What I expect of Joshua Harris

In the last few weeks, the name Joshua Harris picked up again on the interwebs.  If you’ve never heard of him, that’s ok.  I’ll attempt to catch you up quickly.  At the age of 23, Harris wrote a book called “I kissed dating goodbye”.  In the book he challenged young coeds to abandon the traditional forms of dating and courtship, and stay away from physical forms of dating pleasure before marriage.

Later he wrote a series of follow up books, each one loosening the intensity of the earlier, more popular book.  Eventually he became pastor of Covenant Life Church, a Calvinist Charismatic church and the founding institution of a denomination like group of churches called Sovereign Grace Ministries.

In January 2015, Harris resigned from that church because he wanted to broaden his views of Christianity and said  “the isolation of Covenant Life, and of a small cluster of churches of which it was a part, may have fed leadership mistakes, including the decision of pastors — himself among them — to handle a child sexual abuse case internally instead of going to police.”

Now I want to stop there and insert something before I go into why he resurfaced in the news.  Harris grew up in an environment that was very sheltered and focused on “pure living”.  Along with his six siblings, his parents homeschooled them and trained them in a certain way.  He wrote a best seller at the age of 23, and was groomed by a well known, talented pastor to be his successor.

The reason why that is important?  Expectations.  The expectations on him both by those around him and by himself must have been huge.  Trust me, I know all about this.

The pastorate rains like cats and dogs in my family.  Both of my grandfathers, my dad, uncles, and many of my cousins all pastor (or did pastor before they retired) or are on staff at churches.  Growing up in that kind of environment can be a little intense.  Especially with the internet now, you can’t get away from those who place expectations not only on how you live, but also what you believe.  On top of that the self expectations you have to not disappoint those around you whom you love dearly.

Thankfully my family has always been gracious concerning how we live our lives, which may be the reason why so many of us are in the ministry, but there’s always pressure from those outside of the family too.  Pastor’s kids are expected to tow some line, or else be relegated to the stereotypical “black sheep” status often joked about in Christian conversation.

The thing about expectation is it is often not rooted in love, but in pride.  I expect you to live a certain way or believe a certain thing or walk a particular road, not because I love you and it’s best for you, but because of the pride I have in my own heart that would be embarrassed if you took a certain path.  After all, I influenced you and trained you to be a particular person, right?

Back to Joshua Harris.  In 2018, he recanted his teachings in the book.  A few weeks ago, he had back to back instagram posts announcing a separation between him and his wife, and another  saying “by all the measurements I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.”

So here’s my question:  What happens to your insides when someone takes a different path than you expected them to take?  I don’t mean addiction or unhealthy foolish living.  I mean a different lifestyle, spiritual practice, or point of view than you considered them having before.  What expectations have you placed on them that when they meander away from those passageways, you quiver at the thought that they are headed in the wrong direction?

I’m sure Joshua Harris’ life and lifestyle has changed greatly in the last several years since he first wrote the book that made him a household name in the evangelical world.  But the truth is, it doesn’t matter.  What he does and doesn’t do with his life is of little consequence to me, as I only know him through a book he wrote.  What does matter is my own heart, and the sinful way it reacts when people don’t do what I want them to do.  I can pray for him.  I can even reach out and offer encouragement.  But when the Pharisee in me comes out and I want to share with him how he walked away from my expectations, then I have betrayed my own spirituality.

If we’re going to follow Christ, let us be like him.  Let us first encounter our own heart and soul and mind and ensure that we love God in all of those ways.  Then instead of placing prideful expectations on others, let us do what he said was the second greatest commandment, and that is love them.  I assume he meant unconditionally.

And love is something very different than expectations.

Written by Marty Holman

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  1. Having been one of the ones that read his book when it came out I’ve tried to live out it’s ideals. Having recently listened to https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqnfVPeWIKcYN-NDlnu7jwEF5jbI8DHvK I can now live out what I knew to be right but struggled to do without so much struggle. If “Christians” saw themselves as their creator does, a lot of “Christian” authors would be out of business, or at least radically change what they are writing.

    1. A great point Neville. Many of us tried to be perfect growing up. I’d rather live out Christ in me!

  2. Excellent article and a wonderful fresh perspective on expectations being not grounded in love. I can’t help to wonder at what point one might feel the pull of the Spirit to intervene based on the Scriptures if one is clearly veering off the path laid down by Jesus? Or is any intervention based in pride and not love? This is what I am wrestling with and need to pray about more.

  3. Great question Kevin! We believe there is intervention that needs to happen. Maybe even intervention in this situation. The struggle gets real however when we start putting expectations on people who have decided to walk, and act less like Jesus and more out of our flesh when that happens. We can talk to them in love, but the moment we rudely believe they are less than when they act out however they choose, we act in carnality and pride and not in love. Certainly the line is thin, right?

  4. As a believer and former leader in the church, I can relate to not fulfilling other people’s expectations of what I should have done in my life. Even after almost 25 years, I still pay a price for a divorce that I did not want but was forced to accept full responsibility for it because I was on church staff. I have moved on in my life , but many of those that placed their expectations of perfection on me have not. That being said… I am still growing and have changed much of my thought process and perspective of what is and what isn’t Christianity. I will say it isn’t what I thought and promoted 30 years ago. I am still growing and I am still learning… even after all these years. Love is something different than expectations for sure. The hard part is working on the “unconditional” part of it.


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