Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness

Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

Whether or not we’re aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn’t it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?

In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It’s sinful because it says we don’t really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.

As Hill explains:

Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)

So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world?

Read the rest of this article over at Reformation 21.

Finding Eternal Subordination of the Son in the Oddest Places

As I’ve written before, there are many, many books that teach eternal subordination of the Son (ESS). Books for women, books for children, even notes in a very popular study Bible teach ESS. Most of the time, I’m not surprised when ESS shows up in a book, especially if the author has connections to CBMW, Wayne Grudem, or SBTS (where Bruce Ware teaches).

But every now and then, I’m truly surprised to find ESS being taught. Recently I read Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible by Jerram Barrs. Barrs is a professor at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. In the introduction, Barrs writes about the purpose of the book:

What does God think about women, and how does he treat them? My passionate desire and prayer is that the book will be an encouragement to women and a challenge to men to treat women with the same honor that the Lord himself shows. (9)

Each chapter focuses on a different woman from the Bible and attempts to correct misunderstandings that have gotten in the way of our understanding of what the Bible teaches about women. I was intrigued by the premise and interested to see how Barrs dealt with the topic.

The first three chapters deal with Eve. One of the first things Barrs’ emphasizes is Adam and Eve’s equality in creation. I was pleased that he did. However, when he tries to explain how Adam has a position of authority or leadership over Eve, he introduces classic ESS teaching:

In addition, it is Adam who gives Eve her name, and as we mentioned earlier, this implies a particular significance or authority in the one who does the naming. … This leadership of Adam in relationship with Eve, and her corresponding commitment to him, does not mean that their equality is undermined, for Eve and Adam are like the Trinity in which there is a headship of the Father over the Son, and yet there is also a full equality of Godhead (1 Corinthians 11:, Colossians 1:19; 2:9). (22)

It’s not until the appendix at the end of the book that Barrs develops the ESS theme. The appendix is apparently a wedding sermon that Barrs preached where the couple asked him to speak about headship and submission. Barrs uses the names “Adam” and “Eve” in place of the couple’s actual names.

Interestingly, Barrs brings a twist to ESS that I’ve never seen before. In his formulation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equal in authority, but there’s still a hierarchy of headship:

This pattern of headship comes from creation itself, or perhaps we should say from God himself. The Lord who made us, the Lord we worship, is a triune God. God is the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who have loved and delighted in each other from all eternity. Within the Trinity there is full equalitythe Son and Spirit are just as fully God as is the Father. The Son and the Spirit have just as much authority, are just as powerful, just as holy, just as wise, just as good just as loving, just as glorious as the Father. To deny this full equality of the persons of the Godhead is heresy, a serious departure from the truth. Yet, within the Trinity there is also a hierarchythe Father is over the Son and the Spirit, and the western churches have taught that the Son is over the Spirit. The Son and the Spirit delight to submit themselves always to the Father’s will; and the Spirit delights to submit to the Son and to do his will. (324, emphasis original)

Barrs points out that the hierarchy isn’t demeaning at all. God the Father gives God the Son the “most significant tasks imaginable”!

This headship of the Father is not demeaning to the Son in any way. The Father is pleased to honor the Son always by giving him the most significant tasks imaginable … The Son, for his part, is ever gladly submissive to the Father. He is always eager to do his Father’s will, committed to obeying his Father’s every word, ready to speak whatever the Father wants him to say, pleased to respect and honor his Father in everything he does, devoted to bringing glory to his Father. We look at this eternal relationship of headship and submission, and it is no vision of miseryrather it is an eternally shared glory! (324-325, emphasis added)

So, in addition to ESS (eternal subordination of the Son), EFS (eternal functional submission), and ERAS (eternal relations of authority and submission), we now have ERHS (eternal relationship of headship and submission).

Having explained the origin of headship and submission in the eternal relationships within the Trinity, Barrs applies this equal but hierarchical relationship to marriage. Instead of the Biblical example for marriage, Christ and the church, Barrs focuses on the Father/Son relationship in the “family of the Trinity.”

Adam and Eve, your relationship is to mirror the relationship between the Father and the Son, for the apostle Paul teaches us that your family, just like every other family on earth or in heaven, is named and patterned after the family of our heavenly Father, the family of the Trinity … Eve and Adam, you are to show to the world the beauty of the eternal love between the Son and the Father. (325-326)

In the study questions at the end of the appendix, Barrs asks:

Have you considered before reading this chapter the reality of equality and headship that exists within the Trinity? As you think about this, how would you express the beauty of the relationship between the Father and the Son as it is described for us in the Scriptures? (328)

To answer his questions, no such “reality of equality and headship exists within the Trinity.” And I would describe such a relationship of authority and submission as heretical. Barrs is right that to deny full equality within the Trinity is heretical. But sadly, he doesn’t recognize that he’s doing so here.

When I read the first paragraph in the Eve chapter that taught ESS, I was really surprised, and I honestly hoped that it was somehow a poorly worded section. Maybe something the publisher (Crossway) wanted to include. But give the fully developed ESS (ERHS?) in the appendix, and given that Barrs preached ESS at a wedding, it seems that Barrs is another who teaches and promotes ESS (at least at the time).

Barrs ends his introduction by calling for men to treat women better. Ironically, he says:

Many women experience discrimination and poor treatment in their churches and in their homes. In conservative circles this is sometimes defended and justified by specious appeals to Scripture. (11)

ESS and its application to marriage are part of the “discrimination and poor treatment” that many women experience in the home and in churches. As a popular author and teacher, many men and women have read and will read his book. I hope that in the intervening years, and given the Trinity debate of 2016, that Barrs has changed his mind about ESS. If so, I hope he’ll clarify his position publicly.

Struggling to be Free or Free to Struggle?

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal 2:20, NASB

What should the Christian life look like? Should we be trying to prove our worth to God? Are we free to live how ever we want because “grace”? Should we expect to achieve sinless perfection?

When I was in college, our RUF pastor used to ask us, “Are you struggling to be free, or are you free to struggle?” His point was that until we come to faith in Christ we will struggle and fight an impossible battle to make ourselves right with God. We will struggle to be free of our sin and guilt.

The good news of the gospel is that through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we have been set free from sin’s power. Sin no longer has dominion over us. We are at peace with God. This is our reality right now, and it can’t be taken away from us. But there’s more to the story. We have been set free and given a purpose.

Because we have been united to Christ by the Spirit, we have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and are dead to sin (Rom 6:11). But we have also been raised with Christ, so that we may “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). What does this mean for us?

Read the rest of this article over at Place for Truth.

Talking with Our Children about Death

“Is she going to die?” That’s what my boys wanted to know when we told them how sick their Bisabuela[1] was. How do we answer that question and other questions about death that our children ask?

Talking about death is uncomfortable, isn’t it? As a culture, we don’t like to think about it. In fact, we avoid thinking about it. We exercise and eat “right” and take vitamins and supplements that promise us eternal youth, or at least a long life.

But eventually, we’re confronted with the reality of death. Maybe it’s the death of a grandparent. Maybe it’s the loss of a child. Maybe it’s a life-threatening illness. Whatever the circumstances, we come to a point where we can’t just ignore death. For ourselves and our children, we need to be ready to give biblical answers and gospel encouragement when the time comes.

So, what should we tell our children about death? In my experience, children want answers to three basic questions. Why do people have to die? Are you/am I going to die? What happens when we die? These can be hard questions to answer. The good news is that God has given us answers in the Bible.

Read the rest of this article at Place for Truth.

Resources on Anxiety

As you may be aware, I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety.  I’ve been doing some research into Christian books on anxiety and worry to get a feel for what resources are available to recommend. The good news is there are solid books out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of books that aren’t so good.

So first, let’s consider the good ones.

A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament by Christina Fox

Christina’s book, though not explicitly about anxiety, remains my absolute favorite and my top recommendation for anyone struggling with anxiety, worry, doubt, or depression. You can read my full review here.

A Heart Set Free is a book about learning from the Psalms of Lament how to cry out to God. Instead of pretending our emotions don’t exist or that we aren’t hurting, we need to learn how to lament, how to express our emotions in our Christian walk:

In fact, the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings. They remind us what is true. They point us to God’s love and faithfulness. They help us journey through the dark valleys until we can emerge on the other side and bow in grateful worship. (17)

One thing that I really appreciate about Christina’s book is her balanced approach to the cause of anxiety and depression. Sin is at the root of our pain, but our pain is not always the direct result of sinful behavior on our part:

Sin is the cause of all our pain and sorrow. It might be the sins of others committed against us that bring us feelings of shame. It might be the effects of sin on the creation around us that bring a natural disaster, resulting in loss and our subsequent grief. It might be the brokenness of our bodies, causing us emotional turmoil or the failure of our minds to work as God intended. It might be our own sinful responses to what happens in our lives. It might even be a combination of all these, but at its root, sin is what brings us all our sorrows, griefs, and fears. (39)

I highly recommend this book to anyone, male or female, young or old. No matter your struggles, God speaks to us through the Psalms of Lament, and through the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to speak to God.

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David Murray

David’s book is also not specifically about anxiety. However, like Christina’s book, it’s easy to apply David’s advice to anxiety. This book is short, but filled with practical helps for those suffering from depression and/or anxiety and also for their loved ones.

David addresses the common pitfalls and shortcomings in the counseling and advice given to those struggling with depression and anxiety:

There are three simplistic extremes that we should avoid when considering the cause of depression: first, that it is all physical; second, that it is all spiritual; third, that it is all mental. (20, nook edition)

Instead of these simplistic approaches, David recommends a balanced approach that addressed the whole person and may include the use of medications:

For Christians there will often need to be a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. (30, nook edition)

We are body and soul, and as such, David reminds us that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are intertwined:

We cannot separate our thoughts from our feelings or our feelings from our behavior. What we think affects how we feel. What we think and feel affects our physical health. Our thoughts, feelings, and physical health affect what we do. (33, nook edition)

If we aren’t careful about how we address depression and anxiety, we run the risk of teaching a prosperity-type gospel of mental health:

If we come to the point that our default position in dealing with the causes of depression is that it is sin until proven otherwise, we are getting painfully close to the disciples’ position: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (John 9:2). It is also a position that is somewhat akin to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, in which the diagnosis for trials is personal sin and the prescription is more repentance and faith. (50, nook edition)

I strongly recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. If you have a loved one suffering, the book would also be a help for you in understanding and supporting them. Pastors and church leaders would benefit, as well, from the advice David gives.

Thinking Through Anxiety: A Brief Christian Look by J. Ryan Davidson

I found Ryan’s book through a friend’s recommendation. It’s a short book, but it’s one I really appreciated. Like David’s book on depression, Ryan takes a balanced approach to the causes of anxiety. He also offers practical and spiritual advice on addressing anxiety. As the title suggests, Ryan emphasizes reordering our thoughts when we are struggling with anxiety:

Oh how our anxious hearts need the regular experiential presence of the Lord through the Scriptures in order to be calmed and corrected in our fears, false assurances, and idolatrous ways. (28, Kindle edition)

Another aspect of Thinking Through Anxiety that I really appreciated was its gospel-centered message for anxious believers. When we can’t trust our heart, mind, or feelings, we can trust in the finished work of Christ (31-32, Kindle edition). We belong to Christ and nothing, not even our own anxious fears, can separate us from Him:

We should boldly tell ourselves that our righteousness is in heaven; that our sin has been taken away and that there is no sin that will stand against us in the last day. We are united with Christ because of His life, death, and resurrection and because of the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, we are treated in the courtroom of heaven as Christ is treated—perfectly righteous and accepted in the sight of God. (32, Kindle edition)

Ryan also offers the best hope there is to an anxious believer. There will be a day when all our pain, fear, and sadness are washed away. Even if we struggle with anxiety all our lives, there is great hope and joy in our future:

Therefore, in our continual wrestling with fear, worry, and anxiety, we need to constantly remember, that we are assured resurrection and ultimate freedom from every sin and infirmity on the last day. Our struggle must be framed with the reality of who we are in Christ. This One, who will not bruise a tender reed (Isa. 42:13) is the One to whom we are indivisibly united, even as we battle with anxiety. (65-66, Kindle edition)

As with Christina and David’s books, I would wholeheartedly recommend Thinking Through Anxiety. It was a great encouragement to me. Of all the books that were strictly about anxiety, this was the most helpful that I read.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray

Last year, David Murray and his wife, Shona, released separate books for men and women on overcoming burnout. I read both Refresh (for women) and Reset (for men) and while there are slightly different applications and illustrations the substance of the books is identical. For this review, the quotes are from Refresh. 

Shona opens the book with her own story of coming to the end of her rope physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her personal fight with anxiety, depression, and burnout has given her insight into how to encourage others. Shona starts with some warning signs for women, particularly mothers:

If you are a mother, you have little joy in your children and even wonder if they are worth all the effort. You feel trapped in an endless circuit of seemingly menial diaper changes, meals, lunches, dirty floors, crying kids, laundry, and generally being everybody’s gofer. There is no clocking-off time, and you fall into bed at night exhausted, weary, with no sense of accomplishment, and dreading the next day. You hold yourself responsible for every accident, mess, crying fit, episode of bickering, and every failure of character in your children. (31, Kindle edition)

Can you relate? I suspect we all can. Change some of the details to work or social situations and all of us know this cycle of being overwhelmed. Shona and David believe that the demands of our lives, our work, and even our society are running us ragged. We’re exhausted from the stress and worry. We’re beaten down by the constant barrage of negative news and social media. We need to stop and rest.

The weights accumulated imperceptibly; they multiplied a little every year until life slowly yet inexorably crushed us. Now, our minds are frazzled, our hearts are pounding, our bodies are breaking down, our relationships are straining, our sleep is declining, our quality of work is suffering, and our happiness is a distant memory. (118, Kindle edition)

Refresh and Reset give practical advice for fighting the burnout many of us are facing. Suggestions include getting enough sleep, fasting from digital media, regular exercise, pursuing hobbies, and taking a Sabbath rest. The focus of the books is on living lives filled by God’s grace. We truly can rest in His mercy and grace:

As we enjoy the benefits of a quieter inner and outer life and build God-given refreshings of grace into our lives, we find time to pause, to calm down, and to think about who we are and why we are here. (110, Kindle edition)

While these books aren’t specifically books on anxiety, the advice would be useful to those struggling with anxiety. My only quibbles with the books were the refresh-gym and reset-garage motifs which felt forced and the attempts to feminize or masculinize the advice. Certainly, there are differences in application or illustration for men and women when it comes to burnout. But in the end, the substance of what men and women need to hear is the same.

I appreciate Shona and David’s work on these books. I know they have a heart for those who are hurting. I’d recommend these books to anyone struggling under the weight of the world.

The next books were ones that I have mixed feelings about. Some of the advice is helpful. But each of these books takes an unbalanced approach to worry and anxiety. In these books, the formula is simple: anxiety = worry, worry = sin, therefore cure = repentance and obedience. This is exactly the kind of oversimplification that David Murray addresses in his book on depression.

Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Worry is so common that we forget it’s actually a sin. … [I]t’s just as sinful to worry as it is to disregard any other command from God. (emphasis original, 90, nook edition)

Little faith! Think about those words. The Lord equates our worry with a lack of faith. (94, nook edition)

God has directed His children not to worry; He’s classified worry as sin. Why? Because worry flows out of a distorted or incomplete view of His nature and character. … Worrying is also sinful because it elevates our thoughts and abilities to a godlike position. (94, nook edition)

We can’t stop our hearts from pounding or our stomach from being tied up in knots. We can’t control our physical symptoms. But we can, by God’s power and grace, offer our joyful obedience to Him – and trust that He will give us confidence and calm in the midst of the storm. (121, nook edition)

Running Scared by Ed Welch

At first, my interest in fear and worry was limited to quieting them for the sake of my own personal well-being. Now the stakes are much higher. My worry is a sign that I am in danger. When in doubt, pray. I am not sure of all the ways I am called by God to act, but I am certainly feeling more desperate, so I can pray. (78, nook edition)

Fear and worry reveal that our faith is indeed small. If you are looking to plumb the depths of worry, you can find it in your mixed allegiances. (85, nook edition)

In other words, worry is usually about seeking something other than God’s kingdom. Worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways, with one foot in the kingdom of the world and the other in the kingdom of heaven. (88, nook edition)

The sin-fear connection is inescapable. Therefore, when confronted with worries and fears, we should encourage our instincts to look at our own sin so that we can be people who make peace rather than break it. (216, nook edition)

Without forgiveness of sins, there can be no peace in our relationship with God, and when there is no peace with God, we will have no peace. If you are finding peace elusive, either you still don’t believe you are forgiven or you don’t really care that you are. If you know that sin is your most profound problem, more critical than anything else that worries you, you will know a resolute peace. (220, nook edition)

Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson

Worry is a rebellious choice we usually don’t take very seriously. But it is serious. Willful worry amounts to rejection of God’s character and damages our capacity for the life he calls us to. A close look at Scripture show us worry has always been a frequent point of correction between God and his people because it undermines that very faith he requires and rewards. Worry is still chronically undermining the faith and courage of Christians in this age. It is rooted in a theological misunderstanding of who God is, the nature of life in this world and our place in the universe. (16-17)

Choosing to worry is a sin, an act of rebellion against God, a rejection of our assigned place in the universe, a barrier in our relationship with a God who wants us to live is bold purpose rooted in his character. Worry is essentially a spiritual problem, which ultimately cannot be overcome merely through an act of the will – the solution is rooted entirely in who God is. (127)

Be quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible teaches us about God’s character and capabilities. Reminisce about the specific ways God has taken care of you and other people whose stories you know. Express your confidence in God’s wisdom and love, even when life is a bruised and bloody mess. (143)

Why Worry? by Robert Jones

Worry, like other problematic emotions (such as envy, anger, and despair), serves a revelatory function. It reveals the remaining double-mindedness within our souls. As we will see from Jesus’s teaching, worry expresses our remaining inner pockets of idolatry and unbelief. (5)

By his death, resurrection, and ascension he has given new hope, new power, and new identity to all who trust in him. He came to forgive us for our worrying and to help us to change our patterns. While God might not reverse the tough situations that you worry about, he specializes in pardoning, cleansing, and helping you. (5-6)

Worry expresses lingering idolatry in the heart. It signals that in some way you are trusting in yourself—that you are building your life to some degree on things or people other than Jesus. Your anxiety automatically indicates that your heart allegiances are temporarily divided. (6-7)

The antidote to worry, then, is to trust in God. We must replace anxiety with a growing focus on God’s provisions and priorities. (17)

Because of the limited understanding these books have for the root of anxiety, the advice is one-dimensional. As a result, some of these books minimize the usefulness of medications to treat anxiety. All of these books place a heavy burden on those who suffer from anxiety.

Are we all sinners? Absolutely. If we look hard enough, can we find sinful attitudes and behaviors that we should repent of? Of course. Does that mean that all anxiety is rooted in sinful attitudes and behaviors that we need to repent of? Not necessarily.

Let me give an example. Sometimes I go to sleep at night content and peaceful. I have cares and concerns, but nothing is weighing on me. But in the morning, before I even open my eyes, I am gripped by fear, panic, dread, and anxiety. My mind races to figure out why I’m anxious. It may very well latch on to something, but was that what caused the anxiety? No. Often illness or hormones are the root cause for me.

When anxiety grips me that way, being told to look to my own sin is like heaping burdens on me. No one wants to be anxious. Many of us who struggle with anxiety are hanging on to the promises of Scripture and our faith as tightly as we can. We know our sins. They’re painfully clear to us.

Instead of introspection, what we need are words of comfort and hope and a reminder to look away from ourselves to the One who saves. At the foot of the cross, we can lay our burdens down and cast all our cares on Him. He is the God who hears.

I hope these short reviews will help others who are looking for resources on anxiety. My prayer is that we may all know peace, real, lasting peace.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NASB

Book Update

I’m excited to announce that I have a book contract with P&R Publishing! My book is on the relationship between men and women and how we should live and work together in the home, church, and society. I want to help move the conversation beyond the current focus on authority and submission. Not that those aren’t important, but there are other biblical concepts that I believe are essential including unity, love, interdependence, and service.

My hope is that by studying these topics and how they relate to women and men in the home, church, and society, believers will be strengthened and encouraged. Together then we can be a blessing to families and churches and to our society which so desperately needs the truth of the gospel.

We’re in the editing stages right now, and I’ll share more details later about when my book will be available and how to get a copy. In the meantime,  I also wanted to announce that I’m available to speak at retreats and conferences. If that’s something you’d be interested in talking with me about, please feel free to send me a message on the “About” page here or through Twitter or Facebook.

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Can men and women be friends? Our society often says we can’t. As Billy Crystal explains in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And sex is what everything is about these days. We’re so saturated in it that we don’t realize how much sex has influenced even the meanings of words.

Intimacy? Sex
Relationship? Euphamism for sex
Affection? Sex
Attraction? Precursor to sex
Friendship? Euphamism for sex (friends w/ benefits), a brief stop on the way to sex, or a demotion from a sexual relationship (“just” friends, the friend zone)
Purity? Not having sex outside marriage

It’s like a Freudian Rorschach test. No matter the question, the answer is always sex.

If the world’s right about the meaning of friendship, intimacy, affection, and attraction, then how can godly men and women possibly be friends? Avoiding interactions between men and women would be the safest option if we want to be sexually pure and holy, right?

But what if the world’s wrong? What if the Bible has a better way for us to pursue purity and holiness through our friendships, even the coed ones? Those are the questions that Aimee Byrd answers in her latest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Aimee explains that the reason we get tripped up on the question of coed friendship is we’ve forgotten who and whose we are. As believers, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ (14). We’re family! And as such, we have a shared calling and purpose. We were made for communion with God and with each other (49). That’s true for us here and now, and especially true for us in the new heavens and new earth that are to come (142).

We are called to be “sacred siblings” (174). And when we consider our questions through the lens of family, of brothers and sisters, we can see not only how men and women can be friends, but how we must be friends. Family relationships are the key.

Seeing each other as sacred siblings changes our understanding of intimacy, affection, attraction, friendship, and purity. As Aimee explains, “We know how to promote holiness in brother-sister relationships” (67).

What does intimacy mean in a family setting? As Aimee notes, “We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire” (35-36). But, “If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered” (93).

What about affection? When we listen to the world, we see affection through Freud’s eyes, “Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire – to our genitals – meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. … This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification (35). But, when we remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to communion with God, we can see affection as God teaches us. As Aimee says, “We can share in his love for his people with godly, appropriate affection, and all our affections will be returned to him in fullness of glory” (73).

And attraction? We associate attraction with sexual interest or lust. But that’s a very limited meaning of the word. We’re “attracted” to people who share our interests. We should be “attracted” to admirable qualities in others: kindness, gentleness, joy, humility, generosity. Aimee explains, “Attraction is not impurity … We should be attracted to godliness in a godly way. … Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (87-88).

What does friendship mean in the context of sacred siblings? Between social media “friends,” “friends with benefits,” and “we’re just friends,” we’ve completely lost the meaning of friendship. “On the one hand, we have trivialized friendship through technology; on the other, we warn against real friendship between the sexes” (96, emphasis original). But as Christians, we know friendship means more. As Aimee writes, “Spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (98)

What about purity? We should want to pursue purity, but is purity found in simply avoiding members of the other sex? Aimee explains, “Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is preeminently about our communion with God – a fountain that overflows into our other relationships (69).

And that’s Aimee’s point. We don’t pursue purity by avoiding each other. “The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. It perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings” (76).

Does that mean we should just throw caution to the wind? No of course not. We must use wisdom and discernment. We need to be serious about sin, temptation, and our role in promoting the holiness of others:

Of course we promote one another’s holiness, take sin seriously, and realize that we can easily fall into it. We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the other sex, we don’t naively assume that everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. But, rather than creating extrabiblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we will be able to perform ordinary acts of kindness and business without scandal. (77)

Is Aimee simply naive about the way the world works? Not at all. In fact, she offers practical advice on how to exercise discernment.

If we are weak in this area, or with a particular person, we should certainly not put ourselves in situations where we know we will stumble or cause a brother or sister to stumble. We should never feed temptation to sin. Doing so is a red flag that you are not genuine in godly friendship. (88)

If you are married and find yourself romantically attracted to someone other than your spouse, or if you are single and find yourself romantically attracted to someone who is off limits for any reason, then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings. You may need to avoid car rides or eating together with this specific person. The same applies if you discern that others have inappropriate romantic feelings toward you. (91-92)

If you are married and your spouse is uncomfortable with your friendship with someone, whether it’s a man or a woman, listen to their reasons. (92)

Is Aimee trying to undermine holiness and purity? Quite the contrary, “We all agree that Christians should care for purity. I wholeheartedly advocate sexual purity and would never want to influence anyone into promiscuity or sexual sin of any kind” (63).

What she wants is to encourage us to pursue actual holiness and purity but not by “pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity” (77). What does she mean by “pickpocketing purity”? She means that by avoiding each other we end up thinking we’re being pure but without actually developing purity or holiness. “Many of the hard-and-fast rules that we add to protect ourselves work against Christ’s sanctifying work, because they point to ourselves rather than to dependence on him” (81, emphasis original).

Without spoiling the book, if avoidance isn’t the answer, how should we pursue holiness and purity?

[B]ecause we are God’s people, siblings in Christ, we are to promote one another’s holiness, which includes rousing one another to active, godly love, assembling with our siblings to publicly worship our God, and encouraging one another in godly living. These are the practices of sacred siblings. (174)

How do we do that? “Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ” (232).

By doing so, we can witness to the world that there is a better way. We can demonstrate the intimacy, affection, and friendship that we can and must have as brothers and sisters in Christ:

The church should be the very place where the world sees genuine friendship, no matter what sex you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what your social status is. This is where the world should be able to look and see what friendship is and how to do it. (232)

Aimee’s book is a much-needed one in our overly sexualized culture. I’m thankful for Aimee’s work and her willingness to step into this particular minefield.

Do you want to know more about how to be sacred siblings, about the challenges and blessings of spiritual friendship? Read her book. Aimee gives a thoroughly biblical answer to the question, “Why can’t we be friends?” Men and women can be friends but only when we remember who and whose we are, brothers and sisters united in Christ. We’re family, and it’s time we start acting like it.

No, I’m Not a Feminist or an Egalitarian

“Watch out for her. She’s a feminist!” “She says she’s not, but clearly she’s a closet egalitarian.” “She’s a thin complementarian” “No, an anorexic one.”

Words are powerful, as are labels. They can be helpful. They can be used to encourage and build people up. But they can also be used to dismiss others. They can be used to belittle and discourage.

In conservative, Christianity, there are few words that shut down discussion faster than the charge of “feminist!” Heresy is another big one, although it doesn’t work quite the same way. Feminist has almost exclusively negative associations in conservative Christian circles.

Some of that is understandable. The modern feminist movement has strong connections with abortion and same-sex marriage. Not all feminists are for abortion and same-sex marriage, but the association is there. When a conservative calls someone a feminist, it can be an attempt to question the person’s faith and commitment to Scripture.

I used to think it was amusing when someone called me a feminist. It had to be a joke. Or a clear misunderstanding. Who me? A feminist? I know some of the nuttier guys out there think anyone who disagrees with them is a feminist. And then there are the CBMW authors who say all women are feminists. But clearly, those aren’t serious opinions.

Why would anyone think I’m a feminist? Let’s consider my beliefs (which I’ve stated before.) I hold to the following beliefs regarding men, women, and gender:

  • God made man: male and female in the image of God
  • In Christ, male and female are equal before God
  • Husbands are called to sacrificial, servant leadership of their wives, loving them as Christ loves the church
  • Wives are called to voluntary submission to their husbands, submitting to them as the church submits to Christ
  • Ordination is restricted to qualified men in the church
  • Marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life
  • Men and women need each other and depend on each other

Take particular notice of what I believe about leadership and submission in marriage and ordination in the church. Those right there set me apart. I’m not a feminist. I’m also not an egalitarian, closet or otherwise. I have respect for the egalitarians I know. I appreciate the work some egalitarians have done defending the Trinity. But we have significantly different interpretations of what the Bible teaches about marriage and ordination.

And that’s ok. It’s possible to disagree and still respect other people. If you asked a feminist or an egalitarian about my beliefs, they would say that I’m either complementarian or patriarchal. It’s laughable to say I’m patriarchal, but each end of the spectrum tends towards viewing things as extremes. Just like there are those who say everyone who disagrees with them is a feminist, there are those who say anyone who disagrees with them is patriarchal.

So then the question is, am I a complementarian? I used to think so. I used to call myself one.  After all, I believe that husbands are the spiritual leaders of their families. I believe that wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands. And I believe that ordained church leaders should be qualified men. Isn’t that a complementarian?

Apparently not. To be a true complementarian, you also need to believe:

  • women were created to be submissive, responsive, soft
  • men were created to be leaders, providers, strong
  • men are supposed to be priests for their families
  • women are supposed to be at home and not in the workforce (unless there’s a really good reason, but even then)
  • divorce is wrong even when there is biblical justification for it
  • the eternal subordination of the Son, especially as it is applied to men and women
  • all women are rebellious feminists at heart and men must put down that rebellion (an interpretation of Genesis 3:16)

How do I know this is necessary for true complementarianism? Well, when I disagreed with these beliefs, I was called a “soft,” “thin,” or “anorexic” complementarian. I was also called a closet egalitarian or a feminist because:

  • I questioned what CBMW taught about men and women and the Trinity
  • I defended orthodox Trinitarianism against the eternal subordination of the Son
  • I raised questions about the ESV translation for changing the wording of Genesis 3:16 and 4:7
  • I wrote about abuse as biblical grounds for divorce
  • I believe women can be leaders in business and politics or even cops and umpires

When I took a logic class in college, I didn’t like the way we were supposed to apply mathematical proofs to language. Math is neat and tidy. Add, subtract, multiply, divide. Numbers have intrinsic meaning. Words aren’t as definite and precise as math. But that doesn’t mean that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Our society is losing its collective mind when it comes to words and their meanings. We’re told we can “identify” as whatever we want, regardless of reality. Truth and facts? It’s relative. It just depends on what “your truth” is.

As Christians, we have fought against this kind of relativism for years. You’d think conservative Christians would be more careful about using words accurately. Feminist and egalitarian have actual definitions. There are Christian feminist groups and egalitarian organizations with definite beliefs. Feminist doesn’t mean “a woman I disagree with and wish she’d stop talking.” Egalitarian doesn’t simply mean “someone who thinks women can have opinions about theology.”

I’m not a feminist. I’m not an egalitarian. What I am is tired of the name-calling and the attempts to silence me and others like me. No doubt those who need to hear these words the most are the least likely to listen. But I hope that those who are tempted to believe the lies about me will do me the honor of considering what I’ve written here.

 

Top 10 Posts of 2017

2017 has been an interesting year. Looking back over the top 10 posts for my blog, I noticed that the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son continues to be a topic of interest. Unsurprisingly, this year’s salvation by faith alone debate was also one of the big topics as were articles on what women are taught. A couple of older articles round out the top 10 as perennial favorites. Thank you all for your comments and shares. I appreciate you all very much! Happy New Year and may God bless you richly this coming year.

10. ETERNAL SUBORDINATION OF THE SON AND THE ESV TRANSLATION

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

9. TRUE WOMAN 101: DIVINE DESIGN

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

8. WHY I’M NOT USING SUSAN WISE BAUER’S CURRICULA: A REVIEW OF PETER ENNS’ BIBLE CURRICULUM

Having read the parents’ guide, I can say that there are a few things on which I agree with Dr. Enns. I agree that it is very important to teach our children that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus. I agree that our children should learn from the very start who Jesus is and why the Bible is His story. I also agree that our children should be well-educated in the various challenges to the truth of the Bible that they are likely to face. My concerns, however, greatly outweigh these areas of agreement. The problems that I see with Telling God’s Story can be grouped into three basic topics: methodology, Biologos/evolution, and view of Scripture.

7. DOES IT MATTER WHAT WOMEN ARE TAUGHT?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

6. THE DESIRE OF THE WOMAN: A RESPONSE TO SUSAN FOH’S INTERPRETATION

For such a short article, it has had a profound influence on conservative Christian teaching. 40 years later, numerous books, articles, sermons, and even Bible translations have adopted Foh’s unique interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Even those who swear they’ve never heard of Susan Foh teach her interpretation as if it is the best or only understanding of the passage.

My concern is that Foh’s interpretation is an example of eisegesis with dangerous implications. I’m always wary of “novel” or “unique” interpretations of Scripture especially when they arise in response to some contemporary situation.

5. CAN’T WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?!

We should not be afraid to delve into the Scriptures and even to teach women doctrine. I’m sure that some churches and leaders may be hesitant to take this approach with women’s Bible studies. But according to recent articles and studies, the people in the pews are hungry for the Word. And, yes, it may be a stretch for some women who are used to the popular book studies with floral artwork and script fonts and pastel colors that let women know they’re “safe” to read. Women are regularly challenged by popular culture to try new things that might seem difficult or different to begin with. We all know the hardest days of diet and exercise are the early days before we develop new good habits.

4. THE PIPER SCALE OF FEMALE LEADERSHIP

Recently I was re-reading John Piper’s explanation for what types of careers and jobs are appropriate for women. He goes into a long and complicated description of how to determine what types of leadership and influence a woman can have over a man without doing damage to their masculinity and femininity. It occurred to me that his criteria and subsequent explanation sound a lot like the Pritchard poetry scale from Dead Poet’s Society. So with profound apologies to Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society, and the authors of the screenplay, I present to you the Piper Scale of Female Leadership:

3. SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

2. SAYING FAREWELL TO THE ESV

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

1. ANXIETY: MY THORN IN MY FLESH

I woke up last week with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Nothing, in particular, was wrong, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing through every possible thing that I could worry about. And then it latched on to something. And I began to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. And then “but, what if?” And then it latched on again. And I continued to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. Again, and again, and again. For days. Every night I’d go to sleep praying about it. Every morning I’d wake up early with the same dread, and the cycle would begin again. It was exhausting.

Want to read the Bible in a year? Here’s my Bible reading plan for 2018

For the last several years, I have been reading the Bible through each year. I’ve used several different plans, and there are elements of each that I’ve really enjoyed. A couple of years ago I decided to do something different. I like the idea of reading each book through so that you get a good feel for the flow of the book. But I really don’t like to wait until the last third of the year to read the New Testament. I love reading the Wisdom Literature, but I think I appreciate them more in smaller portions.

So, after looking through the various Bible reading plans available, I decided to create my own. There’s a decent chance that someone has made one just like this already. If so, please let me know. I’d be glad to share it.

My plan alternates between Old Testament and New Testament books but completes one book at a time. On the weekends, my plan has readings from the Psalms on Saturdays and a chapter from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, or Song of Songs on Sundays.

I attempted to portion out the readings so that it wouldn’t be too much for any one day, but I may need to adjust the readings as I go through it again this year. Below you’ll find a link to the pdf document with the full reading plan.

A Daughter of the Reformation Bible Reading Plan 2018

I’m also going to be using the Journibles from Reformation Heritage Books to slow down and focus on a chapter or smaller portion of Scripture each day.