Book Review: True Friendship by Vaughan Roberts

9781909611511The past 2 weeks I’ve been taking advantage of school holidays (i.e. no SRE to teach) to give myself a little reading time each day. I’ve been working my way through Don Caron’s Love in Hard Places which is excellent, but a tough read. So today I decided to take it easy and start Vaughan Roberts’ True Friendship instead.

What a great book! Which I can say because I finished the whole thing in about an hour.

Friendship is such an important topic. Despite the multitude of social media that supposedly keeps us connected, one of the biggest needs we have is for true, deep friendships.

True Friendship is …

Crucial, Close, Constant, Candid, Careful & Christ-centred.

The book starts by reminding us that the Bible is a story of friendship. A friendship between God and man, ruined by sin & restored by God himself. The gospel is a message not only of restored friendship with God, but also restored relationships with others. We are called into a new community.

[Christians] have been called, as brothers and sisters, to belong to Christ’s family, as we travel along the way of the cross throughout our lives, with our eyes fixed on the destination of the new creation to come, which Christ will introduce when he returns. It is a long journey, with many challenges along the road. We will often fall and need someone to pick us up; waver, and need another to spur us on. Let us resolve therefore to obey the Bible’s instruction: ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds … let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Roberts’ quotes a colleague of his who once said of her friends “For those of us who are single, our friends are our lifeline”. I love this. It’s so true for me. And yet as I read this book I realise how easy it is to forget how important friendships are, and therefore how important it is to put in the effort required to do friendship well.

Chapter 2 reminds us of what we should already know – there’s a big difference between being Facebook friends with someone and actually being friends with someone. There’s also a difference between friendship and marriage – though marriage should be more than friendship, it should not be less.

The Bible certainly has a very high view of marriage, but it is not designed to bear the weight that is placed on it when a husband and wife expect all their relational needs to be met by one another. The result is that they not only put impossible burdens on each other, but also give insufficient attention to other friendships. Single people suffer from the same delusion, too often believing the lie that they are bound to experience miserable isolates live unless they can find a spouse. In their commendable desire to protect marriage and the family from contemporary challenge, churches can unwittingly become part of the problem by giving the impression that romantic olive is an essential ingredient to human flourishing.

Something that really stands out to me is the need for friendships to be candid. I hate criticism. Yet I recognise they need for it and that, when it comes from a friend, it is motivated by love. As Oscar Wilde says ‘a true friend stabs you in the front’.

Above all, what we need from out friends is the application of the gospel in our lives. The ministry of God’s word is not limited to those with public responsibility for preaching and teaching out churches, but is shared by all of us. We are to teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ (Colossians 3:16). As we seek to be helpful to out friends, we need to ask how we can bring the gospel to bear on their lives.

Very helpfully the book both starts and ends pointing us to Jesus. The final line of the book says

[Jesus] is the perfect friend who enable us to be true friends ourselves.

At the end of each chapter Roberts has helpfully includes some questions for reflection & discussion that are worth taking some time to prayerfully work through. It’s a great book and definitely worth the short amount to time it takes to read.

You can buy it here or as an ebook here.

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The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage

I spent most of my afternoon reading The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Need to Know About What’s Really at Stake by Erwin W. Lutzer.

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I think this is an excellent book that encourages all Christians to think biblically about a delicate issue. But it doesn’t just encourage thought – it encourages action.

The thing that I like most about this book is that, in his intro, Lutzer first grounds us in the truths that are so often forgotten by Christians as we discuss these issues

We must lower our voices in this debate, speaking with respect and dignity. No matter how strongly we oppose the homosexual agenda, we are first of all called to be Christians who have the privilege of representing Christ to all the communities of the world, regardless of class, colour, nationality or “gender orientation”. […] We must never speak of homosexuality as if it is the one sin worthy of the eternal flames. Yes, the Bible does condemn homosexuality, but it also condemns a host of other sins that are rampant in the best of our churches. If all we do is shout at homosexuals across a chasm, be assured we will hear only the echo of our own voices ringing in the air.

Those sins are not only rampant in our churches, but in our lives as well. A point which Lutzer takes up in chapter 1.

We must repent of the double standard that sees the sin of the homosexual behaviour in a different category than adultery, premarital sex and pornography. We must plead guilty to the charge of bigotry, for we have acted as if our sins are minor in comparison to those of the homosexual  community, whose sin we think are of a different nature and category. This attitude of condemnation has caused us to lose our voice in the wider culture.

In my opinion this is our biggest problem. Why does the gay community think we are judgmental? Because often times we are!

This book is easy to read and quite short and yet covers a great deal. Lutzer discusses the effects of same-sex marriage on the tradition marriage (grounded of course in the Bible’s covenant based marriage), as well as its effect on children, the issue of adoption, the common arguments in affirming same-sex marriage, how and why the church should act and our continuous need for repentance, humility and hearts that seek God always.

At the beginning of the book Lutzer shares his motivation and thought process behind writing the book. He ends with this interesting paragraph.

Let no one say that we have to choose between loving homosexuals and opposing same-sex marriage. Biblically, love is defined not as license to legitimatize sinful behaviour of any kind, but love helps us to see there is a better way. Obviously, we must be as concerned about our own sins as we are about the sins of the homosexual community. We must be concerned enough to speak out about any action, heterosexual or homosexual, that violates God’s intended plan for marriage and the family.

Food for thought.

Did I kiss marriage goodbye?

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred

I’ve just finished reading Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred by Carolyn McCulley. I think this is a book that every Christian single woman should read. And if you are married and have friends who are single, you should read it too, particularly if your friends are struggling with their singleness.

McCulley writes very honestly about her own feelings about being a 40-something single woman. As she writes about her experience she tells a story about the useless token presents that her and her sister gave to their mother when they were children, then she writes this –

This is how I can think about guts when I consider the biblical passage that calls singleness a gift (1 Cor 7). Calling marriage a gift doesn’t surprise me. I understand that. Over the years, I’ve tried to beg, bribe, borrow, and buy that gift. It simply can’t be done! I am now convinced I must wait to receive it. But how and when did I get this gift of singleness? I don’t recall putting it on my “wish list” or asking anyone to give it to me. I don’t remember opening it up and saying, “Ooohh, thank you! Singleness! How did you know? It’s perfect!” No, this is how I view singleness: While others walk down the wedding aisle to receive the golden gift of marriage, I’m standing to the side, sullenly holding my useless thingy-do of singleness.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this is something that I can really identify with. McCulley then goes on to write about context, definition, purpose and timing of the gift, as well as who assigns the gift. She writes

Ultimately, we are single because that’s God’s will for us right now. That’s it. It’s not because we are too old, too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too quiet, too loud, too smart, too simple, too demanding, or too anything else. It’s not wholly because of past failures or sin tendencies. It’s not because we’re of one race when many of the men around us are of another. It’s not because the men we know lean toward passive temperaments. It’s not because there are more women than men in our singles group. It’s not because our church doesn’t even have a singles group. Though perhaps these things seem like valid reasons, they don’t trump God’s will. One look at the marriages we know or the ones announced in the newspaper will assure us that these factors are present in many people’s lives, and they still got married. We are single today because God apportioned us this gift today.

Over the rest of the book McCulley uses the Proverbs 31 woman as a guide for how we should live as single woman. Surprised?

When I considered this for the first time, I laughed out loud. The very passage I often skipped because it was about an excellent wife was the key to understanding my singleness! Here was the guide I needed to show me how to invest my gift of singleness in the church. As I studied this woman, the priorities for my life came into focus. The role described in this passage is that of a wife, but her godly, noble character is what all woman should desire. It will serve us in every season of our lives.

I think this is a well written and very helpful book and I can’t recommend it enough.

So buy it. Now. Here it is on Amazon or The Book Depository.

I’d love to hear what you think about it.

Review – The Blue Parakeet

A conversation that started in the comments of this post lead me to reading the The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight.

The book is not directly about the Complementarian/Egalitarian discussion. Predominantly it is about how to read the Bible, but the ‘case study’ he presents as an example of his theory is how to understand the role of women in ministry based on Biblical text – with special reference to 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.

McKnight’s emphasis in the book is that we must read the Bible as Story i.e. it has a plot, characters and many authors who contribute to one overarching story. His claim is that reading the Bible in the context of the Story and understanding each passage as a part of a whole is the key to a correct interpretation of any passage. Basically, he is explaining Biblical Theology. Which I like. I think he is right when he says that you cannot take a few verses and try to understand them as stand-alone sentences. Context is key.

However in his attempt to do this with the issue of women in ministry, he is so determined to locate the verses in the context of the Bible, that he forgets to locate them in the context of the chapter (and book) that they are in. But there are bigger issues than that standing in the way of me agreeing with his book.

The first is what I believe to be a complete illusion in his understanding of Genesis 1 -2. McKnight constantly points to the oneness, unity, equality and mutuality that existed between Adam and Eve in Eden before the fall, at one point referring to man and woman being made for each other. This is simply not what is found in the text of Genesis 2.

15 The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden,  17 but you must not eat  from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die.”  18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.”  19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it.  And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man no helper was found who was like him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone,
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called woman,
for she was taken from man.

Yes there is equality, yes there is unity and yes there is oneness – but there is not mutuality. The woman was created as Adam’s helper. In bringing this up I know I open a can of worms that is the discussion regarding the meaning of the word ‘helper’. Right now I am going to ignore that and instead ask how is it possible that they man was made for the woman, when he was created first? He was made, put in the garden with a job to do, and given instructions to follow all before woman was made. SHE was made FOR him and FROM him. There is no mutuality in this – he was not made for her and he was not made from her.

Of course McKnight’s presupposition that mutuality existed before the fall and therefore is the trajectory of male/female relationships now, affects the rest of his understanding of the passages relating to women’s roles.

What also affects his defense of what he calls his ‘Mutuality’ position (as opposed to calling it Egalitarian) is some assumptions he makes about the Complementarian position that I don’t believe are right.

The mistake I believe he makes is this –

‘In writing here about “women in church ministries”, I want to emphasize that I am not talking only about senior pastors and elders and preaching and teaching from pulpits on Sunday mornings, but about anything God calls a woman to do.’

The reason I believe this is a mistake is because the text does not give blanket statements to women about all ministries. Different instructions are given to different ministries. It gives us 2 specific ministries where a woman is directed to silence (weighing of prophecy in 1 Cor 14 & teaching with authority in public worship in 1 Tim 2). It allows (or more correctly expects) women to pray and prophecy in 1 Cor 11 and commands them to teach other women in Titus 2. There is no hard and fast rule to cover all ministries so we mustn’t deal with them all in the same way.

This is seen again as McKnight tells of his mind-changing experience of a conversation with a female professor in which he was driven to

‘the conclusion that anyone who thinks it is wrong for a woman to teach in a church can be consistent with that point of view only if they refuse to read and learn from women scholars. This means not reading their books lest they become teachers.’

Again I would say that if we follow the Biblical text we see that command to silence is not a blanket command, and in fact there are times when a woman is commanded to teach. So if we understand the commands to silence in their context we will see that his conclusion is wrong.

Again we see this issue arise in his statement of Complementarians, that

such persons believe the silencing passages are permanent and there is no place in the local church today for women prophets, apostles, leaders or for women to perform any kind of teaching ministry.’

I believe that the silencing passages are still applicable today AND I believe that there is a massive teaching role for women in the local church. When he writes ‘there is no ground for total silencing of women in the church’ I absolutely could not agree more.

And that brings me to some of the issues I have with his exegesis of the key texts in his case study.

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

McKnight clearly is working hard to try and consolidate the first glance appearance of a contradiction in Paul’s expectation that women will pray and prophesy in chapter 11, and his command to silence in chapter 14. His theory is that because the silence seems to be related to the asking of questions, Paul is commanding uneducated to women to silence. He says

When these women heard what was being said, they had questions. Paul thinks those sorts of questions should be asked elsewhere, probably because it interrupted the service. This conclusion has significant implications. Paul’s silencing of women at Corinth is then only a temporary silencing. Once the women with questions had been educated, they would be permitted the to ask questions in the gatherings of Christians.

I think this conclusion raises more questions than it answers – Why doesn’t Paul say that after women are educated they can then ask questions? What is it about the first lot of questions they have (pre-education) and the second set (post-education) that means one is permitted and the other isn’t? How do we know if our questions fit into the first or the second category? But my main issue with this is that is assumes a lot of information that isn’t in the text and ignores something that is in the text that I think is important to an understanding of 1 Corinthians.

The command to silence is given 3 times in verses 26 – 40, to 3 different groups of people.

26 How is it then, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, [another] language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification. 27 If any person speaks in [another] language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. 30 But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. 32 And the prophets’ spirits are under the control of the prophets, 33 since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting. 36 Did the word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?

37 If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, he should recognize that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. 38 But if anyone ignores this, he will be ignored. 39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in [other] languages. 40 But everything must be done decently and in order.

Both those who speak in tongues and those who prophesy are also given a command to silence. This is not a reflect on the value of what they have to say, in fact verse 26 acknowledges that each on has something of value to add. The reason for silence in these 3 cases is that God is a God of order (verse 33 & 40). To have some women who can ask questions (the educated ones) and some who can’t (the uneducated ones) contradicts the nature of a God of order and peace.

1 Timothy 2:11-12

McKnight claims of these verses that

The big point Paul is making is not to “keep the women silent” but to “teach the women”. His principle was “learning before teaching”.

I think here the text actually contradicts this conclusion.

11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Verse 11 instructs a woman to learn (something which would have been radically counter-cultural to Paul’s original readers). After Paul tells women to learn he tells them NOT to teach. He does not say learn and then teach, he says learn and do not teach.

These are some of the main issues I find in the book but really I have been convinced all the more that the real issue in this debate has little to do with the exegesis of the text (although clearly that is a problem). The issue is an acceptance that difference (or a lack of mutuality) does not mean inequality. You do not have to be or do the same to be equal. Once this is understood and accepted we no longer need to twist the exegesis to suit our purpose.

It’s Your Time?!

I happened to walk past this book in a book store a few days ago.

DetailsEverything about this book makes me cringe. From the title to the cover, to the fact that it was number 7 on the highly questionable top sellers list at the book store.

I know that Joel Osteen has a lot of people in his church and a lot of fans world wide but everytime I see or hear his name it reminds me of the hatred I feel for the prosperity gospel. It makes me understand exactly why Paul wrote in Galatians 1 that anyone who preaches a false gospel ‘let him be eternally condemned’.

The gospel – the true gospel – is not about me. Its about Jesus. But Joel doesn’t seem to get that. It’s your time. YOUR time?

After the title that’s all about me, the next thing I noticed was the tag line underneath.

Activate your faith, Achieve your dreams, and Increase in God’s Favour. Since when does achieving your dreams lead to increasing in God’s favour?

I have been reading the first chapter of the book online. Here’s just a couple of things I take issue with.

God wants to breathe new life into your dreams. He wants to breathe new hope into your heart. You may be about to give up on a marriage, on a troubled child, on a lifelong goal. But God wants you to hold on. He says that if you’ll get your second wind, if you’ll put on a new attitude and press forward like you’re headed down the final stretch, you’ll see Him begin to do amazing things.

Well, I’m not quite sure where God says that. 1 Peter 1:3 says ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’. This living hope is not about a solution for a bad marriage, the secret to raising trouble free children or a promise of achieving a life long goal. It is a the hope of assured eternal life, and an inhertiance that will never spoil or fade, that is kept in heaven (vs 4). The hope is that we will share in the ressurection of Christ. This hope reflects an eternal perspective.

Tune out the negative messages. Quit telling yourself: I’m never landing back on my feet financially. I’m never breaking this addiction. I’m never landing a better job.

Instead, your declarations should be: I am closer than I think. I can raise this child. I can overcome this sickness. I can make this business work. I know I can find a new job.

Oh where to start. You can turn on the positive thinking all you like, but don’t be naive. Following Jesus will bring you joy, but it will also bring you suffering. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). Expect it. But there IS comfort for us. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13). Its not that our suffering will always be taken away, but that God will give us strength to endure it.

You must get up each day knowing this could be the day you get the break you need. This could be the day you see your health turn around. This could be the day your child comes back home. This could be the day you meet the man or woman of your dreams.

That’s true. This might be the day. But it might not. And if today your health doesn’t turn or your child doesn’t come home or you don’t meet the man or woman of your dreams, then Joel has no hope for you. But Jesus does.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9).

Blogging and anonymity

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I’m currently reading The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. Undecided on it at the moment, but I did enjoy these thoughts on blogging.

Blogging may be the world’s most fascinating form of communication. Someone jots down their ideas, clicks “publish”, and those ideas instantaneously appear for the whole world to see. The world does see. More importantly, the world sometimes comments back. Sometimes anonymously and sometimes bitingly and sometimes it hurts. The first lesson a blogger learns is this: anyone in the world can say anything they want at anytime on a blog. The second lesson is this: you may not know that person. In my first week of blogging … I learned these two lessons, and they shocked me. One of the first questions that wandered its way through my head when I began reading a comment on something I had written was: “Who is this person anyway?”

After years of teaching, preaching, and writing, comments and questions were common for me. I am used to being questioned. In fact, I enjoy it. But teachers know who is saying what and more often than not we also know where our students’ questions are “coming from”. But those who drop comments in the comment box on a blog can do so anonymously or with a fictitious name. Under the cloak of anonymity, they can become bold and brazen and can blast away. Incivility marks blogs far too often. To be sure, blogs form blog communities where most learn enough about the other commenters that, even if we don’t know the person personally, we recognise their electronic personality. Knowing one another restores civility. Still, until one discovers “who is who” and “where they are coming from”, comments can sometimes startle and shock.

Food for thought.

You: an introduction

During my college break I have managed to read 2 books (almost) that are not part of my college set readings! YAY!

The second book I’m still working my way through. Part of the delay is that I’m not enjoying it (for a few reasons) – but more info on that later.

Good news is the first book was a winner.

You: an introduction is by Michael Jensen and is all about you…. but not really.you

Michael looks at the complicated issue of what it means to be human and answers the question – who are you. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. While the topic is less than simple, it is not hard to read, in fact its very easy and enjoyable. Michael’s style of writing is very conversational, and at times quite funny.

The book explores different aspects of being human – you are alive, free, a child, either a boy or a girl, you speak, you dream – and how they contribute to what it means to be you. Ultimately it discovers that answer to the question who are we is wrapped up in the question of who Jesus is.

This is definitely a book you want to have on your shelf (after you’ve read it of course). Want to buy a copy? Go here. Buy 2 – so you can lend one to your friends.

Want to read a review of the book?? Find one here, here, here, here, or here.

Or click to here Michael’s ABC interview.

Or watch this.