Unfortunately, it’s not an infrequent occurrence today when a once-celebrated writer, artist, or pastor renounces his or her faith in Christ.
Joshua Harris is a prime example. In 2019, the former megachurch pastor and author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye announced via Instagram that he had 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.” 1
As tragic as it is, Harris is right-—there is nothing novel about his disavowal of Christ. From the church’s infancy, Christians have been warned about those who falsely profess to be believers. The apostle John describes such people as those who “went out from us, but … were not really of us” (1 John 2:19, NASB). Still, when someone falls away from the truth, it hurts the church and leaves Christians scratching their heads.
We face some tough questions in the wake of such high-profile renunciations. One of the most urgent concerns is what we should do with all the good things the person said and wrote in the past. Do we keep their books on our shelves? Or do we have a bonfire in the church parking lot, sending it all up in smoke?
Here are a couple of thoughts to consider.
Let’s Call It What It Is
Ironically, in our age of incivility and outrage, it can be difficult to say things that don’t sound nice; and the term apostasy is surely not a nice word. But it’s accurate. While there should be no celebration in doing it, the church must humbly and boldly call a spade a spade: Joshua Harris and others like him are apostates.
The term apostasy comes from a Greek word meaning “defection.” It carries with it the idea of a soldier deserting his army and joining the enemy camp. Paul warns Timothy of this very thing when he writes that “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:1–2, NASB).
Apostasy is never about turning from Christ to nothing; it’s about turning from Christ to the god of this world.
As Joshua Harris points out, the popular term for apostasy is deconstruction. Deconstruction is the process by which a person who formerly professed faith in Christ, denies, brick by brick, various biblical doctrines he once held to be true, until, like a house whose foundation has been chiseled away at, everything crumbles to the ground.
Although most who have deconstructed would say that the process was one of careful analysis and objective reasoning on their part, God says deconstruction is demonic (v. 1). Apostasy is never about turning from Christ to nothing; it’s about turning from Christ to the god of this world.
The first step in dealing with the works of one who has defected is calling it what it is: apostasy.
Let’s Find Something Else to Enjoy
The real question, then, is this: Can we-—or better yet, should we—enjoy the work of an apostate? And the simplest way to answer this is no.
The key word in this question is enjoy. Enjoying, for the believer in this context, involves edification. It includes being encouraged, exhorted, built-up, and equipped in one’s walk with the Lord. It is difficult, then, to imagine what spiritual benefit there could be to the Christian who seeks to enjoy the work of someone who has rejected the Son of God.
It is difficult, then, to imagine what spiritual benefit there could be to the Christian who seeks to enjoy the work of someone who has rejected the Son of God.
This is not to say it is necessarily wrong for a believer to examine the works of an apostate to learn from his errors. A friend who serves as academic dean at a Bible college told me that he has faced this very scenario many times and has to use great discernment when allowing such materials to be used in the classroom or the college library.
“I would not say that we should never use the materials of those turned apostate, but our use of the materials ought to be extremely rare,” he said. “And when their materials are used, it ought to be qualified and qualified very clearly (in other words, tell why the works are being used, but that the writer has now turned toward apostasy.)”
Robert M’Cheyne, the godly 19th-century Scottish pastor, echoed this sentiment when he said the believer should not saturate his mind with teachings and philosophies that go against the Word of God. “True, we ought to know them,” he wrote, “but only as chemists handle poisons—to discover their properties, not to infect their blood with them.”2
Still, the truth remains: Just say no to apostates. We may live in an age of unparalleled portals to error; but we also have nearly unlimited access to two millennia of solid works by solid Christians that make turning to good works by bad men unnecessary. As my friend the academic dean said, “When you can enjoy without fear, delicious boneless filets of fish, why spend the time on that which is so bony?”
1 Harris, Joshua [harrisjosh]. (2019, July 26). Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/B0ZBrNLH2sl/.
2 Wiersbe, Warren. Be Skillful (Proverbs): God’s Guidebook to Wise Living. Colorado Springs, David C Cook, 2009.