Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Book Review - Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom

I wrote this book review back in 2006 for an online seminary class from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I still stand behind these words:

Johnson has written a fascinating book, loaded with many strong arguments.  I appreciate her thoughts on the rise of the “Psycho-Culture” especially.  To think psychology would make someone Christian is to think a woman can accurately teach on true manhood.  A woman cannot develop manliness in a man, and psychology will not develop people into Christ-like individuals.  The chapter titles reflect the foolishness of such thought patterns.  If the church keeps drinking from the wrong wells of psychology, the church can expect to look less like Jesus and more like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.  Johnson’s presentation was strong and convincing.  Psychology is taking over the world.  I have personally witnessed multiple church members laugh off the authority of scripture to the predominant psychological doctrines heard on TV and radio programs.  Obviously these chapters were an oversimplification of psychological ideas, but it appeared to reflect the 21st Century American culture.
Johnson’s emphasis of the church as the decisive and dynamic context for spiritual formation hits home as well.  Numerous parachurch organizations have overemphasized personal discipleship to the detriment of both the local church and Protestantism as a whole.  Unfortunately, many local bodies have bought into this harmful self-actualizing ideology.  Churches have become factories to disciple and produce individual “mature” Christians.  By highlighting the bible’s mandate for corporate growth, Johnson is attempting to bring down this unbiblical behavior of independent spiritual formation into a more family-centered, dare I say biblical, affair. 
Johnson’s inconsistent view of scripture is the main weakness that wreaks havoc on her desire for the church to have authority in the world.  She says, “The recovery of Christian spirituality, therefore, cannot come through a debunking of Scripture and tradition.” (23)  She also uses God’s Word as the foundation for much of her ideas throughout the book.  She remarks later that “the Bible is at the heart of the church.” (91)  But in the same book she questions the inerrancy and historicity of Scripture. (93-94) She also encourages the Bible to be studied with a hermeneutic of suspicion. (101) She mentions on a few occasions that the Bible’s backwardness and strong patriarchy is meant to be interpreted out of scripture through a more modern feminist lens. (101)  She calls modern historical-critical scholarship a “liberating power . . . [for] unlocking the Bible for Christians.”  Many of her statements match the statements of her mainline liberal companions.  These statements strip God’s Word of the very power and authority she hopes to see alive and working in the church.  Maybe she should take some of her own advice, “We must not only teach persons how to read the Bible, but to resist their dominant culture.” (150)  The dominant culture has been devaluing the Bible and making it a fantasy tale for over a hundred years, and Johnson is dangerously close to joining them.  Perhaps, the mainline liberal church will never experience the prominence Johnson is hoping for until they return to a more conservative evangelical perspective on Scripture.
            “Protestantism lacks authority, clarity and direction.” (137)  These words reveal the deep concern in Johnson’s heart for a renewal of the Protestant faith community.  In response, Johnson has produced this text to rally the church into a position to transform lives in a powerful way.  Johnson longs for an authentic Christian spiritual formation in the lives and communities of Christian people.  She dreams of a day when human beings embrace their ability “to recognize and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all of creation.” (22)  The world is full of interest in “spirituality” and “psycho-analysis,” but Johnson presses the church’s to authoritatively teach that true Christian spirituality is marked by love for God and neighbor. (28) 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It's not your spouse's fault...or is it?

Ahab, meet Jezebel. Ahab, a child of Israel, a member of the covenant people, marries the foreign woman, who worships the foreign gods. Who is at fault? - Ahab. Bad move buddy.

But wait, Ahab listens to a prophet, humbles himself, and seeks the LORD (1 Kings 20). Way to go. Oh, wait, he doesn't do all that God commands. Fool.

Ahab tries to get some land, doesn't get it, and goes away sad (1 Kings 21). Then, his pagan wife says, "You're the king; you get what you want." She has the owner killed off and seizes the property. Oh, my, Jezebel.

The Prophet Elijah shows up to rebuke Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab repents, Jezebel remains a stone. Only time is needed for Ahab to turn away again. A final judgment has its day (1 Kings 22).

Who you marry matters. They are "significant others" because they impact your life, soul, and trajectory more than any other human person. Clearly, Ahab's spiritual condition was revealed when he was attracted to a woman like Jezebel. But it's also clear that her influence over time made him even worse than he was.

1 Kings 21:25-26 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.)

Truly, behind every good man is a better woman. Behind every evil man is an even worse women. And in others homes, it works the opposite. 

Your sin is your sin. You are solely responsible. And yet, our spouses play a key role in the direction of our lives. And yes, you will be held responsible for the influence you have on your better  half.

Spouses, point each other to the LORD.

Spouses, do not lead your partner into sin.

Spouses, humble yourselves before the LORD and seek His grace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Any takers?

Would you like a world...

1) Where lying is unacceptable.
2) Adultery forbidden.
3) Forgiveness encouraged.
4) Second chances offered.
5) The lazy challenged to work.
6) The working challenged to help.
7) Wives respecting husbands.
8) Husbands cherishing and loving wives.
9) Children raised with engaged parents.
10) People rejoicing in other people's success rather than coveting and clawing for their share of the pie.

Note: This is the type of community depicted in the Bible that is expected of Christian people. This is the "horrible, dangerous, dehumanizing ethics" of conservative Christianity.

My church isn't perfect, but we refuse to change the ideal set before us for 2000 years. We don't want to lighten a single command of God's Word because we'd lose the beauty of excellence if we'd ever hit our target.

This "impossible" ideal is also what sends us to Jesus for forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of renewal.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Silence, the Fermi Paradox, and Hope

In 1969, Samuel Beckett’s play “Breath” hit the stage. It’s a 30 second play. The curtains open, the lights go up, and the stage is filled with scene of garbage and refuse. A moment goes by and a human cry imposes on the gloomy silence. Then a whimper. Then the lights go out.
                For many people, this play depicts their view of life: garbage, isolation, pain, and then the curtain call. It’s in this great despair of loneliness that many people have spent their entire lives seeking a word from another planet. Thousands of people have given their lives to listening to the static of space, hoping, assuming, and expecting to hear a voice from the other side of the universe. And do you know why they expect to hear something? Scientists estimate there are 100 billion earth-like planets in the universe. As such, they believe life should be present elsewhere and thus they keep listening. But nothing has shown up…
                In fact, there’s a scientific theory called the Fermi paradox, named after an early 20th century Italian scientist by the name of Enrico Fermi, that tries to ascertain the apparent contradiction between the high probability of alien life and yet the lack of evidence for such aliens. There are a number of differing theories on why we haven’t heard anything, but my particular favorites are these…
1)      Higher civilizations are here, all around us. But we’re too primitive to perceive them.
2)      There are scary predator civilizations out there, but as more evolved life forms they know better than to broadcast outgoing signals and advertise their locations.

I want you to notice the commonalities between Samuel Beckett and those listening to space…
Silence and loneliness rage our hearts and lives; and there’s a deep longing for something or someone to show themselves and deal with the garbage of our lives. So let me ask…
             What if there was a higher power out there who was personal, communicative, good, and strong enough to explain our condition and provide a solution? What if He, though more highly developed, chose, out of the goodness of His heart, to reveal Himself and a path to hope?
             Sure, some people might perceive him as an alien, predator civilization seeking to destroy our way of life, but others just might trust the good intentions of this super power. Could I be so bold as to suggest that this higher power is the God revealed in the Bible, the God defined and described by Jesus Christ, and the hope laid out in the message of Christianity? 

3 years after Samuel Beckett's play opened, a book was published with a counter-cultural message for a title. What was it? Francis Schaeffer's He is There and He is Not Silent.

Monday, June 20, 2016

To social media or not to social media...?

3000 year old wisdom for today's social media:

Ecclesiastes 7:1 "Do not pay attention to every word people say..."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Are you a sluggard?

A sluggard is a lazy, sluggish person.

Here's an ancient test to see if you are a sluggard (Proverbs 26:13-16):

1) A sluggard sees danger in front of them wherever they go. This becomes an excuse to remain idle. They avoid anything that appears moderately risky or challenging, assuming life is supposed to 'just work.' 'The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!"' (Proverbs 26:13)

2) A sluggard in bed is as natural as a door on its hinges. A sluggard finds all manner of reasons to sleep in, call in sick, and need a "me day." "As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed." (Proverbs 26:14)

3) A sluggard has accustomed themselves to laziness so much that simple, normal human activity is exhausting. "The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth." (Proverbs 26:15)

4) A sluggard has an excuse, an answer, and a person to blame for all the reasons life is hard, work is lacking, and inactivity abounds. "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly." (Proverbs 26:16)

Look at Christ who died for you. Die to self and commit to sacrificial living for Christ and others. Trust that power, joy, and purpose flows from God for any and all willing to surrender their lives to Him.

Friday, June 10, 2016

A book review of Understanding Gender Dysphora

Understanding Gender Dysphoria (2015) is not for the faint of heart. For starters, this text is for those already familiar with debates regarding gender and homosexuality.[1] Second, Yarhouse does not shy away from technical language and research that quickly bogs down a book intended for a general audience. If, however, you have cut your teeth on introductory writings and now want to minister faithfully to people with questions about gender and sexuality, Yarhouse can help.

Gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis describing a person who has acute discomfort or distress regarding their psychological and emotional identity, which feels in contrast with their biological sex (e.g., a biological man feels he is a woman). 

Yarhouse argues there are three different frameworks to consider when ministering to those with gender dysphoria: 

1)      In the “integrity framework,” Christians uphold the Biblical testimony of gender being either male or female (Genesis 1-2). Thus, they teach that any practice (dress, behavior, etc.) contrary to one’s birth sex/gender is unbiblical. Yarhouse argues (in straw-man fashion, unfortunately) that the integrity framework is quick to blame a person as sinful and guilty for their own gender dysphoria. (In my experience, many Christians hold to the integrity framework on sexuality and also hold with integrity God's command to love all people and to serve each person, regardless of their sense of gender, sexual orientation, or behavior. They are marked by offering grace, not shame or blame.)

2)      In the “disability framework,” Christians would continue to uphold the Biblical testimony regarding gender, but they would see conditions like gender dysphoria being the result of the Fall. As such, Christians would not assume gender dysphoria is the result of individual sin or choice, but a matter of brokenness and in need of compassion and care. As such, Christians would minister to those with gender dysphoria like those who have any manner of psychological disorders, long-term addictions, and/or post-traumatic conditions.

3)      In the “diversity framework,” some Christians would offer full acceptance and celebration of people who want to live out a gender identity contrary to their biology, even offering support of transformations via dress, hormones, surgery, etc. In another version of the diversity framework, Christians would not necessarily support comprehensive efforts at adopting a gender contrary to their birth, but they would celebrate diverse gender experiences and create safe places for growing in Christ.

Yarhouse believes Christians should interlock all three frameworks for an integrated approach. The strength of the integrated approach is it both upholds historic Christian doctrine and keeps love and compassion central. Its weakness is that the diversity framework can quickly trump the other two. Likewise, the emphasis on diversity has all manner of practical and doctrinal concerns (Would we celebrate someone who felt like a dog trapped in a man’s body? Would we celebrate an anorexic woman who thought she was fat? I'm not equating gender dysphoria with these types of dysphoria, but at the end of the day, someone has to have an external authority determining what is healthy and appropriate thought patterns). Certainly, Christians must love the hurting and confused, the sinner and the saint, but we should be careful to only celebrate what is good, true, and beautiful (Romans 12:9).

Despite my hesitancy to fully embrace Yarhouse’s integrated approach, his commitments to Scripture and love in a broken world are essential for the raging debates before us, and more importantly, the immortal human persons around us.

[1] Better starting books would be Kevin DeYoung’s What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting, and any of the excellent writings of Rosaria Butterfield and Christian Yuan.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

You're a Christian because you were born into a Christian family...

"You're only a Christian because your parents were Christians," explained Andrew to his friend Tom.

"But Andrew," replied Tom, "Your parents were Christians, but you're not."

"Yes, I know, but that's only because I've come to see that exclusive religious beliefs are not warranted."

"Are you serious? If there are any religious beliefs at all, they must be both exclusive and warranted."

"Tom, Tom, Tom, you Christians only think you're right. You damn Muslims, atheists, and all the like, while sitting on your throne of expertise."

"Andrew, if any person is a Christian (a true one) they are the first to admit they aren't always right and they don't deserve anything like a throne. Christians confess they are sinners, deserving of judgment, and hopeless."

"Eh, the only reason Christians admit that sort of thing is that it scratches some itch of wish-fulfillment where the Divine comes in and fixes your mess."

"Well, actually, the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 1, says if there's any human wish-fullfillment going on, it's a wish for God not to exist so we humans can do anything and everything we want."

Tom continued, "In fact, Andrew, I think that's why many people raised Christians end up leaving Christianity altogether. Christianity says we aren't autonomous and free. But that goes against the message of the day. I think the reason people perceive Christians as 'intolerant' is that 'tolerance' of other religions is a smoke screen to excuse people to do and believe whatever they want. How else could liberal atheists be so supportive of Islamic jihad or Sharia Law?"

Andrew chimed in, "I can't judge those Muslims for what they've been raised to believe any more than I can judge you."

"But you are judging me...we all judge each other. I'm actually not opposed to making judgments and using discernment. What's confusing is that by denying One God, One Religion, One set of moral truth claims, you have no sure footing for judgment. This is why modern ethics and philosophy work more like chameleons than structures to build your life on."

"But your claim to moral principles flies in the face of other people's claims."

"Then, let's decide what is true. This is how the founding fathers of America argued for their right to oppose England. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident...' They argued that there are self-evident truths that must be recognized and embraced for individuals and societies to flourish."

"But how could we ever know which are true and which are not?" demanded Andrew.

"Well, for centuries, scholars have said reason, human experience, tradition, and Scripture are 4 different sources of truth to understand reality. Certainly for the Christian, the Bible stands as king over all, but even if you aren't a Christian you can compare various religious scriptures against reason, human, experience, and tradition and at least start moving toward making better claims than 'we can't know anything.'"

"You just want everyone to believe as you do."

"Doesn't that mean I care? Especially, if what I believe is necessary for everyone to believe to be forgiven of sin, welcomed by God, and assured eternal life?"

"All that is pish posh. Carl Sagan once said, 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

"Isn't the empty tomb of a crucified Jesus extraordinary evidence? Isn't 2000 years of Christian martyrs, churches, and existence extraordinary evidence?"

"Not enough for me," Andrew expressed with finality.

Tom with a tear down his cheek, "Well, that's all I can offer...a crucified and risen Jesus, making himself available to you."