Author Archive | Wendy

Wonder Woman as an Apologetic Tool

It is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer.” –G.K. Chesterton

Wonder Woman opened last month with the highest box office opening weekend ever for a female director, beating out the openings of the first Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man movies according to The Hollywood Reporter.  It did so despite the fact that “the movie skewed female (52 percent), while most superhero films rely on 60 percent or more of the audience being male.” Though Wonder Woman attracted a lot of women, it wasn’t the usual chick flick. It’s interesting that this movie is the one that put women on the map for their ability to tell a story that competes so well in a male-dominated industry.

Back in the day at Mars Hill Seattle, Pastor James Harleman led Film and Theology, a ministry that looked at well written movies to investigate their creative themes in light of the first Author and Creator. He now runs a website called Cinemagogue, which he defines as “the recognition that the creative impulse for storytelling and cinematic expression is a reflection of our Creator’s passion, as well as a progressive wrestling with life’s ultimate meta-narrative.” As a deacon at Mars Hill, I led a Film and Theology night on The Matrix Reloaded, looking at the impact of chaos theory on its story and imagery, an intersection of math and theology I still find fascinating. I am now working on a manuscript on the story of Mars Hill Seattle and the lessons, for good and bad, we can learn through its years in existence. As I rehash old memories long tucked away, I can’t get away from Mars Hill’s vision of cultural engagement like the Apostle Paul’s in Acts 17. For all the harm done by the ministry of Mars Hill Seattle, that initial vision of cultural engagement was good and right, and I have been blessed to reexamine it.

I am burdened for the culture revealed by both Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. Both give insight into our cultural moment and should prompt us to engage concerns and longings of a large group of women revealed by both. In this post, I will focus on the apologetic insights and tools in this year’s modern retelling of Wonder Woman.

Rumor has it that Joss Whedon, whose storytelling I often love (Firefly, anyone?!), wrote a sexist screenplay for Wonder Woman back in 2006 that never saw the light of day. In contrast, many consider 2017’s Wonder Woman a feminist dream come true. And there is great insight to be gained by understanding why Wonder Woman fits modern feminist sensibilities. Here are some general themes I noticed. There are spoilers below. You are forewarned.

  1. This superhero woman is kick-ass.

Pardon that language, but I’ve always resonated with women who value strength, physically and emotionally. I call them “kick-ass babes,” and I have a number of godly Christian friends in my life who fit that descriptor. They don’t have to be physically strong, but strength and perseverance characterize them in some way. It isn’t that Wonder Woman “kicked ass” in terms of beating up others. She did beat up others, but it wasn’t a gratuitous focus of the movie. Instead, she generally is “kick ass” herself, in pop culture slang meaning she is powerful, strong, and persevering. She and the Amazonian women in early scenes reminded me very much of Beyonce’s Superbowl halftime show. That was an in-your-face, strong-woman, all-woman performance, and I bet anything that the director of Wonder Woman loved it. Beyonce, like Wonder Woman, was surrounded by other strong, talented women, including an all-woman band that rocked the stands. Feminists in Hollywood and elsewhere value strong women.

  1. But this superhero woman is also compassionate.

This is a noteworthy fact in this Wonder Woman screenplay that distinguishes her from the majority of other comic superheroes, male and female. Interestingly, Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow exhibits no compassion at all. Most women I know find Black Widow in recent Avenger movies simply a sexist, female foil to an all male superhero team as written by misogynist men who don’t realize how out of touch they are with a female audience.

In contrast, Wonder Woman is feminine in ways Black Widow is not, beyond a stereotypical sexy feminine physique. She is deeply troubled by suffering, stepping into it to stop it without thought. She runs to a crying infant, a small but significant scene in this version of Wonder Woman. This superhero woman is drawn to children.

The interplay of points 1 and 2 point well to our longing, even in secular society, for womanhood as God created it to be in perfection. This strong but feminine warrior woman mentality is so BIBLICAL at its root. She wants to help! Others have written about Wonder Woman as ezer, so I won’t rehash all of that. But it’s worth reading through the Bible’s language around God’s example as ezer which is quite often in the context of battle and distress.

Deuteronomy 33: 29. Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD ? He is your shield and ezer and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places.

  1. Finally, superhero woman is both god and god killer.

This is where we get helpful cultural insight into the idols of our heart. Wonder Woman in the end is an unbeatable goddess, designed to be the killer of the god of war, Ares. Instead of being a strong woman in the image of the one true God that the Bible presents, Diana of the Amazons IS the god. She was made by Zeus, but not as a mere mortal. Of course, Wonder Woman is just a story, and there are limits to the parallels we can draw. But I am willing to ask if this points to a feminist desire to be one’s own god? Maybe. Maybe not.

It does remind me of the great coping mechanism for the gulf between the strong, compassionate womanhood that many clearly value and the realities of our fallen lives—female autonomy. Men become superfluous. The men needed Diana, but she didn’t really need them. The Amazonians didn’t need men. They didn’t need them in battle. They didn’t need them in bed. And though Diana said men were necessary for procreation but not pleasure, in today’s world we don’t even need them for that. A jar of semen in a sterile clinic will suffice.

This autonomous coping mechanism fails humanity in reality. It fails women, and it fails men. Though there is great conflict between the biological sexes after the Fall of Man, the hope of Jesus includes our reconciliation to God’s vision for both manhood and womanhood. In the gospel, men like Paul or Peter rely on the strong help of Phoebe and Priscilla. But Phoebe and Priscilla stay engaged with Paul and Peter, Aquila and Apollos, as well. Why?

While I try again and again in the household of faith to remind men that they need women, let me also remind women that we really do need men. While women need to be strong, we need also to value the strength of the men in our lives. Though men need our compassion, we can learn from their concerns as well. Though fallen man might only want a woman’s body, the answer is not to require only man’s sperm in a sterile jar for procreation.

Though men need women’s help in most every context, women too need men’s, particularly in leadership in the home and church.

And in that statement comes a fork in the road for many women. In our fallen world, male leadership is often not good for women. In Is the Bible Good for Women? I spent an entire chapter on a Biblical manhood that is good for women. I have been fortunate to experience positive Christian masculinity by way of my father and my Presbyterian pastors in Seattle and South Carolina. But I know many women have not. I encourage you to first know how the Bible portrays a man after God’s own heart, which is often a bit different than manly man caricatures among some Christians. Then, second, look for those kind of men around you. We need such men, as they need us. The interplay of Christian relationship between the sexes, brothers and sisters, sons and mothers, and fathers and daughters, are good and right and necessary for the full flourishing of humanity in the kingdom of God.

Eden was better than Amazon. And Eden is where we are heading again in Christ.

If you have a friend who cried when Wonder Woman took all the fire during the scene in No Man’s Land, ask her why. Don’t dismiss her. Don’t mock her. Don’t sneer. If she’s not a believer, be ready to point her to the one true God who created her in His image. He is the One who gives purpose to her created longings. He is the One who reconciles the sexes, so that Amazon isn’t utopia, but Eden is. Like The Matrix years ago, Wonder Woman is an apologetic tool, friend, a springboard for understanding the deep longings in our culture in many women’s hearts instilled by our Creator.

13

On Lament, Hope, and Divorce

Lament and hope have become a theme in my life. I began to wrestle with the already, but not yet, nature of the kingdom of God in the aftermath of the destruction at Mars Hill back in 2007 and again in 2014. What happens when something good, of kingdom value, falls apart by the sin of others, and you are powerless to stop it? It can actually be easier to come to terms with such destruction when our personal sin is the cause of or major contributor to the destruction. The good news of Jesus equips us to wrestle with our own sin and destruction in its wake. It’s not easy, mind you, but if you can see the clear mistake you made, it is a help at times when you want to avoid the same in the future. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes by my own ignorance and selfishness. But I’ve also lost some things because of the sin of others, despite my best efforts to obey God in working to avoid the loss. Most reading this post have experienced some form of similar loss. A church, a marriage, a friendship, a ministry. Because we love God and His word, we grieve and wrestle with God deeply when the sin of others disrupts our relationships, our churches, or our homes.

We are all imperfect disciples of the kingdom of God, but I think most readers here truly love that kingdom and truly love our God. We sin. But the Spirit also convicts, and we submit to Him. And, yet, we can not hold God’s kingdom together on our own, and at times, things fall apart that we thought God would hold together. These have been the places that I have most deeply wrestled in my soul—when I’ve lost something despite obedience to God. Why does this happen, God?! What’s the point of following you and obeying you in hard places if it leads to such destruction anyway? Such wrestling takes us to a deep, dark place. Thankfully, we have passage after passage in Scripture, a whole book even, on lament. We are not left without guidance on mourning sin and its destruction. Yet we are not left without hope either. Love hopes all things, and any earnest lover of God and neighbor holds on to hope. Always.

Lament and hope. These have guided me as I’ve walked my own path, one I desperately sought to avoid, through divorce. I don’t speak of it publicly much, because it involves more people than just me, more stories than just mine. I have done my best to reach out to ministry leaders privately that I have worked with publicly and have shared similarly with numerous readers, many of whom have become personal friends. I am now divorced, which precipitated my move back to South Carolina to live on our family farm with my parents and sisters close by. God has blessed me deeply, in ways I can not fully express, through elders at my church in both Seattle and now South Carolina who truly pastored me through it, in every sense of the meaning of pastor/shepherd. God did not leave me an orphan to walk this road, and my faith has increased big time as a result. Interestingly, my convictions around manhood, womanhood, marriage, and divorce have only grown stronger as a result too. Also, convictions about Christian community, the authority of the Word, the incredibly important role of pastor/elders in a believer’s life, and well, a boatload of other things, many of which I write about here, have been clarified and solidified in the wake of my divorce.

I feel compelled to say something publicly here because for the third or fourth time, someone has approached me with a ministry opportunity and seemed blindsided when I shared details privately of my life, as I always make sure to do before engaging in some type of public ministry outreach with them. My best efforts to handle this off social media have still left some holes in communication.

I find two interesting reactions. There are many others, so I don’t mean to paint these as the only two options. Instead, think of them as two primary ones. You don’t have to choose between just these two.

1) Fear

The fear reaction is one I well understand, because I experienced it strongly when a dear friend went through a divorce not of her own doing about ten years before I did. In my head, at some level, she had to be at fault, though I now recognize that her marriage failed in the end simply because her husband didn’t value covenant commitment in marriage the way she did. He wasn’t willing to work on things the way she was. This fear, at least for me, came from a place of lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over all of life. It is the prosperity gospel that lingers over a lot of evangelicals that don’t know they hold to a prosperity gospel. Surely, if I obey God, I won’t have these types of struggles in my life. Surely, if I make the right decisions in youth group and Christian college, my children will turn out right, and I’ll have a happy marriage until “death doth us part.” One friend, before I went through my divorce, spoke to me of this fearful reaction she experienced from others when she went through her own. “It’s not catching, you know,” she said. She said others would hold her at a distance, like if they got too close to her their marriages and those at their church might catch “divorce.” It was sad to me, because I have found her and others like her friends with the most clear convictions against the kind of things that lead to divorce. Few have an understanding of covenant commitment quite like someone whose life was devastated because their partner did not.

2) Solidarity

Thankfully, what I have found most among serious believers as I’ve shared with them my story is solidarity, not over divorce but over suffering in general. I, too, when I was watching the slow moving train of destruction approach my family, unable to figure out a way to get us out of its path, found solidarity in stories of others’ suffering, but interestingly, they were not stories of divorce. Dee Brestin wrote The God of All Comfort about the lead up to her husband’s death from cancer and the time after as she mourned the loss. That book blessed me greatly, and I have recommended it again and again, a friend to walk with anyone during any kind of suffering. Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting had a similar effect on me as did Elisabeth Elliott’s These Strange Ashes. Both wrote about a totally different struggle than the one I was walking, yet I found solidarity with each and great comfort in the truths that comforted them.

I have found similar solidarity with parents of struggling teenagers. I’ve found it with wives withering in marriages in which divorce is not on the table yet the estrangement from their husband still runs deep. I’ve found it with friends who wrestle with same-sex attraction and others struggling to come to terms with the mental illness of a child or parent. I’ve found it with foster parents longing to minister grace to broken kids and with ministry leaders seeking racial justice in broken communities. It’s simply the solidarity or fellowship found in any kind of suffering, something dear and precious in the Body of Christ.

Though I wrestled for a long time with the path God allowed for me and my children, I have emerged from that season, broken yet confident, lamenting yet hopeful. I feel better braced for the hardships that face our world, globally and locally. I have no shiny vision of the good life I need to protect now. But instead of feeling cynical and jaded, I feel free and hopeful. I mean, when you are sitting in jail for attempted rape that you did not actually do, why not offer to translate a dream for the king’s taster? What have you got to lose?! Though my story is very different from both Joseph’s and Ruth’s, I have nevertheless found a lot of comfort and direction from them both.

If my story feels scary for you, remember what my friend said, “It’s not catching.” Divorce not of your choosing, or children who walk away from the faith, or cancer, or whatever the trial, isn’t a communicable disease. And it won’t manifest in your home just because you walk with someone else who experiences it. If you find yourself with that kind of gut reaction, I encourage you to examine your theology.

I have a book I recommend for that by the way, one I wrote at a very different stage of life, yet whose truths continue to sustain me.  It’s an odd, full circle kind of thing.  And, yet, in the walk of faith, that’s exactly as it should be.

36

On the Gospel According to Glennon

The Gospel According to Glennon. That’s the title of an article I read about Glennon Doyle Melton in Elle Magazine last week, and I haven’t been able to shake the deep grief, the soul lament, I have felt in its aftermath. Glennon began her public platform as a Christian blogger at Momastery. Her blog turned into a best seller book, then into a second best seller that detailed her fight for love with her husband who had previously cheated on her in what was, at times, a highly dysfunctional relationship. It ended with them renewing their vows on a beach, each having put in the work to save their marriage, but by the time the book hit bookshelves, Glennon was on her way to breaking up with her husband and entering a gay marriage with soccer star, Abby Wambach, with whom she seemed to fall in love at first sight.

Glennon has connected with many women I know and love—many to whom I’ve ministered, and many who have ministered to me. She teaches a gospel, a type of news that feels good, to a staggering number of thirty to forty year old wives and moms. They are our sisters and our friends. I imagine a number are readers here too.

I mourn because I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ really is the best kind of news, even though this good news of Jesus is precipitated by the bad news of our destruction when we follow our own way. I mourn because though the path is narrow through belief in Christ, the destination is incredibly good for all who are in Christ. I mourn because I know SO MANY WOMEN struggling to persevere in overcoming faith in hard situations who found Glennon an encouragement to do so. I mourn because Glennon seems now to encourage women toward the very opposite of the hard path to which God calls us.  To cheers and accolades, she has walked away from the hard thing, followed her heart, and rejected an orthodox understanding of Scripture.  I’m unable to fully articulate the weight of discouragement put on the backs of those I know and love fighting for faith in hard situations when a former encourager heads in such a way.

After days of sadness in the wake of reading the article, I woke up yesterday, not sad, but angry. I wasn’t angry at Glennon, but at Satan who again … and again … and again … and again, at every generation throughout all time, figures out a way to sell us the same old lie. That God doesn’t mean what He said. That what He said isn’t really the best for us. That trusting what God says in the Bible will actually destroy our souls. Satan wants you to trust yourself, or Glennon Doyle Melton. But whatever you do, don’t trust God. Don’t trust the Word He sent us. Don’t trust His revelation of Himself to us through the Bible. There is good news to be had, but it is not found by trusting God’s words. It is a very old lie, and none with any awareness of Scripture should be surprised to see it surface yet anew. Satan may be persistent, but he is not very original.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.

We see the first iteration of this lie of Satan in Genesis 3.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Satan first temps a human with this lie to distrust God’s explicit instructions in Genesis 3, but it has been his Go To Lie ever since, generation after generation, culture to culture.

That thing you thought God was saying? That’s not what God really meant. Those dire consequences He warned you about if you disobeyed? They aren’t real consequences at all. In fact, instead of killing you, disobeying God will bring you new life. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Follow your heart.

For thousands of years since creation, THIS has been Satan’s lie. And this is the lie that Glennon Doyle Melton and what Elle Magazine calls a “roving wolf pack of acclaimed authors turned motivational speakers and ‘aspirational spirituality’ practitioners” are teaching a generation of disillusioned Christians.

From Elle

Melton’s fans took the news in stride; the bloodbath never came. “You deserve it, you Love Warrior, you!” wrote a reader from South Dakota. Another wrote: “I just don’t have a ‘Love’ emoji big enough for this.” In the two days following Melton’s coming-out post, her hug line only grew.

You deserve it. You deserve to make some choices to serve yourself, even if they contradict the Bible. You deserve to do what’s good for you, even if the Bible specifically says, “That’s not good for you!”  But God is jealous for His glory and adamant on the righteousness of His standard, not because He wants us to be cosmically miserable, but because He and His kingdom are GOOD.  My friend Anne Kennedy has well diagnosed the root discrepancy between Glennon’s aspirational gospel and the actual good news of Jesus Christ.

Jesus isn’t about your personal self actualizing, self fulfilling, self focused love. Love doesn’t win when it’s you that you love the most. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that Glennon, for all her ‘in loveness’ with Wambach, is most devoted to herself. She is the pearl, and she has sold everything to keep it.

It makes initial sense for us as individuals to centralize ourselves in our own story with our aspirations as its central theme.  But God’s Word teaches us that the true path to self-fulfillment is exactly the opposite.  “They that lose their lives will find them,” Jesus taught us.

Even secular Elle Magazine seems to understand aspects of the problems in Glennon’s gospel of self:

All of this has led to a new charge against her: that she is sugarcoating divorce and its aftermath. “As someone who actually walked that, it’s bullshit,” says one of my divorced friends. “It just seems reckless and irresponsible, because there are so many women following her like sheep.”

“She puts a knot in my stomach,” says couples therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, whose latest book is called Healing From Infidelity. “I can’t count how many times I hear women quoting her when they come into my office. On the positive side, she wants to empower women. But the fact is, most people don’t do divorce all that well, especially when children are involved. She’s strengthening their conviction that they need to get away from their husbands, instead of learning to work through challenging issues. Sometimes you have to be a warrior to stay.”

Sometimes, dear sisters, you have to be a warrior to stay. And I’m not talking just about a hard marriage recovering from a husband’s unfaithfulness. [We must note that Glennon had biblical grounds for divorce in that situation.  But she consciously renewed her vows after his infidelity, which puts her in a different category.  She made a covenant commitment to her husband TWICE.]  I am talking about the thousand different ways we are called to live out our created purpose as ezer daughters of our ezer God, strong warrior helpers of THE STRONG WARRIOR HELPER GOD. We women were made in God’s image in a particular way, created to persevere, protect, advocate for, and suffer with others in hard things, particularly in our covenant relationships, things that Glennon at first seemed to champion. The really beautiful thing is that God didn’t just create us as women in His image to do hard things, but through the true gospel, through Christ IN us, who died FOR us, we are equipped to do these hard things – hard things that Scripture teaches us we need to obey.

Persevering in covenant relationship.

Treating others the way we want to be treated.

Obeying the limitations God puts on who we can have sex with.

We can do hard, self-sacrificing things because God did it first for us.  It’s His self-sacrificing warrior love that cost His own life that we might gain ours. And He also does it with us. We aren’t out there self-sacrificing as warriors for our families, our friends, our communities, and our churches alone. We have One who comes along side us in aid, called our paraclete in the Greek, our Comforter/Counselor/Helper in the English. The Ezer of all Ezers indwells us and equips us, that we may stick with the hard things in our lives and persevere through them.

I understand why women resonate with Glennon. I really, really do. She tapped into true concerns in many women’s lives, and for a season, encouraged them to stay in the hard things, mourn what was wrong, and fight for what was good. It would be a mistake for any Christian leader to discount that. But understand that the solution she chose in the end, to “follow her heart” even as it lead away from the Bible not towards it, doesn’t actually solve any of the heart problems. What we need is the grace that only God can minister to our hearts to do the hard things to which He has called us.  We need to avail ourselves of the means of grace through which He promises to minister it – the preaching and reading of His Word, prayer, baptism, and so forth. Dear sister, walk with the Spirit. Read and trust God’s Word. Press into Him as He convicts you from it. Believe God. Trust His revelation of Himself to us. And let our Ezer God equip us to be ezer women, fighting for all that is right and good as He has revealed to us in Scripture.

Satan seeks to devour our generation as he has every one before us, but the Spirit is strong and our eternal end secure. We can trust our God, and we can trust His Word to us.

** Here are a few resources that have meant a lot to me when I have been struggling to persevere in hard things.

The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

A Chance to Die (on the life of Amy Carmichael) by Elisabeth Elliott

These Strange Ashes by Elisabeth Elliott

 

Giving Gifts the Receiver Wants

I am reading through the Bible with my local church, and we are just starting Leviticus. It is not an engaging read, but I was struck this morning reading from Leviticus 2.

11 “No grain offering that you present to the Lord is to be made with yeast, for you are not to burn any yeast or honey as a fire offering to the Lord. 12 You may present them to the Lord as an offering of firstfruits, but they are not to be offered on the altar as a pleasing aroma.

This struck me today as I also contemplate the gift I am giving my mother for Mother’s Day. I bought her a purple plant for her porch, but the next day she told me (without knowing I had already bought her one) that she prefers red plants to attract hummingbirds. I thought too of my sons who want to know what I want for Mother’s Day. I told them how I like candles, and I’ll probably go a step further and tell them specific scents I like as well. Givers generally want receivers to like the gift they are given. We avoid giving breads to celiac sufferers, perfumes to those with scent allergies, Baskin Robbins gift cards to diabetics, and even purple plants to those we know prefer red.

I have, at times, received a gift that I knew a giver liked but which I didn’t like at all. When I receive such a gift, it makes me feel distant from the giver. Maybe they just don’t know me. But sometimes, they do know me, and their gift that is something they like, not me, sends the message that they don’t think my personal desires are good enough. They want to expand my borders, push me to like what they like. In the end, it often feels narcissistic and self-absorbed. Don’t bother giving me a gift if you know what I prefer and give me the opposite anyway.

Of course, if my children give me a candle, I’ll receive it thankfully no matter what the scent. Unless it is poop. If they give me a candle filled with poop, I would discipline them for their disrespect. Some gifts are off the mark by accident. Some gifts are off the mark because of the selfishness of the giver. But some gifts are blatantly offensive and disrespectful.

These categories help me think through the opening chapters of Leviticus. Here, God gives His children extensive instructions for the gifts they should bring Him in relationship to Him. In chapters 1 and 2, Moses refers again and again to offerings that are “a pleasing aroma to the Lord.” “These aromas from these meats and grains prepared this way smell good to me,” God instructs Moses. I think of my father on his birthday, as I prepared a meal of the foods I knew he most enjoyed. He opened the oven to smell his favorite baked beans, and the aroma made him happy. The smell of food he enjoyed was part of the love of relationship he received on that day.

It blesses me to think of God finding pleasure in the aromas of the offerings He prescribed in Leviticus 1 and 2. It also saddens me to think of the ways God’s children walked away from God’s clear instructions of what pleased Him again and again. But, now, God’s pleasure is fulfilled in Jesus, the One through whom He was well-pleased (Mt 17:5). And through Him, God transforms us too to please Him.

I Thessalonians 4 gives a helpful look at God’s sanctification of us to please Him.

1 Additionally then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God—as you are doing—do this even more. 2 For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

I am struck how much of these instructions on living as children of God who please Him is then tied in the following verses to the sexual ethics God first taught in the Old Testament Law.

3 For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, 4 that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. 6 This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. 7 For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. 8 Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.

When I started studying this passage and writing this post, I didn’t realize it would lead me back to sexual abuse and misuse in the Church. But it did, and I can’t ignore that. Every day our sexually deviant president remains supported by evangelicals (he is giving the commencement address at Liberty University today), we do not please the Lord. Every day that we pretend God doesn’t speak against sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, we do not please the Lord. Every day that we excuse those who take advantage of others sexually in our churches, we do not please the Lord. Praise God that Christ has fully pleased God on our behalf. But never forget that God will sanctify His church on this issue, and we must submit to Him as He does. The warning of I Thessalonians 4:8 is sober, and may we all reflect on it for ourselves, submitting to what we know pleases the Lord, because we love Him.

On Blogging and Church Authority

There’s been a major internet controversy this last week after Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest who writes at Christianity Today, launched a series at CT around amplifying the voices of women in the church. Tish pointed out the problem (and yes I believe it is a problem) of the growing platform of Christian women teaching as Christian authorities without simultaneously being under authority themselves. Her point is that this is often a result of two things. One, women are not always valued, trained, and used in their own churches so that they are looking for a way to be used outside of their church and gravitate toward parachurch ministry. Two, women often don’t have trusted resources in their own churches/denominations so that they go outside of their traditions and identify with generic Christian women writers who are not attached to their denomination or tradition and don’t share their values or convictions.

Tish brought up the name of Jen Hatmaker in her article, to great consternation in the evangelical twitterverse. But Jen Hatmaker is actually a seminal case study in this because she wrote for and was promoted by conservative Lifeway while simultaneously (it appears in retrospect) being a female pastor who affirms gay marriage (both of which are against Lifeway’s values). Great grief could have been spared both her and the churches/women who used her books if she had been promoted instead in a tradition consistent with her beliefs or if those using her books of different doctrines/values than her had been better trained themselves within their own churches to note the differences. To folks that hate that anyone mentions Jen Hatmaker in this discussion, I will point out that she herself has brought attention to how she has been harmed by this phenomenon. Like it or not, this discussion was brought to a head by Jen herself, something we all must take into account when we start publishing personal things on blogs that are open to anyone to read, particularly when we start making an income from others interest in our lives and beliefs.

My own journey to blogging and (small) platform is informative to this general discussion. I was under the authority of the elders at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark Driscoll promoted me to Crossway and approved the manuscript of my first book, Practical Theology for Women, which was printed under his Re:Lit imprint at Crossway. But around the time of its publication, Mark fired elders who were in theory part of his accountability structure. I left Mars Hill at that time and began my own blog. For a season, I had little church accountability.

As many of my friends did post-Mars Hill, I eventually moved into a church and denomination with a stronger accountability structure than the one at Mars Hill. I no longer willingly submit to someone as pastor who isn’t under submission to his own spiritual authority structure. Though my denomination is far from perfect, I love that even in matters of church discipline, my own pastors are held accountable by their presbytery who is held accountable by the larger denomination who conforms to the orthodox confessions that have bounded our denomination for many years. In the last few years as my tiny platform grew to being a medium size platform, I have seen my own need for accountability. I submit to my church elders, and it has helped me to start meeting with my pastor every few weeks to discuss ministry opportunities I have both in the church and outside of it through blogging and writing. I see my public ministry as initiating in my church and moving out from it, attached to it.

The interesting thing to me is the outcry in the wake of  Tish’s article that has taken several forms.

1) How dare you mention Jen Hatmaker?!

This is the loudest outcry, and I don’t have a ton of sympathy for it. How could you not mention Jen Hatmaker?! She is the case study in a woman being used and promoted in churches and denominations of which she was neither submitted or accountable. The personal cost not just to the readers and churches who used her materials but to HERSELF should make us all pause to consider how it came to be that way and what each of us can do as both readers and writers to plow a different path.

2) Why didn’t Tish mention male bloggers?

I do have sympathy for this concern. But I think Tish likely does as well. And to be fair to Christianity Today, they have written on major male figures who have said concerning things (see this post for example) over the years. I can say with clarity that I have been concerned about the Matt Walsh’s and Mark Driscoll’s of the internet world and have written accordingly when I thought appropriate.

3) Where are the women of color in the platform discussion?

The discussions about platform and authority that I have been having personally involve women of color who speak into this with clarity and conviction, who mutually share my burden for women writers being attached to an authority that is bigger than themselves. I think Christianity Today’s editorial team is sensitive to their need to listen to voices of color as well and is actively pursuing diverse voices to speak into their series. BUT I was reminded by Jemar Tisby’s op-ed in The Washington Post how inadequate pursuing black voices after the fact can be when they are not equipped to speak authoritatively on the front end. Soliciting black authors is important, but they can’t make up for not having people of color who hold positions of authority in an organization. May all of us strive toward racial diversity at all levels of authority in churches and parachurch organizations, reflecting the reconciliation we experience to both God and others through the gospel.

In conclusion, there is great blessing in attaching ourselves individually to something bigger than ourselves in terms of spiritual speaking and teaching. But I also note that spiritual authority structures (denominations in particular) who hold orthodox beliefs as outlined in the old creeds and confessions have certainly not been perfect. Great abuse, particularly in American denominations in regard to race and slavery, has taken place. But, here’s the thing. The blessing of the modern Church will not be when it moves away from Scripture (such as away from the explicit sexual ethic concerning marriage between a man and a woman taught throughout both the Old and New Testament) but as it moves closer to it (such as the explicit commands on the sanctity of all human life, including the care of the poor and immigrant). I am intrigued by the African Anglican church, which stood against both apartheid and normalizing homosexuality in the church, as an example of this. The American church doesn’t need less church authority. It needs more, but more tied to the authority of Scripture itself. As Dr. Christina Edmonson, Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College, said on a recent podcast about why the church matters, “It should not have taken a war to end slavery. It should have taken church discipline.” I believe the same about the care of the poor and the rights of immigrants. Greater fidelity TO Scripture not away from it is the answer to these ills in society. And it is to the benefit of both bloggers and readers, publishing houses and authors, when we examine ourselves in light of old truths and seek to conform ourselves and other church authority to its supreme authority.

The CS Bible and She Reads Truth

My concern with the most recent changes to the ESV Bible regarding Genesis 3:16 is no secret. The ESV has become the standard in my reformed circles. I have a number of copies myself. But I was suspicious of my reaction to the change in Genesis 3:16 in light of my own baggage/experience with Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill concerning that verse. So I asked other leaders without similar baggage about it. Pretty much all of them had similar concerns to mine, and several mentioned plans to switch their churches or ministries over to the Christian Standard Bible when it was released. I have been interested since then to read the new CSB, and at this year’s Gospel Coalition conference, I finally got my hands on one.

The really neat thing about this Bible is the LACK of agenda regarding translating gendered language beyond 1) accuracy and 2) readability.

Printed inside the cover–

The Gender Language Use in Bible Translation

The goal of the translators of the Christian Standard Bible has not been to promote a cultural ideology but to translate the Bible faithfully. …

From their website

Translating Gender Language into English

The Christian Standard Bible retains a traditional approach to translating gender language into English. Masculine terms (Father, Son, King, etc.) and pronouns (he, him, his) are retained whenever they refer to God. To improve accuracy, the Translation Oversight Committee chose to avoid being unnecessarily specific in passages where the original context did not exclude females. When Scripture presents principles or generic examples that are not restricted to males, the CSB does not use “man,” “he,” or other masculine terms. At the same time, the translators did not make third person masculine pronouns inclusive by rendering them as plurals (they, them), because they believed it was important to retain the individual and personal sense of these expressions.

 

Here are a few examples of this difference.

1 John 3:16 (CSB)
16 This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16 (ESV)
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

1 John 3:16 (NASB)
16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

The NASB, a Bible I have always considered the most accurate of our day (though not the most readable), uses brothers only to refer to the plural form of male siblings. Here is an example from the NASB that uses brothers.

1 Timothy 5:1 (NASB)  Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, to the younger men as brothers,

Brothers here in I Tim 5:1 is limited to male siblings. When the mention of siblings is without respect to gender, the NASB uses brethren, the CSB generally uses brothers and sisters, and the ESV uses brothers.

Often times, the ESV will footnote “brothers” at the bottom of the page with the clarification “brothers and sisters.” But though the same word in James is used multiple times and footnoted multiple times in the ESV that way, in James 3:1, the ESV limits brothers only to men (the context is teaching in the church) without footnoting the addition of women. Here’s a comparison of all three translations, the NASB being most consistent of all.

James 3:1 (CSB)
3 Not many should become teachers, my brothers,[a] because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.(A)

Footnotes:

  1. 3:1 Or brothers and sisters

James 3:1 (ESV)
3 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

(There is no footnote at the bottom of the page for this verse in the ESV for brother and sisters, despite footnotes for the same word elsewhere in James.)

James 3:1 (NASB)
3 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

To some that may be a big deal, to others it may not.  It was a big deal to me, reflective of an agenda to limit references to women in ways that the Bible does not.  I believe that agenda has harmed the very cause that ESV translators were hoping to aid, a conservative understanding of women in Scripture.

But the new Christian Standard Bible is now widely available, and I feel relieved of this conundrum I found myself in for a bit. I recently received their women’s study Bible, She Reads Truth. I initially wasn’t interested in checking it out, but someone whispered to me that it was actually better than average, so I gave it a look. I was pleasantly surprised. It has some pretty, feminine script that doesn’t do much for me, and the pages are thin in the hardcover version. Also, the font is tiny, which is a problem for many women.

The good of this study Bible makes up for thin pages and small font though (get some reading glasses). I particularly appreciate the clean look overall and key features – genre indicators, key verses, cultural context, timelines, and so forth. They are factual and helpful resources for biblical literacy, as Jen Wilkin calls it. Every day older I grow in the faith, I realize the singular thing women need in the church is this BIBLICAL LITERACY. I spent a long chapter early in Is the Bible Good for Women? for this reason. How can women know if the Bible is good for them if they don’t understand the basics of the Bible?! The She Reads Truth Study Bible gets this, and I hope it will become a best selling women’s study Bible for the long haul in the church.

Check it out for yourself here.  I also have one to give away on Friday, so comment below if you are interested, and share this post with friends that you think might benefit.

The Tangled Way of Religious Social Media

A few years ago, I read a post by a popular Christian blogger that seemed to be a negative response to something I had written shortly before that (which I’ll call issue A). I wrote up my response to his post, refuting his points. But before I posted it, I sent it to him, because I knew him. We had corresponded about other issues, and though we disagreed on some things, we agreed on others. I couldn’t post something publicly when I knew good and well I had the opportunity to say it privately to him first.

So I sent him my response post, and he replied. He actually wasn’t familiar with Issue A. He was writing about Issue G, of which I was unfamiliar in part because he ministered in a different denomination and region than I did. Once he told me the context, his words in his post took on an entirely different meaning to me.

And so is the tangled way of Christian social media. Sometimes, we write specific criticism. Sometimes we write general praise. These types of posts or tweets, specific bad news or general good news, tend to work OK in social media settings. Donald Trump’s sexual sins. Jen Hatmaker’s change of views on homosexuality. Mark Driscoll’s misogynist language. If you read a post or tweet with specific criticism of those, at least you know exactly what they are talking about. But there is a type of general negative post or tweet that can unleash can after can of worms, and I am learning if you have a negative thing to criticize (that is truly worth criticizing publicly), then be very careful how you do it. Also, if you read a general negative thing, don’t be so sure that you know exactly what the author is trying to criticize.

Here are a few practical suggestions:

1. If you are going to criticize, first make sure that it is needed. Are you just jumping onto a bandwagon? Will your post or tweet add to the edification of the Church? (I’m not so good at this.)

2. Are you sure the thing you think is at play is actually the issue at hand? It is ALWAYS a good idea to do a little research before you speak into something (see point 1). I feel pressured a good bit to speak up on things I don’t yet understand. And, at times, I’ve conceded to that pressure, which I have always regretted after the fact. Stop. Observe. Listen. Research. Be swift to listen and slow to speak. (I’m getting better at this one.)

3. If you’ve satisfied numbers 1 and 2, then check to see if you have avenues to reach out privately with criticism first. I’ve never regretted when I’ve done that, and as the opening story illustrates, sometimes it is enormously helpful.

4. Once you’ve satisfied 1, 2, and 3, make sure your criticism is written carefully and specifically. If you are writing about Issue A, spell out Issue A so that others don’t mistake you as talking about Issue G. If you are writing about a general principle that can be applied in a number of settings, state that clearly too so that others don’t misread what you are or are not trying to say.

I can’t say dogmatically that the greater onus is on the author to write well rather than the reader to read carefully. Probably more is on the author, but the reader needs to take note as well (ever ready to believe the best of the author). Social media is like open mike night in a very large religious establishment with a lot of unbelievers or others on the fringe mulling about within hearing distance. It is a great tool if you are thoughtful and measured. And it is a great trap if you are not. May writers and readers use it well.