Joshua Harris and throwing out the Bible

If you have been around Evangelical homeschool subculture for any length of time, you are probably aware of courtship and Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Harris was homeschooled through high school and immediately went into ministry with C.J. Mahaney, who has been implicated in a massive sex abuse cover-up in his church network, Sovereign Grace Ministries. Several years ago, Harris acknowledged he had been abused as a teen and stepped down from ministry to go to seminary and work some stuff out. He participated in a documentary about all the people who claim to have been harmed by his book and courtship culture, and he eventually apologized for it and asked his publisher to pull it from shelves.

This interview is a bit far afield from faith/science, but I’m posting it because some of his responses are so prototypical of someone who grows up in the strict homeschool environment and then eventually starts listening to people outside the bubble and actually wrestling with the Bible and conversing with people who come down in different places about what it means.

I do think though that, for me, in that change of interpretation of such a fundamental level when it comes to sexuality, it’s just hard for me to … In a way it’s almost easier for me to contemplate throwing out all of Christianity than it is to keeping Christianity and adapting it in these different ways.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think I’ve just been so indoctrinated in a certain way of interpreting scripture and viewing sexuality that it’s just hard for me to see the scriptures and its kind of overall, you know, commands and principles and so on and see how that can be consistent.

I feel like that echos things we hear here sometimes from people trying to come to terms with a new approach to Scripture.

He goes on to speak of his exhaustion in facing the inadequacies and harm of his prior system of belief and how he just can’t even take any more in at the moment. I think that is important for some of us to take note of this and remind ourselves that sometimes in these conversations with people who are watching their childhood paradigms come crashing down (for whatever reason, whether it is science, sexuality, parenting, mental health, whatever), it is sucking a lot of life just having the conversation. Everyone needs grace and space.


I think you are right. And doing so is not abandoning Christ’s message…that of being with those who are struggling and listening to them. It does also not negate the fact of a moral standard, but supersedes shame by weeping with those who weep.


Interesting interview. In addition the quotes listed above, I thought his comment “…having had my faith look so specific for so long that now as I’m questioning those specifics, it feels like I’m questioning my entire faith” reflects what many feel when looking at the various issues discussed here.


It strikes me in these issues over how “chill” vs. how “uptight” we should be over issues of sexuality in the church that we already have an example of something about which I think many of our churches are already quite settled being “chill” about without feeling like they are then compelled to question everything about their entire faith and the bible.

And that issue is this: money. The bible has plenty to say about wealth - a whole lot more than it says about sex in fact! And yet (for better or worse) most of our churches have quite a generous latitude in our toleration of widely divergent views on how money should be handled / gotten / shared / spent, etc. by our individual members. In fact pastors often feel more pressure against delivering monetary stewardship homilies than they do talking about sex. I suspect this is because our so-called conservatism is mastered by its capitalistic setting, making hyper-individualism a kind of sacred cow. “You can preach general morality at me, but don’t you dare intrude into the specifics of how I manage my money. Stay out of my pocketbook.” But when it comes to the bedroom, conservatives suddenly drop this generous individualism and are okay not only with church intrusion, but even government intrusion there!

My point here isn’t necessarily that we should necessarily try to be as “chill” about sexual issues as we are about money, nor that we should be as uptight with money as we are about sex (though either of those things warrants further discussion, to be sure.) My point here is that this is not the first time we’ve learned to navigate the waters of “picking and choosing” which scriptures to highlight and which to downplay without feeling like such engagement forced us to think that the entire faith edifice is endangered by our inconsistencies and compromises. So while I can appreciate Harris’ angst about venturing into these waters, I suggest that he and those like him [all of us] have been sailing in these waters all along and in fact know them quite well.


Dear Christie,
I am appalled how preachers, ministers and priests seem to focus on shaming people and taking away free will than spending time on the love of God and the ministry of Jesus. But I do agree that I would rather through out the Bible than accept it as inerrant. Inerrancy creates so many conflicts in the lives of ministers I know, with its judgmental teachings. Preachers need to learn from the failings of the priest in the OT and stop repeating them as Jesus taught. Follow the narrow path that Jesus plotted and don’t shame anyone for losing their way, including yourself.

> Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matt 15:11)

Please stop taking about sex, abortion, or homosexuality and lead an exemplary life for the freedom of all God’s children.

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Interestingly enough, in Sunday School this morning we read the book of Jude, which pretty much applies to this thread. Jude is interesting, quoting non-canonical books and all. I was touched by his writing:

22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.[f]

He also put the jealousy or pride,money and power issue in there:

Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.

At least, the way we interpreted it, Cain represented jealousy and pride, Balaam the love of money, and Korah the desire for power.

In any case, Joshua Harris seems to be in a vulnerable place, and we can pray for him to reconstruct his faith on something more substantial than moral principles, no matter how good those principles may be in context with the gospel.


Thanks for this reminder. I must have read the same interview recently having to do with him and his wife announcing their separation. Deconstruction is so hard, and sometimes you have to just give it a rest and focus on what you do know for sure. I sympathize with him so much, and while I understand why people can be angry at him for his book, he was part of the purity culture system as well. Many kids in the homeschool movement had a lot of cultural pressure to be part of (or actually be) the “next big thing” in conservative American Christianity, to “take back the promised land” from the powers of secularism, etc. I’m sure he has a lot to work through.

This has reminded me just how easy it can be for us to use the Bible, or Christianity itself, as a tool to obtain something else. Not only for more obviously corrupt things like power, control, and wealth, but even for good, moralistic, noble-sounding things like “good marriages.” The problem is that when the tool stops working, or we finally realize after much protest that it hasn’t done what we believed it should have, we want to find a different tool, just as we would with anything else.
I guess Paul was onto something when he said “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”


Also, in terms of someone who seems to have been faced with a similar dilemma, singer-songwriter Derek Webb (formerly of Caedmon’s Call) is apparently not a Christian anymore. He really had some hard-hitting song lyrics that asked some good questions about faith, or pointed out inconsistencies, and so I’m sad that he seems to have deconstructed out of the faith at this point, though there’s obviously a lot behind the scenes that I’m not privy to.


Another article on the topic:

A dear family we are close to was deep into this ( along with Bill Gothard and that mess) and while their boys did OK, probably because they didn’t take it too seriously in the first place, their daughters have had a rough time relationally.


Oh, no! I didn’t know that. I thought Caedmon’s Call was quite thoughtful; similar in parts to Rich Mullins.

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Thanks for sharing, and thanks for writing, @DavidMacMillan. SO relatable!


I had to smile–the description of acting weird–very polite once and very strict/rude the next, fits into my case too, in some ways–when I was younger. It also reminds me of some very strict families who choose not to have their kids interact with others as growing up–not picking up on relational cues, etc. It’s tough. Some of us are better equipped, temperament wise, to overcome that; as an introvert, I probably wasn’t…thank goodness it sounds like both of us met great wives who helped us work through that.


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Thank you for sharing. I am glad we did not do this with our daughter! I have a close friend who was one of the founders of acupuncture in the USA. She was gang raped on her 16th Birthday and went on to become a sex therapist. She has published the “seven essential dates” which allows a couple to experience all important situations of life together. She is a mentor for my daughter and my daughter has cherished her suggestions which has illuminated blind spots that normal courtship would never uncover until it is too late.

If anyone has dating aged children I am happy to share the 29 video series from a relationship specialist.

I think there is definitely a time and a place in Christian community to talk about Christian ethics. And freedom is something to be held in tension with righteousness. But, if what you are saying is that it hurts the Christian witness to fixate on sex in society and tell everyone outside their own faith community how to live, then I agree.


Dear Christie,
We have no right to judge the personal choices of another, regardless of what community they belong to. Billions of dollars are wasted in the US fighting over what are individual freedoms, all in the name of righteousness. While those accusing others do not see the beam in their own eye. It is this righteousness that has kept the US from providing children their God-given freedoms and rights and are still treated like property. Jesus said we are all to become as children before entering the kingdom. He said this to show how they are different from the adults, not under the thumb of the adults as they are today.
I just speak out against hypocrisy and this is what is wrong with big Christianity today.
Best Wishes, Shawn

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Yeah, agree to disagree on that one.

I tend to be a “yes, but” person.

Josh Harris’s book was aimed at my generation. I read it. “Yes, but you’re presenting a particular extreme or even caricature of dating and choosing to reject that.”

When I was in Bible college (Pentecostal), I was the “yes, but…” guy. I would challenge anything and everything I could–look at it from the other side, see other potentials, etc. The arguments would get very heated–usually on two main points:

  1. Predestination vs. free will. (I would argue for the free will side, but I could “yes, but” for predestination if I needed to; at some point I got worn down and started telling people that “people smarter than us have argued this for over 500 years–do you really think you’ve got it solved in your second year of Bible college?”).

  2. Our particular Pentecostal distinctive: the initial physical evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues (as per Acts 2, with the pattern being recognized throughout the rest of Acts). I was in a class of 63 people (the largest I was ever in at that college), and we had to write a paper answering the question, is or is not speaking in tongues the initial physical evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit? Out of 63 people (many from “outside the denomination”), only two people chose to answer “no”: my brother and myself.

(As an aside, I am credentialed in our denomination which I value highly, and I would not betray it doctrinally or otherwise.)

I am a “yes, but” guy. I think because of that, I have my roots in the ground while maintaining a flexibility to explore, examine, and bend when other ideas, etc., come my way. It’s why I am still a committed Christian (and pastor), although I no longer hold to something like YEC. A number of my fellow classmates, the “staunch defenders of the truth,” are no longer in ministry, and some are no longer Christians. My foundation is Jesus, the historical crucified and resurrected Jewish Messiah; not a particular set of beliefs. My job is to disciple people to be followers of Jesus; not adherents to a particular set of beliefs.

I don’t think Josh Harris is unique in his crisis. I think it starts from “being too strong on the wrong things.”


I do want to add that I have now developed a 100% foolproof and unassailable argument for free will. I don’t know that I’ve shared in on Biologos before.

Let me guess, the margins of this topic are too small to contain it?

(Does the “f” in your name by any chance stand for Fermat?)

Oh, no. My argument is quite simple and comes in two parts:

  1. I believe in free will because I choose to.
  2. If I’m wrong, God must have predestined me to believe in free will, because I do.