On the News of Josh Harris’s Deconversion1
Josh Harris, the former mega-church pastor and influential evangelical author, is divorcing his wife, has apologized to the LGBTQ community, and has left the Christian faith. It is big news. It is big news because of all three pieces of the announcement, each of which were announced by Harris on his Instagram profile. And it’s big news not only for evangelicals but also for non-evangelical Christians and non-Christians. That’s why the news was broadcast by the mainstream media. I heard about it from CNN.
The Painful News
For those of us within the evangelical Christian community, this is painful news. It is painful, most assuredly for those who know Harris personally, but it is also painful for those of us who do not know him but have nevertheless been influenced by him. I was in the pivotal years of college when I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Though there may be plenty in that book to criticize, and even plenty that deserved Harris’s recantation over a year ago, his advocacy for courtship over dating at the very least pointed me toward a better (I would say more biblical) view of how I ought to pursue marriage. We can debate all day long whether his book is more helpful or harmful. But I’m grateful for how it shaped me in my pursuit of my wife.
So for me and other evangelical Christians, this news hurts. We are sorrowful, and we ought to be. We do not rejoice when one of the sheep strays from the fold. We fear, in fact, that such straying from the faith may indicate that he was never really in the fold to begin with (1 Jn 2:19). That’s not a cop-out from having to explain the existence of “ex-Christians.” It is what our Bibles tell us can happen and does happen far too often. We pray it may not be so with Josh Harris. We pray for him with the hope that he will recant once more and come back to obedience to Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
The Hopeful News
But while evangelical Christians are pained by this news, plenty of others were heartened by it. That would include Harris himself, of course, who wrote to his Christian friends, “I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful.”
So while many of us see this as really sad news, others are likely to join in Harris’s celebration, including those who agree with his current belief that his former views on Christian sexual ethics hurt people, especially people within the LGBTQ community, to whom he is now apologizing.
For non-Christians or, for that matter, anyone else who now sees this news as in some way validating what it is you believe (or don’t believe), this news may be exciting, or at least somewhat interesting. But the very same news that excites you or gives you hope is painful for others and gives us grief. Why is this?
The Real News
One idea to consider is how we are tempted to treat the news of our day as wins or losses for our core beliefs and worldview. For those of us who mourn about Harris, we might admit that somehow it feels like the truth we believe has taken a major hit. In the same way, many people will feel their own views on Christianity or sexuality have been validated by one who used to be on the other side but now finds himself believing the opposite of what he used to defend so cogently.
But Christians should stop and take notice. The core beliefs we hold as Christians are not proved by who does or does not affirm those beliefs. The Christian faith is not ultimately hurt by those who deny it, any more than it is helped by those who have come to believe it. There are plenty of notable non-believers-turned Christians. In fact, every single Christian fits that designation, since no one is born a Christian. It is Jesus who said that anyone who wants to see the kingdom of God must be born again (Jn 3:3).
That’s a fact, whether anyone believes it or not.
As human beings, the news we hear does have an effect on us and on our world. As Christians, the greatest news is that Jesus Christ, the incarnate God himself, suffered, died, and rose again. Not everyone believes this, of course, but that doesn’t have any impact on whether or not the news is true.
Christianity is not a “does it work for me?” religion. It is a “have you heard the news?” religion. And this news is good news, news that simply must be shared. For if indeed Jesus came back to life, never to die again, then this would have to be the greatest headline news there ever was. It would affect all of us. It would affect reality.
You can deny this good news, and even find good arguments to do so. Or you can believe it, because there are plenty of good reasons to do that as well. But you cannot change it, alter it to fit your liking, or determine its validity by who believes it or not.
The news upon which Christianity is built is either true or it isn’t. If it’s true, this is great news for every single person. If it isn’t true, then Christianity is empty, and those who believe it are to be pitied.
And, in that case, all of us are left only with the hope that maybe better news will arrive in our news feeds tomorrow.