A couple months ago, singer Kevin Max, who is best known for being a part of the popular Christian band DC Talk, tweeted out to his fans that he’s now an #exvangelical. The word refers to a small but vocal group of people leaving the evangelical church.
It accompanies a growing phenomenon of “the Nones” – those who no longer identify with any formal faith group. This past winter, a Gallup poll reported that for the first time ever in its record keeping, less than 50% of Americans said they belonged to a church or religious organization.
What should we make of this? Here’s an article I wrote a couple summers ago when Pastor Josh Harris walked away from Christianity. I hope you’ll find these words helpful.
Bear – July 19, 2021
A few years ago, I watched a driver ahead of me lose control of his car and roll it on a Connecticut freeway. It’s disquieting to say the least to watch a car crash right before your eyes. In a spiritual sense, the evangelical world is watching it happen in the life of a well-loved and respected Christian voice and pastor.
I speak for many who were saddened by two recent announcements by Joshua Harris – a prominent Christian speaker and author for the last two decades – first, that he was divorcing his wife (here), then that he was jettisoning his Christian beliefs (here).
Harris catapulted on the scene at the age of 21 when he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye back in 1997, a book that went on to sell a million copies, and helped launch a purity movement in the evangelical world. The “purity culture” it helped spawn ended up creating more problems than it helped fix, for which Harris publicly apologized a year ago (here).
Though no one could see it at the time (maybe not even Harris), that first apology was part of a journey of what he now calls a “deconstruction” of his faith in Christ. Harris wrote in his recent Instagram confession: “The biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”
If the angels of heaven rejoice at the repentance of one sinner, then surely the loss of a soul from the company of the faithful should elicit mourning. (And no, this is not the time to debate whether or not he was “saved to begin with”. The fact of the matter is, there are people we all know who appeared to be going all-out for Christ, who later fell by the wayside. When Scripture describes such a disaster, its point is not to lead us into theological controversy, but to warn us: DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU.)
Paul the apostle watched numerous ministry companions shipwreck their faith. He mentions a number by name in his letters to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim.1:15, 4:10). The book of Hebrews warns against drifting from our faith (2:1). Even one of the most vibrant churches of the first generation – Ephesus – lost its “first love” for Christ (Rev.2:4-5).
Why does this happen? Scripture gives numerous explanations.
Suffering can batter our faith.
I’m always amazed by the level of honesty we find in the Bible shared by God’s most faithful servants. David cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (a phrase Jesus would quote from the cross.) Asaph in Psalm 73 woke up one morning fed up with a world where the wicked “were always at ease”, while the righteous languished. “In vain I have kept my heart clean,” he spat, though as the psalm goes on, he works himself through it.
Many Christians have a very deficient “theology of suffering”. They’re just one diagnosis or job loss or death away from a crisis of faith.
God’s silence can dampen our spiritual fire.
Some act as if hearing God’s voice were the easiest of things, and experiencing his presence is like a trip to Disneyland. It’s one ride after another. But even the great Paul, who “experienced God” as few others have, confessed that in this life, “we see through the glass darkly” and we “walk by faith not by sight” (1 Cor.13:12, 2 Cor.5:7).
Sin is a sure-fire way to shut down the engines of faith.
Proverbs 19:3 says, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord.”
On one hand, it doesn’t make sense. I sin, then blame God for it. But I understand the psychology behind it. It’s woven into my fallen nature. There have been many times over the years where I’ve gotten cranky with God for my own failures. I thought you would keep me from this! I thought you promised to be with me! You promised to provide escape ramps when I’m tempted!
Harris has spent the bulk of his life preaching and teaching marital fidelity. But his marriage crumbled. (And I say that, not as a judgment – there but for the grace of God go I, and my 30+ year marriage. As a pastor, I know that pastors and their families live under a fishbowl of scrutiny. And that fishbowl for Harris – because of his audience – was megalodon-sized.) It would be shocking if he didn’t wrestle with the anger that Proverbs 19 describe.
If I could say anything to him – and I’m sure it has been said to him – it would be the reminder that there is an ocean of God’s grace yet available to him to encompass all the failures of his life lived in that fishbowl. Come home, Josh.
One thing that is certainly not to blame for a person abandoning their faith is the evidence for the truth of Christianity.
While it is heart-breaking to watch someone fall away, it is in no way devastating to the credibility of the Christian faith. Even if Harris decides to now take his speaking and writing skills and dedicate them to the destruction of Christianity, he’ll be nothing but a butterfly flapping its wings against stone.
Unbelievers and skeptics might jeer and laugh, point their fingers in derision, and say, “See! See! This proves your Christianity is an empty suit.”
It proves nothing of the sort. Yes, followers of Christ “walk by faith not by sight” (2 Cor.5:7). But this is not “blind” faith. It’s very much “reasonable” faith. It’s the same faith we use each day when we eat our meals, without sending the food out to be tested. Or drive over a hill, without first getting out of the car to make sure no one is coming in our lane. It’s faith that’s built on experience, reason and testimony of others.
The evidence for why a person would fall in love with Jesus Christ, and choose to follow him as the “King of king and Lord of lords”, is overwhelming and abundant. No, it’s not irrefutable. People can still say, “Yes, but…”. But it’s substantial evidence nonetheless, so much so that a person can build his or her life upon it.
Which is why at the end of the day, it is belief that tips the scales either for or against faith, not the facts. Joshua Harris reached a place where the scales of his belief tipped in the other direction. Perhaps in his own mind, he can summon reasons why he chose the denial of Christ – but it’s not the reasons in the end that drove his decision. Others have experienced and endured what he has, and far worse, yet have held the line of faith.
Ultimately, only Josh and his Maker can decide what’s going on inside of his heart. And it’s to his Maker that Josh will have to give an account (Romans 14:12).
Which is the ultimate lesson here for each of us – to guard our hearts. No one should ever say, “That won’t happen to me.” Instead, I should humbly say, “That must not happen to me.”
Then grab hold of the grace of God and declare with defiance, “As for me and my house, I will fear the Lord…Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you…Lord, where can I go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Joshua 24:15; Psalm 73:25; John 6:68)
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. He’s just released his latest book, “Living Under The Cross: A 40-Day Devotional Journey”. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.