With the recent announcement on Instagram from Joshua Harris that he is separating from his wife, and has lost his faith, yet another oak has crashed to ground.
Harris has been furiously back-peddling for a few years now, seeking to un-write what he has written on matters of dating, courtship, and sex. I was in my teens when his books (I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl) were published. I didn’t read the first one – no doubt the more controversial of the two – but I found the second one a huge help as I moved towards marriage. It was sound, practical advice. The truth is, that whatever faults there may have been in Harris’ overall approach to dating, the situation in the world right now when it comes to finding a marriage partner is seriously messed up and the church is barely doing any better. Secular sociologists like Jean Twenge have written at length about all the sadness and loneliness the modern dating scene is creating, where commitment and honour are virtually absent. About this, there is too much to say. (Have a listen to my Salt Live talk, Can Love Survive the Dating Apocalypse?, on this page.)
Waking up to the news of Harris’ public denial of the faith he used to preach is sobering, not least because I am a pastor. It’s right to feel sadness and sorrow. This is a seriously messed up situation. But, after the sadness and sorrow there are other thoughts that we ought to dwell on.
First, this is nothing new. The Bible is an honest, warts and all, portrayal of human frailty and faultering faith. There is no hagiographic editorial air-brushing going on. Even the best of biblical heroes are revealed to be massively flawed in some very shocking ways. This is one of the evidences that the Bible should be taken seriously and read as history; what possible incentive would authors have to put their best characters in such terrible light, when those same men are considered leaders and prophets of God? The fact that these men trip up and sometimes crash and burn is written down to warn us that this can happen to you.
In other words, sin is more insidious and dangerous than we realise. That’s why Jesus had to die. That’s why he had to deal with the mess we’re in. This is spiritual warfare, and there are casualties, betrayals, treacheries, and treasons. Some people are rescued from the brink, others wander blindly or deliberately over it. If public denials of faith serve any purpose (and arguably, a man like Harris should just stay quiet), then they do at least cause us to wake up and stop slumbering through this spiritual war we are in.
Second, there is only one hero worthy of the name. Every exposure of sin – be it sexual sin, abuse of authority, bullying, greed, pride, self-aggrandisement, or whatever – has the effect of emphasising how totally awesome and perfect is our saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was tempted in every way that we are, yet he was without sin. He learned obedience through what he suffered. He was humbled to the ground, and humbled further on the cross, but he never once cursed God. He said, take this cup from me, but yet, not my will be done, but yours. He surrendered to the will of the Father, set his face to Jerusalem, wept over lost souls and baying crowds, and then died an ignominious death. And the Father saw fit to glorify him in vindicating resurrection power, placing him above all rule and authority, at his right hand. And now he has light in his eyes, and a sword in his mouth, and he’s coming again to judge the living and the dead, as the only truly worthy and blameless man.