On “Virginity,” Women, and Worth

Let me tell you a story, and a couple of brief anecdotes.

A girl I went to summer camp with as a teenager was from a pretty observant Christian family — mostly Catholic but not exclusively so. She’d been raised to value virginity, and was very proud of the fact that she was a virgin despite the pressure she felt from her circle of rich, popular, athletic friends. And she used to regale us with stories of how she would lie to her parents and tell them she was going to a friend’s to study, and instead go to her boyfriend’s house and spend all day skinny dipping with him… etc. She also had strong views about the circumstances around re-pledging one’s virginity — apparently you could have intercourse exactly once and then repent, and God would accept you as a virgin again, but after that, if you had intercourse again, it “counted;” you were officially defiled at that point, and probably shouldn’t wear white at your wedding.

I have friends who are virgins by some variation of the technical definition, but who’ve fooled around with dozens of people, who’ve struggled with pornography addictions, or whose sexual fantasies dominated their thoughts. I also have friends who aren’t virgins by any of the most common understandings of the term, because they were raped or molested or sexually abused.

And speaking of how we define virginity, I read a news story a few weeks ago about Quebec barring doctors from performing “virginity checks” on girls as part of their annual physicals. It struck me, once again, how much our culture’s language of sexuality aims its force at women — a “prude” is usually a woman, but so is a “slut.” Physiologically, too, we too often attach the concept of virginity to intact hymens — body parts men don’t even possess!

Christians have an obligation to be more biblical than that, to refuse to put an unfair burden on women (who are substantially more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than men) or on men (who are much more likely to feel cultural pressure to be sexually active and to use pornography than women are) in the way we talk about God’s purposes for human sexuality.

I think it’s long past time we quit talking about the ideal for Christians’ sexuality in terms of “virginity.” What, honestly, does the word “virgin” mean if it can be applied to a person like my summer-camp friend above and a person who’s never been so much as kissed, but not to a person who has been sexually victimized? What purpose does it serve to hold up virginity as the standard, if not to confuse the “experienced,” alienate the abused, and stir up pride in the hearts of the “inexperienced”?

To those who might object that “virginity” is just shorthand for “sexual purity,” is there any real sense in which a pornography addict is sexually pure simply because he or she hasn’t had intercourse? Is there any sense in which a sexually victimized person is not sexually pure simply because sex acts have been forced on him or her? It’s ludicrous to think that God’s design for human sexuality can be summed up with a word that frankly isn’t used all that frequently in Scripture.

So once again I’m going to propose that we speak of chastity rather than virginity or even sexual purity. Virginity is a state of being, but chastity is a choice, an ongoing, daily decision to live one’s life in a way that embraces God’s design for sex and sexuality. Virginity, for most people — those who marry as well as many who don’t — is temporary. Chastity is a permanent lifestyle that continues into marriage, because it encompasses all godly expressions of sexuality. It’s just as accurate to speak of a chaste single person, a chaste husband or wife, a chaste person separated from his spouse, a chaste divorced woman, a chaste widow or widower.

Chastity is about a life, a choice, a path of dedication. Right now, as a woman who is not married, chastity is a way for me to witness to the ultimacy of Christ, over and above romantic or sexual love. My life, by God’s grace, can become a picture of the future God has for all his people. If the Lord purposes marriage for me, that path of chastity simply continues as my life becomes a picture of the church’s love for Christ.

Our bodies matter to God, it’s true. He made them, down to the minutest detail. But for those of us who have been made new in Christ, what we do with all of our lives in these bodies matters, not just a few parts. Let’s stop categorizing one another based on what we have done, or what has been done to us, with just a few of those parts, and begin to encourage each other to walk now in a way that honors God.

That’s Not Why (Or: The Problems With A Consequentialist View of Sin)

I hate-read (well, not “hate-read” exactly, more like “irritate-read”) a couple of Christian blogs, and in the comments section of a post to do with protecting children from being exposed to things they weren’t ready for, a commenter insisted on the importance of exalting the beauty of marriage and urging children to “save themselves for their future spouse.” It got me thinking. Weird, I know.

I have a problem with people focusing “purity” talk on weird stuff like giving your virginity to your husband just like I have a problem with people saying that lying and slander and gossip are wrong because they’re hurtful. Generally speaking, I have a problem with the implication that not trusting God is wrong because it makes our lives harder when we don’t, because I have a problem with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the notion that the consequences of an action are the best way to know if the action itself is right or wrong. In other words, if something is harmful, to ourselves or others, it must be bad, and if something is helpful, it must be good.

Consequentialism pervades our culture — “they’re consenting adults” and “I’m not hurting anybody” and “my body, my choice” all point to a conviction that acts are as morally right or wrong as their impact on others. And don’t get me wrong, it’s is useful and indeed vital for a society because it shapes our laws and determines how we punish crime, but it’s a rotten foundation for understanding sin and holiness because it puts the purpose for doing right and avoiding wrong in the wrong spot.

The why of obedience isn’t “because it’s bad for you” or “because it’s bad for other people.” Not ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, here. God’s commands are good (duh), and obedience is for our good (duh). But our ultimate good is not the same as our short-term happiness or blessing. In God’s providence, even our sin is for our good; even our suffering is for our good. Sometimes God graciously defers consequences for sin, for his own good purposes. And you know what? Some people have sex (even lots of it!) outside of marriage and don’t get an STI or a baby in the bargain, and feel no guilt or shame or remorse for their actions. Some people get drunk regularly with no long-term health effects. Some people live genuinely happy lives while making choices Christians would all recognize as sinful. And guess what else? Many Christians are “virgins,” but consumed with lustful fantasies, or addicted to erotic novels or pornography, or simply eaten up with pride over their superior purity. Many Christians have never taken so much as a sip of alcohol, but have a disordered relationship with food, or are addicted to smoking, or look down their noses with disdain at those who enjoy a glass of wine now and again. In this fallen world, actions and consequences are simply not that mechanistic.

If we spend all of our time telling those we teach to obey because they’ll be blessed if they do and avoid sin because they’ll be sorry if they don’t, what happens when the uncomfortable realities of life in a fallen world strike? What happens when the girl you dragged up on stage at your youth event to do the duct tape analogy has sex for the first time and doesn’t feel like de-stickied duct tape at all? What happens when the kid who grew up being warned about inevitable spiritual depression if he stopped going to church stops going to church and is perfectly content with his decision to have brunch instead? I’m convinced that this kind of teaching is a big reason that so many kids leave youth group and the church about the same time. Consequentialist theology leaves them vulnerable to every message about following their hearts. It has the ability to make sin seem not all that bad, actually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone!

So you shouldn’t dress modestly to keep men from lusting after you or assaulting you. You shouldn’t avoid pornography because it’s addictive. You shouldn’t shun drunkenness because cirrhosis is deadly. And on the positive side, don’t read your Bible because it makes you happy, don’t go to church because you get blessed when you’re there, and don’t confess sin because your conscience feels better when you do.

So why do Christians obey God? Why do they seek to kill their sin and live a godly life? Because our sins are paid for, every last one of them. Because we are learning to see our sin more clearly as the years pass, and cling to Jesus in the midst of our failures. Because our King lived perfectly on our behalf. Because we have no fear that our sin will separate us from God ever again. Because we know that our very good deeds themselves come from the Holy Spirit in us, not our own efforts. Because, in short, we are free from condemnation and guilt, from slavery to the law, from the pressure to perform. We can live in that freedom, obeying sometimes, sinning often, failing regularly, confident that no one can snatch us from the hand of our Savior.

That is good news.

Believe that, friends. Don’t settle for the message of consequentialism, and don’t put your hope in the fear of consequences to keep you from sinning. Trust in a God who perfectly holds you and keeps you faithful by his power.

Deep Wounds and Hello Kitty Bandaids

Hello Kitty bandaids work better than normal ones; this is scientific fact, indisputable. Ask my nieces. Given the choice between a plain beige bandaid and a Hello Kitty one, they will choose the Hello Kitty one 100 times out of 100. They’re medical miracles. They dry up tears, stop pain, and return a three-year-old to normal play mode as quick as a wink.

They also don’t work on a deep wound.

Everyone knows this when it comes to physical injuries. Your child slices her arm open, and you’re rushing for the car keys, not the bandaids, Hello Kitty or otherwise. Worse, your child is diagnosed with some chronic disease or illness, and you know that no amount of licenced products are going to help.

But reveal a struggle with depression, or anxiety, or panic attacks, or dark, spiraling despair, and suddenly the same people who would advise a 911 call and some prompt medical attention, or long-term medical treatment, are handing out bandaid answers like you just skinned your knee.

Today I read of a husband’s agony as he watched his wife struggle with post-partum depression. The comments section was character bandaids galore: make sure she’s getting enough B vitamins! one commenter insisted. Don’t forget to make confession of sin part of your daily life, said another. No, no, don’t use the Hulk bandaids, no one likes those. Have these bandaids instead!

All I can say to that is… don’t.

Just… don’t do that.

Friends, sin is not always, or predictably, the cause of suffering. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for thinking that a man’s blindness resulted from his sin or that of his parents. Suffering does not always seem to have a purpose; sometimes it doesn’t seem to have a cause, or a reason, or an origin. It’s not always taken away when we pray (2 Cor 12), or even when we treat it medically (Luke 8).

But for the Christian, suffering is always part of the hard providence of God, never escaping his notice or care, never catching him off guard. Satan himself must seek God’s permission to trouble us, and his power is always limited — how much more must the suffering we experience be controlled and limited by a loving and watchful Father!

True suffering defies and confounds tidy, pat answers. If the tools with which we approach it don’t go beyond a range of bandaids with superheros and cartoon characters splashed across them, we will have no comfort to offer those who desperately need it.

How Some Feminism Is Also Marxism (And How This Is Not That)

I said in my series prequel (which… I need to learn to quit telling people what I’m going to write about unless I have the articles written because if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I am fickle, dude) that I’m not a Marxist. But the reason I mention Marxism in this context at all, is that I think Marxism and the whole class struggle worldview are foundational to pretty much all modern feminism — and, indeed, to most counterculture movements. Furthermore, I think many of the problems Christians have with feminism stem from our gut-level objections to Marxism, and that, if we can disentangle one from the other, we’ll be surprised at how much common ground there is between our two worldviews when it comes to women.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use “Marxism” as shorthand for something like this: the set of beliefs and ideas in which the pattern of history is one of class struggle wherein powerful classes, using the structures and institutions of society (government, the Church, marriage, education, etc.) to secure their power, are locked in a struggle with the powerless classes who will, inevitably, rise up to overthrow them and the institutions they control; all those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed class are considered friends while all those who attempt to remain neutral must be crushed as supporters of oppression.

One of the most frequently-recurring themes in the conversation around modern feminism is this idea of “the patriarchy,” which, in the view of many modern feminists, is responsible for many of the wrongs women have suffered throughout history. While it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, it’s not — it’s better compared to the cultural water we swim in than anything most folks are aware of. It comes down to something like this: societies have been structured to favor the rule of men for lots of reasons (men are physically stronger than women, most women pre-contraception spent a lot of time pregnant which tended to limit their ability to, like, conquer and swashbuckle and whatever kings do to amass power). This leads inevitably to men oppressing and exploiting women because, you know, power corrupts, and since people in power usually like to keep it, it also leads to men enshrining their power in law at the expense of women. This “patriarchy” concept encompasses all the historical privilege, dominance, power, and authority that men have in a society, plus the way men use those things now — almost always unconsciously – to their own advantage and the disadvantage of women.

I think it’s important for me to be clear here: I don’t necessarily have big problems with this assessment. Men have almost always had more political and social power than women. They have, because of their sinful nature, sometimes used this power to make laws predicated on untrue assumptions about women, laws that unfairly burden women or infringe on their human rights. And — in much the same way that racist politicians in the post-Civil War south leveraged the “poor white” vote to shore up their own agendas in the face of potential enfranchisement of black citizens — powerful classes throughout history have been invested in portraying men and women in ways that make conflict between the sexes seem normal, and that instill fear that the rights women gain will infringe on the rights of men, so that those powerful men could keep their power.

But I think it’s also important to be note that my agreement is far from comprehensive. To the modern feminist, men and women have been locked in a perpetual battle for power, men have always had the ascendancy, and women (together with sympathetic men, and in solidarity with other oppressed and marginalized groups) have the obligation to rise up and overthrow this oppressive patriarchy in order to usher in a future in which there are no gender-based hierarchies — or any hierarchies at all, because the problem, in this view, is that some people have power over other people. To modern feminists and many modern folks generally, authority structures are to blame, and dismantling those structures is the solution.

It’s at this level that I part ways with modern secular feminism. I just don’t buy the Marxist vision of class warfare or the end game of a world in which there are no hierarchies. I think hierarchies and authority structures are built into human society by God — they’re a feature, not a bug. Hierarchy isn’t the problem. The problem is that men and women alike are, at a fundamental level, messed up by sin, and if you take a look at the consequences for sin given to all of us, fallen in Adam, it’s pretty easy to understand why some people look at history as a clash between two sides. Identity. Desire. Power. Work. Biology. That’s not a list of lecture topics from a Gender Studies class, y’all, it’s a summary of the stuff that sin messes with and that the curse affects. And as we can clearly see in that same passage, the end game isn’t overthrowing all hierarchies, it’s placing all authority structures where they belong: under the reign of the true King who will crush the usurper Satan.

But what all that doesn’t mean is that I’m somehow compelled to disagree with every assessment or proposed solution that comes out of a modern feminist’s mouth. Far from it. Feminists are right to be vocal and angry about misogyny, about exploitation, about stuff ranging from sexist jokes to sex trafficking, from how cops ask rape victims what they were wearing to how our society sees illegal sex workers as criminals rather than victims. We should be just as vocal about, and just as emotionally invested in, those things.

And I’m going to prove it.

Brace yourself next week for a look at some of the many and sometimes surprising areas we might find ourselves agreeing with secular feminists.

International Women’s Day and Casual Misogyny

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today in class we were talking about NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and how she (or rather, the popular portrayal of her) is an embarrassment to women everywhere because, although she’s ostensibly famous for her sport, she’s a) not as great at it as her fame would suggest, and b) far more famous for taking her clothes off and being a spokesmodel in skanky ads. We talked about how offensive it is to both men and women to depict women as empty-headed, easily-controllable imaginary objects just sitting there for male consumption, and I said something about how it turns them into these infantilized child-women, whereupon a student piped up with, “That sounds like a really bad superhero. Infantilized Child-Woman to the rescue!”

So we came up with a whole scenario for Infantilized Child-Woman, who goes around “rescuing” women from intelligent, deep conversations that aren’t about men, and turning them into flirtatious bobble-heads with one flick of her ruffled costume, and who foils male criminals by strutting around seductively until the cops arrive. Her arch-nemesis is Intensely Nerdy Boy, on whom her powers are useless because he prefers the smart girls he meets at ComicCon, and his secret weapon is a Fandom Gun, which makes everyone he shoots it at so involved in a fan community that they stop paying attention to Infantilized Child-Woman. Muahahaha!

I’ve been thinking about this today, a paraphrase of something I saw browsing just now on my lunch break: we need to stop thinking of sexism as part of an identity — i.e., so-and-so is a sexist therefore a wife-beater, a rapist, a woman-hater, etc. — and start thinking of it in terms of actions. Anyone can casually devalue women, and we, both men and women, do it all the time. So many things, from using pornography (i.e. consuming women’s degradation) to implying that women shouldn’t complain about discrimination (because we can, like, vote now and stuff), are sexist, and no amount of, “But I love women/am a woman!” negates that.

We might rightly roll our eyes at the antediluvian attitude that a woman’s place is always in the home and preferably in the kitchen. We might, I hope, get involved with charities that help free women from sex work. But it’s easier to let slide that sort of casual, condescending misogyny that applauds Danica Patrick equally for taking her clothes off and finishing 40th in some race, because it’s so subtle and so ubiquitous. It’s the kind of sexism that we need to be most careful of because it’s the easiest to slip into, the easiest to absorb from women’s magazines and sitcoms, and, I think, the toughest to eliminate.

But we have an obligation to value women, to treat them with the dignity they intrinsically have as image-bearers of God, creations whose absence prompted God to call something “not good” for the first time ever. Christians must strive never to be open to the charge of denigrating or diminishing that value, however casually or incidentally.

Big Scary Topic: Feminism, Part One

This first post is pretty timely, it seems. You see, prizewinning and bestselling British author Hilary Mantel recently gave a talk entitled “Royal Bodies” for the London Review of Books’ winter lecture series. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever read on famous women and their bodies and how we view them, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It’s also turning out to be the talk that launched a thousand rhetorical ships: of course every British paper had an opinion, most of them pretty well to be expected (The Daily Mail’s coverage could be summarized, as usual, as WE ARE HORRIFIED BY WHAT WE ASSUME WAS SAID); even the Prime Minster waded into the fray, missing the point rather spectacularly. Twitter has been ablaze with the question of was-it-ironic-or-wasn’t-it (hint: yes), and NPR highlighted the controversy during their main news broadcasts today.

All that to say, a lot of people are thinking about big issues right now — women and how freely we comment on their looks, fame and beauty and objectification and otherness and what exactly these bodies of ours mean. Those are important topics, and I guess I’m about to tackle some of them.

But I think I need to issue a few denials before I forge ahead, and maybe a couple of affirmations. So here goes.

I believe men and women are different, and that any effort to flatten out gender distinctions is going to end in… absurdity. But I also believe that there are any number of ways to act and be feminine or masculine, not just one (more on this later).

I’m no Marxist; I think it takes a lot of blindly clinging to one’s assumptions in the face of evidence to the contrary to look at human history and deduce that hierarchy is the problem that must be overcome in order for people to thrive. Some hierarchies are awesome and some of them are terrible, but the existence of abusive, exploitative power structures doesn’t invalidate the hierarchy as A Thing. And honestly, does anyone over the age of 35 who has ever read a history book still believe that a human society completely without hierarchy is even possible on any kind of scale or for any length of time? So no, I’m not going to be arguing that women need to rise up and overthrow some mythological worldwide Illuminati patriarchy so that society can progress toward its next evolutionary incarnation.

I don’t believe that “society” as some abstract entity has an agenda to “keep women in their place.” I don’t think that what this country needs, necessarily, is more women in ________ industry or field. I do think that looking at a circumstance — say, the fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences — and failing (or refusing) to consider that the reasons for that circumstance might be incredibly complex and even, perhaps, tied to the innate strengths and weaknesses of the genders, is just head-smackingly stupid. I think it’s lazy-minded, thoughtless, callous, and just plain rude, on the other hand, to dismiss all such disparities as merely representative of gender differences rather than societally-influenced.

I don’t think “feminism” as a worldview has any real solutions to the problems of society. But I think traditionalism, for most of us in the Evangelical camp, poses a far greater danger. It’s a prettier poison for many of us, and a subtler one. We need to be able to hear past the talking points and bumper-sticker slogans and strawmen of the feminist vs. traditionalist shouting match and get down to what the Bible actually teaches about women and their value, about objectification, about bodies. And I am convinced that we’ll have an easier time locating Biblical Christianity in the syncretistic miasma of modern traditionalist religion if we spend some time looking at feminism’s critiques of traditionalism.

So there you have it, I suppose: a bit of an introduction to the Big Scary Topic of feminism.

In the coming weeks or however long I feel like writing about this because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, GOSH, I’ll be looking at such topics as Plato, Augustine, and the body; big ugly traditionalism and its little ugly cronies; objectification and othering; and, Lord willing, really scary topics like sexual identity, orientation, and even (gulp) rape and sexual abuse — and how feminism and Christianity intersect at those points. Fasten your seatbelts.

Reasons/Excuses/Fear

So. I started and stopped and started and stopped writing a series last year about feminism and the church and Christians and how we’ve historically been so opposed to the negatives of feminism (and caricatures of feminism) that we’ve thrown out the stuff we could really stand to learn from feminists and ignored the beliefs we share with them. I would read something exciting, get pumped to write the series, do some research, and then freak out because… well, for the following reasons in no particular order.

  1. The Internet is not known for its ability to understand subtle, nuanced arguments; trolls are no fun to deal with.
  2. I don’t want people to think I’m some lefty wacko, or that my views on this subject mean I’ve abandoned historic Christian teaching on God’s will for human sexuality and gender.
  3. (REALTALK:) I don’t want dudes to read this and say, “Ew, I don’t want to marry some man-hating feminazi.”
  4. Not a lot of people want to read about things like sexual abuse, objectification, the male gaze, and other five-dollar terminology that tends to populate the syllabi of Women’s Studies classes at universities across the country… no matter how much I absolutely believe they need to believe rightly about those things.
  5. It’s easier to write about Downton Abbey and the Bible study Methods class I’m teaching and the fun stuff I do on a Friday night (HA!) than about deep, complex issues.

Are those reasons? Are they excuses? Are they nothing but manifestations of my own fear of man? Am I basically permanently walling myself off from marriage by writing about feminism? (No, seriously, am I?)

Anyway, I feel really strongly about this stuff, and I think I’m going to go for it. So I guess the alternate title of this post could be “In Which Laura Psychs Herself Up.”

Believe It or Not, the Opposite of “Inerrancy” Isn’t Always “Errancy.”

The other day, a guy I run across in the blog-world was talking about how he sometimes gets fired up by what he termed the “Three E’s” — Errancy, Egalitarianism, and Evolution. These were my next thoughts:

hghiludfjkdfjsfhf iouwfhj oijoijdwwa

Coherent, eh? The implication is, of course, that anyone who doesn’t affirm inerrancy is an “errantist,” believing that the Scriptures are actually full of error. Yargh. I have a pretty big problem with that view (not to mention the attitude behind it), and I’ll tell you why.

*rolls up sleeves*

Preliminary data: inerrancy, which is the doctrine that the Scriptures are without error in everything they affirm, has been a pretty major battle ground over the last few decades and has been settled, one way or another, to the point that affirmation of inerrancy tends to be one of the identifying characteristics of Evangelicals. Inerrantists (I think rightly) believe that the absolute truthfulness of Scripture is an extremely important issue, and not one to be given up or compromised, so they use terms like “non-negotiable” and “essential” to describe the doctrine. Got all that? OK.

It’s true that the most vocal opponents of the concept of inerrancy have been people whose commitment to a modernist, materialist worldview precludes belief in any sort of divine character to Scripture. To them, it’s not divine, not authoritative, not inspired except in the way that, say, Shakespeare or Ovid were “inspired.” But this whole debate is quite new, and there are entire great big groups of Christians who just didn’t get involved at all — people like confessional Lutherans, Anglicans, and other folks on the higher-church end of the spectrum. They never absorbed the language of “without error in its original manuscripts” and the like. And that’s where the problems start to arise.

Some inerrantists steadfastly refuse to differentiate between people whose ultimate desire is to undermine the authority or divine character of Scripture and people who, say, don’t feel comfortable with the sometimes sterile-sounding language of inerrancy. Some use the term itself as a sort of shibboleth of orthodoxy, badgering people to sign on the proverbial dotted line of inerrancy (“No, just tell me. Are you? It’s not a hard question. Just answer.”). Some point to it as the test of, if not orthodoxy per se, then at least membership in the Evangelical community.

But there are a great many Christians who have never had this conversation, and who simply believe that the Bible is true. There are many who belong to denominations and traditions where the truthfulness of Scripture is taken as an article of faith, confessionally, rather than as a matter to be handled with lengthy treatises on exactly which documents can be given which terminology. Many more, while submitting to the authority, truthfulness, and sufficiency of Scripture, simply find themselves uncomfortable with a doctrine they see as a Procrustean bed, as restrictive rather than expansive. I don’t necessarily agree with all these objections, but I understand them. I recognize that my conscience cannot dictate the consciences of other believers, and I also recognize that, though some believers, just by personality, take great comfort and find great freedom in meticulously-delineated doctrines, others do not. Being Type A is not a prerequisite for membership in the family of God.

And this is why it’s important to ask questions rather than make assumptions, especially about our brothers and sisters in Christ. When someone asks, “Are you an inerrantist?” or “Are you a Calvinist?” or “Are you a creationist?” or whatever, the best response, in my estimation, is, “Well, what do you mean by that?” And on the other side, if someone says, “Oh, I could never be an XYZ,” I reckon it’s pretty important to find out what they mean by XYZ and how it affects the rest of their doctrine. And ask positive questions, too: stuff like “So, what do you believe about the Bible?”

Between brothers and sisters, questions like this should be conversation-starters, not conversation-enders. We cannot use these catch-phrases as code words for who’s “in” and who’s “out.” That kind of spiritual arrogance is exactly what got this guy a starring role as a baddy in one of Jesus’ parables.

Mark Baddeley’s Series on “New Atheism”

At the Matthias Media blog is well worth a read. It’s an eight (!!) part series of articles on New Atheism” (from Dawkins et al), explaining why he doesn’t think it’s particularly threatening in the long term, where its weaknesses are, who its prime targets are, and who does a better job of it than the atheist literati who spend too much time rolling their eyes at everyone who dares disagree with their hyper-empiricist worldview.

Here’s a quote from the first article:

I think the New Atheists are overrated. I find myself underwhelmed at their bus campaigns, their books, the way that journalists throw softball questions in response to their every problematic pronouncement, and their whole position. I have been scratching my head for years trying to work out where all the interest in them comes from, let alone why they are treated as some kind of serious attack on religion in general, let alone the Christian faith in particular.

Recently I discovered that I am not alone. Nathan Campbell on his blog discussed a particularly strong gaffe moment for Richard Dawkins, where Dawkins argued for deliberate discrimination against scientists with religious beliefs, and got taken to task by the commentators who would otherwise be thought to be natural allies. Before that Scott Stephens riffed on the ABC website on a theme covered several times in places like the First Things website—the lack of philosophical awareness and moral seriousness among the celebrity New Atheists. Overall, the movement looks more like a fad than a sober cultural movement.

Read the whole series starting here (all the installments are linked, handily, at the bottom of the first page).

Eschatology (Gulp) Matters, Part Two

(Important side note before we get started: how you approach a couple of key passages tends to make a big difference in where you land. If you approach apocalyptic literature in the same way that you do a narrative passage — like narrative, but future tense — you’ll probably land in one of the first two views. If you approach it more like you would the Bible’s wisdom literature or even prophecy — filled with imagery and metaphorical language — you’re much more likely to end up in one of the latter two categories.)

OK, so let’s just do a quick overview of the four main views, in very broad strokes (and for all of these, I’m indebted to this site and particularly this one, which includes some outstanding simplified outlines of these views — if you’re a visual learner like me, you’ll want to click through to see them):

1. Dispensational pre-millennialism. This fairly recently-developed view is based on the idea that Daniel 9 and Revelation 20 are to be read as strictly chronological accounts of entirely future events. Things on Earth will grow increasingly dire, then God’s people will be raptured just before a time of great persecution when a human ruler, the Anti-Christ, will have control over the whole Earth. Jesus will return and reign from Jerusalem for a thousand chronological years, after which the Judgment will take place and all God’s people will be then taken together into glory. People who hold to this view tend to be very watchful for Christ’s imminent return as well as world events that line up with prophetic or apocalyptic passages of Scripture.

2. Historic pre-millennialism. While this view shares some of the chronology of the first view, it tends to see some of the events described in Revelation as unfolding in history, not necessarily in a way that obviously links them to the impending return of Christ. People who hold to this position believe that the return of Christ may be in the very-distant future, and hold that the millennium may or may not constitute one thousand actual years. It’s called “historic” because it has been held in some form since the late second and early third centuries, whereas the Dispensationalist version has only been around since the 19th century.

3. Post-millennialism. Post-millennialists believe that the millennium is best understood as a future period (not a literal thousand years, but a long time) of Christ’s special reign over the earth from heaven, marked by a steady increase of the influence of the Gospel until the entire world has been Christianized. When the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God through Christ, Jesus will return in glory to judge and to bring all of God’s people into glory with him. This view particularly focuses on the prophecies given to Abraham about all nations being blessed through him, and the passages throughout the Old Testament that refer to the growing and spreading of the knowledge of the Lord in the last days. Daniel and Revelation are seen in light of their original audience (the Exiles and the first-century Christians, respectively), and most, if not all, of the events of the apocalyptic passages of Scripture are thought to have already taken place — i.e. that they are immediately applicable to their hearers and are meant to encourage us by extension, rather than give us a timeline of future events.

4. Amillennialism. Amillenialists believe that Christ ushered in the millennium at his ascension into Heaven, and that we are now living in it. They tend to focus on the tension in the New Testament between “the Kingdom is at hand/among you” and “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face,” as well as the narrative of the constant expansion of the Gospel to all nations, beginning in Acts. They differ with Post-millennialists on the role of the Church in this “already/not yet” age: where Post-mills see a time when the Church is completely triumphant on Earth before the return of Christ, Amills believe that the Church will continue to be persecuted and suffer until Christ’s return, though there may be times of greater or lesser success as the Gospel continues to go forth to the nations.

Now. That’s a lot. I never realized that there were other views besides the first two until fairly recently, and though I don’t think the first two are untenable, per se, in studying the Scriptures I found myself leaning toward a pretty settled Amillennial position… though with occasional jaunts into Postmillennialism depending on how much Douglas Wilson I happen to be reading and how much the sun is shining and how well things tend to be going in my own life. Personally, I am automatically… not suspicious perhaps, but not really excited to latch onto any view on any Christian doctrine that 1800 years’ worth of really smart believers never thought of, but I don’t think this issue is important enough to argue about too much, so even if you’re firmly committed to the first view, that’s fine. Christians can know absolutely nothing about this issue except to say, “Yup, I believe Jesus is coming back,” and they will be A-OK, and they can disagree with each other about it without breaking fellowship. (I mean honestly, imagine Jesus standing in the room next to you right now: is he cool with you being cold or dismissive or, God forbid, divisive toward your brothers and sisters over the timing of his return? I’m guessing not.)

The bottom line with all this is, the passages of Scripture that talk about persecution or that address eschatology are almost always followed up with an exhortation to the reader to do a couple of things: 1) cling to Jesus, and 2) get off your toches and tell people about Jesus. So whether you think that the Bible teaches that Christ’s return is just around the corner or many thousands of years into the future, whether you see in its pages a literal and eventual thousand-year reign or a time we’re already in, your mission, Christian, is clear: teach your children, your neighbors, your friends, your family about the Gospel. Live it out in your relationships. Don’t spend your time searching charts or pooh-poohing them. Act like you really, truly have been radically transformed by a Victorious and Conquering King who will one day return, on whatever timeline the Father in his good wisdom chooses.

Eschatology (Gulp) Matters

This week, I talked with my students about eschatology. In case you’re not familiar with the term, it basically refers to one’s beliefs about how this ol’ world is going to be wrapped up, and what happens to people when they die. Does the world end with a bang? Or a whimper? Or something else?

I used to be one of those people who smartly called myself a “pan-millennialist.” It’s all going to pan out in the end, har har har. I didn’t really think much about it for most of my life, and if I did it was with a frisson of panic. I didn’t buy the whole pre-tribulation rapture thing (the idea that God’s going to snatch Christians up out of the world before things get too bad), so eschatology scared the bejeebers out of me because I figured that if I were around when Jesus came back, my life would have sucked real bad for a long time before that. It was not a happy place inside my head, so I just kind of pushed it to one side, comforted myself with the fact that I believed the Scriptures were true and God was kind, and forgot about it.

And then, a couple years ago, I had to teach about it. So I found a few good resources and some good visual aids and summaries of the four major Christian views, and I realized I already believed something about eschatology, and it wasn’t scary at all!

One of the things that came up in the course of my recent conversation with my students was that some of the views of “end times” (though I shudder to use that term) are very optimistic about the world here and now and where it’s headed, and others are very pessimistic. If you think the Scriptures teach that things are getting worse all the time, and that this world is going downhill and headed for destruction, but that believers are going to be zapped out before things get catastrophic and their souls rushed to an eternity-long worship service in heaven… OR if you think the Scriptures point to an age when the Gospel will go forth triumphantly into the nations, and the influence of Jesus’ kingdom will extend and extend and extend until the whole Earth is filled with the knowledge of God and then Jesus will return to judge the world and reign forever on an eternal throne in a renewed creation… how could that not influence your understanding of everything in this life?

So, what do you believe? Is your eschatology optimistic or pessimistic, and why? I’m putting together a quick overview of the four major Christian views, and I’ll tell you why I basically completely reject two of them and bounce indecisively back and forth between the other two. ;)

Still Over It

A few more thoughts on this morning’s post, just in the realm of assumptions.

1. Sexual sin is a grievous thing with long-standing consequences. It’s an offense, both against a holy God and against one’s own body, according to the Scriptures.

2. Some sexual sin carries with it more emotional baggage than others, and some carries with it more tangible consequences than others.

3. No sexual sin — or any other kind of sin — is beyond the reach of the forgiveness of God, and no sinner is beyond the amazing transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit.

4. Pre-conversion sin can, as mentioned in #2, have consequences that last throughout one’s life, but these consequences are not ours to enforce. When we see a non-virgin who, by the Holy Spirit’s power, is currently living a chaste life, we should rejoice in God’s provision not shake our heads at the ongoing shame of past unchastity.

5. It is the VERY GRIEVOUSNESS of sin that makes Gospel transformation so amazing, so worship-engendering, so God-glorifying! If I told my friends that the estate of Bill Gates had not only paid off my mortgage and remaining student loans, but also given me ten million dollars, I hope they would be incredibly excited for me and celebrate with me, not say, “Shame on you for no longer living in your former indebtedness!” That, friends, is exactly what Jesus has done for sinners: he has paid off the debt we owe to God and given us every spiritual blessing and resource for godly living.

6. The attitude of “I thank you that I am not like that publican” has no place in the hearts or mouths of those who have been rescued from their (grievous, offensive, disgusting, condemnatory) sin by a merciful God. But for the restraining grace of God, who among us would not have given in to the lowest and vilest of our desires? If you think it’s your own effort and free will that have kept you sexually chaste, then of course you’ll be driven by pride to look down on those who have not been — after all, if I can do something in my own power, why can’t other people? But if you humbly believe that your heart, left to its own devices, is every bit as wicked as that of the worst sinner, and that every bit of good in you is there only because of the kindness of a loving Father who preserves you from falling into sin? Your attitude toward others is going to be very different.

What keeps coming to my mind are the words to one of my favorite hymns.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!

Over It.

A blog I frequent has stoked rather fiery conversation in the comments section of an article that mentions, among other things, how unfair — not to mention impractical — it is for Christians to make “must be a virgin” a non-negotiable for dating. Common sense, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought! But apparently not. A slightly shocking number of young men have come along and protested that it’s perfectly all right to do so, and one of the most common themes in their comments is a sort of wounded, “Well, I stayed a virgin, so the least she can do is stay one, too!”

I’ve made several comments along the lines of, “Yes, it’s a fine desire to have, but it’s not ok to make it a demand; you’ll never have a sinless spouse and you’re not sinless either; there’s a big difference between someone who doesn’t value chastity and someone who does but who has messed up in the past; you’re potentially missing out on strong, committed believers with a biblical view of sexuality because you refuse to release them from their pasts, etc.”

But I can understand the sort of visceral, instinctive response of “I worked hard to keep myself from this particular sin and I’m going to go into a marriage without that baggage, thanks.” The difference is, I got over it in high school. In fact, I vividly remember getting over it. I was at camp the summer between junior and senior year, and at campfire one night I was sitting with a counselor who I’m now totally unashamed to say I had a massive crush on (it’s fine, he was like two years older than me, tops). Whoever was giving the little campfire devotional was talking about how important it was to remain committed to God’s standards, and he gave a few stats about teens and sexual activity, one of which had to do with how few young men graduate high school having had zero sex partners. I remember being seriously distressed by it and leaning over to Cute Counselor and saying something about how surprising it was but how I was sure it didn’t apply to him. He replied, to my continued shock, that, actually, it did.

I remember how much it screwed up my worldview. I remember thinking, But he’s such a good guy, and such a committed Christian! How could he have that in his past? And then, Could I ever marry a guy who wasn’t a virgin? And then, Do I even have the right to demand that? And then, I’ve been forgiven so much — how could I rule out someone who’s just been forgiven of different things than I have?

Let’s leave aside the practical considerations — the fact that the vast majority of adult men are not virgins, so making that a demand unacceptably narrows the dating pool. Let’s even leave aside the semantics — that “virginity” has such a range of meanings as to make it a very unhelpful metric of chastity. Let’s remember this:

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

And this:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

In which I attempt to encourage dudes. Here we go.

By far the most common objection to what I’ve said to men in the Details series goes something like this: “It’s all well and good for you to say men should initiate, but that means that they’re taking on the majority of the risk. I’ve been turned down, and it sucks, and now I find myself gun-shy and unwilling to take on the chance of more disappointment.”

I guess there are a couple ways for me to approach this. I don’t have the spiritual gift of mercy and I’m not terribly sympathetic as a human being so my knee-jerk response to this sort of reply is typically something along the lines of, “Oh, just grow up.” But I know that’s not actually helpful, much as some men (and women) need to hear it. So. Read on.

First, I do want men to remember that, as I said in another “Details” post, attraction is a complicated thing. When a gal says, “No thanks,” to a man’s request for a date, it’s a bummer for him, but men need to stop seeing it as a personal rejection. It’s not. It’s just that, for whatever reasons from legit to ridiculous, she’s not feeling it. And — here’s the kicker — she’s not under any obligation to explain or justify those reasons to the guy who asks her out. In fact, I generally have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for things like that.

I think a huge part of the problem is waiting too long and investing too much emotionally in the potential date. If you find a girl interesting, ask her out, soon after the interest develops. Don’t wait until you’re into “hurt and disappointment” territory if she turns you down. It’s not that big a risk — or it shouldn’t be unless you’ve spent weeks mentally composing a speech about how much you like her or whatever. And nine times out of ten, it’s not really “about you” at all, it’s something intangible. And please know that I’m working just as hard to encourage women to take a chance and say yes (it’s a risk for us too!) to good guys.

My second thought is, well, is there a common theme emerging as far as the reasons you’re getting a “no thanks”? Among my friends, probably the most common reason for saying no is too much intensity rather than just, “Would you go on a date with me?” I’m not saying guys need to change who they are, but it’s wise to be willing to work on your approach if that’s causing problems. I mean, you know the old definition of “crazy,” right?

So, are you coming on too strong? Only asking out the hottest girls in your circle? Overlooking the solid female friend right in front of you? Do you get stage fright and just need to practice a thousand times? Are you investing your heart in a girl pre-asking-out, and just feeling the pressure? Are you one of those guys who asks out girls he’s never spoken to before? All of those things are pretty quick fixes. Ask a girl out if you’ve talked to her a few times (great opportunity to work on your conversation skills) and find her interesting. Don’t wait weeks or months, don’t invest too much, just keep it light and casual.

And since this is always the elephant in the room in conversations like this, I’ll touch on the whole “looks” thing. Just the other day I read an article about online dating site profiles and the fact that the more polarizing a person’s looks were, the more likely that person would be to have others contact them. In other words, the more classically pretty/handsome people were getting contacted far less often than the ones who some people thought were not just less-attractive, but actually ugly. And in my own experience I can tell you that the men of my acquaintance who’ve had the most success in the dating world are not necessarily my best-looking guy friends. The three or four of them who have just rocked it out in the last couple of years aren’t the face-melting hotties, they’re just the ones who’ve been persistent in the face of a lot of “no thanks”es from girls, even stuck it out through a series of girls going on three or four dates with them and then calling it quits — and they’re the ones married, or engaged, or in serious relationships. Their attitude was that they just had to do what the Lord called and equipped them to do, which was to be initiators, and leave the results to Him without worrying about women’s responses, trusting that He uses means to accomplish his purposes.

From my own experience, I know that, because I’m not a five-eight, 110-lb blonde volleyball player or a Megan Fox lookalike or whatever, there’s going to be a narrower range of men who find me attractive. That is totally fine — I’ve gone out with guys who thought I was perfect looking and had no interest in the skinny blonde type, much to my surprise. And I have some really gorgeous friends, so I know from their experiences that being the prettiest girl in the room isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. The less conventionally-attractive you are, the more specific your dating pool is going to be, sure. But haven’t you seen some weird-looking married people? Don’t all sorts make it down the aisle? Tall, short, fat, thin, gorgeous, ugly, and everyone in between? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: attraction is complicated. And that can work for you as well as against you. Play up your quirks. Roll with them. And at the same time, work on your character. Whatever you look like, strive to be the godliest, most contented, most gentlemanly, most confident Whatever Type You Are that you can possibly be. (I’m going to throw in a pitch for The Art of Manliness here. Seriously, guys. Check it out. Taking their advice is going to put you way ahead of many, many dudes in the 20-35 age bracket.)

Third, and just getting really practical here, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea for guys to have a quick definition of “date” to throw out to girls who might think “date” means “OH MY GOODNESS HE LOVES ME.” You might say something like, “Hey, I’ve been wondering if you’d go on a date with me sometime. And I’m using the old-fashioned definition of the word ‘date,’ as in, I find you interesting and I’d like to get to know you better. Casual. What do you think?”

Overall, what I want to say to the men reading this is, be encouraged. Hurt and disappointment? It’s part of life. You can’t insulate yourself from it. It’s going to happen whether you ask interesting girls out or not, so if you want to be married, why not take the bull by the horns?

I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow

Although it’s not Tebow per se, just the tendency of Christians to latch on to ANYTHING that links our faith or values with success. Tebow, yes, but also any public figure who claims the name of Christ. Archaeological findings. Christian music that gets secular accolades. Family-friendly movies. TV shows that use God’s name as a blessing rather than a curse word. Books where the main characters don’t sleep together (but, interestingly, not books where the hero lays down his life for his friends). If it’s successful and seems to line up with our faith or values, we are ALL OVER THAT. And if anybody dares to criticize or question, they get piled on, post haste.

I have seen people, when questioned about the wisdom of letting teenage girls read a book about a young woman whose identity is so wrapped up in a potentially-dangerous man’s opinion of her, act like the foundations of Christian morality are being attacked. I have deleted hundreds of emails forwarded by well-intentioned brothers and sisters claiming that some massive atheist movement is trying to get Touched By An Angel or Seventh Heaven taken off the air, as though those shows’ insipid pseudo-gospel is the key to the salvation of thousands of pagan cable subscribers, or trying to persuade me to boycott this or that book whose author is supposedly a Satanist or Wiccan or whatever (never mind the fact that these things could be debunked with one thirty-second Snopes search). I have watched, incredulous, when a comments section explodes with vitriol below an article that dares to question the artistic merit of Fireproof or the Left Behind movies.

When the so-called “James Ossuary” was discovered several years ago, I remember some Christians acting completely triumphant, as though this archaeological find was the key to people finally recognizing the truth of Christianity. And then when the thing was proven to be a phoney a few months later, those same Christians were crushed. When George W. talked about Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worshipping the same God, many of the Christians who had voted for him because of his faith rushed to make excuses or to agree.

What’s the problem here?

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a Christian (we’ll call him “A” just for the heck of it) who feels guilty because he’s never led a single coworker to Christ. The last time A got a guilty conscience, he invited all of them to screenings of Fireproof, but no one came. He feels pretty shaky about his ability to convince people that the Scriptures are true, because it seems like every time there’s another archaeological finding in the newspaper, three months later it’s proven to be a fake. A’s really worried that the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket, because it seems like atheism is getting more and more popular, immorality is rampant, and his email inbox is full of forwards from friends about the dangers of certain video games, movies, and books. He feels unsettled, always searching for the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to proving that Christianity is true.

Whenever A encounters people who have criticisms of Tim Tebow or Stephen Baldwin or other Christian celebrities, or who roll their eyes about Fireproof or Courageous, he’s frustrated and wonders why people are so nit-picky — I mean, so what if Tebow’s not the best quarterback in the world! At least he’s a Christian! And so what if Courageousisn’t Oscar material! It’s got a great message! Isn’t that what really matters? A really wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to be unashamed of the Gospel, but it seems like “Christian” behavior gets a lot of flak and he wonders where to draw the line. “Tebowing” in the hallways of a public school might not seem all that effective, but surely it must be good if it’s pointing to Jesus!

He just doesn’t know what to do with Christians who disagree with him about that kind of stuff, so he often finds himself in confrontations — even sometimes ending friendships with people he once loved and respected, so he feels increasingly alone in the world. In fact, A recently found out that a friend changed his views on what he thinks is an important issue, and A was incredibly grieved and hurt, and finds himself struggling to relate to his former friend. Sure, it’s not like his former friend renounced Christ, but how can he fellowship with someone with such different views on such an important issue?

Now, imagine a Christian (“B”) who is bold but thoughtful in the way he shares his faith with his coworkers. He has spiritual conversations with them but is never pushy, and has brought a few friends to church and had the chance to share the Gospel with some others. Whenever archaeological findings seem to support the biblical account, B smiles to himself and thanks God, but doesn’t worry if those findings are overturned, because he knows that God’s truth will ultimately be revealed, just maybe not on his timetable. He doesn’t get too caught up in the latest popular book or movie, Christian or not — he sees popular culture of all kinds as something to be discerning about, not something to either accept thoughtlessly or reject thoughtlessly. He watches good movies and listens to good music when they tell the truth about God’s world whether they have a Christian label or not, and he prays and hopes that more Christian artists will make great art, not just “Christian” art.

When a public figure professes Christ, B prays for that person’s faith and testimony, but doesn’t freak out when people criticize, because he knows that Christianity doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t Christians. He doesn’t get too concerned about books, movies, shows, or music that are supposedly going to “destroy young people” or whatever, because he remembers that God’s people have managed to survive Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nero, to say nothing of Dungeons & Dragons and Twilight. B exercises discernment — and teaches those he mentors to do the same — about the latest craze, receiving the good with gratitude to God, and rejecting the wicked or worthless.

B recognizes that believers can differ on matters of conscience and still fellowship with one another — he has different personal convictions than some of his friends but wouldn’t dream of trying to impose his conscience on his friends. When he finds out that brothers and sisters disagree with his views on pop culture or politics or other issues of conscience, he humbles himself and is willing to be proven wrong, especially when the disagreement is with someone he trusts and knows to be a solid, mature believer. When he found out that a friend changed his views on an important but non-salvation-related issue, B was curious, but assumed that, since his friend was a believer and therefore had the Holy Spirit, he’d thought the issue through and prayed about it before changing his mind. B and his friend had a few conversations about it, and although B stuck with his own views, he was convinced that his friend had made the change with a good conscience before God and happily continued hanging out with him. On the other hand, a friend of B’s read a book espousing a dangerous, anti-gospel doctrine, and B knew this wasn’t just a “conscience issue.” So he talked through the book’s issues carefully with his friend, and they read it together, with B prayerfully helping his friend see the errors the author was promoting, without breaking fellowship.

What’s the difference between these two hypothetical Christians? Theology.

More about this tomorrow. Meanwhile… which Christian would you rather be like?

So Much “Christian” Art Sucks. That Is Not OK

Just a couple of thoughts.

With apologies to Tolstoy: All good art is alike; each bad work of art is bad in its own way.

Good art says something true about the world in a way that causes that truth to become real to us by the work’s beauty or skillfulness. It doesn’t have to be big truth; “afternoon sunlight strikes a bowl of fruit in such a way” is as true, logically, as “Christ’s resurrection is the ground of the Christian’s hope,” or “two and two are four.”  “Flowers are beautiful” and “death comes for every man” are equally true. “All is not as it seems” and “these colors look striking together”? Also both true (or at least potentially, in that last case).

In that way, all good art is good inasmuch as its beauty or skillfulness or execution says something true (which is not the same as “real;” not even a little).

Bad art, though, and particularly bad “Christian” art, can fail in a hundred points. It can be vapid. It can be unskillful. It can be sentimental. It can be a bludgeon. It can be propaganda. It can say something false about the world — that the world is all sweetness and light, or that evil is an illusion. Or something false about the Gospel or about God — that the good news of Jesus is mostly about us or our comfort or eventual escape, or that God is something that He’s not. It can be moralistic. It can be pandering.

That’s not OK, even if the focus of the work is something Gospel-related.

Vale Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

Sad news this week: the death of the brilliant, articulate writer and philosopher Christopher Hitchens, of cancer. Many in the Christian world know of him as the belligerent atheist — anti-theist, really — whose series of debates with noted Christian author and apologist Douglas Wilson were made into a book and a documentary, both titled Collision.

Sympathies to his wife and children, and to his brother, journalist Peter Hitchens, who is a fairly recent convert to Christianity.

Possibly Quite Controversial

Brace yourself. Also, this is a bit scattered, mostly because it’s just musings and I decided to publish rather than edit and re-edit ad nauseam. Any feedback would be most appreciated!

Hormonal birth control separated sex from procreation for essentially the first time ever, in a way that older barrier methods didn’t, in the minds of an entire culture, and it changed the way that several successive generations viewed the human desire for intimacy. And when the (inevitable?) rise in (public/unhidden, at least) promiscuity began after the so-called sexual revolution, unfortunately, many churches and Christians, rather than simply saying what the Scriptures say, demonized sex outright, and failed to teach young people that the desire for intimacy is normal and good and right and purposeful, designed by God in part to to encourage marriage, the only safe haven for both sexual intimacy and children. (Of course, some churches and Christians and professing Christians had always demonized sex, ever since dear old Augustine forgot that denigrating the physical was Plato’s idea, not God’s.)

So now, post birth control, post sexual revolution, sex, marriage, and children are spoken of, even in the church, as three completely separate things with three completely separate sets of attendant sin issues, rather than as God made them — inextricably connected.

What’s the point for us? Well, in my experience, often unmarried Christians will see their desire for sexual intimacy as purely sinful, and unrelated to either marriage or child-bearing. So they’ll go along in their single years thinking they’re terrible people for having strong desires, and often, alas! in their despair over their own apparently incorrigible lust, toying with sinful outlets for those desires.

Instead, all unmarried people with a desire for intimacy should thank God for that good desire, praying toward and seeking the comfort of marriage and the blessing of children all the while.

Read Harry Potter, Part Five (Links roundup!)

The first place you need to go for a Christian perspective on this controversy is The Rabbit Room, the online home of a group of Christian writers, artists, and musicians who believe that Christian art is best nourished in community. Several of the authors have written winsomely and eloquently about Harry, and their thoughts are all worth pondering.

Travis Prinzl, an author and enthusiastic Potter apologist, writes a two part series (Part 1, Part 2) on what he’s learned from Harry over the years (hint: not witchcraft).

Author and songwriter Andrew Peterson muses on “Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me,” and composes an imaginary letter to the series’ author. Avoid the comments section on this one unless you enjoy high blood pressure.

Singer-songwriter Jason Gray defends The Boy Who Lived. The comments section on this one is fantastic — definitely take the extra couple of minutes to read it. And I think his enthusiasm for the series is particularly persuasive given his own experiences, briefly mentioned in the article, with a father who “dabbled in the occult.”

Elsewhere on The Internets, John Granger offers a defense of the books and their author, and a typically in-depth explanation of some of the more obscure symbolism in HP.

Choosing Singleness?

I don’t think that (most) Christians in my generation are making some sort of conscious choice not to marry. Many of them are making or have made practical life choices that have resulted in or contributed to prolonged singleness, but I don’t think many, if any, of them set out at age 20 to postpone marriage indefinitely. Most of them, frankly, simply lack the skills to make marriage happen. This is a big indictment on men, since they’re the initiators, but many single women also lack skill in encouraging and responding to godly masculinity when they see it. It’s also a pretty serious indictment on our parents’ generation, unfortunately. Somewhere along the line many parents forgot that they had a duty to pass on a legacy of maturity and responsibility to their children and became enablers of adultolescence instead — many parents even misguidedly encouraged their children to put off marriage as long as possible! (Side note: if you think young people today are too immature to consider marriage, the solution is not to tell them to postpone marriage; the solution is to encourage and teach them to grow up!)

But we have to begin where we are. We have to dismantle the lie that people have an expiration date past a certain age, or that a person’s singleness is either their choice or their fault — most of the time it’s really neither.