Expository Thoughts

unleashing my thoughts one post at a time

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PARENTING: A LIFE ALTERING ADJUSTMENT.

by graceboer

[Another guest post by my wife, Grace]

In my last post I wrote about my experience as a first time mom and I was so overwhelmed by the feedback I received but even more overwhelmed by the support from my husband who encouraged me to actually write the initial post. After my first post, I told my husband how much his support and him spurring me on meant to me. It is such a wonderful feeling when your husband can recognise something you enjoy and then gently push you to pursue it. At least for me, that warms my heart.

This though made me a bit embarrassingly aware of something in my own experience I can so easily minimize, and that is, that it is not just us women who are first time moms, but hello, there’s a man (!!!!), your husband (!!!!) and mine who are also first time dads. And oh dear, isn’t that something to write about… IMG-20170617-WA0004

After Matthew’s birth, my husband and I, even after having read several books and received wise counsel from experienced parents, were still hopelessly unprepared for the actual experience of raising a baby. I promise, I was the most organized and all-together-mommy-to-be but when Matt came, I wasn’t even sure whether or not I could trust my judgment on the right temperature for his bottle or his bath. I didn’t trust a thermometer (that’s how nutty I was).

In any case, I was happy that I had a partner who was with me on the ride to “perfect” parenting.  But I must admit, hubby gave me many funny and memorable moments in the earlier months, that goes to show the real and tremendous adjustments we had to make or become used to now that we were parents. To parent well requires selfless and life altering adjustments to ones life (and you really don’t have a choice in this).

Now you have to understand our situation before Matthew came to appreciate the significant adjustments we had to make. We were married for 5 years and in that 5 years of blissful marriage we had the luxury and comfort of just having time for ourselves. But BOY when our boy came everything changed (and rightfully so). I get that your life has to somehow change for the most part but once this change touches on the sacred cow of sleep we knew it was going to be one hectic journey! Becoming a parent you soon realize that your own sleep time doesn’t belong to you anymore. Shame, my heart went out to daddy-dearest as I watched him come to terms with this “new dawn”. I remember waking up throughout the night so that Matthew could have his feed and daddy-dearest providing some ‘interesting’ moments.

So we soon fell into an evening routine. During the night one-month old Matt becomes restless and starts to moan for a bottle. I wake Riaan to get the bottle ready so that I could feed him. Then I’d pass Matt over to Riaan so he could pass winds by daddy. This is when the show began, but oddly enough it wasn’t Matthew putting on a show, but daddy (LOL!). I shared our experiences with my family and I got hubby’s permission so he doesn’t mind me embarrassing him for the greater good. Let me explain:

It was the first night of Riaan’s struggle to adjust to the broken-sleep-patterns that would become part of our new lives. It was about 2am the morning and time for Matthew’s feed. I woke Riaan up and urged him to get the bottle warmed and ready for Matthew to be fed. Riaan jumped from the bed and hastily made his way to the kitchen. At this point I’m fully awake and patiently waiting for the bottle. Riaan comes back to the bedroom with no bottle in his hand. Instead with his eyes closed he makes his way to the bed sits down and eats a sucker – YES AN ICE COLD SUCKER! At 2 am in the morning when a bottle should be fetched he eats the sucker.

I turned to him and asked him what’s he doing and it seems it was only then that he actually really woke up and the look on his face led me to believe he had NO IDEA or answer to my question. He was actually still asleep! Yes for some reason, woken up by my request, he got up and made his way to the kitchen and instead of preparing a bottle he helped himself to a sucker while fast asleep, mind you! I know having your sleep broken up at 2am sucks…but did he seriouslyemoji need to demonstrate how much it sucked (lol)

 

 

The second night Matt wakes up the same time, early hours of the morning for his feed. I wake Riaan and he goes to the kitchen and returns with a plate in his hand giving it to me. At this point I’m convinced he is sleep walking, so I raised my voice and repeat that I need to feed Matt and that he should get me the bottle! He then goes back into the kitchen and returns to the room handing me THE SAME PLATE WITH A CUP ON TOP OF IT. Oh man, I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream but I certainly started realizing the struggle to adjust was real! We still laugh out loud when we think of those early months and how far we’ve come in this short journey!

There are a few other nights with some other (more embarrassing) incidents but because I love him and he is after-all the father of my baby, I will spare him the embarrassment, plus I think the point is made. You are never ready for the kind of adjustments you are required to make when you become fist-time parents and these adjustment are non-negotiable and every parent goes through it (so we’re not alone).

It’s interesting that we often only talk about the changes and adjustments the mother must make and while that is true my experience with this brave dad makes me also want to acknowledge that dads have to make a significant adjustment to their lives too.IMG_20170902_183417_085

So, what carries us through such inconvenient adjustments? Well, I guess, for us it’s not just about strategizing, planning and being real hard on ourselves but it’s more an internal motivation. Before the practical and actual life adjustment, must come the internal heart adjustment. Adjusting to parenting require a selfless attitude! This Christian virtue of “selflessness” is perfectly modeled by our Saviour Jesus Christ. My husband always reminds me that parenting affords us the opportunity to obey Philippians 2:3-5

“…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”

He says that if we are going to be good parents we need to heed the instructions of Philippians 2 carefully, and consider our children above ourselves, and look out not for our own interests (even that sweet uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep) but the interests of our children – who need both are consideration and care. Parenting requires serious life adjustments and God reminds us of the Christ-like virtue of selflessness to help us make these sacrificial and necessary adjustments for the well-being, care and happiness of our little babies! Parenting begins with an attitude of selflessness!

 

 

 

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WHY AS A COLOURED CHRISTIAN I DO NOT USE THE TERM “WHITE-PRIVILEGE”

by Riaan

A WORD ABOUT THE TITLE                                  

I think it’s important to explain the title of this post before proceeding. Firstly, biblically speaking there is no such thing as a white Christian or a black Christian that would somehow imply a distinct availability of blessing, benefit and promise in the gospel for each respective race. In other words the gospel and all its glorious benefits are for the-whosoever believes. However, it is true on the level of social and cultural experience that there are to a certain degree unfortunate differences in background, opportunities, and “privileges” based on the superficiality of skin colour and hair type i.e. whether you’re black or white. So while in the former instance there are no significance differences on the latter level there are and it is with these two understanding that I use the term “coloured Christian” very tentatively and only to serve the argument of this post.

Disclaimer: This is not necessarily an argument against the term “White-privilege” but an explanation of why I choose not to use the term. So while I may be discussing the [de]merits of the term in passing – thinking about this as a case against the term “white-privilege” will probably result in missing the point I’m making.

INTRODUCTION

The term white privilege has found its way into the social dialogue among many engaging issues of racial tension and unity. Wikipedia has a helpful entry that explains White-Privilege-1038x535what is meant by white privilege: “White privilege (or white skin privilege) is a term for societal privileges that benefit people whom society identifies as white in some countries, beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”

One common example from every day experience that I can think of is the perception white people enjoy when entering certain places (e.g. a store) purely on the basis of having white skin compared to the suspicion people of colour endure purely because they are black and coloured.

So, white privilege refers to ways in which white skinned people can be (but not always are as we cannot absolutize it) privileged socially, economically and politically purely on the basis of their skin. I think it also has to do with what has been referred to as unearned benefits white skinned people have due to the consequence of an unjust system in some form of the other. An example of this would be how the evil and unjust apartheid system ensured that white people benefit in a way that people of colour could not and that even today many white people who may not necessarily have been perpetrators in that unjust system still experience the privileges and benefits that system has earned for them over against the grave disadvantages black and coloured people have inherited.

Now the contentious and polarizing nature of the term aside – the realities the term “white privilege” seek to capture (whether successfully or not) have merit and can be attested to in the everyday experience of ordinary life.  However, I am not willing to use the term and I am particular reluctant to use the term in addressing a white person’s advantages or aspects in his or her life where they are perceivably more privileged than I am. Here are a few reasons I’m not willing to throw around the term white privilege:

1. IT IS SUSCEPTIBLE TO MISUNDERSTANDING.

As an ethic for Christian communication I aim to not be deliberately offensive or give cause for stumbling – especially when there are other better and more helpful ways of communicating. The term white privilege tends to be inflammatory, aggravate and lead to misunderstanding that is not helpful to effective charitable communication. Just on a side note: One thing that always bothers me when I observe white Christians engage other whites on the issue of privilege (especially on social media) is how little patience and gentleness is shown toward white people who sincerely have a hard time coming to terms with the realities the concept white privilege seek to communicate. It almost appears to me that because they are white and enjoy some unearned (as well as un-asked for) privilege that somehow precludes them from being engaged with in a spirit of grace, gentleness and patience. From a Christian perspective this is unacceptable and uncharitable engagement.

I think the term white privilege generally comes across as insulting, offensive and accusatory and thereby cause more heat than light on the issue of race. The term is also generally used to show the disparity between race groups, however, the use of the term itself becomes counterproductive in the efforts to create an awareness of the circumstances of those disadvantaged and discriminated, in that it is a conversation-ending term and not a conversation-opening term.

Firstly, the term can be construed as an insult in that it fails to appreciate that even though there may be unearned privileges it is also unasked-for-privileges (in many cases today) and it does not discount a diligent and an honourable work ethic on the part of the white person being called out for his or her privilege.

While it may be true that many blacks and coloureds can exert the same amount of diligence and not necessarily acquire what a white person could, the diligence, effort and sacrifice of a white person is still that and not somehow less only because it is supposedly marred by their white skin. Not only does the term white privilege tend to discount honesty and diligence it also tends to depreciate the life built by a white person in considering what they have and acquired as somehow less qualitatively because it is largely due to their unearned privilege.

Let me add that while it may be true on more occasions than not, that when a white person enters a store the attention he receives is generally free from any suspicion, whereas a person of colour generally receives the suspicious kind of attention, the white person has never asked for this, and those I know (generally) do not encourage this. Therefore the problem in many cases like this is not necessarily with white privilege but with the racist person granting that privilege to the white person – this person can be of any colour in my experience.

It appears the impression the term white privilege conveys is that receiving privileged attention and treatment on the basis of having white skin, somehow makes the white person who never asked for this, perhaps unaware of this, and most certainly is not encouraging this complicit in such unfairness and this I think is unfair toward that particular white person!

Secondly and building on from the first reason, I find the term can be offensive in that it fails on the basic human level of respect. If I reduce everything that a person is and have to some unearned privilege (they never asked for nor had any control over) as a result of their skin colour I cannot at the same time convey any sense of respect for that person and it necessarily leads to offense. I’m essentially negating every effort, sacrifice, show of commitment and dedication that person genuinely put in for them to be able to obtain and have what they are enjoying and experiencing. I must respect the virtues of diligence, sacrifice, dedication, commitment – even if I’m not willing to respect the person.

Thirdly, the term strikes me as accusatory. I cannot escape the accusatory tone when I consider the term white privilege in that it almost implicates all white people in the injustices of the past due to a perceived benefit they are experiencing – not to mention the vilifying nature of the term. There are most certainly many white people, especially in South Africa with its history of race-based discrimination who are benefitting because of an unjust system and blacks and coloureds who are not because of the same unjust system. The reality now though, is that white people today irrespective of how or what they have benefitted from are not all necessarily guilty of the injustices of the past and I cannot view them through eyes filled with grievances of past injustice – that is not fair nor just. (for more see the facebook comment)

Screenshot_20180410-111125

point 3 should read *in* and not *is*.

I suppose it would help to note that I’m referring to white people who never supported the injustices of apartheid, even during apartheid and did as much as they can with the means that they have to demonstrate their opposition to apartheid and also those who have come to repent if they had any part in these past injustices. Whites (these ones in particular) who benefitted from the unjust apartheid system may have a moral responsibility to use their privilege to help those who are under-privileged but they cannot be held morally responsible for past injustices and the term white privilege reeks of an accusatory tone I would rather stay clear of.

While I am not the topic: I often hear this point conceded, namely, that whites today are not necessarily guilty of the injustices from which they are benefitting but must use their “privilege” to serve the under-privileged. I have to ask myself, is that not the Christian expectation for every believer – irrespective of perceived socio-economic privilege or race– to do good to others and selflessly seek the benefit of others? Are all Christians not specially privileged in Christ and therefore responsible to use this privilege to serve others? I’m uncomfortable in receiving the good works of those who act out of the guilt of privilege, especially if their good works are only directed toward a person of colour.

A white Christian’s good works and acts of love to a black Christian should be out of obedience to Scripture to do good to all and love for God and neighbor– and not merely black Christians and certainly not at the exclusion of white Christians. A white Christian must do good to a black Christian because He is also doing good to a white Christian – it must be his life that is given in service to all that bears fruit in his good works towards blacks and coloureds, If motivated by guilt provoked by the term white privilege the white Christian is moved to only be (overly above more) charitable towards a black Christian does he not show partiality towards his own white skinned people? In short, irrespective of the background or skin colour hard work, diligence, taking responsibility and applying wisdom in life contributes significantly towards advancement in life and this must be, shown to be, appreciated. However, the term white privilege tends to disregard this and consequently breeds disregard and disrespect.

2. IT DOES NOT SUFFICIENTLY APPRECIATE THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.

Do we sufficiently account for the providence of God and thereby the wisdom of God in executing the benevolent will of God, when we frame the advancement and material well-being of certain people-groups or races as only due to skin-based-privileges obtained through oppressive and unjust means? I don’t mean to suggest I’ve got this issue pinned down but I’m trying to think through it.  I think we can affirm both providence and injustices as a reality in the world and do not necessarily have to see them as mutually exclusive in its reality in the God’s world. However, in many of the discussions by Christians on social issues like privilege and race I rarely hear a robust theological exposition of the doctrine of providence and divine sovereignty that ought to inform these things and that ought to provide comfort and hope.

Of course I’m not arguing for the justification of injustices on the grounds of providence but for the inclusion into our discussion of injustice the place of God’s providence and good purposes it intends to accomplish especially for those on the end of injustices. Much of the social agenda which inform terms such as white privilege does not sufficiently engage with theology apart from a few references to “the golden rule” or “justice” passages in the Old Testament. What we have today is more an exegesis of the socio-political realities and an exposition of racial injustices without really grounding this in the self-disclosed revelation of our personal God.  I personally would like to see more theology done by Christians who are sympathetic towards the social agenda today.

Scripture makes clear that God is behind one nation rising up and another being brought down, God promotes and demotes, God makes rich and makes poor. God is never an uninvolved spectator merely watching things unfold.  But surely God wouldn’t promote and advance an unjust nation or people? Well, while God is not the author of injustice or Himself unjust, we do have examples in the Bible where God raises up and prospers the unjust efforts of barbarous nations for His own sovereign and benevolent purposes.

I am not saying apartheid was God’s work. I am not saying the unjust advancement of white people during apartheid and the unjust discrimination of black people during apartheid was God’s doing. Nevertheless, I wonder if we are able to appreciate the mystery of providence in the amidst of injustices if we persist with a reductionist term such as white privilege to explain the socio-economic complexities between races in God’s good yet fallen world. I would even go further and say, I think the term white privilege is better accommodated in a deistic theological worldview instead of a biblically providential worldview.

There is a video going around on social media that seeks to explain white privilege. A group of people are about to begin a race for a $100 and it is a group made up of whites and blacks. The person calling the race notifies the white and black participants that he will be making a few statements and if it is relevant to you you’re allowed a step forward, however, if it doesn’t you must remain where you are. He then makes a series of statements and asks questions about cultural, social and family experiences. Those to whom these statements spoke to favorably got to take steps to the front and as it were it was only the white participants to whom his questions spoke to favorably and it spoke to them favourably only because they were white. Thus the white participants constantly got an advantage, ahead of the black participants who never moved, even before the race began. This was done to illustrate how white privilege effects the lives we lead because whites typically start with an advantage whereas black do not.

The illustration is good as far as it goes for the secular person but it seriously breaks down at the introduction of God’s providence. Providence teaches me that irrespective of where I begin and irrespective of what injustices impacted me I will end up exactly where God has willed for me to end up! Perhaps it is not God’s will for my life to run for a $100 bill but to actually run for a $50 dollar bill and my life experience, which He is sovereign over, is set out in such a way that His purposes for my life is realized and not necessarily my purposes for my life. I wonder where Joseph would have been WITHOUTH THE INJUSTICES HE SUFFERED. This is not to mention that God’s greatest work, our salvation, was accomplished sovereignly through the acts of atrocious injustices performed by sinful men but still within the providence of God who remained just and holy and righteous. Redemption is not only occasioned by the reality of injustice but it was accomplished in a very real sense through acts of injustice (Acts 2:22-24)!

As a believer in a God who has not abandoned this world but instead sustains the world moving it along according to His purpose and who is working out everything providentially even numbering the very hairs on my head (which is fast disappearing) my life is purposed and lived out in God’s hands.

Since the fall in Genesis 3, God has always been working good in an unjust world and this climaxed in God triumphing over injustice decisively at the cross and through Christ’s resurrection. The failure to set forth God’s providence in a fallen world deprives the Christian on the end of injustice to properly perceive and appreciate his life in God’s hands. I think a robust engagement with the doctrine of providence can bring a racially discriminated believer to truly rejoice in and boldly confess that his or her life is not essentially in the hands of the oppressor but in the hands of the sovereign and benevolent God who only wills good! As a coloured man, I will never be defined or ultimately determined by whatever fallen earthly conditions I live in or what privileges I was deprived from. This does not mean injustice won’t affect me or discrimination won’t impede me. This does not mean I will not suffer unfair treatment. This does not even mean that I will have every opportunity available to me that is available to another person who looks outwardly lighter than me.

That God requires I live justly is not a promise that I will live free from injustice nor is to be construed that injustice binds the hands of God disabling Him to work good towards me.

However, what this does mean is that as a Christian everything God has purposed for me will be realized through the means of faith in Christ, diligence in effort, obedience to Scripture and observing the means of grace given me. Nothing can alter God’s good purpose for me and He works all things together for my good (Romans 8:28) – ask Joseph! This does not necessarily mean my material, economic and social advancement in life is absolutely guaranteed despite injustices around me but it does mean that whatever God has planned for my life will not fail. My greatest threat to the flourishing of my life is not the privilege of a lighter skinned person, nor the injustices of some supposed autonomous political party, not even the faceless oppressive systemic forces of structural injustices, but the disobedience of a sin stained heart to the sovereign Lord of all the earth.  

3. IT CAN GENERATE A SELF-PITY DISPOSITION ON MY PART

I do not trust my heart to speak to any matter that I feel aggrieved in and to do so without bias and selfishness. So to grant my heart the privilege to call out the privilege of others is a privilege I have great difficulty accepting because I’m well aware that I am not able to deal fairly especially when I feel treated unfairly. The term white privilege can do me more harm than good. When I look at the advancement of any person, but for the sake of the argument let’s say a white person, and I see how well in life they are doing. They are prospering economically, they are prospering educationally, they are prospering socially, instead of being motivated to apply myself so that, within God’s determined plan, I can excel in life it is easier for me to label them as white privileged and then sulk!

When I look at my life and the dissatisfaction I experience economically, educationally, and socially I can easily justify potential lack of diligence and use of wisdom on my part, and blame it all on not being sufficiently “privileged”. I guess it also has to do with the way I was brought up. My mother taught me not to look with big eyes at what others have i.e. to look covetously at others. My mother taught me not to think the world owes me something and not to feel sorry for myself. I cringe when I think of making my children aware of the privilege of another person – it is totally contrary to how I was brought up.

I must also be honest and say that the term white privilege has accentuated my already problematic and sinful perception of white people. I never grew up around white people during my child-hood and even teenage years rarely, if ever, made contact with white people. And because of apartheid there was this obvious separation which to me appeared solely on the grounds that white people are just better in every respect. As I grew up I obviously realized this is not true but then shifted over the other extreme. Whenever I would receive some unfavorably reception from a white person or a “look” I regarded condescending it brought to my mind my initial impression of white people (that they are better than me) but only now I had slightly modified that perception and told myself: “they think they are better than me”. I then subtly imputed racist motives to white people I felt wasn’t engaging me as I wanted to and justified it with a notion that makes using the term white privilege only a bigger problem for me.

In fact I think many coloureds and blacks are struggling with what I see and have termed: white suspicion, which I define as interpreting every seemingly unfavorable act or intention from a white person as one of superiority and suspecting, when there really is no reason, that a white person is being condescending and racist. This does not mean white people aren’t capable of treating coloured or black people badly (and visa-versa), but it does not necessarily have to be race motivated, and making it race motivated and not sinful-heart motivated misdiagnosis the problem and makes it difficult for the proper treatment of the gospel to be applied as the solution. Apart from the problem the term creates for white people I just know that I can’t trust myself with such a term.

Conclusion

Let me be clear, there are most certainly benefits and advantages socially in just being white that are not always there for those who are coloured or black. But I think it intellectually lazy to characterize this as just a matter of white privilege and thus fail to carefully consider other aspects that may also contribute – some of which I dealt with above.Screenshot_20180410-104300

I understand that behind the inflammatory “check your privilege” idea is the notion that one would be able to be more sympathetic towards those disadvantaged and discriminated if you were to do so. However, sympathy and compassion for the marginalized and discriminated shouldn’t come from a call to look at ones privileges but from an upward look to our Saviour which then results in an inward look passed material and social benefits to the potential corruption of the soul that deters compassion and love toward others less privileged. This then is only addressed through the application of the gospel. Checking your privilege is not comparable to Christian sanctification and embracing white privilege is not necessarily being pious.

I choose not to use the term white privilege and I think the vocabulary of the gospel gives me sufficient and charitable language to address the sins of partiality and injustice. Perhaps it is time to appropriate the grammar of Scripture to address the hearts of people instead of uncritically adopting the language of whatever social agenda comes up?

LEARNING TO BE A MOTHER, WITH GOD AS YOUR FATHER

by graceboer

IMG-20170130-WA0004[A guest post by my wife: Grace aka Gracious.]

Just over a year ago I became a first time mom to a beautiful boy, Matthew Thomas Boer. The journey that I had experienced was a special one, as many mothers would agree. Many mothers would also agree that with this burst of excitement come anxiety, fear and self-doubt. Becoming a mother is such a daunting experience that you often wonder if you are ‘cut out’ for it. I look at my mom and compare her to my mother-in-law and I am amazed at how beautifully different they have raised their kids yet having one thing in common.

I see these two mothers as strong women, living in a time of struggle, working in and outside of the home, tending to their respective husbands and still making sure their kids were clothed and fed. I ask myself, how? I then realized that the one thing these women have in common is their devoted love for and trust in God. And so it dawned on me, any female can become a mother but to become a god-fearing mother you need to acknowledge God as your Father.

I had such an easy and pleasant pregnancy until the day leading up to Matthew’s birth. I remember seeing the doctor for my regular appointment and upon the routine blood pressure check, she became alarmed with the readings. She urged me to rather be booked in at the hospital for a few days just to monitor my blood pressure and to make sure my baby and I were safe. And so I complied. After being in hospital for a few days she scheduled my next appointment for the following week and before I could get to the scheduled date, Matthew was ready to make his appearance. I endured 12 hours of labour an unexpected emergency C- section and a surface infection a week thereafter. This period was probably one of the scariest experiences I had ever faced.

I’m unashamed to say that I – a married woman of a new born baby boy –  nested like a baby at moms place for some time and I did not want to go back home. To be honest, I was fearful of raising baby Matthew as I felt that most of the care and responsibility would rest on me as the mother. With tears in my eyes my husband, who was lovingly by my side through this entire ordeal, encouraged me and assured me that all will be well. He assured me that I would be okay and that we will handle the challenges of our new journey together. And so I went home…

Clinging on to his words and seeing how true he was to his words, made it all the more easier for Matthew and I to settle in, and so we did. I had such a beautiful idealistic picture in my mind of our little family and how we would parent Matthew and still get to enjoy the beauty of married life. About 3 to 4 months after Matthew’s birth, I felt like I was losing it. It felt like this picture I had was merely just that, a picture that cannot be sustained despite my best efforts and all  the exertion of my energy. Motherhood was not what I expected.

Many nights I cried myself to sleep wondering whether or not in all I was doing, I was doing the right thing. The pressure of rearing an infant and feeling like you are all alone is one of the worst feelings to have. Though my husband was his supportive self, I was too overwhelmed to realize or appreciate his help and partnership in parenting. I was overwhelmed by the cries of a baby, the fevers that broke out, the lack of sleep, the fear of being outdoors with him and worst of all, the feeling of doing it all on my own. To be honest, it felt like I had lost a significant part of me during these first few months.

As a woman, I had endured the bittersweet pleasure of pregnancy, the traumatizing and fearful reality of knowing your life and your baby could potentially be in danger, the physical pain of recovery, and then to have these emotional struggles and insecurities of motherhood was cause to lose your mind. I am sure every mother can relate a story or an experience perhaps different or similar to mine, but at the time I felt like I was the only mother in the world having these miserable and unpleasant feelings about motherhood which led to a flood of guilt because I knew my baby didn’t deserve it.

I often tried to mask my fears and insecurities for fear of being judged by more experienced moms or the younger confident moms. However, inwardly I felt like I was doing a terrible job. I felt that I was unable to tend to my home, love my husband and even care for myself because my baby needed ALL 100% of ME.  However, amidst the overwhelmingly unrealistic expectations and pressures I placed on myself, my experience and especially my struggles as a first time mom has taught me the following lesson:

TO BE AN EFFECTIVE MOTHER, I NEED GOD, MY HEAVENLY FATHER

I have tried to do mothering on my own, my rules, my ways, my opinions – STRESSES AND WORRIES – because I am the mother. In my mind and leaning on my understanding I thought, I had more of a right than anyone else in how I choose to raise my child. But I struggled because I ended up neglecting many things which are equally important in life.

Self-sufficiency is tiresome. Isolating oneself is exhausting. Unhealthy independence is hard work. Self-reliance is madness! I didn’t know how to celebrate motherhood and rejoice in my bundle of joy with my husband, with my friends and more so in God. My time was spent trying to tick off the check box and in doing so I became exhausted and sadly spiritually weak.

However, how was I going to point my son to God if I am not always leaning on Him? How am I going to instill godly values if I was not exercising godliness? How was I going to portray a godly view to my child on marriage if I was not deliberately working on my marriage? I knew that Matthew needed a mother but in order for me to be a god-fearing mother, I was in desperate need of my heavenly Father!IMG-20171026-WA0004

It was with this growing realization that I came to abandon my reign and submitted to my Heavenly Father and realized that in order for me to be the most effective mother I needed God as my Father. He who gave me the blessing of motherhood also intends to help me to be a mother. This has been a really refreshing lesson to have learned and one perfectly summed up by Proverb 3. A passage relevant to all of life and in this case especially mothering

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Do not be wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord and shun evil. – Proverbs 3:5-7

Unsolicited Thoughts on Black Panther

by Riaan

INTRODUCTION

So, I went to see Black Panther about 2 months after it was released. I wish I could say that my reason for waiting so long was to wait until all the hype and frenzy surrounding the movie subsided so I can watch it with a clear and sober mind – free from all the hysteria. However, if I am honest, I wasn’t interested in seeing the movie at all. While I’m an average Marvel enthusiast, which makes me instinctively excited about any Marvel movie. I was, however, completely put off by this one. Not because I anticipated the movie will be bad or for any other reason but the extreme hype surrounding the movie. It seemed to me in some Christian quarters a transformation of the wrong kind was happening, a kind of a wakandafication of the kingdom of God that necessitated a pantherization of the gospel which was fueled by the all too common racialization of Christianity.

However in deciding which movie to watch, my wife who is unaware of much the hype surrounding the movie, suggested we go see it and I complied and went. My initial, black pantheroverall and unsolicited opinion of the movie: IT WAS A GREAT MOVIE AND WE ENTIRELY, COMPLETELY, GENUINELY ENJOYED IT! My awareness though of the hype and excitement about the movie, of course caused me to watch it carefully and discernibly and this in turn motivated me to write down some of my thoughts. I’m not a movie critic. This is not a movie review. I did not intend on going to watch the movie so I can write something about it. I’m merely writing down my thoughts unsolicited – as they may be – perhaps to add to the already-on-going conversation and provide ‘a’ perspective. Here are four major thoughts on “Black Panther”:

1. IT WAS A GREAT MARVEL MOVIE

While my wife has seen most Marvel movies with me in the cinema she has also found herself asleep throughout many of these 2 hour long block busters. I guess she’s not the biggest Marvel fan. However, she was the first to glow with excitement at what a good movie Black Panther was. She enjoyed the story-line and found it riveting, appealing, entertaining and it captivated her throughout. When T’Challa, for instance, “dies”, she was observably troubled and turned to me as if to say “really?” When he came to “life” again she was clearly surprised and excited and turned to me as if to say “You see!!!! He lives!!!” We both really enjoyed the movie.

Firstly, I think the movie was enjoyable because unlike the other Marvel movies there was as deliberate attempt to tell a moving story and to place the narrative within a broader social reality e.g. the oppressive and marginalized history of black people. For this reason, I don’t think it is fair to compare it with other Marvel movies because that is just not the aim of the other Marvel movies. However, Black Panther was a particularly good movie because it was based on the rich and relevant “black experience”.

Secondly, it was nice to see a predominantly all-black cast with traditional African culture so prominent in a 21 century Hollywood block buster. Typically movies with these elements in them are relegated to a lower level and sometimes do not even feature on the big screen. So, that was refreshing,

Thirdly, the message was a good message. The line that echoes in my mind and sums up the message of the movie very well for me is in post credits scene where T’Challa addresses the UN and says “there is more that unites us than divides us” and I think that message of equality and our shared humanity was a good one! I also enjoyed the somewhat complementarian nature of the roles of men and women in the movie. Complementarianism affirms that men and women are essentially equal but with different functioning roles that doesn’t necessary reflect some kind of essential superiority of one above the other. The movie (unintentionally and naturally) held this tension together quite well.

2. THE MOVIE WAS NOT DISCERNIBLY CHRISTIAN

Now there are many attempts to Christianize the movie or to pantherize Christianity. However the movie was just not a Christian movie! And this is not a bad thing! I’ve watched and enjoyed many Marvel movies – none of which claimed to be Christian even remotely – and I enjoyed them all despite it not being Christian. In fact, there are many good movies – especially movies based on true stories during WW1 or WW2 – that are also not essentially Christian but have really good messages of human heroism/sacrifice, courage and love.

Now of course courage, love and heroism are not anti-Christian but they are biblical virtues to be admired and if by these broadly biblical virtues we mean a movie is Christian then yes sure Black Panther is vaguely Christian. But that would make many other movies Christian as well, any movie really, where there is love, courage and sacrifice etc. However, what I mean by “Black Panther is not discernibly Christian” is that it does not have any traces of redemptive themes such a substitutionary atonement or even sacrificial love (at least the sacrificial love part is not a major part of the movie). In other words, the movie is not a gospel movie and therefore not a Christian movie. So for example, I don’t see Jesus in T’Challa nor any substitutionary or redemptive themes.

3. IT DIDN’T NEED THE SUBTLE ANTI-WHITE RHETORIC

Now maybe it’s a bit too strongly stated but that was my initial impression when it came to certain parts of the movie. Four scenes in particular stand-out 1) When N’Jadaka speaks to the white Museum expert – and it was deliberately arranged that the Museum expert be white else the scene wouldn’t work– and seem to indict her in the atrocities of colonialism. This to me sends a strong message of imputing guilt to white people in general – which is not fair. 2) When T’Challa’s sister refers to Bilbo Baggins 🙂  who plays a white CIA operative as “Colonizer”. Now, this particular white man has shown great heroism and selflessness in the movie yet he is branded as a colonizer. 3) When T’Challa’s sister is about the help and heal the white CIA operative who selflessly stood in front a bullet for a black Wakandian woman she response (paraphrase) “I have to fix another broken white man”. 4) When the poor (eish!) white CIA operative stands before M’Baku and while the 3 black woman are given a hearing when he wants to say something he is muted out by M’baku and his tribe and told in no uncertain terms to not speak and the reason for that is obvious: he is white and does not have a say!

I think this last scene especially allows me to say it is anti-white rhetoric. Some may argue it’s anti-colonial rhetoric but that argument only works in the scene with the white Museum expert lady. I don’t think these four examples take away from the movie, but I also do not think they add anything to the movie and the movie didn’t need this at all!

4. THE BLACK ON BLACK VIOLENCE SHOW THE HEART OF THE PROBLEM

While the final scenes unfolded with an all-out war in Wakanda and black people fighting black people, even family members (husband and wife) taking sides I must admit that was a plot twist for me. I expected the movie to move towards some kind of ending where the black people of Wakanda stand together in defending and fighting some foreign oppressive potentially white invader-colonizer-capitalist enemy. So, as the scene unfolds with black on black war in Wakanda, I was a bit surprised. And I think this makes a point intended or unintended and that is,  the real problem we have in our world is not to be defined merely in terms of the colour of one’s skin but the ideological constructs that spring forth from a fallen heart we hold to so deeply!

T’Challa fights N’Jadaka not because of the colour of his skin but because of N’Jadaka’s hatred in his heart and inclination towards evil. N’Jadaka comes up against T’Challa not because of the colour of T’Challa skin but because of an injustice against him when his father was killed and he was left alone. The movie then demonstrates that hatred and injustices do not have skin-based preferences but are the fruit of the fallen human heart. The hatred demonstrated by N’Jadaka and the injustice committed by T’Challa’s father (both black men) are then obviously not white issues but fallen human heart issues.

CONCLUSION

Though Black Panther is by no means a movie based on the gospel it does in its own unintentional way give us the reason why we need the gospel. Hatred, injustice and oppression acted out against people, especially on the superficial basis of skin-colour preferences are cruel and abhorrent fruits of a fallen human heart that is in rebellion against the God in whose image we have been created. This is not merely a sin against others but an act of high treason and rebellion against the Creator God and is damnable and subject to God’s judgment. Fallen human beings must be brought to account before this holy God. However, the good news is that God in His eternal love sends His only begotten Son to take on Himself the punished and condemnation so that every fallen human being who trusts in God’s Son will be saved from God’s judgment, reconciled through God’s Son and united to God’s family, the church wherein we are all one, and there is no male or female, Greek of Jew and we can add white or black!

Black Panther is not a gospel movie nor does it have any sanctifying value really. As a movie (production, cast, acting, story-line) Black Panther was really good. Like all movies Black Panther had a message. Like many movies today it was not a bad message but one the world sure needs to hear more of and that is, we have much more (ontologically) that unite us as a human race than that which (superficially) divide us.

 

DON’T CRUCIFY THE TRINITY AT THE CROSS

by Riaan

Introduction

Easter is the time of the year we as believers commemorate the death, burial and resurrection of our precious Savior and glorious Lord, Jesus Christ.  The events of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection are pretty straight forward and they are recorded for us clearly and plainly in the four gospels (Matt. 27-28, Mark 15, Luke 23-24, John 19-20). This makes preaching the gospel, with special reference to the cross, a pretty straight forward exercise – so much so that a section of Paul’s audience, upon hearing him preach the message of Christ and him crucified, called it foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18).

However, what we often neglect when we rehearse the events of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection is the deeply Trinitarian nature of Jesus’ redemptive work. It’s important we avoid conveying any notion that Jesus acted alone or place such an emphasis on Jesus’s death, burial and resurrection that would cause us to forget the Father and the Spirit. As important as the gospel is, it is essentially a Trinitarian gospel in that it is good news from a Triune God. In fact without a sound doctrine of the Trinity we have no gospel.

So it makes it even more important that in our consideration of Jesus’ death (and resurrection) we aim to be entirely Trinitarian. If the point of this post gets lost along the way, all I’m trying to think through is how important Trinitarian theology is for a more complete understanding of Christ’s work on the cross. Whether I manage to clearly demonstrate it here or not, it is my hope that we would be persuaded of how essentially important a good and faithful Trinitarian theology is in articulating any aspect of our faith but specifically Christ’s work on the cross. We will do well then to heed this important reminder from the theologian Scott Swain, “The doctrine of the Trinity is not simply one article among many within the Christian confession. It is the first and fundamental article of the faith, and the framework within which all other articles receive their meaning and import, because the Triune God is the efficient, restorative and perfecting principle of all things in nature, grace and glory”1.  

We must, therefore, not neglect or hold loosely the doctrine of the Trinity when we think about the death of Jesus. But we must proclaim the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the only way it ought to be proclaimed – in a Trinitarian context. It is therefore important that we not lose sight of the Trinity when we focus on the cross or to state it differently, we must not crucify the Trinity at the cross. I want to focus particularly at how some aspects of the cross must be considered within a Trinitarian frame work supported of course by good Trinitarian theology. Doing this I propose will grant us an even deeper appreciation for the cross as the work of the one Triune God.

  1. The Death of the Son and the Three Distinct Persons

Let me start by what the title of this post seem to obviously be getting at – and perhaps this is where your mind went when you saw the title. That is, when we talk about the cross and the crucifixion it is important to maintain the distinctiveness of the divine persons.  We cannot crucify the entire Godhead on the cross or we cannot make as if it doesn’t matter which of the divine persons died on the cross. In the doctrine of the Trinity we affirm that the One God exists eternally as three distinct Persons. The medieval Trinitarian symbol known as the “shield of faith” or “the shield of the Trinity” illustrates the distinctiveness of the persons very well.

The_Trinity

So, because the Father is not the Son, and because we clearly know from Scripture that the Son died on the cross, we cannot then use the persons, or names of the persons of the Godhead interchangeable and think we are still saying the same thing. In other words we cannot say it was the Father who died on the cross because 1) it was the Son and 2) we must maintain the distinctive nature of the persons of the Trinity – with respect of course to the doctrine of inseparable operations (more on this shortly). So it was not the Father who died but the Son.

Now this seems like such a blatantly obvious point that we may not even be able to conceive how any self-respecting Christian would say such a thing. However, we would be surprise how our prayers betray our theological convictions and I’ve heard many prayers in which the Father is being thanked for dying on the cross e.g. “thank  you Father God for dying on the cross for our sins” or “Father God you shed your blood for us”. It is then with such anti-Trinitarian affirmations that we crucify good Trinitarian theology at the cross.

  1. The Cry of Dereliction and the One Divine Essence

One of the more shocking aspects of the crucifixion has to be Jesus’ cry of dereliction recorded for us in the gospels (see Matt. 27:46). This cry of dereliction or abandonment is of course a quote from Psalm 22 “My God, my God why have thou forsaken me” (Ps. 22:1).  This has informed some of our favourite hymns and led us to sing lines like “the Father turns his face away”. However, Jesus’ cry of dereliction on the cross can lead to serious theological pitfalls if not parsed carefully with good biblical and creedal Trinitarian theology.

Whatever it might mean for the Father to have forsaken the Son, and whatever it means for the Father to turn His face away from the Son, it cannot mean that there was an ontological break in the Trinity and we must be careful lest we convey such a message.

We, therefore, must not understand or convey Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross as somehow referring a break and rupture in the Trinity. Theology blogger and author, Derek Rishmawy helpfully notes that, “One common mistake is to speak as if the cross momentarily divided the Trinity”2. He goes on to explain how rich hymns like the one noted above, can give us the mistaken impression that “on the cross, God unleashed his judgment on Jesus in such a way that ontologically separated the Father from the Son”2. In other words,  we cannot have a situation where the persons of the Trinity turn on each other – for any reason whatsoever – and still have a faithful biblical and creedal doctrine of the Trinity. We must maintain a unity of divine essence by insisting that there was no break in the Trinity at Jesus’ cry of dereliction. As the theology professor, Matt Emerson cautions, “Anything we say about the cry of dereliction needs to retain the oneness of the Godhead, both with respect to rejecting any ontological or relational division between Father and Son…” 3

So how can we speak about Jesus’ cry of dereliction – as abandonment from God – without appearing to break up the ontological unity of the Trinity? John Calvin helps us to think through this in his Institutes when he writes “the Scriptures…sometimes attribute to him [Jesus] qualities which should be referred specially to his humanity, and sometimes qualities applicable peculiarly to his divinity…”4. In others words, we are better served in these instances to speak of some realities as “according to” his divine nature and some “according to” his human nature (see Rishmawy). We can then say God the Father forsook His Son according to the Son’s human nature, and the Father was never separated from His Son ontologically according to the Son’s divine nature. Therefore while the Father abandoned the Son “according to his human nature” there was no break in Trinitarian relations ontologically. At the cross, God abandoned His Son (according to his human nature) and yet abided with his Son (according to his divine nature).

But lest we also crucify our Christology at the cross (in the not-so-good way) by inferring from Jesus’ two natures that somehow he has two persons – one divine and one human – let us be quick to affirm with the Chalcedonian Creed (451) the following about Jesus in reference to his two natures, he is “one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably” 5. We can then agree with Michael Horton when he writes, “Each nature is entirely preserved in its distinctness yet in and as one person”. Jesus has two nature in one person6.

Back to the cry of dereliction and Christ’s separation from the Father according to his human nature:  In demonstrating this idea of speaking of some realities “according to” either human or divine nature, Calvin offers a number of examples. For instance, Calvin writes, “Christ said of himself, “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58)”7. He then comments that this statement of Christ “was very foreign to his humanity7 i.e. not spoken in accordance to his human nature.  Likewise, we can then conclude that Christ’s cry of dereliction is very foreign to his divinity i.e. not spoken according to his divine nature but spoken and occurred according to his human nature. However this does not impugn the oneness of his person or the one divine essence of the Trinity he shares in fully.

  1. The Work of Redemption and Inseparable Operations

We know that God is not a static Being but an active Being who works. The works of the one Triune God include creation, preservation, redemption and salvation and these works are also known as his external works or external operations. However, as one God who exists eternally as three Persons, the operations of God externally are inseparable. Scott Swain explains, “The three persons do not merely “cooperate” in their external works, as if each person contributed his distinct part to a larger operational whole. All of God’s external works – are works of the three divine persons enacting one divine power, ordered by one divine wisdom, expressing one divine goodness and manifesting one divine glory”8.

The systematic theologian Fred Sanders elaborates, “That the external works of the Trinity are undivided means that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit concur in every work. They don’t concur merely by division of labor, claiming particular parts of a collaborative project; they concur more deeply. They concur in every part of every work. Every single created effect worked by God is worked by the three as one9.”  In other words, as it relates to the work of redemption, it was not only a work of the Son but also a work of the Father and the Spirit.

Much more could be said but this brief explanation of the doctrine of inseparable operations is sufficient to make the point. The point is that in the atonement i.e. the vicariously propitiatory death of Christ on the cross was not merely the Son who alone acted while the Father and Spirit stood aside, but the atonement is the inseparable work of the Trinity. Now, of course we are not saying the Father suffered with the Son (this is an ancient heresy called patripassianism). However, as R.C. Sproul explains,

Although it is the incarnate Son, touching His human nature, who atones for our sin, all three persons work inseparably to effect the atonement that secures our salvation. Both Father and Son offer up the Son for our redemption, the Father as the subject who offers and the Son as both the subject who offers and the object who, touching His human nature, is offered (Rom. 8:31–32; Heb. 9:13–14). And when the Father and Son offer up the Son, They do so in the Spirit, who by His “efficacious power” makes Christ’s death as a man under divine wrath saving for us (Calvin; see Heb. 9:13–14). Atonement is from the Father through the Son who is offered in the Spirit for our salvation. It is a work of holy love by all three persons of the Trinity10.

This shows us then how the doctrine of inseparable operations of the Trinity deepens our understanding and appreciation of atonement itself. MacArthur and Mayhue writes, “Though one person or another may be emphasized in a particular work, no one person does any work exclusively of the other two persons, for as the classic dictum states, ‘the eternal works of the Trinity are undivided’ (opera Trinitatis ad extra indivisa sunt)11. Fascinatingly, we can make application of the doctrine of inseparable operations even to the work of God pouring out His wrath at the cross. The out pouring of divine wrath and judgment at the cross is a work that is done by the Triune God – it is the Triune God’s judgment and wrath that requires propitiation.

In other words it is not only the Father’s wrath, but the Son’s wrath and the Spirit’s wrath too.  I think our default position on this matter is merely to think that the Father took on the prerogative to pour out wrath on behalf of the one Triune God but on the basis of God’s inseparable operations we must insist that in judging sins at the cross and pouring our divine wrath and seeking propitiation (or any external work of God for that matter) it was the Son and Spirit along with the Father who are involved.

As Matt Emerson writes, “It is not only the Father that pours out wrath; the Son and the Spirit, as the other two persons of the one God, also pour out the one wrath of the one God.12 So then the Son directly received the very wrath He was directly involved in pouring out. It interesting that though I make this point as an illustration of inseparable operations it can easily (perhaps even more appropriately) be made under the point of One Divine Essence.

  1. The Shedding of Blood and One Person of Christ

So far I’ve been looking at theological perspectives that are at times left out of our theology of the cross because we’ve neglected to some degree our theology of the Trinity. A good Trinitarian theology though is closely connected to good Christology – what we believe about God is connected to what we believe about Christ.

We have already touched on Jesus’ two natures in one person i.e. Christ has a fully divine nature and fully human nature in one person. We cannot separate his two natures to the extent that we cut up his one person. We do this when we draw too sharp a distinction between his human and divine nature in the act of atonement. Though the blood Jesus shed was according to his human nature – as there is no blood in his divine nature – the blood he shed though according to his distinct human nature was shed by the one God-man.

In other words the source of the act of blood-shedding  is limited to the specific nature, namely  his human nature,  but the attribution of the act of blood-shedding,  namely who did it,  is ascribed to the whole  one  person of Jesus the God-man. At this point Michael Horton is both helpful and eloquent when he writes, “The blood that he brings into the heavenly sanctuary to atone for his brothers and sisters is human blood (Heb. 9:11-10:18), yet because of the unity of the person it can be called the blood of God13.  

Conclusion

The great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck writes “In the doctrine of the Trinity beats the heart of the whole revelation of God for the redemption of humanity”14. It is therefore necessary that in thinking about Christ’s atoning work on the cross that we think of it as a work of the one Triune God and in thinking in such a Trinitarian framework we may yet grasp what is the breadth and length and height and depth of this love of God demonstrated at the cross while we were yet sinners and so know this love of Christ that surpasses knowledge and that fills us up in all the fullness of God.

 

References

  1. Quote taken from his chapter “Divine Trinity” in Christian Dogmatics: Reformed Theology for the Church Catholic pg. 78
  2. Quote taken from his excellent blog post: 3 Mistakes to Avoid in Your Good Friday Sermon which influenced a lot of my thinking on this issue.
  3. Quote taken from his very helpful blog post: Parameters for Talking about the the Cry of Dereliction
  4. Quote taken from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Book II chapter 14.1).
  5. Quoted in Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith page 468
  6. Quote taken from Michael Horton’s “The Christian Faith” page 468
  7. Quote taken from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bo Quoted in Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith page 468
  8. ok II chapter 14.1).
  9. Quote taken from Scott Swain’s helpful blog post: Pro-Nicene Theology: Inseparable Operations (link)
  10. Quote taken from Fred Sanders blog post: The Whole Trinity Worked the Incarnation of the Son
  11. Quote taken from an online article:The Trinity and Atonementon the Ligonier website
  12. Quote taken from the newly published “Biblical Doctrine” edited by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue pg. 192
  13. Quote taken from his blog post: Parameters for Talking about the Cry of Dereliction
  14. Quote taken from Michael Horton’s “The Christian Faith” pg. 273

Jesus, John 7:53-8:11 and Decriminalizing Sex Work

by Riaan

ON DOING PUBLIC THEOLOGY

A Brief Reflection on the Notion that Jesus Decriminalized Sex Work in the John 7:53-8:11 Pericope

INTRODUCTION

It goes without saying, and yet here I am saying it anyway, good theology showcases God and evokes doxology and devotion to God. This simple point shouldn’t really be contentious in the field of theology and to support this we do not have to go further than the etymology of the word “theology”. Theology is made up of two Greek words, 1) theos and 2) logos and literally reads the study (logos) of God (theos). On the semantic level it is clear that theology is about God and therefore to engage in theology is to engage with our minds and hearts in thinking about God or in the words of Anselm, theology is “faith [in God] seeking understanding”.

This point is necessary in light of the growing emphasis on a particular theological engagement, namely, public theology. The important point public theology seeks to make is that theological reflection has to extend beyond the church (while not without the church), beyond the classroom (while not giving up on the classroom) and beyond the academics (while not being suspicious of academics). Public theology, must therefore necessarily also engage with the world and the ethical, political and socio-economic issues in the various spheres of life.

This is a good point and makes public theology an important feature within theological studies. However, it is here where I want to stress again the initial point I made about the goal of good theology. Even though public theology engages in issues of society, politics and ethics, to name a few – it must still be stressed that whatever matters public theology reflects on the ultimate goal is not those matters per se but must remain God. Any matter that becomes the ultimate goal in theological reflection other than God means that, at that shifting point, the reflection has ceased to be theological.

sex work image

DECRIMINALIZING SEX WORK

One example of doing public theology has recently come up and received a lot of attention and become a real point of controversy. A church in Cape Town has come out in support of decriminalizing sex work and has gone as far as supporting their support with the Scriptures. The Central Methodist Mission under the leadership of Reverend Alan Storey is arguing that “Jesus was the first to decriminalize sex work” and John 8:7 has been used as a support text.

This has been hailed as a perfect description of what public theology looks like i.e. theological reflection on issues of public and societal importance. The point though in this brief address is not to firstly or ultimately argue against or for any position on this matter but to take this specific situation of doing public theology as an occasion to demonstrate the importance that theology must always be ultimately about God and missing this central starting point is to most certainly go off the proverbial theological rail.

  • A FEW CONCESSIONS

At this juncture I will be quick to make a few very necessary concessions. Firstly, I will concede that despite the disputed canonicity of John 7:53-8:11 the passage does have an important theological contribution to make regarding the issue at hand. Secondly, I will grant that the use of John 8:7 to support the notion that Jesus decriminalized sex work is not proof-texting. With that said, I want to now move on to engage the passage as well as the implications it raises.

A HERMENEUTICAL READING OF JOHN 7:53-8:11

It is of course important to rehears the narrative of John 7:53-8:11. An unnamed woman is allegedly caught in the act of adultery (either via prostitution of an adulteress affair) and she is brought by the Pharisees to Jesus (8:3-4). They proceed to charge her with a capital offense citing the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 20:10) as grounds for their accusation (8:3-4). The Pharisees are framing this as a legal and theological matter, before making it a social matter, by accusing this woman of transgressing the Law of God given to Moses.

It’s also important to keep in mind the purpose behind their actions, and that is, they are seeking to discredit Jesus on theological or Scriptural grounds e.g. “He (Jesus) goes against the Law of Moses, surely he’s a fraud”. This distinctly religious, theological and jurisprudent tone of the narrative must be appreciated. Some have sought, too quickly, to contextualize this narrative and frame it as dealing with social inequalities, raising matters of “dominant powers” and “oppression of the marginalized”. Though there may be such implications and applications in this passage, this interpretive grid cannot be sustained as the dominant intention by the author, on the basis of the immediate context.

After the Pharisees bring their charge against this woman, it’s instructive to note that Jesus does not disagree with them. If the woman truly has been caught in adultery the law requires capital punishment (Leviticus 20:10). By the way, it goes without saying that the man is guilty too but seeing that he is not named or anything said about him, his relevance to the point the narrative makes is probably not that important – perhaps he was a Gentile and the Pharisees determined the Law of Moses doesn’t apply to him as much as it applies to the woman, who let’s assume, is Jewish! This supports the view that the problems raised here is a problem concerning the Law of Moses and upholding it; it’s a Jewish problem and it is on these religious grounds that they seek to discredit Jesus (8:6).

This significantly informs the point John (textual variant issues notwithstanding) is seeking to make through this narrative. If their purpose is to discredit Jesus then John’s purpose will be to vindicate Jesus and this appears to be the controlling aspect of this narrative. In this light, John’s stated purpose for writing his gospel account (20:31) compliments this reconstruction. .

Jesus seemingly greets their accusation with complete indifference as He ignores them to the point of diffusing their aggression in remaining silent (8:6b). However, they persisted (8:7) showing how desperate they were to cause disparity between Jesus and Moses and so discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people. John informs his readers of something that may seem inconsequential at first and that is the posture Jesus assumed before responding. John writes Jesus “straightened up” (8:7). This is a remarkable image John wants to impress on his readers – an image of the straight and upright person of Jesus – against the hostility of the Pharisees Jesus does not shrink back but in bold perfection faces their aggression straight up.

This is a very appropriate image John provokes in the minds of his readers regarding Jesus who has now straightened up – the very embodiment of the law and the one sent to fulfill the law. In other words, John wants his readers to see that Jesus need not even verbally vindicate Himself but stands in His perfection vindicated upright and straightened. It’s noteworthy how the focus of the narrative has moved on from the woman – not to say anything in favor of disfavor regarding her but the focus is now on the main protagonist and that in all the gospel accounts is always Jesus.

Jesus finally responds to the Pharisees and says, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7). Not to belabor the point but instead to demonstrate it, John juxtaposes Jesus posture i.e. “straightening Himself” with Jesus’ response i.e. he who is without sin cast the first stone. In this there is clearly something being said about Jesus sinless perfection.

An interpretive problem which deserves consideration is in Jesus’ actual statement here in verse 7. Is he being sincere/serious or sarcastic or both? While the answer could be both, it is necessary to stress that nothing in the passage would suggest that Jesus isn’t being sincere and serious. In other words Jesus meets their cry for justice with a sincere response, “if there is any among you without sin, cast the first stone” (8:7) – judge the evidently guilty woman! Jesus is being serious. This could easily count as some ancient-eastern-Jewish-court-room scenario and the prosecution, in this case the Pharisees, charges the suspect, in this case the woman, of breaking a clearly stipulated law.

Jesus’ response is essentially not to argue the validity of the charge – which is here assumed to be with merit – but to determine who then gets to judge. Jesus’ concern then is not about the guilt of the woman but that her hypocritical accusers are not interested in justice but to exploit her guilt in an effort to set Jesus up. As one New Testament scholar remarks, “Her accusers had made her the bait for a trap”.

So, if this was a woman who prostituted herself and was caught with a married man; an act which under the law (of Moses) was punishable by public stoning, was Jesus decriminalizing sex work in John 8:7 and somehow nullifying the Law of Moses on this issue? Before the moral zealots begin to decry such a “ridiculous” interpretation it is important to appreciate that there is an issue of legality that features strongly in this narrative. The Law of Moses, given by God to constitute and govern Israel as a nation and the Jews as a people, is brought up and appears to have been violated by this woman. Therefore, Jesus saying “he without sin cast the first stone” could be read as Jesus not only disarming these hypocritical religious leaders but in effect setting aside this law and thereby decriminalizing what could be constructed as sex work.

I do, however, think this would be a narrow reading and interpretation of this particular narrative. What were Jesus then intending with his response in John 8:7? Jesus was doing public theology, but the kind of public theology that brings God to bear on the life of God’s world and the falleness and brokenness in this world. Jesus’ words in John 8:7 make three God-centered public-theology points that I briefly state now.

THREE MAIN POINTS JESUS MAKES IN THE NARRATIVE

  1. Jesus makes the point that only God charges the guilty

Jesus is demonstrating in John 8:7 that the Pharisees were in no (better) position to pronounce guilt on this woman. Here the lesson is clear that only God charges the guilty or one could say only the law establishes guilt, not the law-breakers. The public theology implication worth reflecting on here is that fellow-law breakers – which is the disposition of every person – are not the standard by which others are measured but the law established and given by God alone measures all our hearts.

This point could go a long way in removing the condescending nature many take towards those deemed “more sinful” and engaged with “greater sin” e.g. sex workers. Here an objective morally perfect standard stands over every person and reminds every person that “there is none righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). This could remove any stigma attached to certain sins that provokes hostility on the part of some towards those so called “greater sinners”. Taking the point Jesus makes here, namely, that it is the law that charges the guilty is to be a reminder that the same law that judges the immoral person and the adultery i.e. the woman, judges the gossiper and the liar and the one whose heart is full of deceit i.e. the Pharisees.

  1. Jesus makes the point that only God judges the guilty

Jesus says “he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Jesus was not setting aside the law, nor is he decriminalizing the supposed “sex work” of this woman – no less justifying her adultery. This would be a narrow and mistaken reading of the text. Instead Jesus affirms the truthfulness of the law and in verse 6 concedes that it has indeed been violated. He even goes further than conceding the violation of the law and begins to address the issue of sentencing and judgment (8:7).

In other words, this woman is guilty of violating Moses’ law but the question is not whether she will be judged but by whom she will be judged! Jesus immediately rules out the Pharisees as prospective judges on the grounds that they are equally sinful and if the interests of their hearts are exposed then they too must face the same judgment they are calling on for this woman! As one New Testament scholar puts it, “Their vicious hatred of him was as bad as her immorality”. Jesus, therefore, makes the point that only He who is without sin judges, which is basically the same as saying only He who is perfect judges. This of course is God (or contextually the God-man).

The public theology implication worth reflecting on here as it relates to sex workers is that as a society and community of human-beings we must be careful of passing judgment on others while sheltering our own evil hearts. Were the interests of our hearts exposed we may be as repulsed by it as we are by the outward immorality we are so quick to observe in others. This doesn’t mean that one must condone or approve of sex work or any immoral behaviour but that properly appropriating ones position – not as a judge – but as a sinner more gentleness and grace may be shown towards other seemingly worst offenders than us.

  1. Jesus makes the point that only God can forgive

Now while it was said earlier that the main point here is not to speak for or against Jesus decriminalizing sex work that is not to say that it isn’t a point at all. Clearly the position I take here and that leaks out in how I’ve constructed my argument is that Jesus is most certainly not decriminalizing sex work or setting aside any laws. In fact the opposite is true – in John 8:6 Jesus is enforcing the law by calling for judgment to be served – but only by him who is without sin.

John writes that slowly but surely, “they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones” (8:9). They conceded Jesus’ point that like the woman they too have sinned, like the woman they too are guilty, and like the woman they too ought to be “condemned” (8:10). Jesus knowing they all left, addresses the woman and asked her “where are they?” (8:10). Could this be understood as Jesus wanting to impress upon this woman, who has been humiliated for her sins by extreme hypocrites, that she was not the only guilty one and thus providing her some comfort not in her sin but in her not being the only sinner? Might this be helpful in ministering to sex workers who may already have formed the perception that they are morally beyond hope?

It’s worth noting again that before Jesus asked here about the whereabouts of the Pharisees, John tells his readers that Jesus was “straightening up” (8:10). John again stresses the upright and straightened position Jesus takes which I’m almost forced to take as yet another important inference. Similar to the first instance where Jesus’ straightening up posture which was juxtaposed with the law (which is upright), John now juxtaposes Jesus’ upright posture with these words “Did no one condemn you? Neither do I” (8:10). In other words John is painting a picture with this verbal imagery of “Jesus straightening”, that Jesus is not only upright in reference to the law keeping but He is always upright in reference to grace giving.

The real scandal here is not that Jesus decriminalized sex work but that Jesus forgives sex workers! This is truly the essence of public theology in the purest form. Public theology is the announcement of the good news to the world. The message the church of the Lord Jesus Christ has is not that Jesus sets aside the law for the sake of bringing the marginalized immediate physical safety and protection, but that Jesus keeps the law on our behalf and then forgives us our breaking of the law bringing the-whosever-believes eternal safety and protection!

The intent here is by no means to villainize the good people of Central Methodist Church and it’s perhaps at this point important to state that the underlying concern of the Central Methodist Church and Reverend Alan Storey is to show care and concern for the most vulnerable in society which in their view includes sex workers. I believe it’s possible to grant the genuineness of their motives without having to brand them as promoters of immorality and sin. There seem to be genuine pastoral and Christian concern for the safety and dignity of women who are sex workers. This is a worthy concern that any professing Christian ought to have and not only for women who are sex workers but for anyone in any immediate danger or anyone suffering discrimination.

MINISTERING ON MORE SURE GROUNDS

However, the vastness of biblical revelation provides much stronger ground to stand on to demonstrate such care. Public theology must not merely care to be imaginative or innovative but must seek to be faithful to the biblical witness. There is enough in the wisdom of God, given in the Scriptures, to sufficiently address an array of complex issues in the world. I will note two examples:

Firstly, the God-ordained means of earthly authorities and the laws they are called to uphold and enforce (Roman 13:1-4) is a good starting point for Christians who are concerned about the physical safety of anyone. The concern for the safety of sex workers is not addressed by setting aside the law against sex work but enforcing the law against assault and other violent behavior that these women are experiencing.

Secondly, the concern for the human-dignity of sex workers is not something to be worked for – in decriminalizing sex work – but it is something to be affirmed – despite them being sex workers. Irrespective of what people may do or become, they fundamentally remain image bearers of God. Though, through the fall, the image of God in human beings was marred it was not completely destroyed and human life has divinely derived dignity. Sex workers are human beings and as human beings they too have divinely derived dignity. Therefore dignity is not earned it must simply be upheld!

In fairness to Reverend Storey, he makes this similar point, ““The basis of our protection and care for the well-being of sex workers is rooted in the theological fact that all human beings are engraved with the indelible image of God and therefore are to be treasured as the priceless gifts they are.”

PASTORAL IMPLICATIONS FOR DECRIMINALIZING SEX WORK

I would also like to add that the notion that Jesus decriminalized sex work has massive practical implications for the witness of the church. Public theology must also be pastoral theology. So allow me to raise a few very important questions that Reverend Storey must think through as he provides counsel and discharges his pastoral ministry. If the church begins to proclaim that Jesus does not deem sex work immoral, and criminal how would the mother of a sex worker think through this? Will Pastors advocating for the decriminalization of sex work regard it as a legitimate vocation and what kind of career guidance and counseling would they offer women considering it – perhaps women in their family who may be open to it?

There is another layer here that must be considered and that it is the potential untold damage to the cornerstone of society, namely, the family. It is widely known that a large percentage of men who seek the services of sex workers are married. How would Jesus’ decriminalization of sex work relate to the issue of adultery, and the potential destruction of the family? Can a pastor march for the decriminalization of sex work with a sex worker and sit down to counsel a hurting wife who is picking up the pieces of her marriage that has been shattered by the services of a sex worker? – Irrespective of the fact that the husband initiated it. I’m almost sure a grieving wife’s heart is not comforted by such technicalities.

What kind of counsel would Reverend Storey provide a wife who comes to him completely shattered because her husband has “consulted” a sex worker? Or do we say that Jesus only decriminalized sex work where the “customer” is not married? Or shall we even dig the ethical ditch deeper and say that Jesus drew a distinction between what is morally acceptable before God and lawful acts in a country and just because something is legal in the land doesn’t mean it is moral before God?

THEOLOGY MUST BEGIN WITH AND END IN GOD

Many churches can take a lesson from this particular church who is seeking to reach out to those stigmatized and marginalized in society. As Reverend Storey says “In other words, our care for another has nothing to do with how they live and everything to do with the mere fact they are alive. Sex workers are some of the most vulnerable people in our society who are consistently treated as outcasts”. However, the best way to do this, infused by the implications of John 7:53- 8:11, is to draw near with love and the good news that Jesus is willing and able to forgive sins, to heal broken hearts and to reconcile to God in order that true and lasting flourishing of life may occur.

Theology must begin with and end in God. Public theology though concerned with the world at large and the specific issues in society – must begin with and end in God. When engaging the biblical text, one of the first hermeneutical steps is to ask of the text the right questions in order that the text will yield the right answers. The question that must be asked of every verse of Scripture – which is after all the self-disclosure of God – is what does this have to say and teach us about God and how does that theology inform our worship of God, love for our neighbor and life we lead?

Asking that question of John 7:53-8:11 will not yield the answer of decriminalizing sex work. The narrative John 7:53-8:11 is firstly all about God’s prerogative to charge the guilty, God’s perfection to judge the sinner and God’s grace to forgive whosoever believes in His Son Jesus Christ. Starting with the woman, the Pharisees, or even the concept of sex work is starting on the wrong foot and compromising the path we then take thereafter.

However, the narrative does have a positive message for those marginalized, discriminated and hated as a result of their immoral life-style choices. While the woman “caught in the act of adultery”, is initially belittled and discriminated by the Pharisees, Jesus is observably patient with her and does not immediately join forces with the Pharisees in condemning what is obviously generally accepted sinful behavior. Here we are taught to be patient like Jesus with sinners like ourselves!

It is also instructive how Jesus is impartial in his dealings in this account demonstrating not only the guilt of this woman but also the guilt of the Pharisees. We are then taught here by Jesus to be impartial in our dealings with those society deem less than us because they supposedly live more sinfully than we do. We must measure our piety not by the impious behaviour of others but by the perfect word of God and only then will we realize, to our surprise, that there may not be much difference between what’s in our hearts and what’s observable by our eyes in the lives of others.

Then finally, in the narrative Jesus teaches us to be gracious with those marginalized by their immoral life choices, as Jesus was with this woman. She found grace in Jesus (8:10-11). The question for us is what would a publically despised prostitute find in us?

CONCLUSION

The John 7:53-8:11 pericope does not decriminalize sex work or set aside any law. If Jesus did this he would have played into the hands of the Pharisees who were seeking to discredit him by trying to show the people disparity between Jesus and Moses. However, Jesus who alone is perfect and who is God in the flesh with authority to forgive transgressors – shows grace to this woman. In fact, we know that Jesus regarded her “lifestyle” as sinful because after refusing to condemn her Jesus instructs her: ““Go now and leave your life of sin.” (8:11).

This narrative presents us a theology for ministering to those discriminated because of immoral lifestyles deemed socially (and morally) stigmatic. The theological constituents for such a ministry is made up of us being, deeply patient, genuinely impartial and unconditionally gracious – holding forth the good news of Jesus Christ to any, who are oppressed, marginalized and discriminated against! In the famous John 3:16 Jesus did not only mean the part about how God so loved the world, he did not only mean the part about believing and having eternal life but he most certainly also meant that whosoever believes, even a sex worker, will not perish but have everlasting life.

Can We Talk about Church-hurt?

by Riaan

I came across a tweet recently that featured the term “church-hurt” in which the tweeter (?) addressed those who are wrestling with “church-hurt” or as it’s also known: church-pain. I heard this term before and never stopped to give it serious thought until now. I’d like to talk about church-hurt but mainly to say: let’s NOT talk about ‘church-hurt”.

We have to be much more careful in coining terms to describe a problem or a pattern of bad experiences. “Church-hurt” is a term used to speak of the hurt and disappointment a Christian experiences as a result of being mistreated or insensitively handled or ‘other’ by fellow church members or church leaders or seemingly by the whole church. This term has become widely accepted and even taken for granted as appropriate.
The term “church-hurt”, however, has gone on to develop a life of its own and has become part of the arsenal of those who regularly seek to dismiss the priority and importance of the church. While I’m sure there are those who sincerely, legitimately and accurately use the term i.e. their hurt was experienced in the church, by certain church folk etc. I think it wise to consider other ways to talk about such experiences. Allow me to provide a few reasons I think framing our church grievances as church-hurt or church-pain is unhelpful.

1. Talking about church-hurt can go beyond describing our legitimate hurt to being used as an excuse by those who are just generally indifferent and intolerant toward the church. For them it is just another reason to feed their already apathetic view of the church as a sacred institution.

2. Talking about church-hurt can go beyond describing what had happen to you personally and end up becoming nothing but a smear campaign against the entire church. Surely whatever the offense, it wasn’t the ENTIRE church that is responsible nor is it EVERY church that has contributed to the hurt. And yet “church-hurt” has a way of framing the offense in such a manner that guilt is imputed to the church as an institution – and this unhelpful and misleading.

3. Talking about church-hurt can go beyond pointing to your problem but in fact expose a slightly wrong expectation of church. Where ever there dwell a group of fallen human-beings (even redeemed ones) this side of eternity, there exist the potential to hurt and to be hurt. The church on earth is no different and we shouldn’t have such unreasonable expectations of the church – in fact the church is the place where hurting people belong because there with them dwells the One who heals the broken-hearted and binds up the wounded!

4.Talking about church-hurt can go beyond signaling to your pain and instead singling yourself out and separating yourself from the church. In other words, to talk about church-hurt is to evoke categories of “us and them” or “me and them” and mentally (or physically) separate yourself from the church with a sneering “I-thank-God-I’m-not-like-them” mentality.

5. Talking about church-hurt can go beyond trying to explain the wronged suffered to actually being indicative of unforgiveness in your own heart. If people/believers are forever going to define their pain as church-hurt it does bring into question whether there is even a time for healing, reconciliation and “burying the hatchet”. Have there been efforts towards true reconciliation and forgiveness?
The term church-hurt must be reconsidered and I would propose even abandoned. If one feels hurt, offended and wronged, by the church (or believers) Jesus has given us clear steps to take to pursue a path of reconciliation and forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-17). More than this, Jesus has given us a perfect example to follow when He prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified Him. More than this, Jesus has given us the power through His Spirit to be charitable in the face of offenses, to seek reconciliation despite the injury caused and to forgive irrespective of the wrong suffered. In the worst case we are called to live peaceably as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18) Constantly throwing around the term church-hurt doesn’t seem befitting of a believer, who despite injury suffered, still seeks to live peaceably and be a peace-maker (James 3:18) as far as it depends on him.

Perhaps an even bigger concern for those who love to use this term is what it may reveal about your heart towards the church as an institution. It’s odd that when we are hurt by someone or a group of people at the work we don’t call that work-hurt or work-pain and walk around with skepticism, distancing ourselves from the workplace – I guess we can’t afford that. When one is hurt by a family member or ones family, we don’t call it family-hurt or family-pain and give up on family all together. Instead we are able to deal with these situations on its individual and personal level without painting the whole institution with the proverbial broad brush.

Talking about church-hurt doesn’t reflect someone who has appropriated the grace of Christ in forgiveness and reconciliation. Instead talking about church hurt – especially in such a present tense manner – seems to reflect one who is walking around with a chip of un-forgiveness growing on their shoulders in an array of unhealthy directions.

Allow me to conclude by saying that I am not disputing nor diminishing the fact that people can be hurt in the context of a church, by church members and even by church leaderships. However, defining our injury as “church-hurt” is unhelpful in defining the matter and dealing with it accordingly. The church is made up of redeemed sinners, who are being cleansed and conformed to the likeness of her Head and Lord, Jesus Christ. Yes these redeemed sinners who are being conformed to Christ can at times not act like Christ, but it doesn’t impugn the glorious nature of the church it merely speaks to remaining sin in the (redeemed) sinner.

Top 10 books I’ve read in 2016

by Riaan

I’ve had to do quite  a lot of reading in1972440_915125291862821_7097128793513974492_n 2016. For my studies alone, which began the second half of the year, I’ve had to read 12 books all in the excess of 400-1000 plus pages. I thought of compiling a list of books I found most helpful (only 1 of the 12 books I read for my studies feature).  Obviously, these books weren’t necessarily written in 2016 and one of these books I’ve actually re-read and found most helpful the second time around.

So, here are my top 10 books I’ve read in 2016.

 

10. Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn DarknessEd Welch

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I read this book along with Lloyd Jones’ Depression: Causes and Cures and found both books tremendously helpful in providing a realistic, pastoral and biblical perspective on the matter of depression. Particularly, Welch’s book was nuanced, biblical and sensitive towards the issue of depression.

 

 

 

9. Perspectives on Christian Worship – Duncan, Dever, Kimball, Quill, Wilt

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One of the best books in the “perspectives” series as each author presents a strong case for their respective liturgies and approaches to the worship service. While I agree more with Dever and Lawrence’s approach, I could still learn and appreciate the other authors’ arguments and approaches to worship.

 

 

8. Dispensationalism [re-read] -Charles Ryrie

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I first read this while doing my BTh over 8 years ago and must admit I didn’t grasp things that well but still got a good introduction to dispensationalism. However, this time around I appreciated the book much more and found it to be the best articulation of dispensationalism today (pun intended). Before one dismiss dispensationslism, one has to deal the arguments made by Ryrie and other serious dispensational scholars.

 

 

7. What is the Mission of the Church? – Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert

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I found this book very refreshing amidst the clamor of voices calling on the church to be busy with all sorts of works. I found DeYoung and Gilbert to base their answer to the question posed in the title of the book on clear and persuasive exegesis.

 

 

 

6. Finally Free – Heath Lambert

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This was extremely helpful in thinking through issues of sexual purity and pornography. Definitely the BEST BOOK ON THE SUBJECT!

 

 

 

 

5. Engaging KellerIain D Campbell and William M Hamilton

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While Tim Keller has made many helpful and good contributions through his work and ministry to the church I do share the sentiment that there is a need to not merely accept everything blindly but to seek to charitably engage with his theology. This work is fair, charitable (mostly) and on many points raises good criticism of Keller’s theology.

 

 

4. Know the Creeds and Councils – Justin Holcomb

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I found this to be a very good starting point for anyone who wants to know more about historical theology or what the church has confessed and believed over the centuries.

 

 

 

 

3. Taking God at His Word – Kevin DeYoung

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This was my first audio book. So, I listened to this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants a solid introduction to the doctrine of Scripture. DeYoung shows what the Scriptures claim for itself and he presents this in a fresh and helpful manner.

 

 

 

2. Redemption Accomplished and Applied – John Murray

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I couldn’t put this one down! I highlighted almost every page! It was such a blessing to read this book over the Easter period and it helped me to think deeply about the nature and intent  of the cross and Christ’s redemptive work! A classic by John Murray!

 

 

 

1.  Credo – Jaroslav Pelikan

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This is the only book that was part of my prescribed reading list that features in my top 10 list and it was a “game-changer” for me. Much of my theological training has leaned almost solely towards a closed biblicism and while I have a high view of the Scriptures this book has called me to appreciate and regard the historic development of key and essential doctrines in the church over the centuries. It has taught me to not only look to my own exegesis of Scripture but also to those who have come before me especially the church fathers, ecumenical councils and reformers.

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I’ve read much more than these books, but this is the list of books that stand out. My intentions for this blog post are 1) to list the good books I’ve read for the year and have a record of it 2) Recommend some good books on some important topics 3) perhaps encourage you to think of the books you’ve read this year and make a list and share that – I’m sure I will enjoy reading your list!

Mary, Did You Know?

by Riaan

One of the more exciting and encouraging Christmas songs to me is the beloved Mary, did you know?” Every Christmas I hear a different version of the song sung by some choir or group of singers. The song is lyrically beautiful and theological rich. However, the song is asking a question that I think needs to be answered. The question in the song is of course, “Mary, did you know”? I think the answer to the question is; yes she knew!

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
Oh, Mary did you know
Ooh…
 
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
The dead will live again
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak,
The praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations?
 
Did you know that your Baby Boy
Is Heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding
Is the great I am 

The song effectively communicates three essential aspects of Jesus Christ: 1) His Divine Nature 2) His Redemptive Work 3) His Sovereign Lordship. Throughout the song these three theological affirmations provide for us a neat and solid Christology. The song writer/s of course brings these things out through the form of a series of questions (to be understood here as a literary device):

  • Mary did you know that your baby boy Will one day walk on water? (Divine Nature).
  • ”Mary did you know that your baby boy Will save our sons and daughters?” (Redemptive Work)
  • Mary did you know that your baby boy Is Lord of all creation? (Sovereign Lordship)

So, did she know?

The answer to these questions doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on the theological accuracy of the song. We note that the song writer himself doesn’t answer the questions – but uses the questions as a literary device to articulate the glory of Christ. So, though it seems implicit in the song that he thinks she did not know, even if we determine that she did know, the song accommodates such a conclusion as well. In other words, if the answer to the questions is “yes she knows” it doesn’t necessarily mean then that the song is erroneous.

So, did she know? I think she did. Granted, she did not know the specific ways in which Christ would display His divine nature, redemptive work and sovereign Lordship, I think she had an idea of all of these truths. So, in a general sense Mary knew.  How do I know that Mary knew?

When we read the nativity accounts we get the idea that she wasn’t ignorant to what was happening to her and through her. Mary knew her baby will be divine. Mary knew her baby will be a Saviour and Mary knew her baby is Lord over all. Let me attempt to show that very briefly.

  1. Mary knew her baby will have a Redemptive Work:

Luke 1:30–31 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.

In Matthew’s account the angel is said to have also spoken to Joseph with a similar message:

Matthew 1:20–21 (ESV)
20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Mary and Joseph was instructed to name the baby Jesus and this name is very telling of the child’s redemptive work. Even Mary understood this as can be seen in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 2:46-55)

Luke 1:46–47 (ESV)
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47         and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

It’s very clear that Mary understood that what was happening to her and what will happen through the child she will bear. He will have a redemptive work. Joseph was told the child’s name will be Jesus and he will save his people from their sins.  Surely, he shared this with her. We then see her response to this is to praise God HER SAVIOUR! To my Roman Catholic friends, who insist on the sinlessness of Mary and her co-redemptive role; read carefully what Mary concedes: “My spirit rejoices in God MY SAVIOUR”. Mary understood not only that her child was to be the Saviour but also HER SAVIOUR.

So,

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you

Yes, I think she knew, the angel told her!

  1. Mary knew her baby will have a Divine Nature:

The angel told Mary exactly what will happen to her and she knew that the child born of her would have a divine nature

Luke 1:30–35 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.

Notice everything the angel tells Mary. If there’s a weakness in this song it is that it could present a portrayal of Mary as an ignorant girl who has no clue what has happened to her or through her. The song tends to make Mary out to be theologically clueless, yet the angel gave Mary a staggering revelation in Luke 1. The angel clearly revealed that the child she will be bearing “will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32). The angel also very explicitly told her “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (Luke 1:35). It is remarkably clear that Mary knew the child to be born to her will have a divine nature.

So,

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God

Yes, I think she knew he was God!

  1. Mary knew her baby will be Lord over all

Another important feature of Christ the song so wonderfully brings out is that He will be the sovereign Lord over all. The song uses the lyrical device of asking questions to bring out this theological truth. One specific verse in the song brings it out like this:

Mary did you know that your baby boy
Is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy
Will one day rule the nations?

Well did she know?

Luke 1:30–33 (ESV)
30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (emphasis added)

 Again, I think she had an idea. Perhaps she had more than just an idea.

“…And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:32-33

Let me make it clear that I’m not dismissing the song and I have no qualms with the song, in fact I quite enjoy it. And to dismiss this song because Mary may have actually known the answers to the questions posed in the song would be presumptuous at best and to miss the point of the song entirely at worst. The point of the song isn’t to interrogate Mary, but to enlighten us about the redemptive work, divine nature and sovereign Lordship of Christ. So, by all means let’s sing along. In my head I’ll just be answering the questions the entire time: “Yes I’m sure she did”, “yes I think she did, “yes she knew”.

CHRISTMAS AND CHRISTIANS

by Riaan

Introduction

It has become common for seasonal polemicists to display their discernment this time of the year as they attempt to convince us that Christians should not be celebrating Christmas.  It appears many Christians who protest Christmas are fine all-year-round with all sorts of error, but I guess ‘Tis the season to be discerning.

Is Christmas Celebration based on Paganism?

The first and most common objection against Christians celebrating Christmas is that, the celebration of Christmas has pagan roots. Now, of course we weren’t there when they first celebrated Christmas, or when they celebrated the pagan holiday on the 25th December. So, we rely on history and those who studied history to inform us. However, we must make sure the information we receive is credible and here’s the issue:  I think there may be some historical discrepancy in thinking that Christmas has pagan roots.

The historical data seem to suggest that Christians taught and believed that Christ was born on the 25th of December before Rome paganized that day. Nathan Busenitz, a professor at the The Master Seminary and a doctoral candidate in church history,  has written a helpful and insightful piece showing how Christians taught, celebrated and believed Jesus was born on the 25th December long before Rome paganized that specific date. Now, the issue here isn’t whether they were right or wrong to do this but that they did it long before Rome paganized the day. Busenitz writes:

It’s not uncommon to hear that the celebration of Christmas is rooted in ancient Roman paganism. That claim generally goes something like this: the ancient Romans celebrated a pagan festival on December 25th, but when the Roman Empire was Christianized in the 300s, the church simply turned the pagan festival into a Christian holiday.

This particular claim is the reason why we have a contention surrounding the celebration of Christmas. Busenitz then further explains:

It is true that there was a pagan Roman holiday called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun” that marked the winter solstice. And in the old Julian calendar, the winter solstice occurred on December 25. The cult of “Sol Invictus” (“the Unconquered Sun,” a.k.a. the sun god) became an official Roman cult in 274 under the reign of Emperor Aurelian. And the Roman empire was Christianized about fifty years later under Constantine.

This is the point where Christians who object to the celebration of Christmas on the 25th December go, “you see, paganism!”. But hang on, Busenitz continue:

But there’s actually good evidence to suggest that the date of December 25 does not have pagan origins. That’s because, long before Aurelian made December 25 an official pagan holiday, there were Christians in the early church who taught that Jesus was born on December 25th.

In fact, in the early church, there were two primary dates suggested as the dates on which Jesus was born in Bethlehem. One was December 25 and the other was January 6.

Around the year 192, Clement of Alexandria suggested that Jesus was born on January 6. An early Christian tradition suggested that Christ’s baptism took place on January 6. Then, because Luke says that Jesus was “about 30 years old” when He was baptized, some early Christians (like Clement) assumed that His birthday was the same day as His baptism. (for the full article with the sources go here)

Clearly, we see that historically Christians were already busy teaching and celebrating the birth of Jesus on the 25th December (and some on the 6th January) before Rome paganized that day. Again keep in mind, the issue isn’t whether they were right about the date, but that they celebrated Christ’s birth before Rome paganized the day. Which means the selection of the 25th December as the celebration of Jesus’ birthday may not have pagan origins at all.

Are Christians compromising who Celebrate Christmas?

Even if it can be proven that Christians celebrated Christ’s birth on the 25th December as an alternative to a Roman pagan holiday- there is no sound reason to object to such a practice. To assume that somehow we desecrate our faith by celebrating the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, God the Son – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’s first advent (and all its rich theological and practical application)  on the 25th December is giving undue credit to paganism and could lead, ironically, to sheer superstition.  Paganism, false religion and idols do not get to call dibs on any day nor do they have any authority over days or times for us to be reluctant to worship God for any good reason on any particular day!

If we follow this logic we are left with pretty much nothing. For instance, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are of course useful names of days in our week. These days however, are named after pagan gods. At least some kind of pagan background was involved in naming our days of the week. Thursday originally stood for the Germanic god of the sky or of thunder. Tuesday stood for Tiw, the god of war. And Wednesday is derived from Woden, the chief god in Germanic mythology. Sunday and Monday were related somehow to the worship of the sun and the moon. Saturday is from Saturnus, or Saturn, and Friday comes from Fria, the goddess of love.

So, when it’s mother’s day, your birthday, or any other special day you want to celebrate, it will fall on one of these days (because we do not have any other days) and if you follow the logic that you can’t celebrate things on days that has pagan associations, you’re going to have a pretty dull life!

The point is, these supposed pagan associations and influences are so far removed from us historically,  chronological, and culturally that it has completely lost it’s meaning on us today. When people think of Tuesday they don’t think of ceasing all praise to God because it’s the Germanic pagan god Tiw’s day! Likewise, when people think of the 25th December they don’t think about the pagan Roman holiday of the Unconquered Sun that marked the winter solstice, they think, Christmas, Christ, or “for unto us a Child is born”!

So, the Bible’s silence on whether we should celebrate the birth of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong to celebrate the birth of Christ.  In fact, the Old Testament is partly built on God’s commandment to commemorate and celebrate certain special days and therefore we do have biblical precedence for celebrating important holy days.

What about the Christmas Tree?

Some have a problem with the Christmas tree. Now I’d be happy to concede there are a lot of so-called Christmas decorations that do take away from the meaning of Christmas. However, the claim that the Bible forbids the Christmas tree is ridiculous and the claim that Christmas trees form part of the Roman pagan celebrations is simply not true.

There’s an excellent article written by the guys at gotquestions.org in which they clearly state “The first Christmas tree was decorated by Protestant Christians in 16th-century Germany. Our modern Christmas tree evolved from these early German traditions, and the custom most likely came to the United States with Hessian troops during the American Revolution, or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

Some insists that Jeremiah 10 speaks out against having a Christmas tree. I found this explanation at gotquestions.org equally clear and helpful:

There is nothing in the Bible that either commands or prohibits Christmas trees. It has been falsely claimed by some that Jeremiah 10:1-16 prohibits the cutting down and decorating of trees in the same manner as we do at Christmas. However, even a cursory reading of the text makes it clear that the passage is one in which Jeremiah sets forth the prohibition against idols made of wood, plated with silver and gold, and worshipped. A similar idea appears in Isaiah 44, where Isaiah speaks of the silliness of the idol-worshippers who cut down a tree, burn part of it in the fire to warm themselves, and use the other part to fashion an idol, which they then bow down to. So unless we bow down before our Christmas tree, carve it into an idol, and pray to it, these passages cannot be applied to Christmas trees. (full article here)

Concluding Thoughts

So why are there Christians who oppose celebrating the birth of Christ on the 25th December and what are their reasons for doing so? Well, I think their reasons have clearly been dealt with and as to their motive- I’m reluctant to speculate. I suppose they will argue that it is out of an effort to be faithful to Christ and honor Him and so not conflate the truth of Christ’s birth with paganism. This of course is a sincere and noble motive. However, there is no danger of doing that when 1) paganism wasn’t the inspiration of Christians celebrating Christ’s birth on the 25th December 2) the meaning of these pagan rituals are so far removed from us that it has lost all meaning and recognizability.

To those who vehemently oppose Christmas and question the faithfulness of Christians who celebrate it, be careful that your supposed noble efforts aren’t just theological one-upmanship i.e. seeking to gain an advantage or feeling superior over others because you think you know more, and your devotion is more genuine. And if none of these points are persuasive to you at least remember what the Bible IS CLEAR ON:

Romans 14:3-6

3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

Finally, what must be made clear is that when we celebrate Christmas we are not merely celebrating a birthday- in fact that is to miss the beautiful forest whilst focusing on one single tree (excuse the pun). We are remembering and celebrating something more than a birthday, we are celebrating the incarnation of the Son God. It is the biblical doctrine that God became man, lived a perfect life for us and died a substitutionary death in our place for our sin.  He, the God-man was raised from the dead and exalted on high and has been given the name that is above all names that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and tongue confess that He is Lord!

I don’t know about you but this Christmas I’ll be singing with full conviction free from any pagan associations:

O come let us adore Him

O come let us adore him

O come let us adore Him

Christ the Lord

 

Here are links to the articles that I’ve found helpful