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Category Archives: Bad Theology

Masculine Christianity: A Cup Half Empty

Earlier this week popular reformed preacher John Piper addressed a crowd of conventioneers at the annual Desiring G-d 2012 event.  His message was entitled “The Frank and Manly Mr. Ryle – The Value of Masculine Christianity“.  Read it here.  It is a fairly long address, so allow me to highlight a couple of pieces (with some intermittent responses.

“God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son.” – Piper

First I’d like to point out that Piper knows his Bible inside and out.  He knows full well that the logic of the first couple of sentences is misleading at best.  G-d is “revealed” in the Bible in the feminine as well as the masculine.  In addition the church is referred to in the feminine many times.  For example: G-d is likened to a mother in Numbers 11:12, Isaiah 49:14-15, Deut. 32:18, Hosea 11:1-4, Psalms 131:2, Job 38:8, and 1 Peter 2:2-3.  G-d is likened to other human feminine images in Psalm 22:9-10, Nehemiah 9:21Luke 13:18-21, and Luke 15:8-10.  God is liked to other non-human feminine images in  Psalm 17:8, Psalm 57:1, Deut. 32:11-12Matthew 23:37, John 3:5, John 1:13. The hebrew language has a gender-based linguistic system, much like Spanish.  Certain words are masculine, certain words are feminine.  When the Hebrew scriptures refer to the Spirit of G-d the word used is “ruwach”, which is a feminine noun.

Now the point here isn’t to have a biblical tit for tat with Piper.  It’s simply to point out that when we use terrestrial language to speak of the divine we are always speaking in symbolism.  When we attempt to explain our hopes regarding the nature of G-d we use analogies.  We use something that is familiar to us personally to express something magnificently mysterious.  Asserting that G-d is literally male, a “father”, or a “king” is no more appropriate than using Jesus’ analogy of a mother hen gathering her chicks to assert that G-d is a chicken.

Piper continued: “God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33)…From all of this, I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Many of the prophets consistently uses the feminine Hebrew pronouns (zo’th & shilyah) to refer the nation of Israel.  In the New Testament Jesus and the apostles refer to the church in the feminine metaphor as bride.  There are a lot of powerful women in the Bible.  Most scholars will let you in on the fact that Jesus had female disciples.  Paul, yes that Paul, was discipled in part by a woman named Priscilla.  She and her husband were both pastors of a church in Ephesus.  The women Euodia and Syntyche worked with Paul to teach the gospel.  We could go on and on, but the assertion that only men lead or are called to lead in the Bible is obviously false.

If we move past antiquated chauvinism we will surely enjoy a much more robust and meaningful Christianity. Chauvinism restricts the analogies we can use to express the divine into a subset of what it could be.  If we refuse to see G-d in the feminine then we have lost half of our means to express our hope.  Our symbolic cup does not “runneth over”…it remains half empty.  A Christianity that embraces the feminine metaphors doubles the tools we have to express the divine.

Now what is interesting in this particular speech is that Piper eventually admits that women can do pretty much anything that a man can do (something I doubt to ever hear Piper’s macho-church companion, Mark Driscoll, admit).

The reason we call such courage “manly” is not that a woman can’t show it, but that we feel a sense of fitness and joy when a man steps up to risk his life, or his career, with courage; but we (should) feel awkward if a woman is thrust into that role on behalf of men…

The point is not that women are unable to lift the weight or bear the pain of the reality of hell. The point is not that they are unable to press it into those who don’t want to hear. The point is that one of the marks of mature manhood is the inclination to spare her that load and its costs….

Again the point is not that a woman is not able to speak this way. The point is that godly men know intuitively, by the masculine nature implanted by God, that turning the hearts of men and women to God with that kind of authoritative speaking is the responsibility of men.” – Piper

This is what is truly unfortunate about this theology.  There is no doubt in my mind that Piper believes that women will be happier living in submission to masculine authority.  What he doesn’t realize, blinded by doctrine, is that most women are not happy in that place.  His view does not match reality.  He doesn’t realize that women too sense a fitness and joy when they “step up to the risks of life, or career, with courage”.  He does not realize that they passionately desire to lead others and help them to make the world a better place.  They too have a nature to turn the hearts of others to the divine.

In teaching that leadership, careers, and individual divine calling are strictly for manly men, he robs women of their freedom to be fulfilled.  In this view, the only life they have been “blessed” with is one of perpetual cheerleading and baby-making.  He doesn’t even realize what he is doing…but this is the 21st Century, ignorance is not acceptable.  We have millions of examples of successful and fulfilled female leaders.  You don’t need to look far to find them.  We can easily observe all the diversity in life.  Men don’t always fit the masculine cliches, nor do women fit the female cliches…no matter how much Piper and Driscoll try to tell us everybody should fit into 2 predefined boxes.

 A couple of weeks ago author and blogger, Rachel Held Evans, was in Phoenix speaking at a couple of events.  She reminded us of a biblical story that receives little attention.  The story of Jephthah and his daughter can be found in Judges 11.  To sum up the story in short: Jephthah is called upon by the elders of Gilead to fight their enemies.  If he is successful they agree to make him their permanent chieftain.  During the battle Jephthah cuts a deal with G-d:  If he is given the victory he promises to sacrifice “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return”. He wins the battle, returns home, and his daughter comes out to greet him.  He is distraught, but Jephthah knows what G-d “requires” of him.  His daughter pleads with him to allow here to spend two months mourning in the countryside before her future and her life are sacrificed to meet the expectations of G-d.  He grants this postponement but at the end of two months “did to her according to the vow which he had made”.

The danger of Piper’s theology is that it asserts that G-d wants us to sacrifice the individual initiative, hopes, and dreams of women.  Many women are currently wandering in the wilderness mourning for the lives they wish they had, if it had not been for this “promise” we made to doctrine.  The good news is that they are not yet sacrificed…though “Masculine Christianity” seems anxious to light the pyre.  We can come to our senses and realize that this is a sacrifice that G-d neither requires nor wants.

For continued conversation check out the flood of responses over at Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

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Divine Favor & Tebowism

In the history of the NFL we have seen many openly Christian players.  It’s not unusual to see a finger pointing towards heaven after a big play; we’ve heard dozens (hundreds?) of appreciative sentiments offered to G-d in post-game interviews…especially after a championship.  Notably Kurt Warner, the highly decorated Super Bowl MVP (and winner of a participant ribbon on Dancing With The Stars), has always been very open about his faith.  The Christian community has always had a fondness for these sports figures.  It’s pretty normal to cheer a little louder for a player we identify with.

However, something is different this year with the emergence of Tim Tebow.  The buzz in the Christian community is bigger than its ever been before.  Even non-Christians are paying attention.  Many Evangelicals who never before found interest in the sport have started watching games specifically because of Tebow.

Tebow has always had a bit of a following among Christians.  He began to rise to fame in college while famously wearing bible verses on his eye blacks.  But Tebow Time became a national sensation about mid-way through this current NFL season.  Week after week he led the Broncos to a number of late game comebacks to secure a place in the playoffs.  And then it began…  Social media became abuzz with mentions of G-d’s favor on Tebow.  Some Christians started inferring that G-d was involved in what became known as “miracle” victories.  Tebowism reached a climax after an overtime playoff win over the Steelers.  Only 11 seconds into overtime Tim threw a great pass to Damaryius Thomas to score an 80 yard touchdown, securing the victory.  Within minutes Facebook and Twitter were flooded with messages claiming the play was some sort of immaculate reception.  Something new popped up this time though.  Christians started using numerology to interpret a heavenly message from G-d using Tebow’s passing statistics.  Tebow passed for 316 yards in that game which predictably they assigned to John 3:16.

I should say at this point that Tim has publicly stated that he does not believe G-d is supernaturally pulling strings to give him and the Broncos victories. Unfortunately this is the one message that his admirers (worshippers?) have not heard. A poll taken after this game revealed some interesting results. View the results here. An amazing 43% of respondents who were familiar with Tebow answered affirmatively when asked if his success was the result of divine intervention. This theology is quite troubling for a few reasons, but suffice it to say (for now) that if G-d is performing miracles for multi-millionaires while billions are suffering and dying in extreme poverty something is very wrong. In addition, if Tebow’s success is a result of G-d’s favor what does last week’s loss say?  Has G-d abandoned him?  This might deserve some more discussion, but we will save that for another time (or the comments).

So is our theology really this poor? Is G-d really that arbitrary and/or callous? I would suggest that something else is going on here. Perhaps the issue doesn’t say much about Tebow or about G-d, but rather says a lot about us. A very common belief among many religions (especially those from ancient societies) is that if we do something (pray, offer sacrifices, perform a ceremony, are nice to others, are obedient, etc) then a divine being will be inclined to give us what we desire. I believe Tim Tebow has become for many American Christians a symbol of this desire. Tim has a trait that we, as Christians, believe he shares with us, his faith. If G-d gives him success as a reward for his belief, then hopefully he will do the same for us. Could it be that Tebow is just a projection of our own longing for miracles in our own life?

At this point I would redirect us. I personally don’t find it all that beneficial to continuously attempt to find the right combination of variables in order to manipulate the favor of G-d to achieve success. I do think Tim can still symbolize something of importance for us though once we move past supernatural game rigging. Tebow has worked incredibly hard for many years to achieve success. Reportedly he is consistently the first one to practices and the last one to leave. He seems to always have a good attitude, supports and encourages those around him, and has a generous disposition. Tim is successful because he earned success. I can respect this form of “Tebowing” regardless of how I feel about football players taking a knee with head bowed after a good play.


idk why…I just found this picture and felt I needed to share 😉

 

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An Abusive Relationship With G-d

This weekend Mark Driscoll, pastor of the NW mega-church Mars Hill, came right out and said exactly what he thinks that g-d thinks about you…”G-d hates you“.  Watch here (quote starts @ 4:25)…

Those who know me might be surprised by this, but I have a slight problem with that.  It isn’t just that I find his approach rough or his words lacking in tact, even though I certainly do.  My criticism goes beyond the shocking phrases he spews with such malice in this video.  If you have an hour, man he loves to hear himself talk, you can watch the full sermon here.

In the full sermon, Mark goes to great lengths to explain to us how evil we are.  He thinks it is incredibly important that we all realize just how sh*tty we really are and how much his g-d righteously despises everything about us.  We must come to the realization that g-d’s wrath is boiling over and his “justice” eagerly calls out for our blood.  Mark thinks saying all that is okay because it highlights just how great g-d’s “love” is when he finds a way to redirect his wrath onto a substitutionary scapegoat.  The only way we could possibly understand the love of g-d is if it comes in contrast to wrath-filled hatred and the threat of eternal torture performed by our beloved.

Forgive me for being as blunt as Driscoll usually is, but Mark’s gospel is bullsh*t.  I usually wouldn’t be so forceful in this venue, but this kind of theology is severely psychologically and spiritually dangerous.  His message, given with authority to an audience of over 10K, paints g-d with the following characteristics:

  • Jealous & Possessive
  • Controlling
  • Sets Unattainable Standards
  • Manipulative
  • Prone to Mood Swings
  • Conflicting Actions and Words – Like saying he loves the world then eternally tortures most of it
  • Punishes For Not Meeting Unreasonable Expectations
  • Disrespectful – devalues who you are
  • Historically Violent

The real problem here is that these are the warning signs psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors have identified of abusive relationships.  The analogy of a husband and wife are often used by Christians to symbolize our relationship with g-d.   If Mark Driscoll’s g-d is like our husband, then we are the victims of domestic abuse.  His g-d tells us that we are worthless according to his standards.  We weren’t able to live up to the rules that he made for us, as a result his anger is boiling over. Every time we fail to reach perfection seething words escape through our holy spouse’s clenched teeth promising, “One of these days…one of these days my wrath will reign down on you with unrelenting fury.”

Maybe one day we might work up the courage to respond to such threats by saying, “Remember when I did that thing you asked me to do yesterday, did that not mean anything to you?”.  He, of course, would respond with an open hand raised and impatience in his tone, “Unless you do everything perfectly, whatever good you think you do is complete and utter garbage!”.

After such an interaction we might cower before him and ask “I really do try to be a good person.  You wouldn’t really hurt me just because I fail sometimes, would y…”.  A booming growl cuts off our words, “I AM THE DESTROYER OF SODOM, OF GOMORRAH, OF UZZAH, OF ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA, OF THE WORLD IN THE FLOOD! DO YOU THINK FOR A MOMENT I WOULD TREAT YOU DIFFERENTLY?”  His voice lowers a few decibels as he continues, “I’ll tell you what, because I am such a merciful and generous g-d I might spare you from my righteous punishment…I could torture and kill somebody who is innocent instead.  You should feel like crap, you made me do it.  You made me torture Jesus, you made me kill him…his blood is on your hands. Live with that guilt for the rest of your existence. Now get down on your knees!  Tell me how horrible and sinful you are.  Acknowledge before me and everybody else that you are nothing without me…a complete waste of human existence.  Say that you deserve my unending torment as retribution for your inability to be perfect, then beg for forgiveness.  Vow to change your disgusting ways.  Admit that it was all your fault that a righteous man died.  SAY IT OR BURN!”

As his voice crescendos, we find ourselves instinctively whimpering the confessions we were instructed to say. As we do, he continues, “Good…now realize what has happened here.  I must love you incredibly to even accept trash like you into my presence.  I ferociously despise you, but my love is greater than my hate…which is saying a lot.  Can you see that?”

“Yes sir” we murmur without making eye contact.

“Very well.  Then perhaps I might be able to do something useful with you.  Go and tell others that they too are worthless sinners.  My wrath burns against them as well, but perhaps they might be able to work out a deal like I graciously extended to you…because if I can forgive and love a P.O.S. like you surely I can do it for anybody.”

The last dig hurt.  For a moment we think to ourselves, “maybe we could just leave, find somebody who didn’t make such threats, find somebody who didn’t set unreasonable expectations, who loved us for us and not despite of us”  As quickly as the thought occurred, fear pulls it back.  If we run he will catch us and we will surely be punished.  If there is one thing we know about g-d, he will follow through with his violent threats…Mark Driscoll told us he would.

UPDATE

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Bad Theology, Christianity, Hate, Love, Theology, Wrath

 
 
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