I have been trying for days to formulate some kind of a response to the self-described "falling away" of Joshua Harris, bestselling author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which hit bookstores with a bang in 1997. I don’t believe for one second that Mr. Harris needs a response from me, but perhaps there are some other Christians who do.
It’s not that I think I have profound insight to impart here, but my perspective is that of one who understands the need to “fall away” like Mr. Harris; in my case, I have to do it rather frequently in order to exist in the church. That’s why I don’t freak out upon hearing another believer say that he is “deconstructing.”
In fact, I wish we would all be so bold on occasion.
I don’t mean we all need to leave our marriages or Jesus, but dismantling some of the traditional assumptions of what we have been taught from time-to-time has saved my relationship with God. I have a feeling that is what is happening with Mr. Harris right now, though he may not see it that way yet.
That’s okay; he doesn’t have to.
I remember as a child being very concerned about all of my friends who, according to the teachings of my denomination, were going to hell. After a lengthy conversation with a friend on the school bus one afternoon, I was startled to find out that my friend’s mother, who was of a different denomination, believed the same thing. I was shocked and very sad: shocked that someone thought I was going to hell because I didn’t go to her church, and very sad that my friend was going to hell because she didn’t go to my church. We agreed to remain friends even though the other was deceived, and I’m not sure we ever talked about God again in all the years we went to school together. It was kind of a secret pact, which is an odd thing to make since I would supposedly be judged for all the friends I didn’t save. Hers was a name I was sure I’d hear again as Jesus read me my rights on Judgment Day.
I tell this story to say that growing up in the church is hard. It is difficult enough in normal, everyday religious life, but when you write a bestseller at the age of 21 that thrusts you into the spotlight—as is the case with Mr. Harris—you are bound to have picked up an awful lot of baggage that eventually will need to be unloaded.
It is interesting to me that some of the comments I have read against Mr. Harris are from people who paid his ticket here: they bought a book he wasn’t ready to write, listened to sermons he wasn’t ready to preach and now despise the place to which this journey has taken him.
His family is paying the price for what we paid to see, and we are quick to criticize him because we can’t put a neat bow on his salvation anymore. The church is a hard place sometimes, and for many of us, the only way to catch our breath is to fall away.
For me, I grow weary of watching the Christian machine run. A pastor recently told me that his job is to hear what God is saying and interpret it back to his congregation. He prays to be filled with the Spirit and that his congregation would move with the Spirit. So he gets to hear God and be filled; the people get to listen to him and do what he says. This is a specific example of dozens of similar things I have heard over the years.
I don’t say this to bash the church but rather to suggest the following explanation: Sometimes a slow and exhausted exhale in the quiet is needed to untangle Jesus from human Christianity, and this is okay. God has never once been angry with me for needing him to meet me on a back road somewhere.
I have so many thoughts that have been difficult to unscramble since I first read Mr. Harris’ post and the comments that ensued. I feel so much for him. I am frustrated over the system that made his rise possible and his falling necessary. If I were to guess, he probably feels quite free at the moment, so I ache for his family and pray for his heart.
There is undoubtedly much more to this story that time and Instagram will reveal; for now, however, he has a lot of baggage to unload. I pray we all give him the time and space to do it, realizing that Jesus has not once let him fall.
If this goes how I suspect and hope, Mr. Harris will be back, and this time around, I cannot wait to read the book.