When a well-known Christian quits Jesus.

Back in July, Christian popular author Joshua Harris announced he’s no longer Christian. Which was a bit of a shock to people who hadn’t kept up with him—who only knew him from his books, particularly his best-known book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Which no doubt has prompted a lot of headlines and comments about Harris kissing Jesus goodbye. I had to resist the temptation to use that for this article’s title.

I was obligated to read I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the Christian school where I taught. Some of my students’ youth pastors were inflicting it on them. It’s basically his promotion of “courtship,” as certain conservative Evangelicals call sexless, heavily chaperoned dating. In the book it’s how he claimed God wants people to find their mates. In my article on courtship, I pointed out the bible depicts no such thing; courtship is entirely a western cultural construct. Nothing wrong with it when it’s voluntary; everything wrong with it if your parents or church force it upon you.

Which should really tip you off as to what sort of “Christianity” Harris was immersed in. When you’re convinced our western cultural standards is as Jesus would have us live, y’got Christianism, not Christianity. And once you realize you got that wrong, it’ll shake your faith, as it absolutely should. But the danger of that shaking is you might think it’s all wrong, top to bottom, makeup to marrow—and quit Jesus.

I don’t know if that’s exactly what happened to Harris. He might describe it as far more complicated than that. No doubt there were a number of factors in his decision to leave Christianity. But superficially… it sure looks like it.

Harris certainly isn’t the first well-known Christian to go apostate, and whenever this happens, it tends to shake all their Christian fans. “Wait, I was following him, and he went wrong… so what does it mean for me?” Only that you oughta be following Jesus instead, so do that! But if you’re really nervous that you mighta been taught some untruth, relax. You’re not justified by your beliefs; you’re justified by trusting God. Keep trusting him, ask the Holy Spirit to help you inventory your beliefs to see whether any are misbeliefs, ditch any wrongness or heresies you find within you, and you’ll be just fine. God’s got you.

Worrying about wolves.

The other reason their Christian fans are shaken up, is because a lot of ’em believe once saved, always saved—and if they quit Jesus, they must not have been saved. They may never have been Christian. All this time, you were listening to pagans who thought themselves Christian. And how many other such wolves in sheep’s clothing might there be in our churches? In our pulpits? Leading youth groups? Running entire denominations?

Humans are paranoid enough as it is, but this idea will put some serious fear into Christians. They’ll worry whether they can trust anyone anymore. (And they might start questioning whether they’re even truly saved, which dredges up whole new fears and worries.)

Okay. First of all, no Christian, even true Christians, are infallible. Don’t follow any of us blindly. (Don’t even follow Jesus blindly: He wants us fully aware of what he’s getting us into.) A well-meaning Christian and a well-meaning pagan can equally give us good or bad advice. If we’re listening to the Holy Spirit within us, and asking him what he thinks about our favorite preachers and teachers, he’ll steer us right regardless. Those Christians who fret about the best bible translations, the best preachers, the best bible commentaries: They’ve focused on the wrong things and need to start listening to God. Thus even if your favorite preacher is a fake Christian, you’re following the Spirit, not humans.

Second—as you’ll discover as you keep asking the Spirit about certain people—you’ll discover some of ’em are trustworthy. They do follow the Spirit. They do make an effort to obey Jesus, study the scriptures, act in faith, love their neighbors, and produce good fruit. There are true Christians in Christian leadership—and a whole lot of other positions of leadership and influence.

Third, some of those good Christians might also quit Jesus. The scriptures warn us it is possible to walk away from him—so don’t! But sometimes people do. Sometimes good and influential Christians do: They were saying and doing all the right things, but they really didn’t wanna; they were so greedy, so horny, so covetous, and so tired of resisting these temptations. So they gave in, and decided if this was gonna be their lifestyle from now on, repentance can’t be. Someday they might repent once again, and turn back to Jesus; that’s my hope, and God’s too. But it’s entirely likely they won’t.

And just because they fell away, doesn’t mean we have to follow their example. Resist temptation! You don’t have to be stronger or better than they were; you just have to trust Jesus, ’cause he’s stronger and better.

We can put trust in fellow human beings, but our full trust should only be in Jesus. When others shake us, we shouldn’t fall away: Jesus has us, not them. And when Jesus shakes us—’cause he will—we still shouldn’t fall away, ’cause we know he’s got us. Harris’s apostasy shouldn’t make us doubt our relationships with Jesus at all, ’cause we know where we stand with Jesus. His choices aren’t our choices. So we shouldn’t think anything more than, “Wow that sucks; I pray he someday repents.”

Rants.

Apostasy.