There have been many reactions in the evangelical world to Joshua Harris renouncing the Christian faith. Reflections on the moralism in parts of the purity culture movement of the 90’s, speculation on what caused his “deconstruction” of faith, and the manner in which he announced it to the world – through an Instagram post of him looking out into a pristine lake surrounded by breathtaking evergreens that sit picturesquely under a towering, magnificent snow-capped mountain. The caption could have read — Finally Free or Your Journey Awaits. He clearly sees this as a fresh start, a fortunate new beginning.
Harris’ abandonment of Christ is intimately connected to the abandonment of his wife, Shannon Bonne Harris, who also repudiated her Christian faith. This isn’t speculation, it’s just biblical. For all the practical benefits marriage offers to each spouse, God’s foremost intent in joining husband and wife together is to display the love between Christ and his church. For a husband to leave his wife is to say Christ no longer loves the church. Yet, for a husband to continue pursuing and loving his wife, to hold fast to her through good times and bad, plenty and want, sickness and health is to declare to the world that Christ never leaves his church. Harris and his wife announced their separation in a similar Instagram post just a week prior to his public de-conversion. Imagine reading their words as if they had been penned by Christ and the church regarding their future–
“In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us. It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision. We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead.”
We’ve changed, we love one other still, but we have unique stories; we’re moving forward and a generous and supportive future awaits us and our children. This is the power of positive thinking at work, and reads like something wonderful is in motion. But under this cloak of positive thinking lies a horrifying testimony — Christ has abandoned his church.
And so, it would have been more appropriate for Harris to post about leaving the faith first, followed by a post that he is leaving his wife and children. In that order. This is a more accurate depiction of how this type of thing unfolds. Which means, when a marriage is crumbling, we must first examine our faith to see where it was already crumbling. When we begin to believe that divorce could be freeing, that loves comes and goes, that my spouse and I have changed so I may pull back on my marital vows… we must quickly return to the great truth that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. I like the New Living Translation of Paul’s admonition to Timothy – Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked (1 Timothy 1:19) At some point, they both stopped clinging to Christ. And then to each other. Hopefully this isn’t the end of the story for their marriage or their faith.
It’s helpful to keep in mind that this didn’t happen overnight. Harris pointed out that he had been “repenting” of his Christian faith over several years. It feels natural to speculate why, attaching it to his homeschooling upbringing, some ongoing, hidden sexual sin or ability to live up to the purity standards he set for himself, the problems within Sovereign Grace Ministries he was deeply connected to, the secular onslaught of biblical marriage he perhaps caved to, the stress of being a highly visible pastor and popular leader to the evangelical reformed crowds, or something else. It matters surely, but it is hard to know. Perhaps Harris isn’t even quite sure himself. The heart is complex. What’s more important here is that God is rich in mercy and patience. Even when we change, he does not. When we leave him, he calls us back… not to come with trembling hands but with confidence to draw near to him in Christ to receive mercy and find grace in the time of need. The alternative is not a fresh start on a pristine lake, it’s a shipwreck. And it is sobering warning to those of us that think the same couldn’t happen to our faith and marriage.