I was finishing high school when the 1997 bestseller “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Josh Harris was published. Josh Harris was just 21 when he wrote this book, which sold 714,000 copies by 2001, and over 1 million copies by 2005. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” revolutionized the evangelical dating scene, especially in the more conservative circles. If nothing else, it sparked a wide-ranging controversy over dating and romance. He influenced a generation of young Christians. Courtship and all that that entails, he argued, represents a more faithful and biblical model of beginning and building a romantic relationship. Dating, on the other hand, mistakes physical intimacy for love, leads to intimacy but not commitment, is an artificial environment to evaluate another person’s character, and so on. It is hard to overestimate the influence the book had on young evangelical adults.
In 2009 he reaffirmed the basic message of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” His book (and the follow-up “Boy Meets Girl”) gave Harris a massive platform for promoting his ideas and interpretations of Scripture.
In 2019, Harris divorced his wife and renounced the Christian Faith, causing whip-lash and heart-tremors for all who were influenced by him. This is an opportunity for repentance.
It’s not that Harris’s ideas were all “bad.” He hit a nerve when he exposed where Christians had adopted pagan dating practices and left Christian worldview behind. But how much credence should Christians give to the theological musings of a 21 year old man? A million copies sold?
Another thought: Why were (and are) so many pastors and parents willing to jump on the bandwagon of pop-Christian legalism?
So much for Josh Harris. Here’s another portrait.
You may have heard of a Christian band called Hillsong United. They’ve enjoyed enormous success. They are a staple on the Christian Praise and Worship scene. Begun in Hillsong Church outside of Sydney, Australia, they are now believed to bring in over $100,000,000 / year in tax-free contributions. Songs by Hillsong United (and its spinoffs) are heard by hundreds of millions of people on every inhabited continent every week. They have a regular place in the Christian billboard top 10 songs. Their influence on Christian music is hard to overestimate.
While Hillsong United has had many musical artists over the years, one prominent member is Marty Sampson. In fact, he was one of Hillsong’s original worship leaders. Although he may still perform at Hillsong Church, his last album was in 2011. In August of 2019, he publically questioned his faith on Instagram. How are we to understand this?
Permit me one more example.
Another giant in Christian music is the band Newsboys. You might know them from the movie “God’s Not Dead” and its two sequels, for which they wrote the anthem music and appear in music videos. But that’s all after co-founding member George Perdikis left the band. Having played with Newsboys since the mid-1980s, he soon began walking down another path and, by 2007, renounced the Christian faith entirely. Founding Newsboys guitarist George Perdikis is now an outspoken atheist. If you are familiar with their debut album “Read All About It,” you’ve heard George’s guitar work.
What can we make of these Christian influencers abandoning the Christian faith? Or what can we learn? If nothing else, I’d like to offer this. The Christian Church, and Christians in general, are in a dangerous place if we look to 20 year old worship leaders and Christian authors as our voices of truth and shepherds in the faith. We are in a dangerous place if we learn more about Christian faith from pop-Christian books, music and movies rather than the Word of God and those who God has sent to teach and guide us. As John Cooper, the lead vocalist, bassist and co-founder of the Grammy nominated Christian rock band Skillet said, “Sometimes we [singers and song-writers] are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?”
Or better, as God’s Word says, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)
Our Lord has entrusted His church with an incredible gift: The Word of God itself. Certainly, the church is free to be creative when communicating the Gospel to a changing culture. But the answer is never to transform God’s Word to look like the culture. Man’s ways lead to death, but God’s ways lead to life. Or as Isaiah said it (better), “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)