Housewife Theologian

The Gospel Interrupting the Ordinary

Ref Pack on Baptism

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Oct• 01•14

COMME UN TORRENTOkay, so the Ref Pack decided to have a sophisticated conversation today about baptism. Really, we did. And although the three of us are all Presbyterians, I think the Reformed Baptists will appreciate how we interacted with their confession.

No, I’m not being snarky; I’m being serious!

But we are paedobaptists nonetheless. And so we bring up some important issues about this sacrament along with some of the pertinent questions like who should administer baptism, who is the agent of baptism, are Christian children different from other children, as well as throwing in some of the fringe that we have encountered like, what’s wrong with a maverick baptism in your tub at home? And of course we bring up double dipping.

Take a listen here.

Ordinary Isn’t Mediocre

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 29•14

Okay, so I don’t know many people who aspire to be ordinary. We grow up being told we are special. What would our parents think if we just turn out to be regular people?

ordinary_30_image-234x300So if you write a book encouraging Christians to be content with ordinary ministry in ordinary life, there needs to be some qualifiers. Michael Horton does this in Chapter Two, “Ordinary Isn’t Mediocre.” Because if you’re like me, after reading chapter one you might be asking, “Sure, this is sounding like a cool drink of water, but how can we be content with our callings in ordinary life but still strive for excellence?”

Well, I’m glad you asked.

Horton explains that striving for excellence is good, but not just for the sake of being excellent. I’ve always said that I love it when people are good at what they do and do it with joy, whether it is my grocery bagger or my chiropractor. Our vocations are about serving God and neighbor, and Horton explains that “true excellence has others in mind.” (29). So this chapter discusses godly ambition and faithful commitment over time.

Excellence is about passion, not selfish ambition:

You find yourself desiring something or someone whose inherent truth, beauty, and goodness draw you in. You love a particular object enough to endure whatever setbacks and challenges stand in your way. That’s true of anyone who is driven by a worthy prospect, romance, cause, or calling. (31)

One obstacle I had to reading a book written by Michael Horton praising the ordinary is that I wouldn’t call a guy who boldly marched up to James Montgomery Boice at age 13 saying, “I want to be a reformer just like you,” and then basically does just that with his life as ordinary. But the thing is, ordinary is not the same as typical. And it isn’t mediocre. “Mediocrity results from not caring at all.” He explains, “In countless examples of those we consider successful in life, we can see there was a patient commitment to daily routines, routines that to the outside observer seem dull, trivial, worthless” (32).

Whether we are talking about doctrine, athletics, music, parenting, or practicing law, it’s often by faithfully exercising the foundations that we reach the freedom to be good at what we do. It’s usually the everyday commitment to our pursuit, not the novel, and not the quest for superiority itself, that leads to true excellence. And it isn’t something we can usually do alone.

This is especially true for the Christian life:

However, in any field, excellence requires discipline. Discipline requires disciples, just as craftsmanship requires apprentices. Much wisdom for this discipleship may be found in the community’s accumulated resources. However, books will not be sufficient. In the church today, we do not need more conferences, more programs, and more celebrities. We need more churches where the Spirit is immersing sinners into Christ day by day, a living communion of the saints, where we cannot simply jump to our favorite chapter or Google our momentary interests. (35)

We may be talking ordinary means, but certainly not mediocre service. Love for God and our neighbor motivates us to serve with excellence, not mediocrity. And maybe it is pretty extraordinary to look outside of ourselves. The slogan Horton gives for the ordinary Christian is pretty darn exceptional, but beautifully familiar:

“Because of Christ alone, embraced through faith alone, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors alone, on the basis of God’s Word alone”—and nothing more. (44)

“Long Hair Freaky People Need Not Apply”*

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 26•14

For some reason I woke up with the song “Signs” stuck in my head. So I thought I’d go ahead an repost an article I wrote two years ago that stole a line from it for the title.

Some church signs seem to have become equivalent to the placard signs homeowners proudly stake in their front yards, or the bumper stickers that accessorize motor vehicles with philosophical one-liners. I find many of them tacky (although some are amusing), and have dissected the theological implications of a few.

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield spends a couple of pages in her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, reflecting on this yard sign phenomenon when she describes her drive into western Pennsylvania:

The whole country felt “religious.” On houses and even businesses, scripture verses advertised the world view of the inhabitants (66).

She was taken aback about how Scripture verses were stripped out of context and slapped on a sign, isolated and exposed. Many of the messages peddled God’s judgment, emphasizing the separation between the just and the lost. And, of course, political affiliations were staked right beside said verses.

But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich and complex context, were just sitting there on placards, naked and rude. I felt an immediate aversion to the aesthetic even as I identified with the message (67).

What do these signs really do? How are they helpful to the Christian witness? Butterfield describes how the pastor who had witnessed to her sacrificed his real, valuable time, becoming her friend. She emphasizes his loving witness over hiding behind these slogans and signs:

But Bible verses that front salvation over Christian service, instead of being important interfaces between Christian homes and the watching world, seemed like sneaky little raids, quick and insulated targets into culture, with no sense that a worldview of care lay behind them (67).

They made her wonder,

Perhaps I or one of my drag queen friends would be welcome to have a cup of coffee at one of those Bible-loving houses, resting our cups between sips on vinyl tablecloths in country kitchens. Perhaps we would be talked with as people made in God’s image. But perhaps not…
 
Are these “Welcome” signs or signs that read “Insiders Only”? (67, 68).

As I was reading, I made a strange connection. This was the same feeling I got when I recently made the drive into Twitter County. I had no idea how many Christians had become proficient in the art of waving one-liners. It was so strange. Peppered with helpful links to articles that I may want to read (this bulletin-board aspect of Twitter, I do find helpful) are concise thoughts in 140 characters or less. Some are equivalent to what you might find in a fortune cookie, and some are quite good. Anyway, I find it odd that people are quoting themselves.

And then there are the Bible verses that go up. Since your audience usually follows you due to a shared belief system, they aren’t so much meant to be evangelistic as exhorting. Some can be an encouragement, but only the skinny ones can survive. It makes you wonder if it cheapens God’s Word to suspend it detached from context and conversation.

Twitter wasn’t quite what I expected. I hoped to see a more personal side exposed in 140 characters. I guess that was a pretty dumb expectation. But I have all kinds of random, silly thoughts that would fit well in that genre. Unfortunately, I think they would stick out like a sore thumb in a newsfeed of Godly wisdom-bites. On occasion, I have tried sharing some of those sentences that I underline while reading. But even that feels disconnected. Twitter County is all signs and no scenery.

I have decidedly “followed” mainly other bloggers and writers, because “outsiders” may get the same creepy feeling Butterfield did while driving into Beaver County. Again, there have been some positives. I have connected a little more with people outside of the comments box. Those interactions are nice because they are personal messages and the words aren’t staged.

Personal interactions, networking, and a very big bulletin board are attractive landmarks in Twitter County. But there are a lot of vinyl tablecloths.

 

*A lyric from the Tesla song, Signs.

The Spin of Patriarchy

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 24•14

Have you heard of the Patriarchy movement? Patriarchy means “father-rule,” and this movement has some interesting theology and applications for the leadership roles of men. They call it “Biblical Patriarchy” because those who practice it believe that their understanding and application of Scripture is the true Christian way.

Today’s Mortification of Spin is an extended Bully Pulpit addressing the dangers of this doctrine with special guest, Rachel Miller. Rachel has written about these dangers before on her blog, A Daughter of the Reformation. Here are two:

What’s Wrong with Biblical Patriarchy

The Problem with Patriarchy, 50 Shades of Grey, and Authority and Submission

Just this week, Rachel responded to a very sad article written by Vyckie Garrison on the abuses she experienced within a Patriarchal family.

6a00d83451ccbc69e201347ff741ee970c-400wiOn the surface, Patriarchy families may look very harmless and even attractive. Everyone wears a smile, they tend to have a quiverfull of obedient children that they homeschool, and they present to you a formula for success. But what exactly does the husband and father’s “authority” entail? Should a husband be a mediator for the family, acting as a priest between them and the Lord? Is a college education wasted on daughters, because they are being raised to be homemakers? What’s the deal with stay-at-home daughters? Can women work outside of the home, alongside other men? What happens if you don’t have a happy disposition that reflects positively on your father or husband? Is a woman’s worth tied to the number of children she has? Do you believe that women are always prone to rebellion and satanic deceit and therefore need to be directed into submission? Is it a sin to educate your child through a different avenue than homeschool? And how does this all play out politically?

These are all important questions that come up when you look into the doctrine of Patriarchy. We touch on many of them in the podcast today.

With all the truly harmful problems that I see with this doctrine, at its core I see a faith that filters everything through women and men’s roles rather than Christ as he is clothed in the gospel. It seems to be about men and women rather than God. And unfortunately, I have read way too many accounts of women and children who walked away from Christianity when they escaped this lifestyle because they cannot separate this Patriarchal doctrine from the faith.

Please listen to this podcast! Listen here.

Ode to the Non-Kodak Moments

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 23•14

ordinary_30_image-234x300I love getting the mail. You never know when you’re going to get a fun surprise. The other day I received an advanced reader’s copy of Michael Horton’s new book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World. I read the first chapter last night before the premier of Blacklist aired (Anyone? Blacklist? Anyone?).

First let me make the observation that this is a popular level book, and Horton writes with a much easier style than his more academic ones, even some of his other popular level books. In the first chapter titled, “The New Radical,” he makes the case that we are so enamored with the epic, and the life-changing, that “We’ve taken the ordinary and made it extraordinary, and the ordinary has lost its charm” (11). We’ve become a culture whose biggest fear is being bored, and even the commercial breaks during a children’s program ingrains the importance of chasing our dreams and changing the world. So if you get a regular job, faithfully attend a church, and raise a family, well, that’s kind of not good enough.

Horton quotes extensively from Tish Harrison Warren, who recently wrote about her experience going from an ambitious college student, to a missionary in Africa, to a regular mom raising two children. She explains how it takes more courage for her to wake up everyday and do the regular, unnoticed work of a mother and wife than to work in a “war-torn African village”:

Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it. (15)

Horton remarks, “Sometimes chasing your dreams can be ‘easier’ than just being who you are, where God has placed you, with the gifts God has given you” (16). He relates this to the restlessness in the church compared to the regular means of grace that nourish our faith. We’ve seen so many movements rise and fall in the church, from revivals, to the charismatic movement, the church growth movement, the left, the right, the contemplatives and spiritual disciplines, to the Emergents and even the YRR.

It turns out that the new radical is to be content with the ordinary life God has called us to, partaking in his ordinary means of grace. Sure, some are called to the missions field, and to do some pretty extraordinary things. Some churches seem to have extraordinary growth. But in this restless world we live in, maybe an ordinary life is the real rabble-rouser.

Horton makes the case that quantity time is quality. It’s those small, unassuming moments that we share and build upon over time that build relationships. That made me think of all the complaining I do about what seems to be my most demanded job these days: driving people around. I drive my kids and pick them up from three different schools. Then I drive to the grocery store, and haul the goods home. I drive to eye doctors, back doctors, dermatologists, and orthodontists. And off I go to volleyball practice, tournaments, and MMA. And then there’s youth group, and small group studies. Redundant. Inconsequential. Boring.

But on those rides to school, the kids share a little more to burn off that nervous energy. Most of the time I pick them up and they are chatting about meaningless events throughout their day. But other times, I see pain in their faces and try to get them to open up. The many times that I pick up extras, I get to listen in on conversations with their friends. And their friends like to give me the scoop that my kids may not be as willing to share. I get to encourage, to provide snacks, to work the concession stand, and to cheer them on or be by their side when they face a defeat.

I complain about this job, because it seems so unexciting. I’m actually beginning to look forward to my daughter driving next year. But this chapter made me thankful for all the quantity time in the car with my kids. Horton is right, “The richest things in life are made up of more than Kodak moments.” My kids and I may remember the vacations and milestones easier when we look back to these days. They may remember the camps and special events that they involve themselves in with the church. But it is the ordinary means of grace that are really shaping them, and perhaps all those insignificant conversations in the car.

 

The Homophobic Bogeyman

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 19•14

I’ve noticed a theme lately in some of my reading in blogs, magazines, and books. Basically, guys can’t have close, dare I say vulnerable, friendships with other guys or they will lose their man card.

Carl Trueman recently shared something Scot McKnight posted on Charles Marsh’s biography, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With the overwhelming evidence of a kind of biblical friendship that many would envy, Marsh suggests that Bonhoeffer was gay, and that he pursued such an intimate friendship with Eberhard Bethge to satisfy his romantic feelings.

45502And then last week, I get the latest issue of Christianity Today in my mailbox. This is interesting because I do not subscribe to Christianity Today and have no idea why it was mailed to me, but the cover story caught my attention: “Why Can’t Men Be Friends?” Well, dang, I was just wondering the same thing, so I thumbed through the article. In it, Wesley Hill shares a study social scientist and author of Deep Secrets: Boy’s Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, Niobe Way, conducted revealing how boys share intimate friendships with other boys until adolescence, and then they sadly disengage from such a close level of friendship with other guys as they age, because they do not want to be perceived as feminine or homosexual.

And just last night as I was reading reading through The Company We Keep, Jonathan Holmes has a section on The Homophobia Bogeyman in his chapter, “Threats to Biblical Friendship.” That about sums up the problem: there’s a bogeyman in the closet of every male friendship!

Read more

Horton on Spin

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 17•14

Today we have a reluctant Dr. Michael Horton take a psychological test to see if we can continue interviewing him for the podcast. Fortunately for you guys, he passed. But we were a little worried after the first question. In fact, we got him a new tie to wear for any future casual conversations that count.

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Carl asked the questions that we have all been wondering. What does Dr. Horton think of the Biebs? I know, I know, you’re dying to find out.

Todd asks about Horton’s history with PCRT and James Montgomery Boice. It is quite an inspiring story that gives us a little hope among the evangelical celebrity culture, puka shells and all.

I ask the other question that you’re dying to know: Is Dr. Horton an antinomian or what?

And once again, Carl reminds us that we are all going to die.

This episode offers a good mix of hilarity and serious topics that you’ve come to expect from us mortifiers of spin.

Be sure to listen through to the end for a preview for next week’s extended Bully Pulpit, and to visit the MoS site for a chance to win a copy of Dr. Horton’s book, Calvin on the Christian Life. I’ve written a few reading reflections on it if you’d like a taste:

On orthodoxy

On Providence 

On Doctrine vs. Experience 

Listen to the podcast here.

Substitute Friendships?

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 15•14

COMPANY-COLOR-364-96My CruciformPress book arrived in the mail this weekend, and it is a topic that has been on my mind lately: The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship, by Jonathan Holmes. I had few free minutes last night, so I sat down and read the first 40 pages (this is an advantage of CruciformPress books, you can whiz through them). After listing some scenarios of different frustrations we encounter and ways we settle for superficial friendships, the author asks a really good question: “Should a Christian’s expectations for friendship differ from those of a non-Christian?” (17). He recognizes that many churches do not have a good friendship “climate.”

The first chapter teaches how we are created for community, and then gives three ways our sin interferes with biblical friendships. It’s a great chapter that points to our most important friend of all, Jesus Christ (John 15:13-15). It ends with a long, helpful definition of biblical friendship:

Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability. Rather than serving as an end in itself, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for. (27)

This is a great definition which motivates me in my relationships. In Chapter Two, Holmes highlights “three substitutes we frequently take for the real thing: social media friendships, specialized friendships, and selfish friendships,” explaining that they “fall woefully short for God’s purposes for true friendship” (32). He offers some helpful categories here, but I found myself pushing back a bit. I only found the last one, selfish friendship, to be one that works against God’s purposes in friendship.

Are these really substitutes? Aren’t there different types of friendship, that may not be equally valued, but certainly valid and even essential for a Christian in but not of the world? Let’s take a brief look at the three.

Social Media Friendship: If you are reading my blog, you are probably involved enough on social media to have some cyber-friendships. Many may be physical friendships and acquaintances that you just don’t get to see very often, and therefore catch up with on Facebook and the like. There’s even a new word added to the dictionary for those we interact with online, but have never met in person: equaintance.

I agree with the author’s warning that we should never be satisfied with social media friendships to the point that they replace or substitute having face-to-face biblical friendships. Social media friendships certainly should be distinguished in our discernment. But they may grow to the level of biblical friendship pretty nicely. I have had that experience.

Specialized Friendship: These are the friendships that we have that focus around a shared activity or stage of life. College friends, workout friends, moms at the playground, and work friends are a few examples. Again, it is good to distinguish, but I see advantages in having these types of friendships. I wouldn’t want to settle for them to substitute for biblical friendships, but they may be stepping-stones to something deeper. And even if they don’t move past the specialized stage, I think it is good and even special to have some friends that share common interests.

Stage of life friends are helpful for coping, and may last passed the stage they were meant for in surprising ways. I can think of several examples off the top of my head:

  • My sister-in-law’s mom became friends with the woman she shared her delivery room with. They have gone through the baby stage, toddler stage, school-age, and now grandma stage together. Their friendship is still growing after 35 years.
  • One of my college roommates is a non-Christian friend who pursues me to keep in touch even though we live a good distance apart. I am thankful that she does. We enjoy one another’s conversation.
  • I think that one reason why we like to reconnect with high school friends on social media and see how they are doing is because those were such transformative years in our lives. I’ve recently reconnected with an old high school friend who is now a Christian. It was great to catch up.

Some of these friendships do happily move past the “specialized” stage. This can really be a good field for local missionary work in a sense. But I think they also have a value in them as specialized friendships. We really do care about the people, even when we don’t have that wonderful biblical friendship for which we aim.

Selfish Friendship: Holmes says, “Out of the three friendship substitutes, this is the most sinister.” Well, I agree that we should never look at a relationship we have formed for our own selfish gain as a friendship, but that sentence was what made me push back the most. I guess he’s saying that it is sinister to substitute any of these friendships for biblical ones. But the selfish friendship is just plain bad. I don’t think the other two categories were sinister forms of friendships to have alongside of biblical friendships in our pilgrimage between this age and the age to come.

Sure, I want to have rich biblical friendships, and I agree with the author that I shouldn’t settle for cyber friends and specialized friendships as a substitute for my need for biblical friendships. I would look at them under the umbrella of that goal, since I am a Christian in all of them. I don’t think that all cyber friendships and specialized friendships are superficial. And when we do find that we have an imbalance with superficial friendships in our lives, I believe that makes us long for enriching, biblical friendships.  Holmes does acknowledge the goodness and function for some of these relationships when he warns in closing, “Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these” (41).

Because, yes, a Christian’s expectation for friendship should differ from an unbeliever’s. Here are two ways the author closes his chapter regarding how the gospel applies to our friendships: “you are brought into friendship by Jesus Christ in order to:

  1. pursue the lost for friendship ideally leading to Christ,
  2. pursue fellow believers for friendship grounded in Christ” (42)

I’m looking forward to the next chapter on the marks of biblical friendship.

Can Facebook Really Ruin Your Marriage?

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 12•14

There’s an article being circulated from ABC News that exposes Facebook as a growing factor in divorce cases.

A third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook,” and more than 80 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say social networking in divorce proceedings is on the rise, according to Divorce Online and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, respectively.

I posted some reflections on whether we give Facebook too much credit over on Reformation21. You can read it here.

 

Taking the Spin Out of Dating and Courtship

Written By: Aimee Byrd - Sep• 10•14

This week I was brave enough to talk with Carl and Todd about dating and courtship. Basically, I’m desperate.  I wrote an article a couple of weeks ago about the whole ‘to date or not to date’ dilemma, and now I’ve resorted to Curly and Moe for input on the matter.

Carl and Todd did manage to marry up. Back in the day, Todd was a real Rico Suave. Here’s a picture of him asking his wife on their first date. I think he pulled the bandana off pretty well.

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Take a listen here.