Joshua Harris Kisses Jesus Goodbye

It would be a major understatement to say that Joshua Harris has had quite the rise, and fall, in the Christian world.

As an otherwise intelligent, but untested, young man, he rocketed to the forefront of the evangelical world with his landmark book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. In it, he made several controversial propositions:

  • Dating–in which relationships are often temporary–only conditions people for marriages that break up, contributing to the divorce culture;
  • Dating also contributes to more sexual immorality;
  • Courtship is the prefered model.

The book would become a best-seller; it would make Harris a proverbial rock star: he would go on to serve as a pastor under the wing of C.J. Mahaney at Covenant Life Church. As a high-profile megachurch figure with two bestselling books, he was one of the “go-to” men in the evangelical world. Even though he got where he was, not on the basis of having fought the good fight and having kept the faith, but rather on the basis of a bestselling book that promoted an unproven thesis without Biblical veracity. The book would become the field manual for the Purity Culture.

At Covenant Life Church, Harris became both a victim of, and a perpetrator in, one of the most abusive church settings in the history of American evangelicalism. While former Boundless editor Ted Slater, a friend of ours, contends that his experiences at CLC were very good, it is also demonstrably true that Mahaney and Harris–and the others in their circle–left a trail of victims that extends miles. The overbearing, micromanagy church discipline model, the sexual abuses by staffers–and ensuing coverups–those are a matter of record, and Harris continues to be mum about his own culpability in that.

In 2014, in the wake of the fallout over the sexual abuse scandal and resultant lawsuit–which was dismissed due to Statute of Limitations and not merits–Harris ultimately resigned from CLC and subsequently decided to attend seminary.

(Having spent some time at seminary myself, this set off some red flags for me, as that signaled to me that Harris was “trying to find himself”. I saw a fair share of these types at SBTS: they go to seminary expecting to find the answer to some internal conflict they are having. I do not recall one instance where that ended well. In fact, when I was there, there was one suicide.)

From there, he began to question the basis of IKDG in light of the trail of damage it caused. On one hand, the developments seemed positive–he finally repudiated the very book that made him a rock star. OTOH, he still did not come clean about his role in the abusive system at CLC, particularly the coverups of sexual abuse and the overbearing system of church government.

Then, a little over a week ago, he Instagrammed a message that he is separating from his wife. Any time a major evangelical figure has a marital failure, it’s a very big deal. In Harris’ case, it is far, far worse: he became a mega-star in the evangelical world for promoting a formula as a key to strong marriages that last. And his was failing.

Most in my circle were concerned that this was the prelude to the next chapter in his life: I Kissed Jesus Goodbye.

And sure enough, on Friday, Harris announced exactly that. In his announcement, he also specifically apologized to the LGBT movement. (Yes, there is an elephant in the room.)

At Wartburg Watch, Dee has expressed considerable skepticism about Harris’ stated “deconstruction”, and I agree with her for exactly those reasons.

Here’s my take, and I think Dee is absolutely correct: Joshua Harris’s “deconstruction” is, at least in part, a cowardly attempt to shirk his responsibility for his role at Sovereign Grace, which was was a cog in the abusive machine that is NeoCalvinism. It’s not just CLC and Sovereign Grace; it’s 9Marxism, it’s in many Acts 29 sectors, it’s various SBC churches, it’s a model of church government that micromanages peoples’ lives; attracts and encourages ministers who are narcissistic and Machiavellian, promoting them as models for leadership; promotes a good-old-boys network by which the key leaders travel to conferences, get paid lots of money, promote each others’ books, and market their brands; all while ignoring–even covering up–flagrant abuses at their churches.

Here’s my hot take: many of these “preachers” aren’t even Christians. And if you think Joshua Harris is a one-off, you’d be mistaken. There are thousands of Joshua Harris types in the evangelical world. He is the tip of the iceberg.

Those who know me or have casually followed my blog, know that I don’t like to throw the “false teacher” tag around very often, as I’m a big-tent Biblical conservative. There are many pastors and ministers who are concerning to me, but I don’t throw the “wolf” tag at them, as I prefer to let them out themselves. Many in the discernment blogging community suffer from the hammer-nail syndrome: when you’re a hammer, everything is a nail. For many of them, if you’re off on one little micro-detail in the Bible–not a young earth creationist, not a five-point Calvinist, etc.–you’re a heretic. I don’t waste my time throwing such invective around. If you affirm the basics–a high view of Biblical authority, the Deity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, the Substitutionary Atonement, the bodily Resurrection, the Second Coming–you’re inside the realm of sound doctrine.

On the other hand, being a peddler of false doctrine is not the only qualification for being a false teacher. It’s easy enough to target the Joel Osteens and the Benny Hinns and the Creflo Dollar types, but let’s be honest here: you can preach exceptionally on Sundays and Wednesdays and still be a wolf. And if you think Prosperity Theology is just about material riches, you’d be mistaken.

I would contend that modern evangelicalism promotes its own brand of Prosperity Theology. The type of pastor they seek to develop and promote–from Bible Schools to seminaries to churches–is more akin to a business executive than a shepherd. One of my pastor friends, speaking of Harris, said, “everyone around him said ‘he’s a natural at expositing Biblical text.'”

My response: Biblical exposition is not brain surgery. Fact is, I can take someone of good intelligence and oratory skills, teach him how to study the Bible, show him some good commentaries and resources, and–with some practice–he can exposit well enough to preach. And he can do this while not even being a believer. This is because exposition is something we can objectively teach. What we cannot impart, however, is a relationship with God.

I can teach you the fundamentals of Biblical exposition; I cannot make you like Abraham, who made time to offer sacrifices of thanks to God, or returned to Bethel to seek God after a big failure, never giving up even as it took 25 years from the time of his calling from God until–at 100 years of age–his promised son was born.

I can teach you how to navigate the Old Testament, especially how to read it in light of Jesus–that is a lost art among modern evangelicals. I cannot make you like Moses or Elijah–who loved God. I cannot make you like Peter, who fell on his keister and failed often, but would go on to be the lead Apostle. I cannot make you like Paul, who–before God knocked him on his butt on the way to Damascus–was a major persecutor of Christians, who went on to become one of the greatest Apostles. Peter and Paul loved Jesus and were devoted to the well-being of His sheep. They were about Jesus; the “system”–in this case doctrine–was a something they preached from their love of Jesus; it was not a business model.

The problem is this: what if I am seeking to develop teachers, and I am fixated on developing qualities that are indicative of charisma and academics, while not cultivating the shepherdlike qualities that you see in Jesus and the Apostles from Acts through Revelation? The end-result: you get leaders who are more likely to take sexual advantage of parishioners, leaders who are more likely to be heavy-handed and micromanagy, leaders who can teach with great charisma who do not get along with people, leaders who do not love their wives or their children. They may be able to, like a competent sports coach, talk a great game about Xs and Os, but their character is majorly lacking because they are either immature believers or not believers at all!

Make no mistake: Big Evangelical gave us Joshua Harris!

He was raised in a system–homeschooled in a system, churched in a system, became famous by promoting his own system, learned how to preach and promote a system.

That’s not to say that all such systems are bad. Any educational regimen–homeschool, private school, church community, even public school–has to rely on a “system” at some level. Every church community has its own “system” that defines their bent or flavor; all of those are not evil, some in fact are very good.

The problem is, the Christian life is not about knowing a system, even if the system is good. Knowing and loving the system is not the same as knowing and loving God, whom your system articulates with eyes through which we will always see darkly on this side of eternity.

Still, when your system is attracting, developing, and rewarding ministers who are charismatic marketers who turn out to be scandal-ridden, then it is long past time to revisit the very system that is producing such ministers.

As for Joshua Harris, it is my hope he will spend some time with Satan so that his flesh will be destroyed and–ultimately–he may be saved. I hope that his ensuing years are times of utter misery, and that God bashes him upside the head with the almighty Louisville Slugger and brings him to his senses.


Update:

19 thoughts on “Joshua Harris Kisses Jesus Goodbye

  1. If you understood the process of shedding abusive teachings, recovering from spiritual abuse, recovering from childhood sexual abuse, the impact of trauma and how the brain responds, you would never use the words: “cowardly attempt to shirk his responsibility for his role at Sovereign Grace.”

    It takes years to recover from even one of those issues. Even my dear victim advocate friend, Dee, is saying he’s still covering up. Yes, he is, but is it intentional? When you have experienced trauma, your brain can only handle so much at once. Has he been in therapy while he was at school? If so, that would be very tough. If he has not, then he is probably just scratching the surface of the harmful religiosity he grew up in. His own father mishandled a sex abuse case in WA state.

    Cut Josh some slack and let’s give him the time and space he needs to heal from his own personal trauma so that he can eventually understand and own his part in the SGM sex abuse coverup case.

    Yes, Josh does need to come clean, but maybe it’s too soon for that particular issue.

    • I hope you’re right. Like I’ve said, I see him as both a victim and a perpetrator. That his family was involved in his indoctrination into that horrid system, that only makes things worse. His road back–hopefully he takes it–will be very complicated and perhaps even convoluted.

      • The problem also is that Josh Harris’ Faith is legalism. Rules upon rules upon rules. He doesn’t know the gospel and he certainly haven’t believed in Jesus who rose from the dead and pay for his sins and therefore as a result of grace through faith he is saved.

        He needs the real gospel else he is damned. Please pray for him too.

        • That’s what I meant when I alluded to his life as being constantly about a “system”: it was a theological model that served as a basis for a myriad of rules and regulations. In his homeschool life, he was raised in a “system”; he got famous by presenting a “system” for dating; at Covenant Life Church, they were all about their own “system”, and his ministry life entailed learning that “system” and teaching, preaching, and promoting that “system”.

          That’s not to say that all “systems” are bad. Some theological models are better than others, some are actually very solid. The problem is when you conflate love of system with love of God. Love of system means causing the death of a thousand rules and regulations, which weighs people down. Love of God means promoting a God who loves, admonishes, and exhorts, ministering to those who hurt, helping those with various needs, all while cultivating a general liberty in which members are generally free as long as they aren’t doing anything fraudulent, immoral, or malicious.

          In the case of JH, it wasn’t really about Jesus; his whole life was a “system” that created a worldview and structure based on Jesus, but that is not the same thing as receiving Jesus and loving God through Jesus.

          Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Paul said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

          In the systems in which JH was both a victim and a perpetrator, the yoke was burdensome, having little resemblance to the Gospel, even as many folks may have heard the Gospel preached.

          In other words, JH was involved, at various stages of his life, in the most insidious type of cults: cults in which many people were receiving Jesus Christ–amazing how the Holy Spirit works in spite of bad actors!–and, sadly, in which many were being abused, neglected, dismissed, and marginalized.

          • Agreed.

            “In the case of JH, it wasn’t really about Jesus; his whole life was a “system” that created a worldview and structure based on Jesus, but that is not the same thing as receiving Jesus and loving God through Jesus.

            Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Paul said, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

            In the systems in which JH was both a victim and a perpetrator, the yoke was burdensome, having little resemblance to the Gospel, even as many folks may have heard the Gospel preached.”

            Agreed with liberty. And if I am not mistaken competent shepherding of actual sheep and cattle is pretty libertarian by nature. Micromanagement is a sign that the leader has lost the plot and the true meaning of being a shepherd.

            And also actually the lack of emphasis on Jesus himself and the salvation and righteousness that comes from receiving Jesus.

            The lack of grace and all legalism makes a hollow christianity. Which when placed under pressure that it quickly disintegrates.

          • Yep. We often think of IFB/fundamentalism when we think of legalism, but it’s also rampant in many sectors of evangelicalism, especially when the culture is predisposed to wrap conversion into formulas, and one’s relationship with God in a theological model or system.

            It’s the same dynamic that we had in the first century Pharisaical community: they were all wrapped up in their systems, each following this rabbi or that rabbi. They often feuded with each other over things like divorce, what constitutes keeping the Sabbath, what the Messiah would be like, etc.

            Then when the Real Deal showed up, He didn’t fit their systems.

    • Having been through spiritual abuse multiple times, I tend to agree with you, Julie Anne. Walking away is absolutely necessary. And it doesn’t mean he won’t take responsibility. My family was able to affect change in our horribly abusive churches much better from the outside. He’ll have a longer deprogramming time than most since it’s all he’s ever known. Maybe in a time, he’ll be able to find Jesus again (or for the first time).

  2. grace, forgiveness, understanding, mercy . . . but still responsibility.

    when i was in therapy i told my counselor once all the abuse my parents endured themselves, and he looked directly at me and said, “Ame, you were abused as a child, but you don’t abuse your own children.”

    every one has a choice.

  3. I’ve thought about commenting several times over the last few days, but I often find words to be inadequate.

    If Joshua Harris is going through “deconstruction” for the purpose of avoiding responsibility for his part in the Sovereign Grace Ministries sex abuse coverup scandal, then in my view he has lost all credibility. However, it is also entirely possible his “deconstruction” is a completely separate matter, totally unrelated to the scandal. In the absence of strong and convincing evidence that the former is correct, for now I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Harris’ statement regarding the misnamed issue of “marriage equality” is troubling. I count myself among those who believe the church could and should have done a better job of ministering to those suffering form same-sex attraction. However, I’ve also found no Scriptural evidence to affirm same-sex marriage. I sincerely hope and pray he reconsiders the matter.

    This whole episode is a scathing indictment of Big Evangelical and its celebrity-making machine. It’s also an indictment of Reformed, neo-Calvinist evangelicals in general and groups like The Gospel Coalition in particular. I’m frankly unimpressed with TGC’s spiritual discernment process, not only in the case of Josh Harris but other fallen leaders such as Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, C.J. Mahaney and Tullian Tchividjian who were affiliated with TGC in one way or another. I’d like to see TGC and its board and council stop pontificating and start repenting.

    • I agree.

      Personally, I think of this as a multi-faceted issue on his end.

      (1) I think there’s definitely an elephant in the room. If indeed it is what I think it is, then his deconstruction has been in progress for many years, and he has likely spent much of his adult life in a crisis. The jury is out, but–given his divorce and other departures–there’s a lot of elephant dung on the floor right now.

      (2) He’s still dodging and deflecting his culpability in the coverups at CLC.

      As for TGC and the NeoCal cabal, they all have a lot to answer for in this. To date, very few have acknowledged their culpability in the promotion and elevation of Harris, and this has exacerbated the situation both for him as well as the long trail of victims of the toxic Purity Culture for which Harris provided no small amount of fuel.

  4. “I hope that his ensuing years are times of utter misery, and that God bashes him upside the head with the almighty Louisville Slugger and brings him to his senses.”

    Why do you write such horrible things?

    It makes me that much happier that Mr. Harris has broken free from the fundy machine ALIVE, unlike Amanda Blackburn.

    • I’m glad he broke free from the cult of Big Fundy. I do hope that, as he unpacks that unsavory baggage, he figures out that Jesus was never the problem, only the “followers” who indoctrinated him from system to system.

  5. “I hope that his ensuing years are times of utter misery, and that God bashes him upside the head with the almighty Louisville Slugger and brings him to his senses.”

    Why do you write such horrible things?

    because … it is through pain that we can emerge renewed.
    because … the consequences of sin is death.
    because … the path from death to life, by its very nature, is painful.

    Amir is not the ‘author’ or ‘creator’ of this Truth; God is.

    when Adam and Eve sinned, there was death … death of the animal killed to clothe them … death of the purity of the Garden … death of the unhindered relationship with Holy God … death of their perfect living conditions … death of work without ‘toil’ or ‘sweat’ … … … and ushered in was pain in childbirth/child-rearing … a wife’s desire to be only for her husband … her husband placed as ruler over her … pain and toil and sweat just to produce food to feed his family … strife within as one son killed the other in jealousy.

    the Flood that killed every person and creature on the earth except those in the Ark.

    separation and strife within his whole household when David sinned with Bathsheba.

    and on and on through the Bible.

    sin = separation from God … separation from what was to what will be … and there’s always a transition in the middle between sin and what will be … and what will be depends upon how we handle the transition. and even after the transition, the consequences remain.

    why did Amir *wish* ‘horrible things’ for this man who sinned greatly, who was greatly sinned against? because Amir knows that the only way to the other side is through those horrible things. through the pain.

    he doesn’t *wish* horrible things … he hopes for the goodness of God through and after the pain that cannot be avoided … that this man will embrace the pain and allow God to use it to sanctify and purify him for Him.

    • Exactly. Kind of like Nebuchadnezzar eating grass for 7 years and then ending his life as a believer in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

      • i could be wrong, but i think in the perspective of history, our american culture where we think ‘difficult,’ ‘pain,’ ‘hard times,’ is bad … is a relatively ‘new’ way of thinking.

        ‘life is hard’ was just known. expected. babies and mothers died. children died. people died. oppressive governments oppressed. war was no uncommon.

        somehow we think that God’s love means nothing hard. quite the contrary. the more we love God, the harder life is … because our enemy is a roaring lion, continuously seeking whom he may devour … and he wants to devour those who oppose him most – those who are closest to God.

        and along those lines … one name: Job.

        however, that we do not experience those things i just listed does not mean satan is not just as active … look at how our water systems and soil systems have been poisoned over generations now through ‘insecticides’ and embedded themselves into our food systems … and how those food systems are now so full of poison that we are having insane health issues, including obesity that often cannot be curbed or controlled simply with standard american diet and standard exercise … b/c those foods are so full of poisons they have destroyed our liver, pancreas, thyroid, adrenals, testosterone, progesterone, etc … and if you don’t heal those, you cannot lose weight. it’s absolutely crazy … and super genius.

        • It’s Prosperity Theology. And sadly, it is practiced even among many who would otherwise condemn it as heresy. And it is prevalent in American Christianity.

          One face of it is shown in the easy targets: Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, etc. Those are the blatant heretics. Yes, they have their devotees, but they are a separate market segment.

          The problem is the other face of PT, and that is even more insidious. It doesn’t manifest itself as PT. In fact, folks who buy into it may even be the first to tell you how much they hate PT. But they buy into it, as they buy into the mindset of, “if I do things certain ways, I am going to enjoy [X] kind of life, will have [Y] kind of spouse, and my children will be like [Z]. If I lose my job, if my health goes to crap, if one of my kids dies or suffers from something chronic, if my spouse undermines me or falls into bad health, it’s because I’m not living out my faith correctly.”

          Sadly, that kind of thinking is prevalent. Homeschooling families can be the worst at this, as they often think, “If I raise my kids this way, they’ll go on to be great successes and be great Godly adults.” That kind of thinking often promotes the system over the relationship that makes the desired outcome possible. And besides, many of the key names behind those systems are promoters of dubious educational and theological paradigms.

          But yes, suffering ought to be the expectation for this life. Teaching your kids that things will go pear-shaped in your life–sometimes it’ll be your fault, oftentimes it’s no one’s fault–is very important. Living out your own faith in those times will be integral to their understanding of life.

          • In fact, folks who buy into it may even be the first to tell you how much they hate PT. But they buy into it, as they buy into the mindset of, “if I do things certain ways, I am going to enjoy [X] kind of life, will have [Y] kind of spouse, and my children will be like [Z]. If I lose my job, if my health goes to crap, if one of my kids dies or suffers from something chronic, if my spouse undermines me or falls into bad health, it’s because I’m not living out my faith correctly.”

            THIS!!!!!!!

            this is all over the place.

            – – –

            i’ve always thought that how we educate our children should be based (when possible) on the individual child and their needs and learning style rather than on the negative.

            for example … homeschooling to avoid XYZ just because XYZ *might* happen is not a making a choice towards the positive.

            choosing homeschooling b/c you firmly believe it’s in the best interest of that child b/c ABC is making a choice towards the positive.

            that way, too, you don’t mentally lock yourself into a choice. as the child develops and changes, and as life happens, you are flexible to make education choices in the positive best interest of that child.

            – – –

            back to the other … it’s important to learn that God is good, always … not just b/c we think our life is great b/c of our great ability to make ‘right’ choices … but because He is. hard lessons to learn in hard times, but so powerful.

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