Monthly Archives: May 2020

Recovering with Aimee Byrd

In the past week, I read – among other books – two in particular that stuck with me. I generally tend to have several books going at one time.

The first book was Aimee Byrd’s remarkable book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

The second was Us Against You by my favorite novelist, Fredrik Backman. It is a novel about two rival towns within a few miles of one another; two hockey teams; two rivalries – us and you. It is a story of hate and enemies and how quickly hate burns into murder and destruction. It is an account of a politician who thrives on that hate, and keeping it stirred up. Hate is easy, inborn, natural. It is easily confused for righteousness and zeal. Beartown hockey against their archrivals: Hed hockey. Us against you.

The story begins with the star of Beartown Hockey raping the daughter of the General Manager of Beartown Hockey. And the hate begins.

Backman writes,

A boy, the star of the hockey team, rapes a girl. And we lost our way. A community is the sum of its choices, and when two of our children said different things, we believed him. Because that was easier, because if the girl is lying our lives could carry on as usual. When we found out the truth, we fell apart, taking the town with us. It’s easy to say that we should have done everything differently, but perhaps you wouldn’t have acted differently, either. If you’d been afraid, if you’d been forced to pick a side, if you’d known what you had to sacrifice. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as brave as you think. Perhaps you’re not as different from us as you hope. (page 2)

It is a hard read. Brilliant writing.

In one scene, Backman describes a hockey game between the two towns. The towns have hated each other as long as anyone can remember. The ice rink has a standing area and it is filled with the loudest fans of the rival team. As the game begins, the fans of the opposing team in the standing area search for the names that will bring the most pain, the most rage, the most degradation and start shouting those names. It makes one cringe to read it.

But then, something happens. One girl in the standing area gets up and goes to the seating area. Another one follows. Then another and another. Until, pretty soon, there are only a handful of haters left in the standing area. It turns out that those ugly, shouting, hateful people were not nearly as numerous as everyone thought. There were only a handful of them. But they knew what to shout to cause the most pain. And they were loud.

This calms everything down for the evening, and the two teams play hockey.

Aimee Byrd is not outside the Reformed Tradition. She is under the authority of the church. She subscribes to the Reformed creeds and confessions, and has never written anything contrary to her confession of faith. She is more orthodox that those who founded the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She is not a ‘feminist’. She is a sister in Christ, loved by the Lord Jesus and a member of his body, the church.

But she asks some very valid questions in her book. Do women have more to offer the church than what is generally assumed by the modern conservative church? Do women have the right and the duty to study theology? Do women have the right to sit at the feet of Jesus as disciples and learn from him?

And she writes and gently critiques from within the boundaries of Reformed Theology and the ecumenical creeds. She is direct, but gentle. Insightful and kind.

And the men lost their minds. Without even reading the book, shouts of “heresy”! “Disturber of the peace of the church!” “Feminist!” “Egalitarian!”

Shouting from the stands is easy. It is the cowards way. It avoids actually confronting our hate and our fear and having a rational discussion. Perhaps the men are afraid that the women will get uppity. Perhaps they are afraid that their wives will refuse to make them a sandwich and the might have to get off the couch and do it themselves. Perhaps they are afraid of love.

Because if you learn to love, you have to listen. To listen, means you have to quit shouting and admit that there might be something you are wrong about. To love one another means that you have to put the other ahead of yourself. To love, you have to respect and honor even those who might be different than you.

And that is very, very difficult to do.

It is far, far easier to tell a woman to make you a sandwich than it is to love her. But when we do that, how much have we lost of our own humanity?

I think what it comes down to is fear. In Beartown Hockey, Backman describes that fear behind the hate so perfectly. We fear losing who we are. What will we lose if we admit the truth?

Having been born and raised in conservative Reformed churches, I think I know something of that fear. If you let your guard down for one second, liberals get into the church. Next thing you know, you lose everything. The church goes apostate all because someone let their guard down. I think we are afraid of divorce, afraid of having to wash dishes and learn how to cook, afraid we might have to re-evaluate what we have been taught about men and women. If we let our guard down even for a second, the women take over. We can’t have that. Beartown has to win, otherwise, who are we? Constant vigilance takes the place of love and that means that shouting from the stands takes the place of honest engagement. We can’t be seen consorting with FEMINISTS!

But rather than thinking through the questions that Byrd raises, we are afraid of the answer. Most of those who reviewed the book didn’t even read it. They just shouted what their neighbors shouted. Hate is easy. Listening is harder.

I wasn’t a young man in seminary, at least not in years. But I was obnoxious. I thought I knew everything. It is easy to criticize everything outside of what we think is right, it is easy to pick apart and find fault. But we never grow that way. We never learn. We never put off the old man and put on the new. I wish I had listened more than I did.

Our traditions are deeply engrained. We have a very clear understanding of who the right thinking people are. Us against you.

And our debating too often turns into shouting from the stands.

I for one, am leaving those stands. I’m not a part of that. You won’t hear my voice shouting names and insults. I am going to sit in the stands and think some things through. I would invite you to join me.

Maybe we can all recover from the voices of the loud ones and learn a thing or two from our sisters.

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Entitlement and Pharaoh

I’ve been studying through Exodus. I can’t tell you how many times I have read the account of the plagues.

But there is a recurring theme that is so common that we miss it. I know that this might sound strange, but I think you know what I mean. Something that is repeated so often that we miss how utterly astounding it is, like a shaft of sunlight bursting through the overhanging branches.

The message that Moses gave to Pharaoh was this:

Thus says the Lord, “Let my people go.”

After the 8th plague,when Egypt was almost completely destroyed, Pharaoh said,

Exodus 10:24
Then Pharaoh called to Moses and said, “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be kept back. Let your little ones also go with you.”

When you pause for a moment, you realize something astounding. The Hebrews were God’s people. But Pharaoh had a deep-seated belief that they were HIS people. He believed that he was entitled to force them to work, dispose of them how he willed, and do with them what he pleased. He was Pharaoh. They were slaves.

It was a mindset that was so deeply engrained in him that it was unquestioned – a presupposition, to use Van Til’s phrase. “Presupposed entitlement”, if you will.

Presupposed entitlement is the assumption, partly inborn, partly acquired through culture, that one is entitled to exert power over another, simply by virtue of their ontology.

Pharaoh was Pharaoh. Of course he was entitled to do whatever he wanted to with the Hebrews. They were Hebrews.

This thinking is common with all fallen men and women. And it is so deeply engrained that we think it before we can even think. For this reason, it is very simple to gather a following, instill them with a sense of superiority over a group of people, and foster that presupposed entitlement. Whole cultures are consumed by it.

Just this past week, two white men were arrested. Three months ago, they got their guns, and got into their truck and followed a black man down the street. The black man was jogging. They demanded that he tell them what he is doing in their neighborhood. He, being afraid, lashed out and ended up getting shot.

There were no prosecutions until the video went viral. The men claimed that they thought he was responsible for a string of burglaries. It was assumed by EVERYONE in law and order that these two men had the right to do what they did. I do not wish to try the case, but I do want to look at some of the rhetoric surrounding the release of the video.

“He was told clearly to stop. He didn’t listen to instructions. He should has stopped and done what he was told to do.”

“It was self-defense”

The two white men were not police officers. They were not authorized in any way to command anyone to do anything. And right there is a perfect example of presupposed entitlement.

We are white. He is black. Of course we have the right to stop and question him.

This morning, a white man stopped a black delivery driver and demanded that he explain what he is doing in the neighborhood.

I have often marveled at the similarities between the arguments of patriarchalists and the arguments of slavery apologists . The similarity is right here: “We, as men, have the God-given right, by our creation, to order women around  – oops, I mean “lead”. We have God-given ontological superiority (woops, I mean “role of authority) and women have the God –given ontological role to submit.”

Substitute “white” for male, and “black” for female and you have the exact argument of the slavery apologists of the nineteenth century.

Perhaps this is why patriarchalist like Doug Wilson also defend chattel slavery as good for the black man…the heart of the issue is the same: White men have ontological entitlement to own and sell black slaves by virtue of their ontological superiority. Males have ontological entitlement over women for the same reason.

 

I have gotten pushback in certain circles for criticizing the “Bible belt culture” – accused of attacking the church.

I was not attacking the church. But I was indeed criticizing the “Bible Belt Culture”. The sort of entitlement that fills one’s head – where they believe that they have the unquestioned right to command a black man, or command a woman as they see fit – does not come overnight. It is engrained by the culture that one is in.

It is true that this entitlement is inborn, because we are all born of Adam. But what I am really talking about is this: only in an entitled culture could two white men use these excuses to escape prosecution for months.

“They thought he was a burglar. They told him to stop. He didn’t stop as he was commanded to.”

Presuppositional entitlement. “I will allow them to go, but they must leave their little ones at home.”

I have the right to command people as I see fit.

This has nothing to do with Christianity.

25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called`benefactors.’
26 “But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.
27 “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. (Luke 22:25-27 NKJ)

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Abuse and Conspiracy Theories

Once again, I am being bullied into “taking a stance” on conspiracy theories. I wish it would stop.

There are certain advocates of abuse victims that write about satanic ritual abuse, conspiracies to molest children, satanic rituals in high places, and so on. I don’t pay a lot of attention, so I don’t know if I know all of the details. I don’t have an opinion as to what they should do or what they should write.

But I have publicly separated from certain groups over it, so I thought I would explain again – as it tends to crop up again. This is just me. I have no intention of dictating what anyone else should do. This is my own conviction.

So here are a few points on my conviction.

  1. I have no doubt whatsoever that great evil exists in high places. I have no doubt that there is indeed ritual satanic abuse, pedophile abuse, conspiracies to cover up and deny the most horrific acts that mankind can commit. That is called “Total depravity” and I have always confessed it and believe it.
  2. I also believe that those with great power in the church and in the state commit great wickedness. It has always been that way.
  3. That being said, I also know that Satan thrives on fear, superstition, unrest, and suspicion. Scripture warns us against that as well. If he can sidetrack us with rumors of symbols, rituals, secret handshakes, hidden messages, then he can convince us that God is not powerful and good, and that Satan is truly in charge of this world.
  4. Satan also thrives on gossip and slander.
  5. Christ has defeated the enemy through his death and resurrection. It is the proclamation of the gospel that casts out all demonic activity, no matter what form it takes (Luke 10; Rev. 12)

So with these points in mind, here is my commitment:

I will not spread around any reports of Satanic ritual abuse, hidden messages, names of “Satan worshipers”, secret pictures, handshakes, conspiracies, rituals, or such like.

I also will have nothing to do with the propagation of such things.

It is NOT because I do not believe that they exist. It is because I believe that darkness thrives on fear, superstition and unrest, and I will not give that to them.

My calling as a preacher of the gospel is to proclaim deliverance and peace through the blood of Christ, not become a sounding board of the restless, superstitious and fearful.

Furthermore, if I spread around the reports that Pastor so and so is involved in ritual abuse, or President so and so eats children in his satanic rituals – these things MAY INDEED BE TRUE! – but if I pass them along I will only accomplish giving more power and more authority to the devil than he actually has. If these things are NOT true, however, I am guilty of great sin in the eyes of God.

I ask myself, when it comes to the latest conspiracy theory – is it true? (almost always I cannot know for certain.) If it is, is it edifying? (almost always, it is simply providing fodder for the gawking crowds). Will it accomplish any good? (Almost certainly not.)

So why would I involve myself in matters beyond me – matters of darkness and great wickedness? The only thing that will defeat such things is the proclamation of the gospel, which is what I do anyway – on a daily basis.

It is one thing to write strongly about heresy or error, refuting someone’s own words. I do that frequently, and will continue to expose satanic doctrines and bad theology. But it is quite another to accuse someone second or third hand of horrible crimes based upon the word of someone you have never met. I have no knowledge of those crimes firsthand, and am quite aware of Total Depravity in bearing false witness, and the thrill of a really juicy story, and will have no part of it. The few times that I have shared on social media someone else’s story I have almost always regretted it.

I do not need to be a crusader against every evil simply because someone demands that I do so. Some abysses I have no interest in exploring, and would suggest that you all do the same.

If someone in my acquaintance or in my congregation suffers from severe satanic abuse, I would believe them. I would tell them the gospel. I would comfort them with Christ and his death and resurrection, and the promise of the second coming and judgment. I will never, ever underestimate the power in the blood of Christ, or his authority as the King of kings, and Lord of lords.

If it were possible, I would support them reporting crimes to the proper authorities.

But I would NEVER encourage or support their taking their accusations to social media to titillate and tickle the ears of the mob. There are already too many sons of Sceva out there. We don’t need more.

14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.
17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. (Acts 19:14-18 NKJ)

Do you see how the powers of darkness were overcome? Magnifying the Lord Jesus, confessing sins, believing the gospel.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy– meditate on these things. (Phil. 4:8 NKJ)

There is tremendous power in the blood of Christ. I will not get sidetracked by “satanic symbols”, rituals, cults, rings, filth of every kind and other stories designed to titillate the readers. I had enough of that in the 70s with the whole “backmasking” thing. No more. Nothing good comes of it. There is already too much unrest in the world.

This is not a flight from reality. It is the exaltation of the light over the forces of darkness. The gospel alone drives out the darkness, and that is my calling.

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Thoughts on “Recovering from …”

Some books I skim. They’re pretty good. Other books, the really good ones, cause you to put it down for a while and think.

This is the best recommendation I can give for “Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”, by Aimee Byrd. Of course, many are already so fixated on male and female roles that they won’t actually read the book, and this will be a huge mistake. Before you critique, digest it. Roll the ideas around the mind. Like a good wine, slurp it, slosh it around the tongue and think about it.

That way, if you do wish to critique, at least you will sound intelligent while you do so and not just a ranting puppet of the establishment.

So, that being said, there is one thing unique about the book. I don’t know what I feel about it. There are several repeating metaphors – one is explained in the introduction. If you don’t read the introduction, you won’t understand most of her references to yellow wallpaper, peeling it back, and other references to a rather obscure 19th century novel. It is a great metaphor and illustrates what she is saying quite effectively.

Another metaphor is found on page 133. As a pastor, I learned many years ago about the perils of using your children as examples, especially if you have not given them the previous veto right. So my first thought, when reading it, was “Oh, I really hope Solanna knew she was going to be in her mom’s book!!”

But that thought quickly passed. I am sure (!) that permission was granted and veto privileges allowed. That story is central to the metaphor of that chapter. Her point is a good one and the illustration holds up.

The reason that I am not sure about my feelings on it, is that it makes it rather difficult to pull out quotable material. There is so much that I would like to quote and to discuss, but in the middle there is an odd reference to wall paper or pizza or taking it out of the oven – which is illustrative and apt – but doesn’t translate into a quotable book.

But that is a quibble. There is so much that I would like to discuss about the book!

Back to my thought at the beginning, before I got sidetracked by wallpaper or pizza (you see how difficult it is??). There is a section (among many) that caused me to put the book down and follow the rabbit trail of my own experiences. Here’s a quote:

Disciples of Christ are initiated into a covenant family. We are baptized within the covenant community of our church, and this marks the church’s responsibility to teach us – not some – but all Christ commanded. It also marks our responsibility to learn as disciples (p162)

She is exactly right, and I love her chapter on discipleship and what it is. Reformed and Presbyterian churches have emphasized the teaching ministry of the church since their inception. Calvin preached 5 times on Sunday and throughout the week to hungry parishioners, according to some historians.

Christ teaches it clearly in the Great Commission:

19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

Byrd is on point and it really got me thinking in this excellent chapter. First of all, about pizza – and secondly, about the nature of the teaching ministry of the church.

There are pockets of people in my extended community who have bought the teaching of the extreme patriarchal teachers. These teachings almost always come with heavy doses of theonomy, reconstructionism, dominionism, and separationism. One aspect of what they believe is that Sunday school classes for kids and membership classes for kids are unbiblical, since God gave that responsibility to the fathers. It is extremely attractive to controlling and abusive men, to have no accountability – even in the church.

In our congregation, our tradition is to do what is called “confirmation”, where I as the pastor spend several years with pre-teen and teenage baptized children and teach them catechism, bible history, theology proper, and just talk about everything on their minds.

These patriarchal types have argued with me about that frequently. There is a movement called “Family Integrated Worship” that teaches that the father is the covenant head, and therefore responsible to teach, to open and close the Lord’s Table, and lead worship. Effectively, it bypasses the church in favor of the family. One man hesitated when I mentioned catechism class, and finally reluctantly agreed, but only if he could participate. It didn’t last long.

One of the most dangerous things about it is that it sounds almost right – until you peel away the wallpaper. It is true that the father and mother have the responsibility to teach their children (Deut. 6) and to bring them to worship, fulfilling their baptismal vows.

But Byrd’s point is an excellent one. According to the great commission, the responsibility to disciple and teach is given to the church. Parents receive that authority as members of the church and are to carry out their duties to their children as members of Christ, not as tiny little popes. But the Great Commission was given to the church, not the heads of families.

The same is true of the sacraments and the ministry of the word. The apostles were NOT chosen because of their status as heads of families. In fact, their marital status and amount of children they had is not mentioned at all. The last genealogy in scripture ends with Christ, which speaks volumes.

Ideally, the pastor, elders and parents all work together. The church making disciples of Christ and teaching them everything that Christ teaches us; the parents bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

The goal of the discipling of the church is that we all grow together, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

In the context, God has given the church its officers (pastor – teachers being one) and has given them their commission. Teach. Teach and teach some more. Make disciples of Christ.

To a certain extent, God has given this ministry to the whole Church. As members of Christ, we are all “prophets” and called to rightly confess his name. But the commission to make disciples is given to the church.

This is a forgotten doctrine that needs to be recovered today.

And, of course, the church is not to teach whatever comes into their heads. They are to make disciples of Christ, not disciples of men. We use a catechism that goes back 500 years and has been used by churches all over the world.

We don’t create new doctrine, we teach the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” – but that is another blog.

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