The problem with this photograph, of course, is that it does not look like deconstruction. It does not look like falling away. It does not look like apostasy. It looks like a new Adam about to launch onto a new world.
It looks like salvation. And that of course is what it is intended to look like. For a picture tells a bigger story than the words that accompany it. The modern world’s ethic is guided by aesthetics. This is Josh Harris telling us that he has kissed the old Christianity goodbye. Not that he’s saying at this stage he’s Christian at all, for it takes some time to come back with reconstruction after a deconstruction. There’s a particular American flavour to such a “second act” narrative.
We all read a week ago that purity culture pioneer Harris and his wife were separating. Amicably. At the time I was sad for them, but reasoned that with Jesus they may be able to get through this and come back stronger. After all, the Lord kills AND the Lord brings to life, right?
But then we get the words that accompany the photo on Instagram:
And when you read this you realise that this is not really an apostasy story. It’s a salvation story. It’s a “I once was lost, but now am found, T’was blind, but not I see” story. It’s a little like the subtraction story of the secular world that Charles Taylor talks about. Strip away all the dross, all of the religious dogma, and get back to the bedrock of reality.
Josh Harris may be apologising rightly for some things he has done. And there is indeed a magnanimous tone to some of his words. And I am glad he has repented of self-righteousness that bore some strange, and at times bitter, fruit. And he has said sorry for how many an orthodox Christian may feel about the way he has conducted himself in the past. But the general narrative is that he has repented of Christianity. He is repenting of orthodox Christianity and orthopraxy at the same time.
And in a great irony, those who have lambasted him over the past two decades, and increasingly in the past few years as the legalism of the purity culture mounted up a body count, will now welcome him with open arms. It sounds and feels like a homecoming for the prodigal. He will have many a story to share upon this parody of a homecoming.
So make no mistake, this is a salvation story; a secular salvation story.
And now, as we look at that picture, we see a new man, a new creation, standing before a pristine environment, ready to launch out into a new venture. Here is Adam, fresh, clean, ready for the next stage. And who knows what that will be? He is humble enough to say he doesn’t. And he’s playing it all out before a watching world.
But now Joshua Harris is safe. Safe to be affirmed, because he himself is now affirming. Just not affirming of Jesus, and I worry, in danger of not being affirmed by Him either, if the warnings of Scripture are any indication.