by Steve DuPlessie | July 30, 2019
I read the very sad news yesterday that Joshua Harris — former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and well-known author of “I Kissed Dating Good-bye” and “Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the truth without putting other people down ” — announced on his Instagram page that he was divorcing his wife and has left the Christian faith.
Josh wrote that he and his wife would be divorcing due to “significant changes [that] have taken place in both of us.” And on July 26, 2019, on the same page, explained that he no longer considers himself a Christian,* writing, “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.”
My heart breaks for his wife and their three children. And my heart breaks for Joshua himself. It is obvious he has been struggling with his faith for some time. He stepped down as the lead pastor of Covenant Life Church in 2015. He has asked his publisher to stop publishing his books. This reveals a confused and tormented mind that resulted in a life-changing, destiny-changing decision for Joshua.
Three thoughts come to mind in this sad story. First, I’m disappointed that Joshua decided to make a very public display of his divorce and apostasy. As difficult as it already is for his family, his former church, and his many Christian friends, the publicity surrounding his announcement only exacerbates and amplifies his fall, harming first-and-foremost the name of Jesus in a culture already skeptical at best of followers of Jesus, plus causing literally thousands in his circle of influence to now question the integrity of all that they believe because of what he wrote and taught passionately for many years, but now rejects and repudiates.
I suspect Joshua thinks that questioning will be a good thing. But I have seen personally in the past the spiritual and relational destruction that follows in the wake of the failure of very visible leaders. It’s not good. It leaves others to pick up after the mess. Some never recover. Some lose their own faith in the process. We are warned in Scripture of the harmful influence of apostates — those who fall away from faith and stop believing. Joshua is now one of those we are warned about.
The hidden struggle…
Second, it seems to me that the louder some preachers yell about some particular sin, the more likely it is that sin will show up in their own life. Maybe their preaching betrays their own inner struggle with the temptation that finally overwhelms them.
So I think of Bishop Eddie Long, the loud and passionate anti-gay Atlanta preacher who was later found to be in multiple homosexual relationships and died of AIDS. Ditto for Ted Haggard, outspoken former Colorado Springs pastor and President of the National Association of Evangelicals. And there’s Bob Coy, founding pastor of Calvary Chapel, Fort Lauderdale, and Tulian Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and disgraced pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. And of course Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Chicago’s paradigm-changing Willow Creek Community Church and founder of the world-wide Leadership Summit that influenced tens of thousands of pastors and ministry leaders around the globe for over two decades. Each was a very visible and outspoken preacher of the gospel. And each crashed and burned very publically. And there are many more bad examples like them, unfortunately.
It seems their own devils got the best of them. Which makes me a bit skeptical of the loudest voices — are they bravely standing up for gospel truth, or are they crying desperately for help? (And that scares me more than a little personally as I write this post…)
Pride goes before the…
Third, each of these preachers was a major, prominent evangelical leader who somehow managed to entertain serious doubts, struggles, temptations, and character flaws … and no one seemed to notice their descent from Orthodox belief and practice into sin and disbelief. Where were the elders of their churches? Where were their friends? Too often it seems the brightest lights and loudest voices have no close friends who notice or who speak truth into their lives.
This brings me to the whole charade of “accountability partners.” I was the accountability partner of a pastor who fell into a moral abyss, discrediting himself, ultimately losing his job and home, shaming himself and his family, the church he pastored, and the name of Jesus Christ. I thought we were good, we were doing everything right for the “accountability” thing to work: meeting regularly, monitoring his online activity, befriending his family, etc.. But, there was a critical flaw in the process: he was lying to me the whole time, telling me only what he wanted me to hear and conveniently leaving out the self-incriminating stuff.
Accountability only works inside the circle of humble honesty. And most of these moral failures reveal a major underlying sin of pride. Humility, transparency, self-awareness all seem to be absent. That’s why, over and over again — 117 times by my count — the Scriptures urge us to pursue and maintain humility:
Proverbs 11: 2 – Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
Colossians 3:12 – Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
So, let the lessons of Joshua Harris be a warning to each of us: First, sin isn’t just personal and private; one of the many consequences of your fall is the negative, faith-shattering impact it has on others. Second, know yourself and so be careful of judging others for the sin you struggle with. And finally, accountability is first and foremost to God; be honest with God, and with yourself; identify pride, pursue and embrace humility.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions…”
* I have observed that many times when someone announces that they no longer believe in Jesus or trust the Bible as God’s truth it subsequently comes to light that they are engaged in sin that is inconsistent with their professed faith — and that incongruity, that intellectual and moral disconnect between what they say they believe and what they’re doing is so difficult for them to reconcile that they have a serious choice to make: embrace the faith, or embrace the sin. Too often they choose to embrace the sin, saying something silly like “I don’t believe that anymore.” To hold onto belief is just too convicting. The guilt and shame are too deep and too real. So they try to fool themselves — comfort themselves emotionally, relieve themselves psychologically, justify themselves intellectually, and free themselves morally — with “That’s not true; I never really believed that…” Sad indeed.