Shock and sadness washed over the Western church when Joshua Harris publicly announced that he was leaving both his wife and his faith. But what’s more saddening than Harris’ apostasy, however, was his motivation to do it.
During a National Public Radio (NPR) interview (1) back in July 2016, Harris explained that the intensity of the backlash against his iconic bestseller “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (IKDG) pushed him to rethink some aspects of the book, and eventually core tenets of his faith.
Having read IKDG and watched the interview, I believe that the complaints about IKDG are more a reflection of the readers than they are of the book itself. And the nature of the complaints shows that the church should take its eyes off of Joshua Harris for a moment to look at its own dire spiritual issues:
Right book, wrong audience
Philippians chapter 2, verse 13 says “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” People depended on IKDG to give them the motivation and ability to live lives of purity. But that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. All the book promised (and could promise) to do is provide helpful, practical, down-to-earth tips on how to effectively act out God-given, God-sustained desires for sexual purity.
The book was used by broken sinful people to condemn, bully and harm others who fornicated in the past. This type of legalism is not new. In Mark chapter 2, verses 23-27, when the Pharisees criticized Jesus for picking wheat with his disciples, Jesus replied “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. In the same way, sexual purity was made for man, not man for sexual purity. Biblical laws are given by God for man’s good, and not as a means by which to determine man’s value.
Idolizing sexual purity
It is evil to value a person based on whether or not they’re keeping God’s rules. People are inherently precious and worthy of love and respect by simply being made in the image of the Almighty God. We maintain sexual purity because our bodies deserve to be honoured and treasured. Someone has to commit the rest of his/her life before they earn the right to touch us sexually. Sexual purity is therefore a reflection of a person’s value, not a source of it. Even if we don’t treasure our bodies in this way, our inherent value never diminishes, especially not in God’s eyes.
On one hand, people were damaged because they or others around them idolized sexual purity. On the other hand, readers detested the book because they idolized sexual pleasure, and were offended at the notion of outright condemnation of sexual behavior they enjoy as immoral or destructive. This phenomenon among Christians has been dubbed by some apologists as the rise of sexual atheism: Christians who agree with the bible in regards to every other area of their life (lying, stealing etc.) but not their sex life. Many Christians want a Savior (to protect them from the torture of hell) but they don’t want a Lord (whom they must obey).
Culture of defensiveness
Several readers complained that the book made them feel guilty about the sexual sins they had committed before, despite Harris including an entire chapter on Jesus’ forgiveness, love and healing for persons who had sexually sinned. It goes to show that the world’s toxic obsession with political correctness and moral relativism has seeped into the church. 2 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 10 says “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Godly sorrow is still sorrow. But even Christians nowadays don’t want to feel sorrow for anything, even if it’s for something sinful that they’ve done.
Lack of discipleship
In connection to the previous point, Joshua Harris failed to understand that no matter how true or godly the book is, somebody’s feelings would be hurt (and that would not necessarily be a bad thing). “To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life” (2 Corinthians chapter 2, verse 16). When Harris was rattled to his core by the backlash to his book, an older wiser Christian man/author/pastor should have taken him aside, encouraged Harris from his own past experience of getting retaliation from other Christians when speaking God’s truth, and gently rebuked Harris for its errors (if any).
Similarly, if readers of the book were drowning in guilt, shame or emotional abuse from others’ condemnation, then they should have gone to their own pastors, mentors or even fellow Christian friends who could correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 15). Both Harris and his readers fell because of a lack of discipleship. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs chapter 11, verse 14).
I pray Joshua Harris will find God again, and wrestle with Him over his doubts and questions even if it leaves him limping afterwards. Until then, I humbly invite all of us to examine our own hearts and ensure we are grounded in God’s truth, lest we too follow Harris’ ill-fated path.
Kacy Garvey is a Christian poet, speaker and activist. In 2011, she launched "Rahab", an outreach to prostitutes in Geneva, Switzerland. She is a USAID certified HIV Testing and Counselling Provider and has also successfully completed training in Trafficking in Persons conducted by the International Organisation on Migration (IOM). She performs original pieces of spoken word poetry to various audiences, and in 2014 and 2018, she launched “Undone” and “Water Jar”, the first and only Christian poetry albums published in Jamaica so far. As a founding member of the Love March Movement (since 2012) and #MarriageMattersJA (since 2018), she is a regular presenter on the science, politics and biblical worldviews on sex and sexuality. She hosts the new TV series “MTM News Magazine” which can be streamed live on www.mercyandtruth.tv.