Coloratura Christian

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Psalm 34:4-5)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Good Christians = Good Husbands? Part 2

The best part of this book by Doreen Moore, is how it made me think about the purpose of marriage and our responsibilities in marriage, with more depth and nuance than I previously had. For instance, what does it mean for a wife to be a "helper" (Gen. 2:18)? Is this speaking specifically about helping your husband to excel in his public work and ministry? Is it right for a man to marry a woman in order to enhance his ministry? What is the ultimate purpose in being man's helper? Should one's time spent in public ministry change if they get married?

The aspect of marriage that I hear most often discussed in Evangelical circles is a man's leadership and a woman's submission to his leadership. And while I strongly affirm this biblical truth, I believe there are other aspects of marriage spoken of in the bible that are largely neglected.

For instance, Malachi 2:14 speaks of a man's wife as his "companion and ... wife by covenant." I have not often heard it said that 'companionship' is a purpose of marriage. I was fascinated as Moore described Jonathan Edwards view of this aspect of the marriage dynamic:
The husband chose his wife to be close to him above all others. They share each other's joys and sorrows. They do all they can to help one another and seek the good and comfort of the other. "They rejoice in each other." Sarah was Jonathan's nearest and most intimate companion. Edwards also said that God commands "so great and dear a friendship to be maintained" (p.117).
The necessity of intentionally cultivating this kind of deep friendship in marriage is not something that I've thought a lot about (however, I am very thankful for my husband who has certainly done this.)

I was also interested to hear how
"Edwards clearly taught that married couples should seek to understand each other and meet each other's needs. However, the emphasis is on self-denial for the good and the happiness of the other, not the selfish demands that one's needs be met" (p.119).
It certainly takes time and effort to "understand" your spouse, and to be able from that understanding to act in a way that would benefit them. It is a special marriage when each understands the other's insecurities and can effectively encourage them, or when each knows best how to please their spouse and make their quality of life better.

Another aspect of marriage that Moore touches on is the necessity of meeting each other's sexual needs (1 Cor. 7:3-4), and not depriving one another for long (1 Cor. 7:5) (p.142) . (I can't help wondering how John Wesley, George Whitefield, David Livingstone and others who were gone from their families for such extended periods of time could ignore or somehow 'deal' with this verse.) Prov. 5:15-19 speaks of a man being sexually satisfied in his wife alone and that he should 'be intoxicated always in her love." (This seems to go expressly against Whitefield's view that love is a "foolish passion." See my earlier post here.) Jonathan Edwards seemed to enjoy this part of his marriage and commented that"the conjugal relation leads the persons united therein to the most intimate acquaintance and conversation with each other" (p.117).

Of course, she also mentions Ephesians 5:22(p.142). It is mind boggling to think that the sacrificial love, submission, cherishing and oneness that goes on in marriage is reflective of Christ and the church! What a privilege to be able to testify of this relationship in day to day life!

Some of the other responsibilities and purposes she lists are spiritual encouragement (Ecc. 4:9-12), producing godly children (Mal. 2:14), and that wives should obey their husbands and that husbands should live with their wives "in an understanding way" (1 Pet 3:7), which she rightly points out, necessitates that the husband is living with his wife and doing it in and understanding way.

In conclusion, I agree with Moore that marriage does necessitate changes in one's life and ministry. 1 Cor. 7:32-34 makes that clear. I believe that serving your family is a ministry and marriage in itself is testimony of the deep things of God. It probably should be said that the opposite could be true, and that someone could make an idol out of marriage to the neglect of other responsibilities that God has called them to. However, biblical responsibilities in marriage should not be neglected in the name of "ministry."

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Good Christians = Good Husbands? Part 1

I've been wanting to read Good Christians, Good Husbands? for a while, so when my husband brought it home from the library, I was eager to read it. This book by Doreen Moore looks into the marriages of three godly men who did much good for the Kingdom of God, namely, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield.

The fundamental issue she brings to light is whether a man's public ministry should take precedence over his family, or whether time spent serving his family should equally be considered the "work of the Lord." With each of these men she seeks to define their convictions regarding the role of a husband and father, their convictions regarding the role of a minister of the Gospel, and then how these convictions shaped their marriages.

She also touches on their wives, specifically, how they responded to their husband's convictions and how these women contributed to the marriage. This book is certainly useful for both men and women who seek to have a God honoring marriage, and who desire to find a proper balance between family and public ministry.

According to Moore, John Wesley believed that the Methodist cause was of a higher priority than marriage (p. 30). His public ministry was "the work of the Lord," while marriage was seen as a distraction from this work. He apparently told his brother two weeks after he married that "he had no more thought of a woman than for any other being: that he married to break down the prejudice about the world and him" (p.34). In other words, he married Molly to enhance his reputation, but had no more affection for her than any other person (p.34). I won't go into all the gory details of their marriage here, but it is enough to say that it ended in separation and he recorded in his journal that he did not even know that his wife died until "a day or two after" (p.58).

When George Whitefield proposed to a woman, he wrote to her parents, "For, I bless GOD, if I know any thing of my own heart, I am free from that foolish passion, which the world calls LOVE." To the woman he wrote, "The passionate expressions which carnal courtiers use, I think ought to be avoided by those that would marry in the LORD. I can only promise, by the help of GOD, to keep my matrimonial vow, and to do what I can towards helping you forward in the great work of your salvation." Moore goes on to say, "In our day and age, we might find his proposal formal and unaffectionate. Perhaps the young woman did too. Shortly after, she married... another man!" (p.68).

When Whitefield did marry, it seems that his wife was fully aware of his views on romance, and that he placed his public ministry above his marriage. According to Moore, she had to bare alone "frequent sickness, probably four miscarriages, and the death of her son" while her husband was pursuing his itinerant ministry (p. 85). However, she seemed fully accepting of this and as a result they enjoyed a cordial marriage.

When men such as John Wesley and George Whitefield, and others like William Carey and David Livingstone, have done so much good for the Kingdom, it can be easy to overlook the fact that they neglected or deserted their families. (David Livingstone only lived with his wife for 4 out of their 17 years of marriage) (p.11). One would think that if they had taken more time to care for their families, they would not been able to accomplish as much for God. However, Moore makes the good point in her conclusion that "we must remember, we only know what happened. We do not know what would have happened if another course was followed." She cites the example of Charles Wesley who "slowed down his labors for his family," giving him opportunity to write more hymns and pass down this "rich heritage" to the church (p.153).

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Artistic Tolerance?

I just got back from singing in a Showcase Concert at the Royal Conservatory. The concert went well, however, I was struck again by how often Christian morals are either made little of or straight out rejected in the arts community. As I looked over the program, I noticed that they had cut one sentence from my bio:
She is active in her church and loves to spend time with her husband, Clint.
All my other listed hobbies were left in...I guess faith and family were not relevant? It's ironic considering these are the two most important things in my life!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Do You Know What You're Asking For?

Cowboyology has directed me to an article by Mark Dever entitled, "Nothing But the Blood." In it, Dever deals with the various theories of the atonement, what the critics are saying, and what the Scriptures say. I highly recommend this article.

With the atonement being minimized and discredited by certain groups in the Christian community, it has compelled me to revisit the scriptures for clarity. Today being 'Good Friday', it is timely to be wrestling with Christ's atonement. Why did He have to die? Why does God not simply forgive us? Was Christ's death actually necessary or was it just one way among many for Jesus to show His great love for us?

Fortunately, the Scriptures do not leave us to wonder why Christ died, what type of sacrifice it was, and, how that sacrifice affects us. In fact, the Scriptures (old and new) are saturated with news of the atonement. Isaiah 53 says:
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

How humbling to think that the sinless Almighty Son of God went to the cross "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter." That He was "crushed for our iniquities" when the "LORD ... laid on him the iniquity of us all."

I am struck with how often I take the cross for granted--how easy it is to be presumptuous on God's grace, and to be forgetful of the great cost of our salvation. I am reminded of Sinclair Ferguson's words in his book, Deserted By God?, where he speaks of what David is unwittingly asking for in Psalm 51:

In asking for "mercy," David, you are asking that God will show it to you, but withdraw it from Jesus.
In asking to experience God's "unfailing love," you are asking that Jesus will feel it has been removed.
In asking to taste God's "great compassion," you are asking him to refuse it to Jesus as he dies on the cross.
In asking God to "blot out" your transgressions, you are asking that they will be obliterated by the blood of Jesus.
In asking to be washed, you are asking that the filth of your sin will overwhelm Jesus like a flood.
In asking to know the joy of salvation, you are asking that Jesus will be a Man of Sorrows, familiar with grief.
In asking to be saved from bloodguilt, you are asking that in your place Jesus will be treated as though he were guilty.
In asking that your lips will be opened in praise, you are asking that Jesus will be silenced, as a sheep before her shearers is dumb.
In asking that the sacrifice of a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart be acceptable, you are asking that Jesus' heart and spirit will be broken.
In asking that God will hide his face from your sins, you are asking that he will hide his face from Jesus.
In asking that you will not be cast out of God's presence, you are asking that Jesus will be cast out into outer darkness instead.

Is that what we want? It is the only thing that will prevent a sense of the absence of God from becoming permanent in our life. But dare we ask God to do this for us? To obligate himself to love us in such a manner as this? We do not need to ask him. He has already done it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bittersweet Partings

Tonight I received a book from the women at my bible study called Five Women of the English Reformation in light of our bible study finishing up for the year. (A book which I have wanted to read for a while--thanks girls!)

It has stuck me for the first time that we (my husband and I) are leaving Toronto for good in only a month, and I am suddenly saddened.
Our friends here are so dear to us. Our church family is relatively small, as a result we are quite close--knit together by our common love for Christ.

The seminary community (where my husband teaches Greek) has also been a source of kinship. My husband has benefited greatly from some of his colleagues. Two couples from this community in particular, Justin & Elisha Galotti and Ian & Vicky Clary, are like family to us. We all live on the same block and see each other often for fellowship. They are godly people who I highly respect and love. I never leave their company without feeling encouraged and refreshed in the faith.

This time in Toronto has been sweet in terms of fellowship. I am almost tempted to forget that we live in a 'cement city' with polluted and sometimes foul smelling air, mice, cockroaches, bedbugs, prostitution, drug dealers and murders on our front sidewalk.

That last rant actually made me feel a little better about moving.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What Brian McLaren's Friends Say...

Last night we went to hear Brian McLaren, the Emergent Church guru, speak at Richview Baptist Church. With the Emergent movement picking up momentum in North America, I often hear about it, but have had difficulty understanding exactly what it's distinctives are.

Of course the stereotype that comes to mind is the candelit service of 18-29 year olds, sitting on sofas drinking coffee, surrounded by art work for inspiration. The men all with their poetic goatees and piercings and the women with their post-modern counterparts.

After listening to a fairly lengthy Q&A period with McLaren, I can see why it can be difficult to define the Emergent movement. I don't think he made a single ringing affirmative about what he believes to be true throughout the evening. When asked a direct question he would often tell a rather vague story, or reply by saying, "I have a friend who said this" (implying that he agreed, but not taking credit for it and therefore not taking criticism for it either) or else he would reply with a question such as "What is the question behind that question?" While I agreed with some of his critiques of our culture, there were many times when I felt like banging my head against the wall because he would not give a straight answer to anything. Everything was so ambiguous and safe. He seemed to want to avoid conflicts at all cost.

I think this may be intentional. He was modeling his idea of humility, namely, that he wants people to become uncertain of any beliefs they hold strongly, and become perplexed (and therefore humble) and "join the conversation" that has no conclusions.

The funniest part of the evening was when someone noted that McLaren had the ability to avoid conflicts by raising the conversation to "a higher level," and asked if it was "a discipline" of his--to which McLaren answered in the affirmative. (Who would have thought that not answering questions was a "discipline!")

The saddest part of the evening was when he began to minimize the atonement, and tell a story to discredit penal substitution--well, it wasn't his story, but a "friend's" story.

And then he preceded to say that we should shift our attention from the atonement to the incarnation and think of the world not as sinful, but "sick" and Jesus as "medicine" and as the kingdom grows the medicine spreads--well actually, that wasn't his idea either, but a "friend's" idea.

When asked about the homosexual question, he said he believed it was not a theological question, but a missiological question (or was that a"friend's" conviction too?) And said it was up to each individual church to decide. If I understand him right, he is saying we should change depending on our culture. So that if we live in a community with a high homosexual population, we should be accepting and say it is alright, but if we live in a community where homosexuality is not widely accepted, we should not be so quick to accept it as kosher.

While he affirmed that abortion was wrong, he minimized it by asking why, if people are really so concerned about killing babies, are they not more concerned about global warming and it's effect on human life.

The impression I got from the evening was that the Emergent movement, in trying to engage our post-modern culture, has taken on the shape of our culture--shying away from absolute truths and believing in something that is so neutral that it couldn't possibly offend anyone.

And I couldn't help thinking of Mrs. Elton's false humility in Jane Austen's Emma. When complimented on her sandwiches, she responds with something like, "While I don't say so, my friends say I certainly know how to make a sandwich."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Arts and Culture at Reformation 21

The current issue of Reformation 21's online magazine contains some interesting music articles by Derek Thomas and Carl Trueman.

Derek Thomas writes an excellent article on Dimitri Shostakovich, a twentieth century Russian composer who lived under Stalin's regime. Shostakovich's music is characterized by dark and dissonant harmonies and very much reflects the horrors of his time.

Thomas' article is a good introduction to the famous composer, and it also answers some important questions for Christians in assessing the importance and worthiness of the arts. For instance, does "good" art come only from the minds and emotions of Christians? Is dissonant music less "Christian" than harmonious music? Was the apostle Paul culturally grey, and should we even invest time and energy into fine arts?

I have done some thinking on these questions lately, but it seems that Thomas would call a lot of my conclusions "naive". As I recall learning about the significant composers in University, I remember being shocked at the moral corruption and even evil insanity of some genius composers. My tendency is to think that their music is tainted because of who they are and that music of a "Christian composer" such as J.S. Bach is more commendable, lovely and excellent (Phil. 4:8). However, Thomas rightly points out that music composed by Christians is not intrinsically better than music composed by unbelievers and that "Christians are capable of appallingly bad judgments and poorly expressed artistic productions." You just have to turn on the Christian radio station to know this it true!

I have also thought that perhaps Christians should compose music with structure, consonance and beautiful harmonies as a reflection of God's order and beauty. And although I do enjoy a little chaos and dissonance in music, it does seem to convey more of the passions of the flesh. But Thomas makes the good point that this type of music can more accurately display the struggle of man and concludes his article by saying, "some truths can only be heard in minor keys."

On a lighter note, Carl Trueman admits he watches American Idol. It's a bit surprising, but I have to respect him for admitting it and being able to laugh at himself. He has some excellent insights into North American culture and our obsession with idolatry. After reading his article, I wonder if I'm a bit of a sadist. Be prepared to laugh because he's hilarious.