Archive | book review

My Favorite Book of 2016

It’s no secret that I appreciate Hannah Anderson’s writing. I wrote a review for Made for More when it first came out. I remember thinking at the time that I wished I could write like Hannah. Like Desiring God or Knowing God, I felt that Made for More would become a classic. Hannah’s writing transcends the trappings of a cultural moment. She writes in a way that my grandmother and my granddaughter could both relate, despite the century difference in the ages in which they lived. Made for More opened my eyes to the deep meaning surrounding the fact that I was made in God’s image. “We must find a North Star. And not simply because our circumstances change, but because we ourselves are more than the roles we play in this present world. We are large, deep, eternal beings, and only something larger and deeper and more eternal will satisfy the questions in our souls.”

My favorite book that I read this year, Hannah’s Humble Roots, was not the sequel to Made for More but it does work as a companion. While Made for More focuses on the ways we are like God, Humble Roots explores the essential ways that we are not. God is God, and I am not. And this simple truth is essential to find rest for our souls.

Before the official release, I rapidly perused Humble Roots and endorsed it. But once I got the final version in my actual hands, it took me a long time to read it well. Don’t mistake this to mean that it is a hard or confusing read. It is not a particularly long book, and its words are easy to understand. But it is deep and thoughtful. I long ago learned that first, I am simply not a strong reader, and second, I can only take in one deep concept at a time. If I read something that makes me think, well, I have to stop and think on it a bit. Each chapter of Humble Roots gave me something to ponder, something on which to reflect. So I took my time to reflect, never reading more than a chapter a day.

Hannah immediately pulled me in with her opening scenario, lying awake at night in her bed unable to sleep with the weight of a thousand obligations she needed to meet with home, family, and ministry the next day. I have done this. My sisters have done this. My friends have done this. Restful sleep for earnest Christian women is sometimes a far off goal. Hannah’s gardening metaphors as she pondered various aspects of humility and trust in the God who made us was a balm to my soul. Trust. Which leads to rest. It’s a simple formula, but her explorations of it in each chapter helped the principle to settle in my soul.

I finished the book a few weeks ago (yes, I really do read slowly), but I have thought about the concepts she explored probably daily ever since. I really can’t give a more glowing review than that. Humble Roots made me think. And it is still making me think. Just as Made for More made me think and does still to this day.

Hannah is my friend, and we write together here. But though I like her as a person, the great blessing of my friendship with her is that she sharpens me in the best sense of Proverbs 27:17. I have grown spiritually through my friendship with Hannah. Through her writings, I have come to a better understanding of both the God of the Bible and His revelation of Himself to us through it. If you haven’t yet read Made for More or Humble Roots, get them and read them. May you too be caused to know your North Star and find rest for your weary soul in the process.

Made for More: the Conversation Before the Conversation on Complementarianism

*This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition’s website. I am reposting it here with minor changes and with a drawing for a free book to a randomly chosen commenter. If you comment, please be sure to check back to see if you won. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday.

I remember opening John Piper’s Desiring God for the first time around 18 years ago. In just the first three chapters of the book, Piper rocked my world. He presented thoughts on finding my satisfaction in God Himself that reoriented me to Scripture, and those thoughts have affected me every day since. Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson is this kind of book and has had this kind of effect on me. That may sound like an over-the-top statement, but I believe Made for More is going to change the conversation on women as image bearers of God for the long term good of the Church—that God is going to use this book the way He used Piper’s thoughts in Desiring God to redirect His people to Himself. Remember an important truth from Desiring God – those thoughts were not new to John Piper. He points back again and again to their historical longevity and Biblical origins. There is, after all, nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). Hannah Anderson does the same in Made for More. 

Hannah doesn’t present a new, faddish way of looking at Biblical womanhood. Instead, she weaves a story of timeless truths with historical longevity and Biblical clarity. These are God’s truths, not Hannah’s. Yet, God has clearly gifted Hannah to reword these truths in a way that 21st century postmodern women can hear and relate. What truth is Hannah presenting? Hannah is presenting the conversation before the conversation about complementarianism and gender roles. Before the foundational phrase of complementarianism in Gen 1:27, “Male and female, He created them,” the Bible first says, “God created mankind in His image.” Our problem in the complementarian discussion (even when we do it in really thoughtful ways) stems from the fact that we assume a robust understanding and acceptance of mankind made in the image of God that few of us actually have.

“We must find a North Star. And not simply because our circumstances change, but because we ourselves are more than the roles we play in this present world. We are large, deep, eternal beings, and only something larger and deeper and more eternal will satisfy the questions in our souls.” Hannah Anderson

Some in complementarian circles might be concerned that this conversation before the male/female conversation might downplay the complementary nature of gender. But to NOT have this conversation before the other causes confusion and a weak foundation for the complementarian discussion. After all, as a woman, I have more in common genetically with a male human than I do a female cat. The value of the differences in our genders become caricatures if they are not first based on the solidarity male and female have as image bearers of God who are called to steward His creation together. Hannah fleshes out this foundational truth and then builds upon it with the specifics of womanhood. 

Hannah has written the book I wish I had written. She’s taken a nugget of truth, woman as image bearer of God, for which I had been burdened and fleshed it out in a way that deepened my understanding of the topic and its value in my life. She hasn’t just written on a topic I wished I had written, but she has also written in a style I wish I could write. I appreciate Hannah’s ability to both think deeply and write accessibly all in one tidy package. I wanted to plow through the book quickly, but instead I had to stop to consider again and again – not because her words were too lofty but because she managed to bring down lofty ideas in a way I could appreciate and apply. But even as I envied her writing, her section on gifting and work freed me from comparisons and helped me rejoice in both my abilities and hers. Over and over, she tethered lofty ideas to concrete summary statements. She is an author with a vision for her audience, and she writes in a way to make sure we, the audience, can understand her objectives. 

Hannah’s chapter on the creation mandate, Queens in Narnia: Embracing your Destiny to Reign, is a beautiful exploration from Scripture of the noble calling of work that lifts it above our usual earthly compartments. Hannah inspired me to talk to my children in a radically different way about “work.” More importantly, her words transformed my thoughts on everything from cleaning my kitchen to weeding my yard to teaching math to blue collar workers through my community college job. I imagine that I will be contemplating work as an image bearer of God for a lifetime now. I felt similarly about her chapter on knowledge and education in the image of God.

I read recently that the best reviews of a book include some measure of criticism, which keeps the reviewer from looking like a fan boy (or girl). Hannah has presented a nuanced look at what is basically the doctrine of sanctification or how God conforms us back to His image after belief in Him. Justification is God declaring us righteous in heaven. Through the process of sanctification, God slowly transforms us in reality to what He has already declared us to be in heaven. Hannah has woven echoes of God’s justification of us through Christ throughout the book. The book follows an outline based on Romans 11:36, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” There is a strong sense in which the entire book is Christ and gospel centered. But other than a brief section in her chapter on the results of the fall of man, there lacks an explicit exploration of how God declares us righteous. I don’t really see this as a criticism, because I can’t imagine a book with enough room to adequately explore both justification and all that Hannah has presented without being overwhelmingly long for its target audience. Instead, I would recommend reading Hannah’s book in conjunction with something similar to Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Because He Loves Me that explores our position of righteousness in Christ as the fuel for our conformation to His image.

This is a book for women and men, pastors and lay leaders, complementarians and egalitarians. Basically, this book will bless anyone in the Church. If you care about what God has created you to be as a woman, or, if you are a man who longs to support the women in your life in ways that lead to their flourishing in their God-given identity and giftedness, I recommend that you read this book.

“When God rewards those who seek Him, it is not with wealth or power or privilege but with the very thing that they were searching for in the first place—Himself. 

And the beauty, the unmistakable genius of it all, is that in discovering Him, the source of all existence, you will also discover yourself. In finding Him, you will find the answer to the question “Who am I and why am I here?” Hannah Anderson, Made for More

Cinemagogue by James Harleman

I think conservative Christians regularly misunderstand the root issues in many unbelievers’ lives and minds. We write them off as BAD. Or SELFISH. Or PRIDEFUL. And then we approach them from that stance. “Bad, selfish, and prideful secular culture, hear me tell you about Jesus.” Maybe that worked in modernism. Didn’t work well with post-modernism. And I sure don’t think it will work well with whatever post-post-modernism we find ourselves in now. But people do need to understand their problem, right? Until any of us have honestly faced our root problem, we won’t understand the solution God offers. Enter James Harleman, author of Cinemagogue.

During my five years helping with (leading?) women’s ministry at a megachurch in Seattle, probably the most beneficial positive thing I took away from it was my interactions with James and his Film and Theology lectures. I came from a Christian background whose main answer to secular culture was simply that it was wrong. But as I explored culture on my own, I noted that it often reflected the very longings I had, for good or bad. I had simplistic, inadequate answers for how to think through movies and music in particular. James was helpful to me with strategies for decoding culture, figuring out what reflected God and what was a distortion of Him and His plans. God is the ultimate Author. He wrote the first story, the story that gave the framework for all other stories. James reminded me that all stories we tell are subsets of God’s larger one—sometimes accurate and sometimes not. From there, I gained perspective of my current secular culture whose understanding of themselves is often reflected in the stories they write, songs they sing, and movies they watch.

James’ book is the work of bonafied movie geek. I love the subtitle of the book – “reclaiming entertainment and navigating narrative for the myths and mirrors they were meant to be.” It’s a quirky, entertaining dissertation on understanding all stories for what they reflect (or don’t reflect) about the one true story. James includes a bit of his own story in it too, which is interesting and adds to the point of the ideas he discusses.

In the book, James discusses handling objectionable elements. Years ago, I got to lead a discussion at church on chaos theory in The Matrix Revolutions. He and I disagreed about cutting out one scene in the movie (I was for cutting, he against). I found his thoughts on objectionable elements thought-provoking, though we disagreed. I still find his thoughts on that topic compelling. It makes me think, and that’s always a good thing.

If you are interested in decoding your culture so that your communication with them comes from a place of knowledge, not assumption, I highly recommend this book.

I have two copies of Cinemagogue to send to readers. If you’d like a copy, comment below. Be sure to choose to receive the follow up comments for this post so that I will have a way to let you know if you won. I had several people not respond when they won both Significant Work and The Gospel-Centered Woman. I’ll post the names of the winners on Monday.

Mission of God Study Bible — Free Give Away

I had the rare privilege of contributing notes for a recently published study Bible edited by Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation, The Mission of God Study Bible. I found contributing something that was going into a study Bible a very weighty thing. Some people don’t like study Bibles. I do like them, though I mostly read from a Bible with no notes. But study Bibles have their place, and I have found the notes in them very helpful. My all-time favorite study Bible is The Reformation Study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul. I refer back to that one often. The Mission of God Study Bible looks to be a good addition, and if you value study notes from various perspectives, I think this one will add to your library.

I like the opening declaration of the purpose of The Mission of God study notes and how to use them.

“The Mission of God Study Bible exists for the same reason all things exist: to point us to the glory of God. The Scriptures are given by God as a revelation of Himself and to call us to redemption. Throughout the process of His revelatory work, God is honored and we can become the beneficiaries of His grace. 

In the preparation of this study Bible, our hope is that you will clearly learn how God, in His great mercy, is active in creation to bring about the work of redeeming people and eventually restoring creation. The Scriptures exist for this purpose, and we have endeavored to create a study edition of the Bible that traces how God reveals Himself through redemption and restoration.”

The editors of the study Bible also have their own personal books recently released. Ed Stetzer’s Subversive Kingdom: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation is an intriguing book about how our understanding of the Kingdom of God transforms and empowers authentic gospel living in our culture. “Kingdom citizens minister grace out of grace,” he says.

Philip Nation, along with Michael Kelley and Eric Geiger, have written Transformational Discipleship: How People Really Grow. It’s a cool book because it incorporates solid research of effective church practices with clear Bible principles and much personal experience. The authors distinguish between nontransformational and transformational discipleship. Nontransformational discipleship “may provide education, improve behavior, increase happiness, add value, or make the disciple more skilled at a craft. But these are just changes. It’s the reskinning of the same thing on the inside.” Information is not good discipleship. Behavior modification is not good discipleship. Jesus calls us to and equips us for something altogether different, and this book is a good resource for anyone who wants to think deeply through what does and does not accomplish such a thing.

I have two copies of The Mission of God Study Bible to give away. To enter the drawing, just make a comment below and check back on Tuesday to see if you won.

*Winners are Modern Day Disciple, Sandra Peoples, and Sandra S.   Email me at theologyforwomen@gmail.com with your address.*

Our Review of Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll

I haven’t mentioned Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill on this blog in the 4 years since I stepped back from leading women’s ministry there. By conviction, I’ve addressed principles, not people here, especially in a negative sense. However, in Real Marriage, Mark and Grace recall personal events as the foundation of the book, and they project their conclusions from these personal events onto those reading it. They have brought these things into the public arena and revealed much about intimate areas of their life that affected many people in their public ministry. In light of this, silence on these issues no longer seems the righteous choice.

So for a single blog post for the purpose of a book review, I am going to mention Mark, Grace, and Mars Hill publicly. There is great tension in knowing how to speak truth lovingly, especially when the truth isn’t pleasant. I’ve wrestled and wrestled over this personally.  My husband and I have discussed it for days.  I’m convicted of two particular characteristics of Biblical love. Love is not rude, and love gives the benefit of the doubt. This is my prayerful attempt to speak hard truth with love for both Mark and Grace as well as those affected by their teaching. My husband didn’t want me to write this without him, and he has read and reviewed this book as well. I’ll start with his insights. While my thoughts are more personal based on my first person experience with Mark and Grace during the story they tell and concern for those it affected, my husband offers a more objective review of the book itself. In an effort to give the benefit of the doubt, I try to deal with what Mark has said at face value, and I use a lot of direct quotes (from the book and other sermons). Andy steps back and offers a more holistic view of the book.  Two reviews make this a very long post, but there didn’t seem a better way.

Andy’s review 

This book can be read two ways.  First, the way it was intended to be read, as a christian marriage counseling book and second, as an unauthorized autobiography.

This book is a middle of the road marriage counseling book.  Our culture is constantly changing and with it how we view relationships and sex.   Mark has a gifted and close personal perspective on this problem since this is the culture in which he grew up.   Seattle’s culture, the culture Mark’s ministry is in, represents a complicated, diverse mix of young people here for work, school, mountain climbing, scuba diving, nightlife, music festivals, drum circles, whale preservation, and naked parades on bicycles, along with a few who don’t really know why they’re here and were kind of hoping you knew.  The common denominator is that they’re young.  Sex and marriage in this culture is a huge and relevant topic.

As a marriage counseling book, this book is frank about sex and intimacy in and out of marriage.  Mark and Grace are personal and vulnerable.  They recount years of working through their relationship and offer many conclusions.  Marriage is a difficult institution because it forces two people to learn to live as one. This book offers many examples of life skills learned through years of experience in marriage and counseling.   Two people learning to live as one is the core of what makes a long term marriage work.  This book plainly articulates the stage of life when the “honeymoon’s over”.  The chapters on friendship, love, communication, and sex are frank and practical.  Not all of the conclusions reached are perfect or without bias, but this book maps the terrain pretty well.

It is a christian marriage book and does draw on Bible concepts throughout the topics in a christian context.  The practical application is more like an outline, though, than anything close to a Bible study.  To put it in perspective, this book is like a field guide for the young people represented by young culture in Seattle, many of whom are like a kite in the wind with marriage and responsibility having not seen it modeled well for them. They need it really spelled out for them like the “big E on the eye chart” to get their lives together.  If you’re looking for a gospel centered teaching guide on marriage, this isn’t it.  If you are looking for a moderately prescriptive christian perspective on marriage and want to hear it from a couple who are in and of their culture, this might hit that target. Mark and Grace are their target demographic.

The second way to read this book is to allow this book to interpret itself. This book is topical in content, and autobiographical in nature. That’s fairly typical within the genre. Yet there is a third literary device in use. This book uses a combination of nonlinear narrative, and finally reverse chronology, to tell a story with the end of the book revealing greater context for circumstances within the book. A commonly known example of this literary technique is the film Memento. This wasn’t clear to me until reaching the last chapter, but the last chapter “The Last Day” really comes first!  The Last Day describes a way of looking at your life from the end to the beginning, which basically sets the stage for this book.  This book is a revealingly intimate autobiography of a man who came to a breaking point and rebooted his life.  This seems counter intuitive, but is actually quite enlightening when interpreting the book “Real Marriage”.

The reveal within the book begins in chapter 11 with Mark under a great deal of pressure and fighting his way through it. This chapter completely changes how the book can be interpreted.  In this chapter Mark lays out a blueprint for how he wants to change his life.  In the intimate details that follow, Mark tells a story of mistrust and hurt that culminate in what is basically described as an emotional breakdown.  The story now picks up again in chapter 1 with Mark filling in what was going on behind the scenes throughout the book.   Mark and Grace were both sexually active adolescents as was fairly typical in their culture.  This story now shifts to a young couple doing what young people do, making mistakes along the way.  Over the years as their lives became intertwined, Mark and Grace learned more details about each-other’s past, specifically as it pertains to this autobiography, their sexual past.  Mark describes the emotional toll and cost in trust this caused between him and Grace.

Throughout the book, when talking about intimacy and marriage issues, Grace describes how her actions had hurt Mark and, in hindsight, how she had fallen into this state of low self worth through abuse, reinforced by patterns that were present in her own view of herself and through people in her life.  Mark describes the toll on him and their relationship and the effect this had on his ministry in the church.   What stands out as odd however is that Mark shares equally intimate details of these events, but from a different perspective.  What started in chapter 11 now adds context to the back story.  This book was written as a chronicle of a young pastor struggling to understand his wife and then her response to him.  Chapter 11 is about reverse-engineering your life from the last day forward.  This sounds like a reasonable approach, everyone needs goals to strive for. Wait, what?! Somewhere things got off course.   Are we talking about life goals or a relationship?

What stood out earlier as odd about Mark’s perspective of the past was that Grace was humbly reconciling her past, but HE wasn’t! What at first appears to be a book about their marriage is really a book about Grace’s marriage. We actually know very little about Mark’s.   From the beginning of this book, Mark has made passing references to Grace’s mistakes and abuse that lead to difficulty in their marriage, but what about him?  He had been in previous sexual relationships prior to Grace, and with Grace prior to their marriage. What affect had this had on him and how he would view relationships going forward?  Not much is said about this, in fact Mark barely recognizes his responsibility in this at all.

Grace’s words are in passive voice, and she bears the burden of her actions and consequences.  Mark’s words are active, and based on clarity from chapter 11, it is now clear he has initiated this as a process for reconnecting with his wife.   He fails to take responsibility for his part in their shared emotional baggage however, and ultimately Grace bears most of the burden. How have Mark’s previous relationships shaped his needs during sex with his wife?  He describes the change between he and Grace after marriage as unimpressive. He had experience to base this on.   How had his previous relationships influenced him emotionally?  Had previous partners he’d been with left him with scars too?  Had he been abused himself or witnessed abuse he was unable to prevent?

The role that these factors have in the story is described clearly in how Grace was able to relate to Mark, but how had these factors influenced Mark’s ability to relate to Grace?   Did he enter marriage with realistic and fair expectations on her?  He’s made progress apparently, but there is very little attention given to the emotional baggage Mark carries with him. He seemed oddly silent on these issues in his life and let Grace’s story stand on it’s own.

When viewed as a whole, the end gives context to the beginning and now some pieces fall into place.  This is a story told by the inside voice in Mark’s head about a period in his life when he was a pastor under pressure in a large young church.  He acknowledges the effect his depression and anger had on his relationship with his wife and on the church and then his resolve to attack that problem and take it apart until it was gone. He decided he deserved better and set out a path to achieve that.  He has yet to recognize his own responsibility in much of this, to the point that his wife is publicly apologizing to him for past offenses he participated in himself with seemingly no remorse or consequence on his part. The dichotomy between their viewpoints is striking.

____________

As Andy pointed out, Real Marriage paints an intimate portrait of a couple dealing with the sexual and family baggage of the wife, but not that of the husband. Mark is skilled and precise at diagnosing Grace’s problems and those of his culture, but he lacks insight into himself.

Central to Real Marriage, Mark gives testimony of his decade long bitterness toward Grace. “I had a dream …. I saw in painful detail Grace sinning sexually during a senior trip she took after high school when we had just started dating” (p. 11). “Had I known about this sin, I would not have married her” (p. 12). He says on p. 14, “I grew more chauvinistic. … I started to distrust women in general, including Grace. This affected my tone in preaching for a season, something I will always regret.” He repeats this in the first Real Marriage sermon online as well. I don’t think the root cause of his chauvinism (his own word from the first Real Marriage sermon) is anywhere near that simple, but that actually explains a lot. I remember Mark telling a husband publicly on the church members’ forum during those years that if he didn’t shut his wife up, Mark would do it for him. I hope his regret has caused him to reach out to that family in apology (she was also an abuse victim, sexually exploited by an older youth leader) as they left Mars Hill after that.

According to the book, Mark’s bitterness and stress culminated in 2007. He recounts on p. 16, “… my adrenal glands and thyroid fatigued, and I finally came to the end of myself …. So we cleaned up the church” and “lost around one thousand people due to changes amid intense criticism.” The intense criticism he mentions came because he fired two older elders while engineering the rewriting of the church by-laws at the high point of this season of bitterness and anger with his wife. A few years earlier, Mark had taught the mutual accountability of a plurality of elders using Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership, and it was embraced by the church. The accountability of this system is much less effective when you can fire your elders at will and put the ones who remain through the “wood chipper” as Mark called it at an Acts 29 bootcamp at that time.

I recently put (a Mars Hill executive elder who remains at the church) in the wood chipper in my church. … He was the guy, he had to nitpick at everything; he had to resist everything, he had to look at the other side. … you’d ask him why, he’d be like, well, I just wanted to make sure we’ve looked at everything, and everybody is considering all the angles. … I’ll tell you what, when you despise your elders, at that point you have no safe place in the world from which to do ministry. … there’s always one guy there who’s just like a fart in an elevator, and I’m just counting the minutes till I can get away from this guy. You can pray for me. You may say, “It seems like he’s dealing with this right now.” Yes, I am. I’m thinking of certain people. If it weren’t for Jesus I would be violent.” (Mark Driscoll, “The Man,” Acts 29 Bootcamp, Raleigh, NC, September 20, 2007)

In Real Marriage, Mark acknowledges a past problem with pride, but he remains blind to his self-centered view of the church, the extent of his disqualifying anger problem, the true root causes of both in his life, and the long term effects that both have on those around him. When you can flippantly write off 1000 members in your church, including elders, deacons, and community group leaders, because (as he explains it) you’re burnt out based on long standing bitterness and sexual frustration with your wife stemming from a sexual encounter when she was a teenager 19 years before—well, wow, I’m at a loss for exactly how to address that.

Mark’s account of his mindset reminds me of the value of sabbaticals—not powering through ministry because you think it will fall apart without you, but stepping back until your heart is ready to reengage with people in love and humility. What any of us say publicly is inevitably impacted by what our heart feels privately, and you can’t be angry and bitter in ministry without it affecting those to whom you are called to minister. Mt. 12:34 “… out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you don’t know the history of Mars Hill from first hand experience, there are other issues with Real Marriage that may or may not be problems depending on what you are looking for in a Christian book on marriage. First, there is little exposition of Scripture in the book. It mentions Scripture in passing and footnotes the references at the bottom. When they do discuss Scripture, such as Esther’s relationship with the king from p. 65, they sometimes come to troubling conclusions that are not consistent with a careful examination of Scripture. As Andy said, if you’re looking for a gospel-centered Bible study on marriage, this isn’t it.

The other issue with this book is the centrality of sex, although I should be clear that I think it is healthy to talk about sex from a Christian perspective. When I was first married, it was taboo among Christians to hear honest sexual talk from a Christian foundation. That was unhelpful to many Christian marriages, and believers need some place that isn’t pornographic to discuss it in frank terms. But Mark and Grace’s story centers completely around the role sex has played in hurting and helping their relationship, before and after marriage. Mark said in the same Acts 29 Bootcamp message referenced earlier that the pastor’s wife has the “most important job” in a new church — “having sex with the church planter.” I wonder what the Driscoll’s story would be if Grace became incapacitated long term. If that became the case, the majority of their marriage book would be useless to them.

My biggest concern about Real Marriage, though, is the abundance of references to Jesus, forgiveness, and repentance without a corresponding understanding of the gospel grace that Jesus Himself teaches. I say it often, and this is a clear example – using gospel language and understanding gospel grace are two different things. The best articulations of the gospel in Real Marriage are those given by Grace on p. 126-127 and p. 137-138 as she recounts dealing with her past sexual issues in the light. But there is little corresponding from Mark about facing the wealth of his own sin and deep need. What Mark actually says in the book reveals a poor understanding of Biblical grace, particularly as Jesus describes it in Matthew 18.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Mark felt betrayed by Grace for her sexual sin, but it’s stretching it to call Grace’s sexual encounter with another guy when she and Mark first started dating primarily a sin against Mark. A sin? Yes. Against Mark? Not so much. According to how they describe it, they had only just started dating when this incident occurred. She was a sexually active teenager in a new relationship with another sexually active teenager (Mark) who was not a Christian. There was nothing remotely resembling covenantal commitment between them at that point. Even though Mark seems to understand parts of the problem in his response to her, there remains much about Mark’s “forgiveness” of her for this sexual sin but nothing about Mark asking Grace’s forgiveness for how he exploited her sexually during that same season.

According to Real Marriage, both Mark and Grace were sexually active with other partners before dating each other. Grace went through Redemption Groups at Mars Hill and dealt with her sexual history, but Mark never did (the elder leading the early version of redemption groups in which Grace first found her voice on the issue of past sexual abuse was one of the older elders fired in 2007). Grace deals with her parents and issues stemming from her upbringing in a pastor’s home. But Mark only makes a passing reference to his and doesn’t deal with baggage from his upbringing AT ALL. Does he have NO baggage he brought to marriage from his women-beating, alcoholic, redneck family (his description)? 

The heaviness of Mark’s reaction to Grace and his subsequent misogyny in sermons and interactions with individual church members seems well out of proportion to whatever happened between him and Grace early on. In the book, Grace bears the weight for not telling him her sexual secret before they got married. The tangible reactionary thing they insist in the book and Mars Hill’s own premarital program is that couples admit every sexual encounter to each other before they get married. But Mark states several times that he wouldn’t have married Grace if he had known and never recants. It’s disturbing all he projected onto Grace those years (and what she projects on herself in the book–“Mark had righteous anger and felt totally betrayed” p. 12). It might be beneficial for Mark to preach through Hosea for the first time in his ministry before he goes through his Song of Solomon sex talk for the 3rd time in the next weeks. Though if Mark does teach through Hosea consistent with his Nehemiah sermon series of 2007 and his portrait of himself in this current book, he will cast himself as the hero of Hosea and Gomer’s story, not recognizing that he himself is Gomer to Jesus’ Hosea as much, if not more, than his wife. “(God) said that He … had chosen me for the important mission of rescuing, protecting, and loving His daughter. This felt like a noble divine assignment and began to change my motivation for pursuing Grace …” (Real Marriage, p. 15).

Mark’s last chapter on reverse-engineering your life describes a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps way of writing your life story from the end to the beginning, which basically sets the stage for the autobiographical portions of the book which Andy addressed.   The Driscolls do seem to have genuinely repaired their broken relationship. I am glad they seem at peace with each other personally, though I’m concerned that Grace has excused Mark’s unrighteous anger against her by calling it righteous.  While I’m concerned for Grace, I am more concerned for specific individuals to whom Mark directed angry, cutting words over those years of bitterness and anger toward his wife.  The story he recounts in this book was not lived in a vacuum.  Mark bears the responsibility for that, not Grace. Giving a general apology (as he did in the first Real Marriage sermon) to a church no longer filled with the specific people to whom he directed those words is inadequate (no one in our family, by the way).

Matthew 5:23-24 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

I hope Mars Hill’s current elders will encourage Mark to stop and repair with those he has specifically directed his anger and misogyny over the years and to seek counsel for his past issues he hasn’t addressed, because the past verbal violence he directed toward individuals was verbal violence toward the Savior. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me” (Mt. 25:40).  And the issues he hasn’t yet addressed in his own heart will resurface again.  In every instance in which Mark’s accountability structure (whatever that is now) is aware of his verbal sins without holding him accountable and is aware of baggage from his upbringing without pointing him to gospel counsel, the name of Jesus and the good parts of doctrine Mark teaches will be undermined right along with him, as is now the case in many secular news stories.

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A Praying Life

I’ve recommended a number of books on this blog. Some I like, and I think some of you might find helpful. They may say an intriguing thought that I share with you. But other times, I come across a book that I devour. That I reread. That hangs with me well after putting it down. That the Spirit uses to change me. Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow was one. Counsel from the Cross was another. And currently, I am devouring A Praying Life by Paul Miller. Like Nancy Guthrie of Hearing Jesus Speak Into Your Sorrow, Miller has endured long term struggles with his children. I have found that authors/teachers saddled with a life long burden have a lot to say. At least to me. Sometimes it’s not what we necessarily want to hear. But once your naive notions of how the christian life will play out for you die their painful death, these authors are the ones that can speak the truth of Scripture in effective ways.

I have underlined paragraphs, starred sentences, and turned the corner of pages of this book with the thought of posting a blurb here. But now I have too many to post just one, and I can only say that if you are hurting and your previous view of prayer has been challenged by the struggles you have faced, READ THIS BOOK.

Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament

Nancy Guthrie has written a new One Year Devotional series – Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament. I missed Cyber Monday, but if you are looking for something for yourself or a stocking stuffer for a loved one, this is a good choice. Nancy drew me in immediately in the introduction as she recounted a life history in the church is which the Old Testament seemed basically file folders of separate moral lessons with little overlap. Do this. Don’t do that. Be like Joseph. Don’t be like Saul. The stories were taught as life lessons or faith lessons but didn’t speak into the whole message of Scripture. For so long in my own life, I didn’t know what to think of Jesus telling the men walking the Emmaus road with him in Luke 24, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Over the years, I’ve started filling in the gaps, primarily by sitting under preachers who have taught me Exodus, I Samuel, Jonah, and Ruth through the lens of the gospel. Second, I’ve learned to look up cross references when they are mentioned in my study Bible. When I read a prophesy in Isaiah, then notice the the cross reference to Luke in which Jesus says, “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing,” I have learned something incredibly important about both that OT prophecy and Christ himself. Scripture stops being a disjointed set of moral lessons and starts being the coherent, connected message of God’s good plan for his children from creation in Genesis to the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelation.

If you would like help making those connections, Nancy’s book is a good starting point. Note that it is not a commentary or Bible study. It is a devotional with short, succinct thoughts. I am early in my reading of it, but so far, I’ve been provoked to think about how the creation of woman from man (“bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”) is directly linked to Christ’s relationship with his church, his Body in the New Testament, especially Ephesians 5. I’m meditating anew on the intimate nature of this relationship after seeing that connection. I also gained insight from reading the story of Cain and Abel in terms of Hebrews 12:24–“ to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” What message apart from Christ does the blood of Abel speak? And what infinitely better word does Christ’s blood now give us? I had never before made that connection.

The message of each devotional may seem redundant because it’s gospel, gospel, grace, grace, and a little more gospel. Christ this. Cross that. But…um…that’s the point. God started preaching the message of Christ immediately after the fall of man. If you are in need of some simple, gospel saturation (and aren’t we all), this may be a good resource for you.