Evangelical Christianity has been shocked and abuzz over the social media revelation made by author, speaker and former pastor Joshua Harris this past week, who renounced his faith in Jesus Christ (see MCT; Kissing Christ Goodbye, Pt.1).
Harris, the ex-pastor of a mega-church and author of the best-selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, announced his apostasy or defection from Christianity just after rejecting his wife of 20 years as well in an Instagram prompting questions and sending shockwaves throughout the evangelical landscape.
Is Harris a true disciple of Christ who has fallen into a prodigal or ‘backslidden’ season of sin and doubt? Or worse, has he completely apostatized from the Christian faith once and for all? Only time will truly tell as his loved ones, former partners in ministry and friends wrestle with those questions in analyzing what became of a man they once called Pastor and a brother in Christ.
Most apostasies do not occur dramatically overnight like some Pauline like, ‘Damascus Road’ conversion experience, but more so over a course of time and events shaking a faith that was never truly grounded to begin with as some of Harris’ closest friends have already speculated.
Harris left the Sovereign Grace church he pastored in Maryland some years ago to study at a more liberal seminary in the hopes of building a more formal and academic theological base he had never enjoyed before. One can only speculate as to what seeds of aberrant and unorthodox theology may been planted in him there, as was the case with the infamous Charles Templeton, a former mentor of Billy Graham, who also rejected the faith in the mid-20th century after falling prey to intellectual, secular theories of creation.
Recently, Harris apologized to the LGBTQ+ community, regretting the teaching of his books including IKDG, (I Kissed Dating Goodbye) and pastoral ministry, “regarding sexuality.” He posted that he “regretted standing against marriage equality” and for having, “contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry,” implying that the biblical doctrine of human sexuality had become bigoted or discriminatory to him in some way. Something changed.
Kissing Purity Goodbye
What about I Kissed Dating Goodbye, written by Harris when he was just 20 years old? Having been reared in a biblically conservative home as one of three ambitious sons (the other two co-authors of Do Hard Things) born to modern homeschool advocates and pioneers, the eldest son had never before been involved in a secularized dating relationship by the time he wrote the book arguing for a Christian-based approach to dating.
After mostly favorable reviews and more than a million copies sold, IKDG “helped shape purity culture” for thousands of Christian millennials reeling at the height of the sexual revolution’s rebirth in the mid to late 90’s, as the AIDS epidemic raged on. Promiscuity, STDs, teen-pregnancies and abortions rose to record levels at the time prompting a Christian cultural backlash to sex outside of marriage, which attempted to once again ground sexuality in scripture – appropriately so.
“True Love Waits” at that time also became a sort of Christian sex education clarion call, embraced by thousands of evangelical households, culminating in a rally in Washington, D.C. with 25,000 young people who displayed 210,000 commitment cards on the National Mall.
Did the goodbye kiss to dating work? First by my general definition of dating, the more secular, standard and acceptable version of entering into relationships here for nearly a century, has been romanticized by popular culture but has proven too often to have resembled little more than the process of buying a ‘used car,’ where individuals try each other on and out on a socialized test-drive basis for pleasure and a possibility of a future – at best.
Predictably “Romantic love” has proven to be a failure for millions of Americans and Christians included, who have been inordinately influenced by peer pressure and society’s failed mores.
For those looking to find their forever “one” in matrimony primarily by the fleeting and subjective characteristics of physical attraction and chemistry, rather than the biblical exhortations to look foremost for compatible faith and character, one-third to one-half of marriages in this nation have ended in divorce for more than a generation, leading to homes where nearly one of every four children grow up with only one of their biological parents – the highest rate in the western world.
Joshua Harris’ book and the ‘True Love Waits’ ethic, took aim at the whole modern idea of dating and challenged youth to rethink it. Indeed, researchers found in the wake of the two above campaigns that there was a significant decline in sexual activity for teenage youth between the ages of 15 to 17 years old, in the period between 1995 and 2002 as well as a dramatic drop in teen pregnancies that would last 30 years.
Many Christian families began to study and rethink the ideal of romantic love which is a concept largely derived from the Greek word for erotic (eros,) and which interestingly enough, is absent when describing love in the New Testament.
Does this mean the Bible mandates pre-arranged love or fixed marriages with parents paying dowry’s as compensation to wed couples, as was the ancient norm? No. The Bible does not explicitly address the topic of dating as relevant to the historically, latter-day view commonly held today. Why? Because Today’s dating would have been a foreign concept to a biblical, sexual ethic.
Therefore, are relationships to begin and occur by means of courtship, a more traditional and perhaps more accurate portrayal of companionship love, as once supported by Harris, steeped in servant and friendship love (philia) as pictured by Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament? Such a mindset would seem much closer to a biblical view of romance and sexuality than our society’s version today.
However, since today’s young adult culture is loath to accept much less parrot the concept of courting, I might suggest the idea of intentional dating being adopted by Christians as a means of relating to a member of the interested, opposite sex.
That is a relationship predicated upon an intention to ultimately marry, in which one finds his or her companion first by assessing common and critical values in the other – a must for Christians who wish to obey God and be ‘equally yoked’ in a one-man and one-woman for one-lifetime marriage.
Those principles seem to promote a greater biblical view of purity (1 Thess. 4:3-8) that would discourage today’s looser or less-intentional forms of dating that are inherently more sexual and tend to disapprove of virginity before marriage, which is inarguably the biblical standard for those who understand that their body is not their own, but are “temples of the living God (2 Cor. 6:14-16).”
This sexual ethic, obviously out of touch in our culture dominated by the moral revolution, dominated Judeo-Christian relationships for centuries. In In fact, the only hint of sexual and erotic love found in a positive relationship of any kind in all the Bible, is found in the context of marriage as beautifully and metaphorically described in the Song of Solomon.
Fast forward however to 2016, where Josh Harris wrote in a statement posted on his website, “I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”
Harris noted “flaws” in the book that led to his discontinuing its publication. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, he has seemingly rejected his own words affirming the biblical admonition to Christians to live sexually pure lives sometime ‘before’ his recent public announcements affirming the fornication of homosexuality.
The Possibility of Purity
Criticism even from some Christians have fallen on some of the particular methodologies of the purity movement and it is true that some of the promises made by purity advocates and implied in IKDG, illustrated by purity pledges, rings and balls, may have been stretched too far (e.g. near guarantees of ‘happy-ever-after endings’ of great marriage, sex lives and families).
We must be reminded that no man-made or extra-biblical methods of attaining sexual purity can perfectly achieve God’s ideal of fidelity for everyone, being that everyone is in a tug of war with their flesh and the unredeemed have no chance of victory in it.
However, no matter how far Harris has strayed from Christ and his former, biblically-based sexual ethics, purity is inarguably God’s revealed will, word and is best for all of his image bearers for a myriad of reasons.
For the Christian, sexual purity will at least be fully realized in glory, but until then, believers and unbelievers alike must choose Christ first- as their greatest treasure and his fellowship for their greatest pleasure in preparing for the marriage supper of the lamb and his church.
Therefore, as Joshua Harris entitled in another book of his, let’s Stop Dating the Church, and let’s kiss sin goodbye. One more thing.. pray that Harris will do the same, repent and turn back to Christ and the gospel he once preached as true – the only truth that produces true relational bliss.