Josh Harris Says He’s Not a Christian

July 27, 2019 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Yesterday on Instagram, Josh Harris shared the following:

My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.⁣⁣
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I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)⁣⁣
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The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is “deconstruction,” the biblical phrase is “falling away.” By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.⁣⁣
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Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. I have lived in repentance for the past several years—repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.⁣⁣
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To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Covenant Life Church, where Josh was senior pastor for several years, sent its members the following email late last night:

Dear Covenant Life family,

This week our former Lead Pastor, Josh Harris, shared some significant news. First, he and his wife Shannon announced that they’re separated. Then in a follow up post, he said “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

These updates are hard to hear. We love Josh and Shannon. For most of us, Josh isn’t just some distant public figure. He’s a beloved former pastor and friend. So this news isn’t just a lot to process theoretically. It hits home personally. 

How do we process the news that someone who was a spiritual leader in our community, who taught us God’s Word, who ministered to us, no longer considers himself a follower of Christ?

Today, after I got the news, I read through Paul’s first letter to Timothy and found it very grounding. Several times Paul mentions former Christian leaders “swerving from,” “wandering from,” or “making shipwreck” of their faith. So while this is sad and confusing, it isn’t new. Christian leaders occasionally veered from faith at the very beginning. Paul says some had gone off course theologically. Others behaved in ways that violated Christian conscience. For others, it was greed. In every case, Paul’s hope was for redemption and restoration. That these leaders would develop “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5) That should be our hope and prayer for Josh as well. 

Paul’s primary instruction for us when leaders swerve from faith is that we make it an opportunity for greater resolve in our own faith, not less. Seeing leaders who taught us the gospel veer from it should deepen our commitment to “guard the good deposit” entrusted to us. And “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim 6:11)

So, Covenant Life, pray for our friend Josh. Pray with sincere hope for a redemptive end. And ask the God of all grace and power for fresh resolve in your own fight of faith. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Tim 6:12)

In Love,
Kevin

P.S. – If you’re having particular trouble processing this, any of the pastors would be glad to talk with you. If you’re specifically wrestling with how to process teaching you heard from Josh, you may find this video from John Piper helpful. 

I realize my opinions don’t carry any particular weight, but still. I have all sorts of thoughts on these developments.

I actually really like CLC’s email. And…it just goes to show, churches would do well to follow scriptural guidelines for elders. It’s generally not a good idea to hand-pick a very young man and place a ton of responsibility on his shoulders.

Furthermore (and probably most importantly), we need to be praying for Josh. As an outsider who has observed him from afar over the years, he strikes me as someone who has always been eager for approval, first from his father and then from his mentor. Unfortunately, in the land of CJ Mahaney and Sovereign Grace churches, that compliance and desire to please were misconstrued as “humility.” Josh’s bosses thought his submission to their authority made him more godly.

And yes, it can be a good quality, to want to please. When SGM’s problems came to light, Josh seemed much nicer than many other leaders in how he responded.

At the same time, though, put a person like that in an open-ended academic environment, and it’s highly likely he will end up absorbing the beliefs and values of his professors and fellow students, particularly if he has reason to question his original beliefs, or if his original beliefs were built on a shaky academic foundation. Factor in our sick culture today and the additional peer pressure to disavow any non-woke views, and honestly, I’m not surprised at all to read Josh’s latest statement.

The good news is, if the Holy Spirit has been at work in Josh’s life to regenerate him at some point – back when he was still a professing believer – then the Holy Spirit is still at work, and eventually, Josh will come back around. As I said, join me in praying for him and Shannon.