JOSH HARRIS…A WARNING TO ALL OF US

Many things could and should be said about Josh Harris’s announcement that he has left both his wife and Christian faith. I offer here a few things that strike me as underappreciated by many Christians. More seriously, I also think the case can be made that these areas completely pass under the spiritual radar for far too many of us.

Be Sad, but not Surprised

The Bible makes it clear that you can cast out demons and not be a Christian (Mt. 7:21-23). Since that is true, it means that you can be a pastor, missionary, memorize lots of Scripture, lead people to faith in Jesus, and a whole bunch more, yet not be a Christian.

We American Christians are impressed with behavior. Our models for Christian growth tend to focus on what people do, not who they are. Don’t misunderstand. I am a big believer in sharing my faith, memorizing Scripture, and reading the Bible. However, Scripture warns me that these important practices for Christian growth can also be done for less than honorable reasons. Though terribly misguided, it is impressive to see someone who pours gas on his own body and then lights himself ablaze as a human torch. We’ve seen this occur from time to time in various protest movements. Such a stunning sacrifice, yet the Bible makes clear that this incredible act can be done completely devoid of love (I Cor. 13:3, NASB).

I’ve done open-air preaching on the campuses of Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve also done open-air preaching on the streets of Boulder, Colorado and Dallas, Texas. Impressive, eh? I can tell you, however, that these were much easier to do than gladly serving my family when I am tired physically. People may be wowed by the public preaching, but I can attest that it was much easier to do than serving my family in obscurity.

Biblical Illiteracy is Causing Much Damage

I’m sixty-one years old. I’ve been in various ministries for over forty years. In many places where Christians congregate, I’ve seen a precipitous drop in biblical literacy. A few months ago, I asked a group of ten college students, all from evangelical backgrounds, whether they had heard at least one sermon on the book of Lamentations. Not one of them had. Here you have a book of the Bible that has much to say in our current cultural moment and yet many are unaware of its riches. I should add that the book of Lamentations is not difficult to understand. The message of Lamentations is certainly difficult to accept which maybe offers some reason why so many preachers steer clear from preaching through it. Sadly, many miss this life-giving book of the Bible that offers unvarnished language for grieving when the unthinkable happens in our life.

Taking Every Thought Captive

In II Corinthians 10, we read that we are to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The battle always begins with our thoughts. All of us marinate on things that are ungodly. More than a few of these would be embarrassing to admit to anyone, but a loyal friend. Even then, it is risky. But what happens when you don’t know anyone who will provide a godly and safe environment to give voice to your darker thoughts? Answer: you are left to your own devices, and Scripture makes clear that going it alone is deadly.

I’ve seen this scenario play out before. A person has certain gifts that many are unwisely enamored with. The gifts cause the person to be elevated far past their maturity in Christ. In too many cases, the “indispensable” person is promoted to a position of Christian leadership when their own faith in Christ is uncertain. This, in most cases, only becomes evident later on when the damage is done.

During my various interviews for pastoral positions at four evangelical churches I was never asked about my own walk with the Lord. Everyone seemed quite happy that my two seminary degrees came from the right schools. One evangelical pastor, also with the right pedigree, only asked me about my ministry strategies for motivating church-attending men who are apathetic. In all the interviews, only one asked me about my relationship with my wife, but rather predictably, he is a professional counselor!

Where to Go from Here?

Instead of offering a grocery list of suggestions, and there are several things to consider, allow me to give one. When you think of your own life and the lives of the Christians in your orbit, focus on one thing: Who/what is loved most and why? If our communities are getting healthier, we should be free to say, “I love ministry more than God. I get more excited about shopping or golf more than anything else. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Please help me with this.” May this be the kind of Christian communities that we build to His glory and our good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “JOSH HARRIS…A WARNING TO ALL OF US

  1. Brooke Butler

    I agree with your post! The modern church seems more like a place to get an emotional pep talk or experience than a place to meet God, worship and wrestle with understanding who He is and what He desires of us!

    I see this as part of the whole evangelical focus on external performance and looking like “Christians.” Obviously I don’t know Joshua personally and weep for his broken heart. But God is so much bigger and our relationship with Him should be so much deeper (and mystical in the sense that it is beyond our material world focus) than the US church seems to pursue as a whole. God is faithful and will accomplish His plans regardless of the American church’s “success” or failures. I have a sense that Joshua is rejecting the Evangelical parody of God rather than God Himself.

    I have great sadness for the American Church. But I’m not overly concerned as God and His purposes are never hindered by our failures and lack of understanding!

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Hey Brooke,

      Just want to highlight a few of your lines:

      “I have a sense that Joshua is rejecting the Evangelical parody of God rather than God Himself.

      I have great sadness for the American Church. But I’m not overly concerned as God and His purposes are never hindered by our failures and lack of understanding!”

      Well said!

      Reply
  2. VINCENT BACOTE

    Thanks Dave. Important insights. I wonder how much of this Josh Harris situation is the result of various SGM dysfunctions, the crushing realities of being an evangelical celebrity at a young age (and for some a living emblem of purity culture), and a Christian experience that did not allow dealing with the ups and downs of life and the big/difficult questions many people face (but which couldn’t really be faced when you are supposed to be very certain of all you present/proclaims), and of course there is the whole question of whatever personal flaws/foibles he has.

    I’m glad life is a long game – hopefully over time he will move beyond this current “freedom” that seems to make him feel so relieved and authentic at the moment.

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      “I’m glad life is a long game – hopefully over time he will move beyond this current ‘freedom’ that seems to make him feel so relieved and authentic at the moment”

      Amen!

      Reply
  3. Steve Carr

    Hi Dave,
    I don’t know Josh Harris and wondered how much of what you wrote directly applies to your knowledge of Josh versus musings on why someone might abandon their faith.
    Christians, while well-meaning, often come across as unloving Pharisees. Christians, while well-meaning, often come across as truth-telling know-it-alls. These sorts of behaviors are very distasteful, and in many ways, I’m not surprised that people are not attracted to the faith.
    One of my pet peeves, and it’s a big one, is Evangelicals’ view of Scripture– I get the sense that Evangelicals think they own “the truth” and their view of Scripture is the end all, be all interpretation. But in truth, Scripture is something that must be interpreted and understood from the context in which it was written. And I think we get it wrong in many instances. The type of black and white, cut and dried thinking Evangelicals spew (ie, “it says this or that right here in the Bible in English and the interpretation is clear!”) is hurtful to seekers and those in the faith.
    I hope and pray that Josh’s journey leads him back to the God who loves him.

    Reply
    1. Dave Post author

      Hey Steve,

      Thanks for weighing in. You are hitting on a big issue: confusing one’s view of Scripture with one’s interpretation. Let’s say one believes the book of Revelation “clearly teaches” about future events. That is simply what one thinks the Bible is saying. It may be correct, but views of what Revelation is referring to have been debated for many years. Perhaps it is talking about future events, but it is not crazy to think that the book of Revelation is addressing some past events like the destruction of Jerusalem.

      Reply
  4. Tim Taylor

    This is great Dave. I’ve been following the Josh thing. This is the best commentary I have read. I appreciate your using this opportunity to make it less about Josh and more about personal discernment and actual Christian commitment.   I hope it gets lots of exposure.

    As for Josh, his situation says nothing about God and everything about Josh who was obviously never a believer. Let’s pray for him. 

    Reply
  5. Randy Newman

    Well said. Although I’m sorry you ever had to write this particular column.

    Many years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll say (in a message entitled, “What I wish they would have taught me at seminary” at Trinity’s graduation ceremony), “I wish they would have told me it’s hardest at home.” He echoed what you said in your blog/article. It’s easier to preach or whatever in ministry than it is to make marriage and family work well (if I can word it like that).

    I find the whole Josh Harris thing very disturbing – probably more disturbing than I should. I’d appreciate your prayers for me about that.

    Reply
  6. Ron Hunt

    Dave, Thank you for bring my focus to my position with my Heavenly Father and my faithfulness to obey Him. Also, challenging my accountability relationship…do I have one and am I being honest? I’ll ask him when we meet, as usual, in the morning.

    Reply
  7. Susan Richardson

    Thanks for addressing this, Dave. Vincent makes a good point and I feel the need to confess my complicity in those “crushing realities” placed on Josh. I’ve had the freedom to grow up a lot in the interim, owning my obsession with image and false self and denial of our basic shared humanity.

    Recalling my thoughts and fears as I raised kids in that era, I was overly influenced by my peer group. A respected friend outside of that group pointed out the need for kids to socialize and learn to relate respectfully to the opposite sex, and it really gave me pause (as if I had control over my teenage kids anyway – ha!)

    So I and my ilk helped to set up Josh for failure and I want to continue to repent from these types of behaviors.

    Reply
  8. Robert Mitchell

    Hi Dave. Well stated per usual. Along with our concerns is the the ever rising increase in Narcissism. Matt. 7 comes to mind…. “I never knew you”
    Praying for those with little regard for relationships.

    Reply
  9. Paul K

    About five years ago, I was looking for a church to attend and considered a Sovereign Grace Ministries church near me. Coincidentally, at that time I met a couple and a young single man who had both attended this church and left. Their stories about SGM’s culture of constant, public confession of sin, among other things, made me hesitant to attend the church. Then, after finding the SGM Survivors website, I decided the church was probably one I should avoid. Years later, Rachael Denhollander’s expert and precise refutation of SGM’s side of the sexual abuse scandal convinced me and my current church to stop using Sovereign Grace Music songs in our services.

    I think SGM and Josh Harris were a ministry and a person to avoid years ago. I was hoping Harris’ time in seminary and away from SGM would help him in his personal faith and he’d emerge healed and stronger. It is a sad and ironic turn of events that Harris has now left his wife and the faith. However, it is not as if this is truly sudden or unseen. He was the product and the compliant producer of an unhealthy and sometimes abusive organization.

    Finally, I don’t understand the public nature of both announcements, especially the epic adventure pic in his apostasy post. Is this a man struggling for the truth and health or thirsting for likes? I feel as if the attention he has garnered is a victory for him and a loss for all, like me, who are thinking about him and reading about him. Better to ignore him, best to pray for him from time to time.

    Great article, David.

    Reply

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