Amy Mantravadi Why Form an Opinion When You Could Borrow One? Wed, 20 Sep 2017 16:04:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Amy Mantravadi 32 32 54850829 Taking a Break to Study Covenant Theology Wed, 20 Sep 2017 16:04:38 +0000 Friends, As you might have noticed, I have been writing a lot about baptism recently. I have approached the issue from a number of angles. The last one I intend to tackle is how New Covenant baptism fits in with the other covenants mentioned in scripture. It has become apparent to me that I need […]

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As you might have noticed, I have been writing a lot about baptism recently. I have approached the issue from a number of angles. The last one I intend to tackle is how New Covenant baptism fits in with the other covenants mentioned in scripture. It has become apparent to me that I need to do a lot more studying before I can write about this topic. I am currently tearing apart several passages, conducting word studies, looking for links, etc. I am evaluating and reevaluating. This is a complicated puzzle that is not easy to put together – at least, not for me. Therefore, please grant me the luxury of some time to try and tie this all together with a pretty bow. People have been fighting over this for hundreds of years. I shall reach some conclusions and present them to you.


Amy Mantravadi

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Council of Google Plus Podcast on Suffering Tue, 19 Sep 2017 15:44:23 +0000 I was honored this week to appear on the Council of Google Plus podcast, which is part of the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network. We discussed the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian, and I talked about what I have been learning in the midst of my health issues this year. We also […]

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I was honored this week to appear on the Council of Google Plus podcast, which is part of the Bible Thumping Wingnut Network. We discussed the issue of suffering in the life of the Christian, and I talked about what I have been learning in the midst of my health issues this year. We also had a special guest drop by: Coleen Sharp from the Theology Gals podcast! Drop on by and have a listen. I also recommend that you read Coleen’s recent blog post about her own experience of suffering.

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The Ascent of Trump and the Impact on Evangelical Ethics Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:33:07 +0000 Yesterday, I saw something in my Twitter feed that made me cringe: a story in The New York Times titled “Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?” What I objected to had nothing to do with the fact that Trump was elected, although I have previously shared my concerns on that score. It was […]

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President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Sistine Chapel in this official White House photo by Andrea Hanks

Yesterday, I saw something in my Twitter feed that made me cringe: a story in The New York Times titled “Trump Says Jump. His Supporters Ask, How High?” What I objected to had nothing to do with the fact that Trump was elected, although I have previously shared my concerns on that score. It was not even anything particularly new. What caused me to cringe was the article’s mention of a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution last October, the month before Trump was elected. I seem to recall seeing it when it initially appeared, but being exposed to it again seemed to double the effect.

The issue considered in this poll was whether “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life”. I understand that this is a complex issue. Even in scripture, we see examples of people who did something terrible at one point or another (e.g. Moses or David) and yet were described as godly leaders (though somewhat compromised by their sins). Therefore, I would be willing to accept a certain variety of responses to this question, but what I am not willing to accept is the result of this poll.

In 2011, 44% of Americans stated that an immoral act in a politician’s personal life did not prevent them from behaving ethically in their public duties. That means that 56% disapproved of such actions to the extent that they felt them to be ethically disqualifying. When the same question was asked five years later, 61% believed that the same “politician X” could still behave ethically in their public duties, a shift of 17%. That is a pretty big change in a relatively short amount of time. What accounts for it?

It turns out that voters who identified as religiously unaffiliated felt virtually the same in both versions of the poll: 63% vs. 60%. The sea change came among those who described themselves as more religious. Only 42% of Catholic voters had previously said that a politician who is immoral in their personal life can be moral in their public and professional life. That number jumped to 58%. Among white mainline Protestant voters, the number increased from 38% to 60%. However, the biggest shift of all was among white evangelical Protestants, where the number more than doubled from 30% to 72%.

What caused such a massive change, and why did evangelicals change most of all? Five years ago, a full 70% of white evangelical Protestants were willing to state that an elected who commits an immoral act in their personal life cannot behave ethically in their public life. Now only 28% are willing to make the same claim. Has the Bible changed since 2011? Has there been a major evolution in the substance of our preaching? Are we adapting to the secular culture that quickly? I would submit that the answers are no, no, and no.

This change in responses seems to have been due to the changing political situation. In June 2011, President Barack Obama had been in office for a couple of years and was starting to gear up for the 2012 election. In October 2016, when the second poll was conducted, all of the news was about the 2016 presidential election. You will perhaps recall that near the beginning of that month, some old footage of Donald Trump taping an Access Hollywood segment was released in which he bragged about kissing and groping women against their will. (Warning: That transcript includes all of his obscene language.) Trump claimed that there was no truth in what he said and that it was merely “locker-room banter”. Even so, there is no question that throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump’s personal morality was often called into question.

I believe that in 2011, white evangelicals were thinking of the Democrats then in power when they answered that poll question. In 2016, they were likely thinking of Donald Trump. I furthermore believe that this accounts for the massive shift in their responses. You may be asking, “How can you prove that?” At the same time, a part of you surely knows that what I am saying is true.

I have been unsurprised but nevertheless deeply disappointed over the course of these past two years to see many Christians – and here I refer both to people I know personally and public figures – who spent most of the 1990s complaining about the ethical lapses of President Bill Clinton going to great lengths to either excuse or at least minimize the moral failings of Donald Trump. Here I must note that while I strongly disapprove of many of President Trump’s words, actions, and political positions, I do not by any means condemn all the people who voted for him. The 2016 presidential election presented us with an awful choice: a kind of “pick your poison” moment. I am not looking to rehash the past. What does concern me is the apparent cognitive dissonance that is occurring among evangelicals in the United States of America. They were previously the most likely poll participants to say that an elected official’s immoral personal behavior was essentially disqualifying. Now they are the least likely to say that same thing out of all the major Christian groups that were identified.

What this suggests to me is that the positions of these survey participants were never truly based on strongly held scriptural principles, or at least not anything that they were not willing to abandon when the political situation changed. Evangelicals, it seems, are very changeable on this issue. There is no clear biblical reason why Trump’s failings should be considered any less severe than Bill Clinton’s. The evidence that Trump has engaged in sexual indiscretions (quite possibly on a criminal level) seems to be just as strong. The only real difference between the two men is their political ideology – and in the case of Donald Trump, I’m not sure he has one.

One of my political science professors used to explain this sort of phenomenon with the phrase, “He may be an S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.” That is to say, voters are often willing to forgive a politician’s flaws if they feel that the politician in question is “one of us”. I do not believe by any stretch of the imagination that Donald Trump is an evangelical Christian. In fact, many of his statements lead me to believe that he is not a Christian at all. Even so, many evangelicals whom I spoke with prior to the 2016 election seemed to believe that Trump would at least stem the tide of moral decline to a certain degree, perhaps by appointing a conservative nominee to the Supreme Court or perhaps by undoing some of the policies of the Obama administration. This seems to have ensured their loyalty.

Once again, I am not attempting to make an argument about whether or not evangelicals should have voted for Trump. My concern is that our opinion on ethical issues appears to change depending on how the political wind is blowing at any particular moment. This suggests to me that we are not making our decisions based on doctrine, deeply held principles, or even common sense. We are willing to show grace to those who agree with us, but not to those who we feel are our enemies.

I am very hesitant to state that the Bible supports this or that political position. However, I cannot see how the situation I have just described is in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Either something is a sin or it isn’t. Either we should be gracious or we shouldn’t. Slight differences in situations will certainly affect our response, but not to this degree. Remember, the rate of approval more than doubled over the course of five years! This is hypocrisy, plain and simple, and I hardly think that Christ approved of hypocrisy.

At a time when evangelicals are presenting themselves as taking principled ethical stands in the face of growing cultural persecution, polls like this one make us appear to be two-faced moralizers and nothing more. Truly standing up for what is right means speaking the truth to your friends (or at least the people you think are your friends) in addition to your enemies. It may not always be appropriate to obsess about what the wider world thinks of us, but in this case I think that we definitely need to do some soul searching. Why should the world care what we have to say regarding biblical truth when we are apparently so hypocritical?

I do believe that the evangelical Christian witness in America has been hurt over the course of the past couple years, not simply because so many white evangelicals voted for Trump, but because certain prominent figures have been willing to give him a free pass on moral issues: people who previously tore into Democrats for the same kinds of failings. By no means do I believe that all evangelicals have been discredited by this situation, for there have been some leaders who have been willing to speak up and maintain biblical consistency. However, it is an unfortunate fact that non-evangelicals are likely to paint us all with the same brush, and the errors of even a small group can have a widespread impact. Just look at how those poll numbers changed, and look at how the media now perceives us. The problem has affected us at the grassroots level, and the world has taken notice.

There is no easy fix for this. We need our leaders to speak in a truly prophetic manner, and not just to the people with whom they disagree. We need to repent of our hypocrisy and return to the principles of scripture. We need to ask ourselves quite honestly how we got to this point, and whether shallow doctrine and easy believism are to blame. We need to start acting like Christians who worry less about the kingdom of this world and more about the kingdom of God. It is my great hope and my prayer that our revival will begin at home, and that we will become the ambassadors that Christ truly desires.


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The Sight of God Mon, 11 Sep 2017 17:59:53 +0000 One Bible story that has resonated with me for some time is the account of Hagar, the maid of Abram’s wife Sarai through whom he became the father of Ishmael. The story tends to receive attention these days for political reasons, but I see it as a shining example of God’s grace in reaching out […]

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“Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness” by Francesco Cozza, circa 1665

One Bible story that has resonated with me for some time is the account of Hagar, the maid of Abram’s wife Sarai through whom he became the father of Ishmael. The story tends to receive attention these days for political reasons, but I see it as a shining example of God’s grace in reaching out to a woman who was in great distress.

Hagar enters the story of Abram (later Abraham) when he and Sarai (later Sarah) are unable to conceive…even after receiving God’s promise that they would have a child. The custom at the time was evidently for the patriarch of the family take on a concubine and raise up heirs through her. Thus, Sarai gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband. The two of them slept together, and Hagar indeed became pregnant. Predictably, Sarai had a change of heart about the whole situation. She complained that Hagar now despised her. Abram allowed Sarai to deal with his pregnant concubine however she pleased. When she began to be treated harshly, Hagar ran away. That is where we pick up the story.

Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. He said, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.’ Then the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority.’ Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.’ The angel of the Lord said to her further,

‘Behold, you are with child,

And you will bear a son;

And you shall call his name Ishmael,

Because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.

He will be a wild donkey of a man,

His hand will be against everyone,

And everyone’s hand will be against him;

And he will live to the east of all his brothers.’

Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’; for she said, ‘Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?’ Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Genesis 16:7-14

The thing that fascinates me about this passage is how Hagar chooses to refer to the Lord: “a God who sees”. What did she mean by this? God does not have physical eyes like a human being (apart from the Incarnate Christ), but He is certainly sovereign, omnipresent, and omniscient. Even so, I do not think Hagar was merely referring to God’s knowledge of what takes place on planet earth. She was speaking of something much more intimate.

While God certainly sees everything that occurs, Hagar experienced Him in a more intense way. “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” she asks. Here it is useful to point out that the phrase “angel of the Lord” is often interpreted by biblical scholars as referring to the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ. Hagar certainly believed that she had met God in that hour. Therefore, her statement that God had seen her can be partially attributed to the fact that he met her close up rather than viewing her from “afar”.

There is another sense in which we can understand Hagar’s words. As a woman and a servant, she was at the bottom of the societal food chain. More to the point, she was an impregnated female domestic servant who had run away. She no longer had any means of subsistence. We get a clear enough picture of the situation in verses 1-6 of this chapter. Abram and Sarai never call her by name. She is always “my maid” or “your maid”. The first person in the story to call Hagar by her own name is God Himself.

Imagine how she must have felt. Hagar was something close to a slave. She did not pop into work in the morning and go back to her own family at night. She was part of Abram’s household and a servant of Sarai to the extent that she could be given to her master for sexual purposes. It is impossible to know exactly how Hagar felt about this at the start. Was she horrified that her body was no longer her own? Did she take some pride in the fact that she would be providing children to her master and thus receiving a place of greater honor within the household? Whatever she felt at the beginning and whatever hopes she might have had for advancement, they were surely dashed when Abram allowed Sarai to deal with her in an abusive manner.

We know that the situation got bad enough that Hagar decided she would rather roll the dice and run into the wilderness than remain where she was. She would rather be a single mother with no hope of financial security than stay in that household another day. So she fled into the wilderness, and it was there that she was met by the Lord: not one of the foreign gods with which she may have been raised, but the same one that spoke to Abram. The God of the universe was talking directly to her and using her name.

It must have been a bit of a blow when God told her to return to Sarai. Indeed, the Lord never denied this part of Hagar’s identity. However, we must note that the Lord was by no means diminishing Hagar by calling her Sarai’s maid. He was not telling her to submit to abuse without end. No, He gave her a promise: “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” (v. 10) The angel of the Lord gives Hagar the good news that she is carrying a son, and that son will be named Ishmael. The name is significant because it means “God hears”. She is told to use this name because “the Lord has given heed to your affliction”. (v. 11)

God did not see Hagar in some kind of passive sense. He did not meet her merely to rebuke her. He came to give a new identity to her and her son. Whereas she had no hope for the future when she fled into the wilderness, God gives her the same promise that He gave to Abram: He will multiply her descendants greatly. That was an extraordinary enough promise for a man, but to give it to a woman was simply unfathomable. More than that, the Lord acknowledged Hagar’s affliction. He let her know that the injustice she had suffered would be made right. Hagar began to see her life not in terms of her master and mistress’s plans, but the promises of God.

There is more to Hagar’s story, and the Lord certainly kept His promises to her and her descendants. However, I would like to transition at this point and consider how Hagar’s experience of God’s sight relates to the rest of Scripture. The Old Testament often talks about God seeing things, occasionally using the phrase “the eyes of the Lord”. At times, this is a very comforting concept, similar to how the Lord saw Hagar’s affliction and heard her cries of distress.

The patriarch Jacob had two wives who were also sisters: Leah and Rachel. Rachel was the one that he always loved and desired. Leah was only married to him through trickery, and thus she did not have her husband’s affection. This story reveals something of the Lord’s sight. “Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, ‘Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.’” (Genesis 29:31-32) Here again we see God’s concern for an afflicted woman and how He brought her honor by giving her a son.

When the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush, he told him, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.” (Exodus 3:7b) When Moses and his brother Aaron went to meet the elders of the Jewish people, they performed signs by the power of God. We then read, “So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31)

Further positive aspects of God’s sight are described elsewhere. We are told about the Promised Land, “…the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.” (Deuteronomy 11:12b) Elsewhere we read, “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (2 Chronicles 16:9) The Psalmist assures us that, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous / And His ears are open to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)

There are other passages where this sight of the Lord seems like it could go either way. One of the most famous places where this occurs is in the story of the Prophet Samuel’s visit to the house of Jesse. He is told not to anoint one of the older brothers as king. “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” (1 Samuel 16:7) This is good news for a person whose heart is in the right place, but decidedly not so for those who are only pretty on the outside. God’s sight penetrates into the deepest recesses of our souls. He sees not only our actions, but also our motivations.  Proverbs 5:21 says, “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, / And He watches all his paths.” Later in the same book, we read, “The eyes of the lord are in every place, / Watching the evil and the good.” (15:3)

Those verses start to get at another aspect of God’s sight. He is not only looking upon us for the purpose of comfort, but also for the purpose of judgment. Whereas the way that God saw Hagar’s affliction was heartwarming, His gaze is also upon the wicked, and He burns with anger in response to sin. In that same passage where it says, “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous / And His ears are open to their cry,” we are told in the very next verse, “The face of the Lord is against evildoers, / To cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 34:15-16) Elsewhere, the Psalmist tells us,

The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven;

His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.

The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,

And the one who loves violence His soul hates.

Psalm 11:4-5

This aspect of God’s sight is not at all comforting. We must acknowledge that the Almighty is a God of wrath as well as mercy. Amos prophesied, “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, / And I will destroy it from the face of the earth”. (Amos 9:8a) Yes, the Lord is certainly looking upon us to judge as well as deliver. There is another passage that we must consider in this regard. Job was a truly righteous man, for he repented of his sins and received the forgiveness of the Almighty. He endured terrible suffering, not on account of any unrighteous deeds, but rather for purposes that he could not fully understand at the time. In one particular passage, Job describes the sight of God as a most painful thing.

Will You never turn Your gaze away from me,

Nor let me alone until I swallow my spittle?

Have I sinned? What have I done to You,

O watcher of men?

Why have You set me as Your target,

So that I am a burden to myself?

Why then do You not pardon my transgression

And take away my iniquity?

For now I will lie down in the dust;

And You will seek me, but I will not be.

Job 7:19-21

When Job called the Lord a “watcher of men”, he does not mean it in a benevolent sense. He practically begs the Lord to stop looking at him. He questions why God should cause him to suffer, or why He refuses to forgive. Now, the truth of the matter is that Job was not being punished because of sin, nor was the Lord causing him to suffer arbitrarily. Yet in that moment, Job took no comfort in the sight of God. Rather than connecting it with the relief of his affliction, he felt it was the cause of his affliction.

Job’s experience speaks to something that we must acknowledge: the sight of the Lord cuts both ways. The same vision that makes God a righteous judge makes Him our merciful Savior. A God who is not the “watcher of men” spoken of by Job cannot be the God who saw Hagar’s pain. A God who is blind to evil is no comforter to the afflicted. A God who did not watch His Son die cannot be said to feel any of your grief. God’s sight is connected with His role as judge and also His role as comforter. In this as in everything else, He is both a consoling force and a consuming fire.

Does God know what it is like to be a woman cast out: used for sex and then banished, as Hagar was after the birth of Isaac? Does He know what it is like to hold a thirsty child as Hagar did, alone in the desert with no hope of rescue? Does He know what it is to be cursed and demeaned, the victim of societal injustice? Does He know what it is to lose a child, as Job did? Does He know what it is to be in pain?

Perhaps we should recall that Jesus went and suffered outside the gate. He was praised when He was deemed useful, then disposed of when He became a liability. He was thirsty and cried out for a drink. He was spat upon by His Roman oppressors. God the Father watched His Son die. God the Son felt the sting of the whip and suffocating pain of the cross.

Yes, the Lord not only saw the pain of both Hagar and Job, but He actually participated in it. His ability to see them was not only on account of His omniscience. He is joined with His children in a very real way, because He became incarnate as a human being. If we are part of His body today, then He sees us in the same way He saw Hagar. He is just as sovereign over our destiny and just as concerned for our welfare. As the Apostle Paul wrote,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

One of the passages that seems to bring together all of these aspects of God’s sight is in the book of Hebrews. It acknowledges the power of God’s sight and His Word to convict us of sin, but it also states that we may have confidence in the perfect mediator Jesus Christ.

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:12-16

That is the great comfort that we have as Christians. Even as God saw Hagar’s affliction and looked upon her for her good, granting her a promise and a new identity, so the Son of God has passed through death to be our comforter and secure our salvation. We no longer live in fear of a wrathful judge, but in the arms of a beloved Father. We are no longer under a sentence of condemnation, but adopted sons and daughters of God Himself. This is the promise by which we can live in hope: the God who sees has set His eyes on us for good.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

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What I Think About When I Think About Immigration Wed, 06 Sep 2017 18:54:17 +0000 An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I […]

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An acquaintance of mine on Twitter asked if I would be addressing the current controversy over DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and illegal immigration here in the United States. My initial reaction was, “Are you trying to get me in even more trouble?” This is a touchy subject to say the least, and I have no intention of offering a firm solution to something so complex and nebulous. Instead, I will briefly mention some of the factors that I tend to weigh when considering such issues, in no particular order. This is not going to be based on in-depth research, but rather the kinds of things I would say to you if you put the question to me on the spot. Therefore, you should take all of this with a shaker of salt. It is just one person’s opinion. It is not the gospel.

  1. That we have an immigration problem in this country is as plain as day. We have far more people who want to move here than we can reasonably accept without causing a massive strain to the system. A number of factors have been used historically to choose who will be admitted: racial, religious, socioeconomic, etc. It is my opinion that the people who should have the first right to be made U.S. citizens are those who are highly skilled in fields where we are lacking workers, who are suffering religious or political persecution in their native lands, or who have family members here already. In general, I believe that our system of legal immigration favors these sorts of people.
  2. There is a legitimate concern regarding the number of persons who enter this country without any proper documentation or who come here legally but overstay their visas. Allow me to clarify what I mean. I do not believe that the majority of these people are hardened criminals or guilty of significant anti-social behavior. My concern is two-fold: 1) Allowing lots of peaceable people to slip in could also provide an opportunity to those with less honorable intentions. We live in the age of ISIS, after all. 2) Allowing people to come in without going through the proper channels could be seen as deeply unfair to those who are attempting to do things the right way and waiting for years and years.
  3. We certainly need to take steps to reduce the amount of people entering this country illegally, but it is not entirely clear to me what would be the best solution. There seems to have been a decrease in the number of illegal immigrants in the past decade or so, but this is one area where our statistics will probably never be 100% accurate. Some have suggested building a bigger wall, a longer wall, or some other kind of super-dee-duper wall. I know of three potential problems with that idea: 1) It is my understanding that walls already in place or those that are planned will actually cut off certain portions of American land, leaving them south of the wall. 2) The costs of such a wall, and how it can be built without further increasing our government’s debt, must be taken into account. 3) I used to work for Egypt, where people regularly tunnel under the walls that surround the Gaza Strip and smuggle all kinds of things back and forth. No wall is ever perfect. Now, there may be other options for securing the border, such as increasing the number of armed border guards, monitoring equipment, etc. I would have to conduct further research on what methods tend to be most effective.
  4. Having said that, we must also address the other side of the coin: Why do people want to come here in the first place? It seems that the chief motivating factor for most of those who come here illegally – the majority from points south of the U.S. but some undoubtedly slipping in elsewhere – is greater economic opportunity. The only thing that will really put a stop to this flood of illegal immigration is an improvement in the living conditions of Mexicans, Central Americans, and South Americans. I sense that there are many Americnas who are very concerned about illegal immigration but have little understanding of or compassion for the plight of these people. I do not say that about everyone who favors a tougher immigration policy, but it is certainly true in some cases. Just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, a drug war has been going on for years. Who buys many of those drugs? Americans. Our nasty habits are funding the misery of these people. Our hands are by no means clean.
  5. I’ve talked about preventing new people from entering, but what should we do with those who are already here? Well, since they do not have the proper legal documentation, the first step is to simply identify them, which may not be as easy as it sounds. I have seen estimates that there are around 12 million illegal or undocumented persons living in the United States, but we should perhaps doubt the accuracy of a count of people who are attempting to hide. One complaint I often hear is that these undocumented immigrants are using government services without paying any taxes. I find this argument to be somewhat flawed for the following reasons: 1) The amount of services that an illegal immigrant can receive varies somewhat by the state. 2) Illegal immigrants do pay taxes. Some have it taken out of their wages automatically, but more importantly, they all pay sales tax on many of the things they buy. The majority of benefits received by illegal immigrants are paid for by state governments, and the majority of the revenue a state would ever get from them would probably come from sales tax. 3) I frequently hear complaints that illegal immigrants can go to the emergency room and they have to be seen. This is certainly true if they have a life-threatening condition, and I would like to think that most of us would support a hospital treating such conditions regardless of the person’s legal status. Let me ask you this question though: If you were living in fear of being discovered by the government and knew that you could be deported at any time, would you risk putting yourself in a situation where you could be identified unless you were really doggone sick? I doubt it. Therefore, I also doubt that this is the biggest waste of the taxpayer’s money.
  6. The question of what to do with children brought here illegally by their parents is a particularly difficult one. If the children are born on U.S. soil, then they are U.S. citizens according to our Constitution, and I fully support that. (I would, however, require their non-citizen relatives to go through the same process as everyone else in order to gain legal status, though I would exercise charity in allowing them to stay here while they wait.) It gets more complicated when the child is not a legal citizen. On the one hand, I do not want to blame them for something that was not truly their fault. On the other, simply making them citizens automatically might encourage more people to bring their children here illegally. I would favor treating these non-citizen children in much the same manner as I would the parents of so-called “anchor babies”: let them remain in the country while they go through the process of applying for citizenship. Of course, going through the application process means that if the government were to discover something that is a red flag, such as previous criminal activity, then they would be denied citizenship and deported. I would also be hesitant to provide much in the way of government services – such as Medicaid, federal student loans, or the like – to those who are not yet citizens. However, I would not simply round them up and kick them out. I would go for something a bit more middle-of-the-road.
  7. If an adult comes here illegally or stays here illegally, and there are no other mitigating factors, then I do favor deportation. I understand why people would disapprove. After all, we have all sorts of historical images of people being rounded up and evicted, and it just seems utterly terrible. However, there is a world of difference between taking away legal rights and giving legal rights. To deport someone who is here legally is taking away a right. To allow someone to stay who is not here legally is in essence granting them a right they did not previously have. When it comes to immigration, I prioritize people who follow the rules to the best of their ability and fall under the categories I mentioned earlier: skilled workers, asylum seekers, and relatives. Keep in mind that every time we grant legal status to someone who broke the rules, we are essentially taking away the opportunity of someone who followed the rules. The number of people going through the legal process is quite high, and they are waiting a painfully long time. What do I say to the refugees fleeing for their lives when my quota of asylum seekers is already full? How will they feel about the fact that I have granted asylum to people who broke my country’s laws? Now, I do not think we should view illegal and/or undocumented immigrants merely as law breakers, but denying that they have broken the law is not helpful either. It is false to assume that only those who immigrate here illegally are worthy of our compassion.
  8. At the same time, I think there is a conversation to be had about what gives someone a right to live here in the first place. We have laws in this country, and we must abide by them. However, we must realize that our concepts of sovereignty and citizenship are very much based upon European ideals brought over by those who colonized this land. I have frequently joked that Native Americans ought to say to me, “Go back to your country!” You see, my ancestors were not American at all, but European. Consider also that many black people in this country are descendants of persons who were brought here against their will. Therefore, the question of who has a right to live here is more complicated than it might seem on the surface. Now, history has both victors and consequences. I am not suggesting that we should tear up our Constitution, abandon notions of private property, and sing kumbaya. However, the fact remains that many of the people who have immigrated to this country illegally over the past few decades have at least some Native American ancestry. They are the descendants of native peoples and European colonizers who intermarried, or in some cases of only native peoples. I myself have no Native American blood. The people who lived here before the coming of European settlers were more nomadic on the whole in their understanding of life. Many of us have heard anecdotes about Native Americans who “sold” land not really understanding the concept. Of course, they also signed treaties that were not honored by the U.S. government. Therefore, when I talk big about American laws, I need to realize that in the greater scheme of history, my rationale may not be as strong as I think. I am not going to arrive at a conclusion here, but I do not think that any discussion of immigration (particularly from Central and South America) can take place without considering the very concepts of citizenship, ethnicity, and ownership.
  9. I have heard plenty of people claim that the Bible has nothing to say about immigration policy. I have heard others declare that it has very specific things to say on the topic. I think the correct answer is somewhere in between. The Bible certainly gives us principles that can be applied to the present situation. Genesis tells us that all human beings are created in the image of God. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as our self and even to love our enemies. The ancient Israelites were told to show compassion to aliens and strangers living among them. The Apostle Paul said that the dividing wall between racial groups (in his case, Jews and Gentiles) had been torn down in Jesus Christ. None of this tells us exactly what we ought to do with regard to legal or illegal immigration, but it does help to shape the way that we as Christians think about these issues. We must always view human beings as full persons worthy of dignity and respect. We must always leave room for compassion in our hearts, even as we also seek to uphold the law. I know many Christians who minister to refugees in all sorts of ways, and I think that is some of the greatest practical work that the Church can do. God does command us to care for the vulnerable. I do not believe that a person’s opinion on the height of our border wall is a matter of biblical orthodoxy, and I could see biblical arguments for both looser and stricter immigration policies. However, our hearts must always be in line with what God commands in scripture.
  10. I will say this as my closing thought: Racism is abhorrent in all its forms. Throughout my life, I have heard many people talk negatively about Hispanics and/or Mexicans, often assuming that any Hispanic or Latino person must be from Mexico. I have heard them claim that these people are stealing all of our jobs, when in fact many of the jobs being done by illegal immigrants are the kind of things that American citizens are not particularly interested in doing. (For example, I have come across documentary evidence that farmers struggle to find workers to legally harvest their crops.) I have heard the current president of the United States refer to illegal immigrants as rapists and murderers, painting them with a very broad brush indeed. I have witnessed the way that people assume Hispanic persons are stupid if they are not fluent in English, when the Spanish language has its own glorious tradition and most white Americans would be hard pressed to speak fluently in a second language. There is racism lying behind many of these false assumptions, and it has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ. Would I much prefer that these people come to the U.S. on migrant worker visas or through a legal citizenship process? Yes, but then again, I am not sure how much the average person coming here illegally knows about our legal processes. I know that they want a better life for themselves and their family. That is not so different from my own ancestors. Some of the concerns about our immigration policy are entirely valid, but I reject entirely anything that arises out of racism. What we really need is for Congress to reform our immigration system, but given the current political climate, I do not see that happening in the near future.


Those are just some of my scattered thoughts on these issues. If you have any other questions for me, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

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Critiquing my Critiques Tue, 05 Sep 2017 14:08:23 +0000 This year, I have written a few articles that are critical of certain people, organizations, or trends in the evangelical Christian community. While these comments have not necessarily been out of character for me, they have proved to be more significant than some of my previous blog posts, for I now have more people paying […]

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This year, I have written a few articles that are critical of certain people, organizations, or trends in the evangelical Christian community. While these comments have not necessarily been out of character for me, they have proved to be more significant than some of my previous blog posts, for I now have more people paying attention to what I write. My recent tendency to stir the pot has done nothing to help my mother’s digestion, and quite frankly, I myself have questioned my actions at times.

This has led me to meditate on what it means to criticize in a Christian context. Scripture lays out principles for how we should evaluate one another. I must ask myself, have I been abiding by these principles? Reconciliation within the church is very important to me. Am I really helping to bring about reconciliation when I criticize? Is it ever appropriate for me to call into question the words or actions of someone I have never met?

You see, I am not a conflict prone person by nature. (Yes, I hear that laughing!) I enjoy giving a hard time to my personal acquaintances, and I’ve been known to engage in friendly debates. However, there is a point when friendly banter turns into serious friction, and that is when I would have historically cashed in my chips and gone home. As a teenager, I was strongly affected by anger and avoided it like the plague. I adopted a rather opossum-like mentality: better to play dead than suffer attack.

People thought I was a rather indecisive girl who was happy to go along to get along. While that was true to a certain extent, I discovered that in fact I was simply repressing much of what I felt, too afraid to be assertive. My parents had always encouraged me to have confidence, but I thought so little of myself that I found it very difficult. The one thing I knew is that people seemed to like it when I made jokes. That was my first clue that there might be something to be said for showing off a bit more of my personality.

Yes, it’s true: I was a shy young person. I almost regretted being the valedictorian of my small high school graduating class, as it required me to give a speech. I was stressed for weeks beforehand. Parties and other social events were not my idea of a good time. I sat at the back or the side of the room. I rarely volunteered for anything. Although I was on the basketball team, I much preferred to play defense rather than offense. I was afraid of having the ball thrown to me and then messing up in front of the whole school. Going to college was a significant help to me in this regard, as I was constantly forced out of my comfort zone. Even so, I was 20 years old before I got up the courage to tell a guy I liked him. That didn’t go so well, but it was a good learning experience.

The longer I remained in college, the more I changed. I was not truly becoming a new person so much as revealing what had always been there, somewhere deep beneath the surface. I felt very insecure about my looks and many of my capabilities, but enough people told me that I was a good writer that I began to believe them just a little. Wonder of wonders, I volunteered! I joined the college newspaper, first as a sports writer and then as an opinion columnist.

It was that time writing for the opinion page that revealed my true feistiness. For the first time in my life, I felt the rush that comes from writing something provocative: that feeling of self-righteousness you get when it’s just you against the world. Oh, it felt good! Nevertheless, it was dangerous. After all, I wanted people to like me, and when you challenge people, they don’t always thank you for it. I was very blessed that on those occasions when a professor or school official had a disagreement with one of my articles, I always walked away unscathed. In fact, they ended up having a greater respect for me. I didn’t know how long that luck would last.

My subjects of study were politics and religion, neither of which lends itself to peaceable discussions. I had to develop a thick skin. Why, you ask, did I suddenly seek out opportunities that plunged me into conflict? I might need a psychologist to give you a complete answer, but to put it simply, I discovered that I cared. Remember, everyone had said that I was indecisive and happy to go with the flow. My college years taught me that this was incorrect. While I tried to be deferential whenever possible and to show respect for the people with whom I disagreed, I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t care. The injustice in the world weighed upon me like a heavy load. When I saw people doing clearly ridiculous things, I was unable to simply ignore it. There was a fire inside me, and like the prophet Jeremiah, I had grown weary of holding it in.

Why am I giving you all this complicated backstory? Because many of these competing impulses remain with me to this day. The biggest change in the past few years is how my deep concern for political issues has been transferred to theological issues. When I was younger, I was much more enamored with ecumenism among Christians. I didn’t see how many of our doctrinal debates were truly helpful. Not for me were the raging cage stage Calvinists. I picked up Brian McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy and sympathized a bit with what he was attempting to do. This was not because I did not believe in absolute truth or doubted the inerrancy of scripture. It simply came out of my impulse to avoid conflict whenever possible.

Many of those typical queries you hear from evangelicals were things that I once asked. “Does one’s position on Calvinism vs. Arminianism really have much of an effect on the practical Christian life?” “Do we really need denominations? Where are those in the Bible?” “Does it really matter if we disagree about when Daniel was written if we agree that it contains theological truth?” “Does God really care if (x, y, or z)?” Now, once again, this wasn’t because I was unconcerned with doctrine. Rather, my desire for Christians to live together harmoniously was trumping my pursuit of the truth, mostly because of my own tendency to avoid rocking the boat.

Therefore, the great development of my later 20s was not so much that I embraced certain doctrines, such as the finer points of TULIP. It was that I embraced the very concept that orthodoxy must be defended. There were many reasons for this, not least of which was my observation of how bad doctrine had such harmful practical effects. These were not only matters for academics. They were changing the lives of average Christians everywhere. People were being hurt left and right by incorrect beliefs. Now my impulse for justice was awakened, and as much as I wanted to see reconciliation in the church, I became convinced that there is no true love apart from the truth.

Over the past year, I have tackled multiple controversial issues. I wrote about the perils of pastoral power. I questioned Justin Taylor and John Piper’s approach to satire. I criticized many of the articles being written about the so-called gospel according to Wonder Woman. I wrote two articles analyzing aspects of Tim Keller’s theology. Then finally, as the crown jewel, I went after the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, along with Al Mohler and Gary Thomas. That’s quite a lot of criticism over the space of a few months, and I partially blame my compatriots for allowing their feistiness to rub off on me. I would not take any of these articles back, but I do have certain regrets about how I used language and at times failed to conduct sufficient research. That feeling of near certainty I have when I first post something can give way to doubt fairly quickly, but the more informed my articles are to begin with, the better off I am in the long run.

Did the fact that I have been sick much of this year contribute to my crankiness? Possibly, but I was of perfectly sound mind when I wrote those articles. I must own them. They have brought me more attention than I ever enjoyed before, some good and some bad. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the negative attracts far more attention than the positive. What I must ask myself at this point is whether these were truly issues of orthodoxy, or if I was just enjoying being provocative for the sake of provocation?

In the case of the satire and Wonder Woman articles, I am certainly guilty of making a mountain out of a mole hill. There were some issues of significance addressed in those articles, but it was all a bit light hearted. Poor Derek Rishmawy didn’t really deserve the trolling I gave him, nor does he deserve it when I continue to do so on Twitter. His willingness to take it has increased my respect for him, and I certainly would not bother if I thought he was a poor writer or theologian. (I tend to give the hardest time to the people I like the most. Sarcasm is typically a sign of admiration on some level.)

The examination of Tim Keller’s theology was much more necessary, in my opinion. I do not say that because I believe that he has deviated significantly from orthodoxy, but because he is such an influential person and there is a constant debate about him in the Christian blogosphere. The fact that I took so much time to consider his teachings says more about his degree of influence than any particular dislike I have for him. In fact, I like him better than many other Christian leaders. By no means do I think he is public enemy #1. If Tim Keller is your biggest worry, you need to find something else to worry about. We have people openly preaching heresy every Sunday. I do not like some of the ways that Keller chooses to describe things, but I will say that the people I know who have engaged with him on a personal level have generally had very good things to say.

The CBMW is another issue, I’m afraid. I have been relatively uncomfortable with them since I first became aware of their teachings in college. I think they simply take things too far and are overly focused on the minors instead of the majors. Now, if you read the “What I Believe” page on this website, you will see that I could probably sign the Danvers Statement without much of a problem. However, the CBMW does not limit itself to what is laid out narrowly in that document. Some of the literature they have produced over the years is problematic and has had a significantly negative impact on average people. Most concerning of all are the issues some of their leaders have with their doctrine of God. I only became aware of this within the past year, but it is certainly troubling. The way we view the Trinity is a matter of basic orthodoxy, and we must defend it – even against our friends.

Does this mean that I hate the CBMW? No, certainly not. I think it could be a very good organization, but it needs to fix some of these issues. Until it does so, those of us who are concerned about orthodoxy must speak up on occasion. This is not about destroying the CBMW. It is about making it better. We need people to support a biblical view of gender and sexuality, but if they do so in the wrong way, it is more harmful than helpful. That is why I made the decision to criticize Grudem, Ware, Mohler, et al. Some people objected that my criticism wasn’t really about the Nashville Statement as much as the entire movement, and they are absolutely correct. The release of this new statement merely served as the occasion for me to say some things that had been on my mind for a long time.

I do not know if my criticism has always succeeded in focusing on matters of orthodoxy rather than sweating the small stuff. I think I have reserved the harshest criticism for the things that matter most, but I understand the concerns of those who feel that I am creating straw men and not engaging properly with persons. In all honesty, it is a bit difficult to have a proper engagement with individuals so famous that they would have no interest in speaking with me. Now, I was surprised one time this year when someone reached out to me and was willing to discuss these important issues in a very gracious manner. What a blessing that was! Few people are able to take criticism with a humble heart, and it has certainly affected the way I intend to conduct myself going forward. There are some individuals and organizations that have deviated so far from orthodoxy that such engagement is nearly impossible, but I am thankful that that is not always the case.

One day, I will be called to account for everything I have written – not by man, but by God. It is easy to forget that when you are so focused on making your point. Where I have erred, I sincerely apologize. I am still trying to figure all of this out. There is a great need for Christians to stand up for orthodoxy, but we must not chase after conflict for the sake of conflict. We must not become self-righteous.

I hope that as I continue write, I will be able to bring together these competing impulses and stand up for the truth in a way that is also conciliatory. I am relatively young and still learning. Thank you to all of you who tolerate my rantings with good humor. You’re the best.

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The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage Thu, 31 Aug 2017 18:14:07 +0000 Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider […]

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Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause.

Article 1 of the Nashville Statement says the following: “We affirm that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” The one word here that hit me like a ton of bricks was procreative. What message was CBMW attempting to send by including this term?

On the most basic level, they could simply be saying that human procreation is only supposed to occur within marriage. That is a perfectly biblical teaching. However, I think the authors had other things on their mind here. If we are talking what is only allowed in marriage, then it would have been sufficient to say that the marital union is sexual. They have gone further by saying that it is both sexual and procreational. Why?

I can think of three possible reasons. 1) They are attempting to argue that same-sex marriage is invalid because it cannot be procreative. 2) They are attempting to say that the sole or primary purpose of sex in marriage is procreation. 3) They are attempting to say that marriages should never be deliberately childless.

I could see the people associated with CBMW making any of those arguments. The first is definitely within their wheelhouse. The second is more in line with traditional Catholic teaching, but as we will see, evangelical Protestants have an odd degree of crossover with that branch of Christianity. The third has been a popular line of reasoning for some of those associated with CBMW, most particularly Albert Mohler.

I do not deny that marriages between two people of the same sex cannot be truly procreative. That is just a biological fact. I nevertheless find it to be a poor argument in this day and age. The broader culture no longer accepts that such relationships are unnatural or harmful to society because of the lack of procreation. It does not even expect heterosexual marriages to be procreative. Therefore, you are not going to win anyone over by making this point. Same-sex relationships are wrong because God says so repeatedly and emphatically in His Word. The only way you can get around this is by attempting to argue that we should treat the New Testament gospel like the Old Testament law, with certain aspects that were only meant for that time and place. This is not the traditional orthodox understanding of scripture, and it is not one that scripture itself leaves open to us. Let that be argument enough against the practice of same-sex marriage.

Protestants have been fighting ever since the Reformation to recover the notion of sex as a pleasurable experience within marriage rather than a necessary evil required for the continuation of humanity. I am disappointed when I see anyone ceding this ground back to the Catholics. No one denies that sex is procreative, but it is not only procreative. Read the Song of Solomon. Sex is not a necessary evil and it is not only about making babies. It is a good gift of God that is a great blessing when used correctly. Let us not forsake this biblical definition.

What of that third point? How does procreation fit in with the purpose of marriage? Are married couples required to have children? Is this the highest purpose of marriage?

A few months ago, I was privileged to have a very brief Twitter interaction with the American Conservative writer and author of The Benedict Option, Rod Dreher. He had posted a meme on Mother’s Day that portrayed flower bouquets for all different sorts of mothers, including those who had no children. The purpose was to mock the way that Mother’s Day gets applied to everyone. After a few people, including myself, expressed concern over the meme, he quickly deleted it and apologized, saying that he never intended to cause offense. He then surprised me very much by asking me individually if I, a childless woman, would expect to receive flowers for Mother’s Day, and if so, why?

I don’t need flowers on Mother’s Day, and I told him so very politely. I accepted his apology, which was given in good faith. I did, however, explain to him a perception that I often come across in evangelical circles: that marriage and motherhood are the highest good for a woman, that marriages are required to be procreative if possible, and that those who do not fit this mold are less fulfilled or of less value in the life of the church. Dreher then surprised me for the second time. He was apparently not aware that such an opinion existed. I regret that I cannot recall his exact words, but he essentially said, “Who is saying that to you? That’s evil.” I believe he actually used the word evil. He noted how the church has historically valued celibacy, and that this view of mandatory marriage and reproduction was not biblical. I assured him that such an opinion existed within the ranks of evangelicalism. (Dreher is currently in the Eastern Orthodox branch of Christianity and was previously a Protestant and a Catholic, though not at the same time.)

It did not shock me that Dreher, who hails from a stream of Christianity that has been more favorable toward celibacy, would not see procreation as the purpose of all human beings. I was admittedly a bit surprised that in all his visits to evangelical seminaries to tout The Benedict Option and all his interactions with conservative Christians of various stripes, he had never come across this opinion that childlessness was the opposite of godliness. After all, he gave a series of talks at Southern Seminary, which is headed by Albert Mohler.

Mohler is one of the most vocal critics of childlessness within Christian marriage. Back in 2003, he wrote an article titled “Deliberate Childlessness: Moral Rebellion With a New Face”. Here are a few excerpts. I encourage you to follow the link and read the whole thing.

Christians must recognize that this rebellion against parenthood represents nothing less than an absolute revolt against God’s design. The Scripture points to barrenness as a great curse and children as a divine gift…

The motto of this new movement of chosen childlessness could be encapsulated by the bumper sticker put out by the Zero Population Growth group in the 1970s: “MAKE LOVE, NOT BABIES.” This is the precise worldview the Scripture rejects. Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible…

The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God’s design and order. Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the biblical revelation. To the contrary, we are commanded to receive children with joy as God’s gifts, and to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We are to find many of our deepest joys and satisfactions in the raising of children within the context of the family. Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.

I should make clear that Mohler does not argue that couples who are unable to have children are in any way violating God’s design. He speaks in the title of that article about deliberate childlessness, i.e. married couples who simply choose to prioritize other things over reproduction. I do not deny that there are people out there who are so selfish and care so little for their fellow human beings that they cannot be bothered with anyone else’s problems, including those of their own flesh and blood. I suspect that most of these people are not true Christians, and I have met few of them in the churches I have attended. It is more common to see people forgo parenthood because they are overwhelmed by the responsibilities they already have, are concerned what affect the introduction of children might have on their marriage, or feel that their personal calling is to something other than the societal norm. There are some individuals who really do hate children and the expenses and obligations they bring, but there are probably even more who don’t mind children but, as I said, choose to prioritize different things.

Mohler does not believe that such a thing is acceptable according to a Christian worldview. Notice how tightly he has joined the notions of marriage and reproduction. “Marriage, sex, and children are part of one package. To deny any part of this wholeness is to reject God’s intention in creation–and His mandate revealed in the Bible.” There is also a clear assumption that selfishness is the chief motivation behind deliberate childlessness. “Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.” Never mind that many childless couples help to raise the children of others. Never mind that they may be choosing to be childless so they can devote their lives to serving those in need. Mohler’s version of Christianity does not allow altruism and childlessness to exist in the same room. They are polar opposites. This was not just something Mohler wrote about in an article one time. He stands by that opinion.

Perhaps we should ask at this point, “Is this really what the Bible teaches?” Certainly, I could pull out dozens of scripture quotations talking about the joys and blessings of parenthood. I could give you numerous commands about how parents have a duty to love their children and raise them “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4b). The following is a favorite passage of those who advocate large families.

Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,

The fruit of the womb is a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,

So are the children of one’s youth.

How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;

They will not be ashamed

When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Psalm 127:3-5

Now, we must understand that in biblical times, one did not simply have children to be personally fulfilled or even to obey a divine command. Children helped with the family business. They cared for their aged parents. They inherited land and thus maintained the family honor. This was a very different society than the one we live in today. There was no pension system. Some of the Mosaic laws were aimed at helping widows, but in general you were in dire straits if you did not have sons to take care of you in your old age. Therefore, while children are still a great blessing today, they were a blessing of a different kind in biblical times: they were necessary for maintaining one’s livelihood.

Do the changes in society mean that there is a change in God’s Word? No! However, I do think our understanding of ancient Near Eastern culture can help us comprehend what these things meant to the original audience. A barren woman was not just sad because she wanted a baby. She was sad because of her societal shame and the fact that she would likely suffer in widowhood. Her husband might stop loving her if she could not provide him with heirs. Sadly, this is still true at times today, but most of us no longer view women as purely reproductive instruments. Likewise, it is unlikely that a man in 2017 would be mocked by his business partners for not having children the way that an ancient Israelite might have been afraid to meet his enemies at the gate. This is part of why the Bible doesn’t envision married couples not wanting children: because it was such an utterly undesirable fate.

I think we also need to be careful in taking something that scripture describes as a blessing and interpreting it as a command. Simply because children are a good gift does not necessarily mean that everyone is required to pursue them. Marriage is an equally good gift, and scripture makes clear that not everyone is called to that. (1 Corinthians 7) Jesus certainly commanded us to value children even as He does when He said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16b) However, we must remember that Jesus Himself never married or had children, yet He perfectly fulfilled all the divine commands. That is particularly important to remember when we read the following passage, which is the closest thing we have to a scriptural command to have children.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’

Genesis 1:27-28

That one phrase – “be fruitful and multiply” – serves as the strongest biblical imperative for married couples to reproduce. Anything else is either indirect or implied. This is the only time where God explicitly says, “Go and make babies.” (That’s the Mantravadi Living Translation…) From this, people infer that all married couples are required to reproduce. However, there are a few reasons to doubt this interpretation. First, the command was given not only to humans, but also to animals (Genesis 1:22). Plants were likewise described as “bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them” (v. 11). There is therefore a general fruitfulness envisioned in creation. Second, the command to be fruitful and multiply is part of a larger command to rule over the earth. Third, as the first ever man and woman, it could be argued that Adam and Eve received a command on behalf of all humanity that might not apply to every individual.

That last point is probably the most controversial, but I would encourage you to once again remember that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled all the requirements of righteousness. He was not fruitful and multiplying in terms of physical reproduction, but He nevertheless was given dominion over the whole earth. Therefore, I think we need to be very careful before we place this command upon every married couple individually.

Perhaps you are thinking, “Sure, the command doesn’t apply to Jesus: He was single. Once you choose to get married, the command applies to you.” I don’t agree with that interpretation, but I do understand it. Perhaps I am wrong and Mohler is right. He is, after all, much more learned than I am and the president of a seminary. It does trouble me a bit to see that when people make arguments such as this, they usually appeal just as much to demographic trends and the shrinking territory of Christianity as much as anything in scripture. But even if Mohler is right and married couples are required to have children, there is still a problem lurking around the corner: we are liable to turn procreation into the purpose of marriage.

By no means do I deny that procreation is a purpose of marriage. Procreation must happen in order for our species to continue, and God has commanded that it should only occur within the marital relationship. Therefore, there is a strong link between matrimony and reproduction. However, it does not follow that procreation is the main purpose of marriage. You may be thinking, “Who is making that argument?” The answer is, “More people than you might think, even if they don’t realize it.” Take, for example, this quote from Gary Thomas, author of the popular book Sacred Marriage, in an article titled “Does God Care How Many Children We Have?”. (Again, please follow the link and read the whole essay before casting judgment.)

Jesus doesn’t deny the sacrifices parenting demands of us, but He also taught that there are more important priorities than a few extra years of being less tired, having more money in the bank, nicer cars or homes, or taking satisfaction in bigger retirement savings. God prioritizes people. People have eternal destinies. Nothing else a couple does can compare with bringing a child into the world and training that child to follow the true God. Nothing.

Did you catch what he just said? “Nothing else a couple does can compare with bringing a child into the world and training that child to follow the true God.” That statement is unequivocal: childbearing and godly childrearing are the greatest goods in marriage. To reinforce the fact that nothing else in marriage is that important, he repeats the word nothing.

Take a moment to consider the implications of that statement. It is not a very far leap from Thomas’ words to the conclusion that childbearing is the purpose of marriage, full stop. An even more natural implication would be that childless marriages cannot possibly compare with those that are fruitful and multiplying. They are missing something vital. They are not doing as much for God. While he was surely not meaning to criticize those couples who cannot have children, Thomas’ argument unavoidably diminishes those marriages as well. If “nothing” in marriage can compare with having children, then what are we saying to those who have been denied this blessing through no fault of their own?

Thomas’ article includes many of the same old “have children, grow the church” lines. Translation: the Muslims are outbreeding us! There may be some real concern about demographic developments in Europe, where the population is not being sufficiently replaced and social welfare programs are suffering as a result. However, the United States is not suffering from such a crisis yet, and in any case, that is a poor way to do theology. But let’s set all of that aside and consider whether Thomas is right about his central argument. Are childless marriages failing to fulfill the divinely ordained purpose of marriage? Will they never be as good or as godly? Are they somehow defective or less successful than marriages that are procreative? Mohler and Thomas may not have meant to raise these questions, but they seem rather natural to me.

When it comes to the real purpose of marriage, Christians have historically come up with more than one possible answer. I think the best summary might be found in the traditional wedding liturgy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It lists three purposes for which marriage was instituted by God.

First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body. Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.

Notice that the Book of Common Prayer does list procreation as one of the purposes of Christian marriage. I have no wish to deny this. However, it also lists two other biblical purposes for marriage. Yes, part of the reason for marriage is to have sex. It’s right there in the liturgy. This is based upon the writings of Paul, who said “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9b). By having sex within the framework intended by God, a person may enjoy this gift without falling into sin. Would I encourage a person to get married simply so they could have sex? No, because chances are that if sex is their idol outside of marriage, it will be an idol inside of marriage, and they will still not be satisfied. There is a lot more to marriage than sex, but it is an undeniable part of the marital union and we ought not demean those who desire the good gift of God, so long as they do not make it an idol.

The liturgy also says that marriage was ordained for “the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity”. We must never lose sight of this reason for marriage! I would argue that it is the most fundamental of those three listed purposes. A couple can be incapable of having children and still have a godly marriage. Some people have medical conditions that make it impossible for them to have full sexual relations, but they too can have a godly marriage. However, if a husband and wife fail to love and support one another, providing the help and comfort described in the liturgy, I think we can certainly question whether they are acting in a godly manner. It is the true non-negotiable on this list.

Consider the very first marriage. We read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” (Genesis 2:18) The language there involves companionship. We read the account of Eve’s creation and are told, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:24-25) That is language of complete sexual intimacy. We therefore have the second of the ordained purposes of marriage listed in the Book of Common Prayer flowing directly out of the third ordained purpose: sex is the good result of that loving companionship. It is not until later that Adam and Eve’s relationship turns into a procreative one, although that was certainly part of the purpose from the beginning.

There are some people who do not interpret these passages the same way as me. Here I will appeal to something published by CBMW. A few years ago, Joshua Crutchfield wrote an article titled “Should Christian Couples Choose a ‘Childfree’ Life?”. This was a response to a cover story in TIME. Crutchfield wrote,

When reading the creation account (Genesis 1–2), you will find that there is only one thing that is seen as ‘not good’—Adam was alone.  He was in need of a helper and so God provided him his wife, Eve.  Yet, when you look at the creation account and you see that there was something wrong with Adam’s being alone, it was because he needed a helper.  So what was Adam in need of help with?  Maintaining the garden?  Naming the animals. While Adam may have been in need of assistance in those areas, there was one area in need of much assistance—procreation.  Adam could not procreate without Eve.  God had created male and female.  He made them in His image, and He made them to subdue and fill the earth. This mandate is nowhere removed or overturned anywhere in Scripture.  God has created marriage and its main purpose is for producing families.

I would once again encourage you to read the full article before reaching a conclusion, but I think we can see in this paragraph alone that the author is working under a different assumption than me. He notes that Eve was created as a helper, but he says nothing about companionship. The area where Adam needed assistance, Crutchfield argues, was in procreation.  He concludes that the “main purpose” of marriage is for producing families, and I am forced to assume without seeing much other evidence that he feels that the woman was created simply because Adam needed someone to bear his children. I would like to think that if I sat down right now with Mr. Crutchfield and asked him to explain things more thoroughly, he would emphasize that there are other purposes for a woman’s existence on earth. However, one is forced to arrive at a certain conclusion based upon his article. Whether or not Crutchfield meant to make this argument, there have been plenty of others who historically argued the same point without apology. One particularly stands out in my mind.

In Part One of Question 92 of his Summa Theologica, the much revered medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a ‘helper’ to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation.” Honestly, friends, I thought we had put this argument to bed. It seems blatantly and scripturally obvious that women have other roles in society beyond simply bearing children. If all Adam needed was the ability to procreate, God could have made him like any of the other species that are asexual. There is a reason that God gave Adam something that was “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). Women are helpers to men in so many ways, and a wife is meant to be more than just the mother of her husband’s children.

Views of marriage that see childbearing as its main purpose are ultimately reductionist. They fail to take into account all the purposes for which marriage was ordained, and many of them end up misrepresenting the reasons that women were created. I cannot possibly speak to the circumstances of every childless married couple. Some may well have selfish motivations for forgoing parenthood. Then again, some people might be choosing parenthood for bad reasons: to give themselves an identity, to keep up with the Joneses, to fill their timeline with cute pictures that will impress their friends. I would like to think that these are not the primary motivating factors for most Christian couples, but such rationales could be slipping in either consciously or subconsciously. There are wrong reasons to have children and wrong reasons not to have children. However, the most harmful view of all may be this: that getting married and having kids makes you more spiritual or brings you closer to God.

Think back now to that interaction I had with Rod Dreher. He was no doubt thinking about historical monasticism with some of his comments. The underlying theory behind much of monasticism, particularly in the Roman Catholic understanding (for I know far less about the Eastern Orthodox), is that those who have taken a vow of celibacy exist in a somewhat different sphere than the rest of us. Getting married and having a family is all well and good, but if you want to be really righteous, you give that all up and pursue God single-mindedly. Many forms of monasticism revolve around a detailed set of rituals, all of which are meant to cleanse a person of their fleshly desires and bring them closer to God’s standard of righteousness. One is forced to conclude that the monastic life has become a kind of idol for many who pursue it: an alternate means of achieving righteousness.

This is where it starts to get odd. Protestantism was meant to have rejected this idea of different levels of righteousness for different vocations, but in a reaction against the Catholic obsession with celibacy, I feel that some in the evangelical sphere have become equally obsessed with childbearing. Even as the Catholic model envisions an ascending ladder of righteousness through the forsaking of marriage and procreation, the evangelical Protestant model has now created exactly the reverse: a system in which your fulfillment and conformation to the image of Christ increases as you achieve the goals of marriage, children, and more children. We have traded one idolatrous view of life for another.

Yes, that’s right. If you place your ultimate identity and source of godliness in anything other than the finished work of Jesus Christ on your behalf, you are committing idolatry and attempting to save yourself. Even some of the best things in this life – marital love, sex, children – can be idols. In fact, they are among the most common ones. Satan loves to take what God made good and twist it every which way until it no longer resembles the original intent. That is true of same-sex marriage, it is true of an idolatrous view of celibacy, and it is also true of this idolatrous view of heterosexual marriage.

If the chief question of our existence is, “How can I be righteous before a righteous God?”, then we must know most assuredly that it is not within our power to make ourselves righteous. We need the righteousness of Christ Himself. We need to be united not with another human being, but with the Son of God. Union with another human, even in a God ordained marriage, does not actually make you holy. Only union with Christ can do that. The one who has that union with the Son of God can then grow in sanctification through human relationships, but make no mistake: neither marriage, nor celibacy, nor parenthood can make you holy. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Only by union with Him are we saved.

This may seem like a whole lot of fuss over one word in one article of the Nashville Statement. Could they really have meant all of this by “procreative”? Well, consider that Albert Mohler is listed as one of the primary signers of this document. He is also a council member of CBMW. As I mentioned at the outset, there are three possible reasons that this word was included, and I’m not sure any of them are all that good. Sometimes a word is just a word, but in this case, I think not. This document was no doubt pored over by many leading figures before its publication: at the very least, by all those who signed it. I cannot speak for the motivations of all the signatories. I suspect that most of them simply wanted to make a strong statement against sexual immorality, and that is commendable. However, we must consider the source. Is the CBMW the true voice of evangelical Christians today? Does it deserve to be? Many good people have been associated with it over the years, but it has also had its fair share of critics, not all of whom were simply theological liberals.

My own concern goes beyond the issues of childlessness and procreation. On the whole, CBMW and groups like it seem to have come to believe that the simple commands of God are not enough for today’s world. They see the declining moral standards of our culture and conclude that further justification is needed for the historic Christian position on marriage. It is not enough to say that God prohibits fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. It is not enough to present the simple commands of Ephesians 5 as the basis for marital relations.

They have constructed a highly developed version of gender roles that relies just as much on cultural constructs as it does on biblical mandates. They have snuck patriarchy in the back door and portrayed it as complementarianism, to such a degree that the word “complementarian” now means next to nothing. They have looked for justification for their position in a new doctrine of the Trinity that makes the Son of God and Holy Creator less than fully God in order to make Him more like female human creatures. They have portrayed themselves as the defenders of biblical orthodoxy, but they have in fact forsaken that orthodoxy when it comes to the doctrine of God. They have added law to law in the hope of protecting a simple command, but the Word of God does not need protection brought about by human innovation. All it needs is faithful witnesses to proclaim the Word and only the Word. Let that Word win some and harden others. That is all that the Lord requires of us, and it is more than enough to fill a lifetime.

Even in light of all of this, you may still think me too harsh. We are, after all, in a moment of cultural crisis. Should we not be circling the wagons around biblical orthodoxy and setting aside our quarrels over secondary issues? If my only quibble was over the issue of childlessness, I might agree with you, but as I have noted, there are bigger issues at hand. Multiple signatories of the Nashville Statement – notably Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and Owen Strachan, but also some others – have taught the doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son and/or the Eternal Functional Subordination of the Son repeatedly and without apology. In the opinion of this author, that is a fallacy in their doctrine of God. If your doctrine of God is skewed, then your doctrine of man will be skewed. If your doctrine of man is skewed, it is going to affect how you view gender and sexuality.

Therefore, we should not treat the doctrine of God and our view of the Trinity as a secondary issue, for it permeates and colors everything else. We should not pretend that we can set orthodoxy aside to defend orthodoxy, only to pick it up when the crisis is over. What good does it do to draft new confessional statements to suit our present needs when we have abandoned the historic creeds and confessions that saw the Church through centuries of turmoil? There is a certain amount of bravery in this Nashville Statement, but I wish they had taken a bit more time to explain the language that they used, and I especially wish that they had shown equal fervor in defending the orthodox understanding of the doctrine of God.

Friends, I am currently dealing with an undiagnosed illness. They are about to scan my brain and tell me if I have a neurological disorder. I have no idea if I will ever be able to have children. Much of my identity seems to hang in the balance. I must cling to the truth that my marriage is no less complete than anyone else’s because I have not been blessed with children. I must cling to the cross and place my identity in Christ. I am sure some will criticize what I have to say, but that is honestly not my greatest concern at the moment. Perhaps this Nashville Statement hit me at a bad time, when I am already feeling vulnerable and sensitive regarding these issues. I am not angry. Truly, I am not. I want answers to what is plaguing my body. I want to have children. However, I also want to believe that no matter what happens, God is with me and He has a plan. His best intention is what will occur, whether my marriage is procreative or not.

I pray that our Christian leaders, whether they have signed the Nashville Statement or not, will defend biblical orthodoxy in all areas. I pray that we will show love to people regardless of their situation and that the gospel of Jesus Christ will flow through us to a world that desperately needs it. Thank you for taking the time to read this overly long article and may God bless you.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

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Baptism and Union with Christ Tue, 29 Aug 2017 15:24:37 +0000 This is the latest in a series of essays on baptism. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page. In this series, I have already discussed the baptism of John, the rather unique baptism of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that most […]

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“Baptism of the Neophytes” by Masaccio, circa 1426-27

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

In this series, I have already discussed the baptism of John, the rather unique baptism of Jesus Christ, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am sure that most people are eager for me to jump ahead and say conclusively whether we should be giving New Covenant baptism to infants. Not yet, my friends! There is a specific reason for my manner of proceeding. Everyone wants to start at that place which is really the end of the theological road. It is better for us to consider other factors before we make a final determination about whether we should dunk or sprinkle…or something else entirely.

There is one place in the Gospel of Luke where Christ talks about baptism in a way that seems rather different from anything else we have discussed. Let’s take a moment to consider His words on that occasion.

I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished! Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

Luke 12:49-53 (emphasis added)

What did Jesus mean when He said that he had a “baptism to undergo”? He made this comment in the middle of His earthly ministry. That allows us to rule out the possibility that He was talking about the water baptism of John, which He had already received. It also allows us to rule out the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit had already descended on Him visibly in the form of a dove. We can furthermore rule out the possibility that Jesus is talking about a water baptism identical to what Christians receive today, for He never had one. No, I believe that the baptism Christ is describing here is more metaphorical: it is a baptism of suffering.

I conclude that Jesus was referring to His future suffering for two reasons. First, the phrase that comes immediately prior to the mention of baptism speaks of the judgment which is usually associated with Christ’s Second Coming. Jesus says this cannot happen until after He has undergone the baptism. In addition, He suggests that there is something distressing about the whole thing. The word translated as “distressed” is rather interesting, but it could make sense in light of Christ’s suffering and His desire to complete the work for which He was sent. The second reason I think Jesus is talking about a baptism of suffering is because of something else that He once said to two of His disciples.

James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’ And He said to them, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ They said to Him, ‘Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’

Mark 10:35-40

I will never cease to be amazed by the presumptuousness of these two young men, James and John, who dared to say to Christ, “Give us whatever we want!” Well, those weren’t their exact words, but that seems to have been the sentiment. What is perhaps more shocking is that Christ doesn’t say to them, “How dare you presume!” He simply asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (v. 36) How many of us wish that God would ask us that? However, we probably shouldn’t be quite so eager to make such a request of God, for we cannot possibly fathom all the ramifications of some of our requests.

This is a perfect example of that phenomenon. The brothers ask Jesus to let them sit on His immediate right and left in glory. They were likely imagining that Christ was about to set up an earthly kingdom with Jerusalem as the capital, and they wanted to be His #1 and #2 guys. They wanted to be close to the action, sharing in the power and the spoils. Jesus points out the flaw in their request. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (v. 38)

I think what Jesus had in mind here was a baptism of suffering. He makes it sound like something no one would desire and few could endure. In regard to drinking the cup, consider what He said in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) I think it is not much of a stretch to say that Christ was thinking in that moment of the suffering He would undergo. He described it as intensely undesirable from a human perspective, but nevertheless He drank the cup on our behalf.

Returning to the conversation with James and John, we see that Jesus was telling them that to share in His glory was also to share in His suffering. Immediately before they had made their audacious request, Jesus told them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.” (v. 33-34) Now He tells them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.” (v. 39b-40)

None of Christ’s disciples have ever suffered in exactly the same way that He suffered. No one else has paid the penalty for sin. Yet His apostles did probably all receive martyr’s deaths in addition to many other persecutions. Throughout Christian history, those who have taken a strong stand for the gospel have often faced such backlash, to say nothing of the many forms of suffering that are an average part of life. We certainly share in the glories of our Lord, but we also share in His suffering. Jesus described this as a baptism, but why?

First, I think we need to consider the great theological topic at hand: union with Christ. The basic concept here is that to be justified before the Father and regenerated by the Spirit, you must be united to the Son. Some people may describe that process a bit differently, but all the benefits that a Christian has are on account of this union with Jesus Christ, beginning with the double imputation, which is also called the double exchange. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus Christ took our sins upon Himself that we might receive His righteousness. That is the double exchange.

Union with Christ has many other effects besides our justification and regeneration. It is also the reason that we increase in sanctification and may be sure of persevering to the end. It is how we receive something real from the sacraments of baptism and communion (or ordinances, if you prefer). Yes, it was because Jesus Christ took on flesh and defeated sin in the flesh that we can be united with Him more closely than any fleshly relationship.

Consider what the author of Hebrews wrote. “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) The Apostle Paul further expounded on why our union with Christ means we should not engage in sexual sin.

Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

1 Corinthians 6:14-17 (emphasis added)

What Paul describes here as being “one spirit” with Christ he describes elsewhere as being clothed with Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27) What is the significance of the mention of the word baptism there? Remember, Jesus had earlier described suffering as a baptism – one in which we would share with Him. Having established the concept of union with Christ, how should we see baptism as fitting in with that?

In that passage in Galatians, Paul seems to link three things: 1) having faith in Christ, 2) being baptized into Christ, and 3) being clothed with Christ. Very good, but which came first? We’re not talking about chickens and eggs here. Does being baptized lead to faith and union with Christ? Does having faith lead to union with Christ and then baptism? Or does union with Christ result in faith and then baptism?

I am going to suggest to you that that final ordering is the correct one: union with Christ allows us to have faith, which is then marked by baptism. In the long history of baptism debates, the most crucial question has probably been whether baptism itself regenerates (i.e. leads to faith and union with Christ) or whether it is meant to mark the fact that regeneration has occurred. I can understand the confusion. Let’s examine a few key passages, starting with Romans chapter 6.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God.

Romans 6:1-11 (emphasis added)

Notice what is happening here. Paul certainly talks about those who “have been buried with Him through baptism into death”, so we cannot avoid the baptism symbolism, nor should we. However, we must also consider the overall context of the passage. Paul is very clearly speaking about regeneration – that is, a person who is spiritually dead becoming spiritually alive. Even as Christ physically died and was resurrected, so the believer dies to sin and is resurrected to do the things of God. Paul does not say that it is merely baptism that brings about this regeneration. Rather, he speaks about being united with Christ. Paul certainly appeals to the symbolism of baptism, but I think we should be careful before concluding that baptism is one and the same with regeneration and union with Christ. Nevertheless, there is something about baptism that is clearly linked with both of those things. Let us move on to another passage where Paul makes similar points.

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

Colossians 2:6-15 (emphasis added)

The overall themes of this passage seem to be 1) the supremacy of Christ and 2) regeneration. Interestingly, even as Paul’s mention of baptism in Romans chapter 6 came in a passage where he was encouraging believers to increase in sanctification, the same thing happens here. He begins by saying, “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith…” (v. 6-7b) The people Paul has in mind here are people who have received Christ and possess saving faith.

Paul goes on to list several things that these believers have gained by receiving Christ. 1) They have been made complete. 2) They have received the “circumcision made without hands”, which I think we can safely equate with the circumcision of the heart. 3) They have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with Him through faith. 4) They have been made alive spiritually and had their sins forgiven. 5) They enjoy the effects of Christ triumphing over the rulers and authorities and setting up His rule.

One standard interpretation of this passage goes as follows: By mentioning them in practically the same breath, Paul is equating baptism with circumcision. This is because baptism is the new circumcision. As children of believing parents used to receive circumcision, they should now receive baptism.

I would argue that this interpretation is problematic. There may be other passages of scripture on which one could base a defense of paedobaptism. However, it is hard for me to imagine how this passage could be seen as proof positive that infants should be baptized. Why? First, as I mentioned, Paul is speaking to people who have been united with Christ, whereas the Reformed paedobaptist argument is generally that not all infants who are baptized will be made regenerate and united with Christ. (This depends greatly on the Reformed person in question and the era in which they lived.) Second, the circumcision Paul refers to is not the physical circumcision given to all male descendants of Abraham, but rather the circumcision of the heart – not the removal of physical flesh, but the putting to death of the sinful (fleshly) nature. Third, baptism is brought in as a symbol of being joined with Christ’s death and resurrection, which for us is a spiritual death and resurrection. But how does Paul say that we are raised with Him in baptism? “…through faith in the working of God…” (v. 12)

Rather than serving as proof that baptism should be disconnected from regeneration, Colossians chapter 2 makes a clear link between union with Christ, saving faith, and baptism. We should also note that the emphasis is not placed on baptism itself but on all the various aspects of union with Christ and regeneration. This suggests to us that the true power comes from that union with Christ and not the physical act of baptism. Indeed, the clear impression I get from this passage is that baptism does you no good unless it is united with saving faith. Reformed paedobaptists would generally agree with this, because they do not believe that baptism becomes truly efficacious until it is joined with regeneration. Of course, the question then becomes, why put the horse before the cart? What good does baptism do for a person who is not regenerate? (At this point, a Reformed paedobaptist might appeal to their understanding of the New Covenant, which I will address at a later time.)

It is interesting that another passage to which people sometimes point to make the case that baptism itself saves or regenerates contains many of the same themes: union with Christ, sanctification, regeneration, and suffering. This occurs in the first epistle of the Apostle Peter.

Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

1 Peter 3:13-22 (emphasis added)

This is not an easy passage to interpret. Apart from the obvious difficulty of the phrase “baptism now saves you”, there is also the seemingly odd appeal to the time of Noah and the “spirits now in prison”. Let’s just take things one step at a time. 1 Peter talks extensively about suffering for Christ, and that is also the theme of this passage. The apostle begins by saying that “if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed” (v. 14). He speaks of defending one’s faith and demonstrating a good conscience, so that those who slander you will “be put to shame” (v. 15-16). He then speaks of how Christ suffered and died for us and makes that connection with regeneration: “having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (v. 18). Then he makes the leap and starts talking about Noah.

Why should Peter appeal to Noah? He speaks of spirits now in prison, but how does he describe them? They were people “who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark” (v. 20). I strongly believe that these were people who saw Noah building the ark and reviled him. In their sin, they mocked Noah’s righteousness. The book of Genesis does not record the reactions of those that saw Noah constructing the ark, but given that their thoughts were evil continually (Genesis 6:5), it’s not much of a stretch to assume that they persecuted Noah for obeying God. Thus, even as Peter told Christians in the first century to demonstrate a good conscience before their persecutors, so Noah acted in the same way toward his persecutors.

Peter then notes that Noah and his family were saved from the flood waters by the ark. That is when he says, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God…” (v. 21) We must view this verse in the context of the entire passage. Peter indicates that his statement about baptism saving us corresponds to the way that Noah was saved. As we have seen, Peter did not only highlight the fact that Noah was saved from the Flood, but also the reason: unlike the other people on planet earth, Noah acted righteously. He had faith in God. He demonstrated a good conscience.

To drive home the point, Peter explicitly states that what is saving about baptism is not “the removal of dirt from the flesh”. That is, the physical act of splashing water on someone is not the truly saving part. What saves us is “an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. I think we can safely conclude from this passage that the significance of baptism is that it serves as a symbol of the regeneration mentioned in verse 18. Our salvation depends on the fact that we are united with Christ. There is a certain symbolic tie between the ark and baptism, without a doubt. In both cases, a person was being saved from death and brought into life by the power of God. However, in Noah’s case, it was his physical body that was saved. Baptism is about the saving of our souls. That can only occur through union with Christ and saving faith. Only the one united with Christ can truly appeal to God for a “good conscience”.

Our regeneration is not brought about solely by the baptismal waters, but the baptismal waters serve as a symbol of our spiritual regeneration. The New Testament always envisions a close link between baptism and union with Christ. I believe that is because it is meant to be administered to those who are united with Christ. Does this mean that we can always know perfectly who is united with Christ? No. Does it mean that physical baptism has no benefit for those who are not united with Christ spiritually? Yes. Does it suggest that we should make every attempt to link the sign of baptism with the thing signified, i.e. regeneration and union with Christ? Yes, I believe so.

There are really two errors you can make regarding baptism and union with Christ. The first is to assume that baptism itself creates union. There are far too many examples out there of people who received baptism and then were demonstrably not regenerate believers for that to be the case. (Simon Magus was the first we have on record, and no doubt you can think of one or two.) If you are going to say that only by having faith before baptism can it then regenerate you, I would ask how a person can have faith before regeneration. The second error is to say that baptism has nothing to do with union with Christ: that is, to separate the sign from the thing signified or to administer it hopefully to infants who may very well never enjoy this union. Given that multiple passages of scripture speak of a connection between baptism and union with Christ, this seems like a rather odd opinion to adopt. I firmly believe that those who do not have the Spirit and are not united with Christ receive no benefit from the sacraments.

We have looked at those portions of scripture that link union with Christ and baptism. I wanted to close by mentioning a few other verses that talk about our union with Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20) This verse demonstrates as well as any how this union causes us to participate in Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul also said that he would count his supposedly righteous deeds as rubbish,

…so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:8b-11 (emphasis added)

Here Paul speaks of a fellowship of Christ’s sufferings in which we participate through our union with Him. However, we do not only participate in His suffering and death, but also in “the power of His resurrection”. Therefore, we should not fear to be united with Christ, but know that the sufferings of this life are not the end. We are increasing in sanctification and will attain to the resurrection. Here is the final passage that I want to mention, coming once again from Paul’s writings.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Colossians 1:21-27 (emphasis added)

By His death, Christ has reconciled us to God. We have received His righteousness. By our union with Him, we are His very Body. We are joined with Him in the most intimate way, so that we may even speak of our sufferings as His sufferings. That is why Paul speaks of “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”. It is not as though the sacrifice of Christ was incomplete, but our union with Him is such that He shares in our afflictions. Notice how Paul ends: along with the suffering, we also have a hope of glory in Christ. Whatever temporary afflictions we may experience, that eternal glory is our hope. Therefore, even as we are baptized with the same baptism of suffering as our Savior, let us remember that we will one day have the same resurrection, even as He has already made us spiritually alive.

All scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright The Lockman Foundation.

Previous articles in this series:

#1 – Introduction (now somewhat dated)

#2 – The Baptism of John: Purpose, Participants, and Differences from New Covenant Baptism

#3 – Why was Jesus Baptized?

#4 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Beginnings

#5 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: Prophecies

#6 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: A New Era

#7 – The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: What It Means for Us

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My Good, Bad, Ugly Year Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:07:23 +0000 Friends, I wanted to take a moment to update you on what has been going on in my life this year and to explain why you may not see so much of my writing in the near future. Beginning last September, I was frequently hit with various infections, none of which seemed particularly serious. This […]

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I wanted to take a moment to update you on what has been going on in my life this year and to explain why you may not see so much of my writing in the near future. Beginning last September, I was frequently hit with various infections, none of which seemed particularly serious. This made life frustrating, but it would always pass. Then around the beginning of March, I woke up one night in terrible pain. It seemed to be an intestinal virus of some sort. Unfortunately, I have never fully recovered.

As the months have worn on, my symptoms have become more and less severe depending on the day or week. The one thing that has been nearly constant is aches and pains. Other symptoms presented themselves as well. Early on, I was tested for a wide variety of typical viruses, all of which came back negative. I have now had examinations or consultations with eight different doctors: my primary care physician, two osteopathic doctors, two immunologists/allergists, two rheumatologists, and one neurologist. I am currently being referred to yet another neurologist.

My condition has severely limited my functioning at times. I was forced to cancel three planned trips last spring. I have backed out of all my volunteer duties at church. I have only occasionally been able to make it to Bible studies. I attend Sunday services whenever it seems physically possible. I normally spend much of the summer outside gardening, but not this year. I normally take a lengthy walk every day, but not this year.

I am thankful to God that I have often been able to continue writing through all of this, but I have only done so with great difficulty. Anything you have read by me this year was most likely written when I was feeling unwell. Even as I long to study theology more deeply, I am often prevented from doing so because it is just so hard to maintain the necessary energy and concentration.

One side effect of all of this – for better or for worse – is that I have spent a lot more time on Twitter. This has served not only as a useful tool for meeting people, but also as a welcome distraction. I greatly appreciate all the people who know me “in real life” and ask me how I’m doing as soon as they see me. There is, however, a negative side to this phenomenon: practically every conversation I have ends up being about my illness. There are times when I would just rather talk about something else, but I certainly do not fault people for their kind concern. For this reason, I did not immediately inform people on Twitter about the extent of my difficulties.

The last few days have been particularly hard. My muscle fatigue has increased to the point that everything I do only occurs with great effort. For example, even as I type this out, my fingers feel rather arthritic. Talking seems like work. Eating seems like work.

Many people have made suggestions as to what might be wrong with me. I know they all mean well, and I have certainly investigated many of those possibilities. Of course, everyone always sees the same condition they once had, or a friend of theirs had, or whatever is their medical specialty. That does not mean they are all wrong. Odds are at least one of them is on the right track. Nevertheless, as is so often the case in life, the most useful comments are usually the people who just say, “We will pray for you. We love you.”

A year ago, I was living a normal, active life. As each new physical limitation comes my way, I feel that part of my identity is being stripped away. The first time I was sent to the hospital for an x-ray and told to put on one of those ridiculous hospital gowns, I felt like it was somewhat symbolic of everything that has been taken away from me. The first time it was suggested to me that I might need to have my brain scanned, I cried so much and my husband just held me. He didn’t know what to say.

One of the parts of my identity that has taken a very hard hit is my role as a wife. I never thought that this aspect of my existence was limited to domestic duties, but I admit that the fact that I am no longer able to cook or clean like I used to, or even set my mind to some of our financial tasks, has caused a lot of things to fall through the cracks. My poor husband has been quite confused, because I do have some days where my functioning is closer to normal, but even then my mental stress is so great that I often seek out distractions rather than focusing on tasks. This makes him feel as if I do not value his opinion or seek to do the things he asks of me. I think he has recently come to see how much of a burden this experience has been on me not only physically, but also emotionally. On the whole, he has been so supportive, but he is in just as bad of a position as I am. He hates to see me suffer, and he just doesn’t know what to do.

Many of my friends here have already moved on from baby number one to babies number two and three. It is easy to look at the domestic bliss of others and feel that, whatever my achievements with my writing, they don’t count for very much. I can’t do the things that matter. This is an unbiblical view, but one with which I have struggled since becoming sick.

There is a kind of irony in all of this. Most of the people who know me online view me as a queen bee, a kind of Wonder Woman wannabee, or something of that sort. They are under the impression that I am strong. I am not strong – I am fragile. I am just trying to hold it together. My mind is fully functional, but my body betrays me.

This is not the first time that I have faced a kind of personal darkness. When I was in college, I went through a substantial period of depression and anxiety. That anxiety has popped up every now and again over the years. I always assumed that this was my thorn in the flesh, and maybe in the long-term it still will be. However, the struggle this year has been physical as well as mental. Then, of course, there is the spiritual component.

Last year, I had what was not exactly a conversion but nevertheless an important milestone in my spiritual journey. I came to fully embrace the doctrines of grace. These are often given the nickname of “TULIP”, but they are really so much more than that. They effect the way you view God, yourself, and all of creation. In my earlier days, I thought that adopting such a Calvinist view of salvation would force me to accept a God who was not as loving, gracious, or even likeable. I don’t feel that at all now. If anything, I love Him more.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that my embrace of such a strong view of God’s sovereignty should have been followed up with a personal crisis that forces me to question the role of God’s sovereignty in my own life. Of course, the mind goes through all the usual questions. Did I do something wrong and I need to repent? Is there some greater purpose to what I am suffering? Doesn’t God see all the great things I could be doing if I wasn’t sick? Doesn’t he want me to write, to study, and to tell people about Him?

My suffering is nowhere near the level of what some people experience. It is really only notable because of the fact that I am young, otherwise healthy, and not the typical recipient of so many medical woes. Even so, it has been a real test for me, and I tell you now, if I thought for one moment that God was not entirely sovereign over everything that is taking place, it would not make me feel better. It would make me feel intensely worse.

There are gods in this world – by which I mean creations of man – who are far removed from suffering. There are gods who minimize suffering. There are gods who try to say that suffering is good. There are gods who have no power over anything that happens, and thus cannot prevent suffering. I want nothing to do with any of those gods. I hate them with the utmost hatred. They have nothing to offer me.

One of the theological concepts that has become so precious to me this year is union with Christ. I first saw hints of this when I was sick in my college days and was drawn to the Apostle Paul’s description of the “fellowship of Christ’s suffering”. (Philippians 3:10) I think I will spend my whole life attempting to understand that, but I have greatly benefited this year from the Reformed description of union with Christ. You see, union with Christ is firstly about the double exchange: Christ taking on our sins and us receiving His righteousness. However, it also means that we are united to Him even more intimately than we can be united with another human being, and when we suffer, He actually shares in our sufferings.

I am still not sure exactly what that means, but I know that Christ already suffered and died for me, taking on human flesh that He might put to death sin in human flesh. When He did so, He felt real pain, real stress (though not a stress caused by unbelief), and real fatigue. He shed real blood, sweat, and tears. Only a God who has done that has earned the right to be our Comforter in times of trial. That is the God I want on my side.

I don’t know what will happen in the coming days and months. My great hope is that I will receive a correct diagnosis and that it will be something that can at least be well controlled with treatment, if not entirely cured. When I pray to God, I often pray for perseverance, since I know He has promised that to His children. Whatever lies ahead, He will sustain me. He will help me to run the race well. I am completely incapable of doing so on my own.

I want to take this opportunity to thank the many people who have reached out to me this year with words of encouragement. Not all of them were even aware of my illness, but any positive communication has been helpful for my mental state. In this year of such physical hardship, God has given me more opportunities with my writing than I ever had previously. My frustration is that I am not entirely able to take advantage of those opportunities. Pray that God will give me enough energy to write!

So to sum up, this year has been good because I have come to see more theological truth, made some amazing friends, and had lots of opportunities to do the thing that I love: writing. It has been bad because of my continual illness. It has been ugly because there are truly a lot of days when I am not that great of a sight to behold. Nevertheless, I press on and hope for better days.

The grace of God be with you all.


Amy Mantravadi

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Theology Gals Podcast Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:32:09 +0000 I was recently honored to appear on an episode of the Theology Gals podcast, which is on the awesomely named Bible Thumping Wingnut network. We discussed my recent articles about Tim Keller. You can listen to the podcast here. I really enjoyed speaking with Coleen and Ashley about these important issues, and I would encourage […]

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I was recently honored to appear on an episode of the Theology Gals podcast, which is on the awesomely named Bible Thumping Wingnut network. We discussed my recent articles about Tim Keller. You can listen to the podcast here. I really enjoyed speaking with Coleen and Ashley about these important issues, and I would encourage my readers to take a listen to some of the other episodes of this podcast as well. They have a Facebook page specifically for women, but the things they have to say are useful for all Christians to hear. Keep it up, ladies!

The articles about Keller can be found here and here.

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