Is Complementarian Just Another Word for Patriarchy?

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There have been a number of articles going back and forth on whether complementarianism is the same thing as patriarchy. Some Egalitarians say, “Of course it’s the same.” Some complementarians seem to agree at some level. There is certainly debate over the issue. It’s worth noting that the boys at the blog that shall not be named believe that complementarianism is just another name for feminism.

So what do I think? Is complementarian just another word for patriarchy? Well, my answer is: not really and it depends who said it. Helpful isn’t it.

First, I think it’s important to note that there is considerable confusion over the definition of terms. There are many people who claim the term complementarian often with significant differences over what they think that means. Because of that it can be difficult to determine what a “complementarian” believes simply based on the label. I believe it’s worthwhile to consider the various views on gender roles on a continuum with egalitarian/feminism on one extreme and patriarchy on the other. So, some “complementarians” would be closer to patriarchy and others further away.

Also, it doesn’t help matters that some complementarians claim to prefer the term patriarchy or that some in the patriarchy camp claim to be complementarians. There is a real need to define what one believes, and it’s possible that some labels are not as helpful as they were developed to be.

Some complementarians (and also the patriarchy guys) think that the word patriarchy best describes the Christian faith. Since patriarchy means “father rule” and since God is our Father, then we have a patriarchal faith. These complementarians argue that just because some extreme views have assumed the name patriarchy doesn’t mean that the name itself should be avoided.

I would argue that even if the word hasn’t always been associated with those views, it is now. Like it or not, once a word has assumed such as strong association, it is near impossible to call it back, and it’s honestly not worth the effort or the confusion it causes. For example, if someone says, “I’m gay” we all know exactly what they mean, and it has nothing to do with a temporary emotional state of happiness. I don’t think it’s helpful to try to rehabilitate the word patriarchy.

But back to the idea that Christianity is inherently patriarchal. I absolutely believe that God is our Father and that He rules everything. If that’s all that’s meant by patriarchal, then I can agree. However, God is more than our Father. God is Father, Son, and Spirit. Besides being our Father, He is also our Husband, Redeemer, Creator, Savior, Teacher, Comforter. My concern is that we can limit our understanding of God by seeing Him ONLY as Father.

I’m also concerned that if we aren’t careful we will lean towards a hierarchical view of the Trinity that flirts with heresy. Of course, in the economic Trinity, God the Father sends the Son, the Son submits to the will of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. But when we are dealing with who God is we must remember that the three persons of the Godhead are “the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (WLC Q.9). It is not only God the Father that we worship. We worship the Triune God: one God, three persons. It is not only God the Father that interacts with us.

What about the view that the “patriarchs” of Israel were patriarchal? The New Testament uses the word “patriarch” twice: once to refer to David and the other to refer to Abraham. The use of the word is similar to our use of forefathers. Did the forefathers of Israel live a patriarchal life? Many of them did. Many of them were also living polygamist lives. I believe that this is an example of the descriptive nature of their marriages and their society, not a prescriptive one.

I think it’s worth looking at the evidences of how the Israelites were different than the surrounding cultures as the people of God. We can consider the actions of Deborah, Ruth, Esther to be contrary, in many ways, to a strict patriarchal society and difficult for many modern patriarchy guys to explain. In fact, when Deborah is brought up the most common answer starts with her being “non-normative.”

In the New Testament, the teaching is very much counter to the Roman patriarchy system. Paul tells the church that woman are to learn in silence. We get caught up on the silence part, but it was revolutionary to say that woman were to learn! The New Testament also teaches a much, much more complementary view of men and women in marriage and also equality before God in Christ. This was very different from the society they lived in.

So, in summary, do I believe that complementarian is just another word for patriarchy? It shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, there is often not as much differentiation between complementarian views and patriarchal ones as there should be.

It can be hard to be in the middle ground between two extremes. People on both ends will disagree with you. But the answer isn’t to deny that the middle ground exists.

My plea for complementarians is to be clear about what you believe. Don’t be afraid to take a stand that pits you against both extremes. Speak out against the twisting of Scripture and the dangers and abuses of both sides. Feminists may always believe that you’re just patriarchy guys by another name. Patriarchy guys may always call you feminists. Just because they see the world that way doesn’t make them right.

Mortification of Spin: My interview on the dangers of patriarchy

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A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to discuss the dangers of patriarchy with the hosts of the Mortification of Spin podcast. I had a great time. Carl Trueman, Aimee Byrd, and Todd Pruitt are an interesting bunch. I really appreciate them taking the time to discuss such an important and controversial topic. You can visit the link below to hear the whole thing.

Mortification of Spin: Bully Pulpit XL: Patriarchy

The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

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Yesterday I read an article by Vyckie Garrison, founder of No Longer Quivering, on her move from “Christian” patriarchy to atheism. Vyckie was once a leader within the patriarchy and quiverfull movements. In the article, she describes the abuses she suffered and makes her argument for why atheism is the only appropriate response to those abuses.

I really, really feel very sad for Vyckie and her family. I agree with her that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are full of abuses. I completely support her decision to leave an abusive marriage and to protect herself and her family. I am also very profoundly sorry that she equates patriarchy with Christianity. It truly breaks my heart to read her story.

In her article, Vyckie discusses each type of abuse she experienced in the patriarchy movement. I would like to go through her points and address each of those points. My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity. I understand why she equates patriarchy with Christianity, but I would urge others who read her post to consider that what she was taught was a twisting of Scripture. Most of all, I would like to encourage those interact with anyone who has experienced abuse and rejected Christianity to treat the abuse survivor with gentleness and much mercy. May God show them His love.

I’m going to start with one of Vyckie’s last points. She sums up why she believes that rejecting patriarchy means rejecting Christ:

I did file for divorce and rescue myself and my kids from the tyranny of patriarchy. But for me, the primary break up was with Jesus. You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.

When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. I could not say that my husband’s patriarchal behavior was abusive so long as I was committed to a relationship with “The Big Guy” who exemplifies the abusive bully, and who commands his followers to imitate His very warped and twisted idea of “love.”

It’s hard to know exactly where to start. The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of the Father’s love for His children has been so distorted here. God loves us. And because He loves us, He sent His Son as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. While it’s true that we are called to live lives willing to put others needs before our own, we aren’t called to “sacrifice our children” and martyr ourselves. Scriptures does teach “boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality.”

The Ephesians passage that speaks to the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. begins with the following verses:

be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-21 ESV, emphasis mine)

We are called to submit to one another. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, women and children are not the only ones called to submit. As Christians, we are all called to consider the needs of others for the purpose of building them up. Not to the exclusion of caring for our own needs, but thinking of others and showing them love.

God loves us and does not give us the punishment our sins deserve. He isn’t angry and looking for ways to chastise His children and keep them in fearful obedience:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

And,

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 ESV)

It’s important to go back, though, and consider how Vyckie got to this point. She gives an excellent summary of what it’s like to live in a patriarchy/quiverfull home:

Growing up in a Quiverfull home means being raised by a narcissistic father and having a mother with a huge martyr complex. The kids are treated as property to be hoarded. They are isolated, coerced and manipulated, abused and deprived socially and educationally. As surrogate moms, the older daughters bear the brunt of the work: cleaning, cooking … even homeschooling and disciplining their younger siblings when the Quiverfull mothers become too worn down and burned out from perpetual pregnancy and trying to keep up with this unsustainable lifestyle.

She goes on to explain that at one point a counselor gave her a “power and control” wheel to help her work through the various ways she had experienced abuse. She starts with Emotional Abuse and Intimidation:

Plus, I knew that as a woman, I was particularly susceptible to deception by Satan. How many times, when we were discussing an important decision, had my husband said to me, “What you are suggesting SOUNDS reasonable, but how do I know that Satan isn’t using you to deceive me?”

And,

Was I afraid of my husband? Not in a physical sense, but I was always hesitant to contradict or “disrespect” him because God had placed him in authority over me, and God-given authorities can be considered “umbrellas of protection.” Patriarchy is God’s umbrella of protection.

I have said that I believe patriarchy to be emotionally abusive because it creates an antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives, men and women. This is a good example of it. If any advice your wife gives you is automatically suspect because women are more prone to deception, then what kind of help meet can a wife be?

This is not the Biblical picture of a marriage. A marriage should be marked by mutual respect, love, and tenderness for each other. A wife should complement her husband and vice versa. We each have weaknesses and strengths, and as spouses we should help each other. A wise husband will trust his wife and hold her in great esteem. Look at the picture of the Proverbs 31 woman. Her husband trusts her judgment so much he can go about his own work without concern. And he praises her!

The third point from the “power and control” wheel is Isolation:

We taught our kids at home to protect them from the evil influence of godless humanism which we believed was the religion taught in the “government schools.” We eventually got to the point where we were so “biblical” that we felt the local Independent Fundamental Baptist church in our town was too liberal, too compromising … so we began homechurching with a couple of “like-minded” families who also were leaving their family planning up to God and homeschooling their many children.

This is the result of what I call, “parenting by fear.” While I absolutely agree that children should be protected from evil influences, isolating your family from everyone who does things differently from you isn’t healthy, and it isn’t biblical.

Scripture frequently uses imagery that we as believers are living as strangers and aliens. We are exiles. We are to be in the world, but not of it. We are also called to be witnesses and also “salt and light” to the world around us. That does require some level of interaction with people who disagree with you. We teach our children and instill good values in them. But then we have to trust the Lord to protect them (and us) as we are confronted by challenges to our faith.

The next two points, Minimizing, denying, and blaming and Using children, really get into the issue of quiverfull:

Sure there were times when submitting to my husband’s decisions was a hassle, and yes, the pregnancies nearly killed me every time, BUT … who was I to complain, considering everything that Jesus had done for me? If I thought “almost” dying was bad, just imagine how horrible it was for Jesus, who actually died!!

And

The whole point of having a quiver full of babies is to … out-populate the “enemy,” … that would be all of you; and to shoot those many arrows “straight into the heart of the enemy.” And by that, we meant that our children would grow up to be leaders in all the major institutions of our society.

There is not a strong consensus within Christianity on the use of birth control. As long as we are talking about true contraceptive (nothing that causes an abortion), there is truly no biblical evidence forbidding it. The bits and pieces that get used to support a completely anti-birth control approach are mostly proof texts taken out of context.

Do we believe that children are a blessing? Absolutely. Does that mean that every family regardless of health (physical and emotional) and financial needs should attempt to have as many children as is physically possible? Nope. Does the size of your family determine how much God loves you? No. Isaac had two sons. Jacob had twelve. God blessed them both. How many children should a family have? That is a decision that should be made by each family with much prayer and consideration.

There are two points in particular that I would note from Vyckie’s article here. One, we are not called to nearly kill ourselves joyfully so that we can be like Christ. The Psalmists regularly call out to God to hear us when things are tough. God cares. He listens:

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

Two, the idea that we are called to “out breed” our political opponents is nowhere in Scripture. Nowhere. Dominionism or theonomy or reconstructionism are all political ideologies made up by men. Scripture calls us to live at peace, as far as it depends on us, with those around us. We are also called to be good citizens. We are not called to take over the government.

Should Christians who are called to government service seek to serve God in all they do? Yes. Should Christians vote for good leaders? Absolutely. Should Christians recognize that our leaders were put there by God? Yes, for our benefit or judgment. Should Christians be active in politics and seek to make good laws and good leaders? Yes, if they are called to do so.

The next topic that Vyckie addresses is Male Privilege:

I wouldn’t say that my husband used male privilege to control and dominate me and the kids. Male privilege was his rightful position. As Paul says in the book of 1 Corinthians, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.

This is a sad abuse of Scripture. I do believe that husbands are to be the spiritual leader of their families, and I know that Vyckie would probably lump me in with the patriarchy guys because of it. But I don’t believe that this is license for a power trip on the part of husbands. Biblically to be a servant leader means that husbands are to put the needs of their families first. They are to love their families and care for them gently. Jesus even warns about those who seek to promote themselves:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

Vyckie then discusses Economic abuse:

My God will supply all my needs,” and “I have never seen a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread” … It was really just a matter of trust, plus careful money management.

According to what she experienced, and what I’ve seen elsewhere, families are taught:

  • to have many children, regardless of the ability to feed and cloth them
  • never to take government assistance (food stamps, etc.) even if they are in need
  • wives are not to work outside the home, even if the families can’t live on the husband’s income
  • to live debt free, so cash only and no credit use

These are all extra-biblical ideas. I know that many patriarchy supporters will point to various verses, but honestly, these are man made rules. God blesses us with children, but also with wisdom. We must take care of the ones we have. Does that mean that if families must be able to afford to pay for college for each of their children? Not necessarily. But basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing (and attention) should always be considerations in how we live and care for our families. And it should be noted that the Proverbs 31 woman worked and brought in income.

Her last point is Coercion and Threats:

Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position … directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.

This again plays in to the “parenting by fear” approach common within the patriarchy movement. They take various verses, mostly from Proverbs, and use them to determine the rules to follow to guarantee God’s favor and blessings. If they do the right things, teach their children the right way, then God will be happy and bless them.

This is treating God like a capricious ruler and like a cosmic genie. God isn’t out to get us. He’s not looking for us to slip up so he can punish us. There is no perfect formula for raising children that guarantees a good outcome. Scripture doesn’t teach one. There is no list of rules that will keep you and your family from harm. Bad things happen to good people. Even more amazing, good things happen to bad people.

This whole approach looks so much more like what the Pharisees taught than the grace that Scripture teaches. Jesus said about them:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus calls us to Him and promises rest:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Vyckie is right that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are abusive. She was right to abandon those teachings and to seek protection for herself and her children. I believe, though, that she’s wrong to say that Christianity is equivalent with patriarchy and quiverfull. Not that there aren’t those who make that claim. Not that she wasn’t taught that it was the truth. But based on what the Bible actually teaches as a whole, patriarchy and quiverfull are not only not synonymous with Christianity but are actually antithetical to Christianity, to grace, to mercy, and to the love of God.

Bread and Crackers; Grape Juice and Wine

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There have been some articles recently discussing the elements used communion. Mainly they have focused primarily on whether or not wine or grape juice is most appropriate. One did also briefly address the issue of using unleavened or yeast bread. I appreciate both of these articles for their thoughtful consideration of the debate and also for their gentleness towards those who disagree. As believers, and especially as Reformed believers, we should want to be faithful to Scripture in all we do and also careful not to bind the consciences of others.

While I have no formal theological training, and I have not done a great deal of research into the various schools of thought on what should be used in communion, I want to lay out three basic types of arguments based on what I’ve read or heard on the topic. I hope that this will be useful to those who are thinking through what they believe regarding the elements.

First, I think it’s important to consider what Scripture says regarding the Last Supper and the institution of communion. From Matthew (Mark and Luke are very similar):

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)

And from 1 Corinthians:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)

What do the words from Scripture say as to what should be used? The words here are “bread,” “cup,” and “fruit of the vine.” Apparently, the Greek word translated as “bread” just means “bread.” It can be leavened or unleavened, based simply on the word. The Greek word translated “cup” means a drinking vessel. It doesn’t speak to the contents. “Fruit of the vine” appears exactly three times in the New Testament: in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as quoted above. Given the context it would be a drink made from grapes.

So far, based on the words from Scripture, it would seem that bread and a cup filled with a drink made from grapes are commanded to be used. The issue of leavening or fermentation doesn’t appear to be addressed specifically in the word choices. Given the limited use of “fruit of the vine” it is hard to say exactly what is intended, based only on the words themselves.

The second consideration should be the context, both historical and literary. The passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke start by saying:

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” (Matthew 26:17 ESV)

We know from this passage and also from the institution of Passover in Exodus 12 that Passover was celebrated with unleavened bread. To commemorate the exodus from Egypt the Israelites were commanded to eat only unleavened bread for the week of Passover.

Also, given the historical context, we can reasonably assume that the cup mentioned was filled with wine. Grape juice ferments quickly (after a few days) and no one had the technology necessary to prevent fermentation from happening.

So, most likely at the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples ate unleavened bread and drank wine.

The third consideration is a little more difficult: exegetical concerns. Are there reasons that one might choose wine/grape juice or unleavened/yeast bread because of a symbolic meaning?

I’ve read arguments for using wine because wine as a symbol of the resurrection. Grape juice “dies” and is “resurrected” as wine. This is an interesting thought and one worth considering. I do believe that symbols are useful as sermon illustrations and as teaching tools. A good example from Scripture would be the color of red wine (or grape juice for that matter) as a picture of Jesus’s blood being poured out for our sins. But I also think we should be careful not to look for symbolism that isn’t necessarily there, to impose our own thoughts or desires in order to make a particular argument seem stronger.

Another example from Scripture is the use of leavening as a symbol of sin. From the Old Testament, the Israelites are warned at particular times to get rid of all leavening. Most commonly this is associated with Passover, but it’s also part of other commandments for the sacrificial system as well. The warnings also appear in the New Testament:

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1 ESV)

And

Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12 ESV)

And

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV)

Obviously the leavening here is not actual yeast but rather a symbol of sin. As believers we have been set free from the power and dominion of sin and death. We have nothing to fear from yeast. We are under no law that requires us to rid our homes of leavening. Although we are reminded that a “little” sin can influence a whole lot in our lives, in our homes, in our families, in our churches, and in our society.

So, there might be exegetical reasons to prefer wine over grape juice or unleavened bread over leavened. But I think it should be worth pointing out that it would be preferences at that point and not commandments. It is similarly a preference issue to decide that wine and a loaf of bread are more aesthetically pleasing or that crackers and thimbles full of grape juice are less.

I’m sure there are other aspects of this discussion that I’ve overlooked here. This isn’t meant as a definitive treatise on communion elements. These are simply my thoughts on what I’ve read and heard. I hope that in our desire to be faithful to the Scriptures that we are careful to be kind to believers who disagree with us. I’ll close with a quote from John Calvin on this subject. As a side note, I’ll add that Calvin also lived before the advent of grape juice as a viable option. Who knows what he would have said about our modern debate.

In regard to the external form of the ordinance, whether or not believers are to take into their hands and divide among themselves, or each is to eat what is given to him: whether they are to return the cup to the deacon or hand it to their neighbour; whether the bread is to be leavened or unleavened, and the wine to be red or white, is of no consequence. These things are indifferent, and left free to the Church, though it is certain that it was the custom of the ancient Church for all to receive into their hand. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 4.17.43

 

 

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?

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