The Shockwaves of Harris Decision
The recent marital separation of bestselling author Joshua Harris — whose 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, propelled him to national fame—didn’t raise too many eyebrows. Sadly, divorce is too common in our world to cause a kerfuffle.
However, when Harris followed soon after with an announcement that he was walking away from his faith as well, it sent shockwaves through the Christian world.
This news will have repercussions well into the future.
This wasn’t your average young adult turning their back on church. This was a homeschooled believer who went on to write several books and pastor at a megachurch before leaving for seminary.
This was a 40-something who many looked to as a paragon of faith and virtue saying, “You know what? I don’t believe that stuff anymore.”
I never met Harris. Never read his bestseller or any of the several books that followed. Never interviewed him for a story.
And yet, I felt impacted by this news after reporting on the groundswell of interest in courtship in evangelical circles that preceded Harris’ book.
In the two years before its release, I had interviewed two authors who endorsed courtship as a godly means for taking a serious approach to pursuing God’s design in the lifelong union marriage is to represent.
Later, I talked with a youth pastor who compared the modern habit of “serial dating” to preparation for divorce. Too many teens who wander through a succession of dating relationships later treat marriage as just another expendable match, he told me.
However, the year after Dating’s release, I also interviewed a pastor in the South for a news service story; he declined to be identified by name because courtship had become such a hot potato in his area.
Like so many reasonable concepts, people had taken it to extremes, he argued. Turned it into a legalistic, “if you don’t do this you’re not a real Christian” kind of scenario.
The pastor wanted to warn other Christians that courtship was certainly a valid way of approaching dating, but not the only one.
Trying to turn it into a straitjacket required by Scripture had divided his community, upset countless numbers of people, and created needless controversy.
Ironically, early last year I saw a story about Harris’ second thoughts about courtship in a World magazine feature.
In “Kisses of Regret,” writer Sophia Lee told of people who were frozen in fear over choosing the wrong person for courtship and later crashed on the rocks of divorce. Or, who were still single because of waiting too long for “Mr. Right.”
“Some have called the book ‘legalism at its finest’ and claim it ‘ruined lives,’” Lee wrote. “Some say it engendered a culture of judgmentalism, pressured inexperienced people into marrying the first person they dated, and caused them to fear intimacy of any kind with the opposite sex.”
Harris also encountered negative reactions on his seminary campus, which finally inspired him to issue an apology to anyone hurt by his manifesto.
Re-Evaluating a Habit
With our world wracked by mass shootings, all kinds of controversy, and the approaching 2020 presidential election, Harris’ recanting of his faith may not cause major waves outside of the church.
However, I hope it prompts those within Christian circles to pause and re-evaluate the habit of turning authors and other public figures into celebrities who can do no wrong.
Deep down underneath, those in the public eye are still human with the flaws and failings that are a common part of life.
They need our prayer and understanding, not our worship. There but for the grace of God, any of us can end up with a shipwrecked faith.