Category Archives: Theology

“My Christianity is Better Than Yours”

Your Christianity must look exactly like mine. Or you might not be a Christian at all. Or at least, not as mature and holy as I am.

What a silly statement, right? But we secretly believe it sometimes.

The complementarian couples are yelling, “Submit to your husband!” and the egalitarians are yelling, “Mutual submission!” But amid all the shouting, they don’t see what they have in common: working marriages that display sacrificial love and the giving up of self-interest for another, in a world of broken relationships based on selfishness.

The Republican Christians shout, “Pro-Life! Dignity of Marriage!” and the Democrat Christians are shouting, “Creation Care! Help for the poor! Equal rights!” And the shouting match continues over which political party could best represent Christ on this earth. Jesus, however, beckons us to daily live all of these values in order to point to a Coming Kingdom. Such a life goes far beyond a vote and legislation.

Older generations fight for hymns and younger generations fight for contemporary worship, both sides claiming that their worship music is more theologically sound or better musically or better suited to the audience. No one bothers to ask whether God is pleased with the worship offered to Him, and perhaps asking this question might kill some of the fighting.

The Gospel doesn’t hinge on any of it. It is going forth into the world, and we can either participate in obedience, or lag behind in our silly Christian wars. Christ is risen from the dead, and offers life to sinners who desperately need it. The Gospel is not in jeopardy if you believe women can be pastors, or if you believe in infant baptism, if you hate music altogether, or if you voted Democrat. Christ is raising people from the dead and out of their sin.

These issues are important, and people need to debate them – I often wrestle with them myself, even publicly on this blog. But they are becoming the main thing, when they are definitely not the main thing. And when the dialogue becomes a shouting match, all sides lose.

Can we all take a couple of steps back from the wars of gender roles, politics, and every little detail that we each believe or do differently from each other – all the things we think are so important but really aren’t - and see the panorama of what God is doing in this world?

Then perhaps, you might allow others to be Christians who don’t look exactly like you, but are striving to live as Christ with their understanding of Scripture. You might see them as clothed in the righteousness and rightness of Christ, just as you are – their salvation depending only on Him, and not on the right answers to every hard question. You might give grace to them, knowing that you yourself could possibly be wrong in some of the things you do or believe.

And perhaps we could get on with this business of loving our neighbors as ourselves, just as they are.


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The Messy Incarnation

In college, I was introduced to the glory of the incarnation. I had known about it, sure, but I learned how truly incredible it was that God freely gave up his glory to become a man. Think of the power He abandoned. The constant worship He left for humiliation and a cross. The comfort and shiny-ness of heaven for a stable and poverty.

While this was all fascinating and led to much worship, it was all taught to me by men. Great teachers, these men. But the incarnation felt like something too holy to approach – too otherworldly, too beyond my comprehension. There are stars and angels and wise men, and all creation silently worships at this “hallowed manger ground,” as Chris Tomlin sings. The incarnation was so Godly, and not humanly at all.

Until I gave birth.

I look at nativity scenes now with humor. I think, “Are you kidding me?!” The three members of the holy family with a soft halo, serene and peaceful smiles. Jesus is clean, alert, and roly-poly with beautiful brown curls. Mary with her pale skin and glowing smile. All the animals peering in on the scene with interest.

If you’re a mother, you’re probably laughing now. Is this how you looked and felt after giving birth? Is this what your baby looked like? Where was my soft and hazy halo?

The truth is, the incarnation is beautifully displayed in the messiness of birth. After reading Sarah Bessey’s fantastic take on the incarnation from the viewpoint of a woman, I began to meditate on the love of a God who would not only give himself over to a cross, but also to a woman’s womb and birth canal.

I gave birth to my first son without an epidural or any kind of relief. In an age where we seek epidurals to disconnect us from the pain, I wonder if we’ve disconnected ourselves from Mary’s experience (in all honesty, it’s an experience most of us are happy to give up. No judgment here for mamas who elected for epidurals; I had horrible back labor with my second son and the epidural was g.l.o.r.i.o.u.s.) The agony and fear of childbirth, particularly with our firstborn, connects us in a special way to this manger scene.

It helps me to put myself into the Bible stories and imagine all the details – some that are given, and some that are simply common to birth but are skipped over by the writers, whether for the sake of propriety or simply because they are men (though divinely inspired).

So I imagine Mary’s contractions, each squeezing and racking her entire abdomen and pushing the Son of God further down. Remembering women she likely knew who had died in childbirth, wondering if her excruciating pain was normal and if she would die in this holy work. Waiting expectantly, wondering with each push if this was it, or if she could even keep going. Then feeling sure that she cannot do this. “It’s so hard, I’m so tired, I’m so weak.”

She wishes she were somewhere familiar and comforting. Every smell is nauseating, and she curses the animals for leaving their fecal matter. The innkeeper’s family is bringing rags to mop up blood and fluid and the sweat from her face. Joseph flits around in a whirlwind of activity, wondering what he could do that would be helpful. Does Mary yell at him? Cuss in Aramaic?

And then the crowning. Joseph, scared to death, squeaking out that panicky-excitement scream: Mary! I see his head! He has hair!!” Mary, suddenly rallying all her strength and knowing she can do it. The urge comes with the contraction, and she bears down with all her might, grunting and panting. The great I AM WHO I AM, inching through the birth canal. Slowly. And then! He’s here. Mary collapses with relief and exhaustion, and Joseph quickly wraps the screaming boy in his own tunic and places him, cord still connected, on Mary’s chest.

Mary is sobbing and laughing and counting toes and wondering, “Is this really the Messiah?” Gabriel’s words echo in her mind, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”  He is covered in blood and that nasty cheese-like vernix, and he smells sour from the stuff of life. Blood is everywhere. This is the ruler of the everlasting Kingdom? This Jesus? My Jesus?

Mary reclines and has blood-shot eyes and a bruised face from pushing with all her might. The placenta is delivered, but she doesn’t notice. Her son is born. They cut the cord and begin wiping the goo from his wrinkled face, his eyes smooshed with that newborn look and his hair matted and nappy. His face is splotchy red and swollen, perhaps a bruise or two from his harsh entrance into the world. Mary is sore and wonders if she could walk if she tried. Perhaps she tore, as many women do, and sitting up brings tears to her eyes. Joseph helps to clean her legs of the blood and amniotic fluid. The afterpains begin as she nurses, like mini-contractions. The God of heaven, now a helpless newborn who cannot even raise his head to bring himself to the breast for nourishment. She fumbles at the awkward hold and has to fix his latch several times before he gets it.

Is this too human? Will you turn away? Is this not holy enough for a nativity set? This is God-made-flesh.

If you’ve been where Mary is, you know the holiness of it all. You can’t believe your body just did this. You can’t believe that 9 or 10 months of waiting and waddling is finally over. He is here. He is here! And it was the most excruciating, horrible, beautiful, messy, smelly, embarrassing, and sacred moment of your entire life.

The incarnation connects me to the Almighty who created all the universe and orchestrates history, because He came into the world in the same disgusting, undignified, and miraculous way that I did. The incarnation connects me to Mary, blessed among women, for her agony and joy and fear and the giving love of a mother. I can picture Joseph in my husband’s own scared-but-strong face, both wondering how she can bear the pain and how he could possibly ease it, knowing nothing that he does is good enough. The incarnation is God coming into what is utterly human.

The incarnation is a reminder that God does not wait for us in marble temples or buttressed cathedrals; rather, He is present with us in the ordinary, the gross, the everyday stuff that we wallow in.

The incarnation is God-with-us. This is what it is like for God to become flesh.

Mothers, how does your birth experience connect you to the incarnation better?

Is this a little too unholy for you? Too unsanitized?

Is there any unholy part of your life or of you where God will not go and meet you?


Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Theology, Worship


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Why I Believe Women Can and Should Teach Men

If you read the title and thought, “What? Why shouldn’t women teach men?,” then you should probably know my context. My husband is a student at a strong complementarian school, which means a lot of different things for different people. It can mean any or all of the following, depending on how conservative they are. Some I have great respect for and agree with, and some not so much:

1) Husbands have authority over their wives, while the wives should submit to their husband’s leading

2) Women cannot be the head pastor of a church

3) Women cannot be elders in the Church

4) Women cannot be deacons in the Church

5) Women cannot teach any man in the Church, as this would give her spiritual authority over a man.

6) All wives should work only in the home and have lots of babies (just to clarify: I stay home, but I do NOT agree with this)

7) Tim Challies recently argued that women should not even read Scripture in Church. So there is that…

I’m not here to bash complementarians. I think there are great scholars on both sides of the women-in-ministry debate; it isn’t as if all the dumb people are on one side. In fact, I highly recommend Timothy Keller’s new book on marriage, and he is a complementarian. We could gain some wisdom and insight from one another if we’d all tone back the vitriol and listen.

But whatever my views on the above ideas (not all complementarians hold to all of these, but all of these are common ideas where I live), I want to hone in on one: the idea of women teaching men. This has always been a non-issue for me, and I thought I lived in pretty conservative circles before! But now, it seems like it’s in my face constantly. My church actually does not allow women to teach men, and I will respect and submit to my church elders on this and not seek to teach men within the church setting (but I sure hope blogging doesn’t count – men, cover your eyes! You might learn something!) :)

But here is a list of reasons why I think women should teach men (when they are gifted).

1) Women have much to learn from the perspective of men about God, just as men have much to learn from the perspective of women. In Scripture, God is referred to in male terms (male pronouns, “Father,” “Son,” etc.) but God is genderless. He is beyond male and female. But as bearers of the image of God, men and women have different characteristics of God. You know how much I hate gender stereotypes, but they are there because many of them are true (but we all display most of these characteristics to some degree). Men are stronger and are usually more rational. Women are generally more compassionate and nurturing and in-tune with others’ feelings (in my home, that is a little reversed). Men tend to show wrath. Women know what God means when he says he has been in the pain of childbirth over Israel. Men are often focused on providing. Women are often focused on relationships.

We need the teachings of both men and women, because no one gender has a handle on God – not even both genders together can grasp God’s nature! Shouldn’t we desire all the help we can get?

2) Women are gifted. Some try to get around this by saying that God wouldn’t gift women for teaching, because He intended it to be a male thing. But I know lots of women who are gifted to teach. In the church I just came from, it was common knowledge that the best teacher in the whole church was a woman! At my university, the homiletics (preaching) professor will tell you that the best preacher he ever taught was a woman. I’ve heard of many men who learned much from Beth Moore (usually introduced through their wives – I know Beth Moore makes a big deal about not teaching men, but she is doing it on accident). Why should men be able to exercise and develop all of their spiritual gifts, while women hold back and thus rob the Church of edification and knowledge that it so desperately needs?

3) Cross-cultural double standards. There are more female missionaries than male missionaries. So what happens when a single woman plants a church consisting of men? She teaches them. She disciples them. And most times we don’t have any problem with this – she is overseas, after all. These are different circumstances. So long as she doesn’t teach our men.  I’ve heard of some organizations requiring the woman to teach a man in private, who then goes and teaches the entire congregation. This seems ridiculous to me. Let the woman teach! Free the man of the puppetry! Give everyone their dignity back.

4) The authority doesn’t come from who is teaching. It comes from the Word of God. And that, my friends, doesn’t require a penis. (Too blunt?) When Pat Robertson made his big remark about it being okay to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer’s, did he have much authority? No, nearly everyone was outraged and discredited him. Because the Word of God has authority, not men. Not teachers of any gender. The Scriptures give the authority, not gender.

5) I believe the 1 Timothy 2 commands need to be weighed with the historical context.

11 A womanshould learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Several scholars teach the following (I am no historian, but this method of interpretation seems more reasonable than simply reading every verse and saying that all things apply to all cultures at all times – that will get you into trouble in some passages!). In the Socratic teaching methods of the day, questions would be asked and answered as a method of teaching. But those who weren’t “caught up” to the lessons were expected to be quiet and ask later. This type of teaching likely carried over to the Church. The men were often more educated (since women were considered chattel), so they would be further ahead than the women in the teachings of Scripture.  The women were eager to learn, and so asked many questions out of turn, causing a disruption. Thus, women were to learn in quietness, and then ask their husbands at home. Also, I don’t think that this verse necessarily makes the leap that to teach is to have authority.

This is a hugely complicated issue, so please don’t misunderstand this little paragraph for a full study on the passage. But this is one view out there. I humbly offer it.

6) Women today are educated, sometimes much more than men in any given setting. Am I, who have a 4-year degree in Christian Studies and read theology books like everyone else reads Twilight, never to speak up in a group that includes men who are uneducated but are spouting immature or false beliefs? My passion is theology. Should I never correct a false view for the sake of keeping the command never to teach a man? Are we a little too concerned about authority rather than truth?

7) Junia. Phoebe. Deborah. Priscilla. All women. All commended for their contributions to God’s Kingdom. All having some authority over men.

8) At what point do boys become men and should no longer have female teachers? 18 (traditional American culture)? 13 (as in Jewish culture)? At what point do mothers not teach their sons for fear of wielding authority over them? When they move out of their parents’ basement and get a real job? This is kind of a joke, but I think it’s a real question, too.

9) The world can’t afford for women to not teach men. I have led more men to Christ than I have women. I didn’t seek this, it just happened that way. The most faithful person I ever mentored? A man. He actually came to Christ when my former youth pastor (a man) referred this guy and his tough questions to me via email. He has grown tremendously under my teaching for the last 7 years (and now my husband’s teaching, mostly). I don’t say any of this to puff myself up, because the overwhelming feeling I’ve had is that I had no control over any of it. God drew him in. The Spirit convicted and taught him. And I had struggled through a lot of the same questions and was eager to discuss them. I’m not saying God couldn’t have done any of it without me. But I was available to God for this work, and God used me. He didn’t interrupt our internet connection and bring in another man. He used me, a woman, to teach this man. Was this disobedience on my part? Non-submission? No.

Women, our time on earth is short. People are hurtling toward death. We are commanded to take the name of Christ to the ends of the earth so that He might receive glory. We are commanded to use our spiritual gifts for the edification and encouragement of the Body of Christ so that we can all do our own job.


What do you think about women teaching men? Why?

Or was this a non-issue to you?



Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Bible, Church Life, Gender Issues, Theology


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Revelation 3 – In Context

There are a handful of passages in Scripture (okay, a big, heaping handful) that people often take out of context and try to make them say things that the passage doesn’t actually say. Two major ones are in the same letter to the church in Laodicea. To give you a little context (because context determines meaning), John wrote Revelation while in exile on Patmos. While worshipping, he was swept up in a vision to heaven, where he met Jesus, who had messages to seven churches throughout Asia Minor. So, in Revelation 3:14-22:

14“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

   These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

   19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

   21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

1) Hot, Cold, or Lukewarm. When Jesus says that he wishes the Laodiceans were either hot or cold, he is not saying, “I wish you were either a Christian or not a Christian – stop riding the fence by being lukewarm!” Have you guys heard this interpretation? I’ve heard it a lot. Jesus absolutely doesn’t want people to be against him!

To better understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to know a little about Laodicea. Laodicea’s water supply was awful. It was full of sediment and lime deposits. Therefore, they had to have their drinking water piped in using an aqueduct system. The two main cities that they pumped their water in from were Hierapolis to the north, which had hot springs; and Colossae, which had cold mountain water. But by the time the water was piped in from either city to Laodicea, it was lukewarm. It was disgusting to drink. Jesus is just saying that the church in Laodicea disgusts him – contextualized for their better understanding. Hot water is good for hot drinks, cold water is refreshing, but no one wants lukewarm water.

The cause of his disgust is important for us Americans today, who have a lot in common with this city. They were very self-sufficient, and the rest of this letter speaks to their context. Laodicea was a wealthy banking center (‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ and “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich”), and they had even arrogantly refused to allow government funds to help rebuild after an earthquake in 60 AD – they did not want to seem dependent on anyone. There was also a medical school famous for its eye doctors and eye salve (“You are…blind” and “salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.”) The Laodiceans were also famous for their black wool (“You are…naked,” and “and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness“).

Jesus is pointing out to them how they have shut him out with their self-sufficiency. Dry prayerlessness often comes from a lack of need before God – though we are, at every moment, in desperate need. Wealth and gadgets and “important things to do” can convince us that we really don’t need God that much. We are rich, but we are spiritually destitute. Wealth and financial stability can lure us into a false sense of security in the wrong things. We need Christ.

2) Knocking at the Door. Most gospel tracts have this verse in it, telling unbelievers that Jesus is waiting at the door of your heart, hoping you’ll let him in. The problem with this usage is that in the letter, this is addressed to the church in Laodicea. They are already believers (even though they aren’t acting like it). Jesus is inviting the strayed believers to fellowship with Him. So while Jesus is giving a strong rebuke to the wayward Christians, he is doing it out of love (v.19) and is still extending grace and communion with the Laodiceans. It’s beautiful, really.

When Jesus rebukes us, he doesn’t just say, “Do it right, stop doing it wrong.” He invites us in for a meal. He draws us into fellowship with Himself. He gives tremendous grace. It is in fellowship with Him that we find how much we truly need Him.

Context makes a big difference, huh?

What other passages of Scripture have you seen taken out of context?

How do you see self-sufficiency in your life pushing Jesus out?


Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Bible, Grace, Theology


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The Gospel-Driven Church

This week, we’ve been talking about how the Gospel changes everything – from the way we live and think, to our marriages, to how we parent our children - though Christian books teaching us how to do these things are rarely Gospel-centered. Today might be a tough one for many of us: what does a Gospel-driven Church look like?

“Church” is a somewhat nebulous term sometimes, so I’ll go ahead and define it as I’m using it here. The Church is the universal people of God – who happen to meet in buildings we tend to call “churches” in English. These churches (little “c”) can be filled with non-believers, people who think they’re believers, and actual Christians. When you see the word “Church” in the Bible, the Greek word it is translated from is “ekklesia,” which literally means “called-out ones.” The idea is that we’ve been called out from the world and set apart, and we’ve been called together. I’ll mostly be talking about local assemblies of the Church here, and I’ll use little “c” for local bodies. But always keep it in the back of your mind – you belong to a bigger “Church” (big “C” = universal here)

Ok, so how are our churches not Gospel-driven? We have left the Gospel in the dust when we:

1) Focus on numbers rather than discipleship. Remember when we talked about how the Gospel isn’t synonymous with salvation? Here is where we get a big hiccup when we get the words confused. Many, many American churches are so focused on bringing new people in that they neglect the people they already have. It sounds noble to hear them defend it: “MORE people are hearing the Gospel! MORE people are getting saved!” But what are they saved for? What are they saved to? What happens more often than not, is these people have said the magic prayer, started coming to church, and then sit in the pews. They are really holy if they come early for Sunday School. And that’s all we really expect of them.

I was once a member of a church that is so focused on numbers that it is how they describe success: “We’re up to 300 now! The Lord is really blessing us!” However, there were very few people exercising any spiritual gifts, no evangelism, no outreach in the poor neighborhood they were located in (and had intentions of building in a better neighborhood), and the new people were all Christians coming from another church that was having issues. There was no real discipleship happening. Just more people to fill the pews. Numbers can be helpful. They can be descriptive and show us trends. If your numbers are falling, you can look at what might be happening and try to fix it (or it can be a good sign that you’re not tickling their ears and they’re being offended in good ways). But when numbers become the goal, you’ve lost sight of the Gospel – which transforms people. We need to do what we can to guide people to a deeper connection with Christ – who alone can change them.

2) Have a few professional Christians, then everyone else basically does nothing. The Gospel radically changes us because God gives the Holy Spirit to his followers. As we saw last Wednesday (in a somewhat controversial topic), the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to each person. These gifts edify the entire Body, so that each person is needed and useful. But what’s our usual pattern? We outsource.

The pastor usually does all of the preaching (which also requires much studying – hopefully), counseling, hospital visits, conflict mediation, marriages, funerals, and oversees and plans a lot of events. Many people don’t realize how many hours most pastors work to do all the things the congregation expects of them - and they are on-call non-stop. Some pastors even have to run other ministries on top of all that (food pantries, music, youth, etc.). This is why we see a lot of pastors burn out, have out-of-control kids, or start getting into secret sin – they barely have time for their families, to nurture their own relationship with Christ, or to even do everything they need to do well. The deacons or elders will usually pitch in for certain occasions, and then there are Sunday School teachers and volunteers for nursery, but the rest of the church is happy to sit in the pews and allow the “professionals” to do their ministry for them. This is not a biblical model, and it undermines the discipleship that we so desperately need.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes:

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

What is the role of the leaders of the church – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? To equip everyone else for works of service. So if you’re a pastor, how can you lead in such a way that you’re pushing people to connect with the Holy Spirit to see how He has gifted each of them? Those of you with the gift of evangelism – it’s awesome that you can share the Gospel really well. How about training others – mentoring individuals or groups, or leading seminars or trips? How can you teach others what you know? If you’re a leader in some capacity in the church, your goal should be to work yourself out of a job! Bring up the next generation of servants! You’d probably be surprised by how many people are willing to serve, but feel unqualified or are never asked.

I learned this week that something that my church does is train counselors. They teach men and women how to counsel different people with different issues in a biblical way – I have never heard of a church doing this! This could free up the pastor to focus on discipleship, and it also guides laypeople in the church to do their share. This model is meant to bring us all to maturity – we don’t need a building full of infants! We need mature believers who can practice their gifts – we need everyone. This is a Christ-centered model, rather than a pastor-centered model. This also helps when a leader leaves or passes away; the entire church doesn’t grind to a halt, because everyone is already doing much of the work and can step in and pick up slack for a time while the pastor search ensues.

3) We only come to church to get our little shot of inspiration for the week. If you don’t want a Christ-centered, Gospel-driven church, then show up right as the service starts (or a little late to be safe), don’t make eye contact with anyone, do worship God and listen to the sermon carefully, and then get out of dodge before the closing prayer. Because you might bump up against someone. Church isn’t meant for you. You can’t say your church is “in the mountains” or “in the bass boat.” Yes, you can and should worship God in those places. But we don’t gather at church for your benefit, for what you can get from the sermon, or how you feel when you sing that song.

Who can you encourage? Who can you connect with? Who can you ask sincerely, “How are you? Really?” There are a lot of lonely people in churches. They smile through the handshakes and the passing greetings. And no one knows who they are. No one knows how they are. No one pushes them into Christ. No one knows how they are gifted. No one stays with them long to show an example or to pray for them or to care at all. I tend to see myself as this person, and I wonder how many of you are thinking the same thing. But what if we turned our loneliness into an outward thing? To try to find someone who may also be lonely or struggling, and reach out to them? What if we made our corporate gatherings about intentionally reaching out to those we are worshiping with – so that we could truly worship God together? This is a body that “grows and builds itself up in love.”

What other ways have churches lost sight of the Gospel?

What are other ways we can we shift our focus back to Christ in our churches?


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Speaking in Tongues?

In Christian circles of all kinds, you normally get one of two extreme views of the gift of speaking in tongues: a) you need to speak in tongues as proof that you’ve received the Holy Spirit, or b) no one speaks in tongues anymore. My background led me toward “b” for a long time, but I’ve changed my views (though certainly not to “a”).

First, let’s define what I mean by speaking in tongues. There are two types:

1) Speaking fluently in a real human language that you have not learned. We see this happening in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost. There was a huge gathering of Jews from all over the place, and they all heard the “wonders of God” declared in their own language.

2) An unknown language, sometimes called the “tongues of angels” from 1 Corinthians 13.

Many have tried to explain away the gift of tongues by saying that it is simply an aptitude for learning other languages. There is no biblical evidence for this – it just seems like a way to avoid being uncomfortable about things we don’t understand.

Either way, the tongues are clearly an outpouring of the Spirit in every context that it occurs in Scripture. It is difficult to use Acts as our guide to understand the gift of tongues, since Luke just matter-of-factly says that people did it, and it was a sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians, however, we have teachings from Paul on how the gift of tongues is to be used in the Church, so I think that’s a more relevant place for us to study this confusing topic.

1) Tongues are Gifts of the Spirit used to Edify the Body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 I’ve highlighted the spiritual gifts below.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Now, when you take those spiritual gifts assessments, you will definitely see wisdom, faith, and knowledge on there. You might see healing and prophecy. But we’re uncomfortable with miraculous powers and speaking and interpreting tongues, so they are often left off those lists. But here, you can see there is no distinction between “normal” gifts and “crazy” gifts – they are all given by the same Spirit of God, for the benefit of the Church. Any attempts to distinguish between gifts that remain and gifts that ceased are arbitrary, and I have to ask, “Are we making those distinctions based on what we’re comfortable with God doing in our churches?” We need to be careful about the prominence we give our Western worldview (supernatural = suspicious, material evidence = rock solid) over the biblical worldview (God created and interacts with our world on a personal level, which will make us uncomfortable sometimes).

Paul’s argument throughout the rest of the chapter is that each of us is needed within the Body of Christ because of our different gifts. So we need to be very careful about marginalizing those with the gift of tongues (or other “crazy” gifts) because they will be used to sharpen, teach, edify, and encourage us every bit as much as someone with wisdom or faith.

2) Not Everyone Has the Gift of Tongues. At the end of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul goes on to say:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

He is asking a series of rhetorical questions, which is something Paul does quite frequently in his writings. He doesn’t answer it (because, you know…it’s rhetorical), but the answer to these questions is, “Of course not!” He had just finished explaining how we’re not all hands or feet or elbows, and how an eye cannot say to a hand, “I don’t need you!” So no, we are not all apostles, prophets, teachers…or those who speak in tongues.

So, my dear Pentecostal brothers and sisters in Christ: please stop saying to those who teach, “I don’t need you!” Or those who show hospitality or mercy but do not speak in tongues, “You’re not saved!” It is deeply hurtful to us who know that we do have the Spirit of God, and we are gifted by God, but we have not spoken in tongues. It is a sign of the Holy Spirit, not the sign.

To my dear Baptist brothers and sister in Christ: please stop saying to those who speak in tongues or interpret them, “I don’t need you!” or “You’re just babbling and lying about your experience.” It is incredibly hurtful to those who have received this gift of the Spirit. We need them.

3) Speaking in Tongues without Love is Pointless. Paul moves us into 1 Corinthians 13, where he explains that any spiritual gifts (tongues are specifically mentioned, along with prophecy, knowledge, faith, and generosity) done without love are like clanging cymbals and resounding gongs: just noise. So speaking in tongues (or exercising any Spiritual gift) as a prideful exhibition is not okay.

I need to insert a note about 1 Corinthians 13. There is a group of theologians (John MacArthur, Vern Poythress are probably the foremost) called “cessationists,” who say that the gifts of tongues and prophecy have ceased after the formation of the canon, and their main argument that I often hear comes from this passage:

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Now, they use this passage to say that these “apostolic gifts” were only given for a brief time, while the Gospel was being proclaimed for the first time and the canon of Scripture was being written and finalized. But I believe it is a stretch to say that the “completeness” and “fully” are descriptive of the age right after he canon was formed. The passage seems to be talking about the Second Coming of Christ, the full inauguration of God’s Kingdom. And has knowledge passed away, as tongues and prophecies are supposed to have passed away? The arguments coming from this passage on cessationism seem to be inconsistent in the way they interpret Scripture, and they are reading a lot of things into the text that don’t seem very natural readings. If you are a cessationist and there are better passages that state your case, please leave a comment!

4) Someone Needs to Interpret Tongues in a Public Setting. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul sets a standard for some order in worship, based on the love described in chapter 13:

1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy. 2 For anyone who speaks in a tonguedoes not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. 3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. 4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church. 5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.

So, if you are speaking in tongues in a corporate worship setting, but no one is there to interpret, you need to be quiet. It does seem like inane babbling, and not all that edifying. But if someone interprets, then you have an edifying combination that needs to be spoken to the Church! So do it.

Paul continues in verse 13:

13 For this reason the one who speaks in a tongue should pray that they may interpret what they say. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. 16 Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer,say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? 17 You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.

5) But Why Bother Praying in Tongues if You Yourself Cannot Understand it?

I hear this argument a lot against tongues. Because of what we learned in #4, we know that we need an interpreter to speak in corporate worship in tongues. But when we have to “remain quiet” and speak only to God, what good does that do? This is called a “private prayer language” – keeping your gift of tongues separate in your personal prayer life (unless, of course, you are given the interpretation).

If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. (1 Corint. 14: 27)

In the passage above in #5 (vv. 13-17), it says that the person speaking in tongues is praying and singing with their spirit, praising God in the Spirit, and giving thanks to God – all without understanding. And “no one else is edified.” So what’s the point of a private prayer language?

And here is where I, a Southern Baptist, divulge my dirty little secret.

Once when I was in college, I was in my car having an intense time of prayer in a parking lot. My brother had just died the week before, my wedding was in 2 weeks, I was struggling with a sin, and I was at the end of my rope. I felt like God had abandoned me, and I had never felt so stressed, empty, and alone. With my palms pressed hard to my forehead, tears gushing and unfettered, I strained to pour out a black and broken heart to God. And I couldn’t. I fought against numbness; I could almost feel my heart hardening into cement. He felt like that distant clock-maker who had set he world in motion and then left it to tick on its own. I had no hope left. And then it happened.

I started speaking in a language I didn’t know.

It was easy – not like if you tried to make up a fake language and the words come out stupid-sounding and vaguely English-like words (I’m the worst at fake languages!). I had no idea what I was doing. But I felt a release – like all the words I could not say in English could tumble up to heaven in these words. I could praise. I could question. I could give thanks. I could doubt. But I had no interpretation. No one else was edified. But I suddenly knew God was not that clock-maker. And that is all I needed.

I told you before that in my struggle after my brother’s death I was also given a dream. But these things still did not provide a magic formula to end my depression or get me to trust God fully. But they were small steps (though they seem big and insane to us Westerners) on my road to healing. Reading Scripture and opening up to my husband were also important for me on this journey.

It did, however, end up being a really frustrating experience. Later that year, Brady and I began the application process with the International Mission Board to begin our careers as missionaries. They rejected us early on in the process, simply because of this experience, no questions asked. I’ve come to believe that perhaps God also gave me this experience to keep us stateside for awhile to mature, become better equipped to share the Gospel cross-culturally, and to learn some hard lessons. But I also think that the IMB is wrong in their stance on charismatic gifts. I stand with many, many IMB missionaries worldwide and global believers who recognize that charismatic gifts are common and valid in many other parts of the world. I also have some very dear friends who have this gift (though, like me, they feel they have to stay “in the closet,” so to speak because of Southern Baptist politics).

Miraculous works are important for the Church. But they are not an end-all. Many flocked to Jesus to see signs and wonders, but few remained. They still yelled, “Crucify!” on that Friday. Miracles do not produces obedience or lasting faith – but they can be tools that God uses to turn a heart to Him. We need to value the charismatic gifts of the Spirit – but not too highly.

What do you think about the gift of tongues? Why?

Have you ever spoken in tongues? Would you share your experiences with us? (You can post as “anonymous” if you’re still “in the closet”, haha)

Why are we so wary of “supernatural” gifts? Should we be more cautious of putting God into our Western worldview box?


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Bible, Church Life, Theology, Worship


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How to Argue Well

If you know me, it might surprise you to know that I like to argue.

Just not in person (because I’m an introvert and process data slowly and internally). Also, I really hate tense situations and have a strong flight-reaction.

And not about personal issues (like chores or how I’m a jerk). My husband has to really be persistent to get me to talk out a problem we’re having – my natural tendency is to sweep it under the rug, which is such a healthy idea.

And not about politics. Mostly because I don’t understand them, and it’s hard to get past all the ridiculous comments and lies and propoganda to figure out what is really going on. And because it usually gets tense, as people are over-protective of their political views, I tend to flee.Don't you be yelling at me.

But I love to debate ideas and argue good points back and forth, particularly about theology. I think it is a helpful and good practice, particularly for Christians trying to live out a Gospel-centered life in a confusing world. We need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and how that informs our actions. But recently as I’ve engaged in debates with other believers, I’ve realized that we don’t argue well as a whole. Here are some guidelines to good arguing. See which one(s) you struggle with most and pray that God would help you to argue well.

1) Avoid “Straw-Man Fallacy.” I see this a ton – I was actually a recipient of this twice in the last two weeks, which prompted this post. Party #1 totally misrepresents another view by claiming that Party #2 believes things that might be similar or partial realities of Party #2′s stance, but in truth is not actually Party #2′s stance. In other words, don’t pretend someone doesn’t have a good case by just brushing it aside with simplistic references to what they believe. There are good debates out there, with smart people on both sides. It is almost never all the smart people on one side, and all the dumb-dumbs on the other (because those debates would resolve pretty quickly, right?) Which brings us to the next one:

2) Genuinely seek to understand the opposite position. If you’re a die-hard Young Earth Creationist, do research about the Gap Theory or Theistic Evolution or “Long Day” Creationists. And don’t use your own websites to do it (in this case – or anything by Ken Ham). Study Scripture alongside them, take seriously their refutations of your own stance, see where your own arguments might break down. You might just change your mind, or you might become stronger in your own views – and better able to articulate them. It’s a win-win situation.

3) Major on the majors, minor on the minors. If another person’s convictions don’t make them a total heretic or cause real problems for the Church, don’t act like it does. To take the creationism example again, does it matter whether a Christian believes that God created in 6 literal days or in 6 representative eras? No. The text says that “God created.” Does it matter whether a Christian believes that God created humans, or created matter than eventually evolved into humans? I think there are some theological problems with it (like the Image of God), but that person can’t really be labeled a heretic, can they? So go ahead and debate it out – but don’t freak out if you can’t land on a position or if someone you love comes to a different conclusion. They might still make it to heaven.

4) Have humility and grace. You might be wrong. You have all your facts lined up, you’re totally convinced of your position, you have some Scripture to back it up – and it could all be wrong. And it’s okay. You don’t need to always be right (this is a mantra I have to repeat to myself often). You do need to be holy. You do need to show grace in all you do, as you are a recipient of God’s grace. You need to love your fellow believers and hold them in higher regard than your own self, even if you disagree with them. And if you’re not doing all of that, then you’re wrong, even if you’re right. Don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking. Don’t scoff at their position and assume that they believe this or that. Don’t make flying leaps and conclusions. Be gentle and kind and patient. Remark that they have strong points when they do, and be honest about your own ambivalence and questions or inability to answer their questions. We don’t have to have uniformity to have unity.

5) If it isn’t personal, don’t make it personal. If you’re arguing on creation or war ethics or Calvinism, don’t get so worked up that you’re suddenly saying rude things or putting words in people’s mouths. Don’t let it rule your emotions. Keep calm. Stay passionate – I get very passionate about the above things – but try not to lose control. If you do, press the “pause” button and figure out what the issue is that is making you upset. Do you want people to agree with you to prove that they like you and value your opinion? Then you might want to drop all of your opinions. Do you just want to be right? Do have a thing about always winning? Honestly, if you get all worked up and start making emotional attacks, people will think that your views are sitting only on your feelings rather than logic. (This isn’t to say that logic reigns supreme – if we are whole people, then our whole being should inform our beliefs - emotions are part of our humanity, and we should not seek to either let them be squashed or elevated to supreme importance). If you ever argue with me and you’re just being a jerk, I’m ignoring everything you say, no matter how good it is.

6) Examine your own agenda. Are there reasons that you stick to your position, or do you ignore facts or ideas because you might have to change if you’re wrong? This is one that I’m currently struggling with. My husband is studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a strong complementarian school. Complementarians believe that men and women complement one another in giftings and gender roles, but ultimately men have authority over women in the Church and in the home. Egalitarians believe that there is no hierarchy – so women would be free to use their giftings in the home, in the Church, and in society without restriction. Both sides have excellent scholars much smarter than me. I want to embrace egalitarianism (and I’m currently doing a major study on the issue – I’ll let you know where I land!), but I wonder how much of that is less about hermeneutics and more about how it makes me feel. I don’t like being told that I can’t do something – particularly because of a physical attribute I cannot change. Also, some complementarian propoganda offends me – I don’t want to just be viewed as a fruitful uterus who takes up the slack of her husband – who makes all the real contributions. I can think. I have much to contribute to the Church. Motherhood is not my highest calling, though it is very important. I definitely have a personal agenda here, so I need to be aware of it as I study this very complex issue.

So that’s it. Let’s argue well from now on, okay?

Oh, and if you’re wondering which category I’m in on Creationism…I have no idea.

Have you ever argued poorly?

Which ones do you struggle with? Are there others I didn’t mention?

What “hot buttons” do you see Christians arguing poorly over? How could we do better?


Posted by on September 13, 2011 in Church Life, Grace, Theology


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Bible Codes

Every now and then, I’ll see a book or a History Channel special or a tabloid claiming that, by ciphering Bible codes, “experts” have discovered the day of the Apocalypse, or a new ruler coming to power, or some catastrophic event unfolding, predicted by the Bible. It’s a popular notion, so we need to talk about it.

Most of the “Bible codes” are derived from a system called “equidistant letter sequencing.” A person takes the Bible (usually in Hebrew, because the Old Testament is cooler, older, and more mysterious), decides on a number, and pulls out every letter that they count to that number. So if my first paragraph were used, and the number was 5, you’d take every 5th letter (which are bolded) and try to make a meaning out of it. Spaces aren’t counted. Computers are used to do this quickly. Let’s see what I came up with:


“Neo” is a prefix that means “new.” I’m experiencing a lot of “new” right now – state, school, church, house, friends, potty training. The word “croix” is French for “cross.” This paragraph shows I’m a Christian. It also has “eee,” which was a sorority (which I did not join) at my Christian alma mater, but the paragraph predicted where I went to school, because “EEE” was unique to Ouachita Baptist. “Poe” means Edgar Allen Poe. I read a book of collected writings by Poe when I was in 8th grade…I actually stole the book from my older brother, so the paragraph is convicting me of past sin. “Deep” is what I want to be - to move beyond the shallowness that characterizes our age. This paragraph is definitely telling me something.

Ridiculous, right? If you do this to any piece of writing that is long enough, you will find “predictions” of Nero, Jerusalem, Christians, or of Saddam and Arafat and bin Laden.

It is important to note that there isn’t just one manuscript of the Old Testament. We’ve derived what we have as the Old Testament from many, many manuscripts, none of which are the original. As we find more manuscripts, scholars will update the OT/NT original language manuscripts – it is important to note that these are only minor grammatical changes, not big theological changes. There are little variations between each manuscript, and scholars figure out how the changes arose and which variant is closest to the original. This field is called “Textual Criticism,” and it doesn’t mean that we should be scared that we’ve lost Scripture or don’t have all that we need. (This needs to be a separate post – it’s an entire, complicated field of study). What I’m getting at, though, is that with any minor update or variation between manuscripts, the entire letter sequencing would be thrown off.

There is another type of “Bible coding” that I often hear preachers and lay-leaders use. They speak as if knowing the Greek or Hebrew word changes the entire meaning of the passage as we understand it in English. It is true that doing word studies can bring out nuances of a word, or shed light on what the author meant. But it shouldn’t change the entire meaning of what you’re reading in your Bible. For instance, I often hear people try grammatical gymnastics to get around Jesus’ commands to “sell everything and give it to the poor,” or “do not store up treasures on earth,” or “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God,” or some other command related to money. So when we go back to the Greek, we see that Jesus was using a verb that just meant this man but no one else, and that the “eye of the needle” was a gate that camels could get through if they knelt and crawled through (false, by the way), that “everything” actually means just the luxuries (at your own discernment), and the Greek also shows us that rich people have no obligations, worries, or raised taxes.

Good grief. What does the passage actually say? Don’t store up treasures on earth. Stop worshipping your money and your way of life. Repent or don’t enter the Kingdom. There aren’t Greek loopholes. We’re trying to find ways to make following Jesus easier for our American suburban lives, when it really is something we cannot do on our own. No, God doesn’t call everyone to voluntary poverty. But He apparently calls some to it. If you just breathed a sigh of relief, He was probably talking about you. Money can own us. Let’s stop looking for loopholes for ways to let it own us more.

Another “Bible code” is going to strike a chord with some of you, and my intent is not to offend you. The “end times” theology called Dispensationalism (think: Tim LaHaye and the Left Behind series) is popular. I can respect it as a theological framework, but I don’t hold to it. I think you have to make some serious interpretive jumps to come to the conclusions that they come to. But here is the danger in it: dispensationalists often read - and encourage others to read - Revelation, in order to figure out if the locusts are really Blackhawk helicopters, or if the Antichrist is Russia or Osama bin Laden or the Pope. Where is America in the end times of Revelation? Where will the “Battle of Armageddon” take place? We’re going to miss all the bad stuff that happens, right??

Forget that Revelation calls us not to compromise with our pagan culture - a message we urgently need to hear. Forget that Revelation gives us a picture of victory through sacrifice, and encourages those in suffering (much of the Church today is experiencing horrible tribulation – a fact we often forget in our escapist hopes). Or the theme of how believers and how Christ “conquer/are victorious/overcome” (same Greek word – it’s an awesome study if you just go through and see what it says about those words…no, you don’t have to know Greek to do this!). Or the images of God as the One Who Sits on the Throne, and the Lamb, and the Lion of Judah, or the conquering Rider who is Faithful and True. The end of injustice, hatred, and evil. The judgment of men and women - many of whom are currently our neighbors, our family, or our co-workers who need to hear the Truth. The death of Death. The restored Presence of God among us. While we’re busy trying to figure out the timeline of the end, we ignore clear commands of Scripture that would shake our churches to the core if they were preached. We’ve also created a system that scares the mess out of people who try to read Revelation but feel as if it has nothing to say directly to them because they don’t understand what every symbol means.

So even if you are a Dispensationalist, focus less on what the symbols of the future could mean (which is all speculation), and focus more on what Revelation is actually telling us about God, or commanding us to do, or the hope that is given.

The danger of Bible codes is that they distract us from reading the revelation that we’ve been given. Yes, there is a hidden message in the Bible. Go read it – you’ll find it without a computer sequencing program. You’ll find in clear words that we cannot know when Christ is coming back, that we have been given one way out of our sinful, hell-bound course, and that God is sovereign over history – past, present, and future. And we have a lot to do that is clearly spelled out for us.

No decoder ring necessary.

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Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Bible, Church Life, Culture, Suffering, Theology


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Corporal Punishment in the Bible

First, I need to make my excuses. I’ve been potty training Breckon for the last two weeks (he is finally getting it, and my frail sanity thanks him) and Kian decided to start teething, crawling, and even caught a cold (either that, or these teeth are pretty ruthless) at the same time. I promise I haven’t stopped writing, but my mommy duties are pressing at the moment. I have about 20 blog posts swimming in my head. So here’s one. :)

I just finished reading “Corporal Punishment in the Bible” by William Webb. It combined two of my loves – biblical hermeneutics (the art/science of interpretation of the text) and parenting. I couldn’t put it down. Let me first give you background into why I even read this book, and then I’ll tell you why it was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

I have a 26-month-old son named Breckon. He has been in his terrible two’s since he was 18 months old, and is constantly pushing to see where his boundaries are. Now, I’m an observer. I watch other parents. Many of the parents around my age will tell their kids to do something (or stop doing something), then the kid says “no” or just keeps doing/not doing, and the parent shrugs their shoulders and says, “Kids will be kids. What can you do? I tried.” I want to avoid being this parent. I want my kids to do what they should. My generation is mostly this kind of parent with wildly out-of-control kids. The other extreme is probably what my generation is reacting to – the overbearing parent that characterized our parents’ generation. The kids are under my thumb, they will fear me, and do as I say (but “not as I do”) at all times. These kids are generally well-behaved…until they get a taste of any kind of freedom. Then they go nuts. I don’t want to be this parent either.

There is a middle ground, and I’m trying to find it. Being a mom is difficult for me (for anyone!), because you have to figure it out as you go. I like to research, figure it out, then jump into a task. You’re really limited on doing that when you have kids. So I’ve read a few books on child discipline. The pro-spankers (headed up by Dobson) use the proverbs in Scripture as their basis. To undermine spanking is to undermine a parent’s authority, and most of all, biblical authority. So Christian parents feel that they must spank to be good parents, and they must also oppose any legislation that takes spanking away from the parent’s bag of tricks. For awhile, we used a modified version that involved snaps with a rubber band on the back of Breckon’s hand to cause a little bit of mild pain to show him that his behavior was unacceptable. And I felt like I had the backing of the Bible to do so, but even though it worked, I hated doing it. It seems so harsh, and he’s so little. I know many parents can testify to spanking and then crying themselves because they truly hated it so much.

Then I read some anti-spanking material. Much of it doesn’t deal with the biblical texts on spanking, and I was aware of the avoid-tactic. Much of this material is silly, in my opinion. You can’t reason with a 2-year-old through a lengthy monologue about their feelings and motives and frustrations. They aren’t mini-adults. Neither do I buy into the “child-led” stuff that basically says, “Trust your child in everything. They will do what’s right.” What about being born into sin? Your job as the parent is to train your child to do good and avoid evil. The anti-spankers are also super-inflammatory. A parent who beats his son black and blue is nowhere near the same parent who lovingly gives two spankings on the bottom with no bruising or marks in order to serve as a nonverbal “no.” Not all spanking is abuse, though many of us have experienced levels of abuse that began as spanking. The pro-spankers (Dobson) are absolutely against abuse.

The basic problem I had with both sides (pro-spanking and against) was that neither dealt with Scripture well. I could tell that the pro-spankers were taking some verses out of context and avoiding some of the hard-to-swallow passages. Even the theologians – Wayne Grudem, Andreas Kostenberger, and Al Mohler – were not dealing with the texts properly. The anti-spankers generally avoided Scripture altogether. Should a parent spank or no? Enter William Webb.

Webb places these verses in their original context of the Ancient Near East. When we read a lot of these verses through our Western lenses, we are shocked at some of the things the Bible says on corporal punishment:

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense. Prov. 10:13

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. Prov. 13:24

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death. Prov. 23:13-14

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools!  Prov. 26:3

“Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” Exodus 21:20-21

If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, 3 but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes. Deut. 25:2-3

Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being. Prov. 20:30

Webb encourages us to notice that there are no age limitations on the corporal punishments (pro-spankers say that spanking is not effective after age 10 or so, contrary to Scripture). You can see that corporal punishment is for children, slaves, criminals, or any adult who shows foolishness.The primary place for these beatings is the back, not the bottom (pro-spankers say to spank the bottom because permanent damage here is unlikely, whereas the back exposes many vital organ). Rods, not hands or wider paddles are used, which increased the likelihood of the skin breaking and bruising. Also, the limit was not 2, but 40 lashes. So pro-spankers can hardly claim that they are sticking to Scripture perfectly. Is this a bad thing? No, Webb argues. We should applaud their gentler and kinder approach to discipline over the Bible’s! But this leaves us questions about how to apply the Scriptures well, if we are obviously not going to stick to it word-for-word.

Webb calls this going beyond Scripture “redemptive movement.” Here’s why: in the Ancient Near East during the time these verses were written, corporal punishment in neighboring countries was horrific. Beatings were normal around 100 lashes, with prescriptions for wounds to be opened as well. Bodily mutilations and amputations were common in the judicial system. Women would have their breasts cut off, teenagers and adults alike would lose arms or eyes or ears or noses for any infraction. Slaves would be killed along with their entire families for disobeying or running away. In this setting, the corporal punishment in the Bible is much gentler. Backs were beaten, but only 40 times max and with a rod, not a whip or something worse. Eye for an eye. Tooth for a tooth. Bodily mutilation is commanded for only one crime in Scripture (if a woman defends her husband by damaging another man’s testicles in a fight, they were to cut off her hand), not over 100 times as in the Babylonian, Assyrian, or Egyptian law codes! Run-away slaves from neighboring countries could not be extradited from Israel; it was to be a refuge for them. It was an enormous amount of grace in a harsh social scene. God’s redemptive movement came in where people were and allowed for gentler disciplines and punishments, with the goal of providing more dignity for those punished, and less damage inflicted in an already-damaged world.

Today, we are beyond those barbaric systems. So should we read Scripture as a static text and “go back” to these over-harsh punishments? Of course not! We should praise God for his redemptive movement in our culture to rid us of bodily mutilations and beatings that leave people black and blue. We should praise God for this movement which led to jail times for parents who do this to their kids. This “going beyond” Scripture is a good thing. Webb applauds the current pro-spanking movement in their efforts to prevent child abuse by proposing “two smacks max,” no bruising or leaving marks, and disciplining in love rather than anger. But he challenges us to go further. He challenges us to join in God’s redemptive movement.

The Bible has not given us the “ultimate ethic” on spanking, just as it did not do this for slavery. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that slavery was wrong and should be outlawed, nor should polygamy be viewed as wrong. Rather, teachings in Scripture gradually move us to these ethics. There are numerous teachings on the dignity of humans created in God’s image, in the beauty and godliness of monogamous marriage, and on the importance on love and grace in our actions. But often, God had to work with a sinful people where they were in order to move them in the right direction. We can follow this movement by reading Scripture within its original context (which requires research, yes), and then moving beyond Scripture to see how we can better apply the redemptive movement of the Bible in our own times.

First, we are free to not spank our kids. If you’ve ever felt like to be a good Christian parent, you need to hit your kids, then worry no more! You are free to use alternative-disciplinary methods that do not include corporal punishment. You are free to be creative in your discipline and tailor it to each child. Just make sure that discipline is actually occurring – because while these biblical texts recommend harsh punishments for their day that we can “go beyond,” we must still teach our children the way of wisdom rather than folly. If you don’t discipline your kids (spanking or not), you are disobeying Scripture. And if you’re a parent in your 20s or early 30s, take a good look at your child’s behavior. Our generation has a tendency to think we are disciplining our kids, but the results show otherwise.

Second, we are also free to join in the sweep of God’s redemptive movement. We should seek disciplinary measures that better uphold the dignity of our children as people made in God’s image. For me, spanking (or even rubber-banding) was difficult because I worried that I might be using too much force on accident. I also hated that I couldn’t truly convey to my young son why he was being spanked, that mama still loves him very much, and that he needs to avoid doing wrong because it makes me sad and it separates him further from God. It seems too harsh for a young 2-year-old who doesn’t really understand all that the spanking entails.

If you spanked your kids as a parent, I’m not here to tell you that you were abusive and wrong. My own parents did not do it well, but Brady’s did, and I often compare my own parenting methods to theirs because they did such a fantastic job. I respect many parents who spank/spanked. But if you’re feeling like you really hate causing your child physical pain to make a point, be assured that you are not violating the Bible’s commands if you “go beyond” and find an alternative method of discipline. You’re not undermining biblical authority in the least.

And if you have a non-corporal discipline book/idea/website to recommend, I’d love to hear it. Parenting is the hardest struggle I think I’ve ever had. The majority of Webb’s book is on hermeneutics (so, kind of like a Bible study), but the postscript at the end is worth the money for the entire book. He shares his own parenting journey (which includes an adult son with a degenerative brain disease), his own family’s creative disciplinary methods, and recommended reading. I encourage parents or future parents to read this book. It’s fantastic.

What are your views on corporal punishment/discipline?

How did/do you discipline your children, or how do you plan to discipline your future children?


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Blessed Assurance?

When we go through rough times of doubting our salvation, we are often encouraged to “remember that day when you were saved.” Essentially, this means that you are to remember when you prayed that prayer, because those who are truly saved:

1) know exactly when they were saved,

2) had a massive emotional experience when they came to Christ, making it both memorable and genuine, and

3) prayed a prayer and really meant it.

If these were true, then I’m not saved. I have never prayed a sinner’s prayer (and I refuse to do it “just in case” as I have been encouraged - that’s superstition, people, not grace). I never had a radical conversion experience. I know that I’ve passed from death to life, from hating God to loving God - I just don’t know when it happened. And I think that is the experience of many of us who grew up in church.

What does Scripture say about assurance of salvation? How do we know that we are truly in Christ?

While reading through the Gospel of Matthew a few months ago, I was struck by a theme I’d never picked up before – there are going to be a lot of surprises on Judgment Day. Not good ones. Religious people who thought they had it, but it turns out, had nothing. People who had called on Jesus’ name, had cast out demons and performed miracles and had done wonderful things in Jesus’ name, but who will be pronounced “evil doers” and sent away. How do we know that we are not one of them? Well, let’s look at Scripture (which is always a good idea, yes?).

First John was written “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13). The proofs of salvation that he lays out are:

1) Christians walk in light and not darkness (1:5-7)

2) Christians acknowledge their sinfulness (1:8-10)

3) Christians obey God’s commands (2:3-6, 5:2-4)

4) Christians love other Christians (2:9-11, 3:10, 3:16-18, 4:7-12, 4:20-21)

5) Christians do not love the world (2:15-17)

6) Christians do what is right (2:29, 3:10)

7) Christians do not live in sin (3:5-9, 5:18)

8 ) Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them (3:24, 4:13)

9) Christians believe that Jesus Christ was born of God (4:15, 5:1, 5:5, 5:11-12)

Surprisingly, many of the ways we are assured of our salvation by well-meaning leaders or friends, are the very things not listed here. It never says to look at what you did – saying a prayer or really meaning it, or having a big emotional conversion. These things are not indicators – only what God has done in us through His Holy Spirit can assure us of our salvation. The proof is in the fruit – which is generated only by the grace of God.

So, if you’ve prayed a prayer and you don’t see the above things in your life, then you have reason to be worried. I think we often want to encourage people that, because they “called on the name of the Lord,” they are saved. But Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.” This means that you might have repeated a prayer after someone, but you may not be saved. You can only know by the fruit (or lack thereof) of the Holy Spirit.

And it makes sense this way. If someone has truly been “born again,” has been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Christ, and has been filled with the Holy Spirit – then they should look different! We need to stop giving people false hope, because it really is the unloving thing to do. We cannot say “Jesus is about a relationship, not a religion,” but then expect that a superstitious sinner’s prayer will be all it takes.

Now, let me answer some objections. No, I’m not advocating a works-based salvation. But I’m saying that we need to take a grace-based salvation seriously. In Scripture, faith and works are never opposites, they are inextricably linked. Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not the opposite of works, it is the opposite of earning.” You cannot have faith without also having works. Faith without works is dead – not a “lesser” faith that just needs to be motivated. It’s dead. And being in Christ is about life.

If anything, what I’m saying here is more grace-oriented. I’m not saying (and neither is John) that these nine things are things that you have to do to be saved. Not at all. They are evidence of grace. The Gospel is not something that you believe once to be saved. It is what you live your entire life in Christ. If God’s Gospel of grace in you has not produced these things, then you need to go pray about some things. If we take God’s grace seriously, then we acknowledge that it is a powerful grace that not only saves us, but carries the work to completion.

Yes, crying out to God in prayer is good. Most people have begun a relationship with Christ by crying out to Him to save them. I’m not against any kind of “sinner’s prayer,” but I am against the idea that if we just say it, it has worked. And I’m fearful of what we’re teaching young children when we encourage them to just repeat a prayer without having them articulate the Gospel for themselves. I think it has led to entire congregations full of people who think they’re saved because they prayed a prayer when they were little, though there is no evidence in their life to suggest an encounter with Christ.

Yes, spiritual maturity takes some time. The day you become a Christian, you should not expect to be fully free of sin. But if it has been months, and you’re no different, then I would say that you are probably not saved. Harsh? Maybe. But I think we’ve been trying to pave the narrow road a little wider by making faith a mental assent only. Jesus turned people away because they didn’t understand that gaining the Gospel but losing the world still meant gain.

Our assurance is not found in our sincerity, our memory, or our words. It is found only in the grace of Jesus Christ – which works so powerfully in us that it cannot leave us as we are.

What do you think?

Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Is this what you’ve been taught about the assurance of salvation?

(And if you like this post, you should buy my book in a dozen years or so, if it ever gets published, because this was based on part of a chapter)


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