Sin and Deception – Another Case Study

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:

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.

Joshua Harris

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.

[1579 words]

22 Replies to “Sin and Deception – Another Case Study”

  1. This is so sad . A heartbreaking story. A Godly man who has fallen away both from his wife and even more hearbreaken God Almighty his Creation. Yes prayers for him and gratefulness to God for keeping each of us ,myself included following jesus Christ.

  2. ” I never understood the Gospel”, is what one dying pastor said to another pastor who had shown him some love and care.

    I knew both of these men, and can testify that both of them had high profiles in their own spheres of Christian connection and influence, (which were quite different).
    The one dying, was the head pastor of our church, and apart from a few of the closest leaders most people did not know until the end, of any serious problem, theologically or behaviourally.

    I suppose, (looking back), that the preaching from the pulpit was not strongly about redemption through the blood, or by grace are you saved, but more about, now that you are Christian this is how you aught to live. There was a biblical basis for the foundations of what we were taught. It was really good, challenging, and effective, and was having an influence on many other Christians from many denominations.

    We were sometimes surprised at the “disciplines” that were required, but those who lead the way, accept that there are qualities of practice that need to be adopted and maintained.
    The basic message of the gospel was, I suppose, “understood” by the congregation. We can still look back on most of those days and genuinely thank God, for what we were taught.

    Maybe in the pastor’s heart there was a version, of the works/performance gospel, that is so popular and easy to accept, and so readily overwhelms the revelation dependent real gospel.

    I can tell you, it took our breath away, to hear the reported confession from such a high profile christian, “I never understood the gospel”.

  3. Just as there is a huge amount of rejoicing in Heaven over a sinner who repents I am sure the enemy rejoices greatly when people who have worked to expand the kingdom move into apostasy and, obviously, a sinful and sin affirming world is going to celebrate and rejoice in that fall. Imagine how Satan would have rejoiced had his temptation of Jesus been successful.

    This is the nature of the battle we are in. Do we trust God or the world? It’s not called overcoming for no reason.

    I would suggest this man’s eyes and senses have been in the world for some time because I don’t believe you fall like that quickly. People pray to God to stop them sinning but that’s not how it works. We have control and the ability to resist evil. How many of us have resisted unto death?

    If you remove the thought of adultery immediately it is much easier to deal with than if you entertain it because that thought is just adultery of the heart. Bad habits don’t get any easier with the exercising of lack of resistance.

    In this world, however, where we are bombarded with images and wrong concepts from everywhere it seems, it is not easy. It is definitely a battle and the harlot is definitely riding on the head of this kingdom.

    So will Jesus find faith on the Earth?

  4. Sad, sad, thrice sad.
    In the early days of our home education business (and family life) we conducted a mini version of his Dad’s seminar for Godly families and home educators.

    Yes, my wife and I celebrated our 42nd anniversary this year but we echo you, Bill. When two sinners set out to join their lives together they stay together by God’s grace alone.

  5. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6

  6. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6

  7. I am very distressed by this news about Joshua Harris. I had not even heard of his divorce and I only live 30 minutes from his former congregation. I was newly married when I first heard him interviewed on Focus on the Family in ’97 and was deeply moved by his testimony then and influenced enough to share his first book with my young nephew. I vaguely remember his courtship and marriage to his wife and then lost track of his ministry. I have a loose theory that a man does not generally leave his wife and children UNLESS there is another person involved. Because of his new “appreciation” for the LGBTQ community, I fear the worse. Will certainly pray for him and his family (and his flock) once I’m over the shock of this. Thank you for sharing this, Bill.

  8. Perhaps the dying pastor who said he never understood the Gospel meant that he never understood why God would care so much about fallen human beings that He would go to such lengths (sending Jesus into the world to be crucified) to provide a way for them to be accepted into His kingdom. I don’t think any of us understand that. I certainly don’t. But I’m very grateful that He did.

  9. Harris’ path, and his pit stops, are a real-life example of Romans I. From worshiping God to worshiping creation ( love of applause), to immorality, to perversion, finally hostility against God. Tragic

  10. Having previously been steeped in the Christian singles world, I was aware of Joshua Harris’s dating book that put him on the map. While I hadn’t followed him that closely, this news is very sad.

  11. Somebody pointed out a slight silver lining with Harris’s apostasy:

    “The real threat to Purity Culture was extinguished the moment that Harris made his denunciation of Jesus public.
    You see, the real and present danger of Harris’ turn on purity would be if he continued the charade of being a faithful Christ-follower while denouncing a godly sexual ethic. What would have truly hurt the Purity Movement would be an established Christian figure claiming that you can both believe in Jesus and have sub-par sexual standards.

    What Harris has demonstrated for us is that there is no purity without Jesus, and there is no Jesus without purity. To abandon one is to abandon the other.

    Let this be a lesson to those who want to continue to claim Christ, but denounce personal holiness when it comes to our character and relational or sexual conduct. Our Jesus is a holy Jesus, and he demands holiness of us.

    Harris was smart enough to know that to forsake his convictions on human sexuality was the same as forsaking Christ.

    …. Joshua Harris knew you couldn’t denounce purity and embrace Jesus at the same time.”

  12. Is there a difference between sinful slips and a lifestyle of sin?
    And if all sin is covered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, why should it matter?
    I have been a Christian for 35 years and studied the bible at length but cannot find an answer to the church being unlike the world.
    Is repentance continually required or is it a one off act?
    What can the church offer now when the lines are so blurred?
    There is so much division between Christians now that we are under attack from all sides and it’s lonely in the church.
    It has been my home and family for so many years.

  13. Thanks Lesley. Let me try to answer your questions:

    Is there a difference between sinful slips and a lifestyle of sin? Yes. We all sin. But Christians, while they can sin at times, seek by God’s grace to sin less and less and obey God more and more. But non-Christians sin as a way of life – it is a lifestyle, and they have no remorse about it, nor do they desire to change.

    And if all sin is covered by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, why should it matter? It should matter massively. God’s innocent son died a horrific death on our behalf, so that we can find a way to be reconciled to God. Because our sin is against a holy, infinite God, our sin matters infinitely. One might as well ask if it matters that we cheat on our newly married spouse. No one who truly loves their spouse would even think of cheating on him or her. No believer who truly loves their Lord would even think of sinning against him.

    Is repentance continually required or is it a one off act? Yes it is a way of life. The Christian will always repent when they sin. A true believer is always remorseful when they sin, and they repent and seek to change as needed. See more on this here:

    What can the church offer now when the lines are so blurred? It can start being the church as God intended it to be. That means saying no to the world and yes to God and his Word.

  14. I too am glad for the grace of God. though I have only noticed it after looking back at my life not while it was happening. at the time I didn’t understand why things were the way they were for me but looking back I can see the hand go God in it all helping me and protecting me.

    I often tell people “I am glad I am not God or I would have smited this world years ago. probably ever hundred years”

    I think his no kissing before marriage was a bit odd but dating should be for finding out what it is you want in a mate and if the person your are with has that. it shouldn’t be a casual thing like it has become or worse a pretext for sex (X number of dates required for relations to happen). Although now with the whole ‘friends with benefits’ thing even THAT isn’t required anymore. With some it could just be a boy and girl are sitting together both bored one says ‘you wanna have sex?’ they other says ‘OK’ and then they do. you don’t even have to know the person just be able to have sex and have enough time. I believe it is called the hookup culture. though I would consider another ‘hook’ word more appropriate.

  15. I remember and respected his father, who was a valuable asset to the homeschooling community. Last I’d heard about Josh was his first book. I’m sure his father is grieving too.

  16. The Apostle Paul also warned the church in the 1st Century of false prophets and teachers invading the church .
    Acts 20:29 NIV. I know that after I leave, (after his departure) savage wolves ( false teachers ) will come in among you (among the church) and will not spare the flock.

  17. Warning: a long post, but an excellent poem which describes the situation perfectly.


    The Church and the World walked far apart,
    On the changing shores of time;
    The World was singing a giddy song,
    And the Church a hymn sublime.
    Come give me your hand, cried the merry World,
    And walk with me this way;
    But the good Church hid her snowy hand,
    And solemnly answered, Nay,
    I will not give you my hand at all,
    And I will not walk with you;
    Your way is the way of endless death;
    Your words are all untrue.

    Nay, walk with me but a little space,
    Said the World, with a kindly air;
    The road I walk is a pleasant road,
    And the sun shines always there;
    Your path is thorny and rough and rude,
    And mine is broad and plain;
    My road is paved with flowers and gems,
    And yours with tears and pain.
    The sky above me is always blue;
    No want, no toil, I know;
    The sky above you is always dark:
    Your lot is a lot of woe.
    My path, you see, is a broad, fair path,
    And my gate is high and wide —
    There is room enough for you and for me
    To travel side by side.

    Half shyly the Church approached the World,
    And gave him her hand of snow;
    The old World grasped it and walked along,
    Saying, in accents low,
    Your dress is too simple to please my taste;
    I will give you pearls to wear,
    Rich velvet and silks for your graceful form,
    And diamonds to deck your hair.

    The Church looked down on her plain white robes,
    And then at the dazzling World,
    And blushed as she saw his handsome lip
    With smile contemptuous curled.
    I will change my dress for a costlier one,
    Said the Church, with a smile of grace;
    Then her pure white garments drifted away
    And the World gave in their place,
    Beautiful satins and shining silks,
    And roses and gems and pearls;
    And over her forehead her bright hair fell
    Crisped in a thousand curls.

    Your house is too plain, said the proud old World,
    I’ll build you a house like mine:
    Carpets of Brussels, and curtains of lace,
    And furniture ever so fine.
    So he built her a costly and beautiful house —
    Splendid it was to behold;
    Her sons and her beautiful daughters dwelt there,
    Gleaming in purple and gold;
    And fairs and shows in the halls were held,
    And the World and his children were there;
    And laughter and music and feasts were heard
    In the place that was meant for prayer.
    She had cushioned pews for the rich and the great
    To sit in their pomp and pride,
    While the poor folks, clad in their shabby suits,
    Sat meekly down outside.

    The angel of mercy flew over the Church,
    And whispered, I know thy sin;
    The Church looked back with a sigh, and longed
    To gather her children in.
    But some were off to the midnight ball,
    And some were off to the play,
    And some were drinking in gay saloons;
    So she quietly went her way.

    The sly World gallantly said to the Church,
    Your children mean no harm —
    Merely indulging in innocent sports.
    So she leaned on his proffered arm,
    And smiled, and chatted, and gathered flowers,
    As she walked along with the World;
    While millions and millions of dying souls
    To the horrible pit were hurled.

    Your preachers are all too old and plain,
    Said the gay old World with a sneer;
    They frighten my children with dreadful tales,
    Which I like not for them to hear:
    They talk of brimstone and fire and pain,
    And the horrors of darkest night;
    They talk of a place that should not be
    Mentioned to ears polite.
    I will send you some of the better stamp,
    Brilliant and gay and fast,
    Who will tell them that people may live as they list
    And go to heaven at last.

    The Father is merciful, great and good,
    Tender and true and kind;
    Do you think He would take one child to heaven
    and leave the rest behind?
    So he filled her house with gay divines,
    Gifted and great and learned;
    And the plain old men that preached the Cross,
    We’re out of their company turned.

    You give too much to the poor, said the World,
    Far more than you ought to do;
    If the poor need shelter and food and clothes,
    Why need it trouble you?
    Go, take your money and buy rich robes,
    And horses and carriages fine,
    And pearls and jewels and dainty food,
    And the rarest and costliest wine.
    My children dote on all such things,
    And if you their love would win,
    You must do as they do, and walk in the ways
    That they are walking in.

    The Church held tightly the strings of her purse,
    And gracefully lowered her head,
    And simpered, I’ve given too much away;
    I’ll do, sir, as you have said.
    So the poor were turned from her door in scorn,
    And she heard not the orphan’s cry;
    And she drew her beautiful robes aside,
    As the widows went weeping by.

    The sons of the World, and the sons of the Church,
    Walked closely, hand and heart,
    And only the Master, Who knoweth all,
    Could tell the two apart.
    Then the Church sat down at her ease and said,
    I am rich, and in goods increased,
    I have need of nothing, and nought to do
    But to laugh and dance and feast.
    The sly World heard her, and laughed in his sleeve,
    And mockingly said aside,
    The Church is fallen — the beautiful Church —
    And her shame is her boast and pride!

    The angel drew near to the mercy-seat,
    And whispered, in sighs, her name;
    And the saints their anthems of rapture hushed,
    And covered their heads with shame,
    And a voice came down through the hush of heaven,
    From Him Who sat on the throne,
    I know thy work, and how thou hast said
    I am rich: and hast not known
    That thou art naked and poor and blind
    And wretched before My face;
    Therefore, from My presence I cast thee out,
    And blot thy name from it’s place.

    — M. A. E.

  18. I haven’t read Josh Harris’ book on dating though I am aware of it, and remember thinking when it came out that the moment we start making guidelines and rules about how we should do things we’ve actually missed the point from the start. People have been making a system out of God since the very beginning – and it is the framework for most “church” that happens today. Some tips may be useful but when we start making movements out of things they become the idol that we worship.

    I think it is pretty simple. If we are truly born again then we will wish to please God. And to please God one needs to obey Him. And to obey Him you need to know Him and hear His voice, for He Himself tells us that we can have a personal relationship with Him – no intermediaries necessary (though the Body is there to bear each other’s burdens and build each other up in Christ). And we have the scriptures that point us in His direction.

    Anyone who wishes to obey Him is inclined towards pleasing Him in everything, not looking to see how much within the “system” they can get away with and still “make it through”. No, it is about asking God what He has for you and waiting until it is provided or the door is opened. Spouse included.

    The problem is that mankind makes an idol out of marriage and families. Hollywood turned romance into a religion. These things are not what is most important – God and his Kingdom is.

    Josh Harris’ “system of God” failed Him, as it fails many others.

  19. All that is left if for him to ‘come out’ and then for the final insult to ‘marry’ his Boyfriend. it’ll fit the tired old homosexual trope of ‘those against homosexuality are really secretly gay themselves’.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *