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