I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris and Shannon Bonne were splitting up (I didn’t see the word “divorce”in their announcement).
Joshua is the famous author of the influential book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.”
The mega-hit had mega-influence on teenagers and college students. The book, a love manual for a generation of conservative Christians, was foundational in youth and college ministries as leaders sincerely worked to help those under their care to build healthy relationships.
It didn’t work out so well. Josh began to have regrets about the advice he had offered. In 2016 Josh participated in a documentary called “I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” In 2018, Josh released a statement disavowing the concepts in the book and calling for a stop of its publication.
This morning, I read this from Josh,
“The information that was left out of our announcement is that 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.” You can read Josh’s full statement here.
I kissed dating goodbye.
I kissed marriage goodbye.
I kissed Christianity goodbye.
While these announcements have sent shockwaves through the evangelical community (and garnered a lot of criticism) the waves I’m feeling are ones of understanding and sadness.
I understand the deconstruction. It has been a necessary but sometimes painful part of my spiritual journey.
I am sad about their break-up but absolutely respect their decision and approach to their future relationship. I don’t know them. I don’t know their story. I don’t judge them. I am for them.
Maybe Josh, Shannon, my wife Denise and I are learning some of the same things – we’re just taking different paths in the education process.
*I’m learning that “formula faith” is empty and dangerous. You know, the “if/then” formula. If you do this, then you will get this. If you put a $100 bill in the offering plate then you will get $1000 back. That’s called the “prosperity gospel.”
Well, there is also “prosperity dating”. If you stay a virgin until you’re married (Josh took it further by suggesting boundaries of no kissing, no holding hands, no being alone together before you tie the knot) then God will bless you with a good spouse, great sex and a lifetime of marital bliss.
When the “tit for tat” way doesn’t pan out, we not only question the “way” but we question the goodness of God.
*I’m learning that legalism is lethal and fear-based faith is scary. Josh relates in an interview with SOJO that he and his staff started to “recognize a lot of legalism and really unhealthy patterns.”
*I’m learning to trust the inner voice of the spirit within. Shannon puts this so well in her Instagram post when she says she was taught in her fundamentalist conservative church “that my heart was deceitful above all else and therefore, someone else knows better what’s best for me” – describing a culture of authority figures knowing more….
*I’m learning that deconstruction is not just ok, it is good. Is deconstructing what Jesus did? “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you.” Or, exchanging old wineskins for new ones that can hold the new wine of his way?
But deconstruction is hard. Do you know how hard it is to question and challenge what our culture of family and church has taught? It’s gut-wrenching stuff. Our world seems to collapse.
Josh says that he’s no longer a Christian. Josh goes on to say that “by all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not not a Christian.” I so get that. I have felt the same way. How many times have I said, “Well, if that’s what being a Christian is, I’m not one.”
What is the measurement of being a “Christian?” Is it Christ? Maybe? That kind of makes sense. The early Christians were “followers of the way” (6 times in the book of Acts).
Maybe a Christian should be defined as a person who follows in the way – the pattern – the values of Jesus?
I admire Josh and Shannon. They are expressing publicly, at high risks of being judged and ostracized, their spiritual and relational journeys. They didn’t have to do it. They could have kept it to themselves. But by doing it like this, they are helping others like us.
I hope for Josh and Shannon a steady move through the process of de-construction toward re-construction in which they discover a religion that indeed “re-aligns” them with the God of love in them.