A Response to Josh Harris:
When it comes to breaking news in Christian media, I don’t generally write a hot take. I tend to mull over disparate issues, ponder how they’re all connected, then write a response. And as a second-generation homeschooler who’s seen the good, the bad, and a whole lot of ugly, my responses usually focus on the cultural and theological shifts within homeschool subculture. (My article “Christian Homeschooling is not a Formula for Success“, for example, was a result of years of conversations with those inside — and outside — the conservative Christian bubble.)
But Josh Harris’ recent “I am not a Christian” announcement isn’t a hot take. It’s connected to that larger story arc, that ongoing cultural shift, that wide expanse of connectivity between rules and rebellion, between legalism and losing faith.
Lest you think his story is an isolated anomaly, it’s not. It’s one I’ve seen played out over and over and again in the wake of an expansive movement which repeatedly elevated outside appearances — the condition of the body — above the condition of the heart. Morality culture harms; it doesn’t produce Jesus-followers. Courtship culture doesn’t produce pure people. A belief system built on rules and control can’t guarantee outcomes. In fact, a house of morality can only control moral behavior for so long, and then it all comes crashing down.
If you haven’t heard yet, Harris posted on Instagram, “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.”
The whole evangelical and ex-vangelical world is in a frenzy, clamoring loudly, claiming exclusivity on rightness, practically frothing at the mouth to screech I told you so at the other side.
But here’s the thing. When the fundamentalists rise up to cling to the strongholds of rules and control — and when the deconstructionists whisper freedom without Jesus — they’re all falling prey to a false dichotomy.
It’s not an either-or.
There’s another way.
See, despite what it sometimes seems, it IS possible to deconstruct fundamentalist culture — and fundamentalist theology — without deconstructing Jesus right out of the picture.
In American evangelicalism, everything needs an explanation. We’re far too quick to provide pat answers to difficult questions, and trade complexity and nuance for quick rules and formulas. Doubt makes us uncomfortable, so we sweep it under the rug, bury it, condemn it, and rush onward. We read the psalms and the prophets from the pulpits, but scurry away to silence anyone who asks the same questions or raises the same laments from the pews.
I sometimes wonder if this drive to have all the answers is also what drives people away. Explanations, after all, are what American churchianity is built on. Explanations drive Christian book sales, and pack the seats of mega churches.
When I read the Bible, I certainly can never pretend to explain it all. I’m not saying there’s no place for systematic theology and apologetics; I’m saying there’s also a place for crying out. I’m saying we would do well to embrace a little mystery.
Kallistos Ware muses, “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.”
Wonder is not the opposite of faith. Questions aren’t what crumble the foundations. Wrong answers are what cause it all to come crashing down.
It’s time to loosen our grip on all the wrong answers, no matter how attractively they’ve been packaged and marketed.
For those of us who have been deeply wounded by legalism, there’s another way. Deconversion, deconstruction, and losing Jesus are not the only ways out. We can lose our culture, and keep Jesus. We can sift through the lies we’ve been fed, and let go of the dross.
We can let this fiery crisis refine us.
We can throw out all the false crap we were raised with — and still hold on to Jesus.
We can throw out our old white-washed revisionist homeschool history books, the arrogant morality tales masquerading as literature, all the “try harder” sermon notes — and still hold on to Jesus.
We can throw out I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl, and Not Even a Hint — and still hold on to Jesus.
We can even raise a cynical side-eye to country-club churchianity — and still hold on to Jesus.
It’s absolutely possibly to be angry, without rejecting Jesus.
It is possible to be angry at courtship culture, and reject it — without rejecting Jesus.
It is possible to be angry at totalitarian and graceless parenting advice, and reject it — without rejecting Jesus.
It is possible to be angry at deception, deceit, self-righteousness, scandal, abuse, neglect, and reject the systems which propped up all the lies — without rejecting Jesus.
It is possible to renounce fundamentalism without renouncing Jesus.
God lets us ask questions. He lets us pound into our pillows and ask him why. While the rains are raging and the wind is howling, He invites us to cry out, to tell him we’re hurt, we’re confused, we’re angry, to tell him we don’t know which way to turn.
But there are two houses right now in this storm.
One is sinking, fading, crumbling, about to be washed into a deadly sea.
The other house stands as a refuge, built on the rock of Jesus. The storm will continue to surge, the water will rise higher and higher, but the rock never wavers.
He’s standing there, arms outstretched, strong, able to save.
But you have to let go of the crumbling house.
You have to let go,
and hold on to Jesus.