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IThe Wholeness Imperative: How Christ Unifies Our Desires, Identity and Impact in the Worldf there seems to be a book needed for our times, it would appear to be The Wholeness Imperative: How Christ Unifies Our Desires, Identity and Impact in the World by Scott Redd. Redd is the president and professor of OT of the DC campus of RTS. In our current context the questions of desires and identity are at the forefront as the ecumenical parachurch group Revoice brings these questions to the forefront.

We are reckoning with God’s design in the gospel and how the already/not yet impacts that gospel design. A tension develops which is key to the Revoice controversy. Can one’s sexual orientation change? A different question is should we expect it to change in this life? The first is about possibility and the second is about likelihood of change.

Identity is about how we think about ourselves. Revoice brings up another tension for us between our identity in Christ and the reality of our on-going sinfulness. We are simul justus et peccator- at the same time just and sinner. Our ultimate identity is in Christ, but we still struggle with sin. How are we to speak of this? How are we to process this tension between the positional and personal since they are not yet unified?

In the midst of this we have a missional reality. The questions of desires and identity affect our mission. How we speak of ourselves impacts the people we bring the gospel to in evangelism. How we speak of ourselves impacts how believers who struggle with profound sin. Are they really Christians? Worthy Christians? Welcome in the church? These are big questions.

This book is not directly about this question, but has application to that question.

Redd begins his book at a the re-affirmation of his faith as a teenager. His dreams didn’t reflect his faith. He began to wonder, “If I’m not a Christian in my dreams, am I Christian?” His desires were not unified. Here Redd speaks of the soul. He speaks of being and doing. We tend to separate the two. The gospel seeks to unify them so we begin to do in accordance with our being or identity in Christ. Being precedes doing and doing flows out of being.

“This is the tension inherent in the Christian life: a tension that springs from the already-ness and the not yet-ness of the salvation we have in Christ. We live between the acute angles of what has been done and what we are awaiting to be done, what is and what will be.”

Redd brings us to the gospel logic of indicative-imperative through Herman Bavinck. Christ’s work for us is the foundation for our gospel responses and obedience. Christ’s work for us means that Christ begins to work in us to make us like He is. This begins at conversion and continues in this life.

He then addresses our wholeness by talking about the wholeness of God as revealed in the Shema (Deut. 6). God’s wholeness calls for a wholeness in our response to Him. He’s whole-hearted and calls us to be whole-hearted as well. In the gospel, Jesus provides forgiveness for our divided hearts and desires. In the gospel, Jesus provides the gift of the Spirit to transform us into His likeness. The movement is from the inside out: internal transformation => external transformation. Morality focuses on the outside while the gospel changes the inside first through a reordering of our desires. Repentance, Redd stresses, includes confessing the fragmented nature of our souls and desires, the fact that we compartmentalize and need Jesus to re-integrate our lives.

Redd then moves to the role of Scripture to provide us nourishment and power for the journey toward wholeness. He explores Psalm 119 to address the aim of our journey, aid along the way, our defense and delight. He then moves into false aims, aides, defenses and delights because our sinful hearts seeks counterfeits.

Image result for solomon's templeNext he introduces pious superstition through Jeremiah 7. They thought all would be well, despite their pursuit of sin, as long as the temple was standing. So God would remove the temple on account of their sins. Lest we think we are free from pious superstition since there is no physical temple, he notes our idol-factory hearts produce any number of talismans we think will protect us from God’s wrath and cover our sins. He mentions church attendance and participation. I’ll toss in “doctrinal integrity” which we think means we don’t have to actually love people (okay, he goes there too on page 67). God is love and the commandments hang on love to God and our neighbor. Sound doctrine matters, but the goal is not simply sound doctrine but sound living which means loving others well.

“He points to their ongoing sins, sins which infect their private lives but have also flowed into the oppression of those in their community who are lacking the social and family structures to care for themselves.”

We can see pious superstition functioning in the German church during the Third Reich, the American south when it embraced slavery and segregation. Pious superstition, Redd says, is about control. We want to control our lives instead of submitting to the lordship of Christ. As a result, we substitute the superstition for vibrant faith in Christ that focuses on His priorities and commands. For instance, we may isolate a command we “keep” which excuses the ones we don’t. He then lays out 5 diagnostic principles to identify pious superstitions in your life.

He then shifts to the exodus and conquest as two sides of the same redemption. He sets us free, sustains us in the wilderness and brings us into a new land. The exodus is a picture of our conversion and justification. The rest is our sanctification and glorification. Salvation isn’t about cheap grace but life transformation. In the gospel Jesus reveals His love for us, and what it looks like for us to love (see Philippians 2).

Image result for paralyticIn the next chapter Redd addresses our felt needs and deepest need. He begins with the story of his family’s visit to Williamsburg and his daughter’s amazement. Each experience overwhelmed her with joy, but there was more to discover. This is the chapter I wish I’d read a week before I did read it because he addressed my sermon text. The paralyzed man in Mark 2 had felt needs. He was helpless and dependent on others. He wanted to walk. Jesus addressed his deepest needs too: pardon. Like Mark’s original audience, we need to learn more about who Jesus is and what Jesus does that we may be overwhelmed with joy like Redd’s daughter.

His felt need was relieved. Don’t worry, he’d have more. But Jesus revealed that He addresses those deepest needs so we’ll bring those to him. But Jesus may not address our felt needs (difficult marriage, prodigal child, under-employment etc.). I hear the ghost of John Newton lurking in the background here. Jesus knows what we need to keep us humble, saved and set free. Those felt needs are “gifts, opportunities to encounter Christ as the answer to your deepest desire for wholeness, for the full experience of His grace.” As Paul discovered, His strength is made perfect (mature) in our weakness. In other words, we need to experience weakness in order to know/experience His strength.

Redd brings us to Mark 4 to talk about wholeness remade. He points us to Jesus who controls the natural world as seen in the calming of the storm and seas. He points us to Jesus who controls the personal in the restoration of the demoniac. Jesus is concerned about creation, and He’s concerned about us. His providence includes both nature and history as well as our lives and circumstances. He has the power to move us toward wholeness, a power we lack.

The next chapter illuminates wholeness in a discussion of light. He moves us from Genesis 1 to 1 John, Numbers 6 to Isaiah 9 and more. In this he speaks of heresy as an illegitimate claim to shed light on difficult subjects. Our lives need to come into the light. This means our disordered desires need to be brought into the light- not just in justification and sanctification. As Steve Brown told us often, “Demons die in the light.”

“Fragmentation is marked by secrecy and deceit, and it festers in the darkness.”

This is what concerns me about some aspects of our denominations response to Revoice. I fear it will drive people with SSA underground, out of the light and out of community with regard to their most pressing felt need. I’ve seen this too often, and it destroys lives and families. The false expectation of orientation change will drive those who don’t experience this underground. The shibboleths of not using the word “gay” or “homosexual” to express their sexual struggles will drive people underground. Rather than inviting people to come to us for help in their struggle, I think we are pushing them away by separating doctrinal accuracy from gospel acceptance and love. Having this nailed down doctrinally is necessary but insufficient to meaningfully serve our brothers and sisters who have these struggles.

Redd’s comments mirror this without connecting it to any particular set of circumstances.

“Light is not just about proclaiming truth; it is about being present when the darkness comes. … To be light, however, we need to be present in the places where darkness has a foothold. We need to be in the room when darkness makes its advance.”

We don’t simply expose sin, but help sinners! In defining sin, we cannnot overlook the people caught in that sin or in the process of mortifying that sin. We need to stand beside brothers and sisters struggling with racism, pornography, gluttony and greed. Yes, we all have different sins that we find disgusting and “unpardonable”. We need to see that person as Jesus sees them: redeemed, forgiven and being restored to wholeness. We are called into that mess, not simply to shout from the sideline all the ways they are wrong.

Redd concludes with the reality of glorification or wholeness everafter. I love the story he opens the chapter with about how his wife thought The Wizard of Oz ended with the death of the witch because her parents wanted to go to bed. For years she thought Dorothy never made it home.

We’ll make it home even though it doesn’t feel like it some days. The resurrection of Jesus matters as the proof of our future resurrection. Our bodies fail in the present. They don’t work right, experiencing the curse. We have birth defects or genetic disorders. As we age they waste away. We don’t seem to be moving toward wholeness but rather disintegration.

But the resurrection presents us with gospel hope that we will share in Jesus’ glory. It reminds us that we will be given new bodies fit for our inheritance. The future pulls us forward.

Redd briefly explores two tendencies in churches that take the Bible seriously. One is to focus on the intermediate state and focus on evangelism as the most important thing. We need to get people to heaven. The Christian life becomes organized around evangelism.

Another is to focus on the resurrection. Their focus is more holistic. They want to bring order to a chaotic world. They want to help people, particularly the oppressed and suffering.

We need to integrate the two tendencies, not play them against each other. We need to evangelize and care about and for the suffering. This means we embrace the intermediate state, but don’t settle for it.

“But if we don’t make it a priority to proclaim the gospel and show people the wonderful, desirable, life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, then we are neglecting our duty as the body of the Risen King to populate His kingdom. We are called to do both: we are called to build the kingdom and to populate it.”

There needs to be a wholeness to our ministry, not just our hearts. This is driven by our identity as Christ’s people, whose desires are being restored and have a mission.

This is a good book. He brings in personal anecdotes to clarify the theological points he’s making. He is clear and succinct. He brings in a breadth of biblical texts. He doesn’t lay out every possible way we should apply this, but does prime the pump for us. Stop and meditate, not just on the theology of the book but its implications in light of on-going controversies.

Wholeness is God’s gospel goal for us. Such wholeness should be the desire of our hearts, and the shape our mission. We are concerned not just for our wholeness but also the wholeness of others. We and they have not arrived yet and we must remember the reality of the already/not yet as we serve one another.

I wish he had spent more time fleshing this out. It would be the worthy subject for a book that addresses but it not tied to the issues of our day. This book is, however, a step in the right direction.

 

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Openness Unhindered is Rosaria Butterfield’s second book. Her first, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, was largely autobiographical and took the Reformed community by storm. Her story of how God worked to turn her life from that of a very liberal, lesbian professor of English and Queer Theory to a conservative, Reformed Christian who is married to a Presbyterian pastor. Her book succeeded in annoying many who are not conservative, Reformed Christians. They made some faulty assumptions, like that she think God makes every Christian a heterosexual. In many ways she was a threat to the narrative of the gay community.

Her second book really isn’t like the first. It covers some same ground as the subtitle indicates: Further Thought of an Unlikely Convert- Sexual Identity- Union with Christ. But how it covers it feels very different to the reader. There are portions that seem more like the section in the first advocating for exclusive psalmody. She’s writing much more like a professor teaching us what she used to believe and how it is incompatible with Christianity.

She steps into the sexual identity debate that is going on in the church. The concept is a “gay Christian” is becoming popular on one hand. And one the other some think that a Christian can’t even struggle with same sex attraction (SSA), confusing temptation with sin itself. This is what much of the first half of the book is about.

In the preface, she explains the title in terms of union with Christ. Paul’s union resulted in his being open and unencumbered about his life and struggles. If we are united in Christ, we can be open and unencumbered about our struggles instead of acting as if all is well though your inner life is filled with chaos.

“Even our struggles, our failures, and our suffering are redemptive in Christ. But there is blood involved. There is a cutting off and a cutting away that redemption demands. Stepping into God’s story means abandoning a deeply held desire to make meaning of our own lives on our own terms based on the preciousness of our own feelings.”

She sets up the method, so to speak, in the preface. She argues for God’s created order as one that includes norms and boundaries for life which includes sexuality and gender. They are not social constructions, but about essence. Many, however, are pragmatists and think these boundaries and norms don’t exist and can be manipulated to please ourselves.  These people deny the authority of Scripture. But there are also some who while affirming the authority of Scripture “unbiblically believe that the struggle is the sin (pp. 7).” They believe that conversion experientially restores all boundaries and norms sooner rather than later.

In other words, Christians can struggle with SSA because they are still sinners. The desires they experience are wrong, but they are not themselves sin. Those desires are not innocuous, but neither are they impossible for a Christian. The Christian, when experiencing them, is to put them to death in the power of the Spirit, as they would any other temptation. Christians can experience SSA just like opposite sex attraction, temptation to greed, revenge and any other sin.

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. James 1

There is a method as she covers conversion, identity, repentance and sexual orientation. She works through these theological categories. At times she brings us back to her story, but this book is more theological than autobiographical. As she notes, life stories, including her own, “are messy, contradictory, and humiliating. (pp. 12)”  She says she had a heterosexual adolescence. The sexual meat market of college threw her for a loop, and she felt out of control and her sexual desires became tangled and confusing. For 6 years she dated men, but fantasized about relationships with women, “especially my friends from my growing lesbian and feminist community base” (pp. 13).

Here for instance she distinguishes between homosexuality and homosociality. The latter is “an abiding and deep comfort afforded in keeping company with your own gender, and finding within your own gender your most important and cherished friendships. (pp. 31-32)” Lines get blurry at times.

She then moves into identity. So often we carve out our identity from the wrong things: vocation, past experiences, social status etc. Today people build theirs on their sexuality. We have a tendency to hold to Sola Experiencia- where our feelings and personal experience shape our identity, forming the lens through which we see life. These, for instance, judge the Scripture instead of Scripture evaluating our experience.

She argues that a homosexual identity is not removed by a heterosexual identity, but by Christ. We are converted to Christ, not heterosexuality (though that is a norm by the created order). A person may never be free from SSA until glorification, but they are to find their identity in Christ, not their desires.

One of the issues I had with the book was some of the terminology she uses for sanctification. She follows Vos’ commentary on the Westminster Confession and using “infuse”. This is idiosyncratic. Protestants typically use imparted because Roman Catholic theology talks of us being infused with grace through the sacraments. She doesn’t say this, but this former-Catholic struggles with the use of the term. Vos and Rosaria are the only Protestants I know that use it. Not sure why.

Because God gives us grace, we are able to say ‘no’ to our desires for sinful things (see Titus 2). In Christ we have been sanctified and are being sanctified. We don’t have to act on our lust, hatred, envy etc.

She ends the chapter discussing shame which leads her into the chapter on repentance. Shame is about being exposed, reveled as dirty, disgusting and disobedient. Shame for past actions refuses to stay in the past. We feel it now afraid people will discover what we did back them. She points us to confession of sin that we may be cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). She distinguishes this from admission. Confession not only admits our actions were wrong, but also appropriates God’s grace.

In all of this she talks about original sin, which she sees as the great equalizer. We all suffer under it. Sin continues to dwell in us, and produces actual sins. She is highly dependent on the Puritans such as John Owen and Anthony Burgess. Because sin dwells in us, we experience temptation internally. We can either say ‘no’ to it, or ‘yes’ to it and sin.

In the 4th chapter, Sexual Orientation, she gets into theory and the history of sexual orientation. Prior to Freud no one thought in such terms. They thought in terms of behavior: that is a homosexual act. They didn’t think of themselves in terms of identity: I am a homosexual. She argues for this precisely because many Queer theorist and postmodernists argue for this. As a former English professor and Queer theorist she talks about why words matter, building a case against terms like “gay Christian”. This continues in Self-Representation or What Does it Mean to Be Gay?.

While she is very black and white, very theoretical, and sounds dogmatic (not necessarily a bad thing), she isn’t drawing lines in the sand. The next chapter, Conflict, is about her disagreement with other Christians about this. She recognizes that while these terms find their basis in a movement in which she was a mover and shaker, younger people don’t come at it with the same theoretical underpinnings and don’t mean by it what she believes it means. They agree to disagree without consigning one another to the region of hell.

She then moves into the living of the Christian life, focusing on community and hospitality. Her understanding hospitality  “starts with adoption and ends with keeping the Lord’s Day together, because the purpose of our adoption is worship. (pp. 150)” She starts with how community begins, which is important for Christians to remember. Community begins with a group of strangers, who have different ideas, passions and interests. True community is not homogeneous. We have Christ in common, but differ in many ways. Community recognizes that it is dangerous. We are in community with people who are sinners of all kinds. We can get hurt! But the perfect love of God is intended to cast out our fear. Open and unhindered, we share life together even the unpleasant parts of life like grief.

She then talks about how they have practiced hospitality in their neighborhood. I don’t think it would work in mine. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That just means it is an example, not the only way. It is also shaped by her Covenanter convictions. In some ways it seems similar to her defense of exclusive psalmody in the first book. It all seems a bit too perfect (to this admittedly cynical soul).

She then moves into church membership, and why we should take it seriously. She is standing against the consumer approach to membership. She quotes from G. I. Williamson about how there is no perfect congregation, and no perfect denomination (oh that more people in my denomination would understand that!).

“As a pastor’s wife, I have seen the ugliest side of people when they start to believe that the sins of others in our church are intolerable, or when they pack up and leave instead of receiving the repentance of other, or sticking around long enough to work on reconciliation. The people who leave the church because they think they are too good for it have no idea that hurt that they cause- for the people who love them and miss them, and for the people hurt by the things they said and the things they didn’t say when they broke fellowship.”

This is a good book. It is not as easy to read as her first book. It does get more deeply into some very important ideas, theologically and philosophically. It gives those of us who haven’t read gay theorist a summary of sorts from a former-gay theorist.

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One of the books I bought at GA this year was Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology.  It is the manuscripts from the Together for the Gospel conference of the same name.  I started it back in September, but other projects have been distracting me from reading it quickly.

The other day I read Thabiti Anyabwile’s Bearing the Image.  He didn’t really spend time examining the nature of the image of God in which we were made.  He focused on our unity in Adam, in Christ, in the church and in glory.  But what he really focused upon was the issue of race.  Or should I say the pseudo-issue.

In our culture we make much of the issue of race.  Everything seems to be about race these days (yes, an overstatement).  But Thabiti makes an important point- in the Bible there is only one race.  We are all descended from Adam, through Noah.  Obviously secular people will deny this.  But Christians often neglect this.  We end up confusing race with ethnicity and culture.

We are quick to notice the obvious distinctions between groups of people.  You can immediately tell a white person from an Asian from a black person.  It would be erroneous to think that all Asian people are the same.  There are ethnic and cultural differences between people of the same skin color.  And there can be cultural similarities between people of different skin colors.

We tend to accentuate the differences while neglecting the one big common denominator: Noah.  We are of the same race, not different races.  We are all from the human race, despite our differences in color, history and culture.  We may be ethnically different, but we are certainly of the same race.

“One way that race and ethnicity differ is that ethnicity is not rooted in biology as race theory historically has been.”

The point he makes is that our differences are not rooted in biology, our genes.  Clearly, there are some pre-dispositions to different diseases and disorders.  But our musical preferences are rooted in ethnicity and culture, not race/biology.  How we speak or act is rooted in ethnicity and culture, not race/biology.

(more…)

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