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September 13, 2005

This is the fourth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here and the fourth here. Today we arrive at a chapter cryptically entitled “the sin of light beer.” As usual the subtitle is more helpful: “how syncretism and sectarianism undermine reformission.”

In this chapter Driscoll discusses the opposing concepts of syncretism and sectarianism. He uses the examples of the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots and Essenes to highlight four unbiblical reactions to culture. The Pharisees were sectarian, developing an unending number of laws to seperate themselves from the common people. The Sadducees were syncretists, compromising their beliefs in order to blend into the culture. The Zealots misused culture as they attempted to usher in God’s kingdom through the use of force. The Essenes ignored culture altogether, retreating from society where they could seek mystical encounters with God in monkish privacy.

“The problem with each of these ruts is that they are ways of seeking godliness, as we define it, rather than as God defines it. But the things that those who are stuck in them desire (holiness, cultural relevance, social transformation, spiritual experience) can’t be brought about by legalism, liberalism, legislation or lunacy; instead, they are natural effects of faith in the powerful gospel and come from God alone to those who are about his reformission business” (page 142). As he repents of both of these forces, Driscoll writes, “The problem with both syncretism and sectarianism is that they deny the clear teaching of the Scriptures that the power of God unleashed through the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform anyone. Sectarians do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that evil hearts and sinful actions and worldly social structures are more powerful than God, unable to be redeemed, and therefore are a waste of our energies because they are destined to be meat on God’s grill anyway, so why bother? Likewise, syncretists do not live by the necessary faith in the gospel and therefore believe that the hearts of people aren’t that bad, their actions aren’t that sinful, and since people are doing the best they can, we can’t expect any sort of radical transformation, and so we should simply bless them with a sentimental love” (page 145).

And so we see that Sectarians love God but fail to love their neighbors, while syncretists love their neighbors but fail to love God.

The final part of the chapter is a long discussion of attitudes towards alcohol within the church. Driscoll believes, as I do, that we have freedom to decide whether or not we would like to drink (in moderation, of course). I was left a little confused as to why he chose to address this particular issue in such depth, as it did not seem to highlight syncretism and sectarianism as well as another issue might have. Regardless, he felt it was relevant to the topic at-hand. The chapter concludes with these words: “Here’s what I’d like you to remember from this chapter: reformission is not about abstention; it is about redemption. We must throw ourselves into the culture so that all that God made good is taken back and used in a way that glorifies him. Our goal is not to avoid drinking, singing, working, playing, eating, love-making, and the like. Instead, our goal must be to redeem those things through the power of the gospel so that they are used rightly according to Scripture, bringing God glory and his people a satisfied joy” (page 152).

Reflections

This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here. I have seen plenty of first-hand evidence of the dangers of both syncretism and sectarianism and have been closer to both of those than I would like to admit. Driscoll is right in his conclusion that both of these errors lead to an outright denial of the power of the gospel; they lead people to depend on themselves rather than God. His warning against these forces is useful and powerful.

The only area in which I found myself in potential disagreement with Driscoll is in his discussion of redeeming culture. I suppose I am not so sure that God has asked us to redeem culture. God’s primary interest is, of course, in people. This is something I know Driscoll would affirm. But Driscoll would suggest that we are also to focus on the redemption of music, film, and every other area of culture. I am not so sure. I guess the trouble is that I do not see the biblical mandate for the redemption of culture. Neither does Driscoll provide satisfactory biblical proof. So this is an area to which I will have to dedicate further time and reflection.

We continue soon with the final chapter.

September 12, 2005

Humility True GreatnessI’ve often wondered how I missed out on C.J. Mahaney’s books for so long. While I’ve now read several of them, I did not read the first until earlier this year. And now I’m hooked. I love Mahaney’s style of writing in which he blends sound, biblical teaching with humility and just the right amount of humor. I’ve found his books to be practical, yet not legislative, as if we needed him to dictate every aspect of the reader’s life. I was excited, then, to be given a sneak-peek at his upcoming title, Humility: True Greatness. What follows is a short preview of this book, due for release next month.

Preview

There is a certain irony in the pursuit of humility. We see a glimpse of that in the title of this book, Humility: True Greatness. Humility is true greatness. The pursuit of humility and the pursuit of greatness are one and the same, provided that we seek greatness as defined by the Creator. I have never met C.J. Mahaney (though hope to some day), but from all accounts he is well-qualified to write a book on such a difficult subject. And this is a difficult topic. After all, how can a person write a book on humility without sounding like he feels he is most qualified? The truth is he can, provided he uses the Scripture as the foundation for his teaching. And that is exactly what Mahaney does.

The book is divided into three sections. Part one deals with the battle of humility versus pride, part two with our Savior and the secret of true greatness and part three with the practice of true humility.

In the first part, Mahaney defines humility and shows how true humility is nothing less than a battle against the pride that lives deep within every heart. “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” These two realities must be the foundation of any definition of humility: our sinfulness and God’s holiness. This is precisely why true greatness can only be achieved by followers of Jesus Christ, for only they have had their eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to see the depth of their own depravity and the overwhelming holiness of God.

Mahaney teaches, rightly I believe, that God hates the sin of pride above all other sin. This is a sin that plagues all humans, though it manifests itself in different ways. So the issue facing the believer is he examines his life is not if pride is present, but where it is present. For most of us it is deeply ingrained in our lives and only a great amount of Spirit-guided self-examination can draw it to the surface.

In the second part, Mahaney defines greatness as Jesus did, showing that being great means being a servant to everyone. Just as Jesus came to serve, so must we serve with our lives. Christ lived as the perfect example of humble service. As in all his books, Mahaney leads the reader to the cross, stating that apart from Christ’s sacrifice, there is no serving. We can only attain true greatness by emulating Christ’s example - the example that led him to the cross where He made the greatest sacrifice.

In the third and final part of the book Mahaney builds on the foundation he has built through Scripture to provide advice on the practice of humility. This is far more than a bullet list of do’s and don’ts. It is far more than a false, monastic humility that is really no humility at all. Instead, he examines several different areas of life and shows how humility can be applied to all of them. From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep (and even while we are asleep) we can practice humility. Whether we experience joy or pain, whether we are correcting or being corrected, we all have opportunities to practice humility every day.

Humility: True Greatness is a truly great book. I do not know of a person who shows no pride in his life, and thus I do not know of a person who would not benefit from reading it. I highly and unreservedly recommend this book. I pray that it will be widely-read, that humility may be widely-practiced.

What Others Are Saying

Here are some endorsements written by men who are far more discerning (and, in all likelihood, far more humble) than I am.

“This is the right book from the right man at the right time. More than any other man I have known, C. J. Mahaney has taught me what humility really is. This is a man whose humility is a gift to the entire church. He knows that humility is strength, and that God uses the humble in a powerful way. He understands the danger of pride, and calls us all to aspire to a legacy of greatness-a greatness that shows the entire world the glory of God. He points us to a cross-centered worldview that will transform every dimension of life.”
-R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

“God hates it. The Bible is pretty clear on that fact. Yet, our culture exalts it. For many people, if not most, pride is seen as a virtue. We are expected to be proud of ourselves, our accomplishments, our looks, our possessions, our family, our friends. We are to call attention to whom we know, what we’ve done, where we’ve been. We are to promote ourselves and anything associated with us. We’re even encouraged to apply bumper stickers that proclaim the superiority of our child over the less gifted children at school.

Perhaps the most prideful are those who express a supposed humility, and yet take pride in their excellent character. An even more subtle example is the individual who is devastated by the reality of personal failure (this is actually self-love…he is simply shocked at seeing himself as he really is).

It’s all pride. And God’s hatred of it, whether subtle or overt, will never change.

We need to be reminded daily that God is opposed to the proud. We need to be told once again what greatness is in the eyes of God. This is important for God’s leaders in the church, for His leaders in families, and for anyone who desires to live a life of excellence that is pleasing to Him.

I am grateful for C.J. Mahaney’s honest and accurate treatment of this ‘accepted’ sin. Let the truth that is explained in this book break you of pride and reap within you the pleasing aroma of humility. God not only is opposed to the proud, but He exalts the humble.”
-John MacArthur

“My friend C.J. Mahaney tackles a subject of immense importance. Since God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, what could be more important than understanding and developing true humility, as a lightning rod for grace? C. J.’s book is biblical, honest and full of helpful insights. We need less egomania and more humility and servanthood in our churches today. May God use this book to remind us that ‘only the humble are sane.’”
-Randy Alcorn

“This is a wonderful, sobering, humbling, God-centered, Bible-based book on humility by an author who truly exemplifies it in his own life. I especially appreciated Mahaney’s suggestions for practical disciplines to help us cultivate humility before God. This book’s message will tend to keep us and our churches from self-destruction due to pride, will make us thankful for little blessings in everyday life, and will bring us closer to God.”
-Wayne Grudem

“Humility is seldom thought about in our Christian community. In his masterful way, C.J. Mahaney gives us a much-needed wake-up call on this important subject. I highly recommend this book.”
-Jerry Bridges

Content

Foreword by Joshua Harris
 Introduction

PART I
OUR GREATEST FRIEND, OUR GREATEST ENEMY
The Battle of Humility Versus Pride

CHAPTER 1
The Promise of Humility

CHAPTER 2
The Perils of Pride

PART II
THE GREAT REVERSAL
Our Savior and the Secret of True Greatness

CHAPTER 3
Greatness Redefined

CHAPTER 4
Greatness Demonstrated

PART III
OUR GREAT PURSUIT
The Practice of True Humility

CHAPTER 5
As Each Day Begins

CHAPTER 6
As Each Day Ends

CHAPTER 7
For Special Focus

CHAPTER 8
Identifying Evidences of Grace

CHAPTER 9
Encouraging Others

CHAPTER 10
Inviting and Pursuing Correction

CHAPTER 11
Responding Humbly to Trials

CHAPTER 12
A Legacy of Greatness

A Final Word

How to Weaken Pride and Cultivate Humility:
A List of Suggestions

Conclusion

Humility: True Greatness is a wonderful book and one I highly recommend. In fact, it is one of the best, most practical books I have read all year long and my favorite of Mahaney’s books. I cannot think of a person who would not benefit from it.

Availability

The book is being published by Multnomah Publishers and is set to be released on October 23. It is currently available for pre-order from Amazon (and it’s only $10, too!).

September 10, 2005

MovabletypeA couple of weeks ago Six Apart released the latest version of Movabletype, the software that lies at the heart of this site and hundreds of thousands of other blogs. The new version, 3.2, offers so many new features that it could almost have been called version 4.0. Here are a few of my favorite features and wishlist of things I would like to see in the future:

New Features

  • New Dashboard - The first screen the user sees when logging into the administrative interface has been tidied up and the functionality has been increased. A couple of useful plugins and a new Stylesheet go a long way to making it even better.
  • Spam protection - Perhaps the single greatest annoyance when it comes to blogging is dealing with spammers. Many of us deal with, literally, hundreds or even thousands of spam attempts every day. The new version of MT has a great tool for dealing with this problem in the form of SpamLookup. This plugin was released for MT 3.x but has been incorporated into the software for the new release. While I do not use the commenting system in MT, I do use the trackbacks. A couple of weeks after installing MT 3.2, the program has blocked all of the thousands of trackback spam attempts while properly allowing most of the legitimate trackbacks. The protection is perhaps a little bit too strong, as it does block some legitimate trackbacks. But it’s hard to complain.
  • Plugin Management - Plugins can now be disabled without being removed (similar to WordPress). There is also a central repository that displays all the tags the plugins make available.
  • There are many other improvements, but these are the ones I felt were most beneficial to me.

Plugins

Movabletype has always had a great community developing some incredible plugins that extend the functionality of the program far beyond what Six Apart provides. The “out of the box” experience is negligible compared to what it can be when it has been “plugge-in.” Here are some of the most important plugins:

  • BigPAPI - This plugin does nothing in and of itself, but does allow some great functionality for other plugins. It is a must-have for MT 3.2.
  • UpdateAuthoredOn - Corrects one of MT’s most inexcusible oversights - the lack of an “update” button to insert the current time in the date field when making a post.
  • EnhancedEntryEditing - Adds WYSIWYG capabilities to the entry fields relying on the TinyMCE utility. This is a great improvement on the hack for previous versions of MT which relied on HTMLArea. Unfortunately there are some small problems in Firefox but I trust those will be resolved soon.
  • StatWatch - A tiny utility that allows the site owner to track visits to the site. It is a great concept, though needs to be extended to be a serious competitor to SiteMeter. One great feature is that it breaks down traffic by blog for those of us who have multiple blogs in one installation of Movabletype.
  • Media Manager - This is the successor to BookQueueToo, the utility that allows tracking of Amazon wishlists, reviews, reading queues, and so on. It is newly upgraded for MT 3.2 and looks great.

Wishlist

There are a few features I would still like to see. Among them are:

  • Scheduled posting that does not rely on cronjobs. Many servers do not allow the type of cronjob necessary to allow scheduled posting to be effective.
  • A native WYSIWYG interface, or at the very least one that has been properly tested and implemented.
  • A utility for managing site assets such as graphics, photos, etc. This is an inexcusible oversight and something that is desperately needed. There is currently no way of managing photos that have been uploaded to the site.
  • Custom fields. I would love to have the ability to add custom fields to the interface. I do realize this introduces many levels of difficulty (and I realize that it is quite easy to hack the software to add them if necessary).

All-in-all, Movabletye 3.2 greatly extends the functionality of the software. While I have always preferred Movabletype to the competitors, these new features only reinforce my belief that Movabletype is the best blogging package available.

September 07, 2005

My favorite class in high school was Latin. Strange choice, is it not? The reason I so loved the class was that the teacher, Dr. Helder, formed the lessons in such a way that he made a dead language come alive. He showed us how Latin is alive and well in many areas of our culture, either in terminology or in the roots of other languages. I think he touched on an important principle - that for teaching to be interesting it must also be shown to be relevant.

Theology can often seem abstract and uninteresting. You may remember the article I posted a couple of months ago in which I discussed the doctrine of Open Theism. I said “What began on the fringes of scholarship has quickly gained a popular following, in part because of the publication of entry-level titles such as Gregory Boyd’s God of the Possible and in part because of the acceptance of the doctrine by various popular authors.” The first point I made about Open Theism is “God’s greatest attribute is love. God’s love so overshadows His other characteristics that He could never allow or condone evil or suffering to befall mankind.” If you have not read the article, you may wish to do so. Click here.

This morning I found an example of this teaching in action, and thought I would share it to prove that we need to understand Open Theism so we can call it for what it is. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina some of the adherents to this doctrine have stepped forward to espouse such false teaching. Perhaps the most blatant attack on the traditional, biblical view of God has been launched by Tony Campolo, a man who has been teaching dangerous doctrine for many years now. To see that he believes in Open Theism we need look no further than the title of his article: “Katrina: Not God’s Wrath—or His Will.” Here are a few quotes:

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad answers. One such answer is that somehow all suffering is a part of God’s great plan. In the midst of agonies, someone is likely to quote from the Bible, telling us that if we would just be patient, we eventually would see “all things work together for the good, for those who love God, and are called according to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28)”

“Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined.”

He concludes by saying, “Instead of looking for God in the earthquake or the tsunami, in the roaring forest fires blazing in the western states, or in the mighty winds of Katrina, it would be best to seek out a quiet place and heed the promptings of God’s still small voice. That voice will inspire us to bring some of God’s goodness to bear in the lives of those who suffer.”

This it outright, blatant heresy. It is unbiblical and dangerous. Avoid this man and his teaching! You can read the complete article here.

September 07, 2005

This is the fourth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here and the second here and the third here. We are progressing through the book and have arrived at a chapter in which Driscoll begins to apply his understanding of culture and reformission. This chapter, entitled “going to seminary at the grocery store” has the more helpful subtitle, “connecting with culture in reformission.” Driscoll begins by providing an example of a cultural disconnect, recounting a time he went to India and was unable to communicate with the people from that culture, not because they are deaf or stupid, but because they speak a different language.

The discussion inevitably turns to Paul at Mars Hill in Athens. Driscoll explains how Paul courageously stood before the Areopagus to proclaim the gospel, “beginning by respectfully establishing common ground with his hearers so he could work from their culture to the Scriptures” (page 119). Using the altar to the unknown God as his metaphor, Paul shared the gospel with these men. He also took spiritual concepts from popular poetry and showed how concepts had been applied to Zeus that in reality needed to be applied to Jesus. “In our day, this would be akin to unearthing partial truths about God from a culture’s film, music, comedy, sports, literature, theatre, philosophy, economics, medicine or politics, and working from those truths to the truth of Jesus as the ultimate answer to all human questions and cultural problems” (page 121).

Driscoll moves on to repent of bad theology, stating that “while some Christians lament the condition of our spiritual but post-Christian nation, reformission sees our day as a great opportunity for the gospel” (page 122). But errors in Christian theology keep people from seeing the bountiful opportunities presented in popular music, film and other cultural outlets. Driscoll provides three common myths that hinder reformission.

Culture and worldiness - Wordliness, according to Driscoll, is “the collective sinfulness that flows from human hearts to pollute God’s good creation” (page 123). Christians, of course, are commanded throughout the New Testament to flee worldiness. “Tragically, I have seen many young pastors undertake reformission without a wise understanding of worldliness, pastors who, rather than converting lost people, were themselves converted and are no longer pastors but instead are adulterers, divorcees, alcoholics, perverts, homosexuals, feminists and nut jobs. Most frightening of all are the pastors who have become worldy but remain pastors who preach a gospel that cannot save because it is little more than the hollow echo of a cursed world” (page 124). While worldliness is to be avoided, we must not make it synonymous with culture, for this is a sure-fire way of killing reformission. Every culture has within it those good bits of creation and we must seek those out in order to reach lost people.

Garbage in, Garbage out - I assume all Christians have heard this little phrase which supposedly was coined by computer programmers. It is used most often with music to explain to young people that what they put into their minds will inevitably effect what comes out of their lives. However, says Driscoll, this has several problems. First, no culture is untainted by sin and sinners, including Christian culture. Second, there is no clear division between Christian and secular entertainment. Third, it assumes that what Christians see and hear, they will want to participate in. All of these, says Driscoll, show that we cannot adhere to a “garbage in, garbage out” mentality. As we engage culture we must use discernment, but still “watch films, listen to music, read books, watch television, shop at stores, and engage in other activies as theologians and missionaries filled with wisdom and discernment, seeking to better grasp life in our Mars Hill” (page 127).

Builders, Boomers, and Busters - Driscoll objects to dividing people into generations as if we can make rash assumptions about people based on age. He objects to churches that reach out to “booomers,” for examples, assuming that all boomers are the same.

He wraps up this section by stating, “Now that we have some of our theology of culture in order, we are ready to follow in Paul’s footsteps and walk around our Athens searching for reformission clues” (page 129). He begins this work by recounting the story of Daniel, who seemed to participate in Babylonian culture, yet remained distinct and strong in his beliefs. Like Daniel, we are in cultural captivity. “Do you spot the parallels to our situation? God desires to bless all nations and cultures of the earth through us, and so he has sent us into exile in places and among peoples no less strange or lost than the Babylonians” (page 131).

Thoughts

It is clear that Driscoll has been building towards this chapter. Without having read beyond this point, I am assuming that in the following chapters he will continue to build his case for cultural immersion. I am glad that Driscoll sees the challenge presented by worldliness. Further, he sees the danger of it, not only for what it can do to an individual, but what it can do to the gospel. A worldly gospel, as Driscoll shows, is no gospel at all.

But where I still have a disconnect from Driscoll is in his neat line dividing worldiness (which he says is bad) from culture (which he feels is inherently good but has been corrupted by humans). While he has done much to provide a theology of culture, his theology of worldliness leaves much to be desired. His definition of worldliness, “the collective sinfulness that flows from human hearts to pollute God’s good creation,” seems incomplete. Joel Beeke defines it as follows: “Worldiness, then, is human nature without God. Someone who is of the world is controlled by worldly pursuits: the quest for pleasure, profit and position. A worldly man yields to the spirit of fallen mankind - the spirit of self-seeking and self-indulgence - without regard for God. Each one of us, by nature, was born worldly. We belong to this world; it is our natural habitat” (Overcoming the World, page 16). The spirit of self-indulgence in Beeke’s definition seems absent from Driscoll’s, and in fact, seems to be a part of his pursuit of cultural relevance. I believe Beeke is also correct when he says, “Overcoming also doesn’t mean sanctifying everything in the world for Christ. Some parts of the world may be redeemed for Christ, but sinful activities can never be sanctified” (page 17). Again, this seems absent from Driscoll’s definition, and indeed it must be, since he insists that culture is good in and of itself.

It is almost as if Driscoll believes that any cultural pursuit is permissible unless I allow it to impact me in a negative, ungodly way. Hence Driscoll can visit a gay bar with a friend. Because he does not condone the activities within that bar and does not participate in the revelry, it is a neutral and even a good pursuit for him. The same can be said of film and music. Watching movies and television shows, even if they dishonor God, is a useful pursuit as it allows the Christian to pick out the redeeming aspects and use those to build bridges to the culture. But I do not find this in Scripture. Jesus was a friend to sinners, but he never participated in their sin. Jesus spoke to prositututes, but He did not visit brothels. Jesus may have befriended homosexuals, but I doubt he would have walked into a bathhouse.

And what of the people within a culture? Do they not laugh at Christians who willingly participate in their sinful activities? Unbelievers are adept at noticing and proclaiming the inconsistencies between what Christians believe and what they do - between the talk and the walk. When we watch movies filled with despicable content, do they not notice this and marvel that we would set foot in a theatre to watch such things? While we may do it under the banner of understanding culture, they see it and understand it as being inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.

To summarize, I have a growing concern that Driscoll’s reformission is built, at least in part, on a permissive spirit that will eventually lead to the very thing it is supposed to avoid. Could it be that those pastors who were led into all manner of worldliness were led there not by poor discernment, but by immersing themselves in cultural pursuits that stand at odds with God’s standards?

This series will continue soon.

September 04, 2005

I am in a reflective mood today and since I have been experiencing one of those frustrating times with my children began to think about what it means to be a child of God. I was reminded of an article I wrote a couple of years ago and decided to resurrect it, editing it and adding to it a little bit.

Being a parent is such a profound experience. My children make me want to laugh and cry. They will fill me with love at times and with frustration at other times. I have learned so much about myself and about human nature through being a parent. But that is not all. Parenthood has also taught me so much about God and why He refers to Himself as my Father.

God is patient. Parenthood is a constant battle of my patience. My children love to test me – pushing to see just how far they can go. They want to know exactly what obedience means and where the line is that distinguishes obedience from disobedience. If I need patience with my children, imagine the patience God requires to put up with me. I also like to push against the line or cross it altogether. Yet God patiently stays with me, never deserting me.

God loves. I love my children more than I can express. The Bible says that the measure of the deepest kind of love is that a man would lay down his life for one he loves. I would without hesitation trade my life for my children’s lives. Occasionally I will read of a parent who lost his life trying to save his child from a burning building, and I marvel at his courage, yet understand how it would be easier to die trying than to regret never attempting to save that child. God loves with a perfect love. God loved me even while I hated Him and while I did all I could to show Him how much I hated Him. But God did more than love me when I hated Him. He also suffered and died for me. What awesome love!

God loves equally. I love my children equally. I could never choose one over the other. They are both equally the apple of my eye. God also believes in equality. There is not another of His children in the world that God loves more than me and there is not another one He loves less than me.

God loves distinctly. While I love my children equally, I love each one in different ways. As I consider how I love my children I am reminded of Revelation 2:17. “To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.” Jesus loves us all equally, yet He loves each of us in a way that takes note of what distinguishes us from each other.

God teaches. Children are ridiculous. Only in a household containing children would you expect to hear commands like “don’t eat food that’s been in the toilet!” and “take that straw out of your sister’s nose!” Children have no common sense and have to learn so many lessons either by being told by their parents or by experiencing pain. And isn’t that the way I am? I can learn God’s ways from the Bible or from others who have already walked life’s pathway before me, but more often I prefer to learn by trying things out. I am then left to deal with the often-painful consequences of my actions.

God laughs. Children are hilarious. The things my kids say and the things they do keep me laughing. How can you help but laugh when your two-year old son imitate the pastor’s prayer by saying, “Dear God. Blah blah blah blah blah. Amen.” When my children laugh and play together, I laugh with them. Similarly God must laugh when He sees me blunder through life and must laugh with me when I am simply laughing out of the enjoyment life.

God cares. There are few things I care about more than my children and their well-being. I cry with my children – I feel what my children feel. When my daughter hurts herself, I feel her pain. When my son gets bullied, it makes me angry. God feels my pain and He burns with anger against those who come against me. He wants nothing but the best for me.

God provides. My children trust me to provide. When my son is hungry he asks for a snack. He never considers that perhaps it is actually my will to keep him hungry. He trusts that I can afford to buy him snacks. He has blind faith in my ability to provide. And so I can trust that not only can God provide, but also that it is His will and his desire to provide for me. “What father among you, if his son asks for[a] a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke Luke 11:10-13).

When we look at such a list, is it any wonder that God calls Himself my Father? Is it any wonder that He chooses to reveal Himself to us in such an intimate, familiar way?

September 02, 2005

A couple of days ago I posted a prayer request for Steve Muse’s wife. Here is an update from Steve:

To my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am overwhelmed by your genuine concern and prayers for my wife Catherine. Please allow me to thank all of you for your love and for your continued prayer.

Please forgive me if you are hearing about this for the first time. Bud Press sent out a prayer request to many on his list and I may be missing some of you that did write and he may have missed many from my list.

If you did not here, Catherine was taken to the hospital yesterday morning when I could not wake her. I called 911 and she was rushed to the hospital. The trauma team worked on her for 9 hours to stabilize her, trying to stop internal bleeding and bring her blood pressure under control. The team did not succeed at first as her blood pressure crashed and was not detectable for nearly an hour, even having to do CPR to keep her heart beating. This team worked on her for hours, never giving up hope and she was brought up to Intensive Care where the work continued to stabilize her. She did not regain consciousness in the ER.

Catherine is still in extremely critical condition from the internal bleeding. She has not yet regained consciousness, is still in a coma and unresponsive. Her blood pressure is still not stable and her system has become septic because of the continued bleeding. The doctors cannot perform the surgery needed to find the bleed because her condition is so critical and unstable and her blood pressure must be stable to even do emergency surgery.

Even in Catherine’s present condition I believe that God is greater than the circumstances but I also realize that He knows our beginning and He knows our end. I trust Him to care for my wife whether here with us or with Him in eternity. Catherine does not belong to me but to Him.

Again I thank you for all of your prayers.

In His Love,

Steve Muse

September 01, 2005

The past twenty-four or forty-eight hours have been the most successful in the history of my company Websonix, at least in terms of sales. I have been literally inundated with work. Of course I am not complaining! Far from it, I am very thankful for the work that has come my way. It has meant, though, that my blogging time has been somewhat reduced as I have several imminent deadlines. I thought of posting an as-yet unfinished article, but wanted to be sure I did it justice. So instead of rushing something to “print,” I thought I’d post an article written by a reader (who also happens to be my sister) who pondered what I wrote about sex and intimacy and subsequently wrote down her thoughts. From here on out you’re reading Susanna’s words.

I am writing this article as a result of much time spent pondering over my brother’s most recent post at his web site, www.challies.com. There, Tim has written about sex and intimacy, both how it is abused in our culture and how it is intended to be biblically. Tim cites Songs of Solomon as the best place to find an obvious show of intense marital love, desire and commitment in the bible.

Now, I have a confession to make. Songs of Solomon as a book can rather intimidate me. what do I mean by that? Well, the exchange between Solomon and his young Shulammite lover are simply bathed in such a pure and beautiful, reckless desire that knows none of the negativity or criticism that I find can so easily impede such constant romance in a courtship or marriage. Movies such as “Life is Beautiful” or “The Notebook” run through my head as I read this chapter of the bible, an automatic response, I suppose, of a romantic who has a finely tuned knowledge of what true love is in films, but not neccessarily always in real life; who can give up everything for a few hours to a screen writer’s fantasy. To use that energy instead twoards reality…to surrender my feelings of love for Rick so unabashedly…feelings which grow daily as we near our anniversary, and tell him such truths on a regular basis as, “How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming!” or “You have stolen my heart, my (husband), my (groom); you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” Would not that kind of intimacy and transparency be an awesome addition to any marriage?

On the other hand, artist Bruce Springsteen declares in his song “The Secret Garden”, that there is a secret garden within a woman, a place locked up which will never be openned to a man no matter how close their relationship may get emotionally and physically. He sings, “She’s got a secret garden/ Where everything you want/ Where everything you need/ Will stay a million miles away.” Fortunately, there is a strikingly different message apparent in Songs of Solomon. Though the lovers wisely control their undeniable desires to give themselves over to each other physically, thus keeping their desires “locked up” metaphorically until marriage, they do not deny each other the awesome experience of knowing one other emotionally and spiritually. They know that they are intended for each other, proclaiming with fervency, “My lover is mine and I am his,”and thus see no reason to hide their feelings and thoughts as they have found a secure refuge in each other. In short, they know that true, everlasting love encompasses a tender weaving together of the whole self, given wisely, yet totally surrendered to the other person. Like a stick of peppermints, continually peeled away to get at another candy, our surrendered selves will always carry unchartered crevices of course, yet it is these things, shared with a mate, which can heighten the elements of discovery through out the years together.

After contemplating this debated book, which baffles as well as bothers many for its place in the bible, I no longer feel intimidated but rather inspired…inspired to ditch assumptions and instead verbalize my love and desire for Rick whenever I can. I have been blessed with a beautiful man, inside and out, who follows after God faithfully and passionately declares his admiration for his bride on a regular basis, which, put together, is everything. Together the passions will also intensify our relationship with Christ, the ultimate king who will come gather us all, his underserving people, in a beautiful culmination at the end of this earthly kingdom. Until then, all creation sings in admiration and exaltation to the author of beauty, of love, of passion, and of desire.

*Verses taken from NIV study bible

August 31, 2005

In yesterday’s article we built a framework in which to understand sex from a biblical perspective. We saw that sex is: a Gift From God; intended only for marriage; for giving and receiving pleasure; a means of building intimacy; intended for procreation. Today we will continue this discussion to encompass autoeroticism, the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself.

Blindness, Baldness and Hairy Palms

I suspect my childhood is typical in that I heard many rumors about the physical effects of autoeroticism. I was told that people who did it went blind, lost their hair, grew hair on their palms or went crazy. But as James Dobson says, “If it did [cause such afflictions], the entire male population and about half of females would be blind, weak, simpleminded and sick. Between 95 and 98 percent of all boys engage in this practice — and the rest have been known to lie.” My parents certainly never told me such lies and neither did any of my teachers or youth leaders. Yet these rumors were passed from boy-to-boy on the playground, usually long before any of us had ever given serious consideration to sexuality. We did not know what the act was, but we did know the supposed repercussions.

While these rumors are clearly unfounded, they continue to be told simply because autoeroticism is a topic that breeds guilt and shame. It encourages worry that a person will be found out. Yet there is no physical reason to deny oneself this sexual pleasure. There can, however, be a mental and spiritual toll as many people struggle with feelings of guilt, remorse and shame because of their habits. This may be a convincing reason for some people to avoid participating, but for many it is not.

Purity of Mind

The most common reason given why people should not engage in autoeroticism is that it pollutes the mind. Sexual gratification is not merely a physical act, but one that engages the mind. In speaking with men who struggle with this sin, one will find that the act brings far less guilt than the accompanying fantasies. These fantasies run rampant during acts of autoeroticism. This type of fantasy can be dangerous in two ways.

First, as most adults have learned the hard way, reality is rarely as wonderful as fantasy. Many people create expectations for sex in their minds that the reality cannot meet. I dare say that rarely has a teenage boy created a fantasy in which his partner gently and lovingly rebuffs his advances because she is too tired. Neither has he concocted a fantasy in which she declines participation in a particular act because she finds it uncomfortable or distasteful. The fact is that fantasy can create unhealthy and unrealistic expectations of sex.

Second, fantasy will rarely involve legitimate sexual partners. A teenage girl has no legitimate reason to pursue sexual fantasy, for she has no God-given partner with whom she can consumate such desire. While it is perfectly legitimate for a husband to dream of a sexual encounter with his wife, autoeroticism may encourage him to fill his mind with thoughts of other women, or even to gaze at pornographic material to fuel his mind.

Fantasy is dangerous when left unchecked. Autoeroticism is wrong when it violates the Lord’s teaching about moral purity. “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Fantasy can also be dangerous when it creates unrealistic expectation.

Some will protest that when they engage in autoeroticism it is merely a physical act and one they do to relieve stress or boredom. They will insist that they do not succumb to thinking inappropriate thoughts. In his book When Good Men Are Tempted, Bill Perkins writes, “It appears to me that masturbation is amoral. Under some circumstances it’s acceptable behavior. On other occasions it’s clearly wrong” (page 122). He goes on to provide three tests which will gauge whether a particular instance is right or wrong: the thought test (whether the act is accompanied by inappropriate fantasies), the self-control test (whether the act becomes obsessive) and the love test (whether autoeroticism leads to a person failing to fulfill the needs of his or her spouse). I found it interesting that in a book about sexual purity this topic was covered in only two pages and that the pages were at the very end of the book, almost as if this topic was an afterthought. Millions of men will tell you that it is far more than an afterthought.

James Dobson teaches a similar view of autoeroticism being amoral. When I was young my parents gave me his book Preparing for Adolescence and I remember this teaching well. He believes that every boy (and most girls) try it and that the guilt brought about by the act destroys many children. Thus he believes parents should rarely speak to their children about it, and if they do, to reassure their children that such practices are normal.

Like Perkins, Dobson does not engage in a biblical examination of this particular topic. Like Perkins he concludes that autoeroticism is amoral because there is no specific bible passage that allows or condemns the practice.

Yet, as we will see, the Bible is not silent.

God’s Purpose in Sexuality

Yesterday we learned that the ultimate purpose of sex is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings. A close examination of the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality will uncover no reason to believe that God ever intended sex to be a private pursuit. The heart and soul of sexuality is the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure. Sex is intended to be a means of mutual fulfillment where a husband thinks foremost of his wife, and the wife things foremost of her husband. As they fulfill each other’s needs, they have their own fulfilled. It is a beautiful picture of intimacy!

“Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Corinthians 7:5). This deprivation can refer not only to time but to activity. A man should no more deprive his wife over a period of time than he should deprive her by private sexual activity.

And this, the mutual giving and receiving which lies at the heart of God’s purpose for sexuality, is exactly what autoeroticism cannot provide. It strips sexuality of its divine purpose of mutual fulfillment. It takes an act God intends to build relationship and makes it an act of selfish isolation.

I remind you again of the passage we looked at yesterday. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4). A man’s body does not belong to himself, but to his present or future wife, and ultimately to God. A wife’s body belongs to her husband (and to God). Neither spouse has the right to express sexuality apart from the other. When the Bible tells a man that he is to express his sexuality exclusively with his wife, why do so many interpret this to mean that he can express his sexuality with his wife or by himself?

Tithing to Oneself

Perhaps it would be helpful to interrupt for a moment to provide an analogy.

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in church on a Sunday morning. One of the deacons (the one who always seems to have bits of breakfast caught in his moustache) has just prayed to thank the Lord for His gracious gifts. The offering baskets are being passed up-and-down the rows of seats. You have just stuffed your check into the little offering envelope that is too small to fit the check without folding it, but far too large for a folded check, when you glance over at the gentleman sitting beside you. He has just completed writing a check and now proceeds to tear it from his checkbook, fold it and place it in an envelope. You are surprised to see that he proceeds to place the envelope in his pocket, close his eyes and whisper a short prayer. Intruiged, you lean toward him and ask why he has put the check in his pocket. Not at all annoyed he replies, “I tithe to myself.” “What,” you say, “Why would you do that?” “I need the money as much as anyone,” he replies.

It is a ridiculous scenario, is it not? But I believe the principle can be extended to our discussion of autoeroticism. If a man were to earn a living and tithe his ten percent to himself, we could consider him selfish, for he is missing the very purpose for which God tells us to give our gifts to the church. Similarly, if a man engages in autoeroticism he is perverting God’s design for sexuality, taking something that is supposed to bring blessing to another and making it selfish so it serves only himself.

Not A Selfish Pursuit

Do you see, then, how autoeroticism denies the very purpose for which God created sex? Sex was not meant to be a selfish pursuit. It was not intended to focus a person’s thoughts on himself and his own needs. Rather, sex was designed as a means of fulfilling the Lord’s command to esteem another higher than oneself. The pleasure of sex is not meant to be enjoyed in isolation, but to be enjoyed while providing that same pleasure to another. Autoeroticism cannot fulfill God’s design for sexuality, and thus has no place in the life of one who calls himself a Christian.

August 30, 2005

I am not aware of a large number of children that read this site, but despite that I’d like to begin this article with a quick warning. What I am writing about in this short series deals with a subject that is best-suited for adults. So if you are still young, I’d prefer you had your mom or dad read it first and decide if this is something they would like you to read. Fair enough?

And by now the rest of you are probably curious. Today I would like to write about a subject I didn’t ever anticipate I would research and post about on this site. It is a controversial subject and one that is often avoided within Christian circles. The most people hear about this subject from within the church is, “Christians don’t do that!” So in this article and the one that follows I would like to bring a biblical perspective to autoeroticism, or the act of providing sexual pleasure to oneself. I am deliberately avoiding the “m-word” associated with this activity simply because, based on the vast amount of junk mail I receive, it seems to be a favored word for spammers and people who wish to share their perversions with the world through email, trackbacks and so on.

The Bible is silent on explicit discussion of the subject of autoeroticism. There is no place in Scripture where we will find a clear statement allowing or condemning the practice. Thus we have to begin our study by attempting to come to a biblical understanding of sexuality - God’s purpose and design in human sexuality. Once we understand this we will have a foundation upon which we can build an understanding of autoeroticism.

God’s Design for Sex

We will begin by providing the groundwork for a theology of sex. This is a topic that could consume as much time and space as we chose to give it, so we will discuss it only briefly. Consider this nothing more than a framework. Much of the following was drawn from Sex, Romance and the Glory of God by C.J. and Carolyn Mahaney. Much of that book is available as a chapter in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor.

A Gift From God

Andy Warhol said, “Sex is the biggest nothing of all time.” Andy Warhol was dead wrong. Sex is a gift of God and it is good because the God who gave us sex is good. We glorify God when we use this gift in the way God intends and when we use it to His glory. In Genesis 2 we read about the creation of a woman. After God gave Eve to Adam the Bible tells us, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is God who designed sex and who gave it to us. It is a good gift and one that must be used as the Creator intends.

For Marriage

When God gave sex to humans, He also provided a restriction. Sex is to be enjoyed only within marriage. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Hebrews 13:4). God gave us this restriction not to be burdensome, but to increase the pleasure and intimacy found in God-glorifying sex.

For Our Pleasure

God created sex to be pleasurable. What more evidence do we need than the clitoris, a part of the body that has only one function - to receive and transmit sexual pleasure. And not only is sex pleasurable, but it is mutually pleasurable, allowing the husband and wife to give and receive pleasure at the same time. This leads to mutual sexual fulfillment. A servant’s mindset is crucial in the marriage bed so each partner primarily seeks after the interests of the other. “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4).

For Intimacy

Humans are not entirely capable of comprehending the depth of intimacy brought about by sexual union. The word “know” is often used in Scripture to speak of the deep, intimate knowledge brought about by sex. God also speaks of the husband and wife being of “one flesh” through this act. Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Marital sex is the pinnacle of human bonding. It is the highest form of the communication of love - a language that expresses love without words. It calls forth the deepest, most powerful emotions. It creates intimacy within marriage like nothing else. In fact, as we give and receive the gift of lovemaking, this intimacy will grow stronger and more precious as they eyars go by. Each encounter will lead us to a deeper ‘knowing’ of the one we love” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 107).

For Procreation

Sex is a means of pleasure and intimacy, but also has the purpose of procreation. Through the joyful act of sex he also works through us in creating new life.

These five points provide a framework for a biblical understanding of sex.

Culture and Sex

Our culture often promotes a view of sex diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches. This is a view that makes sex appear as little more than a biological function. Men have a sexual appetite they must fulfill and hence they hunt around much like a male dog seeks out a female who is in heat. Like a dog, a man can barely even help himself from fulfilling his craving. Television and movies now portray women in a similar light - as sexual creatures who are able to seperate love and marriage from the act of sex. Yet biblical sexuality is far different.

Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:16-18 brings wisdom that reads more like a commentary on this passage than a translation of it. “There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one.’ Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never ‘become one.’ There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for ‘becoming one’ with another.” And not only do we violate our own bodies, but the bodies of those with whom we have sex. Sex outside of marriage is a perversion of God’s intent.

Perhaps the clearest biblical teaching on sexuality is found in the Song of Solomon. This book portrays a man and woman who are desperately in love with each other. “These two desperately desire to be together, but not simply so they can experience sexual gratification. They want to be together because they are in love, and the sex they enjoy with one another is an expression of that love. Their mutual attraction is not primarily hormonal. It is primarily relational” (Sex, Romance and the Glory of God, page 85). The sex that is so beautifully depicted in Song of Solomon, (the great sex!), is founded primarily on relationship, not technique or the mere fulfillment of animal urges. The consumation of the sexual act is only one place on a long continuum filled with relationship, loving words, expressions of desire and finally physical intimacy. If we were to read Song of Solomon as a textbook on how to have sex we would misread Solomon’s intent. The book is a guide on how to build a loving, intimate relationship.

The ultimate purpose of sex, then, is to provide ultimate intimacy between a husband and wife. There is no greater expression of vulnerable intimacy between human beings, and this is a large part of what makes marriage so unique.

In our next article we will build upon this theology of sex and discuss autoeroticism.

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