8 Ways to Protect Your Children From Sexual Abuse

It is the God-given responsibility of parents to protect their children as best as they can from danger. Many children suffer the horror of sexual abuse and often experience life-long trauma as a result. One of the best ways we can love them is to take practical steps to help ensure their safety. Here are some suggestions to get that started.

1. Talk to them about it early and often

Children are by definition naive. They only grow out of it in two ways: someone teaches them or they learn it by experience. When it comes to sexual abuse, the former is much preferable to the latter. Children won’t know that there are potential dangers unless they are taught that it is so.

You might ask, how old should they be before I talk to them about it? My answer is: if they can talk about concepts at all, you should talk about it. Granted, you won’t broach the subject with a 4 year old the way you would with a 12 year old. But the reality is that most parents wait too long to talk about it rather than starting too early. There are age-appropriate ways to discuss what children can have done to their bodies and by whom. If your children are still quite young, consider buying a copy of God Made All of Me by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. It’s a great starting place.

2. Consider ditching sleepovers

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson advocated decades ago for avoiding sleepovers. More recently, blogger Tim Challies shared why his family doesn’t do sleepovers. His article has been viewed more than 8 million times and elicited strong reactions both for it and against it (you can read some letters he received here). It is definitely worth considering.

My own experience with sleepovers is mixed. Most of them were innocent, consisting of me and my cousins or friends performing Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior moves on each other while trying not to break the furniture. But there were a few sleepovers where I found myself in a situation that I didn’t want to be in. I was never threatened or abused sexually, but the reality is that bad things happen when kids are together relatively unsupervised. And the thing about sleepovers is that it is hard to find the escape hatch. It’s one thing to have a situation on the playground at school where you can just walk away. It’s quite another to be at someone else’s house at 2am.

3. Monitor their online behaviour

The online world is incredibly dangerous. Children are vulnerable in a number of ways, be it cyber bullying, viewing pornography, or chatting with people they don’t really know. Drawing on my experience as a youth pastor, let me just say this clearly: nothing good happens when children have digital lives that are totally unsupervised. A parent should have access to their child’s digital world. Not only should they have access to it, they should have degrees of control over it.

Consider that teen girls know that the more sexual they are online, they more they will be liked by peers. In a similar way, teens boys live dual lives, being a different person online than they are in real life. This means that parents who think they know their kids are often misguided, because who they are digitally is not the same as who they are personally.

Sexual predators practice what is known as “grooming”, which is building a relationship of trust with a child before even bringing up anything sexual in nature. It is scary to say but many young people are naive and do not realize that the person they are talking to online could actually be someone else entirely.

Again, Tim Challies has some helpful advice. Consider reading and implementing his Porn-Free Family Plan, as well as checking out helpful tools to manage online activity in the home, such as the Circle device. At the very least, do something. To do nothing at all is to invite the most vile parts of humanity directly into your child’s life.

4. Know that “stranger danger” is an exception to the rule

According to some research, 85% of abuse cases are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. Often times this is a family member or close friend. While most parents rightly teach their kids to stay away from strangers (more on this below), they think little about protecting them from those closest to the family.

Perhaps this is why stopping sexual abuse is a near-impossible task: assaults come mostly from people who are considered trustworthy. When most people picture a sexual predator, they imagine the creepy looking man handing out suckers from a van. What they typically don’t picture is their brother or nephew. It is sad but true to say that people are very good at hiding the darkest parts of their lives from others around them.

I’m not advocating for paranoia. If taken too far, some might think the only safe place for their children is directly by their side! While that could be true, it is not a practical option in real life. All I am saying is that parents should not be too quick to assume that the danger to their children is always “out there”. Sometimes it is closer to home. Caution and wisdom, not paranoia, should be exercised.

5. Find out what other people are doing to protect your children

Do your children attend church? Do they go to day care? Play in a sports league? Participate in boy scouts? Gymnastics? Other things like these? Of course they do! And just as parents are responsible to protect children, so are other child-care providers.

Parents should not be shy about asking these organizations, what steps are you taking to ensure my child’s safety? Any organization that works with children should have policies in place designed to protect children from sexual abusers. While it’s hard to stop it from ever occurring, is it a no-brainer that sound preventative measures should be in place.

My own church has a “Child Safety & Abuse Policy” that complies with our denomination and insurance company. It includes things like volunteer screening, criminal background checks, annual training, and specific rules such as no adult is allowed to be alone with a child in an enclosed area. If a church or other organization doesn’t have a policy in place that they can refer you to quickly, they are crazy, behind the times, and potentially dangerous. Avoid them.

The safety of children is important. As a parent, don’t be timid in finding out what safety measures are in place where your child is being cared for.

6. Show them this video and talk about it

While most sexual abuse happens at the hands of someone known to the victim, that is not always the case. The video linked above shows how easy it is for children to be swayed by a pleasant stranger who offers them something nice.

It might be a worthwhile exercise to watch the video together and then talk about it. Some points you might want to include are:

  • Who is a trustworthy adult to you? (Make a list of names)
  • If someone offered you _____ (name something your child loves), should you go with them to get it?
  • When is it okay to disobey an adult?

7. Empower your kids to protect themselves

You can only watch over your children so much. At some point they need to be able to defend themselves. Teach your child about their body and empower them to take control over it. Let them know that no one has the right to violate their own body. Teach them that it’s ok to be rude to an adult in some instances.

Also, aim to create an environment of open communication and honesty in the home. Children might be afraid to talk about sexual abuse for a number of reasons:

  • They are afraid because their abuser has made threats
  • They have been manipulated by the abuser into thinking it’s their little secret
  • They are worried that mom or dad will be upset with them
  • They are ashamed
  • They secretly enjoy the encounters

Other reasons could be mentioned. The point is that open dialogue between children and parents is vital. This means that parents:

  • Should talk about taboo subjects so children know they are not off limits
  • Should not freak out if their child confides in them about personal things
  • Should ask their children about secrets they might be keeping
  • Should consider sharing their own stories to age-appropriate children
  • Should listen and look for warning signs

8. Trust your gut

As a parent, remember that you are in charge. At times you may doubt yourself or be told by others that you are going overboard, but you are not accountable to them. Ultimately you are accountable to God, to your child, to the law, and to your own conscience. There will be times when you don’t necessarily have concrete evidence to back a certain decision, but in the end it is usually best to go with your gut. I don’t necessarily believe in magic parent vibes or anything like that. But often we are able to sense that something is not right before we can articulate why. In such cases, I think it is best to usually err on the side of caution. After all, you would rather have had nothing to worry about than regret that you didn’t listen to the alarms in your head.

Have any other suggestions? Comment them below. Let’s keep our kids safe out there!

The Push and Pull of Obedience

It is no secret that God desires for people to obey him. One of the most foundational aspects of being God is the authority that comes with it over your own creation. The Bible makes no qualms about describing a Ruler of the universe who sets forth commands that he desires to be followed. It should come as no surprise that those who reject the notion of God often do so on the basis of an unwillingness to obey a divine dictator. Our Western mindset is so hell-bent (quite literally) on playing by our own rules that the thought of having to bow the knee to a Superior is an utterly untenable position. Christopher Hitchens regularly deployed this tactic in his thrashing of God, repeatedly labelling the possibility of God’s existence as a reprehensible notion since it would mean that we are stuck under the rule of a tyrant for which there could be no court of appeal to turn to for help.

We should expect these sorts of ideas from those who disbelieve in God. But what is baffling is that such ideas have crept their way not only into theistic thinking in general, but Christian thinking in particular. In William Paul Young’s The Shack, God tells the main character that “I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else”, and that “you won’t find the word ‘responsibility’ in the Scriptures”. This of course is complete nonsense. God indeed does place expectations on us, as even a cursory reading of the Bible would demonstrate. What else are the commands of Scripture if not expectations for which we are accountable?

Others come at it from a different angle. The teaching of annihilationism (that unbelievers cease to exist upon death) or universalism (that everyone is saved in the end) intends to eliminate the justice of God. It’s quite natural for sinners to seek the benefits of religion—peace, hope, and eternal life—without the baggage that might come with it. Accountability, guilt, and divine wrath seem like such nasty ideas. Not because they don’t make sense, but rather because if they are true, they put us on the hot seat.

I can understand why the idea of a God who makes demands is not welcomed by all. Every person wants to make their own decisions and be accountable to no one. It is in human nature to desire autonomy. But where does the desire for autonomy become the desire for sin? It’s one thing to want to make free choices; it’s quite another to want to make choices free from consequence. The first is a real option, but the latter is not.

Rather than aiming to disarm God of his God-ness by making him impotent, let’s look at the issue from another angle. After all, God’s justice, wrath, and holiness are only part of his character. The same God who is all those things is also good, merciful, and loving. Both groups of character qualities co-exist together. Therefore, there is a whole other dimension to God’s commands which are not being given enough consideration.

Yes, God’s commands are just that: commands. But they are also more. They are also invitations. Invitations to what? Abundance, happiness, wholeness. There is a push from God for obedience that comes in the form of warnings of judgment. But there is also a pull from God for obedience that comes in the form of a summons to life.

The Bible, and as such Christianity, rests on both motivations for obedience towards God. God warns us of the danger of disobedience, and he entices us with the reward of obedience. Both ought to be motivating factors. Those who seek to pull the judge’s seat out from under God and reinvent him as a non-judgmental drinking buddy do so only because they fail to see the push and pull of obedience. They recoil at the thought of an angry God, but do not consider the embrace of a heavenly Father. The reality is that you can’t have one without the other. God cannot be cleaved in two as if half of himself was desirable and the other half repulsive. He is God. And unless we see him in his fullness, we are actually weakening our power for obeying him. The Christian who seeks to live a godly life will rightly fear God and tremble at his Word while also longing for him and the blessings of righteousness.

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is also a wonderful thing to delight yourself in the Lord. These are not contradictory. They are harmonious in the being of God and that is to our benefit. Every right choice we make is like passing through a swinging door. A push or pull will yield the same result. And though our eternal state is not dependent upon perfect obedience on our part (thank you Jesus for being my righteousness by faith), it sure doesn’t hurt to spare ourselves the pain that stupid sins will bring us along the path to glory.

Questions for Reflection

Think of the sin you struggle with the most.

  • What warnings does Scripture give against it? What blessings does Scripture promise to those who choose a different path?
  • In what ways have you not considered both sides of this equation?
  • What warning/blessing will you commit to memory to help aid your future obedience?

Life Has No Life Hacks

You’ve probably seen the videos or read the articles. 15 Simple Life Hacks to Use Around the House! The next thing you know, someone has figured out how to use a paperclip to make mowing the lawn 10 times easier, or box of baking soda that gives your hair volume for double the amount of time. It might not sound like it would make sense, but clever people out there figure out clever uses for everyday things that can come in handy from time to time.

Urban dictionary defines life hacks as “a tool or technique that makes some aspect of one’s life easier or more efficient.” And hey, who doesn’t like easy and efficient? So my question is, what are some life hacks that can help me in my walk with God? What life hacks will help me grow more easily and more efficiently?

I’m convinced the answer is: there aren’t any. The point of life hacks are to require the minimum amount of work for the maximum amount of productivity. But personal growth doesn’t work that way. Personal growth is a painfully slow process, and the end results are only equal to what you put into it.

This is not to say that there aren’t guaranteed ways to grow as a Christ-follower. Basic Christian obedience in Bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, giving, service, and evangelism are all things that God uses to mature us and grow us. But none of these can really be defined as life hacks. Reading the Bible may deepen our relationship with God, but it still requires meditation, reflection, obedience, and a bunch of time for all of that to take place. Serving others may make us feel like we are using our God-given gifts to bless others, but it still means we have to get off the couch and get out there and actually do something. Spiritual disciplines take effort, and God designed it that way on purpose.

We live in a world defined by instant gratification. We want our lunch to heat up in 60 seconds in the microwave. We want our email to ding directly into our pockets. We want our bodies to look lean and healthy in 30 days or less. Yet the reality is that life has no shortcuts. All of the things that matter in life—a strong faith, a good marriage, meaningful parenting, building character, and the like—require effort. Anything that is worthwhile in life requires worthwhile investment. There’s no life hack for developing into the person God intends you to be.

So while much of the world continues to try and get more for less, let us remember that such rules don’t apply to the real things in life. A thriving relationship with Christ will take time and effort and endurance. A lasting marriage will take patience and commitment and work. A healthy family will take intentionality and wisdom and care. Growing in character will take humility and repentance and honesty. In other words, it’s a tough ride. But it’s worth it in the end.

The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. (Proverbs 13:4)

What areas of your life are you trying to shortcut? Health? School? Work? Finances? Integrity? Friendship? Family? Faith? Stop trying to find the life hack that will change it all overnight. It doesn’t exist. But what you do have, at least for now, is 24 hours a day with which to expend your energy and resources. Are you frittering them away on useless things, hoping to still excel in the big stuff by undercutting the system? Don’t be a fool—God is not mocked! What you sow, you reap. If you are not investing in the things that matter, then don’t expect to enjoy much fruit there. God has designed life to be a bumpy road of rough terrain and struggle and inconvenience not so that we can find a way around them but find a way through them. With his help, we can begin to become all that he designed us to be.

Don’t Just Hear the Word—Obey It!

trash

James 1:22-25 says:

[22] But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. [23] For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. [24] For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. [25] But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

All too often we are guilty of knowing what the Bible teaches but not putting it into practice. I know that in this regard I am guilty as charged. But to show the foolishness and absurdity of this behaviour, consider an illustration from a sermon on this passage by Mark Driscoll.

Imagine a father is leaving for work in the morning when he remembers it is garbage day. He doesn’t have time to collect all the garbages from various rooms in the house and bring it all out to the curb, so instead he writes his children a letter asking them to do it before school and leaves it on the kitchen table. When he comes home, he finds that the trash has not been collected or taken out. He sits down the kids to ask if they read the letter. They respond:

Yeah dad, it was amazing! The prose was fantastic. The imagery was astounding, and the punctuation was perfect. All the verbs were in the right tense. Dad, you are a very good writer, and we really got the heart behind the letter because you were so loving toward us.

So yeah, dad, we took it very seriously. We skipped school. We spent the whole day studying the letter. We never really thought about trash like this. We started researching how other nations dispose of their trash, and it got us into other fields of study—carbon footprint, recycling. It really got us thinking how we could study trash taking-out in a gospel-centred way. So actually, dad, we brought some friends over. We spent the whole day going through the Scriptures, examining this issue of trash because we, frankly, overlooked it until recently. And what we found is that this is a theme in the whole Bible. Dad, we found that in the Old Testament they would take their trash outside of the city. And that trash was symbolic of sin, and it needs to be away. We learned that they would take it to a place called Gehenna and they would set it on fire to burn it, and that was imagery for hell. That was amazing dad. We didn’t know this.

And then we looked at the New Testament. First we did Old Testament Hebrew word studies on trash, and then we did New Testament Greek word studies on trash with all of our friends. We had a small group, and we found that the language of trash is used in the New Testament. Did you know in Philippians Paul says that all religion is like trash? That was shocking to us. So we started a website. We’ve actually launched a ministry where we’re trying to educate people about the theology of trash.

What do you suppose the father’s response to this would be? While I’m sure he would appreciate to some degree the effort his children put in, it would ultimately be a negative thing because they didn’t end up actually doing what they were asked to do!

Step 1, Step 2

This humorous illustration is actually pretty accurate. Many of us are guilty of spending time hearing the Word of God without actually doing it. Bible reading, study, preaching, teaching, and the like are incredibly important. But these are all step 1 in the process. If we never get to step 2—actually putting what we have learned into practice—then we miss the whole point.

Don’t just strive to be an expert in understanding the Scriptures. Strive to excel in obeying them. This is a healthy thing to be reminded of from time to time!

The Shack: 3 Up and 3 Down

the-shack

The Shack is about to hit the big screen. With a release date only a few weeks away, a movie adaptation of the incredibly popular book The Shack: When Tragedy Confronts Eternity has brought the controversial best-seller back into the forefront of public view.

If you are not familiar with The Shack, here is a brief summary of some key points. [And, yes, this article contains spoilers!] The book was written by William Paul Young initially as a gift for his children. He wanted to write a story that would help explain his journey and faith to them in a creative and powerful way. It was suggested to him that he seek publication for it, but no publisher would accept it. With the help of a friend, the book hit the press in 2007 with little expectation. It has since gone on to sell over 20 million copies, mainly through word-of-mouth advertising.

The plot of the book centres around main character Mack. Mack is a husband and father of five, but a somewhat lonely and lost soul. On a camping trip with three of his children, his youngest daughter (Missy) is abducted while he is saving his other two children from drowning after a canoe tips over. It is later discovered that the perpetrator is a child serial-killer and when authorities manage to get a lead on his whereabouts, they trace it miles away to a shack in the middle of the woods. Missy’s clothing is discovered bloodied on the floor, but neither she nor the killer are found.

This tragedy begins several years of extreme depression for Mack. Tension in the family rises. One day, Mack receives a letter in the mail, presumably from God, inviting Mack to meet him at the shack where his daughter was murdered. Doubtful at first, Mack ends up returning to the place of his worst nightmares for a weekend visit with God. Mack and God, who manifests in trinitarian form, share two and a half days worth of experiences and conversation that help bring Mack the healing he so desperately needs.

What’s the Big Deal About The Shack?

The book has been met with mixed reviews, especially among Christians. Some laud it as a masterpiece that has helped them discover God and find their own healing from past hurts. Others decry the work as heretical and dangerous.

Most of the controversy circles around the authors depiction of the Trinity and their interactions with Mack. For instance, God the Father takes on the form of an African-American woman who is called Papa. The Holy Spirit takes on the form of an ethereal Asian woman named Sarayu. Jesus appears as a middle-eastern man who resembles a modern-day carpenter, with a plaid shirt and tool belt around his waist. Later in the book, Mack also meets a woman who represents God’s wisdom in human form (similar to God’s wisdom being personified as a woman in the book of Proverbs).

The events that take place are also quite controversial. Mack has several visions (even though the entire encounter might be classified as a vision) that are difficult to interpret. He is able on one occasion to see Missy in the afterlife and have glimpses of her with others in a heaven-like place. He also meets his deceased father and forgives him for abusing him as a child. All of the experiences are described in vivid detail, coming off as quite other-worldly.

The portrayal of God has other controversial elements as well. The Trinity all come across as extremely affectionate towards each other and Mack. They kiss and hug…a lot. They hold hands and stare into eyes…a lot. They eat food…a lot. While it is obvious the author intends to show God as capable of enjoying the mundane moments of life, one can also argue that it diminishes God’s transcendent, holy nature.

The conversations that Mack has with each member of the Trinity—both collectively and individually—contain a lot of controversial material. They talk about God’s nature, man’s free will, the purpose of God in suffering and pain, the differences between men and women, and a host of other hot topics.

While some have pushed back against criticism of The Shack by saying it is merely a writing of fiction and should be taken as such, make no mistake about it: the book is incredibly theological. Young intends for the reader to be shaped doctrinally by the work. It is impossible to believe the book is just a casual, fanciful tale that is purely imaginary. Rather, it presents God in a very specific way. It teaches core concepts about God and directly refutes others. In short, The Shack is not just a piece of fiction. It borders on a systematic theology of God wrapped in story form.

One other point should be mentioned. Though fictional, William Paul Young says the story is based on true events. The book is a parable of sorts that is meant to depict the events of the author’s own life. Young was the son of missionary parents, and the tribe whom they worked with abused him as a child. When he was six years old, Young was sent to a Christian boarding school where the abuse continued. Growing up a broken man, Young later committed adultery on his wife in an ongoing affair. These tumultuous events lead Young to rediscover his faith and find healing, along with a restored marriage. In the book, Mack’s murdered daughter represents the younger version of William Paul Young, both deeply wronged by others. Mack, the main character, represents Young’s older self who is bitter against God. From what I heard elsewhere (unfortunately I can’t remember where so I can’t link to it), Young says that the inspiration for using women as God personified came from women he met while on the mission field as a child, whom he says demonstrated God’s love better than anyone else he knew.

Commendations and Criticisms

With all of this in mind, I would like to offer three commendations and three criticisms of The Shack. Unlike some who have attacked the book, I actually did read it. I was left with mixed feelings, more so than any other book I have read in recent memory. For whatever it’s worth, I offer a few points for consideration.

UPS

1. It bravely tackles the big questions

Even without the inclusion of an encounter with God, the storyline is bold to say the least. A family is torn apart by the kidnapping and murder of a 5-year-old girl. Painful details are not glossed-over. Several chapters are dedicated to the unfolding of these events. As a father myself, it was hard not to read the story without imagining what kind of experience it would be like if it happened to me.

I think this is highly commendable. At the centre of the book is how God deals with human suffering, especially unjust suffering. And it is hard to come up with a more gut-wrenching, demonic form of evil than that of a man who kidnaps little girls, presumably rapes them (we are never told this is the case in the book), kills them, and (at least for a while) gets away with it. Such horrifying injustice would certainly raise questions about God’s goodness and trustworthiness.

I find that when trying to deal with the problem of human suffering, many Christians talk about it in ways that fail to acknowledge the true depth of pain that mankind endures. We share cliches and pretend that thin answers will suffice. Admirably, The Shack aims not to do this. While perhaps not all the conclusions that the book reaches are biblical, I appreciate the author going after the hard stuff.

2. It emphasizes God’s grace and redemption

The God of The Shack is full of love and grace. He (She?) truly cares about people and creation. He cares about human suffering and is present in the midst of it. The God that Mack encounters offers hope for all, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Through their weekend together, Mack finds the healing and closure that has kept him from escaping what is known in the book as “The Great Sadness”. He releases the anger that he had been holding against God and enjoys a restored relationship with him. He also ends up becoming a better husband and father as a result of his encounter with God at the shack.

But it is not just Mack who finds redemption. Mack’s father, who was a raving alcoholic and abuser, also finds forgiveness. And in perhaps one of the more powerful exchanges in the book, God reveals that he desires for Missy’s killer to find redemption as well. Mack, not surprisingly, is initially appalled at the idea and wishes to consign the man to hell. But after realizing that he too is not worthy of the grace he has received from God, Mack forgives his child’s murderer.

I greatly appreciate the scope of grace and redemption that is present in The Shack. It is true: God’s scandalous grace is offered even to the most heinous of sinners. His forgiveness knows no bounds to those who avail themselves to it. Even the most twisted and perverted person on the planet is loved by God.

3. It is very well written

I was familiar with the concept of the book well before I ever read it. Knowing that it contained vivid portrayals of God in human form, as well as a ton of dialogue, I expected the book to be hard to read. But that was decidedly not the case. William Paul Young is a wonderful writer. He takes what would be an extremely difficult concept to write about and does a masterful job.

While I can imagine that not everyone would enjoy the work, the quality of language is without question. I think that is a large part of the appeal. Not only is it a story about God at work in human pain—a concept that intrigues a lot of people—the story itself is just really well written. Young knows how to turn a phrase and paint a picture. His use of adjectives and adverbs in particular make the book come alive to the reader. While the content itself is not as easy to swallow, the writing itself is. I believe this partly explains the book’s success.

DOWNS

While there is a lot to commend, there are some troubling aspects of The Shack as well. Here I suggest three.

1. It presents false views of God

The book has a lot of helpful and unhelpful things to say about who God is. While a lot of what The Shack teaches about God is profoundly biblical—his triune nature, his lovingkindness, his patience, his redemption through Christ’s death, his self-sufficiency, his all-knowing nature, etc.—there are also a lot of things the book says about God that aren’t biblical at all.

Some examples come to mind. In a few places, Papa (representing God the Father) is seen to have scars on his wrists, just as Jesus does. The only explanation offered is when Papa says the cross was something “we” accomplished. While ambiguous, this imagery borders awfully close to what theologians call modalism, which is the false teaching that the distinct persons of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) are not actually distinct at all. The Bible is clear that God the Son was crucified for sin, not God the Father.

There is also the portrayal of God the Father as a black woman and the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman. In the book, God explains that he is neither male nor female (which is biblically true), but is revealing himself to Mack in feminine ways because of the baggage he carries as a result of the abuse he endured at the hands of his dad. While I can understand to some degree what Young is doing, it is troublesome nonetheless. God is revealed in Scripture primarily in terms of a Father. Perhaps the command not to make any earthly depiction of God was given to prevent this very kind of distortion (see Tim Challies on this subject here). Likewise, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman is a curious choice as well. Since I was uncomfortable with these images, I asked myself, if those are bad choices, what would be a better ones? The answer I came up with is, I don’t think there is a good choice. God is presented in Scripture in physical terms only a handful of times, and they seem rich with symbolism. The same is true for the Holy Spirit. It makes sense to me that God does not really desire to be known or thought of in physical terms. Instead, God is seeking those who will worship him in spirit and truth.

Other depictions of God were questionable. The Trinity is portrayed as a very affectionate bunch. They enjoy each other’s presence and delight in one another endlessly. While I think this is absolutely biblical, and granted it would be a hard concept to picture, the way Young does so in the book left me dissatisfied. The members of the Trinity kiss each other, hug each other, and hold hands with each other constantly, and do the same with Mack. Later in the book, when Papa changes from a black woman into the form of a man, he gives Jesus a kiss on the lips. While I don’t think Young intends to suggest anything homosexual about God, the image is also deliberately provocative.

I get the point: God is loving and he is happy to expresses this love. I can support that. But it felt like the love of God in The Shack was reduced to human expressions of it. Mind you, the author kind of painted himself into that corner when he decided to portray the Godhead in human forms. Nevertheless, I found it one-dimensional. God’s love comes most profoundly not in the form of a kiss or embrace, but in the cross of Christ. God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Many other examples could be pointed out.

  • Concerning the Trinity, God tells Mack “hierarchy would make no sense among us”. Yet Scripture does not support this claim.
  • God tells Mack, “Honey, I’ve never placed an expectation on you or anyone else,” and “you won’t find the word responsibility in the Scriptures.” This does not seem to align with Scripture, which does in fact teach that God has expectations for human beings.
  • God also tells Mack that he (God) is submitted to him (Mack), trying to explain that God would never force anyone to do anything outside of their own will.
  • Jesus at one point says “Those who love me come from every system that exists.  They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptist or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans and many who don’t vote or are not part of any Sunday morning or religious institutions.  I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous.  Some are bankers and bookies, Americans and Iraqis, Jews and Palestinians.  I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa, into my brothers and sisters, into my beloved.”

2. It de-emphasizes God’s holiness and wrath

The God of The Shack never gets angry in the course of the book—not even once. The only time God’s anger is discussed is a less-than-half-a-page dialogue (pg 56-57) where Mack says he expected God to be a lot angrier than Papa seems to be, which Papa dismisses as something that Mack has projected onto God as a preconceived notion that he needs to shed. As someone who loves Scripture, I cannot help but call this portrayal of God woefully lopsided. In an effort to show God’s warmth and love, Young inadvertently (or not?) made God into a huggable teddy bear. But this depiction does not do justice to the God of the Bible.

In Scripture, God displays anger over sin. He executes judgment on humans, sometimes in the form of violence. He shows that his patience is not unlimited. Even Jesus, who is hailed by some as the tamer version of the Old Testament tyrant-god, chases people out of the temple with whips, shows intense anger towards the Pharisees, and exhibits frustration towards the disciples.

Yet you would never know that God might do any of these based on The Shack. There are even hints of universalism in the book; at one point, God says that Christ’s death forgave the sins of the world. When Mack’s asks for clarification, God says “In Jesus, I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship.”

One point is certain: the God of The Shack is not a God to be feared. He is all love and understanding in unlimited quantities. I cannot recall any point when Mack shows any significant fear toward God. Yet Scripture teaches that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). How can Mack truly know God if he doesn’t even get to the first step of the process?

3. It mingles good theology with bad theology

If it were not evident already, The Shack is basically a giant mish-mash of solidly biblical theology with solidly unbiblical theology. The problem is in trying to discern between the two. My fear is that the enormous success of the book is in large part due to a readership that does not have the biblical knowledge to separate one from the other. For someone who does not know their Bible very well, The Shack could easily sweep the reader into a fantasy world that posits just enough truth about God to be palpable, while mingling in enough falsehood about God to be damaging. It is remarkable to me that while reading the book, I was at times astonished at the clarity and precision of a biblical truth being portrayed, while only a paragraph later had my jaw lying open at the presence of a horribly false claim.

All the more confusing is that the book is written in the form of fiction. How are we to understand it? What should we take literally, and what should we allow for creative licensing? The problem with saying that The Shack is fictional is that the bulk of the book is conversation between God and Mack which is densely doctrinal in nature. While the setting (meeting God in the woods) and plot (Missy’s death and Mack’s family turmoil) might be imaginary, the content of the conversation is not. Quite the opposite in fact. The author intends the reader to form beliefs about God under the umbrella of Christianity from reading the book. It really reads in some places like a sermon transformed into a story. So while I understand that there should be room for creativity in the arts when it comes to spiritual things, The Shack seems to cross that line.

As a matter of concern for me—though this point will not be shared by all Christians—is that there is a definite point in the book to denounce what is sometimes called Calvinism or Reformed theology. Though neither of those terms show up in the book, core concepts do. Chief among them is the idea of human free will. Perhaps the most significant point of conversation that keeps coming up between Mack and God is the importance and extent of human free will. God is insistent over and over again that he would never violate another person’s free will. This, God says, is absolutely essential to a loving relationship. While that may sound good, it does not hold up to Scripture in my estimation. God can and does sometimes override our free will, and while we often think of that in negative ways, it can be a positive (as I have written about before). The point is that the concept of man’s total depravity and inability to save himself without God’s divine intervention is completely absent from the book, and for me that is a significant downside.

Conclusion

My overall impression of The Shack is that there is more to dislike about the book than there is to like. While I appreciate the attempt to show God as a healer and one with whom we can have an intimate relationship, the book simply has too many other flaws to make it overall a commendable piece of work. I fear that for newer or immature Christians, or those who are just exploring Christianity, they will latch on to a view of God that is unbiblical based upon reading The Shack. 

My advice is this: before you dive into reading lots of books about God, or watching movies of the like, first spend a lot of time reading the book that God wrote. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself to mankind. In it, he shows us who he is, who we are in respect to him, and the path to salvation and a life-giving relationship with him. While other books can be helpful to discover these same truths, nothing is quite like the Word of God. It is living and active and sufficient to lead us to the truth.

I personally would not recommend The Shack to others. I believe there are other, better books out there that can teach similar truths without mixing in so many problematic things. But if you are someone who has already read the book, intends to read the book, or intends to watch the movie, I would simply encourage you to do so with a discerning eye. Proceed with caution. Compare what you encounter with Scripture. The Bereans checked everything they heard the apostles teach with the Bible to see if it was true, and for this practice they are commended (Acts 17:11). I would suggest all of us to do the same.

Bill Nye Is Back to Save the World

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I remember watching Bill Nye, the Science Guy as a kid just like it was yesterday. The theme song for that show was so stinkin’ catchy that it is forever stuck in my head:

Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!

I would credit the show with giving me at least a moderate interest in science, where otherwise I didn’t hardly have any. Bill didn’t make science fun—rather, he showed kids how it was already fun. I know I’m not the only one out there who enjoyed the show far more than any science class in school. (Sorry teachers!)

So you would think that the announcement of a new Bill Nye TV show would pump me up a bit. An original series, the provocatively named Bill Nye Saves the World will be coming to Netflix on April 21. All 13 half-hour episodes are expected to be released at the same time (take note, binge-watchers). Unlike The Science Guy, this show is more of a talk-show mixed with science experiments mixed with comedy, geared towards adults rather than children. The show is expected to be met with great reviews.

I am legitimately interested to see it, but I must confess that a lot has changed since the bowtie-wearing buddy of my childhood last graced the screen on TV’s in my home. Growing up does that to you. Since those early years, Bill Nye has increasingly been vocal about his political, social, and religious viewpoints. He has every right to do so, of course, and is doing what almost anyone in his shoes would do: leveraging their fame into influence. But what really bums me out is that his influence, while once a joy to experience as a child, is now often met with an inner groan.

In recent years Nye has promoted, at least implicitly, the silencing of others who disagree with supposedly prominent scientific viewpoints. When asked if climate-change-deniers should be put in jail, he responded by saying “we’ll see what happens”, and compared them to the cons from Enron. While it is one thing to believe that those who hold minority viewpoints are wrong, it is quite another to suggest that perhaps it is not such a bad idea to lock them away for it. Nye didn’t say this should happen, but he certainly didn’t deny it, either. A tad extreme, don’t you think?

Also, in a viral youtube video, Nye criticizes those who would question the validity of evolution. He says “when you have a portion of the population that doesn’t believe in it, that holds everybody back”. He determines that to disbelieve in evolution leads to a worldview that is “crazy” and “untenable”. He then directly addresses parents by saying, “And I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems.” Once again, Nye’s tolerance towards those who disagree with him has questionable boundaries. Though he doesn’t seem to mind the elderly dying off with their antiquated ideas, he is definitely against the sharing of these ideas with the next generation.

But perhaps nothing is quite as bothersome as his recent visit to Ark Encounter, a life-sized replica model of Noah’s ark built by Answers in Genesis. A lengthy video captures a number of cringe-worthy moments as he tours the exhibit with AIG president Ken Ham. The two have a number of interesting exchanges.

When Ham asks Nye how he can prove that information (DNA) arose from merely natural processes, Nye simply looks around and says, “Here we are.” But such a statement betrays even the basic laws of science. Taking an outcome and saying it supports your hypothesis only works if you were also able to observe the process. Yet no one has ever observed how the universe was formed. Just as an evolutionist would never consider “look around” to be a valid argument for creationism, the same is true in reverse.

During one part of the conversation, Ham accuses Nye of forming his beliefs not purely on the basis of science, but based upon his underlying belief system. Nye answers, “Yes, but the explanation that you provide is completely unreasonable to me and unacceptable and we’ve rejected it in science.” Ham asks in return, “Unreasonable to whom?”, a question which Nye never responds to.

It is painful to watch Nye state so strongly that Ken Ham’s creationist viewpoint is wrong, while fully admitting he cannot prove his own viewpoint is correct. This is anything but science in motion. Rather, what we are watching is a clash of worldviews and a prime example of self-contradiction. See for yourself in the following exchange.

Nye: Science changes.

Ham: So your views could be wrong?

Nye: Absolutely.

Ham: So if your view could be wrong…

Nye: Here’s where we differ. Being wrong by less than 1% is different than being wrong by 100%.

Ham: So we are wrong by 100%?

Nye: You are wrong by 100%.

Ham: So you must have 100% knowledge to know that I’m 100% wrong.

Nye: Absolutely, I have 100% knowledge that your worldview is wrong—that I’ve got.

I’m not sure a more contorted sense of logic could be put into words. Nye admits that science changes, because humans are constantly learning more and more about the world around them. Yet in the very next breath says that he is 100% sure that Ken Ham’s worldview is wrong. Shouldn’t he instead say something more like, “based on current scientific evidence I believe my assertions have more validity to them than yours do”? At least then he would be opening up the possibility that as science changes, it could support Ham’s view more than his own. But he is not willing to even concede the possibility.

Another exchange shows the same thing.

Nye: My interpretations with respect to the age of the earth is absolutely correct, and furthermore, Mr. Ham, your interpretation is absolutely wrong.

Ham: How would you prove to all these people here with 100% proof that the world is 4.6 billion years old?

Nye: That’s quite difficult. Over 4 billion we can [prove].

Ham: Okay, over 4 billion. How do you prove…

Nye: [Begins to explain how it can be done through radiometric dating techniques. Some of the dialogue is hard to hear clearly.]

Ham: How you do you know that the rates of decay haven’t changed?

Nye: We do our best to be a close as possible.

In other words, Nye says that there are scientific methods of trying to date the age of the earth. Ham essentially asks how we can know those techniques are reliable, since we are making the assumption that what we can observe through a short period of time (say, 75 years) is what we would see extrapolated out over several billion years. Nye’s response is that we are simply doing our best to be as accurate as we can be.

Read between the lines. This really means it is actually impossible to know if our techniques are accurate. We are just giving it our best educated guess. Nye knows this. He admits science changes. Yet he also asserts he can know with 100% certainty that other opinions are wrong. And I’m supposed to believe he is being intellectually consistent?

And if this weren’t enough, Nye even asserts at one point that it is “extraordinary, but not crazy, to suggest that we are descendants from Martians”. While the idea of life on Mars is a stretch for many people, even if we assume that it could be possible, how does that solve anything? All we have done is take the idea that life can arise from mere matter and back it up one species. If humans came from Martians, where did Martians come from?

The reality is that there is no current scientific explanation sufficient for how life arose from non-life. The best we can guess—apart from conceding divine intervention—is to say, “we don’t know”. This shows as clearly as anything else could that those who believe the universe has come into existence through merely material processes are no less taking a leap of faith than those who believe in a Creator. Neither can prove their theory in a test-tube. Neither was there. We both are looking at the same evidence and trying to deduce, what is the most probable cause? Creationists at least usually concede this to be partly a leap of faith. Nye, like many Materialists, simply will not.

So here is the Bill Nye message to creationists summed up: I’m not sure I’m right, but I’m absolutely sure that you are wrong. 

It’s really too bad what has become of my once-favourite science guy. While Bill Nye still has so much to like about him—a genuine love for discovery, a sense of awe over the universe, and a very likeable persona—it is pretty hard for me to fully appreciate his contributions while knowing that he refuses to admit his viewpoints, just like those of creationists, are partly shaped by a specific worldview, not just science.

Bill is right about some things. We should ask the big questions and dig for answers. We should appreciate science and the way it helps us understand the world around us. We should seek learning and pursue education. We should have a sense of amazement that we get to be a part of this vast universe as a living and reasoning being. To all of these I utter a hearty “yes!”

But don’t let the lab coat fool you. Nye, like the rest of us, operates with a set of assumptions about life that shape how he interprets what can be observed about the universe. But unlike he suggests, science and faith are not at odds with one another. Indeed, they co-exist in the lives of millions and perhaps billions of rational people. And while the name of his new show may suggest otherwise, everyone’s favourite science guy is not here to save the world. That spot has already been reserved for Someone Else.

The Slandering Work of Satan

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Satan’s desire is to prevent as many people as possible from experiencing the abundant life that is found through faith in Jesus Christ. As God’s enemy, he wants to thwart and disrupt God’s plans. He attacks the very things that are God’s best weapons in the battle for the souls of men. The book of Revelation tells us that Satan is a slanderer, and a key part of his game plan is to do everything he can to defame that which uniquely makes God beautiful.

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. (Revelation 13:5-6, italics mine)

This verse gives us an open window into the strategy behind Satan’s poisonous tongue. We are told he loves to slander three things.

1. God’s person

Satan’s first attack is to slander God. And why wouldn’t he? Satan hates God, and his first attack is his most direct. The devil aims to spread lies about God, smearing his character and even casting doubt on his existence.

How often have you heard blasphemous words uttered about God? It’s a daily occurrence! Behind every vicious indictment of the Lord, or every faithless doubt about his true goodness, is the slandering work of Satan. When God’s name is taken in vain; when an atheist declares God to be a figment of the imagination; when a person attributes God’s work to a false god; when God’s character is called into question; when man glorifies himself instead of the Lord—these are all evidence that Satan’s slander of God’s person has taken foothold in the human heart.

2. God’s place

Satan doesn’t just slander God, he also loves to slander “God’s place”. Heaven is God’s dwelling, and Scripture portrays it as a place of perfection, beauty, and abundance. In heaven God’s glory shines forth uninhibited. There exists no pain, no sadness, and no death. Because God is there in his fullness, there is nothing but life and joy and healing in heaven. It is the most wonderful of places!

Yet this is not the popular notion of heaven. Many people conceptualize heaven as incredibly boring. It is assumed that heaven is the place of never-ending church services, where we sing and play harps while floating in the clouds for a million years and beyond. Who in their right mind would want to go there?

This mischaracterization of heaven is due to the slandering work of Satan. He seeks to portray heaven in as unappealing a fashion as possible, so that people will not be all that compelled to consider it with any real thought. Yet humanity yearns for heaven! Do you desire a world that is free from all of the trouble that currently plagues it? Do you desire to see cancer done away with? Wars come to an end? Strife to cease? Love to prevail? This is the echo of the human heart longing for heaven. But because of the slandering work of Satan, we just don’t recognize it.

3. God’s people

Satan slanders God’s person, God’s place, and also God’s people. He seeks to slander them to discredit the work of God in people’s lives to the unbelieving world. It is frequently said by many that there are no real differences between Christians and non-Christians. Both get divorced, lie, act hypocritically, and the like. But this is not really the case. Christians certainly still sin and are by no means perfect, but true born-again believers experience a change that leads them into lives of godliness. This truth is marred by the fact that many people who profess to be Christians really are not.

No Christian is perfect, but true faith brings about a life of Christlike love in every one of God’s people. A radical life change occurs, to the point where Christians—like Christ before them—can and will pray for their enemies and those who persecute them. Yet the godly acts of saints are rarely portrayed in the media; instead all of the crazy, nut-job Christians who don’t live like Christ are the ones who make the news. Satan’s slandering work is behind this ploy.

Defeating Slander With the Truth

The only way to overcome the slandering work of Satan is to proclaim the truth about God’s person, his place, and his people. This must be done with gentleness and respect, not harshness and  spite. Perhaps God would find it fit to use our loving, truthful witness to turn hearts towards himself.

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

Why Did Jesus Weep at Lazarus’ Tomb?

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One of the more well-known miracles is the account of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead (John 11). It is a profound miracle, a dramatic display of Jesus’ power and also rich with theological implications about resurrection, eternal life, and the importance of the call of Christ to life.

Nestled into this account is the shortest verse in the Bible. Verse 35 says concisely, “Jesus wept”. This statement has been used by many to illustrate the incredible empathy that our Lord had for those who were in emotional distress. Both Martha and Mary are distraught at the death of their brother, and though Christ knows that he will raise him from the dead (made plain in vs, 15, 23, and 30), he still hurts at the pain of his friends. Like Christians are commanded to do, he weeps with those who weep.

At least, that is what the majority interpret his actions to be.

I know that I am in the minority, and I do think that it is plausible that Jesus weeps in verse 35 because he is saddened by the grief that Mary and Martha are experiencing. But I tend to think that his tears are of a slightly different sort. Jesus is pained, to be sure, but not because Lazarus has died or because the sisters are grieving, but because all around him there is a serious and disturbing lack of faith.

Read the flow of the account. Jesus intends to let Lazarus die, which is why he does not come immediately when told that his friend is deathly ill. He lets Lazarus die on purpose. His intention was to go later and resurrect him. This is without doubt Jesus’ plan.

When he arrives, the first person to meet him is Martha. She declares, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you” (21-22). Her outlook is mixed. On one hand, she seems bothered that Jesus showed up late. He could have prevented this from happening. But she also has a glimmer of hope that Jesus can still do something about it. Jesus and Martha exchange a few more words, which reveal she believes Lazarus will indeed be raised to life, but not until a future time.

The next person Jesus greets is Mary. More dramatic than her sister, she falls at Jesus’ feet and likewise declares, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (32). Unlike her sister, however, she did not follow up her remarks with any expression of faith. She simply accuses Jesus of dropping the ball.

The next verse indicates how Jesus feels about all of this. John comments, “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Jesus looks around and sees despair. This bothers him. But not because he is sad to see his friends sad, but because they should have greater faith than this.

The phrase translated “deeply moved” in his spirit is from the Greek word “embrimaomai”, which means “to be angry, to express indignant displeasure”. To say that Jesus was “deeply moved” is true, but it doesn’t give a clear picture of how he was moved. Jesus wasn’t depressed. He was mad!

Immediately following, Jesus is led to Lazarus’ tomb and weeps. Now at this point, it could still be up for debate if Jesus’ emotional expressions are from sorrow for Lazarus, for his friends’ grief, or from frustration. I suppose the argument at this point would be inconclusive. But what happens next is what makes me lean more towards the the interpretation that Jesus’ tears are not so much from empathy or sorrow as they are from frustration at lack of faith.

When Jesus weeps, the crowd says, “See how he loved him!” They interpret his emotional outburst the way most Christians have. But others in the crowd had different thoughts: “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” At least some in the crowd, like Mary earlier, imply that Jesus is a bit of a bumbler. They insinuate that Jesus somehow mishandled the whole situation, since supposedly he should have the miracle-working power to prevent this sort of thing from happening.

Again, see what immediately follows. “Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb” (38). For effect, I might italicize the word again in that sentence. Jesus has a second bout of being “deeply moved”, embrimaomai, same word as before. In other words, he gets irritated and agitated a second time.

What I would like to point out is that both times Jesus is “deeply moved” (angry, indignant), it happens immediately after he is accused of committing some sort of gaffe. First, Martha implies that Jesus should have done something, but at least gives some effort to demonstrate that she still trusts him. Then, Mary outright says he blew it, to which Jesus is bothered. Then, a good chunk of the crowd imply that he’s made a mistake, to which again he is bothered. What this shows me is that the context of Jesus’ tears are right in the middle of a group of people who simply don’t trust him. Jesus, knowing full-well what he had planned all along, encounters hardly any faith at all from the very people who should have known better.

Put yourself in Jesus’ shoes. You have unlimited supernatural power. You have put this power on display a hundred times before. You have proven repeatedly to be good and kind and loving to others. You have shown yourself to be trustworthy over and over again. You are literally the sinless Son of God, who can do no wrong and has a divine plan and purpose for everything….and yet your closest friends all think you screwed up. Ouch!

For this reason, I tend to believe that the weeping of Jesus is at least partly a profound sorrow from the lack of faith demonstrated by those around him. Yes, perhaps, I think you can argue that Jesus experiences some legitimate sadness over Lazarus’ passing, or more likely at the sorrow experienced by others at his passing. No doubt he had empathy! I don’t doubt that for a second. But Jesus knew exactly what he was going to do. Thus, it makes more sense to me that Jesus’ emotional state is tied, at least more so, to the lack of faith from his followers. The text itself explicitly says he was indignant. What a word to use! Who gets indignant when others cry over genuine loss? I think it is fair to say that God, when accused of wrongdoing in the midst of it, might get upset about that.

A large portion of everyone involved—especially Mary and a chunk of the crowd—full-out declare that Jesus made the wrong move. This hurt Jesus. It made him mad and, I am sure, also made him sad. He was angry at their borderline blasphemy, and he was sad that their lack of faith caused them pain. All along, Jesus had the whole thing safe in his hands. How our lack of faith is like an arrow piercing the heart of God!

Friends, I don’t know what trial you are facing this day. I know that, from our own earthly perspective, it can easily seem like God is incompetent to handle the task. But such is not the case! Our Lord is good, he is powerful, and he is sovereign. He is worthy of our trust, and when we give him our faith, it not only is greatly pleasing in his sight, but gives us the rock-solid assurance that he intendeds us to have.

Let this be a lesson to us all. Even when everything is spinning out of control, and nothing seems like it is adding up, remember that when all was said and done, the dead man emerged from the tomb. Out of death, Christ can bring life. Jesus was vindicated then, and he will be in your life too. Trust him!

12 Things That Happen the Moment You Are Born-Again

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Being a true Christian is not something you can visibly see. It is an internal, spiritual reality that evidences itself over the course of time. Just because someone says they are a Christian doesn’t mean they are, but for those who truly are born again, they enjoy several immediate (and amazing!) benefits.

  1. Your sins are forgiven. Everything wrong you have ever done is removed from your permanent record. God will no longer count it against you. All debts are completely forgiven. (1 John 1:9)
  2. You are justified before God. To be “justified” is a legal term that means to be declared righteous in God’s sight. Someone might ask, how can God justify letting sinners into heaven? Answer: Because of what Christ has done, our faults are not counted against us, and therefore that decision is justified. We enjoy a right standing with God. (Romans 5:1)
  3. You are adopted into God’s family. God is Father only to those who are brought into his family. Every believer who repents and has saving faith in Christ enjoys this status, being adopted into the family of God as a beloved son or daughter. Your Dad is the King of the universe! (John 1:12)
  4. You pass from darkness to light. There are two kingdoms at war: the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. When we are born again, we pass from the rulership of the devil to the rulership of Christ. We are rescued from the domain of Satan and become partakers in God’s kingdom. (Colossians 1:13)
  5. You are filled with the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit indwells every believer, granting them faith and the power to live a new life. This is evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit, as God’s work in our lives slowly makes us more Christlike. (Ephesians 1:13)
  6. You inherit eternal life. We usually think of eternal life as something we will experience later on, but the Bible teaches that we receive eternal life at the moment of conversion. Every time eternal life is spoken of for Christians, it is done so in the present tense—meaning it is a current, not future, reality. Though our bodies will die, our spirit is alive forever, and later on will be reunited with our resurrected physical bodies. (John 3:36)
  7. You move out from under God’s wrath. As sinners, all people are under God’s just wrath. He is angry over our sin, and it offends him greatly. But through our faith in Christ, we move out from under God’s wrath to being under his eternal blessing. God becomes forever and always for us, not against us. (John 3:36)
  8. You are given Christ’s righteousness. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are also given the righteousness of Christ. This means that the perfect, sinless life of Jesus is credited to our account. This has been called by some the great exchange, because we give God our worst and in response are given his best. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  9. You are granted a place and reward in God’s kingdom. Though we are shut out from God’s kingdom and presence because of our sin and rebellion, through faith in Christ we can be welcomed back into it. We will forever be in God’s presence, participating in kingdom life with all of the redeemed. (Matthew 25:34)
  10. Your eyes are opened to the beauty of God. Sin clouds our vision. Because of this we see sin and think it looks wonderful, and in turn see God and think he looks boring. When we are born-again, however, the eyes of our hearts are opened and we begin to truly see God for who he really is: Creator, Father, Saviour, Treasure. (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)
  11. Your sin nature is defeated. Without God’s intervention, sin rules over us. We are slaves to its desires, unable to walk in holiness or please God at all. But through the new birth, we are new creations in Christ, and the rule of sin in our hearts is broken. Though we will continue to sin until we die and are glorified, the controlling power of sin is defeated, and we can overcome it through the help the Spirit provides. (Romans 6:11)
  12. Your salvation is guaranteed. It would be a worrisome thing indeed if all of this were given to us but was able, through some fault of our own, to slip through our fingers and be lost. But the good news is that not only are all of these blessings bought for us by the blood of Christ, they are also secured for us by the blood of Christ. No one that belongs to Jesus will ever be cast away by him. He will ensure that our faith endures to the end. (Philippians 1:6)

We certainly have much to thank God for. Take some time to meditate on these things, let it fill your heart with joy and peace and hope, and praise the God who loves you!

Moving the Complementarian-Egalitarian Debate Forward

I care about a lot of things, three of them being: (1) people, (2) the Church, and (3) good theology. As such, I think it is important for believers to keep the dialogue going about how to understand gender biblically. This is all the more important as our world gets increasingly confused about how to define gender and how genders are to relate to one another. God’s Word is not silent on this matter, and for us to be silent on an issue that has so many significant implications and that the world is putting forth unhelpful and ungodly notions about is to make a grave mistake.

Christians tend to fall into two camps when it comes to understanding relations between the genders: Complementarian and Egalitarian. Though I’m somewhat over-generalizing, these two theological positions make up the vast majority of Evangelicals. They can be simply defined as follows:

Complementarianism is the idea that men and women are created equal in value but with different God-given roles and duties.

Egalitarianism is the idea that men and women are created equal in value and have interchangeable God-given roles and duties.

Though there is much that could be said about how each position works itself out in practical life, these definitions summarize the basic concepts.

Much has been written within the Church about these two positions. A prominent debate continues to this very day over which view better reflects the biblical position on gender. Though I am by admission a Complementarian, my goal is not to sway anyone’s view in this post. Rather, what I would like to suggest is one principle for us to keep in mind when we discuss these matters with each other in thoughtful and loving ways.

The Straw-Man

I believe that a major reason the debate over Complementarianism and Egalitarianism gets so heated at times is because each side refuses to fairly characterize the other one. It often becomes the infamous “straw-man” argument instead. A straw-man argument is when you paint the opposition’s ideas in such a way that they are easily demolished. It usually involves over-generalizing or mis-characterizing what they actually believe in order to debunk the concept. When two people debating an issue resort to straw-man arguments, they are not really listening to each other and dealing with what the other person actually believes. Instead, they are making up their own version of what the other person believes, which is usually an inaccurate and unflattering version. No wonder it’s easy—after you twist a person’s beliefs into something that they are not—to look at someone and say, “I could never believe what you believe!”

This happens far too much within the Christian community between brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not responsible and it is not loving. It devalues the truth and disrespects those who differ from us. We must avoid painting the beliefs of others in ways that are inaccurate.

Misrepresenting Complementarians and Egalitarians

Beliefs about gender fall along a spectrum. The problem is that many people put Complementarian on one side and Egalitarian on the other, as if they were the most extreme forms of polarization on the subject. But this is not the case! If we assume that at one extreme are Complementarians, and at the other are Egalitarians, then we leave no room left for abuses or mischaracterizations of either position.

For instance, one charge that might be levied against Egalitarianism is that it makes human beings essentially genderless. If men and women have no differences in role or duties, then they are basically indistinguishable from each other! And if that is the case, what prevents a Christian Egalitarian from affirming homosexuality? Or the idea of genderlessness?

Yet this is not true of most, if not all, Egalitarians. Egalitarians still believe there are some distinctions between men and women, though how they define that might be hard to pin down. But to take the position of Egalitarianism and stretch it out to its most extreme form is to do a disservice to the truth.

The same could be said of Complementarianism. One way that position is challenged is to say that Complementarianism puts women in abusive situations (by giving men leadership roles), or that it promotes inequality among the sexes. Yet neither of these are true. Complementarianism teaches that men, like Jesus, are servant-leaders, not abusers. And it teaches that, like God the Father and God the Son, men and women are equal in value but different in function. So to accuse otherwise is also to do a disservice to the truth.

Putting the Truth in its Place

As long as we have these theological differences and refuse to truly engage with one another in a way that is honest and respectful, we will never make much ground in the discussion. We will keep fighting against the mis-characterizations that we have formed about each other, rather than the actual concepts themselves. In my mind’s eye I see reality as something like this:

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[Keep in mind this chart is as simplistic as possible. It is designed to make a basic point. For example, it does not include extreme Feminism, another category altogether, and therefore I ask that you give some leeway for unmentioned nuances.]

Complementarian and Egalitarian are not polar extremes. To say that Egalitarians promote no gender distinction at all is to take their beliefs and stretch them out too far. Likewise, to say that Complementarians essentially promote abusive patriarchy is to take their beliefs and stretch them out too far. There is more breathing room in the middle than we realize. If we refuse to acknowledge that and talk about it with precision and clarity, we will never see much progress toward resolution in this area.

People are the Casualties

The world is changing quickly when it comes to our understanding of gender, and into this discussion the Christian community must raise it’s voice. Yet if we are too busy duking it out with one another—especially with unfair characterizations of each other—the people who will suffer are actual people who need help and guidance. The cost of our mistreatment of each other is the loss of thoughtful dialogue and, by extension, the loss of thoughtful and coherent biblical teaching for an entire generation. So what we could potentially have is a Church that can’t say anything helpful to the teenage boy who thinks he was born in the wrong body, or the 22-year-old newlywed wife who is trying to find her place in marriage, or the grade 8 boy who is trying to figure out what it means to be a man. While the world will have plenty of advice to offer, we can’t speak up because of our inability to even dialogue with each other.

Once again, I value people, the Church, and good theology. I think that a healthy church has good theology that leads to helping people. I aspire to be part of that kind of thing. I know that there are fellow believers with whom I would have some disagreement on how gender plays out from a biblical perspective, yet I hope that I never push aside their beliefs without giving them fair engagement or because I casually misrepresented them. A strong Church needs more than that from it’s people and for the people. Truth matters, and if we are comfortable exchanging it for an invented lie about each other we will hinder our ability to share God’s love with a broken world that so desperately needs it.