Review: The Making of Biblical Womanhood

“I like criticism, but it must be my way.” Mark Twain

How do you respond to criticism? Would you rather defend than correct yourself? Do you police the tone of criticism as an excuse not to hear legitimate concerns? Henry David Thoreau said we don’t get a man’s most effective criticism until he has been provoked. Don’t be surprised when the hard words that follow are given with some bitterness. 

In light of recent disturbing allegations of child pornography against Josh Duggar, and the protection his patriarchal circles afforded him over those affected by his sexual perversion, the critique of patriarchy and complementarianism lately has been angry, even shrill. But as Thoreau observed, such a tone wasn’t formed in a vacuum. Beth Allison Barr’s The Making of Biblical Womanhood fits Thoreau’s observation as well. The tone of her critique may put off some, but I believe there is value in staying engaged with her text until the end.  

The Making of Biblical Womanhood is both memoir and history. Barr, with a doctorate from the University of North Carolina, teaches medieval history at Baylor University. She holds to Nicene orthodoxy but not biblical inerrancy. [Edited to add that Dr. Barr in response to this review says that she was arguing in her book against inerrancy in practice, not the doctrine of inerrancy itself.] Her husband was a longtime youth pastor in their Southern Baptist church when controversy arose over whether a woman would be allowed to teach young men. 

Barr states several times that her examination of patriarchy and complementarian thought stems directly from this conflict over women teaching young males. I listened to this part of her story in my car on my way to teach a Bible lesson from Matthew to youth in our little church plant. I rotate teaching our youth (all males at the moment) with another mom and two male pastors in our church. It was odd hearing of Barr’s church experience as I compared it to mine, both churches claiming a complementarian view of biological sex in Scripture. 

Barr uses “complementarianism,” “patriarchy,” and “biblical womanhood” interchangeably to mean anything that involves male authority in the church and home. If only qualified men can hold the office of elder in your church, by Barr’s definition, you’re patriarchal. Many readers will not find their understanding or experience of complementarianism in Barr’s experience. Others will. Regardless, I still found value, even some agreement, with her criticisms.

Barr’s discussion of Christian women in medieval history was particularly interesting. Compared to the time of the Reformation and later Victorian England, medieval Christian women were a bold bunch, known more for speaking truth to spiritual authorities than for being keepers at home. 

But the story of the widowed Saint Paula, who left her abandoned children crying on the shore as she sailed for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, left me sick to my stomach. Barr succeeds in showing that notions today of the ideal Christian woman have strayed far from those of medieval times. But she doesn’t show that the medieval model was more faithful to Scripture in all of those differences. History tells us how things were, but it cannot tell us how things should be.

Junia or Junias?

The most intriguing chapter for me was Barr’s history of Bible translations. Most serious Bible students recognize that Bible translations weren’t written in a vacuum. The unspoken agendas of some are more obvious than others, but all leave some taint of biased human hands on inspired Holy Writ. Why did the Geneva and King James Versions translate Junia as a female and allude to her as an apostle? Why do later versions not? 

The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood recognizes the arguments for translating Junia in the female form. Different translators chose differently. Were they affected by recent textual criticism? Were they influenced by culture? Were they most influenced by the patron who funded their translation? 

Why did the King James translate the Greek for women/wives in 1 Timothy 3 as wife when the Latin Vulgate translated it as woman? Why does the ESV use “wife” while the more literal New American Standard uses “woman”? The answers to these questions aren’t always straightforward. It’s valuable for all of us to know how our translation of choice compares to the versions that came before or after it. If a philosophy of translation is good, it will hold up under careful examination.

Barr criticizes patriarchal practices that deny the place of women like Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia in God’s kingdom, and we should too. Paul, and the long story of Scripture, show us the necessary partnership of men and women in church, home, and workplace. A conservative understanding of sex that has no vision for single or widowed ezers (the Hebrew word translated helper in Gen. 2:18) is lacking indeed. It should be critiqued, and Barr’s arguments about that should be received. 

My disagreement with Barr (like most folks who disagree on such matters) comes with Barr’s analysis of the writings of Paul in Scripture. Barr acknowledges the clarity with which Paul speaks of qualified male authority in the church and home. In response, she argues that Scripture isn’t inerrant. In her view, the doctrine of inerrancy has been a tool used to keep women down and institutionalize abuse.

“Inerrancy introduced the ultimate justification for patriarchy—abandoning a plain and literal interpretation of Pauline texts about women would hurl Christians off the cliff of biblical orthodoxy.”

“After all Paul says clearly that man is the head, and wives must submit. Except now I know that when Paul’s words are contextualized, both theologically and historically, they read rather differently.”

Barr’s use of the word inerrancy in this section was confusing. Did she mean that what we read of Paul in Ephesians or I Timothy was not actually what he wrote in the original manuscripts? Or does she mean that while we do have what he originally wrote, it no longer applies in our modern context? Historical context and inerrancy are two very different things. Rather than referring to a theological, academic understanding of inerrancy, she seems to use the word to refer to the type of literalism used at times to shut down criticism and even reasonable discussion. Her use of the word inerrancy confused her point. Many inerrantists I know still believe in textual criticism. 

This was the point at which Barr and I diverged. Paul explicitly taught male-only eldership and wifely submission in the home. But Paul isn’t the only evidence we have for God’s created plan of two complementary biological sexes, with both overlap and distinctions, imaging him in the world. Paul isn’t the only one to show us qualified male elder authority in the church. The Bible is the best commentary on itself. Scripture helps us clarify what Paul does and doesn’t mean. But he definitely means something that stands the test of time and culture. 

In my opinion, the weakest link in Barr’s argument against complementarianism (which some might actually find her strongest) is that complementarianism leads to abuse. “We can no longer deny a link between complementarianism and abuse,” Barr writes. She gives ample personal testimony, including a harrowing experience in Bill Gothard’s patriarchal circles during a time he was abusing a young woman. 

But God forbid the teaching of complementary sexes, headship, and submission in Christian marriages explicitly taught in Scripture be evaluated solely in light of Bill Gothard or Josh Duggar. Is there abuse in complementarian contexts? Absolutely. But #ChurchToo revealed abuse in egalitarian contexts as well. The entire #MeToo movement, from which #ChurchToo flowed, involved widespread abuse in secular contexts that eschew all of the Bible’s ethics about sex. 

In contrast to Barr’s experience, I’ve found respite from abuse and misogyny in my complementarian church. Women are integral to every ministry in my church. Our input is solicited. Our voices are valued. As a divorced woman, I was careful in the church I joined. I didn’t want to walk my road alone, with all the responsibility on my shoulders. I chose my church cautiously, knowing the pastors in my church, along with my dad, would have a role of influence, even authority, in my life that I needed and wanted. 

I’ve had far more experience with humble rather than proud male leaders in complementarian churches. I’ve had more experience with men who value my voice and ministry than those who disparage it. And I have much more experience with leaders who help me carry the weight on my shoulders than those who add heavy burdens they are unwilling to carry. But the help and protection I’ve found in my complementarian churches doesn’t deny the abuse Barr says she experienced in hers. Neither does the abuse she endured undermine the good ways my pastors and father have blessed me as heads in my life. 

Experiences Matter

Our experience isn’t the final say in whether a teaching from Scripture is good and right. But no one can deny that our individual experiences of complementarianism in practice affect how we understand the doctrine. 

I’m a help (ezer) to my pastor in the strongest sense of the word. But before I sat under his leadership (and the three other pastors that came before him), I sat under a pastor who held onto deep anger at his wife and who generally believed women were out to take control of his church. He was the first to teach me that Genesis 3:16 meant that a woman was predisposed by the Fall to want to take control from men and work against men. His misuse of that passage became a convenient cover for his misogyny. I understand the type of patriarchal experiences that Barr is reacting against even as I have a separate set of experiences that reinforce the value of complementarity in the Body of Christ.

The Making of Biblical Womanhood shows Barr’s rich understanding of medieval church history. Her book is compelling. It’s important to know what has happened in the past, and her writing will be an important contribution to church history. But the greatest strength of the book, it’s historical narrative, is also its greatest weakness. Barr argues against a doctrine of Scripture, not with Scripture itself, but with history and personal experience. 

Barr argues against complementarianism by saying that Scripture isn’t inerrant and complementarianism inevitably leads to abuse. [Edited to add that Dr. Barr has clarified online that she does believe that the original manuscripts of Scripture were inerrant and that the Bible is authoritative.] My conviction is that Scripture, in the original manuscripts, is without error and that God has preserved it for us so that we can have confidence in the text. My experience is that complementarianism is not inherently abusive, that it can, in fact, protect from abuse in certain situations. 

I don’t deny the harm done in some complementarian contexts. Our call, as believers who hold to a conservative understanding of sex from Scripture, is to take criticism seriously and examine ourselves honestly. All have fallen short of God’s glory, and the truth of Scripture will stand up to our examination of ourselves, our history, and God’s Word. 

Wendy Alsup is author of Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is Monday, March 8. Why have such a day? Despite all of the differences among women worldwide and the fact that men struggle internationally as well, there remain some sobering norms about women that are worth considering, norms that give insight for why women internationally might benefit from a day of attention.

Did you know that around a third of women internationally have experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner? While women’s acceptance internationally of being beaten by their partners has decreased over the last seven years, laws addressing such violence are still not universally available. About one-fourth of the world’s nations still have no laws prohibiting violence against women.

Did you know that in this pandemic, twice as many moms as dads report ongoing depression related to a change in circumstances? And four times as many women as men lost or left jobs in September last year.

Here’s an odd statistic that hints that there may be a great deal more going on internationally than meets the eye that is NOT in women’s favor. In a study of 45,000 crash victims over 11 years, the University of Virginia found that women are 47% more likely to suffer serious injuries in car crashes. Why? Because safety features such as the position of head restraints in relation to seat position are designed for men.

Many folks who are concerned about such statistics wonder if the Bible too is biased against women. How do we answer that question in our own heart? As Christians, or those maybe even just considering belief in the God of the Bible, we wonder, can I trust God as a woman? Can my sister who has been harmed trust God? Can I submit to Scripture as a woman? Can the Jesus who uplifted God’s word, even the hard parts of the Old Testament, be trusted with my own concerns today?

Or maybe concerns over women’s rights internationally, or even locally, are not on your own personal radar. Maybe you are even suspicious of such concerns. Consider then that they likely are on the radar of someone you know and love. How do you answer questions of those you love? Do you dismiss their questions? Do you deride them for having the questions? If so, I encourage you to instead respect their questions. In my experience, they come from a place of genuine hurt and concern.

I have wrestled with these questions for myself. I have great confidence now that the God of the Bible can be trusted with every last concern I have as a woman. He can be trusted with my body. He can be trusted with my spirit. He can be trusted with my soul.

{I model how I’ve wrestled with these things in this post on a difficult passage from Numbers 5.}

If you’d like to read more of a defense of the goodness and trustworthiness of Scripture, Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence through a Jesus-centered Understanding of Scripture is on sale for $1.99 in honor of International Women’s Day. I hope it will aid you and/or someone you love with confidence in the God of the Bible and His revelation of Himself to us all through the Scriptures. He loves His daughters, and He is very good.

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On Monday, International Women’s Day, I will be hosting a live event through Intervarsity Press to encourage weary sisters in these long, hard days. If you’d like to come, you can preregister here.

A More Excellent Way

I’m welcoming Alex Keen to the blog today. I appreciated her careful handling of Philemon as guidance for relationships in the church with cultural power differentials.

Several years ago, I was encouraged to consider writing a piece on navigating authority as a woman in a complementarian church. During this time, quite a shake-up was happening in both evangelicalism and the world at large. There was a heated kerfuffle in the reformed internet world over trinitarian doctrine as it related to the roles of men and women. There were abuse allegations mishandled in the world and in the church. In all of this, the voices of leading women rose against the abuse of male authority in both spheres. Frustration spread like wildfire through hashtags and hateful words. While the heat has cooled a bit for now, the issues themselves have yet to be resolved and full familial restoration may be a long way off for many. I would like to propose a way forward by examining the book of Philemon and offering four principles derived from this very short letter. Late? Yes. Timely? I hope so.

To begin, there are three men involved in the story behind the letter: Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Paul is in prison at this point, writing letters to churches. He not only wrote a letter to the believers in Colossae (where Philemon lived), but a personal letter to Philemon who hosted a church in his house. Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, had abdicated his responsibility and somehow found his way to Paul. There, he is brought to saving faith by Paul’s testimony. Now Paul is faced with a decision. To use his authority to keep Onesimus? Or to send Onesimus back into a situation that might result in his suffering? 

1. Acknowledge Authority

First, Paul acknowledged different spheres of authority. All three men had authority in some way. Paul had authority over others as an apostle and elder. Philemon had authority over others as a church leader and master. Onesimus had authority over himself as a fellow believer and brother. Though Paul could have ordered Philemon to do what is right, he instead acknowledged and honored Philemon’s authority by making requests instead of making demands.

Though I am not certain, evidence seems to indicate that Onesimus returned to Philemon freely. Paul, in Colossians 4:9, calls him “our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of your number.” Onesimus came as an equal in order to be restored, not as a slave to be punished. Paul most likely did not use his authority to force Onesimus to return, but honored and encouraged Onesimus’s choice as a brother to return.

Acknowledging the authority of others instead of using authority to coerce obedience highlights the equality of all people in Christ, regardless of gender, race, or social status.

2. Appeal to love

Second, Paul appealed to Philemon for love’s sake. In doing so, he left room for Christ to exercise his authority in Philemon’s heart. He pointed to Philemon’s love and faith in Christ, and how he had comforted and refreshed fellow believers, and encouraged him to treat Onesimus the same way. Paul explained, “without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.” He knew that using authority to demand a certain action would not bring about Christ’s work. The fellowship of love is the fertile soil for God’s work to come to fruition in the lives of others. 

Appealing to love honors Christ’s authority to work in the lives of others.

3.Accept Responsibility

Third, each person in this situation exercised their authority by bearing their responsibility. Paul accepted his responsibility as an apostle and elder to care for Onesimus as a father would a child. He did so by bearing true testimony to Onesimus’ salvation and offering to repay Philemon for anything he had lost as a result of Onesimus’ actions.

Onesimus accepted responsibility for his actions by returning to serve Philemon. And as a brother who happened to be a bondservant, he had the responsibility to work heartily for the sake of the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:22-25).

Philemon was asked to bear responsibility for Onesimus as a brother by forgiving and restoring him. And as a brother who happened to be a master, he had the responsibility to treat his slaves with justice and fairness (Colossians 4:1). 

It is tragic to have either authority without responsibility, or responsibility without authority. I would go so far as to suggest that authority and responsibility are nearly synonymous. All of these men had responsibilities placed on them under Christ’s absolute authority. Thankfully, they were given authority to carry out their responsibilities. 

Accepting responsibility as those under authority serves Christ.

4. Aim for Fellowship

Last, Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus as he truly was, an equal, a brother, and fellow heir of the kingdom. He desired that Philemon might “have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (vs. 15-16). In fact, Paul expressed a certainty that Philemon would do even more than simply restore him as a slave (verse 21). From this, we see that his ultimate aim was not justice or proper social order (it is good to note that slavery is not a proper social order), but fellowship. He knew joyful fellowship could not be demanded, so he handed authority and responsibility to Philemon. He knew that only Christ could bring true reconciliation by establishing the social order of the kingdom. In Christ’s kingdom, all are brothers and sisters, equal heirs to the great promises of God, regardless of social status. 

It helps to note that the word for “appeal” in verse 9 is parakaleo, which means to call to one’s side. It is not simply a request, but a request that includes assurance of comfort. Paul wanted Philemon’s comforting presence side by side with him in his joy and as a co-laborer in the gospel.

Aiming for fellowship acknowledges the goal of the gospel, which is the fellowship of love with God in Christ, and with each other as equal image bearers.

So how does this relate to men and women in a complementarian church?

The Way Forward

All of us have some measure of authority given to us by God. “Complementarianism” recognizes that men and women are equal in complementary ways and have different spheres of authority by God’s design. While I do not wish to quarrel over where those lines are drawn here, I do wish to point out that it’s important to be able to discern and honor spheres of authority. In order to do this, we must first acknowledge that both men and women are made in the image of God and are fellow heirs of the kingdom. From here, we realize that we must acknowledge the authority given to each of us, male or female, as image bearers. No one has absolute authority over another, regardless of the structures of our social systems. 

However small or large our spheres of authority, we are called, both men and women, to use our authority to pave the way for Christ’s absolute authority to work itself out in our fellowship. Instead of demanding obedience, for love’s sake, we appeal to our brothers and sisters to act according to the grace of the gospel. We want them beside us as equals to share our joy as we serve our Lord. 

Our ultimate aim in the church is not proper social order, not really even justice, but fellowship in Christ. Yes, we must work against injustice, but we do so by using our authority for the good of those who are in more vulnerable positions. The elders, men charged with shepherding the flock, must accept responsibility for those entrusted to their care by first acknowledging the spheres of authority given to both men and women, and leading them to accept responsibility within their own spheres. This will take a great deal of discernment. Elders are responsible for using their authority to protect the vulnerable, and there are times when fellowship between offended and offender may not be wise, and this might become a matter of church discipline. In the end, no one who belongs to Christ loses anything by allowing God to use his or her authority to order our lives toward love and fellowship with him and with each other. After all, we know that in the end true justice will be served.

In this day of #metoo and #churchtoo, navigating authority within a complementarian setting is complicated. Trust between men and women has been deeply shaken. Constant suspicion is the best defense the world can offer. However, like Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul, those who belong to Christ have been called to trust. It is not a naïve trust, for we of all people should be aware of the evil in human hearts. Our trust is not in men, but in Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth. Because of this, we can bank on having everything to gain as we acknowledge authority, appeal to love, accept responsibility, and aim for fellowship under Christ’s ultimate authority. 

Paul, in the 13th chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, urged the believers to see that the more excellent way to interact with each other is the way of love. As men and women seeking to walk faithfully in difficult times, this is the way forward. Love overcomes wrongs and restores far more than human justice ever will. For love’s sake, then, I appeal to all of us in Christ to choose the more excellent way.

Alex Kneen is on that journey described by St. Anselm as “faith seeking understanding.” She lives in Gastonia, NC, is married to David, and mother to two boys, Rowan and Bastion.

A Biblical, not Cultural, Worldview

We all need a worldview affected by our understanding of Scripture more than it is affected by how we were raised or the culture in which we currently live. Our culture affects us in profound ways, and for many of us, learning to be Scripture-led, not culture-led, is like learning to write with your left hand after decades of writing with your right. It takes focused thought and intentional steps to break old habits of thinking and put on the new. We have to discipline our mind to take over our hand, because our hand instinctively goes toward what it has always known, what is comfortable, what is natural.

I was raised in independent, fundamentalist, baptist churches. These churches raised me to believe the Bible was the absolute, final authority in my life. For this, I will always be grateful. Those churches taught me to study the Bible and be faithful to church. Again, I will always be grateful for these spiritual disciplines. But several also exposed me to an ugly truth. Not everyone who claims the Bible as their final authority is actually obeying Scripture as their final authority. From Grace Baptist Church in Orangeburg, SC, to Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA, I have learned the hard way that some claiming the loudest the Bible as their final authority can also manipulate the Bible in order to manipulate others. Men controlled by their culture more than their Creator make all of the good guys in Scripture look like them and all of the bad guys look like their cultural opponent. They twist Scripture with the common theme of excoriating their enemy while excusing the evil of their heroes. This twisted refrain shows up again and again, generation by generation. It has forced me to go back to ground zero to think through what the Bible does and does not say about religious culture around me as well as my own religious comfort zone. Where does the Bible tell me to eat with my left hand when my fundamentalist culture trained me to use my right?

I have compiled some Bible principles that have helped me form my own worldview, one I believe is more Bible-centered than culture-centered. Yet, I recognize too that I am capable of manipulation. If you don’t feel constrained by these principles, that is between you and the Holy Spirit. My intent is to explain the principles that influence me, not pressure you to the same. But maybe something here is helpful for others. If that is the case, then praise God.

Here are some Bible principles that have shaped my worldview.

  • I believe Scripture teaches that Jesus is returning to an overcoming Church. His kingdom, Jesus says, is like leaven that leavens the whole lump of bread. It WILL come. There is no stopping it. I believe that Matthew 24 was fulfilled at the destruction of the Temple and Jewish diaspora around AD 70. RC Sproul’s Last Days According to Jesus is a helpful read on this subject. I await Jesus’s return as Paul discusses in his epistles, but I do not hold to a Left Behind understanding of the end times. That view is a relatively modern view of the end times, made popular by Scofield and Darby in the last 150 years of church history. These beliefs free me from worry about a vaccine being infected with a secret tracking agent and other interesting theories that have the government increasingly marginalizing Christians. I don’t believe Covid masks are any more invasive than asking folks to wear shirt and shoes into a restaurant or underwear in public. My lack of fear over Covid restrictions and government control is related to my convictions on the end times.
  • I don’t believe my opponent is my enemy. I have a singular enemy, Satan himself. Paul says our opponents are captive to our real enemy, Satan. This gives me hope for my enemy. I remember that it is the kindness of God that draws us to repentance. I believe this same kindness will be the thing that draws my opponents to Christ as it was for me.

2 Tim 2:24-26  The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

  • The Bible has super strong commands around loving our neighbor as ourselves and is intent we understand that our neighbor is anyone in our proximity, not just people we know and like. Furthermore, the Bible explicitly states that this love is for our opponents. It’s for folks who make us mad, folks with whom we disagree politically. The Bible explicitly describes this love. It is patient and kind. It believes the best and gives the benefit of the doubt.

Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I Cor 13 4 Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, 5 is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. 6 Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

  • I personally try to discipline myself away from conspiracy theories since the Bible explicitly states that we need two or three first person witnesses to establish an accusation.

Deut. 19:15 “One witness cannot establish any iniquity or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

  • While all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Scripture is also careful to warn us against a particular kind of bad person—the fool, the scoffer, the mocker—whom destruction follows like Pig Pen’s cloud of dirt in the Peanut’s comic strip. In the Hebrew, mocker means one who boasts, scorns, speaks arrogantly, mocks, and derides. When I look at leaders, I note who can and who can’t control their tongue and who can and who can’t control their anger. I note who is consistently sarcastic and rude, who speaks with bitterness and malice, who seeks to stir up strife. I won’t touch with a ten foot pole the unrepentant mocker, because there is a certain kind of destruction they bring to all those around them. The wise avoid them.

Proverbs 19:29 Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and beating for the backs of fools.

Proverbs 22:10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease.

Proverbs 24:9 The devising of folly is sin, And the scoffer is an abomination to men.

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers!

  • I firmly believe that the Biblical instructions on Christian language and tone should still constrain me today. Malice, slander, lying—these are nonnegotiable for Christians seeking to be faithful to Scripture. Remove slander from your presence. Put away clamor and bitterness. If it’s coming in your house over your TV, turn it off. Put it away. If it’s coming into your presence through your social media, remove it from your presence.

Ephesians 4 31 All bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice.

James 1:19-20 My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry, for the anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.

  • Finally, I do not hold to a Christian/American Nationalism that views American patriotism as synonymous with Christian righteousness. I am quite thankful to be an American and am particularly thankful for the freedom of religion we take for granted here. But I also believe our founding fathers were flawed men with major blind spots and some outright denial of Biblical truth. This is fairly easy to prove since the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights rejected Jesus’s resurrection along with all supernatural events in the gospels. I thank God for the place and times I live, and the religious freedom I enjoy, but I also acknowledge the pervasive depravity of man as a core doctrine of Christianity. Our nation isn’t perfect, and as God sanctifies His church and His kingdom comes in our world, I expect to see changes in our nation that reflect a more just union, respecting the full human dignity of people made in God’s image, born and unborn. Our nation has been subject to the same pervasive depravity which has affected the whole world, which is why the whole world needs a Savior. To deny this seems to deny the most basic tenets of Christianity.

In summary, I believe Jesus returns to an overcoming Church, and even now, His kingdom is advancing just as Jesus said it would. This confidence equips me to engage politics with hope, not with defensive anger. I believe Christians are called to a hopeful posture in our nation and our world, confident that God will do all He said He will do.

I hope something there is helpful to you as you navigate these confusing days for believers in America.

Childbirth Redeemed by Anna Vroon

How can you put into words what you do not understand yourself?

In Childbirth Redeemed, Anna Vroon asks this poignant question as she shares, years after the fact, the complicated emotions around her difficult pregnancies and child birth experiences. How do you reconcile a deep and fierce mother’s love with fear, anxiety, and disgust at your pregnant belly? How do you bond with your child when you are still experiencing deep trauma after an excruciatingly painful birth process?  How do you live in light of the truth of God’s love and His purposes for you and your children when your emotions do not match any of it?

Anna faces these questions honestly because she experienced them all personally. In recounting her own painful journey, she has given the Church a unique and invaluable resource on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She gives women permission to be honest about their own painful stories around pregnancy and childbirth, something, frankly, few resources in the Church do. And she leads those with painful stories to the foot of the cross, where they meet the suffering Savior who is well acquainted with searing pain and grief.

If you have wrestled with pregnancy and childbirth, despaired of giving birth, or struggled to bond with a child—or if you love someone who has—Anna has written a book you need to read. Her story is compelling, and the hope she shares in the good news of Jesus will bless every reader. I can’t recommend this book enough.

Check it out here.

What is Suffering?

A friend asked me recently how I would define suffering. I panicked for a moment. I just published a book on suffering, but I didn’t seem to have a quick definition for it in my head. How had I allowed such an oversight?! But it didn’t take me long to find succinct words. Deep down, I know exactly what suffering is and what is its cause.

All suffering, at its most basic level, is our groaning under the weight of the effects of the Fall.

I have found it deeply helpful to ground my understanding of my own personal suffering in terms of the Fall. God did not intend husbands and wives for divorce. There was no cancer in Eden. And in terms of the communal crises facing us today, there was no disease in Eden. There was no racial bias.

Every ounce of suffering in your world, whether from your sin, another’s sin against you, sickness, death, job loss, relational crisis, or any other cause, stems initially from brokenness that came to our world as a result of the Fall of Man. The good news, in the midst of such widespread groaning, is found singularly in Jesus. No one has groaned under this weight more than Christ. He stood up under that weight for His years on earth, clearly troubled over and over again by what He witnessed. He felt compassion, in other words, suffering with those He saw suffering. And then He suffered FOR all of us on the cross. In our place. Bearing the heaviest weight of the Fall, a weight that would have crushed us.

As you bear up under the effects of the Fall on your own life, and on our world as a whole, know that Jesus understands. He more than understands. He carries this weight WITH you. And He carried the heaviest weight of it all FOR you on the cross in your place.

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Companions in Suffering is now available on Amazon. I also have two free copies of the audio book from Audible. If you are willing to share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, comment below where you shared it, and I will enter you into a drawing for the free audio books. Winners will be announced on Wednesday June 24.

Practical Help for Sufferers

Suffering plays with our body, and suffering plays with our mind. As I was going through the worst parts of my personal struggles, particularly around my cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, my mind was affected every bit as much as my body. Many people find praise and worship music helpful. I’ve particularly enjoyed Latasha Morrison’s music. But I also found unexpected help to settle my mind when a friend in my inner circle sent me a coloring book of Bible verses. I had not colored in decades, but this coloring book became a dear friend in the days of waiting for doctors’ appointments, test results, and surgery dates.

So. Much. Waiting.

Waiting on test results was the worst. I couldn’t plan on the next thing until we knew exactly what we were dealing with medically. So I colored. One picture a day was all I could handle. But one picture a day gave me a tactile thing to do with my hands that stimulated me visually and gave me some minor sense of accomplishment when the picture was finished.

I am not an artist, so the coloring books that worked well for me were fairly simple to color. Others may have different tastes. Now, when a friend receives a troubling medical diagnosis, a coloring book and colors are one thing I like to share (though I make it clear I am not offended if it doesn’t really work for them). And, to go with the release of Companions in Suffering, my publisher made up some coloring cards with verses and quotes that we can give out with it. Here are a few of my favorite coloring books and some reasonably priced sets of pencils.

Inspiring Words Coloring Book

Favorite Bible Verses Coloring Book

Bible Blessings and Promises Coloring Art

Crayola Adult Coloring Pencils 50 count

Crayola Dual-ended Coloring Pencils 36 count

Coloring isn’t for everyone, but if you or a loved one needs help settling your mind, the simplicity of coloring a Bible verse may be helpful. It definitely was for me.