Witness with Your Inside Voice

Have you ever heard of a BHAG? (That’s a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, if you don’t know.) What about the book Radical? Or can you imagine a college student dressing in funny blue pants and a massive afro wig? Whether you are familiar with all of these things or not, they represent a common thread in popular Christian thought, especially among rambunctious teenagers.

There is an idea out there that as Christians we need to do big, bold things to be the “light of the world.” Popularly, BHAGs, Radical, and the silly stunt I pulled while a dual-enrolled student are all examples. We must always stand out and be ready to even do such things as stand up on a table in the mall and recite the Romans Road (something we may all applaud but feel guilty that we’d never do). After all, don’t such spectacular displays suit the urgency of evangelism, the need to spread the Good News to all people for their salvation?

The truth is, though, that while some people are called to be more showy witnesses (I mean, think about what the apostles did), the idea that we all should be so radical is quite foreign to Scripture. For my main support, I cite 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12.

But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.

I’d also reference something like 1 Timothy 2:2b-4, where Paul tells us to pray for authorities

so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

The New Testament teaches that the Christian life, for the most part, should be fairly subdued. It does not need any flashy attempts at getting God glory or big plans to be radical and weird in obvious ways. Those things come from a good intention, but they are practically speaking often unhelpful to the kingdom of God, since the very spectacle intended to give them power can easily turn people off from the Christian life.

Really, when we look at what the Bible says to us, we do not see commands for most of us to emulate the witness of the apostles and evangelists, but to do like the texts I cited above say: to live quiet and respectable lives, maintaining a good reputation among people both inside and outside of the church. Why is this? This is the kind of life which gives our message of Christ credibility and attractiveness. As we see in places such as Titus 2:8, 1 Peter 2:12, and 1 Peter 3:15-16, our primary method for sharing Christ with the world is by living a life which can be respected, appreciated, and accessibly imitated by all people, so that they will not be scared away but see the true worth of Jesus.

Of course, this is not to say that our lives should just blend in with the world. Absolutely not! These verses I’ve mentioned all ring with another theme: to be holy, living a life of blamelessness, love, and integrity. Doing these things to a supernatural extent (by the work of the Holy Spirit in us, cf. Gal. 5:22-23) is what makes it possible for the Christian walk to not only be taken seriously by outsiders, but to actually be seen as a positive ideal, something worth becoming a part of. This is radical, but not in a showy or obvious way. It is radical in the way that the little details and contours of your life before the world, which you only explain by reference to Jesus in you, cause people to tilt their heads in wonder. This is a BHAG, but a subtle one which attracts people to Jesus Himself and not an event, personality, or church.

So what’s my ultimate point? The high calling of the Christian life for most believers (and this is a very high calling) is not to show off our Gospel or zeal in spectacular, radical, or jaw-dropping ways. Instead it is a calling to a quiet life, respected by all, and attractive by virtue of its purity and charity. In this way, people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. With this kind of life in mind, try reading the Beatitudes:

The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

(P.S. As always, I need to do a final clarification. I think there is a legitimate place for stuff like BHAGs, but I do not think that place is necessarily somewhere visible to all, but where the Father who sees in secret can reward you. Likewise, I do not at all have a problem with the kind of life David Platt teaches in Radical, but would advise that we do these radical things humbly and without show. If we are radical to be seen by others, which is too often the case, what will be our reward? But if we are closet radicals, our God gets the glory.)

Witness with Your Inside Voice

Why I’m Still An Evangelical Protestant

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll define my terms for any readers who don’t know exactly what Evangelical Protestant refers to. “Protestant” encompasses all churches descended from the Reformation, when Martin Luther and others concluded there was rampant intuitional and doctrinal corruption in the Catholic Church. They tried to reform it, but wound up breaking off into their own churches. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and most other non-Catholic churches fall under this label. While there’s a lot of diversity among Protestants, we all agree that the Roman Catholic Church is not the one true church, and that their Pope, Magisterium, and Tradition do not have special/infallible teaching authority.

The other part of this label—”Evangelical”—is harder to give a simple definition for, but really applies to churches which, after the fundamentalist/liberal wars of the 20th century, carried on most of the fundamentalist theology with an emphasis on evangelism and Bible. Baptists and Pentecostals make up most of the Evangelical demographic, along with non-denominational churches, and smaller portions from the Lutheran, Reformed, and even Catholic traditions.

Most of you, my readers, are probably Evangelical Protestants, too (though I know I have a few filthy Papists reading!). If you’re Baptist, I guarantee you are one of us. If there’s any further confusion, what I’m going to say in a moment will clear it up more.

So why am I writing this? For two reasons. For one, in the wider world of Christendom, Evangelicalism gets a bad name. We’re viewed as immature, shallow, and ignorant. But while there are several valid critiques by people both inside and outside Evangelicalism, I think much of the disdain is also undeserved or at very least exaggerated. We have strengths which offset and I daresay outweigh our weaknesses, and they deserve a fair hearing. The second reason for this post is to reassure you all that I really am still an Evangelical at heart. I frequently criticize the Evangelical world, and I often also defend other traditions, but I want to clarify that I only do this because Evangelicals are my own flesh and blood. Evangelicalism is still my home, and as such I’m more aware of its flaws than those of any other group. Who do you criticize more than your own family? But as family, however critical I may be, I’ll defend my Evangelical brethren to the death.

So, without further ado, here are the things that I think Evangelical Protestantism gets right, the things which keep me from leaving home.

Biblicism
We Evangelicals have a unique respect for the authority of Scripture. Radical fundamentalists treat Scripture like the Pharisees with their actually unbiblical rules and regulations. Liberal Protestants treat the Bible as an inferior thing to their modern and postmodern values, eschatologies, and science. Catholics give their own so-called “Sacred Tradition”equal weight to Scripture and give their leaders the ability to set interpretations in stone. As far as I’ve seen, only Evangelicals consistently try to live under the Bible, taking it at its word as best as we understand. Even when we let other stuff mess up our understanding of Scripture, there’s always a willingness to simply follow what it says.
Relationship
However much the term “personal relationship with Jesus” is overused and abused, there remains a very legitimate concept that each of us must have intimate fellowship with the Father through the Son through the Spirit. We emphasize the personal: you do not inherit union with Jesus from your parents or culture but must embrace Him yourself. We pound hard on the relationship: Jesus is personally invested in us with a great love and seeks for us to reciprocate. Prayer, Scripture, and all Christian acts bring us to know our Savior.
Passion
Nothing says “passion” like a big gathering of Evangelicals, especially teenagers. Sure, some of its hormones and shenanigans, but there’s real stuff, too, because in Evangelicalism we teach people to own their faith and let it drive their lives. Challenges and energy define our events and movements. While passion alone can be misplaced or fizzle out, when used properly it is a valuable asset for Christianity, moving people to really carry forth the love of Christ in the Gospel in a visible and impactful way.
Cultural Engagement
I’m not a fan of full-blown efforts to be/become “relevant,” but if there’s one place Evangelicals stand out most obviously it is in attempts to contextualize the truth and use popular culture and media to spread the Gospel. Sure, it’s usually done awkwardly and sometimes even embarrassingly, but that’s precisely why we need to keep people in Evangelicalism: so that theologians, data experts, and other people with necessary skills can round out the group in such attempts.
Evangelism
Last, but far from least, Evangelicals practically have a monopoly of the namesake, evangelism. As far as I know, no other tradition comes close to matching Evangelicals on the priority of taking the Good News about Jesus to those who haven’t heard. The Southern Baptists practically rule the missionary world. We’re not the only ones who believe in Hell, but we probably take it the most seriously. Plus, while most of the other traditions are talking about the importance of social justice, meeting needs, and solving problems in society (usually over the importance of evangelism), we Evangelicals are often out incorporating those very things into our mission work, spreading the Gospel while improving the world. And this, I believe, is of the utmost importance. After all, what was is the martyrs who Catholics so revere died doing? To what cause did Peter, supposedly their first Pope, devote his life?

I could probably extend this list a bit, but I think what I’ve mentioned so far, especially the first and last points, is enough to make my point. Despite all my theological musings, perplexities, and wanderings, these qualities of Evangelical Protestantism have kept me here. I honestly believe this is the best tradition for these reasons, even if I offer plenty of criticism, too. I only complain because I want to see us become the best and most Christian we can really be. And again, it’s these first and last points that really hold me in. I cannot conceive of doing Christianity that it’s robustly and ministerially Biblical, and emphatically evangelistic (even if in my personal life I don’t always live these out). So I plan on sticking around. And unless God decides to seriously throw me off, I expect that’s just what I’ll do.

(P. S. The Frances Chan featured image is because I think he’s one of the best we Evangelical Protestants have to offer.)

Why I’m Still An Evangelical Protestant

I Feel Robbed of the Psalms

The heavens declare the glory of God;
 the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
 night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
 no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
 their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
 like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
 and makes its circuit to the other;
 nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

As you’ve just read, the psalms are amazing. Truly, out of all the history of world literature, there is no collection of poems so impressive. Besides merely its size, impressive as that is, the psalms record for us hundreds of years of praise, lament, and prayer inspired by the Spirit and written by the people of Israel to their God, who is our God, now known to us in Jesus.

Yet I feel robbed of them.

What do I mean? I recently read a book by Tom Wright called The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential. In this book he discusses the tragic neglect of the psalms in the life and worship of much of the modern Church.

I have to agree, and at the end of his book I felt like I had been missing out for years. Wright, an Anglican, grew up praying and singing the psalms in the Anglican churches he attended. They’ve always been in his life, sustaining him like breakfast and shaping his prayer and worship life. But I, along with many others who grew up in American evangelical churches, do not share that story. While we certainly include the psalms in our Bible reading, we do not generally make use of them as a prayerbook and hymnbook the way some other Christian traditions (and Jesus Himself!) have.

We don’t use the psalms, at least not like Jesus and the early Christians.

This really saddens me. Jesus grew up, as every good Jew did, reading, singing, and praying the psalms in both His private life and public worship. So did the early Christians. And it made a profound impact on them. A quick glance at the New Testament shows dozens and dozens of quotes, references, and allusions to the psalms. In depth study reveals even more of these. So the psalms even greatly influenced our uniquely Christian Scriptures in an incomparable way.

What’s my point? My issue is that we don’t use the psalms, at least not like this. Sure, we’ll have our AWANA kids memorize a few verses, and we have a handful of hymns and Chris Tomlin songs based on them, but overall they get little attention. Yet the psalms are magical. The Holy Spirit brought them to life when they were first written and continues to do so today. They are filled with all the emotions and reflections that all people, especially all of God’s people, live with every day. They are equally filled with God’s hope, promises, and majesty. 

All this means we need the psalms to function in our lives like they were originally written to function for the people of Israel. We need them to lead our prayers and worship, both in corporate life, in the middle of our actual church services on Sunday mornings as a congregation, and in personal life, in our closets and bedrooms as we spend time in fellowship with God.

Like I said, I feel robbed when I hear of Tom Wright’s story, in which he grew up around the psalms used this way. They are written in his heart and mind now, affecting the way he prays, worships, hopes, and sees the world (including his approach to Christianity overall). That’s not my story. The psalms were always just a peripheral part of Scripture, some nice poems that we might include verses of in memorization or stick into a reading plan. We were never taught to pray them, or to sing them, or to really even understand them. At any of the churches I’ve been to (mostly Baptist, but also some Pentecostal and nondenominational, not counting the Episcopal church I went to a Christmas service at), this has been the same. I feel let down by evangelical American churches.

If I could go back in time, I would read, pray, and sing the psalms more.

If I could go back in time, I would read the psalms more. I would pray them and relate them to my own life and our world. I would find music to use so I could sing them. And I believe they would transform the way I think and feel about God, people, and everything else. As it is, I can’t go back and try again, so I’m trying to start doing these things now. I’m only 20, so I guess I still have time (Lord willing!) to be molded like this, but I still feel like I’ve missed out on a lot.

Does anyone agree with or relate to me on this? If so, leave a comment or even email me. I might want to start posting some thoughts on individual psalms and relating them to our lives and prayers, maybe even finding good song versions. Who knows? Well, God does, and to Him be the glory!

I Feel Robbed of the Psalms

5 Lies, Christians, and Fries

I am wrong. On what? Many things, I imagine. And so are you. Your neighbors, as well. We all get things wrong, being finite and sin-impaired people. Fortunately, the Triune God revealed in Jesus Christ has provided a path to true knowledge, which sometimes must correct our mistakes. Most of what He has to say to us is found in the Bible, written by the apostles and the prophets.

The irony of this revelation is that even the divine revelation itself can be affected by our broken minds, and so there are many misconceptions, bad ideas, and even what might be called “lies” that arise about what it teaches. Here, then, are five popular falsehoods about Christianity I’ve heard repeated and grow very weary of.

  1. All sins are equal. This is an especially irritating lie. Jesus himself is the one I can think of most immediately speaking of people having greater or lesser sin (John 19:11), and greater or lesser condemnation (Matt 11:21-22). In fact, on this matter I can speak with certainty that the Bible says just the opposite. Everything in Scripture shows that some sins are worth greater punishment than other sins are (Luke 12:46-48). The greatest of these is quite obviously the unforgivable sin (Mark 3:28-29). If Scripture were not clear enough, we intuitively recognize the absurdity of all sins being equal if we take it to its natural conclusion. If all sins are equal then the five-year-old who take a candy bar out of the cabinet when he is not supposed to is just as guilty for that action as a man who molests him later that night. God is too just in scripture for such nonsense.
  2. Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. Eh, this is just a silly gimmick. The Bible only mentions “religion” only a few times, and the two New Testament instances off the top of my head say that what we believe is a mysterious religion (1 Tim. 3:16) and that caring for the needy is true religion (James 1:27). The dictionary definition of a religion is simply a system of beliefs usually including recognition and worship of some kind of supernatural power, such as a personal God. Surely we as Christians believe in and worship God! Usually, the point made here is more of an issue of law and grace, or faith and works, but nowhere does Scripture categorize religion with law and works, and relationship with grace and faith. In fact, such Christians rituals as baptism and Communion are altogether characteristic of religion.
  3. My faith is just between me and God. A great number of people imagine that their salvation and sanctification is just a matter to keep to themselves. It’s none of anyone else’s business, right? Not according to Scripture. As John Piper quipped about salvation, “Eternal security is a community project.” The author of Hebrews forbids us to neglect meeting together. Scripture speaks to, of, and for the church, the called out people God, and rarely to individuals. Most of the times the Bible says “you,” it’s plural, not singular. We are constantly commanded to love, edify, help, and encourage each other (Phil. 2:1-4). We are also given the more difficult responsibility of rebuking, correcting, and even judging each other (2 Tim. 4:2, Matt. 18:15-20, 1 Cor. 5:1-13). We are community of faith. Jesus did not die for you apart from dying for us.
  4. Christians should never judge anyone, especially about their salvationUnlike many of these other lies, this one has a Scriptural basis. Matthew 7:1 says not to judge unless you want to be judged. “Case closed!” some people would insist. But as reading to verse 7 makes clear, the prohibition is truly against hypocritical judgment, and once we confront our own faults we are ready to help (in gentleness and love) rebuke our brother. Other texts clearly demand we judge within the church against false teachers (1 John 4:1), between believers and unbelievers in the church (1 Cor. 5:12), and among the believers (1 Cor. 6:1-8). And judgment which is made rightly, not by appearances, is commended (John 7:24). What is key is that all judgment is done with love, wisdom, patience, and faithfulness to Scripture. Judgement that is hypocritical, hateful, prideful, unbiblical, or based on appearances is repeatedly and harshly condemned.
  5. Our great hope is to one day leave the earth and go be with Jesus. For some reason, this is a popular falsehood. So many of us imagine that what we are promised for hope in the Gospel is that we can die and go to heaven, escaping the wiles of this earth, and so live forever with Jesus in the sky. Except this is a radically non-Christian conception of heaven. Our hope as Christians is inherited from the Jews, and their hope was physical resurrection at the end of the age (Daniel 12:2). We will not float around as spirits in an immaterial glory (indeed, being without the body is considered by Paul nakedness in 2 Cor. 5:4), but instead God is working to renew all creation (Isa. 65:17-25, Rev. 21, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 3:13), and one day will complete the act by raising our physical bodies (1 Cor. 6:14, John 6:54, 1 Thess. 4:14). Jesus will reign there physically as King (Isa. 2:4, Ezek. 34:23-24, Matt. 19:28). What God has planned for us is to live on Earth 2.0 with glorified, imperishable bodies, not to escape this world for an ethereal vacation.

Any more obvious, popular bad ideas you can think of in Christianity? Comment about them!

5 Lies, Christians, and Fries

Our Joy, God’s Joy, and Victoria Osteen

In case you missed it, here’s something Victoria Osteen said recently that got everyone into a tizzy:

I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God we’re not doing it for God — I mean that’s one way to look at it. We’re doing it for yourself, because God takes pleasure when were happy. That’s the thing that gives him the greatest joy this morning…just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God, really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy.

Naturally, this set off sparks. The reactions can be divided into three easy categories:

  • Osteen is right. Some people defend Victoria Osteen’s statements here by saying she is simply right. God’s intention for us is that we be happy. God has nothing to gain from our lives of worship but to see us become better and more joyful. He is a Father who simply wants His children to live good lives.
  • Osteen is (really, really) wrong. Many of the more conservative Christians in on this issue have responded loudly and aggressively against this supposed heresy. “She is preaching a false, man-centered Gospel!” they will often say. Worship and all of our lives are for God and for His glory. Any benefit we get ourselves is just because God is indeed gracious enough to make us happy along the way.
  • Osteen has (probably without realizing it) touched on a very orthodox truth. Some intellectuals counter both sides by saying that Victoria Osteen has perhaps stumbled upon the important theological point of what we call God’s aseity. This theological word means that God exists in, of, and for Himself completely. He needs nothing and no one can truly provide Him any benefit because He is altogether complete in Himself. So, in some way, all of God’s interactions with man are for man, not God, because God would be perfectly fine without man. His dealings with us, and the worship He prescribes for us, is so that we can enjoy Him, as He has no need for us in order to be satisfied Himself.

Some people fall somewhat outside of these neat categories, but for the most part all of the discussion has taken one of these three points (and really, the vast majority has simply been in the first two). But I think this is all very misguided. Why? Because the question on which this debate hinges, namely, “Do we live righteously and worship God for us or for Him?” is entirely the wrong question. It is utterly inappropriate to address the real issue here. What do I mean by this? Take a couple Scriptures first.

Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of the body. Now as the church submits to Christ, so wives are to submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. In the same way, husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, since we are members of His body.

For this reason a man will leave
his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two will become one flesh.

This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:22-32

Then the Lord said to me, “Go again; show love to a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the Israelites though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.”

So I bought her for 15 shekels of silver and five bushels of barley. I said to her, “You must live with me many days. Don’t be promiscuous or belong to any man, and I will act the same way toward you.”

Hosea 3:1-3

This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant they broke even though I had married them”—the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 31:32

The recurring theme I’m bringing up here is marriage. Marriage is one very special institution, one which in some very deep way represents God and His people. So I think marriage makes a great way to address the debate currently going on (well, mostly gone by the time I actually post this). What happens when marriage asks, “Is this for him or for her?”

Hopefully, when you saw that question, the absurdity should have struck you. It is ridiculous for someone to assert, “Marriage is for the husband,” or for someone to counter, “Marriage is for the wife.” The love and commitment that define marriage simply don’t roll that way. Marriage is a unique union of mutuality and special relationship that cannot be squished into a one-sided “for him” or “for her.”

Because of this, I think the debate Victoria Osteen sparked is altogether based on the wrong issue. We do not simply do Christian life “for God”, nor is it simply “for us.” We live out a marriage-like relationship with Jesus Christ, which detests such questions altogether and yet turns out to fill us with joy and orient our every act and thought towards God’s joy. So who needs all those “fors” anyway?

As a quick addendum, here’s what I think about what Victoria Osteen was saying. I honestly think she wasn’t completely bad or heretical here. In truth, John Piper says things that are very similar sometimes, but he does it with more theological density and orthodox language. While I don’t like the Osteen ministry or consider either of them good teachers or preachers, this wasn’t the worst offense.

Our Joy, God’s Joy, and Victoria Osteen

Trying to Figure Out Modesty

Sophie and Lacy

Meet Sophie. She’s wearing a floor-length dress to school every day. Her bathing suit of choice is a burkini. She never goes out with her friends, but instead stays home to sew, clean, cook, and tend to her father and brothers. She also doesn’t date; she is arranged to marry a hardworking lumberjack (he’s pretty great-looking, they tell her, so she’s excited).

Now meet Lacy. She’s wearing, well, not much of anything, just some shorts half the length of their pockets and a bikini top. Should she go swimming, she’ll drop the shorts and use the floss-like cloth underneath. Most of her nights are spent carousing with drunken perverts, and at home she’s a rebellious brat who hates her parents. For that reason she rarely sleeps at home, preferring instead to sleep with strange men until she gets pregnant and aborts the baby before moving on.

[fquote align=”right”]Sophie is a radical stereotype of girls who follow the dictates of traditional modesty, and Lacy is a similarly radical stereotype of those who do not. And like all stereotypes, they should be annihilated if we want to have a rational discussion.[/fquote]

Finally, take the images you have of Sophie and Lacy, and then kill them both like they’re on Game of Thrones (see, I can make relevant cultural references even without actually watching that porn, er, I mean nice TV show). Both are what we call stereotypes, and in this case these are really, really extreme stereotypes from the modesty debate. Sophie is a radical stereotype of girls who follow the dictates of traditional modesty, and Lacy is a similarly radical (though perhaps more likely to exist in this culture) stereotype of those who do not. And like all stereotypes, they should be annihilated if we want to have a rational discussion. So my request: read this post as though this debate is completely new to you. Hopefully that will give my voice a little more credibility.

The Vantage Point

I am trying to tackle the question of modesty from a particular perspective, namely a conservative one. However, it’s not exactly the clichéd conservatism of youth groups on this. I want to give serious respect to tradition and the wisdom of the humanity past, while also giving a fair hearing to whatever legitimate points may be found in new arguments. In addressing both, I’d like to follow a philosophy of moderation and reasonableness, following the golden mean.

Of course, that idea may well just sound like pretentious drivel, but I do think it is an attainable goal. Such prudence isn’t extremely difficult to work through, mainly because much of the work has been done for you by ghosts. So I will be addressing each side first by examining their strengths, and then their flaws. Finally, I intend to carve out a middle way that combines the good and rejects the bad. Sound too idealistic? Good, that’s my favorite. Too pretentious? Then please suffer me a chance.

“Modest is Hottest”: The Traditional View

Summary

In what I deem the “traditional” view of modesty (though it really wasn’t developed in its current form until relatively recent conflicts), people (especially women) are morally obligated to keep their bodies covered for the sake of common decency and protecting their peers from lust. While there is not necessarily anything inherently wrong with being attracted to someone, too much of a glimpse will inspire lust, and for the sake of goodness this should be avoided strongly. Shorts, skirts, and dresses shouldn’t be all that short, midriff is a definite no-no, bikinis are usually pretty iffy, and make sure your clothes aren’t too tight! Otherwise someone may lust after you, and if you respect them you should do your part to help prevent that. As well, your body is a valuable treasure meant to be saved for your spouse, so exposing much of it before that point to other people is a waste and lacks self-respect.

The Good

Right off the bat, the traditional view has the benefit of, well, tradition. We are basically just coming out of a transition phase on what is socially acceptable to wear, and the traditional view recognizes that not all changes are improvements. It recognizes some of the forces that went into play in changing these norms aren’t entirely benign. The sexual revolution was a disgusting and cancerous change, and there is no doubt that it played a part in the way acceptable dress has changed. 

[fquote align=”left”]The traditional view recognizes that some of the forces which went into play in changing dress norms aren’t entirely benign.[/fquote]

The traditional view also has the benefit of repudiating individualism. We are not, in this case, concerned all about individual rights but also with how the individual relates to society and other people. He or she is challenged to show respect for the good of others and not blindly exercise their autonomy just because they like it. This is something almost entirely lost on people with a more modern take on this issue. Too many people buy into the lie that individual rights and autonomy are the only considerations which matter.

The final advantage to the traditional view is that, at least in my experience, it seems to put more effort into aligning itself with Scripture. Who can forget how often they use 1 Timothy 2:9-10? “Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.” While their interpretation and application of Scripture can be debated, I do find as a trend that they are more willing to let it be their guide.

The Bad

There are problems, though, with the traditional view. For one, it often makes someone else’s weakness the responsibility of an otherwise innocent party. Because Johnny has a porn addiction, Sophie must wear a hot, uncomfortable burkini to the pool. Yet even Paul protested, “For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience?” (1 Cor. 10:29) It’s not entirely fair for someone to have to always regulate their apparel based on what someone else might do because of it, much like it is not fair to say someone should not buy an iPad lest their friend become envious. Moreover, this tends to lead to downplaying the lusting party’s personal responsibility for his sin, even sometimes shifting a great portion of the blame onto the other.

Another problem with this view is that it often leads to complicated rules and regulations. “Wear shorts this short, but not that short,” or “Yes, that bikini might be okay at your friend’s house, but not at the beach.” It threatens to become its own legalistic structure. This is obviously not acceptable. If you find yourself having to a modesty checklist on your outfit, it probably means you’ve found the far end of the traditional view. Jesus came to set us free from the such a code, and we need to trust His working in our hearts through the Spirit on its own without these extra barriers to keep us in check.

[fquote align=”right”]It’s not entirely fair for someone to have to always regulate their apparel based on what someone else might do because of it, much like it is not fair to say someone should not buy an iPad lest their friend become envious.[/fquote]

Another problem the traditional view faces is the tendency to make a woman’s body into a dangerous think which men need to be protected from. It’s just too powerful for our weak, sex-wired brains! Urm, that’s not a good way to go. Women can develop shame and feel that there bodies are somehow bad, especially naked, which can be a problem when they get married and try to head into the awesome sex they’re usually promised by the same people who promote the traditional view.

The Ugly

I decided to also mention the worst of each view, because all things can go really, really badly if taken too far. For the traditional view, you can have some seriously damaging effects. Sometimes women develop serious insecurities because of how much they are commanded to cover up their bodies. Males can go on and on without ever developing self-control to subdue their minds if they do see anything they usually wouldn’t.

Of course, the real ugly side here is the crazy side, where women are blamed for their own rapes because they were dressing promiscuously. Blech. Now, I suspect that doesn’t happen as often as feminists would like us to believe, but for the sake of God’s mercy we should never, ever go in that direction even in the slightest. Just don’t go there. Unfortunately, there are a few people who hold to the traditional view that at least lean that way, and there are a handful who blast all-out that kind of message.

“The God-Honoring Bikini”: The Modern View

Summary

A trend rather recently has been for what I call the “modern” view. To these people, the traditional view is just clinging to cultural standards of yesteryear and making them into law. Instead, the modern view emphasizes the goodness of the body, the freedom of the Christian, and the necessity of self-control. While you probably shouldn’t dress like a stripper, and you shouldn’t dress specifically to attract sexual attention to yourself, you should embrace your body as God’s good gift and not be afraid to wear what you like. You are not expected to hide yourself just because some people have sin problems. Bikini, shorter shorts, or low cut dress, wear what feels comfortable because you have that liberty. As well, the traditional view is criticized for focusing almost exclusively on women covering up and not men.

The Good

[fquote align=”left”]Your body is not something to be ashamed of, nor something dangerous, nor something that necessarily needs to be hidden away.[/fquote]

The modern view does have some credibility. Like I said before, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to say, “Because someone will sin if they see me like this, I should never be seen like this.” There is a legitimate question as to why this applies to lust and dress but not other things, like envy and technology. It is generally understandable why it would not seem completely just to limit one person’s liberty on the basis of another’s vice.

Another benefit to the modern view is that it is holds an explicitly positive and non-Gnostic view of the body and sexuality in general. These things are good and to be received with thanksgiving. Your body is not something to be ashamed of, nor something dangerous, nor something that necessarily needs to be hidden away. This isn’t to say that the traditional view would disagree, but these truths are often neglected by adherents of the traditional view while made very clear here.

Finally, the modern view is good about trying to balance the field between men and women. The traditional view, while not more directed against by nature, is often discussed almost exclusively on women. Yet there is a lot of room to address guys on modesty, especially in a post-Jacob culture. Somehow I feel that muscle-selfies aren’t substantially different from bikini ones. Perhaps even more tied to attractive intent.

The Bad

The modern view has its shortcomings, though. For one, it does seem strongly tied to our culture’s radical conception of individualism. Even though it uses sanctified terminology, it often sounds as though it is saying the exact same thing as the world: “Let me do what I want; it’s not your right to tell me what to do!” Moreover, this is done specifically excluding the concerns of others. We are told in the modern view quite clearly that the sin struggles of fellow believers are just not our problem.

There is also the issue of association. Now, we all know that just because an idea has some connections to really wrong people doesn’t mean it is itself wrong. However, it does warrant caution. Looking at the history of the change in modesty ideas, the modern view seems connected to the sexual revolution and modern pop-feminism, both are which are scary, morally damaging things. The ever-controversial bikini arose as a prime example of this, as it was praised by feminist activists as helping sexually liberate women. Needless to say, this is not good company.

[fquote align=”right”]Even though it uses sanctified terminology, it often sounds as though the modern view is saying the exact same thing as the world.[/fquote]

My final issue with the modern view is that it, overall, seems to leave a lesser voice to Scripture in this discussion than the traditional view does. This isn’t saying there are no Biblical arguments on this side, but that they tend to be treated as secondary to the popular rhetoric on this, which draws noticeably from individualism and feminism.

The Ugly

The ugly side of the modern view is ugly, indeed. At its worst it is associated with the radical feminism of such crazies as Jezebel. Yippie. I don’t think I even have to explain how bad those people are.

The other ugly part of the modern view is that it can facilitate social hostility towards people who dress with traditional standards of modesty, whether out of conviction or personal preference. They can easily fall victim to stereotyping, and people who actually hold to the traditional view can be accused of quite a great many things, including legalism, body-shaming, and even misogyny. But in the more common, less extreme results of these same negatives, you can face social stigma for being dorky, backwards, or unattractive for not dressing as freely as people do more commonly.

Bulldozing a Middle Way

Defining “Modesty”

Now that I’ve gone through my thoughts on the two mainstream views of modesty, I want to start explaining (and, to some extent, creating) my own. First, we can all agree on one thing: some kind of modesty is important. Why? To cite something I did before:

Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

1 Timothy 2:9-10

Here Paul explicitly tells women to dress modestly. This refutes anyone who ignores the entire deal. But what is modesty? Defining modesty will be key to my entire argument. To help me define modesty, I would like to bring in one more passage very similar to this one.

Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.

1 Peter 3:3-4

From these two texts, I will try to present a very straightforward definition of modesty:

Modesty is the quality of humility, especially in dress and demeanor, shunning special attention, especially from superficial sources.

I would like to think that this definition does justice to the verses above and to the entire concept of modesty in general, along with Biblical humility. So how would this definition address the issues of the current modesty debate? At this point I think bullet points are the simplest way to examine the implications.

Some Application

  • Modesty is a heart issue before it is a dress issue. You must have humility to be modest. The modest person is content to be quietly out of eye. They do not try to draw attention to their own talents, appearance, or character, but instead take praise and recognition involuntarily and without thrill.
  • Immodesty in dress is defined by attention-seeking, not necessarily skin-showing. When Paul spoke to the women in the church on modesty, he told them not to wear fancy hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. This was immodest because it attracted special attention, making people notice, “Wow, she has style and can afford it!” It is not as though the fancy clothes in fashion in Paul’s day would be all that revealing, either. Ironically, I can guarantee you that many women, especially youth, speaking on modesty in churches today are actually still dressed for attention, just not using skin.
  • Seeking attention through revealing clothing is certainly immodest, no matter how little or much it shows. It doesn’t really matter what or how much your clothing shows if you’re trying to get your body noticed. Aiming to attract attention is immodest.
  • If you’re not seeking attention, you’re not being immodest. If you’re just dressing as you do for fun, comfort, style preference, or some other innocent reason, then you cannot necessarily be charged with immodesty, even if the stuff is somewhat revealing. Example: I work in an Amazon warehouse. The temperature in the summer averages over 80°F, so it gets uncomfortable to wear a lot of clothing, especially if you’re moving a lot (like people in my department). Because of this, most of the girls who work in my department wear t-shirts or tank tops with either pretty short shorts or yoga pants. Are they being immodest who dress this way to avoid heat stroke or sweating buckets? Of course not, regardless of how males actually respond.
  • Just because you’re not being immodest doesn’t always mean your clothing is appropriate. Regardless of why you dress as you do, a speedo is not appropriate attire for a funeral (unless the deceased had a beach party in his will). And even if you’re just doing because you think it’s cozy, I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with walking down the streets dressed like a stripper.

At this point I must break to address the last thing I said. How do we know what is appropriate regardless of intentions? Well, to be honest I don’t think there are many easy rules here, mostly common sense. But I do think there is something to be said for cultural standards of decency. We are called as believers to treat other people with love and respect, which means we should not needlessly offend or disturb them. Most of the time, we know how other people will respond to what we wear, and so we should take that into consideration. Of course, this also does not mean we need to dress for the lowest common denominator, wearing clothing that will be acceptable to every single person, mainly because this is not practical and will not help many/any people.

What about Lust?

The question that is burning on some minds is how my view addresses the question of lust. After all, aren’t we still obligated to respect our fellow believers in how we dress? I would like to address this from two points. The first is the value of self-control. Certainly this is a good, conservative value and a fruit of the Spirit. Therefore I think it is important to bring into this discussion. See, people need to learn self-control. This value is one that will help in the modesty question. After all, if you can learn to control your thoughts and responses, you will be able to conquer lust. However, if you are never exposed to any sexually attractive sights, you will never face the temptation of lust. If you never face temptation, you can never conquer temptation and better yourself through self-control. Moreover, if this goes this way for quite some time, and then you find yourself suddenly faced with a sight that may stimulate lust, you will have no built up guard or defenses. So total shielding from potential lust-driving sights is perhaps dangerous.

[fquote align=”left”]The situation is akin to that of antibiotics. If we never use antibiotics but remain exposed to all manners of nastiness, we will get sick and die. If we always use antibiotics and protect ourselves from every possible infection, then we will be altogether unprepared to deal with any ill which makes its way past our defenses.[/fquote]

Naturally, we cannot go to an extreme on this argument. We could not say, then, that we should expose people to as much tempting imagery as possible. Should people be made to watch hours of pornography just so they can learn to control themselves? That would be absurd. The problem is that overwhelming someone not yet ready for defenses will destroy them. However, no chances to fight will lead to weakness. The situation is akin to that of antibiotics. If we never use antibiotics but remain exposed to all manners of nastiness, we will get sick and die. If we always use antibiotics and protect ourselves from every possible infection, then we will be altogether unprepared to deal with any ill which makes its way past our defenses. Likewise, if we try to protect ourselves from all possible images that could inspire lust, we will grow unable to deal with anything, but if we use no caution we will be destroyed by lust. It is more helpful to strike a reasonable balance.

On the other side of this, lust is a seriously difficult sin to crush. This is something most people know personally. So we should show, as fellow members in this fight, some concern for others. While we need not bind ourselves into a particular code because of the weaknesses of others, we should make sure, for one, to never even semi-intentionally try to attract sexual attention to ourselves. This applies whether you’re posting lots of shirtless ab selfies on Facebook or showing off your new bikini figure. While it is not wrong to show these things in any circumstance, if you’re putting yourself on display for attention, you are wrong.

There is a less intentional side of which we ought to be cautious, though. Generally speaking, you have a decent idea of how other people will respond to how you dress. So if it occurs to you that you may really be a stumbling block when you tweet a picture of the freckle in your cleavage, I would at least advice taking a second consideration as to what you will do. This must never be a law of any kind, but just a thought. Just try to do unto others what you have them do unto you.

Concluding Remarks

Honestly, modesty is a complicated topic when both major sides have so many arguments. And while I think (or hope) that I have found a happy medium, I am not certain of this, and even with my ruminations (which are probably not as original as I imagine) there are plenty of practical points of application that could be debated. But I think if we adopt an attitude of proper modesty, respect others, and do not judge our fellow believers, we will be alright. Thanks for reading this endless post!

Trying to Figure Out Modesty

Christians Shouldn’t Oppose Drinking Alcohol

Yes, my title is unnecessarily controversial (and overstated), but that means more people will read what I think is a somewhat important issue. So let’s get onto the meat of things.

“It’s a Not-Sin”

“It’s not necessarily a sin to drink, but it’s really unwise and dangerous and nobody should actually do it.”

You probably haven’t heard that exact statement, but the sentiment is really common among evangelical Christians. A great number would deny that drinking alcohol is truly a sin in itself (though getting drunk is), but still consider as though it kind of basically is anyway.

This path, I believe, is not wise.

To address this, I will first give the arguments for this a proper switching as they deserve, and then go on to summarize why I think otherwise.

The Arguments

“Drinking easily leads to drunkenness and trouble”

We agree that drunkenness is sinful (Eph. 5:18). Nonetheless, this does not rule out light drinking. As a parallel, eating quite often lends itself to gluttony. Have you ever heard of Golden Corral? Like drunkenness, gluttony is mentioned in Scripture as sin, has harmful physical effects, and can seriously damage people’s lives. Obesity is, according to many people, a growing problem in America. Both eating and drinking can hurt people very seriously in excess, but that do not make them bad in themselves. Indeed, nearly anything can be bad in excess.

This being said, people who know they will not drink for long before succumbing to the effects of alcohol are best to strictly limit themselves, or abstain altogether. It is good to be cautious and prudent in these matters.

“Although Jesus drank ‘wine,’ the wine is His day wasn’t very (or perhaps at all) alcoholic”

I have heard this from numerous Christians, and it is simply false. The evidence is severely lacking. This was a time when the Romans would speak of wine which can hold a flame, where Jewish weddings would serve poor wine after everyone was drunk from the good wine, and when water was often too dirty to drink without alcohol mixed in. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard, which would make no sense if He never drank anything with substantial alcohol content. Basically, this whole idea is bogus. For more on why this is the case, I refer you to Bible.org’s post on this.

“Alcohol is addictive”

This does not affect all people, or even most people, normally. Hundreds of millions of people drink regularly or occasionally without being addicted. Also, if things which can be addictive should be avoided so strongly, I suggest removing the Internet, television, sex, and The Legend of Zelda from society.

“Drinking can cause other believers to stumble”

Firstly, there is a lot of confusion of what it means to cause someone to stumble. It does not mean to offend them or confuse them. It means to lead them to sin, especially by violating their own conscience. Paul used the term mostly when discussing “weaker brothers” who thought of certain things as sinful when they were not really. To cause a believer to stumble by drinking would be this: to lead someone who is convicted that drinking is all sinful to drink anyway and disregard conscience by your example or persuasion. This is not usually what people mean when they argue that drinking causes others to stumble.

Moreover, we must recognize that these “weaker brothers” are not expected to stay weak, but to mature. They are supposed to grow up and finally take hold of their liberty in Christ.

“Being seen drinking can hurt your witness”

I dislike arguments that are all about appearances, but this one doesn’t quite hold up, anyway. The majority of people in the world recognize that drinking alcohol without getting drunk or crazy is a normal part of like, something that millions of people can and do engage in every day. If they see you drinking, their thoughts aren’t going to be, “Wow, that guy is a Christian but is really immoral. Hypocrite.” At worst, they’re likely to think, “Hey, aren’t Christians not allowed to drink alcohol?” Of course, addressing this question would then provide an opportunity to fix that misconception and promote a Biblical worldview of the goodness of creation and freedom in Christ.

“The Bible warns strongly against drinking”

This is the only argument that I think has any strength, but even it falters. The strongest (and one of the few) passage in Scripture which speaks ill of alcohol is probably Proverbs 23:25-29. I shall quote it here:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has conflicts? Who has complaints?
Who has wounds for no reason?
Who has red eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
those who go looking for mixed wine.
Don’t gaze at wine because it is red,
when it gleams in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a snake
and stings like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and you will say absurd things.
You’ll be like someone sleeping out at sea
or lying down on the top of a ship’s mast.
“They struck me, but I feel no pain!
They beat me, but I didn’t know it!
When will I wake up?
I’ll look for another drink.”

Proverbs 23:25-29

I feel as though this should not be too much of a stretch to say that this warns against alcoholism, not drinking alcohol in general. “Those who linger over wine, those who go looking for mixed wine” sounds like alcoholics. People who wake up with bruises they don’t remember and then go straight for more alcohol are drunkards, not people who drink responsibly.

“Drinking is just conforming to the world”

This is a funny one, because people who use it rarely explain why makes drinking alcohol into any more of a conformity issue than, say, stuffing yourself at Golden Corral or watching Breaking Bad (or, less controversially, Once Upon a Time). Obviously, as part of the same general society, we will do certain things in common with unbelievers. The question is whether God has revealed that we should be different on a particular point, which the Scripture does not support for teetotaling.

God Saw that It Was Good

Having addressed briefly the main arguments against drinking alcohol for believers, I would like to summarize my case for why drinking is perfectly acceptable. Basically, alcohol is a product of creation which is God’s gift. Like blackberries, sunsets, and puppies, it is part of a good creation and given for our enjoyment. This is a historically Christian view on the subject. In fact, prior to American history, drinking was never a serious question in the Church. Even now, basically Baptists, Pentecostals, and a couple other evangelical groups are the only places where drinking gets much of a bad rap. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Orthodox, and even more groups use wine for Communion. Jesus and the Apostles even used wine for Communion! All of this tradition has been based on the belief that wine, like a good burger, is a gift of God in creation.

The more pressing issue, though, and the one for which I named this post, is pseudo-legalism. Instead of, like the legalist, imposing strict rules which Christians must follow, we often still don’t trust people to live in the freedom of the Gospel, and so create our own not-rules based on “okay, good, better, and best.” This is not good, and is a dangerous practice whereby people fall into the trap of judgmentalism and real legalism. So be careful. Don’t create a new law by giving 1000 reasons not to do X, Y, and Z. And finally, here are some concluding Scriptures:

You may spend the money on anything you want: cattle, sheep, wine, beer, or anything you desire. You are to feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice with your family.

Deuteronomy 14:26

He causes grass to grow for the livestock
and provides crops for man to cultivate,
producing food from the earth,
wine that makes man’s heart glad—
making his face shine with oil—
and bread that sustains man’s heart.

Psalm 104:14-15

How lovely and beautiful they will be!
Grain will make the young men flourish,
and new wine, the young women.

Zechariah 9:17

For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

1 Timothy 4:4

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

1 Timothy 5:23

Christians Shouldn’t Oppose Drinking Alcohol