Joshua Harris: “Messengers will fail, but the message never will”

When I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out, I was fifteen and the book greatly influenced the circles that ran in. I even went to an event related to the book when I was in highschool. If you are not familiar, Harris presented “courting” as a methodology of seeking romantic relationships rather than “dating”. The overall idea was pretty good: dating in the mainstream sense is self-focused and often temporary, but courting allows parents and others to give input while focusing more on the long-term. However, it ended up for many people to be a set of legalistic rules that, in my opinion, took the fun out of getting to know new people and actually made it harder to find godly relationships.

To his credit, Harris, who moved on to become a pastor, has responded well to the criticism of his book and the culture that surrounded it. He said in a statement online,

“While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. 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.”

Since then, Harris (who has stepped down from ministry) has responded to criticism in an extremely humble way and has been very open to critique and reason. Everything I have read from him has come across as very thoughtful, kind, and encouraging. And then, in another thoughtful, kind, and (seemingly) encouraging post earlier this month, Harris said that he was separating from his wife.

Then, this week, he posted again in a very reasonable, kind, and gentle way that he was also separating from Christianity. Here is the full text of his post on Instagram:

Turning to the culture

Since I don’t have a personal relationship with Harris, I don’t know for sure where all this is coming from. But I do have a guess that is based on having seen the same thing in others. I believe that Harris was disillusioned by the Christianity he believed in. There were elements of biblicity in what he believed, but he had erred in several ways. Learning this was a shock to his system because he believed that his worldview was biblical. Now confronted, now re-examined, he has come to the conclusion that his worldview was wrong. He has been confronted in his views on dating, women, parenting, and sexuality and he felt regret, not only for what he believed, but for what he taught.

Then, in his disillusionment, he turned not back to the Bible, but to the world. He found that he could be encouraged, challenged, and even taught by those he had formerly dismissed. Based on what Harris wrote recently, I have no doubt that he has formed close friendships with those in the LGBT community. And, while there is nothing wrong with having friendships, he has allowed his now-crushed-worldview to be shaped by these new friends rather than the Word. And he finds “grace” and acceptance in a way that he never did before, because his previous worldview was narrow, and now it is broad.

There is a verse that is often cited by those who hold lightly to the Bible, but still commend the teaching of Christ: Matthew 7:12, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” But what is amazing is that the very next thing that Jesus said was, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). In reality, biblically, no matter how reasonable and beautiful and inclusive your message is, if you are teaching a broad way you are leading people to destruction.

What is ironic and sad is that while Harris taught things before that led to awkward relationships and misunderstanding of women’s roles, what he is teaching in this post leads to damnation. He sounds so humble and reasonable and kind that I want to listen to him. But when he says that he could not be considered a Christian, he is counting the cross as having no worth. TT Shields wrote in his hymn O Grace of God So Boundless,

O, was ever a heart so hardened,
And can such ingratitude be,
That one for whom Jesus suffered
Will say, “It is nothing to me?”

At the end of the day, you cannot humbly turn away from Jesus. You cannot humbly affirm what God calls sin. You cannot accept the lie that your relationship with your wife and children will be better because of divorce. Many of these “deconversion” stories have much power, and persuade many, and even seem full of gratitude. But there can be nothing more ungrateful than minimizing sin and “repenting” of the Gospel.

When Stacey was young her pastor was caught in an affair and split the church. When the news broke her youth pastor said something that she reminded me of today: “the messengers will fail, but the message will never fail.” Though Harris is not mourning today, I am. I mourn his departure from the faith and all those who will now justify their own falling away. I don’t think anyone is too surprised that a 21 year old should not have written a book on dating. That failure, in as much as it was a failure, is easily forgivable. But his current state is no less than tragic.

I write this today as a plea not to fall away. For Harris’s entire life people have followed him, for better or for worse. And as I have mentioned above, he can be deeply persuasive. Please do not be persuaded. Jesus is better. Maybe you, like Harris, have become disillusioned. Maybe you have found that what you believed for all these years is wrong. Turn to the Word, not the world. Seek out the truth. It will be hard at times. You will seem to some narrow-minded, even intolerant. But in the end, I promise, you will find it to be worth it. Harris will come and go, as with all the other messengers. There is only one thing that will remain: the Word of God. Turn to the Author and I promise, you will not be disappointed.

*Images from Instagram.

Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.