Saturday, August 03, 2019

Musings on the circumstances of Harris' apostasy (Part 1)

Joshua Harris' apostasy is very very sad, not merely because he was a pastor, but also because of the circumstances preceding his apostasy. As a recap, Sovereign Grace Ministry (SGM) was involved in a scandal regarding alleged child sexual abuse in at least some of their congregations. C.J. Mahaney, the Senior Pastor of Covenant Life Church, who was Harris' mentor, had some sort of dispute with other leaders in the Sovereign Grace churches around the same time. Due to either or both of these factors, Mahaney left Covenant Life Church. Harris resigned from his pastoral position soon after, and decided to go to Regent College for theological training. This current apostasy happened either after that. As of now, I am not sure whether Harris is still at Regent College, but I do know that he must have taken at least some courses there.

In this article, I will like to focus on two major events in Harris' life: church issues, and seminary training. I am not implying that either of these events must have had any kind of causative effect on Harris falling away from the faith, but I will just like to say something about these types of issues from my own experience.

Church Issues

First, church issues. I will not be rehashing the whole sturm und drang over SGM, especially since I am not even remotely associated with those issues. I will just briefly say that sexual assault of any kind is wrong, pastors ought to report sexual assault when discovered, and pastors may sincerely err if they do not believe that sexual assault has taken place. Also, it is possible for those alleging sexual assault to lie as well. All of these is just to say that, unless one is familiar with the details of the cases, I have no wish to further discuss the SGM scandals. What I want to focus instead is the effect such issues might have on Harris. We must also remember that Mahaney, who Harris must have respected, left SGM not under the best of terms. How would it feel like to have someone you look up to gone, under a cloud of possible misconduct?

I cannot speak for Harris, but I will like to share about myself. Up to the point of the ESS controversy in 2016, I took pride in being a Reformed confessionalist. I had looked up to people like Carl Trueman. In fact, I had attended a talk he once gave at Oceanside URC on John Owen, and then the attendees went for a drink later. I know of course that all are still sinners, but in my naivete, I thought that Reformed pastors and theologians will only sin on non-theological issues. Oh boy was I in for a rude awakening!

When the ESS controversy broke out, I was initially concerned, and then alarm grew as I began to realize what was going on, as well as the implications of what the rhetoric employed in the controversy would imply. I began to push back, tentatively at first but more aggressively as time went on. I was horrified not when Trueman first made his wild claims about ESS, but when I see people like Aimee Byrd blatantly misrepresent complementarianism as somehow promoting ontological inferiority of women. The misrepresentations grew leaps and bounds, and soon any pretense at being truthful evaporated! At that point, Byrd could have claimed that Grudem taught that the image of God in women was only present when a woman submit to all men, and I doubt anyone (not Trueman, not RSC) would bat an eye and even say even a word to correct her! Factionalism and tribalism has gained the upper hand. Grudem is so *obviously* wrong, so who cares if someone from *our* tribe makes up outrageous accusations against him? The more we can tar him with, the better our case against "Big Eva" would be. While the ordained pastors are slightly more careful, they allowed unordained women like Byrd free reign in her wild accusations, not to mention the madness that is the "Reformed blogosphere."

When all these happened, I was very much disillusioned. I cannot say that it did not affect my spiritual life, because it did. You can claim that I *should* not let my faith be unsettled by men, even Reformed pastors, and I know that in my head, but try telling that to my spirit! And the worst part of that is my pastor then (in Singapore) couldn't care less! I cannot speak of the time when I was still a licentiate of the OPC, because being thousands of miles apart is a real obstacle for pastoral care, but my then pastor (of a church which I have since left) couldn't care less about my struggles, which made it worse. In his eyes, who cares about some struggle in America? So here I was seeing all my world burn out around me, seeing supposedly faithful Reformed pastors and theologians lie and slander in the most shocking ways I did not think possible, and all I get was nothing! I felt alone, lost, and my faith shaken (again, not intellectually). I had looked up to these people, and they had betrayed my trust. Yes, I probably should *not* have trusted them in this manner. Thanks for the great advice in hindsight!! I had lost all respect for Trueman, all respect for Reformation 21 and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, some respect for my former academic adviser R Scott Clark. I will say that my training in seminary and the power of the Holy Spirit sustained my faith during this trying time (2016-2017), but I cannot say it was easy.

This brings me to the next point: seminary, and we shall look at that next time.

[to be continued]

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