As you may have heard, Joshua Harris has recently deconverted from Christianity. I had first heard about Harris when I was a young teenager but never got around to reading his popular book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
You can read more about the details of the story elsewhere, but here are Harris’ own words on what happened to his faith:
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.
I hope those words are as heartbreaking to you as they are to me.
Joshua Harris is not the first well-known Christian to leave the faith and he won’t be the last. Setting aside theological differences, how should Christians respond when a prominent leader leaves the faith?
First, let me make a few comments on how we should not respond.
We shouldn’t try to psychologize the reasons why they deconverted. Some have already done this with Harris by blaming his deconversion on marital issues. The truth is we don’t know why he left and people make choices for complex reasons. When I have struggled with doubts in the past, I certainly didn’t want people throwing out theories on why I was wrestling with my faith.
Also, many Christians are wielding theological truths as weapons to combat Harris. Many are condemning him and using this as an opportunity to bash his previous work as well. But Jude 1:22 commands us to “have mercy on those who doubt.”
We Christians have to get better at that whole “mercy” thing!
Now, here are 3 ways Christians should respond.
1. Love Them
My immediate reaction upon hearing the news of Harris’ decision was deep sadness. It’s one of those situations that hits you in the soul. The departure from his Christian beliefs after so many years is nothing short of tragic.
What people like Harris need from others is an open heart and a listening ear. They are more than likely hurting on a deep level. What they have decided to do is a difficult process and comes at a great cost. Harsh judgment is not going to invite them into conversation, but our love for them can speak volumes.
Loving them well includes speaking the truth in love, but how easy it is to practice one without the other! We shouldn’t be afraid to speak truth when the Spirit leads. But we speak the truth in such a way that the other person knows that we will continue to love them no matter how they respond.
2. Pray for Them
The passage that comes to mind on how to respond to deconversions is 2 Timothy 2:24-26. Here Paul tells us that we “must not be quarrelsome” with those who don’t believe but should have kindness, patience and gentleness when dealing with them.
We respond in this way so that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”
In other words, God has to do the work in the person’s heart. We cannot make God do anything, but we can certainly ask with faith and hope.
I believe that God’s invitation in Isaiah 1:18 is still open to Harris:
“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”
I also believe that this invitation is open to others that I have personally known throughout the years. I continue to pray for them and I have not given up on them. We must pray often and fervently that God would show Himself to them. Let us be in constant prayer for Joshua Harris and his family.
3. Examine Ourselves
When an event like this happens, it sends shockwaves throughout the Church. But let Harris’ comments be a sober warning to us all. We all must persevere in our faith. Even though many of the warnings in Scripture don’t fit with my theology as nicely as I would like, I take those warnings very seriously. And I think you should as well.
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
And friends, if you ever feel yourself drifting away or need to talk, I am here to listen!