As an intercessor I am privy to all sorts of secrets, and I thought I had lost my capacity to be shocked. And then along comes a brilliant writer and shocks me in a way that brilliant writers are expected to do in their books. But I wish I’d read what he had to say in a novel and not on Instagram.
I’m referring of course to Joshua Harris.
I was living in Mumbai when Harris’s extraordinary first book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was released in early 1997. A friend introduced me to it that summer, while I was visiting the US for an RZIM conference in Atlanta. I was overawed, by the quality of the writing and especially by the content.
A few years later, now in Los Angeles with a failed marriage behind me, I read Harris’s second book, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. Once again I was overawed, and for the same reasons.
After keeping the books in my possession for well over a decade, I gave them to a young man with this facetious remark, “Thy need is greater than mine.” He promised to read them and pass them on.
Cut to three weeks ago.
I was searching the internet for something when a headline about Joshua Harris caught my eye. I read the Instagram post where he announces, in so many words, that he is walking away from his marriage, his views on sexuality, and his faith in Christ. And to my shock I realized that I have not lost my capacity to be shocked.
I was not shocked that a Christian could walk away from Christ, from their marriage, and from the views for which they are best known. Christians do it all the time, regrettably. I was just shocked that the Christian in question was the author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Close on the heels of Harris’s revelation, another influential Christian went public with his doubts: Marty Sampson, a songwriter and worship leader at Hillsong, Australia. “I’m genuinely losing my faith,” wrote Sampson (also on Instagram), “and it doesn’t bother me.”
Sampson’s announcement was less shocking to me personally, because I had never heard of him until I heard of his loss of faith. Unlike Harris’s announcement, it did not conjure bittersweet memories of a younger, better looking version of myself from two decades ago. Still, it is no less disturbing. Sampson is a worship leader who lost his faith, and there once was a worship leader in heaven who lost his faith.
Harris and Sampson’s announcements have sent shockwaves across the Christian world. The reactions veer between two extremes. On the one end, there is nothing but gooey sympathy. Thanks for being so brave, honest, and authentic, say these softies, many of whom don’t mention the person this is really all about: Jesus Christ.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who roundly castigate the Christians who have walked away. One such reaction comes from Franklin Graham, CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In an interview with Fox News, the late great evangelist’s son said, “These are very young people, and I doubt whether they even have a very strong faith, or if they even had a faith at all to begin with.” He added: “Why are they making it so public? I think they just want publicity.”
I appreciate Franklin Graham’s passion for the gospel and I admire his boldness to speak out about controversial issues that other Christian leaders won’t touch with a barge pole. But his assessment in this instance comes across as simplistic.
For one thing, these two men are not “very young.” Sure, they are younger than both Graham and myself, but they’re in their forties. That’s not the same as having a crisis of faith in your teens and twenties. And when they made these announcements, the men were not young believers either.
Harris had almost a lifetime of Christian faith under his belt. That’s no safeguard, of course, but it’s more difficult to walk away from something you’ve believed all your life — especially when you’ve written books and preached sermons about it, as Harris had. And although I don’t know much about Marty Sampson’s story, I doubt he’d have made it as a worship leader had he been a new believer.
Another thing I find disconcerting about Franklin Graham’s statement is that he says these men “just want publicity.” Only God and these men know whether they did it for publicity. While it is necessary at times to judge people’s actions, especially when they are public figures, we cannot judge other people’s motives. In fact, we are in no position to judge even our own motives!
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. It’s only the Lord who can “search the heart and examine the mind” (v. 10). And as Proverbs 21:2 says, “A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Perhaps Joshua Harris felt he owed it to his readers to tell them that he has kissed Christianity goodbye, so they had it straight from his lips. Whatever his motives, publicity was an inevitable byproduct. When the author of two bestsellers on Christian courtship and romance announces that he is leaving his marriage and his faith, it is bound to garner publicity. Franklin Graham has lived most of his life under the glare of the public eye. He of all people should understand that publicity often comes unsolicited.
To be continued.
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(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.