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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast,  Pete and Jared talk with Joshua Harris about how to balance accountability for harmful ideas with grace and compassion as they explore the following questions: 

  • How did books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye fit into the broader idea of purity culture?
  • What does it mean to proof-text the Bible?
  • How has Joshua Harris’s views changed on faith, scripture, and God? 
  • What are possible repercussions when scripture and sound doctrine are used to elicit fear and control?
  • How can you find hopefulness in not knowing all the answers about God? 
  • How can we navigate the tension between justice and grace? 
  • How did the movement-based evangelical culture of the late 90’s/early 2000’s (Promise Keepers, True Love Waits) have an impact on today’s purity culture?
  • Why is the process of forgiving yourself so important? 


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Joshua Harris you can share. 

  • “Purity culture wasn’t just shaped by my book – it was shaped by the abstinence movement, it was shaped by a reaction to a very sexualized culture, and it was essentially a manipulation, trying to use fear to get young people to stay away from sex.” @HarrisJosh
  • “The outworkings of purity culture – which I now see twenty years later – was really a distorted view of the body, a distorted view of sexuality, a distorted view of even God.” @HarrisJosh
  • “If no one takes that step to say, ‘let’s take responsibility,’ if no one takes the step to say, ‘here’s the part I played,’ if nobody does that, then we don’t learn from the mistakes, we don’t grow, we don’t offer any kind of healing to others.” @HarrisJosh
  • “If we don’t have space in our view of humanity and the world for people to grow and change, then everybody has to be locked into their immaturity; everybody has to be locked into their bad doctrine, everybody has to be locked into their bad ideology.” @HarrisJosh

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript


Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People – the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Jared: Can’t get enough of The Bible for Normal People? Did you know we have lots of videos on YouTube? Just to go, search The Bible for Normal People, you’ll find videos from myself and Pete talking all things Bible.

Pete: And you know, right now we actually have an episode, and this episode is “A Story of Public Deconstruction” with Josh Harris, who’s best known, probably, for his very controversial book I Kissed Dating Goodbye.

Jared: Yeah, and I appreciated us diving into this idea of public deconstruction and wrestling with these questions of accountability for harmful ideas that he owns while also having some grace and how do you wrestle that, even within ourselves, since we all kind of have those stories.

Pete: Right, well, let’s get to it.

[Music begins]

Joshua: Practically any issue – the inerrancy, the authority of scripture – it all connected back to the Gospel. And so, you had to fight for everything with such strength and to not fight, to ask a question or to say, hey, maybe we don’t need to be so adamant about this was like saying, “Hey, maybe the Gospel is not such a big deal.” In the settings that I was in, scripture, sound doctrine, were used to control.

[Music ends]

Jared: Well, Joshua Harris, welcome to the podcast.

Joshua: It’s good to be here guys, thank you.

Jared: Yeah, it’s great, great to have you. And a lot of, one of the things that Pete and I were really interested in was just your story and you’ve had quite the journey, you know, writing I Kissed Dating Goodbye, being a pastor, going to seminary, going through some shifts in your beliefs – maybe take some time here and just share a little bit about your journey with faith.

Joshua: Well, the order that you listed is actually pretty important to my story. I was a pastor and then I went to seminary, which is not the best order to do those two things. But I grew up in a setting that I really love, I have so much appreciation for the way that my parents raised me, but like a lot of people in mid-life, I’m unpacking that, I’m trying to understand that, I’m trying to understand the good and the not so good of that. But my mom and dad became Christians in the Jesus movement of the late 60’s, early 70’s, they got married right after they became Christians, they had me right after they got married, and they wanted to, you know, give their lives to serving the Lord, they wanted to protect me and my other siblings from the mistakes and the dangers that they had experienced in the world, and so I was raised, not only in a very conservative, zealous evangelical home, but also a homeschooling family. That was a big part of our identity that my parents pulled us out of the school system so that they could raise us up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, you know, protect us from the influences of the secular culture, and that’s really all that I knew.

As a kid and then later as a teenager, I followed my dad into speaking and doing conferences and that turned into publishing a magazine for homeschool teenagers. And so, I had these gifts of communication and this love for connecting with people and influencing people on a large scale and I really used that by writing, by, you know, being a conference speaker, and that’s, you know, you mentioned I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I Kissed Dating Goodbye grew out of that moment in my life where I was wanting to do something big for God. Billy Graham was my hero, I idolized Billy Graham, I wanted to, you know, do something great like that with my life, and I prayed this prayer of Lord, you know, help me write a book that will change the world. And when I Kissed Dating Goodbye was released, I thought it was the answer to that prayer, you know? It was here was this book that was calling for people to be more zealous, more radical, not just save sex for marriage but go even further and avoid dating altogether. Don’t kiss before you’re married, don’t get entangled in emotional, you know, connections with people if you’re not ready for marriage and there was such a huge reaction to that, that it just kind of confirmed my view that I was doing the Lord’s work.

So, that’s sort of the story that led up to, you know, what people know me best for.

Pete: Mm hmm. Just hearing your story, just this little bit of it, Josh, it’s so common that when people get to be adults, you really see how parental influence has driven so much of what we’re dealing with, you know?

Joshua: Hmm.


Pete: That sounds awfully negative, but you know, the old joke if you’ve had parents, you need therapy. Right?

Josh: [Light laughter]

Pete: But we all have that, right, and you really are a product of your parent’s passions, right, and their beliefs and their thoughts and then you wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye. You were how old? Early 20’s as I recall?

Joshua: Yeah, that’s right. I was 19, 20 when I wrote it. It was released when I was 21.

Pete: Can you give us, for those who might not be familiar with the book, can you just give a very quick summary/synopsis of what the book is about?

Joshua: Sure. Yeah, the book was a response to the True Love Waits movement that was sweeping North America, and really the world. People were calling for abstinence, a greater commitment to purity, saving sex for marriage was a big focus, there were cultural battles taking place around that and I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a book that said if we really want to be serious about honoring God and living, you know, genuine love for each other, then we need to not only avoid having sex, we need to avoid dating which leads to temptation. Dating is practice for divorce, dating sets us on a really dangerous trajectory, and so we should stop dating, kiss it goodbye, and instead live our lives purposefully as singles, enjoy friendships, enjoy relationships, but really just focus on serving the Lord and preparing to be a good husband or wife.

Jared: Well, that, even hearing that doesn’t sound too problematic. I mean, for me growing up I would’ve grown up in a very similar culture to you, Josh, and now that we have a lot of language around, maybe, what I experienced as a kid as purity culture, can you maybe describe what purity culture is and how I Kissed Dating Goodbye fit or didn’t fit, you know, what was the cultural moment this was fitting into more broadly around this idea of purity culture?

Josh: Yeah, you’re right. You know, purity culture wasn’t a term that we used back then. I think that the place that I Kissed Dating Goodbye played is that it took a lot of the ideas that were being discussed in different subcultures of Christianity and it popularized a lot of them for the broader evangelical community. And purity culture wasn’t just shaped by my book, it was shaped by the abstinence movement, it was shaped by a reaction to a very sexualized culture, and it was essentially a hyper focus and a, I would say, manipulation, trying to use fear to get young people to stay away from sex. And so, it did that by kind of, you know, warning or threatening with the consequences of sex. And so, if you have sex, you’ll be used up, you will be less than, you’ll be, you know, you won’t get to your marriage as a virgin, you’ll face all these soul ties and disappointments of fear to keep people from doing it and then, which leads to shame, which leads to kind of a repressive attitude towards sexuality. And then I would also say promise – promise of if you do it this way, you know, God’s way, then you’ll have an amazing sex life, it’s so much better, the world can’t compare to what you have as a Christian within heterosexual marriage relationship. So, that was the kind of, you know, environment that we describe now as purity culture, but the outworkings of that, which I now see twenty years later was really a distorted view of the body, a distorted view of sexuality, a distorted view of even God I would say, and the outworking of that in people’s marriages or lack of marriage or sexual dysfunction, you know, is very real. And my book played a, sadly, a significant role in that.

Jared: Before we get there, can you just say just another, a word on that so we can make, be clear about that. In your mind, how has that idea of purity culture and all the things that you just talked about, how has that been damaging to, you have this unique experience where a lot of people probably have shared how that purity culture has been damaging to them. So, what are the stories you’ve heard, and maybe, how has that been damaging to you too, even in your own, in your own life?

Josh: Yeah. Well, the, I have had a lot of those stories shared with me. I took way too long to listen.


For a long time, wrote criticism off as people just being haters, people not being serious about holiness, or misapplying my book and it took a lot of time, it took me failing in different ways, me being disillusioned in different ways to finally start understanding that the stories of how these ideas of purity culture, which were embodied in my book, influenced people. And I think a big mistake that I made in, you know, the way I framed my book and even just the churches that I was a part of is that we tended to have one story for things, you know? If the pastor had an experience, then everyone else can have that experience, you know? If this was your experience of raising your kids or marriage, then you could just share your formula and other people could enjoy that.

And as I began to hear these diverse stories, I began to see how there were these themes of, you know, fear about sex, spending so much energy trying to deny and kind of subvert your sexual desires that then when you get married, you just can’t turn those on or there’s still shame around it, there’s still confusion around sexuality and an inability to kind of connect with your own pleasure and so on. Another consistent theme is, if you are so focused on not awakening feelings, not awakening sexual desires, well, you need to get married as soon as possible. And so, people rushed into marriages and ten, fifteen, twenty years later they’re dealing with the fallout of that or they passed up relationships that they look back on and they say, “Why didn’t I give that a chance? I was so worried about, you know, not having sex that I didn’t pursue a relationship with someone that maybe I had a, you know, special connection with.”

So, it takes time, to use the biblical language, for the true fruit of ideas to be seen and I think with purity culture, I, in hearing all these stories, not only was heartbroken by them, but I think I also, you know, it was like holding a mirror up in front of me. I began to see, wow, this has shaped me in many ways. You know, I, I kind of lived the book and the ideals in my own life in a really dramatic way, and you know, my divorce is something that’s public and my ex-wife and I really try to honor each other by not going into details of that, but we both would say, yeah, the purity culture structure is not something that we would want to encourage others to follow, let alone our kids and those are conversations that we have.

Jared: Mm hmm. You mention the Bible in that, you know, this is The Bible for Normal People, so I would guess that the way the Bible was presented to you was a huge motivator for your views that within purity culture and I Kissed Dating Goodbye. So, maybe talk a little bit about that and then how have your views on the Bible changed over these years?

Josh: Well, you know, when I was reevaluating the book, I went back and –

Pete: You mean the Bible or your book?

Josh: Oh, yeah.


Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Let’s be clear! Let’s not get confused in our antecedents.

Josh: Oh, my goodness.

Pete: You mean your book.

Josh: When I was reevaluating I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I went back and reread it for the first time in a long while and I saw just how I misused scripture quite dramatically just picking particular verses, taking them out of context, using them in a way that carried a lot of weight, and then using illustrations from people’s lives or these dramatic moments or whatever to create so much just forcefulness in terms of people feeling like “I have to do it this way. This is God’s best. If I don’t do this, there’s so much, you know, that I’ll miss, there’s so much that I’ll lose.” And I thought I was being faithful by, you know, quoting scripture and pointing to scripture, I thought I was building my arguments around scripture, but I look back now and I see that, you know, in so many ways I was not taking in the full arc of, if you will, the story, the true narrative of redemption. I was really creating a rulebook, I was using the Bible as a rulebook and creating a very, you know, even more strict and extreme rulebook for people when it came to dating.

Pete: By proof-texting, or just –

Josh: Well, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Mm hmm.

Pete: Like, lifting passages that the starting point really wasn’t the Bible is what I’m hearing you say. It was more the ideology and then the Bible came into service –

Josh: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Pete: That’s pretty common, by the way. I never do it. Jared does it once in a while.

Jared: [Laughter]


Pete: But it is, all kidding aside, this is sort of like, the battle, I think, to try to listen to that overarching story as you’re talking about and to try to read these things carefully with a lot of wisdom rather than just using it to baptize our views. But that’s such a common thing. So, okay, so as far as, like, now goes with the Bible, let’s just talk about that for a couple of minutes. Do you, I mean, there’s no right answer here. This is The Bible for Normal People, people are all across the spectrum in our listeners and the people we’ve had on, but do you, like, have a connection with scripture, do you read it, how do you read it differently, do you expect different things from it? All that kind of stuff.

Josh: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, I found myself a little anxious coming to this conversation with both of you because I had a feeling you’d ask me that kind of question and I think –

Pete: [Light laughter]

Yeah, but there’s no wrong answer!

Josh: I… well see, but I think that just kind of reveals my own programming in different ways because while I’ve, you know, talked to a lot of people in a lot of different settings about purity culture or the ideas in my book or, you know, even in general terms, you know, the kind of unraveling of my views on Christianity and faith and if you want to use the word deconstruction, whatever you want to call that, I haven’t necessarily had to get into the specifics, or maybe I’ve been avoiding the specifics of what do I think about scripture. And I feel really conflicted about that. You know, I, in the last several years, I have talked about the fact that I don’t, I don’t feel comfortable identifying as a Christian. You know, I felt like I needed to create this space in my own life, have the freedom in my own life to explore, to try to figure out what I believed about God and spirituality, and just life in general apart from what felt like all these restrictions in, you know, the evangelical, conservative evangelical world that I’d grown up in. And it was a little bit of a, you know, this, I just, “get me away from all of it!” I’m not trying to be in the tribe anymore, I’m not trying to explain or defend what I’m doing according to all the rules that I’ve imbibed, and I’ve taught and so on.

Pete: You need to press reset in that sense.

Josh: Yeah, that’s a great description. I felt like I needed to press reset and so, you know, everything from walking into a church to even picking up my Bible can be, it can just be this flood of all of these feelings and memories, many of them negative, sadly. I have positive ones, but I, it’s hard for me to access those. It brings me back into the pressure of leading a church in the denomination that I was a part of. It brings me back into this constant pressure of making sure that I taught exactly according to the doctrine that I was supposed to be teaching, that I was being Gospel centered enough, that I was being, you know, really teaching in an expository manner and all those kinds of things. And so, I think that there are so many layers that have been kind of piled onto my view of the Bible that it’s difficult for me to come to it without just feeling this angst and just negative energy, I guess is the best way.

Pete:  I mean, it’s triggering, right? I mean, it’s triggering. And by the way, that sound that you’re hearing right now is the sound of several thousand of our listeners saying, “yeah, that’s my life as well.” You know? It’s triggering to have been in, let’s just call it a toxic environment that you participated in and actually aided and abetted and then you sort of see, “no.” And, but that doesn’t let go.

Josh: Right.

Pete: That stays in you. You carry that with you for a long time and it takes, sometimes it takes walking away from the Bible or from God or from church or from everything just to allow yourself to sort of, just get to even know yourself a little bit.

Josh: Mm hmm.

Pete: Right, so –

Josh: And the other thing that I think has been interesting for me is I know that there are Christians who they come to the Bible with a different interpretive grid. You know, they’re able to see it and interpret it and apply it in different ways. And, you know, in the world that I was in that would’ve been, those were liberals. You know? Those were progressive Christians that were not being faithful to scripture and so on. And so, I found it difficult at this moment in my life to open myself up to new ways of seeing scripture.


It’s almost easier for me to just say, “Listen guys, just bag it all, I gotta walk away from all of it,” than it is to shift my thinking and say, “maybe I don’t have to read the text this way. Maybe, you know, maybe it doesn’t mean this. Maybe there’s, you know, a flexibility on this particular topic or whatever it might be.” That’s just, it’s like, it’s like I don’t think the same way, but I can still find myself judging people because I, because I spent so many years in a context where we just judged the hell out of people, you know, if they weren’t as faithful as we were to scripture and to sound doctrine.

Jared: Just to go on this idea of toxic, just can’t help but make the, draw the analogy with toxic relationships where to reform that relationship, to reimagine it, to go through that process is very challenging. In a lot of ways, the healthier or certainly easier route is to just cut it off and to go a different route and to make a different path and that’s kind of what I’m hearing is, and I think that’s true for a lot of people within Christianity is, yeah, that just seems super murky and I don’t know how I go down that without a lot of pain and a lot of trauma and a lot of things where this other path of just, let’s just let that go and maybe go a different way just seems like a much easier, and I don’t mean that as like a cop out, I mean maybe that is the better, sometimes, way to move forward.

Pete: Yeah.

Josh: Well, I, as you’re talking, I’m just realizing that in the settings that I was in, and again, I know this is not all of Christianity by any means, but in the settings that I was in, scripture, sound doctrine, were used to control.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Josh: We were, it was about keeping people in line and that was framed in terms of guarding the Gospel, sound doctrine was important because the Gospel was always at stake, you know? Gender roles, ultimately connected back to the Gospel and so any, practically any issue, you know, the inerrancy, the authority of scripture, it all connected back to the Gospel and so you had to, you had to fight for everything with such strength and to not fight, to ask a question or to say, “hey, maybe we don’t need to be so adamant about this” was like saying, “hey, maybe the Gospel is not such a big deal.” And so, fear and control are such themes of how scripture is used and how it was applied in a community and in the Christian culture that I was in and it’s just, it’s sad that when I come to scripture, I just, it’s like I feel that fear and control. I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I interact with Christians that have a freedom and there’s a, there’s a living nature to scripture, there’s an openness and a growth that’s present, a joy. And I’m trying to learn from that. I want to be open to that.

Pete: So, right now with respect to just your view of your Christian faith, you’re trying to figure things out and see where you land and just see where you are and let’s throw Jesus and God into this mix as well. Like, where, again, I’m asking the question because those are the big questions people ask when they’re going through this process. Like, I don’t even know what God is anymore.

Josh: Mm hmm.

Pete: Or if God is, I mean, just Jesus, some Jewish guy, right? Or the Bible, or the Christian faith, I mean, look at all the damage that it’s done. What is your relationship with all those things at this point?

Josh: Yeah.

Pete: That’s a bit question.


Josh: Yeah, it’s a huge question. I would say –

Pete: And throw in the universe while you’re thinking about it.

Josh: And the universe. I would say that I’m very much in process. I don’t want to try to land or label myself or say, “here’s where I am,” you know, or join a new tribe, but I definitely also don’t want to just kind of be hedging my bets to say, yeah, well, I still love Jesus, but, you know, I don’t know. I would just say I’m not sure, you know?

Pete: Yeah.

Josh: I’m not pretending that I am following, practicing, believing in all the ways that for years I believed defined you as a Christian.

Pete: But how do you feel about that?

Josh: Well, I think that’s the thing, it’s like, I recognize that I was in a, you know, a context that had very narrow definition of that.

Pete: Yeah.

Josh: And so, how I feel about it is I feel, I feel free. I mean, I feel, I feel like I have more of a possibility of actually encountering who God is or who he might be than I did in the mindset and the framework that was so defined by fear and control.


Pete: So, there’s always that lingering, maybe, fear factor, but also, I’m sensing a hopefulness in even in not knowing and having the freedom to say, “I just don’t know.” And maybe to encounter God differently than what had been sort of a life sucking kind of context you were in. I mean, just from your own experience.

Josh: Yeah, I would say that I have a hopefulness, for sure.

Jared: Well, I think that’s really fair. I did want to make sure we had time to come to this question is that, you know, you have experienced being very publicly an advocate for evangelical purity culture and then having this public change of heart. So, how have you navigated this tension between justice and grace? You know, between needing to be accountable for the ideas that you help promote, but also needing the grace and space to change your mind and have it be a mistake? You’ve mentioned that and I’ve heard other podcasts you’ve been on, or other interviews where you’ve owned up to these things, and these things can be forgiven. So, I’m thinking this, of course, in light of cancel culture conversations that you are, whether you, of course, like it or not, I’m sure not like it, are kind of right in the middle of. So, how have you navigated this justice and grace, mistakes that can be forgiven and accountability conversation?

Josh: Oh, boy. I would say that I just try to keep the focus on genuine human interactions with people and I know that that’s hard sometimes when that’s happening over social media or, you know, different forms of mass communication, but I try to just keep remembering that we’re all humans, we’re individuals, and we’re at different places and I think that I understand people who have been really hurt by, harmed by my book, how deep that runs because of the significance of the decisions that you make. And I recognize that, you know, my book took on a lot of authority. It was, you know, it was claiming to be speaking from the Bible, it was handed to people by their pastors and parents, you know, it was in the, you know, Christian bookstore and so when that’s given to someone at a formative time in your life, it can take on a lot of authority.

And so, I’ve had people say to me, listen, people just need to take responsibility, you didn’t force them to read the book, you didn’t force them to do these things, and you know, sure, that, you can say that that’s true, but I think I have a real sense of regret and responsibility because I understand in a religious context how shaping and how formative those ideas can be and it does feel like someone is coming and saying you have to do this. And I think that, I know that I can’t fix, you know, these things by my apologies. I know that, you know, there’s a lot more involved that shaped the world that we were all in at the time and so on, but I just feel like if no one takes that step to say, let’s take responsibility, if no one takes the step to say, here’s the part I played, you know, it doesn’t fix anything but I just want to acknowledge that and try to do better and try to, you know, lift up other voices that are offering alternatives. If nobody does that, then we don’t learn from the mistakes. You know? We don’t grow, we don’t offer any kind of healing to others, and so, that’s the mindset that I bring, and I encounter people that are, you know, just really pissed off and I understand that. I encounter people who are also very gracious and who, you know, express forgiveness to me.

And I also encounter people who say, please, just go away. You know? Like, we don’t ever want to hear your voice again and you shouldn’t speak, you shouldn’t have any influence, you shouldn’t have any platform, and I understand that too. I think I’ve had to wrestle with that the most because in many ways, I mean, that’s kind of like the heart of shame, you know? It’s like because of what I did or who I am, I should just disappear. I should, you know, literally just be cancelled from almost like the earth. And I’ve had to wrestle with that and say, no. You know what? I am going to just continue to exist, I’m not going to be controlled by some new group of people, I’m going to speak up because I feel like it’s part of a healing process for me personally, I’m going to speak up because, you know, I think there are people who will listen to this coming from me that they might not listen to somebody else, and if just one person can experience some kind of closure or healing from knowing that I am not only sorry, but I’m wrestling with these things myself, then for me that’s worth it.


But that is a kind of a daily, weekly challenge for me.

Pete: Yeah. I mean, you know, you were, again, you were very young when you conceived the book and then when you wrote it, and I really appreciate what you’re saying here. And not to detract from that, because I think you’re right in the personal accountability, but part of me also says, and again, I don’t want anyone to mishear me, I’m not taking any responsibility away from you, blah, blah blah. But somebody published you, right? And you were part of a context that encouraged this and you know, someone of your age might not have had the wisdom and the life experience to notice what was happening. And I wonder how much of the responsibility goes to the larger Christian cultural system, right, that said, “Sure, you’re qualified to write a book of incredible complexity that goes into the depth of our humanity, human sexuality, and yeah, go ahead. Knock yourself out. We’ll publish it.” Right? But I think, you know, again, this is my impression and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you were used. I think you wrote something that was very electrifying, and I think people thought they could make some money off of it, that’s at least part of it, you know. And sure, it aids and abets certain ideology, but I think a little bit of thought by those who make these kinds of decisions should have led them to say, “Not yet. This is not something that someone this young should write.” Any thoughts or any reactions to that?

Josh: I think there’s truth to the idea that there is a system in place that’s driven by, you know, market realities. Back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, it was the height of the, you know, Christian publishing, you know, world. CBA and Christian bookstores, I mean, juts not only did you have whatever 20 years ago, 60, 70% of people identifying as evangelical or Christians in the, you know, in America, but you had this whole network of Christian bookstores. This was before Amazon, this was before, you know, bookstores were wiped out, basically.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Josh: And so, there was a whole machine that was spreading ideas and evangelicalism was so movement based. You had Promise Keepers, you had True Love Waits, you had, you know, the ideas of purity culture and on and on, Christian contemporary music was huge. And so, yeah, that machine is real, and I do think there’s a need for responsibility. But I would also just say of myself, I wanted that too.

Jared: Right.

Josh: In other words, I wanted to be used, I wanted to be, you know, famous for Jesus, I wanted to sell tons of books. I continued to write books, I, you know, as I grew older, I should’ve gone back and reevaluated the content of the book sooner than I did. I should’ve been open to that, but what it teaches me is how people can get locked into beliefs and ideas and ideologies and it has nothing to do with scripture, it has nothing to do with what they actually believe if they were forced to really, honestly, you know, critique and think about it, it’s shaped by, you know, the fact that it’s their job. It’s shaped by this is their community, it’s shaped by, well, I can’t question that or this would fall apart, I’d lose my role, you know, all those types of things. And so, that fear is behind so much of it but what we dress it up as is, well, this is sound doctrine. This is, you know, this is what I believe. It’s right here in scripture.

Pete: This is what Jesus and Paul thought.

Josh: [Laughter]

Yeah, exactly.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Well, we’re coming full circle then, because you know, I think Pete’s mentioned this before, we have a lot of listeners who’ve changed their minds about God, the Bible, church. I mean, Pete and I have too over the years. Have you found it difficult to forgive yourself? Because I think, you know, just thinking about what advice you might have for people who struggle with a lot of guilt because it comes from both sides. There’s this guilt over what they used to believe, right? So, I’m guilty that I used to believe this thing and I probably hurt people along the way by these old beliefs I had. But I’m also now guilty for having new beliefs because my old way of thinking is sort of shaming me for my new way of thinking and it’s all very confusing. It’s sort of getting this guilt from both sides. So, how have you navigated forgiving yourself and moving forward? I think you hinted at this a little bit where you’re kind of criticized from all sides in some ways.


Josh: Well, I think it’s an ongoing process. I think it’s that process of forgiving yourself is so important because if you can’t do that, you can’t show compassion to other human beings who are going to be on the same pathway and if we don’t figure this out in different ways, not just related to books that are written or even just religious viewpoints and so on, if we don’t have space in our view of humanity and the world for people to grow and change, then everybody has to be locked into their, you know, immaturity. Everybody has to be locked into their bad doctrine. Everybody has to be locked into their bad ideology. If the moment somebody starts questioning something that’s problematic we just want to cancel them for, you know, “you got this wrong and so you should be punished forever,” there’s no space for compassion, for compromise, for growth, for, you know, just a safer, gentler, kinder world. And so, I have, you know, tried to look back on who I was at that time and say, okay, what shaped me? What was going on there? What was good about that? You know? There was a genuine desire to try to help people. There was fear in my heart. I have to have compassion to say, yeah, I was afraid, I was receiving these messages from other people. I thought these things with such conviction, and I tried to express that, and I, even when you have good intentions, you can hurt people. And that shapes a compassion towards myself and it also shapes a compassion towards people that I interact with now, you know, that I think are really wrong about things and it gives me an ability to hope for them that they will grow and experience new truths and be able to change, but it’s a winding road for me, for sure.

Jared: You know, I can’t speak for Pete, but, Pete you can speak for yourself, but I think neither one of us are sitting here without, I think we have a soft spot for that.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Because neither one of us have this podcast or have the ability to speak to people in the way we do without people showing us compassion that, you know, I was saying things that were hurtful 20 years ago and things that weren’t helpful to people, you know?

Pete: Mm hmm, right.

Jared: In front of large groups of people as a pastor, and so, you know, I just, I appreciate what you’re saying, I think it’s really true.

Pete: Yeah, I think those are very wise and seasoned and encouraging words to end on, Josh. So, listen, we really appreciate your time, taking the time to be with us all the way from someplace in Canada, very far away.

Josh: [Laughter]

Pete: 3,000 miles away, beautiful Vancouver, so anyway. But thank you for taking the time, we really enjoyed having a chance to talk with you.

Josh: Thanks for giving me the space to just think about these things. I really am grateful that you are having these kind of conversations. I know a lot of people really look to the work you’re doing and find a lot of encouragement and I’m grateful.

Pete: Thank you, Josh.

Jared: Thanks Josh.

Pete: See ya.

[Music begins]

Megan: Alright everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show, we hope you enjoyed this episode. And of course, we want to give a big shout out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They’re the reason we’re able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more.

Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team, thanks for listening.

[Music ends] [Outtakes] [Beep]

Jared: I wanna –

[electronics beep in background]


Josh: I’m so sorry.

Jared: I just want to make sure, it’s okay, it’s good.

Pete: It’s okay, we’ll cut that out. Dave, cut that out.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Dave’s our producer.

[End of recorded material]
Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.