Openness Unhindered – review

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Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with ChristOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Openness Unhindered’s author Rosaria Butterfield on a video where she told her story of coming to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle. I loved the fact that my favorite book, the Bible, was instrumental in her conversion. Openness Unhindered testifies to how she has continued to engage with it at a deep and thoughtful level.

In the book, the second one she has authored about her faith since she left her old life around 1999, she alludes briefly to her conversion story. Then she goes on to talk about how she has wrestled with her past and come to a place of equilibrium as a home school mother and pastor’s wife. Passages like the following tug at the heart:

“I am and always will be Rahab—a woman with a past. So, what does a person like me do with such a past? I have not forgotten. Body memories know my name. Details intrude into my world unpredictably, like when I am kneading the communion bread or homsechooling my children. I take each ancient token to the cross, for prayer, for more repentance, for thanksgiving that God is always right about matters of sin and repentance” – Kindle Location (KL) 631.

She stresses the importance of her new identity in Christ and of repentance. Even the title of the chapter on repentance testifies to how foundational it is to her: “Repentance: The Threshold to God and the Answer to Shame, Temptation and Sin.”

In chapters titled “Sexual Orientation—Freud’s Nineteenth Century Mistake” and “Self-representation—What Does it Mean to be Gay?” she unpacks the history of the gay rights movement and explains how “gay” has become a term of identity. In fact, she argues, gay doesn’t even belong, as an adjective, together with Christian. She says:

Gay is a word that carries stigma because of God’s moral prohibitions against homosexuality. … Because the Bible is clear on the point that homosexual practice is a sin, and because gay is a synonym for the implied desire for or practice of homosexuality, the stigma of this term is an act of God’s love, because God uses it to convict his children of their brokenness” –KL 2111.

Another powerful chapter is the one on Christian community. Here Butterfield describes how their family’s hospitality toward neighbors and church members became a closely woven safety net for all involved.

This was a great read! Though I did find the theological chapters a bit of a slog (Butterfield was a university professor in her former life and in plumbing these challenging topics comes across somewhat professorial), for the most part I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“When we are owned by God, we are ruined for the world. And this marring of us for the world is one of the birthmarks of conversion” – KL 595.

“Temptation comes in many forms, but it is always personal, uncannily tailor-made for our individual moral weakness, and it takes aim at God’s character, seeking to ransack our faith” – KL 1343.

“Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” – Sam Allbery quoted on KL 2320.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is trying to understand where homosexual practice fits within the Christian life and the church. Openness Unhindered is a part of my own Kindle collection.

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Why We’re Not Emergent (review)

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Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)Why We’re Not Emergent by Kevin DeYoung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A few weeks ago I agreed to read a soon-to-be-released book about children’s ministry with a view to reviewing it for a print magazine I write for from time to time.

Silly me, I didn’t check out the authors or do any background research on the book before signing up for the assignment. If I had, I don’t think I would have gone ahead with it. For, when the book arrived, even reading the introductory stuff showed me that I’d got myself into a potential controversy. This was a book on children’s ministry, not for the type of church I attend but for the emergent, postmodern church.

I have rarely read a book with such close attention, underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. It turns out the book has many good ideas. But, as I feared (from the little I had read  about the emergent church), they are anchored in, what seems to me, some strange and shaky theology.

That brief foray into the beliefs of the emergent church left me with many unanswered questions, questions like: What do postmodern Christians believe about Jesus and the reason for and meaning of His death? Do they believe in original sin? What about life hereafter? Hell?  Why are they so critical of the modern evangelical church? What is the significance of their emphasis on the Kingdom of God? And more.

Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck was a great resource in beginning to answer my questions.. In eleven chapters DeYoung and Kluck tag-team their way through the maze that is the Christian postmodern (emergent, emerging) belief system.

It’s tricky in that it comes from no one spokesperson but a network of people across denominations who endorse each others books, interview each other, and seem to be generally affiliated.

DeYoung is definitely the heavy hitter of the two authors. Using examples from the writings of prominent emergents such as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, Spencer Burke, Leonard Sweet, Doug Pagitt and more, he ferrets out the emergent position. With his gifts for analysis and logic he exposes it as: against formal doctrinal statements; for questions, doubts and uncertainty; super-critical of the modern evangelical church; controversial concerning Jesus especially regarding the significance of His death and resurrection; almost completely silent on what happens after we die, and more. As a Reformed pastor he has a rich and broad-based knowledge of the Bible and church history, and is able to compare the teaching of postmodern Christianity to what the Bible says and previous theological movements.

Kluck is the color commentator of the two. His chapters consist of vignettes of his experiences, visiting an emergent church, interviewing apologist D. A. Carson, attending the funeral of an old saint etc. They give us a break from the DeYoung’s heavy braininess and do a little showing versus telling.

Here are a few quotes that give a flavour of some of the conclusions DeYoung comes to (of course where needed he cites footnotes for statements like the below, and examines and explains the ideas at length):

Postmodernity: “The postmodern Way, as Leonard Sweet puts it so candidly, is an experience. The journey is more wandering than directional, more action than belief, more ambiguous than defined” – Kindle Location 417.

Propositions: “Few things are so universally criticized in the emerging church than propositions” – K.L. 1033.

Theology: “The task of theology in the emergent model is to express communal beliefs and values, to set forth that community’s particular ‘web of significance,’ and ‘matrix of meaning’” – K.L. 1161.

Kingdom of God: “For those in the emerging church, Jesus’ message of the kingdom is a manifesto about God’s plan for humanity here and now. It is the secret, and subversive announcement that God is working out His plan for peace, justice, and compassion on earth …. Joining the kingdom is not a move in status (i.e. from unsaved to saved) but a move in practice” – K.L. 2847.

Atonement: “So the atonement did not accomplish anything on our behalf. God’s attitude toward us didn’t change. Jesus simply enacted and represented the forgiveness that was already in the heart of God” – K.L. 3037.

Hell: “…hell is just one imagery among many to describe the negative consequences of rejecting God’s way” – K.L. 3075.

If, up till now, you’ve only heard about the emergent church or skimmed the surface of what its champions believe and teach, DeYoung and Kluck’s book will take you deeper.

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