Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of Porn: A Post for My Christian Sisters

Hello Christian sisters.

I do believe this will be the first time I've written directly to women, but it's Valentine's Day, so what better time.

Well, it's become quite consistent now. I see women who are old friends from school, from church, and women at work talking about it. They've been passing the books around, swooning about the movie, and are setting up girls' nights out to see it.

50 Shades of Grey. I remember when I first heard my sister scoff about it and I had no idea what it was all about. “It's nothing but erotica” she said. “I can't believe my friends are reading it.”

I've often heard that women are tempted with sexual sin in a drastically different way than men. “Women tend to be tempted emotionally, whereas men are tempted visually” is usually the kind of thing you hear. While I know there's some truth to this, I've never entirely bought into the dichotomy, mainly because I've never found it to be true in myself. I find the emotional and physical desires for relationship tend to rise simultaneously in the depths of my soul.

Because of this, I'm no longer surprised when I hear that the porn industry has a growing audience among women.

That said, I see a very different challenge rising in our culture for Christian women. Where we men generally have to call porn what it is when indulging in it, women are now being offered the opportunity to indulge in temptation while giving it a different name. I believe at one point I heard one critic call 50 Shades of Grey a “tasteful love story.”

As a man who has had the porn industry take numerous bites out of his soul, there is a very pointed anger that arises in my heart when I see my sisters taken captive in this way. Indeed, the lines between Hollywood and the porn industry are growing increasingly blurry.

As a man who continuously fights this battle, I need to know that not only my brothers, but also my sisters are fighting along side me. If I fail in some measure, I need to know that I am not the only one who sees a reason to get up and fight tomorrow.

The devil is a liar. A mighty good one at that. With the release of 50 Shades of Grey as a movie, many of my Christian sisters are now under the impression that they can step into a theater to see it and call it something other than a surrender in the midst of a war.

As a man striving to look like Christ, the last thing I need is another excuse to compromise. The last thing I need is to look at my shortcomings and call them anything less than a betrayal of the beauty of the gospel.

Nothing makes me loath my own failures in this area more than having to look at you, my sisters, knowing that, in my heart, I've treated you as less beautiful and less valuable than you truly are. But now, in the midst of that battle, I see many of you treating yourselves that way without my help.

Many of you are swooning over a story that glorifies your objectification. You pass books around that make innocence something to be mocked, and depravity something to be celebrated. You are setting up girls' nights out to see images that you would rightfully be disgusted with your boyfriends and husbands for viewing.

I don't write strong words like this because I am immune to temptation, but because I am undeniably aware of my incredible weakness.

Sisters, if you're considering reading these books or going to see the movie, please don't. Don't surrender in the midst of war. If you already have, I know that in your heart of hearts you feel the shame that is in it. A shame that many men and now many women have experienced.

There is grace for you in the gospel. There is grace for all of us. Because of the cross, Christ has taken our shame. Not only that, but we now carry the beauty and righteousness of Christ. We can let that truth cause us to get up and fight another day, even if we have failed today.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mystery Concealed and Revealed

For those of you who are unaware, I just finished moving out of my apartment in Avon and have just settled in Victor. I'm currently housemates with a couple of families as well as a couple of fellow singles. I must say, it's lovely so far. The commute now required to continue joining you fellow GraceLifers has certainly increased, but all in all, God certainly seems to be working in the midst of the changes.

I figured I'd bring out the old computer and jot down some thoughts because this new environment has certainly been a good breeding ground for theological discussion and the exchange of thoughts on the Christian faith.

My fellow housemate, Ryan Internicola has been a great source of encouragement thus far and has been a great conversation partner. Just this morning I stumbled across his most recent blog post, (click here to read) where he expressed similar feelings. Actually, it's because of that post that I figured I'd respond in kind and get my blog back on the road... though, in-keeping with my academic nature, I'll probably be far more long winded.

Last night was certainly a fascinating exchange of thoughts. We talked about the Trinity. We talked about the nature of the Holy Spirit's work. We talked about how God makes plans while having all past, present, and future knowledge. Good times.

What's funny, at least to those who have read my blog over recent months, is that our conversation basically danced around one of my favorite topics, which is (drumroll please...), election and predestination! Shocker...

However, even though we didn't quite touch on it last night, Ryan certainly got the ball rolling a bit with his post. Another funny thing, again, for those who know me, is that I didn't see a whole lot in his post that I disagreed with! Strange... it's pretty much my job as a theology nut to find things to disagree with.

That said, I'd like to compliment his post with a few nuggets of my own. My aim is mainly to nuance what's already been said, though I'll try to point out a few distinctions in our thinking that might keep the conversational ball rolling.

One thing that Ryan strives for is the preservation of mystery where God has remained silent. He, as an artist, seeks to allow paradoxes to exist without analyzing the beauty out of them. I share a similar impulse.

What I love about Ryan's post is his strong emphasis on the transcendent nature of God. Indeed, there is no lack in God and no power that he does not posses. Yet, at the same time Ryan seeks to preserve a belief in God's passion for relationship with us. Struggling to keep that balance has been a prime source of debate in Christianity for centuries.

Ryan, like most, seeks to preserve the truth that God is sovereign over the universe while maintaining the biblical truth that human beings make choices in the midst of God's rule. We are culpable for our sins, responsible for our choices, and are creative beings living in God's creation.

On this note, I'd like to push the question a bit deeper by bringing some other biblical truths into the mix.

While we are rightly compelled to maintain human responsibility as we express our theology, scripture, in my opinion, does so in a much more counterintuitive way. Take for example, the life of Joseph—a story that has brought encouragement to God's people for centuries. In this story, Joseph experiences some of the worst evils that any human being could be expected to endure. His brothers rob him of everything and send him into years of injustice.

However, most of us know how the story ends. All the evil that is brought against Joseph turns out to be God's means of saving his people. Joseph summarizes the story by saying to his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20, ESV).

God did not merely “use” the evil that came upon Joseph, as though he did his best with circumstances out of his control. In the events that unfolded, humanity had evil intentions, for which they were responsible. Yet, in the same events, God had good and righteous intentions, for which he should be glorified. The very things that seemed to stunt God's plan and force him into a plan B were his very means of bringing about plan A.

The mystery we see is one in which humans are responsible and act according to their desires. Yet their choices are never made in contradiction to what God ordains. He will always be glorified to the fullest possible extent. The mystery is not whether human beings are responsible when God ordains all things, but how they are responsible. Both human responsibility and divine sovereignty are true, and what a mystery it is. Just because God ordains, does not mean we are to be passive. Just because we are responsible, it does not mean we create variables in God's plan. Go ahead... try to sort that out.

This brings us to the second truth I want to draw out. Human beings, as evidenced by Joseph's brothers, are sinners. While we are free in the sense that we can always follow our desires, our desires flow from a nature that is fallen. What I love about Ryan's words concerning the doctrine of God's foreknowledge is that he, whether intentionally or unintentionally, avoided a trap that so many Christians fall into. In Romans 8, Paul tells us, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined” (Rom. 8:29, ESV emphasis added).

As Ryan pointed out, “what was His criterion for each selection? Talent? Beauty? Goodness? Nah...” Contrary to what many Christians think, Paul does not say that God foreknew our qualities, or even our faith—as if faith was something God did not himself work in our hearts. Paul says God foreknew us—us helpless and wretched sinners.

When we talk about God knowing, we are not talking about him taking in knowledge, as if the God who brought reality into existence could do such a thing. We are talking about God's love for his people before time began. In Hebrew, to know often means to love—to choose in unmerited grace for the sake of relationship. In Paul's mind, foreknowledge almost seems synonymous with election, since only a few verses later he writes, “who shall bring any charge against God's elect?” (Rom. 8:33, ESV).

Paul and the other biblical authors did not express these truths in order to divide God's people in doctrinal debate, as important as debate can be, but to get them to glorify God for his gracious salvation. He did it so that we would know the profound and eternal love of God—yet in such a way that we would never know his love for us apart from the work of Christ. God's love for us will always redound to the glorification of him and the gospel of Christ's life, death, burial and resurrection. God's glory is always his and our chief end.

We're obviously dealing with some profound mysteries here. While I might not use Ryan's exact wording, “make truth, not sense,” I can see the target he's aiming for. While I don't want to imply that God is an illogical God, I must agree, the sense behind God's truth is often beyond our comprehension. Sometimes the sense comes through further study, yet much if it will not come until eternity. We must speak where God speaks, but we must be silent where he is silent.

So there you go... my long winded two cents. Hopefully they will provoke further discussion between me and Ryan both in private and in the blogosphere. But, more importantly, I hope you readers get into some conversations too.