Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 2)

I'm doing a little miniseries on Erwin McManus' book The Barbarian Way. In Part 1 I introduced my thoughts on the book and elaborated on what I liked about it. Now, onto what I found detrimental:

1. It is vague and therefore difficult to apply. So what actually is the barbarian way? I'm afraid after reading the book I still don't know. What does it mean to have a civilized faith vs. a barbarian faith? Does it simply mean that if I do office work rather than climb mountains that I'm civilized? Does it mean anything wild is good? Certainly the Bible would be against such a system (see places where self-control = good (Titus 2:12), and wild = bad (Isa. 56:11-12)), but I don't know if from the book I can conclude that McManus is. Throughout the book the continual emphasis is on the simplicity of the barbarian way. From the back cover:

"This is the barbarian way: to give your heart to the only One who can make you fully alive. To love Him with simplicity and intensity. To unleash the untamed faith within. To be consumed by the presence of a passionate and compassionate God. To go where He sends you, no matter what the cost."

Again, from page 6:

"This is the simplicity of the barbarian way. If you are a follower of Christ, then you are called to fight for the heart of your King. It is a life fueled by passion--a passion for God and a passion for people."

That all sounds nice, but what does it actually look like to live that way? How should my actions look different if I am living the Barbarian way? How do I give my heart to the One who can make me alive? How do I love Him? How do I unleash my faith? How do I know where God is sending me? How do I fight for His heart? What does a life fueled by passion look like?

McManus leaves these questions, the ones of any practical importance, largely unanswered. The closest I could come to some answers was helping people develop their creativity and innovation, raising your kids to be wild, and listening for the voice of God. The last of these is still vague and I fail to see how the first two are at all an application of scripture. What I found this to leave me with was a nagging tension: I now feel like I'm supposed to be more barbaric, but I have no idea how or what that would even look like.

2. McManus' use of terminology ("civilized," "barbarian") does not seem to correspond to Biblical categories and therefore ends up muddying the waters. I've got no problem with using terms the Bible doesn't use. We do this every time we speak in English. However, these terms are only helpful if they effectively communicate what the original authors of Scripture were trying to communicate in their terminology. McManus' favorite target of civilized religion besides the Christian church of today is the Judaism of Jesus' time. On page 111:

"[The Jews of Jesus' time] had become so good at religion that they had no need for God. They were so full of themselves that they had no room for God. When it came down to it, they loved their civilized religion far more than they longed to know the God who created them. " (emphasis mine)

McManus sees the civility as the fundamental problem of the Judaism of Jesus' time. He doesn't really define what he means by that, which goes back to the vagueness of (1). At this point we must ask if this is the Bible's objection to the Judaism of Jesus' time. The answer is most certainly no. The Bible's objection to the Judaism of Jesus' time was its legalism, not its civility. Jesus didn't condemn the pharisees for wearing normal clothes, he condemned them for their legalism and self-righteousness (e.g. Luke 18:11-14). Paul doesn't suggest that the Jews failed to be declared righteous because they were too civil, but because they sought righteousness by their works (Rom. 10:2-3).

Likewise for us, our problem is not that we are civilized and instead need to become barbaric, but that we seek righteousness by works because of our pride and instead need to look to Christ in humility for His righteousness, received by faith (see again Luke 18:11-14 and Romans 10:4). McManus' whole civilized/barbarian paradigm is thus not connected to actual Biblical categories and therefore only confuses and distracts us from the actual problem the Bible says we face.

3. He tends to go from narrative to normative. I won't spend much time on this, but suffice it to say this is just bad Bible study. Pretty much every scripture text he shares in his book to make his points is some story. The argument is basically "it happened this way to this guy, so you should live this way." Sometimes the text warrants this; we can certainly learn from the examples of others. However just because John the Baptist dressed crazy doesn't mean all true "barbarians" should too. For instance, he suggests that because God spoke directly to people in the Bible we should also expect the same level and frequency of communication (pg. 83). Although Biblical narratives are certainly authoritative over our lives, if he's going to make normative statements on how we are to live, he should provide at least some normative statements of scripture in support or be more careful to explain how he is going about making normative conclusions from narrative texts.

4. His emphasis on the voice of God undermines the authority of the written Word of God (preface: this is a bigger issue that I won't address the nuances of here. I'll try to restrict myself to the practical problems presented by McManus' presentation rather than a theology of the Word of God). The whole chapter "The Barbarian Tribe" is basically an argument that we are called to live the way God has made us and what God has called us to, and we find these things out by hearing the voice of God. He argues for this over against what he perceives as attempts at conformity and an emphasis only on what we should not do, not what we should do.

These arguments are ok to a point. Certainly we should not try to conform everyone into one personality type or only forbid people from doing certain things. But all conforming is not bad: God is working to conform us to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This certainly includes some level of uniformity in our behavior (e.g. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, cf. Gal. 5:22-23). Further, where are we to obtain guidance in what not to do and what to do? Where are we to obtain guidance in how to interpret our various feelings and passions? The Bible consistently points to itself in these matters (e.g. Ps. 119:105). So what does McManus view as the relationship between study of the Bible and hearing the voice of God? On page 84:

"To study the Bible is important, but it is not a primal evidence that you belong to God. Anyone can study the Bible, but only those who know Him can hear His voice and are taught by Him...Jesus expected that those who were His followers would hear His voice, know His voice, and follow only His voice, even as He calls us out by name and leads us on the barbarian way."

Let me make myself clear: I believe McManus thinks studying the Bible is important. My concern is one of emphasis. You see it in his quote there. Bible study is what gets the "yes, but..." treatment. I agree with his statement actually if we just look at it on the surface (certainly non-believers and even unteachable Christians can read the Bible), but my curiosity is why this mystical experience of hearing "the voice of God" has no "yes, but..." attached to it. Allow me: I believe God can speak to us outside the Bible, but I think between our sin and the influence of satan we often muff it up. The Bible is the only place we can go and know what we are reading is true. McManus of all people with his emphasis on the war we're in should know this. However he provides no practical advice on how to discern the voice of God. The practical outworking of his teaching is something like this: "Go ahead, study the Bible, that's nice, but really listen for God's voice, and whatever you sense He is telling you to do, do it!" There is no value placed on searching the scriptures (Acts 17:11) or testing everything and holding onto what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). It is for this reason I would even caution against calling such senses the "voice of God."

I fear in the barbarian way the Bible takes a backseat to our own senses. This is fairly explicit on page 14:

"If He has won your heart, then to follow your heart will always lead you to follow the heart of God."

One has to wonder from quotes like these if Proverbs 3:5-6, 14:12 remain true for a believer, or really whether the believer has any sin remaining that could deceive him or her (Jer. 17:9, Heb. 3:13, 1 Jn. 1:8).

5. Sin and grace (i.e. the gospel) are utterly absent from the book. This is one of the most glaring problems with the whole book. I agree that we are called to suffer and to fight as part of the war between the kingdoms of God and satan, but here's the problem: I fail to do so. I know I should move into suffering, but I want comfort. I know I should be courageous, but I'm a coward. McManus has no problem condemning the church for such things, but he never seems to deal with the sin in the heart of each individual that causes it, and therefore he never applies God's grace to it. All McManus has to say to me is basically: "try harder." Unleash the untamed faith, stop being so civilized, etc. Is this really my only hope? Is this really all McManus has for me when faced with the reality of my failure? I'm afraid I can't find anything else in his book. There were a few times when I felt like I was going to hear the gospel from McManus, like on page 32:

"So what is this good news? The refined and civilized version goes something like this:...if you'll simply believe in Jesus, you'll be saved from the torment of hellfire, then go to heaven when you die." This is actually a true statement of the Biblical gospel, but I would tend to agree with McManus that it's reductionistic. His alternative (still page 32):

"The call of Jesus is far more barbaric than either of these. It is a call to live in this world as citizens of an entirely different kingdom."

How is that good news? I don't hear any news in that statement. Certainly the call to repent is part of the gospel, but the gospel primarily contains news of something that's happened (e.g. Jesus lived a perfect life, Jesus died for your sins, Jesus rose again). Where is the grace in this message? I don't see it, it just sounds like repackaged moralism to me: instead of "obey these rules," it's "live barbarically." Neither consists of news and both point to something we do as the crux of the gospel. Thankfully, later in the book he does talk about the death of Jesus and the gospel (pg. 112, 115, 116). That said, he's never really clear on the content of the gospel. He mostly concludes that it is a demonstration of God's love (Amen!) and an example of barbaric living. Jesus certainly is not less than an example to us, but He's more than that: He's the savior. If we only have an example of love and barbaric living, we still haven't really dealt with our failure to live up to that example.

McManus does not seem to acknowledge our personal failure to live up to Jesus' example (sin), and therefore does not clearly present the grace of God in the gospel. This leaves me either discouraged in my failure or motivated in my own self-righteousness to go be a barbarian!

6. The promises of God are utterly absent from the book. This is related to (5) so I'll keep it short. The good things McManus is calling us to do are entirely counter to our nature: suffering and war against evil. He's calling us into uncertainty and risk. What hope do I have moving into these things? Is the answer simply "there's nothing you can stand on, but this is what God wants us to do, so go do it."? That's not the way the Bible presents it. The Bible says God is in control and working all of our suffering for good, conforming us into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). The Bible says such trials refine us (1 Pet. 1:6-7), cause us to share in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13), produce steadfastness (Jas. 1:3), and grow us in hope (Rom. 5:3-5). These are promises we can stand on in the midst of our risk and uncertainty, but they are strangely absent from McManus' book. This does not come as a major surprise since McManus doesn't seem to believe such suffering and war are counter to our nature: he instead presents it as really what the untamed faith inside of us wants to do (pg. 82). If we already want to be wild and suffer and go to war, we don't really need faith in the promises of God to stand on (or the gospel for that matter), we just need to be exhorted. As in (5), an ignorance of sin leads to mere exhortation without the accompanying grace and promises the Bible offers.

7. His approach in general lacks humility. This is more an objection of style than of content. In like 18:9-14 when Jesus shares the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector the pharisee thanks God that he's not like the tax collector while the tax collector simply says "be merciful to me, a sinner." The tax collector goes away justified, the pharisee did not. Notice the tax collector did not say "God, I thank you that I am not like the pharisee." This is the perspective I find in the way McManus writes this book. He presents civilized religion as the bad guy and then basically talks about how his whole life he's been living another way, the right way, the barbarian way. He talks about how he did this right in his approach to his relationship with God (pg. 11), his "community" (pg. 102-105), and his parenting (pg. 117-119). The whole book is pervaded with how wrong the rest of the church is (e.g. pg. 17) but seems to lack any humble admission of McManus' own contribution to the wongs of the church. Paul definitely told others to follow his example as well (1 Cor. 11:1), but at the same time he acknowledged that he had not arrived (Phil. 3:12) and actually identified himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). I don't know Erwin McManus personally; he may very well be a humble man. But in this book at least the problem seems to originate "out there" rather than in his own heart.

While McManus offers a few helpful and challenging insights, the book has far too many negatives for me to recommend it to anyone. Although McManus rightly calls Christians to suffering and war against evil, he does so in a vague, extra or un-biblical manner that lacks humility and neglects key aspects of the gospel. I now have some understanding as to why Phil Johnson, Justin Taylor, and others have leveled such criticisms against McManus. The question still in my mind is why friends I respect like the book. I don't think it's because they like vague generalities and extra or un-biblical content or because they dislike humility and the gospel. So what is the reason? Part 3...

The Barbarian Way: A Review (Part 1)

I recently finished reading Erwin McManus' book entitled The Barbarian Way. It's a short book intended to present McManus' idea of the way of life followers of Christ should really be pursuing: The barbarian way of life. He sees the church as having fallen into a "civilized" form of religion, where "the call to follow Christ has been repackaged to be smooth and trouble-free" (back cover). The barbarian way on the other hand is "a path filled with adventure, uncertainty, and unlimited possibilities" (back cover). His goal is to call us to live in that barbarian way.

I must admit that before I read the book the well was already a bit poisoned due to some troubling articles I read on McManus from guys I respect (Phil Johnson and Justin Taylor). On the other hand, some friends I respect also benefited from the book, so I sincerely prayed for teachability and an open mind as I approached it.

Overall I would say the book contains some valuable insights and challenging diagnostics of the contemporary Christian, myself included. However I think it also suffers from some serious deficiencies that would prevent me from recommending it to others. Here's a summary of what I found helpful about the book:

1. It calls Christians to suffer.
2. It gives a challenging call to the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan on earth.

Here's a summary of what I found detrimental about the book:

1. It is vague and therefore difficult to apply.
2. McManus' use of terminology ("civilized," "barbarian") does not seem to correspond to Biblical categories and therefore ends up muddying the waters.
3. He tends to make narrative normative.
4. His emphasis on the voice of God undermines the authority of the written Word of God.
5. Sin and grace (i.e. the gospel) are utterly absent from the book.
6. The promises of God are utterly absent from the book.
7. His approach in general lacks humility.

I'd now like to provide support for and elaborate on each of these points. In Part 1, what I found helpful:

1. It calls Christians to suffer. Jesus promised suffering for His disciples (e.g. Jn. 15:20) and the rest of the New Testament reinforces this very point (e.g. 1 Pet. 4:12-13). On pages 44-45 McManus says:

"Instead of finding confidence to live as we should regardless of our circumstances, we have used it as justification to choose the path of least resistance, least difficulty, least sacrifice...Actually, God's will for us is less about our comfort than it is about our contribution. God would never choose for us safety at the cost of significance."

Personally I am afraid of this message. I would rather find the path of least suffering where I can still feel like I'm being a good Christian. My goal is to maintain a profession of faith in Christ so I can stay out of hell but still also maintain all the stuff the world says and that I believe is important (high income, safe housing, nice cars, american dream, etc.). McManus challenged me by basically pointing out that such an approach is entirely inconsistent with true Christianity. It's not possible to have Jesus and the path of least suffering. It's one or the other.

2. It gives a challenging call to the war between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of satan on earth. On page 127 McManus says:

"Barbarians know the world of spirit. We know there is a darkness that subversively corrupts the hearts of men, and to do nothing is to be complicit. We are born into a war. We may feel like children, but we are warriors."

The Bible certainly bears witness that all Christians are in the midst of a war on earth (e.g. 2 Cor. 10:3-5, Eph. 6:12). Sometimes I like to think my sin has no consequences or that what I do really doesn't matter. But every time I give in to sin I'm giving the enemy a foothold in the war on earth. I fear he does not emphasize the comfort we have in knowing that in some sense the outcome of the battle has already been decided by Christ's victory (Col. 2:15, Jn. 16:33), but the point does remain: we are in a battle.

So there is certainly good in the book and I'm glad to give God glory for His use of the good parts of the book to mold me into the image of Christ. However, I do think there is still plenty wrong with the book. In Part 2 I'll discuss the seven points I found detrimental.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

"its place knows it no more"

This past weekend I was blessed to have a number of friends visit State College for Penn State's Blue/White game and a good friend's bachelor party. These friends make up some of the best friends in my life. They have been true brothers in Christ and I love them. Then today something terrible happened: they left.

As I got to see each of them off I found ways to comfort myself: "well at least I'm still in state college and still have some friends here." Then I realized I'm graduating in 2-3 weeks. The reality is this thing won't last. Such comfort isn't much comfort at all.

"Last things" are often hard for me (and no, I'm not referring to views of the millenium). I still have alot of memories of last things. I remember my last high school tennis match. I remember the last time I pulled out of my high school parking lot. I remember the last night I spent at home before moving to state college. I remember my last day working at GIANT food stores. I remember my last day working at the country club I spent three summers at. I remember the last day of the summer training program I was a part of two years ago. The list really does go on.

Now even as I type that it saddens me, and it saddens me even more to think about how many "last things" I have coming up. Such a feeling is strange to me; Myers-Briggs tells me I am a 19-1 Thinker vs. Feeler. I've often felt this way and wondered why. For much of my life I've just billed it up to nostalgia. But why I am nostalgic? Why is anyone? What about how God created us makes us like this?

It could just be because I really liked the things I was leaving, so leaving them hurt. But I don't think this is the case as I look back. I liked high school, but I liked college alot more. I definitely didn't really like my job at GIANT. There are others things I listed that I did like. But the degree to which I enjoyed those things doesn't seem to be the determining factor. So what is it?

I think I finally made steps towards an answer to this in recently listening to a Tim Keller sermon on Psalm 103. Specific to the question at hand were his comments on verses 15-17:

"As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more." - Psalm 103:15-16 (ESV)

As Keller was speaking on this he paid special attention to the phrase "its place knows it no more." He specifically used the example of going back home after leaving a place and seeing all the different things and seeing how few people really know you anymore. He talked about why that seems to bother us so much. Basically we all want a place we can really call home. We want a place that will always know us. I may not like the school I'm at or the job I'm working, but after a while it starts to feel like home, and I like that. I like to feel like it's a constant in my life.

My friends make me feel at home. They make me feel welcome. I'm afraid when they leave that "my place will know me no more." So the first thing I do is try to fix that feeling: find something that will still make me feel like my place will know me. But I can't. This phrase in Psalm 103 isn't something we can change: it is a fact about man. We live for a time, then we die, and our place knows us no more.

Is it then wrong for this to bother me? I don't think so. The passage doesn't end there. The next verse isn't: "so deal with it!" No, the psalmist instead offers us a remedy. He offers us a true home:

"But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children's children," - Psalm 103:17 (ESV)

The steadfast love of the Lord is a true home for us who fear him! He'll never leave after a weekend. There will never be a "last time" I have with the Lord. His steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting. This desire I have for a true home is let down every time I can't find that true home on earth. As a result, I'll continue to be sad every time I have to see my friends off. But I pray that I won't mourn as one who has no hope, but as one with an eternal home from "everlasting to everlasting" in the steadfast love of the Lord.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Am I Enough? (Part 3)

In Parts 1 and 2 of this miniseries I've sought to show how our attempts to answer the question of whether we are enough are works-righteousness, and how the gospel frees us from such a hopeless situation. The question before us now is "where does that leave us?" Since our justification is no longer based on obedience to the law, should we now just cease worrying about obedience? Paul deals with this question in Romans 6:

"Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?" - Romans 5:21-6:2

In short, Paul's answer is "no." We should not now neglect obedience to God. Actually, it's because of this salvation, because we've died to sin, that we should not continue in it. God still calls us to live lives of holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

Now as I type that I sense I will get two different responses. I sense this because I've had both responses at various points in my life:

1. Dang, more requirements, more burden. I thought this law stuff was over! Can't we just leave our message at grace and not talk about our response?

2. Go get 'em Mike! So many people out there just think God is going to forgive them but they're still a bunch of sinning idiots. I'm sick of hearing about mercy and love, condemn me and the rest of these idiots already!

In theological terms, (1) is called an antinomian, and (2) is called a legalist. My brief description and response:

1. Antinomianism basically defines any belief system that teaches that its adherents have no duty to follow some moral standard. For those of you with this response, I feel you. I think we feel our burden lifted in knowing that Jesus paid for our sins, but then we get hit with more commands and the burden comes back. It'd be easier to just punt the law, stick to what Jesus did, and not it let it change our lives. Nonetheless, we see this is not the Biblical picture.

2. Legalism basically defines any belief system that teaches that its adherents must obey the law to be declared righteous. This obviously fails to produce an actual righteousness by the test of Galatians 3:10. Most of the people I describe in (2) realize this and would bawk at my suggestion that they might be legalists. But I again do this one from experience. I find often times my anger at others' lack of holiness is because I feel like I'm working hard and I deserve a better reward than they, so if I see both of us getting saved it makes me angry. On a deeper level, I think I also hate myself so much that condemnation comes more naturally than grace. You telling me I suck makes sense because I feel worthless, you telling me God loves me anyway sounds like sugarcoated nonsense, a result of the positive thinking movement. Nonetheless, God says He loves me while I suck (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10).

I believe the gospel destroys both of these wrong ways of thinking. In (1), the problem is we feel extra burden when more commands come in. But because Jesus took our curse, there should not be any burden in any command we receive (1 John 5:3-5). Since we no longer need to obey perfectly to earn God's favor, we can obey out of joyful gratitude (cf. Psalm 1: "his delight is in the law of the Lord"). To fix our thinking in (1), we actually just need to believe the gospel more so that new commands no longer feel like a burden that needs to be resisted, but rather the good will of a loving father that can be joyfully accepted.

In (2) we feel like we deserve a reward for our efforts that others should not get if their efforts don't measure up. We're saying "since God's love is something I earn by what I do, you shouldn't get it if you don't do it." Again, the solution is that in the gospel God's love is not something we earn; He gives it freely. If He gave His love to us who did not deserve it, then surely we have no reason to oppose His giving it to others. Realizing this also humbles us as we see that no matter how much we think we can do, it would be never be enough to earn God's favor. Only Jesus can do that for us. To fix our thinking (2), we need to believe the gospel more so that we see our relationship with God as a gift of His grace, and can rejoice with God as His grace is extended to others rather than get angry because those people aren't trying as hard as we think we are.

On the other hand, some of those in (2) are there because they feel so worthless that condemnation is more natural than grace. The solution here? You guessed it. When we view ourselves as too worthless to receive God's love and grace, we say two awfully wrong things at minimum: 1. We have higher standards than God. God may be willing to love us as sinners, but our standards are so high we won't let ourselves be loved as the sinners we know we are. 2. God is not free to do as He pleases. God must play be my rules. I say He can't love me because I suck, therefore that's the way it has to be. But here's the reality in the gospel: God is way holier than we are and He has still chosen to love us and send His son to pay the penalty for our sins. I say God can't love me because I suck, God says He loves me because I suck. So to fix my thinking in (2), I need to believe God's love for me in the gospel.

In light of the gospel we don't need to be antinomians or legalists. Instead we can try to obey God's will, try hard in sports, work hard in school, and pursue women in the way God intended us to. Since we don't need to feel like we are enough in these areas, we don't have to get out of them for fear of failure and we don't have to pursue them the wrong way to make sure we feel like we are enough. We can pursue them in their proper place out of joyful gratitude for what God has done for us.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Am I Enough? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this short blog series I tried to connect some dots between the question that tends to have a controlling influence in the lives of men: "Am I enough?" and works-righteousness. Having concluded that all of our attempts to answer that question in the affirmative by something we do is works-righteousness, I'd now like to share some thoughts on how I see the gospel applying to and freeing us from this situation.

In Part 1 I kinda shared two quotes to support my main idea: one from Tim Keller and one from the Bible in Galatians 3:10-12. In both cases I neglected to comment on the whole idea presented there. In Keller's quote he mentions the freedom in the gospel. After Galatians 3:10-12 comes verse 13:

"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” - Galatians 3:13

The first way the gospel applies is that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law! In v. 10 we read that the curse of the law is basically this: if you choose to try to save yourself by observing God's law, the only way you can actually achieve salvation is if you obey it to perfection. Therefore if you fail even at one point of it, you are under a curse. We've all sinned, so we are all under a curse. What we need then if that curse is ever to be removed from us is for someone to take it in our place. This is what Jesus does when He is crucified. On the cross Jesus is cursed by God in the place of all those who would believe in Him, so that we no longer have to live under the curse of the law. The requirement of perfection on our end is thus lifted, so we can stop seeking justification by what we do (v. 12), and instead live by faith in what Jesus has done (v. 11).

So am I enough? If I'm trying to answer that question "yes" by what I do, the answer will always be no. I can't be perfect. But if I'm living by faith in Christ, God's answer is "yes," because Jesus paid for all my failures to be enough for God. The only way we can get a definitive yes to our question is if we stop trying to earn it ourselves, and believe that Jesus earned it for us.

That's one way I see the gospel freeing us: obedience to God's law is not how we become enough. But in Part 1 I talked about how obedience to God's law is not the only form of works-righteousness; it's anytime we try to feel like we are enough by something we do. The examples given were sports, academics, and women. How does the gospel apply to these systems of works-righteousness?

The answer in my mind is that on one hand it doesn't, and yet in one major way it does. How doesn't it? Well, Jesus only paid the penalty for my sins, Jesus only bore the curse for my failures to obey God's law. That means Jesus did not pay the penalty for my failure to win a game, get an A grade, or pick up a girl. Why didn't Jesus pay the penalty for these things? Because there is no penalty for these things! What we've actually done in an attempt to justify ourselves and feel like enough is rejected God's law and created one of our own, one that's filled with demands that God has never put on us (can you think of any Bible passage that would support the idea that it's a sin or a failure to obey God to lose a sporting event? cf. Micah 6:8). In many cases we've done this because we know God's law is too hard or because our systems seem more fun or attractive. We may also feel the system we've developed deals with our "real problem." For instance, if we think our "real problem" is loneliness, the law of getting the most girls possible is the system we will create. But our real "real problem" is our failure to obey God's law and the curse that puts us under. In this narrow sense, the gospel does not apply to our failures to live up to standards that aren't God's. There is no curse for these failures, so Jesus didn't take it on Himself.

So how does the gospel apply then? You see the problem with the systems we've created is that they are still works-righteousness, and they still demand perfection for us to ever feel like we are enough. No matter how many games we win, there will always be more. No matter how good the team we beat is, there will always be one better. No matter how many A's we get, there will always be more, harder classes. No matter how much money we make, we could always make more. No matter how many girls we pick up, there are always more. We can never rest in such a situation; our systems of works-righteousness continue to demand more and more of us. We will never really achieve that sense of "enough."

The fact then still remains: the only way we will achieve that sense of "enough" is through faith in what Christ has done for us in taking our curse, namely through faith in the gospel. There God dealt definitively with our actual curse because of our actual failure to obey His actual law. In Christ we are actually "enough," so we don't have to try to make ourselves enough by any effort of ours, whether that be by obedience to God's law or some law we made up. The gospel applies in a major way to these issues!

So where does that leave us now? Should we quit trying to obey God's law? Should we give up trying to win in sports? Should we slack in our academics and jobs? Should we never pursue a girl? Part 3...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Am I Enough? (Part 1)

This weekend I had the privilege to travel with 60+ male students from the Penn State Navigators to our annual men's retreat. In the past years it was always held at the famous McNutt farm, but this year we were scheduled to be at a different location. I was skeptical to say the least.

However, in terms of content alone, it was the best men's weekend I've been a part of. On the car ride down on Saturday we listened to Mark Driscoll's Marriage and Men sermon, which I can't recommend highly enough. Then on Sunday morning Dave Bowman, one of the campus staff with the Penn State Navs, shared a message from the first 3 chapters of Genesis on the effects of the fall on men.

One of the aspects of man's curse that Dave pointed out was that his work would basically rebel against him in the same way that he rebelled against God (Gen. 3:17-19). Also man's fellowship with God was broken as a result of the fall (Gen. 3:23-24). This leaves man in an interesting predicament. Rather than receiving fulfillment from a relationship with God and carrying out his duty to work for God's glory, man would now seek fulfillment through his work. Yet because his work would rebel against him, this fulfillment can never be realized.

Men then live their lives plagued with the question, "am I enough?" Basically this is man asking "ok I see that I want fulfillment through my work, but I also see that I'm prone to fail. Do I have what it takes to make this work?" So the controlling factor in life becomes feeling like we are enough. Men tend to respond to this in one of two ways: working harder and harder until they achieve enough to feel like they are enough, or giving up and punting their responsibilities so they never have to deal with the reality that they aren't enough. As Dave was sharing it reminded me of this quote by Tim Keller:

“At the root of all our disobedience are particular ways in which we continue to seek control of our lives through systems of works-righteousness. The way to progress as a Christian is to continually repent and uproot these systems the same way we become Christians, namely by the vivid depiction (and re-depiction) of Christ’s saving work for us, and the abandoning of self-trusting efforts to complete ourselves. We must go back again and again to the gospel of Christ-crucified, so that our hearts are more deeply gripped by the reality of what he did and who we are in him.” - Timothy Keller, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2003), 61. (Taken from Of First Importance)

Every way we try to achieve the feeling that we are enough apart from Christ is simple works-righteousness. Alot of times when I think of works-righteousness I make the mistake of thinking that it only applies to trying to obey Bible commandments to earn God's favor (e.g. having enuogh quiet times, serving at a homeless shelter, not killing anyone, etc.). While that is certainly one form of works-righteousness, most of us who have been around Christian communities for some time have heard Ephesians 2:8-9 enough to know we aren't supposed to do that. But works-righteousness is really much broader than that; it is any system whereby we try to feel justified, or right with God, or "enough" by something we do. We are trying to feel justified by works, we just may not be calling it that.

The world we live in today does not explicitly presuppose God and morality the same way the culture of Jesus' time did, especially the Judaism of Jesus' time. It may then be hard sometimes for us to see how every non-believer is relying on works for salvation and is therefore under a curse (Gal. 3:10-12). We may think as I often have, "this person is not trying to earn salvation, they are simply unconcerned with salvation because they don't believe in God etc." But make no mistake about it, all of us naturally try to earn our own personal salvation to cope with the pain of our consciences as we realize we are not enough, we just may not be calling it that.

Dave pointed out that men tend to do this in 3 ways: Sports, academics/success, and women. So yes, any time I work like crazy to win a game so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I study like crazy for a test so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I work my butt off for the highest paying, most prestigious job so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. Any time I try to get a or many girl(s) to like me so I can feel like I am enough, I am living in a system of works-righteousness. The list goes on.

Among the many problems with this, one sticks out: We still haven't dealt with failure! If these things are going to be our righteousness, we need to be perfect in them, or else we'll never actually achieve the feeling of "enough":

"For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” - Galatians 3:10

The gospel of Jesus Christ really is our only hope of escaping this curse we find ourselves under. I'd like to talk about that more in Part 2.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women and Teaching (Part 4)

In Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this miniseries on women and teaching I've sought to explain that God forbids women from teaching in the church, and have then sought to clarify what teaching means in this context. I now want to turn to some ideas on how we can honor God in the way we handle this issue with others. Before I do, a quick addendum to part 3:

As a practical way of determining whether a woman was teaching or is planning on teaching at your church, i.e. to distinguish between teaching and not teaching, is to just think of the past 5 sermons you've heard preached on a Sunday. Surely those represent Bible teaching (or else you should go to a different church!). If you can't find a real difference between those sermons and the one you've heard the woman give, it's probably teaching.

Now, onto part 4: I would like to consider 3 general scenarios where the way we approach this issue really becomes a question of practical importance: 1. When discussing it with women 2. When a ministry/church we are involved with does not seem to us to be holding to this standard 3. When a ministry/church we aren't involved with does not seem to us be holding to this standard.

Before I get into those 3 issues, I want to share two passages that have helped me in thinking about this:

"Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes." - Proverbs 26:4-5

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." - Ephesians 4:29

The 2 verses in Proverbs seem to contradict one another but I think what they really do is express practical wisdom: sometimes it's wise to respond to a fool, sometimes it is not. So there is some sense in which our reponse to folly depends on the occassion. Ephesians 4:29 further supports this by qualifying talk that does not corrupt as talk that "fits the occassion." What does it mean for talk to fit the occassion? That it would give grace to those who hear. So we should not assume that our response will be the same in every scenario. That said, I think there are some guiding principles we can apply. Now, for my thoughts on the three scenarios:

1. Guys, we really need to be careful in how we discuss this with women. I'll start by saying that I don't think we need to be evangelists about this. As the issue comes up we should certainly address it with what God's said on it, but I don't think after reading 1 Tim. 2 we need to find every girl we know and make sure they're aware that God doesn't want them teaching. I find with many guys that they are more than happy to beat girls down with arguments in this but too scared to share the gospel with a co-worker. These things ought not to be so.

God made men a women differently. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 reflects this by assigning men and women different roles. But the reality that men and women are different also means that as men we need to consider the way we approach women differently from the way we approach men. With this particular issue, I think that comes out in our rhetoric. When discussing these issues with guys I have a fairly high degree of freedom to exercise rigorous logic and harsh rhetoric. In general (and I stress in general, some guys like this style of discourse less and some girls don't mind it) this gets me in hot water with women. Often their feelings are hurt and they are intimidated. They don't feel honored or cared for and they certainly don't feel respected enough to offer a response. I've basically taken the situation and directed it completely for my ends: getting my opinion out there and smashing theirs to shreds.

Basically, myself and any guy who talks to girls like this is a jerk. Men are called to be gentle and not harsh towards women (Col. 3:19, 1 Pet. 3:7). I think the alternative is to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We still take a stand on the issue, to not do so is to submit to cowardice, but we do so in a way that inentionally seeks to honor the women we're discussing it with. Some characteristics of that speech might be:

  • Pointing out the good ways in which God has made men and women different.
  • Reading the Bible together rather than turning it into a "me vs. you" "guy vs. girl" argument
  • Letting women know how much you appreciate their many gifts that you aren't gifted in (in my case: compassion, warmth, mercy, listening, multitasking, child care, emotions, practicality, to name a few)
  • Emphasizing that God and you do not consider those in public, visible positions (teachers) to be of any greater value to the church than those in other roles. In fact, in 1 Cor. 12:21-25 Paul argues that greater honor should be given to those in less "glamorous" roles in the church. A difference in role does not equal a difference in worth.
  • Thinking intentionally with them of the best ways to help them put the spiritual gifts God has given them into practice in the roles God created them for.

2. If you're in an egalitarian church/ministry (i.e. a church that does not even support the view that men and women have different roles or that teaching is a role restricted to men), my recommendation would first be to discuss the issue with your leaders. Ask them questions, find out why they believe what they do. Then ask them if you can share what God's been teaching you through His Word in 1 Tim. 2. If they're open, praise God, continue. If they're closed off to it and stuck in their view, I honestly think considering membership in a church that takes more care to derive their practice from Scripture is a wise choice. In Wayne Grudem's Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism? he makes what I consider to be a convincing argument that churches who sacrifice this Biblical issue tend to sacrifice others as well. Not all slopes are slippery, but history suggests this one might be.

If you're in a complementarian ministry that draws the line differently on where teaching is (the issue discussed in Part 3 of this miniseries), I would tend to err on the side of charity. I don't find the scriptures to speak with a high degree of clarity on exactly what qualifies as teaching, though I do think we can follow some general guidelines. Therefore I think if you feel your ministry has or is considering crossing the line, that you should discuss it with your leadership. But don't do so assuming the worst about them. Don't assume they're doing this because they really just want to find loopholes in 1 Tim. 2 and play people-pleaser to the feminists in your ministry. Try to understand where they're coming from. Acknowledge that they have wisdom as well that you can learn from and that maybe you're the one whose view needs correcting. In that context I think you can also feel the freedom if you are still convinced of your position to share why you feel that way and to ask the leaders to reconsider. If in the end they are still complementarian but just differ in small ways as to where that line is drawn, I think we can submit to their leadership still, as there is certainly a Biblical precedent for that (1 Peter 5:5).

3. If you're just visiting a church and there's a female pastor, I think this is one of those scenarios where we don't need to feel like we have to rebuke the pastor. I think if we know someone attending that church we can ask them if they'd be open to searching the scriptures with us and encourage them to flesh this out in their church, but I don't think it's "fitting of the occassion" for us to come in to someone else's church on a temporary basis and point all the stuff that "I the expert" find wrong with the way "you the heretics" run your church.

Well, I really think that's about all I have for the time being on this issue, so no part 5! I hope this series has been to your benefit. I pray that we as the church would pursue Biblical faithfulness in this issue and trust God that what He has set out for men and women is really the best thing for us. I pray we would believe that these words have been given for our joy (John 15:11), so we don't have to try to find loopholes in them, but can joyfully submit to God's Word. I pray that men would honor women through the outworkings of this, and that God would conform all of us to the image of Christ for His glory.

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

- Genesis 1:27

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women and Teaching (Part 3)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this miniseries I attemped to demonstrate from the Bible that God does not permit women to teach the assembled church. Now I'll consider the basic question, "what is teaching?" That is, what did Paul mean to prohibit women from doing when he prohibited them from "teaching"?

As is usual when going from theory to practice, this is a bit more complicated. In the theoretical realm you can deal in absolutes more freely: "God does not permit women to teach the assembled church." But then you take it into practice and the issue takes on more shades of gray. On the one hand, I think there is a tendency to deny the presence of gray and just not let women ever open their mouths in church. On the other hand, I think there is a tendency to make everything so gray that 1 Timothy 2:11-14 basically has no bearing on our practice. I think a biblically faithful application of the text will avoid either extreme. Now for my thoughts on what Paul means by "teaching" here:

A simple greek word study here does not seem to me to do justice to the issue at hand. The greek word didasko is used pervasively in the new testament. The best I can do is offer some trends I noticed in my less than exhaustive look at it:
  • In the gospels, Jesus is often described as teaching (didasko) large crowds and in the synagogues. In these instances his focus seems to be on doctrine or ethical command (i.e. he's not "teaching" them a story about his life as a 20 year old, he's "teaching" them that the Son of man must suffer many things, or that adultery is a heart issue) (Mat. 4:23, 5:2, 7:29, 9:23, Mk. 8:31, 11:17, 12:35, Lk. 4:15, 31, 13:10, 19:47, Jn. 7:14, 8:2, 18:20)
  • In the gospels Jesus' opponents are also described as teaching false doctrine (Mat. 5:19, 15:9, Mk. 7:7)
  • In Acts where we find the action of teaching by the NT church, in many cases teaching refers to the statement of what is true for the sake of instructing others (Acts 5:42, 15:1, 21:21, 21:28). They don't say "this is how Jesus changed me," they say "Jesus is the Christ!"
  • This teaching in Acts also seems to have attachment to the Word, although it is used more broadly than this in Acts (Acts 15:35, 18:11).
  • In Paul's usage, he teaches in the church (1 Cor. 4:17), attaches teaching to preaching the Word and warning (Col. 1:28, 3:16), describes the content of teaching as the apostolic message (2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim. 2:2) and instruction in doctrine (1 Tim. 4:11, 1 Tim. 6:2).

I'm not a greek scholar so I don't want to go too far with that, but that's just a little survey of the use of didasko in the NT. Some trends I would pull out: It takes place among the assembled church, it is based on the Bible, its goal is instruction in doctrine and the application thereof. At this point I think it's also worth noting what teaching is not:

Teaching is not praying or prophecy. In 1 Cor. 11:5 Paul suggests that it will be normal in the church for women to pray or prophesy. This is nowhere prohibited in scripture, though 1 Cor. 14:33-36 does prohibit women from testing the spirits of the prophets (see D.A. Carson's chapter on this in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). I think I need to at least give a quick description of Biblical prophecy and how it's different from teaching, while acknowledging that this is another can of worms that I can't really do justice to within this miniseries of posts:

  • 1 Cor 14:3 says that "the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." So the goal of prophecy is not instruction in doctrine and the application thereof or exposition of the Biblical text. It is to speak words of encouragement basically.
  • 1 Cor. 14:29-30 suggests that the source of prophecy is revelation from God, which is delineated from a "lesson," presumably the source of teaching, in 14:26. In the description of events in 1 Cor. 14 it seems such revelation is of a more spontaneous character than a "lesson." So the source of prophecy in the NT is spontaneous revelation from God.

All that finally brings me to my tentative conclusion: In 1 Tim. 2:12, teaching refers to a prepared message delivered to the assembled church, the function of which is to instruct the audience in doctrine and the application thereof by exposition of the Biblical text.

Now that still leaves room for gray, which is again not something I'm trying to avoid, but I do think it gives us some guidelines by which to evaluate whether teaching is occuring:

  1. Does it take place in front of the assembled church? So I don't think Paul has conferences, seminars, classes, even potentially small group Bible studies in view here. I think he's generally referring to any situation where people are assembled under the notion that at this meeting there will be a Christian message delivered to the audience. This would then also not restrict the scenarios in view to Sunday morning church, but would also include meetings of parachurch ministries and others like it. It is certainly a loophole of loopholes for a parachurch to do the exact same thing a church is doing and then say "ah-ha, we're a parachurch, so we don't need to submit to God's will in this area!"
  2. Is the content a prepared lesson? Has the speaker spent her time preparing instruction, i.e. "here's the beliefs I want people to leave with, or the actions I want people to change" or has the speaker focused on words on encouragements, i.e. "here's something God's done in my life that I want to encourage others with."
  3. Does the message teach doctrine? By this I don't mean to ask if the message uses doctrinal buzzwords like "propitiation" or "substitutionary atonement." Certainly plenty of doctrine is taught without the use of such terminology. I mean is the content propositional? Does it assert truths to be believed or does it share words for encouragement and upbuilding? Consider "Jesus is Lord over all creation" versus "I experienced great change in my life when I submitted to Jesus' Lordship over my relationship with my family." A word of caution at this point: it won't do to teach doctrine and just preface it with phrases like "in my life God showed me this: Jesus is Lord over all creation." That's still doctrine.
  4. Does the message make specific general application to its hearers? By this I'm referring to instruction in how we are to live differently as a result of the message. Consider "because Jesus is Lord over all your life, I'd encourage you to consider what areas of life you aren't submitting to him and to seek repentence in those areas" versus "what it looked like for me to submit to Christ's Lordship over my family was to seek reconciliation with my mom."
  5. Does the message exposit the Biblical text? Notice I'm not saying women shouldn't be allowed to read scripture aloud. I think women can use the Bible as they speak and should in fact be encouraged to do so, as long as the focus does not fall on explaining in propositional terms its meaning. Consider "1 John 4:10 really shows that our love is ultimately rooted in God's love for us in the death of His son" versus "God used 1 John 4:10 to show me how great His love is for me and how amazing Jesus' sacrifice is." The same words of caution apply here as in (2). Just because the speaker isn't using exegetical language like "aorist tense" doesn't mean she isn't doing exegesis, and simply prefacing what is really exegesis with "this is what God showed me" won't do.

I hope that is practically helpful. After all that, I would want to make sure I affirm two things loud and clear: the issue is still gray and men still have a ton to learn from women. Even my guidelines are subject to error both in their form (I'm far from God) and in their practice (they don't alleviate all the gray). As I discuss this with others I continue to see gray areas arise. Due to that fact and the fact that Paul does not go to great lengths to define what he means by teaching, I think charity is the best policy in the question of where to draw the line between what constitutes teaching and what doesn't (as long as we agree that there is a line that needs to be drawn, i.e. we're both committed and happy to support the complementarian position I've outlined in Part 1 and 2). In discussions with other complementarians I know we draw the line at different places, and while I obviously feel I'm right or else I'd change my position, I feel completely comfortable continuing in ministry and fellowship with them.

Also, women are an amazing gift from God. They have so much valuable insight and wisdom that myself and other men can learn from. I would never want to say that women have nothing worth saying or no avenue through which to say things. I would love to hear words of encouragement from any woman God has lead to share them.

I hope this has gone a long way to at least giving some guidelines for application of 1 Tim. 2:11-14. However, I don't think the application ends there. How are we to go about implementing this? What should we do if we're in a situation where we feel there is disobedience to this command of God? How should men interact with women on this sensitive subject? I hope to take up these issues in Part 4.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Why I like John Piper more today than I did a month ago (and it's not because I actually met the guy)

Two reasons: 1. He's decided to take a ~8 month leave of absence as pastor of preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church. 2. He invited Rick Warren to speak at the 2010 Desiring God National Conference.

1. As an external observer, the decision to take an 8 month leave of absence and the way he's presented the leave demonstrate to me an excellent Christian example of humility and commitment to the one true God. He didn't sugarcoat it. He didn't call it a "sabbatical." He didn't try to baptize it and make it sound spiritual. He came out and told us the real issue: his pride is preventing him from loving his family and others the way God calls him to (it reminds me of David's attitude after his sin, Psalm 51 was written to the choirmaster, the guy who puts the stuff he's given out in the open for the assembled people of God (see v.1.)). I can only imagine the various lies satan was trying to feed him to prevent him from doing this. I tend to believe these lies myself: "if people see your failures, your ministry will fail," "don't do this, people will lose respect for you," "your books won't sell as well, you wouldn't dare want to risk that," etc. Especially as I've seen small leadership roles in ministry, my inclination is to hide my failures so people don't lose faith in me. But there's the problem: the goal of our ministry should be to direct people to faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves. Nobody grows in a great appreciation for Christ and His gospel by sitting under the teaching of a guy who presents himself as though he has no need of it. This decision of Piper's helps me to see him as less of a "Christian superstar" and as more of a sinner saved by grace. The former makes me worship Piper, the latter makes me worship Jesus.

It is for that very reason that I think this also gives a good example of commitment to the one true God. Piper has to know that this decision will hurt his superstar status in the eyes of many. If ministry success or his reputation were a real idol for him, there is NO WAY he could make this decision. If the approval of man and being put up on a pedestal by young Christians like myself was what he found life from, the idea of a leave of absence would be REPREHENSIBLE. The idol of superstardom is a tempting one, but I think Piper's actions here represent a casting down of that idol and a worship of the one true God.

2. I'll be the first to admit that this particular decision of Piper's is a bit more complicated. I'm personally torn on whether it was wise or not for Piper to invite Rick Warren to DG. On the one hand, I don't think Rick Warren preaches a different gospel. Therefore I think unity with him is worth pursuing and this is certainly a great way to do it. I also like the idea of giving him a chance to explain himself that will hopefully begin a conversation between Warren and the reformed community (an audience that normally wouldn't give him the time of day, myself included). On the other hand, I think in my limited exposure (and I do emphasize limited) to Rick Warren it seems he does tend to water down the full Biblical revelation of God in order to appeal to a broader audience. The unfortunate thing about this decision is I fear that no matter what Piper does to clear things up, history will view it as an endorsement of all of Warren's ministry (the good and the bad) from a majorly influential reformed theologian. On the third hand, John Piper is way older and wiser than I am, so I'm very slow to take a firm stance against him on a grayer issue like this. On the fourth hand, God is sovereign and this is a 3-day conference. It's really not the end of the world even if Piper's decision is less than wise. God will accomplish His purpose through it. The incredible backlash I've seen on the internet particularly from those in reformed circles really makes one question whether any of them really believe in the sovereignty of God outside of the ivory tower.

That said, I respect Piper for doing it. The reason I respect him is because he knew when he did it that he would receive criticism not only from the normal critics, but this time from his normally receptive reformed audience. If we're honest, much of what's being called the "new calvinism" is a fad. It provides a temptation to be more faithful to the fad than to what we feel God calling us to do. In this situation Piper had a choice between loyalty to the fad and loyalty to what he felt God was calling him to do: he chose the latter. Similar to his leave of absence, he had to know this would lower people's opinions of him in alot of ways, but he did it anyway. He doesn't view himself as part of a fad, neither should I.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women and Teaching (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my thoughts on women and teaching I basically outlined what I believe the Bible has to say about the specific issue of women teaching the Bible. Based on 1 Timothy 2:11-14, I concluded that God prohibits women from teaching the Bible to the assembled church. I would now like to attempt a response to the three most common objections I've encountered as I've discussed this issue with others:

1. Objection: In the time of Paul's writing 1 Timothy, women were not well educated, so obviously they were not permitted to teach. However, today women are well educated. Since the context has changed, the command no longer applies.

My response: It is true that if a Biblical command is context specific, we must consider how or if it applies to our context. However, I think this objection presupposes something that is not only not found in the text, but is specifically refuted by the text. The presupposition is that the reason for Paul's prohibition of female teaching is the lack of education for women at the time. But Paul gives us his reason, and that is not it:

"I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then EVe; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." - 1 Tim. 2:12-14 (ESV, emphasis mine)

Paul appeals to the order of creation and the events of the fall. Without going into the details of why Paul thinks these are good reasons to prevent women from teaching, suffice it to say that he does. It is therefore the truth of these premises that determines whether the command applies, not the level of education among women. As long as the premises are true, the command applies. No matter how educated a woman is today, man was still created first and it was still the woman who was deceived. Insofar as these premises are still true, women should still not be permitted to teach the Bible to the assembled church.

2. Objection: Many women honestly feel the Holy Spirit leading them into pastoral ministry or even to share a message on occassion that would involve teaching. How can you tell them not to when the Holy Spirit is telling them to?

My response: I certainly would not want to quench the Spirit, and I do believe He leads His children. However, between our own sin and the presence of satan, we often muff up the Spirit's leading. We see this tension in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21:

"Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good."

The work of the Spirit and prophecies are both things given of God. If that's the case, why would we need to test them? It is because the way in which we interpret such things is often flawed. So we shouldn't just assume that because we feel the Spirit is leading us one way that He actually is. We should test it. What are we then to test it against but the inerrant written word of God? (cf. Acts 17:11), for nothing in scripture was given by anyone's interpretation, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21). When I test this sensed leading of the Spirit by the written word in 1 Tim. 2:11-14, I find it to fail the test. The Spirit would not lead His children into an action that He expressly forbade when He inspired the words of scripture.

3. Objection: Paul says "I do not permit," not "God does not permit," so this command does not carry divine authority.

My response: The simple answer is that all scripture is God breathed, and Paul's writings in the NT canon are scripture (2 Peter 3:16). Therefore, all of what Paul says in his NT letters are God's word, and authoritative over our lives. That's the simple answer. But I'll also note that I think this represents a misunderstanding of Divine inspiration. When Christians say the Bible is divinely inspired, we don't mean to suggest that Paul woke up in the morning, talked to God, and then just wrote down what God said (so that some things are the stuff God actually told him, but then when it's just his opinion he writes "I do not permit."). Paul spoke words from his own mind but the Holy Spirit "carried him along" to ensure that he said what God wanted him to say (2 Peter 1:21). In that sense, everything Paul writes is in the context of "I permit," or "I do not permit." But because he was carried along by the Holy Spirit in writing those things, what Paul permits in scripture God permits, and what Paul does not permit in scripture God does not permit. At this point the conclusion is obvious: if in scripture Paul does not permit women to teach the assembled church, neither does God.

I hope these brief responses have helped to show that God has in fact revelead in scripture that He does not permit women to teach men in the assembled church, no matter what the time period, and that He will not lead them by His spirit otherwise. I know in academia there are more objections to the position I've outlined, but since I don't really interact with them in the average conversation with my fellow college students, I'll simply reference you to the extremely helpful book edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, specifically the chapter by Douglas Moo on 1 Tim. 2:11-14.

Now that the principle of God's prohibition on female teaching has been laid out, the question of application still remains. What exactly constitutes "teaching" in the sense that Paul is using it here? Does that mean women can't speak at church? What about at other meetings like those of parachurch groups? Does that mean they can't talk about the Bible at all? Where is that line drawn? I hope to take up this issue in Part 3.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

NYT: What really makes people happy?

New York Times Op-Ed columnist David Brooks used the recent events of Sandra Bullock's life to present and discuss some studies on what makes people happy.

He goes over a number of studies and numbers, the conclusions of which are fairly consistent: marriage, families, and relationships make people happier than money or material success. He suggests this is due to the increased depth in relationships versus the shallowness of the mere accumulation of wealth. He further suggests that we tend to focus on the wrong things: success and money rather than cultivation of deep interpersonal relationships, the thing that will really make us happy.

It certainly is hard to argue with the statistics and conclusions Brooks presents. It seems that they give confirmation to the Biblical principle expressed by Jesus:

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and destroy." - Matt. 6:19

A little later in chapter 6 of Matthew we find that this treasure Jesus is referring to is money. He commands us not to "lay it up for ourselves." So we are not to focus our efforts on working for money. The reason Jesus gives is because money is so frail and fragile. It is so easily lost. In his context He's probably referring to some precious stones etc. that moth and rust could destroy. Even in the case of the paper money of our times or the online bank accounts, thieves can break in and destroy. Money does not abide; it lets us down. It does not know us, it does not give us the love that we need to be happy. Having it may make us feel more worthwhile for a time, but it will ultimately fail us.

Relationships on the other hand are a bit different. Another person can know us, another person can love us. We so crave this. We so desire to be really known and loved for who we are. When we receive that from others, it produces a happiness "money can't buy." So surely the things Jesus commands us to lay up for ourselves in opposition to money are relationships, right? Wrong.

"but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal." - Matt. 6:20

The problem with relationships is that they too can let us down. Friends betray, marriages end, families fracture, and ultimately everyone dies. Working towards relationships, storing up for ourselves relationships, is again storing up a "treasure on earth," that moth and rust can destroy. Jesus' remedy: store up treasure in heaven. God cannot be destroyed by moth or rust; He is eternal. As such, only He can give us the lasting, eternal love we all so crave. Only he can fully know and love us, perfectly, for all of eternity.

So Brooks' point cannot be disputed: interpersonal relationships will make us happier than money. But in the long run, interpersonal relationships with humans will ultimately fail to provide lasting happiness, true joy. That is only available through a right relationship with God, available to all through Jesus Christ.

"You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." - Psalm 16:11

HT: Aaron Bobuk

Friday, April 9, 2010

Some Thoughts on Women & Teaching (Part 1)

I've recently had the privilege of engaging in fruitful discussion with some friends on the subject of women teaching the Bible. The impetus for the discussion involved exposure to some situations where women seemed to be teaching the Bible. So the question inevitably arose; "how are we to view this in light of what God has said in His word?" The others involved and I believe every word of the Bible is given by inspiration of God, and is therefore inerrant and authoritative over all areas of life (2 Tim. 3:16ff). The first important issue then was to discern what the Bible taught on this topic.

To my knowledge the most relevant passage in all of scripture on the issue of women teaching the Bible is in 1 Timothy 2:11-14:

"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." - 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (ESV, emphasis mine)

God speaking through Paul here seems to be pretty clear. There are two things prohibited for women: teaching and exercising authority over men. The preceding verses (particularly v. 8) and really the context of the whole letter, suggest the context in view is the assembled church. So I don't take Paul here to be prohibiting women teaching 10th grade history etc. He also makes the audience in this case to include men, so I don't think Paul is prohibiting women teaching other women (in fact in Titus 2:3-4 commands women to do so). I also don't think Paul is saying that women can never instruct or correct men in contexts outside of the assembled church (see the example of Priscilla in Acts 18:26). What he means by "exercising authority" is another issue that I won't be really addressing except as it relates to teaching.

To summarize Paul's prohibition then with respect to teaching: women are not to give formal instruction to the assembled church (a mixed group of men and women).

I know there are plenty of objections to this position, but the 3 most common I've heard in discussing this with others are: 1. Women are more educated and able now, so hasn't the context changed? 2. Many women sincerely feel called to the pastorate, who are we to oppose the calling of the Spirit? 3. Paul says "I do not permit," not that "God does not permit," so is this command really authoritative?

These are great questions! I've wrestled through them myself, and after doing so I remain convinced that Scripture, and therefore God, does not permit women to give formal instruction to the assembled church. I'll attempt to explain why in Part 2.

Why blog?

So I haven't read enough pilot blog posts to know whether writing your first blog with the subject "why blog?" is cliche or not, but to me it makes sense.

There are probably alot of reasons people blog, but the most I could intelligently speak on are the reasons I sense in my own heart. That could include alot, so I'll discuss my motivations in two categories: me-centered and God-centered. The former is my natural setting, so I'm praying that He would move me to the latter (as you probably guessed, this applies to more than blogging).

Me-centered: I really think my ideas are great. I really think everyone with internet access needs to hear them. I don't mean like "maybe you'd be blessed by some of my thoughts," no I mean you need to hear them. I have things figured out, and you don't really, so you need to be corrected by me. Not only that, but the fact that you don't have things figured out makes me mad. So I also need a forum on which to vent about why everyone else being wrong makes me so angry.

Such is my temptation. It will come out in my posts; I ask your forgiveness in advance. But by God's grace I don't want to have a me-centered attitude like this, and by God's grace I don't think my blog has to have that as its motivation and driving force. I think God's also given me another motivation:

God-centered: God is glorious as He is, and so we bring glory to God as we show who He is and what He's done. I think blogging is basically an opportunity to share who God is and what God's done, is doing, and will do in the world and in my life. I am excited at this opportunity. I believe if the focus is on the greatness of God's words (Jer. 15:16, my "theme verse" for this blog) and not my own, God can be glorified and the readers of it (even if there are only 2, thanks Tim and Aaron) can be encouraged.

Lord, may we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

P.S. I stole my idea for the title with the verse below and format from Justin Towart, who is far more creative than I. He just updated his blog for the first time since 2008.