Have you heard about Joshua Harris? Chances are you have heard more about him in the past two weeks than you have in the past two years. If not, allow me to update.
Two weeks ago, Harris and his wife announced that they were getting a divorce. This is big news for the former megachurch pastor and author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book that was central in sparking the so-called “purity culture.” (See here.)
Then, last week, Harris announced, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” He went on to write,
[T]o the LGBTQ+ community, 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.
So, here’s the thing…
We have seen people embrace a Christian identity and deny a Biblical sexual ethic in order to embrace the sexual revolution. What strikes many about Harris’ story is not simply a repudiation of Biblical sexuality but of Biblical Christianity altogether. As Christians, how are we to think about such an influential figure renouncing the faith?
I would offer three passages to guide us.
1 John 2:19
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
We must realize how deep belief can go without being true regeneration.
I have seen several close Christian friends turn away from Christ. I am baffled every time I think of each one. I saw their life. They helped me grow in my faith, and I tried my best to help them do the same. I am shaken to the core because they often seemed to be better Christians than I was.
Then I read 1 John 2:19. It is comforting to know that this is not a new problem. The apostle John warns the first generation of Christians. There were those who professed to be in Christ, lived the life, and then left. However, John assures that they were never really in Christ.
The New Testament is clear: True Christians do not fall from grace because God does not fail in grace. When someone is in Christ—saved, born again, adopted into the family of God—they are in Christ because of Christ.
For true Christians to fall away, the Son would have to fail in his sacrifice, the Father would have to fail in giving them eternal life, and the Holy Spirit would have to have failed in sealing them.
John assures us that if a believer ceases to believe, they were Christian in name but not in Christ.
Matthew 13 also comes to mind. Jesus tells the parable of the sower who sows seed in various types of soil. Some of the soil receives the seed and even shows signs of growth. Nevertheless, that which seemed to be growing withers away.
Christians fail. However, a sign of true regeneration is repentance. A failure to repent is a sign that there was never regeneration in the first place.
Many will continue to watch Harris’ story hoping that he is straying from the fold, rather than finding that he never was a part of it. I hope this is so, for Harris’ sake and for his family’s sake. I hope and pray the same thing for many of my friends.
However, Christians would do well to “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
A question to ask: For my salvation, am I trusting what I have done for God (a prayer, obedience, personal holiness), or am I trusting what God through Jesus Christ has done for me?
And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
We must remember that repudiation is more honest than compromise.
The attempt to reconcile Biblical Christianity with the sexual revolution is becoming increasingly popular. However, the amount of misinterpretation of Scripture that is required to do so is clear. The Biblical sexual ethic and the tenets of the sexual revolution are irreconcilable.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus firmly condemned any sexual activity—heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise—outside of marriage. Then, he plainly defined marriage as being between one man and one woman, grounding his teaching in the creation narrative of Genesis 1 and 2. In doing so, Jesus affirmed the teachings of the Old Testament before him and validated the teachings of the New Testament after him. The line he drew is inescapable.
Harris reflects this certitude. In an interview last year, he spoke about accepting current sexual ethics within the Christian tradition. He stated, “In a way it’s almost easier for me to contemplate throwing out all of Christianity than it is to keeping Christianity and adapting it in these different ways.” And of course, that’s what he did. Instead of adapting Christianity to the sexual revolution, he threw it out altogether.
While Christians regret Harris’ repudiation of Christianity, we have to appreciate his intellectual honesty. Proper interpretation of Scripture does not allow for compromise on the issue of sexuality. Of course, that means Christians stand at variance with the culture at large. We are tempted to seek room for concession. But, God’s Word is clear. Here we stand. We can do no other. God help us.
A question to ask: How is cultural pressure affecting our understanding of Scriptural clarity?
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
We must distinguish the commandments of God from the commandments of men.
As it often goes with high-profile Christian leaders, Harris represented specific ways of thinking and doing. His book laid a precise vision of dating and courtship, calling for Christians to take “A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships.” Before he wrote his book, his family played an influential part in the burgeoning homeschool movement of the 1970s.
So, what are we to make the ideas that Harris and his family exemplified?
The fact is there are plenty of Biblical principles upheld in Harris’ vision of relationships and his family’s vision of childhood education. However, applications of those principles at some point became obviously toxic.
It would be easy to place the blame on the ideas of courtship and homeschooling. It is tempting to reject them out of hand, as though they inevitably lead to Harris’ plight. However, discernment and moderation are needed.
Several times throughout Scripture, we are warned to not stray from the path of righteousness (Deuteronomy 5:32; Joshua 1:7, and Proverbs 4:27 to name a few). It is interesting, though, that the warning includes two misdirections—the right and the left. In a manner of speaking, for every mistake we need to avoid, there is an equal and opposite mistake that we must also avoid.
Here we find the age-old pendulum swinging between legalism and antinomianism. Many took Harris’ book for gospel and built a purity culture on its ideas. But, does that mean that sexual purity is simply a non-issue? Of course not. We should be careful not to respond to a legalistic tendency with an antinomian attitude. Both undermine the gospel of grace. Both should be avoided.
We must be vigilant to obey the commandments of God while considering suggestions of men. We must continuously check every idea and practice against the truth of God’s Word. We must avoid the “right hand” of legalism, but we also must avoid the “left hand” of antinomianism.
Whatever your thoughts on Joshua Harris, it is a jarring thing to see what seemed to be such a dedicated Christian turn from the faith. However, it is a comfort to know that this is nothing new; this is nothing unanticipated by the Bible. So, let’s think Biblically about it.
 Interview in Sojourners, “Questioning Faith after Purity Culture: In Conversation with Joshua Harris”.
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this post, I would be very grateful if you would help it spread by sharing with a friend who it might help.
I would love to hear your thoughts!
Please share in the comments below or on your preferred platform.