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.