Book Review: “Simply Trinity”, by Matthew Barrett


Over the course of my life, I’ve observed a wide spectrum of the evangelical world, and even some fringe groups, and even cults. While I’ve never been in a cult, I have been in churches that proved to be on the fringe. In those cases, I managed to get out “while the gettin’ was good”, before the implosion went down.

But here’s the thing: one of the telltale signs of a movement that is in danger of going off the reservation–or has already moved off the reservation–is abandonment of the fundamental understanding of the Trinity.

I realize that the Trinity is difficult–arguably impossible–to comprehend from the standpoint of our temporal, finite frame of reference. So being confounded by the complexity of it is understandable. On the other hand, if you’re going to be a minister or a teacher, you need to have a good understanding of Trinitarian theology, and that includes an appreciation for the amount of thought that the Early Church fathers put into articulating a Biblical understanding of the nature and character of God, one which culminated in the Nicene Creed.

The point I’m making here: when someone comes up with a novel articulation of the Trinity, you need to be very wary.

So, in 2016, when Dee Parsons alerted me to some high-flying complementarian leaders who were promoting the doctrine of Eternal Subordination of the Son (ESS, also known as Eternal Functional Subordination, or EFS*), I was immediately very skeptical of this doctrine.

Why was I skeptical?

  • In almost 1,600 years post-Nicea, which includes Medieval scholars, schisms, Reformation scholars, many Councils, and post-Reformation scholarship, the most iconic theologians never articulated such an understanding of the Trinity, and in fact they specifically rejected any premise of eternal subordination of the Son.
  • Particular leaders within the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) were advancing ESS in order to provide theological support for their complementarian model for gender relations. While I identify as a patriarch–I believe that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is head of the Church, and that 1 Timothy 2 generally precludes women from eldership in the Church–I have a serious problem when people create God in their own image in order to justify their position. And that is exactly what the ESS proponents at CBMW were doing.

In the years since, I’ve kept the ESS debate on my radar. Also, during that time, I started reading some of the Nicene and Post-Nicene theologians, just to see what their takes were. What was really poignant: many of the arguments that the Arians made at the time–and the responses of the Nicene crowd–sounded eerily similar to the ESS debate today.

In more recent years, the ESS debate has heated up, with Bruce Ware, Wayne Grudem, Denny Burk, and Owen Strachan–of the CBMW–advancing the case for ESS. Ware and Burk are professors at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Burk is at Boyce Bible College, which is part of SBTS), and Strachan was a theology professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (he left MBTS this past Spring to take on a position at a different seminary).

I also noticed some pastors in local churches advancing ESS. I warned one of them–whom I know–to RUN from ESS, and gave him a mach 5 version of why it is a very bad doctrine. Five years from now, he will either be thanking me or wishing he’d listened to me.

One of the reasons that ESS has taken hold in evangelical circles is that, at the ground level, Baptists and evangelicals don’t really understand the Trinity. Ministers barely get it, if at all. And most laypersons are totally clueless. Fact is, if I started talking about ESS to the average guy in my church experiences, they would look at me like a deer in the headlights. That has left a Church situation that is very susceptible to neo-Trinitarian heresy.

Enter Matthew Barrett, a theology professor at MBTS.

Barrett, who was once a student of Bruce Ware during his student days at SBTS, began to pick up on some of the neo-Trinitarian ideas coming from Ware and his camp. As a theology professor, he did his homework.

The fruit of that labor–Simply Trinity–is both an excellent primer on Trinitarian theology, and a theological and exegetical case against ESS.

In ST, Barrett does an excellent job highlighting some key concepts that form the bedrock for understanding the Trinity:

  • (a) eternal relations of origin;
  • (b) eternal generation;
  • (c) the difference between the immanant Trinity (the ontological nature and character of God) and economic Trinity (the expression of the Trinity toward the created order, especially in the economy of salvation); and
  • (d) simplicity: the premise that God is not made of parts, that God is one divine essence.

Throughout the book, Barrett brings the discussion back to these fundamental concepts. A very key point, that Barrett brings home, is the historical understanding that the only distinguishing characteristic among the members of the Trinity are their eternal relations of origin: The Father is eternally unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten, and the Holy Spirit is eternally spirated; i.e., eternally proceeds from the Father and Son. (As Barrett says it: “These relations alone distinguish the persons, identifying each person’s personal property.”)

There was never a time when the Father was not; there was never a time when the Son or Holy Spirit were not. Each is all God, but they are not separate “Gods”: you do not get “more” by adding them up, and–even if you could subtract (and you can’t, because God is indivisible: He is one)–you would not get “less” God.

Barrett also describes how the evangelical world became susceptible to “Trinity Drift”; a dynamic in which the evangelical world subtly began slowly embracing novel ideas about the Trinity, allowing a fertile ground from which ESS would emerge.

One of the most damaging factors in Trinity Drift was the rise of a social understanding of the Trinity, also known as Social Trinity: that the Godhead is a society of persons. This became the theological basis for the egalitarian movement, as well as all variations of Liberation Theology, including sexual liberation. (I can affirm what Barrett says, because I have gone toe-to-toe with sexual liberationists and socialists for whom the Social Trinity of Liberation Theology is a foundational truth.)

From there, Barrett issues a severe indictment against EFS/ESS:

  • EFS is a variation of Social Trinity, the difference being that the EFSers cast Godhead as a heirarchical social Trinity whereas Liberation Theologians cast the Godhead as a society of equals.
  • EFS is reflecting of a proof-texting, eisegetical approach to the Scriptures that conflates the immanant Trinity with the economic Trinity.
  • By injecting a heirarchy in the Trinity, EFSers are flirting with multiple heresies that the Church has spent no small amount of time fighting.

The book is not something for easy reading; most theology books are not. Still, Barrett provides an excellent explication of Trinitarian fundamentals, with very solid exegesis of Scripture and well-researched highlights of key Trinitarian scholars from the Nicene era to today.

One of the most important points to ponder here is something that evangelicals have with tradition: to what extent do we value traditions of Church fathers of prior eras?

Unlike Catholics–who sometimes equate Tradition on the same level as Scripture–modern evangelicals tend to take a low view of Tradition. As a result, modern evangelicals are not high on the theological takes of scholars of prior eras, with perhaps some exceptions for Luther, Calvin, and a few key Reformation-era theolgians such as John Knox.

The problem is, this mindset has contributed to substantial ignorance of past theological battles, and the issues that led to them. This has led us to the mess we are in today. While none of the Fathers were infallable, I would suggest that, where key doctrines have stood the test of time, we must give those very strong weight. Because, as Solomon pointed out, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Against this, Barrett provides a glimpse into history: using a Back to the Future style–he invokes the DeLorean–he takes the reader back in time to different eras, highlighting key scholars and their takes on the Trinity.

Where he proves exceptionally strong, however, is his exegesis of “aha” texts for ESS. His takedown of Ware is as thorough as it is brutal. The ESS/EFS model represents a manipulation of the Trinity, a case of theologians creating God in their image in order to advance their gender-relations model.

The conservative who subscribes to ESS will (rightfully) disagree with the liberal Liberation theologian who promotes socialism and sexual liberation. The problem is that while the two will disagree strenuously on the ends, they are in agreement on the means: each has molded the Trinity for their own purposes.

This is an ominous trend, as the ESS/EFS crowd, by embracing this model–which is the product of sloppy hermeneutics if not eisegesis–has left an otherwise conservative sector wide open to the threat of liberalism. This is because, if you embrace liberal frameworks, you undermine the foundations for conservatism, even as you outwardly affirm those.

One of my biggest areas of frustration with the neo-Calvinist movement–which is the sector that espouses ESS/EFS–is their stunning level of hubris in this matter.

If you’re going to advance a novel take on the Trinity, you’re going to need a very strong exegetical case. You have the burden of proof of showing that your claim of wisdom on this stands up to the Nicene fathers. You have the burden of proof to show why your exegesis justifies a paradigm that is mostly absent from the theological discourse of the last 1,600 years of a Church that has been patriarchal. (In other words, even a historically-patriarchal Church has not arrived at a consensus anything close to ESS in her two millennia of existence. So if you’re going to promote it, the bar is very, very high.)

Having studied the Scriptures, I see no case for eternal subordination of any member of the Trinity. While, in the economy of salvation, Jesus humbled Himself and gave up the glories of the eternal frame of reference to enter time and space as a man–living in submission as we all are subject (only without sin), dying for our sins, and coming back from the dead–what we see in Scriptures, from an eternal frame of reference, is an immanant Trinity that prsents the Three Persons as co-equal, not subordinate, with their distinctives solely in their eternal relations of origin.

This is the point that Barrett drives home thoughout Simply Trinity.

As a conservative, I see the Christian faith as a conservative one: we are committed to conserving the teachings of Jesus, going to great lengths in archaeology and scholarship to ensure that the Biblical text is solid, that we get meanings right, that we present God as revealed in Scripture. We also go to great lengths to ensure that we conserve foundational fundamentals: the Bible is not fake news, miracle accounts did happen; Jesus is God; Jesus was conceived/born of a virgin, Jesus did die for our sins, Jesus did come back from the dead; Jesus will come back again.

There is nothing conservative about ESS/EFS: it is a modern spin on an old-school heresy. It is the product of eisegesis, ironically coming from a crowd that exalts itself as committed to exegesis. The Trinity of ESS/EFS is man-made.

Barrett provides a call to the troops to return to home base, and embrace the Biblical, unmanipulated Trinity. And in the process, like Alexander in his rebuttal to Arius, Barrett–in his rebuttal of Grudem and Ware–provides a robust, Biblical explication of the Gospel.

I give it five stars.

*ESS/EFS is a doctrine that presents Jesus as eternally subordinate to the Father. In classical and historical understandints of the Trinity, Jesus is understood has being subordinate only in the economy of salvation whereas, in EFS/ESS, Jesus is subordinate to the Father not just in the economy of salvation, but also through all eternity. This is in conflict with Genesis, John, Colossians, and Revelation, which present a Jesus who is Creator and co-equal with the Father and Holy Spirit, with their eternal relations of origin being the only distinguishing factor. In my debate with a complementarian leader who insisted that EFS is not heretical, he insisted that EFS is not the same as ESS, which he believes is heretical. I disagree with him: EFS is an attempt at walking back ESS to make it seem more orthodox. But Barrett does a good job pointing out that this, itself has problems.

Book Review: Sheila Gregoire, “The Great Sex Rescue”

Over the last three years, I’ve made some very good friends in the #churchtoo wars. One of them has been Sheila Gregoire, who writes about marriage in general–sex in particular–from a Christian perspective. In the Twitter world, I’ve seen her take on some majorly wrongheaded teachings that have come from the more fundamentalist world, everything from “Biblical/nouthetic counseling” to some of the really toxic teachings regarding sex that are common in the evangelical world.

The latter served as a backdrop for her latest book, The Great Sex Rescue (GSR), co-written with her daughter (Rebecca Lindenbach) and epidemiologist Joanna Sawatsky, who helped design and conduct the scientific study that connected many problems faced by married women with the teachings of popular evangelical books. This was a common theme throughout the book: the toxicity in common evangelical books.

Before we get started, I would like to provide the following stipulations:

  • I am not a “sexpert.” Nor am I a sex therapist. While I will discuss sex here, I will discuss it from what I think a Christian mindset ought to look like.
  • If you suffer from physical or trauma issues, please see a physician and/or a therapist. If sex is painful for you, that is something for a physician to address. If memories from traumas are hurting you, there are therapies (such as EMDR) which are very effective, which were not available 30 years ago.
  • If you are in an abusive relationship, you need help. You need to consider pressing charges if the offenses constitute assault. You may even need an exit strategy.
  • This also applies to men who are victims. While we often associate abusive marriages with abusive husbands–they get all the press–it is also true that women can and do abuse their husbands. And if she is physically abusing you, it will be near impossible to salvage that.
  • Marital infidelity is never excusable.
  • Neither is porn use.
  • Contrary to popular perceptions, pornography is not exclusively a man’s vice. And when you factor in romance novels–which Sheila doesn’t–both sexes have a collective objectification problem. (I’ll have more to say on that.)
  • If she’s postpartum and you are trying to force her to have sex with you, then you are a douchebag.
  • While Sheila writes from a more egalitarian standpoint–and I am not an egalitarian–one need not be an egalitarian to be outraged at much of the toxicity in complementarian/patriarchal evangelical teachings on sex and their ramifications.

On one hand, Christians actually have better sex than other demographic groups. As we have pointed out here: married, conservative Protestant women are the most sexually-satisfied demographic group.

On the other hand, when you drill into some of those numbers, they still suck. Especially the “orgasm gap” (OG). While men reach orgasm over 95% of the time, women tend to lag well under 50%.

While Christians tend to fare better, it’s still pretty bad. GSR seeks to address the orgasm gap in specificity, and–in their research for the book–they sought to determine if teachings from popular evangelical books* were contributory to the orgasm gap among Christians. In their study, they also included secular marriage books to determine how the teachings in those books were received.

The bad and good news: the GSR team determined that a very large part of the OG among Christian women is tied to particular evangelical teachings.

Why is it bad news? Much of the evangelical world has transactionalized sex, using 1 Corinthians 7 as a pretext.

Why is it good news? If we can get folks to un-learn (in many cases simply re-frame) their understandings, then Christian women–who already have better sex than outsiders–would be violating noise ordinances on a more consistent basis.

While that last clause was only half-serious, my point is this: if husband and wife approach marriage in general–sex in particular–with the right mindset, we’d be collectively destroying every scientific study on the subject.

Early in the book, Sheila notes (correctly) that, while the penis is designed for both pleasure and procreation, the clitoris is designed specifically for pleasure. Husbands should look at that latter point as a good thing and run with it: make her pleasure a top priority.

(Her body was designed for it, right? You love her, right? So give her all she can handle, and make it your great honor and pleasure to help get her there. Arguing as a patriarch, you’re her head, right? So put your wants and needs on the backburner and serve her. Unless she has disdain for you–and yes, those types exist–she will appreciate that; and trust me: you’ll get yours.)

But here’s the problem, and we need to be honest about it: the OG is not simply about sex; it’s about the mindset with which men and women approach marriage in general, sex in particular. If her pleasure is not important to him, then HE is a major part of the problem. If she is using sex to control him, then then SHE is a major part of the problem. If pornography is contributory to this, then one or both of them have a degree of culpability.

But what are some of the toxic evangelical teachings?

Toxic Teaching 1: “Obligation Sex”

I’ll first give my take on the issue, and then present what Sheila had to say.

On one hand, 1 Corinthians 7 seems to support the premise of “obligation sex”, with Paul writing,

The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise the wife also to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command.

1 Corinthians 7:3-6

This has fostered many teachings in this area (mostly at the women): “don’t deprive him or he’ll cheat”, “don’t deprive him or he’ll use porn”, “just have more sex”, etc.** It also fosters the “Every Man’s Battle” mindset that her riding him like a Derby horse is going to fix his lust problems.

And while having that sexual outlet in marriage can make the fight against lust easier, it is not a cure for the problem. (More on that later.)

Moreover, before you look at 1 Corinthians 7 and say, “AHA!”, no passage exists in a vacuum. Keep in mind that the same Paul writes of husbands:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands also ought to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are parts of His body.

Ephesians 5:25-30

That same Paul also writes,

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.

Philippians 2:3-8

And if that is not enough, I give you the words of Jesus:

But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. And sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.

Mark 9:34-35

So let’s assume that, if you are the husband, you are the head of your wife. (That’s in the Bible.) That means the following principles apply to you:

  • You must love her as if she is your own body, because she is;
  • Her wellbeing comes before yours.
  • In the marriage bed, her pleasure needs to be your priority.

But let me ask you: is your wife just a means to your ends? If so, I would argue that you are violating the “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church” principles in Ephesians 5 and Philippians 2.

Now am I going to give the wives a blanket pass here? Of course not!

Fact is, wives have a tendency to be reductionist with their husbands, too. Dissatisfaction comes naturally. Fact is, he can do everything right, and she can still transactionalize her husband in terms of his ability to provide, his status, his social skills, etc. Wives can–and do–undercut their husbands. Don’t believe me? I’ve seen it happen firsthand. My co-admin here–Ame–has seen it happen firsthand. I’ve seen women use sex to control their husbands. I’ve seen women humiliate and backbite their husbands.

You don’t think that won’t spill into the bedroom?

I’m going to ask the wives the same question I asked the husbands: is your husband just a means to your ends? If so, you are also violating Ephesians 5 and Philippians 2.

The answer here is not simply, “have more sex”. The answer is CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT EACH OTHER!

Do you LOVE her (him)? Do you WANT THE BEST for her (him)? Then be kind to each other, enjoy each other’s company, and seek to express that to each other in the bedroom. If you are having problems, see a doctor or a therapist. But if you love each other, then bring some agape to go with that eros. That will bring the stress level down and things will be more enjoyable. But if she’s not reaching orgasm, then you need to be concerned that she is not enjoying it the way she ought to.

In GSR, Sheila and her team determined that, when the wives felt that they were having sex out of obligation, they were less likely to achieve orgasm, and were more likely to find sex painful. When they did not feel obligated, they were more likely to achieve orgasm even though they had sex as frequently. In some of the focus cases, the women were having sex because they felt that their husbands might cheat if they didn’t (that’s what they were taught). When their husbands re-assured them that this was not the case, they still had sex as often, but it was actually enjoyable, as intimacy was better.

My take on this: let’s use some common sense here.

Men: first of all, let’s assume that your wife is otherwise good, and you’re a decent husband. Do you really want your wife to “put out” for you? Of course not! YOU WANT HER TO WANT YOU.

That being the case, what good is it if sex becomes a Sword of Damocles? Do you think that will make sex more appealing or less appealing? That’s the problem with “obligation sex”.

What I suggest: cultivate a relationship where you are each generally deferential to the other in the bedroom. If you each have that mindset, then those times when he or she is too tired aren’t such a big deal. Those times when she’s physically incapable (postpartum) aren’t so bad.

I look at 1 Corinthians 7 as a general principle of deference out of love: it’s not a “I get to screw anytime I want it” mandate, but rather an admonition to cultivate a healthy marriage so that deference is the default mode that goes both ways.

Toxic Teaching 2: The 72-Hour Rule

This common teaching is in the same vain as “obligation sex”. As Sheila points out, it began with James Dobson, who recommended this in the late 1970s. As a result, Christian marriage writers jumped on that and used it. Ergo, Christians often marry with the wife expecting to “put out” every 72 hours “or else”.

In reality, the Scriptures make no such command.

As for frequency, that’s between the husband and wife to work out. And that leads me to

Toxic Teaching 3: “He’s Got the High Sex Drive”

While, in general, he may want it more, the problem is that Christian authors categorize men and women particular ways, while the research actually shows that–even though there is some variance–there are “high drive” women and “low drive” men, and oftentimes there isn’t a lot of variance in the two irrespective of who has the higher drive. Why is that a problem? They often enter marriage with expectations framed certain ways–bolstered by the teachings of their pators–and then find themselves wondering if they got it all wrong when it doesn’t play out the way they were taught.

Women can have higher sex drive than the men. And while some men may read that and think, “that would be an awwsumm problem to have”, if you’re a lower-drive man you may find yourself struggling to accommodate her. And worse, she may think she’s doing something wrong if she’s high-drive, because that is at variance with what she’s been taught.

Toxic Teaching 4: “Men are visual/women are not”

Sheila correctly points out that, while men are generally more visually-stimulated than women, that does not mean that women are not visually-stimulated. And some women ARE as visually-stimulated as the men.

This spills over into the teachings regarding lust and modesty. In Purity Culture, women are commonly taught to be modest in order to help men avoid lust. This is because lust is presented as Every Man’s Battle. To hear Arterburn say it, men just can’t help themselves. So many pastors will take this and tell women to dress conservatively in order to help those poor men.

While modesty is a good thing–it’s good for your self-respect as well as a way to honor God by respecting your dignity as an Image bearer–Jesus put the responsibility for lust on the the one doing the lusting. And in fact, anyone who has fought this good fight knows what I am talking about: if I’m given to lust, she could wear a full Hijab and I would still find a way to undress her in my heart and mind. In other words: irrespective of how she dresses; if I lust, that’s on me.

But here’s where I’m really going with this: women also lust. It ain’t the men who are buying all those romance novels. Oh, and if you think that pornography is exclusively a men’s vice, you’d be mistaken. While men remain the largest consumers of conventional pornography, women are catching up.

In this department, I have a couple of bones to pick with Sheila:

  • While she does point out that some women struggle with porn, she does not provide a lot of guidance to the women on this. And that is concerning, as they are the likely demographic target for her book.
  • The issue of lusting by women is a big deal, as it is with men. She does a fine job attacking the Every Man’s Battle paradigm–and it needs attacking–but I do think that what we need is a more concerted effort to call men and women to a higher ethic here.

In the #churchtoo wars, I have become very good friends with a pathology professor who has extensively studied the effects of porn. One of the most important things she points out is that porn addiction is almost never just an issue of lust, although it certainly has a lust component. Oftentimes, there are underlying trauma issues; sometimes that requires a therapist. But one of the most important areas to confront with someone who uses porn is the way they see the participants. Getting users to see them as bearers of the Imago Dei helps them to confront the heart issues that drive the lust.

But addressing that requires understanding that lust is a heart issue in the person doing the lusting. And lusting means reducing the object of that lust to something transactional. If it’s sexual lust, then you are reducing an Image-bearer to someone existing for your sexual service. If it’s material lust, then you are reducing an Image-bearer to someone existing for your material benefit.

The opposite of that is loving them and wanting the best for them (i.e., wanting for them what I want for myself). Getting there means confronting the collective tendency we all have to objectify others. That cuts to the heart of what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself”.

Can you objectify your spouse? Absolutely. Wives can do that to their husbands; husbands can do that to their wives. And left unchallenged, that will become a major problem in a marriage. Sex is but one pathway for that to happen.

The male reader of GSR will be outraged at the level of disregard that husbands have had for the wives of the Orgasm Gap. On the other hand, the male reader will also be frustrated that the male perspective seems to get minimized here. The GSR team does not address porn use by women in depth–they don’t really address the romance novel problem–even though women are the likely audience. In the same vain, they do not address women’s lust issues substantially.

And in even when they address obesity (pp. 208-209)–which is a problem in sex, and they give good, medical reasons–they address men who don’t take care of themselves more directly than they do with the women, even though statistically women are every bit as likely (slightly more so) to “let themselves go” as the men.

(In their defense: they were confronting the conventional evangelical books that focus on her need to take care of herself but not addressing his need. Still, the issue of obesity is a problem for both sexes, and it is something that needs to be said to both. I say that not to shame anyone–I have consistently addressed that issue evenhandedly here–but just pointing that out.)

IMHO, the biggest issue that they expose in the common evangelical books is that there is a LOT of emphasis placed on HER need to please and satisfy HIM–even including performing oral sex on him***–but NONE on HIS need to please and satisfy HER.

That, my friends, is a legitimate gripe. To me, that is a major omission.

Given that the woman’s sexual organ exists exclusively for pleasure, then it logically follows that the husband needs to be concerned about ensuring that she enjoys sex the way she was designed to enjoy it. Christian sex authors need to emphasize this. If we endorse male headship, then part of the husband’s responsibility is to do his best to help her in this department, putting his own pleasure secondary to hers.

Personally, I wish Sheila and her team would also survey the boyz and write a companion book.

Overall, this is a very good read, as it exposes a large amount of toxicity that exists in common evangelical teachings on sex. Sheila does an exceptional job with her “rescue and reframe” exercises at the end of each chapter.

I give it 4 stars out of 5.

*books such as The Act of Marriage; Love and Respect; Sheet Music; Intended for Pleasure, among others.

**By that, I am not implying that the Scriptures are wrong; the teachings which spring from improper handling of the Scriptures–such as looking at a passage “in a vacuum”; i.e., not taking into account related passages and guiding principles that are pertinent–are wrong.

***Mark Driscoll said that in a sermon. On p. 212, Sheila quotes Driscoll:

She [the wife] says, “I’ve never performed oral sex on my husband. I’ve refused to.” I said, “You need to go home and tell your husband that you’ve met Jesus and you’ve been studying the Bible, and that you’re convicted of a terrible sin in your life. And then you need to drop his trousers, and you need to serve your husband. And when he asks why, say, ‘Because I’m a repentant woman. God has changed my heart and I’m supposed to be a biblical wife.’” She says, “Really?” I said, “Yeah. First Peter three says if your husband is an unbeliever to serve him with deeds of kindness.”

Gregoire, Sheila Wray; Gregoire Lindenbach, Rebecca; Sawatsky, Joanna. The Great Sex Rescue (p. 212). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Book Review: “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot”, by Vice Admiral James Stockdale (USN)

My wife got me the perfect birthday present: Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, by James Stockdale.

Many people remember Stockdale as the VP Candidate for Ross Perot in his 1992 Presidential campaign, who appeared out of his league in the Vice Presidential debate that also featured Sen. Al Gore (D-TN) and Vice President Dan Quayle.

(My theory: Stockdale was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, which ultimately killed him in 2006.)

I was already familiar with some of Stockdale’s backstory. The book was a collection of essays and speeches after his release from the Hanoi Hilton, where he spent 7-1/2 years. The book left me all the more impressed with his accomplishments as well as his character under extreme pressure.

(While Stockdale was a Stoic, one need not be a Stoic–I’m not–to admire the man and his accomplishments. And many of his life lessons offer practical takeaways for the Christian.)

Aviation nuts will eat this up, as well they should. Stockdale was one of the great military pilots of his generation: a graduate of the Naval Academy, a Naval aviator, a test pilot, a fighter wing commander. (During his time at the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, he was a mathematics tutor for celebrated astronaut John Glenn.)

At the top of his game, the Navy sent him to Stanford for graduate studies. While there, he decided to learn philosophy on the side. One of the professors–Phil Rhinelander–obliged him, and got him hooked on Epictetus.

Three years later, he was in the thick of the Vietnam war. He was an eyewitness to the faux “Tonkin Gulf” incident that ignited the American involvement in the war. Stockdale led the first bombing raids. He was on a routine “milk run” bombing when he was shot down and became a POW, spending the ensuing 7-1/2 yrs in the “Hanoi Hilton.”

In his words, as he descended in his parachute to what he knew was certain capture, he was “entering the world of Epictetus.” His worst challenges as a POW were not physical but rather the battle to keep what he called “the good man inside” intact.

As a POW, he was the ranking officer among a group of Americans who were constantly tortured for political purposes: the Communists thrived on getting Americans to confess to crimes, to do propaganda videos, to rat out other prisoners.

Stockdale formulated a strategy for perseverance that he instilled in his fellow POWs: BACK US:

(1) Don’t BOW in public,

(2) Stay off the AIR,

(3) Confess to no CRIMES,

(4) Do not KISS them goodbye,

(5) UNITY over SELF.

It was accepted that everyone would break under torture, but the principle was MAKE THEM EARN IT. In other words, take as much torture as you can handle, then give them as little as possible, and then share that with everyone else for their safety, thereby preventing the enemy to use such triangulation to break other prisoners.

For his part, Stockdale went to great extremes to avoid being used for photo-ops: he beat his face to a pulp; he even slashed himself. At one point, when guards discovered a letter that gave them enough information that they could have tortured confessions out of him to burn others, he attempted suicide in order to protect his men. (Providentially, his wife had made a public statement in Paris regarding POW safety, and his captors–put on notice–found Stockdale bleeding to death. They were able to save him. According to Stockdale, the torture stopped at that point.)

He was the ringleader of a group of POWs who were so resistant to their captors that they were segregated from the other prisoners. They were dubbed “The Alcatraz Gang”. Another member of that gang included Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton, who–forced to appear in a televised interview–blinked T-O-R-T-U-R-E in Morse Code, thus wrecking the photo-op. For that and other actions, Denton was awarded the Navy Cross.

For his dedication in captivity, Stockdale was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a Stoic, Epictetus was Stockdale’s major influence. He focused less on his physical state but rather maintaining his self-respect, “the good man inside”.

For a Christian, Jesus taught something similar: “ not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4-5)

One of Stockdale’s first realizations as a POW was, “I am my brother’s keeper.” And that was a major driver of his conduct in the Hanoi Hilton. Again, the Christian should have no conflict with Stockdale here.

And while Stockdale drew more on Epictetus than from Scripture, the Christian reader of Stockdale will resonate with his takes on Job, and even Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as they understood that (a) life is not fair, and (b) they need to stay the course no matter what.

For someone who was likely not a Christian–Stockdale was a Stoic philosopher who nominally acknowledged Jesus–he understood suffering better than most evangelicals do.

In fact, what we know today as the “Stockdale Paradox”, is a reality that Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, the prophets, and Jesus and the Apostles understood long before Stockdale arrived.

You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale (USNR)

For Stockdale, that meant having the courage to withstand torture–and even years of solitary confinement–without betraying his men or his country. For the Christian, that means having the faith that God will give you the courage to face trials of all types as they come. We all aren’t going to face torture, or death by fire, stoning, hanging, or beheading; we can STILL face family tragedies, job losses, & other calamities.

In the pandemic, most of us have faced serious challenges with lockdowns and various policies centered around distancing. Many had to worship at home via livestream, missing out on contact with friends and family. Many people lost jobs and businesses. Many saw their pay slashed. Many ended up in the hospital; many COVID patients died in misery: alone in an ICU and on a ventilator.

Some of us, in the midst of all of that, had various personal traumas. Life on this earth is not fair. For the Christian, that Stockdale Paradox should resonate, as our faith is in a God who will provide what we need when we need it. And that need often includes perseverance.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego got that: they knew God COULD deliver them from the furnace. But even if He didn’t, they weren’t going to bow down to the statue.

They knew it could get a little warm before things got better. And they still trusted God.

The type of fitness required for this is not a function of your muscles, as the God we serve can deliver a child through a trial that will sink a Crossfitter. But if you have any preconceptions that life is fair, or that your devotion to God will insulate you from tragedies or hardships, then you are setting yourself up for major disappointments.

In fact, I would contend that if you think that life owes you fairness, then you are embracing a form of Prosperity Theology.

As most of the #churchtoo world can attest: life is not fair. You can do everything right and still suffer unjustly. You can be the perfect wife, but that doesn’t guarantee that your husband won’t cheat or beat you up. You can be the perfect husband, and that does not guarantee that your wife won’t ditch you.

When our child was in NICU clinging to life, a man in my church lost his wife–and the kids lost their mom–to cancer. Many years ago, I lost a longtime friend–an otherwise good Christian woman–to breast cancer. When Jesus was an infant, many mothers in Bethlehem could only watch as Herod and his thugs butchered their infants and newborns. Their weeping could be heard all the way in Ramah.

There is no indication from Scripture that those mothers deserved to see their children die. When a Stoic says that “the universe has no moral economy”, he is correct in this respect: there is no guarantee that good will be rewarded and evil will be punished on this earth. The Christian must accept that, in many cases, justice will not happen in this life. For many, the only justice we will see is on Judgment Day. And perseverance means keeping that finish line in sight.

A faith in God won’t necessarily keep you protected FROM tragedy; it WILL manifest itself in God giving you that “discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.” And, as Paul said, “having done everything, to stand firm.”

“The More You Love, The Harder You Fight”, A Review of What is A Girl Worth? by Rachael Denhollander

I remember the trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University physician who was once the Gold Standard in the gymnastics community. For decades, he molested hundreds of girls and women, playing the part of the compassionate nice-guy who helped them heal from their injuries.

At the end of the trial, he finally buckled and pled guilty. As part of his plea deal, every one of his victims was permitted to give an impact statement. Up until that point, I had followed the trial loosely. But I paid special attention to the victims and what they had to say.

One by one, Nassar’s victims brought his world down with thunderous dunks that would make Julius Erving proud. It was glorious.

Enter Rachael Denhollander, who closed it out with both a blistering assessment of the culture that allowed Nassar to operate for years, and a wonderful Gospel presentation to Nassar. (If you haven’t heard Rachael’s speech, Google it and watch it. It’s pure gold.)

I became a Rachael Denhollander fan that day.

What’s a Girl Worth? is her story. And it is both riveting and inspiring.

First, a trigger warning: if you suffer from any form of PTSD, this book is going to hurt. Even if you don’t suffer from PTSD, this book is going to hurt. If you have any form of empathy whatsoever, this book is going to hurt.

She describes her assaults by Nassar in significant detail. I tried hard to keep my analytical hat on, but I still couldn’t sleep that night. On the other hand, I found it very instructive, as she is showing parents how easy it is for a predator to abuse kids. Nassar abused many of his victims in plain sight, with their parents only feet away!

There is a popular misconception that you can spot child molesters pretty easily, and if you are just careful enough, you can prevent their abuses or catch them in the act. Rachael destroys that myth almost immediately. Rachael’s mother—who was a protective, caring Christian mom—was in the same room when Nassar abused her. She never saw it happen, as Nassar was smooth enough to conceal her view.

In great detail, she points out the factors that kept her from reporting her abuse, the blowback she received when she tried to report her abuse, the effects the abuse had on her for many years, and how it challenged her relationships and even her faith.

When people ask victims, “Why didn’t you report [the abuser] sooner?” Rachael gives a vivid, well-reasoned answer to that question. Even when victims do report, very little is ever done. Police departments often shelve the complaints, as thousands of rape kits remain untested even today.

If the accused is a respected figure like Nassar, he probably has friends in law enforcement. Nassar almost got away with his crimes, as the county prosecutor attempted to cut an easy deal like Jeffrey Epstein once received. Thankfully, the Michigan State Police—with the help of a very hardworking, caring detective—had the resolve to tell the county prosecutor to go pound sand, and hand this to a very victim-friendly Attorney General, who went after Larry with every weapon in the arsenal.

And then there’s the personal cost of reporting your abuser. Her entire life was laid bare for the whole world to see. The details of her molestation became public record. Because she testified against Nassar, his team was able to pry into the most intimate details of her life, including her personal journals.

Nassar abused many victims because the system protected him at the expense of victims. That system included a Big 10 university, local law enforcement, and the larger athletics community that included USA Gymnastics. Rachael provides a devastating picture—with the clarity of the best LED television screen—of that abuser-friendly system which protected Nassar for years. Had it not been for the reporters at IndyStar—to whom Rachael appealed with her story about Nassar—he might still be abusing women today.

But Rachael took him on, even ditching her anonymity. What drove her: her concern for the other victims. As she said it, “the more you love, the harder you fight.”

Sadly, our society doesn’t really love, as we have commoditized people while lionizing ideas and institutions. USA Gymnastics turned a blind eye to abusive coaches like John Geddert, just as Penn State turned a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky, just as Michigan State turned a blind eye to Larry Nassar, just as churches turn a blind eye to abusive pastors, priests, and other leaders.

From conception, children are commodities. Even pro-life denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Independent Fundamental Baptists have thrown children under the bus to protect abusive pastors and highly-revered leaders.

Against that backdrop, Rachael Denhollander drops a badly-needed FULL STOP.

For the Christian, What’s A Girl Worth? is very sobering, as the Church does not get off the hook here. For speaking out about the abuse coverups at Covenant Life Church by C.J. Mahaney—which put her at odds with her elders, who were friends of Mahaney—she was ostracized and her family would have to move on to another church. (This at a time when they needed the support of a church body.)

Having been around the block in church circles, I can attest that taking on abusers in the Church is not a popular endeavor. If you are a minister, there is a lot of pressure not to rock the boat. There is a lot of pressure to handle matters quietly—let the abuser resign, move on, get a fresh start somewhere else—and avoid the unpleasant consequences of making the brutal truth of abuse a public matter. As a rookie youth minister, I took on an abusive pastor. I won, but it was a Pyrrhic victory. I’d do it again, but still…there is a price to pay.

But the Church needs to pay that price, because people are worth more than institutions. Make no mistake: this is a Gospel issue. Jesus held a child and told the Disciples that “the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The pastorate is for real shepherds, not hired guns seeking to enrich themselves. The pastorate is not a corporate ladder, and until the Church decides that people—especially victims—are not commodities, she will continue to slouch toward irrelevance.

As Rachael said it, “the more you love, the harder you fight.” The Church needs to repent and start fighting like the third monkey on the ramp to Noah’s ark.

And for the men who are new to this fight, Rachael’s husband—Jacob—provides a great primer in how that is done. From the days before they even got engaged, to the runup to their wedding, and throughout their marriage, Jacob was a great listener, a hard worker, and a wonderful supporter of his wife. As life got turbulent, they still had children—4 of them—and Jacob provided great strength to ensure that their home was a refuge from a very nasty world. They endured great hardship, but came out stronger, and Jacob was a major part of that. Men, this is why you need to read the book.

Ultimately, the Denhollander family provides a portrait of the kind of love that defends, protects, advocates, and goes to the end of the world, for “the least of these”. On a scale of 1 to 10, no less than 20.

The Hunger Games: Unnerving

Earlier this year, I read Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden. It was very riveting. If you want to know the extent to which Totalitarian government can go, this book is a must-read.

There is no limit to the ways that government will assault your dignity–and humanity–given sufficient power. Shin Dong-hyuk–the only known person to have been born in a North Korean prison camp–and managed to escape, provides a stirring, damning, devastating real-life testimony to that.

Enter The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I’ve got several FB friends–and a couple friends from my church–who have read it, and the feedback was very good. I still was reluctant to read it, as it appeared to be a fad. The Christian hoopla over the book reminded me of The Prayer of Jabez, and some pastors even went as far as preparing Bible studies based on various themes in the book. I had a bad feeling about that.

Then my former crisis pregnancy center boss–JH–recommended it. She’s of a similar mind as me, and, usually, if she recommends something, I’m not disappointed.

The Hunger Games (THG) was no exception.

THG takes place in a futuristic society called Panem, located in North America, with the Capitol based in what we know as the Rocky Mountains. The country is divided into twelve geographical districts, with a thirteenth that allegedly was destroyed for rebelling against the Capitol. As punishment for the rebellion, each year a boy and a girl from each district–between ages 12 and 18–are selected to fight it out in The Hunger Games. This is televised in a reality show setting, with the contestants–called “tributes”–fighting each other to the death within a large climate and terrain-controlled arena.

The plot begins in the poorest of the districts: District 12, which is in Appalachian coal mining territory. The main character–Katniss Everdeen–volunteers for the Games in order to take the place of her 12-year-old sister (Primrose), who was drawn from the names of girls. The male “tribute” from their district–Peeta Mellark–has had a crush on Katniss since his youth.

The leadup to the Games is sickening to read, as you have a government-media culture that puts the best reality show face on what is basically a kill-fest. Before the Games, the tributes are under pressure to put on a great posture for “Gamemakers” in order to get donations from sponsors that will prove invaluable during the games. Fashion consultants give special attention to the costume design, tributes get scores on their abilities with weapons and fighting techniques, and even their televised interviews.

The tributes themselves are also a sea of complexity:

Katniss: A survivor through and through, and who is very cynical about her fellow competitors. She is reluctant to trust anyone, even though she is not averse to forming some alliances, such as with Rue;

Peeta: A baker’s son who has been in love with Katniss his whole life. He has done many things intentionally to help and protect Katniss, even at risk to his life. Still, Katniss has trouble trusting him.

Rue: a young girl whose great talent is roaming high among the trees, and evading captors. She forms a friendship with Katniss, who also is effective in the trees;

Foxface: a young girl whose great strength is staying away from the fights. She is very evasive, very sneaky;

The “Careers”: these tributes have been trained their entire lives for the Games. They are big, tough, and brutal. They will kill even their “allies” without a second thought. They have their sights trained on Katniss from the get-go. The most notorious of the bunch–Cato–is one of the last standing.

The Games pits tributes against each other, and–like a reality show–encourages alliances and subplots while pushing them to kill each other. The “Gamemakers” often switch the conditions–such as weather–in order to get more action going. Ultimately, it pits the people of the respective districts–who watch the games religiously–against each other, as they root for their tributes to kill others.

The complexity does not merely extend to the tributes, either.

The trainer for Peeta and Katniss–Haymitch, a former Games winner–was drunk, surly, and shrewd. He is difficult for either Peeta or Katniss to trust, and yet he has a tendency to come through for them in ways they don’t expect.

I don’t know Suzanne Collins, nor am I aware of her political leanings or her thoughts on the direction of government. I suspect that her views are probably well to the left of mine.

But in THG, Collins gives us a devastating portrait of where we are heading as a country. To call it Orwellian would not do THG justice: Next to Panem, Orwell’s Oceania is a libertarian paradise. It is what you get when you combine North Korean-style fascism with American reality television culture.

Four and a half stars.

Leverage, by Karl Denninger

Karl Denninger is no stranger to these pages. With respect to the financial meltdown–and subsequent bailouts–that have crippled our economy, Denninger was one of a handful of commentators and economists who called it.

He has written a book about the conditions that led to the collapse, complete with an assessment of the current situation and what needs to change. That book is called Leverage.

I’ve read a fair share of books about the meltdown, and Denninger’s is probably the most comprehensive assessment of the debt situation in the United States. He leaves no stone unturned: federal spending; the complicity of the Federal Reserve from Volcker to Bernanke; Congress; Presidents from Reagan to Obama; federal regulators whose negligence bordered on criminal; Government-Sponsored Entities (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac) whose leaders were grossly corrupt; the OTC derivatives that brought down AIG and other hedge funds; the banksters who got to walk away richer in spite of the financial carnage they caused; the consumer credit industry; the pension system; the health care system; and, of course, the student loan racket.

But Denninger doesn’t just stop there: he describes, in detail, the evolution of the culture of debt, fed by an increasing sense of entitlement by the American people, in coordination with a mother lode of unfulfillable promises made by government at local, state, and federal levels. He could have easily named the book Debt Spiral.

Anyone who thinks we can resolve Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security by making small changes, needs to read Leverage.

Some reviewers contend that Denninger’s nebulous solutions–“we need to have a discussion about X”–weaken his case. Honestly, I think that is a strong suit on his part: there are no pretty answers to our crises, and Americans need to decide, soberly, what the heck it is we want from our government.

Ponzi schemes tend to promise something for nothing. Those who invest early in that scheme will benefit–and many have. Trouble is, if you still are holding the bag when the scheme breaks, you are screwed. And make no mistake, government has run several Ponzi schemes, and the system has run out of suckers. Next to our government, Bernie Madoff looks like an Eagle Scout.

Perhaps Denninger’s most controversial section is his take on our health care system. Liberals–and some conservatives–will cringe when they look at his recommendations. While I have mixed feelings about his solutions for health care, but he does provide a good explication of the problems that exist in our system.

His chapter on energy promotes something that Ticker readers are well-familiar with: the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). I’m not necessarily on the bandwagon, but–honestly–we need to look at more alternative sources of energy that offer the scale and energy density that we need.

The LFTR reactor could be a potential solution, but we won’t know until we get the government the heck out of the way and allow innovators and developers pursue it. As for the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) folks, I say build it in my back yard. I’m game.

Overall, I give Denninger 4.9 out of 5 stars for this one. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: He Is Not Silent, by Albert Mohler

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) President Albert Mohler has spent–and continues to spend–considerable time confronting contemporary culture. I was at SBTS when he was inaugurated, I have met him several times, and have discussed some of the issues that he has held dear. I am familiar with the culture that he has been confronting on many levels. All will not support everything he has done as President, but I know a few liberals who will concede that some of his reforms were necessary.

When he arrived at SBTS, there were no ethics professors who supported the pro-life position on abortion. Practically every Old Testament professor was an evolution supporter.  There was hardly unanimity in the pastoral counseling department about the Bibical position on homosexuality.

In many ways, SBTS circa 1993 reflected a lot of the emerging problems in the evangelical world. There is hardly unanimity among conservative theologians about what constitutes an “evangelical.” That umbrella term can include Pentecostals, Presbyterians, many shades of Baptists and Congregationalists, and even the “emergent church” movement. All have different degrees with which they define and regard the Scriptures. Even among those that would indentify as “conservative”, there is a degree to which they emphasize the importance of preaching, or even how to approach teaching.

That is the culture that Mohler addresses in He Is Not Silent. In a nutshell, it is a pep-talk to preachers, an exhortation (a) to embrace expository preaching, (b) to preach the truth boldly, and (c) to preach the Gospel as a contrast to the fallenness of the world, not ignoring the ugliness of sin.

In making the case for expository preaching, he contrasts that with topical preaching. In this respect, I believe he needs to clarify what he means by topical preaching. After all, one can address a topic–such as prayer–while taking an expository approach to the sermon. For example, I could preach a sermon on prayer, while addressing how different people prayed in Scripture–Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, Jesus, Paul, Peter–and arriving at applications based on those cases in Scripture. A comprehensive Biblical treatment of that topic, in fact, would do much to prevent the mania over fashionable movements like “The Prayer of Jabez”.

On the other hand, preaching which relies on popular psychology–and/or is low on Biblical exposition–is deserving of condemnation. I get the impression that such fluff is what Mohler is confronting. And it happens among conservative ranks more often than most conservative wish to admit.

In addition, Mohler provides a exhortation to the preacher to proclaim the truth boldy. Against the backdrop of a world awash in skepticism, it is imperative that the preacher be ready to provide answers to very hard questions. What is truth? What is the more Christian approach to issues like homosexuality, abortion, poverty, environmentalism, natural disasters? How does the Bible relate to science and technology? How does the Biblical presentation of God–the Trinity–differ with that of other popular religions (Islam, Paganism, Buddhism)? How do we love our enemies? How do we answer the challenges posed by contemporary skeptics?

It is less about defending God–after all, God needs no defenders–but rather about fulfilling the Great Commission, providing the case for the Gospel, because the world needs to hear it. Mohler is on-target on that front.

Even among the redeemed, there are issues within the Body that need attention. Sexual immorality is as serious today as it was in first century Corinth. False doctrines are as prevalent today as they were in first century Galatia and Colossae. Christians in the Islamic world and China are facing the same challenges as the first century Church. Christians in America are facing the same issues as those of Laodicea. It is on the preacher to instruct, confront, encourage, and exhort with respect to the Gospel message. Mohler hits that key point well.

Say what you wish about the fundamentalists, but God never gave any word to His people that is on par with that given by Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale and the Word of Faith wackos. Jesus preached about hell; Jesus taught the disciples to eschew wealth; Jesus confronted sin among the Disciples, ripped the Pharisees repeatedly, and even spoke derisively about the political leaders. While Jesus had a positive message, it was a sober message with stern warnings. He even had doomsday messages (Matthew 24).

Against that backdrop, most of the religious programming on television is outright garbage, and most contemporary preaching in America is watered-down and/or just powerless due to a lack of regard for the Gospel. To that end, Mohler is on the mark in confronting the evangelical world. For the conservative who knows better, it makes a good refresher. For the one who has started down that slippery slope, it makes a good reality check. For those who are well-established in heresy, it could be your final warning.

Personally, I think Mohler has provided a necessary book to the preacher, and even the teacher. For many who are established, it will seem like a repeat of first grade. Still, for anyone who wants to see the case for expository preaching, this is a good book. If you want to know more about the how, John MacArthur’s book–Expository Preaching–is more comprehensive. MacArthur deals with the how, whereas Mohler deals with the what. I’m tempted to write my own book, chronicling the nutballery of contemporary preachers. I could call it Suppository Preaching.

In many respects, the conservative might read the book and say, “I’ve heard it all before”. Still, many “conservative” preachers have fallen for the ear-tickler approach to preaching. Baptist culture actually encourages it, as the preacher is always a deacon’s meeting away from getting fired if he steps on the wrong toes. If much of what passes for conservative preaching came from the left, we wouldn’t tolerate it. But if it comes from the right, it gets a pass.

Not with Mohler.

I have another key disagreement with Mohler: I am not convinced that expository preaching is hard. In fact, I find it quite easy; topical–pop-psych–preaching is actually more difficult because it is more difficult to place in logical structure whereas expository preaching goes with the flow of Scripture. The pop-psych style requires a lot more immersion in the vagaries of popular culture, whereas an expository style puts more emphasis on Scripture and less on immersion in the world. One need not be a Hebrew or Greek expert–although some knowledge of the languages is helpful. One need not be immersed in the popular commentators, although some familiarity with them can be helpful. What matters is (a) the preacher is established in his spiritual walk, (b) he has a fundamental understanding of the breadth of Scripture and an appreciation for its depth, (c) he is studious in his approach to Scriptures, and (d) when confronted with an issue, pursues a, “what does Scripture say…” approach.

It’s not just about expository preaching; expository preaching leads to expository counseling.

Conservatives and Reform-school theologians will like the book. Moderates will be put off by the high view Mohler takes with Scripture. Liberals will want to burn the book altogether.

Overall, I give it a 7.5/10.

Book Review: America’s Great Depression, by Murray Rothbard

Understanding the dynamics of economic calamities is extremely important; unless we heed the lessons learned when they happen, we are going to repeat the cycle.

If Murray Rothbard’s account of the events leading up to–and following–the onset of the Great Depression are accurate, then we have not learned that lesson. Rothbard lays that out in unadulterated detail in America’s Great Depression.

In fact, as one reads the book, all one needs to do is change the names and the dollar amounts, and we get a near-identical picture of our current financial crisis.

Rothbard starts by making the case for the Austrian (Von Mises) theory of the business cycle: that boom-bust cycles are caused by infation of the money supply which leads to an eventual correction (recession/depression) that causes the money supply to deflate, leading to drops in wages and prices. (Prior to 1929, depressions usually lasted little more than a year before full employment eventually returned.)

After he lays out the dynamic, he then confronts–very effectively–the various criticisms of the Austrian model.

Once Rothbard has made the case for the Austrian model, he lays out a stunning assessment of the events of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Here are some observations:

*Just like the 1020s, the Federal Reserve inflated the money supply in the late 1990s. The stock market bubble burst in 1929; the tech bubble burst in March 2000.

*When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Fed responded by inflating the money supply even further. In 2001, the Fed cut the Fed Funds Rate and the Discount Rate by a combined 1,000 basis points.

*The Hoover Administration, contrary to modern dogma, responded with a very interventionist policy:

  • They worked with industry leaders in an attempt to keep prices and wages stable.
  • They implemented public works programs in an effort to help the unemployed.
  • They formed government enterprises to help stem the tide of foreclosures.
  • They implemented bankruptcy reforms that favored the debtors.
  • They implemented bank holidays in an attempt to stem the tide of bank failures.
  • They worked with the Federal Reserve to keep pumping the money into the financial system.
  • They fought to stop short-selling

Contrast that with today’s actions by President Bush, Treasury Secretary Paulson, and Fed Chairman Bernanke:

  • They have dumped trillions of dollars into the financial system, in order to provide liquidity to the credit market.
  • They have increased the FDIC guarantee of depositor accounts to $250,000.
  • They passed an $800 billion “bailout” package to prop up financial institutions.
  • They seized control of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG.
  • They passed an economic stimulus package earlier this year.
  • They are taking ownership interest in large national and regional banks.
  • They are even looking at directly aiding distressed homeowners.
  • They blocked the short-selling of financial stocks.

Sadly, Rothbard makes the damning case that none of the government efforts to “help” the economy worked; in fact, their interference in the market only made the Great Depression worse. A 1 or 2 year correction turned into a 10-year disaster during which the GDP fell over 50%.

If Rothbard’s case is accurate–and it appears to be so–then the world in general, the United States in particular, is in for a nasty ride.

Why does Rothbard’s case seem strong? It is monetarily sound.

If you are working and earning $30,000 per year, then start taking out loans and opening up credit card accounts–credit expansion–then you will be able to spend a lot more and acquire a lot of assets faster than you would by living on your salary.

The trouble is, you cannot run up an infinite amount of debt. At some point, the deflation must happen. Either (a) you cut your spending and pay down your debts, (b) the creditors move in and seize your assets, or (c) you go bankrupt, or (d) first (b) then (c). After the correction, assuming you have learned your lessons, you can then recover.

It’s the same way with economies, only nations–unfortunately–can always print more money and create new credit out of thin air whereas we cannot. When nations create large amounts of fiat money, it comes back and bites us one of two ways:

(1) It results in high inflation, possibly hyperinflation (like Zimbabwe)

(2) It results in larger government debt (like the United States)

Either way, it adversely impacts the economy by impeding the natural correction process. At best, it defers the crash for a later date (and at compound interest). At worst, it prolongs a crash that is in progress.

Rothbard has provided a necessary indictment of three sacred mantras in serious need of public debate today:

(1) Government intervention to ease the effect of recessions

(2) The Federal Reserve and their role in business cycles

(3) Fractional reserve banking.

Rothbard makes a devastating case against government intervention–in the form of increased spending–to prevent and mitigate recessions. He shows that, as the depression kicked in, the government’s burden on the taxpayer–and the GDP–actually increased. This resulted in money going to government–which produces little or no economic value–where it could have gone to industry, which does produce economic value. He also takes Hoover’s attack on short-sellers to task, as it prevented the necessary corrections that would have made market liquidation more orderly.

In fact, he makes a strong case that, during recessions, government sould cut spending and reduce their proportionate load on the taxpayers.

Arguably, his most damaging indictment was on the Federal Reserve. Their monetary policies of the 1920s–in collusion with the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations–ramped up a level of global economic activity that was not sustainable. We created money faster than the economy created value. This made for a crash that should not have been surprising.

In addition to the Federal Reserve, Rothbard aimed both barrels at the paradigm of fractional-reserve banking. He quite aptly referred to it as a counterfeiting system. Most people don’t realize this, but when a bank gives you a loan, they are not giving you money; they are creating money on your behalf. When debts go unpaid and banks must write that off, that results in the destruction of money and a deflation of the money supply.

In lieu of fractional reserve banking, Rothbard makes a strong case for the gold standard, which mitigates the capacity of our Treasury to play with the money supply.

This does leave us a warning, however: even within a gold standard, government will work to inflate the money supply. This is because, as Rothbard eloquently puts it: politically, inflation is always preferable to recession.

Unfortunately, Rothbard’s critique of Hoover-Roosevelt does not shine a positive light on Bush-Paulson-Bernanke. Even worse, both major Presidential candidates–McCain and Obama–support the very same policies that Bush has implemented; they differ only on details. Neither has said a word about monetary policy or the role of the Fed.

In fact, while Bernanke likes to say that he learned the lesson of the Great Depression–he credits Friedman’s monetarism and promises that he will never let it happen again–even Anna Schwartz, Friedman’s partner in A Monetary History of the United Stateschides Bernanke for “fighting the last war”.

Bush, in turn, has abandoned the supply-side heritage of Reagan in favor of Hoover-FDR Keynesianism on steroids.

What can we expect in the next 6 to 12 months? If I had the perfect answer, I’d be on television.

While the bailout money could provide some semblance of a recovery as lenders start lending again, the resultant debt is going to bode catastrophically for the American people. Economic activity is not going to reach its prior level for many years. Irrespective of who wins on Tuesday, neither will be able to snap a finger and make all things well.

For now, Americans need to cut spending, stock up on necessities (food), and work to pay down debts. I’d venture to say that, regardless of the short-term effect of the bailout, things are going to be trending badly for a while.

As Rothbard points out, government is not helping this one bit.

Della Reese is God: Review of The Shack

William P. Young–WPY–has apparently been watching too many episodes of Touched by an Angel.

His novel, The Shack–a fictional account of a man (Mack), struggling through a life of tragedy that incuded an alcoholic and abusive father and the brutal murder of his daughter Missy–has created a firestorm of criticism (in particular from Tom Neven and Ted Slater of Boundless) as well as an outpouring of praise.

Both the criticisms and the praise are valid.

First, I’ll discuss what WPY got wrong. Some of it is obvious; some of it is subtle. It is serious enough to merit red flags that the Christian reader ought to be prepared to explicate in a discussion of the book.

(1) While WPY seems to support the Trinity, he represents two members as women. His reasoning was apparently to emphasize the theme that God often encounters us outside our perceived mindsets–and this is a valid point–on the other hand, against a modern backdrop of feminist theology, that was a very poor choice on his part. Many orthodox Christians are understandably critical of that element.

(2) While WPY rightfully focuses on relationship aspect of the Faith, he is dismissive of admonitions to believers. Paul provided many of them to churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Colossae, and Rome. Some of those carried stern warnings, some of which were eternal in nature. Church discipline is not absent in the NT, unpleasant as it may be.

(3) WPY glosses over coverage of killing and suffering in the Old Testament. On one hand, to his credit he appears to support Creation and the Fall and its effects on humanity. On the other hand, he appears to downplay the justice of God.

(4) While WPY appears to support the Atonement, He appears to emphasize the death of Christ as merely an act of love and not justice as well. Ted Slater of Boundless captures my sentiments well, as WPY dismisses the premise that God actually forsook Jesus on the cross.

(5) WPY ignores God’s justice. Consider p. 120:

“I am not who you think I am, MacKenzie. I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.”

Sin is not a disease in need of cure; it is a condition that has rendered us dead. Because justice is a key aspect of God’s character, punishment for sin is necessary. Jesus bore that punishment on the cross.

(6) WPY is dismissive of authority. As unpleasant as the subject is, there is no getting around the issue of authority if one seeks to be truly honest with Scripture. This is the case in the garden; this is the case in the wilderness; this is the case during the time of judges, of kings, of exile, post-exile, the time of Christ on earth, and in the Early Church. While my libertarian streak wishes WPY’s treatment of this to be correct, I can’t endorse it.

Still, one must consider that there are lots of Christian groups–church and parachurch–that dysfunctionally exercise authority, at the expense of relationships. To that end, I empathize with “Papa”.

(7) WPY’s portrayal of God was far too cuddly than the presentation of Scripture. God was often very stern and tough, even smacking down Job. Jesus was brutal with the Pharisees, even as He loved them. While He was generous with women in a way that challenged societal paradigms, He was still blunt even by our Westernized standards.

On the other hand, I can see where readers would be attracted to the book.

(1) The presentation of forgiveness was very good. That alone is a very important theme of the book.

(2) The presentation of the problem of evil with respect to God’s character, human condition, and human freedom–while not perfect–was balanced. A little Arminian for the Reform folks, but not shabby.

(3) He does a masterful of presenting the issue of living life independently–without God–versus dependently (on God). That is perhaps the part he nailed the best. Americans–the most prosperous people in world history–pride themselves in independence. Heck, it is part of the title of our founding document.

But to be in Christ and to be independent are incompatible.
(4) He does a nice job of presenting the inadequacy of Man to fulfill God’s commandments, which any learned Christian understands is a key theme of the Old Testament as well as the Sermon on the Mount.

(5) He gets it on the relationship theme.While he drops the ball on admonitions for believers, WPY does emphasize that the walk of the believer is a relational one, not merely a set of DOs and DONT’s. The Christian life is not about a bunch of Confucian proverbs about good living; it is about knowing God.

While Tom Neven of Boundless is right to call Young to account on many theological points, we must not forget that The Shack–like the Chronicles of Narnia (where God is an animal, and the Trinity is not represented much at all) or The Lord of the Rings (Gandalf is farther from the Biblical model than Sarayu or Papa in The Shack) or the Space Trilogy (where the Holy Spirit is nonexistent in Out of the Silent Planet)–is a work of fiction, and that it is not to be confused with the Scriptures.The latter are authoritative; the former are not.

Overall, I cannot give the book a blanket condemnation; nor can I give it a ringing endorsement. When Young is right, he’s in the bullseye; when he’s wrong, he’s off by a mile.

The reader who has had tragic experiences–abuse, the death of a loved one, profound suffering–will easily identify with MacKenzie.

Unfortunately, Young’s feminized renderings for the Father and Holy Spirit will cost him 4 stars. I see what he was trying to do, but against our cultural backdrop he has stepped in it.

Ergo, an 8 star book will get only 4 out of 10.

CORRECTION: Jesus was brutal with the Disciples, even as He loved them. I mistakenly said Pharisees. Not enough coffee last night.

Book Reviews: The American Church in Crisis (David T. Olson) and unChristian (Dave Kinnaman)

The United States of America is headed in the same spiritual direction as Europe: toward a post-Christian society. Absent another Great Awakening, that will be our new reality within this century, and no amount of denial will change that fact.

David T. Olson provides a devastating statistical assessment of this in The American Church in Crisis. Almost every denomination is in decline, and even those that are growing are doing so at rates that lag overall population growth.

In other words, while the Church is growing numerically, Her overall representation of the population is actually in decline.

Some denominations–such as the mainline Protestant sectors (United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Christian Church DOC, Episcopalian Church USA, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America)–have been in freefall for several decades. Much of that is attributable to secularization via liberal theology and far-left politics.

Even so, the Southern Baptist Convention–for decades a solid, growing denomination–is experiencing tepid growth, with overall membership in 2006 less than a quarter percent greater than 2005, and with baptisms–EVIDENCE OF NEW BELIEVERS–declining from 2005 to 2006.

In other words:

  1. Of the little growth experienced by the SBC, the number of Christians transferring from other denominations exceeds that of people actually receiving Jesus Christ.
  2. The marginal contribution to the Body of Christ by the Southern Baptist Convention HAS GONE DOWN! Adding members from other denominations IS NOT adding to the Church but rather transferring believers from one denomination to another. The number of NEW BELIEVERS is in decline!

Ergo, one cannot blame the decline of the Church exclusively on liberal theology. That may carry some weight as we assess mainline denominations, but the Southern Baptists are experiencing decline in spite of otherwise conservative theology.

For many pastors and laypersons on the front lines, this is not news. As a former youth minister and minister of education–and a layperson who has served in various teaching roles spanning children through adults–I’ve seen this coming for most of the last 20 years. Neither the causes nor the remedies can be summed up in the bumper stickers that dominate our theological landscape, nor is it all the fault of the Church.

That said, Olson’s book should be a required text in every Bible school and seminary, and laypersons ought to read it, too.

Olson does a good job with the analysis, and does a better job avoiding getting bogged down in a theological morass. This is not about the definitions of Biblical inerrancy, or the culture wars, or the five points of Calvinism, or Reform Theology versus Arminianism, or contemporary versus liturgical worship styles. Churches of all the aforementioned stripes have pockets of growth while being in overall decline.

Olson, whose passion is church planting, even provides some constructive ideas for how the Church can emerge from this decline, and even thrive in a post-Christian world.

As for a more in-depth examination of what the post-Baby Boom generation thinks of the Church, unChristian--by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons–will make your skin crawl.

Where Olson provided a statistical assessment that showed a Church in decline, Kinnaman and Lyons provide a statistical assessment that shows a large part of the reason why.

Fairly or unfairly, the Church has an image problem, especially among younger people inside and outside the Church.

Some of that image problem is unavoidable: much coverage of the church by the secular media has been neither fair nor representative of the Church as a whole.

Some of that image problem is indeed the fault of the Church, and has been fomented by religious political movements, in particular those on the right.

As a lifelong supporter of the pro-life cause, I can attest to those criticisms, many of which are valid.

For my first three years out of college, I wore three hats outside my regular job: I was a counselor at a crisis pregnancy center. I was also President of the county Right to Life chapter. I was also a speaking director for a maternity home.

My Sunday nights often involved going to a different church, giving a presentation on behalf of the maternity home, ostensibly raising the money we needed to keep our operations afloat. During the week–after work–I would work three-hour shift at the crisis pregnancy center. On weekends, I would help the Right to Life group plan the baby photo contests for the county and state fairs, as well as work on the newsletter.

During my work in that arena, I got to know a lot of people who were supportive of the pro-life cause. Sadly, this is what I observed happening: the cause became more important to them than the Faith from which a passion for the cause emanated.

On the matter of homosexuality, the situation was even worse. A very prominent evangelical pastor in the area was very ostensible in his opposition to gay adoptions. In his discourse, he referenced homosexuals via epithets.

For every conservative pastor who says, “We hate the sin but love the sinner”, there are almost as many like the aforementioned who would burn homosexuals at the stake given the legal wherewithal.

Compounding matters, as Kinnaman notes, the religious right blundered horribly when the Christian Coalition refused to hire a leader who desired a global AIDS outreach. (That the past President of the Christian Coalition was tacitly supportive of child slavery and child trafficking, and mounted some of the dirtiest political campaigns in recent history, does not help either.)

While the Biblical position–that homosexual behavior is not compatible with Christian faith–is indeed the proper Christian perspective, it is a completely different matter when Christians expend effort in promoting every political cause that is predisposed against gays.

Moreover, while it is correct to point out that the gay community should bear a large amount of responsibility for the spread of AIDS, it is equally correct to point out that Christian indifference to the AIDS suffer is anything but Christian.

Even on abortion, the Church has shown considerable insensitivity toward women who have had prior abortions. During my crisis pregnancy center days, I had no small number of clients who had one or more prior abortions. Most were not proud of that fact. Kinnaman provides an account of a women–having had a prior abortion–who experienced condemnation by others in a Bible study.

Fact: about 1 in 4 women of childbearing age have had at least one abortion. That is a great tragedy for both the child aborted as well as the women who must now deal with the aftermath. While I know a few who are comfy with their prior choice, I know many more who are not.

It’s a golden ministry opportunity on which the Church has punted.

While it is necessary to confront feminism–and other vestiges of theological liberalism–in the Church, the Church must not forget the scoldings that Jesus handed the Pharisees for punting on loving their neighbor, in spite of their otherwise sound doctrine.

Kinnaman also confronts the “get saved” culture fomented by the shallow cultural fundamentalism of Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups that overemphasize “conversions” and “professions of faith” to the exclusion of real discipleship.

Many conservatives will read Kinnaman with a degree of skepticism, as he includes perspectives from some far-left ministers (such as Jim Wallis of the Sojourners). On the other hand, Kinnaman also provides commentary from conservative leaders such as Charles Colson. Overall, the balance is there, and the truths are inconvenient.

The only thing I think Kinnaman did not address was the shoddy state of the youth ministry and their transition to young adults. That, perhaps, is the subject for another book.

Overall, Olson and Kinnaman have provided a stunning assessment of the Church in the United States. Anyone who cares for the future of the Church ought to take this assessment seriously.