Jonah 1:1-16 // A Runaway Prophet

Jonah Series (1)

Text: Jonah 1:1-16

Introduction: 

Over the next several weeks, what I want us to do is go through the book of Jonah together. 

  • In going through this book, I want us to see what God wants from Jonah, and ultimately what God wants from us. Ultimately, God may not want us to board a ship and go to Tarshish, but God has given us the gift of Gospel (the good news of Jesus), and that’s not a gift we can or should keep to ourselves.

    • The Gospel should be the gift that keeps on giving. God gives us life and freedom, and we should want to show others where they can also find life and freedom. 

 

Generally speaking, I’m sure we all know the story of Jonah.

 

  • God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah decides to disobey God, and go to Tarshish. Jonah climbs on board a ship, a big storm comes, Jonah gets thrown overboard, a big fish swallows Jonah whole. He takes the first air conditioned submarine ride in the digestive tract of a whale, gets vomited up on the shore of Nineveh where proceeds to preach win the whole city of Nineveh to the Lord.

  • We all know the know the story, but what we may know is how the story applies to us.

    • We have a tendency to read stories in the Bible, and just assume that if we were in the position of whoever we’re reading about that we would do the right thing.

      • “Those dumb Israelites worshipping a golden calf, I wouldn’t have done that.”

      • “Can you believe those Israelites not believe that they could take the land? Don’t they know that with God all things are possible?”

      • “Stupid Peter denying the Lord three times, I would’ve never done that.” 

 

The truth of the matter is that we have a hard time relating to those passages because we have self-inflated view of our own righteousness. So, when we read Jonah, we think, “Well, if God told me to go to Nineveh, I would go.” The truth is that you might not. I might not.”

 

So, this morning, what I want to do is talk about three ideas found in the passage. I want us to think about A People Far From God, A Prophet Far From God, and A Plan Orchestrated By God.

 

A PEOPLE FAR FROM GOD (v. 2)

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” – Jonah 1:2, NKJV

 

Up to this point in Scripture, there’s not much mentioned about Nineveh. Nineveh is mentioned a few places in Scripture in passing, but it’s not been the real focal point of a story until now. 

 

    • We know from the time of Genesis 10 that Nimrod went to Assyria to build Nineveh, and since then it had been staple territory of Assyria. And if you’re familiar with the rest of the Old Testament, then you know that Israel had quite the history with Assyria.

      • Assyria was cruel and hateful towards people that they considered to be their enemies. They ransacked cities, raped women, kidnapped children and took them as slaves, and they even peeled the skin off people they captured, and they would decorate their city walls with that skin.

        • That’s extreme. Like, that’s something you would see a dictator like Hitler, Stalin, or Moussilini would do.

    • It’s for all these reasons that Jonah sees Nineveh as the archetype of wickedness. He wasn’t wrong to view their acts as wicked, but he allowed bitterness towards their sin to cloud his mind about how God viewed them.

    • So, Jonah had a bias in his heart against the Ninevites. Jonah had anger and hatred toward the Ninevites. How do I know that? There are some kinds of people in our minds that we all have a bias or prejudice against. It may not be a race, it may not be a nationality, maybe it’s people who dress a certain way, maybe it’s people who talk a certain way, maybe it’s people who have a certain last name.

      • Maybe there’s some kind of Hatfield/McCoy bad blood between your family and someone else’s.

    • Another way that we can tell what kind of attitude that Jonah had toward them was that his primary fear was that they might repent and believe, and that God’s wrath would be turned away from them.

      • In chapter 4 of Jonah, Jonah gets angry because God decides to spare Nineveh because they’ve repented and we finally see his motivation for disobeying God in the first place. He says, “I knew it! I knew if they repented You would be merciful!” He’s actually angry at God for being merciful to his enemies!

        • It’s God’s mercy and grace we’re dealing with! We don’t get to pick and choose who God deals mercifully with.

 

  • “God commanded the prophet to go to Israel’s enemy, Assyria, and give the city of Nineveh an opportunity to repent, and Jonah would much rather see the city destroyed.” – Warren Weirsbe

 

    • If you have to choose between seeing someone repent or seeing someone destroyed, and you choose destruction for them, then you hate them.

      • You can’t hate people AND reach them with the Gospel, and if we don’t desire to see people hear the Gospel and be redeemed, then we should consider whether or not we have even understood the love of God toward us. John tells us in 1 John 3:15 that we can’t have hate in our hearts because if we have hate dwelling in our hearts, then it’s the same as being a murderer. John says that no murderer has eternal life abiding in them.

    • This is something we can’t take lightly because we don’t get to pick and choose who God loves. We don’t get to pick and choose who needs the hope that is within us. 

 

Oh, and by the way, geographically speaking, do you know where Nineveh is today? It’s right about where modern day Mosul, Iraq is. Up until recently, Mosul was under the control of ISIS.

 

  • It would be like if God spoke to one of us today and said, “I want you to go to Iraq, and preach the good news of God’s love in Christ to the members of ISIS.”

  • God may not be calling not be calling us to the Middle East, but God might be talking to us and saying, “You know that person or those people that you don’t care for, and you wish they would go away, that’s who needs to hear the reason for the hope that is within you.”

 

We can’t read this story and pretend that this isn’t for us. We can’t read this story and pretend that we’re not like Jonah… which brings us to our next point. 

 

If Nineveh is the people who are far from God, then that would make Jonah the prophet who is far from God. 

 

A PROPHET FAR FROM GOD (v. 3)

“But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.” – Jonah 1:3, NKJV

 

I think that last line in verse 3 is really interesting. Jonah is attempting to go from the presence of the Lord. You would think he would know better. Doesn’t he know Psalm 139 where David says, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”

We’re not dealing with someone who doesn’t know who God is. We’re not dealing with someone who’s never had an experience with God before. 

 

Jonah gets on the boat, a storm comes up, and the captain goes into the boat where Jonah was sleeping to wake him up. This is where we pick up in verses 6-9. 

 

“So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”
– Jonah 1:6, NKJV

  • They’re pagans. Their mindset is, “Let’s call on all the gods we can think of and maybe one of them will pick up the phone.” That doesn’t work so they come up with another solution.

 

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, [throw dice] that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 So he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” – Jonah 1:7-9, NKJV

 

Notice what their immediate response is in verse 10. 

 

“Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.” – Jonah 1:10, NKJV

 

  • From Jonah’s perspective it almost doesn’t seem fair. These men are living lives of rebellion worshipping other gods, they probably get drunk from time to time, maybe they’re from other countries where sexual immorality is the norm. And now God has sent a big storm to toss their boat back and forth, and it’s not because these men are living lives of rebellion, it’s because Jonah has chosen to disobey God.

    • One of the things that Charles Spurgeon said that the book of Jonah taught us was that “God doesn’t allow his children to sin successfully.” What that means is that while everybody else in the world who doesn’t serve God may think they’re going to get away with their sin, selfishness, and rebellion. You, who serve God, should know better. You’re not going to get away with it. 

 

“Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous.” – Jonah 1:11, NKJV

 

One of the things we’re reminded of in the book of Jonah is that our sin doesn’t just affect us. Our sin affects other people. Those men in the boat would’ve never been rocked by this storm if Jonah, in his disobedience, hadn’t jumped on the boat and involved them in his mess.

  • The reason some people are bad parents, the reason some people are bad spouses is because they allow their sin to affect the decisions they make in terms of how they interact with their kids or their spouses. If you’re selfish, closed off, and always thinking about your needs and your desires, your sin of selfishness is going to affect your relationships.

    • What it all comes down to is this: the greatest gift you can give to anyone is your relationship with God. When your relationship with God thrives, your relationships with other people thrive. I am never a better husband to my wife than when I am pursuing my relationship with God.

 

This is what brings us to our final point. So far we’ve looked The People Far From God, The Prophet Far From God, and finally we see The Plan Orchestrated By God

 

THE PLAN ORCHESTRATED BY GOD

“And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” 13 Nevertheless the men rowed hard to return to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them 14 Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” 15 So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” – Jonah 1:12-15, NKJV

 

When I was a kid, my grandma did all kinds of crafts with plastic canvas and yarn. To this day, she still makes all kinds of things with that stuff.

Well, when I was a kid and I was travelling on the road with my grandparents, my grandma picked up this pattern book that showed how to cut out the canvas, and you could make these little Precious Moments scenes. One of them that she made was of a little boy carrying a hobo sack over his shoulder with one hand, and holding a teddy bear in the other, and the caption on it said, “You can’t run from God.”

To this day, in the back of my mind, I can still see that thing hanging on the refrigerator door at my mom’s house.

And in these verses in Jonah chapter 1, Jonah learns that lesson the hard way. 

 

Jonah finally understands that he can’t run from God. He’s been trying to up until now. 

 

  • Verse 3 – “…Jonah arose to flee… from the presence of the Lord.”

  • Verse 10 – “…the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.”

The story is clear. Jonah is trying to get away from God, and then finally Jonah realizes that this storm is God’s way of getting his attention. 

 

  • Tragedies happen and life is hard, and sometimes God uses the hard things in life to get our attention. So, what should we do? Submit to the storm. Allow God to use this to shape you and discipline you into the image of Christ.

  • Jonah knew the best thing he could do was get thrown into the storm. It didn’t matter if he died in the process of getting thrown overboard he knew he had to lean into the discipline that God was using.

  • If you’re going through a rough patch right now and you feel like God might be trying to get your attention, then lean into it because it will be over eventually, and when it is it will produce a fruit of righteousness in your life. How do I know that? Hebrews 12 says so. 

 

“If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:7-11, NKJV

 

The plan of God was always for Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach. He could get there in a boat or he could get there in a fish, but either way he was going to end up exactly where God wanted him. 

 

  • We’re going to end up exactly where God wants us, but we have a choice. We can make the journey more painful by our sinfulness and stubbornness or we can lean into the plan of God for our lives. 

 

Jonah’s awareness of his situation and his self-sacrifice is what made the difference in his life and in the lives of those sailors. Look what happened after they threw him overboard. 

 

“Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.” – Jonah 1:16, NKJV

 

  • It’s the sacrifice on Jonah’s part that leads to a point of real salvation for the sailors. They go from fearing the storm and crying out to false gods to fearing and crying to the real God who made the storm.

  • We don’t have to look very hard to see that there’s a certain irony in the book of Jonah. Jonah, who is supposed to be close to God, runs from Him, hops on this boat full of pagan sailors, and when it’s all said and done, Jonah is out of the boat in the middle of the sea, and it’s the sailors who have a relationship with God.

  • If we fast forward to Nineveh, Jonah preaches, Nineveh repents, Jonah is angry because they repented and he’s now left in chapter 4 sitting under a tree waiting to die.

    • From Jonah’s perspective everything worked out for everybody, but him. He wanted to see wrath and destruction. He didn’t care that people’s lives were made whole. He didn’t care that God extended mercy. 

 

CONCLUSION

This morning we have a choice: we can be like Jonah and hate our enemies or we can be like Jesus and love our enemies. 

 

I want to mention this and then I’ll close. There’s a story in John chapter 4 of Jesus approaching a woman at a well, and he asks her to get him something to drink. 

 

  • Now, this wasn’t an ordinary nice Jewish girl. She was a Samaritan woman. Samaritans were different. Samaritans were basically the product of Jews procreating with Gentiles so they were considered half-breeds. Now, that doesn’t mean much to us. We’re Gentile Americans. Who cares if Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman at a well?

  • I said earlier that we all have biases so if it helps, imagine someone that you have a hard time loving – a Republican, a Democrat, a conservative, a liberal, a Mexican, a Middle Easterner. Jesus is talking to this woman and when the disciples return they can’t believe it. Jesus is actually conversing with a Samaritan. 

 

Now, we learn through the story that not only is she a Samaritan, but she’s also an adultress. That’s a double-whammy. 

 

Now, when the disciples came back they couldn’t believe it, but the Bible says that they didn’t ask, “What were you doing talking to her?” You know why? Because they’re not going to have the audacity to tell Jesus who He can and cannot talk to. 

 

  • But Jonah wanted to, and you know what? We do too. We have this tendency to think that the Gospel is for good people, but the Gospel but the truth is that there are no good people and bad people. We’re all bad. There’s only dead people and living people. And the Gospel is that Jesus came to raise dead people to life. 

 

So, after the Samaritan woman leaves, the disciples offer Him something to eat. He responds by saying, “I have food to eat that you do not know of… my food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” (John 4:32, 34)

 

  • So, my question is this, do you want to do God’s will? Or are you content with doing your own thing and living life on your own terms? Really, those are your only two options. 

 

You’ve got to pick between your will and God’s. Whose will it be? Let’s pray.

Decision-Making in Marriage (When One Spouse is Not the Automatic Tiebreaker)

One of the main objections raised to egalitarianism or even soft complementarianism is, “How does a couple make decisions if neither one of them is the tiebreaker?” I had a reader ask me this question on my recent book review of Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission.

In recent years, I’ve done much study on the Bible, theology, psychology, gender roles, and gender dynamics. All of that coalesced into realizing I had an idea of how to answer this question. I replied to my reader with my initial thoughts, and I decided I wanted to flesh it out further in this blog post.

Basically, I have identified three different categories of decisions that will need to be made in a marriage context.

  1. Group Decisions
  2. Individual Decisions
  3. Consent Decisions

It’s not as cut-and-dry as these three categories suggest, and sometimes they bleed into one another, but they still provide a helpful framework for looking at the different kinds of decisions couples need to make. Also, many of these principles can be applied to other types of relationships: friendships, dating, business, or other types of family relationships.

Let’s look at the three categories of decisions in more detail.

Group Decisions

This is the largest category of decisions and include such things as what restaurant to eat at or what schooling options to choose; these decisions affect the group and are best arrived at using communication and compromise to reach consensus.

When a husband and wife disagree on a decision, the first thing they should do is each explain their perspectives and try to truly understand the other person’s. Often, this will resolve the issue, as one will share information that will end up changing the other person’s mind.

If not, helpful questions to further dialogue could be:
Who has the stronger opinion or bigger need in this situation?
Who has more knowledge, expertise, or experience on this particular issue?
Is there a way to compromise?
What feelings, needs, or histories are each spouse bringing to the situation, and how can they be taken into account?
Whose idea “won” last time?
How can each spouse express care for the other regardless of what decision is made?

It is also appropriate when a wife chooses voluntarily to submit to her husband’s wishes, even if there’s not another specific reason to do so. Likewise, it is appropriate when the husband decides to love his wife by going with her idea, even if there’s not another specific reason for him to do so.

Individual Decisions

Some decisions have more to do with the individual than the couple. For example, what time to wake up in the morning, what hairstyle to have, or what book to read. In these cases, the other spouse may share advice or make a request—particularly if it affects them–but the person who is actually reading the book or waking up at a certain time gets the final say (though they should care a lot about their spouse’s opinions and requests!).

Consent Decisions

Another category of situations are those in which if both spouses do not freely say “yes,” the default is “no.” This could be as simple as deciding whether to have another family over to one’s house (since the house is both spouses’ space). Generally speaking, major financial decisions would fall into this category; both spouses should agree to major purchases, especially if they have a joint bank account. Sexual intimacy is another scenario in which two willing (and hopefully joyful!) yeses are absolutely required in order for things to proceed in a respectful (and non-criminal!) way.

Summary

But does this actually work in the real world? I have friends from various walks of life and different belief systems who say that this is how their marriages function. So yes, it is possible! Because when you have two people with good character and emotional intelligence who seek after healthy communication, true understanding and care, and a willingness to work together, things generally work themselves out.

Application

If you’re unmarried put in the work now to become this sort of person–for your own sake and for the sake of your present and future relationships.

If you are looking for a dating relationship, pay attention to if a potential date has these qualities.

If you’re married and your marriage already looks like this, I rejoice with you! Keep up the awesome work, and consider mentoring others.

If you’re married and your marriage does not look like this, please know that growth is very often possible—especially when both spouses are committed to it!

But here’s a very important caveat: if you are married, and your spouse is guilty of serious and unrepentant sin (such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment), please know that no amount of healthy communication or character on your part can fix your spouse, and if you choose to leave such a spouse, I believe you have done no wrong.

Resources

For those seeking personal growth, character development, and/or relationship strengthening, here is some advice and some sample resources:
– Sit under the teaching of God’s Word and fellowship with his people. These are tools the Holy Spirit uses to grow people in Christlike love and wholeness.
– Look into receiving professional counseling services (individual therapy and/or couples therapy).
– Seek out mentorship or discipleship opportunities by mature individuals or couples.
– Read books such as Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud (which I honestly haven’t read, though I’ve appreciated some his other books—which are sometimes a bit theological fluffy, so be discerning).
– Study materials put out by The Gottman Institute, which I see as the gold standard in relationship advice, and most of it is totally compatible with a Christian worldview.

And that’s it! Thus ends my musings and insights on how couples can make decisions together in ways that honor one another.

A big thank you to my reader who asked a great question which then inspired this post!

What about you? What advice do you have regarding how couples can make decisions well? What have you found works for you, or how do you want your marriage to work in the future?

How the Doctrine of the Image of God Changed My Life

Growing up in a Presbyterian family, it was always assumed that theology was important for me to know. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad doing extended Bible lessons on Sunday afternoons and my mom teaching Bible stories and children’s catechism using flannelgraph during the week. There was one lesson in particular that we repeated several times about being made in God’s image. The doctrine of the image of God—in Latin Imago Dei—originates in Genesis 1:27, which states that God made humans, male and female, in His image—His likeness.

Starting in first grade, I had the privilege of attending a Christian school where I lived in Davao, Philippines. Each year we studied the Bible, worldview, apologetics, or theology. My teachers, like my parents, assumed that it was the most natural thing in the world for me to learn about my faith—that biblical knowledge and good theology was important for all people. I generally was quite interested in my Bible classes, sometimes doing research on my own and enjoying in-class debates and projects.

When I got to college in South Carolina, the strong foundation built by parents, teachers, and my own study served me well in my pursuit of degrees in Bible and early childhood education. In one of my classes on education, we spoke of our future students as being image-bearers and the implications that had. Students had an intellect, were capable of learning, were relational, and had immeasurable potential. We ourselves, as image-bearers, were to reflect God’s character and steward our responsibilities by treating our students well, even when they posed educational or behavioral challenges.

However, after I finished college, instead of becoming a teacher, I became mostly-housebound due to chronic illness. My intense physical suffering was concurrent with a growing awareness of some of the great evil believed and practiced within the Christian community and the immense damage this caused; together, these two things shook my faith, making it difficult to listen to sermons, read my Bible, or participate in corporate prayer.

By this time, I was living in Mississippi and starting to learn about the realities of racism. As part of this, I listened to a few episodes of a podcast called Pass the Mic. Though mostly engaging topics related to race relations in the United States, biblical anthropology and emotionally-healthy spirituality were frequent topics as well. I remember crying as I realized there were indeed Christians teaching that lament over evil and pain was an important part of the Christian life, things don’t always turn out to have a happy ending, and it’s okay to take trauma seriously.

In one podcast, Mr. Jemar Tisby asserted that aside from beliefs about God and salvation, believing in the image of God is the most important doctrine in Christianity and that its implications were enormous and far-reaching. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks! Now, years later, it continues to have a profound impact on my thinking and life.

But what does it mean for humans to be made in the image of God? Much has been written on the topic, but here is a summary. Humans are like God in some limited ways, including being rational beings, having moral agency, and being relational. Humans are also God’s viceroys on Earth, here to steward the natural world for God’s glory. Likewise, though all of God’s creation is precious and valuable, humans have a special place of honor and value; only they bear God’s image.

In Psalm 8, King David hyperbolically writes of humans as being made “a little lower than God,” describing them as being crowned with glory and majesty, made to rule over all of God’s works:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)

(I’ll briefly note that in Hebrews 2, we learn that this Psalm is also prophetic, pointing to Christ as the ultimate human to whom God subjected all things and crowned with glory and honor. This “image of Christ” in salvation is an important doctrinal development upon the image of God doctrine of creation.)

To summarize, being made in the image of God means 1) that humans are like God in some ways, 2) that humans are to act to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth, 3) and that humans have immense and intrinsic worth. This doctrine makes a huge impact on the Christian understanding of anthropology—the study of man.

One caveat: as humans, we are image-bearers, but we are not just image bears. We are also sinners, both in our nature and in our behavior. This has marred, though not erased, God’s image in us. Some humans, in addition to being image-bearers and sinners, are also saints; this is how the New Testament writers describe all those who are in Christ by faith. Saints, by the power of new life through the Spirit, are empowered to grow in Christlikeness, progressively growing in reflecting God’s original design for image-bearers. As Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son.” (See also Colossians 3:10.)

Meditating on the doctrine of the image of God has shaped many of my beliefs, convictions, passions, and behaviors over the past few years. For example, it gave theological validation for calling out and grieving the profound evil of race-based chattel slavery, rape, and murder. Furthermore, it buttressed my calls for justice to be done in the face of evil done to image-bearers (because evil done to those who bear God’s image is very serious). However, in my pursuit of justice, believing in the image of God also undercut thoughts of revenge, because even humans who perpetrate great evil deserve to have their humanity respected.

This doctrine impacted me in other ways too. It gave words to my concerns about how some New Calvinists emphasize the sinfulness of humans almost to the exclusion of acknowledging the image of God in humans. It gave me joy in seeing how much humans can achieve. Simultaneously, it assured me that though my health struggles limited my productivity, my value as a human was not diminished. It encouraged me to have an accurate view of myself, one that was neither too high nor too low.

It gave me the clarity to say that one of the reasons pornography and abortion are wrong is that they both exploit image bearers for the sake of another’s sexual gratification. It made me more compassionate towards animals, feeling responsible to care for them as I am able. It made me passionate in proclaiming that more important than people respecting a leader’s authority are leaders respecting other’s humanity. It meant that all human life has value, even if young, old, or disabled. It gave me a framework for learning from, honoring the accomplishments of, and seeing the good in those who hold differing beliefs than I do. It renewed my belief that the Christian’s roles in work, society, and culture are good because they reflect aspects of who God is and how he works in the universe. It provided a litmus test for myself as I sought to think of each person first as an image-bearer, whatever else they might also be.

I continue to suffer from health struggles and to grieve over many things, but most days, I feel more at peace with myself, with God, with his church, and in society. Correctly understanding doctrines such as the image of God has made a practical difference in my life. It has provided a foundation and guidebook for navigating the complexities, evils, joys, and sorrows of life. It is often a weary and weighty task, yet I am immensely thankful for God’s truth as an anchor for my soul.

I am grateful that he has revealed his truth to us in his word. I am grateful for the people throughout my life who have taught me good theology. And I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who continues to apply God’s truth to my life, forming my mind, heart, and actions to be further in accordance with his will.

So let us press on to know and serve the Lord and to equip others to better know and serve him. And let us rejoice in the honor of being made in God’s likeness, taking seriously his call upon our lives, and treating others as the valuable masterpieces that they are.

(Special thanks to Joshua Torrey for helping me edit this article and for sharing a portion of it on the Torrey Gazette.)

When “Biblical Gender Roles” Aren’t So Biblical: An Evangelical Woman Reviews “Beyond Authority and Submission” by Rachel Green Miller

Some Christians ask, “Is it appropriate for men to read Bible commentaries written by women?” Or “Are women allowed to be police officers?” Others suggest that women are more easily deceived than men, and therefore cannot be trusted. Still others suggest that the fundamental difference between the sexes is authority and submission. For many people, these are the things conjured by the term “complementarian”.

About a year ago, I remember having a conversation with myself about gender roles. I’ve heard enough bizarre teaching and seen enough horrific behavior in my years as an evangelical to have gotten burned out on the topic of gender roles.

But last year I started wondering what the truth really is after we cut through all the distortions and cultural layers. It was in this context that I said to myself, “I’m not sure what I believe about gender roles, but it’ll probably end up being what Rachel Miller and Aimee Byrd believe.”

Thus, when Rachel Green Miller put out a tweet asking for volunteers for her book launch team, I, in faith and with some trepidation, volunteered.

Rachel Green Miller is a theological conservative, a member in good standing at a Presbyterian church, the former editor of The Aquila Report, and a prolific blogger. All of her work is highly researched and clearly communicated, and she possesses the uncanny ability to see and trace connections between ideas and people. I know her primarily from her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation, and from Twitter. I gravitated towards her work immediately, feeling that she was both discerning enough and conservative enough for me to feel safe with and trust her thought processes. She has been immensely helpful for me in moving from being a “cynical evangelical” to a “discerning evangelical,” and for that I am immensely grateful.

For a more “official” introduction, here’s her bio taken from the P&R Publishing website:

Rachel Green Miller is a researcher and popular blogger who is passionate about elevating the dignity of women, improving the cultural conversation about gender relations, and defending orthodox Christianity. A member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, she lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Matt, and their three sons.

In Beyond Authority and Submission, Miller overviews the history of gender roles and the nature of men and women before looking to how these concepts apply in marriage, the church, and society. She summarizes the message of her book in this way:

“…as theologically conservative Christians, we must acknowledge where extrabiblical and unbiblical ideas about women and men have permeated, weakened, and confused our teachings. We need to move beyond a focus on authority and submission in order to incorporate equally important biblical themes in our discussions, such as unity, interdependence, and service. As we do, we will strengthen our vital relationship as co-laborers in Christ.”

In this book review, I will share highlights from each section and then give my response and recommendation.

Summary

Miller begins her book by clarifying that she is not comfortable identifying as egalitarian, complementarian, feminist, or patriarchalist. She does, however, believe that God created men and women to be equal and interdependent; that marriage is between one man and one woman, ideally for life; that husbands are called to servant headship and wives are called to voluntary submission; and that ordained church leadership is restricted to qualified men.

She does, however, disagree with many voices in complementarianism, such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Voddie Baucham, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Doug Wilson, and Mark Driscoll. Throughout her book, she provides dozens direct quotes from these organizations and individuals to back up her claims about what complementarians believe and practice.

History

In Greco-Roman times, women were viewed as inferior to men, had few legal rights, and were thought to operate in the “private sphere” whereas the “public sphere” belonged to to men. In Victorian times, women were treated as children, were expected to endure abuse by their husbands, and had no legal recourse if their husbands were unfaithful.

Things begin to change with first-wave feminism, which emphasized votes, education, and employment opportunities for women and chastity for men. Second-wave feminism pushed for allowing divorce in cases of abuse. Some feminists of this time bought into the sexual revolution as well as promoting abortion, whereas other feminists saw industries such as abortion and pornography as exploitative of women. Third-wave feminism is largely joined to the abortion and LGBT movements, with some exceptions, as well as being one of the drivers behind and the #MeToo movement, which helps men and women speak up against sexual violence.

From a historical Christian perspective, feminism is a mixed bag—doing much good as well as sometimes supporting immorality. As evangelicals grew in their concerns regarding feminism, they rightly spoke up for biblical truth, but unfortunately often “corrected” by doubling down on ideas borrowed from Greco-Romans and Victorians rather than Scripture; this has resulted in concerning teachings and practices in evangelicalism today.

The Nature of Men and Women

For many complementarians, the fundamental difference between men and women is authority and submission. A tandem belief is that women are more easily deceived and have a core desire to usurp male authority. Together, these beliefs set men and women up to be at enmity with one another.

Miller describes the typical complementarian belief that women are to be “submissive, gentle, quiet, responsive, soft, life-giving, and helping” while men are to be characterized by “strength, authority, and theological discernment and as being initiating, providing, and protecting.” She suggests that these stereotypes come not from Scripture but from culture. In fact, in looking at Scripture,there are positive examples of women leading and initiating (Deborah), providing (Lydia), protecting (Miriam and Abigail), demonstrating strength (Jael), and having theological discernment (Lois and Eunice, Priscilla). Likewise, there are biblical examples of men helping (Barnabas), being gentle and quiet (see the instructions in Paul’s letters to both men and women), giving life (Adam), responding to other’s leadership (Barak and Apollos), and being soft and tender-hearted (David and Paul).

Not only are the complementarian stereotypes not biblical; they can also cause harm and unnecessary pressure. Women who have strong muscles or leadership qualities may feel condemned in their femininity. Men who are short, like poetry, or have emotional intelligence may feel inadequate in their masculinity. However, these stereotypes are merely cultural. There is much freedom within the biblical definitions of maleness and femaleness for uniqueness, and we do well not to add cultural rules to biblical ones.

Marriage

When authority and submission are the main lenses through which complementarians view marriage, the man is seen to be the ruler (prophet, priest, and king) of the house while the woman’s role is to run the home in practical matters. Miller, on the other hand, believes that from a biblical perspective, companionship is at the heart of marriage, along with interdependence, unity, and service. Within this context, she affirms men are to be servant heads and women are called to voluntary submission.

When marriage goes wrong, the question of divorce is raised. There are three main views held by evangelicals. The first is the “Permanence View”, which is that no marriage is ever to be broken by divorce. The second is the “Adultery-Desertion View”, which is that divorce is permitted only in cases of adultery and desertion. The third view is the “Serious Sin View”, which allows for divorce in cases of serious sin such as all kinds of abuse. Miller advocates for the third, asserting that serious sin breaks the marriage covenant; divorce, when chosen, merely makes the broken covenant legal while freeing the aggrieved party from a broken situation. She writes:

Because we hold a high view of marriage, we need to acknowledge that some sins are so heinous that they destroy a marriage. Hard-hearted sinners who break their marriage vows shouldn’t be allowed to make a mockery of marriage through their actions. Marriage is important, but it’s not meant to be preserved at all costs.

Church

When it comes to church, some complementarians believe that men should be the priority, that women are theologically inferior, that men mediate between God and women, and that the church should have a masculine culture. All men are to lead in some capacity, and women may participate in hospitality and childcare.

Miller affirms that women have direct access to God and that only qualified men should be ordained (and therefore preach, administer church discipline, and administer the sacraments) while pointing out that in the Bible, women are shown as singing, praying, prophesying, evangelizing, learning theology, and serving. Miller suggests that women should generally be able to do anything that an unordained man can do.

Miller’s final topic in this section is abuse. Domestic abuse exists in all circles and is justified by people of all belief systems, but there is a particular kind of man who finds cover in hyper-complementarian churches. It’s imperative that we are honest about this, that we condemn both the abuse and the wrong teachings used to justify it, and that we prioritize the lives and safety of the women at risk. The world is watching, and the name of Christ is often slandered because of how churches respond to abuse victims.

Society

When it comes to men’s and women’s roles in society, some complementarians teach that men are to initiate and form while women are to complete and fill. They suggest that godly societies and persons will prefer male leadership in business and government and that female co-workers are dangerous. (Miller, as usual, provides ample documentation that these views are actually widely taught.)

Miller, on the other hand, points to Genesis in saying that work is a shared calling for both men and women. Education, also, is rightly given to all people. There is much freedom as to how men and women work and function in society, to be guided by wisdom, situation, needs, and preferences. Miller also points out that Scripture dignifies both business leaders and employees.

My Response

As I read this book, I found myself often and involuntarily saying either “yes!” or “ew!” as I was struck by Miller’s insights or horrified by quotes from others. What I read put words to my concerns and beliefs. Miller provided data and quotes backing up my intuitions regarding the problems in much of complementarianism. She connected the dots and showed where things came from.

I loved the biblical examples of men and women performing different kinds of tasks and displaying different types of character qualities! I felt a sense of relief and assurance that it’s okay not to fit societal stereotypes. I found myself wishing that various friends and acquaintances of mine who have struggled unnecessarily in the past could feel the same relief.

I love how Miller points to Jesus as the ultimate example of both authority and submission and urges both men and women to look to him as their model for both!

I really appreciated Miller’s balanced approach to feminism. It was fascinating to read a good summary of each of the different “waves” and then to realize that I’m probably a 60 to 66% feminist.

I love the emphasis Miller put on companionship in marriage. Over the years, I’ve been unsure and uncomfortable when I’ve heard people talk about marriage being primarily about either hierarchy or holiness. I think that in the biblical text, particularly the beginning of Genesis, companionship is at the heart of marriage.

In recent years, I have researched the topic of different Christian views on divorce. Hearing Miller list the three main views gave categories for me to better understand. The “Serious Sin View” lines up well with the PCA’s position on divorce, which is that unrepentant serious sin is a form of abandonment and therefore biblical cause for divorce. This is my position as well, and it was helpful to have Miller’s reasoning to further strengthen my position.

I’m very thankful that Miller touched on the topic of abuse in the church. This is something close to my heart, and I think there is opportunity for Christians both to repent of how they have dealt with abuse in the past and then to set an example for the watching world of what it looks like to treat with dignity and truth those who have been victimized by all kinds of abuse.

In general, reading Beyond Authority and Submission has made me less afraid of the topic of gender roles and more confident in my faith, the Bible, and in the wisdom that I have developed over the years. I feel affirmed in my belief that the Bible is safe for women when properly understood and practiced.

My Recommendation

In summary, Miller engages insightfully with topics vital to the health the church, the dignity of all image bearers, and the witness of the church before the watching world. I recommend this book for those interested in the connection between history and current Evangelical teachings, for those who want a robust interaction with Biblical truth, and for those who are developing their own theology of gender roles. This book is good for both church leaders as well as lay people, both men and women.

I will note that this book is from a primarily Western and Caucasian perspective, meaning that it looks at the history of the West and specific teachings prevalent in white evangelicalism in the United States today. Other cultures may be able to relate to varying degrees, but I want to acknowledge that Miller’s critiques may or may not be true of other cultures. (She never claims that they are, but for those reading in a different cultural context, I just want them to be aware.) For example, Kyle James Howard, a seminary student and biblical counselor, has written about the teachings and practices regarding gender roles in the African American church and how they differ from teachings and practices in many white churches.

Miller’s writing itself is clear and concise, well-organized and easy to follow. The concepts are fascinating, the historical overview is helpful, and the many quotes shared back up her claims regarding prevalent teachings in evangelicalism. She is committed to historical and credal understanding of the Christian faith and she has the endorsements of people such as Carl Truman, Aimee Byrd, Jacob Denhollander, Wendy Alsup, and Liam Goligher.

In conclusion, thank you, Rachel, for writing such an insightful and helpful book! I give it five out of five stars, and I highly recommend it. I found it personally refreshing, clarifying, and helpful. I believe it is an invaluable resource for the church as we wrestle with what it means to be biblically male and female in our homes, our churches, and our societies.

You can purchase it from Amazon here or P&R Publishing here.

I’ll leave you with a superb summary quote and call to action from Rachel Green Miller herself:

Too often we find ourselves fighting each other face-to-face instead of fighting side-by-side as we were meant to. From the beginning, when Eve was made to be a helper for Adam, they were meant to work together for God’s glory and for His kingdom. As believing men and women, we have been united together in Christ. Instead of being distracted by what could divide us, we should focus on what unites us. We are the body—the church. Through the work of the Spirit, we are knit together and our true goal has been restored: women and men united and interdependent, serving together as co-laborers, glorifying God and enjoying Him forever.

Remember That One Time I was a Jerk to Brian Zahnd? I Do, and I Regret it.

Less than two years ago I thought I was a big shot.

I saw a tweet that I didn’t like, and I got on my keyboard and fired off this tweet.

What was I thinking? I was probably thinking I would get some ‘likes’ from some cool Reformed dudes on Twitter. Maybe I was thinking that I might get some ‘follows’ from some young, restless, and reformed guys. I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking, I just know one thing for sure. I was a jerk.

So, what was it that I didn’t like? This.

This is the tweet that I decided I needed to pounce on.

I realize now that I was literally angry at forgiveness.

I was angry because someone else’s view of forgiveness wasn’t as small as my own. I was angry because didn’t interpret the Bible through my lenses. I was angry for all of the wrong reasons.

A lot has changed for me personally since December 20th, 2017, and one of those things is that I’m not as big and bad as the Internet allows me to be, and because I’m not as big and bad as the Internet allows me to be that also I’m done being a jerk about theology.

Grace is simply something you receive, it’s something you give, and I should’ve given more grace. I should’ve been willing to ask questions.

As I get older I’ve found that if we’re willing to ask questions rather than assume answers, then we just might find that we stand on more common ground than what we realize.

Brian, if you read this, I’m really sorry. This may not be a big deal to you, but this has been weighing on me for the last few days. Maybe if I come up to the St. Joseph area we can hang out sometime.

 

CSB Pastor’s Bible Review, Part 1: The Unboxing

This is the unboxing of the CSB Pastor’s Bible that I received from Holman. Later I will do another review after I’ve used the Bible for a few weeks where I compare it to the CSB Spurgeon Study Bible that’s available from Truth for Life.

This Bible can purchased at this link: Here

The Spurgeon Study Bible from Truth for Life can purchased at this link: Here

 

Keeping Your Hymnal Isn’t Good Enough

KYH

[This article is a response to Tom Raabe’s article over at The Federalist. You can read his article here.]

Let me state my position right out of the gate, I’m in favor of using hymnals in church. The only time I think we should use screens in church is if the pastor wants the congregation to learn a hymn or worship song that isn’t already in the hymnal. My purpose in writing this article is two-fold. I want to point out the fundamental flaw in Raabe’s argumentation, the fundamental flaw being that Raabe is presenting an opinion as fact, and my second purpose to show that because he is presenting his opinion as fact, his conclusion has some very large gaping holes in it that a post-modernist could easily toss a basketball through.

For example, at one point, he says that we shouldn’t use screens in church because “they’re ugly.” His opinion is subjective. This is like a 4 year old protesting eating his greens because “I don’t like it” even though you know good and well he’s never tried them. It doesn’t matter how correct your conclusions are if the basis for your conclusions is nothing more than your subjective opinion, then all it takes for you to go down the wrong is for someone to convince you to change your opinion.

I could easily tell you that it is my personal opinion that grass is green, and while my opinion may be correct, the fact that it is my opinion doesn’t make grass green.

Part 1: When Your Confirmation Bias Doesn’t Reflect Reality

First of all, Raabe is using old data to make a claim that the worship wars are over and that contemporary Christian music industry has won. The data he is using spans from 1998-2012. 2010-2014 is the time when millennials started branching out and finding their own churches (assuming they even stayed in church), and as a result the data changed.

Thom Rainer points out in a 2014 article that millennials aren’t really as concerned about modern worship styles as Raabe would have you to believe.

You see, most Millennials don’t think in the old worship war paradigm. In that regard, “style” of worship is not their primary focus. Instead they seek worship services and music that have three major elements.

  1. They desire the music to have rich content. They desire to sing those songs that reflect deep biblical and theological truths. It is no accident that the hymnody of Keith and Kristyn Getty has taken the Millennials by storm. Their music reflects those deep and rich theological truths.

  2. The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service. They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions. And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.

  3. This large generation does want a quality worship service. But that quality is a reflection of the authenticity noted above, and adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in time of preparation. In that sense, quality worship services are possible for churches of all sizes.

Now, the evidence doesn’t look so bleak, does it?

Drawing from my own experience, I remember being out of town for a couple of weeks and my wife and I visited a church that had both a traditional and a contemporary service. We decided to go to the traditional service for the first week, and then go to the contemporary service the next to compare and contrast the difference between the two.

We noticed immediately that the traditional service had twice as many people as the contemporary service and more than half of the congregants were 18-35 year olds. The contemporary service had half as many people as the traditional service and most of the congregants in that service were in their 50’s or older.

I’m a millenial and I am a pastor so I can tell you that what millennials are looking for is a worship experience that is grounded in the history and tradition of God’s people. We long for a history that doesn’t just go back 50-200 years because that’s not good enough. That’s not ancient enough. We crave meaning from a tradition that goes all the way back to the early church. We want to worship with the Apostles.

Part 2: Careful, Your Theology is Showing

Even though Raabe insists that we keep our hymnals, one thing he’s not taking into account is church’s that have shoddy hymnals. I’m not going to blame him for that because he probably comes from a background where he’s never encountered a bad hymnal. If that’s the case, then he’s obviously never attended any small rural churches in the Bible belt (which again, isn’t necessarily his fault).

I grew up in and pastor in a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to sing whatever you want as long as it comes out of the hymnal regardless of whether or not that song has any theological leg to stand on because after all, our hymnals are infallible, right? Wrong.

The reason songs like “If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again,” “America,” and even our own national anthem still have a place in our hymnal and are still being sung in our churches because one of two things is happening: we’re either assuming that our hymnals are infallible and therefore, all songs are acceptable or we just don’t care enough about what the songs are implying to give a hoot.

  • On a completely separate note altogether, it’s interesting that most of the people who sing songs about Mother in church on Mother’s Day (If I Could Hear Mama Pray Again) and sing songs about God allegedly shedding His grace on a country that He didn’t show to any other country (America the Beautiful) on the Sunday before July 4th are the same people who bemoan the idolatry of the Roman Catholic Church because they kiss statues and pray to saints. But again, that’s another sacred cow for tipping over at another time.

Keeping your hymnal and training those coming up in your church to sing the songs that you sing instead of using modern music and screens only works if your church intentionally sings the truth about who God is and what He is doing in the world through His people therefore, simply keeping your hymnal isn’t good enough if you’re hymnal isn’t any good.

You can tell what a church believes by listening to what they sing. If they avoid the hymns that speak truth about God’s judgement or holiness and sing only songs about flying away to some sweet by and by then that’s a sign that the church is assuming a problematic eschatology that stems from an even more problematic view of God and His people.

Singing about Heaven and the eschatological consummation of all things is perfectly fine as long as you’re assuming the same vision of the consummation described in the Scriptures as opposed to some dispensationalist nonsense view of Heaven dreamed up by John Darby, C.I. Scofield, and more recently John Hagee.

Part 3: The Climactic Finish

A while back, my church and I was challenged by our Wednesday Night Bible Study curriculum at the time to go through our hymnal and see much how often the hymns we sing reflected Biblical ideas about God.  We were limited on time (because that part was only the introduction to that evening’s study), I think if we had probed hard and had been honest with ourselves and honest with the Scriptures then we might have come to the conclusion that while a lot of our hymns have a solid foundation there are others that should never see the light of day again.