Archive for January, 2019

The Measure of a Man

arm-wrestling-567950_1280.jpg

When the American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” a maelstrom ensued.  Some decried the guidelines as an attack on men generally.  Others defended the report as long overdue so a new kind of masculinity can rise from an older masculinity’s ashes.  Throw in an ad by razor legend Gillette that exhorts men to do better, and you have all the makings of a cultural explosion that feels like, ironically enough, a testosterone-laden WWE wrestling match.

The APA is right about this much:  many men are struggling.  In its summary, it explains:

Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims.  They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime.  They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s.  Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school – especially boys of color.

The challenges are real and broadly agreed upon.  The disagreement comes in what we should do about all this.  On the one hand, I struggle with statements like these in the APA report:

Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms … Psychologists aspire to help boys and men over their lifetimes navigate restrictive definitions of masculinity and create their own concepts of what it means to be male, although it should be emphasized that expression of masculine gender norms may not be seen as essential for those who hold a male gender identity.

It is true that certain masculine norms are culturally conditioned.  At the same time, it is difficult to deny that some of men’s drives and desires seem to be innate.  It wasn’t that long ago when we were claiming that the innate differences between men and women ran so deep that it was like men were from Mars and women were from Venus.

There is a drive in many men toward things like physical strength, risk taking, and stoicism.  To lump traditionally masculine traits like these into a category of “nurture” while denying components of “nature” is a relatively recent philosophical and psychological development, and, I would add, probably wrong.

On the other hand, I am also adamantly opposed to any attitude that revels in masculinity’s baser manifestations. Even if men do have certain innate desires and drives, this doesn’t make all their desires and drives moral.  Many men, for instance, couple their desire for risk with a desire for sex – with disastrous results.  Drives and desires, like everything else, have been degraded by sin.  Indeed, Scripture has story after story on what happens when men succumb to their twisted innate desires.  LamechSamsonDavid.  All of these men may have looked manly, but they were also fools.  Just because you feel something internally doesn’t mean you should act on it externally.

Christianity takes a unique approach to masculinity.  While not denying that men have certain innate drives and desires, Christianity teaches that these are not determinative of what it means to be a man.  Instead, Christian men are called upon to harness these drives and desires to fulfill a higher calling.  True masculinity is about vocation.  This is why, in the Bible, the word for “man” can be either a noun or a verb.  On the one hand, the Bible refers to a man, in Greek, by the noun aner, which denotes someone who is of the male sex (e.g., Matthew 14:21).  On the other hand, the apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian men with the verb andrizomai, which can be translated, “be manly” (1 Corinthians 16:13).  Men are called not just to act out of who they are and what they want, but out of who God has called them to be.

My favorite description of manhood in the Bible comes when Paul is talking to men about marriage:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  On the one hand, Paul encourages a traditionally masculine virtue of sacrifice, even to the point of death, on behalf of a man for his wife.  This takes true toughness.  On the other hand, Paul also calls husbands to love their wives, which takes plenty of intentional tenderness.  In other words, the biblical calling of masculinity is not mindlessly macho, but it is not particularly woke, either.  Instead, the biblical calling of masculinity looks like Jesus.  And if there’s anyone who knows what masculinity should look like, it’s Him.  After all, He was not only born a man, He willingly became a man.  And He not only willingly became a man, He created men.  That means He has the blueprints.  Perhaps, then, as men, we should follow them – and Him.

Advertisements

January 28, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Expectant Mothers and Workplace Pressures

child-1910306_1920.jpg

Last month, The New York Times published a disturbing exposé on the treatment of pregnant employees by Planned Parenthood.  The article chronicled the journey of one employee, Ta’Lisa Hairston, whose experiences were particularly harrowing:

As a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood, Ta’Lisa Hairston urged pregnant women to take rest breaks at work, stay hydrated and, please, eat regular meals.

Then she got pregnant and couldn’t follow her own advice.

Last winter, Ms. Hairston told the human-resources department for Planned Parenthood’s clinic in White Plains, N.Y., that her high blood pressure was threatening her pregnancy.  She sent the department multiple notes from her nurse recommending that she take frequent breaks.

Managers ignored the notes.  They rarely gave her time to rest or to take a lunch break … Ms. Hairston’s hands and feet swelled; the clinic’s plastic gloves no longer fit. Her blood pressure got so high that her doctor put her on bed rest when she was seven months pregnant.

She returned to work on strict orders to not work more than six hours a day and to take regular breaks.  One day in March, she worked a much longer shift.  She soon became so sick that her doctor told her to go back on bed rest.  A few days later, on March 23, she went to the hospital.  Doctors performed an emergency C-section.  She was 34 weeks pregnant.

When she had been on maternity leave for eight of the 12 weeks guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act, Planned Parenthood’s human resources department called her multiple times and urged her to return to work early, Ms. Hairston said.  She emailed the department and said she felt “discriminated against.”  She resigned in June.

“I didn’t get into the medical field to be treated like this,” she said.

The last she heard from Planned Parenthood was a letter asking her to donate money. She threw it in the trash.

Sadly, it is not just Planned Parenthood that struggles with treating pregnant employees appropriately.  The article cites examples of employees at both Avon and Wal-Mart who have had similarly disturbing experiences.

The very first command God gives to humans is, “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28).  According to Scripture, pregnancy is not a corporate liability, but a great blessing that fulfills one of the callings God has given to humanity.

Part of the problem with Planned Parenthood in particular is that, at the core of their mission, is a very different view of pregnancy than that of the Bible.  For Planned Parenthood, pregnancy is not a gift to be stewarded, but a choice to be made.  And, in certain cases at least, it seems as though some in Planned Parenthood wish their workers would make a choice of “no.”

I have written many times about the tragedies involved in abortion.  Abortion hurts the women who choose themAbortion destroys the babies who are lost because of them.  But this story presents yet another tragedy.  Abortion can hurt even those who carry little lives in them and bear little lives from them because they cannot work as long and as hard as their supervisors might want.  How inconvenient for the supervisors.

But, then again, perhaps there are things more important than convenience.  Perhaps life is more important than convenience.  And perhaps, if all this is true, how Planned Parenthood treats its pregnant workers is only the beginning of its problems.

January 21, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Pray, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”?

Credit: Wikipedia

It seems as though the wording of the Lord’s Prayer will soon be changing in the liturgies of the Roman Catholic Church.  Charlotte Allen reports for First Things:

On November 15 the Italian Bishops’ Conference announced that it plans to change the wording of the Lord’s Prayer in the Mass liturgy. The bishops want the current Italian equivalent of “lead us not into temptation” to become “do not abandon us to temptation.”

The bishops have now petitioned the pope to approve this proposed alteration – a petition he is almost certain to grant. In a 2017 interview with an Italian Catholic television channel, the pontiff expressed his distress with the current Italian wording – non c’indurre in tentazione, a literal translation of the Latin ne nos inducas in tentationem that is part of the Lord’s Prayer in the Vulgate versions of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

I would hasten to add that the traditional translation of “lead us not into temptation” comports not only nicely with the old Latin Vulgate, but with the Greek of Matthew and Luke.  So, why is Pope Francis so concerned with this translation?  Ms. Allen continues:

Francis opined that “lead us not” might confuse the Catholic faithful, because “it is not God who throws me into temptation and then sees how I fell.”

On the one hand, the pope is right in claiming that God does not lead us into temptation.  No less than Jesus’ brother declares:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (James 1:13-14)

James is clear that it is not God who tempts us to do evil; it is we who tempt us to do evil.  We, as the saying goes, are our own worst enemies.  God, on the other hand, does not and will not tempt us.

So, this begs the question:  why would Jesus teach us to pray to God that He would not lead us into temptation if the Bible says that God doesn’t tempt anyone?

Martin Luther, in his explanation to this line in the Lord’s Prayer, writes:

God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.

Notice that Luther begins his explanation of Jesus’ words with the promise of James 1:13.  This is the crux of Luther’s explanation of this line in the Lord’s Prayer because when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” we are praying a promise of God.  In other words, we are simply praying back to God what God has already sworn to do for us.

One of the wonderful things about the Lord’s Prayer is that the whole prayer is composed of God’s promises.  When we pray, for instance, “Thy kingdom come,” we know that God’s kingdom has certainly come in Christ, even without our prayer.  As Jesus Himself says, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9).  This is why Luther writes, in his explanation of this phrase, “The kingdom of God comes indeed without our prayer, of itself.”  Or, when we pray, “Thy will be done,” we know that God’s will is always done, even without our prayer.  As Job says to God, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).  This is why Luther writes, in his explanation of this phrase, “The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer.”  God always says “yes” to the Lord’s Prayer because before the prayer was a prayer, it was a series of promises made by God.  And God always keeps His promises.

What is true of God’s kingdom and sovereign will is also true when we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  God most certainly will not lead us into temptation because of His promise.  Praying this petition, then, can remind us of God’s promise.

What the pope suggests we pray about temptation – that God would not abandon us to temptation – is certainly a fine and needed prayer, but it is not the Lord’s Prayer.  It is good to pray Francis’ line, then, in addition to what Jesus says.  We should be careful, however, praying Francis’ line in place of what Jesus says.

For centuries now, Christians have prayed the Lord’s Prayer as they have received the Lord’s Prayer.  Perhaps, instead of trying to revise it, we should be content with just receiving it as well.

January 14, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Christ, Culture, and Witness

aerial-android-wallpaper-architectural-design-373912.jpg

A perennial question of Christianity asks:  How should a Christian relate to and interact with broader culture?  In his classic work, Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr outlines what has become the premier taxonomy of the relationship between the two as he explores five different ways that, historically, Christ and culture have corresponded:

  • Christ against culture: In this view, Christianity and broader culture are incompatible and Christianity will inevitably be at odds with and should retreat from the rest of the world.
  • Christ of culture: In this view, Christianity and broader culture are well suited for each other, and Jesus becomes the fulfiller of society’s hopes and dreams.
  • Christ above culture: In this view, broader culture is not bad per se, but it needs to be augmented and perfected by biblical revelation and the Church, with Christ as the head.
  • Christ and culture in paradox: In this view, culture is not all bad because it is, after all, created by God, but it has been corrupted by sin.  Therefore, there will always be a tension between the potential of culture and its reality as well as between the brokenness of culture and the perfection of Christ.
  • Christ the transformer of culture: In this view, because Christ desires to ultimately redeem culture, Christians should work to transform culture.

The categories Niebuhr outlines and the tensions he teases out in his taxonomy are just as salient today as they were when he first posed them in 1951.  Indeed, they are perhaps even more so as America slides into what many have christened a “post-Christian age.”

In my view, the first two categories won’t do.  To pit Christ against culture, as the first view tries to do, overlooks the fact that there is much good in culture.  It can also easily lead Christians into a self-righteousness that spends so much time trying to fight culture that it forgets that Christians are part of the problem in culture, for they too are sinners.

Conversely, to team Christ with culture and to use Christ to endorse your zeitgeist of choice also will not do.  As Ross Douthat explains, when this happens:

Traditional churches are supplanted by self-help gurus and spiritual-political entrepreneurs. These figures cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies, take out the inconvenient bits and pitch them to mass audiences that want part of the old-time religion but nothing too unsettling or challenging or ascetic. The result is a nation where Protestant awakenings have given way to post-Protestant wokeness, where Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen have ceded pulpits to Joel Osteen and Oprah Winfrey, where the prosperity gospel and Christian nationalism rule the right and a social gospel denuded of theological content rules the left.

Though I would take issue with Douthat’s characterization of Reinhold Niebuhr and Fulton Sheen as torchbearers for Christian orthodoxy, his broader point about what happens when Christ is made to mindlessly cater to culture is absolutely true.  Culture, it turns out, is a much better line dancer than it is a two-stepper.  It likes to dance alone and will humor Christ only as long as it needs to until it can find a way to leave Him behind and strike out on its own.

In my view, Niebuhr’s category of “Christ and culture in paradox” best explains the difficult realities of the Church’s interaction with culture and the biblical understanding of how to relate to culture.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul opens by writing:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:1-3)

The Corinthians prided themselves on being enlightened and educated.  Paul sardonically jibes the Corinthians for their arrogance, teasing, “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored” (1 Corinthians 4:10).  To a church that prided itself in being intellectually and socially elitist, rather than engaging in rhetorical and philosophical acrobatics to impress the Corinthians when he proclaimed the gospel to them, Paul came to them with the rather unimpressive, as he put it, “foolish” message of Christ and Him crucified.  Paul cut against the culture of Corinth.

And yet, at the same time he cut against the culture of Corinth, he also declared his love for broader culture and even embedded himself into broader culture in an effort to proclaim the gospel:

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

Paul was not afraid to appropriate culture in service to the declaration and proclamation of the gospel so that as many people as possible might be saved.

So there you have it.  Paul eschews cultural sensibilities at the same time he employs them.  Because Paul knows that Christ and culture live in paradox with one another.

We would do well to follow in Paul’s footsteps.  As Christians, we must not be afraid to cut against culture’s sinfulness and brokenness.  But at the same time, we must also not be afraid to embrace culture’s creativity and respect its sensibilities as often as we possibly can.  And we must have the wisdom to know when to do what.  Otherwise, we will only wind up losing the truth to culture or losing the opportunity to share the truth with culture.  And we can afford to lose neither.

Let us pray that we would faithfully keep both in 2019.

January 7, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,991 other followers

Questions?

Email Icon Have a theological question? Email Zach at zachm@concordia-satx.com and he will post answers to common questions on his blog.

Archives

Calendar

January 2019
M T W T F S S
« Dec   Feb »
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

%d bloggers like this: