Joshua Harris has abandoned his Christian faith, news that marks another blow to American conservative evangelicalism.
Harris authored the best-selling I Kissed Dating Goodbye in his early twenties, unleashing unnecessary angst on a generation of evangelical teens. In his early thirties, he served as pastor of a Gaithersburg megachurch. He was also an influential figure in the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement (YRR). Now, he has denounced his famous book, announced he and his wife are separating, and repudiated Christianity.
I’m not sure that this is the setback that some think it is. It’s tempting to equate this with Bart Campolo’s abandonment of the faith, but the motivation is different. In Campolo’s case, it was the theodicy issue, something with which American evangelicalism has set itself for trouble. (That too entered into Rachel Held Evans’ falling down, although her break wasn’t as clean.) In this case it’s another evangelical disaster. As Trueman notes:
While Harris seems to be making a clean break with his past, the style of his apostasy announcement is oddly consistent with the evangelical Christianity he used to represent. He revealed he was leaving the faith with a social media post, which included a mood photograph of himself contemplating a beautiful lake. The earlier announcement of his divorce used the typical postmodern jargon of “journey” and “story.” And both posts were designed to play to the emotions rather than the mind. Life, it would seem, continues as performance art.
American evangelicalism is a running popularity contest, and Harris hasn’t stopped that part of it, just changed the product he’s selling. And he’s also stuck his finger in the wind to see which way it’s blowing, which is probably behind his apology to the LGBT community. Before that, however, his promotion of the “purity movement” reflected evangelical myopia on how to implement the demands of the Gospel. My biggest problem with the purity movement wasn’t with the principle but with the implementation. For someone who grew up in a part of the country where the Christian sexual ethic was unpopular to say the least, to make such a public show of it struck me as dangerous. It’s hard enough to be a Christian without adding to the social pressure, especially in a society where the opinion leaders and elites live primarily to get laid, high or drunk. Evangelicals think that they have to work at confronting the culture with the Gospel; these days, and earlier for some of us, live it and don’t worry, you’ll have confrontation.
It also doesn’t surprise me that he was Reformed. Reformed theology is, IMHO, a highway to universalism, but some will blow their stack if they hear that.