How Much Should a Drunk Teenage Boy Be Held Accountable for His Behavior?

By Aimee Byrd

 
I am ashamed of my 17-year-old behavior. By God’s grace I have matured into a 42-year-old with a godly understanding of holiness and identity. By God’s grace, I have repented of my wayward behavior and his righteousness has covered me and the sanctifying work of his Spirit is transforming me more and more into the likeness of Christ. That doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for my actions.
 
Criminal behavior certainly has consequences—especially criminal behavior of the nature of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outspoken people are taking sides commenting about whether or not these allegations are true. That isn’t what I want to address. What I am shocked over is what I am seeing regarding whether or not it even matters now, even it is true. I would agree with Rachael Denhollander’s assessment that a “morally repugnant felony should be on the list of qualifications for leaders holding some of the highest offices in the land. So let’s evaluate these allegations.”
The court of Twitter is all over this. I’ve tried to stay out of online political conversations. But it gets extremely disheartening to see more and more comments like this from people whom I’d otherwise respect:
 
 
I’ve seen and heard this sentiment a lot over the last couple of days—by Christians. I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old daughter. And I hate the message this kind of reaction sends to them—boys will be boys. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I hope you aren’t the one in their path when they get that sexual urge and want to have a little fun. Oh, and by the way, if you speak up about it, you are going to be ruining their lives. I also hate the message it sends to my 13-year-old son—look, you’re a guy and sometimes you just can’t control yourself. And if you’re drinking, then it’s not really even you. I mean, 17-year-old you isn’t really the you who you are going to be anyway. You have an excuse. 
 
I grew up in a family that was obsessed with self-defense. So I received some training that many children did not. There’s a self-defense mentality that goes along with the physical training. That’s no guarantee against assault. I still could have been shoved into a bedroom, powerless against two older strong young men. And there are more instances in my life than I can count where I was assaulted by what would be considered a lesser charge, a misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature. Women and teenage girls often do not speak up when this happens, because it’s often received as “no big deal.” We are just supposed to take it. Well, that is not the mentality I was taught. And yet the consequences of doing something about it are often just as demeaning, or could even be dangerous. 
 
One time this escalated for me in a traumatizing way. I was 18 years old at a crowded party in college. I felt someone grab my backside. I turned around and saw that it was a tall guy with a proud smile on his face, beaming while all his friends are laughing that he did it and that he got caught. My response was something like, “What is your problem?” and he acted like it was there for the taking. I warned him not to do it again. He did it again. It was even more humiliating the second time, as he clearly was enjoying the attention this was bringing him from all his buds. I warned him again and the look on his face communicated, “What are you going to do about it?” So I said, “If you do it again, I will have to defend myself.” 
 
Here is where a million scenarios run through your head because you know he’s going to do it again. There is a sense of powerlessness. He’s going to do it because he can. I should just get my friends to leave the party with me. But, a) I don’t know if I could talk them into leaving, and b) that might be even less safe if he and his friends followed us out. Maybe I can just move further away from these guys. Too late, he did it again, before I even had time to move. Those scenarios never had the time to play out because I literally just turned back away from him and towards my girlfriends. And without even processing what I was going to do, I defended my honor and I spun around with a right hook that nailed him in the chin and caused him to fall flat to the floor.
 
Doesn’t that sound so empowering? 
 
Well, it wasn’t. It’s not like he was just going to take it and move on, (you know,  like I was supposed to do when he assaulted me). Everyone was now looking. He was just clocked by a girl. Immediately he yelled, “what the hell is your problem, bitch?!” I was portrayed as a hysterical “B” as he continued to berate me. Things could have gone from bad to worse here. Maybe I could knock him down when he wasn’t expecting it, but now I’m standing there with his whole group of buddies who could have all tore me up. Thankfully, my friends sought out the person whose house it was, and he was a stand up guy. I really was at the mercy of this guy’s judgment. Did it matter that I was being continually groped in his house, or was I being hysterical? He said it mattered. He kicked out the perpetrator and his friends. With that, he sent a message to everyone watching. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It was such a vulnerable moment in my life.
 
Now this was a much smaller offense than what Ford is accusing Kavanaugh of. It’s not the kind of offense, even if charged, that would affect his career at 53. But it is still seared into my mind at 43. I wish 18-year-old me didn’t go to parties. But I am grateful that the young man who threw the party thought what was done to me mattered. In this situation, we probably had a drunk teenager telling another drunk teenager that he crossed the line. Not only that, he assured me that I would not have to endure the humiliation of dealing with that guy any more in his home. He made him and his friends leave his house. 
 
I wasn’t shoved into a room and pinned on the bed while someone stronger and older than me tried to rip off my clothes, laughing while grinding himself on me and grabbing me. My mouth wasn’t covered so that I could not call for help. I was a little scared for my safety, but I wasn’t in a position where it was very likely two guys would rape me if I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have to lock myself in a bathroom terrified, wondering if I could escape. I didn’t have to run out of the house and then decide whether or not I would ever tell anyone. For now these are all public accusations that have not gone through due process. But they are very serious ones. The way we respond matters. Our teenagers are watching.
 
If my daughters were ever assaulted—even by drunk teenage boys—I would hope that the message that we have continually sent them is that it matters. I would want them to know that they can speak up and that we would be their advocates. I would hope that no matter where they were, there would be other decent people who also know that it matters. I expect, and train, all of my children to be one of those decent people if they have the chance.
 
The thing is, this doesn’t just happen to teenagers at parties. These teenagers grow up internalizing the messages they have been receiving all around them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo testimonies have revealed the consequences. I’ve kept this particular misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature and others to myself because I didn’t want my personal history posted on social media. But I have brought it up twice in conversation with others this week regarding the Kavanaugh accusations precisely because they weren’t talking about whether or not they were true. They were talking about whether or not it even matters. “That’s just the way things were” or “why are we surprised that a teenage boy tried to make a move on a girl at a party”? It doesn’t matter; they were teenagers. “We were stupid teenagers too. By God’s grace we aren’t like that anymore.” How long are we going to continue to downplay abuse?
 
My question is (besides the obvious one regarding whether you’ve committed a felony sexual assault as Kavanaugh is being accused), has God’s grace matured us merely to have better adult behavior or to also care about all who are made in his image?

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The Real Housewives of the Ancient World

By Aimee Byrd

My last article lamented the lack of published evangelical Christian female academics, as well as the gulf that we have between academia and ordinary layperson. I incorporate the work of different female academics in my own work, and often highlight them on the blog. Here are some I have featured before:
 
Christine Pohl, here and here
Michelle Lee-Barnewall, here and here
Sara Moslener, here and here
 
Today I want to briefly introduce Linda Cohick’s, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. What I really appreciate about this book is that her work offers a comprehensive picture of women during this time, especially due to what I call the “in between the lines” research she offers. 
 
History has taught us about the extreme subjugation of women in Greco-Roman patriarchal culture. Likewise, we see the accepted opinions of the Jewish rabbis in the first century recorded in the Mishnah, such as the popular Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a). We know that the typical way things were set up was that the domestic sphere was the realm of the women, while the men were able to take the reins in the social sphere, conducting business and interactions outside of the home. 
 
And yet one of my biggest observations about Cohick’s book is how history teaches us that some things do not change—in between the lines history, that is. While we are more aware of what the literary documents and their attached ideologies and agendas say, Cohick couples this research with some of her own, looking at epigraphic, inscriptional, and archaeological remains to paint a fuller picture of the life of women during the time of the early church. And we see that in between the lines of the polemical work and ideologies, women are filling in with everyday contributions: relationally, vocationally, and even theologically. 
 
Cohick opens with her intentions for writing:
 
I do not intend to present here a theological argument that debates important issues concerning women in the contemporary church. Rather than make theological assessments about women’s ordination, for example—I leave that to church polity makers—my more modest intention is to provide and engaging and accurate reconstruction of ancient women’s way of life. (21)
 
One of the biggest themes in the book is that status trumps gender. So as Cohick gives us a thorough look at all the different vocations for women as daughters, wives, concubines, mothers, and in both gentile and Jewish religious activities, she examines the difference wealth and status make, also looking at the common life in slavery and prostitution, on one end, and benefactors and the institution of patronage, on the other. It is a fascinating study in which the reader sees how “Greco-Roman culture and Early Judaism were deeply penetrated by layers of social status. Not only legal categories of free, freed, and slave, but also relative wealth and pursuit of honor played major roles in determining the choices available to women. Thus a survey of women’s lives in the Greco-Roman world must consider issues of gender, class, status, and ethnicity to fully appreciate how women negotiated their local worlds” (22). This is just as true today. Whatever cultural codes and ideologies we live in, both secular and religious, there is often a much more complex story of life being lived in between the lines.
 
The book begins with the grim start for the less-desired births of Greco-Roman females, whose lives were in the hands of their father’s decision, often resulting in infanticide or abandonment. Abandoned baby girls were sometimes taken by other families and raised as slaves and/or prostitutes. The accepted daughter would be raised in her own family under the patriarchal expectations of the time, where she could be “both beloved by her family, and is a cause of great anxiety” (64). 
 
But the book ends with another picture that demonstrates how wealth and status can elevate a woman as a female benefactor who would “have a voice and an authoritative role in the community, granted to them without consideration of gender”:
 
For all its faults (noted by ancients themselves), the institution of patronage was in many respects gender-blind. As such, it allowed freedom of movement at most social levels for women to participate in the social, economic, and political environment without any cultural condemnation. Thus, while a woman might otherwise be stigmatized for speaking or acting publicly on economic, religious, or political matters, a patroness had liberty to exercise her ideas and interests with society’s blessings. (320)
 
This provides a clarifying lens as Cohick discusses Joanna (somewhat building off of Bauckham’s fascinating chapter in Gospel Woman, proposing Joanna and Junia the apostle may be the same person, Junia being the Latin name of the Hebrew, Joanna), Lydia, Phoebe, and Mary Magdalene. Her work on Paul’s embracing of reciprocity as the key aspect of patronage was God glorifying, fascinating, and enlightening. In Paul fashion, he turns the cultural model right-side-up, so that we see God as the “ultimate Patron, and all Christians as his clients. Thus to place himself in the socially inferior role of a client to the Romans is not threatening, for he is also on a mission for God, which counterbalances the social equation. So too with Phoebe—her benefaction does imply her socially superior status. But her role as emissary (deacon) for Paul and the church at Cenchreae mitigates the harshness of the asymmetrical relationship” (307).
 
Critically speaking, there were points of speculation, admittedly by the author; but all good, critical historians have to use their imaginations. Also, there were sections where it seemed Cohick painted a positive picture from in between the lines that were more exceptional discoveries than descriptions of life for everyday women. But her work has certainly expanded the view of women during the time of the early church and shows “rural women worked alongside men in caring for their animals, building their homes, and feeding their families” and that “slave women did all manner of work required in the home and in the market place; many worked as prostitutes.” She certainly does not “suggest an egalitarian paradise during the Greco-Roman period,” and succeeds in “encourage[ing] the reader’s imagination to think beyond the stylized snapshots of ancient women sequestered in cramped homes, barefoot and pregnant.” This line captures her work well:
 
I am not sanguine enough to think that we can recover women’s actual voices, but I remain confident that echoes of their heartaches and successes are recoverable. (324)
 
This is a historic, academic work, and therefore takes a bit more reading skill for that genre. It’s probably not going to go over well as the next suggestion for book club. But I highly recommend it for the informed reader who wants to dig deeper into the culture of the early church. And I plan to incorporate Cohick’s research into some of my own work as I try to bridge that gulf between the curious ordinary Christian reader in the pews and the academic life. 

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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.

The Trickle Down Effect

By Aimee Byrd

 
I had the pleasure of being treated to lunch yesterday by a friend I haven’t seen in three years. We were struggling in one sense, as we wanted to hear about each other’s family, but had limited time and the conversation quickly steered to theological discoveries, which provoked more questions. My friend just completed seminary and is now diving deeper into Greek and Hebrew languages.  She mentioned how she longed to see more women encouraged to go to seminary and learn at that level. She had the opportunity to attend with her husband, and with her kids being older, was able to take advantage of that. One thing that she is painfully noticing is the lack of published female academics that she can use as resources for her papers. This took our discussion down many rabbit trails—ones with all kinds of rich landscape as well as painful recognition of brick walls and neglected terrain. We talked about what women can do after seminary, where and what they can teach, how the church is missing out when she doesn’t hear from half it’s members, and whether published women get read. I think a whole series of books could be written on these topics. But I’d like to comment further on another related trail we went down.
 
Our passion is for the church, and we lamented the fact that we live in a day when all kinds of resources are available to both men and women, and yet there is a large gulf between the academy and the layperson. I’m not an academic. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and art. And yet, I can benefit from the works of contemporary professors and other academics, as well as rich theological works from over a thousand years ago. But many laypeople do not take advantage of this, as there is such a gulf between popular level books that we are conditioned to read, and the well, sometimes painfully boring and abstract writing found in academic works. Even so, I have found plenty of engaging academic authors while also doing the work of sifting for gold in the less-engaging ones.
 
Sure, these authors need to write with precision, and their works are called academic for a reason. But there comes a time when we need to ask the question about the purpose of it all—is it for theological academics to always be talking to themselves? Sometimes, even often, yes, that is a good thing. Likewise, we expect medical doctors to talk in their language, and their exclusive academic studies and dialogues make advancements in the field that help us all. But the end game is to help patients and to provide preventative care for them. Medical doctors especially want to educate all the common folk in healthy living. 
 
This is the same with theology. There needs to be a place for academics to talk to themselves, but the point is for the trickle down from the academy into the church, right? Seminaries train pastors, authors, and many other leaders that are supposed to be investing in the church. Laypeople first get to receive the proclamation of the Word and the sacraments as our foundation for discipleship in the church. But this receiving comes with a responsibility. All of God’s people are responsible to be active traditioners of the faith. Learners become teachers, even if it is in an informal context.
 
In their book, The Pastor Theologian, authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson lament that with the rise of the academy, theologians and intellectuals tend to find their home in that atmosphere. They warn of a theology that has become ecclesially anemic, and of the church becoming theologically anemic. Timothy George opens the Foreword of the book with a quote from William Ames, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (7). This is not a mere intellectual quest. It shapes our everyday lives and it is an eternal matter. Hiestand and Wilson discuss the need for pastor theologians leading way for the church to close the gap. This is important. I also think that we need more academic writers and teachers, men and women, working with pastors and informed laypeople to stimulate the trickle down of rich theology. 
 
Speaking as a woman, it is a devastating failure for the church to see that the most popular Christian woman authors being read by laypeople, and even in women’s ministry groups, are often conditioning women in poor reading skills, terrible hermeneutics, and theological error. Is this the real trickle down effect? It’s easy for the more theologically minded to turn up our noses and to point out everything that is wrong with these authors. But it’s much more difficult to do the work to close the gap. 
 
This is the less-marketable atmosphere in which I have been trying to wade in. It’s a tough spot to navigate through. It’s even tougher to work in circles that supposedly promote complementarity between the sexes, and then keep women from contributing as conversation partners at the theological table, from speaking at coed conferences, or just don’t encourage them in higher theological learning and publication. Why are all of the women publishing good academic works egalitarian? And why are complementarians warned that it’s dangerous to read them? Do we sound off alarms like this when it comes to other secondary doctrinal differences? These brick walls and neglected terrains are especially troubling when we look at the women with profound theological contributions in Scripture. In his book, Jesus Becoming Jesus, Thomas Weinandy points out that “Elizabeth could be the first Doctor of the Church”, as she “is the first to profess, by her words and actions, both the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity.” Luke chooses to use the words of both Elizabeth and Mary to teach us rich theology. Elizabeth was able to speak profound theology in an incredibly memorable and fascinating greeting. And Mary showcases the Lord’s glory in doxology. Weinandy continues, “another woman, Mary Magdalene, will first proclaim that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, is the risen Lord of glory” (25). Our richest doctrines of the faith were first proclaimed by women.
 
Paul calls many women co-laborers, naming four who “worked very hard” for the church in Rome (Romans 16:6, 12). This is how he describes his own ministry work in other contexts. We see that when Paul is led by the Spirit to Macedonia to preach the gospel, he finds a group of God-fearing women. He doesn’t ask where the men are; he evangelizes them and then plants the Philippian church with Lydia. Jesus invests in a Samaritan woman and she evangelizes a whole town. Wife and husband team, Priscilla and Aquila, pull Apollos aside for a little informal seminary-level training. These are but a few examples of men and women working together to evangelize and disciple with serious theology that transforms everyday lives—men and women closing the gap between the elite/educated and the common layperson to the glory of God.
 
We have the same Spirit now. And we live in a time where women have more rights and opportunities than ever. But how are things trickling down? Should women be doing less for the church now than they did in the first century? Should we be satisfied with being separated in our own ministries with unequipped teachers? Do we no longer belong in the world of rich, theological teaching that benefits the whole church? Shouldn’t we be an important part in closing the gap today?

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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.

One Reason Men and Women Can’t Be Friends: We Don’t View Each Other Holistically

By Aimee Byrd

Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety. 
 
Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes. 
 
Do ordinary acts of kindness and business give you anxiety? Have you been reluctant to introduce someone of the other sex as your friend? Even in something as simple as a conversation with someone of the other sex, there seem to be too many ambiguous factors. Am I holding eye contact too long? Oh no, I just laughed at his joke—is someone going to think I’m flirting? Is my body language sending the wrong signals? These can be noble questions in certain situations. However, if we view one another more holistically, they don’t have to be a common anxiety. 
 
Distinction without Reduction 
 
There are plenty of distinctions between men and women, and cross-sex friendships are different from same-sex ones. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t true! But distinctions are special qualities, and we should never be reductive about them. When we reduce others because of their physical assets or on the basis of ideas we’ve received from cultural expectations, we fall into objectifying or stereotyping men and women who are made in the image of God. 
 
A healthy dynamic between men and women engages the whole person. In my family, I was raised with a proper understanding of distinction between the sexes without reduction. Having a brother helped me to understand an aspect of my own sisterhood and femininity that was distinct from what I learned about my sisterhood and femininity in my relationship with my sister. In all my family relationships, I had a sense that my mind, body, and soul were valued, and I thrived. 
 
Society’s message, however, is for both sexes to follow our baser instincts. When Harry Met Sally is the cultural icon of this mindset—Harry representing every man, and Sally every woman. Sex is the endgame of all Harry’s friendships with women: he pursues friendship in order to get sex, or he dismisses women whom he isn’t interested in sexually pursuing, which is equally demeaning. When Harry tells Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the “sex part always gets in the way,” we Sallies read between the lines. Our holistic personhood is not valued—friendship is merely a conduit to sex. Man’s baser instinct overshadows anything else that matters. Savvy Sallies may as well accept the facts and maximize on this outlook by using their sexual appeal to get what they want. Reduced to objects of physical pleasure and consumption, women become a commodity. 
 
Harry Burns isn’t the only one to blame. Decades before When Harry Met Sally came out, Sigmund Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire— to our genitals—meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. That sounds jarring and crude, but it is in our history, so we need to talk about it. Freud’s psychology still affects the thinking of our postmodern age. His explanation of maturity revolves around which psychosexual stage we’ve reached in life. These are genitally-oriented stages showcasing a male superiority, in which females go through an anxious stage of penis envy before reaching mature sexual identity. This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification.
 
The church has accepted and semi-sanctified these reductive views: sexuality is good for landing a spouse, but it’s a barrier to friendship because men and women can’t possibly just enjoy each other’s company. We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire. That means that all intellectual, creative, entertaining, or conversational enjoyment with someone of the other sex needs to be fulfilled by our spouses. That’s an awfully heavy load for one person to bear! 
 
Harry Burns isn’t interested in friendship with women because he can’t look at them as friends. The wider evangelical mindset doesn’t quite put it that way. Acts of friendship are viewed as “unnecessary temptation.” (What falls under the purview of necessary temptation, one wonders.) As one person responded to me, saying and doing are two different things. Saying that we should resist our sinful, base instincts and pursue pure friendships no matter the gender is a “‘good preaching but hard living’ bit of church-talk that isn’t especially helpful.” Sure, we’re told, friendship is biblical and sounds good, but it isn’t necessary and isn’t worth the trouble of fighting the sin in my own heart. Your body is a threat to me, and I must protect myself from you. 
Of course, this is pitched as an act of protection for both parties. Men and women are reduced to a temptation and a danger to each other. Acts of friendship are all suspect; therefore it feels much safer for us all to keep them taboo. 
 
But if friendship doesn’t matter, then a lot of other parts of our design don’t matter either. Viewing one another holistically means we will consider all our faculties that reflect the image of God—our minds, bodies, wills, emotions, and souls. All these need to be rightly ordered toward God in communion with him, because they all matter. 
 
*This is an excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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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.

One Friendship Doesn’t Diminish Another (Or Your Marriage)

By Aimee Byrd

Part of the beauty of friendship is that one friend can’t possibly be adequate to share every discovery and experience with us. Having another lover would dishonor and diminish a marriage, but additional friends actually enhance the friendships that we already have. God has fashioned friendship in such a way that we can learn different facets about one friend from another (see C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 61). 
 
For example, my elder Dave Myers has a shared interest with me in friendship between the sexes, since his roles as a Christian counselor and a church elder deal with relationships. We had many fruitful conversations on this topic as he read my manuscript and offered his insights. But my husband’s friendship with Dave through their service in the church shows a different side of Dave to me. Additionally, we look up to Dave and his wife, Dawn, for encouragement and advice in parenting, as all their kids are grown. My friendship with his wife has taught me more about Dave’s history and faithfulness. And, through his friendship with someone else at the church, I’ve learned that Dave is quite the jokester. Dave’s many friends, and his exclusive relationship with his wife, boost my own friendship with him because they enhance his many qualities. I get to know more of Dave through other friends. Likewise, his and Dawn’s many friends do not take away from their marriage but enrich it. 
At the same time, we have a greater natural affection toward some brothers and sisters in God’s household than toward others. While Scripture directs us to act in loving service toward all our siblings, we enjoy investing extra time with some of them, sharing joys, struggles, interests, and counsel more deeply. Some we will hold as closer friends. This isn’t something to feel guilty about; Jesus himself had closer relationships with certain men and women than with others. It’s impossible to be “close” with everyone, so enjoying deeper friendship with a few brothers and sisters is a gift. And these closer sibling relationships should benefit our godly marriages, not the reverse. 
 
This is not only a warning for male-female relationships. I have seen numerous situations in which a husband is out with the guys so much that his wife is feeling neglected, or a husband is hurt by his wife’s excitement for talking and hanging out with her best friend, while she lacks interest in him. Friends and siblings should never come in between a marriage unless abuse, addiction, or adultery calls for advocates to step in. 
 
This is especially true with male-female relationships. I would never want another wife to feel threatened by my friendship with her husband. I would never want to step into their exclusive inner circle—not just physically, but emotionally as well. My aim for my brothers in Christ is that my friendship with them would encourage them to love their wives even more, and I expect the same from my brothers with whom I invest my own time in friendship. Friendship is not exclusive like marriage is, so there is no need to behave as if it were. Marriage is exclusive, and therefore we should care for it in that way. 
 
Exclusivity in a marriage relationship does not mean that our spouses will fulfill all our relationship needs. While Matt and I have a lot in common and enjoy doing many things together, there are areas in which we are not as compatible, and we are both happy that we have numerous other people in our lives, both single and married, with whom we can still grow and can share those separate interests. Or sometimes I need the kind of conversation that I can get only with another sister, as wonderful as my husband is to talk to. While my husband is the only one I look to for romantic affection, it is unfair of me to look to him alone to fulfill all my social, emotional, and intellectual needs. We need good friends. That’s why God has given us brothers and sisters as well. 
 
Matt and I share most of our friends in common. I am thankful that my sisters and brothers in Christ spur Matt on in his love for me— whether through razzing him, encouraging him, or praising him. That’s what siblings do! They look at us not as singles but as two people joined together in the covenant of marriage. Likewise, we honor our marriage by speaking well of each other to our friends. We want to build each other up to our siblings, and our siblings reciprocate the respect we have for each other. Matt and I do a good bit of socializing in groups and sometimes double-dating. We also open our home to friends often. So our brothers and sisters are familiar with more than just whichever one of us they may feel closer to; they are familiar with our marriage dynamic as well. 
 
Friendship welcomes others into our circle who share our convictions. This is particularly special in the context of spiritual friendship, as Lewis points out, highlighting the joy of adding others into friendship while we all reflect Christ in different ways. “In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God” (The Four Loves, 62).  Additional friends do not diminish our existing friendships. Rather, we get to know more of Christ through our various Christian friends. 
 
*Excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends, p. 100-103.

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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.

The Plus Factor

By Aimee Byrd

Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man  (Tosephta, Ber. 7,18; Talmud, pBer 13b; bMen 43b.)
 
This was a popular prayer attributed to the first century rabbi, Eliezer, during the time after the Mishnah but before the Talmud. This was over a thousand years after Ruth, a book that exposes the cultural backdrop of Patriarchy while pointing to God’s great, active, faithful love for his people. I picked up Carolyn Custis James’ little book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, and it was so good that is led me to read her longer book, The Gospel of Ruth. I highly recommend both to you and I’m going to quote from them extensively here so that you get James in her own words. 
 
In Finding God in the Margins, James presents the book of Ruth as a Critique Against Patriarchy, explaining, “Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (FGITM, 10). We get to read most Ruth from the woman’s perspective as “the book gives us the saga of two women on their own in a patriarchal culture. The narrator tracks their amazing struggle to survive against all odds in the workplace, the community of God’s people, and the legal system” (The Gospel of Ruth, 28). And if you want an amazing example of “biblical manhood” look no further than Boaz, who “in response to Ruth’s initiatives, will subvert the very patriarchal mores that most benefit him as a man. Instead, he will sacrificially employ those benefits and privileges to empower Ruth and to benefit Naomi. In the process, he will put on display Jesus’ kingdom brand of manhood that is desperately needed in today’s world” (FGITM, 10-11).
 
“The book of Ruth turns a spotlight on the plight of women in the world for the whole church to learn” (FGITM, 22). And the incredible faith of a Moabite woman works actively to fulfill the vow she made to her mother-in-law, against all odds. In the end we see, “It takes an outsider like Ruth” to “combine two laws and expand their reach, “ with a “single, innovative sentence”—“Spread the corner of your garment over me for you are a go’el of our family”—she “merged the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws—property and progeny. She was asking Boaz to purchase Elimelech’s land and to father a son to become Elimelech’s heir and the eventual owner of his land” (FGITM, 75). It’s truly an amazing story of God’s love. 
 
“The book of Ruth puts God’s hesed on display. We will learn among with Naomi that God’s hesed love is indiscriminate, unearned, and persistent. YHWH’s hesed will reach Naomi through the selfless and relentless commitment of Ruth to fight for her, and Boaz will join Ruth in this effort. Events in the field of Boaz this day will give Naomi fresh insight in YHWH’s hesed. What she learns is indispensible to us—because so often we struggle to put suffering and God’s hesed together in our own stories” (FGITM, 51). This Hebrew word, hesed, which is used three times in Ruth, gets lost in translation, as James says, because we just don’t have an English word good enough to describe it:
 
Hesed is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has the right to ask or expect. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately Naomi too” (FGITM, 51). “Hesed transforms legality into sacrificial love, gives life amid despair, and draws one deeper into the heart of YHWH” (FGITM, 79).
 
There is a beautiful picture of this with Ruth, a vulnerable Moabite woman, on Day One of her using “the ancient welfare system” as a gleaner on a wealthy Israelite’s field. She challenges the letter of the law put in place to help widows like her and Naomi by making the bold request to glean in a more productive area among the harvesters (Ruth 2:7). Her brave request shows her hesed love for Naomi and presses Boaz to a “higher level of obedience…and understanding of God’s law. The letter of the law says, ‘Let them glean.’ The spirit of the law says, ‘Feed them.” Two entirely different concepts. Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference” (TGR, 102).
 
How does Boaz respond? He isn’t threatened by Ruth. And he doesn’t ignore her. “This powerhouse of a man, this native-born Israelite who grew up on Mosaic law, listens to this newcomer’s request, learns from her, and throws his power behind her effort” (FGITM, 58). Ruth’s initiative and strength spur Boaz to be a better man, and he too shows God’s hesed. At mealtime that day, he does something amazing. James calls it the plus factor. “He invites Ruth to join his table and share a meal with his workers. When she does, Boaz serves her himself, heaping more roasted grain for her than she can possibly eat” (TGR, 104). He treats her as one of the best employees rather than a gleaner on welfare. In this “powerful gospel scene,” we see the opposite of the prayer of the Rabbi Eliezer: 
 
A gleaner seated alongside paid workers, a Moabitess “dining” with Israelites, a man serving a woman, the poor included among the rich, an outsider embraced by the inner circle. Looks like the kind of feasting Jesus would have enjoyed, a prefiguring of the kind of world his gospel restores, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28). Ruth was on the losing end of all three categories, but Boaz refuses to maintain those boundaries. Ruth embraced God’s people sight unseen on the road from Moab. Now they are embracing her. (TGR, 104-105)
 
While we don’t share the extreme reductive views of women as the patriarchs in Ruth’s day, or the rabbi contemporaries of Jesus, this book of the Bible gives us a picture of manhood and womanhood that is radically different than we see in much of contemporary evangelical teaching. “Ruth herself becomes a powerful catalyst for change. God gave us Ruth…to remind us that courage, boldness, and godly leadership are important feminine attributes when it comes to living for God” (TGR, 105). Boaz recognizes this and grows in response. In this scene, we see the plus factor at work. He serves her a meal, and instructs his workers not only to permit her to glean with the harvesters, but to leave extra stalks for Ruth to pick up. He commands them not to touch, rebuke, or embarrass Ruth (2:9, 15-16). James points out that Boaz’s response is not only to permit, but also to promote. And he makes sure that his workers do the same. Hesed. “The story puts on display a brand of masculinity that is desperately needed in a world awash in changes today that strike at the core of masculine identity and leave so many men adrift without a sense of meaning and purpose…the book of Ruth puts on display a radical, not-of-this-world brand of masculinity that foreshadows the masculinity Jesus embodied” (FGITM, 84).  
 
I know some in Reformed circles might write off James, as she doesn’t fit into the CBMW complementarian box. As a matter of fact, they gave The Gospel of Ruth a negative review, concluding that it was not good news after all. (Ironically, this same journal—Fall 2008 – Volume XIII, Issue 2—showcases an EFS study by Bruce Ware titled, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead.”) I urge you to read these books for yourself. I especially think it beneficial for pastors to glean from James’ work on Ruth. Complementarians may be challenged by the spirit of the law, and see where they have added to the letter of it—the minus factor.
 
Praised be to God that he has created me his daughter in Christ. Praised be to God that he has placed me in his household among my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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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.

Will the Real Potiphar’s Wife Please Stand?

By Aimee Byrd

“We should be friends,” quoth Potiphar’s wife;
but Joseph turned, and ran for his life.
“Avoidance is not purity!,”
she cried; but he ignored her plea.
 
One example from Scripture that I often hear to support the Mike Pence or Billy Graham Rule is Potiphar’s wife. I’ve heard, “If Joseph followed the Mike Pence Rule, he would never have gotten himself in this trouble.” He is also used as a warning for men not to trust women’s accusations of sexual abuse. But I have to say, I was quite surprised when someone directed me to Eric Hutchinson’s jab at my upcoming book, on Mere Orthodoxy of all places, in the form of an “Ode on the Pence Rule.” It opens with the above quote.
 
This first stanza compares me to Potiphar’s wife, using the title and subtitle of my upcoming book as her words. That is quite a caricaturization! I am to be equated with a seductress sexual predator. And so is the idea of friendship. Hutchinson introduces the piece with a quote: “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?”–King Solomon. I’m unsure: am I the fire in the bosom, or is friendship?  
 
I know that Hutchinson is taking some poetic license here with the point he is trying to make, but I am flummoxed at the portrayal of this biblical account and the straw man that he sets up in which to warn others about my book. First, let me affirm that there are both male and female sexual predators out there, and that we are all to use discernment and wisdom in our relationships. Pushing back against the Pence Rule does not mean that we throw caution and common sense out the window.
 
The first half of my book addresses all the reasons that men and women cannot be friends: we’re letting the wrong voices tell us who we are (no, I’m not Potipher’s wife!), we don’t view each other holistically, we don’t know our mission, we misunderstand the nature of purity, we’re immature and fearful, we’ve forgotten what friendship really is, and we’ve overlooked our biblical status as brothers and sisters. These are all reasons that would hinder any possibility of friendship. For example, if a man could only see me as a sexual temptress who may harm his reputation, then he obviously isn’t a friend and it would be unwise of me to pretend so. You can’t be friends with everyone. 
 
Hutchinson is right that you can’t be friends with Potipher’s wife. But we all know that is not what she was suggesting. This account found in Genesis 39 is not about friendship or men and women setting up boundaries. It’s about God’s sovereignty and his faithfulness to his promises to Joseph as we see this pattern of humiliation and exaltation in his life. We see that God is with Joseph, even as he is sold into slavery. We see the divine providence of an aristocrat acquiring him, finding favor in him, and setting him over his household. Interestingly, Scripture adds the line, “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome” (Gen. 39:6). We barely ever see a male described this way in Scripture. Women may lean in a little here because we know the tension of being described this way in the work place. It makes you a target in these kinds of stories. We know where it’s going.
 
And so as Moses sets up the reader, the very next line describes Potiphar’s wife’s lustful desire to have sex with Joseph. Bruce Walke quotes an insightful line from Sarna, “’She, the mistress of the house, is a slave to her lust for her husband’s slave!’” (520). The reader is not thinking about the possibility of friendship here. It’s pure lust, plain and simple.
 
And, Joseph could not just avoid her. He had to do his job. He is her husband’s slave! I’m sure he avoided her as much as he could. But he was in a situation where he had to endure the harassment. He even tries reasoning with her, that he would never “do this immense evil” of a sex act with her to his boss or as a sin against God. Joseph is virtuous even as she continues to harass him. And when she finally gets him alone, as predators have a way of conniving, he shows integrity. This is like #MeToo in reverse. Yes, men and women can both be sexual harassers and predators. But as we see in this account, usually the consequences are different. A similar situation ends differently for Bathsheba. 
 
Joseph seems to have a bit of bad juju when it comes to coats. Potiphar’s wife aggressively grabs his outer garment, trying to force herself on him. But Joseph is stronger and he flees this attack, leaving his garment behind. This is when she cunningly works out the scheme to turn the tables on Joseph as the attacker. Men like to point to Potiphar’s wife as the object lesson for the Pence Rule to teach potential leaders about women who make false charges. Yes, that does happen. And it is ungodly and very bad. But that isn’t the thrust of the text: avoid women because you never know when they are going to pull false charges on you. 
 
Waltke rightly points to the theme that God is with Joseph, and that “Joseph must trust God even in the face of unjust treatment. He is learning to put aside cloaks, trusting the Lord to clothe him with dignity and honor” (522). And unlike the many exploitations that we read about in #MeToo stories, “his refusal of Potiphar’s wife’s advances entails that he does not take advantage of his superior physique to dispossess his master but rather accepts his God-given social standing as a slave. Joseph participates in the eternal covenant: he has the law of God in his heart” (523). Waltke reminds the reader that this humiliation/exaltation in the life of Joseph typologically points to the life of the Israelites, and ultimately to Jesus. 
 
Hutchinson compares both me and friendship with women to Potiphar’s wife, which leads men to the promiscuity of King Solomon. His Ode on the Pence Rule contrasts my so-called voice with that of reason,  
 
Joseph, he’s so dull and boring;
Solomon is clearly soaring.
Joseph, self-protecting–tired;
Solomon, enlightened–wired.
 
I do write against the prevalent evangelical morality of individualistic self-protection that places a purely negative responsibility in our relationship before God and with others. Joseph is anything but boring and self-protecting in this account. He exercised character and virtue, taking the hits to his reputation while trusting in the Lord. We see faithfulness and holiness promoted in this story, not mere self-protection. 
 
Fortunately we are not left with the false dichotomy at the end of Hutchinson’s Ode:
 
And so, dear readers, you can see
the choice in front of you and me.
To be like Joseph? That’s a shame.
But Solomon? Well, he’s got game–
 
his dad was rich, sent him to Yale,
while rustic Joseph went to jail.

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.

The Gospel of Inclusion

By Aimee Byrd

Sometimes I enjoy listening to the This American Life podcast on my road trips. It is a secular podcast that provides storied snippets portraying all kinds of different thoughts and experiences within American life. Although I often am saddened by the typical narrative that follows the current secular worldviews and portrayals of the Christian faith. And yet it does help me to see how the world sees and that can be profitable in strengthening the church’s witness. 
 
This American Life is debuting a movie on Netflix called Come Sunday, which covers the life of Pentecostal Carlton Pearson, his rise to fame, and sudden downfall. So they are rerunning an older podcast called Heretics, where Ira Glass describes Pearson as a “rising evangelical megastar” that “at the height of his popularity, became involved in a scandal: He didn’t have an affair, he didn’t embezzle money, he didn’t admit an addiction to prescription painkillers—no, no, none of that. He stopped believing in hell.” He explains that this is “the kind of thing that happens from time to time here in America, even now. He became a heretic. A very prominent heretic….it didn’t end with the Salem witch trials.” As you can see by the language used, the church is not painted in a positive light. We are still hunting witches; they just look different.
 
Reporter Russell Cobb narrates the story in the podcast, along with many excerpts from his interviews with Carlton Pearson, who grew up in a “strict Pentecostal denomination: no smoking, drinking, cursing, or dancing. But there was lots of church going.” Pearson elaborates, “The devil was as present and as large as God. He had most of the people. He was ultimately going to get most of the people.” He explains how demons were all over the neighborhoods, the churches, and the schools. And “if you believe it, you experience it.” So naturally, Pearson cast out his first demonic spirit, from his own girlfriend at that, at a church revival when he was a mere 17 years old. He made a name for himself as he cast out several demons during that 3-day revival. 
 
And yet Pearson recalls how he was smothering in the black, anti-intellectual ghetto and found a way out by attending Oral Roberts University. Oral Roberts changed the image of Pentecostalism with a more positive message that reached a wealthier class. He also took Pearson under his wing as a sort of “second son.” By joining Roberts’ World Action Singers (with Kathy Lee Gifford), Pearson found a sanctified way to travel the world. However, tension with Roberts’ son caused Pearson to branch out on his own. 
 
As Pearson found his preaching voice, congregants flocked to him. He was funny, taught them about some of the Greek roots in his talks, and therefore was seen as giving a scholarly, in depth analysis of Scripture in an entertaining fashion. “He flew around the country guest preaching with some of the biggest names in the evangelical world. People like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was in and out of the White House, under both Bushes and Clinton. And when George W. Bush started his faith based initiative program, Carlton sat on an advisory panel and became a spokesman for the plan. He hosted a show on TBN, Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian cable channel. He was appointed to the Board of Regents at Oral Roberts University and made bishop in 1995 by the International Communion of Charismatic Churches. And he started a revival called AZUSA, a modern day evangelical festival.” Pearson gave TD Jakes his break, introducing him to an international audience. Attendance to the church he founded, Higher Dimensions, grew to regular attendance of 5,000 people in Sunday service, successfully integrating a diversity of race. He was well loved, even as he continued to preach about hell with all the supernatural flair of the Pentecostal faith, rebuking the devil and speaking in tongues.
 
But in the height of his career, Pearson has a heart-to-heart with God that changed everything. He began to have doubts about the message he was preaching, Russell Cob sets it up that all his Hebrew and Greek studies were leading him in a different direction. Pearson recalls a moment of clarity when he was watching a TV program showing the images of starving children in Uganda. And he said to God, “I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and then just suck them right into hell.” And God replied, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?” Pearson answered, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” In this conversation with God, Pearson says that he has been taught all these people need to get saved. And then he lamented that he can’t do it all: pastor his huge church and go save all these people by preaching the gospel to them. He remembers thinking “God, don’t put that guilt on me…I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life, besides, I can’t save the whole world. I’m doing the best I can.” That’s when God agreed with Pearson that he can’t save the whole world, but that they (because apparently God calls himself they to Pearson) are not sucking all these people in hell—they’re already there. Hell is something we invent for ourselves and God is going to take everyone into his presence. And God wants Pearson to “represent him to the world.” This is when Pearson began preaching his “gospel of inclusion.” Everyone is going to heaven.
 
This American Life sums up what followed like this:
 
Once he starts preaching his own revelation, Carlton Pearson’s church falls apart. After all, when there’s no hell (as the logic goes), you don’t really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it. What follows are the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation—which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations drop off too, but just as things start looking bleakest, new kinds of people, curious about his change in beliefs, start showing up on Sunday mornings.
 
The story turns sad, as Pearson laments about his friends leaving the church, the leaders not being on board with the gospel of inclusion, and all the beautiful babies he baptized moving on. His offerings dropped $40,000-$50,000 a week. His important friends abandon him. He misses not being celebrated by all these people who adored him. Now it’s like he died and they moved on. 
 
It was important for these people to keep believing in hell for some reason. Hey, they might not like it, but they didn’t make the rules, as Cob explains. Pearson was formally denounced as a heretic, as he was “assaulting 1,500 years of tradition.” It’s “hard giving up hell after a lifetime of believing in it.” And so many still believe in a salvation based on scaring people with hell to lead them to Jesus. 
 
Although he has to eventually close the doors of Higher Dimensions, Pearson’s gospel of inclusion attracts a new crowd. Muslims and gays stand and applaud him after he preaches his gospel of inclusion. Finally he is getting the notoriety he deserves. One of the holiest moments of his life was when a same gender leader washed his feet. Ira Glass concludes, “When it comes down to it, it’s a lot easier to believe in a world without hell. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about saving everybody.” Pearson is relieved that he doesn’t have to deal with the guilt of not saving every person he meets. He doesn’t need to talk for 2 hours on the plane insulting people by telling them they are going to hell (violin music playing softly in the background). It was all very virtuous of him to follow God in this way. What a martyr. 
 
I was moved too, but not because of the violin music. I’m sad that an episode about heresy and an inclusive gospel never gave the true gospel. A false gospel was presented as the traditional Christian message, and then so-called better news was offered that was pronounced a heresy. Both were centered on the self-importance of the celebrity pastor. The bad news isn’t that the devil is behind every rock trying to pull us into hell, but that our own sin has condemned us and separated us from the holy God. The sensationalism of casting out demons left and right, speaking in tongues as “true believers,” and scaring people into some sort of salvation from the devil is just as bad as the universalism (which still involves tongues, I believe) that Pearson is now preaching, because God still isn’t represented to the world. Pearson’s message leaves people in their sin.
 
Our Triune God has created us for holy communion with him. Our sin, that saturates us in body, mind, and soul, separates us from God and condemns us to his just wrath. Hell isn’t the place the devil drags us, but the eternal presence of God’s wrath for sin. His wrath is just. Our sin enslaves us. We will never be free under it. We will always serve sin. The devil always serves sin, so yes, he is happy to help us join him. I don’t want anyone under that kind of inclusion. But the devil is not as present and as large as God—not even close.
 
And God’s love is greater than our sin. He sent the Son to live the life that we cold not live and die the death under the curse of sin in our place. In Jesus, and only in him, we are given God’s very own righteousness and saved from the curse of sin. Death no longer has its sting. Jesus doesn’t just pull us out of hell; he gives us righteousness. All those in him are no longer under the reign of sin, but rather serve in the reign of grace as we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. By faith we see that Jesus is Lord and we repent of our sin as we turn to him. Without repentance there is no salvation. How could we embrace a holy Lord in our sin? But there is forgiveness and restoration. The Lord Jesus, who triumphed over the rulers and authorities, making a public display of them by disarming them, doesn’t leave us in our sin! (Col. 2:15)
 
And it’s not about us. Or celebrity pastors. It’s all about him! Jesus is the one to be celebrated! And we long for that great day when we will be resurrected in new, eternal bodies to reign with him on the new heavens and the new earth in that blessed eternal communion, to God be the glory!
 
The call to Christ is inclusive. But it is exclusively in him that we can repent and have eternal life. God will reach all of his people. Christians are privileged to be included in sharing that message as we live a life of faith and obedience. We love to introduce sinners to Christ the Lord. And we don’t have to wait for Carlton Pearson to do it.
 
Maybe this movie will gain popularity on Netflix. And the false gospel that keeps people in their sins will further spread. But let the church use this to reaffirm the true gospel and stir us to share it all the more until our Lord returns.
 
Come Sunday, Oh come Sunday.
That’s the day.

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.

What Really Happened?

Yesterday I had a longish drive to Virginia Beach, which means time to indulge in some podcasts. I already listened to the first season of What Really Happened?, where narrator Andrew Jenks digs through all the surrounding details of old news stories to see if we really got it right. It fed the inner conspiracy theorist in me, as he reexamined the stories of Muhammad Ali talking a 21-year-old from committing suicide, Chris Christie’s Bridgegate, the true nature of Britney Spears’ meltdown, or Michael Jordan’s retirement, to see if things are really as they seem. Jenks received so many responses to Season One that he was able to put together more interviews corresponding to each podcast episode, further investigating and resolving some listener responses. 

Jenks interviewed his friend, actress Brittany Snow, in one of the episodes, and I noticed how it turned into a bit of a therapy session as they talked about practices that help them get out of their own heads and mental issues. I noticed a blend of genuine longing to be a good person, for holistic health, and to be a giving member of society. For the most part their talk was sophisticated, which made the swear words they occasionally dropped land like the bombs we refer to them as.

Anyway, I noticed something pretty interesting as Jenks and Snow began talking about what helps them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Both of them practice a newish trend I’ve heard about called writing a daily gratitude list. It’s just what it sounds like: every day you are to set aside some time to write down, preferably hand written, at least five things you are grateful for. This helps steer negative thinking and depression. It turns out gratitude is the secret to happiness. Even Oprah is doing it.

While they are reveling in this epiphany, I am thinking about how this functions as a worldly substitute for prayer. It made me kind of sad. I mean, I’m happy that they have discovered gratefulness, but whom are they thanking for all that they have discovered to be thankful for? They have recognized the gifts, and look how healing that is! But they have not found the Giver. 

It also convicted me for what I take for granted. I know the Giver and I complain too much. But that is where prayer is so much more delightful of a blessing than gratitude lists. I can go to the Giver and thank him personally. But I can also name my sin and ask for forgiveness, ask for sanctifying. And it is real.

Quickly, the conversation turned to TED talks: short bursts of inspiring ideas, where Technology, Entertainment and Design converge in the genre of free YouTube videos. Jenks made the comment that he is obsessed with TED talks. While most people listen to music when they work out, Jenks listens to these “powerful talks” to get out of his head. I couldn’t believe my ears, as I was driving down the highway realizing how Jenks and Snow are turning to gratitude lists and TED talks as a sort of  means of common grace. Where gratitude lists substitute for prayer, TED talks are like auxiliary sermons. 

The show was turning into a different sort of What Really Happened? I was listening to two seekers recognizing that they need to hear something outside of themselves, but not receiving the very message they desperately need to hear. Not only is the gospel message powerful, but the word itself is living and active. Sure, gratitude lists and TED talks can be good evidences as God’s common grace to all mankind. (And there is a large scale of good to bad TED talks.) But it also made me think of how easily Christians too miss something so simple. I love talking about the deeper aspects of theology, but I never want to miss the big picture of how God ministers to his people by giving them Christ through his ordained means of grace. The means are ordinary, but the grace is extraordinary.

What a blessing it is to be a part of his church. 

You Promiscuously Call One Another Brothers and Sisters!

Last week Michael Kruger wrote a good little article on the peculiarity of early Christian worship and how believers managed to offend everybody. Rumors were flying about what kind of people Christians really were. I wanted to elaborate on one of Kruger’s points and compare that to how Christians worry over “appearances” today. Kruger said:

The other offensive aspect of Christian worship was their private meetings. For obvious reasons, Christians weren’t eager to put their worship practices on full public display. So, they tended to meet early in the mornings, or in the evenings, often when it was dark, away from the masses.

Of course, this was seen as highly suspicious. As already noted, Romans regarded religion as public. So, what were these Christians up to in their “secret” meetings? As is well known, this occasioned all sorts of speculation (and accusation) about whether Christians were engaging in licentious or even cannibalistic activities in these gatherings.

Christians were being persecuted for their faith, so they met in secret. Of course this would fuel rumors. Here is a Roman argument against Christianity in the early days of the church. Mark Felix narrates these accusations from Caecilius in his apologetic work, Octavius, published 150-210 A.D.:

And now as the world grows more wicked, your abominable shrines are sprouting up throughout the whole world. This entire impious confederacy should be rooted out and destroyed! You know one another by secret marks and insignia. You love one another almost before you know one another. Yours is a religion of lust. You promiscuously call one another brothers and sisters. You apparently do this so that your debaucheries will take on a flavor of incest. Your vain and senseless superstition revels in wickedness. I would apologize for passing on the reports I hear about you if I weren’t so certain they were true. (We Don’t Speak Great Things, We Live Them, 31) 

The Romans heard of their love feasts with wine, brother/sister language, and holy kisses, and let their imaginations run wild: 

Your banquets are also well known and are spoken about everywhere. On a solemn day, all of you assemble together as the feast, along with your children, sisters, and mothers. People of every sex and age are present. After much feasting, when the group is boisterous and when incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, you throw a piece of meat just outside the reach of a dog that has been tied to the room’s lamp. In trying to reach the meat, the dog overturns the lamp and plunges the room into darkness. The incestuous lusts of those present are now unfettered, and nature takes its course in the dark. (32) 

I guess the early church wasn’t so uptight about appearances. These rumors spread because of the brotherly and sisterly love they had for one another. But they didn’t decide to soften their language. They didn’t respond to these accusations by distancing themselves from one another. They lived according to their proper identity in Christ and their joint mission. And Octavius responded to these outlandish claims from Caecilius, affirming the modest and chaste lives of Christian men and women that weren’t “a matter of outward show” but of joyful obedience to the Lord (53).

Even today, Christians are under the microscope. The church has tried to be a godly voice in the midst of a world seduced by the sexual revolution. But often, the church has swung the pendulum too far to the opposite extreme, also over-sexualizing men and women, by imposing guidelines on not only friendship between the sexes, but even on acquaintanceship. For both the sake of appearances and the threat of lust and sexual impropriety, Christians are often counseled not to text, email, share a lunch, ride in a car, or even share an elevator unchaperoned with the opposite sex. Is this the way we should be seen treating brothers and sisters in the Lord? Is this how we show the love of Christ to the watching world? 

For suggesting that men and women in the church should be the very people to model distinctive but not reductive sexuality to the world, that we are called to communion with the triune God and one another, and that brothers and sisters are to promote one another’s holiness in friendship, others have been suspicious of me. But the strange thing is that it isn’t the secular world accusing me of being a closet egalitarian, being a thin complementarian, ungodly and immodest, a danger to the OPC, feminist, and upholding a teaching that leads to adultery—it is fellow Christians.  

How do we handle rumors both inside and outside the church? Do we promote a behavior that is led by fear, or is our desire for obedience to the Lord one that can persevere despite what others think? Justin Martyr responded to attacks of judgment this way:

So that no one thinks I’m writing recklessly, we not only request the charges against us Christians be investigated, we demand it. If anyone can prove the charges they make against us are true, then punish us as we deserve. But if no one can convict Christians of anything wrong, justice forbids you to punish innocent people simply because of false rumors…

In short, it is our responsibility as Christians to bare ourselves before you—to enable all of you to inspect our lives and teachings. (74)

Martyr gives an account of what is really going on in their weekly meetings, holy kisses and all, and it is beautiful and pure. 

Kruger says, despite hacking off basically everyone, the early church did not waver:

But, here’s the key. Christians did not, for these reasons, decided to abandon, change, or modify their worship.  Despite the opposition, they stayed true to their practices and true to their Lord.

That’s a great lesson for today’s church.  Exclusive, Christ-centered, Scripture-based worship must continue to be the heartbeat of the modern church.

That is key! We are called to exclusive, Christ-centered, Scripture-based worship and living. How does this affect our relationships and service in the church? It costs us something. Dealing with the sin in our own hearts, confessing temptations, offering them to God, and choosing obedience and holy, purifying love is much more difficult than avoiding people. Challenges should not be ignored. But they don’t mean we aren’t called to intimate sibling communion with one another. They just mean that we need to grow.

What do both insiders and outsiders see when they examine us? Do they see growth? Purity? Love? Plenty of naïve Christians have committed sexual sin because they didn’t give proper thought to the implications of their identity in Christ or exercise wisdom and discernment in their relationships. This should be addressed with competent teaching, calls to personal responsibility, and discipline. But keeping an arm’s length away from half of our community doesn’t prepare us for our eschatological hope. Yes, we need to call out predators and sexual sin. Along with that, we also need to know appropriate, pure platonic love in the relationship that will outlast marriage and erotic love—siblingship. Let’s do the work and experience the joy we are called to in maturity.