Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: The Accidental Feminist

Courtney Reissig has gifted the world an excellent book on womanhood. From start to finish this book is a well-measured, winsome work given with grace for the sanctification of Christ’s Bride and clarifying of a Christocentric Complementarian vision.

This book is not about feminism. At least not primarily. This is a book about God; about Christ and his love, his righteousness—something which should be apparent from the subtitle “Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design,” but if you’re anything like me, that word “Feminist” becomes a bit distracting and you’re expecting a few more bared teeth, a few more claw scratches, and pages of ink spilled over those tired arguments offered on both sides of the evangelical sphere (and elsewhere); you’d expect the same exegetical arguments you’ve heard from your pastor on a Sunday or in conversation with that young college woman. But if that’s what you’re looking for—you won’t find it here. And yet I can’t say you’ll be disappointed either!

This book takes us where we’re at—men included—which is to say: it takes us as accidental feminists and tries to know and love God better.

With the caveat that “feminism is hard to pin down,” that “as culture has evolved, so has the concept of feminism…. To be a feminist today means different things for different people,” Reissig asserts her definition: “equality equals sameness,” and her definition plays out in “the idea that women should be able to be independent if they want to be.” (A definition broad enough and narrow enough to get us on the same page without alienating the outliers.) Truly though, this is accurate for every human—man and woman—since the fall; it is the original sin: I choose my own. This is a problem, but only, of course, if you believe that there is one who has authority over us—namely, God. With these assumptions laid, Reissig proceeds on two propositions: 1.) If we want to understand womanhood, we can’t rebel against the culture; we must seek the Word of God, and 2.) True freedom “is knowing that God had a good design when he created us male and female.” And these propositions set us up for the thesis of her book.

Thesis: “Our understanding of who God created us to be as women has everything to do with our display of him to a watching world.”

So again: this book is not about feminism as much as it is about God. The purpose of womanhood, of gender, is to reveal the God of creation. Does Reissig support her thesis? Yes, I believe she does. In her first chapter she buttresses her thesis with a ‘question of identity,’ short history of feminism, and explanation of God’s design in image, gender, and womanhood specifically. And really, it’s hard to dispute her trump card: if God is God, then God can do and require what he wants. Fortunately for readers, she explains this much more graciously in a way that accentuates the beauty of God and his wisdom. The second chapter continues the story post-fall, highlighting the tolls sin has taken on our will, and the remaining chapters clarify the implications for a God-centered vision of womanhood.

One of the strengths of this book is its approach. Reissig uses a systematic-cultural approach. In other words ‘worldview.’ She lets worldviews clash like ocean on a bluff and lets human experiences become enveloped in the spiritual realities. She is changing the way her readers view the world, not by giving atomized arguments from this or that text—since either side is adept at using the verses in question to further prove their own side. Her persuasive power comes not from Greek languages and ancient Canaanite homonyms, but from a big view of God who created the world and everything it. Reissig isn’t limited to the texts that deal with women, she is free to pull and consolidate all of Scripture into a supercharged punch that leaves you with almost no way to say “I don’t see it.” But the amazing thing is(!) this punch feels like a kiss; Reissig truly loves Christ and wants the world to see him because womanhood has everything to do with the way the world views the creator.

I look forward to the way this book advances the discussion. In order to argue against Reissig, the still-feminist would have to present a comprehensive worldview for ‘equality-equals-sameness’ in such a way that makes God ‘look better’ (that is to say more glorious) than he does here.

Reissig writes with evangelical women as her audience, but she does so in such a way that an ‘outsider’ could understand. She doesn’t presume much, and each of her chapters includes a “Restoration in My Life” section often highlighting subgroups of women who need ‘next steps’ or application points, and a study question section for individual or corporate use.

In later editions of this book, I can foresee improvement in an appendix format: “What about when the man isn’t behaving like a man/Jesus?” and “What about when life seems to require a switch of roles?”

I give this book 10/10 stars and recommend it to pretty much everyone. I see particular benefit for church leaders, women’s ministries, and engaged couples.

I received a free copy of this book from Crossway’s Beyond the Page program in exchange for my honest review.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon & Goodreads.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baxter: First steps for New Believers, pt.2

A few days ago I gave you the first 10 of a list of practical steps for new believers according to Richard Baxter. Now comes the conclusion to that list... numbers 11-20. Enjoy, take to heart, and again post any comments you have.

1.       Do not let your first opinions about the confusing things in Christianity, where the Bible is not clear, be unfounded, overly certain, or unchangeable; instead hold your opinions modestly with suspicion of your own immature understandings and with room for further information, supposing it possible, or probable, that upon better instruction, evidence, and growth, you may change your mind.

2.       If controversies cause any divisions in your community, make sure to look first at the interest of common truth and common good and the practice of love. And do not become a passionate fighter for any sect of the division. And do not become ashamed of peace, or your teachers, or overturn their teachings just so you can be seen as the truly-passionate or truly-believing person; instead suspect your own immature understandings, and do not voice your opinions until you are clear and certain; and join, instead, with the humble and peace-making… not with the feisty or divisive.

3.       Know that true godliness is the best life upon earth, and it is the only way to perfect happiness. Still try to learn it, therefore, and use godliness as the best choice; and work hard to resist those temptations which make godliness seem confusing, painful, sad, or unpleasant.

4.      Work, work, and work in killing the desires and pleasures of your sinful nature; and keep a continual watch over your senses, desires, and longings; and do not throw yourself toward temptations, occasions, or possibilities of sinning; instead remember that your sanctification & glorification depends on killing the sinful nature.

5.       Be so careful always about which teachers you entrust the guidance of your souls to. And be so careful with what friends you hold dearest and converse—make sure they are not ones who would corrupt your thoughts with false truths, or your hearts with hatred, commonness, indifference, or with an accelerated, divisive passion; but instead, if possible, choose wise, holy, heaven-like, humble, unblameable, self-denying persons to be your daily companions and close friends; but especially for your confidants.

6.       Make careful choices in the books you read. Let the Bible always have the first place, and then let it be the pure, engaging, heavenly works which best explain and apply Scripture; and then the well-researched history books of the church, followed by the works on sciences and arts; but be careful of the poisonous writings of false teachers which would corrupt your understandings, and be careful of pointless romances, meaningless plays, and false fiction which may deceive your imagination and corrupt your hearts.

7.       Be careful that you do not believe the teaching of unpunishable sin as if it were the gospel; and do not think of Christ as unconcerned with sin; and do not pretend indulgent grace for your fleshly peace-of-mind or laziness since these present a different gospel, a different Christ—in other words the teaching and practices of the devil against Christ and the gospel which attempt to turn the grace of God into idolatrous passions.

8.       Beware and watch for the noticeable effects of dying faith and its transition into fleshly affections or a counterfeit grace or faith of a different kind… and so beware of faith practices for religion’s sake.

9.       Do not promise yourself a long life, or  money and success in the world, or else it will entangle your heart with the temporary things and make you worldly ambitious with greedy plans, and it will steal your heart away from God and destroy all your true understanding of eternity.

10.   Make sure that your faith is truly of God and given to you by God, as the beginning, the way, and the end; and that everywhere in your life is written “Holy to God”—first and especially upon your soul, then upon everything you have or do; and make sure you do not lead others astray with an inconsistent, hypocritical relationship toward people.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Baxter: First Steps for New Believers, pt.1

I'm sure you've heard of Jonathan Edwards' Resolutions. Well, today I offer you an updated version of the Rev. Richard Baxter's Directions to Young Christians, or Beginners in Religion, for their Establishment and Safe Proceeding contained within his Practical Works (Volume II). It is certainly interesting to me that Baxter's idea of 'practical' is quite different from what many people today think is 'practical.' Nonetheless, here you go. In his volume, Baxter presents a list of 20 with significant explanation for each. But I have rewritten the subject heading for each section... and given you only 10 of them (the next 10 will be posted in a few days). And although these are directions for the young Christian, I think all believers would do well to follow Baxter's wisdom. Feel free to post your comments here!

1.       Be careful! Do not let the newness or examples of truth and Christianity convince you more than the truthfulness and need of the Christian faith; or else, when the newness and examples are gone, your religion will die.

2.       Be careful of being ‘Christian’ only in mind without passion and practice; or being only in passionate practice without thoughtfulness; but instead make sure that thought, passion, and practice are unified.

3.       Work hard at understanding the right way of Christianity, and see true teaching in their proper priority and purpose, that you do not mistake the primary issues for unimportant or the curious for the most important. For this reason make sure you are well grounded in theology; and do not refuse to learn some theology that is true and holistic, and remember it always.

4.       Do not hurry to controversies of theology, but when you do deal with them, let them have the appropriate amount of time and passion; but make your daily faith founded upon the undoubtable, vital truths which all Christians agree to be true.

5.       Be extremely grateful for the mercy with which Christ converted you, but do not see your first understandings and choices as the most important; instead remember that you are a child in faith and must expect to grow and mature after time and faithfulness.

6.       Do not be discouraged at the difficulties and persecutions which come against you after you have decided to walk with God.

7.       If it is in your power, live under a perceptive, faithful, concerned, searching, convicted pastor; and persistently attend his preaching and use his counseling conversations for more wise choices and for worshiping rightly; just as you would take the advice of medical doctors for health, lawyers for legal matters, and professors for schooling.

8.       Understand the excellence of unmerited love and unity among believers, and do not easily believe rumors against them; especially make sure that you do not join yourself to a clique because of someone’s pretended authority, number, truthfulness, or Christlikeness, and in so doing remove your proper love and community from other Christians by becoming most passionate about your clique and neglecting the common interest of the church. Instead love a Christian as a Christian. And promote the unity and well-being of all Christians.

9.       Be careful not to let any persecution or someone else’s bad choice make you feel illegitimate feelings or do illegitimate actions, and so steal away your love, humility, and purity as a Christian; or do not let them make you disregard your position by guarding against, despising, or rebelling against your authorities who are the officers of God.

10.   Do not get rid of or avoid an extreme without fearing and being careful of the opposite extreme.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: Locke's Trial Run

Thomas Locke has done it again… which is a feat worth mentioning because he has done so by crossing genre lines. Trial Run fits into the genre of Thriller proper but can be further categorized as techno- and psychological making this only the second I’ve read of this exact kind (the other being Skin by Ted Dekker). But if you’re familiar with the movie Inception, you’re familiar with the genre of Locke’s latest book.

*This is an analytical review; for plot overview please read the book description or other reviews. My goal here is to help you understand in which ways you will be influenced by this book (in addition to offering a few suggestions at a literary level).

This book presents the world as one in which external forces will always attempt to divide & conquer the good, loving, and true… but of course the good, loving, and true is more powerful (if only they face the evil head on). Indeed, a purpose-filled fate pulls us forward and although we don’t exactly know what the purpose is…we can trust that the transcendent “fate” is one which has the good, loving, and true as its end. If fate is the main theme, its supporting themes are love, forgiveness, community (teamwork), and inevitability. I list inevitability as a distinct subtheme because there is only one instance in which the characters question fate and attempt their own path… in other words: not only is there a fate guiding circumstances, but the characters simply accept fate as inevitable… there is no libertarian questioning here. Readers might be surprised to find several cases of romantic tension in the book, but they will be happy to discover that it is never forced (and to my literary critic mind, happy to find that all things aren’t tied up tidy with bows).

The book takes place in a contemporary world in the collegiate, scientific, and government settings and introduces us to a wide array of characters. In fact it’s hard to determine who the “main” character is—which is something I am glad to struggle with! There is no primary character which allows us readers to hear the stories of individuals as they fit into the whole and to be an outside observer… seeing ourselves in parts of the individual and being able to evaluate them in relation to the whole; consequently allowing us to do the same with our own persons. The character profiles aren’t exactly stock, but some of their relationships are unfortunately. There is, in my opinion, a character who plays the Deus ex Machina (if I can say that at all when the book is nearly based on the motif!); but it’s done in such a way that I didn’t realize until the book was over. That, I believe, is an excellent use of the plot device. The plot itself is rather curious. There is no overtly noticeable plot structure, and yet I wanted to read and read more. The best way I can describe the plot is “filling in the blanks.” The book presents so many questions all the way through that you continually want to know. It does this through both assumption and introduction, or both dropping you in the middle of the story without the assumed facts to bolster your understanding and by presenting new events and ideas that are certain to play a role later (and maybe already have! If we only knew the answers).

I think that, literarily, Locke needs to work on variety of sentence structure. During one instance, we are supposed to feel the calm tranquility of love and communion, but his sentences are so short that I read it like a rushed tryst. It seemed like once he started a flow of sentences, most of them followed that pattern for paragraphs & pages at a time. Included in this, Lock often resorted to the construction: “Not so much _______________ as _______________” which became pretty annoying. I think the construction is a good one for giving nuance and for heightening the moment, but it was certainly overused.

This book is written for thriller/sci-fi fans, and I think it offers them purpose… even if the purpose itself is still unknown. There is a reason, and a good one, that this technology is extant. There is a reason, and a good one, that we as humans feel peril and want a resolution. In comparison to Locke’s first book Emissary, it is similarly well-written (using a few stock elements), but ultimately engaging. In comparison to Skin, I much preferred the ending of Trial Run, if ending it could be called since this is the first in a series to come, but the tension of Skin is more poignant than in Trial Run.

I offer this book 8/10 stars, or 4/5 and recommend it to fans of the movie Inception who appreciate a bit of romance along the way.

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the Publisher for review; my thoughts are my own.

This review is crosslisted on Amazon and Goodreads.