Monday, April 23, 2012

Common Grace for Parents

Common grace is an interesting theological concept.
In the words of Reformed scholar Louis Berkhof, “[Common grace] curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men,” (Berkhof, p. 434, summarizing Calvin’s position on common grace).      -From the Wikipedia entry on Common Grace
John Calvin taught that God lavishes His gifts on the human race, and we may therefore enjoy it wherever we encounter it, with gratitude to God (Institutes 2.2.15). I freely receive gifts of God's common grace through science and medicine. But I've noted that conservative Christians are often suspicious of common grace on the topics of parenting and mental development. Two secular books have recently blessed me in my call to parent my children the way God parents His, and I thought I should share why.

Nurture Shock

This book resonated with me because it wasn’t a book of anecdotes based on the authors' bias and personal experience. Instead, it was a summation of 100’s of studies on various parenting topics, drawing its conclusions from them. I’m a math teacher and appreciate logic and reason. I weary of anything emotionally, not logically, driven, particularly guilt-driven parenting books.

But I’m also a Christian. Scripture informs my values in parenting. Scripture sets the structure for the methods I employ to disciple my children. This book wasn’t anti-Christian, but neither was it in any way promoting Christian parenting philosophy. So why would I read it? Why would I enjoy it as a gift of God's common grace? Some Christians won’t even give it a chance, and some who read it would immediately point out perceived biases and flaws in a self-protective manner. There are several pieces of my theological convictions that drive how I interact with such a book.

First, I am confident (Phil. 1:6). There are Christian groups that teach keeping a healthy distance from secular (worldly) philosophies. They perceive them as a threat, ready to snatch believers from Biblical faithfulness. But in Scripture, God Himself is the one who assumes the role of keeping us. It is His job to keep His own, and He promises to do it well. I'm not oblivious to the pitfalls that undermine faith, yet on the flip side, I am very confident in the One who holds me, and I am confident in His promises regarding the perseverance of my faith.

Second, I value being informed. The discerning heart, according to Scripture, seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14). Science is the friend of the discerning, not their enemy. Certainly science needs to submit to Scripture, but we don’t need to see it in competition with Scripture. The Word of God is tough. It can stand up to the test, and it doesn’t need me to hide behind a rock for fear it won’t stand up to secular reasoning. But I never read these things without Scripture in mind. In fact, it’s simply impossible to me.

The first chapter in Nurture Shock on perseverance/endurance and the concluding thoughts on thankfulness was worth the price of the book. It also reflected many Bible principles. It reminded me that God is the master psychologist. He understands how our minds and bodies work better than anyone, and His instructions make sense. They actually work. There were many examples in Nurture Shock of just this very thing. The authors of course didn’t acknowledge these as Biblical ideas, but it was obvious again and again.

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children

In the comments after my article on Gospel-centered Timeouts, someone asked for resources on parenting children with anger problems. Someone else recommended this book, and I ordered it as soon as I read the subtitle, for my son is EASILY frustrated and CHRONICALLY inflexible.  The traditional approaches recommended in Christian parenting books have usually made it worse, not better. I feel pressure to get him to conform to what comes naturally for many of his peers and even his little brother. 

While some discipline issues in our home fit the traditional paradigm of sin, correction, and forgiveness, we also have another issue, developmental delay, for which I need strategies. This book was God's gift of common grace to me. In particular, the author focused on root causes of frustration for kids with certain developmental delays (who often, like my son, excel in other areas). As he discussed the root problem, it became clear to me. When my son is faced with a problem, he can not comprehend that there is a solution. (If there is a genetic tendency in his parents that contributed to this in him, I'm pretty sure it came from me.)  A problem automatically equals an insurmountable crisis in his head, and the result is an explosion. Most times, he does not even know how to articulate the problem or break down the frustration to identify its cause. He just slams down the book and cries how much he hates reading. Or hides under his teacher's desk and cries hysterically refusing to go to music class. It's often way out of proportion to the problem. Or there may not even be an identifiable problem.

My first mistake is usually to dig my heals in on an issue. In my quest for my son to understand parental authority, I can become very rigid and insistent. Lots of Christian parenting resources emphasize first time obedience. But, really, the teaching that we should punish our children if they don't immediately obey us is very much NOT like our Father in heaven. He is long suffering with me, and that long suffering does NOT undermine His authority in my life. The graceless teaching of first time obedience resulted in me rigidly placing stumbling blocks in front of my son. Thank You, Lord, for Your mercy with me when I don't at first obey and for showing me a better way to love my son as You love me!

Instead, I am learning to ask neutral questions to figure out the true root cause of his inflexibility. With his music class at school, I finally figured out after several questions over a few weeks that he has problem with auditory processing – things don't connect between his ears and his mouth as quickly as for some. His classmates could pick up songs much quicker than him. He felt stupid and had no concept that he could learn them with practice. He could only see the obstacle.

The point wasn't that he was rebellious or didn't care. He DID want to do well, but he knew he wasn't doing well and didn't know how to fix that. We worked through that obstacle though I won't share all the details. He even sang perfectly with his class in his school's Spring Sing. And we did it without either punishment or rewards. Short term problem solved!!

The author in The Explosive Child emphasizes what he calls the empathy step—figuring out the real problem behind the anger and explosions.
“Some (parents) never considered understanding their kid's concerns or perspective on things to be particularly important. That's why many kids—perhaps most—are accustomed to having their concerns dismissed (by adults who have concerns of their own). … If you're busy dismissing your kid's concerns, don't be surprised when he reciprocates. … By the way, you don't lose any authority by gathering information, understanding, and empathizing. Rather, you gain a problem-solving partner.” (p. 92)
If you have a child who explodes with anger at odd times over seemingly trite problems, this may be a helpful resource to you. It has helped me decode my son's real problems and remove stumbling blocks that set him up for failure. Through it, I feel God has given me wisdom on how to help my son learn a new skill, much like tying his shoes or brushing his teeth, except this one is a mental skill—how to articulate and solve problems before they result in angry explosions.

Wisdom is truly wise only when it's applied correctly in the right circumstances. That is the function of the Holy Spirit. May we daily press into Him to know how to deal with our children with wisdom.
Proverbs 24:3-4  By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. 
Galatians 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Wondering How a Man Reads the Hunger Games

I'm not going to address the title of this post again. But I am curious how men who read the Hunger Games react to the story. I am sure there is not a monolithic male response. I'd love to hear your comments if any guy feels free to share though. Did you identify with Katniss' emotional struggles? How did you perceive Gale and Peeta's strengths and weaknesses? I'm just curious—and wondering if my response was because I identified with Katniss particularly as a woman.

I had a ridiculous title for my first iteration of this post—Hunger Games, Reality TV, and Our Sensationalist Culture—which I started after watching the first book and movie, but before I had finished the entire series. Now, I've finished the trilogy, and my perspective has certainly changed.

SPOILER ALERT! You have been fairly warned.

This is not a review per se. Instead, I'm just thinking out loud. I think that Suzanne Collins has written something that will endure the test of time, and in our entertainment culture, that's rare. I'm not sure the movie will endure the test of time, but I think the books will—that in 50 years, it will remain a series that we will expect thoughtful readers to have read by the time it seems age appropriate.

In the first book, I thought a lot about the parallels between the book and our modern day sensationalist entertainment culture. Suzanne Collins says she drew some of her inspiration from reality television juxtaposed with news of the Iraq War. From our long ago history of the games of human sacrifice in the Roman Coliseum to sensationalism at the expense of our children on modern Reality TV (see Toddlers and Tiaras or Dance Moms), Collins' fictional world is not THAT far fetched.

I also thought a lot about the concepts of dystopia and eutopia. The Hunger Games series is described as dystopian fiction.
Dystopia – a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding. Unabridged. Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2012.
But there's an interesting juxtaposition in the first book. While Panem is dystopian for the majority, it's utopian for the minority in the Capital. Their utopia comes at the others' expense. Not unlike our 1%. Yet in future books in the series, we realize the moral ambiguity among the 99%. It becomes increasingly unclear over the series who exactly has the moral high ground.

As I got into Mockingjay, the final book in the series, sensationalist reality TV no longer seemed relevant. Notions of utopia and dystopia faded in my head. Instead, it became somehow about me. I started clearly identifying with the mental battles Katniss faced when Peeta, after being hijacked, made a comment to Katniss that seems to echo her own self-loathing and self-condemnation. I pretty much cried the rest of the way through.

The beauty of a well written fictional book is the variety of ways we can make it our own. And I related to the Game outside of the arena in Mockingjay in my own personal way that I will not try to universalize for others. I related to it as a strong woman, at least perceived as strong by others, who often feels close to undone on the inside by the tug of others' perceptions of me and their expectations of me. But most of all, like Katniss, feeling close to undone by my own perceptions of the ways I have let others down.

The end of Mockingjay is brutal, probably because very little ever seems redeemed. Katniss is abandoned with her grief for months during her trial then deposited in her home in District 12 with only a note from her mother. When Haymitch walked out her house and didn't come back, I felt her profound loneliness. Used in the first Game, then even worse so in the 2nd Quarter Quell. But used most of all in the game outside the Games. Used, and then left as a burnt out shell of the strong woman we met in the first book. It was all a big, brutal game, and all the people she loved turned into players.

I don't read books that don't draw me in. I just don't have time for mediocrity at this stage of life. But these books drew me in. Immersed me. Mostly I felt wave after wave of brutal disappointment as the story went on. Not at Susanne Collins or how she wrote the books, but the kind of brutal disappointment that identifies with the main character, the kind that Katniss felt as each revelation took her apart mentally. That probably sounds ridiculously narcissistic—that I would identify with Katniss. Ha! Me holding my own with a bow and arrow in a game with Careers—truly ridiculous. Yet that's what makes these books great stories, because Collins does manage to draw me in and causes me to closely identify with Katniss. It's not narcissism. It's incredible story telling. All that to say, Mockingjay was emotionally brutal to me because I could hear Katniss in my own head.

When I finished the last book, I had some serious emotions to deal with. Why did I resonate with Katniss' emotional downfall so much? In the end, there was a singular truth that cleared it up for me. I was most disturbed by the realization in the books of the game outside of the Games, and how that bigger, global, all encompassing game separated Katniss from everyone she loved in her life. But I am not in a game. I am in a story! And that truth puts Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the gang back into the fictional cubby hole where they belong. I leave them, having enjoyed their fictional story, but clear on why identifying with their emotions was just a result of good fiction and why it wasn't relevant to the reality of my life. While the setting of reality TV gone haywire in an oppressive society is believable, even possibly close at hand in modern day reality, the betrayal by those closest to us is believable, and the profound loneliness as we endure utter devastation with no emotional support from those who used us is believable, ultimately you and I are not in a game. We are in a story, and it's a story with a good Author and secure outcome.  That makes all the difference.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A (Somewhat) Scholarly Analysis of Genesis 3:16

After last week's book review of God's Design, I decided to research the issue of various interpretations of the curse for women in Genesis 3:16 since it seems foundational to conservative approaches on women's issues in Scripture over the last 20 years or so. Here is what I found in my research.

Most important in my view, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 by some complementarians that the woman will desire against her husband to dominate him is a very recent development in church history. I am certainly open to correction on this, but as best as I can tell, Susan Foh in 1975 was the first to formalize the idea in the Westminster Theological Journal in a response to, you guessed it, feminism.
“THE current issue of feminism in the church has provoked the reexamination of the scriptural passages that deal with the relationship of the man and the woman. A proper understanding of Genesis 3:16 is crucial to this reconsideration of the Biblical view of the woman.” Susan Foh, The Westminster Theological Journal 37 (1974/75) 376-83
According to Foh, none of the historical views of Genesis 3:16 at the time of her writing involved interpreting the desire of the woman as a desire to control or dominate her husband. Matthew Henry coasts over the phrase in his commentary with no mention of “desire” at all. John Calvin says this part of the curse is simply subjection, that all of the woman's desires will be subject to her husband who rules over her.
“For this form of speech, “Thy desire shall be unto thy husband,” is of the same force as if he had said that she should not be free and at her own command, but subject to the authority of her husband and dependent upon his will; or as if he had said, ‘Thou shalt desire nothing but what thy husband wishes.’ As it is declared afterwards, Unto thee shall be his desire, (Genesis 4:7.) Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude.”
The same Hebrew word for desire is used two other times in the Old Testament.
Genesis 4:7 … And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 
Song of Solomon 7:10  “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.
Some have interpreted the Hebrew word for desire to mean sexual desire. It may include that, but it's use in Genesis 4:7 seems to contradict that. Foh interprets it as a desire to contend with her husband for leadership in their relationship. I believe it means an idolatrous longing for something from the man that she was created to receive from God alone. My view was prevalent at the time Foh put forth hers, which she acknowledges in her work.
"the desire that makes her the willing slave of man." It is that "immense, clinging, psychological dependence on man." Seeing no reason to limit the scope of "desire" to sexual appetite, Clarence J. Vos would not exclude from it the woman's desire for the man's protection. Keil and Delitzsch see "desire" as a morbid yearning; the woman ". . . was punished with a desire bordering upon disease (hqvwt from qvw to run, to have a violent craving for a thing) . . ."
Conservative translations read the Hebrew similarly. Only the KJV seems to continue along John Calvin's vein, that the actual desires of the woman will be subservient to her husband.
Amplified Bible – Yet your desire and craving will be for your husband, 
ESV – Your desire shall be for your husband, 
NASB – Yet your desire will be for your husband, 
KJV – thy desire shall be to thy husband,
Genesis 4:7 reflects the wording of Genesis 3:16 more closely than SoS 7:10. Gen. 3:16 and 4:7 use a different Hebrew word for the preposition “for” than SoS 7:10. In defending her new view, Foh primarily uses Genesis 4:7 to come to her conclusions about Genesis 3:16.
“In Genesis 4:7 sin's desire is to enslave Cain -- to possess or control him, but the Lord commands, urges Cain to overpower sin, to master it.”
Therefore, according to Foh, it follows that the woman wants to enslave her husband, to possess or control him, but he must rule over her.

There are several problems with her analysis of Genesis 4:7. Primarily there is an issue of gender – the suffix of desire in 4:7 is masculine, but the word for sin is feminine. Because of the discrepancy in gender, does desire in Gen. 4:7 even reflect on sin? According to Foh, John Calvin had a different view of Genesis 4:7, that the desire wasn't sin's but Abel's.
“Calvin (p. 203-4) explains the desire of Abel for Cain as that of an inferior for the superior, in this case the first born Cain. "Moreover, this form of speech is common [?] among the Hebrews, that the desire of the inferior should be towards him to whose will he is subject; thus Moses speaks of the woman (iii.16) that her desire should be to her husband."
Also, as I noted when I first started studying this 2 years ago, Genesis 4:7 is a personification of something that doesn't actually have desires.  Sin is not a person or entity with feelings or emotions. Genesis 4:7 is figurative while 3:16 is literal.
“Hermeneutically, one should proceed from the literal usage to the figurative usage if one's exegesis is to have validity.”
The problems with Gen. 4:7 make using it to translate Gen. 3:16 a weird choice. You don't use the figurative to interpret the literal, and you don't use the obscure to interpret the clear. Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding of hermeneutics is you always use the clear to interpret the obscure. In light of that, though the wording of SoS 7:10 is a little different than the other two, the meaning of the Hebrew for desire is clear there.

If you use the clear meaning of SoS 7:10 to give clarity to the obscure ones in Genesis, it makes sense. As Strong's simply defines the Hebrew for desire, it just means desire, longing, or craving. This would fit Genesis 4:7 (if you ignore the gender differences and assume sin is the antecedent). Foh projects onto 4:7 the idea of domination or control, but the verse doesn't actually say that sin wants to dominate Cain any more than Genesis 3:16 says it about women.  Domination and control are neither explicitly stated or subtly implied in either text.  Sin just wants Cain, according to this verse, in a big way.  And Cain needs to master it.

Some argue that the word for in Genesis 3:16 and 4:7 could be translated against. However, no Bible translation anywhere (that I could find) says her desire is against her husband.  They all say her desire is for her husband.  Apparently, no translation team thought against was the best meaning of that term.  It doesn’t make sense to say desire against.  The problem with our desires is always that they are either FOR the wrong thing or FOR the right thing but out of proportion to what is appropriate.

The Septuagint uses a word that could mean turning away for Gen. 3:16 and 4:7. However, as this article points out, that doesn't fit Genesis 4:7, which makes no sense if sin is turning away from Cain. In noun form, the difference in the meanings turning away and turning toward in the Greek (the Septuagint is an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) become virtually nonexistent. All that to say, the arguments that the prepositions of Gen. 3:16 and 4:7 mean a desire against to dominate are unconvincing linguistically.

In Conclusion

According to Foh herself, her presentation in 1975 that first introduced the currently accepted complementarian interpretation of Genesis 3:16's “your desire will be for your husband” as a “desire against your husband to dominate him” is a RE-examination and RE-consideration of the Biblical view of women. I am Reformed and generally hang with Reformed conservatives. It strikes me as odd that such a new view keeps popping up in modern writing among those who are known for loving their church fathers and church history.

Also according to Foh, she presented her new view of Genesis 3:16 as a response to feminism. It's important to note that the term feminism does not represent a monolithic movement. Carolyn McCulley has some helpful information of the various waves of feminism in her book, Radical Womanhood. If you examine the history of feminism, Foh wasn't reacting against the broad, general idea of feminism though she uses the broad term. Frankly, I'm grateful for the 1st wave of feminism in particular, and you should be too, for it helped women get the right to vote, the right to inherit land, the ability to go to college, property rights, and so forth. It was God's common grace at work. In her article, Foh was reacting specifically to the 2nd wave of feminism (the 3rd wave of feminism is thought to have begun in the 90's, so it wasn't an issue yet). So 3 millennia after Genesis 3:16 was written, there appears on the blip of human history a movement for women's rights in the 1960's that seems to justify a new interpretation of the curse. Really, folks, changing our interpretation of Scripture for a reason that surfaced in the last 0.08% of human history should trouble conservative theologians.

What if we read Genesis 3:16 in the straightforward way translators write it—her desire (strong craving/longing) will be for her husband—a way that was among the common views of it, according to Foh, before she put out her new view in reaction to the 2nd wave of feminism?
Clarence J. Vos would not exclude from it the woman's desire for the man's protection.5 Keil and Delitzsch see "desire" as a morbid yearning . . ."
A straightforward reading such as Vos', Keil's, and Delitzsch's, requires no theological backflips. The woman's root problem is that, even though child birth is painful and the man rules her, she still has a morbid craving for him, looking to him in completely unhealthy ways that do not reflect her status as image bearer of God. The woman wants something from the man that he was never intended to provide her, that he even on his best day is not equipped to provide. He becomes her idol.

2nd and 3rd wave feminism aren't the problem on gender. They are at worst ineffective, Christless coping mechanisms that involve a different sin to address an old one. But I also know Christian feminists who have no desire to take over control of their church or home. They just want to contribute to social justice issues—ending female mutilation and sexual slavery, securing voting rights, and so forth—in 3rd world nations. Whatever form it takes in various cultures among various women, it is a mistake to set up feminism as a monolithic system of thought and then combat it as the source of all ills on gender issues.

No, feminism isn't the ultimate problem. The problem didn't start as women wanting control over the men in their lives. Women set up men as idols and looked to them to provide emotionally, spiritually, physically what only God can provide. Apart from Christ, men oppressed them in return, hence the modern coping mechanisms of independence, self-sufficiency, and control (often ineffective) for dealing with that oppression. The curse read at face value reflects the real issue, and the gospel is the clear answer. The gospel gives the woman sufficiency in Him that allows her to stay engaged as a helper after God's own example. And when a man oppresses her to the point of abusing her or her children, that same gospel equips her to stand strong and remove herself and her children, for she is no longer so needy of the man that she has to subject her children to his sin. No, God, not her husband, is her Savior.

This older interpretation of Genesis 3:16 which I embrace certainly does not undermine a complementarian understanding of Scripture. It does gives clarity on why authoritarian views that mask themselves as complementarian are so prevalent. That's the curse playing out. But views (that are correct in my opinion) on husbands as heads of homes, wives helping their husbands, and male eldership in churches will be well served by putting off Foh's new interpretation. Authoritarian pastors unchecked by their peers and accountability structures who hold to Foh's views have contributed to feminism in the church as much as anything.  Holding on to Foh's views on Genesis 3:16 sets a tone of suspicion of women when we talk about gender issues in the church, and that tone is not helpful.    

Finally, note that even as God handed down the curse in Genesis 3, He alludes to the breaking of that same curse.
Genesis 3 NASB 15 And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
The curse for all of us is reality, but it is the very reality that Christ came to redeem. His kingdom is at hand, and we will see it in fullness and perfection one day soon.  Oh, I look forward to that day.


Grace Theological Journal article from 1986.

Westminster Theological Journal article by Susan Foh.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Complementarians, the Curse, and a Book Review

Easter season has reminded us of God's solution. But to what problem? I read a book last week that helped solidify in my mind that when we mistakenly interpret the problem, we miss the beauty of the gospel's answer. I think many conservative evangelicals have sorely misdiagnosed the root problem on gender issues. That has clouded our presentations on the subject, and frankly, no wonder people resist our teaching. So this is both a book review and a call to re-examine an important issue for women in the church that colors how we approach topics involving egalitarian, complementarian, and feminist thinking.

God's Good Design: What the Bible Really Says about Men and Women examines a number of controversial passages from the Old and New Testament on the roles of men and women in the church and home. Claire Smith, the author, has a PhD in New Testament from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. D. A. Carson wrote a glowing recommendation for the book, and that got my attention. I have enjoyed Carson on this topic – especially here and here. I appreciate his exposition of Scripture and generally resonate with his tone. However, despite my appreciation for him, I was very disappointed in this book. As an author, I am sensitive to criticism of my own books and therefore try to be sensitive in my criticism of the work of others. Dr. Smith is obviously well studied and brings much personal passion to this topic. But there are broad issues in the way she discusses this topic that I think need to be addressed for the health of the larger Body of Christ.

On the topic of gender in Scripture, I have long been interested in a book that simply examines and exposits Scripture on gender issues, minus defensiveness or pejorative analysis of the opposition. From the description, I thought that's what this book would be. Instead, this book is more an argument against egalitarian interpretations of Scripture than a simple exposition of Scripture on the topic. From beginning to end, the author addresses issues raised by Christian feminists. Earlier, the author rightly said, “None of us reads the Bible as a neutral reader. We are influenced by personal factors and we are influenced by our fallenness ….” (p. 218) When I read the last chapter concerning the author's personal life history, I understood the personal factors that strongly influenced her tone.
“I am old enough to have been raised in the heady heyday of the women's liberation movement. Its impact on my home, my school and broader society was profound—all the more so because I spent half my school years in an exclusive all-girls school, and from my mid-teenage years lived in an all female household (even the pets were female!). 
I was raised to think that a woman could do anything a man can do (and she could do it better)... that the world would be a better place if women ran it. I recall I had very little respect for men.” (p. 219-220)
Apparently, the vast majority of gender issues in the author's context center around Christian feminism. In contrast, I come from a background rarely dominated by feminist discussion. But even in my current context of the progressive Pacific Northwest, in a state with both a female governor and two female senators, I wouldn't say feminism is the dominating issue for women. Sexual abuse, domestic violence, and a generally sexualized culture that projects onto the youngest of girls that they are most valuable when they are sexually provocative—these are the things with which women, including Christian women, still most struggle in my zip code, just as they have for 1000's of years. Even in Dr. Smith's 1st world, apparently feminist dominated context of Australia, she cites statistics that around 17% of women there have been violently abused in a current or previous relationship. I wonder what the statistics would be for the far more heavily populated 2nd and 3rd world nations (with far less gender equality) of China, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan? In my experience, THAT statistic much more than views on feminism most affects the average woman's attitude on gender issues.

Throughout this book, Dr. Smith discusses eternal truths from Scripture on gender in this very limited context, one with a relatively short history. With almost each examination of controversial words on gender, she mentions “getting our feminist hackles up” or offending our “feminist sensibilities.” It left me wondering (though I feel personally convicted of the answer) if Scripture's instructions and admonitions address gender issues in areas where women wear burqas without the right to show their face, let alone to vote, in, say, the Middle East? We KNOW they do, but this text only peripherally deals with those applications. 

The author is consistent with herself though. This disconnect is accounted for by the author's interpretation of Genesis 3:16's curse that the woman's desire will be for her husband. Dr. Smith says, “Eve's desire is a desire to dominate or manipulate or control her husband,” and says the created order and harmony of Genesis 2 have been “replaced by woman's constant desire to control her husband.” (p. 178) In light of this, the author IS keeping a personally consistent tone as she interprets each Scripture, a tone reflecting her belief that women universally despite culture or socio-economic status are going to naturally resist these passages out of a desire to dominate men. The problem is that this interpretation of Genesis 3:16 does not keep the straightforward method of reading the text for which she advocated with I Timothy 2's and I Corinthians 14's controversial words to women. Genesis 3:16 says simply that the woman has a desire (the word indicates a strong craving or longing) for her husband. I gave a longer analysis in this post.  Please read it if you are unconvinced of my straightforward reading of Genesis 3:16.

Genesis 3:16's curse is not that all women want to dominate men and ultimately be in control. Good grief, NO! It's that apart from Christ, we are predisposed to look to men to fulfill in us things that only God Himself can fill. It's that we are idolators. By misinterpreting Genesis 3:16, Dr. Smith fails to address the root issues of worship and idolatry with which women struggle in every culture regardless of background. Subsequently she fails to address the root answer to the gender wars particularly for women, which I believe is the climax of Christ's death on the cross – the tearing of the veil that stood as the barrier between God and us. In Christ, I am now invited to boldly and confidently enter God's presence to find grace and mercy for every need—to have my desires and needs met in Him. As the Psalmist says in Psalms 73, “Whom have I in heaven but You and there is none on earth that I desire beside You. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion (inheritance) forever.” This is the right answer to the woman's misdirected desire of Genesis 3. It's the gospel!

Dr. Smith is certainly not the only complementarian to interpret Genesis 3:16 this way. In fact, I think it's the number one problem that undermines complementarian presentations. It's hard to convince people to take other controversial words to women in a straightforward way when leaders interpret the initial curse and root problem for women in such a convoluted way. Plus, it colors the tone of our presentations. When a speaker or author thinks a woman's number 1 problem is that they want to take over the world from men, then normal questions, concerns, or push back become evidences of a nagging, manipulative, or dominating spirit. You can't have a conversation with such a spirit of suspicion. I really hope more complementarian pastors and authors will start leading differently on this issue.

Despite these differences between myself and the book, I was caused to think about a number of passages of Scripture in greater depth as I worked through the book. In particular, I was reminded that with Paul's controversial words on gender in his epistles, he repeatedly calls men and women back to reflect what God created us to be in perfection, despite the ways the fall has caused all of our relationships to struggle. God set up very good things in Genesis 1 and 2, and the cross of Christ that we celebrate particularly in this season makes a way for us to reclaim all that was lost in the fall. Creation, not curse, now defines us as His image bearers.

Bottom Line: This book is strongly influenced by the author's particular background (then again, few books are not). You'll likely find the study of various passages in this book helpful if you are already convinced of a complementarian perspective, but I don't suggest this book as a tool for convincing someone else to your position.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Harm in Jesus' Name

This post is a true lecture to myself. It reflects my greatest struggle. Lord, how do I hope in Your Name when I daily witness so much harm done in Your Name?! Much of Scripture chronicles the battle between good and evil, the righteous who place their faith in God and the unrighteous who mock and scorn God. But what of the unrighteous who do NOT mock and scorn God, who actually call on God's name to justify their sins or deflect from their true character? Who bite and devour one another all in the name of Jesus?!

Thankfully, God does not leave us alone with this most troubling reality—when the redeemed wound the redeemed. His Word accounts for even this. In particular, Paul gives us a little vignette in Philippians 1 that encourages me greatly.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Paul is in jail for the cause of Christ. He is a true Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel. Even so, there are some people who preach Christ insincerely, out of selfish ambition, hoping to heap greater affliction on Paul by doing so. It's a disturbing picture. Who would do that?!

According to the passage, they are motivated by envy or jealousy – hating Paul for his success in spreading the Word, perhaps trying to upstage him or maybe even trying to incite authorities into exercising a heavier hand on Paul in punishment for the spread of Christianity. They do it from strife or rivalry (depending on your translation), indicating a bitter conflict to gain superiority. Fundamentally, their motive is selfish ambition. It's partisan, religious politics.

The picture Paul paints here couldn't be any uglier. And Paul himself is their victim. All this makes his last sentence all the more profound – “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” 

When Paul says this, it isn't to let partisan bullies who preach Christ out of the worst of motives off the hook. I think instead Paul is presenting a stronger truth – that Christ, His Name, His Word, and His Gospel are more powerful than the faulty vessels that proclaim Him. His Name is a strong tower. His Word is a sword that cuts us to the bone. There is something supernaturally, powerfully good about God, His Name, His Word, and His purposes. And the essence of Who He is and all He came to do can't be undermined by incompetent, selfish proclaimers of the truth.

Each year at Easter, I come to the gospel based on new circumstances formed in the previous months. It's the same gospel each year, yet the new circumstances shine light on it from a different angle. Christ's sacrifice is profound against the backdrop of those who mocked Him on the cross. But it's also profound against the backdrop of those who denied Him at His darkest hour after professing faith, some sincerely like Peter and others insincerely like Judas. Christ's sacrifice is profound in light of those who use His name out of selfish ambition. But instead of such misuse of His name undermining the Cross, somehow God transcends and redeems even that.

In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.