Pickpocketing Purity

While Beaty gives a nod to the motives of many who promote and adhere to the Pence Rule in one form or another, she denies it’s effectiveness:  “The Pence rule is inadequate to stop Weinstein-ian behavior. In fact, it might be its sanctified cousin. It’s time for men in power to believe their female peers when they say that the rule hurts more than helps.” Abusers are always going to find ways to abuse, but Christians are called to something higher than these extra-biblical rules. We are called to uphold godly behavior and promotion of holiness with everyone we interact with. We are called to a holy communion with God that also overflows into a holy communion with one another. We do this as sexual beings, but our sexuality doesn’t merely express itself in the physical love making that a wedded couple exclusively shares. Our sexuality also expresses itself in brother and sisterhood as we relate to everyone.

 

What does this say about a woman such as myself? It insinuates that I’m such a threat to a man’s faithfulness and a pastor’s reputation that I’m barely worth the risk of a ride to the hospital. I am in need of some good Samaritans! This parable particularly comes to mind because the religious people in it didn’t want to get polluted by the dying man. Comments like this tweet insinuate this same kind of pollution in association with women. As pastor Sam Powell put it, such harsh boundaries pretend like “fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman.”  Or maybe it is a Christian’s reputation that is polluted. (Sam also has a great article debunking the “appearance of evil” here.) Either way, Jesus calls us to be like the Samaritan, whom had nothing to lose because he was already considered polluted, or ceremonially defiled, so he was free to properly care for another human being in need. This is how Christ loved us. This is how we should love one another. Powell bids us, “Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. ‘Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.’

“Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.”   

Stealing Unearned Virtue

Some of the comments defending the Pence Rule under the link I shared are emotionally charged and hurtful, resorting to the conversation-closer of name-calling. This is what Alan Jacobs calls commitment to non-thinking. In them, Beaty is called brain dead and her article is referred to as a moronic idea, full of lies, which like the New York Times, should be ignored. Those who defend the Pence Rule imagine that those who critique it are either extremely naïve or don’t value faithfulness in marriage. I would like to suggest that those who viscerally defend the Pence Rule are falling under what Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his book In Defense of Purity, calls the spell of negative sexuality and are falling short of apprehending purity. After all, one can avoid having an affair and not truly embrace purity. While faithfulness in marriage is expected, it is not necessarily virtuous if it’s a response to a perceived self-importance, the result of an unsensuous temperament, or due to lack of opportunity. As von Hildebrand teaches, purity is a virtue as it treasures “free coopera[tion] in its production,” and as it “involves a habitual response to some value.” 

So the question to ask is what is your perception of value? Is it your career or ministry, therefore you must guard any appearance that may give people ammunition against your image? Is your value the perfect marriage, even at the expense of valuing others? (And what kind of marriage is it when you have to reduce all others of the opposite sex to value your spouse?) Or is your value to “live, so to speak, in the sight (in conspectu) of God’s purity, the fountainhead of all purity, and [to] respond to it with the permanent and habitual assent of his will” (43)? Because purity is supernatural. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Von Hildebrand insists on purity as a positive virtue that “always lives in an attitude of reverence for God and his creation, and therefore reveres sex, its profundity, and its sublime and divinely ordained meaning” (40). The sexual gift in marriage is therefore positively embraced and treasured so as not to be reduced to a base instinct. “The moment I treat physical sex as something complete in itself and take no account of its profoundest function, namely in wedded love, I falsify its ultimate significance and become blind to the mystery it contains” (7). This reverence for God and high view of sex also promotes a corresponding response to value others in their dignity as people made in the image of God. 

So the pure person does not behave prudishly in producing an “oppressive atmosphere” toward others, but “is distinguished by a limpid radiance of the soul” (41). Rejecting the negative value of impurity or sexual transgression should never lead to rejecting the value of another person. The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. Those who are oppressive to this beauty “miss the peculiar freedom of the pure; the unconfined spirituality, the transparence, the radiance which is theirs alone. On the contrary, they are in bondage, their spirit is opaque and transmits no clear light, and the hang about every hole and corner in which sexuality lurks unbeknown…Since they have never uprooted and overcome this attraction, nor even struggled against it in open combat, every other department of their life is infected and poisoned by this disposition” (24).

So while it may seem safe to impose rules that separate ordinary encounters with the opposite sex, it isn’t the virtue of purity. It is actually over-sexualization, or as Beaty calls it, the sanctified cousin of Weinstein-ian behavior. No, the virtue of purity perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings.

We are called to Christian love and fellowship as brothers and sisters. That means we promote one another’s holiness. It also means that we take sin seriously as well as our own ability to fall into it. This doesn’t call us to “the false modesty of the prude” but to a “sincere humility” (42). Therefore, rather than extra-biblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others.  We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the opposite sex, we don’t’ naively assume everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we won’t scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business such as serving someone by giving them a ride or coworkers sharing a meal in a public place.

Wikipedia defines pickpocketing as “a form of larceny that involves the stealing of money or other valuables from the person of a victim without them noticing the theft at the time. It may involve considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection.” I see the Pence Rule as pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity. Although I think that many who uphold the Rule are the ones misdirected, wanting to exercise a virtue without noticing that positive work they need to put in.

Thinking About Mental Purity

Jacobs spends a lot of time building on C.S. Lewis’ teaching about the Inner Ring, or “’moral matrix’ that becomes for a given person the narrative according to which everything and everyone else is judged,” reasoning that if we are so caught up in our own Inner Rings, we begin to look at outsiders to our Ring as Repugnant Cultural Others (55). Jacobs calls these Inner Ring zealots “true believers.” This kind of tribalism really doesn’t sharpen our thinking or properly love our neighbors. When this happens, we are not truly being loyal to our group or our belief systems that we hold dear because we bind one another to strict orthodoxy of the Inner Ring rather than to the truth and rather than freedom to learn more, love well, and be sharpened. Inner Ring tribalism also produces pretenders who never really grasp the truths we hold dear. Finding common ground with those who hold different convictions than us, even politically or religiously, does not necessarily weaken our own convictions. If they are in truth, they will be strengthened as we are stretched in our thinking.

How can we be healthier in our affiliations with one another? How can we have loving hearts and healthy minds? There are so many Inner Rings even in the Christian evangelical subculture. I know I have participated in Inner Ringmanship to my own regret. We also see polarizing Inner Rings with political affiliations, race, diets, social issues, and education. There are Inner Rings in church, at school, at work, and in our neighborhoods. Social media has become quite the Inner Ring facilitator. One of the toughest exercises in self-examination is to “distinguish between ‘genuine solidarity’ and participation in an Inner Ring.” (63) It’s the difference between true community and false belonging.

This was all going through my mind when I stumbled upon Jacobs’ use of the term “mental purity”:

You can know whether your social environment is healthy for thinking by its attitude toward ideas from the outgroup. If you quote some unapproved figure, or have the “wrong” website open on your browser, and someone turns up his nose and says, “I can’t believe you’re reading that crap”—generally, not a good sign. Even if what you’re reading is Mein Kampf, because there are actually good reasons to read Mein Kampf. The true believer is always concerned, both on her behalf and on that of the other members of her ingroup, for mental purity. (138)

Mental purity sounds like a really good thing, doesn’t it? And it definitely sounds like something that I want for my children. But we have another term for this, which exposes the negative effects: living in a bubble. It’s funny that Jesus didn’t separate the church from the rest of the world after his resurrection so that we wouldn’t be so exposed to corrupting ideas and teaching. It’s funny how he has made many unbelievers smarter and more gifted than his people, so that we will benefit from, learn from, and serve with them. It’s funny how the church has never had mental purity. But we do have Christ, who is both good and omniscient. And we have his word, which is living and active. God calls his people to discernment which requires critical thinking, not to mental purity.

Even so, it’s worth noting that sometimes you just have to say, “I can’t believe you’re reading that crap!” Sometimes crap is just crap. There are many books out there that will not engage us to be good thinkers and may actually make us dumber after having read them. You can’t engage much with fluff. And when it comes to something like 50 Shades of Grey, for example, we really don’t have any business reading it. It’s not only junk, and really bad writing, but it easily leads to sinful thoughts and actions. Discernment knows that there is such a thing as a junk pile. But this isn’t what Jacobs is talking about. He’s addressing this sense of tribalism that puts all outsider views in the junk pile and refuses to read those we even strongly disagree with for critical thinking. (I should also note, because I come across this quite often, absorbing everything you read is not critical thinking.)

While reading about mental purity, I couldn’t help but think about Inner Ring convictions on education. Within the church, homeschoolers, private schoolers, and public schoolers can encounter Inner Rings—especially among the parents. And our own convictions in these areas are often criticized as moral choices. I have friends whom I deeply care about in all three of these categories and I know that all three of these choices are susceptible to judgment as outsiders. As a parent who sends her kids to public school, I have felt the sting of RCO comments aimed at our education choices. And yet one reason my husband and I have made this choice is because of the mental purity fallacy. I struggle with balancing this all the time though. There is an important case to be made for stages of mental innocence in our children. They need to reach certain levels of maturity before they can even exercise discernment in separating truth from error and lies. And yet, as they grow, it is important for them to learn how to do this. 

Parents are responsible for what we teach our children. We need to make sure that the good stuff is being put in. And there are evils that they should not be exposed to. It’s tempting for me just to teach my kids what to think. It seems a lot safer anyway. But in order to learn how to think, they have to interact with worldviews, belief systems, and other convictions that are different from our own. The fear is corruption. And this is a real concern—very real. I don’t want to downplay it. Although, on the other hand, I also don’t want to shield my kids so much from the outside word that they begin to think sin is what’s “out there” only later in life to fall into despair when they realize sin is saturated in their very own hearts.

In public school my kids have to wrestle with Inner Rings all the time. And they can be the RCO to many of their unbelieving friends and sometimes teachers. Sometimes they take solid stand and others they fall into being a pretender to an Inner Ring in which they do not belong. But in this, they learn about themselves and others. They’re also learning how to learn from others even while holding strong differences in other areas. They are learning about finding common ground. They still have a long way to go—so do I—but they are exercising these very principles that Jacobs teaches on the art of thinking. 

I’m not against homeschooling or private schooling. And there are all sorts of other reasons one may choose that route, such as the methods used in educating, the curriculum, or the teaching itself. You can certainly teach the art of thinking at home and in private school as well. Each parent is responsible to make these decisions in humility. We should support one another in the church as we make these critical decisions, not divide over them. I love that my kids get to have good friends who are educated differently. Some of their homeschooled friends and private schooled friends share the most common ground with them, as they go to the same church. On Sunday, God calls all his people to his household to learn about him, to worship him, and to be blessed in him. This is sacred time and sacred space, as Michael Horton calls it. No one in God’s household is repugnant, “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15). And Christ isn’t an Inner Ringer; he creates a genuine community—one that honestly and humbly engages with the world around it. He hasn’t given us mental purity, but he has given us the art of thinking.

Reconciled in Christ?

The dreadful condition of the conversation regarding racial reconciliation among evangelicals is a cause for sadness. Within the denomination to which I belong it has become rather toxic. Dissent from the approved narrative is met either with venom or dismissal. For instance I witnessed a black sister in Christ referred to as “ignorant” by a white Teaching Elder because she challenged some of the assumptions of those driving the race conversation in the PCA. As a consequence of this sort of thing many have absented themselves entirely from the conversation. There are some, however, who are still willing to be treated shabbily for suggesting an alternative to that which we are allowed to think and say.
 

Samuel Sey, a brother in Christ who happens to be black wrote a courageous reflection on the state of racial reconciliation among Christians. He concludes his post by writing:

Racial reconciliation happened on the cross when Jesus reconciled Jewish and Gentile sinners to God. Racial reconciliation happened when Jesus made Jews and Gentiles, Black people and White people, and all other racial groups one in himself when he became our representative and identity on the cross. What Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. could not do for Americans, Christ did for the world 2,000 years ago. Jesus has already accomplished racial reconciliation, and it’s even better than we could have ever hoped for. Those of us who trust in him are not merely reconciled to each other, we are also reconciled to God.
 

We should hate injustice, love good, and establish justice. Like William Wilberforce and Francis J. Grimké, we must do whatever is in our capacity to establish justice. However, we must not lose sight of the gospel. Real racial reconciliation isn’t political, it’s theological. We evangelicals are already reconciled to each other in Christ. We just have to remember that and live like it.
 

Our reconciliation to each other will be perfected in Heaven when a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, stand before our Lord Jesus Christ. But until then, we must live in light of our reconciliation to each other in all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Please take time to read the entire piece HERE.
 

The Death of a Coward

We all have some memories that burn into us like a branding. It may seem random, but some moments leave an impression that will always imprint our minds. One of those for me happened at a slumber party one of the girls on my cheerleading squad hosted for us in high school. She was a better kid than me, what we would think of as the Goody Two-Shoes of the squad. She pleased everyone, never got into trouble, and was always smiling—which was a total yawn for me at the time. But, you go to these team-bonding things, and there I was in the Two-Shoes household with the squad. 

We ventured off into the basement as all teenagers do. I recall nothing about what we did there. All I remember is this branding moment. For some reason, we went into the storage room in the basement and against the wall was one of those metal muscle racks filled with Playboy magazines from floor to ceiling. I can’t remember the reactions of the other girls but I asked the question that only Captain Obvious could answer, Whose are these? This was all so outside of my reality of what a father would do that I totally would have believed the We’re holding them for a friend excuse. But Goody very matter-of-factly said they were her dad’s. I never wanted to look at her dad again. I suddenly felt reduced as a young woman.

The title Playboy says it all. It’s not for men. This dad is no real man, I thought.

And this mom, Mrs. Two Shoes—how was she going along with all this? Where was her dignity, I wondered. This open display was a public humiliation of his wife and children. And me.

What a boy does when his wife sins:

And yet that collection of magazines has nothing on what many so easily access in secret on the internet these days. I remember all the talk with the rise of Internet porn about Playboy being outdated and whether or not Hugh Hefner’s empire will survive. So it all seems kind of cliché now as everyone is talking about his recent death and the legacy he left behind.

Ashleen Menchaca-Bagnulo nails it in her excellent Public Discourse article, The Playboy Lifestyle and the Death of Complementarity. She opens sharing Hefner’s history before Playboy. A picture of virtue, at 27 he married his longtime sweetheart as a virgin who had saved himself for matrimony. Only this virtue all came crashing down when he discovers that his wife cheated on him before marriage. He describes, “I had literally saved myself for my wife, but after we had sex she told me that she’d had an affair …  My wife was more sexually experienced than I was. After that, I always felt in a sense that the other guy was in bed with us, too.”
This is the moment of integrity. Hefner did not get the reward he felt he deserved for his chastity. His reaction to this devastation of betrayal and unfaithfulness will reveal the man he really is. How does Hefner react when he doesn’t get what he wants? Well, we all know the answer: he becomes a coward who reduces women into soft bunnies, playthings that will be harmed by thousands of Lennies, only they already believe they are “living off the fatta’ the lan’.” All the Lennies buy into the dream; they can pet all the soft things they want with the right manners. And so a gentleman spin is put on vulgarity. In fact, Ben Domenech, writing for The Federalist, calls it “positively quaint” vulgarity, promoting a complementarity that the progressives of the sexual revolution deny.

This gentleman Playboy image that our culture likes to spin is all a mirage anyway, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men.” Menchaca-Bagnulo gives us a snap shot of what many of us have already heard went on in the Playboy mansion:

According to Bunnies Carla and Melissa Howe, the mansion’s male visitors “were really pervy; all the girls were fighting to run away.” Hefner was no better than his visitors. Holly Madison claims life in the Playboy mansion was “a living hell,” where Hef forcefully offered her Quaaludes. Izabella St. James said that, while very few women actually wanted to have sex with Hefner, “in his eyes it was the only way we had of showing gratitude for all that he did for us.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Jennifer Saginor, whose father was Hugh Hefner’s doctor, recalls her experience of life at the Playboy Mansion through the eyes of a female child. At a Playboy Party at the age of six, she saw John Belushi and a Playboy Bunny having sex in a Jacuzzi, a kind of decadence that was commonplace at the mansion. “It was so bizarre. If I was not seeing other people having sex, I was seeing my father walking around naked. I would see naked girls around the pool and people openly having sex in the games room. There were just no boundaries.” Unsurprisingly, she drew seriously distorted lessons about masculinity and femininity from these experiences. “I started to identify more with the guys,” she says. “The men were always presented to me as the intelligent and powerful ones, so I wanted to be more like them.”

While some are championing a nostalgic so-called complementarity that Hefner promoted between the sexes, Menchaca-Bagnulo mortifies the spin:

In his Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II writes of the “mystery of complementarity” known most profoundly in the conjugal act, in which man and woman “become one flesh . . . to rediscover, so to speak, every time and in a special way the mystery of creation.” For John Paul II, sexual complementarity is a kind of union that draws the man out of himself, compelling him to leave behind his former life and to “cleave” to his wife as the principle of his new life. The man and the woman’s desire for each other leads to the conception of new life in the form of their children. According to John Paul II, man’s sexual discovery of woman is not one of use, but one of self-giving. This is precisely the kind of self-gift that devastated Hefner when his first wife was unfaithful to him—causing him the kind of pain that only a person, and not an object, can inflict on you.

The only alternative account of human sexuality, John Paul II claims, is one in which “one of the two persons exists only as the subject of the satisfaction of the sexual need, and the other becomes exclusively the object of this satisfaction.” This is the path that Hefner inevitably leads us down.

I just want to add that although Hefner did experience the pain of betrayal by the woman he loved, his chastity before marriage was never virtuous. His own description reveals this. He couldn’t take it that his wife was more sexually experienced than he was. He was supposed to be the one to dominate in the bedroom. But she was no bunny. And his reaction was to hyper-dominate with a sex empire of women at his beck and call. Playthings for boys. Because manhood wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. What does a man do when he discovers his wife’s sin?

How this Playboy image has affected the church:

So in the Two-Shoes home, full of smiles and Goody children, the father had a mass collection of Playboys in the basement that wasn’t difficult to discover. It wasn’t even a stash under the bed. I realized in that basement that all these Goody smiles were like Bunny ears. This is what they thought they were supposed to be: happy and docile with perfect report cards. 

Most churches would never endorse Hefner’s lifestyle. We are disgusted by the sexual revolution and the damage it has done. And yet, some echo this nostalgic brand of complementarity. Menchaca-Bagnulo turns to churches promoting the same view of complementarity as Hefner, which she calls an “intellectualization of domination and dehumanization.” I’ve seen this polished, Christianized version of complementarity with all its hyper-masculine teaching for men and “complementary” femininity taught as subordination. It’s all so one-dimensional and dangerous. 

Only the church is even more mannered than Hefner, so they produce more Georges than Lennies. Many Lennies in the church have been shot to protect its image, and yet they seem to resurrect again. The Georges share sermon after sermon, article after article, retelling the story of masculine bravado, encouraging men to step up into their authoritative position of so-called godly leadership. They are encouraged to play into this stereotypical role of what they call biblical manhood. Abuse is covered up because they believe these are exceptions that tarnish their image. Women are told to consider whether they are being submissive enough and whether they are fulfilling their husbands’ needs. These women have no voice. “They cannot speak, and so can make no demands or critiques, nor can they express their own desire.” And they call this hyper-masculinity “servant-leadership.” This is not biblical headship. This is not the filter that distinguishes manhood from womanhood. This is not complementarity. This is not leadership.

Menchaca-Bagnulo says that “many women run from churches screaming,” and I would add that they run from Christianity screaming too. They found the basement and they want nothing to do with it. 

Boys in their immaturity often exercise hyper-masculinity. Grown boys who never become men put manners on it. In the church we need to call it what it is. Hyper-authoritarianism and subordination is anti-complementarity, just as much as “the act of onanism carried out to mass-distributed pictures of reified women who are deprived of voice, action, and thought.” No one is authorized to look at women or treat them this way. No one is to submit to unbiblical teachings of sexuality.

And so Menchaca-Bagnulo concludes:

Though some on the right may view Hefner as a martini-drinking gentleman surrounded by beautiful women, it is better to think of him as a coward. Instead of viewing women as persons (who are capable of deeply hurting men), Hefner’s account of human sexuality made us symbols. Rather than dealing with the challenges of the vulnerability demanded by authentic eros, Hefner hides, and he teaches American men to hide. Without question, what he left in his magazine’s pages is a history of cowardice that is irreconcilable with any healthy philosophical or theological position on sexual complementarity or masculine strength.

Let his death be an eye-opener to us all: it’s time to clean out the basement.

Robophobia

Such is the technological and moral temper of our times that a serious report with the bizarre title Our Sexual Future with Robots might scarcely raise an eyebrow in a world where the scientifically possible is fast becoming the only judge of the ethical and where celibate friendship is now the only love that dare not speak its name.

The report is notable for a number of reasons.  It is predicated throughout on the modern Reichian-Marcusan nonsense that human fulfillment is really only possible through sexual activity.  As such it is a sad commentary on the state of society.  It also contains a number of indications that, for all that the modern world has tried to make sex just a recreation, it remains stubbornly attached at its deepest and most satisfying level to real human relationships.  Thus the report speaks of how those who use escorts and massage parlors frequently want to know something about the life and background of those they pay for sex.  They want to pretend to be in a relationship even though they know they are asking somebody to ‘fake it’  for money.  That is surely fascinating.  It is an acknowledgment that the act on its own, as mere function of human physiology and with no relationship between partners, is unsatisfying.  Thus, just as prostitutes have to fake sincerity so the makers of sex robots are attempting to make their creations do the same, giving them a personal history.  Bladerunner, anyone? 

The obvious moral questions arising from these observations, i.e., “Can sex be meaningful outside of a real relationship, and, if not, how do we need to revise our contemporary orthodoxies concerning sexual activity?” are, of course, ignored in favor of the typically pragmatic, “How do we develop a technology to fake authenticity?”  We live in an age where all questions, even those touching on the deepest aspects of human existence, are considered to be susceptible to merely technical solutions. 

But the real value of the report lies not so much in its tacit acknowledgment that real sex involves real persons.  Rather it is found in its unintentional expose of the incoherence which underlies modern sexual ethics and the law: Should sex with a robot child be illegal? And is it possible to rape a robot?

Given the West’s abandonment of traditional sexual mores, the criminal status of pedophilia is built on increasingly shaky ground.  That a child cannot give consent under the law is not the unassailable argument many think it to be, for adults routinely make children do things, from brushing their teeth to attending school, for which they do not give consent.   The report ignores this complexity but does speculate as to what ‘robot consent’ might look like.  Yet notions of consent as currently understood raise questions of personal moral and intellectual competence; and robotics is a long way from producing a machine with anything approximating to such a capacity.

That sexual activity is physically or emotionally damaging to children might provide stronger grounds for pedophilia’s status as a crime, but neither apply in the case of robots.  And the notion that allowing adults to have sex with child robots might encourage them to do the same with real children would seem to rest on a logic which would then require for example the banning of violent video games in case they encourage real shootings.  

To be fair, the report tries to offer some rationale for outlawing robot pedophilia and robot rape.  It cites Kant’s argument that certain acts intrinsically dehumanize the agent, regardless of the status of the victim.  In having sex with a robot child, the perpetrator hurts no-one yet still degrades himself.  But (and here I need to insert a trigger warning: the following constitutes an act of deliberate, premeditated robophobia): Is sex with a robot, regardless of the ‘age’ of the machine, not dehumanizing in and of itself?  For pity’s sake, it’s a machine with which these people are doing the deed, not even a flesh-and-blood escort paid for sex, let alone a wife or husband to whom they are exclusively committed.   And if sexually using a robot programmed to refuse consent to sex somehow makes the agent guilty of the crime of rape, would the same principle not also make one guilty of murder for playing a violent video game or even using a target at a gun range made in the shape of a human being? 

The problem here is twofold.  We live in a world where science is raising ethical questions faster than we are able to answer them.  And, as far as sexual ethics goes, once sex is removed from its role as the seal of a lifelong monogamous commitment between a man and a woman, sexual ethics is doomed to descend into total chaos, built on the ever-shifting sands of cultural taste and selective and vague notions like ‘consent.’   The trap in which we now find ourselves was sprung long, long ago.  And, as usual, the response is not to acknowledge that we have built our sexual ethic on nonsense but to try to make technology solve the problems which it has itself first created. 

Still, when ‘robophobia’ joins the ever-increasing ranks of unforgivable hate crimes, do remember, folks, that you saw it committed here first.

The Task of Responsible Christian Communication

Last Friday morning I shuddered to see Scott Swain wasting of his brilliance in a tweet thread. I’m sure it was beneficial for the many who saw it, but I wanted more. And I was hoping for a format that wouldn’t disappear in a newsfeed in less than 24 hours. So I asked him if he would turn it into an article for a guest post here at MoS, so we can at least get a week of cyberspace out of it and a better context for search engines and quoting. He kindly obliged and I’m happy to share it with you today:

“God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power and love and σωφρονισμοῦ” (2 Tim 1:7). What is “a spirit of … σωφρονισμοῦ”? Oliver O’Donovan argues that we should not follow the standard English translations of “self-control” or “sound judgment” and instead that we should translate σωφρονισμός according to its common usage in first-century Greek, i.e., “the teaching of prudence” (BDAG). According to this translation, the person endowed with the spiritual gift of σωφρονισμός is endowed with the gift of “a certain type of speech: instruction, warning, and correction, intended to make its hearers sôphrones, i.e., intelligent and discerning agents” (O’Donovan, Entering into Rest, p. 194).

This translation seems to fit the context well. In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul encourages Timothy to fulfill his pastoral vocation—in which speech is central (see 2 Tim 4:1-5)—by stirring up the gift that was given to him through the laying on of hands. This translation also opens up interesting horizons for thinking about the task of Christian teaching and communication. If σωφρονισμός refers to “the teaching of prudence,” then the ends of Christian teaching must include the cultivation of prudence in the minds of learners.

Prudence plays a primary role in Christian moral reasoning. Prudence refers to the capacity for testing and discerning the will of the Lord in a given setting (Rom 12:1-2), for approving what is the most excellent course of action in a given situation (Phil 1:8-10). Though prudence depends upon contemplative wisdom regarding God and his ways in order to orient itself before God in the world (Rom 11:33-36), prudence is a species of practical wisdom, aimed at human action. By discerning the will of the Lord, prudence illumines a path for Christian obedience, directing us to the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10).

Paul further unpacks his understanding of σωφρονισμός in 2 Timothy 2:23-26, with specific reference to speech toward those who are outside of the Christian community: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Christian teaching and communication, according to Paul, is “not … quarrelsome but kind.” Though it corrects its opponents, it does not pick fights. Christian teaching is gentle and patient. It waits on the Spirit to do his indispensable work of leading its opponents on the path of repentance into “a knowledge of the truth.” Christian communication is “able to teach.” It is skilled at imparting prudence to its hearers. In sum, Christian teaching aims at prudential ends (the cultivation of Christian moral reasoning) by pursuing prudential means (kindness, gentleness, patience).

If the spirit of Christian teaching is a spirit of σωφρονισμός, then responsible Christian communication will involve more than “rallying the troops” to a cause. Responsible Christian communication will have little if anything to learn from the political punditry of the right or the left that floods our screens and fills our earbuds. Responsible Christian communication will commit itself to the slow but fruitful work of evangelizing outsiders and of equipping the saints to act as responsible moral agents under the kingship of the triune God. In doing so, Christian communication will manifest its union with Christ, its participation in the anointing and eloquence of “the servant of the Lord” who does not “cry aloud” or “lift up his voice … in the street” (Isa 42:2-3) but who possesses an “ear to hear as those who are taught” and therefore knows “how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isa 50:4).

All of this is important to remember in a Christian culture where being loving in our speech is sometimes reduced to being courageous in our speech. Christian speech is courageous speech, to be sure, but its courage is moderated by love of God and neighbor and therefore guided by the desire to impart the mind of Christ, which is the mind of wisdom, to those who will listen. God has not given us a spirit of fear “but of power and love and the teaching of prudence” (2 Tim 1:7).

Dr. Scott Swain is President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS Orlando.

The Reformation hits the Los Angeles Review of Books

Over at Marginalia, a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books, my old pal Bruce Gordon of Yale Divinity School has put together a panel of scholars to offer reflections on the Reformation.  Bruce’s Introduction and Joseph Koerner’s Art in a State of Siege are already available.  My contribution, on the vexed question of whether Luther is more a figure of the Middle Ages or a harbinger of modernity, will be up at some point in the next few weeks.

The NFL, President Trump, and Conservative Consistency

By Todd Pruitt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a conservative law and order sort of guy. I like the idea of giving police officers the benefit of the doubt. I like it when NFL players stand for the National Anthem.

 

But I also believe that conservatives like myself ought to be intellectually consistent. And I am seeing a lot of inconsistency. I am seeing people who warn about government control and champion free speech applying their principles in ways that seem to be contradictory.

 

The article by Jonathan Last in The Weekly Standard entitled It’s Trump vs. the NFL, And We’re All Losers is well worth your careful consideration.

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

TerKeurst’s Uninvited vs. Brownback’s Finding God in My Loneliness

By Aimee Byrd

This is a guest post from my friend, Dana Tuttle. She has recently read Lysa TerKeurst’s Uninvited and Lydia Brownback’s Finding God in My Loneliness side by side. As we were discussing the differences, I asked her to write a review for Housewife Theologian comparing the two.
 
For most of my experience as a Christian, I have sat in church alone as a single woman, as a married woman, and even as a mother. I do not feel lonely as I go about my daily routine in any of these seasons in my life until that moment when I join my fellow believers in church. Don’t get me wrong, I have been actively involved in several ministries and enjoy being apart of the weekly services, but the prick of loneliness is there, nonetheless. 
 
I look around and see several families sharing in the experience of worship together. I thought that would change when I got married, but it did not. I realize when I am there that I struggle with loneliness and that I long to share this with my own family. I see and talk to other women who share my same struggle and I know that I am not alone in my spiritual loneliness at church.
 
I asked Aimee Byrd if anyone has written about loneliness and if she could direct me to a book that would be helpful on this topic. She immediately recommended Finding God in Your Loneliness, by Lydia Brownback. However, during our talk, which also consisted of coffee, laugher, interruptions, and eclectic topics, I quickly forgot her recommendation.
 
Around the same time, my church was starting a book club, and they had chosen Uninvited, by Lysa TerKeurst to read. At first, I thought it was the book that Aimee had recommended since the book was about loneliness. I spoke with her again to refresh my memory on what she had recommended and Uninvited was not it. I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to get to know the ladies in my church, so I decided to read both at the same time and compare the two. 
 
I generally like to read several books on the same topic and was excited to take on the task of reading both books at the same time. TerKeurst is a popular female Christian author and president of Proverbs 31 ministries. As a New York Times #1 Bestseller, her book was easy to find, standing out on the bestseller shelf even at Target. Brownback is also a female Christian author and speaker, however her book was a little more difficult to find. With both books in my hand, I was eager to see what these two ladies had to say about the topic. For me, I was specifically looking for guidance with spiritual loneliness within my marriage and as I attend weekly church services. 
 
 
I don’t feel uninvited, unloved, less than, or even left out, but I do feel lonely when it comes to attending church without my family. Going into TerKeurst’s book, I was hopeful that it would touch on the situation I was facing. Within the 250 pages, I thought that there would be at least a chapter for me to glean from. 
 
The chapter titles were confusing as I searched for a straightforward statement that mentioned loneliness in marriage or church. Instead, I found chapters about “the lady at the gym who hates me” (the title of Chapter 3). TerKeurst points out that  “there are misalignments embedded in our soul” (3) and that we have a “broken identity” (12). I know enough basic doctrine to know that we are more than just misaligned and our identities aren’t the only thing that is broken. I felt as though she was not treating her reading audience as mature thinking, Christian women. This concern was solidified on page 120 where she calls us “Jesus girls.” Yes, she does get around to using the word sin, but she never gets around to discussing the deep issues in which people may feel lonely. TerKeurst keeps it safe and stays on the surface talking about the lady who ignored her or the lady who is thinner than she is. These were really the examples she was giving in every chapter. She shared an over emphasis on her poor body image and never mentions the body of Christ—the church, his bride. Instead, I was directed several times to her issue with cellulite. In Chapter 9, she discusses rejection and compares her experience to Hannah’s barrenness. Only TerKeurst’s struggle was about the lady who got the writing job instead of her, calling her “thigh gap girl.”    
 
TerKeurst’s chapters and stories were cluttered and I had a difficult time navigating through her book. She has some false teaching as well when she encourages us to “be prepared to hear new things from the Lord” (112) and to “seek your own divine revelation” through prayer and journaling  (177). Just when I was about to give up hope she did share the gospel, point me to Christ and encouraged me to read God’s word. For that I am thankful. I wish she would have invited her readers to believe the gospel and that sin plays a large part in why they are feeling “less than, left out and lonely.”
 
 
In contrast, Brownback’s book was clear and organized. Each chapter was important and led into the next one. Brownback starts right off with a true definition of why we are lonely in the introduction. “Loneliness is an indicator that something is missing, and that something is found only in Jesus Christ.” Just 14 pages in and I have hope! I was able to go straight to the chapter titled “The Loneliness of Marriage,” where she had great advice and application. She reminds us, “to view  [your husband] as a surrogate savior is to intensify our loneliness” (130). Instead, she encourages us to “lean into our heavenly Bridegroom” and “we will find what no earthly husband could ever give us” (131). 
 
In her carefully thought out chapters, Brownback addressed real issues that cause loneliness like relocating, singleness, and grief from a death or a divorce. I felt like she was writing to an audience of mature thinking Christians and I felt respected. Her book contained enriching vocabulary and intelligent thoughts. I was convicted and encouraged to repent as she touched on the sins that we may lean toward to fill in the gap of loneliness. I was pointed to Christ in every single chapter. Right from the beginning of the book, I was given hope and a remedy for my loneliness. She didn’t wait until the final chapter to fill us up with the good news. Brownback used many examples of people in scripture as examples of those who struggled with loneliness, while spurring me on towards my heavenly Groom and his kingdom!  
 
I am not sure if Lydia Brownback has cellulite or a thigh gap, but I do know that Christ is the answer to her loneliness and being in the body of believers, even though it may feel lonely at times, is the remedy.
 
 
You can listen to an MoS interview with Lydia Brownback on her book here: Is One the Loneliest Number?
 
Dana Tuttle is a housewife theologian who is obsessed with headless queens. She is a wife and the mother of 11-year-old twin boys. She daydreams about owning a pub, but is happy with her role as the crazy theme mom and scrapbooking fool. Dana is an over-achiever in Book Review Club, and can often be found hiding in her closet reading books written by dead theologians while eating the latest leftover holiday candy.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

Four Reasons Why Every Christian Should Study Psalm 110

By Aimee Byrd

Every Christian should be well acquainted with Psalm 110. I could give you way more than four reasons. As a matter of fact, Psalm 110 will help us in perseverance. Hebrews 10:23 exhorts us to persevere in the Christian faith telling us this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Doesn’t it seem strange that holding fast to a confession is key to perseverance? Building up to this verse, the writer to the Hebrews packs in a lot of theology. When studying this verse within its context of Hebrews for my book Theological Fitness, I discovered that new scholarship suggests Hebrews is a sermon letter based off of Psalm 110. I found that fascinating. Psalm 110 gives us the confession of our hope. It may be my favorite piece of Scripture. I want you to love it as much as I do, so here are some reasons why every Christian should study it.
 
Study Psalm 110…
 
 
If you want to hear God speak
 
The Christian bestsellers list shows us how badly we want to hear God speak. Isn’t that the success of Jesus Calling? We want to hear from God—today. And so Christian bookstores are full of bestselling books telling us about special words from our Lord to the authors, and how we can hear him too (or at least through them). This is what many well-intentioned believers think they need to persevere in the Christian life. But what we really need is to hold fast to our confession of hope.
 
Why don’t we let God tell us our confession of hope? This is not a mere message for one person today, but something that applies to every single one of us in every single situation. Psalm 110 begins with an amazing revelation, “The LORD said…” Here is our special word from the Lord. In his commentary on Psalm 110, Puritan Edward Reynolds elaborates, 
 
The “word of God” in Scriptures signifies his blessing, power, pleasure, ordination. “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” Matt. iv. 4. That is, by that command which the creatures have received from God to nourish by, that benediction and sanctification which maketh every creature of God good unto us, 1 Tim. iv.5. God’s saying is ever doing something; his words are operative, and carry an unction and authority along with them. (An Explication of the Hundred and Tenth Psalm, 5.)
 
And so we see this blessing and ordination again in Scripture in Matt. 3:17,  “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” None of us can speak with that kind of authority. Study Psalm 110 to hear what the Lord says.
 
 
If you want to know God’s will
 
What do you cling to when your faith is challenged? Your friends, your church attendance, your family, your quiet time, your emotions or psychological health? A prayer that you prayed? These are times in our lives when we really want to know God’s will. Psalm 110 delivers again. Here we see the covenant of redemption, God’s eternal plan, and the appointment of Christ to his office. In these poetic words we see Christ’s Kingdom, his church, his enemies, his humiliation, his exaltation, and triumph.  
 
And we see this seemingly insignificant word that is like an X-marks-the-spot on the map for us: Until→ You are here. 
 
We see where Christ is now and what he’s doing. That until can be hard to bear sometimes but in Psalm 110 we have the comfort of knowing, “He shall gather a church, and he shall confound his enemies, because for that end he hath finished and broken through all the sufferings with he was to drink of, and has lifted up his head again” (Explication, 4.).
 
 
If you want to know what all the NT writers were talking about
 
Psalm 110 is the most quoted Psalm in the New Testament. We have direct quotes in Matt. 22:44, Mk. 12:36, Luke 20: 42-43, Acts 2: 33-34, and Heb. 1:13. We have indirect references to it, saying “It is written,” in Matt. 26:64; Luke 22:69; 1 Cor. 15:25; and Heb. 5:6, 7:17, 21. Compare. Mark 14:62; 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 5:6; 8:1; 10:12, 13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22 to Psalm 110 and you will see how heavily the writers in Scripture relied on God’s words there and how he built upon them. And heck, maybe Hebrews really is a sermon-letter based on the text of Psalm 110.
 
Why? Don’t you think this must be an important Psalm worth our study?
 
 
If you want a creed as solid as David’s
 
“For this psalm is one of the clearest and most compendious prophesies of the prophecies and person and offices of Christ in the whole Old Testament, and so full of fundamental truth, that I shall not shun to call it David’s creed.” (Explication, 2.) 
 
There you have it. In seven verses, we have David’s creed, David’s confession of hope—one that we too can hold fast to. As a matter of fact, Reynolds pulls 14 confessions out of these 7 verses: the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation of Christ, the sufferings of Christ, Christ’s completed work and resurrection, ascension and intercession, a holy catholic church and communion of the saints, the last judgment and day of his wrath, the remission of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
 
I was honored to teach a Sunday school class on those 14 confessions from David’s creed. You may ask, why would the writer to the Hebrews exhort us to persevere in the Christian life of faith and obedience by holding onto a confession? Christianity is a historical faith that has content. There are certain elements to our confession that would devastate our faith if they were not true. As Paul demonstrates in 1 Cor. 15, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’” (33). Hope is not the same as wishful thinking; it is built on truth. Jesus is Lord in his person and in his work. That is something that we can hold fast to. And he indeed holds fast to us as our anchor, interceding on our behalf as he is seated at the right hand of the Father.
 
Psalm 110:
 
The LORD says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand, 
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
 
The LORD sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power, 
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind
“You are a priest forever
in the order of Melchizedek.”
 
The LORD is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.