Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dorothy Rabinowitz takes on Deepak Chopra

Watch this video first. Then read the article at the end of this post.

Pulitzer prize winner, Ms. Rabinowitz, nails the present journalistic discourse on the head. The senseless pity on perpetrators of crimes rather than on victims is something that has been called out again and again as a problem in media discourse. The endless blame on causes unrelated to ideas and religion is classic secular diagnosis. The pandering to celebrities who know less than experts (though treated as experts) is far more embarrassing to American popular culture than any war on terrorism.

Now read, Ms. Rabinowitz article. She's clear and punches to the point. This kind of dialog needs to happen more. And you get to be a "Culturally Savvy Christian," as Dick Staub puts it, and be alert to the language the 'sophisticated' world is talking. Awareness of the problem is half the battle.

Deepak Blames America

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A New Kind of Apologetics

At the NYWC in Sacramento, I gave a seminar on "A New Kind of Apologetics: Emerging Questions of Today's Youth."

First, I'm encoraged that YS is bold enough to get outside the box and let me give a seminar on this.

Second, I've was very encouraged by the response as I was unsure how some of my ideas would be received by the average youth worker (which we all know are not 'average'!). There's a real hunger to take apologetics in a more "human" direction. We're delighted Soulation is helping lead the way with that. highlighted my talk on their blog today. You can check it and download the talk as an mp3 to listen to while you're about the house, at work, or going for a drive. I think you'll find it encouraging, funny, and expanding your own vision of reaching, not only youth, but leaders and neighbors as well.

Here's the post.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Celebrating 100 years... Chesterton and Grahame

Halfway through this year, I remembered this was the year of a marked centenary. G. K. Chesterton penned Orthodoxy (he wrote The Man Who was Thursday the same year as a story illustrating the same theme).

I had heard of Chesterton prior to college, but I did not read him until then. Little did I know how influenced I was by Chesterton long before I knew the name.

In my struggle of feeling homesick at home, God curiously led me to three different men on my journey that spoke the very thing I thirsted to hear; ironically, none of them are clergy, but public speaker, author, and musician. They were men who "got it," or at any rate, they got me. They were those Professor Kirk talks about in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; that once you've been to Narnia, you don't need to talk about asking others if they've been there too. You'll see it in their looks.

It was in their looks, their words, their poetical suspicion of the world being at once beautiful and monstrous at the same time. They were men who saw the glory of earth in ruins, waiting to be re-united with heaven. Those men were C. S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, and Rich Mullins.

I've heard it said that Lewis has a Chesterton book opened next to him as he wrote a lot of his works. One glorious passage in Mere Christianity said, "God is like the sun; you cannot look at it, but without it you cannot look at anything else." I thought that was brilliant Lewis. Lo, it was in fact brilliant Chesterton. Actually, as I got more deeply into the classics, I discovered, that fine piece of prose was an alteration from Plato.

The humanities, lost in today's evangelical church (though cherished in some evangelical universities) and largely devalued in our modern and postmodern world, has been my source of strength and courage to pursue humanness as good. That's why they are called the humanities after all. Chesterton drew heavily on them.

Without imaginative, metaphorical, storied visions as these, deeply influenced by the Scripture, I would find life, at least my own life, dull. I would hardly know why I should follow Christ. I would find him, as many modern apologetics proclaim, as true. But without these prophetic visionaries who have beheld the beatific vision and shared it with the passion of a star, I would be left finding the good news of the kingdom at hand as a wasteland, devoid of the beauty that touches on the longing of my human heart.

One of my favorite talks by Ravi Zacharias is on the meaning of life, which he later put into Can Man Live Without God? Buried in the heart of his argument is a discussion of fairy tales and how the lessons they teach are completely consistent with the way life is lived today, and consistent with the gospels. This was borrowed from Chesterton. Once, sitting in Ravi's living room, petting his border collie named, "G.K.", I asked him about Chesterton's influence and he said he thought the "Ethics of Elfland" was one of the finest chapters of the 20th century. You'll find that chapter in Orthodoxy.

Rich Mullins also borrowed inspiration from Chesterton. His popular song, "Creed," resounds in the chorus with this pithy phrase,

I did not make it,
no, it is making me,
it is the very truth of God not the invention of any man.

This is Chesterton's Orthodoxy: "God and humanity made [orthodoxy], and it made me." Another poetic paradox of Chesterton shows up in Mullins song, "Growing Young."

We are children no more,
we have sinned and grown old
and our father still waits
and watches down the road
for those crying boys to come running back to his arms
and we're growing young.

Chesterton put it this way, "We have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we." This is from Orthodoxy. Mullins called it his favorite book.

Whether we know the name or understand the words of Chesterton, today's church is deeply indebted to this rotund man of mirth who is still as relevant today as he was 100 years ago. He "got it." And the philosophical battles he faced then are the same ones still strongly lingering now. One of my favorite ideas in Chesterton is the very last paragraph in Orthodoxy. But I will not give it away. Let it be your tasty dessert as you read the book.

Christianity Today just did an interview about Chesterton with Inkling scholar, Lyle Dorsett. It's a short interview but he puts it in a nutshell.

Dorsett mentions Malcolm Muggeridge at the end of the article as one of the only apologists since Chesterton to use humor. But Muggeridge, who I did my graduate work on, wasn't very influenced by Chesterton. He does retell the story as a young boy seeing this towering figure. But it was the recollection as young boy and that was about it. Muggeridge had his own journey to take, one more treacherous of a search than even Chesterton's who discovered his heresy was orthodoxy. Muggeridge was 5 years old when Orthodoxy was printed. Lewis was 10.

For your pleasure, I've recorded part of chapter 1 from Orthodoxy. Listen to Chesterton's paradoxes, how he holds our experiences in tension--like "romance." His definition of "romance" is not like ours today, but is the more historical, Western idea that we are losing daily in the age of unreason. Let his metaphor about the yachtsman discovering England work into your meditation today.

Orthodoxy, Introduction in Defense of Everything Else (mp3, 8 min)

But there's another book celebrating 100 years, another book important to the Christian imagination. This book is in the same tradition as the deeply human Chesterton. Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows is a celebration of human experience personified in the animals: the intelligent Rat, the faithful Mole, the impetuous Toad, the wise Badger, the chatty Otter, and many others. Disney stripped Toad's "wild ride" from the book, leaving children with a paltry imaginative glimpse into a deeply imaginative tale.

Jonalyn and I are reading the Wind in the Willows before bed these nights. Well, I've been doing the reading aloud; she's doing the listening. It's a cleansing of the soul after a long day of work. Wind in the Willows as a title holds a deeper meaning than a mere discription of nature brushing against river plants.

As a taste, I've recorded a section from the book where they meet Someone. They hear flute playing in the distance as they are looking about for Otter's son. Sunrise is nearly upon them. And they follow the music... Let the words and desciptions play in your soul. And I think you'll also note a similar "feel" and description here that I'm sure Lewis borrowed for Aslan. Grahame is subtle in his storytelling; a real master.

Wind in the Willows, excerpt from chapter 7 (mp3, 15 min)

I'm glad there is a God to be thankful to (a Chesterton idea) for my gratitude pours out that these two works were made for the generations to help us see ourselves and our world for what it is--frail yet good, with a Master of Ceremonies always busy behind the scenes.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

What are the biblical roles of husbands and wives?

Here is a classic complementarian position of the roles of husbands and wives. Understand it well.

Notice how emphatic he is at the beginning that this issue is 'clear.'

Notice how he automatically connotes the meaning of the metaphor, 'head.'

Notice the emphasis of the husband to be a tie-breaking vote (when Paul's point to the husbands is on love). You will frequently hear the 'tie-breaking vote' argument used by complementarians. I think there's another way to break ties, but this argument often persuades people into a complementarian model.

Notice how he says men shy away from leadership (is this the nature of men historically or a 21st century construction?)

Notice how he calls his relationship with his wife a 'team,' but then limits her voice to mere 'input' (is there teamwork in the final decision or only teamwork in consultation?).

Notice how he misquotes Eph 5:22 later in the video by attaching 'submission' to the husband is like the church's 'submission' to Christ. The verse doesn't say that.

Notice how, at the end, it is the husband's duty to sanctify his wife.

What are your thoughts?

For my thoughts on Ephesians 5, see "The Mystery of Submission" in the August archive.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What exactly is this "Living with Questions"?

I'm glad you asked. I've been getting this question in a variety of ways so I thought I'd lay it out for the record.

When you spend a long time writing a book, you'd hate to see people who are looking for a book like yours miss the opportunity to read it because they just didn't know. There is so much in Living with Questions that covers a wide array of other books on the Christian book shelf. Give this one a look. You may find yourself getting a lot more than you paid for (and save yourself some money too!).

Living with Questions is not your typical apologetics book.

If you like Lee Strobel's "The Case for..." books, you'll like Living with Questions. Strobel's books give you interviews on various topics on the book cover. Living with Questions gives you tools so you can be an apologist too and not just find yourself quoting other people. So if you've read Strobel, consider Living with Questions next. Plus you get more topics in less pages. Strobel is not the only Christian writer who was set against the church and found themselves landing squarely on Jesus. As someone who grew up in the church, I knew many reasons to reject Christianity and, if not for intellectually sane and emotionally healthy reasons to follow Jesus, I could have easily walked away. Living with Questions is born out of that kind of journey.

Living with Questions is not just for teens. The marketing is toward students. So are some of the interior graphics. But it was written for everyone, especially those who want to share their faith with smart people and find 'apologetics' just too 'deep' or 'academic' or 'heady.' Living with Questions is gentle entry point into the world of understanding your faith more deeply, how it stands up to reason, and how you can confidently share your faith with others. Though the book is built around student questions, we'd be dishonest to say those same questions are also not adult questions. The reviews on Amazon for Living with Questions are from college graduates. In fact, Living with Questions should be found in the youth section of the book store (because they have so few books that really address their earnest questions) as well as the adult section beside all the other popular apologetics books of the day. It has that kind of cuturally savvy insights you don't find in many other apologetics books.

Living with Questions is doing what postmoderns say can't be done: doing apologetics for a postmodern audience. Yes, contrary to emerging beliefs, postmoderns still value reason, many just don't know it. They value truth, but not for its own sake, but for the sake Jesus gave us: to make us free. Today's kids are a mix of modernism and postmodernism, and neither one is deeply helpful for having a rounded view of the world. C. S. Lewis showed us that. In an era where the most vocal forms of apologetics are more academic and heady, Living with Questions draws more on the imaginative tradition of C. S. Lewis while still using the academic in the background. Living with Questions takes not just the mind and emotions into account, but the whole person, validating every square inch of being human, the ways God equipped us to reach out to him and to each other. I would use any of the arguments in this book on a university campus. In fact, I have. These are test and helpful and not just more "Christianese."

Living with Questions is reflective. It's full of stories and perspectives to chew and mediate on. The last three chapters are my favorite, painting a picture of life, love, and goodness, of the restoring of beauty in the universe as God intended. Hint: it's not what you typically hear in church but is deeply Biblical.

Living with Questions helps students own their faith so they are ready for college and the challenges ahead. It works great for the student who is seeking as well as the student who doesn't realize he/she should be seeking (because they don't quite know they are alive, human, and purposed in this world yet). Many have already used Living with Questions and found it effective. (See study guide drawn up by a youth leader along the right side of my blog.)

Living with Questions helps the reader get out of 'religious' talk and into real life, a need many express when it comes to "Christian" literature.

Living with Questions answers a lot more questions than the chapters indicate. Inside every chapter are aspects of every question like "Why does a good God send people to hell?" and "Can I be a Christian and an evolutionist?" and "Am I loved?" and "How do I know I can trust the Bible?" and "How do I know which religion is right?" and "CAN religion be 'right or wrong'?" and "What is faith?" The book also mentions diversions and addictions many face, including busyness, music, and cutting. Not only are interesting questions embedded in each chapter, but each chapter gives you tools on how to think about questions. So you don't just get my explanation. You get to go exploring and come up with your own. This is very important if we are to OWN our faith.

The only way to adequately OWN our faith is to have the freedom to DISOWN our faith. Living with Questions gives that freedom.

Living with Questions is also for those who are not Christians. I get emails from secular college students who say they've really enjoyed the book and gave them good things to think about. Many "Christian" books are not written for the non-Christians. If you've been looking for a book to give to a non-believing friend, Living with Questions is also for them.

Living with Questions is not a dogmatic, in your face approach to truth-telling. The title of the book says it all. We live with questions so we can live into answers. Many questions and answers are understood a little now and understood more later. Some questions just need perspective. Some questions need encouragement. Some questions need information. Some questions need to be reframed. Living with Questions offers all of these.

So if you're looking for a book to discuss in your youth group, a book to hand out to college students, a book to assign to your classroom, a book to read on the airplane, a book to understand our world a little better and how today's generation approaches life, if you're looking for tools to navigate life better rather than having to quote someone else, then Living with Questions is the book you're looking for.

Soon available on audio too.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Calling all Questions!

Next week, I'm heading to the National Youth Workers Convention in Sacramento. I'm doing a seminar on "a new kind of apologetics: emerging questions from today's youth."

I want to pepper my talk with popular questions students are asking today. I've got a bunch but I want to hear from you before I go!

This is your chance to have an influence on the next generation!

What I want from you: Send popular questions you are hearing from students, teens or college students. Just add your comment to this blog. No long explanations necessary.

Now enough reading, start writing!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Atheism, Superstition, and the American Present

Not all atheists are superstitious.... the very thoughtful die-hard, hang-on-till-we-go-extinct ones don't tend to be. But Ms. Hemingway has her finger on a pulse that I find as a growing trend in American culture among the masses.

There is a curiously finger-pointing at religion in our culture, but not just any religion. It's the "Christian" religion that keeps getting put into the boxing ring, stuffed with straw, sans boxing gloves. And when it falls down it gets propped up again for another round. So Jesus is rejected as irrelevant, not because good evidence to follow him is lacking, but because he can be labeled as 'religious' (which connotes 'private' and 'irrelevant'). Then all sorts of strange things follow.

This article, "Look Who's Irrational Now," which I found this afternoon in my weekend edition of the WSJ, speaks to a wide-ranging, growing disease of American unreason.

Jonalyn and I find as we engage with media, in our travels, in our speaking and writing, that G. K. Chesterton was right: Those who say they believe in nothing are very susceptible to believing in anything.

I am wondering if being superstitious will one day be widely accepted as 'normal' and not as an insult. If thoughtfulness and evidence will become the strange thing; if science will one day be ignored as it gets in the way of what we want and what we fear.

For all scientific and technological age we boast, modern humans have become a peculiar breed. We use technology to suit our passions but find irrelevant the very things technology stands on: a 'real world.'

Today, we see superstition poking out its head in phrases like 'spiritual, but not religious,' which usually amounts to an amalgamation of Eastern thought mixed in with Western productivity. Many are prone to believe the universe actually gives you things if you just desire them (like "The Secret") or that God is an impersonal force and we need to reach toward an enlightened consciousness (like in "The New Earth"). And if you hang around this boutique religion long enough, you'll also find out they hi-jack Jesus into a Buddhist-believer, offering us a 'Christ-consciousness' so you can achieve your full potential. Your material prayer flags of various colors will be caught in the wind and blow spiritual prayers across the countryside (and you won't have to do the hard work of encountering a real God and bringing your petitions)....

All that to say, you should read this article. It is the most succinct explanation I have found of this issue that we are seeing daily of irrational superstition replacing a rational look at the supernatural.

And these superstitious attitudes are very much in the church too. We are secularists about faith and superstitions about prayer. We think Jesus is about heaven and his making life easier and we rarely get a larger picture of the heavenly invasion of the Kingdom of God into the kingdoms of men to set things right-side-up. We forget that gratitude is not first a feeling in the Bible, as it is in "The Secret," but an action toward a larger Person who alone has the ability to give all good gifts. We fear radical love (it might make people feel validated in their sin) and we fear radical unity (it might make people feel validated in their doctrine)....

Jonalyn and I are working on a forthcoming book on this topic of making the most of spiritual small-talk in today's world by helping the church weed through superstitious ideas in our own lives, and engaging one another with a robust view of a Jesus who is spiritual on one hand and deeply human on the other. And that's, to me, is the only rational way forward... even rational enough for atheists to consider.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Palin, Religion, and how Secularism is out of touch

Jonalyn sent me this article she found on "What's the Difference between Palin and a Muslim Fundamentalist? Lipstick"

Listing abortion, God, creationism, and every other thing secularists hate about religious ideas, the author saves his worst grievance for last with this remark, the one that makes us all gasp with horror at the audacity of Palin's views:

The most noxious belief that Palin shares with Muslim fundamentalists is her conviction that faith is not a private affair of individuals but rather a moral imperative that believers should import into statecraft wherever they have the opportunity to do so.

There it is - a private faith is the highest virtue and must not be touched at all costs. Making faith public is worse that even stopping science and abortions. Quite an assertion.

I recommend you read this article, not because it is helpful, but because it is an example of how unreasonable secular 'reason' has become. Not only does this author equivocate between Palin's views and fundamentalist Islam, but he also blows it out of proportion. What is even worse is that this author believes what he is saying.

Teaching creationism alongside evolution (and other views) in the public school classroom is not the same as banning it (which is what his Islamic examples did). And there are people who are non-religious who also think abortion should be radically limited from it's abuses today.

But as for private vs. public faith, the author of this story has certainly made his faith public. He's pushes it on the reader. It's amazing how easy it is to play the hypocrite. Every single politician that has ever taken office has used his faith in something (be it God, the human spirit, or whatever) to push through laws and regulate the people. The Founding Fathers did the same (even the Declaration of Independence makes the audacious claim that the "Creator" endowed humans with rights).

For an intelligent discussion on religion in the public square, I recommend this dialog between two preeminent philospohers, Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff: Religion in the Public Square.

Palin thinks everyone needs to have a heart right with God. This is different than the comparison that the author makes that Khamenei, only replacing "God" with "Islam." At least in American you have the freedom to say which God you believe in. When Palin says such things, it is speaking the language of her audience but is also a call to weed out corruption. For Khamenei, he's speaking from a context outside of freedom of conscience and refers to a specific religion. What is more, if God does exist, I would think he would want us to use our resources wisely and make us less dependent on those who don't. Is the author against that virtue as well? On this accounts (as well as his several other points), the parallel just cannot be made. Some people may not like Palin's remarks, but to equate them with fundamentalist Islam (which is just shy of using the word 'terrorist') shows he's out of touch and stretching concepts to fit his prejudice.

Makes me also wonder what the author thinks of Obama's "faith."

Would this author enjoy being called a fundamentalist Christian because he shares the idea that caring for the poor is important? Or would he like it if he agreed with Christains that humans should be treated fairly and with dignity? We can all find things we have in common and wedge in assumptions that do not fit. Just because serial killers breath oxygen doesn't mean everyone who breathes oxygen is a serial killer.

A thoughtful reader will get this. And articles like this are written to stir up the religiously uneducated and fearful. One encouraging thing to me is that while much of the secular media says evangelicals are out of touch, well, the statement can be volleyed as a return of favor. Wow, how's that for two movements with something in common!

It should be required reading every year for those in journalism to read the Society of Professional Jouralists' Code of Ethics, including "Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Feminism... and beyond

The range of definitions of feminism are broad. First wave (1800s) and second wave feminism (1960s) both promoted women as oppressed by men and overlooked for their full human, though unique, status. Third wave feminism responded to the second wave by deconstructing the feminine into postmodern cultural construction.

They each have their own merits and research. And it would be a shame to overlook the pre-first wave feminism brewed among the Quakers that secularist history fails to recognize. God forbid, followers of Jesus may again get something right.

What is most unfortunate is how this word "feminism" has been dragged, drugged, shunned, celebrated with rage, and used to an excuse to push a woman's weight around. In working to humanize women, many have used it to dehumanize everyone else.

Sexism is degrading genders other than your own. Racism is degrading ethnicities other than your own. If I said I was a 'masculinist,' I would likely be labeled a 'chauvinist.'

If we follow those same lines, a 'feminist' means someone who degrades genders other than the feminine. The victim becomes obvious. And this is why I believe many who believe women are fully human shy away from using the word "feminist." We automatically connote, just by how words are used, that a feminist is an elitist even if others have stretched the word and it's various studies in different ways.

Some feminists are elitists. I hate entitlement rhetoric, the clanging voices that claim discriminiation because they are female (when those listening may be saying, no, it's because they are clanging).

For me, a feminist is one who thinks women are fully human and should be promoted as such. They have a mind, will, and emotions, just as the classicists described the faculties of the human soul. Because of this, they are capable, according to their qualities and character, of doing anything a mind, will, and emotion can do. If that means, scrubbing floors or running White Houses, then there's nothing philosophically (logically) out of bounds.

I think men are fully human too. And I dislike the idea that men should step aside and allow women to run the show. That's out of balance, dehumanizing. And that's how women have felt for a long time.

Where I see women abused, trampled, demeaned, mocked, I want to stand in the gap. This is feminist behavior.

Where theology makes dogmatic statements against women being fully human (often couched in terms of what women should and shouldn't do) from spurious interpretations of the Scripture, I want to stand in the gap. This is feminist behavior.

When women are boxed into categories that do not fit all women, I want to stand in the gap. Plenty of women feel like outsiders because they don't wear pink, refuse to demean themselves with ostentatious flirting, and hate heels. It is feminist to ask for sanity in the discussion and allow each woman to flourish as she was made.

Many men think they stand in the gap for women, yet fail to take that stand when they deprive women of human functions by calling them "male functions" without qualification. We would do well to rethink Paul and his view of a healthy marriage and leadership in the church. Can we bear the logical contradiction? Should we claim either the Scripture is illogical or that we are unallowed to renew our minds? This is the tension that stretches me in engaging my community and the Scripture with honesty and compassion and every human faculty God endowed me to use in this pursuit.

Instead of worrying about labels, I think we need to refresh this one. Both in the church and out of it, women need to be lifted up, not torn down, by men. This includes the way we joke, the expectations we have of each other, the roles we assign as 'masculine' and 'feminine,' and the way we cut down other men with feminine language. Most recognize the moral taboo of using the "N" word. Maybe we need to recheck our desensitivity when using "girly" or "sissy" or "womanly" when referring to men who may not like Ultimate Fighting and may prefer, like older forms of masculinity, poetry to blood.

Yet, I'm also a masculinist. I don't like to see men put into boxes that don't fit them. Just as much damage is done to men in this area as is being done to women. We need to stand in the gap and let the Messiah be the model that defines us all. We need to promote a healthy masculinity without slapping on end-of-argument adjectives, like "Biblical." That's like just another way of saying, "I'm right and you can't read." When our arguing gets to that point, we should pause and wonder if we've been engaging in an ungodly monologue.

I find it typical, yet odd, how many people, when they hear that women should be given full equal status to men, not just in the workplace, but everywhere else (including our own consciousness), assume this is degrading to men. Or, on the other hand, they think it's degrading to those women who have suffered under the hand of masculinity and have lived to tell about it? Were their scars in vain? Let's not hold onto a false martydom (sometimes called 'tradition') in the name of enslaving future people.

I believe neither women should be above men nor men above women. We must stop the reactionary tendency to make one gender better than another. And in that, maybe we need a new word, an idea that even those 'in the know' have failed to promote as a natural way forward. Perhaps we need a concept that allows for men and women to stand shoulder to shoulder, each bringing their various gifts.

Eden painted a picture of it, a picture the Messiah redeemed. And once again, the Scripture could be the cultural torch-bearer in the unfolding of this century. The 21st century may be touted the "century for women." But we can do better than to wait for the 22nd century to figure out that was a bad idea. We'd be better off jumping beyond the cutting edge and claim the 21st century for both genders working together. That's our future hope; a creedo to start in our homes and communities and let it trickle into the world.

But we need a word for it....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

America is Babylon--a brief review of Rob Bell and Don Golden's new book

This morning I finished an advanced copy of Rob Bell and Don Golden's new book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile.

You can read it in a couple of ours. It's quick and simple. The cover is the box-game we played in elementary school. Based on the retro-hip cover, I had no idea what to expect inside.

Let me say up front that I know Bell has helped a lot of people. He has many, many fans, largely emergent culture folks and new believers. He inspires. His Nooma videos are ubiquitous. And while I see his bio lists him as founding pastor of Mars Hill (is that past tense? Or is he still a pastor?), he's well connected with the mega-church. For my own part, I've seen probably two Nooma videos, listened to three sermons and only now have read one book. He's a peer and I am not his target audience. So while the people we influence overlap, we don't spend much time influencing each other (yet).

I don't know Don Golden. Maybe one day.

I read this book because I know many I converse with will be asking me questions about it. Better get a head-start. I still need to read The Shack for the same reason (see my wife's review of The Shack).

The exile Christians are in, says the book, is an exile to an empire. And the authors are calling those who follow Jesus to find a way out. Jesus wants to save us from it. This empire is America and Western cultural and the ease by which we get our fundamental needs and oppress others. The authors take 2/3 of the book to lead us to the doorstep of this thesis.

I don't know how much of this book is Bell and how much is Golden. I've seen marketing where a lesser-known will get some input from a well-known and then the book gets made with the well-known, who contributed less, as the lead name. It happens all the time in publishing (just to give you an insider's heads-up). This book could be an exception where both contributed equally.

The book targets conservative evangelicals who equate America with the Kingdom of God and have never challenged the inconsistency of that. Though this topic has grown quite common, Bell and Golden give it a fresh spin.

Tracing through the Old Testament, the authors show how empire wrecks people. It oppresses the poor. It becomes, in a sense, it's own god. From the Fall to Babel to Egypt to Sinai to Jerusalem to Babylon to Jerusalem again to Roman occupation. And in every place, God is calling his people to help the poor and refuse to be an empire. An empire, in essence, is 'anti-kingdom.'

Much of this book I agree with: the reason humans are made, the Jewish story, the exiling of the Jewish people, the point of the commandments, the demise of proud kings, the coming of Jesus, the end of the whole story in a New Earth, the problem of oppression, human conquest, our ugly pathway toward deity. Speaking on the road, I've had folks from time to time approach me informing me that some of the things I share sound like Bell. It's usually a compliment... and the coincidence I chalk up to the Holy Spirit who shines the light of truth from multiple voices for such a time as this.

The authors make tough concepts simpler. There are phrases in this book all along the way that are helpful and good for the uninformed believer to jump in and see the story of Scripture, particularly the Hebrew Scriptures which are easily neglected in conservative evangelicalism. That's not to say evangelicals do not grab truth from the Hebrew Scriptures; rather, they do so usually only to fit it into a disconnected apostolic (New Testament) paradigm.

I appreciate how the authors draw in Jewish thought in the majority of this book and how they spotlight what it means to help the oppressed and repair the world.

Several aspects of this book were nagging and there's no good writing a review that is all clouds and halos.

The writing style is simple (I can't remember reading words over three syllables) and the paragraph style choppy. If you are looking to improve your writing, a book like this one does not help. It relies on rhetorical devices rather than classic structure. From early pages, I thought I was reading Gene Edwards, who makes regular paragraphs out of single sentences, phrases, and even fragmented words. This is all visual effect. It holds the readers hand to aid him in how to pause in the reading.

I tried this writing style once in creative writing class in college. My teacher wrote on my paper: "Tell the story; don't rely on devices." Ouch.

Considering the era we live in, these devices may say more about the modern reader than it does about these authors.

The authors sometimes make too much of symbolism and metaphor, on occasions stretching it potentially beyond the reach of Scripture. One thing that makes me cautious is how neat and tidy all these symbols and metaphors are. If you don't have a knowledge of Scripture and other point of view, you'll find their approach tight and leading you to think only way on some of these things.

The authors follow New Exodus theology. From the best I can make of it, it is the way God is always calling his people out from empire into his kingdom, showing the world what he's like all along the way. The authors demonstrate this well, but once we get to the Messianic Scriptures (the New Testament), the authors hold the view that the Jews no longer have a special place in God's redemptive history. They don't say this explicitly. They just say Jews and Gentiles now form a 'new humanity.' I wanted to see what happened to the Jews in this paradigm.

I also wanted to see what kind of self-rule the authors would set up if we did follow the principle. It's not enough to leave Egypt. You must also establish a new society.

They mention how gentiles were excluded from the Temple, but I'm guessing this is the second temple (and they exclude Jewish history that built the second temple and how God helped the Jews through that time). Jesus criticized the Jews for not allowing all the nations into the temple. So some of the new covenant and the new humanity that the authors speak of was already available in the Hebrew Scriptures. Items like these continues to fertilize the popular idea that the New Testament replaces the Old rather than continues the same story along the same trajectory. I have a hard time saying Jesus reach was broader than Jehovah's... I mean, salvation has come through the Jews, and Jesus, just like Jehovah, called everyone in to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus came as an unfolding part of that story, spilling Jewish blood to save the world. I don't see a changed message but a more complete one.

Also, the authors' view of Revelation is not an end-times view held by many conservative evangelicals. They interpret it as an event that has already happened to Christians under Roman persecution. This may bother some. Not me.

One chapter in the book, which is the real point of the book, is how America is empire not too distant from Babylon. The book turns polemic with Bell's statistical tidal wave about how much America has to the rest of the world and how little we do to alleviate suffering. None of this is new. People have been researching and informing us of this for years and years. I get weary of the statistics, in part, because they can pure rhetoric when removed from their context. American's make more money but American's also spend more money on daily needs. We can help AIDS in Africa, but what do we do to help our own communities? What is more, Americans outgive the rest of the world in relief efforts, something few if any empires have done unless they owned the property themselves. I knew people who make, in world's standards, quite a bit of money, but are constantly living on the edge of feeding their family and giving them a good education, paying insurances, taxes, and on and on. One day our leaders may discover that many are not motivated by statistical rhetoric as much as we are motivated by example, watching needs be met and being invited to help those needs. This is where Shane Claiborne outshines most evangelical spokespeople on this issue.

If you're looking for an evangelical motivation to help the oppressed and how it is done, read Shane. If you want a theology of Scripture about how God reaches the oppressed and how quickly we fall when we lose dependence on him (and if you haven't read the Bible yourself and found this to be true), then grab Bell and Golden's book and give it a good run through. Then, be excited to read your Bible with fresh eyes.

And if you want to see how the church has done this through the centuries, even in the American empire, step outside of modern evangelicalism a bit and look around. The Quakers are a good start. Let's not make the mistake that evangelicalism is THE church, though many evangelicals have risen to the occassion from time to time (we can thank our fundamentalist roots for segregating us from culture and from relief efforts that align us too closely with those preaching the 'social gospel'). Bell and Golden are trying to uproot, in a good way, some of those roots.

I'm troubled when the authors oversimplify problems, like saying the only reason we are in the middle-east is for oil. Sometimes they sound like a political sound-byte in these pages (well, a manifesto is supposed to be political, so maybe that's why it sounds political! :)). It feels more emotional and uninformed than a real education into what is really going on. No one will doubt that America has empire-like attributes in recent years, but it has been unlike most empires in world history. This isn't noted much, if at all. And they don't separate out the American people from poor leadership (just like we shouldn't curse all the Jews because a few rotten Jewish leaders crucified Jesus). We need less head-wagging and finger-pointing. There seems to be two sides among evangelicals today: those who fly the American flag as they wave their Bible and those who are suspicious of America because, as a country, we've done some damage. I'd like to see more tension between the two as builders of God's Kingdom but also citizenry with a voice in a democratic republic.

Oversimplifying issues may cause us to oversimplify solutions and leave many enthusiastic but unempowered.

The footnotes are the place the authors get casual. This kind of casualness in writing is growing more popular but it feels like another modern device. Do these authors really want to be that close of a friend to me as a reader? If so, why not give an email address so we can do that lunch? I would have liked to see the writing style here offer an invitation for real connection.

A final point is that Bell and Golden say you cannot market or make a trend out of an authentic kingdom life. But it seems that this is what's happening. This will be a trend and that's probably something that cannot be avoided. That these men have a vehicle of a mega-church to sell books furthers the illustration (and publishers like mega-pastors writing books because the first 10,000 sales are a given... and then word spreads).

So while I want to believe the church can't be marketed, I would rather hear it more from those who aren't in the larger evangelical system. It's too convenient. I want to hear grass-roots creatives who do things in quiet places among quiet conversations and away from the dazzling lights.

That's why I recommend reading grass-roots creatives than evangelical superstars. And, I have a hunch that these authors would be glad a book like this motivated you to do the same (they do quote Anne Lamott!).

Now that I've finished the book, I still don't understand the cover...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 16 of 16)

Summary and Conclusion

We have looked with fresh eyes at this passage in Ephesians 5, conclusions I’m still learning to understand. Yet at this point in my journey, I notice the profound desire of God’s heart for all followers of the Messiah to submit one to another, even in marriage. I know it’s daring and often culturally unacceptable, especially my evangelical tradition. And I know it takes courage.

Yet Paul shows us what this mutual submission looks like. Using the metaphor of the head and body, Paul paints for us a picture that is easily overlooked with a dead metaphor. In that picture we see the Messiah as the Savior of life for the body of the church. The wife is to submit to that kind of life in vulnerability. The husband is also to offer his life, seen through vivid pictures of the Savior’s love to the church in love, washing our feet, laying down his life, submitting to the cross to bear our sin. The husband offers his life in the everyday things, even to the point of death, so that his wife may flourish. In so doing, both husband and wife ultimately receive life and guidance as one flesh from their spiritual authority and mediator, Jesus Christ.

The mystery of submission in marriage is one with continual deferment to one another, in humility and respect and honor and love. Neither the husband is independent of his wife nor the wife of her husband (1 Cor 11:11). The Messiah is their ultimate fountain of life and goodness. And as they draw on him, out of reverence for him, they submit to one another. I’m learning more every day how to press into this mystery and how broad love goes. This mystery is revealed in Jesus, and we are invited to walk into it.

Thanks for your patience in reading this series. All comments welcome!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 15 of 16)

Love and Respect

The last verse in our section, verse 33, reads like this, However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Many popular marriage lecturers capitalize on this verse. They even say that a woman’s greatest need is “love” and a man’s greatest need is “respect.” And they quote this verse and call these gender “needs” a Biblical idea.

But look at the verse. Does it say this is a man’s need or a woman’s need? No, Paul is admonishing them to love and to respect. We ask, “Why does Paul say this?” It is an important question, but we must be careful our answer is consistent with Scripture. Some believe Paul says it because this is how men and women are wired. But the implications of that explanation are not justified in the context. [1]

I believe the context is telling us that this final verse on marriage is a summary verse. It includes both the wives and the husbands together. And the verses that follow go into instructions for children and parenting.

When a woman submits, it is respectful (but that doesn’t mean it lacks love). And when a man submits, it is loving (but that doesn’t mean it lacks respect). I think this verse, like those before it, shows us descriptions of submission, though not an exhaustive list.

Paul might even be highlighting the very struggle of Ephesian husbands and wives. When this letter was read, I can imagine the inner struggle and the gasps in the assembly as they saw how deeply sacrificial the life of God goes:

“Respect my husband?” the wives say. “I’m the spiritually astute one and the goddess Artemis says so! I can’t give that up! I’m good at going behind backs and manipulating to get my way! I might look submissive on the outside, but I’m stubborn on the inside.”

“Love my wife? Are you kidding?” the husbands say. “I own her! I can’t lay down my life. That degrades my status and undermines my authoritative position in the home. If I lay my life down, who will take care of her? Only a commander can; not a dying savior.”

Yet we cannot dance around Paul’s words. He’s clear and consistent with the gospel of Jesus our Messiah. We stand on equal footing in marriage, under one authority, in the Kingdom of God. And out of that we submit to one another with love and respect out of reference for Jesus, our Savior and King.

I will offer some concluding remarks in the final post, coming next.

[1] Love is a human need, not just a womanly need. One simple example will suffice: When Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” it wasn’t just women’s needs for love that he died for. All humans need connection to him and to each other. All humans need love. All humans are bankrupt without it and it is one of the grandest themes in Scripture (cf. 1 Cor 13 which is written for men and women) and is even included in Ephesians 5 prior to our section (see vs. 13-15.) To say “love” is only a womanly need grossly misses the point.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 14 of 16)

Verse 32 reads, This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Regardless of how we interpret this, it must fit into the message of “submit to one another” that we’ve seen already. Some believe Paul refers to the purpose of marriage as being, from the beginning, a picture of Christ and the church. I am reluctant to accept that based on these reasons:

1) Marriage was given before the Fall where God’s initial intention was not to establish an assembly of people apart from the world. All the world loved him.

2) If church is an “assembly of believers” in an informal sense (which I believe it is with qualification) then even Adam and Eve were an assembly before the Fall. Their marriage wouldn’t be needed to represent their relationship with God, since they already had a relationship with God.

3) God did not say “man was alone” because he was thinking that Messiah needed more people in his church. “Man was alone” because man was actually alone and needed a companion. This parallel doesn’t work with the Messiah as he wasn’t alone and in need of a companion. The Holy Trinity is infinite companionship already.

4) Marriage is a good thing in itself. That it is a parallel picture of Christ and the church does not negate that marriage is intrinsically good and ordained by God for its own sake.

I think Paul is getting at something else here. I think he is getting at the mystery of marriage as well as the mystery of the church. Both are born in the heart and mind of a God who loves. That humans have a union of one flesh is a mystery that God revealed in Eve. That God loves rebel humans and unites them with himself through the Jewish people is also a mystery that God revealed in the Messiah. In Scripture, mystery doesn’t usually mean “something difficult to understand.” It usually carries a definition of “something we didn’t know about, but now we do.” If we said “revealed secret,” in place of “mystery,” we’ll be close to its meaning. Both the marriage of husband and wife and the marriage of Messiah and the church are mysteries or revealed secrets.

The way marriage points to Christ and the church, as far as I see it, is that humans were made for communion, just as God exists in communion within the Trinity. Community among humans is one way we are made in God’s image. Perhaps Paul highlights the mystery of Christ and the church, beyond the mystery of marriage, because God‘s purposes of pure love in marriage is being redeemed again through the Messiah, his work, and his resurrected life.

Notice, just like with the wives, no mention is given to the “roles” of the husband. He is to lay his life down (though elsewhere in Scripture the woman is to do the same, for the greatest love is to lay your life down for your friends—John 15:13). No mention of authority is given or protecting and providing roles. Only serving, deferment, and love. Based on what I read in this passage, it is quite unclear to me what a husband is “in charge of” in marriage. What I see is that he is to ensure his wife is treated supremely by him, even if it means losing his own head. When the wife submits to the husbands love, the mutual vulnerability paints the only portrait God gave us of what the Trinity is like. Yet in the church today, much energy is placed on the need for “authority” for a marriage to work. Paul, however, emphasizes without confusion or debate that the recipe for a well-ordered marriage is love. We would do well to explore joyfully all the implications of love, of which there is much evidence than to preclude that reward with a culturally-driven need to emphasize “authority” of which there is little evidence.

Next up: a look at the currently popular passage on "love and respect."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 13 of 16)

The Husband's Body

Verse 28-31, In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, people have never hated their own bodies, but they feed and care for them, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."

See how Paul does not mince words over what husbandly submission looks like! Messiah submitted himself to the mission, to the cross, to our sin, to our livelihood. He washed our feet. He calls us siblings and says that our Father is his Father. He came down to bring us up, to raise us to the very highest place of humanity.

Notice what Paul says next by playing on the word “body.” He said husbands are to love their wives as they love their own bodies, echoing the second commandment of loving neighbor as oneself. Again, this submission runs deep in the home. Paul speaks of the husband’s literal body, and then turns it into the larger metaphor of the church body, meaning the assembly of believers.

When talking to wives, Paul accentuated the “head.” Talking to husbands, he accentuates the “body.” But, again, this isn’t “authority” over the body, but giving life to the body. The husband gives life to his wife by loving her as his own body, serving her, not demanding sex to meet his own needs, not throwing his weight around, not belittling, not the boss. Rather, he is gentle, kind, loving, peaceful, looking out for her interests (read Gal 5:22-23—the fruit of the Spirit). This gives life. Christ does the same with the church, his “body.” While the parallel of the wife and the church are not “exact,” it is close enough. Metaphors can never be exact. Jesus is the vine means Jesus is our source of life, but if the metaphor were exact then Jesus would be green and twiggy, too.

Continuing the discussion, Paul turns to the very first marriage in Scripture: Adam and Eve. He quotes Genesis 2:24 and tells us that the man’s body and the woman’s body are seen as “one flesh.” [1] This ancient passage informs Paul’s idea that a husband is to love his wife as he loves his own body. It is grounded in the Garden of Eden before the Fall when the unbroken way was all perfect submission as “one flesh.” One flesh is one that cannot be divided. One flesh is harmonious. One flesh is a metaphor of not knowing where one ends and the other begins. One flesh is one entity, not two entities lording over the other, not one side of the flesh controlling the other. Jesus said that no one should put asunder what God has put together (Matt 19:5-6). Yet asunder is what happens when one spouse is rendered less important than the other.
The next phrase in this section seems a bit out of place at first.

In my next post, we'll look at the "profound mystery."

[1] Note that in the story of Creation and the Fall in Genesis 1-3 that there is no mention of the man being in “authority” over the women until God declares judgment on them. If “authority” over the woman was always part of the design for man, then it wouldn’t be declared a judgment. Is Paul noting that Messiah has undone this judgment like he has undone the judgment of death? Is he following Jesus tradition that we ought to look to the Garden of Eden for our model of marriage? (Mark 10:1-12)

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 12 of 16)

The Work of Messiah

Verse 26-27, …To make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

This is the work of Jesus on the cross. Yet I’ve heard respected pastors use this section as a husband’s responsibility in marriage. Assuming “head” means “authority” they will say it is the husband’s job to sanctify or make his wife holy, almost as a priestly representative mediating between God and wife.

This explanation is very difficult to believe for this one reason alone: If the wife is part of the church, then she is already washed by Jesus. She doesn’t need to be washed by her husband too. Is Paul describing for the one and only time in Scripture that women particularly need a “double-washing”? If it is the husband’s job to purify his bride then

1) unmarried women are less pure because they have no husband to do this, or

2) unmarried women are more pure because Christ is their direct purifier and isn’t interrupted by a fallen human husband, and

3) it renders the atonement of Christ as suspiciously lacking in thorough effectiveness.

Take your pick. None of those options make any sense when compared to the rest of Scripture. We don’t want to twist our understanding of Redemption out of motivation to retain our cultural rules about marriage.

Some will note that marriage does sharpen us, help us overcome our defects of character. It has often been said that marriage is a great sanctifier! No doubt this is true, and even more true with children! But it goes both ways. A woman who walks with Jesus will sharpen her husband as much as a husband who walks with Jesus will sharpen his wife. And we must do away with any idea about a husband having a priestly office in the home. There is only one mediator between God and humans, Jesus the Messiah (1 Tim 2:5).

It is clearest to me to read this description of the Messiah’s work in verses 26-27 as showing how far he will go in his love for us. It is the preeminent example for husbands in loving their wives. It’s the deepest submission to constantly lay down one’s life.

The next verses continue this idea of submitting one’s life in love.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Free iPods at University

The New York times published this piece yesterday: "Welcome, Freshman. Haven an iPod."

Apparently, student cell phones and laptop computers aren't enough of a distraction. They need iPods, too, to satiate the endless consumer appetite to be entertained. I still believe music is the drug of choice in the West. And in a place, like University, which traditionally is for soul-building and a retreat from life's distractions to gain knowledge and wisdom, this article is saddening. More souls in need of Soulation....

The article is worth your reflection. For instance, see this paragraph:

“When it gets a little boring, I might pull it out,” acknowledged Naomi J. Pugh, a first-year student at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., referring to her new iPod Touch, which can connect to the Internet over a campus wireless network. She speculated that professors might try harder to make classes interesting if they were competing with the devices.
I've been informed that Naomi's comment was made in jest and removed from it's original context for the sake of the author's rhetorically driving the point (a common problem of dishonest journalism akin to the vice he denounces). That Naimi sounds like many typical freshman is unfortunate. Many students have developed the habit of believing that information must be entertainment. Yet so often knowledge will not come in entertaining ways. Making a class more 'interesting' should not be a requirement for students to learn what it means to lead (not consume) in the 21st century. It would serve us to cultivate learning, even from boring professors, because this is what a virtuous, flourishing, appropriately human person does. These are the the kinds of students who grow up to make a difference.

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 11 of 16)

Masculine culture and love

Love and sacrifice give life. The metaphor stretches the text too much for me if “head” is “authority.” A true “authority” must always protect himself, seal up the vulnerable cracks, put up the best defenses, and refrain from showing any weakness. It would be foolish for the commander to spend his time serving the troops when he should be strategizing against the enemy. We don’t put the President on the front line in battle; instead we surround him with secret service. Paul is saying the honorable head must lay down his life, to offer life to his bride, just as Messiah offered his life for the church. He emphasizes more than anything else that love, not authority or leadership, is the recipe of a healthy marriage.

The Messiah could lay his life down because there was a Commander overseeing the whole affair, his Father. And this same freedom to lay our lives down is available to husbands, for this Commander is still at the helm of this world. Jesus’ work as “Savior,” not Lord, is the analogy for the husband.

As I’ve taken time to meditate on these passages, the pieces start coming together for me on what the Kingdom of God looks like when lived out.

Then suddenly in verse 26, Paul paints a portrait of what the Savior’s love looks like by explaining what the Messiah did for the church.

We'll start looking at what Messiah did and how this relates to the husband... coming next.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 10 of 16)

Masculine culture

Men jab at each other, “Who wears the pants in your family?” Or “Get your wife under control?” Or they often think to themselves, “I don’t want to look weak in front of the other guys!” Once when I was renting a trailer, I stopped by the depot to pick it up. The gruff and greasy owner of the shop sent his dolled up girlfriend out to get my information. In her tight shirt and blonde hair, she played ditzy which was what her boyfriend wanted. Then back in the shop, the owner turned to his daughters (I presumed) in their late teens hanging around a mechanics shop, and asked them if they wanted to go with me. Trying to avoid conflict with an aggressive man, I simply said that I was traveling with my wife. He quipped back, “Well, some guys can handle two girls and some can only handle one.”

These are the games many men play, fronting a pagan view of masculinity, surrounding themselves with women who will also play the game, demeaning women and showing their prowess over other men. Be on the lookout. This view of manhood is everywhere today in varying degrees. I once had a Christian leader tell me I need to be a man by keeping my wife in line! If you knew my wife and our marriage, you would see how this man was threatened by a competent woman treated fully human. This attitude isn’t the kind that submits one’s life. This isn’t the kind that loves. This view sees the love of the Messiah as “weak,” “sissy,” or “feminine.” [1]

When Jonalyn and I married, our friend, Jerry Root, shared with us an idea that we recited for our marriage vows. He called it “the high courtesy of heaven.” The theme throughout Scripture of this high courtesy is “giving my life for yours.” More than a willingness to put my life on the line when someone threatens my wife, it is learning to die daily. It is putting your own will aside. It is turning down one more Jeep accessory so my wife can hire someone to help clean the house before guests arrive. Giving my life for hers is my finding ways to serve her, like doing dishes, making the bed, vacuuming the house, paying the bills, so she is freed to use her skills and enjoy her hobbies too. It is organizing the office when I would rather leave it a mess—because I know it is what makes life less stressful for her. It is not complaining about the meals or requiring the meals suit the husband. Holding doors and pulling out chairs for women was born out of giving your life for someone else, rendering them of greater importance, treating them like royalty. The one who brings home the bacon must also be willing to cook it.

Today men often serve women so it will keep the peace or so that the woman will serve them in return. But that’s not love. The perpetual theme in the Bible is esteeming others more important than self (Phil 2:3-4) and to be willing “servants” to one another (Gal 5:13). And this nature of love slices both ways throughout the Scripture, only in this passage it is especially highlighted for husbands. If we have a difficult time imagining husbands loving in this way, submitting in this way, perhaps we need to consider with the Ephesians how much of the culture is still in us when it comes to submitting to one another in the church.

In the next post, I'll finish with observations on verse 25, with masculinity, the Messiah, and the nature of love.

[1] I hate how we use the words “masculine” and “feminine” as insults on one hand and as adjectives for activities and objects on the other. When someone says, “That guy is feminine,” it insults both the guy and all women everywhere. The same goes for describing things as “masculine.” These are two words we should hold with honor. They describe how a male and female bear the image of God together and reveal His qualities.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 9 of 16)

Details for Husbands

Paul turns from the wives and launches into details for husbands.

Verse 25 says, Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...

Remember when I mentioned earlier that the culture was strongly patriarchal and that women were largely inferior to men across the Mediterranean world? Now imagine you are a man in that kind of culture. You have no problem with “submitting one to another,” especially if it is other men. But is Paul announcing here that you are supposed to submit to women in the church (v. 21)? That’s raises eyebrows in that culture and in his. [1] But this is what Paul is saying as he pushes the point to husbands. Even submit to the one you’re closest to, your wife—the one who knows your secrets and your vulnerabilities.

Only when I saw this passage as a whole did I begin to see that Paul’s admonition for husbands to love is also a form of submission. It’s what submission looks like in the Christian community. One of the struggles I had to overcome was to stop thinking Bible-versely and begin thinking Biblically. Bible verses are good but usually interrupt context and interfere with the meaning of the author. Thinking Biblically is stepping back and seeing the larger picture, seeing the writer’s words but only in light of his many sentences.

Don’t forget Paul’s thesis statement for this section, “Submit to one another out of reference for Christ.” He’s now going to tell the husbands what submission looks like for them in marriage. “Love your wives.” That’s the bombshell. Love your wives; will your wives’ good; seek to bring them life.

In Paul’s day, men were not expected to love their wives. They married them, viewed them as property, and used them for pleasure and procreation. Demosthenes of Greece put it this way, “Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for daily attendance upon our person, wives to bear us legitimate children and be our faithful housekeepers.” [2] Women were not equal to men in the Greco-Roman world. Even Aristotle put them as opposite to man as darkness is to light. But what kind of love is this that Jesus the Messiah brings to his followers in marriage? Romantic love? Flowers and candy? Holidays at the beach? No, he uses the deepest metaphor for love that Paul has in his tool bag, “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

What did the Son of God do for the church? Read Philippians 2. It started when he submitted freely of himself (there’s that idea again!) and became a servant in human form as the Messiah. And He vulnerably let himself be misunderstood everyday and ultimately destroyed by evil men. This is love.

Paul conjures up this image in the minds of husbands in Ephesus. Give your lives up. Submit freely of yourself. Be willing to be misunderstood and even wrongly treated. Give up your life for her, your reputation for her, your control of her. Think of the Messiah. Give her space to choose, to grow, to flourish. This is all included in giving up your life. It ran against the grain of the way these men were brought up from boyhood—strength, domination, control, power. [3]

We'll continue our look at verse 25 in the next post....

[1] I find it humorous when people say that today’s culture doesn’t like the idea of “submission” (as in obedience) and so they resist what Paul is saying. The irony is that yesterday’s culture did like submission (as in obedience) and Paul is working at dragging them out of it. If it was otherwise, Paul would say, “I commend you, church in Ephesians, for your expertly work on wifely submission (as in obedience), I see I don’t have to articulate it to you!”

[2] Demosthenes, “Against Neaera,” in The Orations, p. 9.

[3] As I analyze some men’s movements today (what I call the “new masculinity”) it sometimes reminds me—often in subtle ways—of those pagan cultures now resurfacing in the name of Jesus.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 8 of 16)

What is not here

Let me make a special observation about what is not in this Ephesians 5 instruction to women.

There is no mention of “roles” of wives nor reference to how wives are “wired.” Nothing about staying home with children or keeping house. No mention of a need for spiritual guidance for wives. No mention of decisions that women cannot handle or make. Not even a mention of weakness like we find mentioned elsewhere.[1]

We only find an attitude of humble submission to a life-giving head. If “head” could possibly mean “authority,” I find no notion of what that means in Paul’s view of marriage of a husband with authority. What are women prohibited from doing that would require a husband to keep her in check? Does the husband trump everything? Is the woman to stay at home? Or work out of the home? What about overseeing finances? Does care-giving the children fall more on the mother than the father? Is she unable to share truth from Scripture? What if there is disagreement? What prevails? The husband? Or their best individual understandings based on Scripture and the Spirit? What exactly are the wives not permitted to do or oversee in this text? There are no specifics; specifics show up when theologians and writers try to make these simple verses practical. The mystery of submission goes deep. We would do well to stay our focus. We step out of bounds, import our modern cultural lenses when put things in the Scripture that are not being said. [2]

For much of my life, I was told the Bible is the authority and the Bible assigns “roles” to men and women. Yet many today uphold the Bible as the authority but tack on what Jesus referred to as “traditions.” We must re-examine ourselves, our intentions, our thoughts. We may find sociological studies supporting our views, but let's not overlay them on God's word. Modern studies, unlike the Bible, usually come with expiration dates.

In summary of the details to wives, it is clear to me that to read “head” as “authority” is to read too much into the text, especially with Paul’s understanding of “submission to one another” and his understanding of “savior.” The section on what submission looks like for a wife in marriage is short, filled with metaphors of life and gives us pictures consistent with the meanings of Paul’s original thesis: “submit to one another.”

[1] 1 Peter 3:7: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. For more, see Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, page 109-113.

[2] Though some will find these examples bizarre, try generating some of your own examples and what you have seen imposed on women that are in the name of “submission” but are not in the text. I will not mention any titles, but there are numerous popular books today that bring in pop-psychology at this point, read into the text, share some anecdotal stories, interview statistics that are culturally laden, and then say this is what Scripture is teaching. As an apologist defending the faith, one of the pitfalls I try to be careful of—though am never immune—is importing assumptions in the text that have their origin in other places.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

What do you think? Leading the new evangelical voter...

The headlines today are of McCain and Obama with Rick Warren at Saddleback in Orange County. I'm looking for opinion on the statement made below that jumped off the page at me.

The quotation below comes from this article.

'Rick Warren is at the forefront of a kind of younger generation of evangelical Protestant leaders who want to have a Christian public presence in the culture, but who are less tied to the Republican politics of their predecessors,' said Andrew Walsh, the associate director of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, in Hartford. 'They're values-oriented guys, but less convinced that either their own principles or the best politics lies in a total commitment to the Republican Party.'

No doubt that younger evangelical voter is less Republican and more 'values-oriented.' I am (registered Independent). And I find this to be the general pulse of my generation and younger.

But is Rick Warren at the 'forefront'? Does my generation and younger look to him as a leader in this? Or is he more akin to our parents' generation?

What do you think?

The Mystery of Submission - Ephesians 5 (part 7 of 16)

A Look at the Head (cont.)

Now apart from the meaning of “head,” Paul is comparing marriage to that of Messiah and the church. This is why wives should submit. Let’s look at this verse through the comparison Paul is making. How does the church submit to the Messiah, her head? When we understand this, we will have a better picture of what submission for a wife looks like.

Paul highlighting a certain relationship. Just saying “Christ is the head of the church” leaves the word “head” unclear. But Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. He adds one of the titles of the Messiah on the end of the phrase. He doesn’t say, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the mediator.” Nor does he say, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the master.” He calls the Messiah those titles in other places, so the concepts are available to him.

Rather, Paul says, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.”[1] Savior is not an “authority” position. It is the position of the deliverer, the one who rescues, the one who gives his life as a ransom for many. A savior may be a soldier in the field who comes to rescue you, but he isn’t your superior.[2] It is the Savior who gives life by giving his life. Because Christ is the “Savior,” this informs more accurately the honor of the “head.” “Submit to one another” and then “wives to husbands” does not carry the idea of under authority, but under humility.[3]

This meaning is further allowed since Paul never commands wives to “obey” their husbands. In the context that follows, children “obey” (Eph 6:1) and slaves “obey” (Eph 6:5) but wives are neither to be treated like children nor like slaves. Practically speaking, when a husband views his wife as inferior, as someone to do chores, wear certain clothes, and stay out of financial control, he’s treating her as a child. When he demands obedience, that’s parental behavior, not husbandly behavior.

Or when he expects her to wait on him, to care for all his needs, to exist to serve him, to do the menial jobs as he does the important ones, that is treating her as a slave. When he believes cooking or cleaning or work around the house is beneath him, that’s masterly behavior, not husbandly behavior.

Paul is saying wives are to submit to the vulnerability of the husband, the life symbolically poured out for her in Adam (when God took from his side to make Woman) as well as the vulnerability of giving himself in the day to day. This isn’t a matter of obedience to authority. It isn’t a matter of creating “order” in the home. No, it is a receiving of life and goodness, not to be trampled, gossiped about over tea, or nagged. Without submission, wives cannot receive their husband’s vulnerability.

This is exactly how each person comes to the Savior, receiving his life in humility and submitting to his vulnerable atonement. The Messiah doesn’t demand we be atoned.[4] We just lose it if we fail to take it as the fountain of life itself. People who do not understand the texture of love will miss the beauty of this dance.

Notice the word-play of “savior” with “submission” and “head.” Let the text inform the meaning. This is not a passage on who is in charge. This is a passage on who is in love.

If we live in the metaphor we find that husbands are to create a life-giving environment for the woman to thrive. As the Savior gives live to the church, his body, so a husband ought to give life to his bride. In this environment, a woman freely submits of herself in everything. [5]

This use of “Savior” foreshadows what Paul will illustrate to husbands.

The next post will highlight what is NOT in these verses on submission that are often inserted.

[1] Even strong subordinationists will divide the characteristics of Jesus and assign them to the gender: they say women should be like Jesus in their submission and men should be like Jesus in their lordship. While I disagree with these distinctions, I only put this out to show that everyone agrees it is far to separate out the characteristics of the Messiah.

[2] I’m not saying Jesus is not superior to the church. What I am saying is that Paul is not highlighting here that aspect of the Messiah. He’s highlighting the aspect that is an analogy to husbands and wives.

[3] Note that Paul is using the same phrase as he used with another church in Colossians in 1:17-18—which also does not mean “authority.” Paul is telling the same thing to the Ephesians. To say “head” means “authority” here is to swim upstream against the context and Paul’s use of this phrase elsewhere.

[4] Some theological positions on “election” say he does demand certain persons to be atoned. I find this view inconsistent with the whole of Scripture and supplanting “election” from the Jewish people.

[5] Because the question inevitably comes up, I don’t think Paul is teaching here that a woman submits to abuses. If “head” carries the meanings of honor, we can see that a woman can only submit when a husband is acting honorably, as the life-giving lover that he is designed to be.