Josh Harris

Josh Harris Monetizes Christian Doubt

James Diddams on August 17, 2021

To “deconstruct” one’s faith has become so cliche in contemporary Christian culture that Josh Harris, noted “exvangelical” and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, is selling a deconstruction class for $275.

Entitled “Reframe Your Story” the class includes a “Deconstruction Starter Pack.” Despite the price, there’s a code for those “harmed by purity culture” to take the class for free.

What is to be made of the tendency of Christians, especially megachurch celebrities, to frame their religious struggles with postmodern sounding terms like “deconstruction”? This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon: Christians, as with Jacob, have wrestled with God, for thousands of years. But in another sense this kind of questioning of faith is different. Deconstruction entails an interrogation of religion in-line with the 21st century therapeutic approach to spirituality which prioritizes self-actualization above all else.

Without diminishing the real struggles of Christian apostates, the exvangelical deconstructionist approach seems at odds with the historical prioritization of finding Salvation in God. When Christian social-media stars are “deconstructing,” it says more about them finding solace in the dominant therapeutic spirituality of today than losing an orthodox faith. The persistent theme is a Christianity that aesthetically resembles secular culture producing Christians whose theology is more amenable to popular ideas of transcendence than a historic faith. Deconstruction, then, just amounts to these people coming to the realization that their worldview was never particularly religious to begin with.

Again, this doesn’t delegitimize people struggling with orthodox Christianity, but it does mean that the framework of deconstructionism may not be the best way to address their problems.

I recently reviewed a collection of essays from The Gospel Coalition entitled Before You Lose Your Faith: Deconstructing Doubt in the Church on the subject of deconstructionism. A pattern arose of asking the deconstructors why they had chosen to deconstruct Christianity instead of the secular worldview they compared it against. This is the correct answer, yet it’s unsatisfying since most of those leaving their faith lacked real theological grounding to start.

How do you help someone who’s doubting their faith when that “faith” was always more rooted in modern America than historic Christianity?

This is the issue Harris seeks to exploit: as a former megachurch pastor and bestselling Evangelical author, he is a prime example of a Christianity that values personality and rapid growth over solid theology and worldview formation. Just as modern forms of spirituality, like energy crystals and various forms of neo-paganism, are subject to market capture, so too is Harris’ brand of deconstructed Christianity. The sales-pitch is basically the same as any new-age spirituality guru who, for a small fee, will help open your soul to a higher power without the trappings of old-time religion. For Christians who have implicitly adopted the postwar therapeutic impetus, Harris is a convenient guide from liberal Christianity to whatever watered-down belief feels good.

What is to be done about rampant deconstructionism present in the church? The verb “deconstruct” implies a pre-existing structure which can be taken apart, examined and put back together. Yet for many deconstructors faith is more an unsecured tent, blowing wherever is popular, than a solid building. But there’s no conference to attend, no book to read, no podcast to listen to that addresses the infinite contours of a Christian worldview and can create a robust religious framework for life. The quest for new disciples must be tempered by the knowledge that a weak foundation will ultimately collapse in on itself, as the deconstructionists are seeing. But what does proper Christian formation look like?

When I attended Wheaton College, the school president in an annual “town hall” would take questions. A student once asked why Wheaton did not offer a Christian apologetics course. The president responded that the closest class the school did offer was Philosophy of Religion. At this point I couldn’t contain myself and gave a cry of joy from the balcony, startling the president and the audience who had had no expectation of such passion. But for me, at that moment I could feel so many problems with Christian education laid bare before me.

The thinking which asks “where is our apologetics class?” and “where is our defense against deconstruction?” is the same which asks “where is the class/book/podcast to teach me to think as a Christian?” The answer is that every sermon, every class, every book and every theological conversation should draw us deeper into a tradition, worldview and paradigm fundamentally at odds with modern secularism. The intellectual development that goes into this worldview starts in childhood and never stops. But this development won’t happen if the foundation you’re drilling into has more to do with modern America than historical Christianity; like building houses on sand and stone, only one will survive.

Editor’s Note: Harris has recently taken down the course and is no longer offering it.

  1. Comment by Mike on August 17, 2021 at 12:41 pm

    Harris has since pulled the course and no longer offers it after the backlash it generated.

  2. Comment by Thomas F Neagle on August 17, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    Two points:

    (1) These “deconversion” stories are all so cookie cutter. They have a cut-and-paste quality to them that makes me wonder if a lot of them are genuine or just copycat attention seekers.

    (2) The “deconversion” stories, when describing the “Christian” experience, all focus on what “I” did. I taught Bible studies, I led worship, I wrote a best-selling book, I pastored a church. They do not mention Jesus at all, which makes me suspect that they never really knew Him.

  3. Comment by jeff on August 17, 2021 at 6:36 pm

    I wish he would be honest enough to come out the closet. That is 99 percent of the reason he rejected Christ and left his wife.

  4. Comment by Loren J Golden on August 18, 2021 at 11:56 am

    “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.  So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (Jn. 6.66-69)
     
    “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons.” (Rom. 8.12-15)
     
    Putting to death the desires of the flesh is difficult work, and it is impossible to accomplish it apart from the indwelling power of God the Holy Spirit.  Yet it is imperative that we do so.  We cannot walk in the Spirit, unless we die to the desires of the flesh, and we cannot live eternally, unless we walk in the Spirit.  Continuing to live in sin is incompatible with living in the Spirit: He will make it so uncomfortable for us, that we will turn from our wicked ways and seek His power daily to keep ourselves from falling back into it, or else we will forsake Christ and His way, and follow our own selfish path to destruction, as many of the Lord Jesus’ followers did after the Bread of Life discourse, and as Joshua Harris (and many other former Evangelical megachurch idols) appears to have done.
     
    But “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4.12)
     
    “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” (Heb. 10.26-27)

  5. Comment by Kevin on August 18, 2021 at 12:06 pm

    Truth:

    “ … he is a prime example of a Christianity that values personality and rapid growth over solid theology and worldview formation.”

  6. Comment by Loren J Golden on August 19, 2021 at 11:57 am

    Kevin,
     
    I am not at all certain about that.  After all, the Pharisees were prime examples of those who highly valued solid theology and worldview formation, and yet completely missed the mark.
     
    “What shall we say then?  That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.  Why?  Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works.  They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,

    ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’

    “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.  I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.  For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom. 9.30-10.4)
     
    Now, I am the last person to disparage having a robust theology and a carefully built Biblical worldview.  However, it is quite possible to have a robust theology and a Biblical worldview and still be far from God, as the Pharisees amply demonstrated.  They were quite adamant about stamping out sin, and they were quick to call out anyone who was found in it.  Yet for all their emphasis on keeping the Law, their hearts were far from the God whose Law they thought to keep (Mt. 15.1-9, Mk. 7.1-13).  The Lord Jesus said to them, “You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Mt. 23.27-28)  It is no wonder, then, that He declared to his audience at the Sermon on the Mount, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5.20)
     
    The Pharisees’ mistake was not that they were overly zealous to keep the Law, but that they pursued it in such a manner, that as if by performing what it said was required was all that was needed to fulfill all righteousness, rather than pursuing it by faith in God, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness (Mt. 6.33).  Likewise, the purity culture, of which Josh Harris was the poster child before he turned away from it and the Christian faith, was heavily based on doing the works of the Law (and some additional traditions of men) in order to achieve sexual righteousness, rather than relying on the pursuit of Christ, as the primary goal of the Christian life, achieved through the secondary and ordinary means of the regular and consistent reading of Scripture, regular and consistent prayer, and regular and consistent worship in a local church.
     
    To be sure, the means of purity culture to achieve the end of sexual purity is not an evil in and of itself, as long as it is understood that knowing Christ deeply and intimately, and not sexual purity, is the primary goal of the Christian life.  And this, I think, is where Josh Harris missed the mark, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”  We come to Christ, to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and…share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,” before we can be cleansed from all unrighteousness, before we can begin to put to death the deeds of the body, for as He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn. 15.5)

  7. Comment by David on August 20, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    I have read and heard many “deconstruction” stories on the web, in podcasts, and person. Generally, they all bear one central theme, the person in question learned “what to believe” but not “why to believe.” The Christian apologist Frank Turek leads his podcast about being talked out of Christianity because they were never talked into it. I, however, believe too many have been literally “talked into” Christianity which is different from genuinely believing and knowing why one believes. The passage in 1 Peter 3:15 about giving a ready defense for what/why we believe is one that too many have taken casually.

  8. Comment by George Brown on August 20, 2021 at 8:27 pm

    Seems to me the problem is what generally plagues the church. First, true Christianity comes by way of revelation – not information. And “personality cults” are rarely really “the church” and more like “fan clubs.” When Peter revealed that he understood Jesus is Messiah Jesus pointed out that not flesh and blood (a human) but His Father had revealed it to Peter. The Father’s revelation of the Son by the Spirit involves the fullness of God and is the “rock” upon which Jesus said He would build his church. Its the REVELATION of WHO HE IS and those who’ve had it become His disciples. I think this passage covers both these issues and so many problems with what is called “church” is that it is filled with so many who, though nominally “Christian” are simply NOT disciples! Isn’t this the basic problem? We’ve got a great deal of Christianity that wants to make the person of Peter “the rock” upon which the Church is built – and another great deal that couldn’t care less WHAT Jesus meant or even WHO He is! I was born in a Christian family – or I attend a church so I must be a Christian and should go to church!

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