all of us fail our spouses in so many ways, but God is the One who is able to restore all that is broken. His wife is justifiably shell-shocked. Apparently it was his decision to leave the faith that marked the end of their marriage. We need to pray for her as well.
Third, we need to pray for the many Christians who are having a crisis of faith of sorts now because of Harris' decision and announcement. We are to fix our gaze on Christ, not man. All of us are fallible and but dust, our feet made of clay. Jesus alone is worthy of our ultimate attention, affection and devotion. When we elevate anyone to the position of celebrity, we not only set them up for failure, we set ourselves up for profound let-downs when (inevitably) they disappoint us in some way, or worse, fail profoundly.
Fourth, we must walk humbly before God. We must not beat our chest and proclaim 'I will never fail! I will never stumble like that!' We must walk humbly with our God and before one another.
Fifth, we must encourage one another. These 'stories' are never created in isolation. There are always things that took place behind the scenes, over time, that led to such a jumping off point. Often there are common factors: being isolated from loving and real friendships that also include honest and gracious accountability, a cessation in the personal growth process and focusing more on image, not admitting there are problems in one's life, not seeking counsel and so on. We need one another and we need to be in community.
Sixth, we need to take discipleship more seriously and the admonition to 'not lay hands too quickly' on someone seriously as well. The growing number of prominent 'celebrity' pastors who have left the faith or fallen into error have some commonalities: a lack of being discipled once they achieved 'star' status, little in the way of accountability, being given too much too fast and too soon . I believe one of the most dangerous things that can happen to a young minister is to either be handed something that only a seasoned minister should be leading, or achieving celebrity status and becoming a 'brand.'
Harris' decision to leave Christianity doesn't mean Christianity isn't true. Not at all. In fact, when we read his 'story' we see that he is shaped more by culture than Scripture, that there was not a sense in which he was not only rooted in Truth, but the sense of WHY Christianity is true.
Combine these deficits with the spiritually dangerous cocktail of celebrity and rock star, and this is a prescription for disaster.
While Harris is ultimately responsible for his actions and decisions, we also bear a measure of responsibility: we have downplayed the role of discipleship. We have amused generations to death and have encouraged our young people for over two generations to follow the 'latest' fad (and there have been so many). We have encouraged the cult of personality. We helped create these celebrities.
It is not uncommon to hear professing Christians, young and old alike, say things such as: 'I don't go to church. I do read (such and such authors) and listen to these pastors on (radio/television/podcasts),' as if to say 'these are my pastors, and this virtual world is my 'church.'
Both are profoundly unbiblical.
We must return to an emphasis on discipleship. This means making disciples of the Lord Jesus, and growing disciples. We cannot be content with how low we have aimed for generations with our young people 'how do we get Johnny interested in attending church' is the wrong question and is not the real issue. The real issue is: 'how do we help Johnny understand Christianity is true and worth everything and help him grow as a mature follower of Christ who will not only stand, but courageously lead others to follow the Risen Christ?'
We must also be careful about elevating man to the degree we have. This is not to say the pendulum swings completely in the other direction and we dishonor those who teach, rather it is to say we thank God for them, pray for them and at the same time, remember, they are but men. We don't put our ultimate hope in man.
We are in a new era. People do not know what they believe or why they believe what they say they believe, and everyhing is 'subjective.' Personal story and narrative trump any idea of objective Truth. The claims of Christianity are truth claims-ultimate truth claims. They are either true or not true, worth everything or worthless. There is no middle ground.
We live in an era in which the powerful, emerging cultural tides are increasingly opposed to everything the historic faith holds dear. We cannot have feet planted firmly in historical, orthodox Christianity and the culture at the same time. In following Jesus we can lovingly disagree with people without falling into the twin traps of self-righteousness or hatred. But, what we cannot do is affirm Christ and love our neighbor (we must do both) AND at the same time, 'bless' and 'affirm' things or positions that the Lord has said we cannot and must not affirm.
I hate to say it, but even as I write these words, I believe we will see more church members abandon churches across America as the desire to be liked and affirmed by the culture becomes more important than following Christ. These are spiritually perilous times.
So, once more, as we talk about 'rethinking' ministry to children, youth, young adults and to families, we are faced with yet another reason to stop doing things the 'old way' and by old, I mean 'recent' in terms of the larger scope of Christian history. The path forward is actually an ancient path. We must return to the basics, the foundations. The flimsly foundation of an evangelicalism based on personallity, celebrity, entertainment and comfort will not stand under the unbelievable weight of secularism.
The ancient ways will, however.
May we walk humbly before our God and with one another for His glory and the blessing of many.
Grace to You,