Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Serpent in the Tree Goes Twist, Twist, Twist All Through the Church

A few days ago, I got an email from an old friend. "Did you see this on facebook?" she asked, and she pasted this:
"One thing I said was that it was high time that Christians open wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. So great has our condemnation and exclusion been that gay Christian teens are seven times more likely to commit suicide. Nope. No. No ma'am. Not on my watch. No more. This is so far outside the gospel of Jesus that I don't even recognize its reflection. I can't. I won't. I refuse. So whatever the cost and loss, this is where I am. Gay teens? Gay adults? Mommies and daddies of precious gaybees? Friends and beloved neighbors of very dear LGBT folk? Here are my arms open wide. So very wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately, and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing "wrong with you" or in any case, nothing more wrong or right than with any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up, but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole. Yay for Jesus! Thank God He loves us. He is not embarrassed of any of us. I am not a scandal. You are not a scandal. We are not 'bringing down his band.' Anyway, my message to you today is simple, LGBT gang and all those who love you: You are loved and special and wanted and needed. The end." (Jen Hatmaker, Facebook, 4/24/16)
I assure you I'm not spending a moment of my time following Mrs. Hatmaker. But when something outlandish like this comes across my desk, I feel compelled to check it out. Anyway...
My first reaction: Well, duh.
My second reaction: Grace, grace, grace. Do some investigating. Maybe it's out of context. Maybe she'll clarify. Maybe it isn't as really, awfully, horribly bad as it sounds.
Investigating done, my third reaction: It's as really, awfully, horribly bad as it sounds.

I am not a scandal. You are not a scandal.
Whoopsie. Seems we've been dawdling at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil again, haven't we? Here. Let me wipe that juice off your chin:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God. I Corinthians 6:9-11.
I am a scandal, you are a scandal, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Of course, there's the kernel of truth in there, too. Yes, all people matter. Yes, all people are important. Yes, all people have unquantifiable worth. But kernels of truth do not wise people make. Satan spoke kernels of truth, too.

Now, let's say she meant, Come as you are. Yes. Absolutely. Our churches are full of sanctifying ex-sinners, who enjoyed our sin and rebellion until God washed us. That's our testimony: what we were and what we now are and the difference between the two wrought by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

But she didn't mean that. She meant, Stay as you are. He's not embarrassed of any of us. True dat. God's not embarrassed;  He's offended. And God certainly doesn't mean for us to stay that way. And such were some of you, says Paul. WERE.

There's a world of difference between Come-as-you-are and Stay-as-you-are, a chasm of outer darkness, weeping, gnashing of teeth. Come as you are; that is grace. Bathe in it. Give thanks for it. Stay as you are; that's hell. Run.

Opening wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables...
That would be Corinth. Hatmaker's just updating their playbook.
Paul's response? Knock it off.

Corinth was one sad mess of a church. They couldn't agree on the best teachers, they couldn't agree on how to come to the Lord's Table. But they appeared to agree on a wide open church to people who at the same time called themselves practising saints and practising sinners. It's important to note that Corinth wasn't rebuked for not being inclusive enough; they were rebuked for not being exclusive enough.

Jen Hatmaker is not flying under the radar. This is not a lost little lamb who just needs someone to come along and mentor her. She's not sitting on my couch pondering this deep, wide thing called grace, processing aloud, wrestling with issues of mercy and justice. Lots of us are. Lots of us are feeling the tension of how to show God's love and stand with Him on His Word. That tension is right and good. Truth and souls are at stake here.

Hatmaker is experiencing none of this tension. Worse, she is a nationally known speaker and author, charismatic, gifted...and very, very influential.  This is someone who has an incredible amount of draw among female believers, and she purposefully puts herself and her message out there. I can deduce but two things.
she is Biblically ignorant, in which case she should not be speaking or writing; she should be sitting under the preaching of God's Word in a solid church until she gets her spiritual feet under her
she is Biblically insolent, in which case she should not be speaking or writing; she should be repenting.
Either way, she should not be speaking or writing.

I know that the Christian community is divided on her, even among my own circle of friends. I figured clarification would eventually come, one way or the other. God has a way of removing middle ground, sooner or later. It now appears that that has just happened.

I've got five daughters, one daughter-in-law (with hopefully many more to come), and one granddaughter (so far). So this grizzly mama is passionately concerned about women like Hatmaker. To that end, I offer the only wisdom I can offer to all the women I love: RUN. Run fast. In the other direction.

Is Jen Hatmaker a real believer?
The gospel is simple. So I am willing to say that it is possible that she is a poorly catechized believer. But the gospel is also precise. So I am unwilling to say that it is probable. That's as much grace as I can muster without selling out.

One thing is for sure. Jen Hatmaker is preaching the wrong gospel because she's solving the wrong problem.

More to come...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

More Than Hopeful

And He personally brought you out of Egypt by His great power. Deuteronomy 4:37

"Jesus is not 'anxious,' 'worried,' or 'hopeful,' " said Matt Chandler at Together for the Gospel last week, finger-quoting each of the adjectives as he spoke. It was the second time in as many weeks that I had heard a reliable source disdain the portrayal of Jesus as 'hopeful', the pacing God, wringing His hands over the possibility that some He had died for might not take Him up on His offer.

The week before, I had read this in J.I. Packer's book, In My Place Condemned He Stood: The Gospel will not countenance the degrading presentation of Christ as the baffled Savior, balked in what He hoped to do by unbelief. 

It's a good word. It's an important word. But let us not use 'hopeful' in the wrong application.

There are traits reserved for God. God is jealous, wrathful, and perfect. We are not. And there are traits reserved for us: sinful, fickle,...and hopeful.

In recent days, I am more and more convinced that hopeful is not a term we should EVER use to describe God. 'Hopeful' implies something that we yearn for but that is beyond our control. There is nothing that God yearns for that He does not get. There is nothing outside of His control.

Jesus did not offer us salvation.
He saved us.
Jesus did make salvation available.
He saved us.
Jesus does not 'hope' that we get saved.
He saved us.

And He personally brought you out of Egypt by His great power. He didn't ask or cajole. He is not like the modern daddy who gets down on eye level and pleads with his son, asking, "Would you like to come with Daddy?" No. A thousand times no. Rather, He takes his son's hand and declares, "You are coming with Me."

Some people don't like that. If Jesus secured salvation, then how does that explain those who do not receive salvation? Does it mean that Jesus did not secure salvation for some?
That is precisely what it means.

And that is precisely what it means to say that it is by grace we are saved, and that not of ourselves.
It is by unmerited favor that we are saved.

Everyone's special, Dash.
Which is another way of saying no one is.
If everyone is favored--then no one is. Favor implies disfavor. There can't be favor if there is not also disfavor. They exist side by side, or they do not exist at all. So if there is no disfavor, there is no favor. And if there is no favor, then there is no grace. And if there is no grace, friends, then we are not saved.

Aw, she's still in the cage stage.
No. I'm not. Or rather, yes. I am.
If cage stage means that I rejoice in a God who secured my salvation...
If cage stage means I am overwhelmed by God and His saving grace...
If cage stage means God is biggER, bettER, kindER, MORE merciful, MORE gracious, MORE glorious to me in the last eighteen years or so than He ever was in my first thirty years...
then I'll never be out of the cage stage.

Growing up, God was portrayed to me as hopeful.
It was almost the good news.
It was almost finished.
I could almost sleep at night.

Packer is right; it is degrading to present God as merely hopeful. And he's right again: Can we seriously think that this most precious blood would be spent with the possibility of an empty class of people called 'the saved'?!?!
As if He is not powerful enough or sovereign enough to save.
As if He is not entitled to grant favor.
As if...He was a mere man.
As if.

And because we have a God who is not merely hopeful, we are not merely hopeful, either. We do not yearn for something that may or may not happen. Our hope is certain and sure because God is certain and sure, and His plan is certain and sure. This same Jesus who personally brought His people out of Egypt by His great power has personally saved us by His great power.

This is Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

That's not hopeful.
That's a wrap.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fraternity and the First Name

I remember an incident years ago when a young mother was in my home and wondering aloud what one of my adult children should call her. She wasn't being arrogant or difficult. It was an honest question from an honest person whose own identity was evolving. Still, the question didn't sit well with me. And it would take months for it to hit me. I was old enough to be this woman's mother...which means that she was young enough to be my children's sibling. What should my adult children call her? They should call her, and feel comfortable doing so, "Her First Name." (I am not here arguing that a six year old should address an adult by their first name. There are few things quite as jolting.)

This issue has weighed on my heart for quite some time now. And Brett's sermon last week confirmed to me that there is, indeed, a biblical principle here.

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (I Timothy 5:1) To put this in right context, this is the beginning of Paul's instructions to Timothy about how the household of God should comport themselves around each other.

To quote Brett's sermon and author Philip Ryken:
1. The clear admonition here is that it is the responsibility of older Christians to bridge the generation gap to younger Christians, and not the other way around.
2. Older men should treat their juniors with fraternity; younger men should treat their seniors with humility. 

And not the other way around.

Having four children who are now adults, I've seen and heard their frustration at not being taken seriously as adults. Sometimes they rant; sometimes they're hurt; sometimes they just give up. But they haven't put me up to this. They do not know I am making this appeal. And I do not make this appeal for them alone but for all of their peers, as well.

Let me give you my take on this group of people. They are millennials. But they are more unique than that. They are Christians. They have been well-educated and well-discipled. They are curious; they are interested; they are interesting. They are often insufferable, to be sure. But they are passionate, and they want to be taken seriously.

And, by my generation, they are taken seriously. Mostly. By my generation, they are treated like adults. My generation converses with them, looks them in the eye, and goes to coffee with them. Some in my generation--and I want to kiss these people--even say, "Hey, please call me 'My First Name.' "

But there's a generation between my generation and my millennials. I'll call them Middle-somethings. If my millennials have been rebuffed, dismissed, ignored, or lectured, it has always been by the Middle-somethings. Is this a pecking order? Brett asked a few months ago. What's going on here? If millennials are going to be treated like junior-adults, rather than simply adults, it's going to be by the Middle-somethings. (My apologies to all the Middle-somethings who have treated my adult children like adults. We have noticed. And we are grateful.)

That's sad because--and here's a hard truth--my millennials and their friends can generally debate a Middle-something into the dirt on just about any topic. Politics, theology, culture. You name it. I've debated these people on the same topics, sometimes quite vigorously. And I find them fascinating. They have earned my respect. And I freely offer my friendship.

Perhaps our view of millennials is not big enough because we fail to take God's view of millennials. And God's view of millennials is the same as His view of all of mankind.

When God created man, He created him after His own image. Man originally had true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. Thus we can say that he was virtually (that is, in effect) prophet, priest, and king. When Adam sinned and fell, we sinned and fell with him. And so all men (except for Jesus Christ) became ignorant, guilty and sinful. And the whole message of the Bible is about what God has done to save some men from this lost condition.*

To unpack that:
Millennials are created in the image of God, just like you. Millennials were intended to function as prophet, priest, and king, just like you. Millennials fell, and Jesus came to redeem and restore them to their original function, just like you.

It would, therefore, be appropriate to remind ourselves that they are struggling to throw off the weight of sin and come into their redeemed function as prophet, priest, and king, just like you. They want knowledge; they want righteousness; they want holiness. And some days they don't. Just like you. Let us, then, extend fraternity to these people. Let us encourage them in their pursuit of knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.

Why would we not?
What good reason could we possibly have for being rude, dismissive, or lecture-ish???

I don't think of my adults and their peers as Suzanne's kids or Tiffany's kids or Sharon's kids or Sandra's kids.
I think of them as Amelia or Grace or Jeremy or Ben.

So here's my appeal. Treat them like adults.
Not adults in training.
Not Brett's and Noel's kids.
In their own right.

When you interact with them, give them the same attention and respect you give to your gal-pals. Offer them your friendship. Offer them your first name.
Don't lecture.
Don't be insufferable yourself.
Don't call them 'girls.' Call them 'women.' Just because they aren't running their own household does not mean that they can't.

They are not juniors.
They are singles.
They are also prophets, priests, and kings in the making.
Just like you.

*The Westminster Shorter Catechism, G.I. Williamson, p.94

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Dangerous Business of Teaching Our Children to Share

I remember the blank looks I got when I told a group of friends that we don't make our kids share with each other. We were all Christian moms, and my comment was definitely controversial. It's not that we don't value sharing. How can we not value sharing if God does? But there are nuances that get dropped in our zeal to turn these little self absorbed tyrants into good citizens of God's kingdom. And not teaching these nuances simply turns them from one kind of self-absorbed tyrant into another kind of self-absorbed tyrant. Let me explain

Picture Johnny and Janie playing happily side by side. Suddenly, the laughter turns to squabbling because Janie has grabbed Johnny's favorite Matchbox car. Johnny grabs it back; he was, after all, playing with it first. And he is indignant at his sister's utter lack of respect.

(If this scene has never played out in your house, you don't have enough kids. Remedy that immediately. Kids, and all that comes with them, are one of God's greatest teachers. Back to my story...)

In walks Mother to save the day. Appalled at Johnny's selfishness, she sternly instructs him to hand the car to his little sister. Johnny obeys. Mother praises him for sharing.

Mother is wrong.
Johnny did not share.
Johnny did obey his authority. And for that, he should be praised. But Johnny did not share. Johnny just had his private property forcibly removed from him by his governing authority and redistributed to another. Johnny just paid a tax. But Johnny did not share.

Now let's revisit the scene. Let's say Mother isn't quite as wooden as all that. (Hooray for Mother!) Let's say Mother understands the importance of stewardship and private property. Let's say Mother's appeal to Johnny goes more like this:
"Johnny, I understand that the car is yours. And owning this little car comes with great responsibility. Do you think you should share the car with Janie? Do you have good reason to not let her play with the car?"

At this point, we need a flow chart.
If Johnny willingly hands over the car because Janie wants or needs it, then Johnny has given from his heart. And Mother should praise him for sharing.
If Johnny willingly hands over the car even though Janie has a record of breaking his stuff, Johnny has exhibited mercy, and Mother should praise him for being merciful.
If Johnny refuses to hand over the car because Janie has a record of breaking his stuff, Johnny has exhibited stewardship, and Mother should praise him for that.
If Johnny doesn't have good reason and hasn't thought this through, then Mother is seeing Johnny's depravity. He is a self-absorbed little tyrant, and she should proceed with training and/or punitive measures forthwith.

But let's not forget Janie. Mother is not done parenting in this situation. If Mother is on her game (meaning her hormones are in perfect harmony with her world; the baby slept through the night; she's not having a bad hair day; she had a bona fide quiet time that morning; but I digress...), then she will not neglect training Janie, either.

Mother needs to make sure that Janie understands a couple things:
1. Janie is not entitled to Johnny's private property.
2. Johnny is not obligated to give his private property to her.

If  Janie understands this and backs off, she has demonstrated wisdom beyond her years and should be praised for respecting Johnny and his stuff.
If Janie shrugs and grabs at the car, she is attempting theft. Mother is seeing Janie's depravity. She is a self-absorbed little tyrant, and Mother should proceed with training and/or punitive measures forthwith.

Are you seeing the nuances of teaching our children about sharing? Sharing is predicated on the idea of private property. It is impossible to teach sharing without teaching about private property. Oh, and in case you are wondering, private property is straight from the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox or four sheep for a sheep. Exodus 22:1
If a man causes a field or a vineyard to be grazed over, or lets his beast loose and it feeds in another man's field, he shall make restitution from the best in his own field and in his own vineyard. Exodus 22:5
If a man borrows anything of his neighbor, and it is injured or dies, the owner not being with it, he shall make full restitution. Exodus 22:14.
Take a trip through the books of the law, and you will see numerous instances of God protecting private property.  Why do we parents protect it less? Why do we act with our children as if private property is grubby, clutching, and materialistic? Not only is that basically gnostic (!), I submit that we are not portraying God correctly to our children when we do that. 

Read the account of Ananias and Sapphira.
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? and keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? You have not lied to man but to God. Acts 5:3-4.
They were not killed for withholding property. The property was theirs to use as they saw fit. They were killed for lying.

Do not forget to do good and to share with others. For with such sacrifices, God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)  Sharing is sacrificial. It is an internally motivated willingness to suffer loss for the benefit of another.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, then sharing must be internally motivated. It comes from the heart. The prophets are full of rebuke for people who made sacrifices out of a sense of resentful obligation.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, then it must be willing. It must be cheerful. Or it is not sharing.

If sharing is likened by God to sacrifice, it must involve loss. Loss implies ownership and entitlement...and subsequent surrender. Sharing, it then follows, can only be done by the property owner. There is no such thing as compulsory sharing.

So, we have our work cut out for us. Teaching our children to share is not as easy as it seems because, while obedience can and should be mandated, sharing never can. Never. Teaching our children to share must include instruction about private property, respect for other people, and the heart of sacrifice. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit.

If we fail to teach sharing in the context of private property, we will raise little self-absorbed tyrants.
And little self-absorbed tyrants grow up to be big self-absorbed tyrants.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

If It's Not Unmerited, It's Not Grace

And...the 2015 Song of the Year is...
All About that Bass,
'bout that bass, no treble.

I do have a song of the year, but that's not it.
If you've been paying any attention at all over the past two years, you know I've been on a journey of grace. There are times when God needs to get my attention and the gentle urgings along the way are not working. I'm not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. So He klonks me on the head in a big way, and..finally...I'm listening.

In terms of grace, I've come a long way, baby. But in other terms of grace, I've got a still got a long way to go. Even as I was learning grace with those I love the most, I was dimly aware that my next lesson would be extending grace to those I don't love quite as much. Admit it. You're the same way. You and I love some people more than we love others. I'm not saying that's flawed. We can't possibly have the same level of intensity in every relationship. Life is like the Bohr Model of Love. As our inner circles fill up, people have to find their places in each concentric circle out. But I do find that grace comes easier to me with the inner circles and not as easy as I work my way out.

In some ways, 2015 was a very good year. Three times I had major reconciliations with friends. THREE! I initiated one. Two came out of the blue from more distant friends. Without going into detail, let me say that my heart just sang over God's faithfulness to bring restoration where I was not able to.


I remember a book (I have not read) that came out some years ago called, "Jonathan Edwards: Marriage to a Difficult Man." What struck me was the 'difficult' part. Jonathan Edwards, difficult? Wasn't he the rock star of the Great Awakening???

CS Lewis once wrote that people with cold temperaments can be believers, too. If you have not met these believers, you have probably not been a Christian for very long. But I've been in the Church for more than forty years. And I've known my share of cold Christians across the decades. Difficult Christians. Christians who have old third grade report cards somewhere that read, "Has difficulty getting along well with others."

I've also learned that 'cold' can take many forms. Some cold Christians are proud. Some cold Christians are prickly, easily provoked. Some cold Christians are peevish. And some cold Christians are just that: cold. About as easy to relate to as a wooden post.

Some Christians are cold because life has been hard. Some Christians are cold because they were born that way. I would be rationalizing if I said they make it hard for me to extend grace. It's more truthful to say that I'm unwilling to do the hard work of extending them unmerited favor.  Worse, what I've begun to observe about myself is that to the prickly, I am prickly. To the provoked, I am provoked. To the peevish, I am peevish.  Do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Go directly to my outermost ring. I am ungracious to the ungracious.

And here's the cold truth of my own: Contractors.  I treat cold Christians like contractors. You want to do cold? We can do cold. You abide by the terms of the contract, we can work together. You violate the terms of the contract, we are done. There is no long-term commitment to, no concern for, no come-hell-or-highwater. Contractors. It's just good business.

Turns out, I'm a bit frosty myself.

Covenanters. I should be treating Christians of all makes and models as covenanters. We've got each other's backs. We are in this for the long haul. We are faithful when the other party is unfaithful. We are loving when the other party is unloving. The fire, the friction, the failures, come what may, we are warm and full of grace when the other party is prickly, provoked, and peevish.

To treat someone like a fellow in the Covenant, I would do well to remember that she has a story.
That from Heaven, He came and sought her.

So, the song. This post was about a song, remember?

Someone (who shall remain anonymous) played that other 2015 song for me a few months ago, Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass. And I was ruined. That sucker got stuck in my head, and I'm still singing it. But I like it. It's actually kind of sweet. And she's got a point. Everyone is not the same. And you ARE beautiful from the bottom to the top.

Don't get your panties in a wad, Church Lady. All About That Bass in not my song of the year. I may (mostly) sing along when I hear it...
but when I heard these lyrics:

If I should speak, then let it be
Of the grace that is greater than all my sin,
Of when justice was served and where mercy wins,
Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. 
To tell you my story is to tell of Him. 

I wasn't singing; I was weeping.
In the car.
A big, mushy, snotty mess driving to Costco and boo-hooing and trying to collect myself before I got out of the car.
And then I heard it again a few days later.
And I boo-hooed again.
This song broke me.

Grace that is greater than my sin.
I know my heart. That's some pretty big grace to be bigger than my sin.
Justice served and mercy wins.
I know what justice is and what I deserve. It is a price I could never pay. That kind of mercy, not getting what I deserve, that's amazing.
The kindness of Jesus.
To be kind to me, who is ungracious to the ungracious.
My story has nothing to do with me and everything to do  with Him.

To a certain extent, this song is inward looking, understanding the work that Jesus accomplished for me. But to a certain extent, this song is outward looking, grasping the concept that my sisters share this story. If I could manage to keep this in mind, would I be less likely to write cold Christians off? Would I be less likely to treat them like parties in a contract rather than members of the covenant? Would it help me to remember that grace is UNmerited when I'm looking into the face of Prickly, Provoked, and Peevish?

If I told you my story, you would hear hope that wouldn't let go.
If I told you my story, you would hear love that never gave up...

Can I, who have been on the receiving end of such unmerited favor, be stingy with my own unmerited favor to fellow covenanters? Can I, whose righteousness was filthy rags, demand of others that they work for my favor? May it never be.

Because if it's not unmerited, it's not grace.
If it's not unmerited, it's not grace! 
If it's merited, it's business. If it's merited, I have forgotten my sisters' stories. More importantly, I have forgotten my story. My story is not a story of good business. My song is not Amazing business, how sweet the sound. 
Grace. Unmerited favor.
Even to my outermost circles.

My 2015 Song of the Year.
Big Daddy Weave's My Story

Cuz it's all about that grace.
All the right junk in all the right places. ;)

Friday, January 8, 2016

A Year of Reading Badly: My 2015 Reading List

There were the three books I brought home from a used book sale that all hit the trash within the first two chapters.

There were the two books I couldn't finish. Divine Rebels by Deena Guzder is a series of mini biographies in the social gospel crowd, people who cite Jesus as the reason they do good deeds. As with other redletterchristian presentations, it was heavy on social, lite on gospel, a paean to self-righteousness. There is more to say here, enough for another post, but let it suffice for now, there was nothing divine about these rebels.

The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, I'm more reluctant to pan. She comes highly recommended by serious saints, and some of the stories were good. But. Perhaps I'm revealing my shallow side, but it is very hard for me to identify the redemptive among so much raw. Maybe someday I'll pick it up again. Maybe not.

There was 'Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis, proof that even the best authors have their off days. I managed to have some fun with it when my kids read it. During discussions, I was literally chewing the inside of my cheek so as to not burst into laughter as their eyebrows worked up and down in puzzlement. And I put on my best poker face as I assigned them an analysis paper in which I gave them permission to opine. They managed to pull it off with less snark than I expected, and only then did I show my cards. I think they were relieved that I agreed with them.

And then there were the bad books, in terms of bad ideas.  This fantastic article makes a good case for reading the 'worst' books. Of course, the notion of 'worst books' implies there are the 'great books,' and great is in the eye of the beholder. I find I am less and less enthused with other people's lists of 'great books', much of which is mere intellectual gibberish. In other words, I'm far more impressed if you knocked out Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology than if you hung on through Plato.

I read a couple bad ideas this year. I gagged my way through, but I did it.
And that is my year of reading badly.

It wasn't all bad, though. I did accidentally discover a new author. It was one of those crap shoots, standing in the library, desperate for a decent summer read that wouldn't be crass or depressing or just plain dumb. May I introduce Charles Martin? I was so taken with the first book I read by him that I went back for two more.  I also discovered and enjoyed Khaled Hosseini and Wendell Berry.

Sixty-nine books in all. Some good, some bad.
Some of them I read with or for the kids.
One or two I read with Brett.
This is my reading list for 2015.

Know the Heretics by Justin Holcombe
Greenmantle by John Buchan
Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry
Iliad and the Odyssey by Padraic Column
The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brendan Manning
The Unadjusted Gospel by Mark Dever et. al.
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
The Blessing Book by Linda Dillow
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

BFG by Roald Dahl
Introduction to Covenant Theology by Michael Horton
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Uncle Dynamite by PG Wodehouse
Liberty Defined by Ron Paul
Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Future Men by Douglas Wilson
Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkien
What's Best Next by Matt Perman

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry
Wisdom of Father Brown by GK Chesterton
Indian in the Cupboard by Lynn Reid Banks
Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by PG Wodehouse
Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis
Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Inklings of Oxford by Harry Lee Poe
Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George
The Supreme Court by William Rehnquist

Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope by Desiring God
Napoleon's Buttons: 17 Molecules that Changed the World  by Jay Burreson
Instructing a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp
Accidental Feminist by Courtney Reisig
At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon
Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Five Points by John Piper
The Last Battle by CS Lewis
Girl Talk by Carolyn Mahaney

Women's Ministry in the Church by Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt
The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien
'Til We Have Faces by CS Lewis
When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin
Life With Strings Attached by Minnie Lamberth
A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin
On Earth As It Is In Heaven by Wyman Richardson
Love or Die by Alexander Strauch
Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung
Otto of the Silver Hand by Howard Pyle
The Gospel's Power and Message by Paul Washer
The Church of the East edited by John Holzman
The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall
The Shining Company by Rosemary Sutcliffe
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
Sermon on the Mount by Sinclair Ferguson
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell
Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow
The Harvester by Gene Stratton Porter
What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? by D. James Kennedy
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum
How Long, O Lord? by DA Carson

Friday, November 27, 2015

Courtship in Crisis? Nah. The Book Review

He needs to be courageous. He needs to be the kind of writer who punches up. As King Lune of Archenland puts it, "Never taunt a man save when he is stronger than you. Then, as you please." And the motive force of all that he writes should be that he deeply loves what he is defending. Some people sign up because they have to shoot something, and wolves will do in a pinch. But others, who are more faithful at the task, fight because they love what they defend. (Douglas Wilson "Pithy or Toxic? How to Write Good Satire" Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015.)
So I'm in a bit of a pickle. A while back, the anti-courtship blog post came out, and I came out swinging. So far, so good. But I also speculated publicly about the author's motives. Not so good. I should mention here that the author and I have never been introduced. To me, he's just Joe Stranger, author of Book. But as we live in the same region and our social circles have significant overlap, weighing in is not inconsequential. He's an 'international speaker,' as his book cover reminds us, and a public persona. I'm not even a blip on the regional radar screen. In that respect, I should feel free to 'punch up', as Douglas Wilson suggests. On the other hand, he is my younger brother in the Lord, and I should not taunt the man.

Alas, this is a two-edged pickle. I would like to be known as the Courtship Lady about as much as I would like to be known as the Sabbath Lady or the Libertarian Lady. I am fully convinced, but conviction needs a conscience, not a fan club. And Majority has always been a poor way of plumbing wisdom. I do not defend courtship because I deeply love courtship. I defend courtship because I deeply love my children, and I deeply love wisdom. The trick, then, was to write a response in which I say nothing that should not be said and everything that should be. I think this post succeeds.

My wish for Mr. Umstattd is the same as my prayers for my own single adult children: a godly spouse and a rugged marriage, and a heaping helping of contentment in this interim of singleness providentially appointed for him by his good and sovereign Heavenly Father. What follows, then, should not be taken as personal attack but as a critique of his methods and assertions.

Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr.
1. The Hook
The book opens with the author's personal story of a courtship gone very, very wrong. If events unfolded exactly as is documented in the book, then it was truly a hurtful, horrifying experience. If. However, I would caution readers here that  one man seems right until another states his case. It is natural for us to rally around someone who has been wounded. I found myself thinking, "Poor guy! This is just terr--HEY! Wait a minute!" I've been bitten too many times, taking up one person's offense, only to have the other side come to light, and the villain, it turns out, is no villain at all. It may be absolutely true that the dad in this story was unreasonable and capricious. Or it might not be true. There is another, untold side to this story. And as it was a private affair, we should expect never to be enlightened; there can be much honor in silence. This narrative can only be regarded as complete when BOTH sides have stated their cases. If the dad were to bring contradictory facts to light, well...We would be naive to take sides right now. As it stands now, it is an appeal to pity.

2. The Research
There were several problems with the claim that lots of research was done for this book. First, when there were personal stories, there seemed to be zero effort to corroborate facts with the accused. Even a simple, "Mr. Jones declined to comment' would have eased my mind at least a little. And the guy who was rejected by twenty fathers. TWENTY? This is a claim of legendary proportions. No footnotes, no verifiable facts whatsoever. Did the author 'do the research' and get those twenty names, dates, locations? And if it is true, should we not consider with Douglas Wilson that this is a feature, not a flaw, of the system? Are you not curious about just what kind of guy could get rejected by twenty fathers? You should be. Second, the author does seem to have read some opposing viewpoints, like Wilson or Harris, and that's commendable. However, the silence on Baucham was deafening. I don't know why What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter was never addressed. But this is the handbook on courtship, after all, and it's hard for an "I googled courtship, and it's not in the Bible" hermeneutic to stand up to Baucham's level of exegesis. (To be fair, the 'google' comment was not made in the book but in the time leading up to the book.)
For every bad idea that gets its own book, there's a better book with a better idea. Engel has his Bastiat; Bell has his DeYoung; Umstattd has his Baucham.
Third, scriptural proof was scant at best. It gave this reader the impression of having been waved lightly over the flames of scripture in an effort be be taken seriously as Christian meat--but it was still mooing. If we're going to talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives, we should probably talk about how scripture informs this area of our lives.

3. Sweeping Statements
This one could link back to the research concern. "In many churches, it's taboo for married couples to talk about sex." Stats? Footnotes? Sources? Did the author visit 'many churches' and interview the married couples? Unfortunately, it was sweeping assertions like this one that seriously weakened this reader's trust in the author's ability to present a strong argument. And it isn't the only one. "One of the common modifications in Modern Courtship is for couples to keep their relationship secret from friends until the engagement. Couples do this because they fear their community will blow out the fire of their budding relationship with expectations, pressure, and meddling." Ehhhh, not sure he got his facts. I expected more scholarship than this.

4. Naivete
(Okay. I think I've been quite restrained, golden even, up to this point. But here's where I 'punch up.' If one is old enough to be an international speaker/public persona/thrower down of anti-courtship gauntlets, one is old enough to have the smack laid down wherever smack is required. And, boy howdy, some smack needs to get laid down here regarding just horrid comments on sin and sexuality. If my own adult children said this stuff, they'd get the same response. So you can swallow back the 'You're so mean' nonsense. I'm not mean; I'm Mom.)
The author asserts that willpower will keep us out of sexual sin. Just say no to Froyo after the movie. And his proof text is not scripture, but a study on cookies and radishes. Not.even.kidding.
He also says, and I quote, "If we focus on the banquet, we won't be tempted by the dumpster of premarital and extramarital sex." I have this hilarious friend who would quip, "Hey kids, sex is GREAT. Now go have fun, and don't put anything of yours into anything of hers!" Focusing on the banquet of all of God's righteousness does NOT keep us out of the dumpster of sin. Thus, Romans chapter 7...and the rest of the epistles. And the gospels. And the Law. And the pro--well, you get the point.
Here's another one: "In Erica's community, no strict ritual full of 'guard your heart' rules governed dating, and the community lacked a 'hook up and break up' culture. Because of this, most hearts were guarded and most promiscuity disappeared naturally." Um. I may or may not have laughed out loud at this point. Promiscuity has been going on since time immemorial. Without even trying, I can think of five people conceived in the good ol' days of going steady. If his grandmother thought boys weren't thinking about sex when they were dating, perhaps he would have done better to talk to his grandfather. His grandfather would have assured him, as men have assured me, that boys were thinking about sex. Boys think about sex because that's how God made them. And that's good, good for marriage, good for creation; it just needs boundaries.
Umstattd's flippant treatment of sin and sexuality incensed me, especially when I think of impressionable young people reading it. 

Back to restraint...

5. Jurisdictions
"We value liberty more than life itself." Aha. THERE it is. There is the driving force behind this book, a kind of 'you're not the boss of me!' approach to life. My problem with this statement is the confusion between 'liberty' and 'libertine.' Someone who values liberty values good government. So we value a state that does what a state is supposed to do, a church that does what a church is supposed to do, and a family that does what a family is supposed to do. We disdain a state that excommunicates adulterers or raises children, a church that raises children or punishes criminals, a family that punishes criminals or excommunicates adulterers. We are glad when the state punishes criminals, the church excommunicates adulterers, the family raises children. In contrast, the author speaks like a libertine who disdains the role of the family in an adult who is ready for marriage. But listen to Baucham: "Nothing in the New Testament would suggest that fathers should stand down as protectors of their daughters' virginity." (55) There's an example of the heavy lifting in What He Must Be. Umstattd's book doesn't even break a sweat.

Honestly, I'm puzzled by all of this. I am left wondering what the burr is under the author's saddle. What I would love to see is some statistics on the percentage of the Church that actually favors courtship; I imagine it's minuscule. And if it is, courtship can hardly be left holding the bag for what the author sees as prolonged singleness. But attacking the families who do courtship (like all twelve of us) is like attacking your quiet neighbor for being quiet. You might as well wage war on Zoroastrians.

Did I get anything positive out of the book? Yes. While the author's fundamental premise, 'courtship hurts people' is about as sound as 'guns kill people,' I am mindful that even gun enthusiasts respect guns. Likewise, as parents, we would do well to approach courtship with the same respect. These are real people. These are real men and women with real giftings and uniqueness and hurts and sin and baggage. These are Image Bearers. And they deserve courtesy, gentleness, and kindness even in the midst of rigorous inspection. I like to think that by the time all of our children are married, anyone who has ever interacted with our family will have been treated respectfully, even if firmly.

Let me reiterate. I wish the absolute best to the author in his pursuit of marriage. I have a high view of marriage because God has a high view of marriage, and it doesn't matter a whit to me whether you got to the altar via dating or courtship. This post is not about my view of courtship. There are several places I could have elaborated on what I think, but this is strictly a book review, so I refrained. Second, maybe courtship is really in crisis, or maybe not. I am not personally convinced, but only time will tell. We have not gotten a child to the altar via courtship, but it seems like the wisest course of action at this time.

The work that can ably prove that courtship is truly in crisis will require:
1. A publisher who oversees bona fide research, as in actively gathering hard data, corroborating facts, interviewing representatives from all sides (yes, even the dreaded dragons), not merely passively assembling a bunch of blog comments. No scholar worth his salt would regard that as actual research.
2. A pastor/theologian who oversees and ensures careful use of scripture.
Maybe someone will write that work. But Courtship in Crisis in not that work.

In the final analysis, I predict this book will find a comfortable spot on the shelves of the average Christian bookstore, alongside Osteen and Eldredge. I predict it will get rave reviews from teens and twentysomethings, egalitarians, and hands-off fathers.

I'll be over here giving thanks for my Dragon. :)