Though its hard to imagine, someday I’ll tell my children the story I’m writing with my life today.Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye
I found this line, near the end of Harris’ book, to ring sadly, ironically true in light of this week’s announcements.
Of course we don’t rejoice when a (supposed) brother falls, or falls away. But learning from a cautionary tale is an example of sagacity, not schadenfreude. Without claiming to know more than what has been clearly said, I think there are some important lessons to be learned from Joshua Harris’ apostasy.
First, theology matters. I think it’s fair to say that Harris’s theological and sexual progressivism has made it far easier for him to apostatize. I know, I know—conservatives go off the deep end, too. There have been clear and devastating examples of this in the last years, and we should all be careful when we think we stand, lest we fall. But when someone with orthodox theology apostatizes, it’s like jumping off a cliff. When someone with a watered-down faith apostatizes, it’s like walking off a pier. Both may drown, but the second was much closer, much less shocking, and much less likely to see the danger to begin with. None of us should be surprised when a person claims that God doesn’t care as much as we thought about pure religion and holiness, and then proceeds to chuck pure religion and holiness out the window themselves.
Second, repentance matters—specifically, a right view of repentance. I can’t help but to think that ingredient in Harris’ fall has been his response to the harm his books have perpetuated. Here’s what I think happened: Josh Harris publishes a book, and fundamentalists and conservatives go wild over the precepts concerning relationships it holds forth. Because those precepts are poorly considered and often poorly executed, many young people are badly hurt in the process of trying to have the perfect courtship, with the result that many of them jettison their marriages, and some, their faith. After years, the reality of all this comes crashing down on Harris, and he goes to his former readers to hear their stories. They demand that he repent of his hurtful views. Ultimately, he can’t repent of his views concerning courtship without repenting of his views concerning sexuality, and therefore holiness, and therefore God.
I’m sure that’s simplistic, and of course I could be wrong, but it isn’t as though this hasn’t been tried before. As soon as I admit I’ve hurt you in a culture like ours, then I need to give in to your demands. It’s only fair. What Harris needed to realize was that acknowledging a wrong committed does not give the ‘victim’ license to demand whatsoever reparations they may choose. Repentance is before God before it is before men, and it is God who determines the right limits of that repentance.
Third, mentorship matters. I have no idea what relationships Josh Harris has or has had in the way of mentorship, but from what’s been going on, it sounds like he could have used some. Sin is like fungus: it grows best in darkness. We all need godly men and women to tell us when we’ve stopped shoveling dirt out started shoveling crap in. Most of the time, lies that come from outside need to be packaged and delivered well to be received. Lies that come from my own mind, on the other hand, don’t even have to be coherent; the lie just has to expose a bit of ankle, and suddenly I wake up three days later in a cheap motel with a hangover and an STD (that’s an analogy made up for the purpose of creative expression, by the way, not a personal anecdote).
Godly mentorship helps to expose lies before they get a foothold, and to confirm the truth of God’s word more deeply. Cautionary tales like Harris’ should make us reevaluate the strength of our relationships both as mentor and mentee, and make changes where necessary.
I’m not glad that Joshua Harris has apostatized, and I hope that this disillusionment with the forms of Christianity he had embraced is a step on the way to true faith in Jesus Christ. However, the deceitfulness of sin is not an uncommon malady, and so cautionary tales have their place just as much as heroes of the faith do—’be not like Cain’ and all that. Josh was right, after all. We’re all telling our story to those who follow us: we’re either Marley’s Ghost, bemoaning too late the consequences of sin, or Ebenezer Scrooge, happily proclaiming the joys of repentance.