Popular pastor and author Joshua Harris announced recently that he no longer considered himself a Christian. This announcement comes shortly after he announced he and his wife were divorcing. And this announcement comes after a series of announcements which began a few years ago in which he recanted and repented of the “harmful” views his book promoted.

You can read the announcement below:

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My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to 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.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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For those who do not know, here is the skinny about Harris:

In 1997, in his early twenties, he wrote a book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye . Selling over a million copies, this book revitalized a movement promoting courtships rather than dating. From there he went on to write other books on relationships and, in 2004, being groomed by C. J. Mahaney, a Charismatic Calvinist (of whom I am sure many of you may know), he took over Covenant Life Church, a megachurch in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He stayed there until he resigned in 2015.

Personally, I don’t know much about Harris (got most of the above from Wikipedia). Of course I knew of him from the popularity of his book. After all, I was a singles pastor at the time. His encouragement in the book was neither here nor there to me. I did not think it wrong, but I did not necessarily think it right either.

However, since I write very often on doubt and deconversionhttps://credohouse.org/blog/category/doubt, I take special interest in things such as this. And given my own history of doubt and depression, these kind of things tug pretty deeply at my heart.

Let me take the time to do something a little different and express ways I believe that Christians should NOT react to this announcement.

1. Don’t assume you know the answers to why he has disavowed Christianity

Most of what I have read and heard so far coming from the Christian community about Harris’ announcement has attempted to fill in the blanks and read between the lines of his departure from both his wife and Christ. I have heard people blame his background in homeschooling, his focus on relationships rather than theology and apologetics, his early fame that was thrust upon him, his sympathies to the LGBTQ+ community, and his desire to leave his wife. The fact is that Harris did not say why he no longer considers himself a Christian.

We may not like the ambiguity of his announcement, but I don’t think any of us are close enough to the situation to know what happened (even if we think we can read implications here and there from interviews and social media posts). Until he comes out and says why he did this, I think it is wise to remain silent and give him a chance to gather the strength to explain.

I do, however, believe he has the eventual obligation to reveal what has transpired in his life that brought him to this point. He owes this to those who have followed him and to his former congregation, the mass majority of whom are probably hurt, confused, and need to have the blanket of obscurity removed so they can begin to make sense out of it and put this in their rear view mirror.

2. It’s okay to feel anger, hurt, and weakened by this loss

As many of you know, since my major wrestling match with doubt in 2010-11, I try to help others through their doubt. I have talked to dozens and dozens of struggling, fearful Christians who are groping for hope in the black hole of despair and doubt. As I run through my diagnostic of doubt I use, one of the questions I ask is this:

Is there anyone in your life—a Christian friend, parent, child, pastor, or someone you respect in the Christian community—who has recently stumbled or lost their faith?

You would be surprised at the amount of people who can trace their doubt (or a significant part of it) to such an event.

More often than not, we are unaware of the significant impact the faith of others has on our faith. While we may like to talk a big game, believing that our faith stands or falls on its own intellectual prowess, in the end, we are a community of believers and rely very heavily on each other both emotionally and intellectually. We are weak. When someone we love and/or respect stumbles into serious sin or falls away from the faith, only then do we realize how much we were leaning on them.

It’s okay to feel hurt. It’s okay to feel like your faith is affected by the loss of another’s faith. It is natural. Even the strongest of Christians are deeply impacted when a brother or sister falls away from the faith. It’s normal to feel insecurity due to their loss.

You may have trusted Joshua Harris. You may have even called him pastor. Many of your beliefs may have been established due to his messages and confidence in faith. Now that he is gone, you may feel as if the basis for your faith has left with him. Why should you believe if the man who taught you what and why to believe no longer believes?

However, while it is wonderful to have people in the body of Christ that create a fellowship of belief (consensus fidelium), your faith ultimately does not find its foundation in people. It finds its foundation in the truths that people taught. If they were true before Harris left the faith, they are true now. If you are not sure if they are true now, take this opportunity to re-establish your faith.

Not everyone will leave the faith. Sure, many people’s love for Christ will grow cold and some will not endure until the end (Matt. 24:12-13). If this were not the case, then many passages of Scripture would be in error. But many people’s faith does endure until the end. Many people’s faith has already been through the tribulations of life and found its way through. Harris does not know something others don’t. For whatever reason he has yet to express, his faith does not seem as if it is enduring at this point. But you can trust again and it’s okay to be hurt.

3. Do not rashly condemn him

Again, we don’t really know what is going on. It is hard to judge. I would hope he gives his reasons in the days to come for his change in more detail, but for now, unless you are in some spiritual authority over him or he has asked you for your opinion, you can’t really condemn him.

We normally condemn because it makes us feel better emotionally. It gives us subjective confidence to raise the temperature of our passions and criticize according to our assumptions. “He just wanted to divorce his wife.” “He caved to cultural subjectivity.” “He never had good arguments for his own faith.” In all these, at this point, all we are doing is attempting to find some balm for our own insecurity. If any of these are correct, then we feel better because we can package his loss of faith in envelopes we don’t think will ever be delivered to our address.

Ultimately, all we can say is that if Joshua Harris has truly left the faith, then it is because he was not of the faith:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (ESV)

1 John 2:19

Whether you interpret that through an Arminian or Calvinistic framework, matters little. What matters is that the ultimate cause for people leaving is that they were not of us. The particulars will always differ.

4. Do not think this is necessarily a bad thing

It is a bad thing when people leave the faith? In a very real sense, yes! It is tragic for so many of the reasons I have said above. It is hurtful, confusing, and disruptive.

Is it a bad thing when people leave the faith? In a very real sense, no. Please don’t think me insensitive here. I really am not trying to discount the ways this may have hurt people. But think about it a different way.

First, let us imagine that Harris is a true believer and he is struggling with his faith. I do hold out that this is a possibility due to the experience I have had with people in the past. So many people I thought would never come back to the faith have come back and revealed that they didn’t ever really leave Christ, they just took a prodigal walkabout. I know that Harris denied Christianity. But has he denied Christ? You say to me, “If you deny Christianity, you deny Christ.” Technically, yes. But, often, subjectively, especially in today’s world, people will distinguish between Christianity and Christ, the Church and Christ, and Religion and Christ. I don’t know what Harris’ relationship with Christ is like at this point. And until he gives us more intel and endures in his unbelief, I don’t see any reason to give up all hope that he is in Christ.

Second, let us imagine (much more easier, probably) that he is not a true believer and has renounced Christ. Well, according to John, he has done this because he is not really of us, for, if he was of us, he would have stayed. But isn’t it better to be an honest unbeliever than a diluted believer? I can work with someone whose sickness has yet to be healed more than one who has the sickness without evidencing any of the symptoms.

Conclusion

Either way, I am glad that he seems to be taking his faith (or lack thereof) seriously. Don’t get me wrong, this does not mean I am apathetic to his situation simply because I don’t know the guy and have not really put any weight in his faith. It is tragic if this comes to an end that finds him at enmity with God for all eternity. But we don’t have to see him as a damned soul. And we don’t have to feel guilt for the pain we feel at such a tremendous perceived loss that the church may suffer from his absence. He truly is a gifted and thoughtful individual and I wish him the best.

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    16 replies to "How NOT to React to Joshua Harris’ Announcement"

    • David Thomas

      I’ve seen a couple of threads citing 1 Jn 2, but Heb 6:4-6 seems to be absent from the dialogue. I remember learning in TTP that correct hermeneutics requires discovering what is true in all places at all times when we compare Scripture with Scripture before making application. I don’t believe we can make any correct application of Scripture to this saga until we have at least wrestled with the implications of Hebrews 6.

      • C Michael Patton

        My interpretation of Hebrews 6 can be summed up like this: as long as you are crucifying Christ (ie in the context, trusting in your works and failing to recognize who he is), you cannot be brought back to repentance. But once you stop and turn to him, of course you can.

        • Jim Kinnebrew

          I think the quote is from Donald Gray Barnhouse. Roughly from memory, he said, “The Book of Hebrews was written to Hebrews to tell Hebrews that they could not continue to only be Hebrews (i.e., could not revert back to the old covenant as if Messiah had not arrived).” Every passage in the book should be interpreted with that in mind. I think you do this.

    • Clint

      Good stuff Michael. As one whose marriage is currently struggling for many reasons, and who has stopped attending church for the time being, I feel there is a direct connection between closeness to God and harmony with one’s spouse. To me, having poor human relationships with those that are closest makes one’s relationship with God seem very dark and distant. Even more so if the relationship is so broken that it has ended in divorce. I guess that can almost destroy a person.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      “The fact is that Harris did not say why he no longer considers himself a Christian.”

      What if a Scientologist or Hindu fell away from their faith. Would you ask this question? I doubt it–I think we’d all agree that the supernatural claims underlying the religion just didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

      That seems like the simplest hypothesis.

      • Clint

        Of course people would ask the question: “why did you leave?”. I have asked ex-Hindu friends that question myself. And I’m not sure how you jump from that to supernatural claims……? Miracles in the Bible, primary visible miracles, are few and far between, thus hardly the basis for for forming hypotheses about modern miracles (if that is what you are saying).

      • Jim Kinnebrew

        Absolutely I would ask a Scientologist or Hindu that question. As for any scrutiny of supernatural claims, there is no indication in Harris’ announcement that there was such a thing. You seem to be projecting your own bias onto him.

      • ER

        Faith and walking away from a faith practiced for decades is never explained by the ‘simplest hypothesis.’ That’s simplistic. There are deep issues involved here–moral, experiential, intellectual. As to which one weighs the most on Harris’ “change” of heart we don’t know. Only he can reveal that. One thing though, Christ on the cross cried ‘My God why have you forsaken me?’ He feld alone and abandoned, yet he did not give up on his faith in his Father. That’s the model for Christians. Life is hard. But there is hope in the end.

    • Matt

      Great stuff Michael! I appreciate your balanced view on this and encouraging us to respond (or withhold responses) in love. When conflicts like these arise (heroes of the faith abandoning their faith or even things that seemingly challenge our faith like “discovering” the bones of Jesus or lost gospels, etc.), I actually like it (in a non-sadistic way) because it’s like shaking the fence that many false believers are sitting on. Seeing people’s (or our own) reactions to these situations can be far more revealing about our faith than the one who is in the media spotlight.

    • David Bell

      Thanks for a good article. I appreciate your wisdom and attitude. I would only say that regarding “Whether you interpret that through an Arminian or Calvinistic framework, matters little,” if you interpret it from a Free Grace framework you arrive at a different conclusion, i.e. that 1 Jn 2:19 isn’t making a generalized statement about a test for being regenerate. I’m not stating this to start an argument but just as a reminder that there is a third option among evangelicals.

    • Steve Carroll

      Hi Michael, Thank you for this article. I was only yesterday reading the mini-autobiography of a preacher who was very popular here in England in the early 80s. He had an affair with a married woman and left the ministry. Nowhere in his story did he show any remorse for the hurt he caused. I have a friend who left the evangelical ministry because of his stand on LGBT issues and a change in his attitude towards the authority of Scripture. He feels very hard-done-by that he isn’t respected as a Pastor anymore, but has no understanding of the hurt he caused. There seems to be a blindness amongst ‘professional clergy’ that we pay them and look to them for leadership and direction, to help us follow Christ and not to go off on some oddysee into heresy and beyond. It actually makes me question the whole idea of professional clergy – it’s not in the NT.

    • gregory anderson

      The Church must flee the cult of personality, and we must stand against those hireling shepherds (pastors) who act as if the congregation is their flock.

      It is shameful how stuck in the culture the Church remains after nearly 2000 years of its establishment. The Epistles were written to tell us how God responds to congregations made hash of the Kingdom of God in their day. We have the benefit of that plus Church history, and we still cannot move past either being hermits or living like the worldlings around us.

      Thank you for the article, but I’m less concerned about Joshua than what your article shows about a large part of the modern/post-modern Church in the West.

      Peace to all who seek to love others as they seek first the kingdom of God.

    • Rebecca W

      Thank you for a thoughtful and gracious response to this situation. I went from this post to read one of your posts on doubt. Equally good. Keep speaking truth and grace in love.

      I want to understand what has taken place for the reason of helping others avoid this.

    • Kim Huntington

      Honestly I have to ask Joshua who? Which I mean in a Flippantly,appropriate way. Who is man that God is mindful of him? He is a vapor, a breeze, a mist,,how wonderful that God should even consider him. Yet he does. More than I do.

    • Peter

      RE: THOSE WHO LEFT CHRISTIANITY/CHURCH

      Would you agree that the claims of Christianity (or any other worldview) are either true or false? And they are true or false independent of how Christians behave? Do you agree that Christianity makes claims about reality? Do you agree or did you know that many people (including Christians) don’t think it really matters if the claims of Christianity are true or false? Do you agree that today, many don’t care if it or any other religion is true? Many just want to know if will work for them, if it does what they want, if it makes them feel good/happy? But what is the best way to address claims about ultimate reality?
      1. Since the Christian Worldview stands or falls on one single event in history–resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:12-20; Luke 1:4; evidence given to support this: John 20:30-31; Act 5:12-16; 2Cor 12:12; Heb 2:1-4; Luke 1:4)1– then can you provide good arguments and evidence that: there is NO absolute and objective truth; truth about reality is NOT knowable; the opposite of true is NOT false; Jesus did not really live in history; New Testament is NOT historically reliable; NT does NOT record that Jesus claimed to be God? If you can, then would you agree that I should not be a Christian?
      2. However, would you agree that “so long as the New Testament documents are sufficiently reliable to establish the historicity of Jesus’ radical personal claims and the historicity of his crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, then [Christians] are warranted by the evidence in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and so was who he claimed to be”?
      3. Therefore, the only logical reasons to “leave” Christianity would be because there is NO absolute and objective truth AND there is evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus either did not exist in history or He did not actually die and resurrect back to life.
      4. Also, we must distinguish between (1) what one must believe/trust in order to be saved–the Gospel: God (that He exists and is one), Christ (that He exists, The God-man, His death and resurrection), Nature of Man (relationally separated from God; born sinners, condemned to hell; unable to save self) [Rom 10:9; 1Cor 15:1-6; Acts 16:31; Acts 2:21, 36; 3:14-16; 5:30-35; 10:39; 1Cor 12:3] and (2) what must be true to make salvation possible (truth of salvation essentials, e.g., justification, sanctification and glorification) and (3) source of knowing about the salvation essentials (e.g., inspiration and inerrancy of scripture), which are not necessary to believe to be saved. (For more on this see Conviction without Compromise by Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes; Essential Christian Doctrines. http://www.str.org/articles/essential-christian-doctrines; Essential Doctrine Made Easy. Rose Publishing by Geisler.)

      • C Michael Patton

        Peter, I don’t really see the relevance of your comments to the post. Did you post this on the wrong post?

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