C. S. Lewis and Scripture

My brother recently asked me about C. S. Lewis and his views on Scripture, specifically that he’d heard that Lewis didn’t believe in the Old Testament. Not having heard this particular charge before, I did a little looking around to see what I could fine (here, here, and here).To my surprise, I found that Lewis was not an inerrantist. He was comfortable saying that he didn’t think certain parts of the Bible were literal (I saw mention of the creation epic, Job, Esther, and Jonah). But even in saying that, he also wasn’t bothered to think the rest of the Bible was true. In his mind as a literary expert, if a story read like a myth or a fable, he assumed it was. And he was very unbothered by the idea. He still thought it was useful for us as Christians.
More, I also came across some little side comments he made about Paul’s meanderings and the pseudo-contradictions between the gospel accounts. Again, in all instances, he leaned heavily on the human element of authorship, focusing on the fallibility of the authors and their personal quirks or wrong recollections muddying the Scriptures for us.

To give my highly uninformed opinion, I would presume that this finds its source in how Lewis came to believe in the first place. It was through his own reasoning that he came to see that Christianity had to be true. And as such, he saw reason and rationality as the means by which truth could be assessed and respected. Basically, in his mind, it didn’t really matter if parts of the Bible rang true or not—truth was truth, rather or not the Bible got it exactly right.

All in all, that’s a bit foreign to our ears. But historically speaking, it’s not as odd as one might think. As Lewis points out in one of the sites I checked, Calvin questioned whether Job was a historical account or not. The fact is that our current stance on the inerrancy of Scripture is a relatively recent development in terms of the affirmation, “The Bible is without error in the original manuscripts in everything it claims to be true.” This was in response to the rise of liberalism, which took the rationalistic line of thought which was cousin to Lewis’s view and ran it off the Cliffs of Insanity: we can discount anything at all if our reason seems to make no sense of it! And in response to that, a need was felt to respond with an affirmation that the Bible can be trusted. And rightly so! In that affirmation, it was recognized that human reason is no good judge of what’s true and what’s not, because in our sinfulness, we can too easily reject truths that make us uncomfortable, even to the point of denying the resurrection or even the very existence of the Creator outright.

So, what do I think of Lewis’s view of Scripture? On the one hand, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Strict inerrant views were mainly beyond his time. And besides, the basic fundamentalist/inerrantist/Bible-thumper sometimes struggles mightily to understand the differences between hyperbole and poetry and prophecy (“the moon will turn to blood”) and we end up with messes like the Left Behind series. Even while believing in inerrancy, it’s not always easy to parse what’s literal and what’s not. But on the other hand, I really don’t think we can set our own reason as the main guide by which we assess the rightness or wrongness of the Scriptures. Lewis did it and wrote some darn good stuff because he never doubted the life, death, and resurrection of the God-man Jesus. But his view is pretty troublesome if you doubt that part. Because then you get the right to call into question anything else you want, including doctrines that are central to the faith.

But C. S. Lewis was just a man. And he wasn’t right about everything. I’ll still take the 95% of his incredibly insightful and Spirit-filled writing while putting up with the other 5% of squishy views.

Answering My Conscience; or How I Find Myself Acting Like a Radical Reformer (Even Though I Don’t Know Much About Them) in the Way I Approach Understanding of Scripture

How about that title? I figure since I’m talking about historical orthodox positions, I’d take a historic approach to making titles like Christians of the past were known for doing. 🙂

But seriously, I’ve written in the past about how I believe complementarianism is the biblically faithful way to describe how God has created men and women to relate to one another. Now that’s not really the point of this post, but the fact that I hold that position and actually sat through two systematic theology courses with Bruce Ware help explain why I was rather interesting by the firestorm that erupted over Ware’s (along with Wayne Grudem’s) views on how Jesus relates the Father in the Trinity. I really have very little desire to rehash the whole mess (and it was a mess), but you can go here or here if you really want to read more.

Let me boil down the two basic positions in case you’re normal and don’t care to read the posts I linked to. One side (the “historic” side) is arguing that the councils of the fourth century laid some groundwork on how the persons of the Trinity relate to one another that the other side (Ware/Grudem, a.k.a. the “new” side) are contradicting. (Seriously, I can give you the nuances of the disagreement in the theological minutiae of academia, but it’s not really my point here.) The historic side is calling the new side “heterodox”, which I think is somewhere between orthodoxy and outright heresy (though I’m at a loss to really understand what that means).

Here’s where I care: The historic side is basically saying, “Such and such position was decided on at the council of way-back-when, and so no one can contradict or refine that position.” And now Ware/Grudem have come along, arguing for a position that we all admit somewhat varies from the older position. The shame!

So, what’s the big deal and why am I bothering to write about it? Well, to be honest, I just can’t get myself to side with the historic position dudes because their argument boils down to “it’s older, so it’s better.” And not only that, when they’ve written about it, there’s this condescending tone of “I’d try to explain the nuances of their position, but it’s really complicated and I couldn’t dumb it down enough for you.” So, what they’re defending is a very old position that’s so complicated that only PhDs in historical theology can even understand it.

(Stick with me, I’m really getting there–I promise!)

Well, I’m not one of those PhDs, but I read enough to understand that the historic position is more fundamentally a philosophical position, not a strictly Scriptural position. What I mean is that the position codified at way-back-then council isn’t something that you can point to verses in the actual Bible that defend it, so much as the philosophical and logical necessity of the position in order to make sense of our Trinitarian God.

And now these guys are coming up with a “new” position and–gasp!–it’s based on what they believe the Bible itself actually says. And while they understand that it doesn’t jive well with the historic position, they hold to it because they earnestly believe it’s what the Scriptures teach.

Now, of course, I don’t think either side is claiming that the other side doesn’t care about the actual Bible or logic/philosophy–as the case may be–but in my mind, there’s a fundamental difference in approach. And I fall squarely into the camp of holding the view I can defend from the Bible, even if historical theologians get hives hearing me talk about (though to be fair, I don’t think that’s ever actually happened to me).

As I read the whole thing, I was on the “new” side both in particular and in principle, because I want to base what I believe on what the Word itself says. And while I have great respect for the generations of Christians before me, it doesn’t necessarily hold that just because they lived longer ago than me that they’re right-er than me.

Upon some research, I find myself lining up with a group from the Reformation called the radical reformers. These were the ones who took to heart “Sola Scriptura”, even if what they found contradicted the hallowed councils of the past. And I love them for it. Of course, sometimes they went off into crazy-land. But I so deeply appreciate the desire to follow the Word as faithfully as possible, even if it flew in the face of centuries of church tradition or teaching.

I mean, seriously, look at the 95 Theses and the entire Reformation itself.

At the end of the day, I have to stand or fall on what my conscience and the Holy Spirit in me are convinced is the truth, based on the very Word of God. And it’s simply not good enough for me to find one thing in Scripture and read another thing from some historical council, and let that council trump my heart convictions.

Do I want to be a heretic? No way! Do I want to be informed about and by history? Very much so. But at the end of the day, any historic council was full of people just as sinful and just as redeemed as me. And just as much as I may be wrong,  so may they have been. And I can’t find any part of my heart that can cave my Bible-based convictions because of a council of bishops from centuries past. I’m probably talking in circles at this point. I’m sitting in the room with my family while they watch Pixar Cars, so I’m a tad distracted. I think I feel the weight of the whole conversation, because my church meets in homes, we believe in the full sovereignty of God over salvation, and believe that there is no such thing as a clergy/laity distinction. I hold all of these views from Scripture, but I don’t have much of history on my side.

And the truth is, while it bothers me sometimes, I’m actually fine with that. Because I can defend what I believe from the Bible. And my soul is at peace with it. And the Spirit testifies to my soul that I have to be faithful to what I see, regardless of how much I buck against historical precedent. In that way, I’m very much a descendant of those radical reformers. And this whole controversy I mentioned at the beginning of the post helped me to see this more clearly than I’ve really seen it before.

I’m not ashamed of the heritage I find myself a part of, even if it wasn’t on purpose.

Forsaken by the Father

A brother of mine pointed to this article, where the author challenges that idea that the Father turned his face away from the son on the cross. To state my opinion up front, I disagree with this guy (and the five other blog posts I read that made almost an identical point). Frankly, I feel like he dismantles something that he doesn’t manage to really put back together. He admits he might just nit-picking the term, but I think in nit-picking it he’s unintentionally undermining the theology contained in the whole”Father’s face” short-hand. For instance, I don’t think the statement “the weight of sin caused Him to experience God-forsakenness, yet…the Father’s face wasn’t turned away” makes any sense. What is God-forsakenness if not the absence of the Father’s countenance?

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Anyhoos, here’s my point by point rebuttal–which honestly, I’m writing pretty quickly and I may find that I’ve made some glaring errors in my critique. So, I’m quite open to being challenged here.

  1. Ben’s first point is that “Jesus never addressed His Father as ‘God’ in all His years of ministry.” First, that’s a pretty narrow way to put that. Both John 20:17 and Rev 3:2,12 contradict the statement at the outset. I daresay that pretty much dismantles the point. But second, I’m unconvinced that using the exact language of Psalm 22 marks this as a different intention of how Jesus addresses the Father. Perhaps he just wants to make the allusion clearer. But does that really mean that “Jesus wanted it to be heard specifically differently from the way He usually spoke about Father”? Nah…
  2. His second point relates to some of the things Jesus says after the “Eloi, Eloi” statement are addressed to the Father and would negate the idea that God’s face was turned away from Jesus. As for his use of the term “Father”, I’ve already addressed that above. As to how it these words negate the forsakenness Jesus is experiencing, it doesn’t further his point at all because it doesn’t solve anything for him either. In his own argument, the forsakenness that Jesus supposedly went through is still a problem because in his own view, Jesus isn’t really forsaken because God still hears him. I would rather suggest that just as Jesus existing as fully God and fully man is a mysterious duality, Jesus existing as God in direct fellowship with, well, himself in the Godhead while also completely forsaken isn’t really any different. It’s a duality that occurs because of who Jesus is and what he did. I mean, seriously–one God in three persons? This kind of paradox is a persistent idea in Scripture.
  3. Ben’s third point is that the “Father went with Jesus all the way to and through the cross”, again refuting that the Father withdrew from Jesus. He uses John 16:32 as his proof, where even after the disciples desert Jesus, the Father will still be with him. To which I say: I agree. That’s exactly what happened. The disciples deserted Jesus, but the Father was still with Jesus. But all the way “to and through the cross”? Again, the verse doesn’t prove that. It allows it as a possibility, but doesn’t definitively prove either his side or mine. Putting that text aside, my second point above, I think, still addresses that tension between Jesus being “one with the Father” but also fully forsaken, too.
  4. The fourth assertion is that 2 Cor 5:19 contradicts the Father deserting Jesus because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”, meaning that there “was a wholesale involvement with Christ in the middle”. I read this on a couple of other blogs, too, and really don’t even get how this furthers their point. Of course God was reconciling the world to himself by forsaking his very Son, whom he loved. That’s the core of the gospel. Acts 2:23a says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge.” It was absolutely the Father accomplishing reconciliation in Jesus–or perhaps it could be said it was through Jesus. I mean, just look two verses later in 2 Cor 5: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God wasn’t making himself sin, but the Son. Jesus was the (one and only) agent through which the Father accomplished this reconciliation. Not by being in Jesus when it occurred, but by making it occur in Jesus. Unless I’m just missing the point he’s trying to make…
  5. Here, Ben is appealing to the OT passages that prophesy about Jesus and how in the midst of them God is still with the author in the midst of the desolation described. Ben’s sixth point is similar, so let me address this here in one way and then wrap it up in the next bullet. Let me just make a broad statement about how the NT uses the OT: they totally jack up context left and right. Here’s an easy example. Matt 2:15 says that Jesus and his parents going to Egypt was to fulfill “what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”” That’s a quotation from Hosea 11. Go check it out. That passage, in context, is about how God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt but then they turned from him to follow idols. So, if we’re going to follow Ben’s approach, that prophecy shows that Jesus was sent to Egypt because he’d been a slave there and he would later chase idols. Say what!?!? Of course not! My point is that the NT regularly ignores the grammatical-historical context of the OT passages–and it’s Spirit-inspired, so we can’t say they got it wrong. This is where typology is a more helpful way to understand it, but even that doesn’t solve all the issues. That’s just to say that appealing to the OT context doesn’t solve anything. And that being the case, the suffering servant passages Ben brings up neither further nor hinder his point. And the same for me.
  6. Now, I think Ben has built up to this as his most important point, so let me also let this be mine as well. Ben’s point is that in Psalm 22, the source of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the psalmist also says, “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard.” And thus he claims that the same must be true for Jesus. Again, I reiterate my fifth point that just because it’s in the context of the OT passage, that doesn’t mean it transfers to the NT context. Regardless, let’s ignore that and ask the question, “Why didn’t God turn his face away from David?” It’s not answered in the psalm, but we know it’s because of the mercy of God. We know from Habakkuk that “your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” and from Isaiah that “your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.” Is it that David was righteous and that’s why God would listen to him? Check Psalm 51. No way that’s it. So why? Because of the mercy of God. And how could God apply his mercy to David? Because of Jesus.

Let me jump out of the bullets to make this final point: God didn’t turn his face away from David because he did turn his face away from the better David. There was no reason for God to show mercy to David except through his faith in God as redeemer. And who did that redeeming? Jesus did, generations later. Do you see? Psalm 22 shows that David received grace, a gift he didn’t earn. And so the Father didn’t turn his face away as he should have, but regarded David with favor because of the One who did endure God’s wrath and displeasure. Hear it again: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That’s the great exchange. That’s the reason that God did, in fact, turn his face away: so that all the saints–past, present, and future–could become the righteousness of God, not through their merits, but because the Redeemer Jesus had paid the price for their sins. And what was that price? The punishment due for sin, which is “everlasting destruction and [being] shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (2 Thess 1:9) That has been paid, by Jesus, the one who endured being shut out from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might. And all so we could instead share in the glory of King Jesus.

Lest anyone accuse me of just following the typical evangelical line on this, well, just trust me that I find great joy in rocking the boat. But only when I see it. And despite how much I challenge, I will hold gladly and firmly to those doctrines that root the Gospel for us, those who have been chosen by grace, apart from our works. This issue is core to the gospel, not because I particularly care if you much like the phrase “the Father turns his face away”, but because the truth of that statement is core. And that truth is that Jesus was rejected so we’d be accepted, cast out so we could be brought in, and ultimately forsaken for the sins he never committed to that we could be approved for the perfect record we never held.

That is the gospel, through and through.

Chronological Illogic

In western culture, we place a high emphasis on placing events in chronological order. But sometimes, the way things are revealed or a pivotal point in a story change the way we read the whole thing. Sometimes following the chronology ruins the story.

For instance, despite the fact that most newer editions of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia put them in chronological order, I always encourage friends to read them in publication order. (Here’s a longer reasoning for why.) If you start with The Magician’s Nephew, seeing a lion singing in a strange world makes no sense and the reason behind following the story of Diggory Kirke seems to make little sense. But if read the five books published before, you know that Diggory is the old Professor of the other books and you say immediately on the sighting of the lion, “That must be Aslan!”

Similarly, I feel the same way about the Star Wars movies. Since the prequels were released, there’s a temptation to watch the movies Episodes I-VI. Makes sense, right? Except when you do that, the big reveal to Luke that Darth Vader is really Anakin is just like, “Duh.” But if a new viewer were to watch them with Episodes IV and V first, the revelation takes on a whole new meaning and leads you to ask, “How in the world did that happen?”, which you then get the backstory by watching the prequels. (Though I’m a big advocate for the Machete order.)

The same is true, I think, for how we understand God’s story and how he relates to us. How should one read the Bible? Cover to cover, right? Genesis to Revelation? Or maybe with one of those incredibly complicated chronological Bibles? No, instead we start with Jesus, a concept I learned years ago from Brian Vickers and an excellent book by Graeme Goldsworthy. We don’t read the Bible like we’re slowly working up to Jesus. Instead, we come to it understanding that “all the promises of God find their Yes in King Jesus,” the one who is both author and perfecter of our faith. And trying to read the Bible “from start to finish” ends up ignoring that the life, death, and resurrection change the beginning, middle, and end of God’s whole story. (It was honestly there the whole time, just a mystery till now.)

Sometimes a chronological approach is the most illogical way to understand the most important things.

An Angry Jesus

In preparing to teach my church from Mark 1:40-45, I stumbled in trying to understand the variant reading (used by the NIV) that said Jesus was angry when the leper came to him for healing. It’s certainly much easier to read that Jesus was “filled with compassion” instead of “pissed off” (my colloquial translation).

After reading a whole bunch of articles, I found Bart Ehrman (who I would never recommend as a resource) to take the most responsible approach to understanding Jesus’ anger. Because Ehrman doesn’t believe in Jesus as the only Son of God, he’s far more comfortable letting the text say uncomfortable things. This is something we believers can sometimes do very poorly. Regardless, he roots Jesus’ anger in confronting the unbelief of those who come to him (cf. Mark 3:5; 9:17-23; 10:14). Not that Jesus doesn’t have compassion as well, but that’s not the only emotion he displays.

This ought not disturb us, but help some incongruities we tend to intuit even if we never actually say them. Don’t we all think the OT God is much meaner than the NT Jesus? Don’t we all have this picture of Jesus as meek and mild? And how does that compare with the conquering King Jesus of John’s Revelation? Maybe the divide isn’t that big. Maybe we try too hard to gloss over the accounts of Jesus that make us squirm so that we have the Santa Clause Jesus, always jolly and ready to give out some nice gifts.

Since Jesus was and is truly God, his nature is no different to how God revealed himself in the Old Testament. If that’s true, are we really that disturbed to see that Jesus was angry sometimes, too? And especially to see that anger directed at unbelief? Suddenly the NT Jesus and OT God don’t seem that far apart…

It also helps to explain how we can exhorted to be angry while not sinning (Eph 4:26). We tend to think that Jesus was allergic to anger. But he wasn’t allergic to it nor was he mastered by it. He saw sin for what it was and was justly pissed about it. There’s a way for us as his people to do the same, even if we usually screw it up by tainting our anger with our own selfishness or self-righteousness.

Finally, I find hope in the anger of Jesus because he let that anger come full circle. He was rightly angry at unbelief. He was angry at our inability to truly have faith in the boundless power of God. But instead of pouring that wrath out on us (as would have been right to do), he submitted to have the wrath poured out on himself instead. Instead of raging at unbelief, he became unbelief so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). Even while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, he took upon himself our very shame and guilt so that we could be cleansed.

And as in Mark 1 when the leper comes to Jesus, through the simple touch of Jesus we become clean. We become whole. We become white as snow. Through contact with perfection, we find perfection. And through the anger of Jesus comes the only vindication possible: the judgment of God, poured out not on us, but on the only one who never deserved it.

Retreating Reflections

As I near the end of my personal retreat, I struggle to put into words what came from it. On the one hand, it almost feels like trying to quantify the retreat cheapens it somehow. But I think that’s really because it seems that retreats are supposed to be mountaintop experiences and those types of experiences can’t be limited by mere words.

Eh, something like that.

The fact is, every time I’ve had a retreat, I’ve always gone in with some huge set of expectations. Sometimes it’s been to plan my family’s life, sometimes to map out the future, sometimes to draw nearer to God, sometimes just to have “me” time. But every time, regardless of the goal, it’s been a letdown. The problem with expectations, especially “spiritual” ones, seem to be the very real possibility of not meeting them.

With this retreat, leading up to it, I really just wanted it because I was beat, rundown, exhausted, spent. My only goal was escape, pure and simple and straight up selfish.

But the Father, in his kindness, saw my heart. And he knew what I didn’t–that all of my exhaustion and weariness was from chasing idols and setting up the kingdom of Bill. He knew it and he prepared my heart for it. Events and conversations leading up to the retreat were outpourings of his kindness to rebuke me gently and call me to repentance. He knew what I wanted for myself was so much smaller and cheaper than what he wanted for me.

So how do I leave my retreat this time? First, grateful. Because my original “plans” were crap and I’m glad my Dad has better plans for me than I have for myself.

Second, a little lower. While I’ve been blinded by the deceitfulness of sin to think that all my “hard work” lately had been for others, it had all been for me. I was actively and passively working to bring glory and praise to the name of Bill Bell. And I find myself lower now, not because my repentance and humility are so great, but because God has revealed himself to me as greater and more glorious.

Third, refreshed. And that, in a number of ways. Refreshed from trying to seek my own glory. Refreshed to rediscover quiet and moving slowly. Refreshed to want to hear the Good News over and over again, where it had felt like Old and Boring News before.

Fourth, open. You see, I’ve felt so increasingly isolated in my biblical convictions for so long that I’ve stopped listening to the Spirit speaking through other men. I haven’t listened to or read other godly men in ages, because I simply didn’t care what they had to say. Why would I? I knew I’d disagree with something, if not most or all of what they said. Malarkey. That same pride of building my kingdom was also closing me off to the larger family available to me in Jesus, a family I need so that I hear and see and taste God’s goodness afresh.

Fifth, ready. Ready to see my wife and hold her close. Ready to smile and laugh with my kids. Ready to see God’s goodness on display. Ready to stop chasing after wind and find my satisfaction rooted in the love of Jesus, who died and rose again. Ready to live by dying and die by living.

Was it a “successful” retreat? Well, I came out smaller and God came out bigger than when I began. I don’t know any better kind of success to look for.

Blind to My Own Idolatry

This morning, I took some time while running/walking to listen to some sermons with the hope of hearing God’s Word afresh. I am so highly cynical and self-sufficient that I almost never listen to anyone else teaching these days. Because I believe I’m that wise.

Ugh.

Anyway, I started with this Tim Keller sermon. He begins by talking about how sin can have spiritual mastery over us, especially by something other than God being our ultimate goal. He gives some indicators: anger, fear, and sadness. When we’re chasing after empty idols and they fail to deliver–as they always do–it leads to anger (because things aren’t going the way we want and so we rage about it), overwhelming anxiety (because if things might not turn out right, we’ve got no hope or confidence at all), and sadness (because how can we have joy when we can’t have the thing we want most).

Here’s me lately: I’ve been incredibly short-tempered and judgmental, sometimes mentally only and, especially with my kiddos, sometimes actually. Everything they do that has been even remotely annoying or disobedient or disrespectful or just not what I wanted at the time has been met by my sinful snippiness and anger. I’ve had to repent over and over again for reacting too harshly. Check one for anger.

For the last several nights, I’ve not been able to sleep well. I thought at first it was caffeinated drinks. Cut those out, still no change. I thought it might be from the Claritin D I was taking before bed. Cut those out, still no change. In retrospect, the fact that I keep waking up from dreams feeling like there’s some urgent matter I need to fix right then or else leads me to believe I’m clearly very anxious. And even though my somewhat stoic persona doesn’t display it as clearly as others, I’m anxious all the time that I’ll fail at work or fail Court or fail the kids or fail as a pastor-elder. Check two for fear.

I’ve also found it much harder lately to be light-hearted and easy-going. I, of course, don’t see this in myself but my wife has pointed it out more than once. Like I’m “carrying a constant burden on my shoulders and can’t shake it” or something along those lines. The fact is, joy feels elusive right now, a whole lot like chasing after the wind or looking for a snipe in the backyard. Check three for sadness.

And so, I find myself diagnosed: sin is ruling over me and I’m chasing after everything but the one good Giver.

I also listened to this John Piper sermon about assessing what our ultimate joy is found in (it would almost seem coincidental that both sermons had such common themes if, ya know, I believed in coincidences). He does this nice job of taking an example of something that makes us happy, then asking “Why?” over and over till we hit “the bottom” or, to say it differently, till we reach the foundation of our joy. If it’s anything other than God himself, we’re missing it.

As my old friend Tom Binkowski could painfully recollect from our many meetings for mutual encouragement, I am awfully horribly terribly tremendously bad at assessing my own motives or the foundation of my motives. (I’m not sure I stated that strongly enough…) But as I think over the things that are making me angry (Why am I so angry?), scared (What am I so worried about?), and sad (What’s making me so unhappy?), every chain of questions leads me to one response: I’m not getting the honor and recognition I think I deserve. Or perhaps I’m afraid I won’t get the honor and recognition I deserve.

So, today I’m grateful to the God and Father of King Jesus for Keller and Piper. Through their words, another layer of my inscrutable onion-y soul has been peeled back. And another layer of idolatry unearthed.

Though I still wonder if I’m just shedding the outer layer of my dragon skin and still too scared to feel the painful, gentle claws tear the whole thing off. God, grant me the mercy to get there…

My Quiet Defeat at the Hands of the Dishwasher

For some time, the pressures of life have been building, filling up my mind and time and attention. The biggest and easiest culprit has been work, where I’ve been tasked with a new project and a new process, taking more time and attention than I’ve had to expend in a very long time. But it’s really been so much more than that. The cares and troubles of this world, whether that be work stuff or disobedient kids or broken-down cars or whatever, have slowly but surely been choking the life out of me.

The last few weeks have been the culmination of it all. I put in a whole lot of extra hours at work, even several over a weekend–something I normally refuse to do as a matter of principle, that my job doesn’t own my every waking moment. But I had “good reason” to break my own rules. I did that literally up to the second when we left for a family vacation. And even though our bodies left the house (and my laptop!), my mind kept churning and thinking. All of this manifested itself in a number of ways. I’ve been broadly distracted constantly. I’ve been very short-tempered with my children. I’ve been disengaged at home. I’ve been falling more and more behind at work.

Even in my teaching, a gift given by the Spirit, I have been misstepping and faltering. This past week, I taught three times: one for my church, one for the high schoolers in our co-op, and one for some biblical training with some close friends. In all three, I just sucked. I was trying to teach and share the insight God has given me, but I was drawing from a dry well. I sinfully attacked a sister’s story, I was woefully unprepared to bring anything good to the high schoolers, and my dear friends all had to tell me that I was breaking the very interpretive rules I’d just given them

All of this has resulted in two things simultaneously. On the one hand, I’ve been feeling the weight of my failure increasing and building and growing and overtaking. On the other hand, I’ve been trying more and more furiously to make up for my insufficiency, working longer and trying really hard not to be so angry and trying to segment my life and get it all figured out.

You can probably see where this is headed. Because it’s not been working in the slightest. Instead of getting better, it’s all getting worse. On our date last night, my lovely wife was trying to gently point out to me that the path I was on was unsustainable and that it was my pride that was fueling my grasping at the air of fixing my own problems.

And so after our date, I noticed our dishwasher wasn’t getting the dishes clean. This morning  (not really digesting my wife’s words at all), I thought I’d unhook it, pull it out, and see if I could fix it. (Note: I have a bachelor’s degree in music, part of a seminary degree, and a job as an information analyst–handyman I am not!) As usual with such efforts, I couldn’t figure out the problem and made a huge watery mess in the kitchen from unhooking the water lines.

The hardest part was telling my wife we should call an appliance repairman. Because, you see, I think I could fix it with more time. I think I could figure out the problem and save us money. But what I don’t want to own up to is the fact that I already don’t have time for all the commitments I’ve made for myself. Nor that I might spend hours taking the darn thing apart and searching online repair forums and still not find the problem. My modus operandi is to never admit defeat: I can do this!

Except I can’t. Less because I’m not able–I have a pretty strong track record of accomplishing most things I decide to accomplish–but more because I’m a fool who can’t see that he’s choosing to neglect what’s been entrusted to me to save a few bucks that for once in my life I can actually afford to spend. Is it better to save money or to humble myself by getting help and getting back to my true responsibilities?

And I don’t think I’m explaining this very well anyhow. I feel like I’m advocating for some advanced time management tools or a life coach to help me prioritize. Which is about as Jesus-less as all my efforts have been lately. I’m sure time management or life coaching could help in some manner.

My problem, though, is a heart problem. My defeat came from the dishwasher because my Dad was kind enough to see me building my tower up to the heavens and came down to confuse my work and scatter me before I trudged full force into self-worshiping idolatry.

I’m glad I lost. I needed to. My own imaginary kingdom was bloated and moldy and cracked and rotting, but beautiful in my mind. But my Dad, who sees me refusing his good food to instead eat from the trash can, has used the sharp sting of discipline–and just the right discipline–to show me the feast he’s laid out for me.

My feast? The feast of a Savior who was already perfect so I would stop trying to be. The feast of limits, the feast of understanding that I’m not an island and not everything is my job, the feast of fellowship with my God through the Spirit who dwells within me, the lowly estate of a beaten and rejected Savior where I would rather bypass the gutters and jump to the glory.

So I’m grateful. A first step has been taken. My attention has been turned to the feast, but my heart is slow and cold and incredibly stupid. God grant me the grace to repent beyond even what I’ve seen so far.

Looking for Repentance

(So, I’d planned to be blogging much more regularly here recently, but I find the “too busy” excuse right there in my back pocket all the time. So trying to jump back in…)

What’s the difference between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow? I certainly get that in the end, one leads to life and one leads to death. But what do they look like in process?

I find myself struggling with that question in a very practical way today. A brother has been approached. Two or three others have gone along. The church of Jesus has made the call to repentance. After some waiting, Joe (made up name so that I don’t have to type “the person” over and over again) finally says he wants to return, to repent. Except not in those words. And still with a lot of anger and defensiveness.

Not only that, but part of Joe’s call to repentance has been about ongoing lies and deceit. Is this another time of lies and deceit? Is this part of the long con, just trying to restore his own kingdom but using the church to do it? Or is this is a godly sorrow, a conflicted repentance that is tainted with sin but finds it’s source in God the Spirit?

Tonight I’m confounded because I don’t know. I have no desire to turn away a brother who is coming back into the fold. But I also have no desire to let a wolf in either. And I don’t know how to tell which is which. Joe could be gaming. Or he could be fighting. I didn’t expect to be facing this–I honestly didn’t really believe Joe would ever try to come back. And even if he did, I figured any true repentance would be clear and obvious.

It’s not. I’m trying to reach across culture and life situation to assess what does repentance look like for this particular person. I really don’t think it looks like this, but I (with the church) don’t want to refuse the Keys to a broken man.

 

I think part of my fear is that I don’t at all believe it’s real repentance–a godly sorrow–but I’m afraid how it’ll make me look to reject someone who’s almost saying all the right things. Is godly sorrow still angry and prideful? Is godly sorrow full of excuses and defenses? Is godly sorrow dismissive and closed? Is godly sorrow completely devoid of Jesus?

It’s hard to see how that could be the case. Joe’s response certainly doesn’t look like this: “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

My Quick (Ha!) Take on Men and Women in the Bible

A dear brother of mine recently emailed me asking about my views on men and women from the Bible as his wife was recently asked to preach in a local church. He asked me to lay out how I see the complementarian and egalitarian positions, along with where I stand using the Bible. Here’s my response:

Wow, what a topic! I certainly understand that it’s a sticky issue and especially tough when you’re married to an able teacher (as you and I both are). As for me, I would label myself Complementarian (though that can cover a pretty wide spectrum of thinking). I’ll certainly outline my thoughts, though I can send you some articles if you’d like. I’ve read tons of stuff on CBMW (Comps) and on CBE (Egals) to know that some of it’s drivel/propaganda and some of it actually gets to the heart of the issue. If you’d like that, let me know.

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In describing the two views, Comps believe that men and women have equal worth to God but different roles while Egals believe men and women are equal in every role. Honest Egals will own up to the fact that the Bible is massively patriarchal/complementarian. Thus they argue that it’s either directly from the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection that things are different now OR that the NT set up a trajectory that would bring about full equality between men and women, even if that didn’t quite exist in the early church.

Typically, their hinge verse is Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” From this it’s surmised that since the barriers between the other categories were busted up on the cross, it’s the same for men and women. Taking the verses right around it, I find that this verse about the fact that we’re all equally God’s children and heirs according to the promise. This really has nothing to do with role or function, but about our position in the kingdom. Which is to say that we’re all equally children of God. I don’t think it adds much to the discussion on function though, much like in Israel all were God’s children but only the Levites were allowed to be priests: equal in value, but not function/role.

To build the Comp understanding, there are three main passages that come into play. The first is Eph 5:21:33 about husbands and wives. The main thrust is that wives are to submit to/respect their husbands, while husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives in love. Why? “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” On the face of it, this appears that the husband is the authority over the wife, as Christ is the authority over the husband (and I agree). Again, Egals argue here that “head” really means “source” (it’s all about this Greek term “kephale”), but I don’t see where that clears anything up. In fact, when we jump to 1 Cor in a moment, I think we get some more clarity on that. Egals also argue that v. 21 frames this section so that we should all submit to one another, thus husbands submit to wives just as much as wives submit to husbands. But that really makes no sense with what follows since a) Paul tells wives to submit particularly and not husbands; and b) right after that, parents aren’t commanded to submit to their kids (imagine what that would be like!) or masters commanded to submit to their slaves. I think a better translation of v.21 is that some should appropriately submit to others out of reverence for the King (I can send you an article on that, if you like).

The second passage for the Comp side is 1 Cor 11:2-16 on head coverings. While this topic is confusing enough on it’s own, the main thrust is that men and women should act differently because of their “heads” (that “kephale” word again). The crux is here: “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman [or wife] is man [or the husband], and the head of Christ is God.” Again, Egals argue that “head” here doesn’t mean authority, but “source”. But I don’t know of any tenable theological position that holds that God the Father is the source of God the Son. In all eternity, the Godhead has always existed as the Godhead. The Father isn’t the source of Jesus, he’s actually the authority over him (“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”). Thus, the Father has authority over the Son, the Son has authority over men, and men have a derivative authority over their wives.

Now lest this be demeaning for women, Jesus didn’t think it was demeaning for him. So to submit to another’s authority over oneself is truly Christ-likeness. And if that wasn’t enough, Paul makes sure to remind us all (because we need the reminder!) in 1 Cor 11 that “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” This is the very staple of the Comp understanding: men and women are equal and interdependent, but don’t carry the same authority.

Finally, the third passage comes in 1 Tim 2:11-15. Again, this is another sticky one. Paul instructs the women (or possibly specifically the wives) that they are not “to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Most people who know Greek way better than me agree that this construction is linked, thus it’s teaching and exercising authority together (i.e. teaching authoritatively). In particular, this is linked to the sound doctrine that Paul talks frequently about in the letters to Timothy that must be guarded. It’s also worth noting that these verses lead right into the requirements for the elders of the church, which I don’t think is happenstance. The idea is that this kind of authoritative teaching is the doctrinal protection done by the elders of the church, who not only should be godly men but should be able to teach (or as he says it to Titus, “he must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”). Thus the doctrinal teaching, the guarding of the sacred deposit is to be done by the elders of the church, who are male.

One last note on these passages: all three of these have reference back to the creation story. In Ephesians, it’s about the one flesh-ness. But the other two passages root the instructions to the church in the first three chapters of Genesis. The importance of this is that Paul isn’t making a cultural argument (again, a very common thing from Egals is to argue that Paul is arguing against a local cultural problem). That argument doesn’t hold, though, because Paul doesn’t root it in “hey, do this because in your culture it looks bad” but because “all the way back at the very beginning, this is what God laid out.” That really ought to carry more weight than Egals usually seem to let it.

So, having said all that, I should say that I have a great deal of sympathy and respect for those Egals who come to the Scriptures really wanting to understand what it says and come away disagreeing with my points above. I have a harder time with those who start with “I just knew that God wouldn’t really want women to be inferior to men” or “I’m clearly called by God to teach and preach as a woman, so I need to make the Bible support that.” But I could say the same thing about homosexuality or universalism or anything else. While I believe the Comp position is stronger and more faithful to the Scriptures, I know that I have true brothers and sisters who disagree, landing elsewhere on the issue as a matter of conviction. In many ways, I wish I could follow the Egal position, but Scripturally I just can’t.

So then, where does that leave the women (like our wives) who are wise and able to teach? Titus 2 certainly leaves a wide avenue open of older women training younger women. And I think that’s a highly important avenue, as that can happen in a whole lot of venues. But do I think a woman should be doctrinally teaching a group of men and women? I don’t. Not because they can’t, but because they shouldn’t to be faithful to the Word. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t contributions to be made. My wife exhorts directly in our church, in counseling, in conversation. But she’s building up, not laying down doctrinal foundations. That may seem like a fine line, but it’s one I’m comfortable with. Because the NT also has examples of women prophesying, I know that women can speak Spiritual truths to men and women together. And I encourage my wife to do so. But she and I also both know that when the “What does the Bible say about such and such?” comes, I’ll be the one to answer that. And my brother-elder and I are the ones “guarding the fences” doctrinally for our church, because that’s what we’ve been called to.

I hope this novella has been helpful to you. There are certainly more passages that could be discussed, but I think this covers the main sections. And I hope these words have built you up, too, and not just been a mess of confused passages and poor reasoning. Please feel free to question or challenge or rebuke, as my dear brother.