briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 1, 2019

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Thursday, August 1st, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Tragedy of Joshua Harris: Sobering Thoughts for Evangelicals

So many issues of central Christian concern these days in the news that The Federalist, the headline, “22 years after bestselling, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris leaves his wife and faith.” That was the headline in the article by Joy Pullmann. This is a huge story and rightly deserves evangelical attention and urgency. In order to understand this, we have to go back to 1997 with the release of a book entitled, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The book was by Joshua Harris and it became an evangelical publishing phenomenon, eventually selling 1.2 million copies. The central thesis of the book is that evangelicals have been flirting with disaster in the dating culture. Harris spoke of his own experience and prescriptively, began to outline a shift from dating to a model of courtship.

This was a significant cultural pushback in 1997 to the sexual licentiousness of the culture and the fact that a very loose dating culture had indeed brought a great deal of sin and grief to so many young people. Harris called effectively for an end to the entire system of dating amongst adolescents and young adults. Instead, he pointed to a more ecclesial and more family-based model of courtship.

And of course, one of the issues we have to face here is that when you have a book like this with its influence and you have an argument like this with its clarity, you sometimes have people who take the argument even further. It’s helpful in this case to go back to the biography of Joshua Harris. He is one of the seven children of Gregg and Sono Harris and they became very influential long before Joshua Harris had emerged. They were mostly influential within the burgeoning homeschool movement of the 1970s and 80s and beyond, and they were located in the Pacific northwest.

That’s not an accident. The homeschooling movement in the United States in its modern phase really is traceable to that part of the United States, and to a very interesting duality. The homeschooling movement took root within the cultural left and the cultural right at almost the same time. Although the cultural left really beat the cultural right to the movement.

In one sense, it was conservatives who learn from the liberals in this case about the model of homeschooling. Amongst liberals, the movement really began as an extension of the radicalism of the 1960s, a pushback against institutionalized forms of learning and a basic anti-authoritarianism. Conservatives began to observe the liberal homeschooling movement and recognized there was a real opportunity here, amongst conservative Christians especially. This was a part of the Jesus people that youth revival on the west coast in particular in the 1970s, it was a part of that movement, understanding a return to marriage, a return to a very clear understanding of family and what might be described as a simple biblicism.

It was also amongst conservatives, especially conservative Christian parents, a rejection of the sex education patterns, the liberalization of the public schools, and the basic context of secularization. So Joshua Harris grew up, he was incubated within that movement and from parents who were amongst the most influential in the movement.

When you look at his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, you recognize it is one of those very important signal moments in American evangelical culture. It represents, like the explosion of homeschooling itself, a rejection of the dominant model, whereby young people began to develop romantic relationships. It was also an understanding of the danger of the hyper-sexualized culture. He followed up, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which again was released in 1997 with another book entitled Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, published in 2000. He became lead pastor of a Maryland mega church in 2004, and he continued in that role until 2015. He also established a series of conferences that were known as New Attitude.

In 2015, he resigned from the church and indicated that he was moving back to the Pacific Northwest, in this case to Vancouver, British Columbia, to study at Regent College and to give attention to theological education. He said in a statement at the time that he had been living effectively backwards. He had gone into ministry before his theological education. He said that he was going to resign from ministry and the very fact that he made that announcement the way he did indicated that perhaps even more fundamental changes were afoot.

In 2016, he released a statement in which he apologized to those he described as hurt by the purity culture in the approach that was taken in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. He shortly thereafter had a leading role in a film which was released, also critiquing the book that he had written and effectively withdrawing its argument. The obvious question that arose from the film and from his statement in 2016 is what Harris’ understanding of sex, and for that matter, of Christianity is at present?

But then the blockbuster social media posts of July, first in the middle of the month, Harris and his wife Shannon jointly released on their own Instagram accounts this statement: “We’re writing to share the news that we are separating and we’ll continue our life together as friends. In recent years, some significant changes have taken place in both of us. It is with sincere love for one another and understanding of our unique story as a couple that we are moving forward with this decision. We hope to create a generous and supportive future for each other and for our three amazing children in the years ahead. Thank you for your understanding and for respecting our privacy during a difficult time.”

The news was eventually clarified that the couple is divorcing. The announcement simultaneously made on Instagram follows a recently developed form, especially when it comes to celebrity, your high profile divorces. The announcement seemed to be orchestrated in this way in order to make the announcement, and then as quickly as possible to move on.

But moving on takes a whole new significance when just a few days later, Harris also posted an Instagram, “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.” He continues, “I am learning that no group has the market quartered on grace. This week, I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in between. Of course,” he says, “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 next statement is most important, “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.”

The next paragraph was also very important: “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’ve lived in repentance for the past several years,” he wrote, “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,” he continued, “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.”

Those were the most important sections of the posting, and the most important line is where he said that he had undergone a massive shift in regard to his faith in Christ. He said, again, “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.” Those are absolutely stunning words. They would be stunning and incredibly troubling coming from anyone, but from the former pastor of a mega church and from someone who has had a very significant influence in the evangelical world, this is one of those milestone events. It also requires a good deal of thinking and very honest reflection on the part of American evangelicals.

Several people have obviously wondered, “How did this come out of the blue?” But it didn’t really come out of the blue. There had been troubling signs for some time indicating that Joshua Harris was in a very significant worldview in spiritual transition.

This was made also very clear in an interview that was made with the liberal magazine Sojourners. The interviewer was Sandi Villarreal and this was also published at Sojourners just about the time that he made the announcement of the divorce from his wife. It was before his announcement that he was also divorcing himself from the Christian faith. In this interview, very interestingly, Joshua Harris indicates the extent to which he has separated, not just from the argument of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but from the superstructure of biblical Christianity and most particularly, its revealed sexual ethic.

He raised questions about what he called the purity culture, of which he had been very much a part. He also raised questions about complementarianism, but these were basically in order to repudiate them. What wasn’t at all clear and still isn’t clear is exactly what would replace his teachings of the past. In the interview, one of the most interesting and important moments comes when Villarreal says, “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.” She continued, “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.”

Joshua Harris responded, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

That’s truly stunning. It’s incredibly revealing. In this interview that came before his announcement of his departure from Christianity, Harris said that when he came to rethink the biblical sexual ethic of historic Christianity, he said he understood then, and this is crucial for us to understand, that at that point it was easier for him to contemplate throwing out all of Christianity than transforming Christianity or reformulating it in order to develop a new sexual ethic.

There’s a basic honesty there we need to recognize. In his statement that made in the Sojourners interview and in the lengthy statement he made announcing the fact that he was departing from Christianity, one of the things that does become clear is that Joshua Harris understands that there are two absolutely opposed worldviews and they are basically not reconcilable. There’s no reconciliation possible between the biblical worldview and the modern secular worldview.

He understands that there is no halfway house, and in that sense, it’s intellectually honest of him to understand that theological liberalism, which seeks to maintain some claim upon Christianity while repudiating its biblical truth claims, that that’s unsustainable. There’s intellectual honesty in that. But there’s incredible spiritual and theological tragedy, of course, in the announcement that anyone has departed from the Christian faith and that raises basic theological issues. Can one be a Christian and then at some point not be a Christian?

Can one lose their faith? Can one ultimately fall away if one was genuinely regenerate? The answer is no. The Bible is very clear about that. Once one has been regenerated by the power of Christ, once one has become a genuine Christian and been united to Christ, nothing can separate us from Christ, not even our own sin. The historic Protestant confessions make very clear the biblical truth, that even though after conversion and coming to faith in Christ, after regeneration, one may sin, indeed will sin, and may even grievously injure the church, it is impossible for one who has been truly regenerated to then fall back away from Christ and to be severed from him.

There may be even some who sin by repudiating Christianity, but if they ever were genuinely Christian, they will return by repentance at some point, and that is a gospel promise. If persons do continue in their repudiation of Christianity, then we have to remember the text 1 John 2:19, where we are told that, “They went out from us, because they were not of us,” which is to say they never were truly Christians. They were pretend believers.

Jesus also speaks to this in Matthew 13 in the parable of the four soils. There are those who show signs of life, but they eventually go away. And Jesus makes very clear they never were true Christians, and yet you also have to understand that means there could even be some who had risen to influence in the church—the New Testament is clear about this—who would later fall away, but they went out from us because they were not of us.

Evangelicals should ponder what this tragic headline news tells us about our susceptibility to a consumer culture and also to a celebrity culture. That’s always a danger. It’s impossible to have some level of influence without some level of celebrity, but we must test everything by the Scriptures. And we also have to understand as the early church had to come to know, that there are some who appear to be believers and even have influence, even are pastors, but eventually fall away. That has to be acknowledged.

There’s something else of extreme importance in this case, and I say this as president of a theological seminary and a Christian college, but this is just emphatically important. There has to be theological depth. The only way that we’re going to be able to sustain a biblical sexual ethic and the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is by serious biblical content, serious biblical knowledge, deep theology, apologetics, biblical theology, a deep understanding and celebration of and embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ, understanding that gospel, the true gospel, the biblical gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ against all superficial pretenders.

And also against false theologies, including any form of legalism that can creep in. The purity culture that Joshua Harris says he now rejects is something we have to look at very closely as evangelicals, understanding that there has been a certain legalistic bent in that purity culture among some who’ve made something of a religion of sorts out of I Kissed Dating Goodbye or any form of other legalism, and they have sometimes also basically subverted the gospel by elevating that kind of legalistic ethic, but at the same time, the Bible upholds a purity ethic.

The Bible reveals God’s intention for us in our gender, in our sexuality, in marriage and in all sexual expression, it’s the Bible that also holds up the fact that the only legitimate sexual expression is within marriage as the holy covenant of a man and a woman before God. But it is also true that we have to avoid turning this into what at least one critic has called, “A sexual prosperity gospel.”

But we have to be very, very careful at this evangelical moment that the recognition of the danger of legalism does not turn into some form of antinomianism. The fact is that the original purity culture is found within the gospel itself. It’s found within the Scriptures, within God’s revealed Word, but it doesn’t indicate that we are born pure. To the contrary, it indicates that we are born sinners and the answer to our sin is not legalism, but rather it is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But once we have come to know Christ as Savior, then we are called to obey all that he has commanded, and Christ has commanded, even as he affirmed what God’s intention was from the beginning, that sexual expression be limited to the covenant union of a man and a woman. We also have to remember that even though the world hates that restriction, it is not only God’s revealed Word, it is also God’s good will. It is his plan for human happiness, human wholeness, human flourishing.

The headlines concerning Joshua Harris and for that matter, Joshua and Shannon Harris, are deeply humbling to American evangelicalism. They should be very sobering. They should make us pray for the Harris’ and for our churches. They should lead us to a deeper understanding of the gospel and exultation of the gospel of Christ and simultaneously, an introspection concerning our biblical fidelity and the depth of our commitment to Christ and to biblical Christianity. But this heartbreaking headline also reminds us that we can place our trust in no sinful human being, but in Christ alone, the one who alone is worthy of our trust.

Part II

Dr. Wen is Shown the Door: Planned Parenthood Shows the World its Obsession with Abortion

But next also in the middle of July, another blockbuster headline, this is the Wall Street Journal’s version, “Leader at Planned Parenthood Is Out After Eight-Month Stint.” Michelle Hackman was the reporter, “Planned Parenthood Federation of America ousted its president after she had served just eight months, a surprise move that came as the organization faces growing political and legal challenges to abortion rights.”

Here’s what became clear beneath the headlines. Planned Parenthood had an avowedly pro-abortion, radically pro-abortion leader who wasn’t pro-abortion enough. Dr. Leana Wen is a physician. She became the first physician in years to be the head of Planned Parenthood and she used that role as a physician to try to do what we have seen the pro-abortion movement do over the last several decades and that is to try to camouflage abortion, the killing of an unborn human being in the womb as a woman’s reproductive healthcare.

Leana Wen saw that as her mission, and again, she was radically pro-abortion, so much so that as we’ve discussed at several points on The Briefing, she used just about every opportunity when she talked about what she classified as a woman’s reproductive health to make clear she was really talking about abortion. The front page story in The New York Times by Sarah Kliff and Shane Goldmacher included this paragraph, “Current and former Planned Parenthood officials described Dr. Wen as a smart but alienating manager who wanted to significantly reorient the group’s focus away from the abortion wars and more toward its role as a woman’s health provider.”

Well, here’s what was really going on. Leana Wen saw the future of Planned Parenthood as camouflage, as continuing without any reduction whatsoever, without any apology whatsoever, its gruesome business of abortion—it’s the nation’s largest provider of abortion—but while repackaging it over and over again as a women’s reproductive health, talking about a woman’s health. Camouflage was her approach, and it seemed to be working at least with the complicity of the national media class, but it wasn’t enough for Planned Parenthood.

A couple of extremely important issues we have to face here. For one thing, Planned Parenthood has itself tried to insist that it is about a woman’s health. It continually tries to say that abortion is not its main concern, but rather it’s about a comprehensive health approach for women or for that matter, it even says for others.

One footnote in this is the fact that at least some sources have said that the transgender issue was a part of the frustration of the board with Dr. Wen, because she didn’t want to refer, at least some sources say, to a pregnant man, but rather to her compromise, which was pregnant people. But the reality is, and it is unvarnished in this case that Planned Parenthood thought that she wasn’t radical enough in isolating abortion as Planned Parenthood’s main public and for that matter, private organizational concern.

An editorial published by the Wall Street Journal got right to the point, “The coup reveals the dishonesty of Planned Parenthood’s requests for public funding. The outfit demands taxpayer money in the name of health services for women but then sacks its doctor president because she wasn’t political enough. The group claims abortion is only part of its portfolio even as it acts like it is Planned Parenthood’s singular purpose.”

That singular focus on abortion was also clear in the New York Times article by Shane Goldmacher. He said that Wen was ousted, again, because the group wanted, “A more aggressive political leader to combat the current efforts to rollback access to abortions.” That’s it, but it’s also interesting to notice how much of the liberal media are complicit in the same kind of camouflage. They’ve been telling us that Planned Parenthood is a health provider. They’ve been trying to repackage abortion, the killing of an unborn human being in the womb, as a woman’s reproductive healthcare. But then in their own reporting, they tell us that Leana Wen was removed precisely because that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t a sufficient advocacy for abortion, because abortion is the sine qua non, the central mission, obviously, the central diabolical preoccupation of Planned Parenthood.

In a public statement released after her ouster, Dr. Wen said, “The new board leadership has determined that the priority of Planned Parenthood moving forward is to double down on abortion rights advocacy.” She came to understand at least this much, she knew why she was out. Planned Parenthood as the central organizational institution of the culture of death isn’t satisfied with the radically pro-abortion president. It demands an even more radical, more aggressive president. And you can count on this: what it demands, it will get.

Part III

Whitewashing the Tour de France

But finally, we turn to the headline news in sports and that is the conclusion of the Tour de France. That great race, that great cycling competition dates back to 1903. It spans over 23 days with a worldwide audience, and Egan Bernal, age 22, became the youngest champion in recent decades and the very first to come from Latin America.

But I’m turning to a headline news story in the Wall Street Journal front page. The headline is this, “White paint keeps race rated G.” The subhead, “Tour de France crew rid route of vulgarity and politics.” It really is an interesting story. It’s the kind of story that appears at the bottom of the front page of the Wall Street Journal in a daily pattern.

Joshua Robinson is the reporter. He writes from France about a two man team whose early morning responsibility during all 23 days of the Tour de France is to go and whitewash or try to camouflage obscene or political messages that would otherwise show up on the TV screens of the world, especially from an aerial view.

Robinson writes about the two men, one older, one younger, and writes, “It was their job to make sure the road service was fit for a global television audience. That meant no political messages, no rude words, and especially no genitalia. These are the Tour’s ‘Erasers’ as they are known, though ‘white washers’ might be more appropriately right. They are a two-man team that wakes up at the crack of dawn every day of the race to inspect the roads in a white van armed with a bucket of paint and some rollers.”

One of the men explained, “You can’t stop human stupidity.” And that was in response to the question as to why people draw these obscene or political messages.

At one point in the article, we are told that the team is quite creative, sometimes turning obscene drawings into something else, such as a butterfly or an owl, but at other times they simply have to use their rollers and white paint and paint giant white blocks in the road to blot out the obscene drawing or the offensive message.

The point of the article is that they have to do it every single morning and every single year. The drawings just keep coming and the whitewash has to be put on again and again. As I was reading the article, I was again reminded of human ingenuity, sinful ingenuity, and of course, of the limitations of whitewash. What came to my mind was the words of that famous hymn, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

A little bit of whitewash might be enough for the roads of the Tour de France, but not enough for our souls.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Thanks for joining us for our new season. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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