Luther’s Other Reformation

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Letter TThe Protestant Reformation is without a doubt one of the most significant events in history. Even non-Christian scholars can agree that the Reformation had a profound political and philosophical impact on the Western world. For Christians the import of this event is most squarely set around the theological and ecclesiastical revolutions which took place and are perhaps best exemplified in the five solas.

Yet often obscured behind the theological and societal watershed that was the Reformation is another reformation almost as widespread and long-reaching in its impact. This was Luther’s – albeit unintentional – reformation of marriage.

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The Christian and Submission to Civil Government

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letter-aAGeorge Weigel reported in First Things, the past one-hundred years have been “the greatest era of persecution in Christian history,” so much so that “more Christians died for the faith in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries of Christian history combined.

More and more often in the world there is an slowly increasing antagonism between the secular governments and the people of God. This antagonism has manifested itself even in the United States: Christian bakers and photographers being sued and driven out of business for refusing homosexual weddings; Christians-run businesses being forced to support programs that fund abortion; an overall increasing belief nationwide that person’s belief should be kept private.

As this antagonism continues and strengthens Christians are forced to ask the question: how are Christians to relate to government? Should they submit? Obey? Resist? Rebel? To what degree can Christians engage in civil disobedience while still being faithful to Peter’s command to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority” and Paul’s command to “let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

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Sacred & Secular: How Should Christians Interact With the World?

vocationLetter IIn his classic work Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton asks whether one can “hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?”In this quote Chesterton – likely much to his chagrin – expresses something more in line with the reformer Martin Luther, setting Christ and culture in a paradoxical tension.

As sociologist James Davison Hunter has noted in the past, there is a tension between the church and the world that should not be minimized; there must be both affirmation and antithesis. According to Hunter, Christians can engage in world-building, but this is not kingdom-building (and it will not evolve into the kingdom this side of heaven). This affirmation is balanced with a constructive subversion of the negative aspects of the world. Hunter’s vision boils down to a doctrine of vocation – of being faithfully present in the world.

There is a danger when taking this approach of dichotomizing life into the sacred and the secular and thereby forcing the Christian faith wholly into the private realm. A proper doctrine of vocation should not result in a separation of the sacred from the secular, but of that which glorifies God from that which doesn’t.

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Depression – A [Short] Study

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Letter DDepression as a general phenomenon has often been referred to as “the common cold of psychopathology”; an extreme of this condition – Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) – serves to be a much more severe form of depression, indeed, it is “one of the most common, debilitating, and deadly psychiatric conditions.”

In order to best understand this disorder it is necessary that one understand multiple aspects of it, to include: the symptoms associated with the disorder, its etiology, its prevalence, and the various modalities used to treat the disorder.

Furthermore, as the Christian counselor seeks to understand the disorder, it is also necessary that the Biblical and theological issues and critiques relating to the disorder also be addressed; this is especially true because as A.W. Tozer once noted “because we are the handiwork of God, it follows that all our problems and their solutions are theological.”

Symptoms

 The symptoms of MDD are varied and not confined to a single area of functioning, rather, there are “emotional, motivational, behavioral, cognitive and physical symptoms of depression; it is a holistic phenomenon.” As laid out by the American Psychiatric Association in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there are nine primary symptoms of MDD.

When the individual has MDD these symptoms will be present during the same two-week period, will occur most of the day, nearly every day, will not be attributable to the physiological effects of some substance or to a medical condition, and will cause clinically significant distress in functioning.

The first of these symptoms is a depressed mood, expressed by such things as feeling sad, empty, and/or hopeless. It could be said in this state that depression feels like a mere absence of everything, of an empty pain that feels not merely like pain but like meaningless pain.

The second of these symptoms is anhedonia, or a loss of interest or pleasure in most to all activities. One of these previous two symptoms must be present in order for an individual to have MDD.

Apart from these two, at least four of the other associated symptoms must be present in order to diagnose with MDD. These other potential symptoms include such things as a significant amount of weight loss despite not dieting, or weight gain of more than 5% body weight in a month; a marked decrease or increase in appetite may also suffice. These also include insomnia or hypersomnia; fatigue or loss of energy; a lowered ability to think or concentrate; feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt; psychomotor agitation or retardation; and recurrent thoughts of death, such as suicidal ideation (even without a specific plan) or a suicide attempt. One way of describing a person in this state is that they “view the world through gray-tinted glasses.”

In the Christian realm there are also spiritual symptoms which one may observe. Thus the symptoms of depression can express themselves as being compounded by a feeling that God is angry with them.

Causes

There are a number of theories regarding the causes of MDD. Sometimes the disorder seems to arise out of nowhere while other times it seems to have a trigger. Because of this it is often difficult to ascribe a specific cause to a depression. According to the DSM-5, the risk factors related to this include temperamental, environmental, genetic, and other factors.

The main temperamental risk factor associated with MDD is neuroticism, which cause individuals to be more likely to develop a depressive disorder in reaction to stressful events in life.

The main environmental factor which plays into MDD is the presence of stressful life events – this is especially so in terms of childhood experiences, which research indicates plays a large role in the development of cognitive processes. Examples of such life events would include the loss of a parent before age 5 (which has been associated with an increase in depression as an adult), some sort of abuse, or living in an environment where the child’s self-esteem was constantly threatened and/or a negative worldview communicated.

Other environmental factors include such things as the lack of a support system, systems which “have been shown to mitigate the effects of negative stressors”, as well as a significant amount of stress in the individual’s life which can result in a chemical imbalance which may then trigger a depression.

The main genetic factor associated with MDD is that having a close family member who has had MDD increases an individual’s chances of developing it themselves; it has furthermore been found that there is a higher prevalence of MDD in females than in males.

Finally, the presence of any other non-mood disorder can play into an individual developing depression, with substance abuse, anxiety, as well as borderline personality disorder being the most prevalent, along with other medical conditions. Of these other factors that may play into the development of depression, while mild symptoms of depression have been associated with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, it has been found that obesity does not play a significant role in causing depression.

Apart from these risk factors, there are also other elements which have been linked as contributors to depression, such as the biological element. As stated by Yarhouse et al., few clinicians today “would deny that there are usually biological foundations for problems of mood.” One of these biological elements is the influence of chemical hormones and neurotransmitters, for instance, a decrease in serotonin or norepinephrine will result in the feelings that rare labeled as depression.

A potential cause of this decrease are the thoughts of the individual, for “it is now believed that thoughts stimulate chemical hormones.” Because the chemical balance of the body plays such a large role in the way an individual feels, serious depressive symptoms can also be “direct results of poor choices about chemically controlling our mood states” such as is present with abuse of both legal and illegal medications and drugs.

The cognitive element also plays a role in the etiology of MDD. A major cognitive element present in both major and minor depression is negative self-talk, and there are at least three different misbeliefs or types of negative self-talk that individuals repeat to themselves or ruminate over as a way of devaluating themselves; these include the beliefs that they are no good, that their daily life is no good, and that their future is hopeless. This sort of self-talk “can and does create and maintain feelings which are so miserable they may lead to suicide attempts.”

While engaging in this sort of negative self-talk the individual will often reinterpret their own personal history so that those things which were good – or even average – become seen as “terrible and deserving of infinite guilt.”

These sorts of cognitive patterns often become immune to attempts at logic, and it is debated whether or not these patterns are the primary causes of depression or results of a “synergistic combination of stressors and vulnerabilities.”

In being immune to normal logic, depression also shows a logic of its own so that the afflicted individual is unable to distinguish between loving actions, hurtful ones, and indifferent ones. Regardless of whether this sort of rumination is the cause or the effect in relation to depression, it has been shown by Vanhalst that the most harmful component of rumination was often the uncontrollability of it.

This negative self-talk is generated in a variety of ways and can perhaps be narrowed down to five major cognitive errors.

These errors include: selective abstraction, where the individual focuses only on certain elements of an experience to describe the entire thing; arbitrary inference, where the individual draws a conclusion without evidence or in the face of contrary evidence; overgeneralization, where the individual draws a conclusion based upon only a single incident; personalization, where the individual relates events to themselves even without evidence that the events are so linked; and dichotomous thinking, where the individual classifies events into either/or and all/none categories despite the possibility of there being other options.

From the Christian perspective it should also be noted that sin can be a cause of depression. Despite this, one can’t automatically attribute one core sin as being the cause of a depression. This sort of connection should not be made lightly, especially since in Christian circles depression is usually seen as a moral failing anyway, even when it may not be.

Thus, while sin may be a contributing factor in a depression, other factors should always be taken into consideration.

Prevalence

According to the APA the prevalence of MDD within the United States is approximately 7%, where 18-29 year olds have a threefold higher rate than those over 60 years of age, and females have a “1.5- to 3-fold higher rates than males beginning in early adolescence.” More specifically, the prevalence of depression has be shown to be between 3-8% in adolescents (with a lifetime prevalence of 14%), and a prevalence of 17% in adults, where approximately 40-70% of those who experienced as adolescents also experiencing it as an adult.

This recurrent nature increases with each additional onset, such that approximately 60% of those who develop have one episode will experience a second, “70% of those with a second will suffer a third, and 90% of those with three or more episodes will experience further, often many more, recurrences.” Beyond this, it is also noteworthy that there are symptoms of depression “underpinning many acute psychological disorders.”

Treatment 

Recently it is becoming more understood that depression is something that needs to be treated holistically and in an interdisciplinary way. This treatment uses one or more of multiple types of interventions, to include: suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement. Suicide prevention is the most pressing treatment needed if there is a risk, as 15% of those with severe depression will eventually commit suicide (this in itself accounting for 60% of suicides). This can be accomplished through such things as getting the client merely to agree not to kill themselves, by breaking the pattern of ruminations through hospitalization, and to assign task once this pattern is broken.

Biological treatments are a major tool in the treatment of MDD, which includes everything from serotonin reuptake inhibitors to mood stabilizers to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). According to Maxmen et al., 78% of individuals improve through use of ECT, 60-70% with the use of antidepressants, and 23% improve simply through the use of a placebo (p. 363). ECT is usually only used with the most severe cases of depression, such as those which do not responds to any sort of medication.

Because depression includes cycles of negative self-talk and ruminations, its treatment should go beyond mere medication to also include counseling for change in beliefs and behavior. Cognitive approaches to psychotherapy are one of the more effective treatments, especially as it is this sort of approach which is most directly able to target the negative self-talk as well as the irrational attitudes and beliefs, selective memory, pessimism, guilt, and shame associated with depression. This approach has been shown to have successful results of 50-60%.

For the Christian, part of this approach may include correcting the misbeliefs which plague the depressed individual.

Thus it can be asserted that the individual is indeed a creature of worth and value, created in the image of God. It can be shown that even a depressed person can find meaning in activities, because the daily life of the Christian comes from God. It can finally be shown that the Word of God says that the future is not hopeless, but that there is hope in Christ.

The goal of this is to change the way the individual perceives the problem, which then may result in a reevaluation of the problem; in this way “experience has been altered through the change in meaning.” Once the experience has been altered through this change in meaning the individual may begin to find some sense of hope.

Strategies along the behavioral line focus on helping the individual to develop social skills and reinforcing non-depressive actions. This development of social skills is especially important – as noted earlier – the lack of support systems is a possible contributing factor to depression. The development of social skills may go a long way in correcting this, and as is noted by Larry Crabb: “because our worst problems began in community, that’s where our answer lies.”

Rather than seeing themselves as “damaged selves needing repair,” the individual needs to see themselves as “isolated souls who can find life only through connection with God and with other people.”

These behavioral strategies can also include helping the individual to set and achieve goals that they themselves set, which because they are set by the individual are more likely to succeed.

In the same vein as this development of social skills in order to create support systems is the need for family involvement. This is especially important because the family members may also feel drained through involvement with the depressed individual.

The involvement of the family serves three primary functions, to include: supporting the individual, supporting the family, and treating the family. In this the family should be shown the limits of what they can do to help the individual, but should also be educated and involved in the treatment process, thus “by helping the family help the patient, the therapist helps the family.”

From the Christian worldview there are a few other noteworthy nuances to treatment. One of these is the potential to deal with the problem of sin, which may be one of the causes of the depression. It is likely that many of the false beliefs and the negative self-talk that the individual is engaging in is based upon a non-Biblical worldview, and correcting this worldview may be a step in the right direction for the individual, along with helping the individual to get beyond certain sins in their life.

Beyond this, more drastic measures may be necessary, and in some circumstances deliverance from demonic influence may be in order and may be helpful for the individual.

While major depression is one of the more common and more serious disorders that individuals deal with, there is much about it that is understood and also much that can be done about it. Through the use of suicide prevention, biotherapies, psychotherapies, and family involvement, many individuals will be able to overcome the disorder.

 

The Art of Christian Leadership

ChristianLeadership.pngLetter TThere are no shortage of books on the topic of leadership. Indeed, pointing out this fact is the first thing that most books on leadership seem to do. These books also point out that there is a crisis of leadership in the world today, such as having traded true leadership for celebrity. 

In order to discuss a philosophy of Christian leadership, we first need a working definition of leadership. A precise definition might be stated as such: Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward God’s agenda. In order to make clear what is meant by the definition it will be necessary to unpack in turn each aspect of what is being stated.

Leadership and Others, A Dialogue Concerning God’s Agenda

In unpacking our definition we must first assess the players involved. In this definition two actors may be assumed outright, the leaders and the “others.” The first thing to unpack is that the art is made up of leaders influencing “others.” Christian leadership is not confined merely to influencing Christians. Our Christianity seeps into every aspect of our lives, our interactions with Christians and non-Christians, and these interactions include those instances of leadership over both groups. Christian leadership does not vary depending on which group the individual is working with.

Along with the leaders and the others that the leader is influencing, there is also God. This  is important for establishing the dynamic of the relationship between the leaders and those being led, because it is this aspect of the definition which introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art.

Some books on the topic of leadership state that the leader is merely influencing the followers to achieve a defined mission; others specify that it is influence to achieve a common goal. In the first instance the influence toward a “defined mission” could place the goals, vision, and mission of the leader over and above those of the followers. In the second instance influence toward a “common goal” could still face the risk of placing some sort of merely human goal as the primary thing to be achieved. That God is also an actor indicates that neither the leader – nor even the group – is the thing of primary importance; it is God’s agenda that takes the central focus.

Again, this focus on God’s agenda introduces the servant-leadership aspect of the art. The chief implication of this is that the leader is a servant, yet this servant-hood is not first and foremost to the group. Primarily, the leader is a servant of God.

In being a servant of God two primary things may be assumed, a love of God and a love of neighbor, the latter of which indicates that the servant-leader will have a love for those that he or she is leading. Since the leader has a love for those that he or she is leading they will act in such a way towards their followers that exemplifies that fact.

This means that the Christian leader will not abuse or exploit their followers, and if they have been placed in a position of authority they will not abuse that position out of love for those who they are leading and the One they serve. Indeed, the leader will act knowing that they will someday be required to give an account to God of their actions.

When God is the one being served the individual loses all authority when they abuse their power and use it in a wrong way; as G.K. Chesterton points out, one “cannot have a shred of authority if he merely has the power to do it and not the right to do it.” Chesterton’s point here is rooted in the truth that authority is something given from God, and therefore one cannot do anything in authority unless one is right in doing it; what one is ‘right’ in doing is derived from God and his agenda.

The art of leadership involve the three actors of the leader, the others, and God. This relationship is one of a God-derived love, and furthermore it is a dialogue.

This dialogic aspect is the final key dynamic of the leader-followers relationship. The leader is not merely influencing others towards God’s agenda, but they are doing so while in dialogue with those they are leading.

Leadership is not a one way conversation; the only time in which that sort of leadership is feasible is when the leader is receiving direct revelation from God. In lieu of that, the leader must converse with those he or she is leading. One of these implications is that the leader must have an idea of where his people are. The leader is operating within a given context and with a certain group of people and the leader must be aware of what God is already doing in that place so that he or she may avoid merely trying impose an alien change to the direction of a group without knowing where or why they were headed where they were. Leaders therefore need to ask themselves what kind of situation those they are leading are facing. The Christian leader is one who invites discussion and constructive feedback from those that he or she is working with.

Finally, the Christian leader does not lead in such a way as to make themselves indispensable. Rather, the leader leads in such a way as to produce more leaders, echoing the command to go out and make disciples. As Henry Blackaby asserts “one of the most tragic mistakes leaders commit is to make themselves indispensable.”

God’s Agenda: Vocation and Calling in Leadership

God’s agenda is a central facet of Christian leadership, which gives it a close relationship to the ideas of vocation and calling. This aspect of Christian leadership is generally seen as being of utmost importance, as William Willimon puts it:

Faithful pastors must have a vivid sense of vocation, a sense of being summoned by God to do his work. The work that pastors do is too demanding to do it for any other reason than the conviction that one is called to do this work, that God wants you to do it.

With such a strong emphasis the need for a sense of vocation is certainly seen as strong.

Here Willimon is referring specifically to the context of pastors, and those within the Christian community vary on whether they apply the language of vocation and calling to professions outside of the pastorate.

Along with Martin Luther, we can extend the language of vocation and calling to areas outside of the pastoral ministry. However, also along with Luther, it would be incorrect to view this sense of calling and vocation as a calling to a specific area of either Christian ministry or secular work.

A mediating position would be that which is sometimes deemed the “wisdom” approach to the will of God as opposed to the “specific-will” approach.

We are called to pursue God’s will, where God’s will is not defined as some specific action but as the pursuit of righteousness.

As Luther’s view has been summarized, “Christian vocation is not finally about production… it is about the neighbor, about giving oneself to the other in love and service in the glorious freedom of the gospel.”

In this understanding of calling and the will of God, Luther would be in disagreement with those such as Willimon and Blackaby, who assert a specific calling to a specific position. In Luther’s understanding our calling and our vocation is to serve our neighbors and in so doing to lead in a righteous manner and to righteous ends.

Biblical-theological Framework

The Biblical and theological frameworks of leadership have been touched on throughout the discussion above, yet it is helpful to lay them out in a more straightforward manner. There are three key theological themes that provide a framework for the above practice of leadership: the state of man, the call to righteousness, and the sovereignty of God.

The State of Man

In discerning how to lead people you must know where people are at.

From Scripture we may observe that the state of man is fallenness; man is sinful, and man is also loved by God and made in his image. This serves as a vital theological foundation for leadership because man as created by God yet fallen is one of the key basis for the servant aspect of leadership, for the love that the leader has for those under his or her care.

Because man is made in the image of God we must love those who are in our care. Yet while man is made in the image of God, he is also fallen, and we must realize this as we are working with people. Realizing this fallen aspect of mankind keeps the leader aware of the imperfection of the system he or she is working in, and furthermore it keeps them humble, knowing that they themselves are imperfect. Knowing that these imperfections are in place the leader can expect failure, but because of the hope that is in Christ and the sovereignty of God, he or she may trust that their failure will not be fruitless.

The Call to Righteousness

While mankind is fallen, he has been called to righteousness. On the one hand this a plea for the gospel, yet it the key to leadership that has been already discussed in terms of calling and vocation, that Christian leadership is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends.  

It is this aspect of Christian leadership which allows it to not merely be confined to Christian ministry, for any leader can conduct their affairs such that they lead towards a righteous end.

A Christian business leader can exercise that call to righteousness by managing his employees in a Godly manner, not taking advantage of them. At the same time the Christian business leader can also influence others toward righteous ends by leading his company toward fair dealings with other companies and by engaging in business practices which do not exploit the system. A Christian military leader may lead a righteous life in fulfillment of that call, and then influence his troops towards righteousness by serving as an example of righteousness, and by making tactical decisions in accordance with a just-war theory. A Christian political leader may again serve as an example, and may influence others toward righteous ends by pursuing policies which would glorify God.

Finally, a Christian minister is called likewise to be that example, and may influence his congregation towards righteous ends, spurning them towards evangelism in general or towards any specific program that would glorify God; yet, the minister in this case does not pursue the specific program because God wills that specific program, but because it is a program that is in accord with glorifying God.

The Sovereignty of God

The sovereignty of God is immense importance for a framework of leadership. Perhaps the greatest benefit the sovereignty of God has for the leader is in its ability to let them trust in the perfect plan of God and the fact that all things will work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Because the leader has this trust he or she may be confident than even in their own personal failure – or even the failure of their projects or their group – that God will still bring good out of those failures.

Nothing is ever a total failure; because God is sovereign some benefit will always come out of those actions which are done with the aim of pursuing righteousness.

It is the sovereignty of God which assures the leader that he will be held accountable for his actions as a leader. This accountability is what will help keep the leader from acting improperly in his position. It will both motivate the leader to put their entire heart into the work, knowing that it glorifies God, and also keeps them in the fear of the Lord, knowing that he will hold them responsible for the way they have used their leadership.

As has been stated, Christian leadership is is the dialogic art of influencing others toward righteous ends. These righteous ends are synonymous with the agenda of God, for God’s agenda is that his people pursue righteousness.

The Christian leader, thus, is one who influences whatever group he or she oversees in such a way that upholds Christian values; the Christian leader will lead in a righteous manner, and will make sure that the goals being pursued are ones through which God can be glorified, if for no other reason than that the job was done well in service to the neighbor. In this system the leader is capable of setting the specific agenda through dialogue with the group, so long as that specific agenda coincides with the general agenda God has of pursuing righteousness.

This is a system of leadership that may be applied to any sort of leadership in any context, for any action may be done in such a manner so as to bring glory to God.

The Missional Church of the Missional God – Coming Into a Fuller Understanding of Christian Missions

Missions.pngletter-fFor many Christians in the church today the term “missions” brings to mind fuzzy images of Caucasian Christians entering into jungles to give the Gospel to the unreached tribal peoples who live therein.

Mission isn’t something that the majority of Christians see themselves as being involved in apart from the occasional donation they might give to their church’s mission fund; instead, they see mission as the vocation of the few specially called individuals who dedicated their lives to taking the Gospel to unreached peoples. This is an unfortunate view to have of missions and a view that the church needs to work to correct.

If the church is to correct this it must first properly define mission and convey an understanding of its relation to the Gospel, afterwhich it can analyze how mission has been approached throughout history whether for good or bad, learning from those lessons and bringing into the church a more holistic missional theology such that all those who locate themselves within the body of Christ will understand their role in the mission of God.

A Biblical, Gospel-Centered Foundation of Mission

Along with the misconception that mission is a “West to the rest” endeavor for the specially called, there is the further misconception that mission – and indeed evangelism as a whole – is something that was started in the New Testament, when in fact “the source of world missionary activity is rooted in God’s call to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament.”

If the church is to gain a Biblically based and Gospel-centered theology and vision of mission, it must first understand what exactly mission is and where it began; this requires the Christian look to the Old Testament.

The concept of mission in the Old Testament goes as far back as Genesis. In Genesis God connects his blessing of Abram and of making Abram into a great nation with the good of the entire world. Abram is blessed by God “so that you will be a blessing” and “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This theme is made clear again in Exodus 7:5 where it is stated that one goal of God’s actions in the exodus narrative was that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” A key point of the Exodus then is that “in his mighty acts of salvation for his own people God makes himself known to the other nations.”

God’s actions towards His people are never for His people alone but also for the rest of the world, for “when God graciously saves his people, it is not only for their own sake; it is also for the sake of others.”

This key theme of the Old Testament – that God’s acts of salvation are God’s means of making himself known to the nations – is central for understanding mission because it both provides the Biblical foundation for mission as well as its Gospel center.

Firstly, this theme highlights the fact that mission is primarily God’s doing, that mission is primarily derived from God. As inspired by Karl Barth and articulated by David Bosch, this theme finds its outworking in the idea of the missio Dei, of God the Father sending the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all three sending the church; God is thus recognized as a missionary God, where the church is an instrument for that mission.

Indeed, the church is essentially missional and “mission is essentially ecclesial.” The result of this is a focus on the ecclesial nature of missions and the missional nature of the church, the two go hand in hand, with God’s hand being the one wielding them. They go hand in hand because the church is the visible incarnation of the kingdom of God on earth; He makes himself known not just for its own sake, but to expand His kingdom.

The church in this context is not merely a church building or the group of people that meet in that building, but is the entire body of Christ, the kingdom of God, all professing Christians.

Mission should therefore be seen primarily as the mission of the Triune God working through the instrument of his people – the church – to the end of blessing the nations and making Himself known to them via His acts of salvation to His people for the purpose of expanding his kingdom.

The greatest of these missional acts of salvation came in the form of Christ’s death on the cross, and it is through this that the missio Dei builds upon its Old Testament foundations to incorporate the message of the Gospel.

The Gospel is central to mission and mission is central to the Gospel, with the Gospel being the supreme message and means of God making Himself known to and blessing the world. God works through his people the church to achieve His missional ends and does so in two methods, via centripetal and centrifugal mission; that is, by the church drawing others into the fellowship through the witness of their lives and by actively expanding the church, both which serve to make the church into a “light for the nations,” or as Timothy Tennent puts it: “Missionaries are both bearers of a message and embodiments of that message.” The first of these is the practice of what Francis Schaeffer calls “an observable love” before “a watching world.”

By living a life of love toward God and neighbor, the church draws outsiders towards it. But the church is not merely meant to attract others to it, it is also meant to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In breaking down this command it can be seen that it involves an outward thrust of ‘going’, that this going involves making disciples – a task that necessarily entails the spread of the Gospel message – and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is an act that necessarily involves the expansion of the church.

The way this works itself out practically for missions today must be analyzed, but it is helpful to first look at the ways which mission has been approached throughout Christian history and glean what lessons can be learned from those examples.

Mission Throughout History

Christian mission has been approached in a variety of ways by a variety of groups over the history of the faith and these approaches have had positive and negative qualities. In the earliest church mission based on the attractiveness of the local congregation and the individual Christian community. These were a group of people who differed from their culture in attractive ways such that “the exemplary moral lives of ordinary Christians stood out against the rampant immorality of Rome.”

After a few hundred years Christianity found itself accepted by the Roman empire, eventually even becoming the official religion of the empire, thereby ushering the long era known as Christendom.

As the church gained the power which came with being the official religion of the empire its focus shifted from one of missions to one of maintaining power; as the official cultural religion the need of standing out against the culture and of spreading the Gospel was seemingly lost.

In spite of this loss, Christendom did help to shape the cultural life of Europe for the better and when the monastic movements came about they worked to spread the Gospel message to the ‘barbarian’ people and also brought back some of the godly living which had attracted earlier cultures to the faith; their missional function was therefore not entirely intentional, but the way they lived their life made them attractive to those around them.

Around this same time but further to the East the Eastern Orthodox church took a different approach to missions, an approach which focused almost exclusively on the literal expansion of the church.

Because of this strong church-centeredness the Orthodox church came to equate the expansion of the church with the expansion of the kingdom, thus their missions were almost solely ecclesial; missions could not occur outside the established institutional church.

As Europe began to expand around the world Christendom entered into an age of colonialism. During this period “missions flowed along colonial lines.”

The primary focus was the Christianizing of native peoples (even if by force), and following the Reformation this Christianizing took on a highly individualistic aspect of focusing on the individual faith of each believer over and above institution of the church, specifically on the salvation of souls. On the whole, this created the sort of cross-cultural missions which focused on taking Christianity from the West to the rest of the world.

After hundreds of years of being tied to the ruling groups of Europe, Christianity became almost synonymous with European culture and with European political power. The result of this was a missionary endeavor which sought to transplant European culture onto other parts of the world, to “remake the world in their own image.”

As this era continued the Christian attitude toward missions took a number of different turns as more denominations and theological approaches came onto the scene. Missionary agencies came into being that would attempt to spread the Gospel around the world by preaching the word as well as by working to provide poverty relief and aid with other physical needs. This focus on physical needs grew in certain parts of the church and came to be known as the Social Gospel.

Mission Today

There are many lessons that can be learned from the history of Christian mission – some good and some bad – which can be used to craft a better approach towards mission today. These lessons should not be taken on their own, but should be woven into the Biblically grounded and Gospel-centered understanding of the missio Dei of the Triune God.

The missio Dei involves the Triune God using His people – the church – as His instrument for bringing the world into a knowledge of Himself. This is accomplished both through the centripetal and centrifugal action of God through His church, and it is through this lens that mission today must be undertaken.

First, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centripetal action of His church as its members live lives that are attractive to those outside.

This was a strong-point of mission in the early church and of mission in the monastic tradition; indeed, this is the mark of the Christian. This centripetal action is not merely passive, of refraining from doing certain things, but it is also active, of living out the love of God and of neighbor. It is this active aspect of mission that gave strength to the Social Gospel movement; part of the attractiveness of the Christian life is that the  work Christians do for societal transformation by helping those who are in need.

This centripetal work therefore consists of living lives in obedience to the will of God, to include both refraining from sin as well as actively working to help the poor and needy.

Second, the Triune God accomplishes His mission through the centrifugal action of His church as its members actively go out and spread the Gospel of the kingdom – and thereby the church – around the world.

Merely avoiding sin and helping the needy is not sufficient for missions, the Gospel and the church should also be present, for it is Gospel that ultimately empowers the Christian to live the life described above and it is within the context of the kingdom – the church – that they are to live it, drawing others into that community.

Christians are called to spread the Gospel of the kingdom, a key part of which is the salvation of souls as highlighted by the Reformation theologians.

This salvation is not an individualistic salvation, but it is salvation into a community, into the kingdom of God, into the church (the body of Christ). With this in mind the Christian cannot focus on getting non-believers to accept Christ without also bringing them into the baptism of the institutional church family, for it is in this family that they are discipled and in which they grow in the faith. The importance of this is twofold.

First, mission is not merely the calling of a handful of exceptional people within the body of Christ, but it is instead the calling of every believer as members of the church. All Christians are called to live missional lives, to live centripetal lives that are are in keeping with God’s commands and which in turn will prove attractive to the outsider.

Second, mission should not be divorced from the church as an institution. It is this ecclesial church-planting focus that the Orthodox so rightly emphasized, for missions and the church are vitally linked. This is not to say that a group such as a missionary agency cannot spread the gospel, but it is not as effective as it could be if it were wedded with the church.

This salvation is furthermore a salvation from one kingdom and into another, which further highlights the reality of the spiritual. While part of missions is working to help the needy materially, this material aspect must be balanced with the spiritual aspect of the kingdom, of the salvation of souls along with the defeat of the kingdom of Satan. One failing of many of the mission endeavors throughout Christian history has been a downplaying of this spiritual reality. Even when they did manage to focus on the salvation of the soul they would often neglect the spiritual warfare.

It is of note here that little has been said of contextualization or of cross-cultural, international mission. The global church has arisen and missions can no longer be seen as a question of how those in post-Christendom Western society can reach the rest of the world. 

The message of Christ is spread throughout the world and in turn mission and evangelism are becoming more synonymous.

Mission is a matter of leading lives representative of the Gospel, of spreading the church of the Triune God, and of teaching the Gospel which empowers those lives, which results in the spread of that church, and which results in the salvation of souls in the eschaton. Each group must decide how to incarnate the Gospel into the culture into which they are speaking regardless of whether they are ministering in China, Egypt, Russia, Mexico, Germany, or the United States.

Each mission field has its own cultural barriers and its own contexts that must be taken into account, and Christians cannot suppose that it is merely a matter of accommodating Western Christianity into some other context; to do so is to engage in ethnocentrism. Rather, each group must analyze their context and discern how best to engage the culture in which they minister. When this results in a Western Christian ministering to another culture, special care must be taken while teaching the doctrines of the Gospel and spreading the institutional aspect of the church that the Christian does not attempt to take the stance of superiority, but that they work as servants to the people they minister to, helping them to apply the truths of the Scripture to their native culture.

Whether interculturally or cross-culturally mission is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. As Stan Guthrie comments “There is no one way to ‘do’ missions in the local church, though there are many wrong ways.” It is up to each individual and each missional church body to discern how to apply the gospel to their own culture or to the culture of another, and when applying it to the culture of another they must always seek to do so in servant-hood to those they are ministering.

 

“Before a watching world an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christians’ differences and other men’s differences. The world may not understand what the Christian’s are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences from the world’s differences if they see us having our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.”–Francis SchaefferThe Mark of the Christian

Shame & Abuse in the Christian Home

Shameletter-given the fact of living in a fallen world there are many unpleasant things people have to deal with, things which cause varying types of pain. Things which must be confronted.

Within the Christian church, one such cause of pain which does not get the attention it needs is the abuse of women within the Christian home.

It is said that in the early eighties churches did not even realize that there was wife abuse within the Christian home; over thirty years later the church still seems to be struggling to bring this issue into the light and there is still the vast need for the church to realize the prevalence and severity of the abuse that occurs within its midst. It is a silence that needs to be broken, both from the side of the individual being abused and from the side of the church’s confrontation of the issue.

This silence is difficult to break, especially for the individual who lives within the midst of this abuse, because “for most couples, religious or not, violence is a strongly guarded secret.” If the church is to minister to those suffering from abuse within the Christian home, it is imperative that those in the church become familiar with what it is that keeps the abused silent in their suffering.

One of the key factors which keeps the abused wife silent is the shame that she struggles with, a shame which is further complicated by teachings that women receive in many churches. By examining these shame dynamics surrounding the abused wife – both the shame that she feels from the abuse and the confused messages that she receives from the church – church leaders can begin to understand and minister to these women. As has been noted by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, the “shame and humiliation in which she [the abused wife] has been engaged render it well nigh impossible to speak.” If this silence is to be broken one must first understand the shame and also understand the ways that the church has addressed many of these situation; with this done one may then proceed in the first steps of breaking the silence with much greater understanding of the abused woman.

What Shame Is

It has been stated that if a person has never heard a victim disclose “it is nearly impossible to comprehend the shame, or the fear, or the impact” of abuse. If one is going to understand the shame that the abused wife feels, one must first come into an understanding of what this shame is.

Shame itself is an often nebulous idea; Sandra Wilson describes it as a “strong sense of being uniquely and hopelessly different and less than other human beings.” Shame is often confused with guilt, yet Wilson distinguishes shame from guilt in that while guilt tells the woman that she made a mistake, “shame shouts that I am a mistake.”

In this way the feelings of shame are not merely surface level emotions that the abused wife is dealing with, but are rather deep-seeded dynamics that affect her very identity as a person, as a woman, as a wife, and as a child of God. It is not merely her emotions that she must overcome in order to break her silence, but the entire false identity that has been forced upon her.

This sort of thing does not appear out of nowhere. Indeed, Neil Pembroke explains that shame “arises when the self evaluates itself as flawed, defective, inferior.” The evaluation does not stop there; because she exists in community, shame is not merely the personal evaluation of being inferior, but also exists as the fear that these “sensitive and vulnerable aspects of the self” might be exposed. Yet even unexposed, this shame can and does “burn secretly within.”

It can thus be stated that shame is something that affects the very identity of the woman, something arising from being made to feel as if she is inferior and being complicated by a fear of this being exposed.

Where This Shame Originates

Upon concluding that shame arises when one evaluates oneself as flawed or inferior, it must then be asked where this evaluation comes from. In the case of wife abuse within the Christian home, two primary sources may be identified. The first of these sources originates from the husband, the second from the woman’s interactions with the faith community.

Shame from the Husband

The most direct cause of shame for the abuse wife is her abuser, this is one of the things that makes him an abuser. The evaluation that one is without worth is in large part a reaction to the lies that the wife has been fed by her husband. One aspect of many abusive marriages is “the deliberate humiliation of one’s spouse,” and this shame is one of the “immediate responses to the hurt and humiliation” to which she has been exposed.

This hurt and humiliation comes in a wide variety of forms: she may be belittled, called names, threatened, isolated, disrespected, ignored, embarrassed, or she may be blamed for all the family’s problems; she may be told that she is stupid, fat, ugly, incompetent, or incapable of taking care of herself. While sexual abuse is the most shaming of all the types of abuse, it is important to be aware that abuse can come in this wide variety of flavors, including not just sexual or physical abuse but also verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse.

The result of this is that many abused wives end up feeling so poorly about their own identity that they begin to believe that they actually deserve the abuse they receive, and due to the threats and psychological abuse are often too fearful to attempt to do anything about it.

Shame from the Faith Community

While the abusive husband is the most immediate cause of the shame which the abused wife feels, it is important to note that the relationship does not exist in a vacuum, especially when the family is part of the Christian community.

On the one hand this is important because the fear of exposure is one of the defining aspects of shame, yet it is important for more than just that. It is also important because it is the faith community that defines much of the world that the marriage exists in and what ideals it is expected to live up to. Thus the second source of shame – as noted by Pembroke – stems from judging that one has “fallen short of a cherished ideal.”

This is especially relevant when the ideal that the woman perceives she has fallen short of is a false ideal. While this ideal may also be tied back to the husband – in not being able to live up the standard which he holds his wife to – but it also comes from the husband and wife’s interactions with the faith community; indeed, the husband may have gained the false ideals he holds his wife up to from the faith community.

One of the key ways that the faith community can instill false ideals and other ideas which may foster abuse is in the way that they talk about the wife’s submission to the husband, in the way they make sense of those passages in Scripture that discuss submission. These sex roles are used as measurements of perfection.

In the past, many churches have taken an extreme stance on the issue, such that the wife essentially was felt to be owned by the husband – not in any legal sense, but in his superiority within the family unit. In such faith communities as these when problems arise within the marriage the abused wife is often blamed for not submitting to her husband well enough.

This idea of absolute submission where the husband rules over his wife is one such false ideal which the faith community has been known to communicate.

The woman is then made to feel as if the abuse is somehow the result of a lack of pious submission on her part, a notion which then seeps into the way she understands her own identity.

While the dynamics of submission are one of the most easily critiqued ways that the faith community might mislead the family, this is not the only ideal that they are prone to put forth. A broader ideal that the faith community sets is the pedestal that they place in the intact family on. The failure of this family unit is seen as a personal failure on the part of the wife, focusing on the wife’s responsibility for her husband’s behavior while failing to call the abuser to accountability.

It is for this reason that James and Phyllis Alsdurf note that “Christian women have been told too long that keeping the marriage together is their responsibility.” These women feel that the failure of their family is their own fault and face the fear of rejection at church when attempts to repair the relationship fail.

Because of this abused wives feel pressure from family, society, and the church to ignore or suppress the reality of their situation.

Church leaders, in turn, often take the path of least resistance when dealing with these situations by simply refusing to look at the wounds that are there. In these contexts divorce is seen as failure, which even further limits the options that the abused wife sees as being open to her.

These varying sorts of twisted theology, from false ideas of submission to placing the intact family on a pedestal to placing the responsibility for maintaining the relationship squarely on the shoulders of the wife due to the inability to divorce all have the potential to wreak enormous harm on the already hurting individual.

Shame from the Self

While the shame that the abused wife feels is most directly the result of the husband, it has been observed that this shame does not exist in a vacuum; rather, the faith community also plays a large role in the formation of this shame. Yet not only do these women feel pressure from the faith community, “they also place incredible pressures on themselves.”

This pressure comes in a variety of forms, and while some of it is the result of the woman trying to live up to the false ideals of the church, some of them are more directly personal and tied to the very way they function psychologically as women.

Thus, it can be noted that the sensitivity that women have to the needs of others and the way they “assume responsibility for taking care of others” can often “lead women to listen to voices other than their own.” This psychological dynamic is not necessarily bad in and of itself, but this perceived responsibility affects the moral lens through which women interpret a situation and can thus lead them to assume more responsibility than they should, responsibility for things which are beyond their control.

The way this plays out is perhaps most summarily stated in the idea that “women tend to define themselves in terms of relationships, and they also evaluate themselves morally in terms of their ability to care.” This dynamic plays a large part in the way that the wife views her own identity, her own worth. If her relationship is failing it may likely be seen as a shortcoming in their own ability to care, thus she may view the relationship’s problems on their own moral failings. The result of this is becoming guilt-ridden and seeing her own amount of endurance as representative of her moral strength, perhaps even going so far as to feel that it is their responsibility to save their husbands from themselves.

This dynamic of how women interpret relationship is important because it is more deeply rooted than merely a false ideal set up by the church or the slanderings of her husband. Instead, perhaps it might be argued that the reason why the false ideals of the church and the slanderings of the husband affect the abused wife in such a deep way is because it hits on a dynamic of the woman’s psychology which is already prone to read the problems of the relationship in that way.

The difference here is that while it is not bad in and of itself that the woman’s moral categories work in that way, it is bad when she assumes responsibility for things that are in fact beyond her control and allows those things to then reflect back upon her self-worth and cause her undue shame. The abused wife must take a pivotal step of making the inner choice to begin to “embrace personal autonomy and to refuse the victim role” and in this way realize that while she cannot control the abuser’s behavior, she can control her own and “refuse to function from a victim stance.”

Taking all of this into account, there are various responses that need to be made, responses which include the faith community, the religious leaders, and the individual herself.

Necessary Responses

The shame that the abused wife feels must be confronted if she is ever to regain any semblance of her former self. As Larry Crabb notes “the basic personal need of each personal being is to regard himself as a worthwhile human being.”

This regard is the opposite of shame. Although secular programs may be of much help to the wife who has suffered from abuse, it is within the context of the faith community and of proper religious teaching the process of gaining this regard may begin, and in order for this to happen the faith community and the religious leaders must send the appropriate messages, messages that let her know that she does have the ability to change her circumstances (for this is often something that they do not believe is possible).

From the Faith Community: Regaining the Body of Christ

The faith community is of key importance in the life of the believer, and it should therefore serve a key purpose in the helping and healing of the wife who has suffered abuse, for “God has designed the local church as the primary vehicle through which people are to exercise their significance-providing gifts.” Often the messages are not helpful; indeed, the message they hear most often is “self-heal, self-love, and self-help.”

This false do-it-yourself message must be countered with the fellowship of the body, because without this sort of support “an abused woman may have great difficulty believing that anybody cares.” Indeed, one of the main reasons it is important for the faith community to come alongside the victims of abuse is because every abused woman feels abandoned and afraid.

This process of aid from the faith community begins with them recognizing the truths which surround the abusive relationship, many of which have been outlined above. The first and foremost of these comes in the community acknowledging openly the sinfulness of that state of affairs; thus “one giant step toward rebuilding the shattered self-esteem of Christian battered women would be made if the church acknowledged that wife abuse is a sin.”

Making this first step is perhaps not as hard within mainstream Christianity as it was thirty years ago, but in areas where the misconception still holds power it is a necessary step.

The faith community must aid the wife who has suffered abuse in realizing that she is not alone, that the body of Christ is there to stand with her. As they come alongside her they must do so realizing the difficulty of what is happening in her life, avoiding giving over to the cynicism which assumes she is at fault or that it is not a big deal or naive questioning which can only think to ask why she doesn’t leave, not knowing the fear of leaving or responsibility for staying that she feels.

The church family must understand what it is that the woman feels so that they may dispel the myths that she believes about herself. The church would make a great step to work to remove the stigma of silence surrounding the issue, helping the woman to realize that it is not her fault and that saving her husband is not her responsibility. In this she may not want to shame her husband, yet it must be said that he must take responsibility for his actions and for his sins.

From the Pastor: Regaining Her Identity in Christ

As the faith community changes its false conceptions surrounding domestic abuse in the Christian home, the religious leader is of pivotal importance. It is the religious leader who has perhaps the greatest ability to influence the beliefs of the congregation and of the woman who is suffering from abuse. It is the pastor who is responsible for guiding his flock in what to believe, and “what you believe has a huge connection to how you respond to disgrace, violence, denial, shame, guilt, [etc].” As has been noted by Catherine Kroeger and Nancy Nason-Clark, those who suffer from abuse often report that “simply hearing their pastor or religious leader condemn the abuse they have suffered aids in their healing.”

Perhaps one reason for this is that it affirms for them that their pain is justified, that the things that they feel are not just in their head but that they are real and the church and God hates what is going on just as much as she does.

Apart from correcting false ideas, the pastor also has a direct duty to respond responsibly to the domestic abuse situation. Historically pastors have tended towards wanting to save the marriage at all costs and to go for quick-fixes, yet neither of these is ideal when dealing with an abusive relationship.

Rather than trying to save the marriage at all costs, the pastor needs to be willing to recognize when a marriage is beyond repair and when a woman needs to get out for her own safety. The pastor should realize that many times “letting go, not hanging on, is the difficult issue.” For the pastor who seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures this requires wrestling with the Biblical warrants for divorce, which are typically seen as nothing more than either abandonment or infidelity.

Bradshaw helps in this dilemma by defining ‘abandonment’ in such a way as to include all forms of abuse. Alsdurf similarly helps further by explaining how if the faith community were to understand fidelity as implying more than simply sexual faithfulness but also encompassing “the honoring of one’s partner in a life-giving way” then “marital violence becomes a manifestation of infidelity.” Kroeger his perhaps most helpful here when she notes how in seeking divorce it is not the wife that has failed her marriage; rather “husbands who abuse their wives have already broken the sacred covenant of marriage,” abandoning them emotionally, and thus “the wife’s declaration of divorce merely makes public what has already been done by the abuser.”

It is quite possible that the man will not change, and in such circumstances the woman needs the hope that she is not doomed to live a life of shame and torment, that there is indeed a way out.

A final way in which the pastor can aid the wife who has suffered abuse is by providing her with a proper theology through which to interpret her experience. Thus the pastor can help her reflect on the nature of God, on her need of God, and on God’s ability to meet her need. Most importantly, he can help her in regaining her identity in Christ, so that she may be no longer bogged down by the shame of her experience but can gain life anew. She must know that she has gained victory in Christ and been cleansed through him, able to come to the Father in a Christ-centered confidence. Rather than see her shame, God sees her “as complete and perfect.”

Thus, “Christ’s victory gives us back our identity and restores our meaning.” It is this identity – found in Christ – which will be pivotal in overcoming the shame which the abused wife has acquired, of defeating the lies which she has been fed by her husband, the world, and by Satan. When she is able to stop believing the lies the first hurdle is overcome.

From Herself: Breaking the Shame

Pride is often a counterpart to shame, and it is this pride which in part contributes to the silence of the abused wife. Pride doesn’t want that which it perceives to be the truth to be exposed.

This is one reason why exposing that what the abused wife believes about herself as not being the truth is important. Yet as was noted above, the common message that abused wives get is often “do it yourself,” which is a command that is not merely external but also plays off of the internal environment of the wife; as Nason-Clark and Kroeger point out, “most of us have a strong streak of independence: we want to do it by myself.”

She must realize that she cannot do it by herself, indeed, bringing this knowledge to people is one of the chief benefits which God brings out of trials; through trials God lets his people know that they cannot do it on their own, but that they need to rest upon him.

As was noted above, it is important for the abused wife to be clear about her limits, about what she is and is not responsible for in the relationship. While she is not responsible for those things that are beyond her control, she must accept responsibility for those things that she can do. After-all the “gift of the Spirit includes self-control, not control of others or events.” Being soaked in a proper fellowship of the body and in right teaching will help in allowing her to break the fear of shame which serves to keep her in silence.

What to do…

It is imperative that Christians not be poorly informed about the nature and prevalence of the abuse that is present in churches, in their churches.

As long as the church is quiet in while women are being abused it is failing in its ministry. It is important to remember in this analysis that women are not generic, each is facing their own individual circumstances with a unique set of contributing factors; what has been outlined is not a strict rule, but a general idea of what women in abusive relationships face.

The women who face these situations need to be equipped with the tools required to overcome their shame and break their silence, and the groundwork for this is something that the faith community and the Christian leader can do before they are even aware that any particular woman is being abused.

By fostering an environment in which abuse is condemned, which exonerates the woman of responsibility for things beyond her control and which minimizes the undeserved shame that the woman will face upon coming forward (although this shame may not be able to be completely eliminated), the church can move well on its way to being able to effectively help wives who face abuse within Christian homes and elsewhere.

Without these things it will be near impossible for the woman to find a positive solution. If men and women are faithfully taught of the realities of abuse within the church many of factors contributing to abuse may be put to rest before they are able to find root; a key step is naming the sin of abuse and bringing it out of the dark corner which the church has banished it to. If the faith community and the pastor are doing the jobs that they are supposed to do then the woman will be able to grab ahold of these realities, even if no-one is initially aware of her abuse.

Book Review: In The Name of Jesus – Henri Nouwen

nouwenbookLetter IIn the Name of Jesus is renowned author Henri Nouwen‘s call toward a deeper and more truly Christian idea of leadership. His gleanings in this book are taken primarily from his experience living in a house for the mentally handicapped, and the things that he learned about leadership and ministry in the process.

Nouwen is writing because he believes that Christian leadership has been affected by three great temptations: by the desire to be relevant, the desire for popularity, and the desire for power, all three of which are seen as parts of an effective ministry.

In response to this Nouwen calls for three main shifts in Christian thinking about leadership. Each shift is defined in terms of one of the temptations, a question/task/challenge, and a recommended spiritual discipline.

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Working through the vice of not seeing color

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The idea of contending with racism in the present day can seem somewhat paradoxical. Growing up we were taught that everybody was equal, that black people and white people and Hispanic people were all the same, and that the racists were the people who said that they weren’t the same. Our generation grew up with the mindset “so long as we act as if black people are not different than white people, so long as we treat them equally, then we’re doing our part of not being racist.”

We call this ‘colorblindness’, and we think it’s a great thing. “I don’t see color”/”I don’t see race” is our slogan; if you see color it must mean you’re a racist.

Because of this, when we hear people wanting us to acknowledge how black people have it different than white people, when they say we need special laws to help African Americans or Hispanics, some of us are confused. Isn’t it racist to say that? Isn’t that ‘seeing color’? But aren’t we not supposed to see color? Aren’t we supposed to be acting on the assumption that they have it the same? Rather than thinking about ‘race’, shouldn’t the ultimate goal be to think of humanity as just that, humanity? And so some of us don’t understand how making things a race issue instead of an humanity issue is productive to anything but more racism, to treating one group as if it’s different than the other.

Understand, we were raised to think this ‘colorblindness’ to be a virtue, and that is probably the biggest obstacle those of us raised this way have to overcome.

We don’t realize that claiming to be colorblind is ultimately a cop-out. It’s not that we want to avoid doing the hard work of examining our own internal schema and racial identity, it’s not that we would rather lazily look outward and pronounce others as “without color.” It’s not primarily out of avoidance or lazyness, it’s out of misplaced virtue – we’ve been trained to think it’s the proper way to beat racism.

We have no comprehension that in claiming this ‘colorblindness’ we are stripping others of their racial identity and making it match our own; we think we’re offering dignity, and we’re too unaware to realize that we’re doing so through the prideful motive of making them the same us, as if we are of a higher quality.

We were raised to see this ‘colorblindness’ as a virtue, and breaking that misconception is one of the biggest obstacle we face in educating people about racism. We have to learn that equating black with white is not the goal, that it in fact impedes the goal.

We have to learn that no matter how much we may act as if all people are the same, that they aren’t being treated the same, as equal. One group is being treated as a lesser group, and unless we acknowledge that they are being treated differently we’ll never work toward the goal of them being treated the same.

What we have to acknowledge is that seeing color does not degrade the color being seen, but that it frees it to be itself, frees it to not be defined by your own limitations. We have to learn that what we should want isn’t for black people to be white or to be seen as if they were white; we want them to be seen with dignity for who they are, without being defined by us.

And we have to learn that our entire concept of race and racism is faulty. This is a massive shift, because nobody is ever ready to learn that everything they know about something, that everything they were raised to believe about something, is actually wrong from the ground up.

So don’t hate them, don’t think they’re lazy or don’t want to change or just don’t want to learn how to fight against racism. They may very well want all of that, but they are hopelessly lost if nobody comes alongside them and shows them that they’ve been seeing the world through tinted glasses (and not for the better).

Beliefs and Believing the Bible

bibleOften in the desire not to cause controversy or argument those who follow Christ will revert to saying “I can only say that I believe the Bible” or else simply refuse to get involved in a discussion of what many consider vital points of Scripture. This isn’t limited to layman, Joel Osteen and A.W. Tozer come to mind in the world of Christian teachers. The problem with this statement is that it is without content, it says nothing. One cannot only say that they believe the Bible and end there, for one must believe something about the Bible. That is to say, if one is to believe the Bible one must have beliefs.

Paul in his letter to Titus instructs that the elders must be those who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).” Now, if you are going to “give instruction in sound doctrine” you must be able to do more than say that you believe the Bible, you must be able to say what it is that you believe about the Bible, you must say what the Bible teaches.

The Christian faith has been established and maintained not by “saying only that I believe the Bible” but by bringing to bear what it is that the Bible says – it has been maintained by “rebuking those who contradict it.” Tozer maintains that the “Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart,” but it is in the vigorous yet patient polemics that the church has survived, otherwise it would have faded into obscurity before it could get off the ground.

Christ did not send the Holy Spirit to take away the ability to discuss and urge truth from the scholar, but the change is in that he gave that scholar his Spirit that he might rightly divide the word of truth and that he might engage his fellows in love rather than a mere desire to win; he renewed that scholar’s human heart. It is out of the refuting of heresy that the church persevered and cleansed itself of ideas hostile to Christ – it is only by saying “that is wrong and this is why” that we can say “Christ is true and this is why”; it is only by refuting heresy that you may have orthodoxy. It is in part by “demolishing arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)” that Christians may define what is unique about their faith, though the fact that they do so out of love and concern rather than hatred and pride sets them apart. It is by knowing and believing what the Bible says and standing by it that we can keep from falling off the narrow path that is the truth.

As G.K. Chesterton puts it, the church’s “purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else. If the Church had not renounced the Manicheans it might have become merely Manichean. If it had not renounced the Gnostics it might have become Gnostic… If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life (From ‘The Everlasting Man‘).”

In the end the proper response to anybody who claims “I can only say that I believe the Bible” is to say “ok, well what does the Bible say?”

The author of Hebrews (most likely Paul) states:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so (Hebrew 5:11-18,6:1-3).”

Tozer says “It is no longer and intellectual problem – it is a moral problem… These are the important things – confirmation by the Spirit of God concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. Let me assure you that the Holy Spirit has not come among us to become involved in  a lot of our minor concerns, the trivial things that take up much of our attention [including prophetic interpretation, modes of baptism and eternal security]… I want the Holy Spirit to help me and guide me and He will not help me if I insist on fooling around in those areas that are not the most important in Christian truth and proclamation. Those are important things which Tozer identifies, the most important things even, but those are also the same things the author of Hebrews identifies as the milk.

It is the milk which Tozer would sup forever in his effort to avoid arguments and intellectual pursuit. But we are not instructed to stay an infant in the faith, we are to grow, to get into the meat of the Word which will allow us to mature (the meat being those areas that Tozer refuses to ‘fool around in’).

There is nothing to fear in teaching true Biblical doctrine; what is controversy when compared with the truth of God? There is only one truth – it is our job to bring forth that truth in its whole, not just the parts that we feel others won’t disagree with.

The caveat is that we must speak that truth in love; which is also to say that we must not speak to anybody about the truth until we first learn to love them. If we view the other person as the enemy, if we dislike them for their differing stance, if we hate them for who they are, then we have no right to speak to them at all.

Finally we must not speak to anybody while our goal is to merely ‘win’. Winning is not our job. Christ won. That is done. Our job is to spread the good news of the cross.

We must speak the truths of the Bible, but we must speak them to those that we love as fellow humans. Once we know how to love, and once people see that we love them, it is only then that we can say ‘this is what the Bible says’.