I’m Thankful for Joshua Harris

And why I’m glad I waited until age 40 to enter the seminary

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I never knew Joshua Harris existed before catching wind of him through the headlines this last week.

I guess the skinny is, he’s an ex-fundamentalist/Evangelical pastor who wrote a popular book in 1997 (he was 23 at the time) that fueled the fire of Christian anti-LGBTQ sentiment and purity culture for people my age (I was 18).

Now, at the ripe ole’ age of 45, after his divorce (and whatever else he’s privately been going through) Harris is repenting for his past work. He claims that it “contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry,” and that he has “undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus.”

Writing on Instagram, he added: “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

“I have lived in repentance for the past several years — repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few,” Harris wrote in the post.

Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians are having a field day bashing his name all over the internet. And so are Liberal Christians. Hell, I guess most everyone is hating on Harris right now.

But I’m just now starting to like this Harris guy…

The other day, I wrote a post about how I pray that we can get beyond our current call-out culture and evolve into more of a confessional/repentance culture.

Well, this man is confessing and repenting in a powerful way.

But I have some bad news… Looking at his Instagram page, I’m pained to see that he’s now positioning himself as a marketing guru. Which is a bummer. Because right now could be the most powerful moment in his ministry.

His midlife tragedy has slammed the door shut on the first half of his life (as both Carl Jung and Fr. Richard Rohr describe, these halves aren’t necessarily chronological but emotional/spiritual) and tossed him head-first into the second half of life (the part where your old inherited symbol systems and structures come crashing down and God builds a new one through you).

Harris is someone who has viscerally experienced the long-term spiritually terminal effects of self-righteousness (which we’re all vulnerable to). And not just on a conceptual level. This man’s marriage has crumbled because of it. The relationship with his kids has suffered from it. He hasn’t deconstructed his faith (like so many of the cool kids seem to be doing these days). Deconstruction is happening to him and it’s a fascinating thing to behold.

Because now is when God can make her way in through the cracks and resuscitate him. It’s messages from people like him that get through to people’s hearts, not just their brains. He has the one thing that the 20-something pastor version of himself never had… Experience.

People who grew up fundamentalist Evangelical and are starting to seriously doubt their faith NEED someone like Harris. It makes sense he’s making the drastic shift into the marketing world, but I pray that God will lead him back so he can help others develop their second-half-of-life faith. They’re never going to listen to some kid calling them out for being simple-minded idiots. They WILL, however, listen to someone like Harris who lived the results of a fear-based faith and was softened by it.

On being a preacher in the second half of life

Sometimes I get insecure about my reality of being an ‘older’ pastor (when/if I graduate from seminary in 4 years, I’ll be 43). Most people I’ll be going to school with will be in their mid-20’s. They’ll be spry and young. By the time they’re my age, they’ll be so far ahead of me experience-wise.

But then, I start to think and reflect. It takes a lot of us until midlife for the first-half-of-life structures to come falling down, which they can only do after death and rebirth — either literally or spiritually. In my case, mine started to crash down when I was in adolescence in dealing with the death of my mother among other tragic things.

First-half-of-life structures never come down willingly (else it doesn’t qualify as a death/rebirth). We can’t consciously, safely deconstruct. Deconstruction has to be fairly violent, even if it’s proctored (as in men's rites of passages, etc.).

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.

C. G. Jung

This goes especially for men. Women carry the required death/rebirth that leads to deeper wisdom in their bones viscerally through menstruation and childbirth. We men can skate along in life for a long time avoiding pain and being high on our own egoic righteousness (inherited from the hubris of our fathers, in many cases).

When we’re younger (men, especially), we’re focused on following our most favored rules and achieving what our ego-ideal wants (aka: what our dads want for us). And so, thanks to the church largely being employed by young men coming out of seminary who haven’t experienced new life (childbirth), death, or profound love (different than erotic love), we largely have a religion based on the theology of the first half of life.

For many of us in the Western world, the second half of life doesn’t confront us until later in age. Through the lived seasons of life, our structures have time to bump up against reality. Those early structures become weathered and exposed to the elements.

The way I see it, Harris’s fundamentalist Evangelical religion was a product of a first-half-of-life theology. It’s based on doing the ‘right’ things, hanging out with the ‘right’ people, and building a ‘container’ for the second half of life to unexpectedly come along and smash into pieces (as it did for Harris). This is what the God of death and resurrection does. It’s what a mature faith is born out of.

And so, I pray that Harris allows God to break him open. It may take him years to come back to faith but in an entirely new way. I pray that he does. Because I know that God has much work to do through him. Moreso than ever before.

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Demystifying mystic. Writer. Noticer. | Follow my blogs via email at jonasellison.substack.com

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