Apostacy is never a light matter and is always heartbreaking. When we hear of anyone walking away from the faith the appropriate reaction is always sorrow. It is always heartbreaking when someone who has professed faith in and reliance on God’s grace suddenly says God can keep His grace, because I have no need of it. And it is no less or more heartbreaking based on a person’s level of notoriety.
Recently a relatively well known, in conservative Christian circles, person publicly announced his apostacy. I’m speaking of course of Josh Harris. And since he so publicly (and strategically) announced his apostacy there has been much public speculation about what led to his apostacy.
As I’ve read some of the things written, they all seem to revolve around doctrinal weakness in Josh Harris’ life, the two major streams of thought being that the soul rot in him arose from his association with the Young, Restless and Reformed movement (YRR) sometimes called the new Calvinism or from his involvement in the Reformed Charismatic movement.
It is absolutely true that as the pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg Maryland (the flag ship church of Sovereign Grace Ministries) he had his toes in both of those pools. As the pastor there he certainly affirmed the sign gifts, and one look at his carefully curated social media presence shows that he cultivated the celebrity and less than sober pursuit of sanctification that is often typical of the YRR.
But neither of those things led to his apostacy, scripture is clear that those who leave the faith were never part of it.
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. – 1 John 2:18-19
Scripturally, apostasy is easy to understand; it is not some kind of deconversion, the apostate was never converted in the first place. Apostates fall into one of two groups, those that pretend to conversion (those in “ministry” in this group are self-conscious charlatans) and those that are self-deceived, people who have never repented and believed the gospel yet genuinely convince themselves that they are Christians.
Having listened to some of his preaching over the years and read some of what (mostly short form) he has written I think it more likely than not that Josh Harris fell into the latter group.
His apostacy wasn’t a result of slow rot from bad or weak doctrine, it was a matter of being convinced he was converted when he never was. The self-deception was so deep and took such a firm hold of him that he pursued vocational ministry and conservative Christian celebrity status. Where could such deep self-deception take hold. While I can’t say definitively, I think it bears consideration to examine where Josh Harris first rose to prominence, the extreme homeschool movement.
It gives me no pleasure to write this, honestly I was waiting and hoping that someone more prominent and important to Christian discourse would bring this up. And I’m certainly not anti-homeschooling, in fact I think it is a great choice for those able to (both in terms of economics and competence as educators) homeschool and who are committed to being home educators. I‘m not anti-homeschool, in fact I’m pretty pro-homeschooling.
But I am anti sola homeschoola. What I mean is that I am against the functional belief that educators are sovereign over the salvation of children. I don’t think anyone would come out and say that but it is underlying assumption behind memes that are commonly seen in conservative Christian social media like the one at right.
Personally I’d rejoice if any child ended up like my favorite Roman citizen, the Apostle Paul. But I know that isn’t what is meant, what is meant is that if a child is educated in a pagan system, don’t be surprised if the child becomes a pagan as a result (in fairness this quote was taken from a context that may have nuanced the statement, I didn’t track it down; but I think the authorial intent of the meme creators is plain enough).
But here is the thing, it is not surprising if unbelievers subjected to an unbelieving education remain unbelievers; it is also not surprising in unbelievers who are homeschooled remain unbelievers.
The underlying error is thinking that sin is a disease caught through exposure rather than a genetic disorder of all mankind. It doesn’t matter if someone runs with the wrong crowd and has their brain filled with all kinds of worldly lies, or if someone is only subjected to Christian influence and exposed to sound theology, unless they repent and believe the gospel they will not see the kingdom of God. And that takes the sovereign action of God.
And that is where the extreme homeschool movement falls down. I’ve met many who were raised in that environment who were never told that they were sinners in desperate need of a savior. They were told about the evils of secular music, evolution, of the loosening of the sexual mores of society and some were even told of the need to be Reformed in their doctrine, but they were never told of the evil in their own hearts.
And they were all “good kids.” They were respectful of their elders, submissive to their parents, and spoke Latin and played the cello at a virtuoso level by 8th grade. Because their sinfulness was never made manifest in an ugly way, they were never confronted over their own sinfulness.
Of course many homeschoolers hear the gospel frequently and clearly from their parents, maybe Josh Harris did. I don’t know, but it bears thinking about. Harris was young restless and reformed, and he was associated with the conservative charismatic movement, but he was best known as the rock star of the homeschool movement who wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye at age 21. Even staunch homeschooling only advocate Paul Washer has said numerous times that homeschooling is great at producing pharisees. I think if we want to learn from the tragedy of his apostacy we ought to consider whether the reason he was never converted might be that he rose to prominence in a corner of conservative evangelicalism where the emphasis can be on the external.