Book Review: Homosexuality – The Use of Scientific Research in the Church’s Moral Debate; By Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse

jonesyarhousehomosexuality.png
Letter TThe topic of homosexuality has been discussed from a variety of angles from within the Christian context. Some scholars seek to address the ancient near-Eastern and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Scriptures were written to best understand their injunctions, others attempt to deal directly with and exegete the Biblical texts.

The goal of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in their book here is to analyze how the most recent scientific research effects the Christian moral debate around homosexuality. To be clear, the book is not written to answer the question of whether homosexual actions are immoral in light of science, the authors begin from the assumption that it is. The goal is rather to show that “while science provides us with many interesting and useful perspectives on sexual orientation and behavior, the best science of this day fails to persuade the thoughtful Christian to change his or her moral stance.”(p.13) The goal is to answer the question of how research on homosexuality should inform the Christian understanding of homosexuality.

Overview

The basic issue that Jones and Yarhouse see in the current climate is that “After the stem ‘science says…’ sweeping and inaccurate generalizations are often made. After such generalizations ethical conclusions are often thrown out that are only loosely tied to the supposed scientific facts.” (p29) This book is written both to clarify what the current research actually says and to analyze how those findings are brought to bear on ethical discussions.

Continue reading

Book Review: Echoes From Eden – By A.W. Tozer

AWTozer Echoes From Eden.pngLetter WWhenever I want to get deep into the theology of scripture and truly immerse myself within the glory that is the depth of God’s word, AW Tozer is not the writer I look to to satisfy my desire; he is however one of the writers I look to when I want some good light reading or am in the mood for a devotional study as opposed to a intellectual treatise. This is not to say that Tozer is not as intelligent or as gifted as other Christian writers, only that he approaches writing in a different manner, one meant to talk with you and challenge you rather than strictly educate you.

Echoes From Eden is a short book by Tozer which begins with the premise that man is lost but not abandoned and that the voice of God still echoes from the garden, reverberating throughout the generations the call of “Adam, where art thou?”

This premise made, Tozer goes on to discuss the particulars of his thesis: why God is calling out to us, how God is calling out to us, and what the Christian’s responsibility is in all of it as well as what they should be keeping in mind in the course of their Christian duty.

It is difficult to offer a concise synopsis of the book due to the often conversational style that Tozer employs. He does not move methodically from one point to the next as he expounds his thesis, rather he sets his premise and then addresses what comes along with that premise. Each chapter addresses the premise, but each chapter does not flow from the preceding one or lead into the next, which is why I find summary difficult as each chapter is a mini-devotional in itself. It may be that I simply lack the capability to summarize the book, it would be much easier to do a chapter by chapter analysis, though I don’t care for the monotony of that.

Overall there are various insights which Tozer presents with the book ending on the challenge that the Christian should be mindful of their accountability to God. Tozer’s goal here is to point out that in churches one doctrine may often come to overshadow all of the rest, in this case that of justification by faith. Tozer points out that while it “delivers us from the fruitless struggle to be good” it also results in a Christian life in which the individual ends their Christian venture with the turning to Christ rather than continuing to endeavor with Christ.

He goes on to point out that the Christian should ever be aware that though they will not face the judgment seat which leads to hell that they will still stand accountable before God for what they did with their gift of grace – that is his challenge.

Other topics discussed include the [hypothetically] amoral individual, the reality of the soul, the Christian being the true realist and the fact of the conscience. Each discussion has its own insights however since the book is only 120 pages long (and is a small book in size as well) I won’t bother discussing these, it’d be much more profitable to simply read the book.

Memorable Quotes:

“Spiritual victory comes only by the knowledge that we died.”

“As a result, justification as it is now understood and preached and emphasized and hammered on up and down the country, is causing believers to throw all responsibility over on God, and we conceive ourselves to be happy, satisfied Christians without a responsibility in the world except to give out a tract once in a while.”

-“But I do not wish myself in any other period of the world’s history. These times are God Almighty’s gift to me as a Christian and I consider myself on probation, sensing that God is really interested in what one of the least of His servants is going to do about the time in which he lives.”


Specific Criticisms

When I said I liked Tozer for a good light read, the term ‘light’ is used in reference to his theology. He’s not one to get bogged down picking through scripture to prove his point or to dwell on any various doctrine which might often come up for debate. It is by conscious effort that he does not take up the more intellectual pursuit in his writing, while this does allow for very enjoyable devotional writing it also results in tipping the scale too far to one side which can then result in bad theology.

In the third chapter of Tozer’s book he makes the statement that,

“God is able to do His mighty work in His own way and the Holy Spirit has come into this world to take polemics away from the scholar and give it back to the human heart. The believer’s faith in the deity and person of Jesus does not rest upon his ability to comb through history and arrive at logical conclusions concerning historical facts… It is no longer an intellectual problem – it is a moral problem!

…I repeat: that the use for [your Christian mind] will not be in the realm of divine evidences. The Holy Ghost takes care of that.”

In light of this quote it is quite easy to see why Tozer’s work should be directed more towards the devotional aspect of Christian writing than the theological. Now, I by no means mean to object to the statement that God is able to do His mighty work in His own way or that the Holy Spirit is the mode of that working – however, I do not think that the goal of the Holy Spirit entering the world is to take away polemics (‘the practice of theological controversy to refute errors of doctrine’) or to refute intellectual pursuit of the scriptures, apologetics, hermeneutics and the study of theology in general.

It is through the Holy Spirit working in the heart that one comes into faith and while Christianity is a moral problem it does bring forth many intellectual issues which serve to grow the believer in the faith and allow them to better understand that moral problem. The former is the milk, the latter the solid food that Paul speaks of in Corinthians.

It is the moral issue, the saving from sin, which brings the individual into faith, but that cannot be cut from the intellectual issue – the fact that there is a God, that he created the world and was made incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ in order to save those sinners facing that moral problem, that he died for that sin and rose again and did not potentially but effectually saved those the Father calls from that sin, once and for all, that he issued a sign of his covenant in baptism, set forth his supper and that he will return again; each of these areas has its own Biblical intricacies.

Furthermore, Tozer’s quote presumes that it was at some point not a moral problem, only becoming one with the coming of the Spirit – yet it has always been a moral problem, even since the garden, indeed it began in the garden.

——————————————————

It is due to this shying away from intellectualism that Tozer may followup his statement in saying that, “I have refused to become involved in arguments and controversy over the matter of eternal security, because 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.”

It may be true that eschatology, modes of baptism, how best to perform the Eucharist, whether tongues are still valid and various other debated topics are not immediately vital for saving faith through the proclamation of the gospel, however that is not to say that there is not a truth in each area, that knowing that truth will not aide the Christian in their walk, and the Christian teacher should proclaim those truths

Besides, one can hardly say that perseverance of the saints (or it’s watered-down cousin, “once saved always saved”) is not one of the most important Christian truths, for what security and what hope does the believer have if they cannot even be sure that they will not fall right back into the pit should they lose concentration for a moment – especially when it can be summed up in the simple statement of Christ that “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37).” Frankly, I fail to see where there is room for debate.

There are many truths within Christianity that are not needed to be known in order for the individual to attain salvation, as Tozer says they need not comb through history or theology or philosophy to develop a systematic theology before they’re able to become a Christian, however that is not to say that theology is no longer relevant or that only the moral issue should be stood upon. Tozer falls into his own hole, for he states that “religious people are prone to select a favorite Bible doctrine or truth and to hold to that one truth at the expense of other basic tenets,” and this is exactly what Tozer does at this point, he creates a dichotomy and emphasizes the moral truth at the expense of the intellectual when in truth the two are bound more closely than the consummated marriage.

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A few final criticisms I’ll offer of Tozer is of his statement that “You live in that body of yours, sir, and you cannot properly blame your body for anything. Your body is what you make it to be. Your body is not a responsible being. It is guiltless and without blame.”

Correction: “I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)”

Lastly is his statement that “I do not think you can make the Bible say that a man who is dead in sin is a completely dead man – one who can neither be persuaded nor convinced, pleaded with nor appealed to, convicted or frightened.”

I simply return Tozer’s own words to him, ‘the Holy Spirit takes care of that’; our words may only reach the dead man as the Spirit gives him life. Besides, since when is there such a thing as being partially dead? Dead is an all or nothing deal, completely or not at all.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”–Ephesians 2:4-5

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”–Colossians 2:13-15

The main point being that its God that makes them alive, not us, not even themselves.

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray – By Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde Picture of Dorian Gray.pngLetter WWith his life spanning the later half of the 19th Century, Oscar Wilde wrote in a wide variety of mediums, ranging from poetry to plays and from essays to fairy tales, and one novel. His fairy tales are arguably the most accessible of his writings, and as is the case with fairy tales revolve around some moral theme being conveyed. For instance in ‘The Selfish Giant’ a giant places a wall around his garden to keep the children out, and thus spring never comes on his garden, causing him to realize the result of his selfishness. Similarly in ‘The Star-Child’ a beautiful boy is forced to come to terms with his prideful cruelty.

The Picture of Dorian Gray can be seen as a continuing of this fairy tale manner of writing, except in novel form (though even then the novel is fairly short).

The story begins in the art-studio of Basil, a painter who is putting the final touches on what is said to be his most greatest painting. With him is Lord Henry, a shallow obscurantist of high society who upon hearing of the figure in the portrait desires to meet with him – the figure being that of a young and impressionable Dorian Gray. The two become friends and eventually the philosophy of Lord Henry begins to have its affect on him.

In the words of Lord Henry, this amounts to “if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream–I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal–to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be… The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.”

Throughout the course of the novel Dorian comes to embrace this ideal, giving into his own inner nature: Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder sins–he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all… For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. “

Thus Dorian Gray enters into a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of scenario with himself where he resolves to do away with his conscience – where Mr. Hyde reveals the truth of Dr Jekyll, the portrait comes to reveal the truth of Dorian Gray, and before the end he must come to face that truth.

The book is enjoyable, and at around 180pgs can be read in an evening. Like his fairy tales it comes away with a moral, though modern renditions of the character seem to miss this point.

Memorable Quotes:

“You know how I love secrecy. It is the only thing that can make
modern life wonderful or mysterious to us. The commonest thing is
delightful if one only hides it.”

-“Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one’s age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality.”

-“Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride and passion he had prayed that
the portrait should bear the burden of his days, and he keep the
unsullied splendour of eternal youth! All his failure had been due to
that. Better for him that each sin of his life had brought its sure
swift penalty along with it. There was purification in punishment.
Not “Forgive us our sins” but “Smite us for our iniquities” should be
the prayer of man to a most just God.”

Specific Criticisms

I don’t believe I have any real criticisms or complaints about this book. I do have to say that I greatly disliked the character of Lord Henry, and the book can be read much more quickly if you skip all his dialogue after his first few rants. If you’ve read one of his conversations you’ve read them all; the basic model is that he says something absurd or outlandish and then the other characters alternately gasp and fawn over his words.

Every now and then this is interrupted by him saying something exceptionally bland, such as remarking that “They are both simply forms of imitation” when Basil makes the statement that “Love is a more wonderful thing than art.” Or by making some contradiction in terms, such as “I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life.”

Little nuances of character stand out, such as Henry and Dorian constantly remarking about the shallowness of other characters while demonstrating a pointed shallowness throughout the book. Of course this isn’t a criticisms of the book or the writing, it is likely in fact a praise of the writing, that he can create such a distasteful character.


dorian-gray

This book cover is an important lesson in advertising: of course it’s his most famous novel, it’s his only novel.

Exploring The Uniqueness of the Bible [In Its Ancient Near Eastern Context]

bible-and-coffeeLetter TThe ancient world was one filled with myths and stories of all types, stories about gods and about prophets and oracles who spoke with those gods. In secular society the Bible is often seen as just another one of these ancient myths.

The Bible is not just another myth, but it is in the context of these myths that the Bible was written. They provide the background against which we are to interpret the text; it was often these sorts of myths which the Biblical narrative was responding to. Thus, it is important for Christians to analyze the Scriptures in light of their ancient Near Eastern literary and cultural contexts.

So just what are the similarities and differences were between the Scriptures and those other myths which seem to bear some resemblance to it? It is by answering this question that we may determine whether or not the Bible is indeed unique in its content.

Some areas in which the Christian might compare the Scriptures to similar texts in the Near East include (1) how they present their creation accounts, (2) their understandings of morality, and (3) their understandings of prophecy and revelation.

Creation

Given that creation myths begin in the beginning, comparing the creation myths is one of the better places to start. One such text that the Scriptures might be compared to is the Enuma Elish, and one of the most immediately striking differences is the manner in which the myths are told.

One of the disti
nctiveness about ancient Near Eastern creation accounts is that they are told in a distinctly mythic manner. In contrast, the creation account in Genesis gives its account in a highly historical, concise and matter-of-fact manner.

Thus we can see the Enuma Elish begin with:

When in the height heaven was not named,
And the earth beneath did not yet bear a name,
And the primeval Apsu, who begat them,
And chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both
Their waters were mingled together,
And no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being,
And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven,
Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being…
Ages increased,…
Then Ansar and Kisar were created, and over them….
Long were the days, then there came forth…..
Anu, their son,…
Ansar and Anu…
And the god Anu…
Nudimmud, whom his fathers, his begetters…..
Abounding in all wisdom,…’
He was exceeding strong…
He had no rival –
Thus were established and were… the great gods.enuma-elish

These primeval gods eventually start fighting one another, monsters, dragons, scorpion-men, fish-men, and all sorts join the mix. All sorts of shenanigans ensue, Marduk eventually arises and Tiamut is killed. Marduk then fashions the heavens and the earth out of her body:

Then [Marduk] rested, gazing upon [Tiamut’s] dead body,
While he divided the flesh of the … , and devised a cunning plan.
He split her up like a flat fish into two halves;
One half of her he stablished as a covering for heaven.
He fixed a bolt, he stationed a watchman,
And bade them not to let her waters come forth.
He passed through the heavens, he surveyed the regions thereof,
And over against the Deep he set the dwelling of Nudimmud.
And the lord measured the structure of the Deep,
And he founded E-sara, a mansion like unto it.
The mansion E-sara which he created as heaven,
He caused Anu, Bel, and Ea in their districts to inhabit.

In all this it takes about six chapters just to get to the creation of the world.

In contrast to this we have the creation of the world in Genesis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That’s it. God simply does it. No great battles, no wrangling of primordial forces, no monsters. God simply makes it happen. Along the same lines, there is nothing before God in Genesis. He doesn’t use pre-existing material, he does his work ex nihilo.

Genesis is simply concerned with the fact that creation came into being and that God is the one who did it.

Just as noteworthy as differences in the way creation comes into being is the difference in the way mankind comes into being. In the Enuma Elish we find Marduk create mankind:enumaelish

“My blood will I take and bone will I fashion
I will make man, that man may
I will create man who shall inhabit the earth,
That the service of the gods may be established, and that their shrines may be built.
But I will alter the ways of the gods, and I will change their paths;
Together shall they be oppressed and unto evil shall they….

Mankind is made – according to the Enuma Elish – in order to be slaves. They are made in order to build shrines and to be oppressed. They are made out of the substance of a god and yet they have no dignity.

Contrast this with Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

 And God blessed them. And God said to them,“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In ancient Near Eastern myth, man is created out of the substance of a god as a slave to be oppressed. In contrast, Genesis has man made in the image of God, and he is made with dignity. He is made to have dominion, to multiply and subdue the earth.

Thus the second contrast with see is that in Scripture, man is made with dignity for noble ends.

While the Bible may bare similarities to other texts these similarities prove to be mostly superficial due to being attempts at answering the same questions about the universe. While the religious literature of other groups in the region revolve around elaborate mythologies and religious sayings – or aphorisms – the literature of the bible is primarily revelational and historical, and indeed it is revelational through its history, for God has communicated himself in the history of a nation, namely that of the Hebrew peoples.

The historical aspect of Scripture reveals the way that God interacts with humanity in history.

Morality

Along with having differing creation accounts and differing views of revelation and prophecy, the Bible also differs in its morality. One of the premier examples of this can be seen in the relation between the Proverbs and the writings of Amenemope, whose ethical teachings closely parallel one another.

On the one hand one might be able to see this as an example of natural law working its way out in two unrelated individuals, on another one might be able to see it as a Biblical writer source-texting a non-Biblical writer.

Either way the Biblical text is not put in jeopardy, especially when one realizes that the underlying nature of Scripture is time and again vastly different than that of its counterparts. The chief reason for this is that Scripture presupposes the Christian God, which is something that no other myth or system of ethics can boast.

That is, the motives for writing these instructions are radically different.

Thus when we read the writings of Amenemope we find that he simply offers good guidance, his goal is for his reader to prosper, and so he begins:

Give your years and hear what is said,mask_of_amenemope
Give your mind over to their interpretation:
It is profitable to put them in your heart,
But woe to him that neglects them!
Let them rest in the shrine of your insides
That they may act as a lock in your heart;
Now when there comes a storm of words,
They will be a mooring post on your tongue.
If you spend a lifetime with these things in your heart,
You will find it good fortune;
You will discover my words to be a treasure house of life,
And your body will flourish upon earth.

You should listen to him because it is profitable and you will find good fortune. The goal is simply to give good advice that will help you along your way.

In contrast to this we have the Proverbs:

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:
To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their griddles.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Or as he says later in chapter 22:

That your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today, even to you.

The goal of the Proverbs is not simply to provide good advice, its advice has a goal. This goal is not merely that you would prosper, but “That your trust may be in the Lord.”

The Lord under-girds the wisdom given in the Proverbs. The boundary stone is not moved because “their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.”

It is not simply that you shouldn’t, but you shouldn’t do it because there is a transcendent God who is your standard and will hold you accountable.

Again one observes a vastly different foundation between the Bible and its contemporaries.

Prophecy and Revelation

With this in mind, another area in which one might compare the Bible to its contemporaries is in the realm of prophecy and revelation. While the Bible is not alone in putting forth prophecy, it is clear that the other sorts of prophecy which abounded in the ancient world are in no way like those of Scripture.

One of the chief differences is that the prophecy of Scripture alone has a moral imperative with a direct relation to God. In contrast to this, pagan prophecy is more akin to guessing an effect from a causal relationship, and is therefore much more mechanical than Biblical prophecy.

Furthermore, while most pagan prophets directed their prophecy to royal households, the Biblical prophets directed theirs towards the people as a whole, for it was the moral action of the people as a whole which determined how God would act towards them.

Finally, pagan ‘prophecy’ seems to have been written after the fact, which would seem to disqualify it from being any sort of real prophecy.

Just as the Biblical creation accounts differed from the pagan mythology through its centeredness on God, and just as the Proverbs and moral imperatives of the Bible also differed from their pagan counterparts through their centeredness on God, so the prophecy of the Bible differs in its centeredness on God – particularly how he interacts with his covenant people.

It is the prophecy of Scripture alone with confronts the idolatry, immorality, and injustice of the people of God, presenting them with a moral imperative and a road either to or away from God.

This is in contrast to pagan prophecy trying to guess causal relationship and necessary relations. Yet the greatest division between Biblical prophecy and that of the pagan nations comes in its reality, in its actual ability to foresee and foreshadow the future.

Whereas pagan ‘prophecy’ seems written after the fact, the Biblical prophecy foreshadows real events, whether this be Jeremiah speaking of Babylon devastating Judah, Haggai foretelling the return of the Davidic line or Zechariah foretelling that the Messiah will be killed, the Bible prophecy and the revelation of God rings true.

The Bible Unique

Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the cultural and literary contexts is the God is unique in the way he does things, and that the Word of God is unique from anything else that man might develop, for doesn’t act in a way that might be anticipated.

He doesn’t tell the story of the creation like men would, hence the vast difference between Genesis and all other creation accounts; nor does he give a morality just for the sake of horizontal relations between people; nor does he give the gift of prophecy and the light of revelation purely for the good of pedigree of mankind.

Everything he presents is centered around himself, not around man, and yet man is dignified – all men, for they are made in his image.

The Bible is unique.

 

 

Martin Luther on Faith & Works

Martin Luther 1.pngLetter IIn his Preface to Romans, Martin Luther makes the statement that “If we do not choose goodness freely, we do not keep God’s law from the heart… Granted that, in appearance and conduct, you observe the law, owing to your fear of punishment or hope of reward, yet you do nothing from free choice and out of love for the law, but unwillingly and under compulsion; were there no law, you would rather do something else. The logical conclusion is that, in the depths of your heart, you hate the law.” 

In this passage Luther sums up what is one of the key points of Christ’s teachings, that is, that it is the heart that is of pivotal importance in matters of the law, not the outward actions; thus, it is faith, not works, for it is faith that brings about a love of the law.

This position as laid out stands in contradistinction to the approach of the Pharisees, who (because they focused merely on outward action) were seen as “whitewashed tombs”.

One of the key things that Luther wishes to explain is the relationship between faith and works (or the law), to show the true purpose of the law, and how it relates to faith.

In doing so, Luther makes the keeping of the law a matter of the heart. If you keep the law outwardly, doing the law under compulsion, then your heart is still bad; if you do the law under compulsion then in truth you despise the law.

In opposition to this, one who is truly changed will come to love the law, and thus when they do the works of the law it will be because they want to do those things, not because they are afraid of the fear of punishment or the hope of reward that may result.

This basis of the heart of faith being one that wants to do the works of the law feeds into Luther’s later discussion of just what part works play in the Christian life. Thus he ends up asserting: “It is impossible, indeed, to separate works from faith, just as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.”

This statement fits perfectly into Luther’s structure of faith/law. The heart of faith wants to do the works of the law; because the heart of faith wants to do the works of the law, it cannot help but do them.

The person with a true faith will perform the works of the law because the works of the law will be what they desire to do; the works are thus an outworking and a result of the faith, in the same way that heat is an outworking and a result of the fire.

One of the more interesting relevancies that Luther’s formulation has here for ethics is in refuting the ideas of those such as Immanuel Kant, who argued that it is when we do the works of the law unwillingly that we are truly being ethical – for, as Kant argued, not liking what you’re doing but doing it anyway shows a higher reverence of the law itself.

To this sort of idea Luther answers “no”, because the person who does the law under compulsion – while they may have some reverence for the law – are still in their hearts corrupt.

It is better to do the works of the law because you have a changed heart that desires to do them than it is to do them under compulsion.

Book Review: Just Do Something – Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung Just Do Something.pngLetter IIn honour of Kevin DeYoung be appointed as the Chancellor’s Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at RTS, it’s worthwhile to reflect on some of his work. While DeYoung hasn’t written many books, those books he has written are incredibly timely, and Just Do Something is no exception.

When you look around the church today, have discussions with members, and generally engage with those who desire to follow God, you quickly discover that one of the central questions is “How do I figure our God’s will for my life?” “How can I make sure that I’m in the center of God’s will?”

To try and discover God’s will is no doubt a noble thing, but a certain non-Biblical understanding of God’s will and how to follow God’s will has crept into the church and served to undermine our ability to do that very thing. Thus, DeYoung’s goal in this book is to look at how best to define God’s will, at some of a the ineffective or un-Biblical ways we try and find God’s will, and how to do better.

In beginning this endeavour, DeYoung begins by looking at what exactly the will of God is. In this he points to two major aspects of God’s will: the first is God’s will of decree (that is, everything he ordains to happen in his sovereignty), the second is God’s will of desire (that is, his moral will for our lives – love God and love our neighbour). As DeYoung explains, “If the will of decree is how things are, the will of desire is how things ought to be.” The former cannot be thwarted, but the latter can be disregarded (that is, we are capable of disobeying it).

These are the two Biblical aspects of God’s will.

To these two aspects we often add a third of our own: God’s will of direction. It is this will we refer to when we ask where we should live and work, who we should marry, whether to get our doughnut from Dunkin’ or Krispy Kreme. It is what we perceive as  God’s will for the various non-moral decisions in our life (that is, decisions which no matter which way we go we’re not breaking one of the Ten Commandments or God’s moral law in general), his specific direction for our lives. One of DeYoung’s key points in this books is that “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision.”

Part of DeYoung’s central argument is that while God does have a plan for our lives, it’s not one he expects us to figure our beforehand. When we try and figure out this will of direction prior to making decisions not only are we embarking on a vain endeavour, but we generally end up in passivity, passively waiting for God to reveal what’s around the next corner. Thus: “Trusting in God’s will of decree is good. Following His will of desire is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess. It is bad for you life, harmful for your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkerers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do.”

This passivity seeps into all aspects of our lives. Young men and women become too passive to enter into relationships for fear of finding the wrong one. Yet as DeYoung argues, ‘the one’ is a myth, and “the problem with the myth of ‘the one’ is that it assumes that affection is the glue that holds the marriage together, when really it is your commitment to marriage that safeguards the affection.”

Rather than vainly wait for ‘the one’, young people need to “Take a chance. Risk rejection. Be the relational and spiritual leader God has called you to be.”

Not only does seeking this will of direction result in passivity, but it also elevates the minor aspects of our lives to central stage, yet: “[Where you go to school or where you live or what job you take] are not the most important issues in God’s book. The most important issues for God are moral purity, theological fidelity, compassion, joy, our witness, faithfulness, hospitality, love, worship, and faith. These are His big concerns. The problem is that we tend to focus most of our attention on everything else. We obsess over the things God has not mentioned and may never mentioned, while, by contrast, we spend little time on all the things God has already revealed to us in the Bible“, thus “My point is that we should spend more time trying to figure out how to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as a doctor or lawyer and less time worrying about whether God wants us to be a doctor or lawyer.”

DeYoung is arguing that we spend so much time on these peripheral aspects of God’s plan for our lives that we neglect what should be our primary focus, and indeed God’s primary will for our lives, our sanctification.

Thus: “Jesus says, ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.’ He doesn’t call on us to seek a divine word before scheduling another semester of classes or deciding between bowling or putt-putt golf. He calls us to run hard after Him, His commands, and His glory. The decision to be in God’s will is not a choice between Memphis or Fargo or engineering or art; it’s the daily decision we face to seek God’s kingdom or ours, submit to His lordship or not, live according to His rules or our own. The question God cares about most is not ‘Where should I live?’ but ‘Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and do I love my neighbour as myself?’ It’s that second question that gets to the heart of God’s will for your life”.

The end result of this is best summed up by DeYoung – appropriately – at the end of the book, where he states that “So the end of the matter is this: Live for God. Obey the Scriptures. Think of others before yourself. Be holy. Love Jesus. And as you do these things, do whatever else you like, with whomever you like, wherever you like, and you’ll be walking in the will of God.”

God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, to pursue his moral will for our lives. If we’re doing this, then we can do whatever else we like.

On the whole, this is a fantastic book. It is easy to read, concise, and thoroughly based in Scripture. It is a much needed call to return from the passive and unbalanced approach that contemporary Christians have taken to the will of God.

Memorable Quotes (there are too many)

“I am advocating floundering less, making a difference for God sooner, and – above all – not spiritualizing, year after year, our inability to make decisions in the elusive quest to discover God’s will. I’m arguing that our eagerness to know God’s will is probably less indicative of a heart desperately wanting to obey God and more about our heads spinning with all the choices to be made.”-38

“In other words, God doesn’t take risks, so we can.”-41

“So we can stop pleading with God to show us the future, and start living and obeying like we are confident that He holds the future.”-42

“We don’t just want His word that He will be with us; we want Him to show us the end from the beginning and prove to us that He can be trusted. We want to know what tomorrow will bring instead of being content with simple obedience on the journey. And so we obsess about the future and we get anxious, because anxiety, after all, is simply living out the future before it gets here.”-47

“Passivity is a plague among Christians. It’s not just that we don’t do anything; it’s that we feel spiritual for not doing anything. We imagine that our inactivity is patience and sensitivity to God’s leading. At times it may be; but it’s also quite possible we’re just lazy… Perhaps inactivity is not so much waiting on God as it is an expression of the fear of man, the love of the praise of man, and disbelief in God’s providence.”-52

“We must fight to believe that God has mercy for today’s troubles and, no matter what may come tomorrow, that God will have new mercies for tomorrow’s troubles.”-57

“First, God’s will is that we live holy, set-apart lives… Second, we are to always rejoice, pray, and give thanks… Third, we are to know God’s will so we can bear fruit and know Him better.”-61

“I have been making the case that God’s will is not an unexplained labyrinth whose center we are supposed to discover… The will of God for our lives is that we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. The most important decision we face is the daily decision to live for Christ and die to self. If we do those two things, then we are free to choose between jobs and schools and locations…. God does not have a specific plan for our lives that He means for us to decipher ahead of time.”-63

“Let me be clear: I believe God guides us in decision making. But note the key word there: ‘God guides us in decision making.’ I did not say, ‘God expects us to discover His plan for our lives.’ The difference between the two sentences is huge. We are not talking about how God reveals to us ahead of time every decision we must make in life. Yes it’s proper for Christians to pray to God and seek wisdom from God when we face decisions, even nonethical decisions. That’s not a bad idea. What is a bad idea is treating nonethical decisions as weightier than they really are because you think there is One Right Answer that you must discover.”-64

“Remember, God’s will for your life is your sanctification, and God tends to use discomfort and trails more than comfort and ease to make us holy.”-79

“On a related note, we need to be careful that we don’t absolutize our decisions just because we pray about them. We cannot infallibly judge the rightness or wrongness of our plans based on the feelings we have about them after prayer.”-84

“Wisdom is what we need to live a godly life. God does not tell us the future, nor does He expect us to figure it out. Wehen we don’t know which way to turn and are faced with tough decisions in life, God doesn’t expect us to grope in the dark for some hidden will of direction. He expects us to trust Him and to be wise.”-89

“The Reformers emphasized calling in order to break down the sacred-secular divide. They said, if you are working for the glory of God, you are doing the Lord’s work, no matter whether you’re a priest or a monk or a banker. But we’ve taken this notion of calling and turned it upside down, so instead of finding purpose in every kind of work, we are madly looking for the one job that will fulfill our purpose in life.”-103

Book Review: Biblical Economics – By R.C. Sproul Jr.

 

SproulJr Biblical Economics.pngletter-bBiblical Economics is, just as the title would lead you to believe, an explanation of just what Scripture puts forth as a guide for the economic process. The author notes that the Bible is not an economics textbook, yet the truths set forth therein still have some applicability to that realm of study. As the author states “Where ethics touches economics, the Bible is relevant.”

The first idea introduced is the Biblical mandate set forth in Genesis for the stewardship of the earth, that man is set as a steward, that work was originally not a negative thing, and that there is a precedent for such a thing as private property.

Sproul next gives rationale for caring about the workings of economics through a contrast between materialism and spiritualism, and the medium which Scripture offers between them. – warning against the philosophy of Marx on the one hand and of the Social Gospel on the other. Sproul then goes on to discuss prosperity and the conditions needed to create it, relying on the philosophies of Adam Smith and the Austrian school of Mises, and arguing against the system put forth by Keynes. He gives a discussion on the way in which money came about, of inflation and what it is, of debt, of poverty, of equity and it’s contrast with equality, of the government’s role in all of this, and finally concluding with what we might do about it.

The central tenant being put forth is one of economic liberalism, of capitalism, of small government in relation to economic matters, while offering a moral and practical argument against the seeds of socialism and the school of Keynes.

In light of our many problems today Sproul offers the beginning of a solution: to stop government growth by not using their services, especially for our own profit by not accepting government money, something which can only be accomplished through education of why this shouldn’t be done, along with a push for the government to be forced into keeping a balanced budget.

All in all Sproul offers a very good introduction to the basics structure and pitfalls of the economic system and gives some good advice about what we might do to help fix the system. Sproul thinks that this can be accomplished without revolution, but rather by pushing the government back into its constitutional position, where the government is not seen as the parent taking care of all the ills of society: “As long as the government is seen as the solution to all of our problems, the government will continue to be the source of many of our problems. We do not need to reinvent government, but to rethink government. We need to tam the monster, to coax it back into it’s constitutional cage. We need to rethink how we see government.” (p200)

On the downside, perhaps the biggest problem with Sproul Jr’s view is that he has an over-simplistic understanding of what capitalism is (understanding it as little more than private property and free trade) and he completely glosses over the more damaging aspects of capitalism. On the whole, it reads as if Sproul is trying to finagle capitalism back into Scripture, as if he is so predisposed to capitalism that he will cling to any justification for it that he can. He seems entirely too eagEer to force Scripture to give it’s stamp of approval to the capitalist system, and while he does manage to affirm some aspects of the capitalist system, these are just aspects of the system and not the system itself.

Memorable Quotes:

-“The biblical view of assigns value to the body and the soul, to evangelism and social concern, to the spiritual and the material. Redemption is for the whole man.”(p37)

-“Freedom is the key to profit, as only voluntary exchange enables mutual profit.”(p63)

-“There is a subtle but paramount distinction between equality and equity. Equality is likeness, evenness, and uniformity. Equity is justice, impartiality, and fairness. Socialism calls for equality; the Scriptures call for equity.”(p154)

-“Government can only give that which it first takes.”(p205)

Specific Criticisms

The main criticism is that Sproul Jr. is abit of an idealist when it comes to liberal economics. He says that the free wage earner is free to choose where he wants to work and live, and to quit if he wants, and later states that “Under capitalism, the rich get richer and the poor get richer.”(p166) This seems a highly idealized view. Sure, if system goes off without a hitch, then capitalism will work very well, the problem is exploitation. Sproul spends all of about a paragraph on exploitation, noting that it is one of the potential causes of poverty. Yet is is exploitation which is the greatest danger in capitalism, a fact which Sproul doesn’t spend much time at all pointing out. In an ideal world, unbridled capitalism would be perfect, the problem comes when sinful man enters the picture and seeks his own selfish ends. Perhaps Sproul desires that the government work to help stop this kind of exploitation, though he doesn’t make it readily apparent that this is the case.

There also seems to be abit of an inconsistency in his view of money in relation to gold and paper money. Sproul makes the point that money in and of itself has no real value, it is only valuable in terms of what you can get for it. Yet he later makes the comment that now that we’ve switched from a gold backed currency to a paper currency, that now our money is backed by nothing more than a government force. Yet, even on the gold standard, money is backed by nothing more than the force of government. Gold in and of itself has no value apart from what either the people or the government decide to attribute to it, neither does the paper dollar. In this sense, both gold and paper money are backed by nothing more than government force and a shared consensus of their value. Gold has the advantage only in that it is a limited resource, which stops the government from being able to print dollars ad infinitum, thereby making gold more stable.

Book Review: The Case for Christianity – By C.S. Lewis

 

Lewis Case for Christianity.png
Letter TThe Case for Christianity
is one of three books which would later be compiled into C.S. Lewis‘ classic exposition of the faith, Mere Christianity. On its own, the book is a discourse on morality, specifically the moral argument for God.

Two snippets from the text serve well to sum up the argument being made by Lewis here:

“First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it. Secondly, that they don’t in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.”(p7)

“A man doesn’t call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?… Consequently atheism turns out to be to simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”(p34)

Thus, the argument is essentially that people have within a certain moral code that they feel they should follow, a code which can only be explained through appealing to some higher standard, a standard that only the Christian God can account for. Such a claim is naturally going to be met with varying amounts of skepticism offering alternate explanations, which Lewis does well at addressing ahead of time, explaining how all the popular explanations – such as that morality is simply a form of instinct or that it is a social convention – are self-contradictory.

The first half of the text is a philosophical exposition of the matter, the second half the Christian take on the matter. On the whole, it is an excellent presentation of the moral argument for God, as well as meeting of the objections which might be raised.

Memorable Quotes:

-“Now this thing that judges between two instincts, that decides which should be encouraged, can’t itself be either of them.”(p8)

-“The most dangerous thing you can do is to take up any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.”(p10)

-“There’s no difference in moral principle here: the difference is simply about a matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there’s no moral advance in not executing them when you don’t think they are there! You wouldn’t call a man humane for ceasing to set mouse-traps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.”(p13)

-“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you’ve taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”(p24)

-“Unless I believe in God, I can’t believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”(p32)

-“For Christianity is a fighting religion.”(p34)

-“Enemy-occupied territory – that’s what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”(p40)

-“Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, isn’t something God demands of you before He’ll take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it’s simply a description of what going back to Him is like.”(p49)

Specific Criticisms

While C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, I won’t pretend that he is without fault. The primary fault in this text comes towards the end where Lewis is discussing the Christian point of view on the matter and addressing objections which might be raised against it. For the most part Lewis does well here, except for the bit where he discusses the Christian attitude towards those who have never heard the gospel, stating “We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we don’t know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”(p55)

Romans 10:14 seems a well enough rebuttal: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” 

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: Found: God’s Will – By John MacArthur

Found Gods WillLetter TThe will of God is not a thing that is lost, in need of finding; in fact, it is quite an easy thing to discover. This is the opening point of John MacArthur‘s book Found: God’s Will which – as the subtitle asserts – aims to help the reader find the direction and purpose God wants for their life.

In this straightforward little text, MacArthur works to reorient the reader’s understanding of what it means to find or be in God’s will. The popular conception is that one must work to discover what that specific thing is God wants you to do with your life through great self-reflection and a healthy amount of wise discernment, with maybe a little mysticism thrown in for good measure. MacArthur’s point is that figuring out what God’s will for your life is is much simpler than it has been made out to be.

In laying the groundwork for this point, MacArthur first argues that the primary will of God for your life is your salvation. This requirement, above all else, must be met if one wants to know anything further about God’s will. As MacArthur argues “If you are stumbling around in life and tossing up some periodic prayers to God but have never come on your knees to the foot of the cross and met Jesus Christ, then you are not even in the beginning of God’s will. God has no reason to reveal to you anything particular about your life because you have not met qualification number one: salvation.” (p.13)

Following this MacArthur lays out four other things that the individual must do if they are to know God’s will further. They must: become Spirit-filled, where “The only way to [become Spirit-filled] is to study that book that discloses all He is!”(p.33); become sanctified, by remaining pure, subduing the passions, treating others fairly, etc; become submissive, ie, submit to lawful authority; and suffer, as “if you are a Christian who is living a godly life in an ungodly world, you will suffer.”(p.54)

With this foundation laid, MacArthur moves to make his primary point, that is: “God’s will is that you be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering. God’s Word makes all of this clear… If you are doing all five of the basic things, do you know what the next principle of God’s will is? Do whatever you want! If those five elements of God’s will are operating in your life, who is running your wants? God is! The psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). God does not say He will fulfill all the desires there! If you are living a godly life, He will give you the right desires.”(p.67-68)

That is to say, if you are properly pursing God in your spiritual life, if you are striving towards holiness, then God will place His will in your heart, such that your specific desires will match his specific desire for your life. Thus, if you are striving for holiness, you should do whatever you want, because your wants and desires for your life will match God’s wants and desires for your life. Thus: “Get into the mainstream of what God is doing, and let Him lead you to that perfect will.”(p.71) because “You see, the will of God is not primarily a place. The will of God is not, first of all, for you to go there or work there. The will of God concerns you as a person. If you are the right you, you can follow your desires and you will fulfill His will.”(p.74)

MacArthur does a good job of convincingly laying out his argument through this little text. His point is short, simple, and yet with great depth, and overall makes for an enjoyable and edifying read.

Apart from the central point of the book, MacArthur also gives a helpful tip for becoming familiar with the Bible. Instead of reading one set of verses or chapter a day until one finishes a book, MacArthur suggest reading through an entire book (or section of a book, if longer) every day for thirty days. Thus, one would read through the entirety of 1 John every day for thirty days, at the end of which one will have a very solid understanding of what 1 John says; one then continues this same pattern with the other books (again, breaking the larger books into sections).

Memorable Quotes:

“When will the Christian realize that they have everything?”-22

“If you are waltzing through life comfortably, it either means that you are not living a godly life or you are living it out in the bushes in a place where the ungodly world cannot see you.”-55

“If the truth offends, then let it offend. People have been living their whole lives in offense to God; let them be offended for a while.”-63

Specific Criticisms

As laid out by the book How Then Should We Choose: Three Views on God’s Will and Decision Making, MacArthur’s approach to finding the will of God most closely resembles what the books calls the ‘Relationship View’, in which one’s relationship with Christ provides the context for the discernment of God’s will. MacArthur has his own nuance, but the basic point is that if you pursue God in holiness, he will align your will to His specific will for your life. This gives it much in common with the ‘Specific-will View’ presented in the book, which argues that God has a specific will that the individual must in turn discern. MacArthur and the ‘Relationship View’ essentially replace the criteria ‘discernment’ with ‘holy living’, each of which will in turn lead the individual towards God’s specific will for their life.

In opposition to these two views, I am much more likely to lean towards what is termed the ‘Wisdom View’ by the book. This view posits – much like MacArthur – that God’s primary will is his moral will as revealed in Scripture and needs to be obeyed; thus, one God’s will is that one be saved and pursue sanctification, doing everything to the glory of God. This view asserts that, in turn, God provides wisdom to those who ask in order to make good decisions, yet ultimately asks the individual to trust in the sovereign [specific] will rather than attempt to discern it.

Thus, the Wisdom View posits that God’s will for you life is your salvation, and that you pursue holiness, that’s it (an idea worked out well in Kevin DeYoung‘s book Just Do Something). That is what God’s will is for your life. God’s will is that you be saved and pursue holiness, living your life to glorify God. This is much in line with Martin Luther’s idea of vocation, where it does not matter what job you have in life, just that you do it to the glory of God.

Thus, in opposition to MacArthur, I would tend to argue that getting saved and living a holy life not cause God to plant His specific will for your life in your heart (ie, take this job or do this thing); rather, getting saved and living a holy life is God’s specific will for your life. Getting saved and living a holy life is not a means to the end goal of entering into God’s will; getting saved and living a holy life is God’s will, it is the end to which we strive. Thus, if we are saved and living a holy life, we can do whatever we want. Yet, unlike MacArthur, we don’t do whatever we want because God has made us want some particular thing that he wants us to want. Rather, we do whatever we want, because God simply wants us to glorify Him in whatever we do.

As long as both choices are morally righteous, God doesn’t care whether we take this job or that job, marry this person or that person, do this or that; he simply cares whether – when we take this job or that job, marry this person or that person – that we do so to his glory. We work at whatever job we take in such a way to glorify God. We conduct the relationship with whatever person we marry to glorify God.

God has a sovereign will for our lives, but we simply trust in this fact, rather than taking it upon ourselves to figure out what God has in store for us. You cannot be outside of God’s sovereign will, so there is no need to discern it, there is only need to trust in it. But you can be outside of his moral will, therefore, that is the thing that matters in discerning God’s will.