Is Reformed Evangelicalism a Place For The Traumatized?

Theology

The movie Logan deserves re-watching. It displays the effects of aging on even the most evergreen and shiny realities. I recommend it. But this isn’t a movie review. As I watched Logan in the theater, Logan (i.e., Wolverine) delivered one line in the film that felt as if he had turned directly to me to say it.

Logan is a man who can heal from anything. The government put inside him an adamantium (metal) skeleton. He discovers the government has also created a clone daughter named Laura out of his DNA, and she has his same ability to heal, his killer instinct, and her own metal skeleton. Logan and Laura are both brutal, skillful killers. He is well over 150 years old, and she is not older than 12.

In one scene, Logan turns to Laura and says:

“Don’t be who they made you.”

Warrior Children

It was a sobering moment of clarity for me — time slowed down for me. In that moment, my entire seminary experience flashed before my eyes. At Westminster Theological Seminary, they called themselves “Machen’s Warrior Children,” and they wore it like a badge of pride. Faculty behind closed doors would refer to times when they colluded to get other faculty fired as “My tour in ‘Nam.” Students would get together at pubs and talk about how all the other seminaries were much worse, too soft, not insightful enough, not consistent enough, not vigilant enough.

I was new to the whole Presbyterian world. But only a few months after I moved to Philadelphia to attend Westminster, it felt like home for one reason. My hypervigilant pursuit of truth was rewarded. My “black and white” conception of the world was applauded. Everyone was put in categories of “in” and “out.” If you fell in line, and paid allegiance to the right people, you were treated as family. If not, you were exiled, and treated as untrustworthy. I don’t know if all Presbyterian communities are like this, or if all Reformed communities are like this. But this was my experience of Presbyterianism in Philadelphia. It was political to the core. And the political players at Westminster were looking for soldiers to fight in their war. Against whom? Everyone else.

It was at Westminster that I realized I had experienced trauma in my own childhood. But it wasn’t until I left that I realized how that had changed my time there. Bessel van der Kolk, a trauma theorist, explains:

“Some traumatized people remain preoccupied with the trauma at the expense of other life experiences and continue to re-create it in some form for themselves or for others. War veterans may enlist as mercenaries, victims of incest may become prostitutes, and victims of childhood physical abuse seemingly provoke subsequent abuse in foster families or become self-mutilators. Still others identify with the aggressor and do to others what was done to them.”[1]

One researcher asks why victims don’t simply break the traumatic cycle by leaving. He comments: “they are addicted to each other and to abuse. The system, the interaction, the relation takes hold; the individuals are as powerless as junkies.”[2] I have no doubt become addicted to Reformed evangelicalism. This blog isn’t an indictment of “them.” It’s a moment of honesty for me. The more honest I have been about what I really think, the more pushback I have received from people who could take away what little platform I have here. The time has come for me to place that fear aside, and simply say what needs to be said.

My Personhood and Evangelicalism

In the same way that emotionally abused women are attracted to abusive men when they become older (re-creating the circumstances of their own abuse), so also abused boys can be attracted to militant contexts that recreate their own emotional abuse. I think that Reformed and evangelical communities can serve as prime outposts signaling for the abused to come, singing a siren song of traumatic repetition.

As a man seeking full-time, professional employment within evangelicalism, I am judged as arrogant and warmongering for my strengths and as emotionally impotent for my weaknesses. I feel like Laura in many ways — with all the anger and violence of a grown man, with an immature innocence inside that needs protecting. And that swirl of so-called warmongering and emotional impotence is characterized by the trauma of my childhood. But it was exacerbated, codified, and formalized by my experience at Westminster — and quite honestly, by my experience in evangelicalism thereafter.

In Logan, Wolverine’s healing powers have slowed to a halt because his metal skeleton became so toxic to him. The very thing that made him most dangerous and most threatening — the center of his “brand” and “platform” — was toxic to him. There is something about this community that is toxic to me. Reformed evangelicalism has done a lot for me, but much of it has been for the worse.

The longer I remain in this community, the longer I feel like I’m losing touch with the Paul who existed before he was militarized — before he was conscripted into Machen’s Army. I haven’t had any formal association with Westminster for several years now. And yet, I still have that killer instinct. I was still trained for 4 years to think of everyone else as stupid. Everyone else’s view on counseling was unbiblical, but we had God’s view. Everyone else’s view on God’s will was unbiblical, but we had God’s view. Everyone else’s view on evil and salvation was illogical, but we had the most consistent view.

My Inferiorities and Evangelicalism

If only I had known how I was using (and being used) by that system, I would have left — had I the courage along with the insight. If only I had known that I was compensating for so much childhood hurt that was only being magnified and worsened, I would have left. If only I had known that the system at Westminster chews people up and spits them out every three years, I would have left. I know of no other seminary with such a trail of bodies, with most of its alumni emotionally damaged from their experience there, still acting out their warrior impulses which they learned — still fighting, still poisoned by their weaponized theological skeletons.

Is There A Place for The Traumatized?

And I’m not sure how to shed this feeling. I’m not sure how to deescalate this trauma. But currently, and I say this in spite of all the books that have been written for “survivors” and “healing” by evangelicals, there is no place for corporate or public healing of trauma in evangelicalism. For all our rhetoric of “redemption” and “reconciliation,” this is the very last place in the world I would ever tell a traumatized person to go. That’s not to say someone can’t be helped here by accident. But we haven’t figured out how to stop hurting people here. And if you’re already here, as a member, and you find your home here, I can only invite you to begin your journey with me:

“Don’t be what they made you.”

The “you” beneath your in-group/out-group instincts is better. We don’t need to conceive of ourselves in terms of “tribes.” And we don’t need to conceive of our world in terms of the lines drawn by 10 major figures who sell all the books. We can figure out a way to heal with God (and grow) on our own terms. And we are probably better off doing that in a world that won’t require us to re-enact our trauma for the sake of its “wartime mindset.” We need peacetime healers for our trauma, not soldiers who took a spiritual CPR course.

In my experience, the Reformed evangelical world wants our trauma when it has battles to fight (which is all the time), and wants us to put the monster back in the closet on Sunday morning. I simply don’t believe there is space for a traumatized person to be their full selves in this community.

God, light the way to you that is beyond and outside of a world that would only reward us for our symptoms of victimhood. Have mercy on us to do what we must for the sake of our own faith, tribes be damned.

[1] Bessel A. van der Kolk, “The Compulsion to Repeat the Trauma,” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 12, no. 2 (1989): 398 [389-411].

[2] G. M. Erschak “The Escalation and Maintenance of Spouse Abuse: A Cybernetic Model,” Victimology 9 (1984): 247-253.

The Christian Disenfranchisement of Grief

Theology

Short version: New article on a theology of grief, here.

There is so much of our theology that is precious because it is true. But too often, the power that God has entrusted to us in his word is presumed upon; wielded irresponsibly. Our peculiar religious sub-culture now thinks in blogs and tweets. The internet has magnified our bravery beyond our embodied personality, shrinking our discretion and humility. Short-form content is a funhouse of distorting mirrors that many of us have not left for several years.

And then: The death of a loved one. A parent. A sibling. No chance to say goodbye. The funhouse of fabricated intimacy cannot help us in grief. Even the “deepest” tweets are platitudes, Chinese manufactured toys under the steamroller of heavy felt-loss. None of it matters at all, but it has come to compose 90% of life — somehow.

Within evangelicalism, the genuine expression of despair often feels at odds with a confession of faith. Lament has no room. Not really. There is a short window of time, until we are required to sing “Up From The Grave He Rose” once again in a couple weeks. Patience is really the ticking clock on the time bomb of God’s moral evaluation — in evangelicalism, tears have a half-life, an expiration date, until they overstay their welcome, and survivors of greater loss are held over our heads. Real, terrible, unrectifiable tragedy is airdropped into theological air quotes — “Even the darkness is not dark to him.” And this is used to prolepticly homogenize all forms of heartbreak onto a single railroad, with a single destination: explicitly God-derived joy.

So long as our community requires its members to follow their rules of grief, we will blind the believing bereaved to the space God himself has made for us to critique him.

This is why I wrote this article on grief and lament. Christians are married to the “stage model” of grief, because it so perfectly mirrors the uniform dogmatism of our own epistemic ticks. I don’t think this article “fits” here in our world. The only consolation readers may have is that I think J. I. Packer might agree with me.

I have heard Reformed pastors say that, in the face of grief, the sovereignty of God is not the most pastorally sensitive doctrine to bring up. One might rather focus on the love of God, or God’s promise in the gospel. Yet, while some may find this aversion to the power of God in the presence of pain soothing, the problem of the goodness of God in the face of moral evil that he has ordained becomes (understandably) an object of fixation. For many, God’s sovereign decree over their pain is the most relevant thing in the world. And it is upsetting to our faith.

This is why Calvin writes, “God had given me a son. God hath taken my little boy.”[1] Calvin believed that God took his son from him because he loved him too much. This is the theological strain that living in our world places on grief — for good or ill, suffering is made to mean something; we confuse our eulogizing task with a philosophical competency to pronounce upon the meaning of death. We consequently find ourselves mumbling contentless theodicies that pit real-world, present-day despair against postmortem resolution, a category error that goes somehow heinously undetected.

There is no space for real lament over my dad in this world. I certainly don’t see it. There is no room for his story to be folded into the story of my community of faith. I have not yet found a way. He was the best dad he could have been — scratch that: he was the best dad ever. And I had a hand in his demise; in his death. How couldn’t I have? I was his son. We are blinded by our consistency-bias to allow the ambiguous complexity that death brings to emerge into — even to change — how we see the world.

Christians have recently legitimized lament, opening dialogues about “loss” that are really magical conjurations of cruel optimism (to steal a term from Voltaire). This movement is — if you will allow me a moment of paranoia — a farce, rooted in a genuine need for cathartic expression, curtailed by a culture that has informal rules that aren’t officially codified, but which we all know. We need space to “process” where our tears are not measured in terms of “progress.”

Such a space does not currently exist. One cancer survivor’s satisfaction in a Calvinist theodicy is a torturous emotional crucible for the next sufferer. Those most helpful to me in my process of grief have been those who have nothing to do with Christianity at all. They have nothing at stake in me resolving my grief a certain way. It makes them the best grief counselors. There are spaces in our culture that make some feel at home, but the diverse spectrum of grief is not really welcome at the evangelical table — least of all doubt. God forbid. We certainly don’t have tolerance for those who don’t grieve as we grieve.

Read here, if you’re interested. Be offended, if you have a habit of subjecting yourself to moral injury. Or, say what you have for too long felt you were not allowed to say.

**I am thankful to John Perrine for supplying the exegetical section on pp. 187–192, and to Andrew Schmutzer, the editor of this special issue of the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care, for accepting it for publication.

[1] Responsio ad Balduini Convitia. Geneva, 1561.

My $100,000 Lesson in God’s Calling

Theology

 

I originally titled this post “My $100,000 Mistake.” But that would have been a mistake.

I came to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) a year ago on the Waybright scholarship — $35,000 per year for 4 years — that’s a $140,000 scholarship. Tuition comes out of that, so you’re looking at about $15,000 per year on which to live. The contingency of the scholarship is that you can’t work another job while you’re on the scholarship. (This is all public information). As his prospective student, my (now) advisor Kevin Vanhoozer vouched for me to get the scholarship. The systematic theology department at TEDS unanimously voted for me. Yet, due to personal reasons, throughout the next year, I grew to strongly dislike the discipline of theology.

I Became a Fire Chief

In a book called Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury elaborates on the psychology of the characters in his historic novel Fahrenheit 451, which I have never read.

One man asks another, “How did it start? Why did you make the decision to become Fire Chief, a burner of books?” The Fire Chief answers — he used to love books. And then, something dreadful happened. Not a public tragedy, but internal. He opened the books one day, and, “Montag guessed. ‘The pages were empty?” The Fire Chief’s reply gave my heart words:

“Oh, the words were there, allright, but they ran over my eyes like hot oil, signifying nothing. Offering no help, no solace, no peace, no harbor, no true love, no bed, no light.”[1]

Why? What happened? Fire Chief: “Life. The usual. The same. The love that wasn’t quite right, the dream that went sour … the deaths that cam swiftly to friends not deserving, the murder of someone or another, the insanity of someone close, the slow death of a mother, the abrupt suicide of a father …”

I’ve never read words that overlap so perfectly with my story. Bradbury, paired with Yoda — “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you.” So, God led me by the nose to Babylon. I took a job offer that doubled my paycheck. I had every rationalization for that decision.

  • “I’m still serving the church.”
  • “I’m doing better work than theologians climbing a futile ladder of academic self-interest.”
  • “Theology is impractical anyway.”
  • “It’s responsible. I need to start a 401k.”
  • “I’m probably not going to get a professor job anywhere.”
  • “There’s no such thing as a full time writer.”
  • “I can start a new, different, satisfying career.”
  • “After nine years straight of academic theology (since I was 18), I need a break.”

That last one was true. The others were rationalizations. So, I forfeited a guaranteed $105,000 over the next three years (140–35), and my calling, for a projected $200,000 over the next three years.

Where God Gives Us Meaningful Work, He Makes it Beautiful

As soon as I started my job, I looked back on academic theology — and writing — and realized I was trapped. There was a bulletproof glass wall separating me from my calling. I scrambled to write as much as I could every week, outside of the 40 hours that I was at a desk. But my writing started to worsen. My work was good, but not as good as it could have been. I started gaining weight. I was away for work — and for writing — so much that I have rarely been in Chicago these past six months.

Like Esau, I regretted forfeiting my birthright. Yet now, I embrace my lost birthright, my forfeited scholarship — that took my birthright happily, and granted me a sense of calling.

My boss told me during me time as acquisitions editor, “Wherever God gives us meaningful work, he makes that place beautiful.” That’s the truest statement my soul has heard in the past six months. That job was a very meaningful and beautiful place in its own right. But God had not given me meaningful work there. He had already tasked me with that work elsewhere.

So, I decided to resign.

I’m Rich With Opportunity

I turn back to TEDS, with no savings to get me through the next semester, and no scholarship. All I have in-hand is a vigor, a calling from God, and 10 half-completed writing projects that I will finally be able to finish.

This semester, I’m going to complete my coursework at TEDS. I have a sense of focus and clarity that I haven’t had since before my dad died in 2013. I write like the devil. Barring unexpected delays, I will finish my coursework, research languages, comprehensive exams, dissertation proposal, and full dissertation, by January 2017. I am currently unable to sufficiently express my sense of perspective and calling to the writing projects that God has placed on my plate this forthcoming year.

  • A book, partnering with a ministry that is dear to my heart.
  • Final Ph.D. coursework.
  • Five 80% complete academic articles, ranging from divine impassibility, to theological exegesis, to a theology of trauma.
  • Desiring God standalone articles
  • My dissertation — Dr. Vanhoozer and I have set and are psyched about the topic, which we have now honed. He is excited to have me back, and I couldn’t be more excited to get back in the workshop with him.
  • Teaching philosophy at Moody Bible Institute (it is so invigorating to teach Christian worldview to 18–20 year-olds).

So there I was, a year after I came to TEDS, embittered and struggling in my sense of God’s calling on my life. And here I am — $105,000 poorer — with the richest sense of calling and focus I have ever had. God taught me this lesson at the small cost of $105,000:

“You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16).

I wring my hands constantly — over money, over love, over peoples’ opinions. But it is with unclenched hands that I make this decision. It is perhaps the most risky and obedient move I have ever made in my life. And my Father owns a thousand sheep on a thousand hills. He would give them all to me if his calling required it. That’s why I don’t grieve my lost scholarship. That’s why that lost $105,000 left on my scholarship, which I forfeited to take my job, is the highest return on investment I will get for any penny I ever spend for the rest of my life. This new perspective was necessary for me to do good work at TEDS. There was no other way for me to be where I am now — with an expanded sense of productivity, a razor-sharp focus in my calling, and a sense of rest and joy that obedience gives you.

This post feels far too sanitized. Yet, better to post a sanitized and timely post, than a distanced and seasoned reflection. At least for now. None of this is easy. None of it feels holy. I have no idea what I’m doing. But it is right, and I think it is what God has for me right now.

Pray for me as I transition to a semester with a full plate, with empty pockets, and with a hope for a pure heart, for the first time in a long time.

[1] Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You (Santa Barbara, CA: Capra Press, 1990), 80.

Theology for Theology’s Sake

Blog, Theology

A friend of mine recently told me that he makes over $100,000 a year. Looking at his lifestyle, I believe him. I went to high school with this guy. It’s mind-blowing. I was beyond jealous. Of course, he works for it. He got exactly what he bargained for — he went to college for a certain degree, in order to get a certain job, in order to make a certain amount of money. There were no surprises along that journey. He had a goal, people offered a way to attain it, and he attained it.

How Theology Can Be Deceptive

Theological programs can deceive people. Most of the people I know who go to seminary or bible college, they go for a very religious reason: they want to grow in their relationship with God, and help the church do the same.

  • They enroll in credits of exegesis, theology, and philosophy
  • they pay tens of thousands of dollars
  • they spend years of their life in a program
  • they tell their wives it’s their calling
  • they put their kids in different schools
  • they spend tens of hours per week looking at books
  • they move thousands of miles across the country
  • they leave their community

… all originally for the purpose of spiritual growth. They definitely appeal to theology to justify their move. I have done this, for sure.

For a while, seminary will tolerate the “spiritual growth” attitude. “Yes, prayer and personal Bible study is important.” And then, those categories become formalized and sectioned off from theology by department—that’s practical theology, and now we’re going to study Greek, and Hebrew, and then systematic theology, and biblical theology. That’s wonderful. Actually, I think that all of these studies can radically enrich one’s spiritual life. Of course, seminary-form education can challenge one’s faith with its formality, but seminary is not the enemy.

The enemy peeps its head out of a dark corner of seminary when, eventually, your spiritual motivation for coming to seminary is given a label: “Pietism.” Oh, dang. You’ve been historically situated. Boom. You’ve been explained. You’ve been theologically diagnosed. It’s not a judgment. But you have now been classified.

The Deception’s Common Form

More than that—and more dangerously, now that the enemy more than peeps; he rears—all the theology you’ve learned so far, it’s basically ignorant unless you know the broader contexts which frame and inform them.

  • Oh, you like the Trinity?
    • Do you believe the East/West distinction is legitimate?
    • What analytic investigations of Thomistic rejection of the three as true “persons” have you found valid or invalid?
    • Do you take McCormick’s or Hunsinger’s approach to Barth?
  • Theology has been helpful for your preaching?
    • Are you more sympathetic to a continental or analytic approach?
    • Have you read anything on ressourcement?
    • Do you agree or disagree with Milbank’s proposal?
  • You’d like to do counseling?
    • Have you read the 5 views book?
    • Do you think the metaphysics of a Spiritual psychology model are legitimate?

Name dropping. Gate keeping. Theology joke making. It’s tiring. I recently read a theologian make the claim that Thomas’s doctrine of subsisting relations was practical. If it weren’t in a published book, I would have thought it was a joke.

Behind The Theologian’s Curtain

Academic theology can be practical. Theology worthy of its name — speech of God that appeals to Scripture — can always be made practical (nothing is necessarily practical, until it has been made perceptibly relevant to a certain audience). But here are things that I find repulsively impractical:

  • Theology for theology’s sake
  • Talking about talking about theology
  • Experimental theology (often analytic theology)

These enterprises are touted by academics (also seminary professors…) with growing platforms as relevant and practical, and the burden is put on the church for being insufficiently academic. Lay readers are becoming confused: “Should I be able to know this stuff?” Seminary students are becoming confused: “Should I be able to know this stuff?” Well? … My answer is no. My answer is also refutable. But it seems obvious to me. Third-, fourth-, fifth-tier theology is increasingly making me sick to my stomach. It’s lazy, because it’s self-referential. It may be rigorous, and academic, and impressive, and sophisticated, and nuanced, and well-researched, but it’s lazy.

When I was in my M.Div., a professor of mind said, “Whenever you sense something is ambiguously off, there is one way to find clarity: follow the money.” Look at theology. How are these upper-tier enterprises funded? Their salary is paid for with the tuition money of students who just want to be pastors, or counselors, or grow in their knowledge of the Bible. And they are given 70% “academic conversation” information. They are given a class on Scripture, or the atonement, or the Trinity, and they do not walk away any more able to explain or preach or help a congregation practically understand these doctrines, or their relevance for life.

It’s a lie. It’s not my friend’s story—who went to school, got a degree, got a job, and was given exactly what he wanted: money. That’s not wrong. He’s a believer. He just didn’t go to seminary. But if he did go to seminary, and he went out of a desire to be prepared for ministry, and was eventually told that he must learn theology for theology’s sake in order to be prepared for the pulpit, or the counseling chair, he would have been lied to. Theology for theology’s sake is equivalent to a Question card in Trivial Pursuit—it is purely and merely trivia.

The Truth About Theology

Don’t hear me ranting as someone sick of my own discipline. I’m studying systematic theology. I love it. I love my program, and I love all the programs I’ve been in. I love the topic and the content of my discipline. But I fight against the discipline’s tendency to be self-referential, and it is hard to do so, especially when so many others within this very discipline find so much satisfaction mimicking the academic form, and even crossing the boundary between, seminary theology and philosophical/religious studies. One of the seminaries at which I have taken classes had a faculty meeting, where they voted on whether they were properly a “seminary” or a “graduate school”— that is, preparing their students for the church or the academy — … and the faculty was split. But marketing wasn’t split. Marketing was clear: “We’re training pastors.”

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me” (John 5:39). This passage is often used as a proof text against academic theology. In my reading, it is just the opposite—it justifies theology. Jesus is not saying that the law doesn’t have life. He’s pointing out an inconsistency in the Pharisees’ thinking. They search the Scriptures, because they think that in them they have eternal life. And it does carry eternal life, because it testifies about Christ. That’s what makes their refusal of Christ such a tragic confusion.

Any theology that is not an exercise of this — searching the Scriptures because we think that in them we will find life, insofar as we can find Christ, and accurately testify about him — is worth no more than Monopoly money; it’s fun to play with, but when you close the book and put the cards back in the box, it’s tissue paper. And yet, how much seminary curricula exceeds the scope of this enterprise? For those who love trivial theology, great.

Greek and Hebrew? Study them hard. Systematic and biblical theology? Read the books. They very well can prepare you. And even those who love trivial theology, good for you. But give the qualification that theological fun facts are qualitatively different than theology that helps pastors. In-house, self-propelling, insulated theological dialogue that seeks to trickle down to the church on the momentum of its own pretension? Kill it. It’s a lie, that this stuff is anything more than Trivial Pursuit. Theology for theology’s sake is impractical, and theology worth its name must be shown to be relevant by the theologian—it is part and parcel of the task to revere the words of life by testifying to Christ.

Our Bodies, Prophets

Blog, Theology

As a man, I have prophets of machismo telling me that purebred masculinity is premeditation and rationality—manhood is a stoic stare. It is disembodiment. In Aristotle’s philosophy, there was something called an act/potency distinction—Aristotle made the distinction to explain (1) our ability to change the world (act), and (2) our our capacity for being changed by the world (potency; pathē). “Act” connotes control; “potencty”/”passivity” connotes being-moved.

In the ancient world, the act/potency distinction was manifested by humans in terms of masculinity and femininity. Women were more body-creatures, whose pathē (potency) determined their existence, while men were called to exemplify energia: “Act,” “Effect,” “Productivity,” “Work,” “Supra-passion.” Women are emotional and men are rational, so the story goes. I have that voice in my ear every day.

That’s why we have such a hard time with a God who feels—perhaps because he then seems too feminine. Wendell Berry helped me today to remember the goodness of embodiment—nay,

that the necessity of remembering that my emotions which come from the deepest depths (Greek: the splagchnon) must not be forgotten.

The feelings of the body should be received and welcomed and understood—they often bring a message; and if we have the right skills to hear our emotions well, they can be a better prophet than the world. Berry melts us like butter:

“The body characterizes everything it touches. What it makes it traces over with the marks of its pulses and breathings, its excitements, hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. On its good work, it leaves the marks of skill, care, and love persisting through hesitations, flaws, and mistakes. And to those of us who love and honor the life of the body in the world, these marks are precious things, necessities of life.”[1]

Love, Berry? Ah, yes. We are not merely mind—the mental is the sidecar of the spiritual-physical. We are not machines. We refuse ascend the hill of the stoic—we will not make the Hajj to sacrifice the body and its prophecies for a measly allowance of tolerance-love. We would let them go before we let ourselves go:

“I know that there are some people, perhaps many, to whom you cannot appeal on behalf of the body. To them, disembodiment is a goal, and they long for the realm of pure mind—or pure machine; the difference is negligible. Their departure from their bodies, obviously, is much to be desired, but the rest of us had better be warned: they are going to cause a lot of dangerous commotion on their way out.”[2]

To be a man (and to be a human) is to be a body—and it is neither inferior nor feminine to be affected. It is human, and it is divine—we characterize the world because we were bestowed with the sacred power of the divine image. We are affected and produce effects because we are made in the image of the one who is affected and produces effects. Our bodies tell us truth because God tells us truth. Whatever the case, our bodies—their feelings and messages and intuitions and loves—are indispensable to our humanity. We love kind of crazy because, well, so does he (See: the Old Testament; cf. also the Cross). God made his greatest mark on the world by taking on a body. Let’s not escape our bodies, or even think we need to try.

[1] Wendell Berry, The Art of Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkeley:Counterpoint, 2002), 78.

[2] Ibid.


-The body characterizes everything it

Singleness, Sex Drive, Etc.

Theology

So today, the entire Evangelical world got a peek into my thoughts on singleness. Two new articles—one on Desiring God, and one on RELEVANT (both full of extremely generous people). What do I provide in these articles? Clarity? Direction? Conviction? Answers? A solution to all your problems? … Yes. And more. Read them here:

(1) “The Single Person’s Good Desire for Sex” (Desiring God)

I look at 1 Corinthians 7:9 for help in explaining one forgotten fact: it’s not bad for single Christians to have a sex drive. … Even if they can’t use it.

(2) “Things It’s OK to Feel When You’re Single” (RELEVANT)

Ever receive terribly flat and cliche advice about dating and singleness from married people who are perfect and beautiful? I’m not a fan of cynicism. But I let it fly here. Just a little bit.

Today is a day of acknowledging freedom where freedom is given—to flee from shame and rejoice in Christ in so many earthly ways.

Relax, brothers and sisters. All you have to do is enjoy.

Sin and the Imagination

Biblical Counseling, Theology

Sin’s Starting Line

Of course, we are enraptured by fantasy. Beyond appetite—beneath and above iniquitous wanting—are inhibited imaginings. Do we sin because we have salacious indecencies or shortsighted imaginations? Thomas à Kempis helps:

“At first it is a mere thought confronting the mind; then imagination paints it in stronger colours; only after that do we take pleasure in it, and the will makes a false move, and we give our assent.”[1]

Sin’s Sleight of Hand

I push hard against cognitive accounts of emotion and behavior. They are painfully reductionistic—the mind as the source of life-lived? Really? But desire has an object. And that object, before it is desired, is construed (contorted, even) one way or another. We grieve because the world is gray. We delight because of the color. As Kempis notes above, Sin’s trickery is not in the hardness of the desire, but in the hue of the delightful object. And so Bavinck strips sin of its sleight of hand and reveals what heaviness is in its hue:

“The mind entertains the idea of sin, the imagination beautifies and converts it into a fascinating ideal, desire reaches out to it, and the will goes ahead and does it. Thus, in the case of both angels and humans, the imagination was the faculty that made the violation of the commandment appear as the road to equality with God.”[2]

The Gospel’s Slap

Not the slap of abuse or impatience, but of one soldier to another on the battlefield: “Wake up. The enemy is near.” Vanhoozer comes through, as usual:

“Christian doctrine is for grown-ups who have childlike imaginations, trusting stories in general only because one story, the gospel of Jesus Christ, happens to be true (and true because it happened: “He is risen”). Christian doctrine is a dose of reality, a slap in the face that wakes up the bleary-eyed and hungover, all those who cannot open their eyes (or prefer to keep them shut) to the new thing God is doing in Christ through the Spirit.”[3]

I’ll take the slap over docility any day. I’ll take my future self’s retrospective advice over my present self’s delusions. We are imaginers, and we’ve known it all along. But we ignore to indulge. And this is the fount of ours lives-lived, one way or the other.

[1] Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. William C. Creasy (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1989), 5.

[2] Herman Bavinck, Sin and Salvation in Christ, Reformed Dogmatics vol. 3 (ed., John Bolt, trans., John Vriend; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 67.

[3] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2014), 230–231.


Vanhoozer_Imagination

Winter Wasteland (Immanuel)

prayers, Theology

This is part of a series of prayers through Isaiah 7:14 for those who feel that they cannot celebrate the Advent season (Intro, Carols, Pretensions, Immanuel).

“Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”


We reel
        and falter
        and wander
        and forget
        and take revenge
        and write them off
        and lose heart
        and “Get the hell out of my life.”

We hear many sneaking,
                                creeping voices
                                in the first person:

Our pain is too intricate
                                for your care.
Our mistakes say too much about us
                                for your love
                                —your real, approving love.
Our consequences are too permanent
                                for your power.
Our regret goes deeper
                                than your reach.
Our trauma is beyond us,
                                and you.

And you.

Never unsettled?
Never surprised?
Never too late?

No. We refuse that “Thou.”

Act.
Unsettle yourself
                        and us.
Surprise yourself
                        and us.
Swoop in
                        for us
                        against our calamitous impulses,
                        beside our bewitching habits,
                        in spite of all our “too lates,”
                        before and around, guiding our “if onlys.”

We struggle,
                        and at times hate
                        (and at times love)
                                to admit
                        our situation with you:
                        Your Name.

We “shall call his name Immanuel.”
Your_Name_WW

Posthumanism in Interdisciplinary Journal

Theology

(Summary: Read my new weird article)

I have received a ton of writing opportunities lately, and they have been an honor. Criswell. JETS. WTJ review. Finishing another crop for DG. It’s amazing. The topics, the content, the questions, the research, the people I’m partnering with – it’s all an amazing blessing.

But FYI, I have this super weird article that just came out in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies called “Human Self-Transcendence: Posthuman, Postmodern, or Postsecular?” It’s just the absolute weirdest. If you’re into real life sci-fi, postmodern God-concepts, or the most absolutely boring study on philosophy you’ve ever read in your life (and how they all relate), check out my article.

Also, I owe a hat tip to Winston Smith (truly one of the smartest guys I know) for this quote in the article, on how a via media is “not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth” (bottom of p. 179). Epic quote, right?

Happy reading, ya weirdos.

Impatience on Desiring God

Theology

(Summary: Read my blog “Do You Hate to Wait?” on Desiring God.)

Yes, I hate to wait. Hate. I’m fuming. Seething. Waiting? No. I will not wait. I’ve run out of steps forward. Depleted of moments of unction. My hopper of hopeful epiphanies is empty. God’s grace? I don’t even know.

This retrospective series through my Desiring God blogs has been an exercise in time travel. I wrote this particular DG blog while waiting for something I desperately wanted. It must have seemed pathetic. I wrote it, haunted by the anxiety of possible states of affairs – unwanted factors, unwelcome failures, unwaning feelings.

Surely God has a sick sense of humor. I wrote this blog, waited . . . and the answer was no. Delayed disappointment. I couldn’t have known. But I hold myself responsible for what I should have known. What an idiot. Wait. Can I take a step back and hear what I just said? “Should have known.” “I should have known it wouldn’t work out.” “I should have known I would fail.” “I should have known, and not only am I a fool for trying, but God probably made it happen just to teach me not to expect.”

A friend recently told me, “You need to start showing yourself grace, because you are destroying yourself for being imperfect.” Wow. Maybe (sometimes) our impatience with God is a product of our impatience with ourselves. Maybe, sometimes, we demand from God grace that we won’t even give ourselves. The dagger we hold up to his throat reflects our deep belief that if we drop the kinfe and just keep waiting patiently, maybe God even won’t fight back … maybe he’ll just forget about us entirely.

“The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by [the wicked’s] might. He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’ Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted” (Psalm 10:10-12).

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb. 5:7)

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew” (Exodus 2:23-25 ESV).

These are not Scriptures that entice a hopeful feeling. These are verses which teach us that hope does not need to take place the way Christians would often have it take place. Sometimes hope isn’t a feeling. Sometimes grit is the only form of hope we have. Grit that says to the wicked, to the world, to the new Pharaoh, “I’ll take the wrench” Good Will Hunting style. It does not have a “God is good” note tied to the back. The goodness of God is not always the most relevant category for every situation.

Sometimes, all we get from Scripture for our circumstance is that God exists, and he acts, and he is not apathetic about our circumstances. These are not for listening in the major key. These are verses for “sitting among the ashes” (Job 2:8). God is working and listening very actively. “The Lord’s hand is not shortened that it can’t save, or his ear dull that it can’t hear” (Is 59:1). That’s what we have to work with. That is what hope looks like. That is also what grace looks like.

Sometimes you don’t get a choice. What’s the line between patience and suffering? Between impatience and bitterness? Do you hate to wait? He loves. Therefore, he hears. And he acts. Hope happens, and it doesn’t always have to be a product of our will, of our unctions, of our feelings. God just does hope – unpredictably, without formula, without presumption, and without explanation.

Read my blog “Do You Hate to Wait?” on Desiring God. It is another blog that I needed, and still need.