Making Word Vomiting Great Again

MWVGA

As a Christian, I’m tired. I’m not tired of being a Christian. I’m not tired of looking to Christ. I’m not tired of trying to help others look to Christ. But I am tired. I think I’m disappointed and frustrated so much with the current state of affairs that it’s actually manifesting itself in tiredness.

So, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I’ll voice my frustrations. I know some aren’t going to agree with me on a lot of these issues, but I don’t particularly care. I just have to get some things off my chest, and just for clarification, some of these issues are not related to one another, they are just things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Jesus Doesn’t Care About Making America Great

It’s really hard to get people to look to Christ when people who are Christians are looking to politicians to “make America great again.” Yep, you know who you are. With our mouths we tell people to look to Jesus and seek His kingdom, but with our Facebook posts we give the middle finger to everyone who doesn’t vote like we do. As a pastor, that’s something really hard to watch, but I see it all the time, and it kills me. I’m proud to be a Libertarian, but at the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or a part of the Green Party. If you love and serve Jesus, then we can hold hands and fight the same battles side by side. The more Christians make political affiliation a matter of importance the more people will believe that Jesus is a flag waving, Republican or a Democratic Socialist, or a member of whatever party you affiliate with. You can either choose to make America great or you can choose to display the greatness of God’s kingdom. You can’t do both because the USA is not the kingdom of Jesus came to establish.

 

Christianity is a Religion, Get Over It

Secondly, can we stop pretending like “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship” is not the dumbest thing to ever come out of someone’s mouth? Oxford (the only English dictionary that matters) defines ‘religion’ as such: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Do you believe that God is personal? Do you worship Him? If your answer is “yes” to both of those questions then your relationship with God is your religion. Grow up and stop pretending like religion is a dirty word. If you think religion is a bad thing, then try to argue with God when He inspired James to write James 1:27.

Don’t know what James 1:27 says? Good, then I can move on to my next point.

READ YOUR BIBLE!

One of the biggest problems with the American Church is that Christians are biblically illiterate. It seems like no one in the south who claims they are a Christian reads their Bible, and if they do, then they tend to read it with preconceived ideas about what it means. According to Lifeway Research, 34% rarely or never read the Bible. That’s 1/3. That’s a lot of people!

If God has given you a book, and directly spoken in said book, and you rarely or never read it, then either a) you don’t care about what God has to say or b) you don’t really believe that God has spoken in said book. That’s a problem! The reason why there are pastors who continue to preach trash in the pulpit is because of biblically illiterate churches who let them.

Saved by Grace? Yes? No? Pick a Side and Stay Over There

I’m tired of hearing Christians say things like, “Well, we’re saved by grace, but…” and then they’ll follow it some with some qualifier that completely goes against the first part of their sentence. They put qualifiers on grace. If grace has qualifiers then it’s not grace that’s all there is to it. They might as well be saying, “Jesus loves you, but don’t let that go to your head.”

Sunday Morning Worship Isn’t About You, and America Isn’t a Christian Nation

“Well, I just didn’t care for the music.” How many times have you heard this to describe a church service? Or, “It’s just not my style.”

When people use words like, “I,” “My,” or “Me” to describe a worship service, then they are making themselves the center of worship. A Sunday morning service becomes a time where they can have their preferred music, their preferred hymns, their preferred elements in worship instead of what is pleasing to God.

On the Sunday before the 4th July, many churches sang patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful” and our own national anthem as part of their worship service that morning. Why? Because we either believe a) America is God’s country and therefore, America should be worshipped along with God or b) we just don’t give a damn about Sunday morning worship and we should be able to sing about whatever we want depending on whatever godless holiday the world is celebrating.

I can hear patriotic Christians now pecking away at their keyboard, “But ‘Murica is a Christian nation.” First of all, only people can be Christian not nations. The only way a nation can be Christian is if every individual who is considered to be a father of our nation is in fact a Christian, and if you believe Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin are Christians (as admirable as they both are), then you have terrible theology.

Before you recommend David Bartlett and Wallbuilders to me in an effort to change my mind, just know that it’s not going to work that easily, and I know I’m probably not going to change your mind either which is why this post isn’t longer than what it is.

I will finish this section of this post with this thought, when God gave Moses the law, the first command was first the Israelites to worship no other god before Him. They didn’t have freedom of religion. God told them Who they were to worship and the book of Leviticus told them how they were to worship. They didn’t have freedom of religion. So, it is with our nation. We cannot say that America was established as Christian nation while the first amendment people to worship whatever and however they choose. I have no problem with the Constitution, I think it’s a fine document, but I’m not going to pretend that it is a Christian document nor will I pretend that America is or was a Christian nation.

It up to the Christians of this nation, not to establish a nation or kingdom of our own, but to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God establishes His kingdom. He doesn’t need our help. Our job is to live as citizens of His kingdom first, and in so doing we provoke others to inquire about the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15) Our hope is not that any politician will make things better, but that Jesus will make all things new.

Conclusion

Alright, I think I’m done for now.

Go ahead, type up an angry email. 

Who is This Fellow? Is he an Arch-heretic? Let’s Hope Not…

Hello there, reader of Late Night Theology. I’m a new contributor here on this blog, and I’m grateful for any time taken by you to not only read this blog, but any tedious, meandering drivel I manage to produce for it. My prayer is that our Lord will open the foolish, sinful mind of this, the author whose article you are reading, and fill it with wisdom from above. May this writer pen (or type) the truth, unsullied by the falsehoods of uninformed teaching.

To be upfront and honest with you, my reader, I find it necessary to disclose a few things which, if found out after more than a couple readings of any future work, might shock you, and even cause you to have a bad taste in your mouth, fall ill, or find yourself in any number of stress related medical emergencies. Such emergencies may include, but are not limited to, toxic shock, gastrointestinal distress, hemorrhage, bursitus, or clinical depression.

  1. I am a Baptist
  2. I won’t agree with all of what the other contributors write (and they won’t always agree with what I write). 
  3. I’m not here to fight the culture. I’m here for the sake of the gospel. 

 

I am a Baptist.

Yes, I am a Baptist. (Insert gasp, spit-take, primal shriek etc. here) I am a member of a local church in the Baptist Missionary Association, thereby making me one of those types of Baptists known as “Missionary Baptist”. The local church I attend has adopted the BMAA Doctrinal Statement as well as the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, for guidance in interpreting the Bible, which we believe to be God’s only revealed word to His people.

To answer a few questions, yes, I believe in calling them ordinances. I’m not fond of baptismal regeneration doctrine. I believe in dunking folks (so long as they’re saved). I believe the principle of closed Communion. I think it’s weird and very romish to call it “Eucharist,” but I won’t give you a weird look for more than a few seconds should you call it that. No, I’m not an Armenian, but I wouldn’t call myself a Calvinist either. No, I’m not a Molinist. Yes, I’m aware of the organizational tie of the SBC, ABA, and BMA to the English reformation. Yes, I believe doctrines held by Baptists existed pre-reformation, but I don’t subscribe in whole to the landmarkist “Trail of Blood” line of thought. No, I’m still not a Calvinist. I jest in saying so, but where I’d consider myself mildly covenantal, I’d say my Presbyterian brethren are wildly covenantal. I believe in the Five Solas.

Conflict With the Brethren (and sister…en?)

Since I’m in a different denomination than the other contributors on Late Night Theology, conflict is sure to arise. I shall make a concerted effort to avoid such conflict, by focusing on the things I believe I have in common with my fellow contributors, unless prompted by the group to express views that could be considered uniquely “Baptist”. By focusing on what makes us different to an unhealthy extent, all we accomplish is division.

Where shall we then unite? Upon which hill shall we die? Despite disagreement on secondary and tertiary issues, may all the contributors continue in grace and love on this site.

Focus: The Gospel

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

– Ephesians 2:8&9

One thing I hope all here have in common is the doctrine of justification, that we are saved from wrath by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ alone, as revealed to us in the scriptures, for the glory of God alone.

It should also be known here, that not one of my articles will be geared to fighting or changing the culture. The apostles didn’t go about, decrying the society in which our God had placed them, calling for social change either from the conservative side, crying out for the false godliness of a nominal patriotism, nor from the liberal side, crying out in favor of the idol worship of social justice. They preached the gospel, planted churches, and discipled men to lead churches and plant more churches. Forcing the culture to follow our warped, godless sense of godliness was never the scriptural model for Christianity, and I won’t personally be a party to it here or anywhere else. Voting one way or the other never saved any person’s soul, but hearing the gospel faithfully taught from God’s word, and repenting before God, putting on faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus Christ sure did, continues to do so, and shall continue, should Christ tarry in bringing that great day of judgement.

 

Dearest reader, I believe that is all I am able to produce for you at the moment. I hope that despite the meager effort on my part in this pitiful introductory article, something was gained in the reading of it. I look forward to the joys and discomforts of writing for your internet literary consumption, and I hope you take as much enjoyment in reading as I do writing. May you never experience the same discomforts, though.

A White Evangelical Responds to “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”

a WHITE EVANGELICAL RESPONDS TO

(Editor’s Note: This article contains references to race-based slavery and racism, which could be distressing to some readers.)

Living in Mississippi has provided a unique opportunity for me to dive into the issue of race in America, because you really can’t live in Mississippi and not face the reality of a racialized society! Though much of my learning occurred through following a diverse group of people on social media, I kept hearing people reference a non-social-media medium (a book!) for learning about this topic—and specifically a book called Divided by Faith by sociologists Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith. And so this month, I finally decided to give it a read. Spoiler alert: I loved it, I was challenged by it, and I quickly knew I wanted to share my findings with whomever would care to read them. And thus this article came to be. In it, I attempt to summarize the book, share some personal reflections, suggest ways for white evangelicals to respond, and pass along some additional resources.

Historical Overview

Emerson and Smith begin with a brief definition of terms such as “evangelical” and “racialization” and then make a case—using a myriad of statistics—that race is the defining societal divide in America. “Evangelicals” are defined as those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, urge personal salvation through Jesus Christ, and self-identify as evangelicals. They define a racialized society as “a society wherein race matters profoundly for differences in life experiences, life opportunities, and social relationships.” (page 7) And more specifically, “[i]n the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness” and in which we are always aware of the race of people with whom we interact. (page 7) They then spend several chapters recounting the story of race and Evangelicalism throughout American history, starting with the 1700s and going through the present day (or rather the 90s, since the book was published in 2000). I’ll share some of the highlights.

In the 1700s as Europeans colonized what would later become the United States, people from West Africa were kidnapped, enslaved, and brought over to work the land. At first, there was no particular concern for the religious beliefs of the slaves. But partway through the 1700’s, attempts to “Christianize” enslaved people began. At first there was some confusion about whether converting to Christianity necessitated temporal freedom from slavery, but religious leaders quickly allayed those fears. For example:

Cotton Mather forcefully argued that the Bible did not give Christian slaves the right to liberty. Just as forcefully, he argued that neither the canons of the church nor the English Constitution made a connection between christianization and temporal freedom. (page 23)

In fact, Evangelical leaders argued that enslavement was good for Africans because it gave them the opportunity to convert to Christianity. (Some Christians hold this view to this day, and it is repugnant!) The social stratification of masters and slaves was understood to be God’s design for a peaceful society. These ideas were diligently catechized to the enslaved Africans, with Frederick Douglass later explaining, “I have met many religious colored people … who are under the delusion that God requires them to submit to slavery and to wear chains with meekness and humility.”

The American Revolution brought a fresh look at race-based slavery. People wondered if the principles behind the fight for freedom from England applied also to enslaved peoples. Thus began the rise of the anti-slavery movement among evangelicals. They were largely moderates and “gradualists,” believing that slavery would slowly be put to rest overtime as both masters and slaves were converted to Christianity. As Emerson and Smith point out, “Evangelicals of this time … held that by changing individuals, social problems would eventually dissipate.” (page 29) This movement had minimal results and petered out in the early 1800s.

The 1830s saw a rise in Evangelical “immediatists,” who demanded direct and immediate action to end what they saw as the great injustice of slavery. One such evangelical was Pastor Charles Finney. He connected his faith with abolitionism, going so far as to deny communion to parishioners who were slaveholders, believing that it was impossible simultaneously to own slaves and to be a Christian. (Personally, I think what he did was awesome!) However, as the movement gathered steam and begin to emphasize amalgamation of the races, Finney distanced himself. He saw slavery as a separate issue from race, and did not support amalgamation or integration. (This line of thinking paved the way for Jim Crow laws.) Emerson and Smith see Finney as representative of the views of many Evangelical abolitionists of the time.

If the well-educated and progressive Finney willingly spoke out against slavery, but not racial prejudice and segregation, it is reasonable to suppose the grassroots evangelicals, though perhaps viewing slavery as wrong, were often prejudiced, continued to view African Americans as inferior, and were generally opposed to the integration of the races. Although calling for people to be freed, they did not call for an end to racialization. (page 33)

Not all evangelicals took exception to slavery. In the mid-1800s, a robust defense of slavery was developed using so-called biblical, evangelistic, social, and political support. Enslaved Africans were also frequently reminded of the supposed rightness of slavery. For example, when slaves attended church with their masters, preachers would share an additional sermon reminding them of their “Christian duty” to submit to their masters.

After the Civil War and during Reconstruction, with slavery officially outlawed, white northern evangelicals sent money, teachers, and missionaries to the South to “raise up the Negro.” Condescending? Yes. But still a generally positive endeavor. Overall, Reconstruction was a time of social and political success for freed slaves. However, Southerners soon began to fear for their way of life, wanting to get back to what they saw as “Christian America,” and therefore imposed laws to restrict and oppress black people. This was the start of Jim Crow laws and institutionalized segregation. Northern evangelical interest declined, and most of them left Southerners to deal with “race problems” on their own.

In response to legislated segregation, African American people started their own churches while white Christians largely denied that there even was a race problem. In other words, even while Jim Crow laws actively worked against equality for African Americans, white Americans believed that equality already existed!

In the twenties and thirties, evangelicals were generally critical of violence between the races, though not of segregation. In 1919, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation began.

The goal during this period was to provide a better racial environment. … It advocated an end to lynching, portraying African Americans in a more positive light, and better facilities, such as school buildings for African Americans, though still within the context of segregation. Indeed, the commission never attacked segregation itself, but simply strove to improve race relations and the lives of black Americans within the institutional context of segregation. (page 42-43)

The Civil Rights Movement highlighted the extent of differences between black Christians and white evangelicals. Most evangelicals were critical of the Civil Rights Movement while most black Christians supported it. Those white Christians who did support it tended to be non-evangelicals such as mainstream Protestants.

Billy Graham is an interesting case study of the Evangelical mindset of the time. He was for improved race relations, but believed that organized efforts were harmful, especially because he perceived them as being connected to Communism. (Sound familiar? I guess this argument has been around for decades.) On the one hand, Graham removed the segregating rope between blacks and whites at one of his southern Evangelistic Crusades. But in another instance, he stated that he tried to work within the social framework of each city he visited. He invited Martin Luther King Jr. to pray at one of his Crusades, yet declined to join King’s March on Washington, believing King’s methods to be flawed. In response to the “I Have a Dream” speech, Graham remarked that black children and white children would hold hands in harmony only when Jesus returned.

To understand this, we must account for the premillennial view that had come to dominate the American evangelical worldview and played a role in limiting evangelical action on race issues. According to this view, the present world is evil and will inevitably suffer moral decline until Christ comes again. Thus, to devote oneself to social reform is futile. (page 47)

Graham, like most white evangelicals of the time, opposed racism generally, but viewed organized social reform as fruitless, unnecessary, and perhaps even dangerous.

The 80s and 90s brought a new wave of racial reconciliation efforts by evangelicals through organizations like Promise Keepers and people like Curtiss DeYoung and Tony Evans. Most whites who spoke against prejudice, urged personal repentance and reconciled relationships between individuals, while African American Christians generally focused on changing what they saw as oppressive structures, and unjust laws. The difference in approach is highlighted in the words of Pastor Cecil “Chip” Murray:

White evangelicals need an at-risk gospel. … Calling sinners to repentance means also calling societies and structures to repentance—economic, social, educational, corporate, political, religious structures…. The gospel at once works with individual and the individual’s society: to change one, we of necessity must change the other.

I’ll close this historical overview with a quote, which, though challenging, highlights Emerson’s and Smith’s overall analysis of evangelicalism and race relations throughout American history.

Because evangelicals view their primary task as evangelism and discipleship, they tend to avoid issues that hinder these activities. Thus, they are generally not countercultural. With some significant exceptions, they avoid “rocking the boat,” and live within the confines of the larger culture. At times they have been able to call for and realize social change, but most typically their influence has been limited to alteration at the margins. So, despite having the subcultural tools to call for radical changes in race relations, they most consistently call for changes in persons that leave the dominant social structures, institutions, and culture intact. This avoidance of boat-rocking unwittingly leads to granting power to larger economic and social forces. It also means that evangelicals’ views to a considerable extent conform to the socioeconomic conditions of their time. Evangelicals usually fail to challenge the system not just out of concern for evangelism, but also because they support the American system and enjoy its fruits. They share the Protestant work ethic, support laissez-faire economics, and sometimes fail to evaluate whether the social system is consistent with their Christianity. (pages 21-22)

Evangelicals’ Thoughts on Race Today

Emerson and Smith conducted an extensive telephone survey of 2,000 people to determine present-day thoughts of evangelicals on racial issues. They then conducted 200 in-person interviews. The results were enlightning. Smith and Emerson asked people to describe the race problem in America. Many people admitted there was a race problem, describing it as a problem of discrimination or violence between individuals. Other evangelicals denied the race problem altogether, instead suggesting that those who talk about race are the problem. Very few referenced structures, laws, or societal values that contribute to racialization.

When asked about the reasons behind economic inequality between blacks and whites, the two most common explanations given were 1) lack of motivation and 2) flawed cultural values among blacks. Fewer evangelicals ascribed economic disparity to 3) lack of access to quality education and/or 4) discrimination. In other words, evangelicals tended to blame economic hardship on African Americans themselves as opposed to historical, structural, or systemic problems. Most black Christians, on the other hand, pointed to structural issues or discrimination as the main problem.

As sociologists, Emerson and Smith explain that the cultural tools a person or group has affects the way they identify problems and solutions. They point out three cultural tools evangelicals use that heavily influence their views of race, which are: 1) accountable freewill individualism—“individual initiative conquers all;” 2) relationalism—“attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships;” and 3) antistructuralism—“inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences.” Applied to racial issues, this cultural framework necessitates holding African Americans accountable for their struggles (accountable freewill individualism) and focusing almost exclusively on personal reconciliation (relationalism and antistructuralism). To begin to explore societal and structural components of a racialized society, white evangelicals would have to reexamine these core beliefs.

Emerson and Smith end the book by discussing various sociological principles that describe ingroup dynamics and contribute to de facto segregation today. They close by calling for an honest look at comprehensive solutions to the issue of racialization.

My Reflections

I think that Divided by Faith is remarkably well-written and well-organized. I found it easy to follow, and I appreciated the variety of information—historical, sociological, personal interviews, etc. In other words, I was never bored. I appreciated that this work was neither a puff piece nor a hit piece, instead seeking balance and honesty, focusing on facts over value judgments.

I learned a lot about various historical movements and historical figures. I was particularly interested in learning about the great Evangelist Billy Graham as I’ve seen a lot of diverse perspectives on his relationship with Civil Rights; this book seems to carefully lay out both the positives and negatives. I was also fascinated by Emerson’s and Smith’s exploration of how the white evangelical worldview affects the way evangelicals understand and address racial issues. Their sociological insights into group dynamics that prop up prejudice and racialization were also helpful.

In general, this book helped me honestly examine the past—my past, if you will, since I am both an American and a white evangelical. I’ve always known some of the positive ways that evangelicals have fought for human rights and civil rights for African Americans, but this book helped me honestly face the negative actions evangelicals have taken as well as the discriminatory societal structures that evangelicals have helped to maintain. And so I feel both thankful and grieved. I now acknowledge that taken as a whole, white evangelicalism has done more to hurt race relations than help. This is a sobering realization to come to. But sometimes truth leads to lament, and sometimes lament is the first step to change. (Side note: this increases my empathy for those individuals, particularly African Americans, who have chosen to distance themselves from the term “Evangelical,” even while maintaining theologically-conservative Protestant beliefs.)

On a personal level, as I read some of the quotes by modern-day evangelicals, I was humbled to realize that just a few years ago I might have said some of the same things—things like “the breakdown of family structures is the main cause of problems in African American communities” or “playing the race card is as big a problem as racism.” I’m embarrassed even to type those sentences, and my heart is rightly grieved. And I am truly sorry. For me it’s been a process, starting 3 years ago, of seeking to comprehensively understand racial issues in America.

I am profoundly thankful to have read this book! I highly recommend it to any American—especially to white evangelicals—or to anyone who wants to understand why race continues to be a defining aspect of the American story.

What is a White Evangelical to Do?

Maybe this information is new, and you’re feeling like a deer in headlights. Or maybe you’re familiar with these perspectives, but you’re not sure what practical actions to take. Either way, here are a few suggestions. First, accept uncomfortable emotions; don’t reject new ideas just because they feel scary. Second, know that lament and anger are appropriate responses to sin and injustice, and can be impetus for change. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Third, get educated; read a book like Divided by Faith (purchase on Amazon or read the first 30 pages for free on Google Books here). Fourth, sit under the teaching of minority voices: on social media, by listening to sermons, and by engaging in conversations (with a focus on listening to learn). And fifth, financially support minority-led organizations.

Resources

Here some of the people and organizations that have been particularly helpful for me as I’ve learned about racial issues in recent years.

Two of my favorite African American pastors are:

  • Elbert McGowan at Redeemer Church in Jackson, MS. Listen to his sermons here.
  • Dr. Mika Edmondson at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, MI. Listen to his sermons here.

The following are some theologically-conservative people and organizations I recommend financially supporting as a practical way to support African Americans and racial reconciliation.

  • The Witness: A Black Christian Collective is an organization that puts out articles and podcasts on all things related to race and faith. Donate here.
  • Reformed Theological Seminary offers the African American Leadership Scholarship, a 50% tuition break for qualifying African American students who are training to be pastors, professional counselors, and leaders. Donate here with a note that your donation is for the AALS fund.
  • Kyle J. Howard is a Christian Counselor who works with and creates resources for those affected by racial trauma. Donate here.
  • Peace Preparatory Academy serves children and families in the heart of urban Atlanta. Donate here.

As always, thanks for reading!

-Hannah

Check out some of of my other articles:

Resources for “God’s Spirit-filled Church”

resources

As some of you may know, I have endeavored to preach through the first five chapters of Acts at my church, Mount Carmel CP Church. So, I thought I would give a short word about the resources that I’ve been using to help me tackle this endeavor.

Acts for Everyone, Part One: Chapters 1-12 by N.T. Wright
acts112wright.jpg
This has been a tremendous resource for me. N.T. Wright has firm grasp on the history of the first century church. It’s almost as if he puts you there in the upper room with the followers of Jesus as they decide how they’re going to proceed with picking a replacement for Judas Iscariot.

I realize that Wright has his naysayers among the Reformed community for his views on Justification, but whatever. If you can’t enjoy the truth that he brings to the table without tossing out the parts where he’s off then you’re pretty much like a kid who has to eat McNuggets all the time cause he’ll choke on a chicken leg from Popeye’s.

 

Exalting Jesus in Acts by Tony Merida

actsmerida

It doesn’t matter what book it covers, the Christ-Centered Exposition series is a commentary set that’s made by the preacher for the preacher.

These commentaries, particularly the one over Acts, will help you break down a text in a digestible way so that you’re not giving people a bulk of information and no way to process it.

Forgive the second food reference, but it’s like giving someone a huge steak and telling them that they have to eat it with their hands in two bites. The Christ-Centered Exposition series gives you a knife and fork to work with so that you can break down the text and see the Gospel clearly on each page.

 

The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle

ageofthespiritAlthough this isn’t a commentary over Acts, Phyllis Tickle, and her co-author, Jon Sweeney, do an excellent job of documenting the controversy surrounding the deity of the Holy Spirit, and how not much as changed over the last hundreds years.

This has been a helpful resource to me as someone who is trying to communicate the ancient truth about the Holy Spirit into a post-modern culture that only thinks of the Holy Spirit as some kind of impersonal force or power that was harnessed by the mystics of old.

As a couple of honorable mentions, I would like to also briefly talk about Jesus Continued by JD Greear and Rediscovering the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton. Horton’s book is easily 10x more academic than JD’s, but both are very helpful in understanding the deity and purpose of the Holy Spirit. I would say that JD’s book is more for someone who is new to the faith and would like more than just a base knowledge of the Holy Spirit, and Horton’s book is for the academic looking for something to mentally wrestle with, but all in all, I highly recommend both and find both of them helpful in articulating the importance of viewing the Holy Spirit correctly through the lens of Scripture.

Of course, there’s been some other sources that I’ve been using online such as WorkingPreacher.org, but those have been my “go to” books for this series, and if you plan on preaching or studying through the book of Acts I hope you’ll find these resources just as useful as I have.

From a “Worthless” Evangelical Woman: A Response to Robert Truelove

From a _Worthless_ Evangelical Woman

Within the past week, Robert Truelove has posted two articles, the first of which is entitled “Why Most Evangelical Women are Worthless.” (He wrote a follow-up article called “Why Most Evangelical Men are Worthless” and my Late Night Theology colleague has responded to that article here.) Well here I am, a potentially-worthless Evangelical woman, sharing my reflections on his article.

Pastor Truelove begins by calling out the problem of women who feel unfulfilled and empty. They then turn to women’s ministries for answers. The answer given by women’s ministries is to become MORE involved in women’s ministry (and perhaps even start one’s own women’s ministry). He explains why he thinks this is a faulty answer: 

“A Christian woman should be taught to find her calling first and foremost IN HER HOME. The domestic duties of the home are her sphere of Christian leadership, for she is to be a ‘keeper of the home’. Her first ministry is to her husband and children as she loves and serves them as a Christian wife and mother. This is WHO the Christian woman ought to be!…When a Christian woman seeks to ‘find herself’ outside of the home, it is not piety but rebellion. Such women make poor wives and mothers.”

In other words, if women would faithfully fulfill their duties in the home rather than looking outside the home for joy, they would naturally come into contentment and fulfillment.

I have three issues with this article. First, is the title. I think it is extremely problematic to refer to any human as “worthless.” Even though Robert here is referring to a woman being worthless as regards to her natural function, I think we must be very careful about language that could seem to attack the doctrine of Imago Dei. When people begin to believe that others are worthless or worth less, we get things like slavery, rape, and murder. So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to women (or any person or group of people!) as worthless, even for the sake of a clickbait title.

My second issue is that Pastor Truelove’s conception of gender roles seems more cultural than biblical. He envisions a household where the woman takes care of the children and the cleaning and the cooking, the husband works to provide for the family, and the wife is not involved in either ministry or the workforce. The problem is, I don’t see this model mandated by Scripture. In fact, there are both Old Testament and New Testament examples of women who were involved in ministry AND the workforce. In the Old Testament we have the Proverbs 31 woman and in the New Testament we have Lydia. The Bible seems to allow for more flexibility than Pastor Truelove in how families provide for themselves and in the ways that they are involved in ministry. To me, it seems much more appropriate for each couple to decide what works best for them (for their personalities, needs, and cultural context) with regards to both providing for their family and taking care of their household.

My final critique has to do with the concept of fulfillment. That anyone would try to find fulfillment in either working in the home, in ministry, or in vocation is problematic. Every Christian’s sense of deepest fulfillment and contentment needs to be rooted in Christ, and even that will be imperfect until Heaven. A person feeling unfulfilled COULD be a result of shirking their duties, but it could be evidence that they are not yet glorified! I realize that Pastor Truelove likely did not mean that a woman should find her ultimate satisfaction in keeping her household, but I think it’s an important clarification to make! (I think it would even be appropriate to remind women NOT to find ultimate satisfaction in their duties at home or at work or in ministry.) But even if we’re talking about a lesser fulfillment, I think that both men and women can find fulfillment in a whole host of things including marriage, family, friendships, work, service, nature, and rest.

In conclusion, I affirm the dignity and worth of men and women. I recognize that the strict gender roles emulated by Robert Truelove are highly encultured and largely not biblically prescribed. And finally, I wish to urge the finding of joy in many aspects of life, while knowing that ultimate joy is found only in Christ. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out some of my other articles here:

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

Why “Be Strong” or “Buck Up” is the Wrong Response to Suffering…

Grace for the Worthless: An Open Letter to Robert Truelove

Gracefortheworthless

Dear Robert,

Holy crap. I get trying to come out strong with your new blog; but wow. Two articles in two days about how Evangelical women and Evangelical men are “worthless”. Now, I’ve read both of them (multiple times) and my first reaction was stunned silence. Seriously, I just sat back in my chair and chuckled. Not because what you said was funny (cause it’s not). But because laughter is my  go to response when I’m both frustrated and confused. I know that a chuckle isn’t the best response, but it’s my natural one. Ask my wife.

On second thought, don’t do that. You’ve said enough about why she’s terrible as it is.

Now, we can talk about why clickbaity titles are pretty cliche. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but come on. Let’s ignore the fact that it’s just a petty way to get readers. It’s just lazy. But I’ll just give you that one for free. Shock value is so good for building a brand. It’s edgy, it’s masculine. Hell, next you’ll move to Seattle, sport a faux hawk, and start preaching in Tapout shirts and vests.

But let’s deal with your content about why  men are worthless. Best as I can tell, you’re premise is this: men are worthless because they don’t lead and love their wives well. Here’s the thing: I don’t disagree with your frustration. I get it. There is an epidemic of a lack of male leadership in the church. Yes, by and large men fill the offices and hold the titles. But you and I both know that the title doesn’t make the man. So yes, I agree, there’s a lack of male leadership. And leadership is hard. There is a fine line between passivity and domestic despotism; blessed is the man who can tightrope it.

But then you lose me. Because you blame this failure of men at the feet of women and Feminism. You said

“Every time men try to put their heads out there and lead, it gets whacked off. Too many evangelical women with strong Feminist leanings lament the lack of strong men while living out a worldview that emasculates men.”

and also

“It’s very telling that when a man does actually speak out against feminism, most of the responses from other evangelical men are nothing more than virtue signaling for Feminism. Too many men are infected with Pansyism. The guys have joined the girls, but fellas, the dress doesn’t fit nor flatter you.”

So let’s talk about this. I’m assuming that you’re talking about Third Wave, hyper, xym/xyr, shaved head, fishmouth, campus feminism. And yeah, they’re batty. You don’t have to tell me twice, that’s some crazy stuff. Postmodernism has never been more alive and well in the culture.

But the Church isn’t the culture. And look, maybe I’m misunderstanding. Maybe when you say most Evangelicals, you’re talking about Mainline liberal denominations. But you didn’t say that. In an attempt to be clever, you weren’t clear.

Because what you’re describing, I don’t see. You’ve said, “‘submission’ has come to mean the husband should merely lead the discussion but the wife has veto power over any decision.” I asked my wife when that’s ever happened in our short time being married. We couldn’t think of any. Now she’s pushed back on things. She’s by no means a doormat. If I wanted a doormat I’d buy one. If I wanted to just have someone who always obeyed my commands without any hesitation, I’d just get a dog.

You’ve said “Feminism lives out in the church in various ways.” Now you don’t list those ways. You just say that it happens. If you’re going to make the claim you have to prove it. But I think you’re just building a straw(wo)man out of “Evangelical Feminism”. I get it, it’s the in thing to do if you’re a white American male. Cause honestly I too hear the rhetoric and go “man I don’t think I’m as awful as they say I am”.

But I don’t think we can lay the fault at the feet of Feminism, rush off and form an Evangelical version of the Proud Boys. Yeah maybe it’s a symptom. It’s not the disease. Becaus this isn’t a new issue.

We’ve been doing this since the Fall. It’s not feminism’s fault men don’t lead well; it’s Adam’s. Sin came in the world through one man (Rom 5:12) and from that point forward, we’ve not been leading well. Now you may take this and run with it and say, “Yes but Feminism is the result of the Fall and that’s totally what I meant to get across” but that’s not what you said. Again, you were clever; but you weren’t clear.

So sure you’ve not taken it so far as To suggest that I should put my boot on my wife’s neck physically or even emotionally. But by calling us worthless, and holding up this legalistic approach to marriage, you’ve certainly asked me to do it spiritually. Because if, according to you, I am to find any worth as a Christian, then my home better be immaculate. My wife better do what I say the first time. Because Feminism has ravaged my home and the Church.

But Robert, I think I’m going to pass on that. Rather, I’m going to love my wife by trying to find SnoCaps for her. I’m going to love my wife by taking on some chores when she’s had a rough day. I’m going to love my wife by pointing her to Jesus as best I can. By leading not to despotism, but to grace.

And if I’m honest, I’m going to fail. Like every husband that’s come before me, I’m going to fail. And when I do, it won’t be becuse I’m worthless. It will be because as much as I am a saint, I still am a sinner. But the way to press forward isn’t by wrenching my stones away from Feminism and demanding obedience, but by looking to Christ; the true and better Husband.

Sure Robert, that’s probably what you meant to say. You probably meant all of what I just said. You just didn’t say it. You were being clever; not clear. But when we put extra law and an impossible standard up for where our worth is, we fail. When we put the blame on Feminism, instead of looking at the sin in our own hearts, we fail. When we fail to rest in Christ, we most certainly fail.

So Robert, I’m going to just tell you. I’m not going to kill my wife and my marriage on the altar of “masculinity”. I won’t lead perfectly. But, Christ died for me and my failure to lead- there’s grace for that. I’m not worthless, but I wish I could say the same about your article.

To the rest of you: if you’d like to hear Hannah’s push back about Women Being Worthless click here

 

 

Why Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel are Different Manifestations of the Same Thing

When you hear the phrase “Prosperity Gospel,” you might imagine the luxurious mansions and perfect health supposedly promised to any person with faith enough to claim it. The term “Fundamentalism,” on the other hand, may conjure images of stern people in conservative clothing threatening others into good behavior. What could these possibly have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

Both Fundamentalism and the Prosperity Gospel see good things as a reward for good people who make good choices. For the Prosperity Gospel, faith and positivity unlock wealth and health. For Fundamentalism, holiness and submission lead to happiness and success. In essence, the Prosperity Gospel says, “If you have enough faith, then you will be happy and successful,” while Fundamentalism says, “If you make good choices, then you will be happy and successful.” But God doesn’t work that way, and nowhere does he promise health in exchange for faith or happiness in exchange for holiness.

There are some unsettling and heartbreaking implications to this way of thinking. For one, trials in life are seen as the result of personal failure, whether failure of faith or of holiness. Success, on the other hand, is a reward for those who do enough or believe enough. If a person struggles, it is because they are inadequate. And if a person is happy and life is going great, it is because they are great. Those who experience difficulty, therefore, can be judged and should be fixed. And those who are successful can be honored and should be followed.

Let’s look at some examples. In the case of sickness, the Prosperity Gospel urges people to “just have faith” that a reversal of fortunes is just around the corner. A person who believes such nonsense will tell the sufferer to believe better so they can get better, rather than compassionately sitting with the sufferer in the midst of the mess. In fact, when people with this view encounter suffering, they must either believe that the sufferer lacks sufficient faith or reexamine their entire worldview!

In another example, Rachel Joy Welcher recently spoke on Twitter (@racheljwelcher) about Fundamentalism’s view that abstinence guarantees a happy and problem-free marriage. The idea is that abstaining from sexual activity before marriage earns you the reward of blissful marital intimacy and lack of relational conflict. In other words, do good to earn happiness. One problem with this is that when these rewards do not manifest, people feel confused and guilty. Here’s what Rachel says:

Common in Christian dating and purity books from my teen years was the promise that waiting until marriage for sex guaranteed a good marriage. Included in this promise was the idea that the greatest trial your relationship would endure was this waiting. The expectations this creates. The turmoil and fear and false-guilt when marriage is difficult – more difficult than abstinence. One book I read last night promised that “if you wait…you’ll make babies with great celebration” and that sex will be “a blast.” What happens when starting a family is full of loss and pain? When your sex-life is not “a blast”? When those who did all the “right things” and wrote the “lists” are getting divorced?

There are other commonalities between the Prosperity Gospel and Fundamentalism besides false if-then promises. These include the idealization of leaders and a theology that is too enmeshed with a specific cultural context. However, these are topics for another time. For now, let’s look at what the Bible actually teaches and how it challenges these faulty beliefs. 

First of all, the Bible teaches that all people, including good Christians, will experience difficult times (take a look at the book of Job!) and the full range of emotions (see the book of Psalms or Jesus in the Gospels). It does not promise that we will see happy resolutions to our suffering in this lifetime or that we will be successful if we work hard enough. To teach otherwise is inconsistent with what is true.

Second, life’s challenges–ill health, marital strife, or other difficulties–are sometimes the result of our own sin or foolishness. But other times they are because of the brokenness of this world, another person’s sin, a corrupt society, or the Devil. Most often, difficulties occur because of some combination of these reasons. To assume the cause of suffering is always just one of these is not fair to the teaching of Scripture.

Third, the Bible urges us to have faith, to trust in God’s character and God’s promises. However, it is not our faith that unlocks God’s character or allows him to keep his promises. He is who he is regardless of our belief or unbelief; our faith does not create reality. The very fact that God’s character and promises are not dependant on us is the one of the reasons he is worthy of our trust!

Fourth, God does call us to holiness in all areas of life, both as individuals and as communities (see Romans 12-16, Ephesians 4-6). The Book of Proverbs even enumerates the ways that living according to goodness and wisdom may lead to blessings! But our right choices do not guarantee blessings and may even lead to more difficulties (again, see Job).

And finally, regarding motivations for holiness, the Bible provides several motivations beyond the potential happy outcomes. There is the hope of reward in heaven, the call to live according to our new life in Christ (Romans 12:2-2), and the desire to bring God glory. Again, Rachel Joy Welcher has some excellent thoughts on this specifically as relates to sexual purity.

Lovers of God, do we need more motivation (great marriage, lots of babies, great sex, easy-sailing after the alter, etc.) to obey our Savior, than His glory? These books. So full of promises. Dangled carrots. Cultural references. There are lots of reasons people practice abstinence before marriage. Christians should not pursue purity to ensure a trial-free future (this is never a promise in Scripture) or their own personal fulfillment. Christians pursue purity for the glory of God. Because He is our King. And we fail & fumble at this. Some endure theft & rape. Purity isn’t virginity, fitting into a white dress or having the same story, history or future as everyone else. It’s about loving God so much that obeying Him is worship, failing Him is repentance & accepting grace is daily.

Rather than promising escape from earthly trials either through faith or through holy living, the Bible promises that God is with his people in the midst of difficult times. Christians may or may not see success and happiness on this Earth, and we do a disservice when we promise otherwise. Instead we can walk in faith and obedience, coming alongside those who are hurting in order to be a tangible reminder of God’s presence with them in their troubles.

So let us not fall prey to the lies of if-then religiosity in any of its forms. Instead may we embrace the whole counsel of Scripture, walking in holiness and putting our faith in God, not because we believe we are guaranteed happy results, but in order to live as those who are in Christ and whose destination is heaven, where all things will be made whole. ❤️

~Hannah

Check out Rachel Joy Welcher (@racheljwelcher): https://twitter.com/racheljwelcher?s=09 A big thank you to her for her insights and inspiration!