On Caution and Keeping: Friends Reflect on Joshua Harris’s Deconversion

Joshua Harris on Instagram

By now, most of our readers have heard the news that Joshua Harris has not only separated from his wife, but also no longer considers himself a Christian. Many have already commented on Harris’s seeming apostasy (for our part, we are still praying that this is a wandering from the path rather than a final abandonment).

Some have taken this news as a reflection of the spirit of our age, some as a moment of profound sadness for Harris and for those he harmed, and some as an indictment of the Young Restless Reformed movement of which Harris was a part. There is much to affirm in each of these angles. But before we venture any thoughts on the bigger picture, let us paint a more personal portrait.

It would give us great joy to see our friend return to the gospel he proclaimed, the Bible he affirmed, and the Jesus he held out to others.

We’ve known Josh for almost 15 years. We’ve been with his family. We’ve been in his home. We’ve been to his church. At one time, we were fairly close, as a group of us (then) young men gathered semi-regularly for prayer, for encouragement, and for just hanging out. While we don’t know what Josh might think of us—it’s been several years now since we were closely in touch—we remember Josh as perpetually friendly, warm, engaging, and sincere.

That’s why we are holding out hope that the faith we saw in him and heard from him was not spurious. It would give us great joy to see our friend return to the gospel he proclaimed, the Bible he affirmed, and the Jesus he held out to others.

Word of Caution

There is certainly nothing wrong with adding public comment to a public story—and when Josh announced his deconversion on Instagram he made it a public story. Nor is there anything wrong with searching for larger themes and extrapolating broader trends from individual incidents. There has already been, and will likely continue to be, a proliferation of reports and reflections on Josh’s recent trajectory—from renouncing I Kissed Dating Goodbye, to separating from his wife, to rejecting the label Christian altogether.

Nevertheless, our comment is a word of caution. While some basic ruminations can be justified, we ought to be wary of making sweeping judgments either corporately or personally.

Corporately, it’s too simplistic to take one defection and say, “See, that’s what’s wrong with X.” The problem is X is usually in the eye of the beholder. In this case it could be: homeschooling, fame at a young age, Neo-Calvinism, the charismatic movement, purity culture, Sovereign Grace, lack of a seminary education, or all of the above. Or none of the above. People are shaped by thousands of moments and make their decisions for hundreds of reasons. The logic that says “this bad thing is the result of this cultural phenomenon I don’t like” is an argument easily made and impossibly refuted.

While some basic ruminations can be justified, we ought to be wary of making sweeping judgments either corporately or personally.

What is worth exploring in this instance—and, we can tell you, has already for years generated a great deal of soul searching—is why a number of young men who were at one time closely associated with The Gospel Coalition have been forced to leave the ministry. Our primary takeaway is that in years past our tribe was too quick to elevate gifted men who may not have had enough time to prove themselves faithful for the long haul. But even here, we would note that the public crises always get more attention than scores of young men who have quietly continued to serve the Lord with growing maturity.

Finally, a word of caution on the personal side of things. No doubt, there have been a myriad of decisions (and we might say defections) in Josh’s soul over the past years. We don’t know the details of what has transpired. We don’t know the conversations, the tears, the possible hurt, the possible compromises. We don’t know what Josh’s next Instagram post might say. We can only imagine the pain this has caused for Josh’s family and oldest friends who are likely dismayed at the current trajectory. When it comes to confident theories of what went wrong, we should tread lightly.

Our hope is that we may once again boast in the cross with our old friend. At the very least, we hope he will travel this new path with a bit more caution himself. Divorce and deconstruction are confusing. They are painful. They are destabilizing. It seems, therefore, better that they would be largely out of the public eye. Instagram seems a poor vehicle for honest self-assessment. Transparency, overrated in our day as it is, is certainly less sanguine when we aren’t sure who we are or what we will become.

Keeping in the Love of God

While we grieve Josh’s decision (and have told him as much), we are not without hope (and we’ve told him that as well). We will continue to call on the God of sovereign mercy, the God Josh once extolled and the God who still sits on the throne.

We pray for our friend, for our churches, and for ourselves—that we may keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21), as God keeps us from stumbling (Jude 24).

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