Josh Harris Launches Course on Deconstructing Faith, but Some Theologians Question His Motives

Following a swath of high-profile Christian leaders who have recently renounced their faith, celebrity ex-evangelical Joshua Harris is taking it a step further.

Harris has just announced he's launching a course about deconstructing one's faith to as he puts it, "pass on to others what I've learned about the process." The course entitled "Reframe Your Story," which includes a "Deconstruction Starter Pack," costs $275. Intended to provide users "a step-by-step process to reframe and reimagine your human journey, there is a code for anyone "harmed by purity culture" to take the course at no cost. The five-week class is set to officially launch in September.

"I created it for people who are unpacking and have questions and changing their belief who feel really alone in doing that," Harris told Newsweek, noting that the process can be very isolating and can cause those embarking on this to feel disconnected from the community. "You can feel like something is wrong with you. I wanted to create something to help people reframe their thinking and to be able to decide for themselves what things they want to hold onto and if they want, to let go of certain religious ideas."

To some, the term "deconstruct" can mean rejecting Christianity entirely while others describe the process as rebuffing certain cultural beliefs associated with Christianity. Besides Harris, other high-profile evangelical leaders who have recently publicly announced their "deconstruction," whether partially or in full, include former Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, Baptist preacher and theologian John Piper's son Abraham Piper, former Desiring God writer Paul Maxwell and Kevin Max of the Christian pop group dc Talk.

Joshua Harris
Ex-pastor Joshua Harris told Axios in a recent interview that the strong evangelical support that President Donald Trump has been receiving has been “incredibly damaging to the Gospel and the church.” Axios/Screenshot

Either way, Professor Carl Trueman said the "deconstruction movement" is not a new thing.

"In time immemorial, people have lost their faith," said Trueman, a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington D.C. "It's interesting because now it's used with this pseudo-intellectual language of 'deconstruction' in order to describe it. It's old thinking packaged in trendy postmodern language."

Harris, a former megachurch pastor, first became well known in 1996 as the author of the popular relationship guide I Kissed Dating Goodbye and as a leader of the Christian purity movement. He announced in July 2019 he no longer considered himself a Christian and was recanting his teachings. That's also when he said that he and his wife Shannon were divorcing.

He told Newsweek that it was problems in his church and mistakes he made as a church leader, among other experiences, that led to his falling away from Christianity.

"That was all part of my deconstruction process—questioning the things I built my life around," he explained.

On his website where he provides "Message-clarity coaching for thought leaders and personal brands," Harris offers various sessions ranging from "learning your brand voice" to "finding your tribe." His "group-coaching package," which includes eight live group sessions, lesson plans, supplemental videos and more, costs $1,750.

In the case of his upcoming "Reframe Your Story" course, Harris said he's happy the majority of those who have signed up are taking advantage of the scholarship option available to those harmed by purity culture and his past books.

"For me, I'm trying to help people," said Harris, who noted that "healing can be found in sharing our stories."

While people are signing up, some on Twitter expressed criticism towards the course.

Jake Meador, editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy, tweeted, "A guide to deconstructing your faith as a lead magnet for a $275 online course. Your regular reminder that a ton of exvie [ex-evangelical] types are ditching the dogma but keeping all the capitalist crap, and it's very very dumb and bad."

A guide to deconstructing your faith as a lead magnet for a $275 online course.

Your regular reminder that a ton of exvie types are ditching the dogma but keeping all the capitalist crap, and it's very very dumb and bad:

— Jake Meador (@jake_meador) August 11, 2021

Rhea "Queen Comeback" Roby tweeted "Josh Harris having a course on 'deconstructing purity culture' that he was an integral part of ... it's like if pigeons charged $275 for a course on cleaning up pigeon shit while continuing to shit on park benches downtown."

Jon Steingard, the former frontman of the Christian band Hawk Nelson, who has also stated he no longer believes in God, defended Harris.

"I have not taken Josh Harris's online course on 'Reframing Your Story' but there is an option for people who feel they were harmed by his book 'I Kissed Dating Goodbye' to get the course for free. Evangelicals bashing him will likely not mention this. And that is telling," Steingard said.

Responding to those who might criticize him for charging those who are willing to pay for the course, Harris defended its cost.

"To me, I think it's important to value your work and I want to support other coaches and counselors and content creators who I think deserve to be paid for what they created," said Harris.

Trueman said that often believers aren't quite sure who Jesus is or after suddenly discovering discrepancies behind evolution, find themselves questioning their faith. But these are questions, he said, that have been detailed by other theologians and members of the faith.

"This is not a pop at Josh Harris as a person at all but a lot of figure heads like him— they've never struck me, even as Christians that are particularly deep thinkers, as having a deeper grasp of the theological and philosophical issues underlying Christianity," said Trueman. "To suddenly discover something that most of us have been aware of is indicative of a lack of depth of faith in the first place."

Trueman also said he finds it strange a man who made his money and reputation teaching one thing is now making money and reputation by teaching the precise opposite. He compared it to a line he recently wrote in a piece on the subject that was omitted.

"It's like 'This is America. If you have lemons, then you can make lemonade – even if you previously made your money and built your platform warning people about the evils of consuming citrus fruits,'" he said.

Harris, who noted that churches do a lot of wonderful work in the world and that he's not opposed to them, acknowledged being completely shaped by the teaching of the Bible. He also recognized that so many meaningful aspects of Jesus Christ's teaching and said his intention is not to lead people out of faith but for them to have options and to think for themselves and to question.

"I was brought up in a Christian faith when community and family built on faith can be beautiful but difficult if you're shifting and changing in your thinking," said Harris. "I want to be open to returning to faith if possible but it's important for me to know that I can step away and to make that choice to step away."

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