Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

A Year of Biblical WomanhoodA Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is about a woman trying to figure out what it means to live her life according to biblical precepts. So why would men want to read it? Why should men read it?

Here are three reasons:

Rachel Held Evans provides glimpses into how different religious traditions each sets expectations for women. This is often a matter of historical tradition, something that goes unquestioned, but is frequently a burden to women. Men need to realize that religious traditions may be hurting and in some cases, abusing, women.

The book describes the self-doubt and self-condemnation that women may put themselves under for failing to meet their own expectations of what women are supposed to look like. We men can and ought to be aware of these inner struggles and be more conscious about truly walking alongside women as equals and partners in life.

Finally, many of the insights provided are not only applicable to Christian women, but equally to men. I feel that this book helps all Christians progress along to the ideal Paul described in Galatians 3:28, "There is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Evans writes with humor. I found myself laughing and chuckling throughout the book. She makes the mundane sound exciting. I now feel like I know Rachel better than I do most of my neighbors.

That's not to say the writing is shallow. It is insightful. It is deep. It questions and causes the reader, too, to question long held assumptions, traditions, and interpretations.

One insight I found particularly helpful was in regards to Evans' explanation of Proverbs 31, the passage in the Bible frequently upheld as the image of the ideal woman. Evans provides the reader with an alternate interpretation that is more faithful to the original intent, where the responsibility is actually on the man, rather than the woman.

I also found helpful the chapter where Evans meets with the Mennonites. The message I got was that traditions, even restrictive ones, can be valuable in that they provide meaning, value, and belonging. When traditions become a means of controlling another person is when things turn bad.

The chapter on submission may be the heart of the book. I believe Evans writes commendably on the cultural and historical contexts around the proof-text passages that are so often thrown around to force women to submit in conservative/fundamentalist Christian circles. She writes about the reality of life in the Roman Empire during the 1st century, and then describes the current of subversive idealism that can be found in the biblical text.

One problem I encountered was around page 123 in the discussion of the word "modesty" and the Greek "kosmios". The overall message does not change, but the precise details of the discussion may not match the book depending on the Bible version one uses to verify it. It is a minor quibble but one that I feel should be noted.

Evans approaches the reading and interpretation of scripture in a progressive manner; i.e., the text is not necessarily to be taken literally, that outside sources such as Jewish tradition can inform interpretation, and that the text must be seen through the lens of culture and history.

The endnote references are quite extensive and contain useful references. Nearly every chapter ends with one or more links to Evans' website where blog entries can be read that provides more information and stories.

The book was enjoyable to read and never tedious. I suspect moderate and progressive Christians will find this book quite appealing. I highly recommend it to all open-minded Christians. It ultimately does not dictate what the "right" answer to biblical womanhood is, but rather provides processes and principles that can guide each person in working through the issue for herself and himself.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: Healing Is a Choice

I finished this book last night and posted a review on GoodReads. Here is the review.

Healing Is a Choice: Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You from Making ThemHealing Is a Choice: Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You from Making Them by Stephen Arterburn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Particularly for a evangelical Christians who are suffering from emotional traumas and hurtful pasts, this book can offer much that is valuable. The author takes seriously the need for the wounded to utilize outside help. It is not a lack of faith to seek outside help, for God works through human agencies to bring about healing.

The importance of the wounded to make difficult but necessary choices in order to progress in their healing is the main thesis of this book. The author summarizes these as ten decisions that must be made. In the version of the Kindle book that I read, a large bulk of the book consists of workbook exercises that an individual or group should work through in order to apply each step as they are presented. The exercises will take time, effort, and commitment.

Many of the steps do not require a particular faith perspective, but a number are strongly evangelical Christian. This may turn away some readers. In particular I saw how the author brings up repeatedly abortion as an emotionally damaging issue. This may or may not be the case depending on one's worldview, but a pro-choice reader may find the dwelling on this particular issue unnecessary and even offensive.

Another point that might cause unease or turn away some readers is a certain amount of gender-stereotyping that the author seems to make. This is particularly pronounced at the beginning of chapter 4 where he discusses dreams that a person may have had as a child and young person. In the examples he gives, he speaks of men having "big dreams to conquer something or to achieve greatness" whereas "it is very common for women to believe that they will grow up and marry someone close to being a prince." This may be a very common evangelical perspective, but it may sound sexist from a more egalitarian view.

What I see could be the biggest problem is the tenth step where the author writes, "Healing is God's choice as well as the timing of that choice and the method of the healing." With what follows the implication is that even after making the necessary decisions to bring about emotional healing, because it is in God's hands, you may or may not see it happen, ever. While I realize that healing may not occur after following the steps, and (as a Christian - though not evangelical) I do believe that God holds the power of healing, the weakness I see is that by laying all responsibility for the actual healing onto God, it lets the author off the hook if the contents of the book are wrong or insufficient. Or worse, the blame is on the wounded because they failed to follow the prescribed steps exactly and make the necessary efforts.

I do think there is value in the information provided by the author, but I would not rely solely upon it. I think wounded individuals should heed the advice given to seek outside help and obtain additional perspectives and tools to help them achieve the healing that they desire.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Testing Theology

It is my observation (limited as it may be) that the truthfulness and validity of any point of theology in a religion is based primarily upon its derivation from the source it holds to be authoritative. In the case of Christianity (the religion with which I am most familiar) the authoritative source is the Christian Bible. If a point of theology can be sourced from the Bible, then it is assumed to be true.

That said, there are many ways of reading and interpreting the Bible and this, of course, leads to theological points held by different peoples and groups that are in contradiction to one another. That brings me to my question:

Is there a “test” that can be employed to determine if a particular point of theology is true or false?

I suggest that there is one. Even though theology is not science in the usual sense of the word, I believe it is possible and necessary to bring in processes and principles that are used in the social sciences, which are used to establish sufficient evidences to support the truthfulness of hypotheses in those fields.

Since controlled studies are sometimes difficult, if not impossible, in social sciences, what is often done are observational studies that take two events and determine a level of correlation between the two. The major problem with this type of study is that causation cannot be determined. It can be inferred, but it cannot be proven. But still, there is value in understanding that the two share a close relationship.

Might we be able to do the same thing with theology? I believe we can, and must. Does a particular point of theology correlate strongly to certain behaviors and attitudes? Because it does not prove causation, we may not know for certain if it is the behaviors and attitudes that lead a person or group to hold to a particular point of theology, or the other way around. But what I believe we can say is that if a particular set of negative behaviors and attitudes correlate to a certain point of theology, the truthfulness of that point of theology is in doubt. It really doesn’t matter if it is theology that leads to behavior, or vice versa: it is unhelpful in either case.

What happens when a point of theology is determined to be under question? There are a number of options. First, it may just be completely false; a lie. Or, it may be that the underlying reasoning to arrive at theology is flawed. Or, perhaps the interpretation of the text is wrong? Or, the text is no longer applicable. There may be other options. The important thing is to let go of bibliolatry (i.e., making the text a god) and let some of the other faculties (that God uses; e.g., our minds, our experiences) to help inform us about what is true.1,2,3,4,5

Here are some signs that I believe point to unhelpful and false theologies: theologies that are used to excuse or accommodate abuse, control, force, violence, fear, hate, manipulation, over-emphasis on individual salvation, over-emphasis on end-times, over-emphasis on “getting to heaven”.

1Job is a Bible character who reasoned and argued his position and beliefs about God against what his “friends” were arguing.

2Abraham argued with the Lord about the proposed action against Sodom, because what he [Abraham] knew and had experienced with God contradicted what he was about to do. (Genesis 18:22-33)

3Luke 10:27, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (ESV)

41 Thessalonians 5:21, “But test everything; hold fast what is good.” (ESV)

5Matthew 7:15-23; verse 20, “Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (ESV)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

When communicating with someone who has experienced spiritual abuse…

Many people never experience anything truly horrific in their spiritual lives. But some do. They are spiritually abused by those who, according to some kind of religious hierarchy, enshrined in laws, regulations, and policies, exert power over them. When communicating with those who have been spiritually abused, here are some pointers:

What Not to Say to Someone Who Has Suffered Spiritual Abuse