Posted on Thursday, April 21, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I saw this troubling phrase in some tweets during last week’s conference for the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It provoked that all to familiar, “What does that even mean?” response in me. And today there is an article on their website written by Jason Allen that uses the phrase, and attempts to explain what that means.
First, I want to say that I don’t intend to write as much as I do about complementarianism as it is being taught in Reformedish circles. I have other things I’d like to write about. However, I find this teaching dangerous to the church, to men, women, and children, and there doesn’t seem to be many willing to ask questions or challenge the propaganda. I do see something like “sanctified testosterone” as propaganda. If you read this article in full, you will see that the underlying message is that if you don’t support this brand of complementarianism, this call for sanctified testosterone, then you don’t see the very real importance of gender distinction and God’s design for men and women in the church. It also paints a picture of a church that is not going to flourish without the “reappearance of men.” 
There are so many statements in this article that I find troublesome, so I think the best way to approach this for the sake of brevity is to provide some quotes in italics with commentary following:
Many churches are bereft of male leadership, and many congregations exist in a settled fog over what biblical manhood should look like. As to the first part of the sentence, that is a sweeping claim. Maybe it’s true? It isn’t my experience in my church. But I’ll take him at his word. As to the second part, I agree. But this article may be a reason for that.
Even within the church, much of the teaching on manhood has sent us toward two different, unhelpful poles. I agree. He goes on to illustrate those two poles as overly-feminine traits men should take on versus machismo and strong arming. 
Through this, the church needs to recover biblical manhood, Christian masculinity—what we might think of as sanctified testosterone. What you talkin’ bout, Willis?
Where there is a lack of men—mature, godly men—the church will invariably suffer. The church in want of biblical, masculine service and leadership is an anemic church. I agree that the church needs good men. But what the heck is masculine service? And is every man in the church called to lead all the women in the church? Please explain.
A lack of mature, biblical manhood was one of the central problems of the Corinthian church. Allen camps out here for a while, trying to prove that the real problem in the Corinthian church was the lack of biblical manhood. I would say most of the verses he uses point to a call for maturity in the faith for us all, not sanctified testosterone.
There is a defined role of leadership, authority, and protection men in the church must play. Is there? Please show me where this definition is. Again, is every man a head to every woman in the church? Are these the three words that you see as the most frequent commands to men in Scripture? And when we are talking about the ordained office, or male headship in the home, I’ve just written two articles addressing the problem with using this kind of language as primary, here and here
And just as a side note, the word ezer, used to describe Eve in Gen. 2:18, is the same word used to describe God as a ezer to Israel throughout the Old Testament.* And when you look at these verses, we see this word used to communicate great strength. I particularly find Psalm 89:17 interesting, “For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.” Here we have the word ezer, usually translated helper, translated strength. These verses are also saturated in military language as they describe God as Israel’s ezer. The root for this word is used one hundred, twenty-eight times in Scripture, meaning to rescue and save. It is used referring to God’s rescue in thirty cases, which we see mostly in the Psalms.* So, although I completely acknowledge men do have greater physical strength than women, and should use that for anyone’s protection whenever someone may be in need, women also have strengths that are vital to the church. Women are also called to be protectors, leaders even.
Men long for a higher calling. They need a higher purpose. Our hearts leap within us when we see exhibitions of courage, when we hear tales of heroism, when we witness valiant sacrifice. Women don’t long for a higher calling? Do men long for higher callings than women do? Is that a gender distinction? But don’t we also need to understand that there is courage in facing the everyday faithfully--for men and women? I don’t think Allen realizes that he is teaching a machismo-lite here. Is that what sanctified testosterone is? That is how he is describing these virtues:  Exhibitions of courage, tales of heroism, and valiant sacrifice, that needs to be witnessed, rather than quiet service that is always sacrificial.
As to forms and functions, we must be clear about what men must do. Biblical complementarity is not fundamentally about what opportunities women must forgo, but what responsibilities men must take up. So what I’m reading is that all men are the leaders of all women. They must be valiant and heroic. They must have sanctified testosterone.
Fourth, as preachers, let us cultivate gender distinction at all ages. As a child, my home church utilized Royal Ambassadors as discipleship curriculum for young boys and Girls in Action for young girls. RAs and GAs, as they came to be known, have largely given way to other—and often better—modes of children’s activities and discipleship. But I do miss the gender distinction they fostered, through their camaraderie and activities. Distinction does not necessarily mean segregation, but we must be intentional, even at the youngest of ages, to cultivate and channel boys into men and girls into women. I don’t think this is necessary. Can the little girls play with trucks in the nursery? Can boys pour the fake chocolate milk from the play kitchen? Why can’t boys and girls just learn from the Word side by side? There aren’t boy bibles and girl bibles. Frankly, I’m afraid of what some complementarians would teach to cultivate “gender distinction.” I heard of a large, well known, complementarian church that attempted to have the middle school girls begin practicing submission to the middle school boys. That’s completely unbiblical, foolish, and dangerous. People, why can’t we just teach our kids the Word?
Fifth, as preachers, we must intentionally enlist, equip, and empower men into leadership roles in our churches. Biblically, theologically, and logically, the indispensable ingredient to complementarianism is biblical manhood. One of the recurring arguments that undermines male leadership in the church is the absence of biblically-qualified male leaders. Let us determine to make the red herring, “What if there is no man to lead or preach?” an extinct species. Okay, I know this article is targeted for men, not women, but Allen seems to be leaving out some major ingredients to his definition of complementary---the women. I don’t think he is referring to just the ordained officers when he says, “male leadership in the church.” That is a problem for me. I certainly want to give proper respect and submission to the ordained office, and I do believe that Scripture teaches that office is to be served by certain, qualified men. But every man in the church is not a leader over every woman. 
And I have a suggestion for churches that are lamenting the lack of qualified men for office. Maybe there are less qualified men because we have not been properly investing in the women. Women are necessary allies in the household of God and in their private homes as well. If the church is only investing in men because they know that they need a new generation of officers, they are missing half of the “complementary” ingredients in collaboration. You won’t have strong men if you have weak women. And if the women’s voices are downplayed in favor of the men’s, the church will be missing out on much wisdom, examples of faithfulness, strength, courage, and godly influence. 
More urgently, can the church flourish without the reappearance of men?  Absolutely not. Brother pastors, let us recommit ourselves to raising up a generation of godly men, ready to lead and serve the bride of Christ I still don’t know what sanctified testosterone means. But this article does not sway me to change my suspicions. I will say that I know many wonderful men who faithfully serve the church, in their homes, and in their communities. I am thankful for them. They don’t do any deep studying of what biblical manhood is, and they’re not confused about their gender. And I’m pretty sure God is sanctifying their testosterone along with the rest of their being for that great day of resurrection and glorification.
Some of the teachings that have been coming from CBMW are very troubling. Pay attention.
*See Exodus 18:4; Deuteronomy 33:7, 26, 29; Psalms 20:2; 33:20; 70:5; 89:17; 115:9, 10, 11; 121:1 – 2; 124:8; 146:5; Hosea 13:9*See John McKinley, “Necessary Allies, God as Ezer, Woman as Ezer,” MP3 download,, accessed December 7, 2015,
Posted on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
When it comes to relationships, the contemporary usage of the word head usually has a silent honcho at the end of it. And that really isn’t anything new. Even in antiquity, the head of state or household had greater status and priority over the body. In her book Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian, Michelle Lee Barnewall explains, “The head played perhaps the most critical role in the survival of the body. As a result, a vital concern was to protect the head at all costs” (155). The people would valiantly sacrifice themselves, by the thousands if need be, to protect their beloved king. Barnewall quotes Seneca:
In his defense they are ready on the instant to throw themselves before the swords of assassins, and to lay their bodies beneath his feet if his path to safety must be paved with slaughtered men; his sleep they guard by nightly vigils, his person they defend with and encircling barrier, against assailing danger they make themselves a rampart. (Clem. 1.3.3)
…Nor is it self-depreciation or madness when many thousands meet the steel for the sake of one man, and with many deaths ransom a single life…(Clem. 1.3.4). (155)
As it was the duty of the people to protect the head at all costs, self-preservation was a priority of the head, knowing that the “common good” of the people was dependent on his welfare. Lee-Barnewall introduces a second aspect to the tradition of the head explaining that, “as ruler, [he] was not called to be the one who loves but rather was more deserving of being loved” (156). So the self-sacrifice of the people for his security was an act of their love for their ruler. He was the head honcho. “The superior physical placement of the head was symbolic of its leading role in the body and resulted in specific behavioral expectations for both parties” (156).
This history, and I think our own natural defaults in thinking, is why Ephesians 5:21-33 is meant to be a shocking portion of Scripture. Barnewall comments that “we would expect Paul to instruct the wife, the body, to be willing to sacrifice for the husband, the head” (157). This would be the common way of thinking and make rational sense to the audience. However, Paul then teaches a complete kingdom reversal. “The husband as the head is called to give himself up for that wife as his body, just as Christ gave himself up for the church, which is his body. Furthermore, where normal expectations would have the body being the one to love the head, Paul states that the husband as head is to love his wife as body as Christ loved the church” (157).
Paul does show care for household order among Christians in a culture that was very concerned with honor and hierarchy, and where the order in a household was considered a microcosm of society. So when he refers to the husbands as the head and charges wives to submit to their husbands, there’s no surprises to the reader. But then he drops the doozy. The role of headship in Christ’s kingdom is a complete reversal to what they know. “While this behavior would be shameful in the larger culture, it was considered honorable in God’s economy. This is why it is imperative to note that Paul connects the husband’s actions with Christ” (158). And this is how he is to maintain unity in marriage, which has always been the primary duty of the husband. 
What are the main themes in the creation account? Authority? Leadership? Equality? Are these the words that most correspond to our sexual design and our relationships in marriage and the church? Lee-Barnewall challenges the way we read into the Genesis account with our own arguments by asking the reader to look at it in a literary perspective. She notes what is central to the text. There is to be unity between Adam and Eve. Barnewall concludes:
What “authority,” “leadership,” “equality,” and “rights” have in common is that they often highlight the individual over the community and God himself. What their reversals share is the potential to guide us to greater acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and a recognition of God’s ways in which the willing sacrifice for the other through the denial of self-interest results in unity and love. (177)
So taking a literary look at the Genesis account, she makes some points. The dominant themes are holiness, unity, and obedience to God. And God has chosen to reveal to us in Scripture his specific instruction to Adam about his responsibility in the marriage relationship. We are told that “Adam provides the source for Eve’s creation, and he is the only one told to bring unity to the relationship. He is the one who discovers that he needs Eve, not the other way around” (143). And yet, Adam does the opposite. Furthermore, after they sin, Adam objectifies his wife by blaming, “The woman whom you gave to be with me” (Gen. 3:12). He doesn’t say “It was Eve’s idea.” No, he refers to her as the “woman”, which is the far from displaying intimate union.
But we see from Eph. 5:21-33 that unity is still the husband’s primary duty. “Now the responsibility of the man manifests itself in giving himself for his wife rather than abandoning or blaming her, and thus imitating that last Adam rather than the first” (144).
Many will be disappointed that Lee-Barnewall doesn’t answer the big questions in her book about women in the ministry. She begins her book explaining that isn’t her aim. But I think what she does do is invaluable to the discussion no matter what your stance on complementarian and egalitarian issues are. There’s so much written about authority and submission, putting everything relational under these categories. Where are the books written about the honorable, sacrificial love of the head? "Christ's humility is a defining aspect, and not simply a qualifier. The uniqueness of eschatological headship lies not in modification but in reversal and paradox" (164). I think one reason why we may be lacking in this kind of writing is that the men who are living it (and there are many) don’t draw attention to themselves about how sacrificial and loving they are. Whatever the case, Ephesians 5 is just as shocking to our preconceived notions today as it was to its original audience. There’s no place for the honcho in Christian relationships.
Posted on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

I have an article in the latest issue of the PCA's magazine By Faith. They asked me that super easy question that we all agree on so well, about God's design for women and their relationship to men and the church. Here is an excerpt of my favorite part, which quotes from John McKinley, identifying our design and role as necessary allies. You can click on the link here to read the entire article:

Designed for What?
We know the godly answer to why woman was created. It’s right there in Scripture: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Together, men and women make up the image of God. This is profound. Adam and Eve are not given two different missions. They are both responsible to carry out the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26). They are to expand the garden-temple of Eden, thereby expanding God’s presence throughout the earth.
And yet, men and women are not androgynous beings. We get another angle to God’s design in creation in Genesis 2: “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’” (v. 18). Unfortunately, this verse has lost some of its helpfulness with the English translation and our own cultural context. When I hear the word helper, I immediately think of the jobs we give our children to make them feel like they are contributing, while distracting and preventing them from getting hurt doing the real work. We’ll tell the little ones to pick up the sticks in the yard, but we aren’t going to turn them loose on the mower. They can wear an apron, fetch some ingredients, and even give them a stir, but we aren’t going to let them use the sharp knives or retrieve the dish from the hot oven.
The Hebrew word ezer is far more meaningful than our interpretation, helper. It is a word used throughout the Old Testament, mostly in a military context, referring to God’s rescue and salvation for Israel. Author John McKinley proposes that “necessary ally” is a better interpretation of ezer, one that takes note of the analogy God shows us in Scripture. This also moves us away from the inferior connotations of “helper” while biblically upholding the value of the woman in her relationship with man. In his work “Necessary Allies: God as Ezer, Woman as Ezer,” McKinley notes:
The issue in ezer is neither equality nor subordination, but distinction and relatedness. She is to be for the man as an ally to benefit him in the work they were given to do. Just as ezer tells of God’s relatedness to Israel as the necessary support for survival and military perils, the woman is the ally to the man, without which he cannot succeed or survive. Unlike helper, that could seem optional, and allow the man to think he’s otherwise adequate for his task without the women, the distinction of ally marks the man’s dependence upon her contribution. This dependence is plain when we consider Israel’s need for God’s contribution as her ally. …
What sort of ally is the woman to the man? She is a necessary ally, the sort without which he cannot fulfill humanity’s mission. Certainly the woman as a necessary ally fits for the mission of family building. The pairing of the two terms ezer and kenegdo brings a meaning that is larger than gender complementarity and union for building a family; necessary ally brings into view the joint Emission for which the male and female are created to rule God’s earthly kingdom.
This interpretation shows the necessity of a woman’s strength, value, and contribution as it corresponds to the usage of the same word, ezer, describing God. It also insinuates how things will go badly if woman is not functioning properly to her design. As Billy Joel’s song warns us, woman can bring out the very best in men, or the very worst. We see this in the beginning of Genesis.
And the effects of the fall throw a major wrench into the way women and men relate to one another. But it doesn’t change the purpose of our design or the value God has placed on us as image bearers. You would think this would all be easily cleared up by the time we reach the Gospels. And yet Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is provocative in more ways than one...
Read the entire article here.
Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
My spellcheck has never recognized complementarian as a real word. But in the circles I run in, I am considered extremely suspect if I don’t identify myself as one. It’s a fairly new term, coined less than thirty years ago. As I have been digging deeper into the movement behind this word, I am finding that it carries different implications depending on who is using it. I have been called a thin complementarian for questioning some teaching from the leaders of the movement that as a woman I am to be constantly looking for and nurturing men to lead me. (To which I responded here.)
Within the culture in the church today, many questions are still being asked about the equality of men and women and where and how women can serve. As I have been participating in this conversation, I feel like I need to continue to begin with my convictions that Scripture places the responsibility of the ordained office on particular, qualified men, so that I am not labeled a feminist and dismissed. While I’ve been working on a book project of my own on related issues, I have found this new book out from Michelle Lee-Barnewall, Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian. In the conservative, Reformed-ish community, a title like that is like saying that you don’t identify as male or female. So of course I had to read it.
Lee-Barnewall aims to offer a kingdom corrective to the evangelical gender debate, as stated in her subtitle. She begins the book saying that we need to take a few steps back from our current conversations and debates to recognize how the terms we are using are the product of cultural forces of the era in which we live. She makes the case that our discussions on gender weren’t always framed with vocabulary such as “authority”, “equality”, and “rights.” 
So in Part One of the book, the author gives us a history of gender in evangelicalism, showing how women played different roles according to the cultural values of the time. At the turn of the nineteenth century, women were seen as important influencers and leaders in the wider cultural sphere, and were pioneering leadership roles in benevolence movements and missions. Their work in society was seen as imperative to the welfare of the country. After World War II, the woman’s sphere was narrowed to the private home. As culture became more industrialized, women were looked at as the holders of virtues such as “private benevolence, personal manners, and female sexual propriety”, with which they were to model by providing a haven for the men in their families (22).  Women’s virtue and identity were tied to their roles as wives and mothers. And then came the 60’s and 70’s, where “heightened concerns about justice and civil rights created a fertile environment for egalitarians to challenge this situation and advocate for civil rights” (64).  
Part Two of Lee-Barnewall’s book challenges the reader to step back from all this cultural baggage and read Scripture with an awareness of our own presuppositions. She suggests that we are reading for answers about who gets authority in what and whose rights are being infringed upon, all the while missing the main points of some key passages. The author doesn’t want to diminish the necessity of addressing some of those questions, but strongly suggests that both complementarians and egalitarians are putting the cart before the horse. Foremost in her teaching is that what our discussions are missing is the complete reversal of the kingdom of God contrasted to how society sees power, headship, and rule:
The point is not so much whether hierarchies are present as it is what they mean. In the kingdom, values of power and privilege are turned upside down, and they are upended according to the new values of the kingdom as seen in Christ himself. Christ’s statements such as “the last shall be first, and the first last” (Matt. 20:16) and “whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:44) are integral to our understanding of any “hierarchies” in the kingdom. As we will see, the reversal of hierarchies is a prominent way in which the power of God is displayed in the kingdom as well as a vital means to promote unity and community.” (92)
You may read this and think, “Well sure, Christians talk about servant leadership all the time.” Lee-Barnewall critiques the way we do that though, saying that too often, when we discuss servant leadership, servant is used more as a modifier for leadership. Whereas, Scripture emphasizes sacrificial service, even in comparison with a slave, as what is a “necessary basis” for leadership. As we see in Scripture, God prefers to work through weakness rather than what the watching world thinks is strong. And so “leaders exemplify the way in which the new age is based on the cross and weakness and create a community whose members relate to one another in this way” (118). This type of reversal requires a dependence on God’s strength rather than our own.
I plan to post more on details of what Lee-Barnewall teaches about how this reversal plays out in headship and marriage, as this quick summary is becoming lengthy. But as a reflection, I think we would all affirm this paradoxical teaching about authority and leadership in Scripture, and yet, we so often don’t see leadership characterized this way in our own evangelical culture. Lee-Barnwell pleads that our theology of ministry for both men and women “should be able to show how the ministry of leaders points toward God, not the leaders themselves, and highlights the power of the cross, not just personal areas of competence and responsibility”(168). What I see so often is clamoring of the loudest and most highly paid voices to claim who gets to lead and who has to submit, while the pastors and husbands who truly understand headship are quietly taking out the trash and wiping runny noses.
Posted on Thursday, April 07, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
A couple of weeks ago I shared some thoughts I had after reading Christine Pohl’s first chapter to her book Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Particularly, I questioned whether the wider, Reformed-ish community is sustainable.  After now finishing her first three chapters on gratitude, I have found some rich teaching that has led me to further reflection. I like a book that makes me think further on my own. 
One thing that I have noticed is how different Pohl’s writing on gratitude is to another very popular book on the topic. It has perplexed me how even prominent voices in the Reformed community have helped to promote Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, despite the concerning theological problems in her teaching on gratitude. It led me to conclude that maybe gratitude is a topic that hasn’t been written about enough.  
Besides the writing style, one stark difference that I find between Pohl’s approach to teaching about gratitude and VosKamp’s is that Pohl is discussing gratitude as a practice within a community in response to our gratitude for God, whereas VosKamp’s approach is more an individualistic means to experience her own personal fullness of salvation. In just three chapters, I was both encouraged and challenged by Pohl. She first addresses how gratitude is a function of being made in the image of God, along with noting humility in our capacity to be thankful 
in hard times when we don’t have all the answers, and the ungrateful postures of dissatisfaction and entitlement. Her second chapter on gratitude covers complications that come along with gratitude in relationships, such as manipulation in giving, dependence on another in receiving a gift, the connections between gratitude and justice, and practicing gratitude in a community of broken people. She then gets into the practical applications of what weakens and strengthens gratitude.
Pohl said something that stuck with me when discussing how our busyness and ambitions hinder our capacity to pause and take notice of God’s gifts. She mentioned “important but overlooked connections between Sabbath and gratitude” (30). Pohl wrote this in her closing of Chapter Two, but I found myself wanting to read a whole chapter, or even book, on those connections. Within the context that she was addressing, Pohl explains, “Schedules have no space to accommodate things going wrong, and we are unable to receive any gift that might come in the form of an interruption” (30). This is a good observation. Sunday does come as an interruption to us. As we are busy serving in our vocations, we tend to fall into our default of building our own kingdoms. But our Sabbath worship is an interruption of the age to come that is breaking into this age that is wasting away. And we are reminded that we are receivers.
I connected this to what Pohl later wrote about the strings that are attached to gifts. She says, “Centuries ago, Seneca wisely warned that ‘one should never accept a gift if one would be ashamed to acknowledge the debt publicly (Ben 2.23.1); a gift should be accepted only if the recipient is willing to ‘invite the whole city to witness it’’” (40). Isn’t this in a sense what we are summoned to do on Sunday? We are called out from our workweek to accept God’s gifts to us of the preached Word and the sacraments, as a covenant community. The whole city witnesses our leaving behind the common activities of life for sacred worship. Sabbath reminds us that we are to rest in Christ. It “is both a response of gratitude and a context for gratitude” (57). God forbid we would not respond by assembling together and receiving his gifts to us.  
I remember listening to Tim Keller once talking about a woman who had been visiting his church for a short time. She approached him after a service, explaining that she had gone to church her whole life and never heard the message of grace that he was preaching before. She wanted to know why. Keller said that he turned the question back to her, asking why she thought this gospel message had not been preached. The woman’s response was both simple and profound. She said that if this message of salvation by grace alone was true, then there was nothing that God could not ask her for that she would not have to obey. 
We would like God to owe us for our own goodness and accomplishments. This woman understood that receiving the gift of salvation established a new relationship. As Pohl put it, “To be grateful is to put ourselves in the position of a recipient---gratitude reminds us that we are dependent on others” (32). And this woman perceived what it means to be delivered from the reign of sin and to be placed under the reign of grace. She was a new creation, and she owed her life to God. That is our joy as we see that he has given us himself. 
I would recommend Pohl’s three chapters on gratitude to all those who recommend or ask about Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts with the hope that the reader would be confronted with a more accurate and enriching teaching---one that doesn’t see gratitude as a means to experience fulfilled communion with God in this age, but that “celebrates life and community” because we look forward to that “experience of total communion” that is to come (55,56). Gratitude is a way of life for those who recognize the “true Gift.”
Posted on Friday, April 01, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Things are not as they seem. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, and it reminded me of something I wrote several years back on G. K Chesterton’s, The Man Who Was Thursday. That book was a crazy ride. I concluded that it was a perfectly sane satire of our own insanity. What else would you expect from the subtitle: A Nightmare? But one of my biggest take-aways that still sticks with me is that nothing is as it seems. Here were my first reflections upon reading it:
The story is set up with a debate between an anarchist, Lucian Gregory (“that young man was not really a poet; but surely he was a poem”), and the poet Gabriel Syme. These two very different men end up making a pact to keep one another’s secret after Gregory makes Syme an offer that “is far too idiotic to be declined.” There’s some double agent spy work going on, but I don’t want to reveal all the details. Eventually, we are led to the Council of Days. There are seven men on the Central Anarchist Council, and each man is named after a day of the week. Currently they are planning to assassinate the Russian Czar and the President of the French Republic in Paris.
I won’t give away anymore of the plot because the book is full of action-filled suspense. But I will say that the book is filled with allegory, and it’s one of those where the reader can pull out all sorts of their own interpretations---kind of like a nightmare. I think that each “day” of the Council may represent different parts of humanity that need to be redeemed—philosophy, science, the arts, reason, social power, and emotion. While dying to turn each page of this thriller, I had to pause and reflect on themes such as chaos verses law, optimism and pessimism, nihilism, materialism, monogamy, fellowship, and hospitality.
The poetic reflections of Gabriel Syme add clues to the mystery while also causing the reader to have their own musings. Here was my favorite:
“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—“ (178).
What leads up to this revelation is both hilarious and deep. Although you can read this book as an unbeliever and be thoroughly entertained, this is such a Christian message. If we don’t see the world with Sunday as the first day of the week, all we see is the back of everything. We are mere reactors to history. We work and labor for a rest that eludes us. But when we know Christ, the vision of the future is opened up.  We see the front. We have a face. And we first rest in the Ultimate Reconciliation before we can really serve with vigor. All of the sudden, even the absurdities that often occur in life find their home. The destructiveness of false ideas is left naked and exposed. The masks have no adhesive. 
C.S. Lewis must have been inspired by this book for his, Till We Have Faces, but that would lead me to a whole other article. Chesterton jokingly referred to this nightmarish genre of his as a very melodramatic sort of moonshine. I say, pour me another!
Posted on Saturday, March 26, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
What can I say, Bishop Rickey Moore has given us a bonus. We’ve been getting some worthy submissions from Mortification of Spin listeners for the next winner of the Bully Pulpit Desperate Theologizer prize---some real contenders. But this one---this one---is time sensitive. And it’s a doozy. 
Thanks to "Calvinist Coulson" for bringing this Desperate Theologizer to our attention. You know what they say, “The best laid plans…” Bishop Rickey Moore’s plans even came from a vision that he claims he is simply obeying in faith. He was to give a 3-D resurrection teaching to the passersby of his church at Sunrise Baptist Church in Shreveport, La. The original plan was for Bishop Moore to lay in a coffin for three days. But, alas, there has been a change to the plan and he is supposedly now camping out under a tent for three days before his big resurrection display on Easter morning.
Bishop Moore wants us to all know that he is not Jesus, nor close to perfect. I’m sure his demonstration is as powerful as the real thing…
And at least with the latest update, we don't have to ask as many questions about what happens when he needs to use the restroom.
Bishop Rickey Moore, you are our Weekend Bonus Edition, Desperate Theologizer.
Posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
On today’s MoS podcast, Carl and I talk a little about the differences in culture when unbelievers are invited into our households and vice versa. As I’ve just started reading Christine Pohl’s, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us, I’ve been thinking even more about what unbelievers experience in our family households and in the household of God, should they ever visit. An obvious cultural difference is that we are a people of prayer. And this is something that Carl and I touched on. When an unbeliever is invited into our home, they will be asked to join us in prayers of thanksgiving before sharing a meal.
But what other mores might intrigue a guest invited into the Christian community? Pohl teaches that a Christian community that lives from a framework of particular “practices allows us to see issues in congregational and community life from a different angle and helps us to get at the moral and theological commitments that structure our relationships” (5). While all communities have practices, Pohl asserts that for believers, “practices can also be understood as responses to the grace we have already experienced in Christ, in light of the word and work of God, and for the sake of one another and the world” (5). 
What are these practices? Well, they may not be particularly noticeable at first glance. As a matter of fact, Pohl notes that they are most powerful when not noticed. Why is that? Because, practices such as “making and keeping promises, living and speaking truthfully, expressing gratitude, and offering hospitality” should be a natural expression of who we are. And yet, in today’s culture these practices aren’t as common as we’d like to believe, even in the church. Pohl centers on these four practices in the book as she explains there are other important practices, such as discernment and forgiveness, to employ when we come up short in the former ones. 
Pohl’s Introduction on these “Four Practices That Sustain Community” is both refreshing and convicting. They could easily be summed up in one word: integrity. Even as I look at the wider culture in the Reformedish community, I see that it is very noticeable when we are found wanting in these basic practices.  We are a community that is supposedly passionate about truth, but we need to be careful not to think that only applies to what we think about God. If we are not known as a people who live truthfully and speak truthfully, we are not living by faith in the One who is truth and who deals with us truthfully. If we are stingy with our promises and don’t value following them through to fruition, we aren’t living as children of He who has promised and is faithful. Likewise, how can we possibly be grateful for a God who has lavished his grace on us if we live uncharitably and selfishly? And if we are busy building our own brand, only welcoming “yes” men to the table, how can we possibly talk about a God who welcomes the stranger at the gate?
A huge takeaway from Pohl’s introduction is that these basic Christian responses that cultivate and sustain us as a community need to be practiced. Talking good theology is necessary, but if we really believe it we will be living in light of it, all the while depending on the Holy Spirit of God to equip us as we are united in Christ. And these practices condition us both in the household of God and in our personal households. They also level us. There are no top men who get a pass from living truthfully, keeping promises, expressing genuine gratitude, and welcoming our neighbors.
In the podcast, Carl and I talked about some boundaries in respecting the personhood of an unbeliever if we are in their home. Pohl has me thinking further about how well we do that within our Christian communities. How do we practice truth telling? One way I see contradiction to this in the wider evangelical leadership is when sexual abuse in the church is minimized, when enablers and those involved in cover ups still headline conferences, write on large platforms and their books are still promoted. This kind of mishandling of the truth will never sustain us. Another flag is when the Christian book industry is marketing half-truths, exploiting sentimentality, or just plain promoting messages contrary to the whole gospel. 
What kind of promise makers and keepers are we? When we exaggerate endorsements, we are not making good promises. When we tell readers they are valuable and then use them to fulfill our own personal means, we create a false sense of community that is self-serving. Making a pact or alliance primarily to support our own brand contradicts a profession of hope in a God who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil.2:8), to fulfill the promise he made to redeem a people for himself. If we follow the One who is faithful, we respond in faithfulness. We should practice making good promises and making good on those promises.
We may not often identify gratitude in practice, but we certainly notice when it is lacking. When we only commit ourselves to serve where the big numbers and important people are, we are not expressing gratitude to the God who has sacrificed himself to share his own inheritance. When we only want to serve in what we think are the more glorious positions, we are forgetting how God has served us. Maybe the dishwashers have a greater sense of gratitude for the meal they’ve been fed. And when we withhold forgiveness we are not acting as a people who have been forgiven much.
What kind of people are we hospitable to? Are we only hospitable to those who can offer something in return? Do we practice welcoming those who not influencers to our “ministries” or who offer constructive critique to our work?  
Is the wider Reformedish community sustainable? These are challenges for us. I hope they are practices that we will grow in.  But most of all, thinking about these practices leads me to thankfulness for the local church, where I am encouraged and equipped for these very principles. God promises to sustain his church and he has set up a means to do that through the preached Word and the sacraments. Because God is who he is, there are covenant communities reflecting him. 
God’s Word is that powerful. Sure, it is powerful to save, which is truly amazing. But it also transforms us.  And since we know that our sanctification is a lifelong process that is always battling sin, we need to practice as individuals and as a community. If we are, we should be the same people in our churches, homes, and wider communities.
Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
“As a form of withheld truth, propaganda can be 90 percent true. It’s the deceptive 10 percent that gets you” (14).
I picked up Sue Ellen Browder’s fascinating tell-all book, Subverted: How I helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement, to keep me company on my plane ride last weekend and found myself enthralled with it in the hotel room as well. Books as a Glance will be posting my full review, but I had some further reflections to share as well. 
A major theme in the book is the “menacing power” of propaganda. We are well aware of our exposure to propaganda, and yet it is still so darn effective. Browder shares the unapologetic fabrications of sources and fictitious experts that was pretty much mandated from the top down in her work as a writer for Cosmo Magazine, perpetuating the illusion of the “Cosmo Girl” lifestyle. And yet the Cosmo girl didn’t really exist. Browder deems her a marketing fairy tale, fueling the cause of the sexual revolution.
Maybe you think yourself above falling for propaganda. I think it affects even the most discerning people more than we know. And that’s because it’s often 90 percent true. Not only that, propaganda is attractive because it preys on our desires. It even creates desires and tells us we should have them. Browder pinpoints the manipulative power of propaganda is that it uses that 10 percent of falsehood to create an illusion to which we then become enslaved.
One way to identify propaganda is in its sloganeering. Browder highlights the rallying cry Larry Lader used to amp up the sexual revolution: “
“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.” On its face, the slogan is true. Who could deny it? But what does it mean? “Owning and controlling one’s own body” is one of those empty phrases that could mean anything from dieting to lose weight to schussing gracefully down a mountain slope.
“That’s the whole point of good propaganda,” media critic Noam Chomsky points out. “You want to create a slogan that nobody’s going to be against and everybody’s going to be for. Nobody knows what it means because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy? That’s the one you’re not allowed to talk about.” (54)
This kind of manipulation isn’t only employed for liberal causes like the sexual revolution. I don’t know how many Christian titles, promotions, and articles I have read, asking myself, What does that even mean? All too often, the message underneath is pushing through that 10 percent of falsehood. For example, who can argue with a title like Love Wins? And yet in between the lines we take in universalist propaganda. Many in the Reformed church were wise to this manipulation. But even in more conservative circles I find myself having to take a step back from the headlining phrases that are appealing to my convictions to take a closer look at what is being pushed behind the curtain.
And yet there is another type of propaganda I see prevalent in women’s books that bothers me even more. When describing the types of articles she would write for Cosmo, Browder confesses that the ones she fabricated were most often those that pushed the Cosmo sex-revolution philosophy. She gives an example of a story she invented titled, “Ambition: Yours and His”:
Mia (an ambitious, twenty-five-year-old attorney) met Rob (a laid-back, thirty-eight-year-old documentary filmmaker) in Paris at a Jewish deli on the Champs-Élysées. He was struggling to order a pastrami sandwich. Mia came to his rescue with her flawless French. He asked her out for a cup of café au lait…and after that afternoon and a night of gentle lovemaking in a hotel on the Left Bank, Mia knew she was in love. (40)
Browder notes that this isn’t what we call spin, “This was hard-core sex-revolution propaganda masquerading as fluff” (40). While I’m not seeing sex-revolution propaganda in bestselling Christian books for women, I am seeing a lot of fluff. We must ask what is behind this fluff. Is it harmful? 
Do you know what I fear? It is that while the church abhors the commodification of women in the sex-revolution, we have no problem perpetuating them as a target in the market of sentimentality. Sentimentality sells. I fear that women's ministry is just another commodity. We are being targeted for our empathy. And this is all a distraction from the problem that there are still many questions about how the church can better invest in women and engage with their intellectual contributions to the covenant community. The Christian bookstore and parachurch ministries may reject the sexual revolution, but it seems evangelical women are still subverted to the “pink-collar ghetto” when it comes to what we are often invited to write and speak about (26). I fear that everyone is just fine drowning us in fluff.
Browder says, “Propaganda---withheld truth---cuts off democratic discourse, blocks genuine dialogue, and keeps the public from participating in reality” (14). One thing that I have found as a writer and a speaker is that it is much harder to join a conversation, to receive genuine dialogue and engagement, when I ask questions on some of these issues. The sound of crickets may reveal that while the language about women’s value sounds good, we still have some unanswered questions when it comes to our personhood.
Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Sometimes I find myself intellectually frustrated as both a reader and a writer. I have read a good number of academic books that I highly recommend to people, knowing they will never be cracked open. For example, Dr. Gregory Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission has opened up huge doors for me in the way I read Scripture. But it is not an easy read and many just find it out of their league or intimidating. That frustrates me. Just because you may not understand everything you read the first time, it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit and grow from reading above your level. But so many readers do not want to put in that kind of work and perseverance through a book. They want to be spoon-fed. So they never benefit from a book like that.
Another frustration is when I read academic books written on important topics regarding the evangelical subculture that will never be read by the ordinary people their particular topic affects. For example, Sara Moslener has written about the sexual purity movement and American adolescence. It is a great book to springboard discussion on an critical issue. But it’s purely academic, heavy on the data and completely lacking in helpful illustrations, commentary, proposed solutions, or applications that would help a reader engage more. It’s not exactly flying off the shelves.
Again, Todd Brenneman has written an academic book on American evangelicals being steeped in sentimentality over intellectual engagement that will never fall into the hands of those who may need to be challenged most by his work. We may not all equally agree on his conclusions, but the book challenges the evangelical community to a discussion that never makes it to takeoff. Of course, the scholarly work does need to be done to lay a foundation from which to build. But I am seeing a lot of academic foundations with little building into the world of ordinary people.
On the other hand, the world of popular level books is equally frustrating. Most of the bestsellers are full of error, or just very low theology. And many of the successful ones that are doctrinally correct and do reach a wider audience are lacking in theological depth. We can only spoon feed for so long. Continually processing theology to take out all the lumps does not develop good thinkers.
I’m not an academic. I’m a housewife theologian. But what is the point of the work academics are doing? Is it just to impress one another, keeping their research and learning within the walls of the academy? Will we ever make a difference that way? Particularly when it comes to theology, I would think the endgame is to have much of this knowledge trickle down into the homes of the ordinary Christian. One way to do that is through well-educated pastors. In addition to this, we need well-informed laypeople. 
This is a challenge for both authors and readers.  As an author, I often try to encourage readers in this way by citing works that are much better than my own, trying to make them more palatable to the non-academic. I don’t always do that well. It’s frustrating as I grow as a writer to be critiqued for being too meaty or not meaty enough. Of course my target is not an academic audience, but I do think that it would benefit academics to read more popular level books so they can better serve the church. I’m thankful for the ones who do, offering reviews and recommendations. This is one way to encourage and challenge both authors and readers. 
As a blogger, I try to introduce books that a layreader may not have known about or considered. I aim to showcase books of all levels that are worthy to read, as well as pointing out popular books that are harmful.
Back to Beale’s book, there is another way to address the issue. There is now a second book that he co-wrote with Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us, that takes his previous work to a popular level audience. It still requires an informed reader who has moved past spoon-feeding. I like this. Both the authors and the readers are challenged to move out of their comfort zones to communicate and learn. I wish there were more books like this, co-written with the academic author for a popular level audience. Hopefully it will spur many readers to take on the original academic work as well. 
I guess we can’t have a sweet spot without authors who want to communicate well with lay readers, and lay readers who will challenge themselves to be more informed. What books do you think hit the sweet spot well, connecting academic scholarship with the popular level genre for laypeople?