Archive for December, 2009

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggars’ 19th Baby

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Josie Brooklyn Duggar was born by emergency C-section today — four months early and weighing less than a pound and a half.

Regardless of how critical I’ve been of the Duggars’ view on family and of the whole Quiverfull movement — the description comes from the Biblical description of children as arrows in a man’s quiver — there’s a little baby’s life at stake. Please pray that little Josie survives and thrives.

John Eldredge on The Two People In A Marriage

Friday, December 11th, 2009

John Eldredge, evangelicalism’s ruggedly handsome go-to guy on being a guy and other stuff, has a new marriage book out with his lovely wife, Stasi.

Eldredge stormed onto the Christian publishing field a few years ago with “Wild At Heart,” an explanation of what the Church and society have done to wither mens’ souls and a defense of Rugged Christian Manliness as a defiant response. “Wild at Heart” is a call to fly fishing, mountain climbing, and other masculine pursuits — well, he identifies them as masculine — that teach men how to be heroes of the Great Adventure God has placed them in, how to lead their wives and children like sensitive, intrepid conquerors, and how to banish the effect of the icy cold water of modern society on their hearts and . . . stooped, burdened shoulders.

“Wild” was a publishing sensation — Eldredge has gone on to write numerous other books, and they’ve all, like “Wild,” spun off innumerable attendant study guides and booklets, journals and calendars, and “Wild” niche merchandise. Although I didn’t find the “Wild at Heart” licensed machete with filleting blade and cuticle nippers; it wasn’t listed in the 113 Eldredge products for sale online at Christian Book Distributors, which features “Wild at Heart” and other Eldredge books in a frightful number of permutations.

But it was “Wild” that made this former Focus on the Family staffer, a father of three ruggedly handsome, masculine but sensitive boys, not just a publishing goldmine but a spokesman for complementarian men, family, and marriage. And Stasi, who is as pretty as our hero deserves, has her own stuff, mostly written to remind gals that their innermost dream is to be rescued by a strong, handsome, virile man. Jesus, of course, is ultimately that man — this is Christian publishing, after all — but he is represented in marriage by a rock-steady, rock-hard, rock-climbing Christian husband.

Men in the Eldredge mold shy away (steadfastly reject, turn away in disgust, set their steely gaze far from) the “feminized” evangelical Church. They wince — grimace, frown, grunt in disapproval — at the feelings-based, touchy-feely, Jesus-as-nice-guy focus of the contemporary megachurch. Eldredge wants them fishing on Saturdays but in Church on Sundays, and calls for the Church to begin to understand men and thus stanch the tide of masculine defection from Christiandom. Men, after all, are the heads of families, and families — Intact, Gender-Delineanated and Athletically Robust — are the building blocks of the church.

That’s “church,” lower-case “c” and all.

And that’s because too often, the church that benefits from these IGDAR families is simply the church Eldredge’s readers attend, and those churches are built for the entertainment, perhaps even the edification, of families. I’m not convinced that the unmarried, once-married, never-married or horribly married, with or without children, gain the attention, encouragement, and edification they need — not in the suburban megachurch, not in Christiadom, and not in Eldredge’s books. Single-parent families, gay-parent families and unparented youth need the Church-capital-C and might even need the church; it’s clear that the Church needs them.

Families are important first because the people in them are, an obvious fact often disregarded nonetheless. The Church — the living stones that make up Christ’s Temple, the Body of the One who saves us — has every interest in strong families and fulfilled, secure, stable individuals. I’m not sure Christ wants exactly for his families what Eldredge does, but the Lord is the originator of family and he delights when obedience to him produces a household marked with joy, respect, and encouragement. But Christ is primarily the Savior of people — his covenant people, yes, but people first as individuals. A marriage cannot be healthy if the two in it aren’t. Two broken people cannot equal one healthy marriage; one person denied and one person fulfilled can’t, either. The Christian focus on saving marriage is fruitless if it refuses to focus on the health — spiritual, physical, and emotional — of the two people in it. A “saved” marriage is no victory if it means, ultimately, that divorce simply was forestalled while one or both partners is denied, dehumanized, or destroyed.

There is much to say about this, and much to tie in to “Quiverfull,” the book I reviewed with great excitement a couple of weeks ago. (Eldredge is not a figure in the Quiverfull culture, although he is strongly devoted to strict gender roles in marriage, believing them to be the best way — God’s way — for men to keep their ladies safe). For now, though, I’ll end with a snippet of Eldredge’s Cast of Characters in a marriage:

The man is Huck Finn. The woman is Cinderella. And things apparently will go well if he — wild and free, strong and charming if not a bit of a rogue — is given the all-clear to rescue his damsel in distress in their Colorado Springs culdesac.

If only it were that easy. If only it weren’t that offensive. I don’t read Eldredge beyond what I have to, and he’s only one of many complementarians with new and exciting takes on marriage. But Eldredge’s books are character-driven nods to fables and fairy tales, where men are dashing and women are simple.

I so I wonder how Huck ‘n Cindy will do when he’s diagnosed with ALS, or when she goes off to college to finish her Ph.D. in astrophysics. That book hasn’t been written, but there is a Book much less focused on what men ought to do and what women ought to do, AS men and women, and devoted instead simply to the imperative of love.

(John and Stasi Eldredge, “Love and War,” 2009)

Best. Band. Ever.

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I never thought I’d find a band that I liked even more than Daniel Amos, a treasure trove of rich, prophetic message accompanied by some of the best rock music I’ve ever heard, or Crashdog, a driving, angry punk assault on Christian passivity and self-righteousness. I still think DA is a gift to the world, and the fine young men behind Crashdog some of the best preachers I’ve ever heard. And I’m still crazy about The Clash; Combat Rock, even more than London Calling, remains relevant and vital even after 30 years. Daniel Amos, The Clash, Crashdog, Minor Threat and The Star F—ing Hipsters (hey, I don’t name ‘em) are a few of the bands I like, and they trump pretty much anything else out there. I’m sure the 49-year-old evangelical homemaker demographic wasn’t part of the plan, but I’m glad they’re making music — even if not really making music for me.

But there’s a band out there you need to know about. The Dingees are a dub-influenced ska/punk band from Orange County, and their CD “Sundown to Midnight” is my all-time favorite CD. Sadly, the band has drifted apart, but their music is still available on three original CDs. The band members, who got together in the mid-90s, identify as Christians, but they’re not, thankfully, a “Christian band” full of earnest, young, unashamed evangelicals striving to be earnest, young, only-a-little-ashamed hipsters. The Dingees, who I imagine you’ll never hear on FM Christian stations, are achingly honest, tremendously gifted, and clearly prophetic — they’re unflinching in their condemnation of social ills and write and sing like people who’ve suffered from them. The lyrics are rich, the music full and stirring, and I’m pretty sure “World’s Last Night” from “The Crucial Conspiracy,” with its inclusion of Romans 8:38-39 (“neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons . . . can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”), will wake you up from the affluence-born slumber we all drift into.

So. Check them out, quick. Rally-O!!!

Confidential to Dan . . .

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Dan is one of those who took me up on my offer to receive a study of the passages in Mark and Matthew that Doug Wilson, in “The Serrated Edge,” insisted had Jesus calling the Canaanite woman the first-century equivalent of the N-word. The study I wrote about, and sent Dan, is one of the best examples of Biblical exegesis I’ve ever read, and not simply because the author’s conclusion varies from Wilson’s. The offer still stands — if you’d like a copy, email me at and I’ll send it out to you.

I thank Dan for taking the time to read the article and for his comments to me. Because they were intended for me only, I won’t post them here — other than to gently point out a flaw in his analogy of Jews and Gentiles, men and women.

Dan wrote that as a Gentile, he felt no slight at all, either from the Lord or from the Church, because the Jews are those God chose to bring the Gospel to first — as Paul writes in Romans, the message of salvation through Jesus the Messiah is offered first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Dan rightly notes that no Gentile feels discriminated against or “less than” his Jewish brethren, and uses that as an analogy in male-female relationships in Church, home, and society — that women ought not feel slighted or “less than” men even though the created order involved their being created after men and, because of that, are correctly in subjection to them.

But the analogy fails.

No Gentile in the Church is prohibited from leadership in it or denied the full expression and use of his or her Spiritual gifts simply because they’re not Jewish. Women, on the other hand, are routinely kept out of leadership and teaching positions in the Church and are continually denied the complete expression and use of their God-given, gender-neutral Spiritual gifts. And we do feel slighted, not because our feelings are hurt, but because the Church is harmed when half its members are prohibited from exercising their gifts and calling. It’s not a matter of “feeling slighted.” It’s a matter of gross injustice on the part of those who cling to the un-Biblical notion of male supremacy in and out of the ecclesiastical setting. It also has resulted in, for two millennia, a Church that’s trying to minister and combat sin in the whole world with only half its Spirit-given power, half its gifting, and half its passion. If Satan had dreamed up a way to cripple the Body of Christ, he could do no better than to silence the voice and disable the strength of its women.

Complementarians, those who, unlike egalitarians, embrace the view that rigid gender roles are Christ’s will for the Church, often accuse us of mishandling “liberation verses” like Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” NIV). We know that “Greek” here means Gentile; further, we know — and rejoice — that race, social standing, and gender differences aren’t eliminated by this verse. Both experience and the context of the preceding text confirms that.

But this verse, Jesus’ message, and the broad testimony of the New Testament calls for a Church that is vibrant and diverse, one that refuses to bar its members — the Spirit-led disciples of Jesus — from using their gifts in any role simply on the basis of race, social standing, or sex. Those distinctions remain, but they are irrelevant in the life of the Church. Dan surely rejoices with me that no Gentile or poor man is excluded from full participation in the Church, with full use of his Spiritual gifts, because of this and other parts of the Word that together announce the New Way of Jesus Christ — the overthrowing, through Christ’s death and resurrection, of the reign of sin that resulted from the Fall. I trust that in time, perhaps with more study, he’ll share my dismay that only two-thirds of those included in the sweeping triumph of Galatians 3:28 actually have been released to serve without bondage in the Church of the One who died to set them free.

Oh, To Be A Biblical Literalist In Times Of War

Friday, December 4th, 2009

How I wish those committed to Biblical inerrancy and the plain reading of God’s Word would direct their crusade for a high view of the Scriptures to the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t know how much more clear “Love your enemies” can be — not for the country’s political leaders, who may or may not be Christians and who may or may not hold to a high view of Scripture in anything not involving sex if they are, but to every born-again believer in Christ Jesus in this or any other country.

Government may act in a way that honors both God and God’s intention for civil authority. Or, as is more often the case, it may not. But governments are established, endorsed, and empowered by the people in them, people who may know Christ as Savior, who may be sufficiently Christian-ish to do good, or who act virtuously or maliciously as adherents of any faith. Worse, of course, and my focus here, are those who claim the name of Christ Jesus and then act, as agents of government, in ways that are utterly inconsistent with his teachings. They lead us into war, and those of us who follow Christ must decide how to respond.

Prayer is always the first response, and for the Christian who seeks to fully live out Christ’s teachings and who, like me, fails miserably, supplication must be accompanied by submission — to a God greater than ourselves, and to the bitter confession that we live in a world in whose evil we more than gladly participate. In war, our nascent pacifism or our embrace of Augustinian “Just War” criteria must be enlivened by genuine concern for our soldiers. In this case, they were sold a lie (Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and wasn’t a WMD threat) or are lambs sacrificed in a game (Afghanistan) that has no possibility of victory until the U.S. acknowledges its errors, takes responsibility for the loss of life and the loss of its standing in the eyes of Muslim and other nations, and leaves Afghanistan to its own people.

The soldiers, as soldiers, aren’t at fault. Most are dedicated patriots who need our support and our prayers for the healing that only Christ can offer. Others — this has to be acknowledged — likely enlisted so they could kick some Muslim ass, and they need our rebuke and guidance and our prayers for the cleansing that only Christ can offer. And woe be it to a nation that lies to and lures its young into war and then fails to care for them — physically, mentally, emotionally and economically — when they return from having done what it bade them to do.

God cannot be pleased with the original response to 9/11, with the origin of this war, with the thousands of acts of unnecessary violence committed by or perpetuated against our soldiers, and with the War on Terrorism’s desperate continuation in the hope that somehow we’ll all be made safer. The Gospels give us clear teaching on how to respond individually to violence; the corporate response is only made possible by hundreds of thousands of individual responses, a reality that calls to mind an anti-war poster I had hanging in my bedroom while growing up that I’ll paraphrase here:

What if they gave a war and all of Christ’s disciples were so committed to the Bible that they refused to show up?


Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

This committed political liberal and staunch Obama supporter was dismayed, but not surprised, at his announcement Tuesday that some 30,000 young men and women would be sent to Afghanistan to fight the “imminent threat” posed by Al-Qaeda forces — a threat that presumably will be completely dispatched and the kitchen tidied up by mid-2011, when families across the country, Obama says, will begin to welcome home their children, brother, sisters, and parents.

I’m not an expert on war. I’m not a student of geopolitics, and I’m not a pacifist, although I believe Jesus was; this is one of many evidences that I’m not yet fully conformed, either by grace or by my own nature, to the character of Christ. I hate war and I hate injustice, and they seem to be two sides of the same aggressive, imperialist coin. And so I’m wary of any plan that commits U.S. forces to a war that probably made sense right after September 11, 2001, but has devolved now, thanks to the gross mismanagement of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice team, into utter chaos that has Afghan tribal warriors fighting us pretty much, at least in their view, just because we’re fighting them.

I was impressed last month with the message of ground soldier and former State Department staffer Matthew Hoh, whose resignation letter described the U.S. presence in Afghanistan as destabilizing, warned that the real threat in Afghanistan was from pockets of Afghan fighters who would not be a threat if we stopped fighting them, and predicted that no amount of time nor increase in troops would bring victory, or anything close to it, to the United States. I assume his words were taken into consideration; I lament that they weren’t followed, and I grieve for the inevitable loss of both Afghani and American life.

Obama inherited a disaster. As underhanded as Bush’s 2000 election “victory” was pronounced, and as inconceivable as his re-election in 2004 remains, the self-professed Christian proved to be as inept a commander-in-chief as he was grievously, but insouciantly, flawed as a disciple of Jesus. Nonetheless, Obama, whose Christian faith has also been publicly expressed but not accepted as instantly, breathlessly, and undiscerningly as Bush’s, and who will always be thought of as a Muslim by those who believe “Muslim” to be nothing but a pejorative, has to clean up the mess. He’s not the first President, though, to inherit disaster, although history will note that the disaster inherited was in triplicate — a morass of security, economic, and healthcare stability left rotting for eight years that he now must fix.

The national security mess, however, is as much the tarnished image of the United States and its role as the world’s only superpower as it is a war, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, that appears less and less likely to be winnable. And what would a “win” look like, anyway? Any victory pronounced has to have the country’s image in mind; if it doesn’t result in the lessening of tensions with Muslim countries and a recovery of the esteem with which the U.S. has been viewed in previous decades, it’s not a victory. This is ultimately a moral imperative, even as it has its strategic benefits, and it speaks to the morality of the United States as a “Christian” nation and to the Christian commitment of both the one who got us into this and the one who hopes to get us out. I don’t see how national security can be enhanced nor esteem recaptured by the addition of 30,000 potential sacrifices on the altar of military aggression.

Obama is not solely responsible for rehabilitating the U.S.’ image as a self-described “Christian” nation. Enormous good would be accomplished — profound respect for this country would be regained — if its former President would rend his golf shirts and sprinkle some loamy Central Texas soil over his head in repentance. That won’t bring back the dead, but it would shake up geopolitics, and it might reshuffle the cards in a game that seems to require only heightened aggression to stay at the table. I can only pray for Obama, and pray for Bush. They are entirely different prayers, just as the two are entirely different in both their culpability and their opportunity.

Protecting the President

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Like most of you, I’m bewildered at the circumstances surrounding the crashing of last week’s State Dinner by a couple of publicity proselytes — people who have become followers of the belief that simply being famous is a worthy goal and that having people know your name is as good as having people know you.

It’s not the couples’ tacky behavior that I care about, although I suppose that what their story says of our society is important. (I’ll give you a hint: What it says is that our collective soul is rotting). Cultural analysis here is a luxury that shouldn’t take attention away from a far greater concern, and that is that the only institution on Earth accountable for keeping Barack Obama safe couldn’t even be counted on in this instance to keep a couple of unknowns from chatting face to face with him in his own residence. The mistake here is way beyond the “we’re embarrassed” apologies of the Secret Service.

A President who is arguably the most threatened in modern history, a man who is the focus of more undisguised hatred from more often-disguised lunatics than any public figure we have, had his first State Dinner marred by the ineptitude of the Secret Service — not just the detail assigned to him that night, but the entire agency. Somehow two uninvited, fame-obsessed groupies finagled their way into a high-profile, invitation-only White House event held in honor of a foreign head of state, which put both the Indian prime minister and his host — a man whose death has been the dream of many of his opponents — at tremendous risk. The Indian people can’t be too happy about it, and the American people ought to be livid. At least the ones who aren’t Christ Church elders.

I’m not given to conspiracy theories. I don’t believe there’s a cadre of Secret Service members who would deliberately steer the President into danger or fail to protect him if it occurred. But I am given to harsh criticism of the previous Administration, and the consolidation of the Secret Service into Homeland Security under George W. Bush’s “just do SOMETHING!” approach to fighting terrorism reduced its funding and scuttled its organization. There’s no excuse for dereliction of duty, and it seems that one of the easier assignments for the Service would be the checking of guests’ identification against a State Dinner list of invitees.

The country has a right to expect that people sworn to give their lives to save the President’s in the line of fire would be embarrassed if a catastrophe had happened in a State Dinner receiving line, and it, the President, and the Obama family have a right to expect nothing less than the perfectly executed coordination of responsibilities in effecting his protection.