Do We Annoy God by Using the Bible to Solve All Our Problems? Guest Post by Larry Shallenberger

Todays guest post is by my fellow Burnside contributor, writer and pastor Larry Shallenberger. For me as an ex-legalist/fundamentalist, I appreciate Larry’s thoughts on how some Christians are wont to use the Bible as a diet guide, science book and even marriage manual. Larry rightfully questions whether this was ever God’s intention for the Holiest of books. Leave Larry a comment after the post. Enjoy, Jo 🙂

 

Is it okay for a pastor to wonder if the way we handle the Bible doesn’t make God grind his teeth a bit?

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m sorting out my spirituality and trying to work some (much) legalistic thinking out of it. Last week I read A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life by Don Veinot, Joy Veinot, and Ron Henzel. In my late teen and early college years I worked in at  Christian Camp that prided itself in using Gothard’s Teachings as the guiding principles of their ministry and life. Going back and reading this book reminded me of the relationship they had with the Bible. They read the Bible as if its primary purpose was to serve a highly detailed moral handbook.

Four steps to root out bitterness.

Three steps to anchoring your self worth in Jesus. 

Goals that any one can get behind. Never mind that while the Bible warns about the dangers of unforgiveness and tells us to place our identity in Christ, the book conspicuously lack a by the numbers methodology.

Somewhere along the line, Gothard… and the Ranch…, got lost in their list and began to read the Bible as medical and dietary guide. Gothard started publishing pamphlets about the dangers of the medical establishment. Bill decided that the Bible should be read as a medical handbook. He started finding homeopathic cures in the Bible, mandates about male circumcision, and restrictive guidelines for how often and when married couples could sheet dance.

I had a friend who decided to live at the Ranch as an apprentice. Years later she told me that pepper was a banned cooking ingredient as it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. One of the wives who set herself up as an authority/prophetess taught fashion color analysis seminars, with a “Biblical twist.” She discerned which colors were spiritual and which weren’t.

I know. It’s so bizarre that I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I ever got sucked up in the that cult-ish world. It’s easy for me to point to those wacky fundies and shake my head. And then I look at the ways we handle scripture.

The Book of Ruth becomes a guide for dating instead of the female counterpart to the Book of Job, a profound portrait of the tension between suffering and God’s goodness.

We write books about “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” instead of reading Genesis and accepting that both genders are given to us gifts.

We treat the Bible like a parenting and marriage handbook and look for DIY advice.  We create an ideal family and miss the stories of the wildly dysfunctional families that God mercifully allowed play major roles in salvation history.

We “Daniel Fast.”

We frustrated each other in our attempts to find the one perfect way a church should be governed.

The Ezzo’s, God bless ’em, discovered the Levitical  basis of scheduled breastfeeding as a way to prevent children from becoming secular humanists.

We fund a man who is neither a trained scientist nor a trained theologian to build a Creation Science Museum so we relieve the mental tension between the Creation account in the Bible and evolution. We don’t consider that God didn’t write Genesis 1 and 2 as a preemptive strike against Darwin. Instead we the Bible as a science text book and generate suspect science of our own. Take that Galileo.

Meanwhile, God counts from ten to one, taking long drawn out breaths between each number. He gave us his scripture to point us to Jesus. He told the story of why things are not the way they should be and everything he’s accomplished to destroy that problem. He asserts his divine authority over us by telling his story and demanding that we find our place in it.

Deep down, we aren’t comfortable with the freedom that comes with improvising our place in God’s story. Moral fences provide so much more security.   Reading the Bible as a science book keeps us from struggling with complex ethical decisions. Ironically, in our efforts to escape the intolerable freedom that comes with living in God’s story, we enslave ourselves with the very text whose authority we run from.

What if part of the price that comes with believing that the Bible is the authoritative word of God is to accept the freedom and responsibility that comes with it?

Larry Shallenberger is pastor and author from The States. He’s never been to Australia, but enjoys the Outback Steak House. Mistakenly, he thinks this makes him an honorary citizen. For more information on him and his books, visit www.larryshallenberger.com

In Which I Am Accused Of Being Unladylike, And I Heartily Agree

A few months ago I wrote a couple of blogs about men, women, sex, marriage, masturbation, infidelity and Christianity. They were widely read, my blog stats were happy to report. I received some great feedback, too. And a half-joking guarantee I’d never be invited to speak in church in any of the southernmost states of the U.S.A. And that’s quite okay.

And then, there was this – emailed direct to me, not left as a comment on the blog.

“Dear Jo,

Fantastic article! One problem: why must you use such crude, even vulgar language to express your position? It is especially wrong for Christians to speak and write that way. Moreover, ladies don’t talk that way. Sincerely, ___”

Ladies don’t talk that way. A slightly backhanded compliment, to say the least. My male reader apparently thought the article was great and took the time to tell me so, but also felt it would be okay to speak to me as if I were his eight-year-old daughter who just said “crap” at the dinner table. I read the comment to my husband. His eyebrow went up. “That man,” he said, “is not your father, and he is not your pastor. And he most certainly is not your husband. Who is he to tell you how you may or may not write on your own blog? ” God, I love that man. So, I wrote back to the man who was not my daddy, pastor or husband –

 

“Dear ___,

Thanks for visiting my blog, I really appreciate it. With regards to your enquiry, I have checked back over the last few posts I wrote, and I am actually at a loss to know what bad language you are referring to. My subject matter is confrontational, for certain, and I’d agree my manner of speaking about it is frank. Please let  me know which post you mean. Jo”

“Dear Jo,

Please forgive me for not identifying the article. It dealt with a husband’s excuse for adultery. Fabulous. ___”

My interest piqued, I clicked the link at the bottom of his email and checked out his website. Author. Pastor. Conservative Republican. Advocate for freedom of speech…but only if that speech is something he wrote himself, that is.

I wrote back and addressed his freedom of speech manifesto.

“Dear ___,

Thanks for clearing that up. I checked out your website. I particularly liked this part.

The author has gone on record as never permitting anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances to tell him what he can preach or teach.

And by the way, I will give you $20 if you can find evidence I ever wanted to be considered “ladylike”. Cheers, Jo.”

“Dear Jo,

I was simply pointing out to you that we Christians have a responsibility to honor Christ in our actions and conversation. It is my opinion that coarseness and crudeness are unnecessary, unseemly, and unchristian. It is my further opinion, note opinion, that words such as heck, damn, etc. are unnecessary and should not be in a Christian’s vocabulary since they are “minced” oaths. We are to let our yea be yea and our nay be nay meaning that we should be clear in our conversations.

(Jo here – I had no idea what minced oaths even were. I had to Wiki it.)

“I have been dismayed by this generation of preachers who apparently want to be identified with youth by resorting to sprinkling damn, hell, crap, (even more crude, vulgar words) into their conversation. Of course, each tub must sit on its own bottom and we must all give an account for what we do and say. The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:8 “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”

“As to “ladylike,” I assume all Christian women value that description but to each his own. In Christ’s Service, ___”

After I stopped rolling on the ground laughing, I replied –

“Dear ___,

Whilst I share your belief that we as Christians have a responsibility to honour Christ with our actions and conversations, I have come to the conclusion that I also bear a responsibility to behave with authenticity, consistency and transparency. It has not ever been my intention to deliberately try and “grab” an audience by trying to be “hip” and “up with it”. It’s not a marketing ploy. What you see is what you get. I use the very same language on my blog as I do in my everyday life. I write like I talk. If people don’t like it, they are free to read someone else’s blog.

I personally am very tired by the behaviour modification approach to presenting Jesus Christ. “This is the way we do things here.” I find that loving people sincerely and not pretending I am any better than the worst of them generally speaks volumes about the God I serve and love. I have seen Christians who use curse words yet are able to both communicate and facilitate the transforming power of Jesus Christ in the lives of others. I have also seen all-fixed-up Christians have no idea what to do when it comes to loving people and sharing the gospel. I have come to the conclusion that what is important is not micro-managing the behaviour of the messenger, but getting the message across.

With respect, your assumption all Christian women value “ladylikeness” is indeed incorrect. I don’t define myself  by the stereotyped gender attributes assigned to me by my particular culture. I value those qualities which enable me to bring the light into dark places, to those who need it the most. I am an advocate. I value the following: Courage. Strength. Wisdom. Articulation. Resourcefulness. Intelligence. Christian womanhood and “ladylikeness” are not inextricably linked. Ladylikeness in my view consists largely of activities centred around maintaining a set of long, pretty fingernails, keeping ones legs crossed in public and never leaving the house without makeup on. I haven’t the time for those kinds of female niceties. Nice girls rarely change the world. Even Mother Theresa had her critics and her enemies – now that’s what I call a lady. With regards, Jo”

“Dear Jo,

“I never thought your use of vulgar language was a ploy, I simply wondered why you think it is necessary. Moreover, I wonder if your mom talked that way and if she permitted you to do so as a child. And do/did you permit your children to do the same?

(Jo here – my mum talks plainly, and I was brought up to do the same. I was raised to speak my mind, and speak it clearly. And I am much more interested in hearing what my kids have to say than I am in policing how they say it.)

“You wrote that with you “what you see is what you get” but is “what you see” what should be seen? After all, just because we are genuine, sincere, plain, etc. is not the criteria but is that the thing a Christian should do? Remember, the Bible teaches that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit so we are always representivest of Christ. All a Christian’s life should be one of improvement, not degeneration.

Jo here – of all the Christian-ese words I despise the most, should is number one.)

“You wrote of “the transforming power of Jesus” and that is my point: if we are changed when trusting Christ in the forgiveness of sins, we will be changed in every way. We become “new creatures” in Christ. The old person spoke, lived, and thought one way while the “new” person speaks, thinks and lives another way–honoring Christ.

“It is my opinion, after reading some of what you wrote, that you have been influenced by extremist feminists; however, I could be wrong since that has happened a few times in my life. Being ladylike has nothing to do with long, painted fingernails and other silly things, but using the virtuous woman in Prov. 31 as  a pattern should be the aspiration for every woman. I am delighted that my wife, daughters, granddaughters, and daughter-in-law are similar to that woman. It does not mean that they don’t think for themselves or are fearful of speaking their minds, but they are gracious, kind, intelligent, women who honor Christ and their husband in their daily lives. Anyway, good to “talk” with you, ___.”

“Dear ___,

I can quite honestly say I have never met anyone I would consider to be an extreme feminist, or even finished a book written by one, so I think it’s quite unlikely I’m influenced by any. I’ve seen a few on TV I think, but I can’t be sure. I bought a book by Greer at a second hand shop once, but I found it unreadable.

“Because you do not know our story, I can appreciate why you’ve been able to draw the conclusions you have about me. However, you know nothing of the path I have walked as a woman, as a wife and mother, and as a Christian, over the last 40 years. Suffice to say, I have worked very hard in the past to maintain all the “shoulds” you refer to, including being very careful about not giving Jesus a bad reputation, and being very well-behaved indeed. However, when I was at the lowest of the low, none of those things mattered one little bit, helped one little bit, or served any useful purpose whatsoever. All of my good behaviour had been completely ineffective in bringing the grace of God to bear in my life. In fact, all the fervent behaviour modification I had practiced as a Christian was the first thing that was challenged and discarded, and I am very loathe to take it all up again.

“My own grown children are walking their own journey, and I would hate to think they would feel any pressure to be anything other than who and what they are when they are with me. If my two little grand daughters ever come to believe their grandma cares only about jumping on every silly thing they say rather than on pouring out all the grandmotherly love I can muster upon them, I  will feel I have failed them.

“I realise fully that my children and my grandchildren will draw much of their image of God from who and what I am when I am with them – and I fear that the way we have behaved as Christians in the past – focussed on behaviour modifications, and shoulds, and worrying about Gods reputation being spoiled because of things we said or did – has likely damaged our children’s perception of God. God knows it damaged mine. I find it amazing how so many can claim to have been Christian their whole lives and yet never understand that they are truly loved by God, don’t you think?

In regards to the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, I think you should probably take all that up with my husband. Like I said, because you have never met me and don’t know anything other than what you have read in a few of my blogs, you have drawn some fairly broad and largely disparaging conclusions about my femininity and how I live my life. And that is your prerogative. However, it is mine to continue to challenge the kind of paternalism and overall misogyny amongst many Christians which promotes the regulation of women’s femininity as something that is not the God-created best of a woman, but a device designed purely to complement what I venture is the very worst in men.

With regards, Jo

PS – You say All a Christian’s life should be one of improvement, not degeneration.

I beg to differ. I believe all a Christians life should be about redemption.”

*****

I do not believe in the idea of ladylikeness. God did not create ladies, He created women. A lady is a construct, a product, a thing made in the image of the thing some men think they ought not to be.  A lady exists only in reference to masculinity – she cannot exist without a man. Being a lady is unnatural. Its hard work. Where a woman is, a lady does. She can never be enough, and is never, ever good enough.

A woman, on the other hand, is Gods good work. She is finished, she is complete, and while she is made of the same stuff as a man, she does not need a man to survive. She is strong. She has her own voice. She is enough. And she is awesome.

*****

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In Search Of The Baby And The Bathwater – Why I Don’t Mind A Bit Of Religion

This week, I went to church. Well, I went to a church. This church.

Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, Newcastle, NSW

It’s Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in my hometown, Newcastle.

I’ve been going to visit this church for a few months now, usually when I need some time to clear my head and sense Gods presence close by.

The cathedral has several smaller chapels within its space, and my favourite is the Warriors Chapel – dedicated to those who have fought for our country in military conflicts, and for the fallen. It’s a very evocative space to spend time in. I like to just sit in a pew and meditate.

This week while I sat quietly in contemplation, quite unexpectedly the cathedral organ began to play. Beautiful music flooded the space. I felt the deep vibrato of the bass notes resonate through my chest and spine, while the melody took my brain on a winding staircase up and down, around and around. All all I could think of was God. As His body and my body intertwined in a kind of dance, I was at the same time exhilarated and soothed. I was like a child rocked to sleep in it’s mothers arms.

I looked on with sleepy eyes as sunlight streamed through the lead-lighted windows, staining the sandstone the colour of the grass, and the sky, and of blood. I read the words of the Holy text upon the walls – all nations will serve Him – a gentle indictment against the pointlessness of all mens wars. I felt protected and safe and closeted behind the Cathedral walls, yet even though only the anonymous organist, the priest and myself were occupying the huge space, I did not feel alone. On the contrary, I felt positively joyous.

And as I looked at the bronze effigies, and at the iconicry, and at the intricately carved niches and the stained glass and the fonts and the cushions provided so worshippers could kneel at the appointed times, I felt comforted. I recognised all this as being the trappings of mens religion, but if was far from seeming cold and repellent. In fact, it felt solid, warm and familiar.

I recognised all of it as worship.

I heard the organ music, and when I closed my eyes I could see a composer straining over the keys, grappling with his pen to contain all of God’s glory within little black dots scratched onto little black lines. I admired the windows and the floors, imagined the craftsmen with their tools, each piece of glass and each block of stone that came through their hands so carefully chipped and shaped and carved, so that every observer of their art down through the ages might recognise perhaps a glimmer of God’s wonder and glory in their work. Each artist, each craftsman, each creative soul involved in making this house for God’s presence all worshippers just like me, except their worship was now plain for all to see.

As a charismatic Christian of many decades, I have been taught to disdain “religion” in all its forms. I’ve been told that the free, expressive, physically demonstrative worship we born-agains offer to God is the antithesis of religion, and thank God for that – because religion and everything associated with it is stuffy, staid, mouldy, legalistic and redundant. We’ve been told that Churches are not buildings, and we’ve sneered and rolled our eyes at buildings just like this one as we passed them in our cars on Sunday to meet in warehouses and movie theatres. But when I sit in the Cathedral, I no longer feel disdain. I do not feel trapped or stifled or suffocated. I feel like I feel when I go to my parents house at Christmas, or when I come back from a holiday.

It feels like home.

*****

They’ve been saying for a few weeks now, and perhaps even for longer than that, that there is this dichotomy between Jesus and the gospel, and religion. But I don’t think they mean what they think they mean. I think they are confusing religion with legalism. I think they are trying to convince us that their way of doing church is good by presenting it as being in opposition to something they think is bad. But religion is not intrinsically bad. It’s only the legalism part of religion that binds people up, the part that says “this is how we do things here”,  and any kind of faith practice – Christian, Muslim, Hinduism – can have elements of legalism.

Oxford dictionary definition of religion

Making everyone who isn’t doing or thinking like you into everything that’s wrong with Christianity is not going to make people less “religious”. In fact, it’s effectively working against the gospel.  The gospel is inclusive – it’s about allus and we. “All have sinned and fallen short.” The gospel presumes everyone is a sinner and needs Christ, and we all need what He is and what He has done for us equally. Anything else you add on top is legalism, including deciding your definition of religion. The gospel of Christ unites, while legalism separates. If your “gospel” elevates one group above others, makes you better than someone else, then what you’ve got isn’t the gospel. It’s at best good marketing, at worst, it’s just another form of legalism.

The church I visited the other day, and everything it represents, would have been for me just a few years ago the epitome of hateful, stale old religion. But I chatted with the priest as I left, and as he described the upcoming candle mass – a celebration for Mary (Jesus’ birth mother) to mark her ceremonial return from the traditional forty day Jewish exclusion from society because of her “uncleanness” due to childbirth – something inside me just sighed. It sounded simply beautiful to me. The way the priest described it, with such excitement and reverence, I could not imagine he thought he’d be going to hell if they all forgot to turn up. He talked about the candle mass the way I used to talk about Cafe Church.

Oxford dictionary definition of legalism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Religion has become a dirty word, and I think that is a shame. Some it seems have mistaken religion for legalism and dismissed it wholesale, but I’m wondering if this “religion” they preach so ardently against is the evil they think it is. When you evict one form of legalism, I think you need to be careful you don’t simply instate a facsimile in it’s place. The fact is, many are finding that the supposed freedom more charismatic forms of worship offers to Christians has not always brought the vast, irrepressible libertarian delights it promised. Many of the faithful in fact are going out in search of not just the baby, but the bathwater too. Given a choice between the new legalism of anti-religion and religion, you can give give me religion any day.