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Joshua Harris, celebrity status, and the evangelical media machine

September 2019

News of Joshua Harris separating from his wife and departing from the faith will sadden many. I was in my early 20s when his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, was first published. Although targeted at the American scene where the culture of ‘dating’ is a little different from here in Britain, the book was nevertheless widely read by many of my evangelical peers. And it was heavily promoted at many UK conferences and in Christian bookshops.

What must it be like to be 21 – that’s how old Joshua Harris was when he wrote his book – and be propelled to the top of the evangelical bestseller list? He must have been swept off his feet with radio interviews, and speaking invitations, and conference appearances, and book offers. The evangelical media machine, especially in the United States, can make your head spin.

The truth is, we like our evangelical celebrities. We do. We pretend we don’t, but we do. We all know their names. We know their websites. We follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. If they’re speaking at the conference, we will go. If they’re writing in the magazine, we’ll read it. If they’re endorsing the book, we’ll buy it. It must be intoxicating for those men who have such name-recognition.

Don’t misunderstand me. I value Christian books written by good writers, and I have benefited from listening to gifted men at conferences, I log on to websites and listen to helpful sermons. I do all of that, and we are privileged to have those resources at our fingertips. But there’s something troubling about elements of the promotional machine that lurks in the shadows.

The worst aspects of the machine briefly emerged out from the shadows when, in 2014, it was revealed that Mark Driscoll had used church funds to manipulate sales numbers of his book, Real Marriage, and thereby attain a place on the New York Times bestseller list. That’s not to say every evangelical bestselling author is tarred by the same brush, but clearly there are those who will employ dark arts.

When it comes to Joshua Harris, how much did his status as an evangelical celebrity contribute to his fall from grace? None of us could possibly say. But we must all take care not to buy into the celebrity culture of our age. We must fix our eyes on Jesus who said, ‘Yet I do not seek my own glory’ (John 8:50).