By Pastor Tim Adams
Sovereign Grace Community Church of the Yampa Valley
Yesterday afternoon I went on an afternoon stroll with our Husky Neo. If you have a Husky, you will appreciate two things: first he is an escape artist so he cannot be trusted in our back yard with our 6 foot fence. Husky’s love to run! Second, he has a lot of energy and needs a lot of exercise, which is good for him and it’s good for me!
When I go on these walks, I usually play a John MacArthur sermon, or the sermon of some other pastor that I greatly admire. And yes, sometimes I simply listen to George Strait. Today, upon the recommendation of my sister I listened to a podcast from the series “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” entitled “I Kissed Christianity Goodbye.” With this episode fresh in my mind, I wanted to get a few thoughts down before they vanished, which they have a tendency to do with me.
This episode focused on a man who in terms of personality is the direct opposite of Mars Hill founder and pastor Mark Driscoll, and that would be Josh Harris. If you are unfamiliar with Josh Harris, which some of my readers may not be, after all Josh came to prominence in the late 1990s early 2000s. Josh was all of 18 years old when he published a book entitled “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” in which he advocated for Christian young people to abstain from dating (more on this in a bit). This book became an instant best seller and was used by many families and churches to guide their young people. In the process young Josh became an instant evangelical celebrity.
Josh went on to become a pastor of a church called Covenant Life Fellowship in Maryland, which was under the Sovereign Grace fellowship of churches umbrella which was led by C.J. Mahaney. In fact, for a time Josh lived in CJ’s basement and was a protégé of his.
Josh was the pastor of a mega church at an extremely young age. Famously everything began to crumble, first with Sovereign Grace Ministries which were accused of at best minimizing sexual abuse in its midst, at worst covering it up. In the midst of this in 2015 Josh resigned his pastorate and moved from Maryland to Vancouver British Columbia to attend Regent Seminary. Strangely for Josh, this was the first time he had ever really been in a classroom as he had been homeschooled the entire time he was growing up. His parents having been considered pioneers of the homeschooling movement.
It was at this point, most likely even before this that he began to “deconstruct.” The term “deconstruct” is a popular term right now which basically is a way of describing the process one goes through as they leave their faith. By the way this faith is almost exclusively of the evangelical variety in these deconstruction stories. In the podcast the narrator Mike Cosper gives us a timeline of Josh leaving the pastorate in 2015. Part of the process of Josh leaving ministry was him becoming aware of people being “hurt” by his book and the principles it espoused. I’m going to guess that these were young people (at the time) who were put under the strictures of the book by their parents or maybe even their churches, and they didn’t necessarily want to do that themselves. Anyway, this and the sexual abuse scandal at Sovereign Grace, which is still being litigated today, led to Mr. Harris leaving the ministry.
Then in 2016, via Twitter, he began posting some public apologies about his book and questioning the book and seeming to distance himself from it. I’m not sure he has ever distanced himself from the millions of dollars he made from the book, but that’s for another time. In 2018 he publicly disavowed his book and requested that the publisher discontinue the publication of the book, which the publisher did. The following year Josh announced that he had his wife were separating, and then a few days later he announced that he no longer identified as a Christian.
All of this was well chronicled in the podcast, but much of it I was unaware of. I remember hearing that Josh Harris had renounced his faith, but it didn’t really resonate with me. Probably because I feel like this constantly happens in Christian celebrity culture. I mean at this point how many Christian celebrities have renounced their faith? I’ve lost track.
There were some observations from this podcast that I wanted to share. First, Josh Harris and others like him were never saved to begin with. Josh Harris has never been a Christian. Why do I say this? Because 1 John 2:19 says, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
Josh Harris is emblematic of what I believe to be a huge problem in evangelical church. Josh, for so long, believed that he really believed. Josh was raised in the church. His parents were homeschooling celebrities, and Josh grew up in an evangelical celebrity and charismatic church and world. By all appearances, even to himself, he seemed to be a Christian.
Further cementing this belief is that when he was a mere teenager, he writes a best-selling book on the evils of dating. He says in the episode that he was raised to believe that sex outside of marriage was the worst possible thing a young person could do. So, he wrote a book that he thought would help young Christian people avoid that sin. His solution? Quite dating. If a young couple were truly interested in romance, they would only be interested if it was a person they wanted to marry. So, they would submit themselves to courting under the supervision of their parents or other adults in the church.
The book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” sold millions of copies and catapulted Josh into the evangelical stratosphere. But the problem was Josh was not a Christian. He sincerely believed he was, but his faith was not built on the foundation of the gospel. instead it was built on something other than the gospel. 1 Corinthians 3:11 says, “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
Josh, and many others like him, built their faith on the foundation of many things, just not Jesus Christ. In the case of Josh, he built his faith on movements (homeschooling, charismatic worship, and celebrity Christians culture). He admits in a very candid moment that he wanted to be famous. In some sense he most likely became addicted to that celebrity, to the adulation, and seems to still be addicted to it.
Listening to this podcast melted together with a couple of different conversations that I had in the last few days. Both conversations dealt with the issue of young people who are struggling with their faith, or rather with the faith they were raised in. One of the conversations was with a woman who mentioned to me a friend of hers who is struggling with their child. Their child was raised in a Christian home, attended a “good church,” went off to a large state university and now is an atheist. This woman also mentioned to me one of her own children, who seems to struggle with their faith, and she even used the word “deconstruct” as she described him. As I listened to this my thought immediately went to 1 John 2:19 and the conclusion that they were never saved to begin with.
So much of what passes for evangelicalism is bereft of true Scriptural truth and the result is that our young people far too often leave home, and they have no real grounding nor understanding of what the Bible really says. Most churches are in the words of a description of the Platte River in Nebraska, “an mile wide and an inch deep.” Churches today are so focused on the attractional model and have been for much of my lifetime I fear, that even though young people “grow up in the church,” they are not really familiar with the foundational truths of the faith.
They have built their faith, and that’s one of the mistakes right there, “they have built…” When it comes to faith, we must understand that we don’t do anything. Only God does. But they have built their faith, for lack of a better term, on a foundation that is built of sand because it is not built on the rock. They have built it on the foundation of feelings, popular Christian culture, Contemporary Christian Music, false teachings that appeal to sinful desires of men, and the entertainment culture. They have built their faith on the faith of their parents. “My parents are Christians, I go to a good church,” they think and they mistakenly assume that this is enough. Every single one of those foundations crumble and if you have no grounding in the rock of the gospel, when things to wrong, which they inevitably do in life, you “deconstruct” your faith.
If you are a young person and you are reading this, I implore you to shut off the Christian Contemporary Music, stop following the Christian entertainers and cool kids on social media, quit relying on your parents, and turn your to gaze to the inerrant, all sufficient word of God.
Do not worship the idol of your feelings! It says in Jeremiah that “the heart is deceitful above all else.” Your feelings are going to tell, with a lot of help from our culture, that the Bible can’t possibly be right about all these things. Your feelings are going to tell you that it is okay to be sexually active outside of the marriage bed. Your feelings are going to tell you that it is okay to be part of this culture, to indulge in our culture. Your feelings are going to tell you that its okay to be attracted to someone of the same sex, after all our culture tells us it is. But the Bible tells us otherwise. Your feelings are going to tell you to trust your feelings, but the Bible says to only trust God.
As I wound up my walk, I was profoundly saddened by Josh Harris’ story. But I am even more saddened by many similar stories close to home. Young people, find a church that preaches the word of God without apology. Find a church that preaches the Word of God verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Stay in that church even if the music is not initially to your liking. Stay in that church even if you are the youngest person there by far. Stay in that church and build your faith on the Solid Rock!
My second observation from this is the importance of 1 Timothy 3:1-8 and the Biblical qualifications of an elder. Josh Harris and others like him are given way too much responsibility at way too young an age. I remember one time an older friend of mine told me that he would never read a “Christian” book by anyone under the age of 50. Now, let me be clear I think there are some fine books written by younger men, Allen Nelson IV come to mind. That being said, 18 years old is far too young to be given such a huge platform.
Josh and others like him and like Mark Driscoll have a very specific skill set. They are great communicators, and they are especially proficient at self-promotion. This is why it says in 1 Timothy 3:2 that an elder, an “overseer” is to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Well, you get the idea.
Church, my message to you, my exhortation is to take seriously who we elevate. Are they wedded to the Word of God? Are they faithful and respectable men? Or is it that they are attractive and good at drawing a crowd. The stakes are high, salvation is at stake, so we are to take this very seriously.
One more thing: Mike Cosper who is the producer of this series is to be commended. About halfway through the episode as he was interviewing Mr. Harris, he essentially calls him to repentance. I did not expect that, and I did not expect the very honest and difficult questions he confronted Josh with. It would have been easy to go the other way and run from confrontation, but he didn’t, and he is to be appreciated for that.