A Puritan Response to William P. Young’s New Book

Many of you may be familiar with the new movie titled The Shack, which is based upon William Paul Young’s novel of the same name. Depending on what circles you run in, you may have heard this described as a great Christian film, or alternatively as a terrible piece of heresy. The extreme popularity of Young’s novel (20 million copies and counting) has caused many Christian leaders to address the theology contained therein, and they have found several topics of concern. However, those who defend the novel typically fall back on the fact that it is, after all, a piece of fiction and not a theological textbook. Some have even argued that Young’s true beliefs are rather ambiguous.

Well, with the release of the film now upon us, Mr. Young has done us all a favor and released a non-fiction book (though given its contents, some may still wish to classify it as fiction). This one is called Lies We Believe About God, and it has rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists. Within its pages, the author gives us a series of statements that are often made by people in the Church and tells us why he believes each one of them is wrong. Tim Challies has already written an excellent article looking at several of the more troublesome claims made in the book, but for my purposes I wanted to examine just one of the statements that Young says is a lie: “God is in control.”

Now, if you hold to anything like orthodox Christianity, the fact that this is described as a “lie” ought to set off alarm bells in your head. However, you might be thinking, “We need to actually hear his explanation before we make a judgment one way or the other.” I fully agree with you, which is why I got my hands on a copy of the book and read the chapter in question. Continue reading

“No Little Women”: An Awesome Book about Women in the Church, Written by an Awesome Person

Never before have I hawked another person’s book on this site, but I am about to make an exception. I commend to you the latest release by Aimee Byrd entitled No Little Women, a book that addresses a very real problem in our churches today: the dearth of good literature and good teaching aimed at the fairer sex.

Why am I taking the time to promote this book, for which it must be stated that I receive absolutely none of the proceeds? First, because the subject matter is very important. After 2,000 years of trying, the Church as a whole still struggles to discern how to deal with women. Most of the literature out there about women in the Church has to do with their roles, whether that be as wives, mothers, or congregants. Much of the literature aimed at women is rather shallow doctrinally, trumpets internal “feelings” over the truth of God’s Word, and even manages to slip in the occasional heresy or two. There are too few books out there that challenge women to up their game theologically, to be good analytical readers, and to think twice about which sources of “truth” they devour. Continue reading

The Perils of Pastoral Power

“A Franciscan Monk Preaching”, by an anonymous painter near Romagna, Italy circa 1500-1525. “I’m very proud of my humililty,” the monk said.

One of the best decisions I made during my undergraduate study was to do a double major in Political Science and Biblical Literature. I had plotted my course in politics from the very first semester, but somewhere along the line, I developed a conscience and chose to study scripture as well. When my new Bib Lit adviser met with me to sign off on the paperwork, he said, “The two things you’re never supposed to talk about: religion and politics!” When my Poli Sci adviser, who had been lobbying for me to attend law school, learned of my decision, his response was, “So are you going to seminary now?”

My choice might have confused these esteemed representatives of two departments that rarely worked in concert (and indeed seemed almost antithetical), but having a background in both areas has helped me to make connections that may not seem obvious to the average person. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in the separation of Church and state, for the sake of the Church even more than the state. On the other, there is no question that my religious beliefs about the nature of man affect my view of what is achievable in politics, and I have recently discovered that there is one particular way that thinking a bit more politically might be beneficial from a spiritual standpoint. Continue reading

Another Path to Reconciliation?

“Liberty Leading the People” by Eugène Delacroix, circa 1830

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

I am about to transition from speaking about reconciliation within the Christian Church to speaking about reconciliation in the world as a whole. In doing so, I am taking not a small step but a massive philosophical leap. Up to this point, I have been arguing that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true path to lasting reconciliation. More than that, it places upon us an imperative of reconciliation. Such an argument is easy to make when the majority of people in question agree that the gospel message is both true and important (at least in principle). Once you move into the wider world, where there is no agreement as to the truth of the gospel and few common beliefs of any kind, appealing to Christian principles does not have the same effect.

The world is never going to want to solve problems the gospel way. Why? Because it is really, really hard. Now, when I say “really, really hard”, I don’t mean it in the sense that solving a Rubik’s Cube is hard, or staying upright on skis is hard, or even completing a PhD is hard. I am referring not to complexity, but to gut wrenching sacrifice. The gospel is hard because it requires everything we are. To follow Jesus Christ is to die to self that we might be raised with Him, and when that happens, we cease to be the same person we were previously. The life of a Christian, lived according to the gospel message, is one of continual dying to self. This is the grace of God, but it is costly grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote. Continue reading

Are Singing and Instruments Permitted in Christian Worship?

“David Playing the Harp” by Jan de Bray, circa 1670

There are some people who say that we should not use musical instruments in church, should not sing, or should at least not sing anything other than the Psalms. They base this upon the regulatory principle of worship, which states that God should only be worshiped in the ways He has laid out in scripture. Well, does scripture have anything to say about this? Continue reading

What I Learned about Scripture from Gardening

Bees hanging out on a zucchini flower

Three years ago, my husband and I moved from our urban setting near Washington, D.C. to a decidedly suburban environment in Ohio. This brought about a number of changes in our lives, not the least of which was that we were able to rent a house rather than an apartment, property being far less expensive in Dayton, Ohio than it is in Arlington, Virginia. With the house came both a front and back yard, and for the first time in my life, I began to think about gardening.

Although I did not grow up in a large city, I was pretty far removed from an agricultural mentality. My mother had always been a wonderful gardener, but I rarely helped her growing up, and she can attest to my decided lack of interest. I was much happier indoors reading a book. Yet, renting a house forced me to think about how that house looked, for no one wants to be the eyesore of the neighborhood. With some extra time on my hands, I decided to start growing a few plants for food in addition to all those flowers and shrubs. My aspiration was no greater than having some fresh basil to put on my pizza. Continue reading

“I Do Not Allow a Woman to Teach”

“The Creation of Eve” by William Blake, circa 1803-05

The Honorable Joseph Turner, youth pastor extraordinaire and reader of this blog, has asked me if I intend to write about women in the church. Well, as a woman in the church myself, one might argue that anything I write at least touches on that subject, but as luck would have it, I was intending to address the topic as the climax of my series of essays on 1 Timothy. The trouble is, I have been attempting to make these posts short, and what I am about to discuss does not lend itself to brevity. The passage is among the most controversial in scripture.

A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

1 Timothy 2:11-15

I well remember the day that I led a discussion on this passage with a women’s Bible study. The ladies ranged in age from about 25-35, came from various walks of life, and had a basic knowledge of scripture but not a deep, academic sort of understanding. They had evidently not read the verses ahead of time. I spoke the words out loud, then looked up from my Bible to see horrified faces staring back at me. It was as if I had just killed their pet dog. Continue reading

B.B. Warfield in Dayton

B.B. Warfield photographed during his later years as principal of Princeton Theological Seminary.

When it comes to the history of Dayton, Ohio, my home for the past three years, there is pretty much one name that you need to know: Wright, as in the Wright Brothers, creators of the world’s first practical airplane. The successful test flight famously took place on the beach in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but all of the grunt work was done here in Dayton, where Wilbur and Orville Wright applied their bicycle-making expertise to a loftier venture. The town is full of things named after them, most particularly Wright State University and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

True to this heritage, Dayton is known to this day for its association with all things aviation. My husband often jokes that, “There are three things to do in Dayton. There’s the Air Force Museum…and I’m still trying to figure out the other two.” That is surely an exaggeration: we also host the first four games of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament each year, a nearby village has one of the world’s biggest Christmas light displays, and if none of that strikes your fancy, Cincinnati is just an hour down the road.

What Dayton is not particularly known for is its religious heritage. We do have a major Catholic university in town – the University of Dayton – and for those of a more evangelical fervor, there’s Cedarville University out in the neighboring cornfield. But upon the streets of Dayton, you will find neither megachurches nor world-renowned seminaries. As much of Ohio was settled by German immigrants, we are also a bit lean on what you might classify as the Reformed brand of Protestant Christianity. If you want some Reformed heritage, your best bet would be to go to downtown Cincinnati and visit the mother congregation of Reformed Judaism. Continue reading

Which Gender is God?

Image by Wikipedia user Pschemp

I remember one day when I was growing up, I was riding in the family minivan. My mom pointed to a bumper sticker on the car in front of us that said something along the lines of, “God is coming back, and boy is she mad.”

That may have been one of the first times in my life that I ever really considered the question, “Which gender is God?” By “God”, I mean specifically the Christian God described in the Bible, not any god in general. In the vast array of religions that have come and gone throughout world history, we have seen plenty of gods – some male, some female, and some gender neutral. But what gender is the God of the Bible? Does the God of the Bible have a gender?

There are really four possible answers to these questions…yes, four and not three. First, God might be male. Second, God might be female. Third, God might not have a gender at all. And fourth (wait for it!), God might be both male and female. Continue reading

Exploring 1 Timothy – Common Confession

This 13th century illuminated manuscript from Somme le Roy, in the collection of the British Library, depicts the apostles writing the Apostle’s Creed.

What does it mean to confess something? There are two possible answers. Either you are 1) admitting that you did something wrong, or 2) stating that you believe something. Scripture has a lot to say about both subjects, but in the book of 1 Timothy, it is that second definition that is particularly on Paul’s mind. Continue reading