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And so—as we continue to work our way through Aimee Byrd’s book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?—we continue to find stuff to talk about. In part I suppose that this is because life between the sexes is variegated and complex, and not a simple and straightforward relationship, like that which exists between Point A and Point B. Even Solomon was outdone by the way of a man with a maid (Prov. 30:19), and when we add the complexities of multiple relationships—married and unmarried, flirting and not flirting, attractive and not so much, stupid and wise, and so on—we are getting into post-grad physics levels.The Rousseau Rag:
There is some good stuff in this chapter, but there is also an unfortunate tendency to undo it all a moment later, like a comedian stepping on his lines.
For example, there was this promising section where she started in on Rousseau. “Rousseau sounds pretty self-absorbed, does he not?” (Loc. 1422). And then, quoting Alan Jacobs, “Rousseau’s self-deception is immense” (Loc. 1425).
Now I can take a good deal of this kind of thing, as I am sure most of you realize. In fact, I could eat it out of the can with a spoon. Rousseau is, in my view, the font all the even-numbered troubles of the modern world, and many of the odd ones. He was an intellectual pestilence who rode into human history on a sickly green horse. So right about this time, I am sitting up straighter in my chair, hoping in my heart that Aimee continues to lay it on thick.
But then she says this:
“Rousseau’s notion of friendship sounds an awful lot like the view of those in the church who want to impose restrictions on friendship between the sexes” (Loc. 1429).
So those who keep their distance from the comely Mrs. Schwartz are treating her “as threats to [their] imperial selves” (Loc. 1431).
In a moment we are going to be talking about a different category mistake, but this is just a sloppy one. She was comparing the different approaches to friendship taken by Rousseau and Samuel Johnson, Rousseau playing it selfishly and Samuel Johnson taking a much more Christian and self-giving approach. Thus far the comparison was great.
Selfishness is a motive that can operate in any realm. Speaking a pastor with theological interests, I am here to testify that selfishness gets around. Sure, a person might stay away from Mrs. Schwartz for selfish motives (worried about threat levels), but is it possible (just possible) that someone might read Aimee’s book and cultivate a friendship with her for selfish motives? Is it possible?
And is it possible that men might observe the Pence rule because they are mortifying their own inclinations in order to love and protect others?Friends and Family:
I mentioned category mistakes a moment ago. One particular category mistake is afflicting the argument of this book throughout, and here it is. A friend is not the same thing as a brother or a sister. They are not interchangeable terms. What Aimee is doing is this: she is getting authoritative scriptural voltage from the fact that we are a family, we are the family of God, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and then she quietly transfers the mojo of all of that over to the quite separate category of friends.
But brothers and sisters are chosen for us. They are a given. They are assigned. We don’t get to be selective about our brothers and sisters the way we are supposed to be selective about our friends. We don’t pick our natural brothers and sisters, and we don’t pick our spiritual brothers and sisters. We do choose our friends. And even there, as we choose friends who will be a blessing to us in our sanctification—those who walk with the wise will be wise (Prov. 13:20)—we need to be reminded that this spiritual discipline might be confused with something that is purely natural. Natural affinity with certain others is a creational good, as Aimee Byrd recognizes.
“we have a greater natural affection toward some brothers and sisters in God’s household than toward others” (Loc. 1386).
This is why, in the family of God, precisely because we are dealing with brothers and sisters, we are called upon to love the unlovely (Luke 14:13). This natural affinity, in which birds of a feather flock together, is not a bad thing at all. God be praised for it. But it is not what all that household of God stuff in the New Testament is talking about.
I am prepared to agree with her on this point: “True friendship, or spiritual friendship, is not disposable” (Loc. 1342).
But I am not prepared to derive my obligations to friends from what the Scriptures teach me about my brothers and sisters in the Lord—because they are in overlapping categories, not identical categories.Alright Aelredy:
Aelred of Rievaulx was a medieval thinker who has become the patron saint of those advocating “spiritual friendship.” In my recent interactions with the Revoice conference, I have had occasion to deal with this idea, which is, to remind you, a singularly bad on. Wesley Hill, one of the speakers at Revoice, and the author of Spiritual Friendship, relies heavily on the insights of Aelred.
Hill argues—persuasively to my mind—that Aelred was gay, and was a practitioner of what Hill lifts up as a better way for those who are same-sex attracted—celibate friendships, grounded in a certain approach to the spiritual disciplines.
It is striking to me that Aimee Byrd is drawing water from the same well. I am interested to see that Aelred comes up in this book too.
“For this reason, spiritual friendship among those of us who are united in Christ is eternal and is the highest form of friendship” (Loc. 1345).
“Aelred points to creation in order to teach us about the higher blessing of friendship” (Loc. 1366).
But to be fair to her, she does put some distance between the two approaches in a footnote.
“Some associate Aelred of Rievaulx with the contemporary Spiritual Friendship movement that has been popularized by Wesley Hill, a self-identifying gay celibate Christian. While I share Hill’s enthusiasm for Aelred’s work, I am interacting with Aelred outside the influence of that movement” (Loc. 1509).
Yes, I am happy to acknowledge that Aimee Byrd’s mistake was not derived from Wesley Hill, and that Wesley Hill’s mistake is not derived from Byrd. But they are both making the same mistake, and it appears that Aelred has something to do with it.
What mistake is it? It is the mistake of believing that because having the combustible materials all assembled is not the same thing as having a fire, you are therefore safe from fire if you are thinking correctly about the combustible materials you have assembled. It is the mistake of believing that those homeowners who are careful not to pile oily rags in the corner of the garage are somehow disciples of Rousseau.Like So Many Dried Beetles:
I would like to make one more point in today’s installment, but I am sure it will be a point I will need to return to, if only to answer questions I provoked.
“Harsh boundaries pretend that ‘fornication is like the flu, and you accidentally catch it if you happen to be close to a woman” (Loc. 1438).
I believe that Aimee Byrd does not really understand how temptation works for men. This by itself is not a problem at all—I don’t think God wants men and women to understand one another at that level. So the problem is not that she doesn’t understand it. The problem is that she thinks she does, and she has undertaken to teach us all about it. The difficulty is her thundering naiveté, trying to pass itself off as theologically sophisticated analysis.
So when it comes to analyzing our temptations and lusts, we men need someone like John Owen to pin them to a poster board, like so many dried beetles, with all the parts labeled and with relevant scriptural passages attached. We don’t need someone to waltz in saying that they have sprinkled the holistic hooba dust of some contemporary thinkers over the top of it and it will be trust-me-totally fine.
Let us take one hundred men and one hundred women, and run a thought experiment. Let us grant all one hundred of those women telepathic powers, such that for one solid day they see, know, and understand the temptations that are going through the one hundred men’s minds, and without the men knowing they are being watched. Let us also suppose—to keep this thought experiment pure and high-minded—that the men are doing extraordinarily well in their walk with God, and that we are making the women privy to temptations only, and not to actual sexual sins. We are catching all these men on a good day. Nevertheless, these women are getting an eyeful when it comes to the frequency and nature of these temptations. They have a front row seat. Moreover, they are looking at these temptations from the side, and not from within, not from the man’s perspective—looking at them from within would make them too sympathetic, too much of a participant. So throughout the experiment they are and remain feminine spectators.
Now, what do you think the result would be—apart from those women never speaking to those men again?
“Imagine you have been invited to dinner somewhere, and suppose you just can’t get past the fact that your hosts are, apparently without malice, serving up carcinogens covered in gravy. Well, Jesus said that we had to take up our cross in order to follow Him. Your obligation is to die for your brother. At least in this case your obligation is covered in hot gravy” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, p. 194).
As one who works at the organization that built Solar Probe (and knows many of the good people who built it; yes it is audacious!), I very much liked your reference. And I do expect there will be some people who speak up about what happened in St Louis. We might not be the big and famous voices, but hopefully we will be faithful.
David, let’s hope so.
I appreciate your coverage of the Revoice conference, but do you know if anyone got in to report on what actually happened there? My understanding is that a person like you would not have been allowed to attend, so we won’t get to know all of what was said.
Ray, correct. My understanding is that people who had been vocal in opposition were uninvited, and not allowed to come. But I do know that there were some critical reporters there, and that information from that source should be coming out shortly. In addition, I understand that there are some official video now posted.
Well, “we” started with: “Our Balsa Wood Heat Shield.” Then “we” ended with: “They have built their heat shield out of reinforced balsa wood, and they have used tissue paper for the tiles, which they have lacquered on with pine sap. They are ready for the journey.” I like where “we” ended! ; – )
Jason, yes. Some of us didn’t like how it looked and got off.
Thank you. Sincerely.
Ed, you are most welcome.
Your latest piece on Revoice was excellent, but I want to take issue with your statement that, “Most of the church is normal. They are not sexually perverted.” I am a member of a PCA church, and I would submit that your analysis is correct only when it comes to the leadership of the church. Our pastors and elders are usually sexually normal, but inexcusably cowardly, just as you said. But I think your observation is extraordinarily wide of the mark when it comes to the actual members of the church. In my own church, many of our members toe the line in public, but once they are in private, they reveal their true hearts. We have many folks who pretend to be orthodox in the pews, but in their living rooms they have bragged about porn use (“it’s healthy for marriage”), abortion (“it’s a woman’s basic right”), and same sex relationships (“they’re a great form of sexual expression when life gets boring”). I do not believe this problem is isolated. It exists across the entire orthodox, conservative church. Even as a post-millennial, I have to admit that it appears that the majority of the people in our pews are wolves, and they are waiting for the opportunity to shed their sheepskins and devour the church. With all due respect, as you continue to treat these issues, I believe you are going to have to do better than, “Most of the church is normal. They are not sexually perverted.” I believe this is backwards: most of the church is sexually perverted. With that being said, I thank you for your faithful and consistent writing in these areas. It has been a lifeline of sanity. I hope that you will be able to address this issue of widespread apostasy-in-waiting as you continue to write on these subjects.
Drew, thanks for your perspective. I don’t doubt your experience, but it has not been the same as mine. Perhaps there are regional (as opposed to denominational) variations. That said, I don’t doubt there are places where “the people love to have it so.”Susan Pevensie Lives!
Thank you for this! I had never quite resolved the question about Susan Pevensie and Narnia, but you have now closed the matter for me. Susan will be in Narnia . . .
Mary, you bet.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and emailed it to my family as my Dad read the Chronicles to us when we were wee kids. I agree that the inclusion of Emeth and the exclusion of Susan have always been frustrating for me. Particularly the inclusion of Emeth—which definitely deserves another post from you (what kind of pseudo-universalism was Lewis getting at?) One question for you: Is the Cair Paravel in Lewis’s heaven the same Cair Paravel “of the Four Thrones” that it was in the time of the White Witch and book #2? Because it seems that Cair Paravel of the Four Thrones eventually became Cair Paravel “of the One Throne” when Caspian, Rilian, etc. reigned on it. If Cair Paravel was Cair Paravel of the Four Thrones for only a short time in the shadow lands (with respect to all the years in between books 3 and 4), what makes you think that it would remain Cair Paravel of the Four Thrones for eternity in the ultra-real realm? I will say: “Once a Queen of Narnia, always a queen of Narnia” remains a convincing argument.
Daniel, I believe it remains Cair “of the four thrones” throughout, in the same way that men who were not David were able to sit on David’s throne. When the four children come back in Prince Caspian, even though their task is to put Caspian on the throne, they do so having resumed their former ranks. They do so as kings and queens.’
“There are two things that really bother evangelical friends of Narnia, and they both show up in The Last Battle. One of them is the presence of Emeth in Aslan’s country.” I disagree that it bothers “evangelicals.” It bothers a certain type of person who grew up in an inward-focused church community that see Christianity as the saving force rather than Christ himself. “What I would like to do here is address the troublesome absence of Susan from Aslan’s country. What does it mean?” It means she is not dead yet.
DB, right. That’s the same conclusion I came to in my article. She’s not dead yet. And amazingly, I came to this conclusion despite being the kind of evangelical that believes in salvation through inward-focus instead of through Christ. Just lucky, I guess.What the Ornithologist Knows
What the Ornithologist Knows: You mention birds but don’t call females chicks or hens (succulent reference) in this article. All the work to set it up, and no payoff? Are you going to write a satirical book on “thought felonies?” I’m all for that. bête noire? Can we stay away from the French and go with German or a language more lovely in the ear? “Attraction is not impurity”—hello, Revoice? How many steps away from the devastation do we need to be to be far enough away from the potential? How close to the blast zone is too close? Again, AB may not have grown up with brothers, or have some general concept of “locker room” talk. The Danger Zone for guys is much earlier in the process than she realizes, by Glorious Design. If one recognizes these sins to be “devastating,” wouldn’t one encourage investing energy in the prevention of such sins? The Shy-er males require a few “encouraging signals” from females (aka flirtation). These things belong in group settings, as we’ve discussed previously and don’t include dudes holding doors open, offering a hand up or down steps, etc. Let’s get serious, what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds? Yes, it’s different if you’re married, or not, or at the workplace, or at the grocery store or the State Fair or the town square. Affection is fine, in and of itself. But where are the guardrails against the devastation that has been foretold?
Ron, you seriously think German is more euphonic than French?
You are right as always, as my own personal experience attests. Too late, I saw how naive I had been in a “just friends” relationship with a Christian female. I was single, not attracted, too dumb to see her interpretation of the dinner date, blind-sided when, upon learning I had no romantic inclinations, she never spoke to me again. Open conversation drove the friendship. I saw a nice chat, she saw more. (If only we men had better social training.) Fast forward years ahead, my wife and I, enjoying supper with married friends. If the conversation is lively, driven by his wife and me, I feel comfortable so long as the quieter spouses also have lines, and the topic shifts to something less invigorating within an certain limit: a limit corresponding to roughly half my jealousy’s simmering point if it were lively banter between my wife and him. No need to be weird, just not naive.
Douglas, thanks. I am afraid that many have learned the hard way, as you did.
Really appreciate your going through Bird’s book like this. Extreme charity being offered.
Re: Stereotypical Manners Is there no balm in Gilead? Am I the only one who sees the fairly obvious puzzle piece that is missing from this endless conundrum? As a woman who has spent her life in the labyrinth of evangelical attempts to figure out what to do with godly, eager, and winsome women, I have personal stories that range from the awkward to the terrifying to the hilarious which support both Byrd’s and your positions, sometimes simultaneously. Why? Because we’re dealing with an unsolvable puzzle for which no rules, or lack thereof, are adequate. What we need is not a ratified code of interpersonal behaviors, but Humility. Particularly from men. At the end of your post, you are hitting the nail on the head. While women are weak in many ways that men by nature are less so, men have this particular weakness that women do not, at least not equivalently. We just are not as relentlessly and constantly beset by such an outrageously destructive temptation as men are in their sexuality. Many of us are frequently tempted by chocolate, by gossip, by self-focus. Dangerous, for sure, even damnable. But not the stuff by which illegitimate humans are created, and two souls become one. Not daily. Not several times a day. Not all day. Not usually. Wow, by your own admission, and as I’ve learned in marriage, probably the thing is not even really within our comprehension. So isn’t it amazing then that our feminine experience, and I believe I am concurring with what Ms. Byrd and many other women are trying to express, is that we are treated as if we are the problem? Hmmm. What do we call the unwashed man who treads through the kitchen where the lady’s baking bread every time he mucks out the barn to complain, “Why does it always stink in here?” (Some of us call that “marriage.” Ha ha) But really, what do you call it when someone with a self-destructive, addictive compulsion pretends someone else is their issue? An offensive description, to be sure. But is it unfair? Your tone is bold, as you honestly describe the battle with the devil over lust. But in the purview of history, have you not only begun to be honest? Are you really so very bold, or is honesty and humility in regards to male sexuality just that foreign in Christendom, you know, apart from condemnations of the pagans? Believe me, I am not looking for sordid, recurrent, articulated confessions, or a community of male consternation and approbation, as we see in the world these days. Nor am I asking to for women be treated like Beatrices, with errant imaginations of feminine virtue. I am just saying that what is called for is men who know themselves, because they know their God. Gospel men. Men who know their own sick hearts are what they are guarding against, not their sister in Christ. Men who call a spade a spade, and whose doctrine of utter depravity has beautifully apparent application in real-deal holyfield humility. These men would know, without a rulebook, how to treat women. By the Spirit. I know, “by the Spirit,” doesn’t count as an answer in evangelicalism these days. The Bible is so outdated. Esther was attended by eunuchs. Not because she was so vile, so stupid, so dangerous, but because she was so valuable. Of all the challenges she suffered in her story, I doubt this sexless boundary offended her. Women generally speaking respond very well to being treated with sacred honor and dignity, as highly valuable treasure to be guarded. (Seen any princess movies lately?) The principle in Esther is not that we should castrate the church’s men (which I believe you sense as the hidden threat lurking behind these initial measures that call for loosening borders between the sexes), but that men who have been dealt with honestly, both in the depths of their capacity and the profound value in the vault, are the safest and most trustworthy guards. And there is such a thing as trust. But it has to be gained in the context of honesty, which gospel people should interpret: brutal self-honesty. Humility would take this issue from being a chain of shame and lonely disappointment around the church’s loveliest necks, where it does not belong, and make it instead for women a dignified robe of protection and provision. As for the heavy burden of not-yet-fully-sanctified male sexuality, for which the men of God have all my empathy, support and encouragement (and I think I speak for many women), the gospel provides sufficient power and relief for those who actually Do and Must carry it—men. The battle must be fought, surely, but with these wishy-washy Christian cowardly deflections onto women, well, it’s no wonder this battle for purity is being lost by the evangelical church wholesale. The Pence rule is great, but what’s it going to do for the 65% of evangelical men who are watching porn? It’s like bickering over dress code in the Pennsylvania munitions plant instead of planning for D-Day. Why isn’t the main thing the main thing? There’s so much more to say, but I’ve already tried to fit too much into a little comment, so I’ll just return to my first question. Why isn’t all this obvious?
Suzanna, thanks for the sanctified and on-point rant. I confess that I find that your assessment of the undesirability of the rules/no rules option has certain attractions. So first, I agree with you that women ought not to be blamed for the men’s problems—always excepting Tiffany, who dresses like a sale at Penney’s, which is to say, 30 percent off. But second, and this is something I am going to be getting to in future installments of my review of Byrd’s book, I believe that when men are alone with men, talking about these things, there is a very accurate understanding of where the problems actually are. So communication across the sexes is difficult, not because the men are incapable of being honest with themselves, but because frank discussion would be socially disruptive. Men are often not fully honest with women because they don’t want the women to be angry with them, as they frequently would be. More on this to come.Essential Oils
Plodcast episode essential oils: Hey, I love so much of what you do, especially your family book series. I just listened to the Plodcast episode about essential oils, and I think you should redo it. I really agree with you that there is a big spiritual problem going on with essential oils. I think so many Christians treat them like magical cure all potions. But you sounded to me like you don’t know anything about essential oils. If I were a proponent of them I would easily disregard what you had to say because it didn’t seem like you were speaking to the claims people make about health benefits. If there are people out there selling forgiveness, it is much more self-evident that that is wrong (as a Christian). More dangerous I think is the worship of them for their supposed health benefits and mood modification. Please research this and speak to this problem, because I suspect your podcast seemed like you set up a straw man.
Amanda, not a straw man at all. Here is an example of an oil called Forgive.Different Subject . . .
Random question. What do you think of John Piper writing additional verses to Great is Thy Faithfulness. The song is in the public domain. But in the spirit of the law, I tend to think of it as venturing into the area of artistic theft. Chris Tomlin is a perpetual offender in this area. What say ye?
Roger, there is a long history of this in the church, and I don’t have an objection if the additional verses are actually an improvement. But a lyricist should walk carefully if he is modifying a well-known and well-loved hymn.Wives Leaving
I think Ken is right about the “Wives Leaving” article. #1 Your scenario did not give any biblically just grounds for her to leave. Hard man to live with? Maybe so, but such was also Jonathan Edwards according to Ms. Dodd. Man a hypocrite and tyrant? Ok, I can sympathize, but he did not want the marriage to end (“stay with unbelieving spouse if he wants you—maybe you will be the instrument God uses for his salvation”). #2 It does not matter that the witnesses might not be believed. If they were witnesses and willing to testify then this wife has a duty to supply the witnesses and attempt to seek justice (and if proven, sanctions for the husband). Just to run away is not appropriate. This might be hard for her but if things are as bad as you describe then it is doable and it is the check and balance to keep the “frivorces” from happening. #3 It would have been better to, instead of seemingly giving out blank checks for leaving, attack the reason why your scenario would have gotten to this stage in the first place. You say that the kids were grown (btw: quite convenient and makes the whole leaving much easier) which indicates that the marriage was one of quite a long time with the behavior old as well. So, why did this woman put up with this for so long? What did she not do that she could have done to bring the truth to light before now? Why did she not do this? (loss of reputation/status/income = pride? fear? etc.) How does a wife biblically point out sin in her husband’s life and still follow her admonitions of respectfulness and submission? I am not saying that she is at fault for his behavior, but if his behavior was so egregious then there would have been someone else that would have also been affected and know about it. It is unbelievable to say that no one else was affected or knew—therefore, the question remains: What do wives do in the very early stages to prevent the need to ever leave? How do they get help that either brings the husband to repentance or proves his hypocrisy? (though scripturally, even the pagan husband is not to be left without biblical cause) Why not educate and admonish women in how to biblically deal with the problem early (while still following all the other commands to wives), instead of to run from it later. In addition, I did appreciate your indication (though subtle) that should the husband repent of his behavior that then the wife should return to him. I expect that if you had not been so subtle about it then your cheerleaders for this pro-leaving stance might have been a little less than thrilled. However, it has been my real-world experience that after such a breech (leaving) has been initiated (esp. if children were also taken) that returning—even after proven true repentance—is harder than the initial leaving.
BJ, thanks for the feedback. Having the luxury of making the scenario up, I was able to be fully satisfied in my mind that for her relatives to welcome her were she to run would be an appropriate thing to do. But my whole point about the runaway slave law is that it can be appropriate to welcome someone who should not have left. That remains a possibility also. And one last thing. These letters are going to be collected in a miscellany about marriage, and there will be other letters that address the other possibilities. I really want to cover the waterfront, and there will be one that applies 1 Peter 3 and the hard reality that “despite the advice of everyone, you married him.”
What do you make of the role reversal between Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7. Jesus was asked about a husband divorcing his wife, and Paul addresses a wife departing from her husband. Is there any significance to this?
Ty, I think there is some significance because men and women are not interchangeable. But in the gospel of Mark, Jesus talks about a woman divorcing her husband. The curious thing there, which I need to develop further, is that when a man divorces his wife in an ungodly way, he is forcing her to be “adulterated.” When he divorces his wife that way, and marries another, he commits adultery. In Mark, when a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. But Scripture says nothing about the husband who was divorced.Some Housekeeping
Three random questions not connected to any particular post, but related to the Lord’s Supper. 1.) You used to post your homilies for the weekly Supper. Where can I find those now? Do you still post them anywhere? 2.) I know you use only wine in your services. What type of wine do you use? Any particular reason why? 3.) What advice would you give a minister who wants to shift his church from using grape juice to wine? Thanks,
BJ, our church recently called Toby Sumpter to serve as a minister with us, and he is currently doing the initial exhortation and homily with the Supper. He posts them at his blog. As we settle into our new rhythm and schedule, there will be times when I am doing the surrounding service, and I will post those pieces as I used to.
On the wine question, we use grocery store red wine, and with no particular theology associated with it. As you make the transition, I would urge you to go slowly, and to prep the congregation by teaching on it carefully beforehand.
Honest question time, not just here to make a statement that I hope gets posted publicly. I’m an elder at my church. We are a wee little gathering-50 or so regular attendees. We all know each other’s business, and we all interact as a tight-knit community. As a functioning community/family the full range of topics come up during conversation. My problem—as it’s been pointed out to me by several women—is that I take a stance on political issues rather than talk about how I “feel” about them. I say “my problem” because it has a way of causing problems, or rather hurt feelings. Now a family is leaving our congregation because of this. I’ve learned to stay away from condemning others for their opinion, blurting out that someone is wrong, or asserting that I have to be right. Heck, I don’t even have a FB page! I don’t stand on my Christian freedom to say whatever I want, but if someone solicits my opinion I’ll share it freely. And in doing so I usually project some sort of confidence in my opinion. Now before you lump me into that young Calvinist stone-throwing camp, I don’t think the label fits me. I’m very aware of God’s call on me to be gentle with the flock, to be forbearing with them, and to work with varying levels of sanctification (as well as plead with others to work with my low-level of sanctification). But if someone asks me my opinion about Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders, the Clintons, the prison system, Trump, feminism etc. I’m happy to share my thoughts. I value a good debate: if you don’t agree with me show me where I’m wrong. But now a family is leaving our church because they disagree with me. If I wasn’t an elder they’d stay, but since I’m an elder they (obviously!) can’t sit under my authority. As one who has some unpopular political beliefs how have you experienced this same thing? How have you dealt with it? How would you recommend I deal with it? How do you seek to communicate truth no matter what realm it is in? From the pulpit, from your blog, in your books? What if you have a member that is a passionate liberal who wants to organize other church members to protest the Kavanaugh nomination (or some such other policy you agree with), would you confront them? I think that if it were a theological matter the family at my church disagreed with me about, they would be much more hesitant to leave. I think that because most members don’t want to get into a theological debate with their pastors, but when it comes to politics that’s open for disagreement because no one is an authority (besides whoever is the one doing the condemning of course . . .) Thoughts?
Tim, you don’t want a church community where topics like this are off-limits. We have to be able to talk about them. And we have to be able to bring reason to bear on them, and not just feelings. Rather than accept a situation of enforced silence, or an arena where feelings rule, it would be better for a family to leave the church. But with that said, there are some things for you to check. Pray to find someone who shares your views, who is open about them, and who doesn’t get into the kind of trouble you do. Ask them for pointers. Ask them to critique your manners. Learn how, when someone brings up a topic, to sound out how willing they are to hear you out before you say anything. “What do you think?” “Are you sure you want to know?” And last, make sure your congregation understands that the position of the session is represented by those things they have discussed and voted on, and not by what one member of the session may have said at the potluck.
“Which sanctifies which? The gold the altar or the altar the gold? Having established the principle, i.e. that the altar does the sanctifying, we have to ask, in matters of table fellowship, whether the altar is on the platters or in the chairs” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, p. 193).
Now that the Revoice conference is in the rear-view mirror, it is officially an event in the past. This means that—it should be obvious that it means that—your standard issue PCA pastor, personally orthodox, can go back to pretending that everything is normal. All is okay. The alarmists were wrong, in that the sky is still blue, and the grass still green. Most of the men I know at presbytery don’t have anything to do with this kind of foolishness. They don’t like it much, but they are occupied with local ministry.
When the liberals captured the mainline Presbyterian church, about eighty percent of the ministers in that denomination were orthodox and evangelical. What’s to worry about? Well, lymph nodes are just a small percentage of a man’s body mass, but that does not really matter if cancer got into them.
Not only so, but it possible to have more than one kind of cancer at the same time.
Writing that Assumes the Center
If my subject here is the mortal threat presented to the church by the mere fact of something like Revoice—and it is—it may appear to some that I will be changing the subject for a few moments. But I am not.
Writing is an essential component in the task of exercising dominion. Writing, when done self-consciously and properly, is an essential part of the creation mandate, and which is in turn an essential part of the renewal of the creation mandate that is grounded in the Great Commission. Let me say it again. Writing is how we should assume the center. Writing is an exercise of dominion. Writing—as distinct from scribbling—wields authority.
Writing all this down accomplishes many things, but I just want to mention two of them here. First, writing enables us to remember. Writing is institutional memory. It wasn’t always like this. That which is accepted as normal now was rejected as beyond abnormal just a few years ago. Writing helps us to remember. Second, writing is an act of authoritative naming. As I have written numerous times before, our gender wars, our culture wars—what might better be called our lust wars–are battles over the control of the dictionary. He who controls the dictionary controls the exegesis.
Why do I write? Because I refuse to surrender this particular outpost. It is strategic; it is the decisive point. Everything depends upon our ability to continue to name in accordance with the naming of God. What God has called detestable cannot be perfumed into holiness with our little spritzer bottles of redefinition. I will say more about this in a moment, but if we want to continue to name these sins rightly, we cannot settle for naming them this way in our hearts. No, we have to name what we name out loud.
A World Gone Crazy, a Church Gone Timid:
The world, naturally, has always been worldly. But the world has not always been—indeed, has usually not been—what someone with the insight of Kierkegaard would have called crazynuts. We are living in a world gone mad, and there are two components to this.
The first part is the spirit of perversion. I am talking about those who actually want to remake the world. They want to the authority to turn boys into girls, not to mention all the other variations possible—the L’s and the G’s and the B’s and the T’s and the P’s and the +’s. This spirit is not of God—it is from the pit.
But there is another spirit that is not from God either, and this is far more common. Most of the church is normal. They are not sexually perverted. If you talk them privately about these distortions, they will expression dismay of some sort. But ask them to go on the record—preach on it, write about it, file complaints at presbytery about it—the spirit of cowardice becomes evident. And this spirit is no more from God than the spirit of perversion is. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).
The AI-Attracted Community
If someone wants to write in a satiric vein these days, he really needs to run down the road. If he walks at a leisurely pace, he will find that the absurdities of what is quaintly called the real world will be there ahead of him. If we walks with his hands in his pockets, when he comes to write his withering reductio, he will find that the absurd conclusions that he was going to envision are being seriously entertained by all the woke personages he knows.
Fast forward just a few years—when technology has moved the sex doll industry into remarkable life-likeness. The sexbots can converse with you in spooky ways. And lo! There arises a quadrant of the church—incels who have discovered their affinity for artificial intelligence. Let us call them AI-attracted. I think that this certainly qualifies as a sexual minority. Does the umbrella of that Revoice plus sign cover them, or will the once-forward-thinking people shrink back to be conquered by the forces of reaction and hate?
Oh, the cowards say, we would speak out then. I see. And so what is more absurd about that scenario than what you are remaining silent about now? A man masturbating with a mechanical device is a bridge too far, and a man pretending to be a woman isn’t?
Give them a break. They were busy trying to deal with the ramifications of that PCA church that had ordained as a deacon someone who identified as a man, thus fulfilling Paul’s limitation of that office
We need to face some ugly facts. The contemporary evangelical church is led by cowards. The anti-normals are out on the edges, demanding their way, and the cowards are refusing to deal with them. In this controversy, a comparatively small handful of voices have been raised against what is happening. The besetting sin of the church today is fear. Fear is the wind beneath our wings. Timidity is our oxygen. Faintheartedness is our superpower. Aversion is what our branding experts recommend. Anxiety is our long game strategy. Disquietude is the approach commended by our life coaches.
And so I am reminded of something George MacDonald once said—“what have creatures like us to do with heroism who are not yet barely honest?”
Consumed by Worms
We are going to check out the same way that Herod did, and for the same reason. Herod would not give glory to God, and so an angel of the Lord struck him, and he was consumed by worms, and died. Herod was given a proleptic opportunity to reflect on what happens to all after we die. After we die, we all of us are consumed by worms. He was consumed by worms before he died.
We are still alive. We hold conferences, and these conferences have slick graphics. Slick graphics and credentialed speakers. Just like Herod—royal robes outsides and worms inside. And like him, we are still not giving glory to God, we are still not heeding His Word, and we are still tolerating the hair-splitting defenses of rank iniquity. If you want to see the worms, all you would have to do is cut us open.
You can depend upon it. The public promotion of Revoice was really, really bad. And this means that what actually happened there was far, far worse. The worms of perversion are large, and the putrefaction is advanced.
And the visible cowardice in response has been really bad also. You can also rest assured that the calculations of expedience made behind the scenes at highly respected ministries (“but what about our brand?”) have been grotesque as well.
Fear of God:
The reason our leaders are fearful in the face of this kind of sexual sortie into our midst is because they do not fear God. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:13).
And the reason they do not fear God is because they fear man. These are the alternatives.
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
“Howbeit no man spake openly of him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:13).
You either fear God or you fear man. You either seek the honor that comes from God or you seek the honor that comes from man. One or the other. “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44).
Our Balsa Wood Heat Shield
NASA just recently launched a probe that is designed to “touch the sun.” By this they mean that if all goes as planned, it will reach the edge of the sun’s atmosphere, which is about three million miles out from the surface. To do this, they built the mother of all heat shields, and they hope to gain a lot of useful information. The project is nothing if not audacious.
Speaking of audacious projects, the evangelical world has just held a conference in which they talked glibly of bringing queer treasures into the New Jerusalem. The intimacy between Jesus and John provides us a model for those who want to cultivate same-sex attracted friendships. And those involved in this conference have written about the prospect of still being gay in the resurrection. Perhaps same sex attraction—not being sin in itself—was even a creational feature prior to the fall. Maybe. One wishes. One hopes. One yearns. The whole thing is a tangle of contradictions—they are driven by the standard issue self-loathing, but they are also smug and conceited, looking down on the duddy world of evangelical straights from their refined heights of aesthetic soooperioriteee.
By way of contrast, our God is infinitely holy. He is a consuming fire. He is like the sun, only He is an infinite Sun, a sun with no center, a sun with no surface. He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16).
And yet the modern evangelical church has produced these mavens of mendacity, these engineers of rationalization, these space scientists of conceited and proud self-loathing, and they have figured out how to approach the unapproachable light—and all without a mediator! They have built their heat shield out of reinforced balsa wood, and they have used tissue paper for the tiles, which they have lacquered on with pine sap. They are ready for the journey.
I would like to spend this week and next addressing honesty with God, and what it means to grow in grace. In brief, there are two elements to growth in grace. The first is the removal of impediments to that growth, which we will address this week, and the second is the presence of that which feeds grace. The first is negative, dealing with sin, and the second is positive, which has to do with the reception of means of grace, and actually growing.
Think of a house plant that has been knocked over, and the pot has been shattered. If the plant is to grow and flourish, it is necessary to repot it . . . but repotting a plant is not the same thing as watching it grow. Repotting is what is happening when sins are confessed. Growth is what happens when the soil is rich, the sunlight plentiful, and water is abundant.
“He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Summary of the Text:
I have entitled this short series Honesty With God, and such honesty is essential to all true confession. So let us start with the passage from Proverbs. A man who covers his own sins will not prosper. It is striking that this action of covering is positive or negative depending on how it is happening. The word for cover here (ksh) also means to forgive. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: But love covereth [same word] all sins” (Prov. 10:12). Covering is what love does, and covering is also what a self-absorbed sinner does on his hell-bent way to “not prospering.” But a man does not have the authority to cover (forgive) his own sins. The offense was against God (Ps. 51:4), and so God must forgive. What is God’s way in this? The man who confesses (honesty), the man who forsakes (true repentance) is the man who finds mercy from God.
We find the same element of honesty in the passage from 1 John. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. The word for confess here is homo (meaning the same) and logeo (which means to speak). To confess is to “speak the same thing” that God is saying about it. We do not engage in any spin control. For example, what God calls adultery should not be called an “inappropriate relationship” by us. Note that God is the one who does the forgiving, and God is the one who does the cleansing. We do the acknowledging. So what do we contribute to this process of confession? We contribute the sin, which creates the need for forgiveness, and we contribute the honesty about the sin, which engages the promises of God—promises that ride on the fact that He is faithful, and that He is just. But keep an eye on that word honesty.
What Shifts and Evasions Look Like:
What are some of the shifts and evasions we employ to keep from doing what God summons us to do? Here are just a few. We justify what we did. What we did was really right, we say. We excuse what we did. It was wrong, but it all happened so fast, and besides, she started it. We hide what we did. Nobody knows about it and nobody is going to know about it. We confess what we did in vague terms. Lord, please forgive me for anything I might have done today. We rename what we did. Everybody makes mistakes. We shrug over what we did. Nobody’s perfect. We give up over what we did. I am going to do it again, so why bother? We barter over what we did. Restitution would be too costly. We pass the buck over what we did. The woman you gave me. We postpone dealing with what we did. I’ll confess it next Sunday. We are overwhelmed by what we did. Nobody could forgive that gross a sin.
Honest on Our Behalf:
Now the problem for us is that we live in a world that is simultaneously corrupt and (more importantly) dishonest about the depth and extent of that corruption. All we have to do is be honest about our sin, the man says. But how? We can no more do that than we can achieve perfection in any other area. It is not as though we can be Augustinian about most of our sins, but get to be Pelagian about the sin of dishonesty and self-ignorance. And here comes the gospel of grace.
Jesus did not just die for you so that the penalty might be paid for the sins you committed. He did do that on the cross, but Scripture teaches us that all of the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us who believe. So you are afraid because you are such an imperfect and dishonest repenter? Are you discouraged because it is so hard to be honest about things like this? But Christ didn’t just die for you, He also repented for you (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:21). From the very beginning of His ministry, He identified with sinners, and He—the sinless one—went through the humiliation of receiving a baptism of repentance. Why would He even do that? The man who administered it to Him wondered the same thing.
“And John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?” But Jesus answered and said to him, “Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he allowed Him” (Matt. 3:14–15, NKJV).
Now He did not repent so that you wouldn’t have to repent. Rather, He repented so that you could learn how to repent, following in His footsteps, freed from all condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. Let the one who repents, repent in the Lord. Let the one who is learning to walk honestly with God, walk honestly with Him in the honesty of Christ. This is what it means to walk in the light.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
This is just two verses before our text on confession. Walking in Christ means walking in the light. Walking in the light means walking honestly. And that means you will always be dealing with your sins in a well-lit area. Never forget that Christ is that light. Confessing honestly means confessing in Christ, and in the name of Christ, and in the honesty of Christ.
[On Prov. 15:17] “If we love one another, we can overlook the fact that we are having to eat like vegans. And if we hate each other, there is not a French chef in the world that can make a sauce that will cover up that acrid taste” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, pp. 190-191).
In her fifth chapter, Aimee Byrd helpfully offers some qualifications (and/or exceptions) to what she has been generally arguing for. She makes the important general point that temptation and sin in this area is devastating and really bad. And she also says some really good things in this chapter about how the law does not bring victory over temptation. The law cannot do what only the grace of God can do.
First, her general cautions:
“Christians who caution against friendship between the sexes warn against something very real: sin” (Loc. 1077). “Friendship isn’t sin. But sin in friendship is devastating” (Loc. 1078). “Personal holiness is imperative” (Loc. 1080). “Temptation is real, and sin is evil” (Loc. 1256). “Sin affected our bodies, minds, and souls so that they are not rightly ordered toward righteousness, love, and glory to God” (Loc. 1088).
She also concedes that there may be places where particular guardrails may need to be installed.
“Therefore, we should never entertain inappropriate thoughts or behaviors in any relationship” (Loc. 1216). “sometimes we do need to implement boundaries” (Loc. 1218). “we are wise to put boundaries on our interactions with a person like Harry Burns” (Loc. 1219). “Because of this, many wise church leaders keep an open door (or have a windowed door) when alone with a woman. They do this not because women are a threat to their sexual purity but because they want to assure those who trust them that they are safe. This is a kind gesture of leadership” (Loc. 1221). “Even sharing a meal in public with someone can increase intimacy. If we treat the intimacy appropriately as brother-sister intimacy, then everything stays properly platonic and our affections are rightly ordered. Most of us are able to do this. But if you are not, or if you find yourself in a vulnerable time or with someone who is not good company, make your decisions accordingly” (Loc. 1253). “If you find yourself struggling with an unhealthy attraction toward someone, this is a good time for self-evaluation. Why are you more vulnerable at this time?” (Loc. 1239). “then you need to confess this to the Lord in prayer and not put yourself in situations that fuel romantic feelings” (Loc. 1235).
In addition, she says some good things about being genuinely open to concerned input from your husband or wife. If your spouse has concerns . . .
“listen to their reasons” (Loc. 1245). “we can be blinkered by our own good intentions” (Loc. 1248). “Often they are right—and we don’t ever want to make our spouses uncomfortable anyway” (Loc. 1249).
Now I do think it would have been a wise editorial choice to put a bunch of these qualifications in the first chapter. But at the same time, although it appears she may be walking back some of her earlier blanket assertions, there is enough naiveté still on exhibit in this chapter to maintain brisk forward motion for her overarching thesis. And that is really dangerous.
In other words, she does draw a firm clear line that must not be crossed, and when she talks about not crossing it, she does so in the name of a lot of good gospel principle. Unfortunately, it is plain that she is putting that line in a very slippery place.
“Avoidance is not purity. We are not being holy by avoiding any affection for the other sex” (Loc. 1169). “Do you confuse attraction with temptation?” (Loc. 1172). “The truth is that we are attracted to more people than our spouses. Attraction is not impurity” (Loc. 1182). “should not orient all our affections toward our spouses” (Loc. 1196). “Love is so much more than romantic passion” (Loc. 1186).
Ironically, what she is doing is being very reductive about the nature of this particular temptation. It is ironic because being reductive about any of this has been her bête noire throughout.
“Finding someone attractive doesn’t mean that we should pursue them romantically, however, or allow our thoughts to wander into sexual fantasy” (Loc. 1184).
I do not cite this to disagree with it—far from it. Rather, I want to say a good deal more. A person can be in big time trouble long before he starts thinking about actual “pursuit” of someone romantically. He (or she) can be a goner before the first episode of mental undressing. Flirtation can reside in a person’s heart for months before ever making its first public appearance. Did she laugh at that joke? I wonder if he thinks I am clever. I’ll bet she admires my truck. Did he notice my new dress?
But now, all of this, any of it, can be buried under the license that this chapter has given to those who want to settle for a guilt-free attraction. Just because you value her opinion about that witticism of yours does not mean you are being tempted. Not a bit of it. No problem having the hook in your mouth so long as the fisherman hasn’t yanked on it yet. All a matter of timing.
What I am saying is that illicit attraction need not be overtly romantic or overtly sexual at all. The reason I believe that such non-sexual interactions are frequently sexual in principle is that I am not being reductive about sex. The male bird displaying its plumage is logically distinct from the act of mating—and yet there is still a deep connection there. That bird may not even know enough to articulate that connection, but the ornithologist can.
“Christians who are concerned that their food life be healthy—and that should include all of us—should therefore concentrate on these three things. Whatever we do, Paul says, we should eat and drink to the glory of God. Eat together on a daily basis with people who love you, and whom you love. Second, make it a ritual appointment. Sanctify a place, a dining room table, say, and show up there at the appointed times. Now I can guarantee you that if these two things are in order, the food that will appear on that table, whatever it is, will be worth saying grace over. The gratitude will not be misspent” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, p. 190).
It has been a few days, but I was asked to respond to a piece here from a friendly critic of my fictional letter to a wife who was preparing to leave her husband. The central thing that I would like to contest is this:
“In fact, this piece straightforwardly reverses what God actually says. Doug’s counsel here is false teaching, because the very scriptures he appeals to say precisely the opposite of what he claims.”
“He is trying to straddle two horses: the word of God, and the feelings of women.”
As I trust I can show below, what I wrote was not an appeal to two authorities (for who can serve two masters?). Only Scripture is the final authority. But Scripture, our final authority, is not calloused toward the feelings of wronged women—or wronged men too, for that matter.
My critic is Bnonn Tennant, and I believe he is misreading me over the meaning of not I, but the Lord and the subsequent phrase I, not the Lord. No doubt I contributed to this confusion when I said in my original piece that v. 11 was apostolic advice. Because many people take I, not the Lord as Paul disclaiming inspiration at that point, reducing it to just advice, it would be easy for them to think that I was maintaining that, and then, being “gobsmacked” when I plugged the counsel of v. 11 into Paul’s “uninspired bit,” instead of where it belonged, in the inspired not I, but the Lord part. When I started this paragraph I was hoping to make things clearer as I went on . . .
Jesus taught on marriage and divorce in the course of His earthly ministry. He was addressing, overwhelmingly, the marriages between covenant believers. That was His context. In that context, He gave one exception that allowed for divorce and remarriage, and that exception was when there had been sexual uncleanness on the part of the guilty spouse (Matt. 19:3-9).
But when the gospel exploded out into the pagan world, a new phenomenon started to develop. It became common enough that it became a pressing pastoral issue, and that was the fact of mixed marriages—a believer married to a non-believer. In our passage, Paul is answering a question the Corinthians had about this very issue—is it a sin to have sex with a pagan? Paul says no, it is not. What about if it results in children? No worries, if at least one of the parents is holy then the children are holy (1 Cor. 7:14).
So I take the phrase not I, but the Lord as Paul first talking about the same context that Jesus was dealing with in His earthly ministry, the marriage of two believers. In that setting, the only thing that could justify divorce and remarriage is the guilt of porneias on the part of the other spouse. Then I take the phrase I, not the Lord as Paul’s apostolic and authoritative law for mixed marriages. If the unbeliever is “pleased to be together with” the believer (suneudokeo), then the believer must not separate simply because of the unbelief of their spouse. But if the unbeliever rejects the believer, then the believer is not bound in such circumstances. And this leads to the second justification for lawful divorce and remarriage—willful rejection of a believer by an unbeliever. This is not Paul’s opinion; it is the law of God.
So then, verse 11 is talking about intractable conflict between two professing believers (not I, but the Lord). And this explains why the separating party does not have the liberty to pursue any other relationships. This is why they must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled. Whether they move across town or not, the marriage vows are still operative.
When I say that Paul is giving advice here, I am not referring to the restriction placed on any other relationship. That is not advice. The advice part is the where he says not to separate, but in the same breath does not require church discipline if she does separate. When Paul says “don’t do x, but if you do x, then you absolutely must not do y,” we are free to assume that the church would not intervene with discipline at point x, but would intervene at point y.
This is why we would allow a woman in our congregation, if married to (an extraordinarily) difficult man, to separate from him. But if there had not been infidelity, that separation would not bring with it permission to begin a relationship with any others.
So here is my amplified and paraphrased version of the passage in question. I am throwing in the extra words to highlight how I read this.
“And to the married I pass on the command that the Lord Jesus taught us, which is that a wife must not leave her husband. But if she does depart from him, then she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband again. She is still bound by the law of marriage. And likewise the husband should not put away his wife.
But regarding these new situations, these mixed marriages, that Jesus did not address directly, I will speak to them as the Lord’s apostle. If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is pleased to live with him, then he must not divorce her. And if a woman has an unbelieving husband, and he is pleased to live with her, then she must not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband—otherwise the children of such a union would be unclean. But as it is, the children are holy ones or saints. But if the unbeliever leaves, then let him leave. A brother or a sister is not bound by the marriage vows in such cases—for God has called us to peace. For how do you know, o wife, if you will save your husband? Or how do you know, o man, if you will save your wife?” (1 Cor. 7:10–16).
The Association of Classical Christian Schools and New Saint Andrews College, worked together to create the first Christian National Honor Choir. Over 80 students auditioned from around the nation, flew into Dallas, practiced together for three days and performed for @A_C_C_S. pic.twitter.com/y4gBv8LVlj— New Saint Andrews (@NewSaintAndrews) August 6, 2018 Rosaria On Gay “Celibacy” And You Still Sit in Plastic Chairs?
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Why putting a runner on 2nd in extra innings is a dumb idea, part 1062: https://t.co/TVwRCEuCQi— Joe Rigney (@joe_rigney) August 7, 2018
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“Grape juice and flat crackers for communion are a fitting description of the gospel we are [unfortunately] presenting to the world” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, pp. 189-190).
So I want to begin my review of this chapter of Aimee Byrd’s book with some agreement. Although I differ strongly with her overarching thesis, I also want to make it clear that I believe she is reacting to some genuine problems in the “purity world.” I have seen some of those problems myself, and since this chapter addresses the issue of purity, it should not be surprising that we might find ourselves agreeing at various points.
Having agreed, I want to propose an alternative explanation that accounts for the problems she identifies. But having tired of all the agreement, and half afraid that a friendship might break out, thus undermining my entire case, I want to move on to what can only be called a head-on disagreement.
Sanctification is not a paint-by-numbers process. It cannot be mastered in three easy steps. It is not something you get from Amazon through their “buy now with 1-click” option. On top of that, it cannot be easily bought with purity rings and pledges. “We don’t need a movement with pledge cards, customized Bibles, and silver rings” (Loc. 989). And it cannot be achieved through isolation or, as Aimee Byrd would put it, through avoidance.
On top of that—in violation of the old sales adage to “under promise and over deliver”—too many preachers and parents in the purity culture did do the opposite. Managing to remain a virgin until marriage is not the same thing as knowing how to be married. You can remain sexually inexperienced without becoming wise. If you have the kind of wisdom that knows how to be married, then of course bringing sexual purity into a marriage is greatly to be desired. It really is precious. But sexual purity all by itself is utterly inadequate. Virgins can be stupid, as the Lord’s parable revealed.
In short, I don’t think that Aimee Byrd is tilting at windmills when she points out the existence of simplistic conservative solutions to sin. That does happen.
Anecdotal Does It
I will now be appearing to change the subject too abruptly, but I am not really. Bill Hybels is one of the recent casualties of the recent round of allegations about sexual misdeeds. Here is a link to a NYT story about a recent accusation that surfaced concerning him. It is important to note that Hybels denies this allegation, but for the purposes of our topic under discussion right now, there are certain things that are undeniable.
Here is a relevant excerpt from the article.
“In 1984, Ms. Baranowski was walking to her car in the vast parking lot of Willow Creek one night after services. She had just been praying about whether to apply for a job at the church she saw posted.
Suddenly a car screeched to a stop beside her, and the driver rolled down his window. It was the church’s pastor.
“Could I drive you to your car or something?” offered Mr. Hybels, who was then 33. Her car was nearby, but she accepted the ride.
It seemed like a sign from God.
Mr. Hybels later also described the meeting as a miracle: He had been driving out of the parking lot when God urged him to go back and find the woman he drove by.
“That night I had no idea how offering help to a person who probably didn’t need it would affect my life and ministry,” he wrote in one of his first books.”
Secondly, Hybels acknowledged to his congregation, although not in so many words, that Mike Pence is one smart cookie.
“In April, Mr. Hybels announced to the congregation he would accelerate his planned retirement by six months and step aside immediately for the good of the church. He continued to deny the allegations, but acknowledged, ‘I too often placed myself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.’ The congregation let out a disappointed groan. Some shouted “No!”
And third, he gave Baranowski a hand-written note (which she kept) that concluded with, “P.S. Plus, you are a knockout!”
In short, there were various purity lines that should have been better marked, spray painted in neon, more brightly lit, and more thoroughly policed than they were—on everybody’s account.
Now what does this (unfortunately not rare) kind of story do to Aimee Byrd’s thesis? By itself, in isolation, nothing, even though it does provide some embarrassment for it. But Byrd can always respond that she is advocating genuine wisdom and genuine purity, not predatory pretenses. She can say that she is arguing for a holistic approach that honors Christ in everything. Hybels is alleged to have followed her methods on the outside, giving a lady a ride, but not from the heart.
Yes. And courtship advocates, avoidance preachers, and purity ring manufacturers can all say the same thing. Nobody is traveling around the country hoping to persuade people to act like idiots. In short, neither side should be faulted for the behavior of people who don’t do what they say.
Ah, But They Still Do Act Like Idiots
And so here is my explanation for why there are actual problems out there in the purity culture for Aimee Byrd to critique. It is because the purity culture is made up of people, and people are foolish and people are sinners. They are sinners when someone is teaching them about courtship, and they are sinners when someone is teaching them that purity is not avoidance. To use that great Seinfeld line, “People! They’re the worst!”
Let’s run a thought experiment in which Aimee Byrd and I both get to address an enthusiastic crowd of a thousand teenagers (in different cities). These teens—or to use a more scientific descriptor, these hormones with feet—respond to our two different messages with total buy-in. Aimee’s crowd goes wild, as does mine. It is my settled conviction that, despite the agreement with our respective messages, a significant percentage of each crowd will get the whole thing distorted. There is going to be somebody in my crowd who thinks that a silver ring will keep impurity far away, the way garlic does with vampires, and there will be some guy in her crowd whose application of the truth that a guy and a girl can have a shared interest in theology might end up later that night, with any luck, with him whispering theology into her ear.
Now I am happy not to blame Aimee Byrd for those train wrecks who wrecked their friendship train because they didn’t do what she said. The only thing I ask is the same courtesy in return. The dangers that she points to—in the homeschooling culture, in the purity culture, in the courtship culture—are dangers that I have been warning about for decades. For example, in this chapter, she cites a critique of courtship culture by Thomas Umstattd, a gent I have responded to before, and in that response I granted a number of his (and Byrd’s) points.
So we differ on a number of things, but let us not magnify it by differing where we agree.
And Yet . . .
And yet, it should still be fully appropriate to disagree where we obviously disagree, and to point out the dangerous consequences of applying what she specifically says to do. I would not fault her for those who snatch at her book for rationalizations of their manifestly suspect desires. But I believe there are problems right on the surface.
For example, she chides those who would object to a “stimulating conversation with another person’s spouse,” such that it “is deemed inappropriate” (Loc. 915).
So let us envision just such a stimulating conversation with another person’s spouse. As you are walking away from that stimulating conversation, I have some questions for you to answer—and I don’t much care what the answers are. I actually care whether or not you have enough data to answer them one way or the other. Here they are: “If you were not married, and if she were not married, would this friend that you are having a conversation with be someone you would ever consider as a possible romantic interest? Do you know enough to know that? Did you enjoy that conversation enough such that you would, if you were free, think about asking her out?”
I am not asking whether you are on fire. I am asking whether or not you know that the combustible materials are there.
Now here is the set up for a follow up question. Suppose the answer is no. You would never think about asking her out. Your enjoyment of the conversation had nothing of that nature in it. You just love talking to people about whether the highways should be privatized. You would have enjoyed it just as much if she were male, named Bruno, and had a severe case of five o’ clock shadow. It just happens that she is a girl, and it just happens that she has a silvery laugh. But no, you would never be interested. She is not your type.
Having had that stimulating conversation (or a series of them), I have the same set of questions for you about her perspective. If you were both unattached, are you her type or not? Would she ever be interested in you? If you can answer that question, you have not just had stimulating conversations, you have had intimate conversations, and you are already in big trouble. And if you can’t answer the question (from her perspective), you are messing around with something you don’t understand and which might easily destroy you. You don’t know the answer, but if the answer is maybe or yes, which is a real possibility, then you are walking through a minefield, hands in your pockets, whistling. Ignorance is only bliss until the moment when it isn’t ignorance anymore. The fact that you are whistling because you are careful to think about her in non-reductionistic and holistic ways does not matter in the slightest. In fact, that is what is making things worse—that is what she admires so much about you. You are the first man who has ever treated her in such a holistic way. All the lights on the dashboard of your frontal lobe ought to be blinking at you angrily, and there ought to be a claxon alarm going off in your cortex.
The fact that this is a real problem is evident from an anecdote that she tells about a women who differed with the approach she is urging. The woman told Aimee that, a few years before, some men had driven her to the hospital to visit her husband. At that time, she had experienced “inappropriate feeling of attraction” in the course of the ride, and concluded that she had done the wrong thing by taking the ride.
Aimee Byrd’s response to this is telling.
“But is this woman less pure because she felt attracted to other men?” (Loc. 1003).
The answer is yes. She was right to feel ashamed of her reaction, and she was right to act on that by putting distance between herself and any future occasions of it. She went on to say that she felt “loved and cherished” by her husband because of his standard to not offer a woman a ride, or take one himself. This is also a wise response.
Incidentally, this is as good a time as any to address something Aimee wrote earlier in the book. Having this standard is not permission to leave sisters in the lurch, abandoned in difficult situations. It may mean the situation becomes a bit more cumbersome, but that’s fine. One time a man in our church was leading a high school Bible study at the home of one of our kids. After the study, one of the girls was stranded without a ride, as sometimes happens, and so the Bible study leader grabbed one of my grandsons, who was already home—“c’mon, let’s give so-and-so a ride home.”
Ironically, the mistake that underlies the thesis of this book is the same mistake being made by the organizers of the Revoice conference. As long as a thought doesn’t translate into an overt action prohibited by the Ten Commandments, you can assume that you are doing okay. And thus it is that an internal dalliance with sin can be mistaken for a stalwart resistance of sin.
Aimee Byrd says, quite rightly, that temptations must be dealt with through confession and offering them up to God. “Temptations to sexual sin must be confessed and offered to God” (Loc. 977). But one very biblical method of resisting temptation is to flee from it. “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22). Get some distance, son.
When a person realizes that this other person is the kind of person he or she would be interested in (if free to be interested in), then of course, any heart yearning and so on must be confessed and offered to God. Byrd would agree with this; she says this plainly. But doing this just deals with that particular incident. All the same chemistry is still there, and next Sunday’s fellowship hour is coming. Now what?
She refers to “someone who can’t offer a service for a person in need because they can’t deal with attraction” (Loc. 1006).
But if someone doesn’t have a head for heights, is the counsel really to have him walk along the edge of the cliff? My illustration presupposes that one-on-one close encounters are a cliff edge for regular people, who don’t have severe personal problems.
For those who can’t walk through a crowded room without dancing along several cliff edges in the course of fifteen minutes, I am inclined to agree with Aimee that this is a personal problem, not a relationship problem. The person grappling with these reactions should have that looked at. If a woman simply says hi, and he is over the edge because he thinks she is flirting with him, then he is the one with the problem. But then again, he is the one falling in love with the models in the J. Jill catalog.
“While it may seem safe to impose rules that separate us from ordinary encounters with the other sex, this isn’t the virtue of purity. It is overly sexualizing of others” (Loc. 1026, emphasis mine).
Now I do agree with this on the surface, but everything rides on what we mean by ordinary encounters. If the attractive wife of one of the deacons stops you as you are walking out of church and asks, “Excuse me, is Bob still inside?”—Bob being her husband, and your response is “Gaaa! Jezebel!” then I am entirely on Aimee Byrd’s side. We are the family of God, we are brothers and sisters, and we should be able to have ordinary encounters. The question is whether a forty-five minute tête-à-tête off in the corner of the church potluck is an ordinary encounter. The answer, boys and girls, is no, it is not.
“How many Christians torture themselves with self-rebuke because they aren’t ‘eating healthy enough?’ They didn’t have a whole lot of time for lunch yesterday, so they didn’t walk the three blocks necessary to get that bean sprout sandwich, and instead just stopped at the street vendor on the first corner. Instead of feeling guilty, though, they ought simply to have thanked God for the hot dog. What? Too spiritual to thank God for a hot dog? We have the problem summed up right there” (Confessions of a Food Catholic, p. 187).