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?
 
 
Posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
“Just think positive.”
“Sending positive thoughts your way.”
 
What is behind statements like these that are so often given in encouragement? Laura Martin has written a book showcasing how the New Thought movement has undermined Christianity. “New Thought believed in a mystical power of thoughts that could alter our outward reality” (xi). Martin highlights this movements roots in the occult, mystical, and Eastern religious beliefs.
 
Positively Powerless is an introductory book to the movement, written for a popular audience. The reader will learn the most about the roots of this movement and how it seeped into evangelical circles in Chapter One, "Thou Shalt Not Be Negative." Martin pinpoints the Protestant pastor Norman Vincent Peale as a popularizer of positive thinking notions in the mid-twentieth century. But she then peels back the layers all the way to eighteenth century Europe to get to the origins of the movement. One interesting thing I learned is where we get the term mesmerized. Franz Anton Mesmer “theorized that all of life contained an invisible fluid---an unseen energy---that he called ‘animal magnetism’” (4). He worked to put people in a trance-like state to recalibrate this supposed energy imbalance. This is when it was observed that people in this trance-like state were susceptible to suggestion, leading to the practice of hypnosis.
 
This was my favorite chapter, as Martin traces how this occultist and mystical movement so powerfully entered into American evangelicalism through key figures and books, to the point where we are all affected. She then outlines why this positive thinking movement is in conflict with orthodox Christianity. It raises some good questions about how we think about God, ourselves, and the Christian life. She unmasks the positive thinking movement in Christianity, exposing its lack of power to deal with real life suffering and our true need for redemption.
 
Martin then moves on in the book to discuss why Christians have been so susceptible to this movement and to present the good news of the gospel. Our own pride, self-absorption, desire for immediate gratification, therapeutic and prosperity-driven culture, and false piety make us easy prey for clinging to enticing teachings on the power of our mind and false optimism. The power of positive thinking is powerless to deal with our real problem of sin and the struggle for a Christian living in between the already inauguration of Christ’s kingdom and the not yet of its consummation. Martin doesn’t combat the positive thinking movement with negative thinking. Rather, she calls the reader to biblical discernment, teaching a realistic thinking that is saturated in the truths laid out for us in Scripture. In this, she highlights that it is God’s glory that we need, not our own.
 
Positively Powerless is a short, unintimidating read that will open your eyes to the pervasiveness and powerlessness of the positive thinking movement. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but crave a more academic version, further examining the movement and it’s penetration into the Christian faith. I think that the author is capable of writing such a book, but kept to her key points to introduce the movement and pinpoint how it has affected our thinking, thus hopefully reaching a wider audience. Martin provided a biblical worldview with which to contrast it and to equip the reader to then use discernment when encountered by the language of the movement. It whet my appetite to learn more.
Posted on Wednesday, February 10, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Well, here we are again. My Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with comments about Lent, and I'm still eating fasnachts for breakfast. Carl wrote a great piece about Ash Wednesday for Ref21 last year that I wish all Protestants would read before posting. I found it to be a great reread this morning with my leftover fasnacht, heated for 9 seconds in the microwave, and cup of mudd. Here's a teaser:
It's that time of year again: the ancient tradition of Lent, kick-started by Ash Wednesday. It is also the time of year when us confessional types brace ourselves for the annual onslaught of a more recent tradition: that of evangelical pundits, with no affiliation to such branches of the church, writing articles extolling Lent's virtues to their own eclectic constituency.
 
Liturgical calendars developed in the fourth century and beyond, as Christianity came to dominate the empire. Cultural dominance requires two things: control of time and space.  The latter could be achieved through churches and relics. The former was achieved through developing a calendar which gave the rhythm of time a specifically Christian idiom. It remains a key part of Roman, Orthodox and later Anglican church practice.
 
The rise of Lent in non-Roman, Orthodox or Anglican circles is a fascinating phenomenon. I remember being on the campus of Princeton Theological Seminary a few years ago on Ash Wednesday and being greeted by a young man emerging from Miller Chapel with a black smudged cross on his forehead. That the bastion of nineteenth century Old School Presbyterianism had been reduced to this - an eclectic grab-bag of liturgical practices - struck me as sad. Old School Presbyterianism is a rich enough tradition not to need to plunder the Egyptians or even the Anglicans.  
 
I can understand Anglicans observing Lent. Hey, I can even approve of them doing so when I am in an exceptionally good mood or have just awoken from a deep sleep and am still a little disoriented. It is part of their history. It connects to their formal liturgical history. All denominations and Christian traditions involve elements that are strictly speaking unbiblical but which shape their historic identity. For Anglicans, the liturgical calendar is just such a thing. These reasons are not compelling in a way that would make the calendar normative for all Christians, yet I can still see how they make sense to an Anglican. But just as celebrating July the Fourth makes sense for Americans but not for the English, the Chinese or the Lapps, so Ash Wednesday and Lent really make no sense to those who are Presbyterians, Baptists, or free church evangelicals.
 
Read Carl's post on reformation21.
Posted on Thursday, February 04, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Have you ever read something that you thought was really good, only to return to it years later with embarrassment for your poor discernment? Or, have you ever really enjoyed a movie, only to be crushed when someone points out how bad the acting was or something disturbing about the message? I think most of us have been there. But it’s even tougher when you are on the other end. Have you ever been in a conversation with a person you care about who is recommending a so-called Christian book that you know is full of bad theology? What do you do then?
 
That’s a question that I get asked often, and one to which you can’t give a simple answer. I find myself in this situation more often than I can count, which is why one of my biggest passions in writing is to challenge Christians to read with discernment. But writing about it and actually talking someone through it are not the same. After an encounter with a friendly woman in the grocery store, a thoughtful woman emailed me asking, “What are some ways Reformed Christians can engage in meaningful conversation with evangelical Christians struggling in their walks with the Lord without trashing their choice in movie/books & devotionals?” 
 
Let’s face it, we become defensive when our judgment is challenged. And who wants to be the continual Debbie Downer in the conversation? And yet at the same time, you want to help encourage people whom you care about to discerningly engage with the content of what they are reading. Truth is important and our theology shapes the way we live and interact. 
 
I haven’t written much about this particular element of discernment, the awkward conversations, because I struggle through them and look back with regret just like the people who ask me about it. But I want to get better at it. So here are some guidelines that I thought may be helpful for all of us:
 
Think ahead---I have failed in so many of these encounters because I haven’t thought ahead. I may have done plenty of thinking ahead about a book, maybe even read it myself and written a critical review. But I don’t think ahead about how to carefully engage someone who is caught up in its teachings. When a friend begins talking about a book he has really been enjoying, your first response shouldn’t be to immediately kick into book review mode and provide the matches for the book burning. Trust me, I have learned the hard way. Which leads to my next point.
 
Don’t Tell Them How to Think---We want to encourage one another to think critically and to read for understanding, which means we want our friends to actually think for themselves. When we notice a lack of discernment, it is easy to want to “fix the problem” and start downloading all the essentials of the faith that this friend has apparently missed all her life and install alarm bells that will help her recognize when an author has left the station. But most of us did not become discerning because we were offered a crash course in the grocery store. Maturity in this area usually happens because we were seeking theological answers as we went through some kind of crisis of our own, whether major or minor. In this way, God has even used the books with poor theology that I have read in my earlier years as a Christian. Whatever may have been attractive about them, their solutions weren’t all that satisfying and I had more questions. We can value our conversation partner as a person by finding out where she is theologically and encouraging her to think for herself. 
 
Embrace This Opportunity--- If you have heard of the book and have some red flags, don’t lie and pretend like you haven’t and plaster on that forced smile. That is far more insulting to your conversation partner than the honesty she deserves. If she brings up a book in conversation, she is trying to be engaging by sharing something from her reading. What is it? It’s so easy for me to hear the title, to not want to go there because I know that it might get sensitive, play it off like I don’t know much about it, and quickly change the subject. Meanwhile, inside my head I'm screaming whyyyy, or not you too! That isn’t respecting the person at all.
 
Ask Questions--- Something is attractive about this book, which is why she is talking about it. So connecting this with the last points, how can you be honest about your own thoughts on a book while engaging in those of your friend? There are all kinds of responses, but you will have to move outside of your comfort zone. Think of it like that moment right before a hug. Sometimes there are the awkward few seconds of the unspoken, are we going to hug?, but someone has to break through the barrier and initiate. It’s worth it. So you could say something like, “Yes, I’ve heard of that book but have had some concerns about it; tell me about what you’ve read.” From there, you can get an idea about what she likes about the book and you can ask some questions to get her thinking a little more critically maybe. She may even ask you about what your concerns were, and you can have an opportunity to share that. 
 
Ask if You Can Share a Book Review---When I first entered the realm of reading Christian books, I quickly learned to check out some book reviews to help me size up a prospective book purchase, or to learn more about a book others were talking about. I often find that those who lack discernment skills also aren’t much for reading reviews. Maybe you could be the first to expose him to some thoughtful critique. So the conversation may turn to, “You know, I’ve heard of that book and have read some engaging critique. I wonder what you would think about that, having read the book for yourself? Can I email one to you?” And then do the work to find a good review that you think your friend would interact with. Please understand, this approach is different from, “Well you should read what [insert discerning blogger] said about that book, I agree with him. I’ll send you the review.” 
 
Have You Actually Read the Book?---A book review is not the same as reading the book. Trust me, I get it. You only have so much reading time and you don’t want to waste money or valuable time on reading bad books. But there are times when it is helpful to do so. First of all, maybe the reviews you have read have not represented the author’s message well after all. That is what your conversation partner will likely be thinking. If he asks you to read it, or makes the comment that you haven’t actually read it, are you willing to do that? Sometimes I think we should be---not every time. You may have multiple friends or church members talking about the same book. Maybe you should read it then. And don’t read it just to trash it and show you were right. I know how tempting that is! Read it with the spirit of the thoughtful woman who wrote me in mind. And if you are an elder or a pastor, I highly recommend being in touch with what people are reading in your congregation. Reading the book will give you credibility then for my last suggestion.
 
Recommend Another Book---If someone is eating Salisbury steak and you offer them a filet mignon, she is going to see what she’s been missing. So when you pick up on the latest popular books promoting bad theology, have some specially selected finer books to offer up. This takes some investigating about what the reader was thinking she was getting from the poor theology and supplying those nutrients from a rich source that will be a good match for her. Maybe you could say, “Sure, I’ll borrow your book when you’re done with it. Do you want to swap? I have one that I think you would really like.”
 
None of us want to be bad readers. So let’s be careful not to treat people that way. We want to help sharpen one another’s thinking and grow in our understanding as we make discoveries and seek the truth. These are just some suggestions for what I know is a tough situation. Too often, I have been the model of what not to do and so I offer these from reflection on my own mistakes and experiences. Please, if any of you have had success in this area, share your experiences and tips in the comments.
 
Posted on Monday, January 25, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I’ve been a little outspoken about my apprehensiveness when it comes to niche Bibles. We have done an MoS podcast on the topic even. Many of them tend to trivialize God’s Word in my opinion, so we need to use discernment when we are looking at this market. I’ve recently encountered a new trend among women to do some “artistic” journaling in their Bibles. Take a look at this link to see what I am talking about in detail. For this new fad, women are buying particular journaling Bibles that have blank columns either on the outside or inside of the page. There’s a whole line of Bibles one can purchase now for “creative journaling.” 
 
And before I critique this, let me just say that I’m all for art. It was actually part of my major. I even like doodling. I think there are some talented doodlers out there and that is pretty cool. I understand being inspirited to paint, draw, or sculpt after spending time in God’s Word. I am pro-art. I even understand there is a place for creative journaling. I've seen some impressive note-taking and reflection using this genre, even sermon notes. But what I am talking about is more like turning your Bible reading into craft time.
 
Women have begun Pinterest and Instagram-worthy doodling in these Bibles. So while reading the Sermon on the Mount, you may feel inspired to paint yellow and green swatches all across the page of your Bible and stencil “consider the lilies” with your markers. Maybe you’d want to do a mini collage of flowers and birds on that page with magazine cutouts. These women read their Bibles with stamps, stickers, decorative masking tape, watercolors, acrylic paint, patterned scissors, decorative paperclips, glitter, and artist brush pens. The opportunities are endless! It’s like scrapbooking on crack! 
 
Now, I love to doodle, but I think it’s highly inappropriate to doodle all over God’s Word. And this is doodle-for-show. I get it when people like to add a visual element to learning, but this is not really a method that would help someone truly study God's Word. So you paint an abstract scene of lilies in a field over a whole page of the Sermon on the Mount. You've then made a serious sermon, given by the Son of God himself, pretty. I don't think that gets to the thrust of God's Word there, not even if you mark it with a decorative tabby that reads “worry less” in calligraphy. But it's a great way to sell more specialty Bibles, along with "Christian" art supplies, and get women excited about gathering together to show off their creative godliness. It guarantees they will be posting shots of their “quiet time” on Pinterest and Instagram. It’s hard enough for women to carve out time to read their Bibles regularly. This seems to add to the supplies and expectation rather than help.
 
Do we really want to trivialize God’s Word in such a way as to play dress-up with it? And what are we really learning? This creative art Bible journaling is all about me! Now most of us will never become seminary students, but do we want to remain in a perpetual elementary state of growth in the Word? It’s not cute!
 
Do This, Not That
 
I think there is a good reason the Bible doesn’t come with pictures. But maybe writing down your thoughts, questions, or personal study notes does help you learn while you are reading Scripture. Those Bibles that have empty columns for note-taking can be helpful. I’ve said before that I like using Reformation Heritage Books’ Journibles, where I can write Scripture word-for-word on one page, with a corresponding page for note-taking.
 
 
Crossway has recently sent me their new Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition, that offers a whole blank corresponding page of space for journaling your notes while studying Scripture. It’s not a Bible that I would carry around with me to church, as all the blank pages make it twice as big, but it can work nicely for doing a study at home. The quality of the Bible is good, so if you are fine with the big size it would travel well. And this is something that would even be interesting to return to later to check out my notes. 
 
 
So there are other options that seem much more appropriate if we want to journal while reading Scripture and still treat God’s Word with reverence. But even with journaling, we need to make sure we are handling God’s Word seriously and not just customizing it to our own little stories. We are the ones who should be shaped by the Word, not the other way around. 
Posted on Thursday, January 21, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
Today I realized what one of my main aims is in every blog post---to get you, the reader, to stay with me more than ten seconds and actually focus your attention on one thing. It occurred to me as I was reading Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, that every time we jump on the Internet, we are in a sense saddling up on the mechanical bull. “The Net is, by design, an interruption system, a machine geared for dividing attention” (132). Carr reveals study after study documenting how the internet really is changing our brains, making it much more difficult to retain information, comprehend what we are reading, and discover its meaningfulness.
 
You see, I’ve probably already lost you. Hang on, dang it! If you’re still with me, I know you’ve probably read that last line because I also learned how we have adapted to reading online by skimming in an “F” pattern. And that line would probably count for the second horizontal stroke, so I will try to make sure I put all the other important stuff on the left side of the page.
 
Anyway, what’s going on is that every time you see a notification pop on your screen, notice a hyperlink in the text, or any other Internet-ninja distraction occurs, it’s like the jolt from the mechanical bull. It’s almost as if we are having little mental concussions all day! “Every time we shift our attention, our brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources” (133). “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links” (127). And so, when we hop on the bull, we begin strategizing the ride.
 
A team of German researchers conclude, ”Most Web pages are viewed for ten seconds or less. Fewer than one in ten page views extend beyond two minutes, and a significant portion of those seem to involve ‘unattended browser windows…left open in the background of the desktop’…[These] results also reinforce something that Nielson wrote in 1997 after his first study of online reading. ‘How do users read the web?’ he asked then. His succinct answer: ‘They don’t’” (135-136).
 
Of course, I’ve revealed my bleak chances as a blogger to have you still reading this article. But if your head hasn’t been banged around too much today, and you are one of the internet cowboys who can persevere longer than 10 seconds, this all leads me to a point other than blogging. These studies show how completely differently we read digital words from words on a physical page. In fact, Carr goes into great detail about how our online activity is actually changing our brains. And he reasons, “Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together” (120).
 
As a group of Northwestern University professors wrote in a 2005 article in the Annual Review of Sociology, the recent changes in our reading habits suggest that the “era of mass [book] reading” was a brief “anomaly” in our intellectual history: “We are now seeing such reading return to its former social base: a self-perpetuating minority that we shall call the reading class.” The question that remains to be answered, they went on, is whether that reading class will have the “power and prestige associated with an increasingly rare form of cultural capitol” or will be viewed as the eccentric practitioners of “an increasingly arcane hobby.” (108)
 
Are readers the ones who are going to be viewed as stuck in the superannuated, Pony Express method of receiving content, while the risk-taking mechanical bull riders happily flail from one link to the next? How can we better participate in both mediums?
 
And my big question, what does all this research suggest about our ability to meditate on Scripture and the preached Word? I also wonder if there have been any studies on the focus, retention, and comprehension of those who come to church with their Bible downloaded on a cell phone or iPad versus those of us who walk in with our bulky, printed copies? How do we approach God’s written Word differently on a shiny, mechanical screen opposed to the worn tactile pages? Because clearly, the medium does affect the message. Furthermore, what kind of social networking is really going on within the walls of the church?
 
**Congratulations if you made it to the end, you are a bull-riding master.
***This article is a repost from January 31, 2014
Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I read a disturbing article the other day that wasn’t really all that shocking, but rather a sad reaffirmation of the signs that are all around me. Fewer and fewer people read books these days. Affirming that we are now part of a postliterate society, Peter Denton laments:
 
Simply put, we are no longer a country of readers – at least not of more than 1,000 words in a row. Anything longer is skipped over like those Internet terms of service agreements, jumping to the agree button at the end.
 
Preferring to communicate with images, Vines, and 140 characters or less, Denton points out the irony of how much emphasis and money we put into education, and yet, “We now have the intellectual attention span of squirrels – and it shows.” 
 
For anyone who doesn’t read many books anymore or who thinks we have all we need on the Internet, I wanted to share a few reasons why we should still read books. I’ve gathered these reasons after reading a book, How to Read a Book, by Mortimer  Adler and Charles Van Doren (Yes, that’s how much of a nerd I am):
 
Because there is a big difference between gathering information and reading for discovery and understanding. Articles, tweets, and Facebook posts can give us some new information. But we are usually getting this information at a level that is easy to consume and purposefully not challenging to our own intellect. But learning is about more than absorbing new information. Information is just the basic building block to stretching our understanding and moving on to discovery. In order to grow in this way, we need more than a 1,000 word article even. We need to read from people over our head and engage in the process of learning from them so that we can then connect that knowledge to other ideas for new discoveries. It’s all very exciting, but the shallow waters of the internet will never get you there.
 
Difficulty does not mean we should stop. The Internet is physiologically changing our brains. I am going to repost an article on Thursday about this challenge. It’s becoming harder for us to focus on reading a whole article, much less an entire book. But we don’t have to give in to that. We need to exercise our brains to keep the firing paths moving for endurance in our attention spans and capacity to think deeply. Just like a constant diet of fast food makes us flabby, so too a constant intake of social media to the neglect of books and thoughtful meditation will make our brains flabby. So if you find it difficult to read more than five pages at a time or you find yourself falling asleep as soon you crack open a book, that is a sign that you should be putting in the work that it takes to be an active reader. It doesn’t mean that books aren’t for you. The rewards are always better when we prep a meal with fresh ingredients than when we are in a hurry and hit the drive-thru.
 
To join the conversation. Authors write books because they have done a lot of reading and have made some discoveries that they would like to share in a meaningful way. An article or two isn’t going to cut it. Neither is a Vimeo or a Meme. So they put the crazy mad time into the process of writing a book. But readers are an important part of the conversation. Some people don’t read because they think it is isolating and they would rather be with people. But that is an inaccurate understanding of the process. When you read a book, you are engaging with a person, the author. And the intent of the author isn’t for you to shut the book and move on with your life, as if this were just a private affair. “Reading a book is a kind of conversation” and the reader now has a duty to reciprocate (137). There are all kinds of ways to engage in the conversation, the easiest being just to talk about these ideas to others or share the book. But my next point takes it one step further.
 
To develop critical skills of discernment. Joining the conversation should be more than regurgitating ideas. Adler and Van Doren have some great advice regarding our teachability: “A person is wrongly thought to be teachable if he is passive and pliable. On the contrary, teachability is an extremely active virtue. No one is really teachable who does not freely exercise his power of independent judgment. He can be trained, of course, but not taught. The most teachable reader is, therefore, the most critical” (140). This is an art that I really see lacking in the church. Animals can be trained; people ask questions, look for propositions, points of persuasion, and interact with ideas. I’m afraid our lack of intelligent reading has disarmed us from developing these critical skills.
 
Because “knowledge can be communicated and that discussion can result in learning” (149). If we believe that every claim a person makes is merely an opinion that is equal to all other opinions, then there really isn’t much of a reason to read books. But if we believe that truth has content and that we can actually appeal to that through the act of reason and logic, then we should be truth-seekers. And this gives us a purpose to reading---to learn! An author with a likeable personality is certainly a bonus, but I read with a goal to learn something from a book, which is also what helps me to finish the book. 
 
Good books last longer than blog posts, which fade into cyberspace hoping for a Google search to one day bring them to light again. And they seek a higher purpose in shaping a reader. Read for discovery and understanding, not just to gather information. Read to develop your critical thinking skills. Be teachable and then teach others. Read books!
Posted on Monday, January 04, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
As Todd has already posted, things are not making much sense in the world of complementary leadership. This past weekend, John Piper spoke to a crowd of over 40,000 people, sharing a platform with Word-Faith preacher Christine Caine.
 
I found out about it from this Tweet by Denny Burk, who had earlier challenged a response Carl and I had to Piper when we said that all men do not have authority over all women. Burk said that in affirming the ordained office was for certain men, Carl and I did not take complementary relationships between men and women far enough. But somehow it is okay to tweet out an advertisement for his followers to live stream the Passion conference, where there is a not only a woman preaching, but one who teaches Word Faith doctrines. And John Piper’s face is right beside Caine’s, as they shared the platform for this major conference.
 
I agree with Todd that Piper has done much good for the Reformed(ish) community. And I enjoy reading much of what Denny Burk writes. But that is why I am so frustrated. These conversations are important. All this talk about complementary means nothing if you do not care about women. And while I believe that Piper and Burke do care about women, this kind of platform sharing and promoting gives a very different message.
 
Here’s the thing: I am constantly using the platform that I have to plea to pastors regarding the commodification of the so-called Christian market to women. I am trying to provide resources to help pastors see what the bestsellers are in the Christian women’s genre. I am appealing to women to hone their discernment skills and take responsibility in their discipleship. This is my passion, for women to be good theologians. And there are many women who take this seriously. 
 
Unfortunately, I have talked with far too many motivated women who are dealing with shallow women’s studies, or worse, just plain false teaching in their church’s women’s ministries. One of the biggest laments is that the elders have no knowledge of the harm that these studies are inflicting on the women in their congregation. And the message from silence is that the women don’t really matter. False teachers know how much women matter. Christian publishers know how much women matter as a target consumer base. The Passion conference knows how much women matter in ticket sales. 
 
While the church, above all, knows that women are not tools for deception or a commodity for the market, it can sometimes be the very place where they feel undervalued in their most important role of all---disciples of Christ! This takes initiative from the leadership in the church to turn around. And it would be helpful if some of the most vocal voices for complementarianism would step up and care about what is being marketed to women! We are being used! Is it okay to promote anti-intellectualism among the women in the church, as long as someone like John Piper will be speaking there too? Does that redeem everything, because 40,000 people will hear his message while also listening to Christine Caine’s? And is it okay for the women in his church to do a study on her books? Or doesn’t it matter, because that is the women’s studies and they will never be church leaders anyway?
 
Meanwhile, women are hardly getting a seat at the table to talk about general theology at all the coed conferences that the complementarians host. I hope that more men and women will speak out about this. Don’t we have something to say here? Isn’t our feminine perspective valuable? Or are our contributions only valuable when we are talking about women’s issues and roles? Don’t we want to take a stand to nurture competent women in the church and seek their contributions as well? 
 
I believe the Bible teaches that the office of ministry is for certain, qualified men. I believe that husbands are the heads of their households. But there is no complementary going on if women are not valued for their contributions, if women are not invested in, and if their gifts are not recognized, honed, and appreciated. Instead, we have women being used as a commodity to buy books that exploit their empathy and emotions, to buy tickets to pack conferences that downplay any theological integrity, and instead of speaking out against it, the very men who insist on biblical precision for male leadership are participating in the rigmarole.
 
Posted on Friday, January 01, 2016 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian

This is a prayer that I have been using a lot lately from The Valley of Vision. Today I am seeing it in a new light, as it is a wonderful prayer for the new year:

 

Oh God, the Author of all good,

 

I come to thee for grace another day will require for its duties and events.
I step out into a wicked world, I carry about with me a wicked heart,
I know that without thee I can do nothing,
          that everything with which I shall be concerned,
          however harmless in itself, 
          may prove an occasion of sin or folly,
          unless I am kept by thy power.
Hold me thou up and I shall be safe.
Preserve my understanding from subtlety of error,
          my affections from love of idols, 
          my character from stain of vice,
          my profession from every form of evil.
May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore thy blessing,
          and in which I cannot invite thy inspection.
Prosper me in lawful undertakings, or prepare me for disappointments;
Give me neither poverty nor riches; 
Feed me with food convenient for me, lest I be full and deny thee
          and say, Who is the Lord?
          or be poor, and steal, and take thy name in vain.
May every creature be made good to me by prayer and thy will;
Teach me how to use the world, and not abuse it,
          to improve my talents, to redeem my time, 
          to walk in wisdom toward those without, 
          and in kindness to those within,
          to do good to all men, 
          and especially my fellow Christians.
And to thee be the glory.
Posted on Friday, December 18, 2015 by Aimee Byrd on Housewife Theologian
I am picking up a theme in the titles of the bestsellers for Christian women. Beth Moore challenges us to an Audacious love for Jesus, and the one-word title of Priscilla Shirer’s book tells us what kind of prayer-life we need: Fervent. The success of these books says something about what women must be seeking, something more special and beyond the ordinary, something passionate and motivating. And who wouldn’t want a fervent prayer life? 
 
Fervent is the #1 bestselling book for Christian women, having an average 5-star rating with 525 reviews on Amazon. This book is inspired by a popular movie in the Christian subculture called The War Room. Shirer starred in the movie (with Beth Moore). The subtitle of this book and purpose in writing is: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer. In her introduction, she explains:
 
Because this is war. The fight of your life. A very real enemy has been strategizing and scheming against you, assaulting you, coming after your emotions, your mind, your man, your child, your future. In fact, he’s doing it right this second. Right where you’re sitting. Right where you are. (2)
 
And she wants us to know that “praying with precision is key” (3). Fervent tackles ten areas where “the enemy is at work,” strategizing against us.
 
Shirer is in tune with the areas where women struggle. Each chapter cleverly begins with a strategy like, “If I were your enemy, I’d seek to dim your passion” (25), or “I’d devalue your strength and magnify your insecurities until they dominate how you see yourself” (55). I found myself flitting back and forth between agreement and “yeah buts” in this book. Shirer is so good at honing in on the gritty challenges women fight, she wants us to be more aware of spiritual warfare, and each chapter ends with a couple of pages of scripture related to it’s topic that we should use in prayer.
 
How She Describes Prayer
 
And yet there are some major things missing for a book that is about fervent prayer. When I read a book about prayer, I expect to learn about prayer and, well, the One we pray to. But I felt like this book is more about women’s struggles and Satan’s strategies. And while I don’t disagree that Satan has personal and tricky strategies, I felt like he gets the bulk of the blame for our lack of spiritual growth. Sin seems consequential to Satan’s ploys in this book. We need to hear that sin is a serious personal offense against God. We aren’t merely strategizing in prayer so that we have good marriages, a fabulous self-image, and peace in our lives. 
 
Even when she speaks about repentance, Shirer doesn’t mention confessing our sin and asking for forgiveness. She does tell us to “see the foolishness of anything that perpetuates old sin patterns, and by His Spirit walk away,” and then, “Ask for freedom, for release, for the ability to deflect lies and embrace truth” (101). This all has the tone of self-empowerment by “claiming your calling” (105), rather than humbly submitting to a holy God whom we have offended. The word sin doesn’t even appear in her definition of repentance, which is the “R” in her acronym P.R.A.Y.
 
Let me just contrast what Shirer says about prayer with a recent book I’ve read that had a chapter on prayer, Daniel Block’s For the Glory of God
 
Shirer: "Prayer is the portal that brings the power of heaven down to earth. It is kryptonite to the enemy and to all his ploys against you. (5)
Block: "Prayer is not about informing God of our needs as if he is ignorant; instead, it is 'a vehicle of humility, an expression of un-self-sufficiency, which in biblical thought, is the proper stance of humans before God.'” (212, quoting from Moshe Greenberg)
 
Shirer’s book reads like a “devil-busting” plan that we need to have, “with God on [our] side.” But I go to prayer to align myself with God’s plan. And yet, prayer is even more than that. As Block defines, “First, prayer is the supreme reverential verbal act of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign. Like all worship, true prayer is concerned primarily with the glory of God” (217). This is what I was missing in Fervent. Yes, there were some glimpses that made me wish Shirer would continue in that direction, but they were few and far between her focus on Satan’s strategies and our own in prayer.
 
Even the title misses the focus. Sure, a fervent prayer life is a good thing. But if every prayer is fervent, I think it loses it’s fervency. Every conversation with my husband is not fervent. And I love fervent kisses, but it would get weird if every time we were intimate, it had to be fervently. And if I felt like it had to be, I would end up doing a lot of faking. I’m glad we don’t have to go to God fervently every time we pray. And I would rather learn more about prayer itself, especially the God we are praying to, rather than an emotional way to go about it as a strategy against Satan.
 
Exposition
 
I love the fact that Shirer ends each chapter with Scriptures that would be good to pray on that topic. However, I wish she would have designed the chapters around some of those Scriptures, maybe showcasing some helpful ways to pray through them. 
 
And yet, I’m not sure how well that would be executed. I have some concerns with how Scripture is handled in a few of the teaching places. For example, she teaches through 2 Kings 6:1-7 to show a strategy on how to get our passion back. Shirer teaches that when one of Elisha's protégés lost the iron head from his ax in the water, he “lost his cutting edge.” She has some good principles laid out to teach, like, “Despite the lost ax head, the presence of God was still near” (31), but the exposition and application itself is hokey and wrong. She connects this text to how our “cutting edge” in prayer may be lost. And so she says we could be doing something good, and still lose our cutting edge, our passion in prayer. “In fact, one of Satan’s dirtiest little tactics is to sneak in and steal it while you’re square in the middle of investing yourself in worthwhile activities” (32). This is just not what the passage is saying. She then connects the fact that this was a borrowed ax to the fact that we get our passion from God, and the enemy doesn’t want us to know that. And just like this man, we may need a miracle to get our cutting edge back.
 
This is just bad exposition and application of Scripture. Nowhere does the text insinuate that this event has something to do with the passion in our prayer life or attacks from Satan. She just uses a play on words and turns it all around. That’s really a shame.
 
Subjective Obedience?
 
Also, there are times in the book where Shirer refers to being obedient to God’s word, when she is really talking about obedience to where you think the Holy Spirit is leading you. A distinction needs to be made here. She very well may have a different theological stance than me on the continuation of prophetic gifts as they were in the apostolic times. And so Shirer describes a friend who had a good job and family life, but was hesitant about venturing out to becoming a writer, something she felt the Lord may be leading her to do. Maybe he was, but Shirer takes this as direct disobedience against the Lord if her friend were not to take that step.
 
I’m not so sure it would have been. Is there anywhere in Scripture that says the jobs we are supposed to take? She wasn’t sinning in her job she was in; she was serving God well in it. Could the Holy Spirit be leading and preparing her for writing? Of course, but she did not know for sure. What if it failed, would the Spirit have then failed? She talks about her friend “implement[ing] obedience” and “going forward as instructed” (117), and this concerns me that women reading may also interpret all their dreams as direct orders from the Lord that they must obey. Where is this in Scripture?
 
Shirer ends the book sharing a prophecy she was given in a Bible study that she “would have the privilege of calling many people to prayer during [her] lifetime. And not just to prayer but to a refreshed, renewed focus and fervency of prayer they’d never known before” (186). She then writes about her realization that God was whispering in her ear that night about the readers of this very book. It kind of makes it awkward to review after that.
 
The Devil Behind Every Rock?
 
You’ve heard this phrase before, I’m sure, and that is how I felt about the main message in this book. Again, I think we could all use a wake up call about spiritual warfare. But we should never give Satan more credit than he deserves. We do a good job of sinning on our own. Shirer blames it all on the devil:
 
Because if it weren’t for him trying to get in there and cause trouble, would any of us be feeling the need to nurse hurt feelings, harbor unforgiveness, belabor the gossip, or (for goodness sake) find a whole new set of friends? (177)
 
All of our proclivity to sin is not Satan’s fault. We need to take responsibility for our own sinful nature. James tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (1:14-15). In this age, we live under the effects of the curse. So our suffering could be from many different things. Yes, we need to be aware of Satan, who is at work, but Scripture’s emphasis is more on our personal responsibility and our focus on the Lord.
 
So while Shirer did point out some activity of the devil that we need to be mindful of, I wish she would have focused the book on the person and work of Christ before diving into warfare. She opens the book saying that praying with precision is key. I wish that there was more precision in her teaching on prayer itself, her biblical exposition, and her theology on sin, God’s revelation, and spiritual warfare.