Fifty Shades of Grey: Harmless Fun or Spiritual Warfare?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last couple of years, I’m sure you’ve heard of the Fifty Shades of Grey book and upcoming movie. There has been much written both for and against the books/movie. Among professing Christians there are those who are very supportive of the books which I found very surprising. When Aimee Byrd wrote her recent article asking Christian women to think twice about reading what amounts to porn, there were many Christians women who argued strongly in favor of the books.

In reading the comments there and elsewhere, I’ve come across three basic arguments supportive of Fifty Shades and similar books:

  1. Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?
  2. Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.
  3. It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one sin?

In considering how to answer these kinds of questions and how to answer more generally why I’m not reading Fifty Shades or going to see the movie, I came across a recommendation for a book that seeks to provide the answers: Pulling Back the Shades: Erotica, Intimacy, and the Longings of a Woman’s Heart.

Pulling Back the Shades was written by two women: Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh. Both women are Christian authors who have written other books on the topics of marriage and intimacy. While the book was written specifically to address Fifty Shades, Pulling Back the Shades discusses the concerns that the authors have with all erotic fiction:

We believe that the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey series was a transforming moment that fueled the erotica craze, normalizing its use. The series has done for women and erotica what the advent of the Internet did for men and porn. (10)

Pulling Back the Shades is written as a devotional of sorts. Each chapter ends with a question for the reader to contemplate, and there is a study guide with questions at the end of the book. The authors explain their purpose for writing:

In the pages ahead, we’ll embark on the journey of Pulling Back the Shades. You might consider this a double play on words. Not only do we want to pull back the shades of Grey for you to see God’s truth about what it and other books like it can do in your life, but we also want to pull back the shades on your own sex life. This book is not meant to be merely a reaction to the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Ultimately it is about YOU — your longings, your questions, and your wholeness as a spiritual and sexual woman. We hope to offer you something you deeply need. (13)

It is their hope that this book will bring healing to many women who have bought the lie that erotica is good harmless fun.

One of the things I liked best about the book was the authors’ balanced approach to women and sexuality. Women have sexual longings and desires. They also have sexual struggles. Because of both the appropriate desires and longings and the effects of sin in our lives, most (if not all) Christian women will struggle with some form of sexual sin. It is a topic that deserves to be addressed, and I appreciate the authors’ work for this reason.

For many Christian women struggling with longings and desires that don’t seem to be met, Fifty Shades and other erotica seem to offer a safe way outlet:

Then along came Fifty Shades of Grey — a book offering a bounty of explicit, erotic sex scenes all wrapped up in a love story. Suddenly, there is a sexual outlet for the spiritual woman that seems to be perfectly acceptable. Their longings and fantasies finally have a place to be expressed in erotica, which promises to revive sexual passion in marriage or channel sexual desires for singles. (14)

The authors’ address five longings that many women may seek to meet through erotica:

  1. To escape reality
  2. To be cherished by a man
  3. To be protected by a strong man
  4. To rescue a man
  5. To be sexually alive (16)

The longing themselves are legitimate and reasonable desires, but the problem comes when we seek to meet them in ways that are not God honoring.

Having set the stage this way, the authors move on to why they believe Fifty Shades and erotica in general are dangerous. Erotica is dangerous because it is a type of fantasy that manipulates moral and relational laws. “Right and wrong get morphed into a morally grey universe that becomes impossible to untwist (26).” And this this redefining of morality is no accident:

EL James states that redefining morality was part of her agenda in writing the books. In one interview she said, ‘What I wanted to demonstrate is that I do not look at the world in terms of black and white — and I find people who do rather scary. I think it’s all shades of grey.’ (26)

The danger of this type of fantasy is that if you were to attempt these types of relationships in the real world the outcome would not be the happy ending portrayed in the books. “If you read Fifty Shades and then invest in a relationship that is built around sexual sadism, you will not end up in a loving, caring, committed marriage (26).” Erotic fantasy is unreal, deceptive, and it makes you want more. But it will never satisfy.

Instead of being simply a harmless escape, erotica, or “mommy porn” as it has been named, represents a battlefront in the war between good and evil. Spiritual warfare is a real issue, and I was pleased to see that Pulling Back the Shades addresses this aspect:

I believe this genre of literature and Fifty Shades books specifically are very spiritual books with an aggressive spiritual agenda. Reading mommy porn is not just a little guilty pleasure. It doesn’t simply represent a love story with some kinky sex scenes. It takes you on a wild emotional and sexual ride. But unlike an exciting roller coaster, you will not be dropped off right back where you started. These books take you on a journey that has a spiritual impact and an intended spiritual destination: destruction. (33-34)

The authors’ believe that these books represent a spiritual issue because sex is spiritual:

Because sex is a portrait of God’s sacred love, Satan will do anything he can to destroy the beauty of it. He has tried to twist, tarnish, and distort the beautiful and holy picture of sexuality in every way possible. From creating shame about sexuality in Christian women to sexual abuse and prostitution, his agenda is to separate us from ever celebrating sexuality within the context of God’s holy design. (34)

The spiritual danger in erotica is that it isolates the physical acts from the rest of our sexuality. There is no connection to the emotional and spiritual elements of a relationship. Sex should not ever be just about physical pleasure, not in God’s original design.

Another spiritual danger is that we, as a culture, have made love and sex into idols. We live and believe and worship the lie that we must have a fulfilling sex life in order to be whole. God made sex for our enjoyment, but is it supposed to be our reason for living? No, our reason for living is to worship and enjoy God.

This was my favorite part of Pulling Back the Shades.  In so much of the current discussions in Christian circles about sexuality the prevailing wisdom is that if you follow all the rules, then your marriage will be blessed by the best sex ever. The authors of Pulling Back the Shades take a different approach. We should follow the rules. Sex is meant to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage. But that is not where we should look for our satisfaction in life.

“Life is hard; not every longing you have on earth will be fulfilled (84).” Marriage and a good sex life are good things, but we aren’t owed them by God. Our hope should not be in these things, but instead in Him. He is our Prince and the lover of our souls. What we long for is a Savior. (86) Nothing will satisfy our need for intimacy except the One who knows us and loves us and saves us. If we have our needs met by Him, we can be content regardless of our circumstances.

So in considering the three arguments I listed at the beginning of this article, let’s see what the authors of Pulling Back the Shades would answer.

1. Who are you to judge? Why are you so concerned about consenting adults having sex when there are real problems in the world?

The authors point out that in the Fifty Shades books the relationship between the main characters is not healthy. The bondage contract makes one the master and the other subservient. It is demeaning and debasing. As Christians we should reject this line of reasoning. These things are not morally neutral. And so it is appropriate for us as believers to judge the books to be sinful.

2. Reading Fifty Shades is just harmless fun. No one is getting hurt. It’s just fantasy.

The authors believe that erotica is fantasy, but it’s not harmless. It’s spiritually and emotionally damaging. It can destroy you.

3. It might be sinful to read Fifty Shades, but we all sin in so many ways. What’s the big deal about this one?

In Pulling Back the Shades, the authors address the serious nature of the sin involved in erotica. They also point out that as Christians we are called to stand out and to be different from our culture because of our beliefs:

We’re supposed to be making different choices and living a different kind of life than the rest of the world. While you certainly can and should celebrate your sexuality, there is also discretion required of the Christian woman who seeks to have her sex life be what God designed it to be: a picture of His passionate love for His people! God’s Word clearly calls us to live our lives as He designed them to be lived in all areas, including sex. This demands that we choose a different path than the world’s way. He calls us to holiness. (94)

I’m very thankful for Pulling Back the Shades. It was a challenging book as it made me assess some of my own enjoyment of romance in books and movies. It also was very equipping. I feel better prepared for answering the challenges I’ll face for not going along with the cultural trends. I would highly recommend the book for anyone, but especially for those who have pulled into the dangerous and destructive world of erotica.

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: A Review

Have you ever been part of a dying church? I have. I was raised in a dying church. So it was with great interest that I agreed to read and review Thom Rainer’s new book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church.

Rainer’s book is the result of the study of 14 dying churches to see what went wrong. The book is an expanded version of a blog post that Rainer wrote on his website last year. In it, Rainer considers what common factors these churches had and what steps can be taken to save a dying church.

What was most interesting to me was the strongest common thread that all the autopsied churches shared: their past was their hero.

The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as hero. They held on more tightly with each progressive year. They often clung to things of the past with desperation and fear. And when any internal or external force tried to change the past, they responded with anger and resolution: “We will die before we change.”

And they did.

Hear my clearly: these churches were not hanging on to biblical truths. They were not clinging to clear Christian morality. They were not fighting for primary doctrines, or secondary doctrines, or even tertiary doctrines. As a matter of fact, they were not fighting for doctrines at all.

They were fighting for the past. The good old days. The way it used to be. The way we want it today. (18)

This was the story of my dad’s first pastorate after seminary. It was an older church, by American standards. Founded in 1932 on the east side of Houston near the ship channel, it had once been a very large and thriving church. In its prime it had boasted 2000 members. The buildings were impressive. The sanctuary was huge with a large balcony, designed to hold those 2000 people. There was a large gym, classrooms, offices, a large kitchen and fellowship hall, nursery, and a library.

When my dad was first called to the church in 1983, the once vibrant church had dwindled to 150-200 members on the rolls. With only 100-125 in regular attendance, the large sanctuary always looked empty. The buildings were expensive to maintain and were showing their age and the neglect of not having the funds to keep them in good repair. But the congregation, especially those who could remember they “way things used to be,” didn’t want to let go. The church was dying, the buildings were an albatross dragging it down, and no one was interested in changing.

The second major point that Rainer makes in his book is that these dying churches no longer looked like the communities around them.

Here’s the typical scenario I heard. In the “good old days” the church was booming as residents in the community flocked to the church. The church was a part of the community and it reflected the community.

Then the community began to change. In some cases the change was ethnic or racial. In other cases it was age-related. And sometimes it was simply socioeconomic change. …

Some of the younger generations left town completely. Others stayed in the areas, but they found churches where their homes were. They did not see the point in driving to a transitioned community that had no identity with the church.

So the church began its death march. Family by family the church declined. Of course, the membership of the church grew older. Those who once lived in the community represented the oldest of the members, and no younger families replaced them. (25-26)

This was also part of the church where I grew up. The congregation was predominately older Caucasians living in an increasingly young Hispanic area. Now, to their credit, some in the church wanted to reach out to the community, and they had some success. The younger people in the church did reflect the changing neighborhood, and many in the church were welcoming of that change. My dad, a bilingual/bicultural pastor, was a good choice for bridging the gap between the two demographics. But there were some in the church who would greet Hispanic visitors by telling them they wanted to go to the church down the street where they would fit in better. They were not interested in the church changing to reflect the community around them. They lived in the past.

Rainer goes on to explain the other findings from the 14 church autopsies: budget inwardly focused, a lack of evangelism and outreach, short pastoral tenures, no desire to change, and little interest in praying together. The common thread in all of this, according to Rainer, is an increasing “inward focus” and a decreasing “outward focus.” The churches were more concerned with their own comfort and preferences (buildings, programs, needs) than with reaching out to those around them and meeting their needs.

The ministries and programs for these churches tend to be shifting more and more for members of the congregation rather than those on the outside. In simple terms, the church is moving from an outward focus to an inward focus. (87)

But the book does not end there with the bad news. Rainer moves on to give his recommendations for how to save a dying church. For churches that are sick, but not dying, Rainer offers four suggestions:

  1. Pray that God will open the eyes of the leadership and members for opportunities to reach into the community where the church is located.

  2. Take an honest audit of how church members spend their time being involved.

  3. Take an audit of how the church spends its money.

  4. Make specific plans to minister and to evangelize your community. (88-89)

For very sick churches, Rainer gives these steps:

  1. The church must admit and confess its dire need.

  2. The church must pray for wisdom and strength to do whatever is necessary.

  3. The church must be willing to change radically.

  4. That change must lead to action and an outward focus. (95)

And for churches who are dying and for whom there is no remedy, Rainer offers these suggestions to die with dignity:

  1. Sell the property and give the funds to another church, perhaps to a new church that has begun or will soon begin.

  2. Give the building to another church.

  3. If your church is in a transitional neighborhood, turn over the leadership and property to those who actually reside in the neighborhood.

  4. Merge with another church, but let the other church have the ownership and leadership of your church. (100-101)

Twenty years after my dad left the dying church (to become a PCA pastor), the church is still alive. They sold the buildings and land to a funeral home, and they moved to a smaller location. The church appears to be thriving and to be very representative of their community. I’m glad for them.

I think that Rainer’s analysis of the common threads shared by dying churches is very accurate. Reading the book was very eye-opening and affirming. I found myself nodding my head and underlining several passages. However, I think that Rainer’s advice and solutions are lacking.

First, his book is very Baptist in its flavor. I say that without any animosity. I was raised Southern Baptist and have much love for my Baptist brethren. But much of what he addresses are concerns and approaches that are more Baptist than Presbyterian. One example would be the issue of members on the rolls coming back to vote on issues when they don’t attend the church. Most Presbyterian churches would have stricken them from the rolls, but it doesn’t happen much in Baptist churches, in my experience. Also I found his suggestion to turn the leadership of the church over to those in the community to be odd.

Second, I’m not sure I am comfortable with his “outward” vs “inward” focus dynamic. Yes, it’s true that many dying churches have forgotten evangelism and are especially uninterested in reaching out to the community around them. But despite the frequent misquote of Bonhoeffer, the church does not exist for its non-members. The church has more than one role. We are called to go preach the gospel, baptize, and disciple in the great commission. Much of that is outward focused, but discipling is also inward focused. We are not just adding members but teaching those members, new and old, what the Bible says and what it means to serve God and to be a Christian.

It is also an important focus of the church, as illustrated in Acts and the Epistles, to care for the needs of the saints. This seems very controversial in the current social justice climate, but we are told to care for our immediate families, our local church families, and our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world (in that order). It is right and proper that our first thought would be for needs of other believers. Not that we don’t care for those outside the church. We do care, for both their spiritual and physical needs. But it is not wrong for churches to spend time and money on the care of their own people.

Lastly, I am somewhat concerned that in all the advice for these sick and dying churches Rainer doesn’t seem to focus much on the ordinary means of grace. He does discuss the need to pray together, but there seems to be something missing in his overall approach. Is a church a success if it preaches the Word, the people pray regularly, the sacraments are administered, the people care for each other, and also evangelize others? What if the church is very small? Is it still a success? Is growth in numbers the only way to measure a “good” and “healthy” church? If so, is Joel Osteen’s church healthy? His numbers are better than almost anyone else’s.

In all, I greatly appreciate Rainer’s book for his stark look at the common features dying churches share. I would just have liked to have seen more focus on the spiritual life of the church and less on the numbers.

Life as an “Ordinary” Pastor’s Kid

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Over at the Blazing Center, Barnabas Piper, son of pastor John Piper, has an article on what to do when you meet a pastor’s kid. He’s apparently written a book about what it’s like to grow up in a pastor’s family. As a pastor’s daughter and missionary’s granddaughter, I’m generally interested to hear other “stories from the trenches.” Life in a pastor’s family has its challenges, but it also has great blessings. My friend, Megan Hill, has written a series of great articles on the subject that I highly recommend: part 1, part 2, part 3. (Megan is both a pastor’s daughter and a pastor’s wife, so she knows what she’s talking about.)

Back to Barnabas’ article. I was interested to read his take on being a pastor’s kid. Reading his list, though, I realized that I couldn’t relate to his concerns at all. It took me a minute to realize why: I’m not a celebrity pastor’s kid. Apparently it makes a big difference.

Here are his “seven rules” for meeting pastor’s kids:

  1. Do not ask us “What is it like to be the son or daughter of …?”
  2. Do not quote our dads to us.
  3. Do not ask us anything personal you would not ask of anyone else.
  4. Do not ask us anything about our dads’ positions on anything.
  5. Do not assume you can gain audience with the pastor through us.
  6. Do not assume that we agree with all the utterances of our fathers.
  7. Get to know us.

Taking these one at a time. Here are my thoughts:

1. I can’t imagine anyone asking me what it’s like to be the daughter of Jon Green. I think he’s a great man and a wonderful pastor, but I can’t remember anyone ever asking me that.

2. I’ve never had anyone quote my dad to me. Although I do find great pleasure when people who’ve been blessed by my dad’s ministry tell me about it.

3. Occasionally, after a sermon illustration, people have teased me or my brother about a particular story. Dad has always been very careful not to embarrass us.

4. Again, I’ve never been asked what my dad thinks on any given subject. Except once. Recently someone asked me what his favorite ice cream was. They wanted to surprise him on his birthday.

5. Since my dad is not a celebrity pastor, his congregation all know him very well and have really good access to him. No one has ever had trouble reaching him, and no one has ever asked me to get a message to him. Although I did spend most of my childhood as an unpaid secretary and phone answering service. “No, I’m sorry he can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message …” It was a shock to me, once I married and moved away, how rarely the phone rings in a non-ministry household.

6. While my dad and I might disagree on any number of non-essential things, I am happy to say that we agree on all the important things. I know that’s not likely true of all or most PK’s, but I’m thankful for a good relationship and shared commitments.

7. This one I can agree on, although it feels tacked on to the list. Of course, people should get to know their pastor’s kids. Many people would be surprised to know that most PK’s are just like every other kid their age.

So, I’m not sure what to think about Barnabas’ article. On the one hand it seems to be a humblebrag of a post, “Life’s so tough when your dad is a celebrity.” On the other, it really doesn’t connect with life as an “ordinary” pastor’s kid. I’m left with a “well, that’s nice, but I can’t really relate.” Although, given the increasing numbers of celebrity pastors in the New Calvinist world, maybe there is a need for a support group. “Hello, my name is _______ and I’m a celebrity pastor’s kid.”

Redeeming Barak

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When I was growing up, I remember hearing stories about heroes from the Bible: David, Samson, Joshua, Gideon, Deborah. As a little girl, I especially enjoyed the stories of Deborah, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, and Mary. These were stories of women of faith who did great things. These were role-models.

After I was grown, I began to notice a difference in the way some people talked about Deborah: Sure she was a leader and a judge, but that was a bad thing. Obviously she was only a leader because no men were willing to lead. It was a judgment on Israel to have a woman leader. Look at that weak man, Barak. He was such a coward. He wasn’t willing to go into battle without Deborah, a woman! We shouldn’t use Deborah as an example of good leadership. She’s “non-normative.” We should certainly have more faith than poor Barak showed, etc. etc.

Maybe you haven’t heard these interpretations of Judges 4, but in certain groups it’s becoming a very common theme. For example, I ran across this excerpt from an article recently. The author imagines a conversation between Barak and Deborah after the battle (we’ll skip over the wisdom of putting words into the mouths of Biblical figures):

Barak poured some more wine. Then cradling the cup in both hands, elbows on his knees, he stared into the fire. “I still don’t understand what evil I committed in wanting you to come with me. You’re a prophetess. Who wouldn’t want a prophet with him when going into battle?”

“Wanting a prophet with you wasn’t evil,” replied Deborah. “The evil was refusing to go to battle unless I went with you.” Barak’s brow furrowed. “Barak,” she said earnestly. He looked over at her. “It was the Lord who promised that he would give Sisera into your hand. My role as a prophet was just to speak the Lord’s word to you. The power lay in the promise, not the prophet. When you refused to go unless I accompanied you, it revealed that your confidence was in me, not God’s word. By trusting my presence for victory more than God’s promise, you gave the messenger more glory than the message. It made me an idol. That was the evil. God kept his promise to you because he’s always faithful. But because you took glory away from him and gave it to another, he took glory away from you and gave it to another.”

It seems to me that many times when we expand beyond what Scripture says we end up giving interpretations that tell us more about ourselves than about the passage. In the excerpt above, Barak is guilty of being faithless, and his punishment was that he received no glory from the victory over Sisera. But as good Reformed Christians, maybe we should consider first what the Bible says about Deborah and Barak. The passage is found in Judges 4. It’s not a very long one. Here’s the pertinent part:

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:4-9 ESV)

And,

And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. (Judges 4:14-23 ESV)

So, Deborah is a judge during the oppressive rule of Jabin, the king of Canaan, and Sisera, his army commander. Note that nothing is said about why Deborah is a judge. Was she a judge because there weren’t any men willing to lead? The passage is silent.

But what about Barak? Surely there is evidence to show that he’s a weak leader and not strong in his faith. Well, the passage does have Deborah reminding Barak that God has commanded him to go and defeat Sisera. Barak then tells Deborah that he won’t go unless she goes with him. She agrees but warns him that he won’t receive glory from Sisera’s defeat. Sisera will be defeated by a woman. Interestingly enough, that woman is not Deborah, but Jael who drives a tent peg into his temple. (I’ve always admired Jael for her courage and initiative.)

If that were all the passage said, it would be easy to conclude that Barak had little faith and that he was punished by not receiving glory. But the passage goes on. The next thing that Deborah says to Barak is, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” According to this, God is with Barak and will deliver Sisera into his hand. God defeats Sisera and his army, and He uses Barak and Jael.

Interestingly enough, there is another place in the Bible that mentions Barak. He’s listed in Hebrews 11, in the hall of faith:

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. (Hebrews 11:32-34 ESV)

Why would Barak be named as one of the giants of the faith with such commendation if the lesson of Judges 4 is that he was a weak and cowardly man? Maybe there’s a better interpretation of the passage.

I read several commentaries researching for this post. I found two that give more credit to Barak and his motivations. The first is from Matthew Henry. I was pleased to find this because it mitigates against those who would blame recent feminism for the interpretation of the passage:

At Barak’s request, she promises to go along with him to the field of battle. (1.) Barak insisted much upon the necessity of her presence, which would be to him better than a council of war (Jdg. 4:8): “If thou wilt go with me to direct and advise me, and in every difficult case to let me know God’s mind, then I will go with all my heart, and not fear the chariots of iron; otherwise not.” Some make this to be the language of a weak faith; he could not take her word unless he had her with him in pawn, as it were, for performance. It seems rather to arise from a conviction of the necessity of God’s presence and continual direction, a pledge and earnest of which he would reckon Deborah’s presence to be, and therefore begged thus earnestly for it. “If thou go not up with me, in token of God’s going with me, carry me not up hence.” Nothing would be a greater satisfaction to him than to have the prophetess with him to animate the soldiers and to be consulted as an oracle upon all occasions.

Matthew Henry believed that Barak was not a man of weak faith but a man of conviction, a man aware of the necessity of God’s presence.

The second commentary I found was written by Daniel Block. I found it through Tim Challies’ post on the best commentaries on Judges. Block equates Barak’s reluctance to Moses’ and Gideon’s call for authenticating signs:

The narrative should have moved directly from v.7 to v. 10 but Barak’s response provides one of the keys to the rest of the chapter. Despite Yahweh’s assurance of victory. Barak resists the call. His protestation is less emphatic than Moses’ in Exodus 3-4 and less apologetic than Gideon’s in Judg. 6:15, but it is clear he is not impressed with Deborah’s commissioning speech. On the surface his reaction, “If you go with me I, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go,” appears cowardly. He will not enter the fray unless he has this woman beside him holding his hand. And this impression is reinforced by Deborah’s response. But at a deeper level the objection reflects a recognition of Deborah’s status. The request to be accompanied by the prophet is a plea for the presence of God.

At this point in other call narratives Yahweh responds with reassuring promises of his presence and/or authenticating signs. Both elements are found here, albeit in veiled form. The first is evident in Deborah’s firm promise of her own presence (lit. “I will certainly go with you”). It is easy to trivialize the significance of this declaration by interpreting them simply as the words of a strong woman to a weak-willed man. The timing of Deborah’s words is critical, for it occurs precisely at the point where, in other call narratives, Yahweh promises his personal presence to a reluctant agent. The prophet obviously functions as Yahweh’s alter ego. Her presence alone is enough to guarantee victory over Sisera. To reinforce Yahweh’s commitment to Barak, Deborah offers him an authentication, if ironic, sign. Barak will need to step out in faith in the divine promise, for the sign she presents is proleptic in nature: Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman, to whom the glory would go. When this happens, Barak will know that he has been called by God and that God has intervened on Israel’s behalf. 199-200 Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (New American Commentary) 1999

I thought that was very interesting. I’ve never read commentaries that make the main focus of those passages either Gideon’s or Moses’ lack of faith when they asked for signs or were reluctant to do what God had asked. Gideon asks for two signs to be sure of God’s presence. Moses balks even after the signs are given, and so Aaron is sent to be the mouthpiece. The Scripture even says that God was angry with Moses for asking Him to send someone else. But Gideon and Moses are regarded as men of faith.

Why not Barak?

People Say Stupid Things: What Not to Say When a Baby Dies

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Years ago, when our daughter Bethanne was born, I realized that when faced with difficult circumstances people often say stupid things. I know that most of the time the stupid comments come from good intentions. People mean to be kind, generally. They simply just don’t know what to say. Here’s a small sampling of things I’ve heard people say:

  • It’s for the best.
  • God needed another angel.
  • You’re young. You can have another one.
  • At least you know you can get pregnant.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • At least you have other children.
  • It happened for a reason.
  • I’m sure you’ll get pregnant again soon.
  • It’s better than having a child born with problems.

My “favorite” one from when Bethanne was born was the mom who told me she understood what I was going through because her son had been born autistic. Apparently, having a child born with a disability or with some challenges is like having your child die. I don’t doubt that there is a mourning that parents of children with disabilities face. But I wanted to shake her and tell her that I would have given almost anything to have Bethanne here every day to hug and kiss not matter what challenges she faced. After my anger faded, I realized that I just felt sorry for her and especially for her son. She couldn’t see the joy of her son.

There are so many others, but most are basically versions of the same. It doesn’t matter that many of these things are true. None of these things are kind. As Christians, we should seek to comfort each other. While we don’t grieve as those who have no hope, it’s appropriate to recognize that death is sad. It’s wrong, it’s horrible, it’s painful. It’s right to acknowledge that loss and to mourn.

Consider Jesus’ reaction to the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus knew that Lazarus was about to be resurrected. He knew that the pain and loss was temporary. He knew that joy would soon follow. But faced with the death of Lazarus and the mourning of Lazarus’ family, Jesus didn’t offer platitudes. Jesus wept.

Mourn with your friends. Comfort them. Given them a hug. And if you must say something, here are my suggestions:

  • I love you.
  • I’m so very sorry.
  • I’m praying for you.
  • Can I bring a meal, watch a child, clean your house, etc?

If you can’t think of anything to say, just stick to these and offer your friend a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear. They will need, at some point, to talk about their child. You are not hurting them by asking if they want to talk. You are not hurting them by remembering their child. After a short while, it will feel to them as if no one remembers, as if their child is forgotten. Love them, encourage them, and listen.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 ESV

 

 

Why do Reformed Christians still support BioLogos?

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An new article at creation.com linked to an interesting article at BioLogos by Darryl Falk, former president of BioLogos. Falk’s article was written in 2010 back when he was still president of BioLogos. In the article, he attempts to show how difficult it is to walk to middle ground between young earth creationism and atheistic evolution. His point, apparently, is that neither side understands them (at BioLogos) and both sides disagree with them. What’s fascinating is the extremely clear description of what BioLogos, as an organization, believes and and what BioLogos exists to do.

Falk is referencing an article by Daniel Harrell on the only options he sees for those who insist on an historical Adam and Eve:

Option #1 is that Adam and Eve were created with apparent age; Option #2 is (in Harrell’s words) “Adam and Eve exist as first among Homo sapiens, specially chosen by God as representatives for a relationship with him.”

Option #1 is the standard argument put forward by those who believe in a young earth created by God in six twenty-four hour days less than 10,000 years ago. BioLogos exists in no small part to marginalize this view from the Church.A fundamental part of our mission is to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Daniel Harrell knows this. All members of the BioLogos community know this. And the leaders of powerful young earth organizations like Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, and, Grace to You know that BioLogos exists to show that Option #1 is not tenable. Reasons to Believe (RTB) knows that we are diametrically opposed to Option #1, just as we are diametrically opposed to their untenable position that there has been no macroevolution. Finally, the folks over at the Discovery Institute know that we exist to remove “apparent age” from the lexicon of evangelical Christianity. Such a view makes a mockery of the entire scientific enterprise and its ability to reveal truths about nature. (emphasis added)

So my question is, given that BioLogos exists to teach Christians not believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve as Genesis 2 details, why exactly do Reformed pastors and believers support and promote BioLogos?

Many of these Reformed leaders assure us that they still believe in the special creation of Adam and Eve. But then why are they part of this organization devoted to undermining that doctrine? Two years ago at BioLogos’ third Theology of Celebration (hosted by Tim Keller in New York), Dr. Keller was quoted as saying:

To develop a Biologos narrative is ‘the job of pastors,’

Is it the “job of pastors” in the Reformed denominations to promote/defend/develop a “BioLogos” narrative that denies the special creation of Adam and Eve?

Did Jesus only preach about God’s wrath to the religious people of his day?

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Something that I’ve seen asserted in various books, articles, and sermons is the statement that Jesus only preached about God’s wrath to the religious people of his day. The idea is that Jesus had two basic messages: one of God’s wrath and the other of God’s grace. The first message was for the church and the religious. The second was for sinners. The application, then, is that we should also only preach grace to sinners.

While I absolutely believe that we should never preach about God’s wrath without also preaching of His grace and the salvation we have through Jesus, I don’t believe that this bifurcation of Jesus’s teaching is accurate. Jesus preached both God’s wrath and His grace to everyone, and so should we.

The first question to ask is did Jesus ever speak on wrath or punishment to sinners and those outside the religious leaders? To answer that question, we need to decide which portions of Scripture we should consider. Some believe that we can only look to the “red lettered” verses. But are those the only words of Jesus?

I think it’s important to remember that all of Scripture is God breathed. All of the Bible is the Word of God. The verses in the red letters are not more inspired than the rest. So, before we consider what Jesus spoke in the gospels, let’s look at some other portions of Scripture where there is a message or warning of God’s wrath to sinners.

One of the best known passages is probably from Jonah. After Jonah stops running from God, he spends days proclaiming a message from God to the people of Ninevah, definitely a group of sinners, no question. What’s the message God told Jonah to give to Ninevah?

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4, ESV)

And what was the result of this message of impending destruction?

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jonah 3:6-10, ESV)

The people repented and believed in God. And the message God used to turn their hearts? One of wrath and destruction.

Of course, God’s wrath is a frequent theme in the prophets, but what about in the New Testament? Well, John the baptist (or baptizer) is called to prepare the people for the coming of the Savior. What is his message?

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him,“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn,but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people. (Luke 3:7-18, ESV)

What was John’s message? One of coming destruction and wrath. Who was John preaching to? The people of Israel, certainly, but also tax collectors and soldiers are specifically mentioned. And these exhortations were considered “good news!”

This use of warnings and exhortations is the basis of the Reformed understanding of the first use of the law: to convict sinners of our sin. John Calvin wrote in his Institutes:

Thus the Law is a kind of mirror. As in a mirror we discover any stains upon our face, so in the Law we behold, first, our impotence; then, in consequence of it, our iniquity; and, finally, the curse, as the consequence of both. He who has no power of following righteousness is necessarily plunged in the mire of iniquity, and this iniquity is immediately followed by the curse. Accordingly, the greater the transgression of which the Law convicts us, the severer the judgment to which we are exposed. To this effect is the Apostle’s declaration, that “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” (Rom. 3:20). By these words, he only points out the first office of the Law as experienced by sinners not yet regenerated. In conformity to this, it is said, “the law entered that the offence might abound;” and, accordingly, that it is “the ministration of death;” that it “worketh wrath” and kills (Rom. 5:20; 2 Cor. 3:7; Rom. 4:15). For there cannot be a doubt that the clearer the consciousness of guilt, the greater the increase of sin; because then to transgression a rebellious feeling against the Lawgiver is added. All that remains for the Law, is to arm the wrath of God for the destruction of the sinner; for by itself it can do nothing but accuse, condemn, and destroy him. (Institutes 2.vii.7)

While the message of wrath should be tempered with the message of grace, to deny this first use of the law is to truncate the gospel. To understand our need for a Savior, we must first understand the depth of our sin. God’s reconciling peace means nothing until we know we are separated from God by the offense of our sin. Some say that sinners, especially those with no church background, are already well-versed in their own misery and have no need of being shown the truth of their sin. Certainly we should be gentle in our application here. Our message should be kind, but it isn’t kindness or love to not tell people that they are dying apart from Christ. Most people think they’re not that bad particularly when they compare themselves to others.

Back to our question, I believe that Jesus spoke throughout the Scriptures on both God’s wrath and God’s mercy. But what about in the gospels. Did Jesus preach on God’s wrath in the gospels? Certainly. But who was the audience? Let’s look at some passages.

In Matthew 13, Jesus is preaching to a crowd by the sea. He gave the following parable:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, ESV)

He explained the parable this way:

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9, ESV)

In Luke, when Jesus is sending out the 72 disciples, He speaks of the destruction of whole cities:

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:13-16, ESV)

Again in Matthew, Jesus is speaking to the crowd in parables:

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14, ESV)

And in Luke, Jesus is speaking to the crowd:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5, ESV)

And again:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)

This is a small sampling of Jesus’s teaching recorded in the gospels. While it is absolutely true that Jesus spoke with great kindness and gentleness to His people, His message to the crowds, both sinners and religious, was one of both God’s wrath and God’s mercy. We should be equally kind and gentle in our gospel presentation, but we should not shy away from speaking the whole truth, preaching the message of reconciliation we’ve been given.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21, ESV)

If it looks like Rome …

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I’ve been noticing a trend within the Reformed Presbyterian world. Many churches seem to be drawn to practices that have more in common with Rome than with Geneva. I’m not really sure what exactly the attraction is, but here are some of the things I’ve noticed, in no particular order:

  • Eucharistic liturgy
  • Intinction
  • Monastic Retreats
  • Contemplative prayer
  • Vestments
  • Observance of Ash Wednesday/Lent

It seems worthwhile, given the current fascination, to consider these practices and to ask whether they are in keeping with Scripture and our Reformed Presbyterian heritage.

First, while there are many opinions and preferences on liturgical style in worship, there is more going on here than simply responsive readings. Some churches have begun to borrow liturgy from the Catholic Eucharist mass to use in their own communion services. Most often what is used is the “mysterium fidei”

Minister: Let us proclaim the mystery of faith:
All: Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

These words are absolutely true. Christ has indeed died, risen, and will come again. But it’s important to consider the origin and meaning of this piece of liturgy.

This liturgy comes from the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The purpose of the liturgy is to consecrate the host or Eucharist for the celebration of the communion rite. The mysterium fidei comes from the part when the priest consecrates the wine, turning the wine into the blood of Jesus.

This is important because the “mystery of faith,” according to the Catholic church, is that once the bread and wine have been consecrated they are transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Which is why the consecrated elements, bread and wine, are held up for veneration. In fact, the entire celebration of the Eucharist liturgy is to offer up Christ as a sacrifice to God each and every time.

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes:

Does not each mass promise a new forgiveness of sins, a new purchase of righteousness, so that now there are as many testaments as there are masses? Therefore, let Christ come again, and, by another death, make this new testament; or rather, by innumerable deaths, ratify the innumerable testaments of the mass. Said I not true, then, at the outset, that the only true death of Christ is obliterated by the mass? For what is the direct aim of the mass but just to put Christ again to death, if that were possible? (IV.18)

Why would any Reformed Presbyterian believer want to return to Eucharistic liturgy in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? We certainly don’t believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus. Words have meanings, and liturgy has a history. Is our own liturgical history so empty that we need to borrow words from a ceremony whose very meaning is contrary to all we believe?

John Calvin, like many of the Reformers, had a liturgy. It was Biblical and beautiful. As the author of the article noted, John Calvin believed that simplicity was good in liturgy:

Liturgical practices that call attention to themselves obscure God, kill worship, and subvert the life of faith. One must understand Calvin’s long passages against images, relics, veneration of the saints, sacramental ism, and all human ceremonies as his conscientious effort to restore direct, simple fellowship between God and his people. What was at stake was the renewal of spiritual life. For John Calvin, the true preaching of the Word, heartfelt prayer, congregational praise, and proper use of the sacraments were the liturgical means for joining the believing worshiper to the living God.

Maybe we should look to our own history and liturgical tradition first when considering our order of worship.

A related topic is the practice of intinction. Intinction, or dipping the communion bread into the wine, is a practice that originated with the Catholic and Eastern churches. One of the most common reasons given for the practice within those churches was to reduce the risk of spilling the consecrated wine. Remember, once the wine has been consecrated it is believed to be the actual blood of Christ.

Most of the current arguments for intinction, such as reducing the time it takes to celebrate communion and being more hygienic than drinking from a common cup, are more pragmatic. Some ask why it even matters how we celebrate communion. Rick Phillips answers:

Still, people will say, “Okay, but why does this really matter?” The first answer is that it always matters greatly how we respond to the clear teaching of our Lord. A spiritually-alive church will “rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11) at the Word of God. We should joyfully desire fully to obey the Scriptures and fearfully tremble at the thought of doing otherwise. This is a very big matter for any church and denomination, and it makes the intinction debate important.

Second, intinction matters because the Lord’s Supper is important to the life of the church. To say that this is a “silly” debate that “wastes our time,” raises questions about what our ministers think is important to the spiritual life and health of our churches.

Another curious trend within the Reformed Presbyterian world is the fascination with monastic retreats and the related focus on contemplative prayer. Several churches have begun having silent retreats at monasteries and abbeys. What is the purpose of such a retreat? According to one abbey:

PRAYER & RECOLLECTION
The monastic milieu offers a place apart “to entertain silence in the heart and listen for the voice of God – to pray for your own discovery.” (Thomas Merton)

Communing with the Lord requires a measure of solitude, a stillness and an emptiness, a waiting on and attending to the Spirit. Silence fosters and preserves the climate of prayer and is thus a fundamental part of the Gethsemani retreat experience.

Prayer is necessary and silence can be blessing, but the mystical approach approach inherent in listening for the voice of God is not in keeping with what the Bible teaches. Contemplative prayer and mysticism are becoming increasingly popular within the Reformed Presbyterian world. Consider the popularity of Sarah Young’s book, Jesus Calling. Mrs. Young, wife of a PCA missionary, wrote her book as if Jesus were speaking directly to her:

Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day. I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying. I felt awkward the first time I tried this, but I received a message. … I have continued to receive personal messages from God as I meditate on Him. (Introduction to Jesus Calling)

Meditating and listening for a private, direct message from God is contrary to what the Reformers taught regarding the sufficiency of Scripture:

God is a speaking God to be sure. He has spoken and continues to speak to his people. In past days of redemptive history God spoke in various ways through the prophets and apostles (Heb 1:1-2). But the canon is now closed. We live in that privileged age of redemptive history where we possess God’s completed and inscripturated Word. It is a living and active Word. It is an unerring and authoritative Word. It is also a sufficient Word not needing to be supplemented by extra-biblical voices, messages, revelations, or vague murmurings.

As the saying goes: If you want to hear God speak, read the Bible. If you want to hear God speak audibly, read the Bible aloud. We have Scriptures which are the inspired, inerrant Word of God. Why would we seek something more?

Equally curious is the move towards wearing Catholic style robes and vestments, including the increasingly popular clerical collars. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with robes and stoles and collars of various shapes and colors. However, certain styles are strongly associated with particular religious traditions that we are not part of as Reformed Presbyterian churches. While I agree that these robes, etc. are visually striking, if a pastor wants to wear a robe, why not a traditional Geneva gown? Why look like something we aren’t?

Last, an appropriate one for this time of year, many churches have begun celebrating Ash Wednesday and Lent. I have absolutely nothing against prayer, fasting, and reflecting on Jesus and His death and resurrection. However the historic practice of observing Lent is more than that:

However, the observance of Lent in the life of the church of the Middle Ages was a required fast, not voluntary or optional as it is in many churches today. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) has made the observance of Lent obligatory for all its members. This is well established in the Canon Law of the RCC. …

Therefore, according to the RCC, to fail to observe Lent and its required fasts is a violation of established church law and sinful. While it is certainly appropriate for Christians to observe times of fasting and sober reflections as an expression of their devotion to their Lord, it is quite a different matter for the church to bind the consciences of believers with observances which are not mandated in Scripture.

Many articles have been written about Lent and why Reformed believers should question the practice, but what is important to remember is that the purpose of Lent, historically, is penance and the earning of merit towards salvation. It is a practice so antithetical to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If something is a sin, we should stop doing it, but not just for 40 days. If something is not a sin, we are free to enjoy it or not. Our lives should be always marked with sober reflection of our sin and of our salvation.

In the end, I’m not sure why so many Catholic practices are finding their way into Reformed Presbyterian churches. It seems to me that these things have the “feel” of worship, and maybe that is the attraction. Maybe there is boredom or discontent with our own traditions. Maybe there is a desire to “do church” differently. Whatever the reason, maybe we should stop and reconsider. All of these things are part of a religious tradition that our spiritual ancestors broke away from. Maybe we should give more thought as to why.

A Response to the He-Man Women Haters Club

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I really wasn’t planning to make a full response to the boys over at that blog that shall remain nameless. My general approach with them is “don’t feed the trolls.” However an astute reader, Kassandra, has written an impressive reply that addresses the brothers and their concerns with my post on Biblical Patriarchy. Here is her reply in full, posted here with her permission.

Kassandra:

Interesting post from Bayly. Completely unresponsive to yours, of course, but the patriarchy set are often like old-fashioned communists. In response to any argument as to the flaws in their theory and its unpleasant consequences, they’ll usually settle for calling you a capitalist, short-hand for self-deluded, power-hungry oppressors of mankind. I find this sort of response unpersuasive, unhelpful, and irritating.

I first got bogged down in Bayly’s spurious “I met this minor theologian that you quoted in passing as making a point with which you agreed, and he was a feminist.” Ugh. No one cares what this fellow we’ve never heard of said at dinner…with nuns (Why mention the nuns? As they say, if there’s a nun over the fireplace in the first act…). Why didn’t Bayly address Bloesch’s thought? He was cited for his idea, not as someone we can all agree is an authority. So what if he’s a feminist? Even a feminist might stumble upon a good idea every once in awhile, like a blind pig. What Bloesch says appears to be true, feminist or not. But labels, and their misuse, are the sin qua non of Bayly’s post.

Bloesch’s claim is pretty modest–some men are tyrants that leave their families in “servile dependence and submission.” A claim that humans abuse power seems modest enough. No one who bothered to read a bit of Proverbs and a minor prophet or two could seriously claim that abuse of the people one has power over is not wrong. It is therefore perplexing that instead of telling us why the patriarchy movement is not subject to such abuse, or no more subject to abuse than usual, Bayly settles for labeling everyone involved a feminist, as if that settles the question.

On this point, I have bad news for Bayly. Outside the patriarchy movement, those of us who think the gals shouldn’t be church officers and should be submissive to their own husbands are pretty much never referred to as feminists. By anybody. Especially actual feminists. Slapping a label on someone that doesn’t suit is the essence of Bayly’s entire post.

Interestingly, Bayly labels Sproul Jr. and Doug Wilson complementarians, while you, with your more generally accepted version of complementarianism, must be a feminist. While I’m sure both chaps claim to be complementarians, they are also leading lights of patriarchy. If they were totally in the camp with the rest of us lesser complementarians, they wouldn’t have to have a separate name. Which they gave themselves. This “have my cake, eat my cake” predilection is also something FV is predisposed to. Teaching something rather different while insisting on keeping the old label is not just confusing, it can be fraudulent. Slapping a Gucci label on a Walmart handbag doesn’t make it a Gucci bag.

I particularly enjoyed Bayly’s nonsense about your being “inconsistent” because you recognize some authority relationships as valid and others as invalid claims to authority unsupported in Scripture. To make this point, he grossly mischaracterizes your argument as one that implies inequality any time an authority relationship exists. This is rather like saying that because I believe I have a duty to submit to the President of the United States that I also have a duty to submit to the local mob boss. Not everyone who claims authority claims it validly. False claims of authority, because they cannot be claimed on the basis of Scripture, are often based on vague references to nature and inherent inequality. Valid claims of authority don’t need the trappings of inequality because they are supported by the text.

If Bayly believes the claims of patriarchy as to all male authority in civil society are valid, he needs to support the claim, not just attack your Reformed bona fides. Again, using labels in a way no one else seems to use them, he appears to imply that you can’t be Reformed unless you agree with Knox and Calvin about everything. The Reformed Baptists would be surprised. Generally, when the rest of us refer to the Reformation, we’re predominantly talking about the radical shift in soteriology and ecclesiology of the period, not haircut regulations (seriously) and not theories on government (in which the Reformers were much-surpassed by their successors a century or two on).

Support for patriarchy’s claims about civil authority would preferably come from Scripture, not the Reformers (medieval theocratic government models haven’t aged well, even the Protestant ones). I’m afraid Knox and Calvin, impressive beards aside, are not our Apostles (or popes). Reformers are not infallible, not sinless, not always right. Luther, also a Reformer with a capital R, said some downright vicious things about, and advocated some downright vicious actions against, Jews. Take from the Reformers what is good, what stands the test of Scripture, or of time and prudence if Scripture is not implicated, and leave behind the wicked, the culturally dictated, and the downright silly (haircut regulation falls squarely in this category).

The most disturbing thing over at Bayly’s blog, though, was not his silly post about how disagreeing with him (or Doug Wilson) makes you a feminist. Far more disturbing was the January 19 post, where he felt the need to point out that women are, in fact, moral agents…twice. In what sort of subculture is this a point worth making and not just assumed without discussion? Perhaps the kind that treats women as less than fully human.

Body Image

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One of my most persistent struggles in life has been over body image. It started in elementary school when one of the girls called me “fat.” It’s amazing that one girl’s cruelty could have a life-long effect, but it has. For the record, here is a picture of me in early elementary school. (That’s my sweet little brother in the picture with his dear friend, Ivy. Aren’t they cute!)

Having decided at an early age that this cruel girl was right, I went through most of my childhood and teen years convinced that I was fat. And since guys rarely asked me out (I can count the number of dates I had before I met Matt on one hand), I felt like I had good evidence that I just wasn’t at all attractive.

So, I have struggled for many, many years with how I see myself. Being married to Matt has done wonders to my self-image. It still honestly amazes me that Matt thinks I’m beautiful, but I’ve decided to accept that he does and not question it. Which brings me to my point in writing this.

Ladies, it’s time to stop listening to the “world” and it’s values in determining our worth and our standards of beauty. A woman’s worth and beauty are not determined by a number on a scale or a size on a pair of jeans. While I completely agree with the importance of being healthy, eating balanced meals, and exercising, it’s time for us to stop being so critical of ourselves and so discontent with who God made us to be and what He made us to look like.

For most of us, at our age and stage of life, we owe a good bit of our current “shape” to having had children. Why is this a bad thing? I wouldn’t trade my children for anything, not even the 28-inch waist I had before they were born. And, if “Spanx” means anything to you, you know exactly what I mean. Ladies, we are not rounder and saggier because we’ve “let ourselves go.” Our bodies bear the evidence that we are moms. Society doesn’t value that. Somehow, we are supposed to have either the bodies we had as teenagers or the bodies of anorexic, teenaged boys. But, why? Why should we look like we never had children? Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. Being healthy, eating well, and exercise are good things. Unrealistic expectations, aren’t.

As a side note, do you know why women have cellulite and men don’t? (No, I don’t think it’s because of the Fall, although maybe indirectly.) Women store fat in neat little pockets so that they can access them for pregnancy and breast-feeding. Cool, huh?

So, let’s stop the fad diets, the quick weight loss fasts, the diet drugs, and the self-loathing. Let’s remember that God made us as we are and that His love for us is not based on how much we look like the latest air-brushed model on the magazine.

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