God has not given us a Spirit of Fear

The evangelical blogosphere has been an interesting place lately. There have been voices talking about the abuse lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries, the statements supporting CJM from T4G and TGC. Jamie the VWM and others have been addressing the evangelical church’s “purity culture” and focus on “modesty”, both of which have the effect of objectifying women while claiming to try to do the opposite. Zach Hoag has hosted his “smokin’ hot conversations” series, calling the evangelical church (especially the men) to greater responsibility. Bill Kinnon has written a good string of posts on the celebrity-driven culture of the evangelical church and the opportunities it provides for spiritual leadership abuse. And I think it’s also important to pull in Dan Brennan, whose book Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions calls the evangelical church to honor and encourage cross-gender friendships.

There’s a common thread that we can find through all of these topics: fear. In some areas it’s personal fear; in other areas the personal fear has become institutionalized into a culture of fear. But fear it is. And identifying and understanding fear is the key to defeating it.

medium_85345158

Now when I start discussing these fears, some of you will object “but the boundaries are there for a reason! There are real sins that we could fall into that we should be afraid of!”. And to be fair, you have a point. But let’s recall the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. They didn’t write all their rules just to be mean – they were afraid of committing specific sins that God defined (e.g. “don’t work on the Sabbath”), and to make sure they stayed away from those sins, they put fences far outside of them. When Jesus came, he didn’t approve those laws; instead he demolished them, saying that God was more concerned with the heart.

We need some similar demolishing today.

CJ Mahaney, Sovereign Grace Ministries, T4G, and TGC

I’ve written previously about the multitude of abuse allegations currently surrounding SGM, including allegations that Mahaney and other leaders conspired to cover things up. I’ve written about the leaders of Together for the Gospel (T4G) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) circling the wagons with posts of tenuous veracity and exasperating one-sidedness.

What are they afraid of?

They’re afraid of losing control. They believe, at some level, that God is better served if they enforce their flavor of doctrine and maintain a specific code of conduct (via church discipline and a strong emphasis on confession of sin) than if they relax and allow for Spirit-led variation. More damningly, they apparently believe at some level that God is better served by their church power structures staying intact than by working with civil authorities to bring justice to abusers.

How do we demolish this spirit of fear?

Go read what Bill Kinnon has written about the celebrity-driven church culture. Resist the appeal of this sort of fame. Look for and listen to pastors who are faithfully, humbly, and accountably shepherding small flocks. Trust that the Jesus will be found by those who wholeheartedly seek Him.

The Evangelical Purity Culture and the call for Modesty

There has been plenty of good stuff to read on the blogs lately addressing the evangelical focus on “purity” – the proliferation of ‘True Love Waits’ pledges, purity rings, the assertion that any premarital sex inavoidably makes one “damaged goods”. Here I’d recommend reading Alistair Roberts’ post The New Purity Ethic (an essay that will make this post seem short!) and, in a totally different flavor, Jamie Wright’s Why Wait?.

What are we afraid of?

This purity culture is based around a fear of shame, of uncleanness, of being perceived as being “damaged” in some way. It reflects a belief that the highest priority is an external sexual purity. Hence, a sort of virginity test, especially with regard to women. Men prey on that fear by driving the focus on modesty, which improperly tries to place responsibility for men’s sexual behavior (especially in their thought life) on women and how they dress. (This ironically ends up objectifying women’s bodies in just the way it claims to want to avoid!)

How do we demolish this spirit of fear?

If you’re a man: take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions. If you’re a woman: stop accepting the shame that irresponsible men will try to put on you. Glorify God with your body, which is His. For anyone dealing with hurt and shame: go watch Matt Chandler’s Jesus Wants the Rose.

Fear of Cross-Gender Friendships

How many times have you heard it? Men and women can’t be friends without sex becoming an issue, right? And with the church’s purity culture (see previous point), men are taught that it’s “safer” (and hence better) to avoid women altogether, if necessary, in order to avoid any sort of attraction. If you’re married, any sort of friendship with a person of the opposite gender is popularly labeled “emotional infidelity” in a disastrous attempt to draw a parallel with Jesus’ equating a lustful heart with adultery in Matthew 5.

What are we afraid of?

We’re afraid of violating the evangelical cultural attitude that cross-gender friendships are just step one in an inevitable path to fornication or adultery, and the seemingly inevitable gossip and shame that such a relationship would attract.

How do we demolish this spirit of fear?

Here I have to recommend you start with Dan J. Brennan’s Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. Dan has both written and set a personal example for what beautiful, God-honoring cross-gender friendships can look like. I’ll be honest here – I’m uneasy at times with Dan’s position. But piercing my discomfort is a ray of truth that I can’t deny, so I will keep wrestling with it and looking for opportunities for real friendships with people of both genders.

Conclusions

As I try to reach an end to this post, in addition to fear, I see the word shame has showed up over and over again. Shame is a powerful motivator, one that will restrain behavior in ways alternately appropriate and horrifying. If somehow you find yourself reading my blog and are not yet familiar with Dr. Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology, go start reading Beck and thank me later. His post Elizabeth Smart and the Psychology of the Christian Purity Culture is an excellent place to start.

God has not given us a spirit of fear…

So says Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7. What has He given us instead? A spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind. So, friends: demolish the fear. The Spirit provides power to change, love to show God in all situations, and a sound mind to wrestle with these things.

With every one of these topics there is a legitimate “yes, but” conversation to be had. But in each of these cases the “yes, but” has been institutionalized to the point that it has instead become a “no”. It’s my hope that we start demolishing the “no” so we can have room for the “yes, but” conversations.

medium_3987609005

Finally

The antidote for these fearful attitudes and activities can also be found in the words of the prophet Micah. What does God require of us? Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. And those words spoken over and over by God and His messengers to His people:

Do not be afraid.


photo credit: ValetheKid via photopin cc
photo credit: crazyluca69 via photopin cc

8 thoughts on “God has not given us a Spirit of Fear”

  1. Good Thoughts Chris. There definitely needs to be a “yes, but” conversation. I don’t say that in disagreement with you. We just have to find a middle ground between 2 Timothy 1:7 and 1 Peter 5:8. That’s the “fun” part of our time here on earth. 😉

  2. Okay, so, I just received this via text message and as I am reading, I thinking, “WHO is this guy??? I need to know him.” Awesome post.

    The way you’ve woven these issues/topics together helps make way for a different conversation. Thank you!

  3. Yes, fear and shame. I like the idea of justice and mercy to overcome but wonder what that will look like, especially in cross-gender friendships. I heard an interesting talk on gender justice at a Christians for Biblical Equality conference. Now I will have to listen to it again in the context of this post. http://www.equalitydepot.com/imaginggodmp3.aspx

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *