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Walls Fall Down

Mark Beuving —  September 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

Walls Fall Down - RutherfordI want to share a book that originated close to home: Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. Dudley is the pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, just over the hill from us here at Eternity Bible College. We’ve had a great relationship with Shepherd of the Hills over the years, so I was pleased to have a chance to review Pastor Dudley’s new book.

Walls Fall Down is meant to help you address the struggles in your life in a God-honoring way. Each time a trial arises, we have to choose to respond in a godly way. Too often our responses are less than Christian—we succumb to fear, we hold a small view of God, we try to “go it alone,” or we fail to follow God’s instructions in the midst of our struggles. Walls Fall Down offers powerful direction for those who want to overcome the struggles in their lives in a way that glorifies God.

The approach of Walls Fall Down is unique. Rather than simply listing out helpful tips for addressing trials, Dudley uses the Battle of Jericho recorded in Joshua 6 as an analogy of what it looks like to rely on God in a trying situation.

Now, it’s important to recognize that the book of Joshua is a narrative. In other words, it’s telling us a story—a gripping story that still has much relevance for us today. But the historical accounts in the book of Joshua are not primarily intended to give us advice on facing life’s problems. They tell us stories about God’s greatness and about the people who trusted in God (or who failed to do so). Nevertheless, there are principles to be gleaned throughout these ancient stories, and Walls Fall Down does an excellent job of carefully observing this great battle and drawing out principles that we need to consider as we navigate our modern world.

For example, Dudley paints a vivid picture of the highly fortified walls of Jericho and explains that Israel had to see their God as more powerful than the military fortifications of their opponents. Then he draws a parallel: we too, must view God as bigger than our problems. So true and so helpful! Similarly, Dudley observes that God’s plan seemed ridiculous (march around the city for seven days, blow trumpets, and the walls will fall down on their own!), but the Israelites had to follow God’s seemingly nonsensical instructions precisely if they wanted victory. So we today must trust God’s instructions—even when they seem crazy—if we want to glorify God in this life.

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley also begins each chapter with a fictionalized account that helps readers feel what it must have been like to be an Israelite during this unique moment in history. I found these sections, and the analogies drawn with the battle of Jericho, to be helpful as I considered what it requires to follow God’s leading today.

Now, there were one or two points where this format felt a bit limiting. For example, Dudley offers the reader true and priceless advice: as we follow Jesus in this life, we need to rely on the guidance of seasoned “veterans,” Christians who have gone before us, who have followed God in similar situations and found him to be faithful. Wonderful advice; point well taken. However, I don’t see anything in the biblical account of Joshua 6 that indicates that this dynamic was in play. It may have been happening, but the story of Jericho seems to show that God gave Israel the victory not because of their strategy, but because God was working miraculously through unusual means. So while it is true that we must look to the wisdom of seasoned saints (other biblical passages teach this), I don’t see it in Joshua 6. What this means to me is that Dudley’s teaching is sound and insightful, but that the analogy breaks down at some point (as they all do).

I’m glad Dudley wasn’t a slave to the format of the book and still chose to include powerful insights like this. Because the book is more than an exposition of Joshua 6, such additions work well. The format of comparing our modern life with this ancient battle makes the overall message of the book more powerful, and in the few places where Dudley took the liberty of reaching beyond the confines of the analogy, the message of the book is strengthened even further.

So if you’re looking for a compelling retelling of the Battle of Jericho, and if you want to focus your mind on what it takes to pursue God in the midst of trying circumstances, Walls Fall Down would be a great place to start. Dudley Rutherford and Shepherd of the Hills Church have had a powerful ministry for many years, and this book flows out of and will continue the work God has been doing there.

To this point, the books we’ve recommended as our book of the “month” have been popular level books—books that the average reader can get through without too much difficulty. This “month,” I’m recommending a book that will require more effort from the average reader, but I think it’s worth it.

The book is Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith and it’s the first in his “Cultural Liturgies” series. I think this is an important book, especially for those of us who are convinced of the importance of “worldview.” Here’s why.

Smith invites his readers to view our familiar world in an unfamiliar way. One poignant example he explores is the shopping mall. We believe the mall is a purely secular location that we visit on our terms to pick up items we need for our own reasons. But Smith paints the mall in a religious light (or rather, reveals the inherently religious nature of the mall, hence the term “cultural liturgies”).

Mall Cathedral

The moment we enter the mall, we gain a sense of transcendence from the vaulted architecture, the skylights, and the lack of windows, which divert our attention from the sea of cars outside and the mundanities of daily life. In this place, time is marked not by the ticking of the clock (which you’ll be hard pressed to find) but by cycle of festivals and celebrations for which the “cathedral” is regularly re-adorned. Oversized photographs on the walls and mannequins in shop windows function as icons, embodying for us a vision of the “good life,” reminding us of what our “worship” will produce and calling us inside to “taste and see.” When we decide to partake of this vision of the good life, we approach the altar, item(s) in hand, and the priestly salesclerk guides us in consummating our worship, sending us out with a benediction (“Thanks, have a great day”).

On one level, this is all nonsense—the mall is not a church. But Desiring the Kingdom argues that this interpretation of the mall is profoundly realistic. The world around us shapes us, not simply at the level of our intellect, but at the level of our desires. Commercials don’t convince us of the logic of buying their products, they appeal to our desires. They make us want it. And in doing so, Smith argues, the marketers are exhibiting a more biblical view of humanity than most churches hold.

Our society recognizes that we are not primarily thinkers. Rather, we are primarily lovers. We do what we do not because we follow our logic in every case, but because we are driven by desire. Think about it: Do you drink Starbucks coffee (or the more obscure and therefore more trendy type of coffee that you consider far superior to Starbucks) because you intellectually believe it is so much better than the alternative that you’re wiling to spend $2 for a small coffee and $5+ for other drinks? No. You drink Starbucks because your desires have been trained, not just for the flavor, but for the atmosphere and experience. It’s not necessarily illogical, but it’s deeper than logic. It’s about a vision of the good life that resides more in our gut than in our brain.

PrintAnd here’s where Smith’s argument gets very important. The world is busy shaping our desires. Meanwhile, the church fights back by filling our minds. We fight love with facts. This is where the worldview approach often falls short. Descartes famous saying, “I think therefore I am,” summarizes our default view of humanity. We are thinking beings. So put the right knowledge into a person’s head and he or she will behave accordingly. And there is some truth here. But we all know it’s not the whole picture. We don’t upgrade to the new iPhone because we believe the new features are worth the price. Our desires have been trained to despise our (months) old iPhone and long for the newest.

Smith’s solution is worship. Our desires are trained through worship, not just ideas. We need to shape our worldview, but we also need to shape our longings. We need formation, not just informationWe need to desire the kingdom. In this regard, Smith advocates liturgy, but in a broad sense. He’s not saying we all have to become “high church” in the sense that we all do responsive reading and observe lent. But he does argue that those things can play an important role in shaping our desires. Biblically speaking, we are whole beings. We’re not disembodied minds, we are embodied creatures. So involving our senses in worship, engraining deep habits and rituals into our routines can help to train our desires. It’s not just about thinking, it’s about worship. It’s about love. The marketers understand this, the church should as well.

That’s Smith’s overall contention, and I’ll warn you that he’s persuasive. As I said, it’s not the easiest book to read, but it’s also not the hardest. Smith intentionally took a middle path: the most scholarly discussions are moved to the footnotes, but the overall discussion is still meant to contribute to higher-level debates. Anyone who has had a year or more of college education should be able to hang with Smith’s arguments, and his writing style continually emphasizes key points.

This book has been very influential for me, and it’s shaping the way I view my role as a Christian, as a parent, as a church member, and as an educator. I would say this is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long time. Give it a shot.

 

You & Me Forever Cover - Francis & Lisa ChanOn August 26, you’ll get to read another powerful book from Francis Chan.

Francis has been hinting at writing a book about marriage for years now, but other important projects have taken priority. But now the wait is (almost) over. Francis and Lisa have been working together on this book, entitled You & Me Forever, and it will finally be available at the end of August.

 

The Premise

Francis and Lisa will tell you that there are many good books on marriage available. If you’re anywhere near the “marriage arena,” chances are you’ve read at least a couple. While You & Me Forever isn’t going to replace the best marriage books out there, it does offer a unique approach—an approach I’ve never seen before. Honestly, I wish this book had been available when I was preparing for marriage, and I plan to use it when I do premarital counseling with engaged couples.

The unique approach is evident from the first pages, when Francis says:

“Even now, I am working to make sure that my family is set up for the future. When most people make that statement, they are talking about financial security for their last few years on earth. When I say it, I’m referring to the millions of years that come after that.”

You & Me Forever is all about viewing marriage in light of eternity. With chapter titles like “Marriage Isn’t that Great” and “Don’t Waste Your Marriage,” the emphasis is on how marriage fits within God’s overarching plan, how marriage displays God’s glory, and how marriage functions as a part of God’s mission for us on earth.

What you won’t find here is a handbook of communication principles, advice to strengthen your sex life, or guidelines for handling finances. It’s not that these things are not important, but Francis and Lisa have written a different type of book—partially because that book has been written many times over, and partially because they wanted to write a book about marriage that didn’t focus on marriage.

To be sure, every chapter is about marriage. But Francis and Lisa insist on every page that while marriage is good—wonderful, even—it’s not ultimate. Our marriage-mania can easily push us to idolize marriage, idolize our spouses, idolize our kids.

You & Me Forever provides an excellent model for thinking deeply about marriage while always subordinating marriage to its proper place in relation to the God who made it and the mission he has given us.

What you will find in this book is a high view of God, a genuine delight in God’s gift of marriage, a passion to work on our marriages for the sake of God and his mission, practical stories that show the beauty and tragedy of marriage, and a call to put God first in everything—which is the only way any of us will survive marriage in the first place, let alone glorify God in it.

 

The Format

Francis and Lisa wrote this book together. In every chapter, the bulk of the material is written from Francis’ perspective (that is, the first person pronouns refer to Francis) and then Lisa adds a section to each chapter from her perspective. At times Lisa’s sections are nearly as long as Francis’, at other times it’s significantly shorter. But even the material that Francis wrote from his perspective was a team effort. Both are great writers, and the combination of their voices adds strength to the book.

Francis and Lisa ChanAnother interesting feature of this book is that Francis and Lisa want to use the book as a donation tool. So 100% of the net proceeds will fund a variety of important charities. As has always been the case, Francis is not looking to get rich off of his books (though he certainly could)—he just wants the book to be used for God’s glory at every possible level.

 

Where to Get It

You will be able to get a copy of the book at regular book outlets and at youandmeforever.org. Once the book releases, there will also be videos corresponding to the each chapter that you’ll be able to access for free at that web address. A workbook is also in the works that will facilitate group discussion and premarital counseling.

A big thank you to Francis and Lisa for continuing to follow the Lord and for sharing their insights in such a gospel-centered way.

 

You and Me Forever – Francis & Lisa Chan (Trailer) from Marcus Hung on Vimeo.

Having read several reviews of Vines’ book over the last 24 hours, let me begin my critique on a different note. I don’t assume that Vines is reading his view into the text. Last time I checked, I’m not God and I don’t have direct access to his interpretive motivations. What I do have access to are his vines 1actual biblical and historical arguments, and it is these that I will discuss in these blogs.

I also want to set aside the whole “overturning centuries of tradition” critique. Yes, church tradition is non-affirming of gay and lesbian relationships. It was also non-affirming of a heliocentric solar system until Galileo dared to go against centuries of well-established tradition. I’m unashamedly Protestant; I believe that the God-breathed text can (and sometimes does) overturn tradition. While the tradition argument should be considered and weighed, it’s a bit of a red herring. Vines knows that he’s going against tradition. But 80-90% of his book shows why he believes that the authoritative Bible challenges this tradition. Such a proposal is bold, if not risky. But it’s not inherently wrong—if you’re Protestant.

So again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It’s not that I don’t like pudding, or that I think Vines is a bad cook. But the pudding he’s served up is missing some key ingredients.

A major thread throughout his book is that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world” (pg. 104; cf. chapter 2), and this is a serious and necessary claim. Think about it. Paul’s language in Romans 1 could be taken to refer to straight people having gay sex—they exchanged the natural function of the male/female. And if Paul didn’t know what we know now, that some people are simply born gay, then perhaps he wouldn’t have said what he did. Or, put differently, since same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world (the cornerstone of his argument), then Paul could not have such people in mind. Paul was only condemning straight people who got bored with heterosexual sex and ventured into new, same-sex territory to satisfy their hyper-lustful urges.

My initial thought is: does it matter? If we were able to bring Paul up to speed with all of our psychological wisdom, would his argument in Romans 1 look different? Or, isn’t it a bit bold to think that we in 2014 have arrived in our understanding of sexual orientation? In 400 years or 800 years, will people look back on our silly and backwoods scientific views, just as some look back on Paul’s (seemingly) patriarchal views? The ever-changing fields of psychology and social science are suspicious starting points for moral arguments.

But let’s grant Vines’ assumption. Let’s say that our modern understanding of sexual orientation is as polished as we think it is and therefore a valid starting point to read the New Testament. Houston, we still have a problem: Ancient concepts of same-sex orientation did exist in Paul’s world.

I’m not sure if Vines ignored or simply did not come across the piles and piles of historical evidence that works against his thesis. Only God knows. In any case, if you’re genuinely interested in this discussion, you need to know that the ancients did in fact have beliefs about what we now know as “same-sex orientation.”

Aristotle for instance said that some homoerotic desires come from habit, but others spring from nature (Eth. 1148b). In other words, some people are born with same-sex desires. Some ancients even speculated about certain biological defects that cause some men to desire other men. One writer explains that males who desire to be penetrated are born with a physiological vines 3defect where semen is abnormally secreted into the anus and sparks a desire for friction (Pseudo-Aristotelian Problemata 4.26; cf. 879a36-880a5; 879b28-30). Soranus, the Greek physician from Ephesus, also believed that same-sex desire is shaped more by nature rather than nurture, but locates the source of the desire in the mind or spirit (De morbis chronicis 4:131, 132, 134).

We can certainly write off such speculations as unscientific, barbaric, and downright wrong. And we should. But the veracity of such claims about orientation is irrelevant. What matters is that ancient writers were making such claims about orientation. It is clear that at least some of Paul’s contemporaries believed that same-sex desires were biological.

Some writers were not as specific—or creative—as the medical texts cited above about such orientation, yet they still seemed to believe in a form of what we would call homosexual orientation. Phaedrus, who wrote his Fable around the time of Paul, presents a mythological account about why some people desire sex with the same gender. He says that the god Prometheus got drunk and attached male genitalia to women and women genitalia to men. In other words, some women are trapped in men’s bodies and some men are trapped in women’s bodies (Phdr. 4.16). The account, of course, is mythical and humorous, but nonetheless reflects ancient assumptions that desire for same sex intercourse is inherent. Less mythical is Lucian’s report of a woman named Megilla who says: “I was born as a woman like the rest of you, but my mind, desire, and everything else in me are that of a man” (Dialogue of the Courtesans 5:4). Today, we would say that Megilla was a lesbian—or transgendered—even if such categories were not available to the ancients.

Bernadette Brooten—an affirming scholar, by the way—has gathered evidence from ancient astrological texts, which suggested that sexual orientation was determined by the arrangement of the stars. One text says: “If the Sun and Moon are in masculine signs and Venus is also in a masculine sign in a woman’s chart, women will be born who take on a man’s character and desire intercourse with women like men” (Matheseos libri viii 7.25.1). Dorotheos wrote her astrological poem, Carmen Astrologicum, right around the time Paul was sending his letter to the Roman church. In it, she says that if the sun and moon are at a particular location when women are born, they “will be a Lesbian, desirous of women, and if the native is a male, he will be desirous of males” (2.7.6). After looking at many more examples, Brooten concludes: “Contrary to the view that the idea of sexual orientation did not develop until the nineteenth century, the astrological sources demonstrate the existence in the Roman world of the concept of a lifelong erotic orientation.”

I could list many more examples of ancient concepts of sexual orientation, but suffice it to say: Vines’ claim that “the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world,” which is crucial to his entire argument, ignores a wealth of historical evidence to the contrary. Maybe Paul did not have any concept of sexual orientation, or maybe he did. In any case, we cannot appeal to the absence of such a view in his cultural environment and then project it upon Paul as Vines does. When Paul therefore says that “men…gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27), he is not revealing ignorance about sexual orientation.

There’s no reason—no good historical reason—to believe that Paul was unaware of same-sex orientation.

Matthew Vines is fast becoming a significant voice in the church’s debate about homosexuality. Matthew is a young, gay Christian, who has done more research on the Bible’s view of homosexuality than any 10 people I know. A couple years ago, he gave a lecture at a church that summed up his initial findings of his research. The video of the lecture went viral in the Christian world—nearly 1 million views—and now he has written a book that further articulates his vines 1view. God and the Gay Christian (Convergent, 2014) hits the bookstores today (April 22) and it’ll no doubt persuade many Christians to believe that the Bible affirms same-sex marriage.

Matthew’s publisher was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the book, so I’ve been combing through it over the last few weeks. Since this is going to be such an important—and debated—book, I want to write several blogs reviewing it. For this first blog, I want to highlight its positives aspects. This is not because I agree with Matthew’s conclusions, but precisely because I don’t. Having been knee-deep in the same research that Matthew has been engaging in, I’m able to follow his argument and research very easily. From Plutarch to Gagnon, Rufus to Martin, Plato to Brownson, and Seneca to Boswell, I’m reading the same stuff. And if Plato is the only name you recognize from that list, it’ll be good to know that many scholars both recent and ancient have been seeking to understand the phenomenon and morality of men and women desiring sex and marriage with the same gender. Vines’ book is one more addition to a very large, and very old, debate about same-sex unions.

So, for the pros. First, from everything Matthew says, he’s clearly committed to the authoritative, inspired, inerrant text of Scripture. Vines destroys the stereotype of someone who wants to be a gay Christian but is much more gay than Christian. I’ve read many appalling essays and books by people who want to maintain some vague notion of faith or spirituality, even though it’s clear that their sexual desires are their god. Matthew doesn’t believe in a Gumby Jesus, whom we can bend and mold however we see fit; rather, Matthew seems to go where Scripture leads him. And according to this book, Scripture has led him to conclude that the Bible affirms (or at least does not condemn) consensual, loving, monogamous gay and lesbian marriages.

I know, I know. “Scripture didn’t lead him there, it’s his inaccurate, biased interpretation of Scripture that wrongly led him to his sinful conclusions,” some will say. Perhaps. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we need to look at his actual arguments before we dismiss them. Plenty of Christians were accused of similar non-traditional interpretations of the Bible. Galileo was condemned for his wrong interpretation of Scripture when he said that the earth revolved around the sun, and many abolitionists were condemned by Christian slaveholders because they were forcing their views that all people are equal upon the text. We are all subject to biases and baggage—misinterpreting the text. The best way to tell is to look at the actual arguments to see if they hold weight. And this I will do over the next few blogs.

Second, Matthew Vines has done more research on the Bible and homosexuality than any traditionalist I have met. His rather short book has nearly 25 pages of footnotes, many of which interact with scholarly sources both ancient and modern. He’s not just citing the latest psychological study, nor just relying on his own experience. He’s carefully weighing historical and exegetical evidence for what the Bible says about homosexuality—and what the ancients believed vines 2about homosexuality. As one who has been combing through the same texts, I can applaud Matthew for doing a ton of grueling work. It’s not easy to pour over a pile of dense literature (some of it written in Greek and Latin) and then try to explain it to a lay audience. But Matthew has. And he’s done a fine job for the most part of explaining, even though he makes several mistakes in the process, as we’ll see in future blogs.

Third, Matthew’s book is incredibly clear. Clarity is not always forthcoming, especially in younger writers. Matthew’s book is quite different and he’s clearly a gifted writer, along with being a very good thinker. Few people can listen in on discussions going on in the Ivory Tower and then climb down to communicate them to the masses, but this is exactly what Matthew has done. Matthew, if you’re reading this: you have a gift and it’s evident from this book.

Fourth, I agree with several points he makes in the book. For instance, chapter 4 “The Real Sin of Sodom” is spot on. Matthew and I have arrived at the same conclusion (though independently) that God condemned Sodom for attempted gang rape, not for pursuing consensual, same sex marriages. Also, Matthew has a good understanding of the Greco-Roman view of sexuality and gender, which of course forms the backdrop for Paul’s references to same-sex activity in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 1Timothy; however, as we’ll see in the next post, he still leaves some important aspects out of this discussion. Same thing with his discussion of Genesis 1-2. Many good points, but he still leaves some key features out.

Matthew’s book is definitely a discussion starter and it will, no doubt, trigger a wave of responses. However, my fear is that people will read this book as the last word on the subject. Or, people wanting to affirm same-sex relations will read Matthew’s book without a critical eye (in the same way that conservatives will read Gagnon or whomever without actually looking for the pros and the cons). There are several mistakes in the book that are significant enough to leave his argument resting on a shaky foundation.