Here are a few truths you can count on: Sin deceives. Sin drives us away from God. When we prefer sin over God, we can come up with a million rationalisations. When we want to put God first, we see these rationalisations for what they really are: cheap excuses from the pits of hell.
I have written about such matters before, at least in a more generic fashion. See this piece for example: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/03/13/on-deception/
And my last two articles have been about one type of deception in the churches: that involving sexual immorality. Here I want to look at a particular case of this. Sadly it seems to be a case involving someone that many Christians know all about. I must confess I never heard of the guy before. But it must be said that we must pray for the guy.
In fact, let me say another thing before naming names and looking at the case in more detail. On the one hand it is good to see a sifting going on, with those who are not the real deal being exposed and moved on. Judgment must first begin in the household of God.
But on the other hand, we all need to be circumspect here, and humble. The truth is, there is yet so much in my life I am not pleased with, and more importantly, God is not pleased with. I have plenty of sin in my life that still needs to be worked on.
It is only God’s grace and mercy and patience that has allowed me to go on this long – nearly fifty years now as a Christian. The truth is, if I were God, I would have given up on Bill Muehlenberg long ago. I would have given him the flick and proclaimed him to be a lost cause.
So I regularly thank God that he is so patient with me and so gracious. I of course do not deserve it – that is why it has to be grace. For this reason I realise that I must always be careful when another brother falls big time. That could have been me. Thus I will not gloat in this fall, but keep this man in prayer.
I must live a somewhat sheltered life because as I say, I never heard of Joshua Harris before. But he is making a lot of news in both Christian and non-Christian circles right now. A quick background about him seems to include this: he was a Christian pastor of an ‘evangelical megachurch’ in Maryland, and was known especially for some books he wrote on relationships.
A few years go he left the pastorate. And then, within the space of a week, he announced that he had separated from his wife, and then that he had left his faith. Wow. As one article says about some of this:
Harris rose to prominence in conservative Christian circles when he wrote his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997 and, three years later, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. In the books, he encouraged Christians to avoid the dating scene and instead pursue a group- and family-oriented approach he called courtship.
Last year, he wrote an official statement apologizing for the books, saying he spent two years talking to people who said the books greatly hurt them. He stepped down as lead pastor from Covenant Life in 2015 and became a brand and marketing strategist.
So now he first walks out on his wife and kids, and has walked out on his Christian faith. Along with this, he tells us how far off the rail he has gone in terms of biblical truth and morality. His recent Instagram post said this:
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”
Oh dear. When you break your marriage vows and your vows to the Lord, that is serious business indeed. And when you hop on the pro-homosexual bandwagon, and also gloat about how ‘alive and awake’ you are when you have turned your back on God, that is very grim indeed.
It looks like this is a wholescale falling away from the faith. Of course, depending on your theology, it might be argued that he never had genuine Christian faith to begin with. But one thing is clear: he is now allowing himself to be deceived big time.
Whether this is a cut and dried case of irretrievable apostasy, or of someone who has gone off the rails and needs prayer big time, we all grieve at yet another case of the faith being trashed. Plenty of atheist websites for example have already gleefully picked up on this sad story.
Michael Brown, commenting on him after he separated from his wife, but before he separated from his God, said this:
First, though, let me state clearly that I’m not here to judge or condemn Josh or Shannon. I pray that God would surprise them with an amazing reconciliation that would bless and delight them and their kids and their friends. God is able! At the same time, I realize that the news about Harris’ separation has serious repercussions…
As Nancy and I celebrated 43 years of marriage this year, we can look around at many of our friends who have been married as long as we have, with some married even longer. And while we have seen others divorce (while others have left the faith entirely), there remains no reason why any couple cannot have a truly blessed, fruitful, and enjoyable marriage. It still is God’s will. It still is His ideal. It still is His best for couples.
So, while we pray for others who have fallen on hard times or made wrong choices, let us not become cynical when it comes to marriage. And let us not let our divorce-ridden culture shape our thinking. Marriage, with its many challenges and demands, is beautiful and wonderful. There is nothing in this world like marriage under the blessing of God. Don’t kiss it goodbye.
Yes quite right. I am not sure if Brown will pen another piece on Harris, now that we know things have gotten much worse. But let me try to wrap this up. Three things arise here, some of which I have already mentioned. One, we all must take seriously these cases of sin and falling away. We cannot take them lightly, and they must be called out.
Two, the older I get, the more I realise that absolutely nothing but the matchless grace and mercy of God accounts for me staying on course. While the phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” can be misused and abused, there is some truth to it. Without God’s grace, I could easily have fallen in so many ways – including big public falls.
Three, it is not enough to just get angry at another case of apostasy or rebellion. We must keep praying for the guy and his family. It looks pretty bleak right now, but there is a chance that he will come to his sense, become convicted of his sin, repent and return to the Lord. That is the outcome we should all be hoping and praying for.