A Few Thoughts on Beauty, Mystery, Love and Faith

If you were a young Christian growing up in the evangelical subculture around 1999, you knew who Josh Harris was. He wrote a best selling book about how he “kissed dating goodbye”, calling on his fellow you Jesus-freaks to be different then the world in our romantic relationships. His book influenced many young relationships as some couples insisted they were “courting”, not dating and others promised not to even kiss till their wedding day.

If you didn’t grow up in that world, it sounds crazy. If you did, you probably were asked if you had kissed dating goodbye. The joke was to say dating had kissed you goodbye!

The world, as it does, moved on. Our generation grew up and learned life is not as simple as Harris promised. I mean, to be fair, he probably didn’t “promise” anything. But a whole lot of Christian kids thought if they followed the rules then they’d have a perfect marriage. What actually happened was that a whole lot of them found “purity culture” quite damaging and a bunch who didn’t bother with the rules turned out to have just fine marriages.

I only write all this because I saw that recently Harris renounced the ideas in his book and apologized to any his teachings may have hurt. More recently, he said he is no longer a Christian.

A few thoughts come to mind. First off, I can’t imagine the pressure of being in my early 20s and lifted up as an example of morality and purity to an entire subculture: The pressure to be that model must be incredible. Along with that, maybe we Christians need to hesitate before putting 20-somethings on pedestals. We certainly live in a culture that worships youth and beauty. Perhaps it’s this worship of youth in the surrounding culture that we should be cautious of (rather than fretting over how other people handle their romantic relationships).

There’s a wisdom that comes with age and experience, as well as a humility.

Second, I was struck by Harris’ words that he doesn’t see himself as a Christian in any way he understands it. His teaching, and the church he was once a leader of, certainly qualify as “fundamentalist.” I’m not sure if that word has a helpful meaning, basically a fundamentalist view of faith, as I am using it, is very obsessed with getting all the details right and assumes they’ve got the details right. Of the 1 billion or so professing Christians worldwide, such a view would pick out one small segment and say they are the ones, and the only ones, with the whole truth. Essentially, there are maybe a few thousand REAL AND TRUE Christians and the rest of us are fakes who will probably be joining our fellow sinners in hell (fun times, right?).

It’s what could be called a “house of cards” faith. Pull one card out – the age of the earth, how the Bible is inspired, your view of marriage – and the whole faith collapses. People want certainty and a narrow fundamentalism offers it. Unfortunately, once the certainty is seen to be absent (and if we’re honest, we can’t be certain of much) the faith collapses. This is why many fundamentalist Christians become fundamentalist atheists – they just change the thing they are certain of and who they think is stupid.

Here’s the reality – no one has the market cornered on Christian faith. It’s bigger and deeper and more mysterious than any box or theology or denomination or church can fit. On my vacation, I’ve been reminded of this through a few books/authors I’ve been reading:

*Theresa of Avila – a 16th century Spanish nun whose teaching on prayer, meditation and contemplation are deep, challenging and often beautiful.

*The Philokalia – a collection of Eastern Orthodox spirituality from monks over the centuries that is often incredibly practical and incredibly profound.

*Robert Farrah Capon – an Episcopal priest whose book on the parables (I’m only 100 pages in) is already giving me insights I’ve never seen.

*Rachel Held Evans – a brilliant young writer who tragically died a few months ago, who wrestled with questions of faith and whose final book (Inspired, which I just began) is already making me shed a few tears.

I imagine all four of these writings would be anathema at Harris’ church. Honestly, I sometimes get a bit nervous sharing what I read and love because some on here may question me…but oh well…my goal is not to change anyone’s minds. My point is not to brag about what I’m reading either. Truth is, I have plenty of doubts and issues. The older I get the more I realize I just don’t know and will never know. My point is…what if we as Christians (and maybe as humans too, but for now I’m speaking to my fellow Christians) took a big bite of humble pie, realized we didn’t know nearly as much as we think we do and looked for wisdom from…well, from anyone other than 20-somethings…

If we did that we might find that we’re part of a far bigger, more diverse and more love-filled community then we realize…

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