Joshua Harris, the author of a 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” the same who later equivocated about his sexual purity message to a generation of millennials, the same who started dating and found his wife Shannon, and the same who has announced today (29 July 2019) that he is divorcing his wife, has publicly renounced his faith in Christ. He has also apologized on Instagram for his extreme views against the LGBT community, “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.”
From the height of his book sales (over 1 million copies sold) to the depth of his renunciation, twenty-two years have passed. It’s a story reminiscent of another famous evangelist turned enemy of the Cross—Billy Graham’s former friend and author of “Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith,” Charles Templeton. Such news must elate the devil and the secular media. What happened in such cases? How should pastors respond to Christians who feel saddened or shaken by this news?
10 Pastoral Responses to Joshua Harris:
1) I never followed this bestseller book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” because I never saw it as Scriptural. I caution against reading modern bestsellers. I believe a mix of Christian literature from various time periods makes a more balanced Christian. We are the least impoverished intellectual community on earth. We have good books from 20 centuries to choose from. Recent books are easier to read and may benefit from progressive revelation. Time-tested ones are usually dense, deep, but safer than our popular titles. Even so, I always compare what any Christian author says with what the Bible says. (Revelation 2:2)
2) I don’t follow extremes in Christianity, or better put, church trends that appear to represent Christianity to the world. Trends change. Cultures change. God’s Word does not.
3) My job as a Christian minister is to teach the Bible, which means not to focus on my pet doctrines or favorite parts of the Bible only, but to cover a wide variety of topics and emphasize what the Bible emphasizes. (2 Timothy 4:2)
4) The Bible does not address dating clearly, but it is emphatic about the judgment of Sodom, to the degree that Jesus made it the reference point in his predictions about the last generation. (Luke 17:28-30, 2 Peter 2:6, Jude 1:7, Revelation 11:8)
5) Christian teachers make the mistake of being extreme or dogmatic about things the Bible is not. This goes for not only dating… but let’s start with dating as the first illustration. I do not know what the Bible says about dating because the Bible doesn’t say much about it. On the other hand, I know the Bible is emphatic about God’s rebuke of corrupt politicians; He did so through many godly messengers from Moses to Jeremiah, from John the Baptist to Jesus.
Yet many Christian leaders do the opposite: they are bold to denounce other Christian preachers, but are too cowardly to mention anything political. It is safe and often self-serving to tear down another Christian leader, because too many critics see another prominent or successful Christian as a threat or competition to their agenda. Such critics serve the enemy by mocking other Christian leaders who are emphasizing Biblical truths— no matter how imperfectly they do it. We need more Bible teachers, not less! (Psalm 105:15, 1 Timothy 5:17-19).
6) Besides dating, other topics which do NOT help or hinder salvation include holy diet, holy days, holy Bible versions, and flat earth. Whether you care a lot or a little about these topics, it won’t help or hinder someone else getting saved from their sins. However, there are topics that help or hinder salvation, including:
- Genesis’ account of the 6-day Creation (which establishes the validity of the Bible),
- the literal Fall of Adam and Eve (which establishes the necessity of the Gospel),
- the Trinity and Deity of Christ (which establish the means of salvation–no one but God is qualified to make a moral claim on all humanity), and
- the end-time doctrines of resurrection and judgment (which establish the urgency of the salvation message).
These absolutely necessary doctrines are the very subjects that often get a cursory treatment from the pulpit. Christian preachers err when they crusade against things the Bible does not major on. Preachers who want to build a sure ministry that has longevity and eternal rewards should emphasize these crucial Bible subjects.
7) God incubates future leaders in obscurity. Moses was trained for 40 years in the backside of the desert. Paul studied under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel then saw Jesus face-to-face, yet remained relatively unknown and had to be groomed for 14 years in Arabia and Syria. (Galatians 1:15-2:1)
There is wisdom in not putting a novice in place. It was not sound that the Body of Christ should have followed a sexual movement started by a 21-year-old preacher. The American craze not only misled many Christians worldwide (I personally know many in Asia who remained single for far too long due to the misguided desire to abstain from any dating), but it was also a disservice to Joshua Harris. He had not developed the stability and maturity to handle his call. Parts of his message may have been correct, yet his character was not ready to last the distance.
This is why I am a big believer that every young person should “pay their dues”; that is, be an apprentice, work for someone else, support another church leader’s vision, and don’t expect too much by way of recognition or promotion. Pay your dues, be humble, and in due season God will lift you up. (1 Peter 5:6)
“Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6)
8) No one should be shocked or sad by the renunciation of Joshua Harris’ faith. Being emotional about it is not a wise Christian response. We knew this would happen. The Bible foretold it in many ways.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2)
I knew the day would come because I have observed over two decades of ministry that anyone who does not build his life on the Word of God is building his life on sand. (Matthew 7:26) They will not be consistent in their walk. They will not stay long in any church.
This is especially true of ministers who often face more pressures and temptations than the ordinary churchgoers. Any preacher or pastor who builds his church or ministry on something other than the Word of God (such as gifts of the Spirit, music, worship, church size, prayer or personality) will eventually shipwreck and be out of ministry—it’s only a matter of time. Not even prayer can save a ministry that neglects the Word of God. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my Words will by no means pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
9) Some church leaders’ response to Joshua Harris will perpetuate and even increase more error. You can tell by the confusion they cause and the heart-wrenching questions left unresolved. How could we have been deceived so long by a Christian bestseller? What other teachings of his should I not trust? Who can I trust?
Rather than turning to the Bible to answer these nagging questions in Christian minds, most of our church leaders will “wrestle with emotions,” “hope for redemption,” and “pray for more love.” Is this how James, senior pastor of the first church of Jerusalem, would have responded? James was the pastor who warned that teachers “shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1) Is this how Paul would have responded when he saw church leaders shipwreck their faith and their followers’?
In a letter addressed to the megachurch Joshua Harris formerly pastored, the current pastor Kevin Rogers publicly wrote, “Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration.” In every case–really?
In the case being quoted from First Timothy 1, Paul’s response was quite the opposite of Covenant Life Church’s response. Paul recorded what our Biblical response should be, “…For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” (1 Timothy 1:19-20 NLT)
Every leader will make mistakes; they are only human and we should be gracious about that. Paul was gracious to Timothy who made lots of mistakes. But a bestselling Christian author deliberately denying Christ is not that kind of “mistake” which we are to cover with a fluffy “there-there”.
Pastor Kevin Rogers continued in his public letter to his megachurch, “That these leaders [referring to blasphemous ministers like Joshua Harris who denied Christ] would develop ‘love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.’ (1 Tim 1:5) That should be our hope and prayer for Josh as well.” No, this congregation has not heard a Biblical response yet. They have heard another denial of Paul’s teaching on top of their former pastor’s denial of Christ. It’s meant to sound soft and better than Paul, but the Church will be worse off for neglecting the proper Scriptural protocol.
Many Christians do not agree with Paul’s response to Hymenaeus and Alexander because they have not been taught about Biblical justice, a subject Paul emphasized as much as grace. Remember, it was Paul who told a false prophet who hindered his ministry to “go blind,” and he did! (Acts 13:10-12) Paul did not pray in every case that the sinner would find love and redemption. Paul knew when to be soft and when to be hard. In the case of Bar-Jesus, Paul prayed he’d go blind and the result of the divine judgment was the proconsul Sergius Paulus believed the Gospel!
Unless we start acting like leaders in the Bible–balancing reward and punishment with wisdom–we will misrepresent Christ and the world will mock us for our lack of justice. The problem of Joshua Harris was not having a solid foundation in the Word. What do you reckon the solution is? More emphasis on the Word!
10) Jesus Christ is the Word of God. To claim Jesus as your own, you must make the Word of God number 1 in your life, starting from the first book of Genesis, which is God’s account of Creation. Whether or not you are a preacher, as a Christian, you should read the Bible every day with the goal of finishing the entire Bible every year, and doing so with a pure motive to apply it personally. Don’t read the Bible merely to apply it to others! That is like following the religious Pharisees.
Yes, you will fail in many ways even if you choose to obey God and put His Word first, but you will never fail in the same way as Joshua Harris did. You will never say, as Mr. Harris may claim in his next book, “I kissed God goodbye.”