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The timing of the release of Family Discipleship: Leading Your Home Through Time, Moments, & Milestones was fortuitous. I am currently preaching a series on Cultivating a Culture of Discipleship. The final sermon, which is Sunday, is on Deuteronomy 6. The special pricing enabled us to buy copies to give away to our families with children at home.

Did we make a mistake in doing this? I mean that I had not yet read the book. It is possible we chose a very flawed book to give to our parents.

It has some minor flaws but it is a very good book over all.

It was written by Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin. Matt’s kids are largely teens, and Adam’s are younger. At times they explain how they have applied the framework they espouse.

“This book is a plea and a tool for you to embrace God’s call on you as a dad or mom to intentionally get in your kid’s life around their greatest need, their spiritual development.”

This is an honest book. These men do not claim to perfectly disciple their children. Nor do they expect you to do so either. They know there will be rich times and incredibly frustrating times as you seek to disciple your children.

This book provides a framework for understanding how that discipleship takes place within the course of life. The main chapters have questions to process the information and charts to help you apply the information to your family and circumstances. Many of them provide ideas for application. Each chapter has a page of quotes at the beginning. They include a passage of Scripture, familiar names like Charles Spurgeon and Howard Hendricks as well as some unexpected names like Theodore Roosevelt and (a great quote by) Frederick Douglass. The Ann Voskamp reference was … interesting. Sorry, I’m not a fan of Ann’s books.

The fact that the authors are Baptists does not seem to matter a great deal. The vast majority of what they say could be said by a Presbyterian, Methodist or Lutheran. The exceptions are the few times they mention baptism, and the mention of purity rings and purity ceremonies in the chapter on milestones. Purity rings & ceremonies are generally found in the purity culture of baptistic churches. I have no first hand knowledge of this but know that many felt damaged by purity culture. I don’t want to get into that, but this could turn some people off as a result.

Introduction

The framework is just that, and not a one-size fits all kind of program. Each family has unique circumstances and personalities. They want to respect this AND help you fulfill your responsibilities.

The goal is discipleship a process which we can control. We can’t control the outcome. We can’t save our children, and shouldn’t feel the weight of that burden. God doesn’t hold you responsible for their salvation, and you shouldn’t blame or demand that of yourself either.

Discipling our children will be costly at times. You may have to die to yourself and your agenda for your time. This process is important, but it is not the most important thing (IOW don’t make an idol out of it). It should not be a part of the common idolatry of children that we see. Their goal isn’t to shame you, but encourage you. They also recognize that some parents disqualify themselves from this place through abuse of their children.

The Family that Disciples

All parents who are Christians have the position of disciple maker as part of their responsibility. The family is the primary place for children being made disciples. You can only disciple them as much as you have been discipled yourself. You may need to be discipled into being able to fulfill your responsibility. Our children imitate us, and hopefully not only in negative ways.

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 1

They also identify what family discipleship isn’t. For instance, it isn’t spiritual exploration without boundaries. It involves truth and love which means bringing them back to Scripture regularly as our authority. It isn’t using that Word to get your way. We don’t want to manipulate and spiritually abuse them. Know that your kids likely won’t be popular because they will go against the cultural tide. Nor is it an way be be admired because you’ll often make unpopular choices.

One minor issue was with a sentence in this section. “Your identity is rooted in being a child of God not a parent of your child.” Actually, my identity is both. Surely the primary one is in Christ but we have many identities that reflect the various callings Christ has put on our lives.

One way they try to take pressure off is to remind it that it generally takes place in the ordinary course of life. Kids don’t need a lesson from you that rivals the best of R.C. Sproul. They do need you to take initiative in their spiritual formation and development. Don’t wait for them to ask you to teach them the Bible. You do want to make such family time and discussions the norm in your family.

The Foundation

The authors bring us to the two greatest commandments as stated by Jesus in Matthew 22. Our priority is to help our children “know, follow, and trust him.” Ideally parents and churches are working together with this goal. Parents have the primary responsibility but “there are some things our kids feel more comfortable talking through with someone who is not their mom or dad.”

It isn’t just about doctrine, but also recounting God’s faithfulness in history (redemption) and in your life (redemption applied or testimony). Both of these have Scriptural basis.

They recognize that sin makes family life difficult more often than we want to admit. This means, in part, modeling repentance to your children. This means teaching them to resolve conflict in a godly fashion.

Since the church is the household of God, we see the family as a microcosm of church and one of the two places we are intended to learn the faith. We learn how to love God and one another.

Modeling

The chapter on modeling seems to be about getting your own house in order as a parent. The material at the end helps you see how you engage in your own discipleship, and encourages you to make necessary changes for your personal benefit, the benefit of your kids and the glory of God (ultimately).

They encourage us to be both reliable and relatable. These refer to integrity (often born in repentance) and relational connection. They need to see you worship God, trust God, obey God and thank God. They need your consistency of life. They need to see you loving your neighbor.

One of the joys I’ve had as a dad is seeing my kids helping our neighbors. I love that He is developing a heart for others in them, even if they are sometimes reluctant or inconsistent.

We aren’t just teaching them doctrine but preparing them to leave the house as fully functioning adults and, hopefully, Christians.

I reminded my daughter the other day that most mornings, if she gets up early enough, she’ll see her mother and me in the Scriptures. We are committed to being in the Word. We are committed to prayer and pray with the kids at meals regularly (beyond ‘thanks’) and bedtimes (though as they are older and go to bed at different times this is tougher). They also see the rhythm of church life modeled for them.

Time

Now they begin to unfold their framework. Discipleship takes place in time. It requires time as a regular investment. This may require eliminating something to free up time but mostly you can find some common free time in the weekly schedule. They note that most of us have a “disordered relationship with (our) itinerary.”

They want you to establish reasonable goals rather than thinking you’re going to spend 30-60 minutes each night with your kids expounding the Word and in deep prayer. It might be 15 minutes most nights. We used to read them a chapter from the Jesus Storybook Bible each night. When they started BSF with their mother, we’d help them with the take home work. So we were regularly engaging them with Scripture (they now do most of the BSF work on their own). At times we’ve worked on Catechism questions. I wish I could say we’ve done all these consistently and well, but sometimes my selfish agenda meant I begrudgingly gave them time and wasn’t as patient as I should have been.

But this is about establishing regular routines of discipleship with your kids that are age appropriate. They won’t all be home runs or appreciated. But they are to be intentional. Discipleship doesn’t just happen by accident.

There is a helpful section here on the difference between telling and teaching. Too often we settle for telling because it is easier and quicker. But we are called to teach them so they understand and can apply it.

Moments

It’s been 5 years.

In addition to the rhythms of life there are the teachable moments of life. These are often the unplanned moments when you can speak into their lives as they struggle with relationships, health or failure. There are also the positive moments when you stop to thank God for mercy. These are the times they learn about repentance, forgiveness and more.

Many moments provide opportunity to speak gospel truth into their lives, much like it says in Deuteronomy 6. Yes, they may find this annoying at times, but points them back to Jesus.

These are the moments we teach them who God is. These are the moments when we teach them godly character as well. Here we teach them to logic of grace (gospel facts ==> gospel-shaped living).

Milestones

This is the process of celebrating and commemorating the big occasions of life. It isn’t just birthdays or graduations. They are opportunities to note what God has done, and perhaps celebrate some annually (like Gotcha Days for adopted kids).

Milestones are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We acknowledge God is there and still sovereign. In the days of the Patriarchs and Wilderness wanderings they built altars to mark significant places and times. They aid in our memory. And our children’s. Pass on the milestones of your life so they hear of the faithfulness of God to you.

For us there have been surgeries as well as adoption ceremonies. On vacation we often have Farm Fest which has morphed into Family Fest which includes time of worship and instruction. We could do a better job of making a big deal about recitals and other events but I think that is a function of our personality.

Overall, as I noted, this is a very helpful book for parents to think through how they will disciple their kids. It is a big picture book rather than a how-to book on family worship. This is an encouragement to engage in the process of discipleship regarding your kids. The focus is on time, moments and milestones as the opportunities God provides to express your love for God and your kids so they learn to love and obey him.

If you haven’t already, embark on that great endeavor.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Frederick Douglass

 

 

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Sometimes you read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for years and think, “I wish I’d read this years ago.”

Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework by Charles Dunahoo is one of those books, at least for me.

I can’t remember how I got my copy. Someone else had read it so it was highlighted and underlined with black ink. I might be the third person to read it. I use red ink when I read a book. Now the book is quite colorful.

Dunahoo is the either retiring or now-retired coordinator for the PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications (I can’t remember). He served on a variety of committees in the early and formative days of the PCA. He’s been a pastor and taught systematic theology and apologetics at the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. The fruit of much of that work is displayed in this book. You can see the influence of Francis Shaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in this volume. There is plenty of  interaction with postmodernism (as well as modernism).

This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book, as he admits. It is a framework. That framework will need to be filled out in ways appropriate to your particular context and strengths. This means the book is not about the acts of discipleship (reading plans, planning prayer and other practices we think of when we think about discipleship). His focus is on the big picture.

This book has three parts: Knowing the Word, Knowing the World and Biblical Models for Applying the Word to the World.

Knowing the Word

The first section is by far the longest at around 120 pages. Knowing the Word is the Framework for Discipleship. that Dunahoo is talking about. He calls this a kingdom model. Discipleship is about reordering a life around the realities of the kingdom of Jesus. That means not simply new practices but a new way of thinking.

“Generic definition: A disciple is someone who accepts a set of beliefs, and embraces a holistic, total, and intentional approach to life based on those beliefs.

“Kingdom definition: a kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after him and applies them to all of life.”

This involves a brand new way of thinking as Paul repeatedly asserts in his epistles. We are, after all, transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means not simply new beliefs (it includes that) but new ways of viewing and thinking about everything. He differentiates between a program-based model, an individual (often parachurch) model, the small group model and his kingdom model. The kingdom model incorporates the other models but “places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational!” There is content, it forms a worldview and transforms lives.

Dunahoo then dives into how we think and know. This has been complicated by neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism. He wants us to be “epistemologically self-conscious” which he defines as “being aware of what we know and how we know what we know.” This includes knowing what we don’t know. He describes the shift in authority from the premodern (revelation) to the modern (reason) and the postmodern (self & community). Since the premodern era “truth and knowledge have been divorced from the person of God.” He stresses that true knowledge comes in relationship with the God who made us and everything else. This God can reveal our biases and filters that so often color our judgments and make our thinking and conclusions distorted. Here his dependence on Schaeffer becomes clear as he develops a “checks-and-balances approach” that helps us identify our biases. One of the problems he identifies with a postmodern approach is “a knowing process wherein truth is relatively determined from moment to moment, form place to place” rather than in an observable process. Tik Tok is an example of this as many young people seem to think they can process politics and society from 30 second videos of people dancing to bad music.

From knowing, Dunahoo returns to the Kingdom and its implications for theology, mission and ministry. The kingdom is larger than the Church, encompassing the whole of creation and therefore determines how we live in all of life (not just at home or in church). Kingdom refers to the realm (creation) and his reign (providence and revealed will). This implies the limitations of the Church’s role in the world which individual Christians don’t share. The Church proclaims the good news and disciples Christians about what to believe and how to live. In the world, as part of the kingdom, Christians work for justice as well as proclaim the good news. The Church has no role in politics, but Christians certainly do as citizens of two kingdoms. We act in the name of Christ under His authority, but not in the name of the Church. Christians vote, but not the Church (nor should it bind your conscience in voting).

“… it helps the Christian know how to live as a member of Christ’s body, the church, but also how to live in the broader kingdom realm.”

From there, he gets into a Christian World-and-Life view. This builds on the previous chapters and is the logical conclusion. As the kingdom shapes our thinking & knowing we develop a Christian world-and-life view. He engages with how our world-and-life views are shaped (and re-shaped) and why it is important. There is a good caution that our world-and-life view is continually being reformed so be humble and don’t think you have it all figured out. You don’t.

The next two chapters cover the Reformed Faith and the Covenant. Discipleship, for him and other Reformed people, happens within the context of our theological heritage and the covenant by which God regulates His relationship with His people. They are essential rather than optional aspects of discipleship for a kingdom model. Discipleship is not atheological. He addresses some misconceptions of theology and then summarizes key doctrines in the Reformed heritage.

Covenant is a key aspect of Reformed Theology. Reformed Theology is covenantal theology, but covers more than covenant theology. Discipleship takes place within and should recognize certain covenantal realities. It shapes how we think of family and God’s work in and through families (you and your seed), as an example. In covenant theology grace precedes obedience. This logic of grace (as Ferguson calls it) is to be an important part of discipleship. Obedience is taught, but not as a way of meriting grace. It is a response to grace and flows out of faith expressing itself in love.

Knowing the World

The second section of Dunahoo’s book deals with the context of discipleship. Discipleship occurs in a context just as it also involves addressing how we know what we know and what we are supposed to know.

“We have to teach people to think biblically, and that requires more than simple Bible study. … We must understand God’s revelation, particularly his inscripturated Word, in our particular circumstance to know how to apply that Word and think biblically about life and reality.”

Dunahoo begins with Modernity. He views it as a threat IF it is allowed to “control our lifestyles consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.” It can be an opportunity IF “we understand it and its influence, and know how to use it in proper ways.” In this context he defines premodern, modernity and postmodernism as he did earlier in terms of sources of authority for knowledge and true.

Then he moves into modernity’s influence on (American) Christianity. We see it’s influence in pluralism which offers people choices and allows for change. It can make Christianity seemingly irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. It leads to privatism which also relegates faith to the private sphere of one’s life. This seeks to limit faiths influence on the public sphere so that laws don’t reflect one’s moral views but lack a fixed reference point. He also examines individualism in which my reason (not ours) is the measure of truth. There is a lack of community since life is about me. This also leads us to relativism so there is no standard to measure cultures.

“As Francis Schaeffer often said in his lectures and writings, if there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society itself becomes absolute.”

He also addresses, briefly, techism. We tend to think newer is better. People become a commodity even as we try to extend life (with medicine) without creating proper financial support systems for those longer lives. Tied to this is the rise of pop culture and immediacy.

The next chapter address the postmodern paradigm. Postmodernism takes pluralism to new heights, or possibly depths. Postmodernism is existentialism and nihilism in more concrete forms. Absolute truth becomes a meaningless concept since we can’t define truth. We look to ourselves to create meaning.

He briefly examines four key postmodernists: Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. He then examines the key terms of postmodernism: Foundationalism, Pragmatism (Utilitarianism), Relativism and Structuralism. In evaluating postmodernism he asserts that it is not a reaction to modernism but rather the collapse of modernism which couldn’t bear the weight of its beliefs. Postmodernism can’t bear its own weight either. Long term communities can’t exist when they leave God out as a reference point. Otherwise self-interest and extremism rip them apart.

Both modernism and postmodernism are present in our culture. This is a function of the generational context. Older generations still operate in a modernist mindset (generally) and younger generations are more influenced by postmodernism. Discipleship can’t ignore modernism and postmodernism, and can’t ignore the generational context either.

He explores the Traditionalist, In Betweener, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations. He looks at the context in which they grew and their commitments (or lack thereof).

“We need all the generations coming together to produce the kind of covenant family that will survive the pressures, dangers, and consequences of today’s often degenerate and demoralizing world.”

Dunahoo is not trying to pit one generation against the other. He does note their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their general outlooks which can complement one another. Multi-generational ministries will balance the concerns of the various generations and help them humbly offer their strengths.

Applying the Word to the World

The third section applies the Word we’ve come to know to the world in which we live. This is the crux of discipleship because theology is meant to be lived, not simply asserted and assented.

He provides three biblical models or examples of how to do this. The first is Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Paul gains a hearing by building bridges through points of contact. Our message has to have some meaning to those who listen. In many cases this means first listening to the concerns and questions of those to whom we speak. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a relativist. He had a fixed reference point. He didn’t compromise his worldview but built on common concerns to then communicate his worldview. In this Dunahoo distinguishes between actual relevance (what it means for our lives) and functional relevance (whether or not we see that relevance).

The second model is Ecclesiastes which examines various worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. He notes that many Muslims criticize Christianity because western Christians have ceased to see it as a worldview, a system of thinking and doing. The topics he relates through Ecclesiastes are life, pleasure, happiness, wisdom, work, possessions, man and eternity. These are viewed from “under the sun” or from a human perspective and “above the sun” the view from above otherwise known as a Christian worldview.

In this context Dunahoo approaches the problem of legalism. We have liberties that we can enjoy in this life. We don’t avoid pleasure, happiness, wisdom etc. but seek them in God-honoring ways. This means in their proper place so they are not what we are living for but rather enjoying them as gifts from God to be used for His glory.

The third example is a covenantal reading of Genesis 13. We have to place texts within their context of the rest of Scripture and therefore the covenants. Dunahoo is getting at the gospel logic of indicative-imperative, moving from God’s grace to gospel implications. This rescues us from trying to merit God’s favor. The successes and failures of Abram must be viewed within the context of the covenant in which God gave grace to pagan Abram.

“That is the heart of discipleship: knowing about God in a way that transforms our lives by making us more like him, loving and caring for what he love and cares for.”

He is highly dependent upon S.G. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance which seems to be out of print now. The life of a disciple is fundamentally a life of faith in the promises of God. As we see in Hebrews 11 faith acts on the promises of God. Our faith is “truths fleshed out in vertical and horizontal relationships.”

As I noted, this is a book I wish I had read years ago. It is a more theological, abstract book. It does get at the presuppositions of discipleship and that is a necessary endeavor. I may try to communicate this material in a SS class or in teacher training. It will inform what I’m looking to do going forward.

Providing a framework, Dunahoo does not exhaustively examine his topics. He summarizes quite a bit, and necessarily so. In other words, this is not a book on postmodernism but summarizes the high points pertaining to kingdom discipleship. He then provides some resources to better understand postmodernism (or Reformed Theology or generational differences etc.).

One of my takeaways, for instance, came from the chapter on generations. Boomers tend to look for a “how to” in sermons. One older elder I knew used to write YBH in outlines, meaning “Yes, but how”. Busters/Xers like myself tend to look for “Why” in a sermon. Those are the two that I’m used to addressing. The one I need to add more consciously is the Millennial focus on the “so what”. Hopefully this will improve my preaching as a result, and preaching is a key component of discipleship.

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Sometimes life just gets busy and books get put aside for a spell. That’s what has happened.

I began reading The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience by Jeremy Pierre while I was on vacation/study leave back in July. I didn’t quite finish it and resumed when I got home. Or tried anyway.

Unfortunately I had committed to Congregational Conversations on Women in the Church and Talking Politics which are reflected in my numerous posts on Aimee Byrd and Jonathan Haidt.

Jeremy Pierre teaches counseling at Southern Seminary. This is a book written for biblical counseling. While I do some counseling, I read it to improve my preaching just as much as my personal ministry. As a result, I’m looking at this with slightly different eyes than his intended audience.

This book is structured in 3 sections. My bottom line is that the first two were excellent, and I got mired in the third.

The first section is The Beauty of Human Experience: How the Heart Responds Dynamically. Pierre develops this section reflecting a redemptive historical structure. The first two chapter seem to focus on the heart as created by God, and then we have the heart corrupted and then redeemed. It end with the heart in context.

Pierre develops a biblical understanding of the heart: interaction between thinking, feeling and willing. As he notes in his diagram the functions are interrelated and overlapping. Our heart responses are complex.

We think about what we value. Our feelings reveal what we value. Our choices reveal what we value most. Our heart interacts with the world and our circumstances. All three of these functions are important and often work behind the scenes. He mentions John Frame, and it is hard not to think about this in a triperspectival fashion.

“None of the faculties, so understood, exists or acts apart from the others, each is dependent on the others, and each includes the others.”

He connects worship to our thoughts, feelings and choices. God made us to respond to Him, the world and our circumstances. Similar to Haidt, Pierre notes Antonio Damasio’s work on people with brain injuries affecting emotions. Without emotions people don’t make better decisions but none or worse decisions. Our reactions seem intuitive (like in Haidt) not with reason leading the way. He mentions Haidt on page 33. This doesn’t mean we are thoughtless. We use past experiences and think about how to interpret circumstances. We also have affective and volitional responses to situations.

Due to the corruption of sin, our “experience is fragmented, dysfunctional, incomplete.” We all experience inner conflict as sin “hijacks the dynamic heart’s beautiful design.” Pierre develops this in terms of dynamic unfaithfulness and idolatry.

But thankfully God didn’t leave us all there. In regeneration we have a “renewed” heart, or one that is redeemed. His focus is on faith: a faith that is thinking, desiring and committed. This reflects the Protestant notion of the content, asset and trust comprising faith.

“The dynamic heart is always active, response-able, and therefore responsible.”

The second section entitled The Context of Human Experience: What the Heart Dynamically Responds To. The most obvious answer is God, but also to self, to others and circumstances. This fits well with Relational Wisdom 360 (God, self, others) as well as Frame’s triperspectivalism (God, me & circumstances (people included)).

He begins with God, and worship. One of his illustrations isn’t quite accurate. The temperature of the sun does change, not just the color of our sunsets (the two have nothing to do with one another). But he does get into Van Til’s Creator-creature distinction to differentiate our experience from God’s. God knows Himself perfectly. We not only can’t comprehend God, we don’t know ourselves fully either. He then gets to the similarities: thinking, valuing & choosing.

Faith includes not only believing God exists but “expressing the raw contents of the heart to God.” We see this throughout the Psalms. When we say that God wants our hearts He not only wants our thoughts captive to Him, but emotions shared with Him and wills in submission to Him. This is being God-aware and God-engaging in our circumstances.

He then addresses issues of identity.

“The primary point of this chapter is this: The dynamic heart functions from a personal identity constructed from various sources. Caring for people involves addressing how their constructed identity compares to their given identity.”

He notes that we simultaneously operate with different identities. At the same moment I can operate as friend and pastor, husband and father. Underneath all of this should be my grace-given identity in Christ. He discusses layers of identity reflecting a person’s cultural circles, with Christ at the center. A person’s circumstances, present environment, shapes how they conceive of their role and response to others. When I return home, my role is the youngest and it is like going through a time warp. It is unconscious. I struggle with my role & responses when visiting with my wife’s family: still, after 20 years. But the others around us matter too in how we understand our identities. As noted above, counseling (and preaching) seeks to shift people to their given identities, and to re-shape constructed ones to be more in synch with our given identity. At one point I did write in the margin that our conception of our given identities (Christian, husband, father etc.) can be culturally constructed.

Pierre then shifts to others and influence, particularly the influence of others on our hearts. Our choices on who or what influences us is often unconscious. It happens beneath the surface as something draws us to a person. But they then exert influence on us. And we on them. This influence can be both positive and negative. As we grow in self-awareness we will better understand how we engage with others. He addresses various orbits of influence: culture, family of origin, current family, vocation, social circles, media and then church as an alternate community of influence.

From there he moves into our circumstances and their meaning as they interact with our dynamic hearts. He notes that “People automatically process the events occurring around them according to their established framework of belief.” This is why change requires a renewal of the mind, and frameworks not simply thoughts. Our beliefs are part of a framework, not isolated. Here he gets into control beliefs which “determine how they interpret circumstances; their control values will determine how they feel about circumstances; and their control commitments will determine what choices they make in response to circumstances.” Counseling (and preaching) should address those control beliefs, values & commitments. Often these are shaped by seismic events: a divorce, and injury or illness, sexual assault etc. That means the event needs to be addressed so its power is lessened over time.

The book ends with Counseling from a Theology of Human Experience. He compares counseling to raking, not baking. His counseling process involves reading hearts, reflecting so people can understand their hearts, relate them to Jesus, and renew so they make new responses. This is where I got bogged down. It has less content and more sample questions to get at each of these steps in the raking process. If I were reading with an eye on counseling I probably would have found it more profitable. I did find the first two sections very profitable.

Whether for preaching, counseling or personal ministry of various sorts, this is a helpful book. He has some good illustrations from counseling and history (the story of the Essex as told in The Heart of the Sea). He draws on a variety of sources that might sound odd but actually are more similar than you think. Haidt, as I’ve mentioned in other places, reminds me of Van Til whom Pierre reflects through John Frame. He’s got some helpful sources and influences which enable him to put together a book about how the heart works that enhances understanding and hopefully in the various kinds of heart work we are called to do.

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In a series of three posts corresponding to the three sections of Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind, I’ve summarized his arguments. I threw in a few positive and negative items about the book along the way but thought I should do a quick review of the book regarding what was helpful and not helpful, where I agreed and where I didn’t.

He does a good job of explaining the terms he uses. He doesn’t assume you know anything about what he’s talking about. He generally backs up his conclusions with the results of studies. Often he learned new things through studies. He’s walking people through the process he underwent to arrive at his conclusions. This is very helpful though it makes for a bit longer of a book. But it lends the book a more personal, rather than academic, feel. It is quite readable and interesting.

Jonathan Haidt writes this book as a professor of moral psychology. He notes that he is liberal in his politics, though the kind of liberal that knows that conservatives are also important to the well-being of a nation. In his view, both sides offer positives (and negatives) and we are better off if they/we work together.

As such I found Haidt to be eminently reasonable. He had no axe to grind against those with whom he differed when it came to politics. He has turned away from his former partisanship.

Haidt also writes as an atheist. He sees a positive role for religion in our world, so he does not align himself with the New Atheists in their bitter attacks upon religion. He sees religion as an evolutionary development that helps us to act like someone is always watching us (so we behave).

He is also a Darwinist and thinks Darwinism as the most incredible tool for learning known to man. He sings the praises of Darwin throughout this book. As I noted in my summaries, in one chapter his reliance on evolution was entirely speculative. He wasn’t running studies to prove or disprove his theses in that case.

Based on my understanding of common grace and general revelation, I do not discount his conclusions on the basis of his thought process. I think that in much of this book he arrives at sound conclusions despite himself, so to speak (and he’d likely say the same about me).

His idea of innate ideas, for instance, encompasses defaults (so to speak) developed by evolution but which can further be shaped by experience. As a result he believes in nature and nurture in determining who we are.

I believe that those innate ideas (including our moral ‘tastes’) are part of the imago dei that sin has not wiped out. Life experiences can then shape and mold them. The image can be further defaced by sins committed by or against us or restored through sanctification.

What he never answers is why it is good for us to work together, or even be concerned with having a “righteous mind” when we come from nowhere and go nowhere (the existential crisis is avoided). He assumes that our survival is a good thing rather than an incidental thing that ultimately matters not except to us.

Unlike many liberals he does not assume that people are naturally good. His view of people has been shaped by Glaucon in that people are more concerned with looking good than actually being good. They are concerned with image management rather than true righteousness. If no one knew, they’d do whatever they want (from Glaucon’s ring of invisibility). In this way he is close to affirming total depravity.

In terms of culture and community, he is a utilitarian but follows Emile Durkheim’s brand which is more pessimistic about humanity than Bentham and Mill. People are not solely selfish but also groupish and have a parochial sense of altruism. They are good to their groups. They are not so concerned for those not in their groups. This, in my mind, also reflects total depravity. We aren’t as bad as we could be, and we tend to take care of our own.

His social intuition theory reminds me of presuppositional apologetics. You are wanting to get at the assumptions or presuppositions people having in their moral matrix. You want to understand the elephant in his metaphor. To positively influence the elephant you need to appeal to the elephant rather than argue with it. This means being a decent human being instead of “merely logical” and argumentative. As you prove you aren’t out to kill everyone (including pregnant women, the poor, minorities etc.), get all their money or keep all yours you find shared commitments to build upon to understand one another. From those shared moral commitments you can begin to work toward principled compromise because both sides offer something positive.

This book resonates with me as one tired of the polarization but not necessarily losing my religious or political convictions. I believe his conclusions are sound though we disagree on elements of his process and assumptions.

So, the bottom line is that though some things he said frustrated me (coming from a different worldview) I still found this book very helpful as I seek to interact with people with political differences in a more helpful way: a less partisan way.

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So far we’ve looked at Jonathan Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory and in the second section his Moral Foundations theory. In that first section we learned that “intuition comes first, strategic reasoning second” with a central metaphor of an elephant (intuition) and a rider (reasoning). In that second section of The Righteous Mind his point is “there’s more to morality than harm and care” and his central metaphor is that the righteous mind is like a tongue with different taste receptors.

In the third and final section of his book, Haidt wants us to understand that “morality binds and blinds” with a central metaphor that we are “90% chimp and 10% bee.” What he’s getting at is that we are individuals but that being part of a group is important to most of us. Our religion and politics are not simply based on self-interest but also related to the groups to which we belong.

Groupish Are We

Haidt uses the term “groupish” sort of how Julian Edelman says he’s “Jew-ish”. We are not pack animals but we are social and groups begin to shape our thinking and acting. He communicates this beginning with 9/11 which triggered his patriotism in a way he never expected.

“Professors are liberal globetrotting universalists (globalists), reflexively wary of saying that their nation is better than other nations.”

He recognizes that unlike many liberals he’s painted a fairly negative picture of humanity. Influenced by Glaucon he sees us as more obsessed with how we look than with who we really are.

We are groupish, joining teams, clubs, leagues and frats. In addition to our individual identities, we also have group identities wherein we work with others for common goals. We often vote in light of that, not simply bare self-interest. We do promote our interests to our peers but also are good at promoting group interests. This is why I see baseball as the sport that most reflects real life. There are individual battles that occur for the benefit of the team, but there must also be teamwork. Individual stats are important, but the goal is to win and for that you need teammates to do their job too.

In this chapter there is far more evolutionary speculation and too few studies to back up his conclusions. While I don’t agree with how he gets there, I see merit to his conclusions.

Each successful group has to address the reality of “free riders”, people who don’t do the work but want the benefits. He also notes that chimps lack shared intentionality. They don’t work together (like each picking up one end of a log to move it). From his perspective, developing this capacity is a huge evolutionary jump.

One study had big issues. It involved the controlled breeding of foxes to show change doesn’t require a huge number of generations. Life isn’t controlled breeding, and their lifespan isn’t very long. It only shows us micro-evolution, change within a species rather than the development of a new species (macro-evolution).

The Hive Switch

He begins by talking about basic training when individuals are formed into a military unit through shared experiences. In successful units people “forget about themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and then crush less cohesive groups.”

“We are like bees in being ultrasocial creatures whose minds were shaped by the relentless competition of groups with other groups.”

Haidt’s theory is that we are “conditional hive creatures”. We don’t always function this way, but have a switch (so to speak) that activates this function. He builds on Durkheim to show that we are “Homo duplex, a creature who exists at two levels.” Collective emotions can pull people together and are most commonly associated with the sacred. We can’t remain there indefinitely. In some religions hallucinogenics are used to gain an ecstatic state. In raves the music and often ecstasy are used to create a similar ecstatic group state.

“Oxytocin simply makes people love their in-group more. It makes them parochial altruists.”

One of the glues that bind people together is the hormone oxytocin which helps mothers bond with babies, and partners together.

“We are conditional hive creatures. We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they have violated it.”

Good organizations build those bonds to create a hive thereby overcoming the self-interest that destroys organizations. Where there is buy-in people work harder and have more fun. They are less likely to change jobs or pursue legal action against their employer. If you want to develop a hive he recommends:

  • Increase similarity, not diversity. Therefore don’t point out differences in race or ethnicity. Focus on the similarities.
  • Exploit synchrony. Groups work together to prepare for battle.
  • Create healthy competition between groups, not individuals. Friendly group rivalries build group dynamics. But when an organization promotes individual competition (like bonuses) you erode “hivishness, trust, and morale.”

Political Hives

Great leaders build hives. They tap into the desire to be part of something greater than yourself. Some evil leaders use this groupishness to develop dangerous communities that aren’t simply less concerned with outsiders but destroy outsiders. They create a single hive as a nation rather than recognizing there will be interlocked hives.

“In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls.”

Religion Is a Team Sport

Durkheim saw that religious rites helped form communities in the way that tailgating, face painting, fight songs etc. build a hive with collective motions at sporting events. Haidt addresses the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism and how they misunderstand religion. While he’s an atheist, he’s not part of the New Atheism which is openly hostile to religion.

I yawn at the evolutionary explanation for religion whether the New Atheists or Scott Atran and Joe Henrich’s more reasonable proposal. They propose, in part, that it is religions that evolved, not us or our genes. Less effective religions faded in to obscurity.

“You don’t need a social scientist to tell you that people behave less ethically when they think nobody sees them. … Creating god who can see everything, and who hates cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking.”

Haidt finds that religious communes last longer than secular communes. In secular communities requests for sacrifice are met with a cost-benefit analysis. But if sacrifice rests on the Sanctity foundation, religious people are more willing to make it. He then argues that religious groups bind people together better, suppressing selfishness.

Also differing from the New Atheist, Haidt believes that religious has produced some (much?) good, particularly for their communities through parochial altruism. Religious people are more generous, though much of that goes to their communities (is that really surprising?). Religious people are also more likely to give to charities that aren’t connected to their faith. Religion, then is “well suited to be the haidmaiden of groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” The danger is when the group demonizes the other group, and religions have been used by demagogues to further their sick agendas.

He compares religion to an exoskeleton. You become “enmeshed in a set of norms, relationships, and institutions that work primarily on the elephant to influence your behavior.” This is an important function for society.

“When societies lose their grip on individuals, allowing all to do as they please, the result is often a decrease in happiness and an increase in suicide, as Durkheim showed more than a hundred years ago.”

Defining Morality

Haidt at the end of the chapter on religion finally defines morality:

“Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.”

He admits this is a functionalist definition. Not much love there. He focuses on what it does, and I’m not sure he quite gets that either. In terms of ethical systems he doesn’t know what normative theory would be best for individuals. He seems to favor a Durkeimian utilitarianism which recognizes “that human flourishing requires social order and embeddedness.”

Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively?

Finally we are getting to the pay off as he brings it all together to address the driving question of the book. We don’t live in a world of philosopher-kings or panels of supposedly unbiased experts (insert maniacal laugh here). Since we don’t have a king we have parties pursuing our votes (and money). This quest for power inevitably includes tricks, lies and demagoguery.

In years past there seemed to be plenty of swing votes, including politicians who were moderate. In 2012 he notes that few people call themselves centrists or moderates. More people are calling themselves either conservative or liberal. Sadly he sees changes fostering new behavior in Congress. Friendships across party lines are discouraged and those weakened relationships make it easy to demonize the other side. As opposed to being in one club there are two.

“This is not a collegial body anymore. It is more like gang behavior. Members walk into the chamber full of hatred.” Congressman Jim Cooper (D) 2011

America’s problems are often the world’s problems due to the increase of globablism in practice. We have a “battle between a three-foundation morality and a six-foundation morality.” Here he wants to hammer “morality binds and blinds” to help us understand our situation.

He quotes a definition of ideology as: “A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.” This is what the fight is about. We don’t agree on the proper order of society and/or how to get there. There is one drive to preserve (conserve) the present order, and another to change it.

A twin study indicates that twins raised in different homes are more likely to be similar than unrelated children raised together. This includes political orientation. Genetics, it is believed, accounts for 1/3-1/2 of the variability in people’s political attitudes. Innate, in his view, is malleable. Our experiences shape and hold the attitudes already present. Not hard wired, but leanings.

The Power of Narrative

We process stories more than we are logical. The Bible is filled with stories, a big Story, rather than a series of logical propositions. Parents use stories to communicate morality to children. Stories begin to move the elephant. Perhaps this is why NPR’s news stories are often that: people and their stories that communicate embedded ideas. Movies and TV shows use narrative to shift us. Politicians tell stories or visions to sway us rather than present logical arguments. Democrats tend to tell stories about care, fairness and oppression while Republicans also tap into loyalty, authority (law & order), sanctity (particularly pro-life). As a result each side can’t really understand the other since the stories are so different and appeal to different moral foundations.

This is revealed when people were asked to pretend to be the other in studies he’s done.

“The results were clear and consistent. Moderates and conservatives were most accurate in their predictions, whether they were pretending to be liberals or conservatives. … The biggest errors in the whole study came when liberals answered the Care and Fairness questions while pretending to be conservatives.”

This lack of understanding feeds dehumanization. Obviously the other side doesn’t have morals. Some pundits even wonder if the other side should live. He quotes theater critic Michael Feingold who believed Republicans don’t have imagination, just want to profit from disaster and should be exterminated. Haidt then notes the numerous ironies including that a theater critic can’t imagine Republicans have a moral matrix. This is an example of morality binding him to his party and blinding him to the morality of the other party.

“As a lifelong liberal, I had assumed that conservatism = orthodoxy = religion = faith = rejection of science.”

Sound familiar? Just the other night Bernie Sanders at the DNC Convention joined a number of Democrats in saying Republicans don’t believe in science (whatever that means).

He introduces orthodoxy as the “view that there exists a ‘transcendent moral order, to which we ought to try to conform the ways of society.'” Examples of “orthodoxy” would be the Moral Majority or Sharia law. As I function with a 2 kingdoms model like Augustine, Luther and Calvin I recognize that my faith won’t control the government. For me orthodoxy critiques both conservativism and liberalism but at different points because both are based on humanism. This is similar to Keller’s point that the Bible criticized every society and culture.

Moral Capital

Slowly Haidt began to agree with some conservative claims about the good society, and found they understood moral capital more than liberals did. He wants us to know he’s thinking of intellectuals, not the RNC. Social capital became a common concept with Bowling Alone. There are social ties that foster reciprocity and trustworthiness. He notes that these ties allow ultra-Orthodox Jews in the diamond trade to keep their costs lower. Moral vision requires social capital. Moral capital is not about trust but the web of relationships necessary to sustain a healthy society. Moral communities extend beyond kinship because of the environment in which relationships are embedded. He defines moral capital as “the resources that sustain a moral community.” It refers to:

“… the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.”

It reflects his definition of morality. Moral communities are hard to build. They are easy to destroy. Moral capital can make a community efficiently, but some efficient communities can inflict harm on other communities. Haidt notes that liberal reforms often neglect the effects on moral capital and end up destroying moral communities.

This leads Haidt to conclude that liberalism isn’t a sufficient governing philosophy due to this overreach, but needs to work with conservativism to preserve moral capital. Conservatives often fail to recognize oppression and limit the powerful. In other words, they need each other like Batman and the Joker need each other in The Lego Batman Movie.

“A party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life.” John Stuart Mill

He provides a similar quote from Bertrand Russell. Our polarization means that the parties don’t work together (compromise in the good sense) for the good of the nation but “stick to their guns” for the approval of their base. In terms of bees we are not a healthy hive, but two sick hives.

The “third rail” for Liberals is caring for the oppressed. They tune out appeals to loyalty, authority and sanctity for the most part. He quotes Garrison Keillor who calls liberalism as “the politics of kindness.” The most popular definitions of liberals found on YourMorals.org is care for the vulnerable & oppressed, opposing hierarchy and “changing laws, traditions and institutions to solve social problems.” He argues that government should limit corporations that become superorganisms. They change legal and political systems. The only organism large enough to stand up to the Amazons of the world is the federal government. Corporations, if publicly held, are to maximize profits so costs are often passed on to others (like pollution). Haidt argues that when they operate out of the public eye they are unrestrained. There has to be a free press to hold them accountable (unfortunately some buy papers and stations)and governments to regulate them (unfortunately they hire lots of lobbyists and can make unlimited donations to political causes). He admits that liberals often go too far with regulation, hence the need to work together rather than for the nation to see-saw.

For Libertarians, the third rail is liberty and many of them are frustrated with Covid restrictions. They generally fear big government as a threat to liberty (and they have a point!). In most countries they are called classical liberals or right liberals, but here they are a small party called Libertarian. They’ve been called “liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.” This liberty goes beyond economic choices to personal choices which is why many Christians don’t go full Libertarian. Many Libertarians have supported the Republican party since both see liberals as the biggest threat with big government and lots of intrusion.

Haidt recognizes that “markets are miraculous” in terms of resolving plenty of issues. He gives the example of health care, noting David Goldhill’s article “How American Health Care Killed My Father.” The problem is using insurance for routine matters instead of protection in catastrophic cases. We all want such insurance for some reason even though it drives up and obscures prices. Since you have to be “in network” there is no competition to lower prices and drive innovation. I used to joke that dealing with EOBs was CavWife’s part-time job. Because prices rise, care-motivated Liberals want to subsidize insurance for the poor or offer government healthcare for all. This means no competition and even less innovation so the situation worsens. Working markets produce supply to meet demand.

“Care and compassion sometimes motivate liberals to interfere in the working of markets, but the result can be extraordinary hard on a vast scale.”

Conservatives, having a broader moral matrix, are better able to detect threats to moral capital. They don’t resist all change, but change that will damage institutions and traditions tied to loyalty, authority or sanctity. One way Haidt puts it is “you can’t help the bees by destroying the hive.” Change that helps individuals but destroys society is not a good thing. You have to have groups even though they exclude some people. You need internal structure, and if you destroy them you destroy moral capital.

In a study, Putnam discovered that ethnic diversity didn’t bind people into networks of trust but actually dissolved trust. High immigration (don’t read that as immigration, the adjective matters)and diversity reduce social capital: both bridging capital (between groups and bonding capital (within a group).

“Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. … people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’- that is, to pull in like a turtle.” Robert Putnam

I like diversity, but apparently there is a tipping point where it becomes a bad thing. Haidt, a liberal, notes that liberals “push for changes that weaken groups, traditions, institutions, and moral capital.” Their good intentions create havoc. In one of his counter-intuitive moves he says “emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.” Conservative generally tend to the hive, while liberals to the bees. The hive is for the bees because without a hive you’ve got no bees.

More Civility

He argues that politics in America has become Manichaean. That is a form of Gnosticism with polarities. Your side is good and the other is evil. There is no common ground, no working together. This process began with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which moved many conservative Democrats into the Republican party in a massive realignment. Similar but smaller movements happened with the Reagan Democrats and Blue Dog Democrats. The moderates from both parties jumped ship leaving fewer swing votes and moderates. This was aggravated by Newt Gingrich encouraging incoming Republicans to keep their families at home so they spent more time in their districts. The unintended consequence was fewer friendships with people of the other party. With social capital disappearing, trust eroded and polarization increased.

If you want to understand “the other side” follow the sacredness: “figure out which one or two (moral foundations) are carrying the most weight in a controversy.” Friendly interactions can build trust and move the elephant. Like Neo, you need to enter the Matrix to defeat it. Try to enter their views to understand them and appeal to their moral foundations instead of demanding they embrace yours. Find those points of commonality, build that trust. It’s like evangelism, gaining the respect of outsiders so they become interested in your message.

“Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

 

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The first section of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion developed Haidt’s Social Intuition Theory. He summarizes this as “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.” In his metaphor the rider serves the elephant, explaining why the elephant (intuitions) is going in the direction it is going.

The second section of the book develops the thesis that “there’s more to morality than harm and fairness”. His metaphor is that “the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.” He’s going to develop the foundations of morality. In the process, he’s going to look at the differences in the moral foundation between conservatives and liberals, as well as how they lean differently in common ground.

WEIRD People

He begins with the concept of WEIRD. Many of his subjects for his dissertation research came from his time at McDonald’s. He was surprised “these working-class subjects would sometimes find my request for justifications so perplexing.” He began to note class and educational differences. His students at Penn were devoted to John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle.” They were the only group that didn’t express some form of disgust for one of his test questions. Haidt borrows the WEIRD acronym from Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan. It stands for western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. These people are statistical outliers but often form the sample for many studies in the West. “Even in the West, Americans are more extreme outliers than Europeans, and within the United States, the educated upper middle class (like my Penn sample) is the most unusual of all.”

As he lays out the differences, most people think holistically but the WEIRD are more analytical. They gravitate toward Kant and Mill. They see the world differently and have different moral concerns. They are more individualistic while other are more sociocentric in their morality, meaning groups and institutions are placed ahead of the concerns of the individual.

He leans on Shweder in recognizing that you can’t ignore culture when you study how people think. Conversely you can’t study culture and ignore psychology. Shweder discovered “three major clusters of moral themes”: autonomy, community, and divinity.

Autonomy: “People should be free to satisfy these wants, needs, and preferences as they see fit, and so societies develop moral concepts such as rights, liberty, and justice, which allow people to coexist peacefully without interfering too much in each other’s projects.” There is dependence on utilitarians Mill and Peter Singer.

Community: “based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, members of larger entities such as families, teams, armies, companies, tribes, and nations… they are real, they matter, and they must be protected. … Many societies therefore develop moral concepts such as duty, hierarchy, respect, reputation and patriotism.”

Divinity: “people are first and foremost, temporary vessels within which a divine soul has been implanted. … The body is a temple, not a playground.” Therefore people shouldn’t do things that degrade themselves or dishonor their Creator.

Becoming a Pluralist

Haidt was admittedly WEIRD, until he moved to India for a study. He wasn’t on vacation but immersed himself in the culture, “a sex-segregated, hierarchically stratified, devoutly religious society, and I was committed to understanding it on its own terms, not mine.” He learned that as people were kind to him, his elephant leaned toward them, and his rider began to look for reasons to defend them. I liken this, in part, to John Perkin’s idea that “love is the final fight.” If we are kind to one another we’ll begin to care for one another and seek reasons to defend one another (and their view points).

He began to understand the concept of moral disgust which “is felt whenever we see or hear about people whose behavior shows them to be low on this vertical dimension.” He says that while a man who robs a bank commits a crime, and we judge him, those who traffic in children disgust us and we consider them monsters rather than simply criminals. Haidt found himself adopting some Indian practices associated with disgust, including removing shoes before entering a house (since the streets are filthy).

He began to understand the moral outrage of conservatives when a crucifix is placed in a jar of urine and called art. He encourages people to consider what would happen if images of Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela were treated this way. This, I think, is part of what is driving the move to remove confederate statues. They are viewed as polluting our society. He notes that “the ethic of divinity is sometimes incompatible with compassion, egalitarianism, and basic human rights.” Yet it also provides critique for the ugly parts of secular culture.

Leaving the Matrix

The creators of The Matrix built on William Gibson’s view of cyberspace in his novel Neuromancer. Neo took the red pill to leave the matrix and see reality for what it really was. Shweder’s ideas were Haidt’s red pill. He now understood “many moral matrices coexist within each nation.” Each one presents a “complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview”. Growing up Jewish his community saw unions and labor providing protection from the exploitation they faced. Since FDR was a President who supported labor and was in office when Hitler was defeated, Jews have been largely Democrat ever since. There is an emotional tie that doesn’t seem rational to others.

His own political views seemed so ethical, and the other party’s so obviously evil, that he and his friends looked for the psychological pathology to explain why anyone would be a Republican. They didn’t consider that moral choices were more complex than reducing harm and increasing fairness. When he returned to the States, Republicans didn’t seem quite so crazy. He had escaped from his “partisan mind-set(reject first, ask rhetorical questions later).” He felt freed from partisan anger.

“If you grow up in a WEIRD society, you become so well educated in the ethic of autonomy that you can detect oppression and inequality even where the apparent victims see nothing wrong.”

Moral Taste Buds

Who’d go to a restaurant that only focused on one taste receptor, he asks. Imagine Salt, with a menu filled with food focused exclusively on your salt receptor. From this he moves to morality. As our tongue has different receptors (sweet, salty, sour etc) so our righteous mind has variety of moral receptors or foundations. A balanced moral view encompasses all or most of them, but individuals and communities will prefer different blends.

“In this analogy, morality is like cuisine: it’s a cultural construction, influenced by accidents of environment and history, but it’s not so flexible that anything goes.”

He understands morality as a social or cultural construct (of your tribe). While it is not internally generated, it is internalized. We all have the same receptors but don’t all like the same foods, or ethical views. Here Haidt returns to his love for Hume. Moral judgement is a kind of perception, an intuition, not the result of reasoning (most of the time at least). In this, Haidt looks at Kant and Bentham, two of the great systemizers in ethical realms. Those who are autistic are high systemizers with low empathy (ability to put yoursefl in another’s shoes). Much of what we know about Jeremy Bentham, the other famous Utilitarian, indicates he’d likely be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome today. Even Mill apparently despised Bentham. Kant, the leading Deontologist, also seems to be close to the “autism zone”. Both utilitarianism and Kant’s categorical imperative lack empathy and isolate one receptor above all others, excluding the others.

Haidt sought “links between virtues and well-established evolutionary theories.” He borrowed “modularity” from Sperber and Hirschfield. They are like switches in our brains, fight or flight for instance. I wasn’t enamored with his attempts to tie all this into evolution, so I’ll his Moral Foundations Theory (see chart above). He will add a sixth later but we can see the main switches in our minds that influence our ethical and moral views.

In the next chapter he sets out to apply Moral Foundations Theory to politics, showing that these foundations are used differently to support different moral matricies. He begins with homo economicus, or economic man. This means we make our choices based on self-interest. But his studies disproved self-interest. There were somethings people wouldn’t do no matter how much money you offered them.

Innate knowledge is not quite hard-wired. It is built in, but malleable. Our experiences shape how we express innate knowledge.

Compassion is the emotion linked to the care/harm foundation. Cuteness is tied to our care/harm foundation. You don’t want to hurt something cute, but an ugly bug … step on it. Media uses the care/harm foundation to shift people’s minds on moral issues. They want to trigger it, and so do many retailers in their ads. This is the point: “to get your vote, your money, or your times, they must activate at least one of your moral foundations.” He views bumper stickers are tribal badges: declaring who you are and your moral matrix. He argues that the moral matrix of liberals (remember, he is one!) rests more heavily on this modularity than others.

This doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t have compassion, they just express it differently (and for different causes). In keeping with loyalty, their compassion tends to stay home first. Not exclusively, but primarily. This is why they want to limit foreign aid so we can address issues here at home first. They also express it as individuals rather than seeking “compulsory compassion” through the government (aka taxes). So, liberals generally seek compassion through government while conservatives express compassion personally (studies indicate that conservatives are more generous to causes).

Fairness/cheating is about justice. “On the left, concerns about equality and social justice are based in part on the Fairness foundation”. The key there is equality. On the right, fairness is expressed proportionally: “people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.” So liberals tend to press for “equal outcomes” such as concern about income inequality and the wealth tax and limitations. Conservatives tend to press for “equal opportunity” which means each person can succeed or fail. Both want justice but see it differently.

In looking for a new-to-me car, I went to test a car with a great price. I liked the car but apparently that was the price “if”: if you had a trade in, and used them for financing. There was no such fine print in the Car Gurus information. My fairness switch was triggered. It was still a very good deal, but not the deal I came in expecting. I’m still on the horns of this, for me, ethical dilemma.

Loyalty/Betrayal addresses our communal life. Leaders arise in each group by consensus, even if unspoken. In the sitcom Community, Jeff Winger is the unspoken leader who naturally arose in the study group. People deferred to and followed him. He decided who was in or out. Until his role was challenged, then it all became more explicit as the rival was “put in their place” for his betrayal of the authority, and the tribe. Loyalty matters to people. Women focus on loyalty to persons. Men tend to focus on groups (teams or coalitions). We like team players, and punish the selfish. Those perceived as disloyal are ostracized. Swing votes, more moderate in their views, as criticized. They are the Blue Dog Democrats (aka Reagan Democrats), RINOs (Republican in name only) and the PCA’s “squishy middle”. Dante consigns the traitors to the innermost circle of hell. (One thing that Haidt does that annoys me, beginning in this section is using the term ‘universalism’ instead of ‘globalism’. I hear the former used in religious circles about salvation, and the latter in political circles. Many Liberals/Moderates I knew lamented the end of the “globalist dream” after the 2016 election.)

Authority/Subversion addresses the respect, or lack thereof, shown to parents, teachers and others in authority. This reflects the reality of the hierarchical impulse. Someone needs to be in charge. In some languages this is encoded through the use of the polite form. It is also reflected in the use or abandonment of titles. He spends time talking about the alpha male, and all I can think about is Negan. But we should remember that they “take on responsibility for maintaining order and justice.”

Haidt used to hold to the common liberal belief that “hierarchy = power = exploitation = evil.” He admits he was wrong and delves into “Authority Ranking”, asymmetric positions in hierarchy. There are people above you and below you. This modularity shapes how we respond to both. The political right builds on loyalty more often than the political left does. It is the party of law and order.

Sanctity/Degradation builds on divinity cluster. Those who are materialists tend to dismiss degradation in favor of autonomy. It’s just a body, after all. Others have a greater sense of disgust that is “irrational”. I was updating my license the other day and the organ donor question came up. I hate that question. I want to be philanthropic, but something about organ donation creeps me out (Frankenstein movies???). Perhaps it is that my body remains united to Christ even in death. I find I can’t overcome that hump. Many people have a strong sense of sanctity/degradation which drives moral choices. Conservatives are more likely to speak of the sanctity of life or marriage. This modularity means more to them. But it also shows up among environmentalists worried a bout degrading the environment.

“Kass argued that our feelings of disgust can sometimes provide us with a valuable warning that we are going too far, even when we are morally dumbfounded and can’t justify those feelings by pointing to victims…”

The Conservative Advantage

I’ve been going long so I’ll try to keep this last section short. As a liberal, Haidt believes that conservatives have an advantage. That advantage is that they utilize a greater number of moral modularities in their messages. Liberal politicians tend to focus on two: Care/Harm and Fairness/Injustice. Haidt notes how he’d criticize Kerry’s speeches in the 2004 election. Kerry’s slogans (“American Can Do Better” and “Help is on the way”) remind me of Biden’s “A Better America”. They really don’t connect with moral foundations. Haidt spoke to Charlottesville Democrats about how Republicans understand moral psychology much better than Democrats. Democrats, he argues, appeal to the rider while Republicans appeal to the elephant.

“Republicans don’t just aim to cause fear, as some Democrats charge.” Plenty of Democrats aim to cause fear too.

Republicans trigger a wider range of moral intuitions. Haidt devised a study to prove his theory. The study showed that while Care and Fairness were moderately high across the political spectrum, they were highest among liberals. The other three increased the farther right you went. Liberals largely reject loyalty, authority and sanctity foundations. This was not simply a U.S. phenomenon. Haidt notes that so much of the research seems to want to find out what is “wrong” with conservatives (being done by liberals). Haidt doesn’t seem to think this is the right approach (normalizing my view and disparaging theirs aka partisanship and demonization).

He notes that at first Obama showed great dexterity in triggering moral intuitions. But then he began to follow the familiar path of addressing Care and Fairness primarily (appealing to the base?). He still got elected twice, however. But you understand the criticism from the right for his globalism as disloyalty to our nation.

Liberals tend to gravitate toward John Stuart Mills’ position (which assumes people are basically good, which isn’t a good assumption to make). Conservatives tend to gravitate toward Emile Durkheimian society that values self-control, duty and loyalty to one’s own group. This explains Obama’s “God and guns” complaint about the heartland. Democrats focus on the pluribus (many), and Republicans the unum (one).

What I Missed

Haidt realized that he missed something. He got some strong responses to his Moral Foundations Theory which didn’t fully fit into it. There was another moral foundation: liberty/oppression. Alphas need to know their limits or oppressed subjects eventually rise up. Liberty operates in a tension with authority. Authority must exist, but not oppress. The Federalists saw authority as protecting liberty. I can see this, but see liberty and safety being in tension. You sacrifice one to get the other (this is the theme of the second and third Captain America movies).

“Liberals sometimes go beyond equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system. This may be why the left usually favors higher taxes on the rich, high levels of services provided to the poor, and sometimes a guaranteed minimum income for everyone.”

He argues that in America, conservatives focus on liberty rather than equality. They want a limited government that treats people equally instead of one that tries to control outcomes. So, his Moral Foundations Theory now has (at least) 6 foundations for the world’s numerous moral matrices. Conservatives have the advantage because they address 6 foundations while liberals focus on 3.

And so we’re done with the second section of the book.

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Some of you thought this would never end. But all things, good and bad, come to an end this side of the eschaton. Then everything, good and bad, will be eternal.

This will cover the last chapter and some final thoughts concerning Aimee Byrd’s recent and controversial book Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. We are going to peel back the yellow wall paper one last time. The final chapter is called When Paul Passes Phoebe the Baton.

As you can likely tell from that title, Byrd returns to Phoebe and Paul’s commendation of her to the church in Rome. She draws on James Montgomery Boice to say that she likely had traveling companions since it was generally unsafe for women to travel alone in the ancient world. Paul is wanting to identify the courier of the epistle: Phoebe.

Interestingly she also notes that Paul may have taken quite some time to write the letter, perhaps having rough drafts, editing, dictation and so forth. She depends on E. Randolph Richards book Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. I was surprised that someone wrote a book on such a niche subject, but I shouldn’t be I suppose. This seems to overly stress the human authorship and minimize (at best) the divine authorship. I don’t generally conceive of the Holy Spirit needing Paul to edit and utilize rough drafts. But this is a rabbit trail since the Spirit is not super-intending this blog post.

Sacred Siblingship

Byrd gets this phraseology from Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in an Oversexed Society. Her arguments are based on Reidar Aasgaard’s “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!” Christian Siblingship in Paul (again thinking people write about the oddest things). It was a powerful social institution. Siblings of the opposite sex could talk to one another in public, and show some affection prohibited to lovers. Paul uses this to reveal the type of bond Christians should have, a very counter-cultural bond. She explores some of the reasons for this bond in families. Sibling obligations were distinctive and yet fluid. “Factors such as age, gender, skill, and birth order all contributed to authority and responsibility both in the household and public spheres.” She notes that sisters often mediated between fathers and sons. The longest relationship you’d have in life was the sibling relationship.

Some of those calls were painful

Family was important to Jesus, but not more important than the Father and those spiritually united to him. Jesus did provide for his mother at his death. As we think of Phoebe, Paul is saying “she’s one of us!” not just someone paid to carry a letter for me. Byrd again returns to her theory that Phoebe was astute and full of theological vigor, capable of answering any questions like the old Ligonier phone room.

She makes much of the fact that a woman could carry the letter to Rome, and the theory she was there to answer questions too (meaning instructing them in what Paul means). In like fashion, Byrd introduces us to Basil and Gregory of Nyssa’s older sister Macrina. Belonging to a convent she was apparently theologically astute and Gregory indicates that she was influential in his life and theology.

“We see from Gregory’s writings that ‘women’s theologizing is fundamental to the development of Christian thought and should not be relegated to the fringe or regarded as a concession prize at best.”

Sisters can communicate God’s Word. This sister by blood and spirit taught her younger brothers, not only as children but as adults. They didn’t silence her as a mere woman. They valued her as a person and her input or ideas.

Then Byrd engages in “historical imagination” with Richard Bauckham regarding Junia also mentioned in Romans 16. I call it speculative, and the difference may or may not be more than semantic. There are translation/interpretative differences: she is either well known as an apostle (lower case, not the office) or well known by the Apostles. Chrysostom seems to indicate in his homily on this text that she was “worthy of the appellation of apostle!” She would be part of a church planting team sent out (hence apostles). PC(USA) author Kenneth Bailey seems to view her as an Apostle, at least of sorts, arguing she was witness to Jesus’ ministry (he seems to be reading our technical use back into the text). Bauckman gets more speculative in arguing that Junia is the Greek name for the Jewess Joanna who was married to Herod’s steward. As part of Herod’s court, she and her husband likely had connections in Rome, and perhaps were missionaries to Rome later.

I don’t want to get too detailed in this. The gist is that women were engaged in the church planting project. What role they played is uncertain. What is certain to me is that Byrd is confusing “apostles” with “Apostles”. She thinks that this speculation poses a problem for complementarian churches. I don’t think it does for me as a complementarian-in-search-of-a-new-name. As laypeople, some were sent to plant churches in accordance with the gospel of the Apostles (given to them by Jesus, obviously). The word in Greek is not used exclusively for the office. We must look at how it is used to see its meaning in a particular case. So, this doesn’t mean that women had authority and office. We do see that they provided resources and engaged in evangelism as well as discipleship. At times we clearly see women like Prisca alongside her husband working to disciple men. We do see women commissioned and sent onto the mission field, and this is a good thing.

Peel and Reveal

She’s calling us to evaluate our views and the practices of our congregations. She uses clutter blindness as an illustration. We become blind to the clutter around us (like in my office) after time passes. I discussed this with someone today: broken or misplaced items become normalized after about 30 days. So fix or put those things away in timely fashion.

We really can’t see the yellow wallpaper because we are so used to it. Evaluate the practices to be sure you aren’t just falling into a cultural trap (either egalitarian or patriarchical). This isn’t limited to issues of gender. There are many things that are cultural that can be mistaken for biblical mandate. We can be blind to the racial insensitivity or worse in our churches because it has been there for so long. She quotes Upton Sinclair as saying, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”.

Byrd notes there about 60 “one another” passages in the Scripture which include aspects of discipleship. These passages are second plural, and are not gendered. The people who fulfill them are gendered. And so we minister as a man or woman to a brother or sister, father or mother, or son or daughter.

“Siblingship is the very framework that will help us to uphold distinction without reduction. We have unique responsibilities and contributions to our sexes because women will never be brothers and men will never be sisters.”

She reminds us of the difference between tradition and traditionalism. She’s not wanting to get rid of tradition but traditionalism (I’m taking her at her word).

Summary Thoughts:

  • Haley Carruthers crossing the finish line in London (Business Insider)

    While she affirms male headship in the church (only male elders) she more assumes it than proves it. She refers to Genesis 2 in a footnote. There is no mention of Titus 1 or 1 Timothy 2-3.

  • At times she heavily depends on one source for pages at a time. Many of those oft repeated sources are egalitarian scholars. It can sound like idiosyncratic viewpoints that she has picked up rather commonly held and understood.
  • She brings up lots of material and concerns from other books of hers. The main new contribution is issues concerning the CBMW in terms of how they reduce masculinity and femininity to authority based on ESS. This is based on a Biblicist approach to understanding Scripture.
  • She also attacks their problematic process of trying to discern what women can and cannot do in a local church. I wish she was more clear about some of the practices that she thinks are cultural additions (traditionalism) but she seems to want us to think it through.
  • In terms of Jonathan Haidt’s social intuition theory, she doesn’t seem to address the elephant as much as the rider.
  • At times she is selective. For instance, she reminds us that Miriam led others in song after the parting of the Red Sea in judgment-salvation. Byrd does not mention that she led the women, and in the chorus that Moses had already been singing. As a result it sounds like overstating the case through the selectivity. I said this in less than a paragraph, so it doesn’t take long. She also left out that Miriam was struck with leprosy when she and Aaron complained about Moses marrying the Cushite woman.

This is a good book that brings up a variety of good points. At times it seems like she’s trying to do too much and so the reasoning isn’t as clear as I’d like.

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In light of the upcoming election (and numerous debates connected to Covid-19) I decided it was time to read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion. I will break up my review into 3 parts corresponding to the three parts of the book. As a result, I won’t go into great detail but will focus on what stands out to me.

Haidt writes well. While he is discussing developments in philosophy and psychology, particularly moral psychology, it is not boring. It is largely his story as he entered the field at a critical time and made significant contributions to the discipline. I think he strikes a good balance between enough detail to be meaningful and not so much that it becomes incomprehensible to “laypeople” in that field. He does a good job of defining terms so the uninitiated can follow the argument sufficiently.

What is interesting to me is how often he talks about evolution. Haidt comes from a materialist worldview. He recognizes the place of religion in the life of individuals and cultures but ties all that in to morality as an evolutionary process. I think his conclusions still have validity, despite his evolutionary presuppositions. He holds to some innate ideas and morality, but posits them in evolution instead of the imago dei. There is also a place for nurture in moral development. We are not tabula rasa, nor are we fully programmed and unchangeable. In light of his commitment to evolution it is ironic to me to see him say we are “born to be righteous.” His worldview doesn’t really explain why we aren’t actually righteous. He assigns his conclusion to evolution, not sinfulness. From my perspective he’s observing the darkened and futile mind of Romans 1 at work. He thinks we created gods to order our societies, not to explain the universe (pp. 13). I see Genesis 1 a bit differently.

“But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

He wrote this book in 2012, and compares the news about politics to the riots after the Rodney King riots- helicopters showing us disturbance and trauma. In the intervening years, the polarization has only increased. We’ve seen 3 summers of riots since he wrote this.

Chidi struggled to teach Eleanor moral philosophy

His goal is to take us on a tour of human nature and history through the lens of moral philosophy. He will also show us why our attempts to discuss politics and religion often produce vexation instead of unity. “Politics and religion are both expressions of our underlying moral philosophy” as he notes. He is essentially writing three interrelated books that address three principles of moral philosophy, as he sees it.

The first section develops the first moral principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. In light of this principle he offers a metaphor with intuition as an elephant and reason as the rider. In his metaphor, the rider is a servant to the elephant rather than controlling the elephant, using it to serve his goals.

I think the metaphor breaks down in that respect. Someone rides an elephant to make it his or her servant, not to serve it. I get his point, and will try to explain it, but he sees that the rider (reason) evolved to serve the interests of the elephant. I will admit that while I’ve ridden on an elephant years ago, I’m not sure how much you actually control said elephant. It is rather like Chidi attempting to help Eleanor become a more moral person. He’s serving her but can’t control her. And if these people aren’t familiar to you, you may want to watch The Good Place.

He begins by asking where morality comes from. He takes the reader through a short history of ideas on this subject. There of course is nature (nativist) either through creation or evolution (he mentions both) and nurture (empiricism). So there is discussion of John Locke, and Jean Piaget who had a “self-constructed morality”. Both came from a rationalistic perspective. He summaries this in terms of not instructing children about morality but letting them play to discover it. He puts it this way:

“And if you want your kids to learn about the social world, let them play with other kids and resolve disputes; don’t lecture them about the Ten Commandments. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t force them to obey God or their teachers or you. This will only freeze them at the conventional level.”

Fear not, he’s only discussing implications of other theorists and not his own conclusion. You are on a tour thru history, remember. He continues with Kohlberg and Elliot Turiel’s development. They discovered that as they age children can discern between moral rules and social conventions. The former prevent harm. Not all rules are treated the same way. But this did not satisfy a young Haidt. He decided to check this across cultures and classes after studying some cultural psychology.

“This was my first hint that morality often involves tension within the group linked to competition between different groups.”

He delves into the differences between sociocentric societies and individualistic societies. This is the question of whether the group or the individual matter more. Western cultures, due to the Enlightenment, focus on the needs of the individual. Most other cultures place the well-being of the group as the priority, and this shaped the answers he received. Kohlberg and Turiel came from and tested individualistic societies. In sociocentric cultures, social convention can take on the force of moral rules because the group is at stake, not just the individual. In other word, Haidt learned that we often “invent victims” to justify our moral positions. The moral view (this is right or wrong) comes first, and then we try to justify that view based on the reason we then provide which focus on who could possibly be hurt. He concludes the first chapter this way:

“We were born to be righteous, but we have to learn, exactly, what people like us should be righteous about.”

The Rationalist Delusion

Haidt begins with Hume to explain that the emotional or intuitive dogs wags the rational tale. We sense a rightness or wrongness, and then use reason to justify our intuition. We don’t reason ourselves into moral positions. He brings Stephen Pinker (briefly) and Edward O. Wilson into the story. Antonio Demasio studied people with particular brain injuries. Those with full reasoning faculties but impaired emotions struggled to make decisions. They lacked moral judgment. Pure reason cannot make up its mind. For Haidt this showed that reason was a servant of the emotions.

Enter Harold Margolis who identified two types of reasoning processes: “see-that” and “reasoning-why”. “Seeing-that” was intuitive. We can begin to see the Intuitive-Thinking polarity in the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, though he doesn’t go there. Reasoning-why only happens in creatures with higher functions requiring language. But intuition kicks the whole thing off. Emotions, therefore, are a form of reasoning.

At this point I struggled with the circular reasoning (from my perspective). If “reasoning-why” requires higher functioning dependent on language, how can language develop apart from the existence of higher functioning. It is a question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. A person with higher functioning can create a new language, but it corresponds to an existing language they already know. This is similar to a Science Friday discussion about how human brains burn up so much energy. We need to cook food to get enough nutrients to support higher function, yet without said higher function how can we decide/discover to cook food? Why are we the only creature to cook food? This is where I stumble over evolutionary presuppositions.

Haidt did develop a model that I think, at this point, is helpful. Haidt notes that we generally reason after forming a judgment based on intuition. We also try to reason with people instead of actually connecting to their intuitions, as if they were rational which they aren’t.

This sounds quite presuppositional to me. In moral discussions we want to “trigger” new intuitions. For instance (my example, and so maybe I’m wrong) pro-life people need to consistently affirm concern for the health and well-being of the mother. We want to add the well-being and safety of the child as a person to the pro-choice person’s intuition. If we focus on the safety of the child we simply have conflicting intuitions that lead to vexation. We need to talk to the elephant, not the rider!

In this context, he thinks Dale Carnagie got it right. “Pastors” like Joel Osteen influence so many because they are generally likeable, appealing to your intuition (greed is good- not). Unfortunately they (in my opinion) influence so many in the wrong way. Peer pressure works because it addresses intuition indirectly: I want to be liked and if I don’t change my view I won’t be liked.

He then explains why elephants rule beginning with a study he did with Thalia Wheatley. She used hypnosis to implant code words into subjects. When their code word was in the story they got a flash of negativity. They asked the subjects to write a sentence to explain their answer. “These subjects made up absurd answers to justify judgments that they had made on the basis of gut feelings- feelings Thalia had implanted with hypnosis.” Our brains are constantly evaluating information and forming judgments.

“The second process- thinking- is an evolutionary newer ability, rooted in language and not closely related to motivation.”

Other studies including politically loaded words indicate that “part of what it means to be partisan is that you have acquired the right set of intuitive reactions to hundreds of words and phrased.” Your elephant leans a particular way so that you affirm concepts associate with your tribe, and deny that which is associated with the other tribe. For instance, two politicians or public figures can say essentially the same thing and you’ll affirm what the guy on “your side” says, and reject what the other guys says. This explains what some talk radio people have called Bush (or Trump) Derangement System. And your response is your elephant leaning left or right when you read that.

“The bottom line is that human minds, like animal minds, are constantly reacting intuitively to everything they perceive and basing their responses on those reactions.”

Psychopaths are people who lack a moral compass. They lack a moral compass because they lack particular emotions. They “live in a world of objects.” They are unmoved by the needs of others, and the only concerned for self. Babies on the other hand feel but don’t reason, yet exhibit the beginnings of morality.

“Elephants rule, but they are neither dumb nor despotic. Intuitions can be shaped by reasoning, especially when reasons are embedded in a friendly conversation or an emotionally compelling novel, movie or news story.”

Vote for Me

Politics is basically the appeal to people’s elephants. They reach people’s intuition through emotions. This is why they often sell fear, as does the media. Haidt brings us to Plato’s Republic where Glaucon implies people are good because they are afraid of getting caught. Sounds a bit like the Devil in Job. Where there is cooperation in a city between the divisions of labor, people work for the common good, and suffer when one segment suffers. Socrates takes this to justify the rule by the philosophers since they alone will seek what is good. Plug in elites and you have America. If only people like us would listen to the experts, all would be well. Or so the argument goes.

When people are accountable they generally do what is right. When they think they are above accountability, or can get away with it, they will do wrong. Haidt depends on Phil Tetlock here. People, particularly politicians, maintain an image. Reality isn’t quite as important. People vote (or won’t vote) for your public image, not who you really are.

Tetlock also broke our rationalizations down into “exploratory thought” and “confirmatory thought”. The former considers alternative points of view. The latter is an attempt to rationalize our point of view. We only engage in exploratory thought when we are forced to. Most of the time we engage in confirmatory thought. We are like politicians looking for votes. Our reason is our press secretary justifying all our actions. Schools, these days, don’t teach people to think but just select the ones best able to make the best arguments based on a higher IQ.

Into this he brings Tom Gilovich who differentiated between “Can I believe it?” and “Must I believe it?”. When we want to believe something we ask the first question. When we don’t want to believe something we ask the second. But then we tend to search for contrary rather than positive evidence.

“If people can literally see what they want to see- give a bit of ambiguity- is it any wonder that scientific studies often fail to persuade the general public?”

It isn’t so much that people are making decisions based on self-interest. Haidt notes that people care about their groups, their tribes. Your group can be racial, regional, religious or political but you will tend to see things in their favor. Our political opinions tend to function like membership badges. We vote to prosper those in our most-favored group status. Partisan people find stimulus in affirming the groups views, and negative reinforcement if they think outside the box. We can become like rats on dopamine- we become addicted to politics, and political views. We should question our ability to reason, especially when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.

“Our politics is groupish, not selfish.”

Intellectual and ideological diversity are incredibly important as a result. This is increasingly absent from college campuses. The refusal of political parties to work together means that public policy suffers from ideological extremes. But our elephants seek their group, and avoid the other tribe to the detriment of the whole.

What he doesn’t account for in this first section is the power of cognitive dissonance. Some people end up changing their views because the dissonance gets to be too great. It drives them to exploratory thought, and all bets are off.

Obviously he doesn’t think people never change their minds. Plenty of kids go to college and change them plenty. Some people shift political views as they enter their 40s or 50s. We’ll see how he approaches these in the sections to come.

 

 

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Recovering the Responsibility of Every Believer is the final section of Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Byrd has been addressing what is wrong, and why it is wrong. Now are her attempts to move the church forward. The first chapter asks the question: Is This the Way It Was Supposed to Be?

Byrd begins with wanting you to put yourself in Martha’s shoes with Jesus coming over for dinner. That Jesus was coming to their home was remarkable in itself. On the streets rabbis and women wouldn’t speak. Mishnah, Aboth 1:5 says: “The wise men say: ‘Who speaks much with a woman draws down misfortune on himself, neglects the words of the law, and finally earns hell.” In other words, not only was it not worth their time, but was seen as a detriment and to be avoided. Women were not part of theological conversations, or political ones.

Having Jesus over violated some of the cultural boundaries that had been established. Jesus didn’t seem to be bound by cultural boundaries; recognizing them for what they were, and were not. While there were no women Apostles, there were women contributing to his ministry and traveling with them at times. But for as bold as Martha was in inviting him over, she kept to the kitchen when Jesus came over. But Mary didn’t. This in a culture when there was opposition to teaching a woman Torah. Some rabbis would teach women enough Torah to know their place, but not all of the Torah. Jesus, on the other hand, told Martha that Mary had chosen the one thing necessary. It was necessary for her to sit and be taught by Jesus. She was a disciple, not merely an interested bystander. Mary, and Martha, had a vested interest in sitting at the feet of Jesus. Women were welcome!

Jesus’ involvement with women reveals that in His kingdom women mattered. He healed women, talked with them in public, and taught them. He traveled with them, and received support from them. This leads to some difficult questions because some churches seem to keep women are arm’s length or only in certain roles.

“Many churches thus limit, in ways they do not limit for laymen, the capacity for laywomen to learn deeply and to teach. … Are the laywomen disciples in your church serving in the same capacity as the laymen?”

Notice what she is saying there. She is talking about laypeople, as distinct from officers. Are men and women able to do the same things in your congregation, or have you decided somethings are for men and some for women?

She returns to the idea of the ezer and the necessary ally. Adam cannot fulfill his mission without Eve, and not just the baby-making part. Women exist for more than bearing and raising children. Since they are members of the church by grace, just like the men, they should be discipled as necessary allies. They are not to be considered “optional, subordinate assistants.” Byrd tries to balance the reality of church offices and the priesthood of believers who get their hands dirty with the work of ministry.

Paul recognized a number of women for their work in the early church. In addition to Phoebe we find Prisca, Chloe, Nympha, Apphia, Lydia, and Junia. This is in addition to the Marys recognized in the Gospels for their role in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Many of them hosted church meetings (I’m not convinced that means leading the church, as Byrd says about Lydia).

We also see that often women were among the first people Paul recognized in his letters. The custom of the day was ordering reflected the status or influence of the individuals. You put the more important people first.

Do we value women like that in our churches? Do we trust women like that in our churches?

The Silence of Women?

1 Corinthians 11-14 give us a glimpse of worship in the early church. What it says about women is important, and part of how Christians today view the participation of women in church life, and the worship service. At the heart of this is 1 Corinthians 14:34 which some people take as absolute and the final and only word on this subject.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

This is universal, as indicated by “in all the churches”. But this passage is part of a larger context. That seems to be ignored by many who minimize the role of women in church and worship. Why do I say that? Well, because in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about women prophesying and praying in the corporate worship service. Is this a conflict or contradiction? Not if we understand them in context.

Some argue that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is being ironic, and that if they were to pray and prophesy they should wear a head covering. But they don’t actually (the argument goes), as we see in 1 Corinthians 14. If he’d written that they were to be silent before saying they pray and prophesy, I could maybe understand this. Because of this strange way of looking at 1 Corinthians 11-14, Byrd talks about those places in many towns called Spook Hill when it feels like the car is rolling uphill. I lived near one in central FL. Things get “spooky” when we talk about these texts. “The landscape can be deceiving.”

The issue has to be resolved by examining the context of 1 Corinthians 14:34 which is the evaluation of the prophecies. Byrd follows an number of people including the other Keller, Kathy, as well as Stephen Um (a PCA pastor) and Ben Witherington in seeing the silence limited to the judging of the prophesies which is the exercise of authority (in keeping with 1 Tim. 2:12). They were not exercising teaching authority. They were not to speak when that was happening. But they could pray and prophesy while wearing the sign of authority. This implies that whatever the prophecy was, it was not authoritative and needed to be examined by the elders to see if it was consistent with the Scripture and teaching they had.

As Christians all contribute to the worship service (not just the men), they are to act in love (1 Cor. 13 is the hub of all this). Every Christian gets spiritual gifts, having been baptized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12) and they are not distributed by sex. Don’t confuse gifts with office. All Christians were encourage to sing, to pray, to prophesy or speak in tongues (assuming there was an interpreter). When it came time for the prophecies to be judged, the women were to be silent. The silence was tied to a particular time in the service for the exercise of authority.

“Upholding the proper order of worship, respecting the officers of the church, and refraining from noninspired speech that disrupts worship all fall short under the command all fall under the command of the Lord to love- the very thing Christians should be known for. And these are lasting principles for the church today.”

Consequences for Worshiping Together

The church is the household of God. We should treat fellow members with affection and respect. That they did this was misinterpreted by many critics of the church. The early church was accused of incest, among other things. The imaginations of unbelievers had run wild. But instead of following the cultural practices of their culture, the Christians treated each other as brother and sister, with a pure affection for one another rather than avoidance or keeping a proper social distance.

This was a function of their identity in Christ, in whom there is neither male nor female. They are equal in His eyes, and equally sons and heirs of salvation. None are second class citizens. The shared a heavenly citizenship that shaped their social interactions. This is what led to some of the persecution they experienced.

Peel and Reveal

Byrd returns to the question of what men and women can do in a worship service. “Have we properly retrieved what the early church has passed down?” She wonders if there is something particularly masculine about collecting the offering. You might say that’s for the deacons, and in the PCA you’d be wrong. It is their responsibility to plan and organize it, but they don’t have to execute it (BCO 9-2). Women can technically be asked to help with it. We sometimes use unordained men to help if there aren’t enough deacons. We could, theoretically, as laywomen to help too. Then again, maybe they don’t want to be bothered.

Remember, Paul encouraged full member participation in most of the worship service. Whether or not our worship services reflect this matters in terms of how we are seen by the world. In the early church the participation of women was seen as scandalous by the world. Today the lack of participation of women in some churches is seen as scandalous by the world.

“Whatever our stance is on ordination, these are the questions we should be asking. And yet for some reason, even when we discuss the contributions of laypeople, the church is still stuck on this problem of women and where to draw the line. As one article published in CBMW News put it, “But What Should Women Do in the Church?”

This article by Grudem is mis-titled, in my opinion. “Should” isn’t the same as “can”, and this should be about what they “can” do. Grudem proceeds to list 83 different types of service in the church and evaluate them with guidance from the Danvers Statement. His personal lines are even stricter (at that time anyway). He discusses hierarchies of authority and influence. In this view, women shouldn’t have authority or influence over men. How exactly should a woman ask a men to set up a table for a pot lock, I wonder. Must she go to her husband and ask her to tell the man to put in a particular place? Is that actually authority? Does the man have to do it or face church discipline?

“We would define authority in general as the right and power and responsibility to give directions to another.” Piper and Grudem

In this way they separate laymen from laywomen ontologically and allow laymen to exercise authority in the church but not women except over kids, and maybe other women. This would all imply that no one is under the authority of the Session and being asked by them to fulfill that task or function. Any authority is delegated authority or responsibility. My wife has plenty of delegated authority at home.

Peeling Back Yellow Fractions

Byrd argues that these lists of hierarchy fall into a similar error as the egalitarians. These lines can be quite arbitrary and not reflective of Scripture, just as the egalitarian lines are not reflective of Scripture. The CBMW reveals a fractional complementarianism, broken down by what women can and cannot do. Most of this section is a series of questions. She plays the interrogator instead of providing the answers. She wants us to work through it.

This gets back to how one views women. In 1 Corinthians 11 a wife is her husband’s glory. In terms of creation she came from Adam’s side just as the Church comes from Christ’s wounded side. Together Adam and Eve were to fulfill the creation mandates. There was no division of labor based on gender. In heaven there will be no such division of labor either.

“Now let’s return to CBMW’s definition of authority … Is authorization (authority?) an ontological right that belongs to a particular sex, a power bestowed on men to always have the say-so in all things? … While church officers have a distinct authorization in teaching and ruling, brothers and sisters who hear the Word of our Groom are authorized as a priesthood under this ministry to testify to Jesus to one another.”

Time for a story. During a pastoral transition I applied for a job with a national insurance company. I was called for a series of interviews in another city. I brought CavWife and we enjoyed some time without the 2 kids. In my first interview I discovered that I had uploaded the wrong resume. I had uploaded the one for church positions which mentioned male headship in home and church. The woman interviewing me wanted to know if I could work for a woman boss. Well, I’ve worked for a number of them in the past (and would in the future as well) and never had an issue submitting to a woman in school or the workplace. If I struggled it was about what they asked me to do, not due to their gender. Women can exercise authority over men, and we need to stop arguing that they can’t. That is NOT biblical manhood and womanhood. That is closer to the oppression of women in the past.

The question we need to be asking is what are only ordained officers allowed to do. The rest would be left open to laypeople at the discretion of the Session (elders). Convictions produce practices, and our practices reveal our convictions.

I’ll give Aimee Byrd the final word today.

“What corresponding strength do your women have to offer? Rather than bury and hide what the Lord has given under an imaginary line on a hierarchical list, how can your church be counter-culturally capable as opposed to some of the accepted teachings of so-called biblical manhood and womanhood in evangelicalism? Why is this necessary?”

 

 

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Aimee Byrd’s 6th chapter, The Great Divorce That You Didn’t See Coming, addresses the problem of parachurch ministries and the discipleship being farmed out to them. This should not be be taken to mean that she is against parachurch ministries, but that she is advocating for the centrality of the church and its mission.

Parachurch ministries are intended to work alongside (para) and supplement the church, not to replace or supplant the church. When churches fail to do their job, people often turn to parachurch ministries to fill the gaps. As someone who used to work in a parachurch ministry, I understand this and lament that so many churches aren’t engaging and serving their people well. In our consumeristic age, many affiliate with parachurch ministries that are more visible and dynamic than the local church. A study a few years ago explained this in terms of people who were parts of parachurch ministries in high school and college still wanting similar ministry instead of the style employed by local congregations.

Byrd discusses a conversation with a friend who attends a local congregation but doesn’t think she needs it in light of the availability of her favorite celebrity pastor’s sermons. This problem has grown with the advent of the live streaming era thanks to Covid-19. It is great that those sermons are available to edify us and others but many rely on them or put a higher priority on them than their local pastor. In other words there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Christian life. This indicates a breakdown in discipleship.

Others women she knows talk about discipling people who don’t go to their church. I understand if there is a pre-existing relationship but generally agree with Byrd’s concerns.

She is building on the previous chapter and points to the disconnect among many church members. She notes we should be friends, but not lovers, with the parachurch ministry (an odd metaphor). Many come to faith through parachurch ministries. Some have turned to them to be discipled. There is plenty of bad ecclesiology in our midst. Byrd notes that she knows leaders in parachurch ministries who are not members of a local church.

“But the popular mind-set is that while church is still recognized as important, the real ministry is taking place outside the church.”

Why Discipleship Is Leaving the Church

Byrd shifts to the reasons for this shift. She mentions the couple that splits when everyone thinks the marriage was strong. The couple has put on a happy face, but behind closed doors they have drifted apart or become combative. In congregations, people can feel forgotten and neglected so they begin to look for fellowship and opportunities to grow elsewhere. Others feel unneeded by their congregations, and want a way to serve but can’t find one. Some of these people change churches, but others stay and look to a parachurch ministry to meet this need.

So, these are two groups. There are those who seek from parachurch ministries the investment and growth that should be given from the local church. There are those who develop their own ministries to others disconnected from the local church.

We do need to be careful. Some parachurch ministries exist to help people serve in the local church. They really view themselves as coming alongside, being partners with the local church. Some, sadly, are people who have been hurt by the local church and don’t see themselves as partners so much as substitutes.

She mentions IF-Gatherings ministries which says “Discipleship is what we’re about.” This ministry has reached over a million women. Thousands of women attend their conferences. In some cases they take the place of discipleship in the local church, and for other people they supplement and assist local church ministry. The problem isn’t the ministry but how people utilize them.

“Church leaders, laypeople, and parachurch ministries need to stop and ask what our responsibilities are and how God’s people are discipled.”

Byrd thinks there needs to be an RDT or DTR (depending where you are from): a talk to define the relationship. This is not simply to chastise parachurch ministries, but also to prompt church officers to be more engaged. We need to engage the Word together and make sure people are providing and looking for discipleship in all the right places.

The Problem of Biblicism

She brings up the Biblicist method of teaching Scripture. I’m not sure how true that is, but in the case of CBMW many of the leaders do use such a method. I’m surprised this didn’t come up earlier, particularly when she was addressing ESS. As I noted in an earlier post, Matthew Emerson provides a fairly lengthy critique of Grudem’s Biblicist method of interpretation that leads him to some faulty conclusions (He Decended to the Dead, pp. 5-17, 67-74). ESS would be one of them, as well as denying that Jesus descended to the dead. But Byrd does address this here because Piper and Grudem are not the only ones who use this kind of method to interpret the Bible.

“Biblicists rightly uphold the authority of Scripture but often read the Bible with a narrow, flat lense of interpretation, zooming in on the words in the texts themselves while missing the history, context, and confessing tradition of the faith. Biblicists emphasize proof texting over a comprehensive biblical theology. What often happens unintentionally is that the Biblicist readers become their own authority, since they often don’t notice they are also looking through their own lens of preconceived theological assumptions.”

Sorry for the lengthy quote there, but Byrd briefly discusses what is wrong with such a method (ignoring historical context, theological context as well as the interpretive history) and the end result of becoming one’s own authority. Your interpretation becomes THE interpretation with no one to correct you. We see this, in my opinion, with Piper’s permanent marriage view, as well as ESS. Byrd brings it back to ESS as well. “Biblicists employ a fundamentalist approach to God’s Word that doesn’t take into account how the church and the Scriptures go hand in hand.” She warns that “Biblicist doesn’t mean biblical.”

Many parachurch ministries are vulnerable to this precisely because they don’t have confessions of faith, or if they do it is minimal and lowest common denominator in nature. It becomes an interpretive community of 1 or 20, rather than the whole church through time.

Byrd is concerned that they mimic the church despite not having the same ecclesiastical offices. They have a board, typically following a business model. Yet they have “worship services” in their conferences. They sing songs, but there is generally no call to worship, confession of sin or faith, no sacraments etc. Some don’t allow women to speak even though they aren’t the church. As a result there are exclusively women’s parachurch ministries where gifted women get to contribute.

The Covenantal Context of Discipleship

Byrd advocates for the covenantal context of discipleship. The visible church is a covenant community. We’ve made promises to teach all as Christ commanded.

This is what makes some of the criticism she’s received from Reformed leaders confusing. She affirms qualified male elders in the church. She wants women to be discipled too. And she sees this in a covenantal context. This is all good, man. It seems an area of disagreement is maximized and the many areas of agreement are minimized.

She continues to bring out the Swain and Vanhoozer as she affirms that reading, and interpretation, is a communal exercise. I don’t just read the Bible with Jesus. We see the extremes here. Some think they don’t need to learn how to interpret the Bible, just pray. Others think it is so hard they won’t even try. Often the quiet time becomes a strange mystical experience utterly divorced from confessional boundaries, teachers of the present and past, as well as biblical theology. She advocates for more dogmatics, or systematic theology, to be taught to women. This is a common theme in her books.

Peel and Reveal

Rather than affirm historic confessions (like say, Ligonier did), many ministries form their own statements of faith. The CBMW did this with the Danvers Statement (which includes ESS). These statements, she argues, often further their own agenda and existence. This is true when you look at the introduction to the Danvers Statement.

“Parachurch often reinforces bad gender tropes, outfitting and amplifying many of the divisions between men and women in the church.”

In this context she returns to the use of “roles” by the CBMW. Yes, it should not be applied to “an ontological creational norm that women are subordinate to men.” As I noted, I don’t agree with her isolation of one meaning of the word, but I agree with Byrd that they fill their books, conferences, Bible studies and resources with erroneous stereotypes of men and women.

The problem didn’t stay limited to the CBMW. She notes that Southern Seminary has adopted the Danvers Statement to which employees must subscribe. Sadly, contrary to my vote, the PCA also adopted the Nashville Statement as if our own confessional material was insufficient. Yes, it does include the new terminology of recent days, but I think it clearly lacks the precision of the Westminster Standards. It affirms but does not define gender differences in Article 4. However, this is still written while affirming ESS as the basis for subordination.

“I belong to a church that already subscribes to historically faithful orthodox confessions. I am thankful that I don’t need to worry over signing additional statements with questionable theology.”

From here Byrd shifts to revealing who is exhorted to church. She brings up a number of “one another” texts that encourage Christians (not separated by sex) to exhort and teach one another. She notes “Laywomen in the Scriptures are not addressed as subordinate to laymen.” This is the view that riles up some people who embrace the CBMW view of men and women in terms of authority and submission rooted in ontology. These many verses she lists do not have qualifiers to limit the teaching of women. She then claims “It would be disobedient to Scripture to withhold women from teaching.” She certainly points out a theological oddity, not to be confused with a geographical oddity. As we apply the analogy of Scripture (WCF, I)the clear passages interpret the unclear, not the other way around. She will get to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 in the next chapter. Even if you want to say a woman should be silent in the church, the context is the corporate worship service. That would not prohibit a woman from acting like any other lay person in a Bible study or Sunday School class.

She then shifts her attention back to parachurch ministries in general.

“We should not confuse the authority given to church officers with the authority of board members. We should not confuse the worship service, where God promises to bless us in Christ, with the classroom or the conference stage.”

She reminds us it is “helpful to distinguish between primary doctrinal issues, secondary issues, and even third-order issues of differences.” Oddly she footnotes an Al Mohler, of the aforementioned Southern Seminary, article from 2005 called “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity”. There is also a book by Gavin Ortlund called Finding the Right Hill to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage on this subject. She doesn’t say it, but most of what we discuss as differences between men and women would fall under third-order issues since they are not covered in ecumenical confessions of faith. As a result, we should allow one another latitude on that which is not clearly defined in Scripture (like the office of elder is). Parachurch ministries shouldn’t be organized around such third-order issues. It seems like straining at the gnat.

Parachurch ministries can come alongside the local church to help it fulfill its mission, rather than seek to fulfill that mission for it. What is drawing her ire is the later.

This chapter does advance her overall argument. It does point out some of the serious issues people should have with the CBMW, and some other parachurch ministries. Not everyone will agree with her statements. The question is, are those differences biblical or cultural? Are we sure?

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Aimee Byrd begins What the Church Is For, the 5th chapter of Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, with a story. This is a story that many parents can relate to. She began to bake a pizza for dinner but had to walk her son to the bus stop. So she called her daughter to ask her to remove the pizza when it was done. She was 14, but like Moses by the burning bush she came up with a series of excuses about why she couldn’t. It was just too intimidating for her. She hadn’t done this before. So her friend, whose parents were divorced, took it out.

“I stood there at the bus stop with a terrifying thought. My oldest child might be out of the house and away at college in three-and-a-half years, and she still couldn’t take a pizza out of the oven.”

This reminded Aimee that her job was to prepare her daughter to leave the home, and not be dependent on take out. She tells this as a metaphor for the church. Many churches are filled with perpetual adolescents spiritually. They don’t really know how to read and interpret the Bible. They don’t know how to serve. “The pizza revelation helped me to step back and recalibrate my parenting according to the big picture.” Many churches have forgotten why the exist.

She builds on the work of Scott Swain, whom she has referred to a fair bit throughout the book. One criticism of Byrd’s book is that she relies on egalitarians. While she does use work by some egalitarians, there are also plenty of references to people like Scott Swain who is not egalitarian. This may be shocking, but we can learn things from people who are egalitarian. Byrd expresses her dependence on a variety of people both complementarian and egalitarian in this book.

Earlier she used work from Swain (and Michael Allen) to talk about retrieval from Reformed Catholicity. Here she uses Swain’s work on communication and communion, a distinction she will use throughout the rest of the book. Communication is to “make common” between 2 or more persons. Communion is about “sharing, holding in common.” The first is the action that enables the second to be true. This communication and communion comes to us through Christ. She quotes John Owen here, “We are never more like God than when we love his Son through his Spirit.”

As a part of our salvation, Bryd brings us to the covenant of redemption made between the Father and the Son in eternity. In this she brings in Bavinck, another of those non-egalitarians, to help us understand this covenant. We are a gift from the Father to the Son as a reward for procuring our salvation. He doesn’t simply save us, but we become His Bride. Bavinck argues that without Christ there is no Church, and without the Church there is no Christ. This refers to the economy of redemption. It is not that the Son doesn’t exist, but there is no Messiah without a people to be His bride and body. This became Augustine’s hermeneutical key for the Psalms: Christ head and body (the totus Christus).

Our enjoyment of communion with Father and Son by the Spirit does not await the afterlife. Jesus has been restoring God’s household on earth to prepare it to dwell with Him in eternity. The church, as the household of God, exists to prepare us for the eternal state. “We are to communicate, make common, the gospel of Jesus Christ, so that all whom the Father gave to the Son will commune, share, hold in common, with him.” THIS is what the church is for.

Peel and Reveal

This is a short chapter and she gets to the application quickly. She returns to her opening metaphor. We don’t passively wait to be fed, like birds in a nest (my addition). She sees discipleship as foundational to church life; tasting and seeing that the Lord is good so that we are nurtured and equipped to serve Him. Church officers  are responsible to disciple men and women.

She makes the point that we don’t need new revelation but we still need the proclamation of the revelation we received, the Word. Both men and women need to be addressed by the Word.

Here she shifts to the work of Dr. Valerie Hobbs, a lecturer in applied linguistics. Hobbs’ point is that pastors address men more than they address women in the course of their sermons. They refer to men more (illustrations and application). I can understand her big point- pastors should make sure they make application to women and their general circumstances, as well as use illustrations that involve women. This is something Byrd has written and spoken about before. That is not a criticism, but this is a passion for her and something that pastors still need to work on.

Let’s take this out of the context of men and women for a minute. There are children in the worship service. As a pastor my sermons can’t just address the adults. I need to include some illustrations and stories they can understand, as well as some application to them. I do, but not enough. This is what Byrd is getting at.

She also returns to the “poor condition of women’s ministries”. This is not true of every church, but don’t assume it isn’t true of yours without talking to the women. One result of the neglect of women’s ministry by pastors and sessions is the prevalence of bad theology. Sometimes it is simply superficial, and other times it is dangerous. She’s calling us to exercise greater oversight, not less. She’s calling us to be more involved, not less. She wants there to be more theology in women’s ministry, not less.

Peel and Reveal 2

She has a second major peel and reveal in this chapter. Not only are women’s ministries generally neglected, but women are intended to be equipped for ministry. Women are part of the body being equipped in Ephesians 4. She sees the fruit of this in Romans 16. She points particularly to Phoebe whom Paul commends as a sister and servant (or deacon). Calvin, in his commentary, says she had the office. Some of us reject that notion, likely based on our understanding of the diaconate in our congregations and denominations. We aren’t necessarily looking at sources from the early church to see how the deacons functioned, particularly the role of deaconnesses who assisted deacons in serving the women of the congregation. Phoebe is central to her point here. Most people agree that Phoebe was the one who brought the letter to Rome. This was why Paul wanted them to welcome her. He’s establishing her creditials beyond carrying the letter.

Referring to Michael Bird’s work, Byrd believes Phoebe would also explain the letter to the Romans should they have questions. She delivered it, but did she have “his authority” or personal representative to address any questions as Bird and Byrd theorize? I’m not sure. Perhaps this is a stretch, as I wrote in the margin.

Phoebe was a patron of the church, and likely Paul himself at times. She refers to Philip Payne who indicates this is a position not only of wealth but also authority. We do see that women acted as patrons for Jesus’ ministry, but in that case Jesus was not under their authority, they were under his. Such women in Greco-Roman culture had more freedom than the average woman. A patroness “had liberty to exercise her ideas and interests with society’s blessings.”

Let’s separate speaking and teaching from authority. A patroness could speak and teach. She had influence due to the money provided. None of those is the same as authority. Paul didn’t have to do what Phoebe said. When I taught Sunday School as a layperson, I didn’t have authority.

For her to seemingly press authority here creates an unnecessary obstacle for some in recognizing she was more than a source of money or someone who delivered the letter. What Byrd is getting to is women being co-laborers. Phoebe certainly was that, and she was not the only woman who was a co-laborer for the gospel that Paul and Luke mention.

What Byrd wants us to see when we peel back the yellow wall paper is that lay women have a role in communicating the gospel, and that role isn’t necessarily limited to other women and children. In other words, Titus 2 is not a limitation on the teaching ministry of women but is indicated how those groups should interact with one another so Titus doesn’t feel like it is all on him.

“Therefore, we are to communicate, make common, the gospel of Jesus Christ together, so that all whom the Father gave to the Son will commune, share, hold in common with him.”

The church exists to disciple Christians, including women. Christians are not simply disciples but also disciple others. Woman have a role in discipling other Christians. Clearly they disciple other women and children. Byrd wants us to see that even within the context of qualified male leadership there is a place for lay women to communicate the gospel just like lay men. Not everyone will or can accept this premise. She will get back to it again.

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I want to start with a story or two. Two.

Saturday a friend of mine died. Years ago he attended a PCA church in Orlando where a friend of mine was a pastor on staff. This friend raised concerns to me about this PCA pastor based on some lectures he gave on women in the church. At the time I didn’t share his concerns about my other friend. I didn’t think he was moving toward egalitarianism. A few years later this pastor friend moved cross country to serve on the staff of a church that would eventually leave the PCA and fully embrace egalitarianism. My friend did “slide” into egalitarianism, but may have hid it since he credited one of our professors. My late friend was right, and I missed it.

In my first pastorate one of the influential women gave me a book to read. She was on the search committee that called me. She had been auditing courses at RTS Orlando. She led our women’s ministry. The book was Sarah Sumner’s Men and Women in the Church, which is clearly egalitarian. Earlier she’d given me insightful articles from Kenneth Bailey. This book was less than insightful contrary to the positive blurbs by respected men, but it was insightful into this friend’s trajectory. It broke my heart when she and her husband left the church and began to attend a PC(USA) church (now ECO).

Sometimes you can see it coming, and sometimes it is more subtle. Some people claim they see Aimee Byrd well on the road to egalitarian. I’m not so sure. My foresight, obviously, is not perfect including in this area. But the issue may be their adherence to the CBMW formulation of complementarianism.

Cognitive Dissonance

Today we’ll look at the beginning of the Part 2: Recovering Our Mission. The first chapter in this section is Why Our Aim Is Not Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She begins this with part of her story. She was married a month after graduating from college and began to read books to help her become “the perfect Christian wife.” This was when she read Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood aka the Big Blue Book. She was seeking a “biblical understanding of the sexes.” There were parts that were hard for her to accept, but she trusted the radio shows that spoke well of the book. “That’s what I wanted to be: good and conservative.” She was not comfortable with “some” of the teachings in the book. Not all. Not most. Some. She assumed she’d understand them better as she matured.

“I do want to note that there are plenty of helpful teachings in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, written by authors who have benefited the church in numerous ways.”

Over time, however, “more and more strange teachings on femininity and masculinity have emerged under the rubric of biblical manhood and womanhood.” She is not alone in thinking this. She mentions some of them earlier in this book, and they concerned me when I read them years ago. I thought they were aberrations but now realize my understanding of complementarianism is not on the same side of the spectrum as theirs. I was concerned when Piper thought women shouldn’t be police officers because that involves authority over men (“Should Women Be Police Officers?” August 13, 2015). In that article he mentioned teaching in colleges as well. Byrd also notes a place where Piper discusses a woman being careful in giving a lost man directions lest we undermine his sense of masculinity. Sorry, I don’t get it. I simply want to get to my destination, and apart from verbal abuse I’m not guarding my sense of masculinity.

Eternal Submission of the Son

Where she goes here is more fundamental, however. She came across a CBMW document expressing ESS (Eternal Submission of the Son). This view states that in the ontological Trinity, the Son submits to the Father. This view is not expressed in any of the major creeds and confessions. We do recognize that in the economic Trinity, the Son as Messiah submits to the Father on our behalf. The first speaks to the Son in his essence, the second to the Son in his office as Redeemer.

She pursued conversations with representatives of CBMW including the president at the time. In books, members of the CBMW continued to assert this view. It shows up in the ESV Study Bible as well. This view is used as the basis for their version of complementarianism: men and women are both human (equal in essence) but women submit to men (different in role/function).

I don’t believe in ESS nor agree with its use by CBMW to defend an erroneous view of men and women. In Ephesians 5, wives submit to their own husbands, not men in general. Women are not inferior to men due to their gender, not to submit to men in general. In the 10 commandments, we are to honor our parents meaning that sons (even as adults) are to honor their mothers. Mothers don’t submit to adult sons.

Back to Byrd’s book from that aside. She tried to address this publicly as well. As she tells it no one was listening. Then Liam Goligher did a guest post on her blog on this subject and the can of worms was opened. ESS became a big internet controversy.

Okay. At this point I wondered if she wants credit for exposing this heterodoxy, simply wants to say no one took her seriously or both. Goligher was more than a “housewife theologian” and had more gravitas. That he was a man can also play into it. But there seem to be some sour grapes at work in this too.

She then brings it back to the Big, Blue Book. Once again she notes there is good material in there, but also some disconcerting material as well. There is a big problem when the differences between men and women are reduced to “one of ontological authority and submission.” I’ve always understood this as patriarchy, not complementarianism. While she mentions Denny Burke, Owen Strachan and others, her focus is on Wayne Grudem who has been a big advocate for this deviant view of the Trinity, including in his work on the ESV Study Bible notes. I was disappointed to see Ligon Duncan so earnestly affirming the updated version of the Big, Blue Book such that communicating the doctrines and applications taught in it were essential to Christian discipleship.

“While I wholeheartedly affirm distinction between sexes, I am convinced that our choices are not between CBMW complementarianism and vague androgynous discipleship.”

She is raising serious issues here. In my opinion she is right. I’ll let her speak for herself:

“Nowhere does Scripture state that all women submit to all men. … And it is difficult for a laywoman like me, who does see some theological teaching for God outfitting qualified men for an office to see this kind of reductive teaching and call it complementarianism. … My femininity is not defined by how I look for and nurture male leadership in my neighbors, coworkers, or mail carriers. I am not denying the order needed in both my personal household and in the household of God, but I do not reduce the rights and obligations in a household to mere authority and submission roles. … I uphold distinction between the sexes without reduction, as Scripture does.”

She affirms that church office is reserved for qualified men. She refers to Genesis 2 in the footnote, but overlooks 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. That is puzzling, frankly.

In the next section she’s wondering if we’ve baptized “chivalry” and made it biblical manhood. I think she is onto something with this. Like the Pharisees added to the laws regarding the Sabbath and used the corban principle to avoid caring for parents, we can add cultural understandings to our biblical understanding in a way that is inappropriate and confusing. She quotes Sarah Coakley as noting that the point of headship “is not executive dictatorship but responsibility for the “well-being of the whole.”” She uses John McKinley’s “necessary ally”, though I prefer Allender and Longman’s “intimate ally”.

To be fair, in What’s the Difference?, Piper’s contribution to the Big, Blue Book, he mentions men listening to their wives to gain input. The “definition” expresses “benevolent responsibility”. But we do need to emphasize, I think, the partnership of marriage. Headship in Ephesians 5 is sacrificial and for the well-being of the wife. Back to Genesis 2, she is an ally in our God-given mission. Being a man or woman can not be reduced to authority/submission. There is a bit of overlap in their expression of this relationship, but their foundation is quite different.

Restoring the Imago Dei

I think she takes too much time expressing the fact that our goal in discipleship is not masculinity or femininity but conformance to Christ (Romans 8). At a few points that will be different. But the goal is being a mature human being, restoration of the image of God (Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3).

“Christian men and women don’t strive for so-called biblical masculinity or femininity, but Christlikeness. Rather than striving to prove our sexuality, the tone of our sexuality will express itself as we do this. … I do not need to do something in a certain way to be feminine. I simply am feminine because I am female.”

She sees some benefit to exclusive studies for men and women. There are “shared experiences and responsibilities within our sex.” (She probably should use “gender” in these instances.) Her concern is that we take this too far too often, as though we can only be discipled separately. Drawing on Phillip Payne’s material she asserts (rightly) that both men and women received authority over earth and creatures. Unlike in the pagan cultures around them, men were supposed to leave their family of origin to cleave to his spouse. In pagan countries she shifted from her family to his.

In Mark David Walton’s article for the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood these gender distinctions (authority & submission) remain for all eternity since they are ontological. Women, in this view, would eternally submit to men even though both are made in the image of God.

Peel and Reveal

She goes off her on “role”. She does this, in my opinion, in a reductionistic way. She focuses on the definition derived from the playhouse. As a result she wants us to stop using this in discussing men and women. She’ll also do this in chapter 6. But according to dictionary.com the 2nd definition is “proper or customary function” and the third is the sociological use (pertinent here!) “the rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status.” That status should not be “woman” but “wife”. Not “man” but “husband” and “church officer”.

She seems to be going after both ESS and expressions of complementarianism at the same time. She does not clearly delineate between the two but goes back and forth between them. They are related, but distinct. This is a weakness of hers or at least this chapter.

And then she returns to norms. “I agree with Mark Cortez that we can still affirm some cultural norms associated with gender without holding that these must be essential to our sexuality.” But in this section she seeks to get metaphysical and philosophical. She depends on Sister Prudence Allen in pp. 124-30, and frankly I’m lost. Philosophy is not my strong point, and I’m not familiar with this philosopher. I got “fractional complementarity” and “integral complementarity”. She brings in Pope John Paul II, as well as Paul Zanacanaro and Julian Marias. In all this I couldn’t tell if she was using them positively (she does say they think more thoroughly and biblically) or negatively (since their conclusion sounds remarkably like Piper and Grudem). Just call me Vinnie because “I’m soooo confused.”

The peel and reveal section seems to waste the good and important material she covered in the body of the chapter. There are serious problems in the theological basis for the CBMW version of complementarianism, and therefore serious problems in how they understand masculinity and femininity in relationship to one another. She could have done a better job delineating her points of agreement with CBMW since there are some.

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I met John Travers III,  forever known simply as Travers, shortly after I moved to Orlando in 1991. I had lived in New England my entire life. I was going through some culture shock. As a northern Baptist at a mostly Presbyterian seminary, I found a local Southern Baptist Church with a Calvinistic pastor. It was there that I met John.

Like me, he didn’t belong. Or should I say fit. John was from New Jersey, and like me, a northern Baptist trying to figure out life in the south. He had moved down with his family while I had moved away from family. But being “Yankees” we both obviously knew everything and didn’t mind how loud it got when we disagreed. Disagreeing was okay, most of the time. I was probably the more sensitive of the two of us. I might be annoyed for a day or two. But it was hard to stay annoyed with Travers.

But at least he wasn’t a Yankees’ fan. Another person said he was, and I mentioned it in my FB post, but John was really a Mets fan. And a Giants fan. He went National, not American, apparently. This made it fun when we were with Probst who was from NY and a Yankees and Jets fan who could argue with both of us. But I’m getting too far ahead.

Neither of us stayed long at that Baptist church. We both struggled to fit into SBC culture. I was a frustrated nomad for the first few years of seminary until I finally went back to that church. That absence meant I didn’t get an internship position. But the Singles intern would let me teach. I still didn’t quite fit but tried to make the most of it.

Through roommates I started going to some singles events at Orangewood PCA. There was Travers, instantly recognizable and always approachable. He never became Presbyterian, but lived among them the rest of his time in Orlando. While there was that theological difference (infant baptism) he didn’t have people looking down their noses at him because he enjoyed a good Scotch and a cigar.

This was part of the reason my visits among the Presbtyerians became a move. I got tired of being judged for enjoying a beer with my pizza. Orangewood was a very missions-minded church and I went on a mission trip with them to Mexico (3 eventually). Eventually the baptism coin dropped and I became a member, and under care and the rest is history.

Travers never “got” the baptism thing. But our talks, and arguments, over a drink, would range from theology to sports and politics. John, unlike most of us single guys, owned a home. He rented some rooms to make it happen, but he had a house. But this was a difficult period because his dad was dying.

Family was incredibly important to Travers. Family was why he moved to FL, and family would be why he moved to Dallas. Every year  on St. Patrick’s Day he and his dad would watch The Quiet Man. After his dad died, Travers continued the tradition. Every St. Patrick’s Day he’d watch John Wayne and wish his dad was sitting with him.

Travers and I were part of a circle of friends, and so it is hard to think of him without thinking of them. It’s also hard to think of them without thinking of him. But he wasn’t just loud and ready for a good debate, he was playful. He’s play little jokes to get under your skin, in a good way, because he loved you and was just busting your chops.

Travers is across from me, in the front on the right.

As part of that circle of friends there were so many discussions on back porches and Fiddler’s Green with drinks and a cigar. There were also celebrations as friends got married. For Dan’s bachelor party we went to a restaurant with a private room that had ventilation so we could smoke. Our friend D. Abrami wanted us to fill that room with smoke so we couldn’t see each other. It was a glorious evening together. But Travers and I didn’t drive to this restaurant on the south side of town. So we caught a ride back. In the back of a pick up truck. On the highway. In winter. In the wee hours of the morning. That was less than glorious, but it was memorable.

But all of my pictures of Travers are in groups. Most of them are at restaurants. And most of those have cigars involved. We had plenty of good times together in that circle of friends I miss so much.

After I started to pursue my second seminary degree, I moved to Winter Haven for my first pastorate. I recall a week or two living on his couch for a week long class during breaks. Travers was hospitable. He was generous. Under that gruff exterior was a kind heart. I just wish, for his sake, some woman besides our wives would have discovered this. Not all of our wives came from that circle of friends, but they loved him. They saw the person he was.

Travers is in the front on the left.

When I got married the ceremony was in NJ since that was where CavWife lived. A bunch of my friends made the trip from Florida. Travers stands out because I kept getting updates. He was driving, stuck in traffic and snow around DC. But he made it for the bachelor’s party and the wedding. He was also there in Winter Haven (actually Haines City, aka Haineyville) for the Florida reception a few weeks later (I think that was the night of the Snow Bowl game versus the Raiders). Friends mattered to Travers. People mattered to Travers.

At some point Travers left Orangewood and began to attend Willowcreek PCA which was closer to his home. One of my friends whom I affectionately referred to as Chuckie Rob (a childhood nickname), was a pastor there. John began to share some concerns about Chuckie based on a series to Sunday night talks. On the basis of those talks, Travers was able to perceive the beginnings of Chuckie Rob’s slide to egalitarianism when fully manifested itself when he took a new call in CA. Travers was perceptive.

Not too long after he and Mama T were moving to Dallas to be close to his brother and family. The lure of grand kids was likely too great for Mama T, and John wanted to be near her. She had been living in Ocala, so CavWife and I drove up to help load the truck. To complicate things we had been coming from the Jacksonville area where I think we’d spent some time with a sister-in-law visiting her side of the family. But what stood out to me, besides getting slightly lost on the way, was the restaurant we went to for a final meal together. Texas BBQ was the appropriate meal, and it was memorable with regard to my taste buds.

We also hung out at First Watch before it went national. This was before Probst’s wedding.

Dallas was not very, very good to Travers. Similar to how football was to Chico Escuela (an OLD SNL skit with Garrett Morris for those of you too young to catch it). He seemed to struggle to find his place, aside from the cigar shop. There were job changes, layoffs and financial struggles. When Mama T and his aunt passed away with days of each other there was an emotional phone call. There was another one, I believe, after D. Abrami was murdered (see, that circle of friends).

With General Assembly in Dallas last year I made sure to reach out. We had tentative plans for dinner. He was going to pick me up. Unfortunately he was not feeling well. Maybe that should have been a sign to me that all was not well. I don’t know. He had a 2 cigar/day habit. I’m not sure if that played into things. I do know that it is good to have wife looking out for you. Who knows what factored into the events of the last week.

But yesterday someone linked their FB post to Travers, talking about their friend who died that morning. I was in shock. This could not be. His birthday was a few days ago (he was 4 months older than me). I called and got no message. I called Probst because he’s not on FB, and he’s the one who called me from England to tell me about D. Abrami. Leaving a message I lost it saying “our friend has died.” That’s who he was: our friend!

Our friend, it turns out, had a stroke about a week ago. I didn’t know because the lousy FB algorithm didn’t think I needed to know that from someone’s post on his wall. Thankfully I saw the post that linked to him. Our friend deserves us to be all together, as we had been so many times, enjoying a drink, a cigar, food, laughs and maybe even a good argument. I mean discussion. But we’re spread out over the country. The last time I saw Travers in the flesh was leaving that Texas BBQ joint in Ocala. Many of us will miss John Travers III. He was our friend, and a great one at that.

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Our consideration of Aimee Byrd’s most recent book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, continues with the 3rd chapter, Girls Interrupted. In many ways this is a continuation of the previous chapter in addressing the feminine voice in Scripture. She sticks with the Old Testament, and the same time period as Ruth. Her focus here is Judges, though she begins with Exodus and the midwives.

Before we get there I want to reiterate what she does as she introduces the chapter (and at the end).

“My hope is that you will begin identifying how this coactivity of the male and female voice functions more and more in your regular reading of Scripture and consider its implications in church life.”

The female voice, while not the dominant voice in Scripture, is a helpmate of the male voice. They, she argues, complement each other so we get a fuller Scripture. God, in His providence, provides for this in the dual authorship of Scripture. It is not an addition from disgruntled feminists. Byrd does not seem to argue like a feminist in this regard. She’s not saying this voice is more important. She’s not denigrating the male voice as less important to women. She’s not trying to get women (or anyone) to focus on the feminine voice at the expense of the rest of the Bible; indeed the majority of the Bible. She does want us to recognize it in regular Scripture reading. In other words, as you are reading, notice the perspective (which actually is part of good hermeneutics). Where some people will struggle even more, though, is the implication for life in the church. We will get to this in the Peal and Reveal section.

While Richard Bauckman is an egalitarian, I think his point should be obvious and non-controversial. Women, as part of the people of God, are mentioned in the Bible. Women, as we are about to see, likely participated in passing down the oral tradition of the Scriptures. A woman affirmed the authenticity and authority of the scrolls found in a dusty temple to the king who wanted to know if he should recognize them as Scripture. Other texts focus on women as main characters. This is true, right?

The Midwives’ Voice

In bringing up Exodus Byrd brings up the midwives, in particular their conversation with the Egyptian leaders. We can either believe God gave this information to Moses via direct revelation or through oral tradition as the midwives reported the exchange to the elders of Israel and anyone willing to listen. How we answer this question may say more about us than it does about Scripture. We affirm oral tradition in the Gospels. Luke, for instance, researched it. He did not witness the events himself nor received a Matrix-like download but talked to men and women about the events in question. John may have too. Some of the discussion between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was likely related to him by Jesus. But there are also part that Jesus was not first party to and that may have been reported to John by her at a later date. But we clearly have her communicating to others in her village about Jesus. We see the same thing with the women’s testimony about showing up at the tomb and discovering Jesus gone. Affirming does not make someone a feminist or egalitarian.

She also brings us James Montgomery Boice via his book The Life of Moses. He spent time addressing this. In the section she quotes there is this sentence: ” … God does not record the pharaoh’s names, but he remembers these two women, Shiphrah and Puah, because they did the right thing.” She is assuming that they were tradents of the faith, passing “down the heritage and tradition of God’s people by sharing how God worked through them.” This appears to be a valid assumption.

Women in Judges

Then she shifts to Judges where she’ll spend most of this chapter. Judges focuses on how the people of Israel began to live like the Canaanites and not like the people of God they were called to be. One aspect of this that runs through Judges is “by the way the women are viewed and treated.” This is not the only way. It is a symptom of their apostasy. The apostasy was the main deal, but this was a horrifying manifestation of that apostasy. Judges is a downward spiral, and the two last stories focus on the mistreatment of women. These last two are from the perspective of the men involved. But there are some in the feminine voice.

“The main point in Judges is not the treatment of women. … But as we have the big picture, we can observe that one of the glaring evidences of the Israelites’ increasing depravity is displayed in their degradation of women.”

We find Caleb using his daughter’s hand in marriage to motivate soldiers. This is an unusual way to arrange her marriage but “Caleb is setting his daughter up to marry the best of the best.” We also hear some of Achsah’s voice. She’s not simply a trophy wife but asks for an addition to the dowry of land and asks for springs. She is her father’s daughter, bold and full of faith.

The main feminine voice is Deborah’s. She was a prophetess who also functioned as a judge. People came to her for judgements. Unlike most judges, she was not a soldier or a general. She speaks the word of the Lord to Barak to lead the men in battle. We must consider the realities of the conflict before we are too tough on Barak. The Canaanite General Sisera has 900 chariots, essential the equivalent of a tank. Not only did Barak have none, but it was not an organized militia with weapons. It was really a bunch of farmers. He wants the prophetess to join him because she represented the Word of God to the ragtag army he was called to lead.

We see her voice primarily in her song which tells the story of the battle. God sent a storm (this was supposed to be Baal’s territory) to neutralize the chariots. Barak doesn’t kill Sisera, but Jael (a “housewife”) kills him with a tent peg (an allusion to Gen. 3:15). Deborah is the “mother of Israel in her song. She counseled them, preserved their heritage and provides strategy. This is a woman working in the public sphere. She is contrasted with Sisera’s mother who waits at home for her son to return home with a slew of new female slaves to exploit. From her wicked perspective, sexual domination of women prisoners is a great thing.

Byrd notes that Jesus uses similar language as he laments over Israel. He wants to cover them with his wings like a hen her chicks. Then she returns to Deborah (all this in the same paragraph). She is contrasted with the Canaanite goddesses, and the worst abuses of patriarchy that play out in Judges. Her song passes on Israelite tradition.

Byrd shifts to Jephthah and his daughter. I’m not sure whom or what he expected to come out of his home first but he promised he would sacrifice it. Here is a judge of Israel vowing to consecrate him or her to the Lord. There is some question about what that means and how it took place, but his daughter who was his only child, was the first to come out. Not a servant (I guess that was his hope), but daddy’s girl runs out to greet him. Whether she was consecrated and remained virgin or was sacrificed, this is not an easy to read text. She did become part of Israel’s tradition, as the young women of Israel would commemorate her for 4 days a year. This stands in contrast to the laments of Canaanite goddesses. They lamented dead sons, lovers and brothers; not daughters or sisters. His daughter was valued by Israel.

“Do you see the coactivity of male and female voices in God’s Word at work here?”

She then returns to Rehab and Matthew’s genealogies. The women there don’t sound like representative of the CBMW definition of mature femininity (repeated below). This encourages a passivity, a responsiveness instead of initiative on the the part of women. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba all took initiative in dealing with their circumstances; an initiative born of faith. While Bathsheba was exploited by David (due to his position as king, her inability to reject him leads many to call this a form of rape), Solomon would not be king if she hadn’t approached an elderly, ineffective and largely clueless David. As Gentiles they point to the inclusion of the Gentiles into Israel through evangelism and conversion.

“At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” from Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

Byrd then brings us to the Canaanite woman and compares her to Rahab, a Canaanite. Jesus obviously recognizes his own heritage and the Gentile women including Rahab in that line. She exhibits faith similar to Rahab. Jesus isn’t dismissing her but testing her. How far would her faith push her? Apparently some of the crumbs of Israel’s children have fallen to her already, she knows some of their history and likely some of the law and prophets since she addresses him as Son of David. Her faith reflects this.

“Their faith was not in their bravery, their discernment, their initiative, or their own resolve. Their faith was in the Lord. They had faith in his calling, his initiative, and his resolve. They responded to the call.”

She also ties together Hannah and Mary in similar fashion. Since I see this is getting long I will leave it at that.

Peel and Reveal

“It’s time for the church to examine whether we too are sending the same message as the radical feminists who are opposed to God’s Word by treating it as an androcentric text that lacks female contribution.”

Radical feminists, in rejecting the Scriptures, claim it is male centered and does not and cannot speak to them. We should not say it is male centered and only speaks to women indirectly. We don’t want to arrive at the same view of the Scripture though for opposite reasons. We do see women treasuring the Scriptures, contributing to the Scriptures and passing on the faith to others. Too often our stereotypes of women, or erroneous teaching about femininity, lead us to minimize their place in the community of faith. Women are necessary allies in God’s mission. This is the key: God’s mission. Both men and women are engaged in that by faith. Spouses share a mission and are to work together.

Think of Elisabeth Elliot for a moment. She was not a feminist by any stretch of the imagination. She wrote a book called Let Me Be a Woman, as opposed to rejecting any gender differences. She wrote an incredibly brief forward (one paragraph) to Piper’s What’s the Difference?. She had an important place in 20th century evangelicalism, not simply as the widow of Jim Elliot but as an author and speaker and seminary professor. She was a strong woman. Elisabeth’s materials were sold through Ligonier ministries for a while. At one point I was the point person for dealing with Lars, her husband at the time. She wasn’t supporting his role in the mission, but he supported her role in God’s mission. That included speaking at conferences filled with men and women, including Ligonier National conferences.

Does our understanding of complementarism allow this to happen, or hinder it? Does it make her an exception or do we affirm, train and encourage woman in our congregations to teach people? Are they coactive with us as servants of God or are laymen AAA and women AA (to borrow a baseball analogy)? Do their voices complement those of godly men for the combined good of the church?

“Women are using their voices and asking men to listen. How is the church going to respond? We certainly don’t want to mimic the culture and adapt the philosophy of the sexual revolution. But in our efforts to combat the reductive worldview of our secular culture, we need to make sure we aren’t over-correcting by slapping yellow wallpaper over it.”

It’s too bad she doesn’t develop this enough. She keeps hinting at it. This really seems to be the main issue of the book for me. Have we over-reacted to feminism with a subtle  (or not so subtle) form of chauvinism by clinging to an old traditional culture instead of evaluating both by Scripture so we are counter-cultural, neither feminist nor chauvinist but actually biblical? To borrow from Keller, the Bible is critical of every culture. She will continue to mention this like a tease to keep reading. Her focus is more on asking that question than providing the answer, however.

I’m not sure how this chapter moves the argument along. It provides more information, yes. It gives us some things to think about from Judges. But I’m thinking about the overall argument of the book. Soon we’ll be addressing the CBMW and its views more directly, and whether or not all the boundaries we say exist are biblical ones. At times you feel like she should be writing a couple of different books, not one. She seems to have too many agendas at times (as I think about the whole book). Perhaps that is why I feel like I’m struggling to review this chapter.

“Now that we are armed with a better idea of how the male and female voices operate synergetically in Scripture, let’s explore Christ’s presence in the Word of God and therefore its relationship to the church.”

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In the second chapter of Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, on the subject of recovering how we read the Bible, Aimee Byrd asks “Why Not the Book of Boaz?”.

She is talking about the book of Ruth which is squeezed between Judges and 1 Samuel. It is the first book in the Bible that we come across named for a woman. This is a little book with a big message.

Ruth was not simply a woman, but a Moabite woman who had been married to an sojourning Israelite who died. Moabites were bad news. Their tribe originated from Lot’s child from his daughter after she got him drunk (Gen. 19). Born of incest they were known to be immoral. They were also prohibited from entering Israelite worship (Deut. 23:3), in part for hiring Balaam to curse Israel, and then following his advice to send women to seduce the men into false worship (Numbers 22-23, 25).

Yes, a book of the Bible named after a Moabite widow. This Moabite widow converted to the worship of YHWH and went back to Israel with her mother-in-law to take care of her.

Byrd wants to show us how the female voice functions in Scripture. Ruth doesn’t seem to fit the mold of biblical womanhood (though some memes try to make her fit it by ignoring some things). While the “male voice” arrives at the end of the book, the majority of the book focuses on Ruth. It focuses on “the plight of women in ancient culture- it exposes their difficulties and it shows us a faithful, brave woman who took initiative to rescue her family, as well as an honorable response from Boaz.” Ruth is not passive, waiting for Boaz, or anyone else to take care of Naomi. She takes initiative, and this is seen as a good thing (Boaz commends her!) particularly when we discover who her great-grandson is going to be.

She is reliant on Bauckham and Carolyn Custis James as numerous footnotes reveal. Most of this is helpful. One time, at least, it is less than helpful but confusing. “This male voice is quote not … in order to undermine the female voice of the narrative, but on the contrary, in order to be exposed by the female voice of the narrative as pitifully inadequate in its androcentric selectivity.” It doesn’t undermine her voice! That I get and agree with. I’m not sure what he means by that last phrase about being exposed as inadequate. The patrilineal records complement and explain the significance of the this story: David!

Rumors had probably spread about David and his sketchy origins (the politics of personal destruction is not a new concept). But the truth was this woman was a godly woman who did right by her adopted faith and her distressed mother-in-law. This defends her honor and his.

“The Bible isn’t a book of masculine history. There is women’s literature in Scripture! … We don’t need to take these gynocentric stories out and publish them in books for women’s ministries. All of Scripture is meant for coed reading and understanding.”

She also argues that Ruth is not just about Ruth. “Naomi’s situation parallels Israel’s.” This takes place during the decline of Israel during the time of the Judges. Her husband did what was right in his own eyes by moving his family to Moab during a famine, and allowing his two sons to marry Moabite women despite the prohibition of the Law. He betrayed his name which declared “My God is King”. This book is a study of hesed, covenant faithfulness as displayed not only by Ruth but also Boaz and ultimately by YHWH.

Hesed is driven, not by duty or legal obligations, but by bone-deep commitment- a loyal, selfless love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one wants has the right to expect or ask of them …” quoting Carolyn Custis James

One of the things we should see in Ruth is that “God put man and woman on this earth, and he intends to use both sexes in his mission.” This woman is “in the world” and working in the fields. She’s “bringing home the bacon”. Ruth’s faith and commitment is contrasted with Naomi’s despair and grief. God used a strong woman to preserve Naomi and keep the line alive that would produce the Seed that crushes the head of the serpent.

Rembrandt

Ruth is not a feminist icon. She’s not fighting the system of patriarchy. She is a woman committed to fulfilling her vows. Ruth does, however, not fit into many of the categories of femininity expressed by some complementarians, especially the CBMW. Piper and Grudem’s definition of femininity doesn’t seem to fit Ruth. She’s not waiting for a man to show initiative. This seems to be the point Byrd wants to make in this chapter. Godly women in the Bible don’t match the Big Blue Book’s definition.

After my a recent memorial service for my mother, we had lunch with my side of the family. Due to my mother’s long-term illness it had been a few years since CavWife saw my side of the family, particularly my sister-in-law. My brother’s wife related that mine was a “bad ass” because she stood up to my mother. My wife is strong. Not headstrong or domineering, but strong. She knows who she is and wants to do what is right. She wasn’t waiting for me to “take the lead” and deal with my mother. She was gentle but firm, not abrasive.

Byrd doesn’t stop with Ruth, so to speak. She reminds us that Boaz’s mother was a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. Like Ruth, she came to faith in the God of Israel, protected her family by protecting the spies. She became a member of God’s household. Knowing her likely prepared Boaz to welcome a kindred spirit in Ruth.

When Byrd begins to peel back the wallpaper (back to the metaphor), she wants us to see “women played an active role alongside men in passing down the history and teachings of God’s covenant people as tradents of the faith.” She doesn’t want to make more of this than it is; or less.

“Women aren’t left out. They aren’t ignored; they are heard. They are more than heard; they contribute.”

Additionally, the book of Ruth functions to provide a critical eye for today’s church. The issue is how God’s hesed works among His people. She wants us to see that He works through both men and women to reveal His hesed. Too often we are concerned with what women are “permitted” to do (and she’ll get back to this often). Our lists, at the very least, need to be evaluated by Scripture. Another way of putting this is asking if godly women in Scripture fit the list. Scripture is more important than the list.

The question I wrote at the bottom of the page at the end of this chapter is: “God gives women a voice to be used. Will we listen?”

I got some push back on my previous blog post. People seem to think Byrd is saying that women need women to “interpret” the Bible to them. Or that they cannot read Calvin or other theology. Byrd is saying the opposite! She doesn’t want theology dumbed down for women. She quotes a variety of male authors and teachers in this book. She’s not reading fluff.

In some ways Byrd is an example she wants others to follow: forsake the fluff and eat the meat of the Word. But she’s also saying that a woman doesn’t learn the breadth and depth of Scripture and theology to teach 3rd graders. She thinks God raises up both men and women to teach in Christ’s church.

She not wanting us to look for the feminine voice like it is a needle in the haystack. It is pretty clear. It is not meant to compete with the rest of Scripture but to complement it.

She hasn’t done any exegesis of any of the important passages involving this topic yet. In a later chapter she deals with 1 Corinthians 11-14. I hope she deals with 1 Timothy 2 in the final chapter (since she hadn’t thus far).

But so far we’ve seen:

  •  A godly king seek the wisdom of a prophetess to whom he listened for the good of the nation.
  • Women quoted in Scripture whose words and/or actions that inform and shape our faith.
  • Books of the Bible, written from a woman’s perspective, show us strong women who change the fortunes of God’s people, in His providence.
  • The Bible’s portraits of godly women don’t match the definition of mature femininity put forward by the CBMW.

Let me end with a story. As a new Christian I worked in a bookstore. Utterly clueless, I bought a Hal Lindsey book or two. I became a dispensational pre-millennialist. I advocated for the position. I was sure this was right. However, over time as I read and re-read the Bible I was filled with increasing cognitive dissonance. I found that my views didn’t make the most sense of the Scripture.

I was at a crossroads. Would I stick to Lindsey and company’s interpretation or would I change my view to one more consistent with Scripture? I chose the latter option.

As a more mature Christian, I submit to the Westminster Confession of Faith as a summary of what the Bible teaches. I believe it is consistent with Scripture, and it provides healthy boundaries for me. This standard doesn’t address these issues. I want to go where the Scripture leads as I affirm that the church is Reformed and always reforming.

Don’t panic. This is not the slippery slope of feminism or liberalism. It is an expression of sola Scriptura. The Scriptures do teach that only qualified men are to be elders (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1), and that the husband is the head of his own wife (Ephesians 5). These are non-negotiables.

What I am discovering is not that my views are changing, but that my views (which I’ve held for many years and taught from the pulpit) are not in synch with the CBMW’s understanding of masculinity and femininity on key points. This will be developed in further posts.

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Having looked at Aimee Byrd’s introduction to Recovering from Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, we begin to look at the first part of the book which she calls Recovering the Way We Read Scripture. The first chapter in this section is Why Men and Women Don’t Read Separate Bibles.

Based on the description of this first part, I’d expect her to address hermeneutical issues here. That isn’t quite where she is going to go here. She’ll get there later.

But she begins with a complaint she’s raised in other venues: the proliferation of specialty Bibles, particularly those rooted in gender. She includes a well-deserved lament that many of our Bibles go unread. It is regularly the best-selling book but we see little evidence of this in how our society thinks and acts. With Covid-19 hitting our shores this winter, there was a surge of purchases as people apparently began to hoard them along with the toilet paper. Sometimes her criticisms are a bit idyosyncratic and superficial, and sometimes they have merit.

Part of her issue with these specialty Bibles is that many of them make the Bible more about us than about Jesus and salvation. They appeal to our misplaced identities, hobbies or interests. She mentions the Instagram “rage” of quiet-time selfies (I’d never heard of this, and wish I hadn’t, though I’ve been known to take pictures of the book I’m about to read in the shade with a beer and cigar).

She does commend women for actually reading the Bible, and that more often than men. 60% of women, based on Barna Research, hold to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, and read it at least four times a week. Only 40% of men do this.

She then shifts gears to talking about the voice of woman teachers. She relates the story of Anne Hutchinson to explain much of what she thinks is wrong in the church’s relationship with women teachers. Anne and her husband came to the colonies with their pastor John Cotton. Anne wanted to discuss the Word she heard preached. Not finding an open door to talk with Rev. Cotton, she opened her home to a women’s discussion group. Byrd notes that the genders were already separated during the corporate worship. As her group grew, she remained ignored by the elders. They did not invest in her (or correct her since she began to teach some heterodox positions including antinomianism). Word of her teaching spread beyond Boston, and men started to attend. Now she mattered to the church officers and politicians. She was quickly tried, excommunicated and exiled. Byrd’s point: pastors tend to let women have their little groups which often spread false teaching because of a lack of oversight & investment. It only becomes an issue when men start showing up (think Beth Moore). Byrd wonders, “What if…?”.

“We therefore need to think more critically about navigating through these resources and how they shape our reading of Scripture and discipleship in the covenant community.”

Many women, not able to utilize their gifts in the local church are using them in parachurch ministries. Resources for women have multiplied, and not all of them are good. Byrd, while wanting women to be able to teach, also wants them to be instructed by church leadership (1 Timothy 2:11) so they further the goals of the leadership instead of being “left alone”. She wants theologically sound women with the gift of teaching to teach within the church, under the authority of the church. This doesn’t sound like feminism to me.

She returns to the question of gender-based Bibles. This is one of her weaknesses, at least for me. She takes a number of rabbit trails instead of following a linear path. It can be easy to lose her point or know where she is going. This chapter suffers from that problem.

The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible has articles on eating disorders, emotional health, forgiveness, healing and shame. The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible covers leadership, calling, pornography and a man’s work. The focus for women is “weakness and victimhood” but for men is “leadership and agency”. Byrd doesn’t criticize the quality of those articles but the presuppositions about men and women behind them.

“The emphasis is on the differences between men and women. I affirm that there are differences between men and women. God made male and female. But we need to be careful not to reduce us by our distinctions.”

Byrd, here, stresses that both men and women are made in the image of God. We have far more in common than we have in differences. What really frustrates her is that women can learn from men and women, but in the church it seems to be that men can only learn from men. She is trying to get to a good question: Can a man learn from a woman? This question is not necessarily about office and authority. She is not pushing women’s ordination. She’s wondering if many of us have misunderstood or misapplied 1 Timothy 2:12 by thinking that no woman should ever teach men (or even high school boys) in church.

At some points she goes a bit off course. For instance: “And yet the resources flooding the Christian women’s genre for Bible reading and devotions send the message that God’s word is so male-centered and authored that women need to create our own resources to help us to relate to it.” I don’t think she proves this point at all. It seems to be a weird point to me.

More positively, I have learned from women. I’ve read good books by women. Her better point is that strong, orthodox women teachers help the church, but we often don’t train them. I’ve also read really bad books by men, and women.

She wants us to peal back some of that yellow wallpaper to see female voices in Scripture. Some people have incorrectly said she is arguing for a woman-centered Bible. She is saying is that some passages bear a woman’s voice from which both men and women benefit. She depends on Anglican scholar Richard Bauckman (with whom I am unfamiliar). These female-centered accounts (gynocentric) are “interruptions of the dominant male-focused (androcentric) writings”. They are like CavWife butting in with some important information or perspective.

“… the fact that these women and their stories are remarkable for their particularity, rather than for their typicality or representativeness.” Richard Bauckman

One rabbit trail is male author Andre Brink writing in a first-person female perspective for The Wall of the Plague. At the end he reveals he’s actually a white Afrikaner instead of a mixed-race woman. I’m reminded of As Good As It Gets when Melvin Udall is asked how he writes female characters so well. Brink used the technique to make a point of trying to understand his lover’s perspective, while Udall is just a misogynist who disparages women (and they didn’t get it).

The woman’s voice in Scripture is not there to overthrow the male voice or compete with it. Rather, like Eve, it is meant to be a complement to the male voice. She notes that most of the Song of Songs is written from the woman’s perspective. Throughout Genesis we have the words of Sarah, Rebekah and Jacob’s wives entering the story to provide a different perspective on the matters at hand.

Byrd then gets into “historicially exceptional”  and “textually exceptional” cases which make visible what is usually unseen. For instance, instead of seeking out prophets like Jeremiah and Zephaniah, King Josiah sends men to the prophetess Huldah. In light of the fact that Josiah is seen as one of the good kings this stands out. He was not being weak or wicked. Huldah uses the typical prophetic formula to affirm the authority of the texts discovered in the temple. Josiah was willing to learn from her, and she was presumably the first person to grant such status to the Torah. She was key in affirming part of the OT canon.

“Our churches need both men and women who recognize the authority of God’s Word and speak it to one another.”

Her point that I gleaned from this chapter is that God addresses the Scriptures to both men and women. Both men and women can understand it. Those who do are able to speak that word to others. The church is weaker than it needs to be when we don’t invest in women who are apt to teach.

This has to be kept within the teaching of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus that the office of elder, and teaching with authority as an officer of the church, is limited to qualified men. While she doesn’t mention it yet, she does later on in the book. We should keep this in mind so we don’t accuse Byrd of arguing for something she isn’t. She doesn’t want women pastors. But she does argue that lay women ought to be able to teach lay men as well as women and children, if they are instructed and orthodox.

There is a challenge here to the church to disciple women well. Part of that discipleship, as she gets to later, is to teach men and women how to interpret the Bible as well as solid theology (both biblical and systematic). This is similar to her book No Little Women.

Byrd is suffering from cognitive dissonance. She hears one thing from the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, but reads something else in Scripture. She’s trying to bring herself (I believe) and the church back into conformity to Scripture.

She’s not the only one who experiences such cognitive dissonance. A few years ago the PCA was debating on whether to accept a study committee’s report on Women Serving in the Church. Some guys had brought their wives, and they were listening to the debate. When I talked with them they expressed frustration that we were deciding these matters without talking to the women in our denomination. A good husband listens to his wife, even if he decides on a different course of action. Our church leaders need to do a better job listening to the women we lead so they feel cared for, loved, valued. We need to hear their voice AND bring it to the Lord as Abraham finally did with Sarah’s request (Genesis 21:8-14).

 

 

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I’ve read one of Aimee Byrd’s other books in the past. I’ve enjoyed her input on the Mortification of Spin podcast when I have listened. Some of our women heard her speak in a sister church a few years ago and came away encouraged.

51itsic-mul._sx326_bo1204203200_Her newest book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose, has been the center of controversy. Many of the claims didn’t seem about right. I had some people in the congregation, and others outside of the congregation ask me what I thought.

So, here I am reading the book. As I considered blogging about the book I realized I can’t do it justice in just one post. I’ll need to break this down to handle it wisely instead of with broad strokes.

What is interesting to me is the acknowledgments in which she thanks Bob Brady and Jonathan Master at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals for time they gave her as she began the project. She thanks the Alliance in general for allowing her to use materials from a conference they hosted. I don’t know all the reasons why they ended the official relationship but it seems strange to me. She compromises no first or second order beliefs. Her issues with the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) are not new news. I think this book (I have 2 chapters left to read)affirms what I believe about the differences between men and women. It does that clearly, not obscurely.

  • She affirms there are gender differences.
  • She affirms that only qualified males should be ordained elders and pastors.

This means she qualifies for what I have long thought were the main tenets of “complementarianism”. Apparently she, nor I, are on the same end of the complementarian spectrum as many in the CBMW. She’s not fighting with the Bible (she affirms the authority of the Scriptures) but with the CBMW’s views, doctrinal statements and methodology to arrive at their conclusions.

I have never read all of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response of Evangelical Feminism edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, aka the Big Blue Book. I read What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible by Piper, which is his material from the Big Blue Book in more accessible form (my copy is a little purple book). It has been quite some time since I read it. Since then I’ve read a number of statements by Piper on this subject that seemed to espouse a view closer to patriarchy than my understanding of complementarianism. I thought his views shifted, but now realize they really didn’t.

This is to provide some background to my interaction with Byrd’s book, and therefore the views of CBMW. Just to be crystal clear my views are:

  • Men & women were created equally in the image of God.
  • Men & women enjoy gender differences beyond biology, yet those differences are not to be understood as absolute (like Men Are from Mars & Women Are from Venus) but on different sides of the spectrum.
  • God has made men as the head of the home.
  • God calls qualified men to serve as elders in His household.
  • Put negatively: men are not superior to women, and men are not in authority over women generally.

Byrd begins her book with an introduction that discusses Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. She will return to this story in each chapter since she views this as an apt metaphor for the problem she is pointing out.

Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper after suffering postpartum depression. Specialist Dr. S. Weir Mitchell’s diagnosis was fashionable: she suffered from the pace of modern life. He prescribed rest therapy. Resting, she found herself getting worse instead of better. His diagnosis was rooted in traditional gender roles. He was forcing her into that gender role. Her main character, Jane, reflects her own condition and course of treatment. She does write secretly in her retreat cabin watched by her very traditional sister-in-law Jenny. She becomes fixed on the yellow wallpaper, and comes to believe that a woman is trapped in there. Eventually the narrator’s voice shifts to that woman, and her husband believes she’s gone mad.

“I’ve got out at last … in spite of you and Jane. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper so you can’t put me back!” The Yellow Wallpaper

Byrd interprets the story, based on Gilman’s explanation, as a woman “trapped in traditional patriarchal structures of family, medicine and society that the yellow wallpaper in her confined room represented for her.” Byrd believes many Christian women are struggling with those traditional patriarchal structures of family and church today, and wonders if they are truly biblical. She is convinced that much of what passes for “biblical” is actually cultural.

“One of our biggest challenges is to actually see this yellow wallpaper’s scrawling patterns that are stifling the force of the biblical message and strangling the church’s witness and growth.”

It is in this context that she refers back to the definitions of manhood and womanhood asserted by CBMW to be “biblical”. She quotes from the Big Blue Book:

“At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.”

“At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”

You’ll notice that each is defined by their relationship to the other. Masculinity, for instance, seems to have nothing to do with how you treat other men. While your particular relationship to a person of the opposite sex may differ, you still provide the same basic response. This seems a bit reductionistic to say the least. This places both masculinity and femininity through “a filter of authority and submission, strength and neediness” that would appear to go beyond Scripture.

Remember, the Big Blue Book was a response to Evangelical Feminism. In debate, we tend to over-correct. I would say that the formulations are just that rather than a careful understanding of the Scriptures. She notes that as Christians we want to be moral people. More than that, but not less. However, “morality can sometimes be culturally constructed.” Just ask the Pharisees. Human beings have a tendency, flowing from the Fall and our corruption, to go beyond Scripture and add culture to biblical notions with equal authority. We substitute the man-made for the divinely-revealed. Women are more than affirmers of their men.

She rightly notes that many of us don’t undertake renovation projects because we are afraid of what we’ll find. I’ve removed wallpaper and it isn’t pretty and does some damage. But sometimes that wallpaper needs to GO! She believes that we need to remove the wallpaper so men and women can better understand what God says, and better relate to one another in healthy ways that honor God.

“And we have lost aim of what the church is for: preparing us for eternal communion with the triune God. We have taken discipleship out of the church, further separating God’s people by culturally constructed gender paradigms.”

She will repeatedly return to this theme of discipleship too. It is common in her books. One of the issues is the rise of parachurch ministries taking the place of the church instead of coming alongside the church, as well as “popular Biblicist interpretive methods.” Many of the CBMW founders use such methods (Matthew Emerson brings us similar concerns regarding Wayne Grudem in He Descended to the Dead). She wants to us utilize an interpretive method that is covenantal in nature including the historical and present communities of faith bounded by confessions. The irony is that many of those critical of Byrd would affirm a covenantal method over the Biblicist method used by Piper and Grudem.

In terms of her introduction she touches on some important subjects we do need to think about. Her concerns as expressed are:

  • The cultural traditions obscuring the biblical teaching about masculinity and femininity.
  • The breakdown of discipleship in many churches that lead many to depend on parachurch ministries, particularly gender-focused ones.
  • The faulty methods of biblical interpretation that produce faulty understandings of the Trinity used to support faulty understandings of the relationship between men and women.

To many, raising these questions makes her a feminist. After all, the Big Blue Book was written to combat feminism so the only person who’d have a problem with it must necessarily be a feminist. That is a faulty argument there. It is a logical fallacy meant to minimize the views of another.

While I’ve seen plenty of people accuse Byrd of being a feminist, I see no evidence for this charge through over 170 pages of this book. She’s trying to discern the truth under the authority of Scripture. This is a noble pursuit. She knows she is not coming at the Scripture without her own biases and interpretive grid. As we move forward, we’ll see if she succeeds. At times I think she does. At times she stumbles (in minor ways). At times she confuses. At times she misses a point. She does make some good points, and she doesn’t punt on the faith in the process. Nor does she give too much ground to egalitarians, aka the Christian Feminists.

By the way, let’s not confuse Christian Feminists with any of the various shades of Feminists. While I disagree with them, they are not “them” aka “the enemy.” My beloved professor Dr. Roger Nicole called himself a Christian Feminist. J.I. Packer, among many others, called him the greatest theologian of the 20th century.

The late R.C. Sproul expressed wanted to be as “liberal” as the Bible permitted him to be regarding women. As a result he rejected the ordination of women elders, even being forced out of the UPC for his views. He believed women could be deacons if it wasn’t a position of authority, as it is in the PCA. But R.C. had Joni and Elisabeth Elliot speak at his conferences.

Some may have a different default than Sproul, possibly being as conservative as the Bible permits them. This means there is a spectrum of complementarian views. The people to the left of you aren’t necessarily feminists, and the people to the right of you aren’t necessarily patriarchists. They might be, but that requires more questions to understand their actual positions.

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I expected this to be more difficult. I’m finding it more … elusive.

The “this” and the “it” is grief. You may have guessed that by the title of this blog post.

Grieving my mother’s death has seemed both anti-climatic and elusive. Yes, I cried when I got the news though I was prepared for it, and even longing for it due to her and my father’s suffering. I guess I thought grieving my mother’s death would be different. It is more like a free floating thing in the back of my mind than a pressing, intrusive kind of thing. I have a sense that there’s something I should be doing. At times something will remind me of her. I wonder if I bought the stuffed clams recently because that was a special treat she’d make when entertaining. The other night someone made lentil soup and I thought of her because she’d make it. Unlike the clams, I didn’t like her soup.

Due to a variety of circumstances, my mother’s memorial service and interring of ashes was delayed until June. At that point my aunt was dying. My cousin and I were very close as kids, and my aunt was an important person in my childhood. And as a result, my life. Since then, she lost her battle with cancer. I hope to talk to him soon, but I imagine his experience of grief is, and will be, very different than mine.

Due to my ignorance, I’m calling this the dynamics of grief. Perhaps it is the circumstances that help create a different experience just as much as who you are as the one who grieves.

I thought grieving my mother’s death would be harder, more profound. I don’t know … debilitating. After all, she’s my mother. As a result she’s one of the 3 most important people in my life.

So, I got to thinking about grieving. I seem to be doing more thinking about it than doing it. I suppose it says something about me.

I moved to Florida in 1991, the same time that my parents moved to California. My brother and his wife initially moved into the house I grew up in. Eventually my parents sold the house. When they moved back to NH in 2001, they bought a manufactured home in a retirement community.

My mother was not a daily part of my life. We were separated physically by thousands of miles for the last 30 years. I’d see her on vacations (either mine or theirs). We’d talk on the phone every week or so for most of that time. I think it was less frequent initially since long distance was not included in phone plans at the time. At times we were separated emotionally as I tried to sort out some of the dysfunctions in our relationship that complicated things (at least in my head), and now complicate my grief.

I suppose it was her profound influence on those first 25 years of life that had me thinking the grief would be more pressing.

My cousin, on the other hand, never moved away. We weren’t in contact for some time so perhaps he never had his own place. His father always had back issues which run in that side of my family. His mother had, I think, 3 different bouts with cancer. He has health issues of his own, in part due to a bad accident. Since he never married, it made sense for him to live at home so they could look out for one another.

His dynamics of grief are going to be very different. He saw his mother nearly every day of his life. This means that a huge part of his every day life is missing. All of his routines and rhythms have had to change. The things she used to do must now be done by someone else. That is so very different from having a mother you interacted with on a weekly basis for 10 minutes at a time for 30 years!

Not only was his on-going relationship with his mother very different but he also lives in their shared space. Everywhere in his home there is always something to remind him. There are memories in most of those rooms. I remember she’d give us baths (there was photographic evidence). He can’t escape thoughts of her since she’s associated with nearly every part of his daily life. His daily life is “haunted” by his mother, whereas mine was absent of her in most ways.

How they died is also very different and likely shapes our experience of grief.

My mom had Alzheimer’s Disease. She hadn’t recognized me for about 5 years. She’s been there but not there. In many ways I’ve not really had a relationship with her for years. It was one-sided and obviously very intermittent (when I was in town on vacation for a few days. I’ve been grieving in some ways this whole time. Her death came as a relief, and long overdue.

My aunt had cancer, as I noted. Last year when my dad and I went over for lunch, she was feeling well. My cousin still had a vibrant, interactive relationship with his mother up until the end. Though she was suffering at the end, it was her. They could communicate. In that sense, her absence was more sudden despite her long illness. This likely makes his grief more intense, present and unavoidable.

Trauma matters too.

When I was a kid we had a dog for a year. There are pictures of me in my plaid pants (it was the 70’s, people) playing with him. I’d walk him. And then on Easter Sunday while getting ready to head home from a visit with my dad’s cousin he ran into the street to greet another dog and was hit by a car. It hit me hard (and my dad). I would periodically grieve for years afterward, especially when I was lonely.

As an adult I had to put my dog down. It was a horrible, no good day. I wept as he lay in my lap. How could I abandon him in those last moments. My periodic grief is punctuated by the fact that his death was a result, in part, of my choice. It was no accident this time. It was not the slow fade of a disease. He was suffering, and I put an end to that suffering. I feel like I failed him, and that complicated my grief. Intensified it as well.

There are a boatload of issues that complicate my grief. It seems too elusive. I feel guilty that it isn’t a crushing weight (yes, some might call me neurotic). It’s like I have unfinished business that I can’t finish.

I’m reminded of my various incompetence dreams. I’m sure there is a different name for them, but it is what I call mine. These are better then the “I can’t find the bathroom but really need to go dreams” as your body is sending you the message to “get up!”. For many years they would be about the test you had to take but couldn’t get to. I’d be stuck on the T (I went to college in Boston). For the last few decades they’ve been about jam packed sanctuaries for worship services that can’t start because of some technological glitch or something. Another wasted opportunity. I need to “perform” but find myself blocked.

That’s sort of how I feel. I need to “do this” but seemingly can’t. Is it that I’m emotionally constipated regarding grief (while emotionally vomiting regarding anger or is that really my grief or …..)? Is it that I’m profoundly broken? Did I compartmentalize this too long so I could function as a husband, father, son and pastor? Am I unable to retrieve the grief from the place I stuffed it?

Or is it just that the dynamics of my grief are different from other people’s because our circumstances are different?

The world may never know.

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As a new Christian without a clue I stumbled into the Christian bookstore in Kenmore Square, uncertain about what to buy to better understand this new faith I barely understood. Among the various and sundry items I noticed a book that had sold over a million copies and won some award. The title was simply Knowing God by someone by the name of J.I. Packer. I wanted to know God, so I bought it.

That book, which I’ve read a few times since the initial read, has been one of the most important purchases of my life. After finally becoming a certified “Calvinist” I re-read the book and saw all the seeds had been sown by Packer in this book.

While struggling with sanctification and charismatic issues I picked up Keep in Step with the Spirit which also proved to be immensely helpful. While looking at RTS Orlando in 1991, I was able to go to the Ligonier National Conference on The Cross of Christ and Packer’s lectures were profound. He was not the most dynamic speaker in the line up, but his content was amazing. Steve Brown also stands out in my mind as impactful, though he got in “trouble” because people misunderstood him.

I have a long, storied history with J.I. Packer. He’s been one of the most important theological influences in my life, particularly in the early years. He kept me from any number of heresies. I am thankful for J.I. Packer, and was looking forward to reading Samuel Storms book Packer on the Christian Life in the Crossway series. It was time for vacation/study leave and time to read another volume in the series.

Samuel Storms is an interesting choice to write the volume on Packer. Sometimes the editors do that, choose a wild card from outside the person’s theological heritage. Storms is also a Calvinist who loves the Puritans. But Storms falls into the new Calvinist camp (non-denominational, non-confessionalist, baptistic and continuationist) while Packer himself is an old school Anglican who affirms the Westminster Confession (I’m pretty sure) as well as the 39 Articles. He is, therefore, denominational, confessional, paedobaptistic and a cessationist who isn’t too hard on his continuationist brothers and sisters.

“Theology, as I constantly tell my students is for doxology: … Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong at a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in bot senses cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.”

The subtitle of the book is Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit, which brings both of the books I’ve mentioned into focus. It also sums up Packer’s understanding of the Christian life. It draws on many of Packer’s numerous books and articles.

As with all the volumes, Storms begins with a short biography of the subject. If you’ve read one of the biographies on Packer, there isn’t much that is new. But if you haven’t, you’ll get a good sketch of the man. One of the key events of his life was an accident as a child that kept him from sports and forced him into the library. Whatever your views of nature and nurture, Packer became an academic that we can’t be sure he’d be if he hadn’t had to wear a metal plate that encouraged the worst out of his peers. One key friendship was with Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, centered upon the Puritans. Both men were key in a Puritan conference and Banner of Truth. Lloyd-Jones’ call to separation from the Church of England at the Evangelical Alliance conference in 1966, along with Stott’s response, created a rift between the men. Packer would be despised by the the non-conformists like Lloyd-Jones (whom Packer still spoke highly of) and distrusted by the Anglicans who kept moving to the left (Storms credits Carl Trueman for this observation). Trueman thinks this is behind Packer’s move to Canada, far western Canada at that. He was, in a sense, in exile. Eventually the Church of England would go too far, and Packer along with many others would seek refuge among the African bishops. In many ways Packer has been a man without a home, looking for the city whose builder and architect is God.

“Self-denial is a summons to submit to the authority of God as Father and of Jesus as Lord and to declare lifelong war on one’s instinctive egoism.”

In terms of analyzing his view of the Christian life, Storms begins with the cross of Christ. Apart from this, none of what Packer believes about the Christian life makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, to me anyway, is that Storms doesn’t refer to Packer’s famous introduction to an edition of Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. This is one of the few places where Packer draws a hard line in the sand, calling the various alternative theories to particular atonement false gospels. Packer didn’t usually take such hard stances, but for him this was the place to take the hard stand. Packer didn’t normally do polemics, but when he did he did them well.

Packer affirms the necessity of the atonement due to our sinfulness, Christ’s substitution in our place to pay the penalty of said sinfulness and sin, and its propitiatory nature. Packer held to a cross that saved elect sinners, not to a cross that merely made salvation possible to every sinner to which faith must be added.

As a confessional Christian, Packer affirmed the authority of the Scriptures above all else. It is to this that Storms turns next. Here we see why Packer walked out of the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster. It was their acceptance of same-sex unions contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture. He, rightly, saw this as no small thing. Authority rests, not in culture, not in my personal interpretation or even the Church and its interpretation of the Bible, but the Scriptures themselves. There ultimately can be no living of the Christian life without an atonement and the Scriptures as our authority. This is not to reject Confessions and Catechisms. Packer encourages the use of catechisms to disciple believers new and old.

“In the New Westminster debate, subjectivists say that what is at issue is not the authority of Scripture, but its interpretation. I do not question the sincerity of those who say this, but I have my doubts about their clear-headedness. The subjectivist way of affirming the authority of Scripture, as the source of the teaching that now needs to be adjusted, is precisely a denying of Scripture’s authority from the objectivist point of view, and clarity requires us to say so.”

The Christian life, entered by faith (self-abandoning trust) in the person and work of Christ, is about holiness. Storms makes great use of Rediscovering Holiness (a hard to find gem in my opinion) in this chapter. He also refers to Keep in Step with the Spirit to discuss Packer’s early struggle with Keswick theology (let go and let God for victory) from which he was saved by discovering John Owen. Missing is Holiness is about the heart that results in actions, not simply outward conformity to rules. From him I discovered the hard truth that the holier we are the more discontent we will be with our holiness. True holiness is empowered by the Holy Spirit, not by us. Packer writes of the opposition to holiness. We are taken to God’s gym and made to sweat as unholiness leaves the body. Holiness involves a life of repentance driven by self-examination (not simply introspection) and the war on pride in our hearts. It isn’t simply a personal and individual thing, but God places us in a community to help us become holy precisely because holiness is about love and without a community we can’t grow in love (and forgiveness).

“Purity of heart is indeed a matter of willing one thing, namely to live ever day of one’s life loving God.”

Having defined holiness, Storms moves into the process of sanctification. Here he leans on Hot Tub Religion, another hard to find gem. You may begin to think that books on sanctification don’t sell well. Storms returns to the influence of John Owen whom Packer called “God’s chemo for my cancered soul.” He address the synergism of sanctification revealed in the God who works in us to will and work according to His good purpose (Philippians 2). It is the transformation of our desires, disposition and motives.

“God’s method of sanctification is neither activism (self-reliant activity) nor apathy (God-reliant passivity), but God-dependent effort.”

The Christian life, as already mentioned, is a struggle. Storms brings us to Romans 7 to discuss the problem of indwelling sin in the life of every Christian. Storms goes through the various views of this passage, but spends particular time explaining Packer’s view that this is the experience of Paul as a Christian (he provides further support for this view in an appendix). Paul affirms God’s law but struggles to do it. In Romans 8 we see that the sinful mind is hostile to the law. If we are honest, our obedience is always less than we desire it to be. We drift. We are prone to wander. This all drives us back to Jesus and Him crucified for our deliverance. And yet we do have the Spirit at work in us to put sin to death (back to Romans 8). We are changed people, but not as thoroughly changed as we ought nor long to be.

In keeping with Romans 8, Storms brings us the Packer’s views on the person of the Spirit who provides the power of Christian living. Like many of the Puritans, Packer held to experiential Christianity, not simply intellectual or rational Christianity. We must be born again, and we must have the Spirit dwelling in us. While personally a cessationist, Packer was not as rigid in addressing charismatics as, say, John MacArthur. But Packer does not limit the work of the Spirit to the gifts of the Spirit. His focus is on the fruit of the Spirit, produced in sanctification. There is that word again. The Christian life is taken up in sanctification; a sanctification that flows out of knowing God in Christ through the atonement we know about through the Scriptures.

“Our lack of love for praying may be an indication of all-round spiritual debility. … Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer.”

One of the ways this all works out is prayer, which is the next chapter in the volume. He discusses hindrances to prayer as well as the activity of prayer: petition, conversation, meditation, praise, self-examination, and lament. Growth in holiness is produced in part by a commitment to prayer. The same Spirit who works in us to will and work, works in us to draw near to the Father thru the Son to express our hearts.

Connected to prayer (and Scripture) is the role of guidance in the Christian’s life. We do need to discern the will of God. Many of Paul’s prayers for others found in Scripture relate to this need on their part and ours. Packer connects this to the doctrines of adoption and God’s sovereignty. God’s guidance comes primarily from the Scriptures which were written for us upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Cor. 10). Guidance is not helpful without a commitment to submit to God’s guidance. We must accept His will as our own. As such, Packer rejects fleeces and signs as not normative for Christians. That is not how we ought to seek guidance, though we see some saints of old, who didn’t have the whole Bible, did receive guidance this way.

“Discernment comes through listening to Scripture and those means of grace that relay biblical teaching to us in digestible form- sermons, instruction talks, hymns, books, Christian conversations and so forth.”

Christian living takes place in the context of suffering. We can suffer from unwanted temptations and struggles with sin, our bodies that won’t work right, persecution, and hard providences. Suffering is inevitable. Packer does note that God is particularly gentle with new Christians, so often suffering can become more profound the more we mature. Packer, like Luther, was a theologian of the cross. He rejects the triumphal theology of glory that has capture the heart of so many American Christians. Such triumphalism often points to some failure on our part as the cause of suffering. We need to identity the particular (often unconnected secret) sin so God will restore a suffering-free blessing. Such people aren’t growing in perseverance and character (Rom. 5), but remain immature as they reject God’s purposes in their lives. Packer speaks of our weakness and grief as important in helping us grow.

“… a most painful part of the pain of grief is the sense that no one, however sympathetic and supportive in intention, can share what we are feeling.”

In a sense, Storms brings us back to the beginning by talking about the theocentricity of the Christian life. Eternal life is knowing God, and Jesus whom he sent (John 17:3). It isn’t Christian living without Christ as the center of it. We are to believe in Christ, love Christ and hope in Christ. Christianity isn’t just doctrine, intellectual commitment. Christianity is personal commitment to Christ about whom the doctrines speak. It is vital union with Him, and experiential.

“Again, Christianity is Christ relationally. If there is a center or hub to all of Packer’s thought on the Christian life, it is here. Christian living is conscious, joyful, trusting relationship with Jesus of Nazareth.”

The book ends with a chapter on ending well. When Storms wrote the book, Packer was 88. He is still alive, and still writing (though much shorter books). He is increasingly weak, but still has a sharp mind. He is a model of using one’s faculties and energies to live and serve as long as one has them. One may retire from a vocation, but not from living as a Christian.

Overall this was a good and thorough contribution to the series. Storms made ample use of Packer’s writings. As I noted above there were some glaring omissions; not just his introduction to Owen’s book (he wrote introductions galore, actually), but also Faithfulness and Holiness which introduces the read to (and includes) Ryle’s classic Holiness. This is a hard to find volume, but of immense help. I blogged through this in April of 2007 for those who are interested.

In the bowels of the Bird and Babe (1999)

Storms did mention the need for community, but as I get older I see the need for friendship. Jesus had the 12, and the 3. He enjoyed the closest of friendships with Peter, John and James. When I visited England with friends, we spent a few days in Oxford. We had meals and drinks at the Eagle and Child. We went to the Inklings exhibit as well. Friendships are a part of community, but the special relationships that we enjoy that extend beyond our worship communities by geography and time in many cases.

As I go through an extended period of loss, I’m seeing the lack of friendships I have as a pastor. I don’t have enough. Storms mentioned Packer’s friendship with Lloyd-Jones (interrupted by controversy) and John Stott. I’m curious about his friendship with Sproul, which seemed to end with Evangelicals and Catholics Together. What is missing is Packer’s long time relationship with another of the important men in my life, Dr. Roger Nicole. Even Nicole’s biography seems skimpy on this account.

We think of these theologians’ writings, but often don’t think of their friendships (except for C.S. Lewis, it seems). These friendships, and sometimes how they end leave their mark. I know this is true in my life. If the Christian life is largely about love, and it is (!), then there should be more about the long term relationships with the people they loved (including spouses!) in these volumes.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy this series and that is why I read a volume on each vacation. I’m just pointing out a weakness in the series, and one in my life and in the lives of many men. At a time I find I need my friends, they seem busy. And I can’t point a finger at them for I realize I have not pursued them in their similar times of need and loss. Friendships matter.

Some of the bestest friends a man can have!

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In 1980, Sinclair Ferguson published Add to Your Faith. In 1981 this was republished in the U.S. under the title Taking Your Faith Seriously. In his introduction to Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life, he calls it a “young man’s book.” As a result, Maturity is not simply an old book with a new title, but a re-working of the old book to reflect his greater understanding and wisdom 40 years later. Having not read the original version of this book, I am not qualified to compare the two volumes. I will, however, say this is a much-needed and excellent book.

Similar to Devoted to God, Ferguson notes that he prefers passages to proof-texts as his method. In Devotion, he used a passage that illustrates one of the illustrates an aspect of sanctification. This book is not structured that way, but as he approaches aspects of Christian maturity he looks a themes in books, focusing on a few passages instead of exegeting one passage. The 12 chapters are organized into 5 sections: Growing Up, Standing Firm, Facing Difficulties, Pressing On and Maturity.

In the first section, Growing Up, Ferguson tackles the topics of the Importance of Maturity, the Symptoms of Decay and Abiding in Christ. As indicated by the final chapter in this section, there is a strong emphasis on union & fellowship with Christ as essential to growing up in Christ. We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves in this matter. Maturity does take time and effort (an effort born of that mystical union with Christ, not an effort of the flesh). He begins with some of the hindrances of maturity including contemporary society, our personal history, “Christian” influences that don’t value maturity or communicate the process. Discipleship is not about quick returns, but delayed gratification. We are setting our hopes on God’s promises relating to the future which are often fulfilled when we see the Lord either thru death or His return. They are not all about the present or immediate future.

Ferguson points us to Jesus who also grew into maturity (Luke 2:42). He’s not simply our example, but the source of the resources necessary through the aforementioned union. As man, he was a real man who grew in wisdom and stature. He was a boy as a child, not a man in a boy’s body. Ferguson then surveys a number of epistles to show the importance and need of maturity. We see the great importance of love, and our need to hear the Word preached if we are to become mature.

“The disease diagnosed here is a failure in concentration, an inability to fix the heart and mind on Christ and to make him the chief object of devotion and attention.”

Decay is indicated by attention deficit, the inability to concentrate on spiritual matters. We become governed by our desires instead of the will of God. He also notes a poor appetite as a symptom of decay. This of course is about whether we are feasting on the Word or the world and its delights. One of these will shaping our thinking, desires/values and will/choices. When we are not chewing on Scripture, we begin to be conformed to the world instead of transformed by the renewing of our minds.

“Secret failure cannot remain hidden. If we do not deal with our indwelling sin, it will eventually catch up with us. We may disguise it for a while, but we will lack the perseverance to do so permanently; one day our spiritual failure will become clear.”

Another symptom is a lack of discernment, the inability to spot the problems in a teacher’s doctrine or practice. This doesn’t mean we should all be discernment bloggers, but that we do practice discernment: affirming what is good while rejecting what is bad. It is a rejection of man-made rules, and a dependence upon the grace of God. Weakness of worship is another sign of decay. We look for the pep rally instead of worshiping the exalted Christ who suffered for us, and calls us to suffering.

The third chapter in this section focuses on John 15 and the parable of the vine. We are branches that are grafted in, and this provides a picture of life-giving union with Jesus. The Father prunes us for greater fruitfulness thru providences and interventions. He begins to remove that which is unhelpful for our spiritual life and maturity, as well as shaping and molding us. Abiding with Christ is connected to having His Word dwell in you richly. He returns to the subject of feasting and chewing on the Scripture to gain nurturing truth.

“We need to learn to see our lives within his purposes and plans, not to think of him as fitting into ours!”

Standing Firm focuses on assurance and guidance. Moving toward maturity requires that we are assured of our salvation, and receive proper guidance from God. Otherwise we flounder wondering if we are saved and what we should do with our selves. He develops the idea, as he did in The Whole Christ, of faith as a direct activity and assurance as a reflex activity of faith. To we saved we must be sure that He saves those who believe, and believe. Assurance as a reflex activity has to do with whether or not Jesus has saved us because we believed, not simply whether there is salvation in Christ. Calvin focused on the objective assurance of faith as necessary. The reflex activity, which is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, not necessary, nor infallible (some sure they are saved are not because their certainty is based on something other than Jesus’ person and works). Ferguson spends time exploring Romans 8 to see the foundations of our assurance through the series of questions that Paul asks. If we are in Christ, no one can accuse us, condemn us or separate us from Christ. Opposition while seemingly great, is unable to thwart God and his purposes for us.

He then looks to some obstacles to assurance of salvation, also focusing on Romans 8 (Kevin DeYoung, for instance, goes to 1 John). He reflects the Westminster Confession, again. One is an inconsistent life as a Christian. He’s not talking about the presence of temptation, but the practice of unholiness. Forgetfulness of the indwelling Spirit is another obstacle for assurance. We can also be confused by suffering which often makes us think God does not love us.

Ferguson then looks at marks of assurance. They are laid out as:

  1. Satisfaction with God’s way of salvation.
  2. A new sense of security in Christ stimulates a new desire to serve him.
  3. Assurance fills our hearts with love for Christ.
  4. Boldness to live our lives for Christ.

“God does guide his people.” The question for the chapter is how God guides his people. We have to recognize that we won’t and can’t always understand what God is doing or up to in our lives. We can have guidance, but we won’t have comprehension. To illustrate the general views of guidance, Dr. Ferguson points us to the differences between Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The point of using them is that neither was an extremist and is esteemed within the Reformed community most likely to read Ferguson’s book. Whitefield was prone to rely on “impressions”. Edwards focused on “the application of the precepts and principles of his word.” During an overnight stay in Northampton by Whitefield, the two talked about this. Edwards was concerned about the dependence on this sudden impulses. How do we know they are from God unless they are consistent with biblical commands or principles. The Spirit may bring these things to mind when we need them, but we should still stop to consider whether that impression or impulse is consistent with Scripture properly understood. But this reliance on impulses is highly subjective, and God doesn’t speak to which legitimate job I should take, which single Christian woman I should marry, which house I should buy, etc. God reveals those not by impressions but largely through circumstances (which offer is better for me and my family overall, which woman actually wants to marry me, or which house can my spouse and I agree upon).

The difficulties we face, which God works for our maturity, are largely things we have little to no control over. These are realities that can often dismay and discourage Christians. We need to begin to see them from a different angle as under the providence of God who uses them for our good, even if they themselves are not good. Those difficulties he covers are sin, temptation, spiritual warfare and suffering.

“Sin is the internal enemy of spiritual growth.”

The sin in question is our original corruption, the sinful nature, the remaining presence of sin as a power in our hearts. This corruption which produces temptations and transgressions is one of God’s means to keep us humble, and amazed at the glory of the gospel. This is something that gets lost in the SSA discussion for some. Some seem to grossly minimize the problem of pride, and the great means God uses to root it out of our hearts.

“There is a profound correlation in the Christian life between the consciousness of sin and the realization of the wonder and power of the gospel. … Until we realize how great the weight of sin is, we will not make much progress in pursuing holiness without which we will never see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).” … He sets up an ongoing cycle in our lives, convicting us of sin in order to deepen his work of sanctification in us.”

In this chapter, Ferguson keeps returning to Psalm 119. It is the Word that exposes sin and its power, the Word that holds out gospel promises, and the Word that the Spirit uses for our sanctification thru these means.

His chapter, Overcoming Temptation, is probably the best in the book. I read this just after reading the PCA Report’s section on temptation, and thought they would have benefited from talking with Dr. Ferguson. This, while only one chapter, is great stuff. As one friend would say, he puts the cookies on the counter when the kids can reach them. The cookies being John Owen’s penetrating but heady work on this topic. He defines temptation, and notes that as such it is not sin (by this I believe he means transgression based on the larger context of the chapter). He speaks of indwelling sin remaining and producing an inclination and disposition to sin (verb, to transgress, or actual sin). In temptation, however, the enemy speaks as if we are already condemned. Maturity begins to tune this out, not in a way that minimizes the real danger we are in, but in a way that we don’t fall into the trap that means we might as well go ahead and sin anyway, or that we are so vile we are beyond hope because we experience such temptations.

“So the distinction between temptation and sin is vital theologically and also pastorally.”

He then explores Owen’s distinction between temptation and “entering into temptation.” In that process he explores the process of temptation.

Internal desires ==> stimulated further by the world ==> weakness exposed & opportunity for the devil to stimulate further

But the key to “entering into temptation” is a sentence I missed somehow in Owen that ties it together well.

“Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a longer or shorter time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we ‘enter into temptation’.” John Owen, Works, VI, 97

We enter into temptation, or transgress (I think he uses them interchangeably if we recall that transgressions include thoughts). There is a parley or dialogue instead of immediately saying “no” to temptation. We begin to argue with our temptation, or entertain that temptation. At this point the temptation becomes transgression.

In this context, Ferguson goes to David’s temptations regarding Bathsheba and Uriah for illustration and explanation. Then he shifts to the complementary accounts of the census to discuss the doctrine of concurrence in the context of temptation.

“Here, taking the statements together, God, Satan, and David are all involved in one and the same action. We should not try to resolve the tension here…”

In terms of overcoming temptation, he advocates watchfulness, prayer and being armed against the enemy. He then writes about spiritual warfare. Spiritual conflict is another difficulty we must face. He brings us to Ephesians 6, like so many other books I’ve read recently. Our ordinary life is the context, the setting, for our spiritual conflict. Here the Enemy seeks to disrupt and discourage. The conflict reminds us that we are intended, and only successful as a result, to depend upon the Lord’s provision to us in Christ for this warfare. As in other chapters, we see references to Pilgrim’s Progress. There is also the influence of William Still, his pastor while a student. The following sounds like a paragraph in Still’s book Towards Spiritual Maturity:

“… sudden sinful and distasteful thoughts and temptations; moments of feeling overwhelmed by a sense of darkness; doubts that appear in our minds from nowhere.”

Suffering can, sadly, define us. I’ve seen men crippled by suffering. By this I mean all roads lead to their particular and personal suffering. They seemed unable to really move beyond it. Their fixation stunts their growth. Forgetting our suffering can also stunt growth. Ferguson brings us back to Psalm 119 to show us that God intends us to learn from our suffering but not be ensnared by that suffering. He breaks it down this way:

  1. Affliction brings our spiritual needs to the surface.
  2. Affliction teaches us the ways of God.
  3. Affliction shows us the faithfulness of God.

Ferguson then brings us to Paul and his thorn to help us understand these realities in the flesh. It was a sharp pain in his life. He was “‘cuffed’ by it, beaten black and blue as it were.” Our usefulness for the future necessitates our prior suffering. We need to be changed, and shaped by that suffering.

“Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane.” John Calvin

Ferguson then moves into the areas we have more control over in the section Pressing On: service and endurance. Serving moves us beyond ourselves and our needs to the needs of others. He interacts with 1 Corinthians and Hebrews. God gives us grace to serve just like He gives us pardoning and purifying grace. He covers some of the pitfalls and dangers if we don’t deal with our selfishness when seeking to serve.

Crossing the finish line at the London Marathon (Image: Reuters)

The reality is that Christians must keep going to become mature. They keep running that race, by grace. Ferguson again provides some hindrances like indwelling sin, sluggishness, discouragement and more. He then provides some encouragements focusing on Christ who has run the race before us.

The book concludes with a short chapter on living maturely. In many ways he reiterates much of what he has already said. Maturity doesn’t mean “retirement” but continuing the life you’ve been living to the glory of God by the grace of God. As a result, the repetition makes sense.

This is a book drenched in Scripture that continually encourages the reader to dig into and chew on Scripture as one of the primary means of grace for maturity. This book also bleeds Bunyan and John Owen. Ferguson loves the Puritans, but his loves are not narrow. There is plenty of Calvin, as well as Augustine and other church fathers. He also refers to some recent books which means that Ferguson is reading in “community” past and present as Richard Pratt encouraged us as students.

Sinclair Ferguson provides us with another great book in his “retirement”. This book could well serve as Sinclair Ferguson on the Christian Life, thinking of the Crossway series. It makes the theological practical and pastoral as Ferguson usually does. It’s a keeper.

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