Ministers, Boundaries, and Sex

A statistical research by FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development) in 1998 interviewed 1050 pastors It showed that about 30% of the pastors surveyed had (or are having) a sexually inappropriate encounter or relationship with a parishioner. Other studies are commonly lower like around 10%, and one done in 2016 showed it as below 3%. This last number seems quite low. The average in the United States for general population extramarital affairs is around 10-15%. I doubt that pastors are doing that much better than the general population. Oops Word on Big Red Button Correct Mistake

You can read articles on these:  1998      and     2016

There still seems to be a significant drop in extramarital affairs for  pastors. Lying seems hardly likely to account completely for a drop from 30% to 3%. According to the 2016 study, at least three things were suggested:

  • Somewhat different target population. The 1998 population was denominationally broader. They were selected from conferences where there can be a higher number of pastors from dysfunctional churches. Personally, I see little to indicate that Evangelicals are less likely to violate moral boundaries than those who are “mainline.” If there is a lesser likelihood for an Evangelical pastor to sin in this manner, I would have to think that the autonomy of many Evangelical churches would lead to a lack of accountability to more than compensate for any surmised greater reluctance to commit adultery.
  • Less stress of the pastors. The pastors selected come from typically healthier churches. Healthier churches are commonly less stressful. Stress leads to burnout, and burnout to acting out.
  • Churches commonly treat pastors better now than they did 20 years before. Possible.
  • There is a greater understanding of the dangers and appropriate precautions related to sexual sins. I would like to think that is true.

But I wonder. Back in 1986, a study by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) found that there was a common series of steps associated with psychiatrist-patient sex. They found a series of steps that consistently showed up. (You can read this article “Psychiatrist-Patient Sexual Contact: Results of a National Survey, I: Prevalence.” by Nanette Gartrell, Judith Herman, et al., American Journal of Psychiatry, 1985, Vol. 143, No. 9.)

The series of steps:

  1. Calling the patient by the first name.
  2. Extending the duration of sessions.
  3. Rearranging appointment times outside of working hours, at the patient’s request.
  4. Giving personal information about oneself to the patient.
  5. Hugging.
  6. Fondling.
  7. Intercourse.

The problem is that in ministerial setting, often many or all of the first five steps are already in play.

  • In the church or ministry setting, first names are very common.
  • In many church cultures, it is considered in bad taste to be too strict as far as abiding by the clock.
  • Also in many churches, the pastor is expected to have flexible work hours, so counseling in the evenings or weekends would not be considered strange or inappropriate.
  • Pastors commonly know their client in a pastor-parishioner relationship that is commonly quite personal.
  • Hugging is often a common part of greeting in many churches.

The counseling environment for pastors is especially problematic for pastors… especially for pastors who are not properly trained in pastoral counseling.  Thom Rainer in his blog, noted anecdotally, the problem of transference in the counseling setting. This concern was also made by Robert Schwartz back in 1989  (“A Psychiatrist’s Vioew of Transference and Countertransference in the Pastoral Relationship” by Richard S. Schwartz Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. Vol. 43 #1, 1989).

So here are some suggestions:

  1.  Avoid burnout. Burnout tends to come from not knowing one’s personal limits. We have limited time and energy.
  2. Have balance. Maintain healthy relationships, with self, with God, with others, and with one’s physical environment. (Consider the four-fold healthy growth in Luke 2:52). Some emphasize having a strong spiritual or devotional life. I think that is true but that is too simple. To fail to have good balanced self-care in terms of physical, psychoemotional, social, and spiritual, will lead to breakdown.
  3. Know thyself. We all have areas of weakness. Recognize what they are, honestly. Knowledge is the first step to having control.
  4. Establish boundaries. It is okay to seem prudish at times. but establish wise boundaries (breaking the 7-step path above) is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom and strength.
  5. Understand the challenges related to pastoral counseling.

Regarding #5, Scwartz (mentioned above) gives three suggestions, to deal with the issue of transference (and countertransference) in the counseling setting:

  • Education regarding transference, and how it can lead to problems of this sort in a counseling envirnoment.
  • Self-knowledge of one’s own weaknesses or  characteristic distortions. This can be done through introspection… but in many cases, therapy would be helpful.
  • Open oneself up to peers, supervisors, accountability partners for a distanced, unbiased perspective.

Sexual misconduct for a minister is a sin. However, that is only the start, as it has huge ramifications for the minister, family, parishioners, and community. At risk of stating the obvious— it is foolish to be foolish. Balance, self-understanding, and boundaries are important to avoid pitfalls that are still all too common.


Pastoral Recovery- Knowing What’s Good For You…

I deal with a lot of missionaries andrecovery pastors who are suffering with burnout, with traumatization, with moral failure, with relationship break-down. There can be many reasons for this. Within classic ‘Biblical Counseling’ the answers tend to be along the line of:

  • “You need to ‘get right’ with God”
  • “You need to confess and repent”
  • “You need to work on your ‘quiet time,’ and other spiritual disciplines”

And really, all of these are true… to a point. The problem is that this system of thought commonly identifies a symptom and then guesses at a root cause. The symptom is any problem in the personal life, relational life, or ministerial life of the individual. The associated root cause is then seen as personal sin. While often a pretty good guess, there are important caveats.

 First:  While many problems are associated with personal sin… there are other sin-related causes. Two obvious ones: (a) The consequences of sin are often commonly experienced not only by the perpretrator of the sin, but by the victim of sin done unto him or her by another  Most people would cringe at the thought of blaming the rape victim in being raped, but doing exactly that, blaming the sufferer and playing Job’s ‘friends,’ is often Christians’ default mode. (b) The consequences of living in a generally sinful (fallen) world. Even here, Christians often try to find meaning (blame) for victims of natural disasters or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Second: Even when sin is personal, there often are root factors as to why the minister sinned. We often simplify things to the idea that the one who committed the sin is immature… or ‘given over to Satan.’ But essentially that is little more than washing our hands of the problem— a quick answer, a Procrustean Bed, that allows for a simple non-personalized response. But while sin may be inevitable, the specific temptation that a minister falls to is tied to very personal character or temperament issues, specific personal history, and unique circumstances. Why does a pastor burst into a rage during staff meetings? Why does a counselor gossip about patients he/she talked with in confidence? Why does a missionary act out sexually with those being discipled? To deny that these activities are sinful is simply denying the truth. On the other hand, to simply say that each needs to confess and repent, without addressing their unique personhood and situation is pastoral malpractice.

Third: Problems often occur when there is a “bad fit” in ministry. This is not really an issue of sin. Not everyone is molded for a specific ministry… and not every ministry is molded for a person.  We can talk about SHAPE in this (from Saddleback):

S – Spiritual Gifts – What has God supernaturally gifted me to do?
H – Heart – What do I have passion for and love to do?
A – Abilities – What natural talents and skills do I have?
P – Personality – Where does my personality best suit me to serve?
E – Experiences – What spiritual experiences have I had? What painful experiences
have I had? What educational experiences have I had? What ministry experiences
have I had?
Personally, I would also like to add another “S,” Sphere of Influence, making SHAPES. Often a minister has the wrong SHAPE (or SHAPES) for the ministry they serve in. This stressor will commonly create problems down the road.
I had a friend who was pastoring a church… and fighting developed and he left, went to another church and the same situation repeated two more times. Eventually he came to the conclusion that he did not fit the role of a pastor. What a nice realization! He could have confessed, repented, and gone on a spiritual retreat, and repeated the same problems in more churches… 4, 5, 6, 7…, but instead (drawing from the title of this blog) he decided that pastoring wasn’t good for him… and he does much better in lay ministry.
Unfortunately, Christians have close to 2000 years of history in developing a theology of “ministerial calling.” Very little of it has any discernible relationship to the Word of God. Often there is the belief that stepping out of professional ministry is rejecting God, or changing ministry is giving up. One could argue that the opposite is true. If God made us to be dynamic, growing, living beings involved in a walk with Christ (whether in green pastures, by still waters, or through the valley of the shadow of death), a failure to learn, change, and grow is much more a rejection of God. To not learn and repeat the same mistakes over and over again is truly giving up.  I think it is really a good time for Christians to seriously reevaluate the idea of ministerial calling.
But even if one stays in professional ministry, one does have to change at times. It is my personal belief that the Apostle John, when he got too old to go out and around and planting churches, became John the Elder (a person mentioned in early church history), at the church of Ephesus. Frankly, that only makes sense, and almost certainly other apostles would have done similarly if they weren’t directed into martyrdom.
My first several years in the Philippines, my wife and I worked in a ministry of medical mission events. It was a pretty good ministry and we got to be fairly competent at organizing them. The team we were part of, Dakilang Pag-Ibig DIADEM Ministries, did around 70 medical mission events in 5 years treating around 30,000 people. Not bad for a small group of volunteers with spotty funding. We did about one mission point a month. We eventually decided to step away from it for several reasons:
  • Our passions were different. We were more passionate for pastoral care (especially my wife) and training ministers (especially myself).
  • Our training got us good at doing medical missions, but it also got us more competent for other ministries that were not really possible for us to do when we started.
  • The stress got to us. Some might find this silly, as medical missions can be fairly relaxing for a few weeks… but then there is the stress of organizing the medicine, transportation, volunteers… and then the craziness of the actual event. During the 3-4 days before a medical event, my heart would jump with dread every time my phone would ring, and I feared that a doctor or dentist  or nurse was backing out, or a vehicle was suddenly not available. Some thrive on adrenaline and the craziness that much of international missions entails, but for my wife and I, we do better with ministry that still holds variety, but with more steadiness and reliability of work load.

Some ministries take one away from one’s family a lot. This is typically not good for the family… but the removal of support and accountability may not be good for minister either. Some jobs have set hours, while others challenge personal boundaries, especially in terms of personal time and space. Some jobs really need the right people or problems will occur. Some jobs, on the other hand, may need to change so they do not become “meat grinders” where ministers are run through, destroyed, and replaced.

A person who works with youth may become good with working with youth, but as he or she gets older, needs to transition from the apparent safety of doing what he or she is good at, and move towards multiplying self by training others.

A person may be placed in a position of counseling a lot of individuals of the opposite sex. Many struggle with this… but instead of establishing environmental or procedural safeguards, or perhaps limiting who the person counsels, he or she attempts to resist temptation, without doing anything to limit temptation. This is a recipe for disaster.
Essentially, when a minister fails, one can give the same answers that everyone gives, and help the failure not be dealt with, or recognize him or her as an individual who needs to be dealt with lovingly and uniquely. The minister needs to be helped to know what is good for himself/herself and others.
I have been involved with a lot of responses to ministers who have failed, sinned, or burned out. Some were handled well, some poorly. But some mistakes include:
  • Simply kicking the person out. That passes the problem somewhere else, and often leaves the minister in a worse position than before to grow, mature, and minister.
  • Simply do counseling. Counseling helps… but by itself is completely inadequate.
  • Simply calling for confession and repentance. Most often, the person did wrong or in some way failed, because they needed help and did not ask, or needed help, asked for help and did not get it. If no help is given, the problem is almost certain to recur.

The term “simply” is important, because a failed response is “simple.” Human beings are not simple. Human beings are holistic. As such, it needs a multiple level response. The response would vary depending on the circumstances… but common elements may include:

  • One-on-one counseling, perhaps along with family counseling, and counseling of direct and indirect victims.
  • Spiritual/ministerial mentor. Telling a minister to read the Bible more, pray more, or perhaps go on a spiritual retreat, is lazy. The minister needs to grow spiritually, and to do so in balance with ministry. This requires help from a mature mentor.
  • Accountability partners. Preferably several that care for the minister, and are willing to ask the tough questions while also being supportive.
  • Limited ministerial involvement (where power is limited, and time is limited to avoid temptations for abuse, or of burn-out)
  • Involvement in a nurturing church family. If a minister sinned in a public way in a church, it is likely that that church won’t be capable of being nurturing. (It might be nice if that fact was not true, but we have to deal with reality here.) Even going to another church may not make this work. Only some churches, sadly, are nurturing. Far to many are sources of stress and chaos.
  • Education/training/retooling. Often the minister needs to change. As such, he or she needs to be empowered to do so.
A multi-faceted response is important. Simple impersonal answers?  Not if you know what is good for you… or others.

Christian Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude, German word that comes from two words that literally mean “harm-joy,” is that certain pleasure one feels at the misfortune of others.peanuts-schadenfreude-300x253

Do Christians feel this? Take a little look at FB or nearly any other social media outlet and it is there. Just the other day, I saw Christians reveling that an earthquake damaged some Buddhist monuments. A lot of “LIKES” from Christians. Presumably, they felt that God had intentionally decided to send an earthquake just to damage these structures, and add misery to their lives. Others seem so thrilled whenever anything bad happens to Islamists or political candidates on “the other side.” Right now it seems like so many want to connect disasters with homosexuality. Apparently, some countries are not mistreating homosexuals enough, so God is hitting them with natural disasters— or so the logic of some goes.

Christians are not alone in this. I remember 15 years ago, after the 9/11 attack on the twin towers, there was video of people celebrating in Gaza. A few days later, the revelry died down considerably, as many took time to reflect that this was not a blow against a political institution, but against fathers, mothers, children… fellow human beings. But my concern is not about how other people reconcile schadenfreude, but Christians. So, returning to 9/11, I recall a Christian friend of mine saying to me,

“I know I should feel sorry that so many people died in 9/11. But it happened in New York City, so most of them support abortion. I cannot feel bad what happened to them.”

Perhaps if he pictured them as lost sheep sought by Jesus, created by God in His own image rather than as “pro-choicers,” maybe he could find room for some empathy.

There is, actually, a positive side to schadenfreude. It is REAL and it is HUMAN. We are social beings who naturally create groupings of US versus THEM. We of a nature “love our friends and hate our enemies.” Facing that reality is not so bad, rather than pasting on a fake smile, and embrace the anemic virtue of “tolerance.” Schadenfreude could be said to be human nature.  But as Ruth Sayer (played by Katherine Hepburn) said in the movie The African Queen, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Certainly reveling in schadenfreude is not something for Christians to do. We should “weep with those who weep” rather than “laugh at those who weep.” If we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” and we are to “love our enemies;” presumably we should also desire God’s mercy  for those that we are tempted to be unmerciful to.

Frankly, when it comes to natural disasters, or even human-driven evils, it is questionable that we should presume them as God’s judgments anyway. The doctrines of Common Grace as well as the Fall (“Common ‘Curse'”) suggests that just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust, disasters cannot always be moralized or justified.

Jesus said that we should not judge… or at least not be quick to judge. You may think that Jesus call not to judge would not apply to disasters, but consider this passage.

At that time, some of those present told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2To this He replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3No, I tell you. But unless you repent, you too will all perish.   Luke 13:1-3

At the very least, Jesus discouraged judging in favor of introspection. Related to this, consider the broader passage on judging:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.   Matthew 7:1-5

I would suggest that one should not be quick to moralize the misfortunes of others; and even more so if one is not willing to consider one’s own misfortunes as being due to one’s own misdeeds. A better option is to help those in need.

Christian witness is always stronger when seen in terms of a helping hand rather than a pointing finger.


Prophetic Politics?

I was looking at my FB stream a few days ago, and saw a post that was being shared by a friend. It showed two pictures– one was apparently evangelical pastors in prayer, while the other a catholic priest… pontificating, I suppose. The overlayed captions referred to these two groups’ relationships to the new Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte. Putting the two captions together, one gets something to the effect of:

“Evangelical leaders pray for their President. Catholic priests criticize him.”

The creator of the post was presumably attemptingpastors_635756816147714998 to make his own group look good (Evangelical Christians) and another group (Roman Catholics) look bad. Now, don’t get me wrong, it is pretty common for a person to pump up their own social group identity by tearing down another. It is also common for religious groups to “suck up” (sorry for the Americanism) to people in political power. The problem here is that if one takes these statements at face value, both groups are deserving of a certain measure of shame.

If one is truly a man or woman of God, having access to God’s ideals that challenge man’s systems and institutions, then one should BOTH pray for civil leaders AND criticize them. Civil leaders need this. Politics and the voting public don’t really need statements of religious leaders that:

  • Emphasize their own personal religious or political partisanship
  • Promote an uncritical support or submission to authority (a fan rather than supporter, being obsequious rather than holding them accountable)
  • Maintain a critical heart that is not seeking their civil leaders’ best, as well as the people they were called upon to serve.

We need religious leaders who accept a prophetic role. They need to embrace the role of the prophet in the time of Israel. Prophets accept that the civil leaders have an important role in society (and apparently avoided the temptation to be civil leaders themselves). At the same time, they declared the truth, holding leaders accountable for their leadership.  They also appeared to accept a role of being a mediator between these leaders and God at times.

Today, religious leaders appear more interested in partisanship, seeking the “lesser evil,” bigotry (of many flavors), and playing junior politician. This does little but demean themselves and their god.

We need more prophets and less politicians in the church right now.


Quiz Question:  Can Anyone Spot Any Problems With This Sign?


Holy Defect Presentation

Been doing various presentations/seminars on Kintsukuroi (golden repair) as a metaphor of being beautifully broken. I expanded this to include other images of “holy defect” the idea that God does NOT desire in us some unattainable, and frankly unidentifiable, perfection. Rather, God’s glory is demonstrated most, and we are most effective ministerially, with demonstration of our flaws, our brokenness, our scars.

This presentation connects with a another post… HERE.

Also can look at the TOP POSTS page for Kintsukuroi posts.

In Service to One’s Countries

It is American Independence Day (as well as “Philippine American Friendship Day”). Americans commonly take patriotism/nationalism pretty seriously. I have never really known how to take that… especially in those who like to mix nationalism and religion.

Years ago I was an officer in the United States Navy.

Dag Hammarskjold, 2nd General Secretary of the United Nations

I remember the first time that someone said, “Thank you for your service to our country.” I always found that strange. After all, I was doing my job. I can’t really say that I was doing it out of some deep nationalistic fervor. Curiously, although I have been out of the Navy for decades, I have been getting more of this now than before. Not sure why.

But I find some value in a quote from Dag Hammarskjold:

From generations of soldiers and government officials on my father’s side I inherited a belief that no life was more satisfactory than one of selfless service to your country – or humanity. This service required a sacrifice of all personal interests, but likewise the courage to stand up unflinchingly for your convictions. From scholars and clergymen on my mother’s side, I inherited a belief that, in the very radical sense of the Gospels, all men were equals as children of God, and should be met and treated by us as our masters in God.”

… the explanation of how men should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of the spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics for whom “self-surrender” had been the way of self-realization, and who in “singleness of mind” and “inwardness” had found strength to say Yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbors made them face and to say Yes also to every fate life had in store for them. … Love— that much misused and misinterpreted word— for them meant simply an overflowing of the strength with which they felt themselves filled when living in true self-oblivion. And this love found natural expression in an unhesitant fulfillment of duty and an unreserved acceptance of life, whatever it brought them personally of toil, suffering— or happiness.

 -Quote from Forward of book, “Markings”– Forward by W.H. Auden (1964) quoting Hammarskjold.

He seems to believe in taking himself out of the picture. His faith and service to country or to humanity involves a single-mindedness of service that takes selfishness out of his motivation. Dag Hammarskjold appeared to live this. I don’t suppose it is easy.

For me that singleness is seen in serving 4 countries.

  1.  The country of my birth. Although I did serve in the armed forces of that country, I certainly think that I serve that country better now than then, even if I have no formal call to duty in that arena anymore, and even, if in my home country, military and political service seems to be the only type of national service that is applauded.
  2. The country in which I presently serve. I have lived in the Philippines for 12 years. I am a stranger in a strange land, but have sought in my small way to have a positive impact.
  3. As Dag Hammarskjold came to understand, one’s service to one’s country can include the “country” of humanity.  Loving one’s neighbors AND enemies involves serving all people and peoples.
  4. Finally, one should serve “God’s country.” As Christians, our first country is a “country of our own”… one set up for us by God. This country does not negate the other “countries.”  As it says in Hebrews 11:13-16 part of a chapter as much about service to God’s country as it is about faith:

 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

For those celebrating American Independence Day (or any other nationalistic holiday)… enjoy. But live daily a life of Dependence on God… and serving others. Joyful serve your country… but serve your countries.





But is it Biblical?

Here few vignettes:

1.  Prosperity. I was in chapel at seminary, when an outside pastor spoke… he was talking about how God wanted all His children to be (financially) rich. He then added, “Some of you may not like me saying that, but it is what the Bible teaches.” Well, I am not sure I would “not like him saying that” if the Bible actually taught that– I don’t really want to be rich, but I suppose that if God felt compelled to try to make me rich, I am sure I could give enough of it to others so that I could be comfortable financially without the unpleasant problems associated with being rich. big-bible

(I have heard pastors say that “You can’t out give God,” but I wonder whether they have empirical evidence to support this.)

My problem was that it did not seem to me to be Biblical at all… “what the Bible teaches.” This preacher, and others from his church appeared to have a special affinity to Deuteronomy as well as the Book of Proverbs. Perhaps if those were the only two books in the Bible, his point might stand. But one must also deal with some uncomfortable books as well, such as Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, James, Hebrews, I Peter, and much of the Gospels and the Minor Prophets.  If one read those books alone, one might conclude, along with Liberation Theologians that God specially favors the poor and oppressed— rather than the rich and powerful. Additionally, one could pick numerous passages in the Bible, and make as compelling of an argument that suffering is the reward of righteousness, as money. In the end, we need the whole of Scripture, and the integration of the whole of Scripture is a theological process.

2.  Calvinism/Arminianism. I was reading an article by a Calvinist (or Neo-Calvinist or whatever term you choose). He was speaking of Calvinist Theology, and then said that another term for this type of theology is “Biblical Theology.” The implication is that if one takes the Bible seriously in developing one’s theology, one would be a Calvinist. Now personally, I am neither Calvinist nor Arminian. There are too many verses that show God’s prominent and prior work in our salvation for me to wholeheartedly embrace Arminian Theology— but there are too many verses that point to human responsibility and the requirement of Man to make a salvific choice for me to be comfortable with Calvinism either. The truth appears to lie in the tension between these extremes. I just do think that those who embrace the extremes have been intellectually honest with the whole of Scripture.

I recall with some amusement a blog conversation of Calvinists discussing how best to interpret John 3:16 in line with Reformed Theology. Some appeared to intelligently engage the verse. Some got into some seemingly (to me at least) irrelevant arguments about the difference between “whosoever believeth” and “whosoever already believes.” But there were a few that threw aside any pretext of good hermeneutics and essentially promoted rewriting the verse to be consistent with TULIP. None of this is “Biblical”… at its worst, it is trying to containerize the Bible within a (quite old) theological box.

3.  Counseling. I serve as Administrator of a pastoral care/counseling center in Baguio City, Philippines. We seek to integrate a theologically informed historical pastoral care with a psychologically/sociologically informed clinical pastoral care. However, some argue vehemently against this strategy. Some of them are part of what is called the Biblical Counseling Movement. Now, there are a lot of different counseling methods within that broad movement… some I find quite commendable. However, others are far less so. For example, within the Biblical Counseling Movement, there is the classic Nouthetic Counseling methodology. I would argue that it (especially in its early forms from the 1970s and 1980s) were not only not particularly Biblical, but arguably quite sub-Biblical. It tended to ignore some of the most common sources of human psychoemotional and spiritual miseries- limiting mostly to behavioral sins of the counselee. This minimizes the consequences of beliefs or  heart attitude, of being sinned against, and of living out the consequences of residing in a fallen… broken… world.

4. Family. There has been a lot of talk about “Biblical Manhood,” “Biblical Womanhood,” and the “Biblical Family.” Some supporting these issues have good things to say that correctly challenge common trends today. However, some take very doubtful theological positions, I would argue much worse than simply doubtful, such as unilateral submission, eternal submission within the Godhead, and an essentiallist view of gender temperaments or personalities. The result, in its more extreme forms, seems to tend toward 19th century American culture or even 19th century Arab culture, than 1st Century Greco-Roman church culture, or 5th century BC Hebrew culture. Of course the goal should be none of those four dead cultures, but a proper understanding of family (nuclear and extended) with range of roles that are God-honoring and culturally beneficial for the 21st century.

5.  Politics.  I got an invite to follow a twitter account that supports “Biblical Politics.” Some of the stuff I disagree with (Is it really “Biblical” to support a large military budget— I could pull quite a few verses to challenge that point, if I wanted to). But even the ones that I agreed with, I still felt shouldn’t be called “biblical” positions. Even if I am sympathetic to the idea of strong property rights, individual freedoms, and low taxes… are these positions really more biblical than, a strong communitarian view of property and rights, as well as care of the needy through taxation of the rich?  I really felt that these views that were called Biblical were little more than views that sub-culturally made sense to the individual, and then was justified by cherry-picking Bible verses.

I would argue that there are good reasons NOT to ask the question “Is it Biblical?” or to say that one’s pet beliefs are “Biblical.” Rather, one should ask if it is Theologically sound.

  • The Bible is NOT a legal document but a historical document. As such, it has precepts, principles, and historical examples. From these, one can integrate them to come up with a perspective of God’s will on a particular subject. Such integration is a theological process, so it would be more correct to say that a particular opinion is theological sound (or unsound) than it is to say that it is “Biblical.” Not to say that this solves the problem… but it is a start. Commonly, “Biblical” means that a person has found one or two verses that can be used to agree with his/her own prejudged views. But if you are bored, come up with a few ridiculous beliefs and then after some reflection see if you can come up with at least one verse that could appear to support that view. If you know your Bible, and are a bit creative, I bet you can. This is a problem with “proof-texting.”
    • Try Cannibalism. can you come up25f7d8d05eb111f17df410aebad2069d with verses in the Bible that support cannibalism? Cannibalism is mentioned a few times in the Bible. one could start there. One could go to Jesus’ metaphoric description of His disciples eating His flesh.  Then go to the Jerusalem Council where the only food constraint mentioned was against eating (living?) blood. I do NOT support cannibalism. But if one can come up with a “biblical” argument supporting cannibalism, don’t be surprised if others manage to find verses supporting all sorts of foolishness.
  • Saying something is Biblical is a way to short-circuit discussion. It is much like a preacher or ‘prophet’ who says, “God spoke to me, and He said, ‘_________________.'” You are kind of forced to believe this person or call him a liar. Returning to the Biblical issue, if one says that a “Biblical family” is “man and woman, and children” there is on a certain level truth to this. But there were families in the Bible that were childless, ones without a father, ones with multiple wives, or having concubines. By saying one was “Biblical,” a person is simply trying to avoid awkward conversations. But awkward conversations don’t necessarily go away… they just get delayed. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young attempted to argue that polygynous marriages were Biblical… and in fact Biblically mandated. I have seen nothing in the Old Testament to argue that polygynous marriages were more than tolerated (except in the case of providing an heir to a dead brother, and even that is uncertain), and nothing to suggest that it was even tolerated in the New Testament church. Still, by circumventing the discussion by declaring one family as “Biblical” people are ill-prepared to understand the issues properly.
  • Saying something is Biblical, generally, is a way to hide laziness. As soon as someone questions whether something is indeed Biblical, the supporter of the view will throw a proof-text, as if that answers the question of what the Bible teaches. After the shooting in Orlando, a few (I hope only a few) pastors quoted Leviticus about homosexual behavior as a capital offense in ancient Israel. This is far short of a full understanding of the issue.  If we are “not under the Law” and Jesus said that the Great Commandment was the greatest commandment found in the Pentateuch, are these pastors doing a thoughtful Biblical analysis of the issue, or just grabbing a verse improperly? What is the appropriate response of a civil government in a pluralistic society to homosexual behavior. What is the appropriate response of the church. What is the appropriate response of a Christian. What is the appropriate Christian response to vigilantism.  What is the appropriate response of a Christian to one who is not following Jesus.

Theology is the reflection on Divine Revelation through a cultural perspective. To say it is Biblical tends to mean that one found a verse in the Bible that sounds supportive of one’s position. To say it is theological, means (hopefully) that one reflected on the situation within context, in a Biblically thoughtful manner.