Lessons Learned from Josh Harris

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.

Sex Talk

Words are powerful. As the vehicle of thought, language can be used to challenge the perspective of an entire culture. Who controls the language, controls the people. We can see cultural battles over ideas and values happening in language today, such as with the debate over abortion—are we pro-life and they pro-abortion, or are they pro-choice and we anti-choice? The distinction matters.

Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic; they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in after all.

Victor Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich

For every battle of words, and therefore ideas, that Christians have been fighting, I think that we have been blind to some subversive wordplay which has been damaging to a Christian concept of marriage and sexuality.

If a person has normative sexual desires for members of the opposite sex, what do we call that person? Straight, heterosexual, cissexual (that last term is just about as subtle an attack on Christian views of sexuality as a rodeo clown at a mime convention). And if a person experiences (non-normative) sexual desires for members of their own sex? Gay, homosexual. Why?

From a secular viewpoint, the language of orientation can only be beneficial, normalizing. Orientation establishes identity in a way that behavior doesn’t. It’s a lot easier to condemn the action of sodomy than it is to condemn a person for being gay. The first is an attack on a certain moral standard, or lack thereof; the second is a personal attack. As a side-note, this is also why gay characters in your favorite TV shows are fairly non-sexual (think Oscar from The Office)—the important thing to remember, the screen tells us, is who this person is, not what they do.

And so the Church has, by and large, adopted the language of orientation, because how else can we join the conversation? We’ve allowed the world to be divided into gay and straight, and then sought to convince those on the gay side to come over and join our team, or at least sit on our sidelines.

But the language of orientation can never reinforce God-honoring and biblical norms of sexuality. When the world is divided this way in our language, our emphasis becomes a certain kind of attraction—that’s what we want our sons and daughters to have.

The Bible doesn’t deal with sexual attraction very much, and doesn’t even recognize sexual orientation, let alone sexual identity. What the Bible is concerned with is sexual behavior, and what it authoritatively proclaims as normative is sexual behavior within a loving marriage covenant that can only exist between one man and one woman. So there is no “at least he’s not gay” for the young man sleeping his way around his college campus, or for the husband with an addiction to porn. The Adam who treats his wife as a substitute for his hand rather than as a woman to be loved and served and protected and pleasured ought not to look down his nose at the Adam at work because he goes home to Steve every night.

Sexual orientation is a smoke-screen, and it produces an inappropriate way of thinking. Married men shouldn’t declaim their straightness as though they still consider attraction to Lucy at work a legitimate object of sexual desire. In terms of orientation, the married man should be oriented toward his wife. Any sexual desire or expression outside of that covenant relationship is non-normative. Single men, obviously, exist in a state of sexual potential with more than one woman, but even so, the reality is that sexual normativity, sexuality that pleases God, is sexuality that only reaches its fulfillment with one woman. This is true for the single man who experiences attraction toward women, and it’s true for the single man who experiences attraction toward men. To claim that because a person has a so-called homosexual orientation, they cannot find sexual fulfillment in a biblical marriage covenant is a lack of creativity and love, and shows a failure to understand sex as a gift within marriage.

Sex is a gift of love and self from husband to wife, and vice-versa. A wife can give herself to her husband even if he is a poor example of virile masculinity. A husband can give himself to his wife even if he finds himself, because of the reality of sin, in possession of desires he knows to be non-normative.

Sex is a gift from God; if anyone is to be the authority on gifts, their reception and use, it is not unbelievers. After all, God created marriage “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).

Feynmanian Virtue

The man himself.

Supposedly Richard Feynman, the great 20th Century physicist, used to give advice on how to be a genius. His recommendation? Keep a dozen or so problems constantly in the back of your mind. Every time you meet a new trick or result, test it against each of your problems. Eventually, something will click, and people will think “How on earth did he do it? He must be a genius!”

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Five Reasons to Sing Somber Songs in Worship

I like sad songs. I don’t mean sappy love songs or My Chemical Romance or anything like that, but more somber forms of instrumental or sacred music—take the Agnus Dei sung after Samuel Barber’s Adagio, for example. I know that makes me a minority, but I think there’s good reason for the evangelical church to depart from its quest to happify everything it touches and reclaim some of the more somber, minor, reflective songs in its worship. Here are five reasons:

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Romans 8.20

I wrote this last September, while feeling weary. It seemed that creation, too, was tired, and waiting for consolation. 

The stones of the eastern wall are weary;
Dew drips from the roof with resignation:
Come, come; when will he come?
The bones of the trees ache with age
And the wind grows weak and cold.

Pale light sweeps the battered creation—
It is John the Baptist, come with his lamp.
Knees aching as he climbs the horizon, 
Still he ascends to his pulpit.

one more day, one more day.
He will come, he will come soon.