Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Thabiti and Joshua: Repentance, Forgiveness, and Apostasy

Joshua Harris recently made shipwreck of his faith. Photo Credit: TEDx Talks
Recently, two well-known Christian names have made headlines. Both of these men repented in unforeseen ways. However, only one of these men has received attention from national news sources.

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor in Washington, D.C. and a big name in the evangelical social justice "conversation" (or, "civil war"?) that has developed over the last several years. He is a council member at The Gospel Coalition and the author of a variety of books. As a cultural commentator, he has raised eyebrows on more than one occasion with headlines like the one from 2016 that read, "Evangelical Leaders: Tell Us to Vote for Clinton."

I've done my part in criticizing Anyabwile. Last October I preached a sermon series on social justice where his name came up a time or two. I have not only disagreed with his position, but (and perhaps just as importantly) I've disagreed with the way he has gone about expressing his position. Understandably, we will not all see eye-to-eye on matters of government, laws, and the ways various ethnic groups should live together in every facet of life. However, as Christians, we should always be able to talk things out charitably by the unifying power of the Holy Spirit. In the past, there was not much charity to be found in Anyabwile's approach to certain cultural issues.

In a divine twist, God moved Thabiti to release an apology in recent days. On July 15, The Gospel Coalition published an article, wherein Anyabwile stated, "I ask your forgiveness for writing out of fear and anger at times. God has not given us a spirit of fear. The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Yet, there have been times when either or both of those emotions have shaped my heart and my subsequent words."

Now this apology is not written to specific names of people other than "those who have been hurt" and "those genuinely offended and sinned against," but I see no problem with that. The apology also does not list specific instances of his anger against others; but again, I see no problem with that. This article reads very sincere and there is no reason to doubt his authenticity.

His letter goes on to ask forgiveness for writing in indiscriminate ways, writing before he had sufficient details to comment effectively, being dismissive/disregarding/rude/impatient/harsh in his tone, ways he may have misrepresented others, acting out of hopelessness, and being slow to write the apology in the first place.

Some Christian "news outlets" have not taken kindly to Anyabwile's public letter. Some others have taken kindly to it. I am convicted that I must accept this apology and affirm his appeal for forgiveness. This is the Christian thing to do. This is repentance. This is honorable.

Repentance is a changing of the mind that results in a change of action. Thabiti has changed his mind about his past actions -- specifically, the godly/ungodly nature of his past actions -- and he has publicly repented and asked his Christian siblings for forgiveness as he seeks to move forward in a different way. This is what all Christians did when we first came to know God through Christ. We could not change our past sins, but we could (and did) ask for forgiveness from the God we rebelled against and we sought to move forward in a different way.

If we do not honor and celebrate and learn from Anyabwile's repentance, then what are we doing, Christians? We would be rejecting a step toward unity and holiness in the church. Let's not do that. Let's instead move toward lifting up the name of Christ together, shoulder-to-shoulder. And let's commit to confessing our sin to one another and forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave us. This is how God would have us to live. Let's repent and honor the repentance of others.

Repentance of sin is a beautiful, God-given experience.
However, there is another kind of repentance.

People can and do repent of God Himself. Instead of repenting of their transgressions against God and submitting to His authority, they ask for forgiveness for ever doing that in the first place. This can be called "apostasy."

Like repentance, apostasy is also a changing of the mind that results in a change of action. This falling away is conjured up by man in his own flesh, and sometimes it is accelerated by God Himself (see 2 Thess 2:8-12). Those who apostatize, or, as some people may say, "backslide," were never genuine believers in the gospel. These people never possessed the true fruits of repentance, but instead they exist as wolves in sheep's clothing. Apostates are still in their sins just as we formerly lived. To quote Paul, "For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another," (Titus 3:3). The ones who have repented of God have never left that state. They fooled us for a time, but, for them, the truth has now come to light.

Joshua Harris is one of these people. He is most famously known for his contributions to the Christian youth purity culture because of his best-selling book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Now, he has declared to Christians that he rejects the Christian faith and has declared to the LGBTQ community that he is specifically sorry for his former commitments that disagree with their lifestyle.

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My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in-between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have also been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ 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. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Martin Luther said that the entire life of believers should be repentance. There’s beauty in that sentiment regardless of your view of God. 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. But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ To my Christians friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
A post shared by Joshua Harris (@harrisjosh) on

The response to Harris's news has been explosive. National media outlets like Fox News have reported on it. Christians have weighed in to share their thoughts. Many laypeople in the conservative evangelical world are currently emotionally hurt and theologically confused about how this could have happened. It's confusing, jarring, and painful. So how should we consider these things? 

Let me reiterate a statement from above: Apostates never left their state of rebellion against their Creator. Our confusion is merely a result of our limited nature, most notably the fact that we are not omniscient. God, the One who knows every heart, was not surprised by this falling away. Harris has certainly "fallen away" from the faith from our perspective, but not from God's perspective. Scripture tells us that these things will indeed happen.

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine," 2 Timothy 4:3 begins, going on to say, "they will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths," (v. 4).

At one time, Harris did endure sound doctrine. In fact, in his book Humble Orthodoxy, he commented on Paul's instruction to Timothy in the letter just quoted, saying,
Love for God and love for neighbor require us to oppose falsehood. There is nothing more unloving than to be silent in the face of lies that will ruin another person. Sometimes love demands that we say, 'This philosophy, no matter how plausible or popular, is not true. This person, no matter how likable, gifted, or well intentioned, is teaching something that contradicts God's Word; therefore, it is untrue.' Paul was arguing for this type of love-infused courage -- a courage that is willing to contend for God's unchanging truth.You and I need to contend for the truth. (p. 11-12)
Christians now must take Harris's words and give them back to him. We must say, "This philosophy, no matter how plausible or popular, is not true. [You], no matter how likable, gifted, or well intentioned, [are] teaching something that contradicts God's Word; therefore, it is untrue."

Joshua Harris was enlightened; he tasted God's heavenly gift and His word; he, in some sense in the church, partook of the Holy Spirit. But Joshua Harris has not been born from above. He has crucified again the Son of God and put Him to open shame. He is not only unregenerate, he is never-been-regenerate.

So what do we, as Christians do now? If we are to accept the repentance of our brother Thabiti, how should we handle the repentance of Joshua, who is not our brother?

First, we pray. We pray for God to make much of Himself in all of this.

Next, we sober up. Our trust is not in man who changes, but in God who cannot change. We do not trust in ourselves, but in the One who has saved us.

Finally, we repent of our own unconfessed sin. Moments like this serve as a great reminder of our personal rebellion that lives deep in the crevasses of our own souls. There's dark stuff down there that God hates. Be motivated to bring it up to the light and expose it to truth. Be motivated to fall on your face before your Creator.

Be motivated to be more like Thabiti and less like Joshua.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this Jeremy. As Joshia Harris was instrumental in reshaping my views as a new believer, his turn away from God was a gut punch. I shared his materials with Youth groups after living a very different story in my teen years....a story full of regret. I looked up many references to his life to try and learn 'how did this happen?' and learned that C.J. Mahaney pulled him up to pastor a church without any formal seminary training. I am not saying that a layman cannot preach the word of God, but there is a reason scripture cautions giving a young man too much responsibility within the body. There almost needs to be that crucible of financial burden and feeling insignificant before God to prove to ourselves that we are seeking His grace for the right reasons....for His glory and not our own. Unfortunately, I dont think Joshua Harris ever had a chance to work through that crucible, as he was thrust into fame as a very young man, maybe even a teen and expected to soar. He's been trying to stay on top and earn his keep ever since. It is sad. I pray he comes to Christ...empty handed...with no accolades or accomplishments, only contrite brokenness and sincere love for the Father.