A few days ago a reader alerted me to the news that popular evangelical Christian author Josh Harris of I kissed dating goodbye fame renounced his Christian faith following his recent divorce. Or more accurately, he announced that the renunciation of his Christian faith was intricately linked with his well-publicised divorce.
The obvious question here is how a believing, practising, influential Christian could so completely lose his faith? Coming after my previous post about spiritual fatigue, I thought it would be very appropriate to look at this as an example of someone who, I believe, surrendered to that fatigue, along with the demands of this fallen world.
I’ve never read I kissed dating goodbye or anything else by Josh Harris. This is an excerpt from the book’s Wikipedia page:
In I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Harris popularized the concept of “courting” as an alternative to mainstream dating.
Harris asserted that dating has become too inwardly focused. According to Harris, persons in dating relationships put up a façade in an attempt to appear to be what the other person wants, thus hampering the “getting to know you” part of dating. Harris added that it is more appropriate and healthier in the long run to participate in “group dates” in order to truly understand the way a particular person interacts with others; in a group setting, a person is less likely to be able to maintain a façade. Harris proposed a system of courtship that involved the parents of both parties to a greater degree than is usual in conventional dating.
So far, this doesn’t sound radically different to advice I’ve heard from other purity speakers. It seems that in the years since writing this book, Harris has distanced himself from it, even going so far as to openly disagree with what he wrote:
He acknowledges that his book led many to ultimately idolize virginity as they sought to follow a simple formula that they felt would lead to a happily ever after. In the film, he apologizes and said he doesn’t agree with much of his own book.
He also encourages viewers to think on their own and decide things for themselves rather than letting others make the decisions for them.‘I survived I kissed dating goodbye’ director reacts to Joshua Harris leaving Christianity – Sheryl Lynn, Christian Post
Perhaps another clue as to why Harris may have abandoned his Christian faith comes in another part of the same article:
Debra Fileta, a licensed counselor and author of True Love Dates, noted that after she spoke with Harris for the film, she sensed that he was “starting to feel burnt out.”
“Burnt out by the years of do’s and dont’s that came with your personal faith, burnt out by the politics of doing ministry, burnt out by the difficult life experiences you’ve faced in your personal and family life, burnt out by the long road of facing your critiques under the scrutiny of the public eye, burnt out by the way you did life ‘backwards’ as you said: from bestselling author, to pastor, to student,” Fileta recalled.
In this analysis of the Harris saga, the author Dr R. Albert Mohler Jr writes this:
Many people have obviously wondered, “How did this come out of the blue?” But it didn’t really come out of the blue. There had been troubling signs for some time indicating that Joshua Harris was in a very significant worldview and spiritual transition.
This was made also very clear in an interview that was made with the liberal magazine Sojourners. The interviewer was Sandi Villarreal and this was also published at Sojourners just about the time that he made the announcement of the divorce from his wife. It was before his announcement that he was also divorcing himself from the Christian faith. In this interview, very interestingly, Joshua Harris indicates the extent to which he has separated, not just from the argument of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but from the superstructure of biblical Christianity and, most particularly, its revealed sexual ethic.
He raised questions about what he called the “purity culture,” of which he had been very much a part. He also raised questions about complementarianism, but these were basically in order to repudiate his previous beliefs. What wasn’t at all clear—and still isn’t clear—is exactly what would replace his teachings of the past. In the interview, one of the most interesting and important moments comes when Villarreal says, “You say in the documentary that there are a lot of people who want you to throw out everything that was kind of the basis for your book.” She continued, “But I’m curious when you say ‘everything,’ do you mean your belief in Christianity as a whole or about premarital sex in general? I’m curious what you include in that.”
Joshua Harris responded, “I think that there’s a push by some people to say being sex positive means — the kind of the historical sexual ethic related to sex outside of marriage, related to homosexuality, is basically laid aside, and embracing a healthy view of sex means just accepting all that as fine within the Christian tradition.”
He continued, “I do think though that, for me, in that change of interpretation of such a fundamental level when it comes to sexuality, it’s just hard for me to … In a way it’s almost easier for me to contemplate throwing out all of Christianity than it is to keeping Christianity and adapting it in these different ways.”
From Harris’ own words in the Instagram post announcing his departure from his faith, his capitulation to the secular world morality becomes clear. He writes:
…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.
Yikes. Talk about doing a 180.
Like I said, I’m not familiar with Harris or his writing, but all I’ve read on the subject seems to point to at least one underlying thing: doubt. Specifically, allowing doubt to obscure one’s judgement. Certainly, there must have been other factors at play, but considering how Harris has renounced his own ideas, and the fundamental moral structure that supported them, it seems clear to me that he gave into his doubts.
This is one of the temptations of spiritual fatigue: to give into doubt, and the logic of the secular world, which has ramped up its pressure on believing Christians in recent decades.
What’s interesting is that this news came out in the same week as this article, written about my heroic Godmother, who spent 20 years behind bars in communist Chinese prisons for refusing to renounce her Catholic faith.
Not only did she spend seven months in solitary confinement, she has been instrumental in converting hundreds to Catholicism since she escaped to Australia.
The whole Josh Harris story makes me incredibly sad, but then I compare it with those of people like my Godmother, Teresa Liu, and am reminded of the sacrifices Christ asks us to make. Sometimes, they are large and overt, like being confined to a prison cell for a substantial proportion of your life.
But more often, it is the daily grind of small sacrifices that makes up the life of a Christian. In the long run, I believe these kinds of sacrifices are much harder. They’re often not glorious or noteworthy; they’re usually unromantic, quiet and hidden. But they are sacrifices all the same. And though it may not seem like much to us in the moment, we know that God sees them, and values them, and loves us all the more for the knowledge that only He sees what we offer up for love of Him.
Let’s pray for the return to the faith of Josh Harris and our other fallen-away brothers and sisters in Christ.