Idols of a Mother’s Heart: Book Review and Giveaway

I have a copy of Christina Fox’s new book to give away. If you’d like to enter, please share this review on social media and leave a comment here. I’ll announce the winner next week. Here is an excerpt of my review:

If you’re a parent and a Christian, you’ve probably read your share of parenting books. Of the making of self-help parenting books, there is seemingly no end. If, like the writer of Ecclesiastes, you’ve been wearied by such study, Christina Fox’s new book, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, will be a balm for your soul. While Christina’s book is directed at mothers, there is much in her writing that would comfort, encourage, and challenge fathers as well.

Unlike so many of the books on parenting that I’ve read, Christina’s book isn’t about smacking you on the head with what you’re doing wrong. Her approach isn’t like Bob Newhart’s counseling skit. She doesn’t simply tell you to “Stop it!” From beginning to end, Christina’s message is gospel-centered and full of grace for us all.

Christina reminds us that our purpose is to glorify God and worship Him (37). Our identity and meaning aren’t meant to be found in motherhood, or fatherhood, but in Christ who has redeemed us (111). Our value and worth aren’t in our achievements and successes as parents. Instead, “our worth is grounded in who Christ is for us, and what He accomplished on our behalf” (122).

Since that’s true, why focus on motherhood and the idols we may have as mothers? Parenting can make us more aware of our sin in ways we didn’t expect (24-25). Christina writes:

First, as mothers, we all face the problem of the presence of remaining sin in our life. Secondly, motherhood is hard. It is challenging and stretching in unique ways, different from other areas of our life. Thirdly, motherhood is another area of our life God uses to transform us. (31)

In other words, parenthood can reveal idols we may not have known we worship. How can we identify our idols?

Read the rest of the review at Reformation 21.

Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness

Do you ever think about how much we complain? We complain about the weather: too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry. We complain about our jobs: deadlines, difficult bosses, co-workers. We complain about our families: our spouses, children, in-laws. We complain about life: traffic, waiting rooms, jury duty, illness. We complain about the church: our pastors, the sermon, the music, the a/c. And politics? Well, that too.

Whether or not we’re aware, we spend a lot of time complaining. Isn’t it just part of being human? After all, we live in a fallen world, and life can be difficult. Our bodies get sick and hurt. Our relationships suffer. Work is hard. But is that all there is to it?

In her new book, Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness, Megan Hill reminds us that complaining or being discontent can often be a sinful response to our circumstances. Why is it sinful? It’s sinful because it says we don’t really trust God to take care of us. And that can start a domino effect of other sinful behaviors.

As Hill explains:

Once it takes hold of our hearts, discontent quickly leads to other sins. Because we fundamentally distrust what God is doing in and for us, our hearts give way to worry. Every new circumstance feels surprising and potentially harmful. Everything from the flu to the presidential election brings an onslaught of uncertainty. We do not believe that God is caring for us, and we have little confidence that the events in our lives will be for our good, so our minds and hearts spin with anxiety.(11)

So how do we find contentment in our sinful, fallen world?

Read the rest of this article over at Reformation 21.

Resources on Anxiety

As you may be aware, I’ve struggled most of my life with anxiety.  I’ve been doing some research into Christian books on anxiety and worry to get a feel for what resources are available to recommend. The good news is there are solid books out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of books that aren’t so good.

So first, let’s consider the good ones.

A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament by Christina Fox

Christina’s book, though not explicitly about anxiety, remains my absolute favorite and my top recommendation for anyone struggling with anxiety, worry, doubt, or depression. You can read my full review here.

A Heart Set Free is a book about learning from the Psalms of Lament how to cry out to God. Instead of pretending our emotions don’t exist or that we aren’t hurting, we need to learn how to lament, how to express our emotions in our Christian walk:

In fact, the Psalms, especially the Psalms of Lament, give us a structure for how to express our feelings. They remind us what is true. They point us to God’s love and faithfulness. They help us journey through the dark valleys until we can emerge on the other side and bow in grateful worship. (17)

One thing that I really appreciate about Christina’s book is her balanced approach to the cause of anxiety and depression. Sin is at the root of our pain, but our pain is not always the direct result of sinful behavior on our part:

Sin is the cause of all our pain and sorrow. It might be the sins of others committed against us that bring us feelings of shame. It might be the effects of sin on the creation around us that bring a natural disaster, resulting in loss and our subsequent grief. It might be the brokenness of our bodies, causing us emotional turmoil or the failure of our minds to work as God intended. It might be our own sinful responses to what happens in our lives. It might even be a combination of all these, but at its root, sin is what brings us all our sorrows, griefs, and fears. (39)

I highly recommend this book to anyone, male or female, young or old. No matter your struggles, God speaks to us through the Psalms of Lament, and through the Psalms of Lament, we can learn how to speak to God.

Christians Get Depressed Too: Hope and Help for Depressed People by David Murray

David’s book is also not specifically about anxiety. However, like Christina’s book, it’s easy to apply David’s advice to anxiety. This book is short, but filled with practical helps for those suffering from depression and/or anxiety and also for their loved ones.

David addresses the common pitfalls and shortcomings in the counseling and advice given to those struggling with depression and anxiety:

There are three simplistic extremes that we should avoid when considering the cause of depression: first, that it is all physical; second, that it is all spiritual; third, that it is all mental. (20, nook edition)

Instead of these simplistic approaches, David recommends a balanced approach that addressed the whole person and may include the use of medications:

For Christians there will often need to be a balance between medicines for the brain, rest for the body, counsel for the mind, and spiritual encouragement for the soul. (30, nook edition)

We are body and soul, and as such, David reminds us that our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are intertwined:

We cannot separate our thoughts from our feelings or our feelings from our behavior. What we think affects how we feel. What we think and feel affects our physical health. Our thoughts, feelings, and physical health affect what we do. (33, nook edition)

If we aren’t careful about how we address depression and anxiety, we run the risk of teaching a prosperity-type gospel of mental health:

If we come to the point that our default position in dealing with the causes of depression is that it is sin until proven otherwise, we are getting painfully close to the disciples’ position: “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents?” (John 9:2). It is also a position that is somewhat akin to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, in which the diagnosis for trials is personal sin and the prescription is more repentance and faith. (50, nook edition)

I strongly recommend this book to anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. If you have a loved one suffering, the book would also be a help for you in understanding and supporting them. Pastors and church leaders would benefit, as well, from the advice David gives.

Thinking Through Anxiety: A Brief Christian Look by J. Ryan Davidson

I found Ryan’s book through a friend’s recommendation. It’s a short book, but it’s one I really appreciated. Like David’s book on depression, Ryan takes a balanced approach to the causes of anxiety. He also offers practical and spiritual advice on addressing anxiety. As the title suggests, Ryan emphasizes reordering our thoughts when we are struggling with anxiety:

Oh how our anxious hearts need the regular experiential presence of the Lord through the Scriptures in order to be calmed and corrected in our fears, false assurances, and idolatrous ways. (28, Kindle edition)

Another aspect of Thinking Through Anxiety that I really appreciated was its gospel-centered message for anxious believers. When we can’t trust our heart, mind, or feelings, we can trust in the finished work of Christ (31-32, Kindle edition). We belong to Christ and nothing, not even our own anxious fears, can separate us from Him:

We should boldly tell ourselves that our righteousness is in heaven; that our sin has been taken away and that there is no sin that will stand against us in the last day. We are united with Christ because of His life, death, and resurrection and because of the sealing work of the Holy Spirit, we are treated in the courtroom of heaven as Christ is treated—perfectly righteous and accepted in the sight of God. (32, Kindle edition)

Ryan also offers the best hope there is to an anxious believer. There will be a day when all our pain, fear, and sadness are washed away. Even if we struggle with anxiety all our lives, there is great hope and joy in our future:

Therefore, in our continual wrestling with fear, worry, and anxiety, we need to constantly remember, that we are assured resurrection and ultimate freedom from every sin and infirmity on the last day. Our struggle must be framed with the reality of who we are in Christ. This One, who will not bruise a tender reed (Isa. 42:13) is the One to whom we are indivisibly united, even as we battle with anxiety. (65-66, Kindle edition)

As with Christina and David’s books, I would wholeheartedly recommend Thinking Through Anxiety. It was a great encouragement to me. Of all the books that were strictly about anxiety, this was the most helpful that I read.

Refresh: Embracing a Grace-Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands by Shona and David Murray

Last year, David Murray and his wife, Shona, released separate books for men and women on overcoming burnout. I read both Refresh (for women) and Reset (for men) and while there are slightly different applications and illustrations the substance of the books is identical. For this review, the quotes are from Refresh. 

Shona opens the book with her own story of coming to the end of her rope physically, mentally, and emotionally. Her personal fight with anxiety, depression, and burnout has given her insight into how to encourage others. Shona starts with some warning signs for women, particularly mothers:

If you are a mother, you have little joy in your children and even wonder if they are worth all the effort. You feel trapped in an endless circuit of seemingly menial diaper changes, meals, lunches, dirty floors, crying kids, laundry, and generally being everybody’s gofer. There is no clocking-off time, and you fall into bed at night exhausted, weary, with no sense of accomplishment, and dreading the next day. You hold yourself responsible for every accident, mess, crying fit, episode of bickering, and every failure of character in your children. (31, Kindle edition)

Can you relate? I suspect we all can. Change some of the details to work or social situations and all of us know this cycle of being overwhelmed. Shona and David believe that the demands of our lives, our work, and even our society are running us ragged. We’re exhausted from the stress and worry. We’re beaten down by the constant barrage of negative news and social media. We need to stop and rest.

The weights accumulated imperceptibly; they multiplied a little every year until life slowly yet inexorably crushed us. Now, our minds are frazzled, our hearts are pounding, our bodies are breaking down, our relationships are straining, our sleep is declining, our quality of work is suffering, and our happiness is a distant memory. (118, Kindle edition)

Refresh and Reset give practical advice for fighting the burnout many of us are facing. Suggestions include getting enough sleep, fasting from digital media, regular exercise, pursuing hobbies, and taking a Sabbath rest. The focus of the books is on living lives filled by God’s grace. We truly can rest in His mercy and grace:

As we enjoy the benefits of a quieter inner and outer life and build God-given refreshings of grace into our lives, we find time to pause, to calm down, and to think about who we are and why we are here. (110, Kindle edition)

While these books aren’t specifically books on anxiety, the advice would be useful to those struggling with anxiety. My only quibbles with the books were the refresh-gym and reset-garage motifs which felt forced and the attempts to feminize or masculinize the advice. Certainly, there are differences in application or illustration for men and women when it comes to burnout. But in the end, the substance of what men and women need to hear is the same.

I appreciate Shona and David’s work on these books. I know they have a heart for those who are hurting. I’d recommend these books to anyone struggling under the weight of the world.

The next books were ones that I have mixed feelings about. Some of the advice is helpful. But each of these books takes an unbalanced approach to worry and anxiety. In these books, the formula is simple: anxiety = worry, worry = sin, therefore cure = repentance and obedience. This is exactly the kind of oversimplification that David Murray addresses in his book on depression.

Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Worry is so common that we forget it’s actually a sin. … [I]t’s just as sinful to worry as it is to disregard any other command from God. (emphasis original, 90, nook edition)

Little faith! Think about those words. The Lord equates our worry with a lack of faith. (94, nook edition)

God has directed His children not to worry; He’s classified worry as sin. Why? Because worry flows out of a distorted or incomplete view of His nature and character. … Worrying is also sinful because it elevates our thoughts and abilities to a godlike position. (94, nook edition)

We can’t stop our hearts from pounding or our stomach from being tied up in knots. We can’t control our physical symptoms. But we can, by God’s power and grace, offer our joyful obedience to Him – and trust that He will give us confidence and calm in the midst of the storm. (121, nook edition)

Running Scared by Ed Welch

At first, my interest in fear and worry was limited to quieting them for the sake of my own personal well-being. Now the stakes are much higher. My worry is a sign that I am in danger. When in doubt, pray. I am not sure of all the ways I am called by God to act, but I am certainly feeling more desperate, so I can pray. (78, nook edition)

Fear and worry reveal that our faith is indeed small. If you are looking to plumb the depths of worry, you can find it in your mixed allegiances. (85, nook edition)

In other words, worry is usually about seeking something other than God’s kingdom. Worry is a sign that we are trying to have it both ways, with one foot in the kingdom of the world and the other in the kingdom of heaven. (88, nook edition)

The sin-fear connection is inescapable. Therefore, when confronted with worries and fears, we should encourage our instincts to look at our own sin so that we can be people who make peace rather than break it. (216, nook edition)

Without forgiveness of sins, there can be no peace in our relationship with God, and when there is no peace with God, we will have no peace. If you are finding peace elusive, either you still don’t believe you are forgiven or you don’t really care that you are. If you know that sin is your most profound problem, more critical than anything else that worries you, you will know a resolute peace. (220, nook edition)

Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry by Amy Simpson

Worry is a rebellious choice we usually don’t take very seriously. But it is serious. Willful worry amounts to rejection of God’s character and damages our capacity for the life he calls us to. A close look at Scripture show us worry has always been a frequent point of correction between God and his people because it undermines that very faith he requires and rewards. Worry is still chronically undermining the faith and courage of Christians in this age. It is rooted in a theological misunderstanding of who God is, the nature of life in this world and our place in the universe. (16-17)

Choosing to worry is a sin, an act of rebellion against God, a rejection of our assigned place in the universe, a barrier in our relationship with a God who wants us to live is bold purpose rooted in his character. Worry is essentially a spiritual problem, which ultimately cannot be overcome merely through an act of the will – the solution is rooted entirely in who God is. (127)

Be quiet and allow the Holy Spirit to remind you of what the Bible teaches us about God’s character and capabilities. Reminisce about the specific ways God has taken care of you and other people whose stories you know. Express your confidence in God’s wisdom and love, even when life is a bruised and bloody mess. (143)

Why Worry? by Robert Jones

Worry, like other problematic emotions (such as envy, anger, and despair), serves a revelatory function. It reveals the remaining double-mindedness within our souls. As we will see from Jesus’s teaching, worry expresses our remaining inner pockets of idolatry and unbelief. (5)

By his death, resurrection, and ascension he has given new hope, new power, and new identity to all who trust in him. He came to forgive us for our worrying and to help us to change our patterns. While God might not reverse the tough situations that you worry about, he specializes in pardoning, cleansing, and helping you. (5-6)

Worry expresses lingering idolatry in the heart. It signals that in some way you are trusting in yourself—that you are building your life to some degree on things or people other than Jesus. Your anxiety automatically indicates that your heart allegiances are temporarily divided. (6-7)

The antidote to worry, then, is to trust in God. We must replace anxiety with a growing focus on God’s provisions and priorities. (17)

Because of the limited understanding these books have for the root of anxiety, the advice is one-dimensional. As a result, some of these books minimize the usefulness of medications to treat anxiety. All of these books place a heavy burden on those who suffer from anxiety.

Are we all sinners? Absolutely. If we look hard enough, can we find sinful attitudes and behaviors that we should repent of? Of course. Does that mean that all anxiety is rooted in sinful attitudes and behaviors that we need to repent of? Not necessarily.

Let me give an example. Sometimes I go to sleep at night content and peaceful. I have cares and concerns, but nothing is weighing on me. But in the morning, before I even open my eyes, I am gripped by fear, panic, dread, and anxiety. My mind races to figure out why I’m anxious. It may very well latch on to something, but was that what caused the anxiety? No. Often illness or hormones are the root cause for me.

When anxiety grips me that way, being told to look to my own sin is like heaping burdens on me. No one wants to be anxious. Many of us who struggle with anxiety are hanging on to the promises of Scripture and our faith as tightly as we can. We know our sins. They’re painfully clear to us.

Instead of introspection, what we need are words of comfort and hope and a reminder to look away from ourselves to the One who saves. At the foot of the cross, we can lay our burdens down and cast all our cares on Him. He is the God who hears.

I hope these short reviews will help others who are looking for resources on anxiety. My prayer is that we may all know peace, real, lasting peace.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30, NASB

Can Men and Women Be Friends?

Can men and women be friends? Our society often says we can’t. As Billy Crystal explains in When Harry Met Sally, “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And sex is what everything is about these days. We’re so saturated in it that we don’t realize how much sex has influenced even the meanings of words.

Intimacy? Sex
Relationship? Euphamism for sex
Affection? Sex
Attraction? Precursor to sex
Friendship? Euphamism for sex (friends w/ benefits), a brief stop on the way to sex, or a demotion from a sexual relationship (“just” friends, the friend zone)
Purity? Not having sex outside marriage

It’s like a Freudian Rorschach test. No matter the question, the answer is always sex.

If the world’s right about the meaning of friendship, intimacy, affection, and attraction, then how can godly men and women possibly be friends? Avoiding interactions between men and women would be the safest option if we want to be sexually pure and holy, right?

But what if the world’s wrong? What if the Bible has a better way for us to pursue purity and holiness through our friendships, even the coed ones? Those are the questions that Aimee Byrd answers in her latest book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Aimee explains that the reason we get tripped up on the question of coed friendship is we’ve forgotten who and whose we are. As believers, we are brothers and sisters united in Christ (14). We’re family! And as such, we have a shared calling and purpose. We were made for communion with God and with each other (49). That’s true for us here and now, and especially true for us in the new heavens and new earth that are to come (142).

We are called to be “sacred siblings” (174). And when we consider our questions through the lens of family, of brothers and sisters, we can see not only how men and women can be friends, but how we must be friends. Family relationships are the key.

Seeing each other as sacred siblings changes our understanding of intimacy, affection, attraction, friendship, and purity. As Aimee explains, “We know how to promote holiness in brother-sister relationships” (67).

What does intimacy mean in a family setting? As Aimee notes, “We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire” (35-36). But, “If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered” (93).

What about affection? When we listen to the world, we see affection through Freud’s eyes, “Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire – to our genitals – meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. … This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification (35). But, when we remember we are brothers and sisters in Christ who are called to communion with God, we can see affection as God teaches us. As Aimee says, “We can share in his love for his people with godly, appropriate affection, and all our affections will be returned to him in fullness of glory” (73).

And attraction? We associate attraction with sexual interest or lust. But that’s a very limited meaning of the word. We’re “attracted” to people who share our interests. We should be “attracted” to admirable qualities in others: kindness, gentleness, joy, humility, generosity. Aimee explains, “Attraction is not impurity … We should be attracted to godliness in a godly way. … Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (87-88).

What does friendship mean in the context of sacred siblings? Between social media “friends,” “friends with benefits,” and “we’re just friends,” we’ve completely lost the meaning of friendship. “On the one hand, we have trivialized friendship through technology; on the other, we warn against real friendship between the sexes” (96, emphasis original). But as Christians, we know friendship means more. As Aimee writes, “Spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (98)

What about purity? We should want to pursue purity, but is purity found in simply avoiding members of the other sex? Aimee explains, “Purity isn’t merely abstention. It isn’t practiced by avoidance. Purity isn’t just a physical status for a virgin, nor is it even the success of a faithful marriage. Purity is preeminently about our communion with God – a fountain that overflows into our other relationships (69).

And that’s Aimee’s point. We don’t pursue purity by avoiding each other. “The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. It perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings” (76).

Does that mean we should just throw caution to the wind? No of course not. We must use wisdom and discernment. We need to be serious about sin, temptation, and our role in promoting the holiness of others:

Of course we promote one another’s holiness, take sin seriously, and realize that we can easily fall into it. We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the other sex, we don’t naively assume that everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. But, rather than creating extrabiblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we will be able to perform ordinary acts of kindness and business without scandal. (77)

Is Aimee simply naive about the way the world works? Not at all. In fact, she offers practical advice on how to exercise discernment.

If we are weak in this area, or with a particular person, we should certainly not put ourselves in situations where we know we will stumble or cause a brother or sister to stumble. We should never feed temptation to sin. Doing so is a red flag that you are not genuine in godly friendship. (88)

If you are married and find yourself romantically attracted to someone other than your spouse, or if you are single and find yourself romantically attracted to someone who is off limits for any reason, then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings. You may need to avoid car rides or eating together with this specific person. The same applies if you discern that others have inappropriate romantic feelings toward you. (91-92)

If you are married and your spouse is uncomfortable with your friendship with someone, whether it’s a man or a woman, listen to their reasons. (92)

Is Aimee trying to undermine holiness and purity? Quite the contrary, “We all agree that Christians should care for purity. I wholeheartedly advocate sexual purity and would never want to influence anyone into promiscuity or sexual sin of any kind” (63).

What she wants is to encourage us to pursue actual holiness and purity but not by “pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity” (77). What does she mean by “pickpocketing purity”? She means that by avoiding each other we end up thinking we’re being pure but without actually developing purity or holiness. “Many of the hard-and-fast rules that we add to protect ourselves work against Christ’s sanctifying work, because they point to ourselves rather than to dependence on him” (81, emphasis original).

Without spoiling the book, if avoidance isn’t the answer, how should we pursue holiness and purity?

[B]ecause we are God’s people, siblings in Christ, we are to promote one another’s holiness, which includes rousing one another to active, godly love, assembling with our siblings to publicly worship our God, and encouraging one another in godly living. These are the practices of sacred siblings. (174)

How do we do that? “Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ” (232).

By doing so, we can witness to the world that there is a better way. We can demonstrate the intimacy, affection, and friendship that we can and must have as brothers and sisters in Christ:

The church should be the very place where the world sees genuine friendship, no matter what sex you are. No matter what race you are. No matter what your social status is. This is where the world should be able to look and see what friendship is and how to do it. (232)

Aimee’s book is a much-needed one in our overly sexualized culture. I’m thankful for Aimee’s work and her willingness to step into this particular minefield.

Do you want to know more about how to be sacred siblings, about the challenges and blessings of spiritual friendship? Read her book. Aimee gives a thoroughly biblical answer to the question, “Why can’t we be friends?” Men and women can be friends but only when we remember who and whose we are, brothers and sisters united in Christ. We’re family, and it’s time we start acting like it.

Top 10 Posts of 2017

2017 has been an interesting year. Looking back over the top 10 posts for my blog, I noticed that the debate over the eternal subordination of the Son continues to be a topic of interest. Unsurprisingly, this year’s salvation by faith alone debate was also one of the big topics as were articles on what women are taught. A couple of older articles round out the top 10 as perennial favorites. Thank you all for your comments and shares. I appreciate you all very much! Happy New Year and may God bless you richly this coming year.

10. ETERNAL SUBORDINATION OF THE SON AND THE ESV TRANSLATION

The truly dangerous result of the ESV translation of heautou/emautoú as “authority” is apparent in the John 16:13 passage. That passage is speaking of the Spirit. While the Son, after the incarnation, has a human will and a divine will, the Spirit does not. The Spirit’s authority is always the one divine authority. If the Spirit is not speaking on His “own authority,” whose authority is He speaking on?

9. TRUE WOMAN 101: DIVINE DESIGN

There is no good news here. According to Kassian and DeMoss, women are the ones at fault, but if we follow these guidelines for biblical womanhood then we can be holy. That’s not the gospel. In fact, the book is so works oriented and so lacking in Christ’s work of redemption that a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness reading it would probably not be offended in the least.

8. WHY I’M NOT USING SUSAN WISE BAUER’S CURRICULA: A REVIEW OF PETER ENNS’ BIBLE CURRICULUM

Having read the parents’ guide, I can say that there are a few things on which I agree with Dr. Enns. I agree that it is very important to teach our children that the whole of the Bible is about Jesus. I agree that our children should learn from the very start who Jesus is and why the Bible is His story. I also agree that our children should be well-educated in the various challenges to the truth of the Bible that they are likely to face. My concerns, however, greatly outweigh these areas of agreement. The problems that I see with Telling God’s Story can be grouped into three basic topics: methodology, Biologos/evolution, and view of Scripture.

7. DOES IT MATTER WHAT WOMEN ARE TAUGHT?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

6. THE DESIRE OF THE WOMAN: A RESPONSE TO SUSAN FOH’S INTERPRETATION

For such a short article, it has had a profound influence on conservative Christian teaching. 40 years later, numerous books, articles, sermons, and even Bible translations have adopted Foh’s unique interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Even those who swear they’ve never heard of Susan Foh teach her interpretation as if it is the best or only understanding of the passage.

My concern is that Foh’s interpretation is an example of eisegesis with dangerous implications. I’m always wary of “novel” or “unique” interpretations of Scripture especially when they arise in response to some contemporary situation.

5. CAN’T WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE?!

We should not be afraid to delve into the Scriptures and even to teach women doctrine. I’m sure that some churches and leaders may be hesitant to take this approach with women’s Bible studies. But according to recent articles and studies, the people in the pews are hungry for the Word. And, yes, it may be a stretch for some women who are used to the popular book studies with floral artwork and script fonts and pastel colors that let women know they’re “safe” to read. Women are regularly challenged by popular culture to try new things that might seem difficult or different to begin with. We all know the hardest days of diet and exercise are the early days before we develop new good habits.

4. THE PIPER SCALE OF FEMALE LEADERSHIP

Recently I was re-reading John Piper’s explanation for what types of careers and jobs are appropriate for women. He goes into a long and complicated description of how to determine what types of leadership and influence a woman can have over a man without doing damage to their masculinity and femininity. It occurred to me that his criteria and subsequent explanation sound a lot like the Pritchard poetry scale from Dead Poet’s Society. So with profound apologies to Robin Williams, Dead Poet’s Society, and the authors of the screenplay, I present to you the Piper Scale of Female Leadership:

3. SALVATION BY GRACE ALONE THROUGH FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE

Piper is saying that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone but that there is also a final salvation separate from justification that includes our works. In this way, he says, we are saved through faith AND works. This is not simply sloppiness or poor wording. This is what he is teaching, and it is clear from the context of the article. And it is contrary to Scripture, to the Reformation, and to the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

2. SAYING FAREWELL TO THE ESV

Between the “contrary to” in Genesis 3 and 4 and the missing “only begotten” in the New Testament passages, my husband and I decided that the ESV wasn’t the translation we wanted to use as a family. To be clear, we’re not dogmatic about it. Our church and many of our friends still use the ESV, we aren’t complaining about it or demanding change. But for our own devotions individually and as a family, we’ve decided to switch to the New American Standard (NASB). We have four main reasons for doing so.

1. ANXIETY: MY THORN IN MY FLESH

I woke up last week with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Nothing, in particular, was wrong, but that didn’t stop my mind from racing through every possible thing that I could worry about. And then it latched on to something. And I began to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. And then “but, what if?” And then it latched on again. And I continued to obsess about it. And worry about it. And I prayed and talked myself down. Again, and again, and again. For days. Every night I’d go to sleep praying about it. Every morning I’d wake up early with the same dread, and the cycle would begin again. It was exhausting.

What is the Mission of the Church?

[Editor’s note: I originally wrote this in 2012. Based on many current discussions, I decided it would be good to revisit it.]

What is the mission of the church? What is shalom? What is the church’s role in the pursuit of social justice? Pastors Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert address these and other related questions in their book, What is the Mission of the Church: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission.

There have been many books and articles written and many sermons given on the topics of mission, social justice, shalom, flourishing, and the great commission. Some say that the mission of the church is to continue the work of reconciliation that Jesus started, especially in the realm of unjust social structures. Others say that the mission of the church is to proclaim the good news that Jesus has saved us from our sins. Some say that the gospel message isn’t complete unless the church is pursuing the peace and prosperity of the city. Others say that the gospel message is simply that Jesus died for our sins and was raised for our justification.

Given the diversity of opinions on these issues, it isn’t surprising that Pastors DeYoung and Gilbert felt called to write a book that addresses the topic of mission from a solidly Reformed perspective. The book is not a heavy theological treatise. Rather, it is aimed for the average person or pastor who is interested in understanding the current discussion on mission. The biblical exegesis is clear and easy to follow.

Early in the book, the authors explain that the book was written to answer the question: What is the mission of the church? Particularly, they write that part of their purpose is to correct “an overexpansive definition that understands mission to be just about every good thing Christians could do as a partner with God in his mission to redeem the whole world” (20). Their concern is that this “overexpansive definition” runs the risk of marginalizing the mission of making disciples, which they argue is what “makes Christian mission Christian mission” (22) and also places considerable guilt on Christians who feel “the church is either responsible for most problems in the world or responsible to fix these problems” (23). The authors are careful, though, to point out that their book is not a critique of their brothers in Christ in the Acts 29 and Redeemer networks (20).

So what is the mission of the church? According to DeYoung and Gilbert it is:

The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father. (62)

Seems pretty simple, but very profound.

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Does it matter what women are taught?

Since I first began writing, one of my main concerns has been the effect false teaching has on the church, and particularly on women. It is a topic dear to my heart. Because of this, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review Aimee Byrd’s latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God. Aimee also has a heart for the women in the church and what they’re being taught.

In No Little Women, Aimee addresses the need for women to be taught both solid doctrine and how to be discerning. The book is geared towards two audiences: pastors/elders and Christian women, although anyone would benefit from reading it.  Aimee wants pastors/elders to take an active role in teaching, equipping, and protecting women in the church. She asks, “[W]hat is your expectation for the women in your church? (271)” She also wants women to be competent allies and not “little women.”

The title comes from Paul’s warnings in 2 Timothy 3:6-7,

For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (NASB)

Aimee notes that “weak” women could be translated “little” or “small” women (23). This description does not mean that women are by nature “weak” and gullible, but it is a useful warning that godly women should heed. If we’re not going to be weak and easily led astray, we will need to be well grounded in the Scripture. We need to know what we believe.

Aimee warns that today the greatest danger for women is likely coming from books and materials marketed for women by Christian publishers and authors.

In many cases, women’s ministry becomes a back door for bad doctrine to seep into the church. Why are there still so many gullible women? … Why is it that so many women sit under good preaching and have all the best intentions, yet fall prey to the latest book marketed to them that is full of poor theology? And why do so many women in the church fail to see that theology has any practical impact on their everyday lives? (22)

For this reason, pastors/elders need to know what’s being taught in women’s books and studies, and women need to learn discernment. Aimee’s book seeks to encourage both. First, Aimee explains why it matters.

All Christians, both men and women, are theologians. We all have beliefs about God. In order to be good theologians, we must be taught good doctrine. Here Aimee emphasizes the importance of the ministry of Word and sacraments done by our ordained leaders. This cannot be replaced by study on our own or in small groups or by parachurch organizations. We need to hear the Word preached and have the sacraments administered in the church by our pastors and elders.

Because men and women together make up the body of Christ, the church, Aimee explains that we must work together. Aimee uses the imagery of the church as the household of God. “In a household that is set up properly, women should thrive alongside the men as they serve according to their giftedness and the needs of the church (87).” Only qualified men should be ordained leaders in the church, but we all have gifts that should be used in the work of the church:

While we do have male leadership in the ministerial office, we don’t want to promote a male culture in the church. Women are not only necessary allies to their husbands within their personal households but are also necessary allies to the men in carrying out the mission of the household of God. And in this way, women have distinct and diverse contributions to make alongside their brothers in Christ. Christ’s own ministry involved women as necessary allies. (106)

In order for women to be competent and to fulfill their roles as necessary allies, women must be taught sound doctrine.

Next Aimee explains why women’s ministry is so often a “back door for bad doctrine.” Many times the pastors/elders are unaware of what’s being taught:

Far too many motivated women are dealing with shallow women’s studies – or, worse, just plain false teaching – in their church. One of the biggest laments is that the elders are unaware of the harm that these studies are inflicting on the women in their congregation. And the message from silence is that the women don’t really matter. (31)

Even when pastors/elders are made aware of the dangerous teachings, many times nothing much is done:

It is often difficult to have an edifying, civil conversation with those who insist on teaching material that is being questioned by a discerning and concerned church member or pastor. The pastor often looks like the bad guy if he comes in, after a study has already been established, to gently correct the teaching and offer something to replace it. Families begin to take sides, and some even leave the church. Women have approached their pastors or elders because their group is studying a book with false teaching, only to be ignored as if it doesn’t matter because it’s just the women’s group. (51)

Two of the main reasons bad teaching in women’s ministry gets a pass is that the teachers are so friendly and likable:

Many Christians do not distinguish between a likable personality and the content of that person’s teaching. … [M]any of the women who teach troubling doctrines are very likable. Their books are well packaged, their talks are endearing, and they are exceptionally good at honing in on the common struggles that women are dealing with. They approach these topic with humor, self-disclosure, and warmth. And their lingo sounds pretty Christian. … [W]e think we can let our guard down. (48)

And many people are hesitant to critique women teachers:

So often, the theology of women such as these is not critiqued because we don’t want to hurt feelings. Somehow it comes off as not nice to critique a woman’s teaching. Well, that isn’t taking women seriously, either. It is not insulting to point out error. What is unloving is giving a teacher license to teach falsely because you like her personality, because you want to believe that it’s true, or worse, because you don’t want to engage critically with a woman. (149)

As Aimee says, it should not be this way. Because women matter, because women are necessary allies, because women need to be competent, we must hold all of the teaching, no matter who it’s geared to, to the same high standard. To do this, we need practical skills to learn how to discern whether a book or study is theologically healthy or not.

In the last third of the book, Aimee sets out to teach us how to do be discerning. She gives a great illustration of the nature of the problem, equating false teaching in women’s books to an autoimmune disease in the church:

While there is a lot of heresy being sold by the Christian book industry, books marketed for and popular with Christian women could often be diagnosed as having autoimmune diseases. Without a thorough inspection, they seem to have some good points and experiences that women can relate to. But the authors tend not to have a sound theological immune system. … Inevitably what happens is that they being attacking healthy teaching in a subversive kind of way, causing all kinds of inflammation and various chronic conditions that weaken the church. For some reason, they do not react well to attempts to correct them, and they want to continue overactively spreading their messages. (234)

It’s crucial that we learn to assess the theological health of a book. To this end, Aimee lists four essential questions to ask about the theology of a book.

  1. What does the author say about God’s Word? (223)
  2. What does the author say about who man is? (224)
  3. What does the author say about God? (226)
  4. What does the author say about what God has done and is doing? (228)

Aimee also explains that not all theological “illnesses” in a book are equally dangerous. She describes the process of determining how dangerous it is as theological triage. She divides the theological differences into three categories: first-order, second-order, and third-order:

[T]he essentials, such as the authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, and justification by faith, are what Mohler calls “first-order” doctrines that are necessary for a Christian to believe. Any teaching that contradict first-order doctrines are heretical. (231)

Examples of second-order doctrines would be mode of baptism and church government. These are important, but not essential for faith. Third-order doctrines would be something like eschatology. On these we can often agree to disagree.

Aimee then uses several examples from popular Christian books to demonstrate how to go about implementing these discernment skills. The examples are very helpful. I thought for my purposes here, I would use a quote from a new book as a practical demonstration of the essential questions and triage that Aimee recommends.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is a popular author and speaker. She and Mary Kassian have written many books as part of the True Woman movement. I’ve written before about my concerns with the doctrine in True Woman 101. One of my main concerns was that Kassian and DeMoss taught the Eternal Subordination of the Son. After this summer’s Trinity debate, I wondered if the new books coming out would continue to teach ESS.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel was released this week and is the first book written since Nancy DeMoss married and became Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. What follows is a quote from Adorned:

But Paul himself, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, specifically sets forth the divine order of headship and submission as being timeless and transcultural – the husband-wife relationship patterned after the God-Son relationship and the Christ-man relationship.

I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Cor. 11:3)

For a wife, submission means accepting God’s good order for her life, just as a husband submits himself to God in accepting God’s order for his life. And it gives her the privilege of representing the mystery and the beauty of the Son’s submission to the Father. For even within the Trinity, we see this paradoxical arrangement — seamless unity with separate roles and different identities, perfect equality with pure submission.

The Father and the Son, we know, are both equally God. And yet the Son chooses to submit Himself to the will of the Father:

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will by the will of him who sent me. (John 6:38)

The submission of Christian wives to their husbands is a powerful and beautiful picture of the Son’s submission to His Father and of the church’s submission to Christ. These wives, together with husbands who love them selflessly and sacrificially, put the gospel story on vivid and compelling display. (264-265)

Using Aimee’s criteria, we can assess the theological health of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book, Adorned. What I first noticed in reading the quote is that it teaches the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This answers question 3 above, “what does the author say about God?”

Teaching ESS, in turn, indicates a misuse of Scripture for both the passages quotes, which answers question 1, “what does the author say about God’s Word?” Both 1 Corinthians 11:3 and John 6:38 are speaking about Christ as the God-man. When Christ submits to God, it is His humanity that is submitting, not His divinity. The submission is not within the Trinity.

By applying this wrong view of the Trinity to the relationship of husband and wife, the quote illustrates a faulty anthropology. That answers question 2, “what does the author say about  who man is?”

In answer to question 4, “what does the author say about what God has done and is doing?”,  the quote equates the gospel with the relationship of a husband and wife which presents a severely truncated version of the gospel. Husbands and wives do reflect one aspect of the gospel in illustrating part of the relationship between Christ and the church.

However, there is no way for husbands and wives to tell the full story of the gospel, that Christ was incarnate and made man, that He lived a sinless life fulfilling the law for us, that He died a sacrificial death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, that He was raised on the third day overcoming death and hell, that His righteousness has been applied to us, and that He will come again in glory and we will be with Him forever. That is the full gospel and no marriage, as godly as is might be, could possibly demonstrate all of it. And we shouldn’t settle for less than the full story.

As far as triage goes, the Trinity is a first-order doctrine. By teaching Eternal Subordination of the Son, Adorned is teaching a false view of the Trinity. That is a serious problem. As Aimee says in No Little Women,

If an author is not in line with what God says about himself, then you should have serious doubts about what she is teaching you. (227)

Because of this, I would not recommend Adorned to others without seriously cautioning them.

I am very thankful for Aimee’s work in No Little Women. I hope everyone will read it. With Aimee, I hope that pastors and elders are encouraged to get involved with the women of their church in order to teach, equip, protect, and utilize them in the work of the church. I also hope women especially will be spurred to greater faithfulness and discernment. Our churches need us to be competent women in our roles as necessary allies. May we be “little women” no longer.