Posted on Monday, June 03, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
Last week I had the pleasure of reading New Testament Scholar, Paula Gooder’s responsible work of historical imagination, Phoebe: A Story. In this historical fiction, Romans 16 comes alive. It begins with the last words of the letter to the Romans, “…to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.” Phoebe is anxiously trying to get a feel of the response, as Stachys---whom you may recognize from Paul’s greetings in 16:9---is finishing his reading of the letter aloud to a gathering of people from the Roman house churches.
 
The reader hadn’t so much read the letter as performed it---his voice thundering in the opening paragraphs, thoughtful and careful in the middle, before dropping to a gentle, careful greeting at the end. As she awaited the Roman’s response, Phoebe’s anxiety grew and grew. In Corinth, Paul’s letters did not---to put it mildly---meet with universal acclaim. The receipt of a letter from Paul usually led to what the gentle and generous Gaius euphemistically termed a time of ‘vibrant discussion’; a ‘discussion’ that often ended when one group or another walked out and refused to return. So Phoebe had, unconsciously, held her breath as she waited to discover what form the reaction would take. She had prepared herself for almost anything, except for this: a deep silence. The quiet was such that the chirping of the cicadas felt stridently intrusive.
 
What does happen next? Paula Gooder combines biblical scholarship with historical imagination to help us enter that world, particularly through envisioning the life of Phoebe. In this, she weaves a story of how Phoebe ended up being a patron, what her life was like before she became a believer, the reasons she agrees to make this trip to Rome to deliver Paul’s epistle, how she aims to answer the questions the Roman Christians have about the letter, the time that she spends in Rome, the relationships she builds, and where she is going next. It is an excellent story. I don’t want to give away any of these details so that any interested readers can discover them turning the page as I did. But here are a few things I loved about the book:
 
Phoebe’s status in the church is often either downplayed or lionized. Gooder makes her a person again---one who is dealing with her sinful past and struggling with boldness in her faith, while also equipped to answer theological questions about Paul’s teaching. I love her character development throughout the book, and her relatability for any Christian striving to live a life of faith and obedience.
  • One of my favorite things about this book is the storytelling amongst the historical and created characters. As they are faced with decisions and challenges, or just in the mood for some storytelling, the characters pass down the traditions of the faith---the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, as well as stories about them. We will recognize these conversations, as we have these teachings and stories in the pages of Scripture. But in the first century, they needed to be handed down. And so we see how this happened in Gooder’s book. We see that all of these Christians were tradents to the faith, active traditioners, often informally handing down the stories and teachings so familiar to us as they live life. It was really encouraging to me, as we are still called to this active traditioning in the Christian life today. 
  • The characters are great, from the tension between Junia and Phoebe; Aquilla’s sense of humor and banter with his wife; the wise, hard-working Stachy’s as a freed slave and scribe; and the complexity of Herodion’s introversion and brashness; to the created characters like Felix, Titus, and “Bibi.” Felix is my favorite. 
  • The carefulness of Gooder’s historical imagination. She really does have a great imagination, but it is informed by her extensive research on the geography, social history, time, and of course, biblical scholarship. The first part of the book is the story. But the second part of the book is extensive notes on her research. And it doesn’t function the same as endnotes---which are deplorable atrocities against a reader---but as snapshots of her research and how it weaves into the story. I enjoyed that section and appreciate how she gives resources to the reader who wants to go deeper on a given topic. She opens this section with an apologetic for the genre of the book, her aim in writing it, as well as where she took some liberties. Because of her great research combined with an excellent imagination, we get to learn more about the everyday life these people must have lived. We learn more about how they ate, about the class structures, patrons and clients, the life of slaves, the different communities in Rome, the politics, and the social life of the time. 
  • Like a good scholar, Good is careful with both historical and theological nuances. This plays out well in the scenery she sets, the discussions and debates among the characters, and is further explained in Part Two of the book. 
 
Here are a few caveats:
 
  • Gooder’s view of Romans is influenced by the New Perspective on Paul. This shows most when Herodion shares his testimony in Chapter Four, as he is complaining about how Paul’s letter will cause trouble for the Jewish believers. I appreciate that Gooder is upfront about this in Part Two. I do think it is better nuanced in the discussion in Chapter Four than many of the presentations of this theology. There is certainly some important contributions in research from NPP, even as I do not affirm it’s whole theological system. 
  • Readers will have different reactions to how Gooder paints some of our favorite people in Scripture. While I love how she makes Paul more “real,” I didn’t care for the way she portrays his interaction with the believers from Rome upon his arrival and imprisonment. She gives an explanation in Part Two, but my historical imagination would interpret that scenario differently.
  • Another area where I wanted something different is how she portrays Phoebe as more insecure than I would have envisioned in her authorized mission from Paul as the first interpreter of Romans. I don’t want to give anything away here, but I will say that I appreciate how Gooder’s portrayal reminds us of the complexity of people in general, even those who are given such weighty missions. But this is also what makes it a good historical fiction: provoking readers to interact with her writing and their own historical imagination.
  • There will also be some push back on how Gooder describes, or doesn’t describe, worship in these house churches. Maybe she is just leaving more for the historical imagination? This was, after all, such an early and transitional time in the church.
 
I recommend this book as a great summer read!
Posted on Friday, May 17, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am a member of an OPC church. When I tell people that, sometimes I feel the need to offer an apologetic, “It’s not like the image you have in your head of the fuddy-duddy, frozen chosens. We are a lively, hospitable community of believers.” It’s a healthy, thriving church with good doctrine, godly leadership, and a great body of brothers and sisters in the faith. So much so, that we attract Christians from different denominations into the OPC for the first time. Because of this, on the Sundays that we read the Apostles’ Creed together, sometimes visitors have questions. What do you mean by "the holy catholic church?” What are you saying about Christ descending to hell? We even have asterisks in the bulletin now, briefly explaining these two popular questions. This is the first time that some of these visitors have seen a creed confessed and they may have questions about the value of that as well.
 
This confusion does not make us want to stop this practice of confessing our faith in the same words as the early churches. It is exciting to share this practice with those who have been in a church maybe all their lives and never have been a part of putting words to worship, as Stanley Gale describes it in his little book, The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. The Apostles’ Creed gives us the core of the Christian confession of what we believe. “While Christian denominations feature their own emphases and nuances, the Creed spells out the core, the basics of the faith, the beating of the heart of the gospel” (3). Gale wrote his book as a way to familiarize the Christian faith, “as it unfolds in the profound simplicity of the Apostles’ Creed.” 
 
My pastor saw this need in our own church community and taught a Sunday school semester on the Apostles’ Creed. Gale’s book is another great resource, as it is a pastoral book that breaks down the confessions in the Creed in a devotional way. Even if you are familiar with the teaching in the Creed, it’s a great reminder that can be used devotionally leading us in praise for who God is and what he has done.
 
I love to hear my pastor ask us what we believe. So often in my own teaching, I have found many Christians have a hard time articulating their faith well. The Apostles’ Creed helps us. There is something beautiful in answering as a congregation, joining with the church historic in confessing our faith together. “The Creed is liturgical (to profess in community), catechetical (to teach), confessional (to express alignment), and missional (as a light to life in Christ)” (4). Everyone benefits from studying it. Along with his book, Gale has an accompanying workbook available so that the church can benefit from this resource as a tool for discipleship. 
 
And those first words of the Creed, “I believe,” should not be passed over as quickly as we may be tempted to in getting to the good stuff. I enjoyed that Gale opens with an entire chapter on the stand that we take in saying “I believe”, “weighty words expressing commitment and relationship with the God who has invited us to Himself…the beliefs of our invisible faith take shape when we clothe them with the statements of the Creed” (21-22).
 
Maybe your church has confessed the Creed every Sunday for as long as you can remember, and now it has just become routine for you. Gale’s book will help recover the meaningfulness in your profession, as every line of the Creed is packed with wonder. What a joy and honor it is to be a part of the Christian church, confessing our faith, and ending with a resounding “amen” together!
 
Posted on Thursday, May 09, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
One great consequence of the Trinity Debate of 2016, which started over the issue of CBMW leaders teaching an ontological, eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS/ERAS) and then applying that to men and women, is a resurgence of classical teaching on the Trinity and on the  importance of biblical theology over and against Biblicism. However, even as the overwhelming consensus was that those who teach ESS are not in line with confessional Nicene trinitarianism, there never was any retraction of the teaching from CBMW or the from leaders who taught it. This is something that I wrote about in the summer of 2016, hoping there would be retractions, corrections, and even apologies.
 
Here we are, three years later, with the current president of CBMW positively referencing and linking to an article written by the previous president, Owen Strachan, in regard to some controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention on whether women should ever instruct the church body. There are many issues brought up in Strachan’s article that provoke discussion. One main one, that is not the focus of my response here, is that Strachan is not only arguing for male ordination, or even to keep women out of the pulpit---he denounces the woman’s teaching contribution in the church whenever adult males will be among the recipients, saying “there is no way for a woman to instruct the gathered church, whether in an authoritative or ‘non-authoritative’ way.” And he’s not only talking about corporate worship either. I have so much to say about this, way too much to cover in one article.  
 
There’s also the question of Strachan’s account of Southern Baptist history. But I’m going to let that lie too…
 
What I want to address here, and what leads to his overarching conclusion stated above, is that Strachan’s argument is a rebranding of ESS. And it’s not subtle. Strachan’s argument rests on “divine order.” That might sound sensible at first, affirming a God of order. But pay attention to how he defines this: 
 
The man is created first in the Old Testament, and possesses what the New Testament will call headship over his wife. Adam is constituted the leader of his home; he is given authority in it, authority that is shaped in a Christlike way as the biblical story unfolds.
 
Again, I am going to hold myself back from addressing Strachan’s understanding of headship, his use of the word possess, and his reading a hierarchy in creation. (Sam Powell’s articles here and here is a start.)
 
Strachan begins the “divine order” with male hierarchy/authority in marriage, and then explains how that transfers to spiritual leadership:
 
On the basis of a man’s domestic leadership, men are called to provide spiritual leadership and protection of the church (1 Timothy 2:9-15). 
 
And then the kicker of all: he says that hierarchy is another word for divine order. He speaks of those who disagree with this divine order:
 
 
In evolutionary thought, there is no maker. There is no design. There is no telos (end) for humanity…
 
They know there are men and women, but they have heard little about divine design. But this design, this order, is vital. Grounded in theistic ontology itself, it is the very bedrock of Christian theology and the Christian worldview. You could say it this way: there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.
 
Where he writes “divine design”, Strachan links to his book co-authored with Gavin Peacock, one that was never retracted when under attention during the Trinity debate for its direct teaching of ESS and application to man and woman’s “corresponding” ontology as embodiments of authority and subordination. (He also links to his new book on a theology of mankind.) In case that was too subtle, Strachan spells it out for us, saying that this particular divine design, this vital order, is grounded in theistic ontology itselfthe very bedrock of Christian theology. He is not talking about processions here, since he made himself clear that hierarchy is divine order. ESS is “divine order.” Divine order is ESS. 
 
Nothing has changed except the spin. Complementarians, is this really the voice you want to represent your views of men and women---and even more importantly, the Triune God? This is the fruit of endorsing this teaching and then not pushing for the retractions. 
 
I do want to say something about order and creation. Man is created first. Strachan answers the question of why woman is created second, and why God even created woman and not just another man in the most reductionistic way as he praises God’s design. He makes it about hierarchy. Is that why woman is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11:7)?
 
Strachan is right about how we need to think about the telos of humanity. And this is exactly what God shows Adam in the creation of Eve. Mark Garcia has written well on this important topic:
 
The LORD could have created man and woman at the same time, but he did not, and the creation of woman second, rather than being a sign of inferiority to the first, is in Scripture an eschatological marker: the second is the glory of the first. She is created to be his eschatological glory. Instead of reducing her, it elevates her.
 
 
As my friend Anna put it, who has been a great conversation partner on hashing out all of this:
 
Woman as second represents the glorious second order. The goal of redeemed humanity is pictured in the prophets as domesticated and bucolic, feasting and reclining. We are gathered and nurtured by God, like a hen gathers her chicks. It is homecoming after war, where swords are beaten into plowshares. Yet what woman represents is descriptive, not prescriptive in this life. Deborah goes out to war, yet because she is a type of the second order, this is not normative. But she has not sinned. 
 
Rather than reduce God’s word and say woman is created second because she is subordinate, we need to see the whole redemptive story God is telling here. Woman was created second from man’s very side as his glory, meaning, when Adam sees Eve, he sees his telos as the bride of Christ, the church flowing out of Christ’s wounded side. Back to Anna:
 
Woman images the peace and nurture of the eternal city. Man, the guardian and protector of sacred space, images Christ who defeats all of his and our enemies and takes his bride.  And yet these are descriptive, not prescriptive categories.  Ruth protects and provides for Naomi and takes her husband, Boaz. Paul is a nurturing mother, and Christ is mother (a picture Yahweh in the OT), longing to gather her chicks. We cannot absolutize these as prescriptions and prohibitions.
 
So we don’t have to reduce Mary Magdalene’s act as a mere witness. The Lord Jesus Christ authorized her to go be an apostle to the apostles, as she has been known throught church history. We don’t downplay the women Paul calls co-workers, or the church planters, the prophets, or the ones who risked their necks for him. Like the picture we see in Romans 16, we can be thankful for men and women co-laborers serving under the fruit of the ministry with reciprocal voices and dynamic exchange. Not all contributions in the church are hierarchies. How can the men in the church grow in the teleological understanding of their humanness, as part of the collective bride of Christ, if they cannot learn from or be influenced by women?
 
Again, I haven’t even touched on the issue of ordination, and barely spoke of the additional notion regarding all the areas where lay men and women are responsible to instruct in the household of God. These are two separate, but connected issues that require much more space. I'm not saying Beth Moore should preach on Mother's Day. But why don’t complementarians go to Gen. 2:16, and start with the “keep/guard” vocation given to Adam and work from there, rather than reading a fictional hierarchy in creation? And why not embrace, in gratitude, woman as ezer, a corresponding strength and necessary ally in their joint mission, and a picture of his eschatological glory? Woman is an embodiment of this glory, a typology of the waters of life that we see the bride calling us to in Revelation 21:17. There are two ways of being human, man and woman. This calls for communion and reciprocity. Yes, there is order. And we can talk about the disagreements of where everyone stands on ordination, etc. But let’s not settle for calling a rebranded ESS teaching of the sexes “thunderously good.” 
 
Maybe we should all first focus on what our bedrock of Christian theology is.
Posted on Thursday, May 02, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
One of the fruits produced by the Trinity Debate of 2016 is renewed focus on the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century: Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Their theological works are pivotal in upholding an orthodox confession of the church, particularly in their work on the Trinity which led to the revised version of the Nicene Creed finalized at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. Interestingly, Gregory of Nyssa wrote two books on his and Basil’s older sister, Macrina, giving us a bit of the story behind the story of their contribution to the church. As Lynn Cohick and Amy Brown Hughes point out, there is much theological work underneath these theological books, creedal statements, and councils. We see some of that in what Gregory shares about his sister. The Life of St. Macrina is his tribute to his sister after her death, and On the Soul and the Resurrection takes artistic liberty in writing about their conversation at her deathbed in philosophical, Socratic style. In this deep metaphysical and theological conversation on the nature of the soul, virtue, the resurrection, and beatific vision, Gregory is the pupil asking provocative questions, and Macrina is “the Teacher” imparting her great wisdom. In this genre of writing, the reader isn’t expected to believe this was the literal account of their conversation. But Gregory is sharing something about the impact and teaching in which his sister shaped his own life and theology.
 
Possibly the oldest of ten siblings, four of which are well-known, Macrina devoted herself to the Lord in a life of celibacy and to her family and community. Although content to modestly serve the Lord within the ascetic community she established, Gregory wanted the world to know about her great character, love of God’s Word, and teaching which really affected the future of Christ’s church. She was the backbone of the family. He shares instances in their adult lives where his older sister separately rebukes Basil for his pride and Gregory for his ingratitude, showing how they heeded her warnings and were the better for it. He portrays her as a philosopher on the level of Socrates. He compares her to the legendary Christian virgin, ascetic, martyr Thecla who was a follower of the apostle Paul. He explains that rather than live according to the wealthy lifestyle her family was accustomed, she persuaded her mother to join her in “put[ting] herself on equal footing with…and to share common life with all her maids, making them sisters and equals instead of slaves and servants” (26-27). When their father died around the same time their last brother was born, Gregory tells us that “she became everything for that child, father, teacher, guide, mother, counselor in every good,” raising him with a rigorous philosophical education. He describes Macrina as the clear-headed leader through grief when the family lost their godly brother Naucratis, having a “firm, unflinching spirit.” Not only that, when their beloved Basil died, Gregory says “she stood her ground like an undefeated athlete, who does not cringe at any point before the onslaught of misfortune.” He portrays her as a spiritual guide and teacher to their family and community, “to the highest limit of human virtue.” She’s self-sacrificing, loving, strong, learned, wise, and always seeking the face of Christ. Her service is not only domestic, but deeply intellectual and theological.
 
Gregory of Nyssa speaks briefly of his deathbed conversation with her in his tribute:
 
…my soul seemed to be almost outside of human nature, uplifted as it was by her words and set down inside the heavenly sanctuaries by the guidance of her discourse…
 
And were it not that my narrative was stretching out to infinity, I would record everything in order and way it happened: how she was lifted up by her discourse and spoke to me of her philosophy of the soul; how she explained the reason for life in the flesh, for what purpose man exists, how he is mortal, what is the source of death and what release there is from death back to life again. On all of these subjects, as if inspired by the Holy Spirit, she explained everything clearly and logically, her speech flowing on with complete ease as water is borne from some fountain-head downhill without anything to get in its way. (35-36) 
 
As he attempts this in On the Soul and the Resurrection, we see this male, in an even more direct way, take on the female voice to tell us the story behind the story---the story behind the strength he and his brothers had in their own work; the story behind their resolve to combat heresy and uphold a proper confession of the faith; the story behind the Niceno–Constantinopolitan Creed and the female voice that lurks behind it. By taking on his sister’s voice, Gregory is showing us more of the picture. “Thus we hear Macrina’s voice in Gregory’s theologically attuned writings and instructions on the monastic and ascetic ideal” (Cohick and Hughs, Christian Women in the Patristic World, 160). Her knowledge, strength, and resolve contributed to the work of her brothers. No, St. Macrina was never made a Doctor of the Church, but we see from Gregory’s writings that “woman’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.” (Christian Women, xxviii ).
 
Macrina is a tradent of the faith, communicating God’s Word and sharing communion in it. To her brothers she is “the teacher,” while Gregory makes her contribution visible to the church, revealing the story behind the story with her voice.
 
In reading The Life of Saint Macrina over again yesterday, I thought about how Macrina’s life is such a picture for the church, one that ever lived to behold the face of God, one that discipled and produced teachers of the Word, one that revealed the fruit of righteousness through discipline and suffering, the bride of Christ---strong--- joining him in exalting the humble, speaking to the fathers. She leads us to sing that song of songs that we all long to sing, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.”
 
Posted on Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’m almost through reading Mark Edmundson’s thought-provoking work, The Heart of Humanities: Reading, Writing, Teaching, and I just came across a line that really sums up the theme of his whole book: 
 
“’The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re not cool.’” 
 
He is quoting from Lester Bangs, a character in the movie Almost Famous. Lester is on the phone with his aspiring rock journalist friend, William Miller, who is telling him about the band members he is doing a profile on and how chummy they are being with him. “Don’t buy it, says Bangs. ‘They make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.’” Bangs reminds his friend who he is and is not; but that’s a good thing, he says. “‘We’re uncool’” He wears it like a badge. Edmundson elaborates, “and though uncool people don’t get the girl, being uncool can help you develop a little spine. It’s too easy out there for the handsome and the hip---their work never lasts.” That’s when he lays down Lester Bangs’ line about the true currency of uncoolness. Edmundson builds on this, saying the best teachers are the uncool ones, “because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way everyone else does.”
 
The whole 459-page book really leads up to this line. When making the argument in "Why Read?", he laments that Americans are always watching screens which serve as narcotics to deaden our souls. And what are we watching?---the culture of cool. It’s all an advertisement. Even the actual commercials don’t describe the products anymore as much as the type of person they will supposedly make us. We are all expected to want to conform. In our postmillennial consumer culture, we “buy in order to be. Watch (coolly) so as to learn how to be worthy of being watched (while being cool).” This isn’t a currency we can trust. 
 
So, why read? Edmundson builds the case that reading good literature takes us into different worlds, offering us different truths. These too are truths that we must challenge, asking ourselves what it would mean to live accordingly. Good literature ignites the reciprocity of good readers who not only interpret the literature well, but let it interpret them. We discover our own preconceived notions, what is meaningful to us, and how we think about things. It’s all so uncool.
 
So is writing. “It usually means putting something down, looking in the mirror that is judgement, finding yourself ugly, and living with it.” I really could identify with the section where he discusses the rituals writers go through before they can get into the zone to do their work. Some of these protocols can be quite weird, he says, as we are trying to transition from a state of “habitual self”, which is the necessary state “we need to inhabit most of the time…Habitual self drives the car and gets bodies, including its own, to various places at agreed-on times. It gathers the groceries and chops them…it pays the bills and takes care of kids and parents and schmoozes at the post office. It takes obligations related to death and taxes with some degree of seriousness.
 
But habitual self cannot write to save its life.” Since habitual self sounds like a machine when it tries to write, many writers have rituals of trying to transition to reflective, creative-juices-flowing self.
 
As a side note, rereading that section diagnosed the manuscript hangover I have been experiencing this week. All this time that I have spent trying to get a book out of my head and onto paper is also an investment in transitioning from habitual self into another world of sorts. It’s a passionate world. And then you push the send button. Habitual world all feels so, well, more habitual than before. Do I dare speak my book life into a conversation? When I do, I notice how it all sounds so terribly uncool. The content in it challenges the conformity that I find myself living back in habitual world. 
 
Both Edmundson’s affirmation of the uncool and his entertaining riff on rituals to escape the habitual self speak to a purposeful move towards transformed consciousness---one that has currency and produces lasting work. This is encouraging. It also makes me reflect more on the evangelical subculture, especially as we see it unfold on our screens. Everyone wants to be cool, so much so that we look to our screens to tell us how to be. Christians are also on the alert against cool, even as we produce our own brand of it. Reformedish ministries and media often gain a following when they take a stand against a prevailing unbiblical conformity in the church. But what so often happens is a slide into constructing their own value systems in which their tribe is expected to conform. They too become just another brand with weakening currency. What may have originated with a strong spine, a challenging voice that needs to be heard, weakens as it builds likes and excludes others asking the difficult questions. Sadly, many intricacies to a conversation, debate, or issue get overlooked in the name of coolness, or faux belonging. Because that’s what coolness is. That’s what Lester Bangs was telling his friend: you don’t really belong; they don’t genuinely like you---the you I know. Don’t buy it.
 
Genuine community needs strong spines that continue to strength train. If the church is always reforming to Scripture, then we should expect periods where transformed consciousness is needed. Do we find genuine community in the evangelical subculture? We certainly don’t find it on our screens. True transformation happens when we are discipled in a local covenant community through the means of grace God provides to give us Christ and his blessings. There we find literature that has the power to interpret and transform us. And we can never exhaust our learning, discovery, and delight in it.
 
There is a type of conformity that is good. But it doesn’t result in the bland coolness of the culture. When we align ourselves in obedience to the good in which we have been created for we find true belonging, genuine community, and unique personhood. He gives us strong spines. Ones that bend, move, and stretch rather than grow stiff. And he authorizes us to speak of him.
 
Posted on Friday, March 22, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
 
I’ve been slacking on the blog, but I promise I’ve been writing. My manuscript for Zondervan is due April 1st, so that is where I’ve been investing much of my reading and writing time. Along with the enriching research I’ve been doing for my book, I have been reading some other books on the side. And since I miss blogging, I want to share good books, and my time is limited, I thought I’d offer some short recommendations. So, I’ll start off with two today and hopefully share two more next week:
 
 
I love how Alan Noble makes me think with this book. In Part One, he critiques our distracted, secular age and how technology and social media is affecting the way we view ourselves, our faith, and our world. With all of the choices and customizations before us, the gospel can easily be presented as just another personal preference like our diets, politics, and latest pet cause. “The challenge for the Christians in our time is to speak of the gospel in a way that unsettles listeners, that conveys the transcendence of God, that provokes contemplation and reflection, and that reveals the stark givenness of reality” (30). Honing in on our obsession with self-fulfillment and life-as-performance on social media, Noble pinpoints how our online personalities portray how we want others to interpret us. What can subtly happen is that “our focus shifts from practicing our beliefs to signaling our beliefs to ourselves and others” (43). This affects our gospel witness as well, as it gets treated as “performance of our identity” rather than “punctur[ing] the buzz of modern life, the thinness of belief, the closed immanent frame, and our attempts at crafting identities and narratives of our own” (60).
 
Noble presses the reader to recognize our need for contemplation, meditation on Scripture, living in community, reorienting our desires, and honest self-evaluation. “If my foundation for knowing my place, purpose, and end in this world is on the basis of a self-discovered hidden identity that only I can verify and properly know, and that others are obligated to accept by virtue of being outside me and therefore are unable to judge, there is less space for collective human flourishing” (72). And so he spends the second half of the book calling us to be disruptive witnesses through disruptive personal habits, disruptive church practices, and disruptive cultural participation. “A disruptive witness denies the entire contemporary project of treating faith as a preference” (81). You’ll have to read it for yourself to learn more. It will be time well spent!
 
 
I took this one with me on a long flight and it totally consumed me. In the first half of the book, Carr writes her experience in present tense as her 18-year-old son begins to kind of unravel---she later describes it , quoting from Elyn Saks, as a sandcastle slowly losing sand as it recedes into the surf---from the person they’ve known since birth, his diagnosis of schizophrenia, trying to learn what it going on inside his brain, caring for him, and the desperate love of a parent. There are so many layers to this book: personal biography, faith, lament, navigating through insurance coverage, proper medical care, drug use (both prescribed and illegal), the function of church, the weight of each decision along the way, family dynamics, the nature of mental disorders, danger to self and others, misconceptions, and the gripping question of whether to commit a loved one to institutional care. Carr is raw in how she shares this, revealing her own weaknesses, insecurities, sin, and restoration. All the while, God is glorified in her writing---not in a forced, “I’m a Christian and so I have to sound put together” type of way, but in an absolute, coming to the end of herself, dependence on the God who loves Simonetta and her son more than she ever can, and a holding fast to the character of God and his promises even as she doesn’t know how all these broken pieces fit together.
 
The second half of the book serves to help the reader navigate through all she and her husband had to learn in the process of caring for a loved one with a mental illness. This section is not only helpful for families going through this, but churches and friends who want to love those families well. We are looking forward to interviewing Simonetta on the podcast. I recommend that you buy the book and read it for yourself.
Posted on Wednesday, January 09, 2019 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I took a camping and backpacking class in college to fill in one of my extra electives. It’s one of the classes I remember the most. We had three trips where we were dropped off on different parts of the Appalachian Trail in groups on a Friday, carrying 1/3 of our weight in backpacks full of supplies and tent parts, and were left to make it to our pick-up destination on Sunday. We had to filter our own water, make our own food, deal with the whatever weather conditions we faced, find good spots to set camp for the night, and really hope you don’t run into any bears, skunks, or poisonous snakes. At least those were the three things I was most afraid of. 
 
Anyway, that class still has lasting value in my life over twenty years later. I live near several small, rewarding hikes on the Appalachian Trail, as well as some other beautiful spots like Sugarloaf Mountain, Cunningham Falls, Maryland Heights, etc. I love to hike. One of my favorite spots to climb is a mountain of boulders in the Catoctin Mountains. I am hesitant to return there though because I’ve encountered rattlesnakes twice. One I found sunning itself on a boulder I was about to step up to. I booked it down the mountain in fear. The other I did not see but heard its threatening rattle when I stepped on a rock it was under. I booked it down the mountain in fear---even though I learned in my class that snakes are pretty docile, and usually tolerant up to a third offense (so maybe a third hiker in line who steps on it) for the snake to strike. Who wants to test that?
 
This long introduction is an illustration of my thinking when I read this article On Getting and Keeping Masculine Men in the Church. It was the third offense in two days. This author of this article, a pastor, wants to give advice on how to attract "manly men" in your congregation “that will likely trigger the feminists among [his] readers.” The problem he is addressing is that too many churches---not his---have a ratio of significantly more women than men in the church. 
 
Consider me triggered. I’ve barely been on social media lately, and yet this is the stuff I have been seeing when perusing my news feed. I’ve been trying to chill safely under my rock, but this third crunch on my spine lured me out. This article is exactly why the first two bothered me (which I will get to in a minute). You see, this pastor identifies what he believes is causing this “problem” of so many women in the church---effeminate men in leadership. He warns pastors:
 
You can’t be effeminate, though. That’s a real turn off to masculine men. Effeminate guys give masculine guys the creeps. If you have a feminine voice, or an effeminate manner, sorry, Jack, but you are unlikely to get masculine men into church.
 
He goes on to his tips on being and attracting masculine men by saying it helps to have experience with a manly job like home improvement, give firm handshakes and look people in the eye (this is not advice for women, which he instructs never to show strength in a handshake because that is creepy---oh and he really doesn’t recommend shaking women’s hands anyway because they are other men’s property), reserve the use of the word love, spend your time seeking the manly men, stop using emotional stories in sermons, and do not touch women or children because they are some man’s property (“touching doesn’t communicate affection; it communicates ownership”). I would hope that most people who read this article would have the same, “Are you kidding me?” reaction. This used to be the sort of thing I would just ignore. But the mindset here is pervasive in the evangelical church. I was made aware of this article because Sam Powell has already written an excellent response to it, challenging the use of the word effeminate and the notion that many women in the church are a bad thing, and upholding the fact that pastors need to preach Christ, not manly masculinity. 
 
I could add to that, but what I want to do is connect the dots. Let’s go back to my hiking illustration with a different angle. This time I’ll be the hiker and I am not going to book it down the mountain in fear. You can be on the right trail and step on some very dangerous rocks. I read two articles yesterday from leading voices who are upset about the APA’s issuing guidelines for men and boys. I often am sharpened by these men, which makes it all the more troubling for me when I read these. Rod Dreher says that the APA has declared manhood a disorder. While I track with his critique over the APA’s stance and teaching on gender identity, the publication is not saying that manhood is a disorder. Here is the actual charge:
 
The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful. Men socialized in this way are less likely to engage in healthy behaviors.
 
They don’t want to throw out manhood, they want to address unhealthy teaching on manhood, even while encouraging the positive aspects of the traditional teaching:
 
The clinician’s role, McDermott says, can be to encourage men to discard the harmful ideologies of traditional masculinity (violence, sexism) and find flexibility in the potentially positive aspects (courage, leadership). He and his team are working on a positive-masculinities scale to capture peoples’ adherence to the pro-social traits expected from men, something that has yet to be measured systematically.
 
Can’t we read this with better critical nuance? Can’t we acknowledge the truths in the article while also critiquing some of the other ideologies it promotes and contradictions within it? Do we really want to identify stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression as manliness? You see, while Dreher wants to warn against the path of LBGT propaganda, he doesn’t hear all the rattles of ungodly ancient misogynistic cultures that believed stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression are male virtues. Is that any better than the LBGT path? This is not manliness either. 
 
Trekking to the next article, Dreher recommends David French’s response to the APA, which equates the harmful stereotypes the APA is addressing to ways to shape “grown men.” Why are these men sinking their claws further into this brand of masculinity? Reading between the lines, I can easily see what they think about how women should be: non-risktakers, passive, emotional…hysterical. French’s conclusion which paints him as an alpha-male hero strikes me as ridiculous---as if women throughout history have not had to step in and save their children’s lives with their own strength (and might I add, like him, total dependence on the Lord’s providence). From the beginning, women need an enormous amount of strength in endurance to even give birth. I’m glad French is a good steward of his masculine body and that he could use that to save his son. But he even concedes to relying upon his wife’s corresponding strength to complete the mission.
 
I’m all for the logical and Christian critique that points out a contradiction in the APA’s findings. But let's not keep the dirty bathwater with the baby. We should strip away harmful gender stereotypes and expectations and both men and women should pursue virtuous behavior. Then we can challenge the APA, asking why they encourage pandering to the LBGT community that capitalizes on people transforming their own images according to the other sex’s worst stereotypes. 
 
I’m all for upholding man and woman, created as sexual counterparts, and having different strengths to offer. While I am challenging what many say are essential differences and expressions of femininity and masculinity, I am not saying that we should not affirm biological and even gendered differences between the sexes. I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality (Resourcing a Theological Anthropology, 208). However, while cultural norms may not be essential to our sexuality, men and women are both equal in dignity and distinctly differentiated by our sex. Based on the essential, hylomorphic understanding of the body and soul, a metaphysical understanding that has been developed throughout history since Aristotle that recognizes “the human being as a soul/body composite identity”, we understand that as the image of God, there are “two distinct ways of being a human being as a male and as a female” (Prudence Allen, The Concept of Woman, Vol. 3, 494, 464). This is not something we have to force under an artificial ontological framework of authority and submission or under cultural stereotypes. Complementarity presupposes difference, but also communion through giving of the self in and through these differences. Whether we are talking about mutual self-giving in union in marriage, or self-giving reciprocity in communion of friendship, vocation, church service, or neighborly activity, men and women give “of the specific richness of their respective humanity” (Allen, 460). Let’s not reduce that out of fear that we may lose so-called power or gender wars.
 
Both men and women are to look to Jesus for Christian virtue. We are not directed to masculine manhood or feminine womanhood. We are not even directed to biblical manhood or biblical womanhood. We are men and women who are together directed to Christ, who called men and women blessed who were poor in Spirit, mourners, gentle, thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for his sake.
Posted on Friday, November 02, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Anthony Esolen is an author whom I’ve enjoyed reading. I have respect for his work and his integrity to speak his convictions even when it costs him something. This is why I was so troubled to read his convictions in his latest article for the New English Review, Hysteria and the Need for Male Leadership. The title alone is disturbing. It reduces women to a term loaded with historical baggage. Based on the Greek word for uterus, hysteria refers to extreme irrationality and excessive emotion. The title portrays that since uteruses cause women to have “ungovernable emotional access,” women cannot lead. 
 
Esolen plays out this theme by addressing the hearing regarding the sexual allegations against Mr. Brett Kavanaugh, which he calls “the ghastly farce,” and his confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. The article goes on to describe how the whole ghastly farce happened because we are listening to women. He concludes:
 
Hysteria is not a new thing in the world. Think of Salem. The new thing here is that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis are sitting at the bench. What is to be done? The same as must be done for the colleges that the politics of hysteria has ruined. Men must build their brotherhoods again, from the ground up, and be once again, if unacknowledged, the legislators of our common life.
 
I couldn’t believe my eyes while I read through to this conclusion. Is he equating the two girl accusers from the Salem Witch Trials to women sitting on the Supreme Court bench? Is the problem with our society and the outrage between the tribes on the left and the right due to women?
 
Apparently the “hysteria” around the Kavanaugh hearing is a good picture of how our whole society is becoming feminized. Esolen first makes the point that citizens no longer care about the actual vocation of the Supreme Court, as we are ruled entirely by our emotions. He then describes how inept our senate is today saying, “Ours is like a football game with referees but no rules—better if you had no referees at all. A brawl in a barroom ends when the men’s arms grow tired. Our civic violence, because there are no rules but there are referees, never ends.” 
 
I agree with some of the critique Esolen offers. When charges are made, we need to care about actual corroborating evidence, not slander or gossip. The Kavanaugh hearing was a mess from the way it was handled by the politicians to the social media mob mentality and death threats on both Kavanaugh and Ford. It was sickening to see how it all played out in front of the public eye. Ultimately, Dr. Ford’s testimony could not be corroborated and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. I agree that we cannot “ruin a man’s life” without evidence. Many men and women slandered both Kavanaugh and Ford during this process. 
 
The next point Esolen raises about the hearing is the need for a statute of limitations for accusations such as Dr. Ford’s:
 
People forget things. They invent and imagine things. They make artificial sense of things that were not related. This is especially true when no definite crime has been committed. 
 
Here Esolen moves from the argument of how accusations can ruin a man’s life to downplaying the nature of the charges. First he suggests that Dr. Ford is remembering it all wrong. Clearly Anthony Esolen has never been a victim of sexual assault. That is not something that you can easily forget. It is a definite crime against your very dignity as a human being made in the image of God. I may not remember what I said last week, but I certainly would remember if someone attempted to rape me when I was a teenager. I would remember if I was scared for my life as two drunken boys locked me in a room against my will and held me down trying to take my clothes off! While Brett Kavanaugh may be innocent of the charges, we must not pretend that they were no big deal. This kind of talk is exactly why women may wait 30 years to speak out.
 
And the message we send to sexual assault victims who are watching should never be “just get over it.” That is what Esolen says, adding that maybe the reason Dr. Ford can’t get over such a thing is because she is a woman and she is taking things too seriously:
 
Battles must end. In the jubilee year, slaves are set free, and that is that. When boys in the old days got into a scrap, they would often pick themselves up, more dusty than hurt, and become friends again. What’s done is done. If we are not talking about a serious crime that was committed and not just intended or imagined or, the agent in a drunken stupor, placed within the realm of possibility—an act such as murder, arson, kidnapping, or rape—it is destructive of the common good to hold people responsible for bad things done long ago. 
 
Esolen continues to lament that “If you are a drunken teenage boy and you grab a girl when she does not want it, that’s a hanging offense.” I agree that is not a hanging offense. But we don’t only have the two options of hanging groping punks or shrugging our shoulders. Let’s not send that message to our children. Esolen points out the hypocrisy of wanting to hang a man for groping while simultaneously fighting for the rights of fornication and adultery. Sure, there are many male and female hypocrites out there (none advocating for hanging, by the way). But in describing these hypocrites, he uses the language of a mother bear guarding her cubs to further perpetuate the uterus/hysteria message from the title. Christians should be speaking out about all sexual sin. In that case, I wonder how Esolen would feel if a man groped him in the privates and he was powerless to do anything about it? Is it no big deal? Of course not, it is a terrible violation. However, this is not even the point. I agree, “justice demands distinctions.” Again, the testimony against Kavanaugh is far more serious than unwanted groping! 
 
He rightly says that “we hate rape because it is vicious and violent, an offense against the vulnerability of woman,” but then adds, “not to mention subjecting her to the possibility of a life-altering pregnancy.” Unwanted pregnancy isn't the only life-altering consequence rape victims have to bear for the rest of their lives. Here again, I see women reduced to their uteruses. We are more than bodies with sex organs that produce babies. Rape affects a woman’s soul, her mind, and her whole psyche. And for this, we don’t only hate rape, but attempted rape as well. I am not saying that is what Kavanaugh did. But that is the nature of the charges.
 
Next, Esolen begins to explain the differences between men and women in broad strokes. Men pride themselves in knowing when to bend the rules to fit the case. Women are incapable of this and cannot be objective with their own children, favoring them over others. He continues:
 
…the female of the species, which is, as Kipling says, “more deadly than the male.” The male can be fair to other men’s children against his own. That is not in the female nature. That great admirer of women, G. K. Chesterton, said that there are only three things that women do not understand: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. He meant, by all three together, the lively liberty that a brotherhood of men enjoys when they argue with one another in a club or a beer hall or a college dining room, and no argument is ruled out for its being put forward by a plumber and not a professor, and everyone tacitly agrees that you have a right neither to an opinion nor to any tender feelings regarding your opinion, but rather to an argument. Women in our universities have given notice that they will not abide that masculine punch and counter-punch. Hence the “safe space,” safe for a cancer.
 
Esolen continues to run nostalgic on the good ol’ days when were settled in the beer hall. For the sake of brevity, I will just fire off some concluding thoughts:
 
You cannot reduce men and women to Victorian stereotypes and call that an argument.
I've been around enough childhood sports events to see that men are not objective with their own children! 
Has Esolen EVER been in a barroom fight to settle an argument?
Sounds like men were ruled by ungoverned passion in the good ol’ days. Fueled by beer. I think those were the days that many of them returned home to their families in a violent stupor.
I know plenty of women who make good, sober arguments that are just ignored.
It is simply not true that there are no power dynamics of class and social status in the brotherhood.
He's the one arguing for a safe space!
I know how to give a pretty darn good punch and counter punch, buddy.
 
Esolen concludes that women are despots who govern for their own interests. Listening to women these days is like listening to two girls who ignited the mob mentality hunting witches in the elate 17th century. After all, even with all the progress we’ve made in society, we still have uteruses.
Posted on Thursday, November 01, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Radiolab did a series of three podcasts called “In the No” in collaboration with radio maker Kaitlin Priest, whose “mini-series called ‘No’ about her personal struggle to understand and communicate about sexual consent” motivated Radiolab’s host Jad Abumrad to further discuss the difficulties of consent in sexual encounters. He introduces the series saying, “That show, which dives into the experience, moment by moment, of navigating sexual intimacy, struck a chord with many of us…Over the next three episodes, we'll wander into rooms full of college students, hear from academics and activists, and sit in on classes about BDSM.”
 
Well, let me tell you, they successfully strike a chord. I wanted to hear what kinds of conversations were happening, so I listened to the series. I was extremely uncomfortable listening to parts of it because it was borderline pornographic---if there’s such a thing as pornography for the ears. To bring the listener to a better understanding of the difficulties of a woman being Illustration by Cara Turett ( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )able to communicate what she doesn’t want, Priest plays reenactments of her own personal sexual encounters (and live footage of another). This is very successful in portraying how men can be pushy, how difficult it can be to say no, all the reasons women may go along with sexual acts they don’t really want to do, and all the gray areas in between “Yes, I want this” and “No, please stop now.” 
 
I have mixed feelings about this podcast series. On one hand, I am glad that men and women are talking about all of the power dynamics around consent. This is an important conversation. Awareness is being raised. On the other hand, these people do not have a healthy view of freedom, sex, love, power, or friendship. So it is a very unsatisfying conversation.
 
The podcast is eye opening. But it is also pretty vulgar. Priest hosts an “artsy, feminist sex radio show” and her sexual language is offensive from the start. She claims that third wave sex positive feminism taught her to “adapt the same, ruthless sexual posturing as boys” and that “would allow her to wield some of their power…having slut pride would subvert the double standard and it would force the world to recognize that women’s sexual pleasure is real.” She pauses, and then reveals that the only problem is that she hates casual sex. Instead of investigating more of why that is, Priest tells the world all about her sexual life of masturbation on her radio show. She does say that what she is looking for is love, even though she knows it’s corny. She knows that the sexual revolution has sold her a lie. But she still uses its language. Why does Priest expect more from sex if she uses the “F” word to describe it?
 
Right away, we learn that even though she is supposedly looking for sex only within a love relationship, Priest is still very casual about her sexuality with male friends. She over-shares. She’s sexually intimate. She wants to cuddle under a blanket and have movie sleep over nights. But then she doesn’t quite know what to do when her friend takes this behavior as signs for more. She sends mixed messages. And yet, as they begin to mess around, she does communicate clearly what she doesn’t want to do---several times. Very clearly. At this point her friend betrays her, acting like so many other encounters she’s had, basically talking her into what she clearly communicated that she didn’t want. She wants to be liked. But she doesn’t want to be consumed.
 
She is tired of being a means to an end. The end is the man’s pleasure. 
 
But Priest does not understand how to escape this. Sure, a man should also be thinking about the woman’s pleasure.  But that is not the answer---that happens as a result of knowing the truth about sex. This view of sex, and even her life of masturbation, is all about consumption. She kind of knows this when she is the oppressed, but she just turns it around to making it be about her own pleasure in masturbation. She has settled. She wants good sex but has no sexual identity beyond pleasure. She thinks her standard for good sex is love---but why does she think this? That’s what I would love to ask her. And if this is so, why does she think she will ever find that in the hookup culture?
 
Sex is a uniting act where two flesh become one. It isn’t consuming; it’s giving. It’s sharing. It is such an intimate sharing that it is exclusive to marriage with one spouse.** You can’t look to the hookup culture for this kind of remarkable intimacy. Kaitlin Priest’s expectation for love and pleasure is too low! As she is busy seeking feminine power and pleasure, she is blind to the sacrificial, sanctifying love that builds in Christian marriage through the years. This absolutely beautiful and glorious love grows beyond the youthful, original attributes that attracted us to one another, to a mature appreciation of the scars that mark its progression. She will NEVER get this from the hookup culture or from masturbation. Within this covenantal, Christ centered love in Christian marriage, sex is an intimate opportunity for growing, sharing, pleasing, learning, teaching, and forgiveness.
 
Kaitlin Priest is only in her twenties. And although she sees the lie in the third wave feminist movement she is still falling for its premise that people are to be consumed for our own pleasure. That sex is a means to power. And yet she still wants to be that something beautiful that others will want. So she has reduced her own body as a means to get these things: belongingness, pleasure, and power. 
 
There’s a much bigger issue at stake. 
 
The hookup culture is supposedly about freedom and autonomy. Priest’s radio show reveals that the playing field is not really equal. But she doesn’t see that the whole premise of self-interest and self-pleasure in the hookup culture is enslaving. Richard Bauckham wasn’t talking about the hookup culture, but his wise words can be applied in this situation:
 
The contribution of the New Testament’s insights into the nature of real freedom as liberation from enslavement to self-interest and freedom to give oneself for others is also important in this context. The oppressed who long for freedom are not truly liberated from the system that oppresses them so long as the freedom they desire is only the freedom their oppressors have: freedom for themselves, no matter what this entails for others. In such circumstances the struggle for liberation is simply a mirror image of the system it opposes: it becomes ruthless in its self-interest, creates as many victims as it liberates, and produces a new kind of tyranny in place of the old. Outward liberation worthy of the name requires people who have been freed to live for others, and for all others, even for their oppressors. (Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 24-25).
 
In this case, freedom comes in serving our brothers and sisters by promoting their holiness, not by seducing them for our own pleasure. Priest looks for freedom in the hookup culture but cannot find it. She looks for autonomy in masturbation, but it’s unsatisfying because it’s terribly lonely. She too is enslaved by her own pleasure. “Belonging is necessary to true freedom, and freedom is necessary to true belonging.” They are “not exclusive opposites, but reciprocal factors. There is no human independence that is not rooted in a deeper dependence---on nature, on other people, and on God” (42).  Freedom and autonomy don’t go together.
 
What is more powerful, using our own sexuality to seduce someone, to impose oneself on someone, or in sacrifice to promote the good of our neighbor? This is also where the purest pleasure will be found. And you just might find love as well.
 
 
 
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. (C.S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory")
 
** I don't mean to convey that consent is not needed for sex within a Christian marriage. But as one of the interviewees noted, consent is all about what you will let someone else do to you. It's terribly sad to reduce sex to this. And yet, there are plenty of Christian marriages with unhealthy sexual dynamics. I have tried to explain a healthy view of sex above. If sex is a giving and sharing of oneself, that certainly requires the volition of both parties. Without that, we enter into the same issues of violation, sexual assault, and abuse that the mini series was addressing.
 
Illustration by Cara Turett
( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )

 

Posted on Friday, October 19, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
A couple days ago, I wrote about how even the world of Reformedish evangelicalism is contributing to the sad “State of Theology” that is evidenced in the Ligonier Ministries’ survey. Bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles when ethics is prioritized over our theology of God, his Word, man, and the gospel. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. Our updated survey is showing just that. And so we see that even the ethics that we held so dear are now falling apart:
 
An alarming 69% of people disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, with 58% strongly disagreeing.
 
As the results reveal a low view of God and his Word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel, it only follows suit that sin is no longer that big of a deal. I can’t tell you how many “Christian” books I’ve read by popular authors in our circles that don’t even use that word anymore. One of the most powerful books upholding the holiness of God and the evil of sin that I have ever read is Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Evil of Evils. If sin is a missing word in our vocabulary, evil is even more offensive. His premise is, “That it is a very evil choice for any soul under heaven to choose the least sin rather than the greatest affliction,” reasoning that, “There is more evil in sin than in outward trouble in the world; more evil in sin than in all the miseries and torments of hell itself” (2,3).
 
Think about it, when the youth in our midst look at the church they often see her on one hand carefully calculating to accept or modify obvious behavior that Scripture labels as sin, and on the other hand reserving the strong language to quibble over skirt lengths and education. The ultimate sin that a contemporary Christian seems to face is that of not being very nice. Maybe we need to spend some time talking more about what sin really is so that we are clear on why we are so desperate for Christ. Maybe the good news doesn’t sound all that radical to someone who is frustrated or merely broken and hoping for a makeover. But when you learn about the pure holiness of God, sin is seen as the evil of evils, something to abhor at all costs. And that leads us to think about what sin cost our Savior. Burroughs expounds:
 
Oh, you heavens!  How could you behold such a spectacle as this was?  How was the earth able to bear it?  Truly, neither heaven nor earth was able, for the Scripture says that the sun withdrew its light and was darkened so many hours. It was from twelve to three that the sun withdrew its light and did not shine, but there was dismal darkness in the world for it was unable to behold such a spectacle as this was. And the earth shook and trembled, and the graves opened and the rocks split in two, the very stones themselves were affected with such a work as this, and the vale of the Temple rent asunder. These things were done upon Christ’s bearing of the wrath of His Father for sin. Here you have the first fruits of God’s displeasure for sin, and in this you may see, surely, that sin must be a vile thing since it causes God the Father to deal thus with His Son when He had man’s sin upon Him. (102)
 
Surely we think of sin as too small a thing. The creation couldn’t even bear the sight of Christ carrying our sin, propitiating the Father’s wrath. Our holy Savior took on the greatest affliction of bearing our sin—every bit of it—as he faced his Father’s judgment instead of us. Could anything ever come close to showing us the evil of sin as God pouring His wrath for it on His Son? And not only are we able to turn to him for forgiveness, but his very righteousness is reckoned to us as well. Who else could be worthy of our praise and worship? How could we choose sin over any affliction when we have Christ’s Holy Spirit to apply his glorious work to us and give us his very strength to avoid the evil of sin? Even now, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for his people as we are being transformed into his own likeness.
 
Why would we ever want to soften this language? And what’s more perplexing, why is it often used instead for shaming on extra-biblical regulations like skirt lengths, current interpretations for biblical manhood and womanhood, political parties, food righteousness, and education choices? These extra-biblical regulations are not the power to holiness. Sin isn’t what’s “out there.” Sin saturates our hearts. This is why we so desperately need to know the Holy One who delivers us from the reign of sin and places us in the reign of grace, giving us the power by his very Spirit to obey. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). 
 
We need to love the One who gives us the freedom of holiness---who takes away our chains, declares us holy in him, and then begins the sanctifying work of transforming us into his likeness. In order to know what sin is, we need to know holiness. Then we need to know how we will have the transforming power for goodness. The beauty of freedom is that we can finally choose goodness!
 
Are we as a church clearly communicating to one another and the watching world what sin really is? 
 
 
*A section of this post is taken from an earlier article on the Evil of Evils that I wrote in 2014