Joshua Harris and the Danger of Falling Away
(Picture taken from Joshua Harris’ Instagram post)
By Jesse Jost
Last month I was shocked to hear that Joshua Harris and his wife were divorcing, but even more surprised to hear later that Joshua is leaving Christianity. He said, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. “ He also said, “The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’”
Harris is a man I used to admire. Through his talks and writing, he had been such an encouraging mentor to me. It’s a gut kick to hear that he has walked away from Jesus.
There’s been lots of speculation about why this happened: was he never really a believer? Is he a closet homosexual? Was he only a legalistic Christian who never understood that Christianity is supposed to be a relationship with a person and not a set of fear based rules?
I read and benefited from Joshua’s earlier books, “I kissed Dating Goodbye,” “Boy Meets Girl,” and “Sex Is Not the Problem, Lust Is.” After I read his deconversion announcement, I picked up a book he wrote nine years ago: “Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters.”
In it he explores the difference between superficial Christianity based on empty tradition, and a vibrant genuine faith that is founded on a real knowledge of God – what he calls “the mysterious, awe filled experience of truly knowing the living Jesus Christ.”
For those of us who take seriously the Bible’s warnings of the consequences that come from “falling away,” there is a deep sadness for Joshua, and a hope that if only we could tell him the truths he must have missed, he would reconsider.
But “Dug Down Deep”, which is also his spiritual autobiography, reveals a man who had a real depth of intellectual knowledge of the Gospel and doctrines of God and salvation. The book is filled with the very words that I would love for Joshua to read now.
I don’t know Joshua personally and I won’t begin to speculate why he has walked away from God. I earnestly hope he continues searching and comes back to God – that this will just be a temporary detour in his spiritual journey. But if the words of the Bible are true, he is in a dangerous place.
There are many reasons people fall away from God: sexual sin, unwillingness to give up a cherished sinful habit, painful experiences with other Christians, unanswered doubts and questions about the problem of evil and suffering.
But I think the most dangerous cause of apostasy is simple forgetfulness. Our little thimble brains can only hold so much information. We can only see a tiny sliver of reality at one time. As soon as an aspect of reality is no longer in our narrow field of vision, it quickly starts to be forgotten.
For Satan to fulfill his goal of getting us to reject God, he doesn’t always need carefully reasoned rebuttals of the evidence, or airtight arguments for why we should dismiss the Bible. He simply needs to keep something else in our attention span, and we will begin to forget God. It won’t matter what level of theological education we have achieved, or how sound our doctrine was at one time. Once out of our mind, we will forget and live as if God’s truths are not true. The ideas we have been dwelling on will automatically seem more plausible regardless of their truth or validity simply because they have become more familiar.
As I read Joshua’s passionate exploration of the great truths of the Christian faith, truth which he has now rejected, I wondered: Has he rejected these because he encountered rebuttals he couldn’t answer, and is the alternative view he is embracing better reasoned? Or has he simply forgotten because other things have filled his vision?
The writer of Hebrews warns us to pay more careful attention to the things we have heard “lest we drift away.” The imagery of drifting is chilling. There is no brazen act of rebellion, no conscious choice to reject truth. It’s simply falling asleep at the rudder. A few moments of inattention and we drift from the place of safety and refuge into danger.
The person estranged from God can live in blissful ignorance of the unpleasant facts of coming justice and the bleakness of life apart from God by simply forgetting them. Binge watching Netflix, becoming a workaholic, substance abuse, mindless meditation, endless scrolling of social media can completely block painful realities from our mind and create a sense of counterfeit peace.
But our lack of awareness does not change reality or the collision course with ultimate justice that is coming. God has warned repeatedly that each of us will stand before Him after death and give an account how we lived. Our approval or disapproval of this idea will not change our coming encounter with God.
God is not a cold, uncaring judge looking for any chance to condemn us. On the contrary, His heart yearns to heal us and rescue us from the misery of alienation. He made a way for our sins to be taken away so that we can enter judgement day with grateful boldness rather than fearful defiance.
I could be wrong about all of this. I’m no authority on life, I’m willing to listen. You should feel free to reject my thoughts and opinions. But if God has spoken, that is a different story. It is not humility to reject God’s revelation of truth. In fact, it is the greatest hubris imaginable to claim to know better than God.
Our opinions and ideas do not change reality, any more than forgetting about a growing cancerous tumour in your body will change the fact of its existence.
I really believe the greatest spiritual battle you will face, and the one with the greatest stakes, will be the battle for your attention.
What will you focus on? What will you notice? You must make a choice to listen for God’s voice. You need stay aware of His words.
If you let your mind go on auto pilot, your vision will be filled all day with anything but God’s truth: thoughts of greed, vanity, resentment, lust, anger, regret, depression, how you have been let down by others, fantasies of how you wish life could be.
And all the while God will grow distant and start to feel irrelevant to your life.
The only way to win the battle for your attention is to make a habit of focusing on the things that God specifically commands us to focus on. 1 Thessalonians 5 lays it out, “Rejoice in the Lord always, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks.”
Every chance you get, delight in an aspect of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what he will do. Dwell in that reality. Turn your thoughts into a conversation with God, practice his presence. Keep your eyes open to the countless gifts he is giving you, and thank him! I really believe ingratitude is the biggest sin of apostasy. Conversely, nothing strengthens our faith in God like giving thanks.
I feel it is only fitting to close this article with words from Joshua Harris himself:
1“You might think that telling a Christian to ‘remember Jesus’ borders on the unnecessary. Can Christians really forget him? Paul knew that they could. And even worse, he knew that they could claim allegiance to Jesus but lose sight of the meaning of his life and death….
“The air of heaven will blow away the fog that so often clouds our vision in this life. In eternity we’ll see the silliness of self-righteousness and quarrelling over the nonessentials. But we’ll see with piercing clarity just how essential the essentials really are. We’ll see just how precious the truths of the gospel really are.
“We’ll look into each other’s eyes and we won’t be able to stop saying, ‘It was all true! It was all true!’ Every word, every promise.
“We’ll see that the cross really conquered death and hell and washed away our sins. We’ll see the everlasting reward of believing in Jesus and the eternal hell of rejecting Him. We’ll look back on our lives and see that God never did forsake us. Not even for a split second. That he was with us every moment – even the darkest moments of despair and seeming hopelessness. We will know in a deeper way than we can now imagine that God truly worked all things together for our good. And we’ll see that Jesus really did go to prepare a place for us, just as he said.
“And everything we did for Jesus will be so worth it. Every time we stood for the truth and looked foolish. Every time we shared the gospel. Every act of service. Every sacrifice.
“No one will say, ‘I wish I had believed less. I wish I’d cared less about the Gospel.’”
1(all quotations taken from “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris copyright 2010 Multnomah Books)
Oliver • August 6, 2019
I read somewhere that in recent times he went back to school for a degree. If it was anything like my seminary experience I am not surprised he found himself on this path. It takes careful thought and deliberate a room to guard your heart against the worms of critical theory that undermines the antiquity and reliability of the scriptures. And I don’t say this as some head in the sand “just believe” standpoint. If you look carefully you can see the assumptions of liberal biblical scholars and where they get off in the weeds. But it is so pervasive that it’s hard especially for young students to not allow those thoughts to send you off course.
Dale Jost • August 13, 2019
Great thoughts Jesse. …”.Prone to wander…prone to leave the God I love, Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above!” ….so yes. Lord Jesus , be Thou my vision. Keep my attention on You!” The Author and Finisher of my Faith.
Jill • October 22, 2019
Thanks Jesse, for taking a few precious moments of your time to reflect on the disturbing declaration that Joshua Harris has made, regarding his departure from his faith and his relationship with Christ, that he once held dear. We truly are each just as vulnerable to falling away, as you so aptly stated, apart from staying focused on God’s goodness in our lives, despite the setbacks and disappointments we each encounter. It is so easy to become distracted from our relationship with Christ in this day and age, with so many enticing opportunities before us. We need to ever be willing to forgo things and people who will unwittingly suck our time and energy from us, to the point we have none left to focus on Christ, our true source of life. It is humbling indeed to acknowledge that we can be so fickle and easily swayed away from Jesus, who gave His very life for us. My hope and prayer for Joshua, is that the unrelenting love of God will overcome him, even in the midst of his confusion and deception. Our enemy Satan loves to target leaders, as a strategy to dislodge many vulnerable followers. May the grace and comfort of Christ surround all those who looked up to Joshua over the years, as a Christian author and church leader. Thanks again Jesse, for highlighting how we each have a personal responsibility to protect ourselves from intrusive distractions, that can leave us devoid of the time and energy that we need, to stay focussed on Christ, our true source of life.