Time To Kiss New Calvinism Goodbye

Yet another evangelical personality has announced that not only are he and his wife separating—this after he wrote a widely-read book on dating and courtship—but he has grave doubts about the truth of Christianity and he is intent on starting a podcast to share those doubts with the world. He announced the news of his separation on Instagram, which is something one might expect a movie star to do, and then asked for privacy. Days later, an interview appeared—so much for privacy—in the theologically and socially progressive (liberal) magazine, Sojourners, in which he lamented his “fundamentalist” past and expressed doubts not only about the historic Christian sexual ethic but also about the truth of Christianity itself.

The Business Model

Harris rose to prominence within the Sovereign Grace Ministries orbit, under the umbrella of C. J. Mahaney, another prominent “New Calvinist” and former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mahaney left his congregation in Maryland after a controversy over the way he handled a child-sexual abuse scandal. Harris is perhaps most famous for his 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Good Bye. Harris succeeded Mahaney as pastor of the flagship congregation of the SGM movement until he resigned to move to Vancouver, BC to attend seminary at Regent College. When he became pastor of the Maryland megachurch and when he published his widely-read and influential book on dating and courtship, he had no formal theological education. Since attending Regent he has left ministry and opened a communications consulting business.

This story is symbolic of the way entrepreneurial North American evangelicals often operate. Mahaney saw a talented young man, he plucked him from obscurity, and groomed him to become his successor. This is not how a real church operates but it is the way American evangelicals often operate. Christian, you need to learn that there is a difference. In a rightly ordered church, a real church, a historic church with a church order, with genuine accountability, with historic roots in the Reformed, medieval, and Patristic church, with a public confession to which ministers and members alike are accountable, things are done differently.

The Churchly Model

First of all, when an experienced minister finds a young man who might make a good pastor some day, he does not thrust him into ministry. He might test the young man’s gifts a bit and mentor him for a while but before the young man enters ministry there are some things he must do. One of those is that he must get an education before beginning ministry, before preaching, and before writing books. It is more than helpful to know a little bit about what one is saying before one says it in public and especially before one says it with the authority of “thus saith the Lord.”

Second, in a rightly ordered church, a ministerial candidate must present himself to the churches for examination and testing. In Reformed churches, a candidate comes before a regional gathering of churches (we use the Latin term Classis, a fleet of ships to describe that gathering. Presbyterians speak of a Presbytery, a gathering of elders). There, before the gathered ministers and elders, the candidate is questioned. He preaches a sermon, and is evaluated by the Classis. Before all that, however, during seminary, while he was supposed to be reading Greek and Hebrew and writing term papers, he has been mentored by seminary professors and pastors. He has served a poorly-paid, sometimes difficult internship, where he gained some hands-on experience before entering into pastoral ministry full-time. Candidates frequently also serve an internship after seminary too to gain even more experience.

In a rightly ordered church, his senior pastor and he himself would be accountable to other churches for their doctrine and life. In the case of the sex-abuse scandal an ordered church would investigate thoroughly and if crimes are suspected the investigators would notify the police immediately so that they could begin a criminal investigation. According to Al Mohler, this is not what happened in Maryland.

American evangelical church life is ad hoc, which is a fancy Latin way of saying that they make it up as they go along. They do whatever seems expedient and practical. American evangelical Christianity is less governed by the Scriptures as understood by the historic Christian church and more governed by secular models of “success.”

In a properly ordered church a minister who comes to doubt the faith and his faith would do as Harris has done, leave the ministry and seek secular employment but he would do one more thing: be quiet. Harris no longer has a brief from the church to speak to others about the faith. He certainly has no authority from the Scriptures to drag Christ’s lambs that he once shepherded with him into his doubts and uncertainties via a podcast.

All of this mess, Harris’ theological and personal wanderings, the controversy surrounding the child sex abuse scandal would all have been handled quite differently in an ordered church. This difference illustrates one of the several differences between what the Belgic Confession art. 29 calls “sects” and what we confess to be the marks of “the true church.” For some today, the very notion that a church should confess that there is “the true church” is quite shocking. It seems positively arrogant. “Who are you to say that there is such a thing and that you know how to identify it?” We say so on the basis of the sufficiently clear Word of  God. We say a lot of other things that modern evangelicals find troubling but we keep saying them anyway because they are true and good for us all to hear. Jesus is the only Savior (John 14:6).  He established his church (Matt 16:18). He commissioned his church to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments (Matt 28:18-20) and to administer spiritual discipline (Matt 18:15-20). The indicators (“marks”) of the true church are simple: does the congregation preach the gospel purely? Does the congregation administer Baptism and the Lord’s Supper purely? Does the congregation use church discipline to correct sheep who are straying? This is a short list but it is a list that is largely unknown to North American evangelicals.

Kiss New Calvinism Good Bye

The first question most evangelicals ask about church is whether it has a youth group or a singles ministry? The second question is how fast is the church growing, is it popular? Does it have the right kind of (contemporary) worship? Neither the New Testament nor the historic Christian church knows anything of the Modern evangelical marks. Jesus said, “feed my lambs” (Jon 21:15) not “be popular.”

The Joshua Harris episode is a wake-up call to Evangelicals. It comes after the scandalous behavior of fellow “New Calvinist” James MacDonald and before him Mark Driscoll and somewhere in there Tullian Tchividjian. Entrepreneurism is a great virtue in business but the church is no business. It is an authorized embassy for King Jesus. We serve him, at his pleasure, with his message, according to his Word. Twenty-two years ago Josh Harris urged us to kiss dating good bye. Now we see that the time has come to kiss the so-called “New Calvinism” good bye in favor of the old Calvinism of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.

—R. Scott Clark

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49 comments

  1. The SBC has been having its own troubles recently. Is that because it is not “rightly ordered” or is “New Calvinist” ?

    A Church that boasts of itself is setting itself for a fall.

    • Jim,

      I came to faith in the context of the SBC and am grateful for those faithful folks who loved me and taught me the basics. Nevertheless, from the perspective of historic Reformed theology, piety, & practice (as defined by the Reformed confessions such as the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Westminster Standards) there are significant issues with the SBC. It’s the nation’s largest denomination and its confession, the Baptist Faith & Message deviates from the Reformation at important points. Further, the BF&M doesn’t really norm SBC theology, piety, and practice. As a practical matter, the SBC is huge (6 million regular attenders and 15 million nominal members) is a huge denomination that is essentially the state church of the American South and Southeast. That status is ironic, since Baptist self-identity is that of a suffering people (not the people in charge of everything). Being even a de facto state church isn’t good for the life of the church.

      The Reformed churches don’t boast of themselves. Our only hope is the righteousness of Jesus imputed and the grace of God (sola gratia) received through faith alone (sola fide).

      One of the great differences between the confessional Reformed churches and the so-called New Calvinists is the role of personalities. At our best, our churches are not oriented around personalities but the Word of God as confessed by the churches. Our ministers are just that: servants of the Word. They must decrease, Christ must increase. The New Calvinist movement, by contrast, was always about personalities: Mahaney, Driscoll, Piper, MacDonald, Harris et al. This is why the collapse of the various personalities is such big news, because it means the collapse of the movement.

  2. What a fascinating look into the wreckage of modern, Western Christianity. I find this line at the end particularly intriguing:

    “Now we see that the time has come to kiss the so-called “New Calvinism” good bye in favor of the old Calvinism of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.”

    Why, in a faith which centers on an event that occurred approximately 2,000 years ago, would you implore people to return to something that is only rooted in the last 500? Could it be due to the fact that the Christianity that existed for 1,500 years prior was quite dissimilar to that of what was expressed in the multiplicity of post-Reformation, Western Christianity?

    I see a lot of calls in Protestantism to “return to the Reformation” or something similar. Why? The Reformers themselves didn’t agree with one another, and it simply elicits more questions than it solves (why go back to The Reformation — an event even Protestants can’t agree on — and not to Nicea?). I am continually amazed at the number of people claiming to be “Calvinists” without realizing that Calvin 1) would claim zero allegiance to most of what is going on in Protestantism today, and 2) held numerous beliefs that those who claim to be his followers would categorically deny.

    The logical conclusion of all of this — every point brought up in the article, whether by the author or by the subject (i.e. Harris and what he is saying) — is that people are free to leave a church for almost infinite reasons, and criticizing their particular type of “organization” of church structure is logically incoherent with the fundamentals of the very confessions you cite at the end. In other words, there is no logical stopping point of schism within your ranks, and appealing to 500 year old statements of faith won’t stop that (they didn’t then; why would it be any different today?).

    • Gregory,

      1. The context of the post was is the so-called, self-described “New Calvinist” movement. So, I responded, as I have been doing for a decade (see the resources) by calling the “New Calvinists” to the Old Calvinism.

      2. Once they arrive at the Old Calvinism, they will find that the old Calvinists were devout and serious readers of the Fathers. Indeed, unlike the 16th-century Papists, the Old Calvinists (e.g., Johannes Oecolampadius, who was, obviously, not actually a Calvinist and Calvin himself) read the Greek Fathers in Greek.

      3. The Reformation was a call to recover the theology, piety, & practice of the ancient church. The Reformed actually did this by shedding the five false (“ecclesiastical”) sacraments which the were not even recognized formally until the late 13th century and unknown as late as the 9th. They also did this by rejecting the papacy, which was unknown to the 2nd and 3rd century church. They did this by returning to the original sense of “the rule of faith” (regula fidei) as intended by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and, e.g., The Ep to Diognetus, where the “Tradition of the Apostles” stands for the NT epistles not an unwritten apostolic tradition the 1st reference to which does not even occur until the late 4th century.

      4. They returned to the ancient practice of Christian worship by adhering to the Word of God as the rule of worship by shedding musical instruments, and by singing God’s Word.

      So, Gregory, one step at a time.

    • The problem I have with your talk of the new Calvinist movement is the movement was not about personalities, but about not believing in double predestination

    • Devan,

      Can you document and prove your claim? It’s news to me.

      If you are correct, would it not support my argument that the so-called New Calvinists were never really Calvinists in the first place? Reformed theology (nicknamed Calvinism) has always taught double predestination.

    • My wife and I read the article and came away feeling like we are not part of the real church since our denomination only goes back a couple of hundred years. Gregory, thank for the encouraging and thoughtful insight.

    • John,

      Hear me out. You read my argument correctly. I am calling into question the validity of the New Calvinist congregations.

      Calling for New Calvinists to engage the Reformation beyond a few aspects of the doctrine of salvation is an act of charity. The Old Calvinists are offering them an off-ramp, a way out of the personality cult that makes up so much of New Calvinism. What if the folks in Seattle had been in Old Calvinist churches instead of Mars Hill? What if the folks who’ve been hurt by the mess at Harvest Bible Chapel had been in confessional Old Calvinist churches?

      I’m not saying that the Lord hasn’t used MH or HBC or even SGM but I am saying that the Reformed churches say what they do about the visible church for a reason. It’s not arbitrary. It’s grounded in thousands of years of reflection on the Scriptures. It was not the Reformed who said, “there is no salvation outside of the church.” That saying is attributed to Cyprian, who was a pastor in North Africa in the mid-3rd century AD. Now, he may not have said those words exactly but that’s the traditional formula.

      We inherited that doctrine. If Christ ordinarily saves his people in the church, then what is the church? After all, as the Dutch Reformed Churches confessed in 1561, every time a group of people gather together they call themselves “church.” They faced some of the same challenges we are facing today. That’s why they confessed three marks of the true church. They confessed that, by the way, against two groups: Rome and the Anabaptists.

      Well, many of the so-called New Calvinists want to have a foot in the Anabaptist tradition and the Reformed tradition. They are attempting a hybrid but the Old Calvinists object and rightly so.

      I’m sorry about your feelings but I’m glad that you’re thinking about these things. Adding “the doctrines of grace” to a view of the church and to theology, piety, and practice that is alien to the Reformed faith doesn’t make a congregation Reformed and we are Reformed for good reasons: 1) the teaching of the Word; 2) the glory of Christ; 3) the well-being of the sheep. Haven’t the recent controversies involving so many of the founders of the New Calvinist movement illustrated the validity of those reasons?

    • I think the definition is quite narrow and unfounded in scripture. Basically, if you’re not a member of NAPARC or doctrinal equivalent, you are not a “real” church. Based on the Wikipedia estimates, 500k-600k people in North America count. (sarcasm)If you’re not in the 0.17%, but are in the 26.8% who consider themselves Evangelical or the 77% who consider themselves Christian, you need to repent of being in a false church and join Christ’s “real” body.(/sarcasm)

      I find the disdain for “mentorship” and the insistence on “seminary” Biblically unfounded, as is the requirement for presbytery exams. Who gets the first stone? Jesus?

    • Mark,

      Joshua Harris isn’t Jesus. When ministerial candidates can walk on water or raise the dead, they can skip seminary. Until then they need to be educated. The church has learned this over its history. This is one of the great problems with the frontier-entrepreneurial spirit of American evangelical Christianity since the 18th century (and even more so since the 19th century). It’s great for going and doing but what about the wreckage left behind by heretical preachers?

      Had Mark Driscoll gotten a proper education he might have known better than to deny the ecumenical doctrine of Christ (he denies the eternal begotteness of the Son) or to assert historical nonsense about Arminius marrying Calvin’s daughter (both of which he asserted in print with the help of one of his profs!). Harris himself has recognized his need for a theological education, though it does not seem to have helped him much. Another of the New Calvinists has recognized his need for eduction and has enrolled in the Wheaton Graduate school. I’m only agreeing with your New Calvinist leaders on that point.

      History means something. America is an exceptional nation but that does not exempt us from 2,000 years of church history, from the necessity of knowing Greek and Hebrew, of the work of the church in addressing heresy—maybe if the New Calvinists had been better educated they might not have included and touted a rank heretic (T. D. Jakes) in the “Elephant Room”?

      I did not write the Belgic Confession and the author didn’t know anything about the New World when he wrote it, so no, it doesn’t envision only NAPARC. It does mean, however, that not every entrepreneur who sets up shop is a pastor and not every congregation he gathers around his charismatic personality is a true church.

      My disdain for the mentorship model comes of two sources: 1) history. We tried that on the frontier and it didn’t work. Further, the church always sought to have an educated ministry. Even in the 2nd century the church had teachers who taught pastors. We had regional schools (Cathedral schools) after that, then, by the 1e3th century we had university faculties preparing pastors. One of first things that the Protestant Reformers did was to reform or establish schools to prepare an educated ministry. The American idea that we can have ill-educated ministers is virtually unknown before the 19th century. Even the Christians on the 18th century frontier knew that they needed schools. That’s why they established Princeton as soon as they did.

      2) The second is experience. I’ve been preparing men for pastoral ministry for 21 years and I’ve been a pastor since 1987. In that time many men have said to me, “I wish now that I had gone to seminary. I realize now how much I don’t know.” Without exception those who’ve said to me “I didn’t seminary” have shown themselves to be unfit for ministry.

  3. Plucking from Obscurity??

    Except that his father was a radically popular author, andba significant leader in the home education movement…

    This is the problem with bloggers, you’re failing to do even basic research.

    • Tim,

      The problem with some commenters is that they draw inferences that do not follow. Who had heard of Joshua Harris prior to the book on dating or prior to his association with Mahaney? That’s obscurity.

    • Harris was 23 when his book was published….

      What should we expect to hear about someone Scott?

      You’re usage of the term is attempting to say that prior to his book he was a nobody, when in reality, he was simply a child. But the fact that you fail to mention where he comes from, the fact that his father is still an important Christian figure within a specific community, shows that you’ve simply failed to do due diligence on this….

    • Tim,

      Your argument supports my case that Harris was not qualified for ministry when he began. He’s done it backwards. He became a pastor and then sought an education. He wrote a book, which he has now disavowed, and then sought an education. That’s like practicing medicine for 20 years, writing a book about medicine, and then going to medical school. “Oops! Sorry about that!” How did that happen? The New Calvinists were never, in this important respect, Calvinists, who did not put men into pastoral ministry before educating them. We built academies at great expense of money and time, in order to educate our pastors. Calvin labored for decades to persuade the authorities in Geneva to establish an academy. They finally relented and in 1559 they opened the academy and hired Theodore Beza to be the principal. The Reformed established the University of Leiden and the University of Edinburgh. The confessional Presbyterians knew that the Log College was insufficient and so they finally opened Princeton Seminary in 1812.

      You are the 3rd person to mention his father. I get it. He came from a prominent fundamentalist family but my point is that, before the book, no one knew who he was. My point holds.

    • 1) And that’s fine, but understand that the “new Calvinism” is a logical byproduct of the old, and there’s no agreed-upon, delineated difference between the two.

      2) Calvin himself was, yes, but made some rather odd conclusions from doing so (as did his followers). Which fathers? Which ones were right and which were wrong? And at which time in their writings and why? These questions have never had agree-upon answers even in the Reformed tradition. (Also, their Greek was not as solid as, ahem, that of the Greeks.

      3) “The Reformed actually did this by shedding the five false (“ecclesiastical”) sacraments which the were not even recognized formally until the late 13th century and unknown as late as the 9th.”

      If by “recognized formally” you mean by Rome, then yes. If you mean all of Christendom as *de facto* sacraments, then no. And the “unknown” comment is a naked assertion without basis in either historical or Scriptural reality because it upends how the Early Church viewed those concepts.

      “They also did this by rejecting the papacy, which was unknown to the 2nd and 3rd century church.”

      They were right to do so and should be commended. But 1) they were not even close to the first to reject that institution, and 2) it was outside of The Church’s view well past the 2nd and 3rd Century (didn’t really get its grounding until the Carolingian Revolution).

      “…where the “Tradition of the Apostles” stands for the NT epistles not an unwritten apostolic tradition the 1st reference to which does not even occur until the late 4th century.”

      Not only does this posses an anachronistic view of the Early Church, but it is yet another attempt to circumvent the obvious understanding (the understanding held for well over 1,000 years by nearly everyone in Christendom) of passages like 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2 Timothy 2:2, while simultaneously ignoring how it is that we even *have* something called “a Canon.” (Also, be careful citing Tertullian as evidence of any position you hold, as it may not lead where you want it to.)

      4) Great! Then why did it lead to chaos?

    • Gregory,

      1. The differences between the Old Calvinism are substantial since the the New C’s aren’t actually Calvinists in any meaningful sense of the Word, if what Calvin confessed has anything to do with the definition of “Calvinist.” Further, as anyone who knows anything about the Reformation would know, the word “Calvinist” was a Lutheran epithet and only became a popular designation in the 19th century.

      2. There is certainly a recognizable difference since, had you read the essay, you should know that none of the actual Reformed churches are in ecclesiastical fellowship with any of the New Calvinist sects.

      3. As to the five false sacraments, they had only the status of “sacramentals,” popular practices but with no ecclesiastical status. Unlike modern evangelicalism, the church actually mattered in the middle ages.

      4. I’ve no idea what you’re talking about re the early church. Reading the apostolic fathers (e.g., Ignatius, Polycarp, Ep to Diognetus etc) it’s clear that they know nothing about an unwritten apostolic tradition.

      Here’s an explanation:

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/01/the-allure-of-unwritten-tradition/

      https://heidelblog.net/2017/04/the-church-of-the-holy-elaboration/

  4. “The question is whether the Internet is the appropriate place to find fact, judge, & condemn.

    Does not your reply substantiate my concern about the application of the ninth commandment? If I am understanding you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that there is no connection between “innocent until proven guilty” and the ninth commandment.

    Here is what the Reformed churches confess regarding the ninth commandment:

    Q. 112. What is required in the ninth commandment?

    A. That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbour.

    It seems to me that there is a good bit of condemning unheard and rashly going on in some of these cases.”
    – R. Scott Clark https://heidelblog.net/2016/12/charges-convictions-and-the-ninth-commandment/

    • UPDATED

      Mark,

      To be clear, I have always defended the right and even the necessity of addressing public teaching, conduct, and ministry publicly. I have done this for more than 10 years on the Heidelblog and now here. I see no inconsistency between what I wrote and what I am saying here.

      Are you implying that there is some inconsistency? If so, please explain.

      Here’s the context, which you omitted, in which I wrote those words:

      In the last few weeks the Reformed-ish world has been rocked by allegations against two ministers, one very visible, very well known and the other with somewhat famous name but relatively well known. In the first case, this minister, Tullian Tchividjian, has confessed to committing multiple counts of adultery and has been removed from his office by his presbytery. In recent weeks, however, he has spoken in a non-denominational church, appeared on a website for “ex-pastors” and is reported to have a new book in the works. There have also been new, detailed accusations against him by other women. These accusations have included some documentation that lends credibility to the charges but they have not yet been adjudicated by any ecclesiastical or civil court. The session of Willow Creek Church, from Tchividjian was fired has issued a statement in support of those who have come forward and calling him to desist from any kind of vocational ministry.

      To follow up on that story, Tullian has shown himself to be impenitent and a false shepherd. It pains me to say this because 1) We were friends; 2) He articulated the gospel (if not the Christian life) very well and winsomely. Nevertheless, he was found to be in gross sin. He was deposed from office. He was very-graciously given another ministry-related job. Then it was discovered that he had lied by omission and was guilty of yet another gross offense against the moral law. He has since gone on to begin planting a multi-site congregation in FL, despite his deposition.

      As I said in the essay above, to his credit, Harris is getting out of ministry and going into business.

      Tom Chantry was, in the second trial, convicted of the crimes of which he was accused. According to a blogger who was present at the sentencing hearing—strangely the local press has not reported on this yet—sentenced to 24 years in prison for his crimes. He now faces similar charges in Illinois.

      Since that earlier essay on the 9th commandment, I have seen some of the documents associated with the case in which at least one of the members of the ecclesiastical committee to investigate the original charges believed that Chantry had committed crimes worthy of jail.

      The point of the article was not “never criticize a public figure for public statements” but to encourage folk to wait for all the facts before they convicted Chantry et al. There were a lot of bloggers who had decided that Chantry must be guilty simply because he was charged. One of them was an Australian, who clearly did not understand the American legal system nor the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

    • Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
      A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.

      I think your prejudice against Harris shows when you take his quote out of context to claim that he is questioning the faith. What I believe he is saying is that “purity culture” was such a core part of his life and at SGM that when he is re-evaluating that, it feels like questioning the faith. While my wife and I felt hurt by the courtship craze, including his writings, I am thankful that he has rightly rejected the legalism and shaming in that culture and has apologized for his part in that.

      I understand what he was saying because I was raised in a legalistic “real” church and was taught a view of God that was decidedly harsh and judgmental, lacking grace. When I left that church it was hard to separate the truth from the lies, and while I never doubted my faith and the gospel, I knew the new me would never be fully accepted back in the “real” church. I have friends with similar experiences. They would react to something objectionable in a sermon, then would start to question… is it wrong because it’s really wrong, or does it seem wrong simply because that’s what I’ve been force-fed from birth.

    • Mark,

      Disagreeing over the interpretation of a text does not constitute a violation of the 9th commandment.

      The author/editor of the SoJo interview agrees with me. Read the headline of the article. The quotation, read in context, means more than, “I’m rejecting legalism.” He’s calling the faith/his faith into question and he’s going to do a podcast to help others do the same.

      We’be been watching this show for years. First it was Tony Jones, who, ten years ago, announced that he was now a Pelagian (a heretic against the ecumenical faith). Then it was Rob Bell. Then Driscoll (now a health & wealth charismatic). Then James MacDonald. Now it is Harris. It’s the same story.

      Paying attention what he actually said and interpreting those words in their immediate context (the article) and their broader context (the distintegration of the New Calvinism movement) isn’t lying. It’s telling the truth. It’s an odd world in which truth-telling is made out to be lying.

      Subjectivism kills.

    • “Disagreeing over the interpretation of a text…”

      Umm.. “a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; ”

      So, isn’t choosing to have an interpretation of the text that is an “evil” report a violation?

      “The author/editor of the SoJo interview agrees with me”

      The author/editor is looking for an eye-grabbing headline that will encourage people to read the article. It’s pretty classic that the clickbait headline is not an accurate representation of what was actually said.

      Specifically, what you said about the 9th commandment was that “innocent until proven guilty” was not just American jurisprudence, but a Biblical concept. I certainly don’t find that quote as sufficient evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Harris is actually questioning his faith.

      “Paying attention what he actually said” – I did. I find his statement unambiguous. He is not questioning the faith. He’s questioning the purity gospel and because that was so ingrained in him, he feels LIKE he’s questioning the faith.

      I became convicted of a significant omission in the Westminster standards, and because those standards in my Reformed, confessional church, were considered “THE FAITH”, questioning those standards was LIKE questioning the faith. I completely understand what he is saying and it is not ambiguous.

    • Mark,

      This is becoming tedious. My interpretation of his words in the interview is not twisting or misrepresenting them.

      If you want to make a case for your interpretation, please do but to go round the same tree (essentially making accusations against me) is fruitless.

    • And… I’m going out a bit on a limb here, but it seems like Harris is more making a statement against New Calvinism than Christianity.

      So it seems that Harris is not… another in a long line of ministers who went down in flames, but someone who is rightly questioning the neo-Puritanical (my favored term) legalistic/shaming emphasis on personal piety.

      How does it hurt your narrative if Harris repents and finds grace rather than going down in flames?

    • Mark,

      Your interpretation seems strained. You are ignoring what he actually said and the way it was presented by and interpreted by the author and editor of the peace.

      I hope he holds onto Christ and serves him quietly as one of his sheep.

      I hope that he does not spread his doubts among the flock and damage the faith of Christ’s little ones.

    • “If you want to make a case for your interpretation”

      I already did three times, but for, perhaps, a more concrete example.

      Views of baptism are held so closely in various denominations that some churches do not allow fellowship to those who display disregard for their view – for example, Baptists would refuse Communion to someone like me who was baptized as an infant and not re-baptized upon profession of faith. Many “real” churches would excommunicate parents for refusing to baptize their infant children. Excommunication, meaning that a parent who practices believer baptism is considered outside the faith.

      Now, I’m not trying to argue one viewpoint or another, just making the point that someone raised in a church that held paedobaptism as a fundamental belief would obviously feel that questioning paedobaptism was “like questioning the faith”.

    • Mark,

      Again, this seems quite strained as it de-contextualizes what he said and re-contextualizes it. This is not how interpretation works. You need to show how, in its context and in the context of his life, work, book, and the movement to which he belonged, the words “questioning my entire faith” do not mean what they seem to mean.

    • First of all, the Sojourners article is about Harris’s book and how he has interacted with his book.

      “Harris discussed what led him to call for an end to his book printings and his own journey from the unquestioning faith of his youth.”

      Since you don’t seem to know his history, his father Gregg Harris was an influential member of the homeschooling movement which was also intertwined with the modesty/purity culture and patriarchy movement – with people like Mary Pride, Doug Phillips and now Kevin Swanson. In light of that movement, unquestioning faith is more of a code word for the belief (represented in his book) that following a “Biblical” process for courtship was a guarantee for pre-marital purity, marital success and happiness. I think this is fleshed out in the context: “Well one thing I would just say is that I think that the problem with my book and the problem with a lot of the churches that I was a part of is that you can have kind of historical Christian sexual ethics and think things about the goodness of marriage, the goodness of fidelity when it comes to sexuality, all those types of things. But if you if you surround that with a culture that places high demand on the execution of that and creates structures of accountability, reward for those that do it well, a sense of shame for those that don’t do it well, it’s not it’s not just a sexual ethic — it’s also the sort of environment around it.”

      So, in the homeschooling, purity culture, “faith” is more than a simple confession. It’s agreement with and adherence to the legalistic reward/shame culture – as he experienced at CLC/SGM.

      Now, let’s include the paragraph with my commentary:
      —-
      Villarreal: You say in the documentary that there are a lot of people who want you to throw out everything that was kind of the basis for your book. But I’m curious when you say “everything,” do you mean your belief in Christianity as a whole or about premarital sex in general? I’m curious what you include in that.

      Harris: I think that there’s a push by some people to say being sex positive means — the kind of the historical sexual ethic related to sex outside of marriage, related to homosexuality, is basically laid aside, and embracing a healthy view of sex means just accepting all that as fine within the Christian tradition. … 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 think that I probably need to engage with some of those people — like I have people send me their e-books showing why premarital sex is fine, and I just don’t have the energy right now. Like, I do not want to read your book. I do not want to. I do not want to engage in a massive, you know, theological expedition to think about all these things. So it just sounds really exhausting to me, honestly.

      But I think what you saw in that moment in the film is it is a real struggle for me. I’m really struggling with — I think that rethinking some of these things and 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.
      —-
      So, he’s being asked specifically whether he has rejected Christianity, or just rejected premarital sex. He’s seen all this damage caused by saying “Thus Saith the Lord”, so he is threading a needle. First – he is saying that you can’t just say God has no standards regarding sexuality – i.e. freedom does not mean license, and he can’t interpret the Bible as rejecting all sexual standards without rejecting Christianity. I think that is a fair statement. Second – he is saying that he was indoctrinated into such a narrow view of scripture (purity culture) that he feels unable, at this point, to speak in any sort of coherent way what the Bible teaches about it, but neither does he want to engage with all the people who are claiming that scripture justifies homosexuality and premarital sex. Again, I think this is a fair statement. Third, he’s saying that having held such a narrow view (purity culture) of sexuality and having been indoctrinated into interpreting all of scripture through that narrow lens, that even starting to question purity culture seems like questioning his faith. Again, I think this is a fair statement. The homeschooling/modesty/purity culture pushed a system of doctrine through which all of scripture was re-cast into legalism without grace. You may see the sex abuse scandal as a lack of oversight. I see it as the offspring of the New Calvinist focus on piety and appearances, yes, but also the systemic reinterpretation of the Bible through the CBMW/TGC lens.

      If understanding his statements through the lens of my own experience, or through similar experiences that surely you have seen is “not how interpretation works”, then I think you are somewhat arguing with C.S. Lewis, who in Mere Christianity Book 1, Ch. 4 does that very thing – he uses our experience of right and wrong to claim “a Something which is directing the universe, and which appears in me as a law urging me to do right and making me feel responsible and uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

      I interpret Harris the way I do because I have had an experience I could define that way, I have others with similar experiences who seem to relate them similarly, and I know specific doctrines (like purity culture and baptism) that are so closely tied to the faith that those who change views are often seen as questioning faith.

    • Mark,

      This is much better. Thank you.

      I’m a big fan of Lewis but I don’t think I’m disagreeing with him. Surely our experience illumines texts but we cannot read our experience into a text.

      You think he means “the whole legalistic-fundamentalist world in which I was raised was wrong and I’m re-thinking some things” and I think he means, “Wow, realizing that I was wrong about sex & marriage has made me re-think the Christian faith.”

      I think I’m right. Let’s wait and see. Time will tell if he’s another Rob Bell or Tony Jones or something else.

    • Thanks. You should also weigh in what you said about Sojourners with regard to the question – “But I’m curious when you say “everything,” do you mean your belief in Christianity as a whole or about premarital sex in general?”

      This is a loaded question – Harris is being asked whether he is abandoning ALL of Christianity, or just premarital sex. It’s kind like, “have you stopped beating your wife altogether, or have you just stopped beating her on Wednesdays”.

      I think in light of the audience – a liberal magazine where holding to Biblical inspiration, or taking any sort of stand on sexual purity is fundamentalist extremism – his response is conciliatory, fair, and still not throwing out either Christianity or sexual purity.

  5. You say that Harris is doubting the truth of Christianity and has said so publicly. I am unable to find anything anywhere about that claim. I think it would be wise to provide a link or evidence to support that claim, as it could cause quite a lot of damage were it to be unfounded.

    • The title of the article:

      QUESTIONING FAITH AFTER PURITY CULTURE: IN CONVERSATION WITH JOSHUA HARRIS

      In the interview he said:

      I think that rethinking some of these things and 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.

  6. Wow, good article and good points on the problematic business model yet I (a security guard) would quibble with you (an academic with more letters behind your name than in alphabet soup). My point of contention deals with the simple fact that you did not even encourage prayer for him just repurposed an already sad situation into a soup box. It’s “speaking the Truth in Love” that tippers in the opportunistic tendencies to make an example out of someone else’s struggle. And again, I do not disagree with 95% of your critique only your method and clear contempt you hold for guys like him. We sow divisiveness when we stop seeking to win the person and settle for just winning the argument.

    • Dawson,

      I am tired of the wreckage left behind by self-seeking, self-serving wolves like Driscoll, Tchividjian, MacDonald et al. I do pray for repentance for them but my chief concern is for the sheep whom they’ve mislead, confused, and hurt. I wasn’t really thinking much of Harris or those like him.

      What do you make of Jude? He has some fairly harsh words (e.g., “waterless clouds”) for those whom he sees threatening the flock. He doesn’t not pray for them but he does warn the flock. Is there is a place for Jude or Hebrews 10 here?

    • Dear Dawson, John the bus driver here. Thanks for some good insight and encouragement. I was thinking if I was Mr. Harris and saw this article. I would be wondering if someone really cared about me or were they really wanting to make sure people were in the real church.

    • John,

      It’s Both/and.

      Harris was sucked into a bad system. He’s part of the problem and a victim. Those whom he, without an education, pastored in what is best described as an irregular situation, are also victims. They were placed under man-made laws and some of them were seriously hurt in the abuse scandal.

  7. While a critique of so-called entrepreneurial American Evangelicalism is definitely necessary. Your proposed solution demostrates an extreme lack of self awareness. You double down on classic reformed ecclesiological structures as a way to prevent this type of error.

    However far before the emergence of business-minded American Evangelicalism all the major historic reformed demonimations in America and beyond began to undergo theological liberlization and often outright apostasy. Thus demonstrating that the fundamental safeguard cannot be your proposesed system as these churches did have these structures in place.

    I think the church as a whole (irrespective of denom) needs to return to a robust view of the Holiness of God.

    • R J,

      I’m quite aware of what I am and what I’m saying. I’m quite aware of modern church history. Yes, the mainline Reformed (RCA and increasingly CRC) and Presbyterian (PCUS and PCUSA) became liberal but they did not do so because they were faithful to their confessions. In order to go liberal, they had to first become broadly evangelical—which is a step that most analyses miss.

      See Recovering the Reformed Confession where I lay out this case. See also D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism where he explains this process and connection brilliantly.

      Confessionalism is relevant here because the New Calvinists aren’t confessional. They attempted to weld aspects of Reformed theology to their already fixed revivalist, rootless, (Modern) evangelical theology, piety, and practice. The marriage was doomed from the beginning. Reformed theology has always been evangelical in the good, old-fashioned sense of the word (i.e., about the gospel) but it has never been “evangelical” in the Modern (post 1720) sense of the word, i.e., on a quest for what I call in RRC, the Illegitimate Quest for Religious Experience (QIRE) or fundamentalist (in the post-Machen sense) or on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC).

      It is not as if the “holiness” traditions and the Pietist traditions have fared much better. All the liberals (e.g., Schleierrmacher Rauschenbusch) were the children and grandchildren of Pietists. The Wesleyan holiness folks gave us the UMC, which, despite its recent stand against gay marriage (no thanks to the Americans) is deeply compromised by Modernism.

      Mine is a call for those who really want to be be Reformed to leave behind the entrepreneurial New Calvinism, to leave behind the odd-couple marriage of Geneva and Cane Ridge—MacDonald and Driscoll both show that, when push comes to shove, Cane Ridge wins every time with this lot—for Geneva.

      I’m well aware that the thing to which I’m calling people is also flawed. That’s another reason I wrote RRC but at least the thing to which I’m calling people exists to some degree in the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches. At least in those churches (e.g., the PCA in this case) Tullian Tchividjian was publicly defrocked and thus when he announced his multi-campus church plant we could say with certainty that he is no longer a minister and has no authority to gather a congregation. He is in sin and impenitent. Under the entrepreneurial model, when Driscoll blows up Mars Hill, he just re-locates to affluent Scottsdale to fleece those folks via health and wealth Pentecostalism. Mahaney moves to Louisville and MacDonald opens up shop somewhere. Don’t forget that paragon of Elephant Room orthodoxy, T. D. Jakes, whose ecumenical orthodoxy was always in doubt (and who has now embraced the so-called “progressive” view of homosexuality) but who was embraced by the Big Eva New Calvinists even as the confessionalists objected.

      So, yes, as R. C. Sproul said, we need to recapture a sense of the holiness of God. The Reformed churches, at their best reflect this in their worship, in contrast to the “evangelical” rock concert/psychotherapy model (moralistic, therapeutic Deism). We embrace this in our understanding of Scripture. We embrace this in our confession of the Christian life. At least we have a theology, piety, & practice toward which we must strive.

  8. No method of weeding out the wolves is fail proof. But as Robert McCheyne said, holiness in a preacher is the most important asset.

  9. A broader and clearer view of the issue. Good to know he isn’t fundamental no more!

  10. Stories like this break my heart, but they need to be told. I urge those of you reading this to learn from the example of Mr. Harris, but withhold judgement and pray for the Spirit to move him back to the path of truth and righteousness. God does work in mysterious ways, and we know that all things do work out for good for those called according to His purposes….May our great God be glorified, even when, perhaps especially when, we are left to rely on His grace alone.

    • I agree, this story is sad and I’m praying not only for Mr. Harris but for all of us followers of Christ that we would focus on unity….why unity…I’m reflecting on Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, especially verse 20-21, where Jesus is praying for His church: “that they may all be one, just as you Father , are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, So that the world may believe that You have sent me!”
      Wow that really puts all these comparisons of which churches are “real” to shame, doesn’t it?

    • Patti,

      I’m not comparing churches. I’m comparing Christ’s church, where ever it may be, with sects. You and I agree that not every group that calls itself “the church” is “the church.” Is a congregation of LDS (Mormons) “the church”? No. Is a Unitarian congregation “the church”? No. Okay. So, we all distinguish between “the church” and “not the church.” On what basis? We can start with the ecumenical creeds (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed etc) and go from there.

      I’m a Reformed minister and our Belgic Confession (1561) gives three marks of “the true church.” We confess “the pure preaching of the gospel,” “the pure administration of the sacraments,” and “the use of church discipline” as the marks of the true church.

      This is an attempt to be faithful to all of what our Lord said, in John 17 and in Matthew 16, Matthew 18, and in Matthew 28.

      Our Lord also said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is actually a citizen of his kingdom or a member of his church. Was he being close-minded too?

    • This sounds like a red herring. The original post was talking about some American evangelical churches how they operate, not some non-Christian churches like Unitarian universalist, Mormon etc. My concern for Jesus’ true church is that we somehow figure out how to take serious Jesus prayer in John 17 about unity so that the world will see who Jesus is! This is huge for us as followers of Christ…I’m trying to take Jesus’ prayer serious in how I engage with other followers of Christ who may not be part of the same local church as my husband and I. Just think…we could be so united as followers of Jesus Christ that the world…i.e. my Mormon acquaintances…my sibling who is a Unitarian universalist will know who Jesus is because of it! No wonder Jesus made this as part of His prayer for His church!!

    • Patti,

      You ignored my point: we all make distinctions between true and false churches. The question is how and on what basis? The Reformed churches have read John 17 carefully and concluded that the basis for true unity is around the faith as revealed in the Word of God.

      The greater point is that there is an approach to Christianity is not defined by 3 guys making up things as they go along. There is such a thing as historic Christianity and New Calvinism isn’t it. The recent crack up and the lack of any real discipline illustrates the fundamental problems with the “make it up” American approach to Christianity.

      John 17 does not mean, ignore or paper over serious problems and disagreements or serious errors.

      That said, there is a greater unity than you seem to suggest. All real Christians are united around the ecumenical creeds and there is a great deal of essential unity among the confessional Protestants (Lutheran and Reformed) on the essentials, e.g., the Trinity, the gospel etc.

      Calling out a self-professed apostate former pastor (see the follow up post on AGR:

      https://www.agradio.org/josh-harris-kisses-christianity-goodbye.html)

      is not a schismatic act.

  11. One correction to the article: James MacDonald was not a Calvinist and always claimed against it. Thanks!

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