It used to be that we would hear tell of a Christian who had “fallen away” from the faith through personal channels. Sadness and prayers for that individual’s renewed faith would quietly follow. Nowadays, announcing a departure from the faith makes for a trendy Instagram post and attracts public interest. Or such is the case of Joshua Harris, a well-known Evangelical pastor and the author of the uber-popular book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
In an Instagram post published on July 26, Harris captioned a photo of himself declaring he has made a “massive shift” and “fallen away” from the Christian faith. Harris wrote, “By all the measurements I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
Harris writes that he has spent the past several years repenting for his teachings’ “fear-based approach to life,” views on women in the church, and parenting. But what I find most striking is Harris’ apology specifically addressed to members of the LGBTQ community. Harris shared:
[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.
Then on August 4, Harris posted photographs of himself marching in a pride parade in Vancouver. The Christian Post reported that Harris posted several photos such as the one here with the caption “An American in Canada marching with the British Consulate in the Pride Parade.” (The photos of Harris at the Pride parade appear to have been removed from Instagram as of this morning. Or I am unable to access them.)
A significant pause to affirm progressive sexual ethics amidst a denunciation of Christianity seems odd. Such a clean cut from Christianity is especially surprising when there is a push by progressives for Christians to expand historic traditional teachings on sexuality and marriage. If there is any bright spot to be seen in this sad post, it is that Harris doesn’t compromise or alter the faith’s teachings to fit a popular narrative, as is the tendency of so many influencers under the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s (IRD) monitor.
IRD President Mark Tooley was the first to make this observation. “Evangelical author Josh Harris’ self-proclaimed exit from Christianity seems to have integrity,” explained Tooley. “Unlike many others, he’s not demanding it bend to his purposes or denying its identity. He’s just leaving because he no longer believes.”
Tooley is right that there is a refreshing honesty to Harris’ rejection. I find myself thinking of so many other news stories and events that I’ve monitored sharing the same sad conclusion. A popular Christian figure as influential as Harris compromises on a particularly hot button issue. Their theological alterations trigger reactions from across the ideological spectrum and often breeds confusion and ultimately causes harm to Christian public witnesses. Harris spares all that.
Harris’ denouncement of the faith came just a week after another, equally saddening Instagram post sharing news of his separation from his wife–a shocking admission from the man who literally wrote the evangelical guidebook for courtship with intention towards the sacredness of marriage.
Harris has since rejected the courtship model popularized in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but the book’s influence on an entire generation of young Evangelicals is undeniable. (IRD guest writer Abri Nelson reflects on her own encounter with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the hazards of Harris’ courtship model here.)
By now, there are oodles of articles and blog posts publically reflecting on Harris, his books, purity culture, homeschooling, exvangelicals, and the like. One of the most valuable comments I’ve read is published over on The Gospel Coalition. A piece penned by Harris’ former friends including Collin Hansen, Kevin DeYoung, Justin Taylor, and Greg Gilbert, issue caution to those who want to figure out what went wrong.
They write, in part:
While some basic ruminations can be justified, we ought to be wary of making sweeping judgments either corporately or personally.
Our hope is that we may once again boast in the cross with our old friend. At the very least, we hope he will travel this new path with a bit more caution himself. Divorce and deconstruction are confusing. They are painful. They are destabilizing. It seems, therefore, better that they would be largely out of the public eye. Instagram seems a poor vehicle for honest self-assessment. Transparency, overrated in our day as it is, is certainly less sanguine when we aren’t sure who we are or what we will become.
Caution to avoid speculation and broad characterization is good advice. The entire Gospel Coalition article is worth the brief read.
It is never easy to report on any individual’s “massive shift” in regards to faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever the reasoning behind Harris’ denouncement of Christianity, I join others in prayer for Joshua Harris and his family. May his faith be renewed someday soon.
But perhaps it is better for Harris to publically denounce the faith altogether (and hopefully only temporarily) than to alter it and mislead another generation of young Evangelicals.