Posted on Monday, June 18, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man  (Tosephta, Ber. 7,18; Talmud, pBer 13b; bMen 43b.)
This was a popular prayer attributed to the first century rabbi, Eliezer, during the time after the Mishnah but before the Talmud. This was over a thousand years after Ruth, a book that exposes the cultural backdrop of Patriarchy while pointing to God’s great, active, faithful love for his people. I picked up Carolyn Custis James’ little book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, and it was so good that is led me to read her longer book, The Gospel of Ruth. I highly recommend both to you and I’m going to quote from them extensively here so that you get James in her own words. 
In Finding God in the Margins, James highlights how the book of Ruth critiques the accepted Patriarchy of the time, explaining, “Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (FGITM, 10). We get to read most Ruth from the woman’s perspective as “the book gives us the saga of two women on their own in a patriarchal culture. The narrator tracks their amazing struggle to survive against all odds in the workplace, the community of God’s people, and the legal system” (The Gospel of Ruth, 28). And if you want an amazing example of “biblical manhood” look no further than Boaz, who “in response to Ruth’s initiatives, will subvert the very patriarchal mores that most benefit him as a man. Instead, he will sacrificially employ those benefits and privileges to empower Ruth and to benefit Naomi. In the process, he will put on display Jesus’ kingdom brand of manhood that is desperately needed in today’s world” (FGITM, 10-11).
“The book of Ruth turns a spotlight on the plight of women in the world for the whole church to learn” (FGITM, 22). And the incredible faith of a Moabite woman works actively to fulfill the vow she made to her mother-in-law, against all odds. In the end we see, “It takes an outsider like Ruth” to “combine two laws and expand their reach, “ with a “single, innovative sentence”---“Spread the corner of your garment over me for you are a go’el of our family”---she “merged the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws---property and progeny. She was asking Boaz to purchase Elimelech’s land and to father a son to become Elimelech’s heir and the eventual owner of his land” (FGITM, 75). It’s truly an amazing story of God’s love. 
“The book of Ruth puts God’s hesed on display. We will learn among with Naomi that God’s hesed love is indiscriminate, unearned, and persistent. YHWH’s hesed will reach Naomi through the selfless and relentless commitment of Ruth to fight for her, and Boaz will join Ruth in this effort. Events in the field of Boaz this day will give Naomi fresh insight in YHWH’s hesed. What she learns is indispensible to us---because so often we struggle to put suffering and God’s hesed together in our own stories” (FGITM, 51). This Hebrew word, hesed, which is used three times in Ruth, gets lost in translation, as James says, because we just don’t have an English word good enough to describe it:
Hesed is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has the right to ask or expect. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately Naomi too” (FGITM, 51). “Hesed transforms legality into sacrificial love, gives life amid despair, and draws one deeper into the heart of YHWH” (FGITM, 79).
There is a beautiful picture of this with Ruth, a vulnerable Moabite woman, on Day One of her using “the ancient welfare system” as a gleaner on a wealthy Israelite’s field. She challenges the letter of the law put in place to help widows like her and Naomi by making the bold request to glean in a more productive area among the harvesters (Ruth 2:7). Her brave request shows her hesed love for Naomi and presses Boaz to a “higher level of obedience...and understanding of God’s law. The letter of the law says, ‘Let them glean.’ The spirit of the law says, ‘Feed them.” Two entirely different concepts. Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference” (TGR, 102).
How does Boaz respond? He isn’t threatened by Ruth. And he doesn’t ignore her. “This powerhouse of a man, this native-born Israelite who grew up on Mosaic law, listens to this newcomer’s request, learns from her, and throws his power behind her effort” (FGITM, 58). Ruth’s initiative and strength spur Boaz to be a better man, and he too shows God's hesed. At mealtime that day, he does something amazing. James calls it the plus factor. “He invites Ruth to join his table and share a meal with his workers. When she does, Boaz serves her himself, heaping more roasted grain for her than she can possibly eat” (TGR, 104). He treats her as one of the best employees rather than a gleaner on welfare. In this “powerful gospel scene,” we see the opposite of the prayer of the Rabbi Eliezer: 
A gleaner seated alongside paid workers, a Moabitess “dining” with Israelites, a man serving a woman, the poor included among the rich, an outsider embraced by the inner circle. Looks like the kind of feasting Jesus would have enjoyed, a prefiguring of the kind of world his gospel restores, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28). Ruth was on the losing end of all three categories, but Boaz refuses to maintain those boundaries. Ruth embraced God’s people sight unseen on the road from Moab. Now they are embracing her. (TGR, 104-105)
While we don't share the extreme reductive views of women as the patriarchs in Ruth's day, or the rabbi contemporaries of Jesus, this book of the Bible gives us a picture of manhood and womanhood that is radically different than we see in much of contemporary evangelical teaching. “Ruth herself becomes a powerful catalyst for change. God gave us Ruth…to remind us that courage, boldness, and godly leadership are important feminine attributes when it comes to living for God” (TGR, 105). Boaz recognizes this and grows in response. In this scene, we see the plus factor at work. He serves her a meal, and instructs his workers not only to permit her to glean with the harvesters, but to leave extra stalks for Ruth to pick up. He commands them not to touch, rebuke, or embarrass Ruth (2:9, 15-16). James points out that Boaz’s response is not only to permit, but also to promote. And he makes sure that his workers do the same. Hesed. “The story puts on display a brand of masculinity that is desperately needed in a world awash in changes today that strike at the core of masculine identity and leave so many men adrift without a sense of meaning and purpose…the book of Ruth puts on display a radical, not-of-this-world brand of masculinity that foreshadows the masculinity Jesus embodied” (FGITM, 84).  
I know some in Reformed circles might write off James, as she doesn’t fit into the CBMW complementarian box. As a matter of fact, they gave The Gospel of Ruth a negative review, concluding that it was not good news after all. (Ironically, this same journal---Fall 2008 – Volume XIII, Issue 2---showcases an EFS study by Bruce Ware titled, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead.”) I urge you to read these books for yourself. I especially think it beneficial for pastors to glean from James’ work on Ruth. Complementarians may be challenged by the spirit of the law, and see where they have added to the letter of it---the minus factor.
Praised be to God that he has created me his daughter in Christ. Praised be to God that he has placed me in his household among my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Posted on Tuesday, May 08, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
“We should be friends,” quoth Potiphar’s wife;
but Joseph turned, and ran for his life.
“Avoidance is not purity!,”
she cried; but he ignored her plea.
One example from Scripture that I often hear to support the Mike Pence or Billy Graham Rule is Potiphar’s wife. I’ve heard, “If Joseph followed the Mike Pence Rule, he would never have gotten himself in this trouble.” He is also used as a warning for men not to trust women's accusations of sexual abuse. But I have to say, I was quite surprised when someone directed me to Eric Hutchinson’s jab at my upcoming book, on Mere Orthodoxy of all places, in the form of an “Ode on the Pence Rule.” It opens with the above quote.
This first stanza compares me to Potiphar’s wife, using the title and subtitle of my upcoming book as her words. That is quite a caricaturization! I am to be equated with a seductress sexual predator. And so is the idea of friendship. Hutchinson introduces the piece with a quote: “Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?”–King Solomon. I’m unsure: am I the fire in the bosom, or is friendship?  
I know that Hutchinson is taking some poetic license here with the point he is trying to make, but I am flummoxed at the portrayal of this biblical account and the straw man that he sets up in which to warn others about my book. First, let me affirm that there are both male and female sexual predators out there, and that we are all to use discernment and wisdom in our relationships. Pushing back against the Pence Rule does not mean that we throw caution and common sense out the window.
The first half of my book addresses all the reasons that men and women cannot be friends: we’re letting the wrong voices tell us who we are (no, I’m not Potipher’s wife!), we don’t view each other holistically, we don’t know our mission, we misunderstand the nature of purity, we’re immature and fearful, we’ve forgotten what friendship really is, and we’ve overlooked our biblical status as brothers and sisters. These are all reasons that would hinder any possibility of friendship. For example, if a man could only see me as a sexual temptress who may harm his reputation, then he obviously isn’t a friend and it would be unwise of me to pretend so. You can’t be friends with everyone. 
Hutchinson is right that you can’t be friends with Potipher’s wife. But we all know that is not what she was suggesting. This account found in Genesis 39 is not about friendship or men and women setting up boundaries. It’s about God’s sovereignty and his faithfulness to his promises to Joseph as we see this pattern of humiliation and exaltation in his life. We see that God is with Joseph, even as he is sold into slavery. We see the divine providence of an aristocrat acquiring him, finding favor in him, and setting him over his household. Interestingly, Scripture adds the line, “Now Joseph was well-built and handsome” (Gen. 39:6). We barely ever see a male described this way in Scripture. Women may lean in a little here because we know the tension of being described this way in the work place. It makes you a target in these kinds of stories. We know where it’s going.
And so as Moses sets up the reader, the very next line describes Potiphar’s wife’s lustful desire to have sex with Joseph. Bruce Walke quotes an insightful line from Sarna, “’She, the mistress of the house, is a slave to her lust for her husband’s slave!’” (520). The reader is not thinking about the possibility of friendship here. It’s pure lust, plain and simple.
And, Joseph could not just avoid her. He had to do his job. He is her husband’s slave! I’m sure he avoided her as much as he could. But he was in a situation where he had to endure the harassment. He even tries reasoning with her, that he would never “do this immense evil” of a sex act with her to his boss or as a sin against God. Joseph is virtuous even as she continues to harass him. And when she finally gets him alone, as predators have a way of conniving, he shows integrity. This is like #MeToo in reverse. Yes, men and women can both be sexual harassers and predators. But as we see in this account, usually the consequences are different. A similar situation ends differently for Bathsheba. 
Joseph seems to have a bit of bad juju when it comes to coats. Potiphar’s wife aggressively grabs his outer garment, trying to force herself on him. But Joseph is stronger and he flees this attack, leaving his garment behind. This is when she cunningly works out the scheme to turn the tables on Joseph as the attacker. Men like to point to Potiphar’s wife as the object lesson for the Pence Rule to teach potential leaders about women who make false charges. Yes, that does happen. And it is ungodly and very bad. But that isn’t the thrust of the text: avoid women because you never know when they are going to pull false charges on you. 
Waltke rightly points to the theme that God is with Joseph, and that “Joseph must trust God even in the face of unjust treatment. He is learning to put aside cloaks, trusting the Lord to clothe him with dignity and honor” (522). And unlike the many exploitations that we read about in #MeToo stories, “his refusal of Potiphar’s wife’s advances entails that he does not take advantage of his superior physique to dispossess his master but rather accepts his God-given social standing as a slave. Joseph participates in the eternal covenant: he has the law of God in his heart” (523). Waltke reminds the reader that this humiliation/exaltation in the life of Joseph typologically points to the life of the Israelites, and ultimately to Jesus. 
Hutchinson compares both me and friendship with women to Potiphar’s wife, which leads men to the promiscuity of King Solomon. His Ode on the Pence Rule contrasts my so-called voice with that of reason,  
Joseph, he’s so dull and boring;
Solomon is clearly soaring.
Joseph, self-protecting–tired;
Solomon, enlightened–wired.
I do write against the prevalent evangelical morality of individualistic self-protection that places a purely negative responsibility in our relationship before God and with others. Joseph is anything but boring and self-protecting in this account. He exercised character and virtue, taking the hits to his reputation while trusting in the Lord. We see faithfulness and holiness promoted in this story, not mere self-protection. 
Fortunately we are not left with the false dichotomy at the end of Hutchinson’s Ode:
And so, dear readers, you can see
the choice in front of you and me.
To be like Joseph? That’s a shame.
But Solomon? Well, he’s got game–
his dad was rich, sent him to Yale,
while rustic Joseph went to jail.
Posted on Friday, May 04, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Sometimes I enjoy listening to the This American Life podcast on my road trips. It is a secular podcast that provides storied snippets portraying all kinds of different thoughts and experiences within American life. Although I often am saddened by the typical narrative that follows the current secular worldviews and portrayals of the Christian faith. And yet it does help me to see how the world sees and that can be profitable in strengthening the church’s witness. 
This American Life is debuting a movie on Netflix called Come Sunday, which covers the life of Pentecostal Carlton Pearson, his rise to fame, and sudden downfall. So they are rerunning an older podcast called Heretics, where Ira Glass describes Pearson as a “rising evangelical megastar” that “at the height of his popularity, became involved in a scandal: He didn’t have an affair, he didn’t embezzle money, he didn’t admit an addiction to prescription painkillers---no, no, none of that. He stopped believing in hell.” He explains that this is “the kind of thing that happens from time to time here in America, even now. He became a heretic. A very prominent heretic….it didn’t end with the Salem witch trials.” As you can see by the language used, the church is not painted in a positive light. We are still hunting witches; they just look different.
Reporter Russell Cobb narrates the story in the podcast, along with many excerpts from his interviews with Carlton Pearson, who grew up in a “strict Pentecostal denomination: no smoking, drinking, cursing, or dancing. But there was lots of church going.” Pearson elaborates, “The devil was as present and as large as God. He had most of the people. He was ultimately going to get most of the people.” He explains how demons were all over the neighborhoods, the churches, and the schools. And “if you believe it, you experience it.” So naturally, Pearson cast out his first demonic spirit, from his own girlfriend at that, at a church revival when he was a mere 17 years old. He made a name for himself as he cast out several demons during that 3-day revival. 
And yet Pearson recalls how he was smothering in the black, anti-intellectual ghetto and found a way out by attending Oral Roberts University. Oral Roberts changed the image of Pentecostalism with a more positive message that reached a wealthier class. He also took Pearson under his wing as a sort of “second son.” By joining Roberts’ World Action Singers (with Kathy Lee Gifford), Pearson found a sanctified way to travel the world. However, tension with Roberts’ son caused Pearson to branch out on his own. 
As Pearson found his preaching voice, congregants flocked to him. He was funny, taught them about some of the Greek roots in his talks, and therefore was seen as giving a scholarly, in depth analysis of Scripture in an entertaining fashion. “He flew around the country guest preaching with some of the biggest names in the evangelical world. People like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was in and out of the White House, under both Bushes and Clinton. And when George W. Bush started his faith based initiative program, Carlton sat on an advisory panel and became a spokesman for the plan. He hosted a show on TBN, Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian cable channel. He was appointed to the Board of Regents at Oral Roberts University and made bishop in 1995 by the International Communion of Charismatic Churches. And he started a revival called AZUSA, a modern day evangelical festival.” Pearson gave TD Jakes his break, introducing him to an international audience. Attendance to the church he founded, Higher Dimensions, grew to regular attendance of 5,000 people in Sunday service, successfully integrating a diversity of race. He was well loved, even as he continued to preach about hell with all the supernatural flair of the Pentecostal faith, rebuking the devil and speaking in tongues.
But in the height of his career, Pearson has a heart-to-heart with God that changed everything. He began to have doubts about the message he was preaching, Russell Cob sets it up that all his Hebrew and Greek studies were leading him in a different direction. Pearson recalls a moment of clarity when he was watching a TV program showing the images of starving children in Uganda. And he said to God, “I don’t know how you can call yourself a loving, sovereign God and allow these people to suffer this way and then just suck them right into hell.” And God replied, “So that’s what you think we’re doing?” Pearson answered, “That’s what I’ve been taught.” In this conversation with God, Pearson says that he has been taught all these people need to get saved. And then he lamented that he can’t do it all: pastor his huge church and go save all these people by preaching the gospel to them. He remembers thinking “God, don’t put that guilt on me…I’ve given you the best 40 years of my life, besides, I can’t save the whole world. I’m doing the best I can.” That’s when God agreed with Pearson that he can’t save the whole world, but that they (because apparently God calls himself they to Pearson) are not sucking all these people in hell---they’re already there. Hell is something we invent for ourselves and God is going to take everyone into his presence. And God wants Pearson to “represent him to the world.” This is when Pearson began preaching his “gospel of inclusion.” Everyone is going to heaven.
This American Life sums up what followed like this:
Once he starts preaching his own revelation, Carlton Pearson's church falls apart. After all, when there's no hell (as the logic goes), you don't really need to believe in Jesus to be saved from it. What follows are the swift departures of his pastors, and an exodus from his congregation—which quickly dwindled to a few hundred people. Donations drop off too, but just as things start looking bleakest, new kinds of people, curious about his change in beliefs, start showing up on Sunday mornings.
The story turns sad, as Pearson laments about his friends leaving the church, the leaders not being on board with the gospel of inclusion, and all the beautiful babies he baptized moving on. His offerings dropped $40,000-$50,000 a week. His important friends abandon him. He misses not being celebrated by all these people who adored him. Now it’s like he died and they moved on. 
It was important for these people to keep believing in hell for some reason. Hey, they might not like it, but they didn’t make the rules, as Cob explains. Pearson was formally denounced as a heretic, as he was “assaulting 1,500 years of tradition.” It’s “hard giving up hell after a lifetime of believing in it.” And so many still believe in a salvation based on scaring people with hell to lead them to Jesus. 
Although he has to eventually close the doors of Higher Dimensions, Pearson’s gospel of inclusion attracts a new crowd. Muslims and gays stand and applaud him after he preaches his gospel of inclusion. Finally he is getting the notoriety he deserves. One of the holiest moments of his life was when a same gender leader washed his feet. Ira Glass concludes, “When it comes down to it, it’s a lot easier to believe in a world without hell. For one thing, you don’t have to worry about saving everybody.” Pearson is relieved that he doesn’t have to deal with the guilt of not saving every person he meets. He doesn’t need to talk for 2 hours on the plane insulting people by telling them they are going to hell (violin music playing softly in the background). It was all very virtuous of him to follow God in this way. What a martyr. 
I was moved too, but not because of the violin music. I’m sad that an episode about heresy and an inclusive gospel never gave the true gospel. A false gospel was presented as the traditional Christian message, and then so-called better news was offered that was pronounced a heresy. Both were centered on the self-importance of the celebrity pastor. The bad news isn’t that the devil is behind every rock trying to pull us into hell, but that our own sin has condemned us and separated us from the holy God. The sensationalism of casting out demons left and right, speaking in tongues as “true believers,” and scaring people into some sort of salvation from the devil is just as bad as the universalism (which still involves tongues, I believe) that Pearson is now preaching, because God still isn’t represented to the world. Pearson’s message leaves people in their sin.
Our Triune God has created us for holy communion with him. Our sin, that saturates us in body, mind, and soul, separates us from God and condemns us to his just wrath. Hell isn’t the place the devil drags us, but the eternal presence of God’s wrath for sin. His wrath is just. Our sin enslaves us. We will never be free under it. We will always serve sin. The devil always serves sin, so yes, he is happy to help us join him. I don’t want anyone under that kind of inclusion. But the devil is not as present and as large as God---not even close.
And God’s love is greater than our sin. He sent the Son to live the life that we cold not live and die the death under the curse of sin in our place. In Jesus, and only in him, we are given God’s very own righteousness and saved from the curse of sin. Death no longer has its sting. Jesus doesn’t just pull us out of hell; he gives us righteousness. All those in him are no longer under the reign of sin, but rather serve in the reign of grace as we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. By faith we see that Jesus is Lord and we repent of our sin as we turn to him. Without repentance there is no salvation. How could we embrace a holy Lord in our sin? But there is forgiveness and restoration. The Lord Jesus, who triumphed over the rulers and authorities, making a public display of them by disarming them, doesn’t leave us in our sin! (Col. 2:15)
And it’s not about us. Or celebrity pastors. It’s all about him! Jesus is the one to be celebrated! And we long for that great day when we will be resurrected in new, eternal bodies to reign with him on the new heavens and the new earth in that blessed eternal communion, to God be the glory!
The call to Christ is inclusive. But it is exclusively in him that we can repent and have eternal life. God will reach all of his people. Christians are privileged to be included in sharing that message as we live a life of faith and obedience. We love to introduce sinners to Christ the Lord. And we don’t have to wait for Carlton Pearson to do it.
Maybe this movie will gain popularity on Netflix. And the false gospel that keeps people in their sins will further spread. But let the church use this to reaffirm the true gospel and stir us to share it all the more until our Lord returns.
Come Sunday, Oh come Sunday.
That’s the day.
Posted on Friday, February 09, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Yesterday I had a longish drive to Virginia Beach, which means time to indulge in some podcasts. I already listened to the first season of What Really Happened?, where narrator Andrew Jenks digs through all the surrounding details of old news stories to see if we really got it right. It fed the inner conspiracy theorist in me, as he reexamined the stories of Muhammad Ali talking a 21-year-old from committing suicide, Chris Christie’s Bridgegate, the true nature of Britney Spears’ meltdown, or Michael Jordan’s retirement, to see if things are really as they seem. Jenks received so many responses to Season One that he was able to put together more interviews corresponding to each podcast episode, further investigating and resolving some listener responses. 
Jenks interviewed his friend, actress Brittany Snow, in one of the episodes, and I noticed how it turned into a bit of a therapy session as they talked about practices that help them get out of their own heads and mental issues. I noticed a blend of genuine longing to be a good person, for holistic health, and to be a giving member of society. For the most part their talk was sophisticated, which made the swear words they occasionally dropped land like the bombs we refer to them as.
Anyway, I noticed something pretty interesting as Jenks and Snow began talking about what helps them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Both of them practice a newish trend I’ve heard about called writing a daily gratitude list. It’s just what it sounds like: every day you are to set aside some time to write down, preferably hand written, at least five things you are grateful for. This helps steer negative thinking and depression. It turns out gratitude is the secret to happiness. Even Oprah is doing it.
While they are reveling in this epiphany, I am thinking about how this functions as a worldly substitute for prayer. It made me kind of sad. I mean, I’m happy that they have discovered gratefulness, but whom are they thanking for all that they have discovered to be thankful for? They have recognized the gifts, and look how healing that is! But they have not found the Giver. 
It also convicted me for what I take for granted. I know the Giver and I complain too much. But that is where prayer is so much more delightful of a blessing than gratitude lists. I can go to the Giver and thank him personally. But I can also name my sin and ask for forgiveness, ask for sanctifying. And it is real.
Quickly, the conversation turned to TED talks: short bursts of inspiring ideas, where Technology, Entertainment and Design converge in the genre of free YouTube videos. Jenks made the comment that he is obsessed with TED talks. While most people listen to music when they work out, Jenks listens to these “powerful talks” to get out of his head. I couldn’t believe my ears, as I was driving down the highway realizing how Jenks and Snow are turning to gratitude lists and TED talks as a sort of  means of common grace. Where gratitude lists substitute for prayer, TED talks are like auxiliary sermons. 
The show was turning into a different sort of What Really Happened? I was listening to two seekers recognizing that they need to hear something outside of themselves, but not receiving the very message they desperately need to hear. Not only is the gospel message powerful, but the word itself is living and active. Sure, gratitude lists and TED talks can be good evidences as God’s common grace to all mankind. (And there is a large scale of good to bad TED talks.) But it also made me think of how easily Christians too miss something so simple. I love talking about the deeper aspects of theology, but I never want to miss the big picture of how God ministers to his people by giving them Christ through his ordained means of grace. The means are ordinary, but the grace is extraordinary.
What a blessing it is to be a part of his church. 
Posted on Friday, January 26, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Last week Michael Kruger wrote a good little article on the peculiarity of early Christian worship and how believers managed to offend everybody. Rumors were flying about what kind of people Christians really were. I wanted to elaborate on one of Kruger’s points and compare that to how Christians worry over “appearances” today. Kruger said:
The other offensive aspect of Christian worship was their private meetings. For obvious reasons, Christians weren’t eager to put their worship practices on full public display. So, they tended to meet early in the mornings, or in the evenings, often when it was dark, away from the masses.
Of course, this was seen as highly suspicious. As already noted, Romans regarded religion as public. So, what were these Christians up to in their “secret” meetings? As is well known, this occasioned all sorts of speculation (and accusation) about whether Christians were engaging in licentious or even cannibalistic activities in these gatherings.
Christians were being persecuted for their faith, so they met in secret. Of course this would fuel rumors. Here is a Roman argument against Christianity in the early days of the church. Mark Felix narrates these accusations from Caecilius in his apologetic work, Octavius, published 150-210 A.D.:
And now as the world grows more wicked, your abominable shrines are sprouting up throughout the whole world. This entire impious confederacy should be rooted out and destroyed! You know one another by secret marks and insignia. You love one another almost before you know one another. Yours is a religion of lust. You promiscuously call one another brothers and sisters. You apparently do this so that your debaucheries will take on a flavor of incest. Your vain and senseless superstition revels in wickedness. I would apologize for passing on the reports I hear about you if I weren’t so certain they were true. (We Don’t Speak Great Things, We Live Them, 31) 
The Romans heard of their love feasts with wine, brother/sister language, and holy kisses, and let their imaginations run wild: 
Your banquets are also well known and are spoken about everywhere. On a solemn day, all of you assemble together as the feast, along with your children, sisters, and mothers. People of every sex and age are present. After much feasting, when the group is boisterous and when incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, you throw a piece of meat just outside the reach of a dog that has been tied to the room’s lamp. In trying to reach the meat, the dog overturns the lamp and plunges the room into darkness. The incestuous lusts of those present are now unfettered, and nature takes its course in the dark. (32) 
I guess the early church wasn’t so uptight about appearances. These rumors spread because of the brotherly and sisterly love they had for one another. But they didn’t decide to soften their language. They didn’t respond to these accusations by distancing themselves from one another. They lived according to their proper identity in Christ and their joint mission. And Octavius responded to these outlandish claims from Caecilius, affirming the modest and chaste lives of Christian men and women that weren’t “a matter of outward show” but of joyful obedience to the Lord (53).
Even today, Christians are under the microscope. The church has tried to be a godly voice in the midst of a world seduced by the sexual revolution. But often, the church has swung the pendulum too far to the opposite extreme, also over-sexualizing men and women, by imposing guidelines on not only friendship between the sexes, but even on acquaintanceship. For both the sake of appearances and the threat of lust and sexual impropriety, Christians are often counseled not to text, email, share a lunch, ride in a car, or even share an elevator unchaperoned with the opposite sex. Is this the way we should be seen treating brothers and sisters in the Lord? Is this how we show the love of Christ to the watching world? 
For suggesting that men and women in the church should be the very people to model distinctive but not reductive sexuality to the world, that we are called to communion with the triune God and one another, and that brothers and sisters are to promote one another’s holiness in friendship, others have been suspicious of me. But the strange thing is that it isn’t the secular world accusing me of being a closet egalitarian, being a thin complementarian, ungodly and immodest, a danger to the OPC, feminist, and upholding a teaching that leads to adultery---it is fellow Christians.  
How do we handle rumors both inside and outside the church? Do we promote a behavior that is led by fear, or is our desire for obedience to the Lord one that can persevere despite what others think? Justin Martyr responded to attacks of judgment this way:
So that no one thinks I’m writing recklessly, we not only request the charges against us Christians be investigated, we demand it. If anyone can prove the charges they make against us are true, then punish us as we deserve. But if no one can convict Christians of anything wrong, justice forbids you to punish innocent people simply because of false rumors…
In short, it is our responsibility as Christians to bare ourselves before you---to enable all of you to inspect our lives and teachings. (74)
Martyr gives an account of what is really going on in their weekly meetings, holy kisses and all, and it is beautiful and pure. 
Kruger says, despite hacking off basically everyone, the early church did not waver:
But, here’s the key. Christians did not, for these reasons, decided to abandon, change, or modify their worship.  Despite the opposition, they stayed true to their practices and true to their Lord.
That’s a great lesson for today’s church.  Exclusive, Christ-centered, Scripture-based worship must continue to be the heartbeat of the modern church.
That is key! We are called to exclusive, Christ-centered, Scripture-based worship and living. How does this affect our relationships and service in the church? It costs us something. Dealing with the sin in our own hearts, confessing temptations, offering them to God, and choosing obedience and holy, purifying love is much more difficult than avoiding people. Challenges should not be ignored. But they don’t mean we aren’t called to intimate sibling communion with one another. They just mean that we need to grow.
What do both insiders and outsiders see when they examine us? Do they see growth? Purity? Love? Plenty of naïve Christians have committed sexual sin because they didn’t give proper thought to the implications of their identity in Christ or exercise wisdom and discernment in their relationships. This should be addressed with competent teaching, calls to personal responsibility, and discipline. But keeping an arm’s length away from half of our community doesn’t prepare us for our eschatological hope. Yes, we need to call out predators and sexual sin. Along with that, we also need to know appropriate, pure platonic love in the relationship that will outlast marriage and erotic love---siblingship. Let’s do the work and experience the joy we are called to in maturity.
Posted on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Both the secular society and the church have hardly mentioned one, enormous casualty of the sexual revolution---friendship. This latest story about a sexless marriage reads like a satire of its neglect, revealing a complete confusion of categories between friendship and marriage. Here is the opening paragraph:
When New York socialites Quentin Esme Brown and Peter Cary Peterson got hitched in Las Vegas over the weekend in front of a small group of friends — including Tiffany Trump, who acted as the flower girl — they knew that people would make some assumptions. Either they were madly in love or drunk, right? In reality, the best friends said they were neither. They’re planning to make theirs a sexless, open marriage, they explained, and this actually sounds like a pretty wise idea to relationship experts.
Quentin Esme Brown and Peter Cary Peterson. (Photo: Instagram/quentinesmebrown)
Sexless? Open? Wise? It’s easy to read this and lament about how they have the notion of marriage all wrong. And they do. But this whole story reveals that these NY socialites and the “experts” interviewed have not only lost the meaning of marriage, but of friendship as well. And a proper understanding of friendship is foundational to build from in something like marriage.
The so-called relationship experts interviewed concur that this is a wise idea. I would think that if one were a relationship expert, one would then know the categorical distinction between friendship and marriage---one is platonic, one is sexual. Friendship is not exclusive. Marriage is exclusive. You don't have a non-sexual marriage with a friend and have sexual relationships with everyone else, just like you don't stop making and building non-sexual friendships with others once you enter the sexual union of marriage. But the experts have a different take:
Susan Pease Gadoua, a licensed therapist and co-author of The New “I Do,” has yet to meet anyone else with this kind of marriage, but she says it fits in with the way she sees many people deciding to change the rules to suit their relationship needs…
“Basically, rather than being an emotion-based marriage, it’s a purpose-driven marriage, which is kind of a throwback to how we used to marry before the industrial revolution,” 
First of all, while this indeed exposes the problem with a merely emotion-based marriage, I have to pose the question: what is their friendship based on? The couple uses rather emotionally charged language to describe their friendship. Brown calls Peterson her “soulmate” and elaborates, “we are just each other’s hearts.” 
Peterson explains on his Instagram account, “Esme and I have taken progressive steps towards what we believe marriage should be. I need to be constantly growing, evolving, and progressing…we did this because we want to finalize our commitment to each other as life partners and best friends. Life is short and I just want to be happy.” 
And second of all, I’m pretty sure that part of the purpose-driven nature of marriages before the industrial revolution was that they were both exclusive and sexual. I wonder what the purpose of this non-sexual friend, open marriage is? The language of growing, evolving, and progressing is a bunch of psychological gobbledygook.
And how does one finalize a commitment to a friend? The very thought that one would have to marry a friend to show commitment to them reveals how disposable we view friendship as a whole. And the irony is not lost that a society that views marriage as a disposable agreement looks to it as a virtuous commitment in this case. The secular world has stripped sex from all of its meaning, oneness, relational value, fruit, danger, and commitment. Sex has been reduced to a recreational activity. Whereas, Christians are so reactive and guarded to this romanticized and sexualized age that we set marriage up as the ultimate relationship in which all of our commitment, passion, and intimacy is shared and invested. Friendship is minimized in both cases. 
The result is that we don’t know how to behave as lovers or as friends. If you want to keep a friendship platonic, marrying them is a bad idea! And if you want to make an exclusive commitment in marriage, having a sexual relationship with someone else is also a bad idea!
Friendship indeed calls us to worthy practices and commitment. Peterson and Brown are right not to want to minimize friendship like so many do. But while they are making a categorical mistake by thinking marriage is the highest expression of friendship, they are also on to something that so many have lost. Friendship is something you do. To be a friend, we need to exercise virtue. It requires moral excellence. This is indeed a demanding kind of moral excellence because it is not primarily for the benefit of ourselves, but through our own sacrifices for another. The beautiful paradox is that this others-centered virtue creates what we call friendship, enhancing the souls of all participants. Friends are advocates who promote one another’s holiness. That is a relationship, unlike marriage, that will carry on to the new heavens and the new earth.
Friendship is not merely companionship. It is not merely recognizing affection for another person. C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue” (The Four Loves, 57).  So I hope that marriages do have a foundation of friendship, even as it is a relationship with exclusive additional blessings and responsibilities.
Perterson and Brown are quite vague about their purpose in their friendship and their marriage, revealing their confusion about both relationships. Again, Lewis is instructive in explaining that the focus of a friendship isn’t on the friendship itself, but rather the pursuit of common interests and convictions. This is also what distinguishes friendship love from erotic love. “In some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship” (61). And yet we see the language from Peterson and Brown to be focused on their friendship rather than any actual common pursuit. What is it that they want to evolve to or grow in? 
Another “relationship expert” comments:
“To me it seems like they’re creating a family out of two people; it’s a family member you can always count on,” Maryland-based psychologist Samantha Rodman tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of these sorts of marriages are in response to society getting increasingly isolated, and people want to create a kinship model. You either have to be married or you have to be blood relatives; otherwise, you can walk away from each other.”
Real friends don’t have to marry to be able to count on each other. But it is very perceptive to note how our increasingly isolated society is longing for a kinship model. This is exactly what God gives us in his church, which is a committed body made up of brothers and sisters in Christ, spurring one another on and promoting one another’s holiness as we grow together in his mission of eternal communion with the Triune God and one another. God reveals himself to his people so that he can make friends with us. How well to we represent this to the watching world by our friendships?
Friendship requires rooted identity, mission, holistic value, purity, maturity, and growth. This is costly. Our Savior thought of the cost to be a friend to us, one that we could never afford, and then warned us to count the cost before becoming his disciples. Because of his sacrifice, I want to represent him by being a good friend.  Aelred of Rievaulx offers a mindset that will help us represent this in our own friendships: “You and I are here, and I hope that Christ is between us as a third…Gratefully let us welcome the place, the time, and the leisure.” (Spiritual Friendship, 1.1, 55).
Posted on Sunday, January 07, 2018 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
This book really piqued my interest when I saw its release. The title says it all: Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible. And a first look at the listing drew me in even more, as there is a scholarly, diverse group of contributors for each chapter covering women from the beginning with Eve, through the eras of the patriarchs, judges, kings, exiles, and some women from the New Testament as well.
The Introduction explains that this is a fresh look at some women in Scripture who have been given an unfair bad reputation. It also accounts for the diversity among the contributors: “a team of male and female scholars from different nationalities and ethnicities, as well as educational institutions and religious traditions…’all over the map’ on their view of women preachers and even their approaches to the women explored in this book. But they agree on this: We must visit what the Scriptures say about some Bible women we have sexualized, vilified, and/or marginalized. Because, above all, we must tell the truth about what the text says” (16). For this reason, it was a most refreshing read. “And time and time again, God’s heart for the silenced, the marginalized, the powerless, the Gentile, the outsider, was what had been missing” (16).  
The book isn’t a feminist male-bashing, but a Christ-focused endeavor that upholds the authority of his word. I appreciate how the editor, Sandra Glahn, included the varying views of the contributors. It highlights the unity in the essentials of the gospel, sharpens the reader and drives us to the biblical text, and prevents writing with feigned neutrality. 
The first chapter helps the reader to participate in reading with discernment by outlining the six questions each contributor brought to the text:
What does the text actually say?
What do I observe in and about the text?
What did this text mean to the original audience?
What was the point?
What truths in the text are timelessly relevant?
How does the part fit the whole?
For the most part, I believe this book succeeded in its mission and interacted well with historical interpretations. The vixens they vindicated were Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Deborah (and Jael), Huldah, Vashti, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, and Junia/Joanna. I was happy to see Richard Bauckham’s work, Gospel Women, footnoted by different contributors, as it was such fascinating read for me. 
I thought I would highlight two chapters, even though I enjoyed interacting with all of them.
Tamar: The Righteous Prostitute
When you think of Tamar, what’s the first word that comes to your mind? Usually, the first thing we think is prostitute. But Carolyn Custis James makes a good case that righteous is the defining word in this account. That’s a very different word! And it is unexpectantly Judah who calls her this. Tamar’s account is one that we wrestle with. Yes, she secures the line of Judah, the ancestors of Jesus. But she does this by tricking her father-in-law to sleep with her. She seems a bit shady to us. But Custis James points out that Tamar isn’t a “skeleton in the closet” to her descendants. Of all places to bring up Tamar, she is mentioned in the marital blessing of Boaz and Ruth: “Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:12, NIV). “Significantly, both Kind David and his son Absalom named their daughters ‘Tamar’ (2 Sam. 13:1; 14:27).
Custis James explains that Tamar’s descendants name their children after her, Judah calls her righteous, and Matthew includes her in the genealogy of Christ because "God chose a marginalized Canaanite woman to put the power of his gospel on display and to advance his redemptive purposes for Judah and the world” (48). We do need to wrestle with this account. “Tamar’s story makes no sense unless we see how she gets caught in the crossfire of primogeniture, both within Judah’s family of origin and among his sons” (34). Scripture exposes the abusive social system that arises in patriarchy. “It mobilizes a marginalized woman to act with extraordinary boldness to reveal a patriarch’s hypocrisy thus leading to his renewal.” While it’s not by any means a “recommendation of prostitution as a means of furthering the redemptive plan of God or in any situation,” Tamar acted in the one way she had power to ensure the duty of childbearing in her dead husband’s name that she was honor-bound to do (48). Tamar wasn’t actually a prostitute, but she was willing to appear and act as one to get Judah to fulfill the law to preserve his son’s family line. And what a family line that is.
Huldah: Malfunction with the Wardrobe-Keeper’s Wife
I was so glad this was a chapter in the book. Sadly, whenever I begin talking about Huldah I get blank stares. And so this chapter fittingly begins with the subtitle, “Huldah Who?” Christa L. McKirland reasons, “Huldah’s vindication comes through the simple act of making her visible once again” (213). True to the that.
I don’t understand how she is so ignored, as if her inclusion as the prophetess sought out for Josiah after the Book of the Law was found was some sort of accidental vestige. There is so much to pay attention to in this 2 Kings 22 passage and 2 Chronicles 34 parallel. Here we have a prophetess, who Wilda Gafney describes as “arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah scroll deposited in the temple treasury,” authenticating the Word of God, largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy (222). Here is a bright and shining account of a woman authoritatively confirming an important text in the cannon of Scripture to “the most righteous king in the divided kingdom’s history” (231). And it wasn’t because there were no good men available. This was the same time that Jeremiah and Zephaniah were prophets---that’s right, I said Jeremiah and Zephaniah!! Huldah “played a significant role in the last major reformation in the kingdom of Judah before its final downfall” (213).
Josiah sends out his dignitaries to inquire of the word of the Lord once the Book of the Law was discovered. It’s sad to read the explanations some commentators give for why they seek Huldah and not Jeremiah or Zephaniah, but I don’t have space to go there. McKirland explains how the sending out of the dignitaries to her rather than summoning her directly to the king should queue the reader in on the respect both the king and his dignitaries have for her. This is a matter of high importance, as Josiah laments, “for great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13b). She answers with the “Thus says the Lord” authoritative formula of a prophet, speaks in the first person voice of God, confirms the judgment Josiah anticipated, the details of the charge, and the delay of God’s wrath because Josiah’s “heart was tender and [he] humbled [him]self before the Lord” (vv 16-20).  In this, Huldah authenticates what Josiah recognized as the word of God, the rediscovery of Deuteronomy. “In the same way that women were the first to testify to the resurrection of Christ, the living Word, how poetic might it be that the first person to authenticate the written Word might also have been a woman?” (222)
No, women were not left out of active traditioning in testifying to and passing down the faith. As a matter of fact, in Scripture we see a testimony to the opposite. 
As Bauckham points out, the women’s voice in Scripture corrects any promotion of androcentrism. The canon itself corrects this kind of promotion (see Gospel Women, 15). And as Carolyn Custis James points out, “stories such as Tamar’s, Rahab’s, and that of the sinful woman who wept and poured perfume on Jesus’s feet give the church opportunities to raise the subject of prostitution and other forms of sexual abuse and to confront an issue to which the church cannot in good conscience turn a blind eye” (41). God sees and cares for all of his people. And these gynocentric texts in his word are rich with doctrine-meets-real life, history-meets-experience and depth of insight. 
So I’m thankful for the vindication done by these contributors.
Posted on Friday, December 22, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Evil Amy the Greater has submitted an entertaining year in review for MoS:
Another year has passed us by, and as always, the Mortification of Spin co-hosts have not disappointed us. These lapsed Baptists now proclaiming the wonders of Presbyterianism have managed to do it again, stoking the fires of controversy while managing to get a good word in now and then. Let’s take a look at what they accomplished in 2017…
Housewife theologian Aimee Byrd continued to bask in the glory of the release of No Little Women, which has promoted a good discussion about the importance of solid, biblically based literature for ladies in the church, as well as ways in which elders can help the women under their care. Aimee also got to work writing a new book about the importance of brother/sister relationships in the Body of Christ. We have great hopes that people will misunderstand it entirely when it is released sometime next year. Nevertheless, Aimee remains committed to increasing our appreciation of the “household” aspect of God’s Church.
Apart from writing books, Aimee spoke at numerous women’s conferences and even one or two that were attended by some men. (The horror!) She wrote many blog articles about what it means to be feminine from a biblical perspective and dove into the controversy surrounding the Pence Rule. On a personal level, she sent her firstborn child off to college, which marked an important transition for the family. She also invented the concept of the “book flight” and continued to bond with her son over their mutual love of martial arts.
Texan Todd Pruitt (for so we must always introduce him) continued in his primary role as teaching elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley (for so we must always introduce it). His church was proud to host the Blue Ridge Bible Conference, which focused on the importance of scripture and the fact that “God has spoken.” As part of this conference, he managed to get both Aimee and Carl in his home at the same time. He also joined a long line of dignitaries who have appeared on the Presbycast podcast.
Never one to shy away from a debate, Todd continued his efforts to call the PCA back to its biblical roots. He wrote about the need for racial reconciliation that is based on gospel truth rather than political ideology or social theory. This attracted some significant criticism, and Todd made efforts to engage with others in a gracious manner without surrendering on the main points. He came away from his visit to the PCA General Assembly somewhat encouraged and has every hope that the denomination can continue to be a strong defender of scriptural and confessional principles. On a personal level, Todd suffered the loss of his beloved father this year, but he was glad to preside over a funeral that was filled with gospel truth in addition to honoring his father’s life.
That brings us to Carl Trueman, token foreigner of the group. As usual, Carl was busier than any human being has a right to be. He celebrated the release of Grace Alone, his new book that is part of the 5 Solas series from Zondervan. As a church historian in a year celebrating the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, he was in high demand as a speaker. This allowed him to share with audiences the importance of the theological principles that drove the Reformation, as well as the remarkable lives of the men and women who participated in it. Perhaps the highlight in this regard was participating in a PBS documentary on the life of Martin Luther.
It wasn’t all about the Reformation for Carl, though. He continued writing for First Things, where he made the somewhat startling announcement mid-year that he had been declared “The Most Dangerous Man in Christendom”. For the most part, he restricted his writing there to addressing cultural issues of the day. For good measure, Carl also released a book with respected Lutheran scholar Robert Kolb called From Wittenberg to Geneva. It examines points of disagreement between the two traditions during the Reformation period. With the arrival of autumn, Carl took on a new role as a James Madison Fellow at Princeton University. He will use this fellowship to write a book on evolving notions of gender throughout history and how they have brought us to where we are today. He also pastors an OPC congregation, by the way. When he was not doing all of this, Carl celebrated his younger son’s college graduation with the rest of his family and spent a lot of time watching Swedish crime dramas. Oh, and he and his wife visited Rome. (Not to convert. Repeat, not to convert.)
On the Mortification of Spin podcast, the two amigos and one amiga managed to interview a number of awesome guests this year, including but not limited to Kelly Kapic, Darryl Hart, James White, Michael Allen, James Dolezal, Rosaria Butterfield, David Helm, and Timothy Witmer. They discussed lustful thoughts, loneliness, Catholicism, social justice, lament, Machen, the doctrine of God, evangelicalism, and perhaps most ironically for Carl and Todd, beauty. We also learned that Todd disapproves of yoga almost as strongly as Aimee likes it. A live show was recorded at the Westminster Preaching Conference, and another show was livestreamed to viewers on the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.
Here is how you can pray for the Spin co-hosts in the coming year:
- For Aimee…Pray for the editing process of her upcoming book and that the result would be both God honoring and helpful on a practical level. Pray for her efforts to encourage women in their pursuit of good theology. Pray that God will honor her desire to serve His Body in this way, and that He will prepare peoples’ hearts to hear the message. Pray for her transition to being the mother of a college kid and only having two birds left in the nest. 
- For Todd…Pray for his continued shepherding of Covenant Presbyterian Church, and that God would continue to protect and bless his ministry and the congregation as a whole. Pray for him to have wisdom as he seeks to address certain difficulties within the PCA. Pray for his family as they also have children in the transition phase from high school to college. Pray that Todd will be an encouragement to his mother at this time when they are mourning the loss of his father.
- For Carl…Pray for his ongoing research as part of the fellowship program at Princeton, and that he will produce a book that brings clarity to the present cultural situation. Pray for Westminster Philadelphia, as it continues to train the next generation of pastors. Pray that he will be able to focus his efforts on those projects where his talents are most needed for God’s kingdom. Pray also for his congregation at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, and that he will be encouraged in his role as a minister of God’s Word.
If there’s spin in 2018, you can be sure that these three will seek to mortify it. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Amy Mantravadi blogs at and also regularly for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. She is the author of The Girl Empress: The Chronicle of Maud, Vol. 1.
Posted on Thursday, December 07, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
What does friendship mean to you? Is erotic love in marriage the only real valuable outlet for our affection? Does all affection lead to erotic love? Christians have another relationship to consider as well, one that will last to the new heavens and the new earth. We are siblings to one another in Christ. And just like siblingship is our longest lasting relationship on this earth, sacred siblingship is our longest lasting relationship, enduring on the new earth. That’s got to mean something, right? How do you value your friends? How do you value your siblings?
My upcoming book, Why Can’t We Be Friends?, emphasizes the great honor and responsibility that we have to promote one another’s holiness in friendship. How can that become an ordinary exercise in sibling friendship? Some would say that keeping our friends accountable by fencing our relationships between the sexes with extra biblical rules such as the infamous Mike Pence Rule or Billy Graham Rule are doing just that. But the pursuit of holiness and purity isn’t quite that easy, and we can actually stunt our growth with universal, extra biblical restrictions. We are called to love one another, not to be legalistic busybodies. And a discerning and God-glorifying sibling love wisely relates on a case-by-case basis. 
Promoting holiness in a sibling presupposes discernment of their strengths and weaknesses. Natural siblings are really good at this, aren’t they? Selfish siblings will capitalize on another sibling’s weakness and compete with his strengths. But we are called to love. That means that we will want to sharpen the strengths of our siblings, we will not put stumbling blocks in an area of weakness, and we will participate in their growth in holiness.
When Cain wittingly replies to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, he unwittingly reveals so much about siblingship. His retort reveals that while playing dumb and denying this basic truth, he actually does know what it means to be a sibling. It’s like saying, “Abel is just my brother; that doesn’t mean anything.” His reply suggests that Abel is on his own. There is no gratitude for this gift of a sibling, no commitment to him, no common mission, no connection whatsoever. No love. What he is really doing in his reply is rebelliously rejecting who he is as a sibling. But Cain isn’t God. And he can’t just declare the way things will be. He is a brother. And therefore, he is his brother’s keeper. Even murder does not change this truth. Abel’s blood still cried out to God. Likewise, the sacred siblingship relationship Christian brothers and sisters share is a gift that comes with responsibilities. 
Cain also reveals in this reply the minimum a brother should do---to be a keeper. As important and honorable as that is, sacred siblings are called to more than keeping; we are called to promoting. That is what our Elder Brother is doing for us, and what we are called to do for one another. We already know how we are supposed to do this, and yet it is often minimized in our actions. There are simple yet profound practices that affirm our gratitude and commitment to one another, further our common mission, and enhance our sibling connection. “Christian community begins in gratitude, is sustained by our promises and truthfulness, and is expressed in hospitality” (Christine Pohl, Living Into Community, 13). Centered on Christ’s person and work, these practices of gratitude, truth telling, promise making, and hospitality are foundational to promoting holiness in one another. 
We say that we are thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ but often our responses reveal our ingratitude. Dan Brennan points out a common response that unwittingly reveals our hearts toward one another. Because we live in such a romanticized and sexualized age where every meaningful relationship with the opposite sex is expected to result in the bedroom, we often try to react by minimizing friendship. We set marriage up as the ultimate relationship in which all of our commitment, passion, and intimacy is shared and invested. So when asked about our affections for anyone who is not a spouse or who is not a romantic interest we respond, “He’s just a friend.”  What a brutal thing to say! What are we unwittingly revealing with this response? With the word just, we are denying the gift of friendship and instead “convey[ing] a distance from vows, commitments, passion---a peripheral existence to the heart of the family” (Brennan, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, 107). What a rebellious expression of ingratitude. 
You are your brothers’ and sisters’ keeper and promoter. And these practices of gratitude, promise making, truth telling, and hospitality are responses to the household we have been brought into and the God that we have. He is full of grace, giving his people what they do not deserve and could never dream of. We aren’t entitled to his affection and all that comes with it---he chose us in Christ. He doesn’t just invite us in; he makes us part of the family. He does this by revealing the truth of who we are and who he is. And our Lord doesn’t shirk from commitment; he makes covenantal promises and faithfully carries them through all the way. I’m not “just a daughter.”
Let’s not be ungrateful for the friendships that we have been given and the esteem of carrying out those responsibilities. Friendship is not a downgrade from erotic love. Unlike our marriages, friendship will last to the new heavens and the new earth. I would never call Matt, “just my husband.” I would never say Luke, Brooke, Eli, and Brody are “just my brothers and sister.” Likewise, it’s a great honor to be called a friend.
Posted on Thursday, November 16, 2017 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Yesterday I shared an excellent article Katelyn Beaty wrote for the New York Times entitled A Christian Case Against the Pence Rule. And whenever the Pence Rule, which is associated with the Billy Graham Rule of not eating or meeting alone with a woman, is discussed on social media you can see its polarizing effect. It has regained traction as numerous Hollywood sex scandals are exposed. For example, Beaty quotes conservative radio host and blogger Erick Erikson, saying, “The very same left-wing activists and Hollywood stars now running away from Harvey Weinstein were assailing Mike Pence for having a rule of not dining alone or taking meetings alone with women,” insinuating that if everyone would just follow the Pence Rule none of this will happen. 
While Beaty gives a nod to the motives of many who promote and adhere to the Pence Rule in one form or another, she denies it’s effectiveness:  “The Pence rule is inadequate to stop Weinstein-ian behavior. In fact, it might be its sanctified cousin. It’s time for men in power to believe their female peers when they say that the rule hurts more than helps.” Abusers are always going to find ways to abuse, but Christians are called to something higher than these extra-biblical rules. We are called to uphold godly behavior and promotion of holiness with everyone we interact with. We are called to a holy communion with God that also overflows into a holy communion with one another. We do this as sexual beings, but our sexuality doesn’t merely express itself in the physical love making that a wedded couple exclusively shares. Our sexuality also expresses itself in brother and sisterhood as we relate to everyone.
So, imagine how reductive it is for a woman to see a Tweet from a popular pastor such as this one, with other popular pastors retweeting in approval:

What does this say about a woman such as myself? It insinuates that I’m such a threat to a man’s faithfulness and a pastor’s reputation that I’m barely worth the risk of a ride to the hospital. I am in need of some good Samaritans! This parable particularly comes to mind because the religious people in it didn’t want to get polluted by the dying man. Comments like this tweet insinuate this same kind of pollution in association with women. As pastor Sam Powell put it, such harsh boundaries pretend like “fornication is like the flu, and you accidently catch it if you happen to be close to a woman.”  Or maybe it is a Christian’s reputation that is polluted. (Sam also has a great article debunking the “appearance of evil” here.) Either way, Jesus calls us to be like the Samaritan, whom had nothing to lose because he was already considered polluted, or ceremonially defiled, so he was free to properly care for another human being in need. This is how Christ loved us. This is how we should love one another. Powell bids us, “Take up your cross with him; despise the shame. Make yourself of no reputation. ‘Let this mind be in you, that was also in Christ Jesus.’
“Perhaps it is time that we start thinking about love, rather than reputation.”   
Stealing Unearned Virtue
Some of the comments defending the Pence Rule under the link I shared are emotionally charged and hurtful, resorting to the conversation-closer of name-calling. This is what Alan Jacobs calls commitment to non-thinking. In them, Beaty is called brain dead and her article is referred to as a moronic idea, full of lies, which like the New York Times, should be ignored. Those who defend the Pence Rule imagine that those who critique it are either extremely naïve or don’t value faithfulness in marriage. I would like to suggest that those who viscerally defend the Pence Rule are falling under what Dietrich von Hildebrand, in his book In Defense of Purity, calls the spell of negative sexuality and are falling short of apprehending purity. After all, one can avoid having an affair and not truly embrace purity. While faithfulness in marriage is expected, it is not necessarily virtuous if it’s a response to a perceived self-importance, the result of an unsensuous temperament, or due to lack of opportunity. As von Hildebrand teaches, purity is a virtue as it treasures “free coopera[tion] in its production,” and as it “involves a habitual response to some value.” 
So the question to ask is what is your perception of value? Is it your career or ministry, therefore you must guard any appearance that may give people ammunition against your image? Is your value the perfect marriage, even at the expense of valuing others? (And what kind of marriage is it when you have to reduce all others of the opposite sex to value your spouse?) Or is your value to “live, so to speak, in the sight (in conspectu) of God’s purity, the fountainhead of all purity, and [to] respond to it with the permanent and habitual assent of his will” (43)? Because purity is supernatural. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36).
Von Hildebrand insists on purity as a positive virtue that “always lives in an attitude of reverence for God and his creation, and therefore reveres sex, its profundity, and its sublime and divinely ordained meaning” (40). The sexual gift in marriage is therefore positively embraced and treasured so as not to be reduced to a base instinct. “The moment I treat physical sex as something complete in itself and take no account of its profoundest function, namely in wedded love, I falsify its ultimate significance and become blind to the mystery it contains” (7). This reverence for God and high view of sex also promotes a corresponding response to value others in their dignity as people made in the image of God. 
So the pure person does not behave prudishly in producing an “oppressive atmosphere” toward others, but “is distinguished by a limpid radiance of the soul” (41). Rejecting the negative value of impurity or sexual transgression should never lead to rejecting the value of another person. The virtue of purity rightly orients sensuality before God and others. Those who are oppressive to this beauty “miss the peculiar freedom of the pure; the unconfined spirituality, the transparence, the radiance which is theirs alone. On the contrary, they are in bondage, their spirit is opaque and transmits no clear light, and the hang about every hole and corner in which sexuality lurks unbeknown…Since they have never uprooted and overcome this attraction, nor even struggled against it in open combat, every other department of their life is infected and poisoned by this disposition” (24).
So while it may seem safe to impose rules that separate ordinary encounters with the opposite sex, it isn’t the virtue of purity. It is actually over-sexualization, or as Beaty calls it, the sanctified cousin of Weinstein-ian behavior. No, the virtue of purity perceives and responds to the holistic value in human beings.
We are called to Christian love and fellowship as brothers and sisters. That means we promote one another’s holiness. It also means that we take sin seriously as well as our own ability to fall into it. This doesn’t call us to “the false modesty of the prude” but to a “sincere humility” (42). Therefore, rather than extra-biblical rules, we are to do the hard work of rightly orienting our affections and exercising wisdom and discernment with others.  We don’t think of a bunch of reasons to be alone with the opposite sex, we don’t’ naively assume everyone is safe, and we don’t overestimate our own virtue. We live before God in every situation. And in this manner, we won’t scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business such as serving someone by giving them a ride or coworkers sharing a meal in a public place.
Wikipedia defines pickpocketing as “a form of larceny that involves the stealing of money or other valuables from the person of a victim without them noticing the theft at the time. It may involve considerable dexterity and a knack for misdirection.” I see the Pence Rule as pickpocketing purity, stealing unearned virtue at the expense of another’s dignity. Although I think that many who uphold the Rule are the ones misdirected, wanting to exercise a virtue without noticing that positive work they need to put in.