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Posts Tagged ‘Dan Allender’


Sometimes you come across a book that looks like it will address the big questions you’ve been churning over in your mind. When you read it you are disappointed because it barely addresses those questions. This can happen more frequently in the time of internet shopping. But it is quite frustrating as you invest time in a book that doesn’t scratch the itch you have.

Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds is one of those books for me. Based on the subtitle I thought it would focus on the profound ways we have been sinned against. Indeed, Chris Brauns does include a number of stories about such profound sins. But I found a disconnect between those stories and the content he presented. So while there was some good material here, it didn’t really help me in the issues I was looking for help personally and professionally.

In his introduction he claims to address “where I’m coming from”. This is not so much about his presuppositions (more in a moment) but the questions he will address, such as: should we forgive God, does God forgive everyone, and should we forgive everyone?

He does lay out one presupposition: “only God’s Word can unpack forgiveness”. He then says “unpacking forgiveness is like relocating a family.” Unpacking takes a lot longer than the actual event of moving. He mentions that 2 years after a move, his family was still unpacking. This is what I was hoping he’d address but really didn’t as I’d hoped. And some of what he said hindered this process, at least as I understand it.

I was struck at the two main presuppositions he didn’t address which shape so much about forgiveness. He never defined his understanding of sin. He assumes we all know. He doesn’t use this term often, preferring the terms derived from the verb “to offend”. While sin rightfully offends, we often use that term (which he doesn’t define either) in many ways no connected to sin. It often has psychological (for lack of a better term) uses, and he generally distances himself from other psychological concepts. This focus on “offense” is a more subjective understanding of sin, not an largely objective one. For instance he says “we have all offended his standard” (pp. 45) with regard to Romans 3:23 (I assume since he doesn’t note it). This is a great time to clarify that “sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God.” Look, was that difficult? No. But he assumes the reader has a definition of sin, and that it is the same as his unexpressed one.

The other big presupposition was the nature and extent of the atonement. He quotes a few Calvinistic and Reformed guys (he mentions Piper frequently), but how he speaks about forgiveness points to a general atonement in which salvation is possible but not actually procured. I could be wrong about what he actually believes, which is the point: he doesn’t actually express it. (To be fair, he defines ‘propitiation’ on pp. 46.)

Granted, you can’t say everything about everything when you write a book, but these seem to be significant issues that affect much of what you say on this topic. I’m not “heresy hunting” but noticing large gaps in his reasoning.

At times his vagueness affects how he interacts with Scripture. I have notes written in the margins at times questioning how he understands particular texts.

He interacts with Lewis Smedes on the topic of “mandatory forgiveness”, representing a less than biblical view of forgiveness. But he doesn’t interact with anyone else on significant issues. I would have liked him to interact with Dan Allender’s material in Bold Love, as an example. His work regarding forgiveness is different than Brauns’ (and Smedes’). Such interaction would have helped clarify a few things in his book that I still have questions about regarding his perspective.

The main premise of the book is that “we forgive as God forgave us.” He doesn’t simply take this as forgive because we’ve been forgiven, or even in a similar way, but rather “in the same way.” He rightfully notes the graciousness of God’s forgiveness, and the costliness to God in the atonement of Christ. He properly notes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us in justification. He notes the connection of forgiveness with reconciliation (they are not identical). He also notes that forgiveness does not remove all earthly consequences which in Christ have been transformed from punishment to training in righteousness. But I struggle with his definition of forgiveness.

“God’s forgiveness: a commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.”

So, for you to forgive is a similar commitment to those who repent.

Take a moment though to insert that definition into a passage in the place of forgiveness. Passages like these:

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    in the forgiveness of their sins,Luke 1

30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Acts 5

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, …. Ephesians 1 cf. Colossians 1:14

In this way, he goes beyond the simple meaning or use of the term forgiveness (which he mentions) as release from a debt to this more complex idea. We therefore offer people forgiveness, but they must repent in order for us to actually forgive them. We have an “attitude” of forgiveness toward them.

So, while he therefore says we don’t need to “forgive” everyone. He never gets to what I think is a core issue based on the doctrine of sin. I don’t forgive people unless they sin, thereby incurring a debt, against me. I can’t forgive Timothy McVeigh, whom he mentions, for instance because he didn’t sin against me except in the most vague way since I’m an American. I can feel outrage, but that is the problem: I’m carrying an indirect burden since he didn’t take anything away from me. His treatment of this issue, in my opinion, is quite superficial and unhelpful.

Let’s apply this to an unknown rapist whose repentance a victim may never know about. She has an attitude of forgiveness, and a “gift” she doesn’t know where to send. This is where it breaks down for me. Theology is all about distinctions, and there are a number of big ones he doesn’t make. The “gift” makes sense in understanding my personal relationships. But not in these profound sins in which there is no personal relationship (for instance with an uncle who physically abuses the victim).

Another important distinction that is never spelled out (or I missed it if he did) was that just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean God does. He seems to imply it does at points in his argument against automatic or mandatory forgiveness. Not only may their be state sanctions (though he has conflicting statements on this too), their may be divine sanctions that remain. Let me illustrate: there is a family member who sinned against me profoundly (it was not a crime so there would be no legal sanctions), in a way that still haunts me to this day. There person can’t really face it, or understand it. For an extended period of time I was very angry with them. Despite their lack of repentance I forgave them. I didn’t just have an attitude of forgiveness, but forgave their debt to me. I am reconciled with them despite this sin and their lack of repentance. This doesn’t mean God forgave them or is reconciled with them (by all appearances He has not).

He missed another important distinction in his chapter about when you can’t stop thinking about it. Why are you thinking about it? Is the source Satan to continually put up walls between you, to get you to be bitter or feel false condemnation, shame etc.? Or is the source God to help you deepen your forgiveness of the other person? This, in my opinion, matters. But he never mentions the latter possibility.

What I mean is this (which I hoped the book would be about or address): at times we come to a deeper understanding of the debt incurred. Something we thought was a $50 debt is really a $1,000 debt. For instance, I minimized that debt a family member incurred. I needed to face what I really needed to forgive. Ultimately God intended that process for good, even as Satan intended it for evil (to trap me in bitterness). THIS is real pastoral theology, not the superficial approach he presented that we shouldn’t think about it if we’ve forgiven. But what have we forgiven? Have we forgiven the debt as much as we can understand it?

A question he doesn’t really answer is that though forgiveness is often the basis of reconciliation, must I reconcile with someone because I have forgiven them? A rape or abuse victim should forgive the person who sinned against them. Perhaps the person has even repented. Must you be reconciled to them? Have them over for dinner? Leave your kids with them? No. Forgiveness does not mean that the person is suddenly trustworthy, or that you trust them with your life. It just means you no longer want your pound of flesh, for the debt to be repaid. It doesn’t mean you have to loan out more money.

There was also somewhat of an internal conflict in the book. He thinks we should only forgive if the other person repents. That was not the intention of Jesus’ answer to the question. It was not what must they do for me to forgive them, but if they repent must I forgive them. Very different question, and to distort that distorts the answer. As long as someone repents, I must forgive them. But it doesn’t mean I must wait until they repent to forgive, which is what Brauns says at points.

Later in the book he notes we can overlook an offense. But they didn’t repent. Unlike Ken Sande, whom he references at times, there is no real process for sorting out when I should just overlook an offense or sin. Some even Braun, despite his previous statements, means they don’t have to repent for you to forgive them.

This book does present some good material that may be helpful to a number of people. He is closer to the biblical understanding of forgiveness than Smedes is. But there are some holes in the foundation, gaps he didn’t address or distinctions he failed to make that prove unhelpful for others. For instance, my sister-in-law found the book helpful. Okay. I don’t think she’s deceived or stupid. It helped her and that is GOOD. I didn’t find it as helpful. That could be a function of my understanding of theological complexities which differs from hers necessarily as a pastor, and/or the ways I have been sinned against that she has not. I still find Allender’s work more helpful for me. If you are more like my sister-in-law you may legitimately find this book helpful. If you are more like me, you may not find this book helpful for equally legitimate reasons.

 

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It has been 25 years since Dan Allender wrote The Wounded Heart. It has become a staple among Christian counselors, and for good reason. While getting my Master’s degree I compared and contrasted it to another book on recovering from sexual abuse. It was, in my opinion, far superior. I have used the workbook in working with victims of sexual abuse.

After all these years he has written Healing the Wounded Heart. It is not an updated and revised edition. It does not replace it. It really supplements and compliments his earlier work.

He utilizes 25 more years of personal experience in working with clients as well as research to better understand the damage done by sexual abuse, and the general path of recovery for its victims.

“Chopin stirs up the dust.” Special Agent Frank Lundy

Allender’s book is like Chopin, stirring up the dust among the debris produced by sexual abuse in its various forms. Things that didn’t make sense begin to fall into place.

That is one of the things about sexual abuse: there is no one symptom. Most victims live in denial or minimization. They don’t see that the patterns and incomprehensible things are pointers to the can of worms they REALLY don’t want to open.

“But sex is more than sex, and sexual harm is more than a mere violation. It reverberates to the deepest parts of our humanity and returns with an echo that doesn’t stop even decades later.”

He begins by discussing how the “face of sexual abuse.” Technology has advanced greatly, and we have utilized that technology for nefarious purposes. Societal changes have had unintended consequences, resulting in increases in date rape, hook ups etc.., taking advantage of the unconscious etc.

Allender then talks about the role of Evil (a.k.a. the Enemy). His war against God means he wants to destroy those made in His image. One really good way is to mar sexuality and marriage which point us to the great mystery of the gospel. This theme is found in some of his other books. He draws some from his friend and former associate John Eldredge (who in my estimation has gone to some unhealthy extremes). Allender is tentative in talking about this. But he affirms some biblical truths including the reality of the Enemy, the finitude of the Enemy and that he loves to work in darkness and secrecy. Sexual abuse and it consequences are marked by darkness and secrecy.

“Evil doesn’t primarily want to kill us; instead, it wants us to spend our lives in worry or regret. Its design is to take life from life, or in other words, to kill hope.”

In this context he discusses dissociation, a survival mechanism God has given to protect us. Evil twists it by convincing us we can never deal with what happened. A main part of God’s work in us is to face our shame so we can be free of contempt and begin to hope again.

He then delves into the research about the damage done to our bodies. He wrote this chapter with Dr. Heather Mirous who teaches cognitive psychology at Northwestern. Our bodies have a natural response to stress involving our brains, chemical responses and more. Sexual abuse distorts these responses. The more traumatic the abuse, the more damage done to our stress response system. The system is overwhelm (like in combat), and discussing those events trigger similar physical responses. One result is overactivating our immune system leading to autoimmune diseases in some victims.

“The body remembers. It is chronically calling out to us that our allostatic load is too heavy. Often, rather than listening to our body, we sabotage or mute is through activities such as excessive drinking or eating (or not eating enough), exercise, busyness or shopping.”

We then can curse the body that, we think, betrayed us. It betrayed us by being alluring (as if it was our fault, not theirs). It betrayed us by being aroused or feeling pleasure. This adds confusion and shame twisting our sexual desires and responses in unwanted ways. To cover our shame, many victims resort to contempt. They can hate others, or themselves, but they pour out contempt rather than face the overwhelming shame they can experience. The contempt is an attempt to avoid the gaze of others. The contempt leads us to make vows (I’ll never be trust again) which curse us (our hearts are hard to real love).

The chapter on covert abuse is very important. He addresses issues like emotional incest (adulterization of a child, making them your confidant), subtle abuse (those moments that felt weird), and pornography (when you discover it, or are shown it by someone in authority or an older peer as a “rite of passage”.

He then moves to the rare and important chapter on men. The dynamics can often be different in men. I think this is the first chapter I’ve read addressing that. The relational consequences are quite frustrating, for the man and those who relate to him. Power struggles are nearly always present, for to not be in power is to risk violation. Male victims often struggle with rage and a sense of inadequacy.

Allender then moves into the drama of reenactment, the ways in which a victim can relive the event in the course of ordinary life: triggers, addictions, hopelessness, etc. These are some of the ways in which we see the iceberg sticking above the surface. These can be the reasons they seek counseling though they don’t connect them to past abuse.

The Healing Path is the title of the final section of the book. It is “therapy proper” so to speak. He handles the main themes of therapy rather than the nuts and bolts, precisely because each client and their story is different. They need kindness so they can begin to learn to trust. This isn’t to be confused with wimpiness. We delight in them so they can learn to delight in themselves (and God). As we offer, and cultivate, kindness and joy we enter their story. The difficulty is we enter that story many times discovering more each time. This is not an easy process, and recovery is not quick. You don’t address the damage of rape or grooming and molestation in 6 sessions.

“The truth is sexual abuse, like all trauma, must be engaged again and again as the heart matures and has new awareness, insight, and freedom.”

He describes the process of entering and caring for the other person’s story as similar hiking to a remote river to fish, and out again. There is an unknown time element, unexpected danger, and potentially great reward. We help them to connect ( or re-connect) their story with God’s Story. Along the way we will meet barriers as they protect their abusers, hide in shame and contempt and generally try to push you away using every strategy they have developed to protect themselves. You will discover the vows, and bring all these things into the light so God can deal with them. We point them out, but our job isn’t to carpet bomb them (though we will be sorely tempted to do so). Another landmine is arousal. These are sexual stories, and it is normal for the client to also experience arousal along with the shame and contempt. It is their original arousal that drives the shame. The counselor must remember that he/she may also experience this response, but is not to respond. Helping the abused is good, necessary and dangerous business.

“… spouses choose each other to some degree because their way of being in the world complements their spouse’s. … We find a partner who doesn’t threaten or disrupt the attachment history we have learned to unconsciously manage. This is what must change for both spouses.”

Allender is honest about the difficulty in this process for all involved (including spouses). There is a chapter on the latter subject as well. While past abuse will hinder the relationship, there is a reason they have chosen one another, and addressing the abuse destabilizes the relationship. When one spouse embraces greater health, there is no guarantee the other will.

Allender includes an appendix written by Linda Royster called The Implications for African-American Women. Like the chapters on men and marriage, this is one aspect missed by many authors. A helpful addition.

“Ignoring our stories of sexual abuse will not undo the harm we have suffered. The debris of our abuse will surface eventually. It affects our memories, aspirations, and relationships.” Linda Royster

This book itself is a helpful addition to The Wounded Heart. They work well together. Each has important information not found in the other. This is a great addition to the toolbox of those who help people who have been sexually abused, and for the people themselves and the ones they love. It can help them better understand what they experience. And the road forward.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.]

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God Loves Sex, now that is a book title! Sadly that is a concept that is foreign to so many Christians. It is easy to get that idea if you do a selective reading of the Bible. It is easy to find all the “do not’s” and get the idea that God doesn’t really like sex and views it only as a means to a procreative end. This kind of view has led many to take an allegorical approach to The Song of Songs, a book in the Bible which I believe exalts the beauty (and frustration) of a redeemed marital sexuality.

It has been a number of years since Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III have collaborated on a book together. It has been a very beneficial collaboration, in my mind. This particular collaboration is highly dependent on Longman’s commentary on The Song. I recently read that commentary to prepare for a Sunday School series on the Song. I’m grateful that this book was released in time for me to read it as well.

This is not an academic look at The Song. While it is dependent on Longman’s commentary it is not a commentary. Allender’s contribution is seen in the subtitle: An Honest Conversation About Sexual Desire and Holiness. It is written to the heart too, inviting us to ponder our sexuality and its expression in our lives.

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How’s that for a title guaranteed to draw some interest? I’m working on a sermon about putting sexual sin to death. So, I’m going back through that portion of my library that deals with sex and sexual sin. Not all books about these issues are good books. I’ve read some bad ones, and I’ve read some helpful ones. I haven’t read every book available, but here are the ones I would recommend.

Undefiled: Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships by Harry Schaumburg. He does some very important things. He connects our sexual maturity to our spiritual maturity. They interact. We aren’t mature in one area without being mature in the other. The cross is central to forgiving those who have wronged us sexually, and even more important for dealing with our own violation of sexual boundaries. Jesus wants to change our hearts. Schaumburg also focuses on the context of relationship- how sexual sin destroys relationships and how relationships are important to our redemption from sexual sin.

“Lust always leaves victims because in sexual sin everyone gets hurt.” Harry Schaumburg

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ by John Piper and Justin Taylor. This is the book taken from the Desiring God conference on this subject. It covers a number of different topics about sex and views them under God’s sovereignty. There are some excellent chapters in this book.

“Jesus said, if you don’t fight lust, you won’t go to heaven. Not that saints always succeed. The issue is that we resolve to fight, not that we succeed flawlessly.” John Piper in Future Grace

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller w/Kathy Keller. There is a great chapter about sex and its role in commitment making. He builds a positive view of sex, in marriage which reveals the grave danger of sex outside marriage.

“In short, according to Paul, sex with a prostitute is wrong because every sex act is supposed to be a uniting act.” Tim Keller

A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy by Doug Rosenau. He taught our class on sex and sexual dysfunction in counseling. So it holds a special place in my heart.

Sexual Addiction (aka Idolatry)

False Intimacy: Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction by Harry Schaumburg. If you have any struggle with sexual addiction, or someone you love does, find a copy of this book. It is the best book I’ve read on the subject. He really gets to the heart of the problems. There is a great how spouses should deal with a sexually addicted spouse.

“Sadly, pursuing sexual behaviors as ends in themselves, as the source of deep fulfillment, ends only in nakedness and shame- before others and before God.” Harry Schaumburg

Addictions- A Banquet in the Grave: Finding Hope in the Power of the Gospel by Edward Welch. While more general, it says much about sexual addiction. His focus is on the hope we have in the gospel and how it begins to change us in the present.

“With each indulgence, we paradoxically feel less and less satisfied, yet we are persuaded that the object of our desire is the only thing that can fill us.” Ed Welch

Breaking Free: Understanding Sexual Addiction & the Healing Power of Jesus by Russell Willingham. He takes a Christ-centered approach that also addresses the emotional needs that arise from sexual abuse. He also has a helpful appendix for the spouses of those who are sexually broken.

“The fear and spiritual pride of addicted people are awesome. They desperately want to believe they are in control, and they try to convince others that they are.” Russ Willingham

Dealing w/Sexual Abuse

The Wounded Heart by Dan Allender. This is one of the best books on the subject. I compared and contrasted with the another book that shall remain nameless, and it was far superior in its gospel orientation. It does offer help for people to move on and beyond the sins committed against them, and how they have sinfully responded.

That is my short list. All of us have an agenda for our sexuality. It is God’s too? These books help people understand God’s agenda and begin the process of sexual sanctification by grace in Christ.

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She was a heartbreaker- maybe it was the tight clothing.

I was heading to the Men’s Study this morning when I had to stop the seek feature for some Pat Benatar. The lyrics remind me of our plight as fallen people.

Your love has set my soul on fire, burnin’ out of control
You taught me the ways of desire, now it’s takin’ its toll
You’re the right kind of sinner, to release my inner fantasy

That sets us up for what I hope is the final post on sexual chaos, working thru a redeemed sexuality in the midst of sexual chaos. Since my last post I remembered another story of how not to do this. I was working at Ligonier when I had a call. I’m not sure what prompted the call, I can’t see R.C. Sproul having mentioned this, but this older woman told me that oral sex was wrong “because that’s what homosexuals do.” I responded with “they also kiss, hug and hold hands; does that mean we can’t do any of them either?” With that, let’s try to sort all of this out.

1. Consensual- redeemed sex is consensual. It is wrong to force your spouse into any sexual activity whether proper or improper. Consent is necessary, but insufficient for determining the appropriateness of a practice for a Christian. As I mentioned before, this seems to be the only criteria you find in many of the Christian sex blogs. It is a starting point, but not the whole canoli.

18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19  a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Proverbs 5

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In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul mentions how the gospel came with power. This power was seen in that they turned away from idols to serve the living God. They were converted. Conversion involves a putting away of idols. There just seems to be no way of avoiding this reality. All of us depended on something to save us: our goodness, our IQ, our race or background, some ritual (circumcision, baptism, walking the aisle …). Finally we turned from them to a God who can really save us- Jesus!

But our hearts didn’t stop their nefarious work of producing idols to either supplant or supplement Jesus. Nothing ultimately can, because He is all-sufficient. But we are foolish and sinful. We are prone to wander, distracted like a kid in a toy store.

This is the season to contemplate the death and resurrection of Christ as our Substitute. Too often we are prone to focus on our justification. But we can’t stop there. We have to move into our sanctification. Why? Because Jesus did. And Paul did.

I’m preaching out of Luke 9 this week. It is the passage where Peter makes his profound confession that Jesus was the Messiah. Not that he understood all that it means. Jesus proceeds to tell the disciples just what it means. He moves to his death and resurrection. This is the means by which we are delivered from the wrath of God that is justly due our sin.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He moves into discipleship. If we are united to Christ and he is the suffering Messiah, we too must lay down our lives and suffer as we follow him. There are the three commands: deny yourself, pick up the cross and follow me.  In other words, this is the path of sanctification. There is no coming back- we are on a death march. We do this in the hope of life everlasting, that Jesus is true to his word and his work is sufficient.

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Been looking at addictions lately.  As Calvin says, the human heart is a factory of idols.  We are a mass of addictions.  Some of our additions seem innocuous, like caffeine.  Others only seem troublesome when they are out of control- like when your shoe collection rivals Imelda Marcos (or you’re always broke because you feed that addiction.

Oddly enough, some addictions are becoming “mainstream”.  I am disheartened to see the popularity of pornography.  Looking at pornography used to be a shameful thing: dark, seedy theaters, brown covered magazines.  It was something you did alone, except for bachelor parties.  After all, no one looks at porn just to look at porn as if it is a work of art.  You look at it to stimulate and facilitate sexual release (either alone or with a partner).

But today porn is viewed differently.  It is apparently for women too.  There are porn parties- with both sexes watching.  I just can’t comprehend that.  Even as a young, sex-crazed heathen I couldn’t conceive of such a thing.  But I was “unliberated”, shackled by the smothering guilt of a Roman Catholic upbringing.  [Actually, I think my conscience was still functioning- barely- to restrain some sin in my life.]

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