The Least You Can Do is Let Me Control You

In my previous article on  marriage and relationships, I discussed Suzanne Venker’s new book, The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: How Love Works, and also my own journey in discovering the liberating dynamics of traditional roles in marriage.

But as I discussed with one reader, there is a darker side to what might be called — or at least passes itself off as — traditional marriage in the Christian sense. This view of marriage is prevalent enough that I would be remiss not to address it, which I plan to do in this post.

All too often, well-meaning Christians have the idea that Biblical teaching on marriage amounts to the wife doing what her husband tells her to do, and the husband making sure that she does. Some husbands have got it in their head that it is not only their right but duty to make sure their marriage runs in this manner, or they are somehow failing before God.

All too often, well-meaning Christians have the idea that Biblical teaching on marriage amounts to the wife doing what her husband tells her to do, and the husband making sure that she does.

Now, a couple points here: It should be clear from my previous post that this is not a view I hold. Further, based on my experience in the Christian church, this is also not the view that many Christian couples embrace, either.

The problem, however, is that when the question of “what the Bible has to say about marriage” is brought up, it is rare to find a good answer to this unhealthy (and if I may, somewhat repulsive) view on marriage. This leaves us somewhat vulnerable.

Take for instance the time when I received a call from a fellow Christian who asked me this very question. He was having difficulty in his marriage and was convinced the source was the fact that his wife “would not come under his authority.” His response to this apparent crisis was to verbally beat her over the head with Bible verses on a daily basis, reminding her regularly she was blowing it before God and man.

Just between you and me, I have never found verbally beating my wife over the head with Bible verses on a regular basis to be particularly helpful, let alone romantic.

Now just between you and me, I have never found reminding my wife on a regular basis that I believe she is blowing it to be particularly helpful, let alone romantic. But my friend was not asking me whether I thought his current approach was helpful. He was asking whether his current approach was Biblical. What was I to say?

I believe it is important therefore for us to have an answer to this question, one hopefully that does not subscribe to an inferior view of the sacredness of Scripture, but instead presents a superior view of what the Bible really has to say about marriage and relationships in general.

Here is a distillation of what I told my friend over the course of several conversations:

1) New Testament Scriptures Concerning Marriage Are Not a Husband’s Bill of Rights

When I have discussed the topic of marriage with other men like my friend, I often get the impression that they believe passages of Scripture — like those concerning women submitting to their husbands, for example — entitle them to certain inalienable rights. They don’t.

Reading passages on marriage like a husband’s Bill of Rights is like a preacher reading passages on generosity and concluding he is entitled to his parishioners’ bank accounts. It is not only highly misguided but morally repugnant.

2) God Has Not Appointed Us to Be Moral Policemen

According to the New Testament, the job description of the husband  is not to monitor or enforce whether his wife is fulfilling her job in the marriage perfectly — or even properly. It is to sacrifice his own life for hers.

In practice, the interesting thing I have found is that when I sacrifice my own life in the way I am supposed to, my wife is far more willing to consider following me.

3) It is Not About Whether You Lead, But How You Lead

As I was discussing with my fellow reader, the most important thing for me, as a husband, to understand about how to be a leader in my relationship is to realize I already am.

We husbands are not fighting for, or protecting, our right to lead — not at least in the way the Bible defines leadership. Leadership is not a position; it is who we are. The question then is not whether we lead, but how well we lead.

4) It is Not About Control, But About Love

In my last article, we discussed how traditional roles in marriage are job descriptions, like a CEO and COO. They do not represent who gets to dominate whom.

In fact, the only way traditional roles work, as God intended them to work, is when love and mutual respect are present — and consequently, control is absent. Traditional roles are not designed to control or limit an individual but rather to expand and enrich the relationship.

5) It is Not About What God is Doing with Your Wife: It is About What God is Doing with You

No matter what your circumstances in your marriage, God is at work. I often have found that if I am running into difficulty in my relationship, the problem is often with me — sometimes even unrelated to the relationship itself. God knows how to bring about circumstances in our life in order to mature and deepen our intimacy with Him.

The problem of course is when we are not listening because we are too busy trying to change someone else. As seventeenth century Catholic priest Jean Pierre Caussade once said, “Accept our present circumstances in our life as the very gift of God, for our benefit.”

In Conclusion

I am arguably coming from a husband’s point of view. I would love to hear comments from a woman’s perspective on traditional roles, marriage, relationships, love and control. Naturally if you are a guy, you can leave a comment too 😉

Seeing God from the Rocket

“Take care of that cursed woman,” [Jehu] said, “and bury her, for she was a king’s daughter.” But when they went out to bury [Jezebel], they found nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went back and told Jehu, who said, “This is the word of the LORD that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel’s flesh.”

There seems to be a crisis in the modern-day church concerning who God is. Several months ago, I reviewed a book by prominent charismatic renewal leader Bill Johnson titled God is Good: He is Better than You Think. I discussed how Johnson’s book, though well-intentioned, presents a theology that not only departs from orthodox evangelical doctrine on several points but in doing so potentially undermines the foundation of the Gospel.

The charismatic movement has always been at odds with its evangelical counterparts at some level. But such disputes have typically been around what I would call more superficial points of doctrine: Things like our identity in Christ, whether miraculous healing is for today, and spiritual gifts. In other words, they have concerned themselves with how the Gospel is to be understood and applied in the Christian life. They have not, however, called into question our basic understanding of the Gospel itself.

That is, not until recently. In the charismatic renewal movement, there is presently a great drive to redefine both who God is and what the Cross represents. Johnson, in an attempt to emphasize God’s goodness at the expense of all else, has proposed that God is simply too good to have ever been involved in human judgment, even allowing it, and suggests he is not fully in control of human history. He also suggests the Cross, though acknowledging it involved forgiveness of sin, was primarily a restoration of our God-given authority.

More recently, the Welton Academy, a ministry “focused in [sic] teaching the Bible through a New Covenant Kingdom perspective” and growing in popularity among renewal advocates, has proposed that the accounts of God’s judgment we see in Scripture are not because of God but because of “the Law” under the Old Covenant, and as as a result, God’s judgment no longer exists.

The Bind That Ties

As a supporter of the renewal movement, I find these developments perplexing. After all, why would I wish to split hairs and pin God’s judgment on “His law” instead of Himself? Why draw a distinction between the Law and the Law Giver? Or why would I go so far as to suggest God is too good to even allow (let alone execute) judgment in the first place, given the mountain of evidence in the Bible for it?

The answer I believe is found in the fact that the charismatic renewal movement today finds itself in a bit of a bind. This situation might be best expressed by the following words penned by one of its advocates (emphasis added):

“As I preach this gospel of grace and proclaim the goodness of God one of the major obstacles people have in accepting this is the topic of God’s wrath and judgement. I myself have struggled to come to terms with this topic.”

One of the cornerstones of the renewal’s theology is the goodness of God. This is not surprising, since the renewal has witnessed an extravagant outpouring of God’s goodness. But unfortunately what this has led to is a myopic view of God. Instead of understanding God’s goodness in the context of the Cross, it has led to emphasizing God’s goodness in spite of it. What I mean, theologically speaking, is that the renewal movement has sought to define God purely in terms of His mercy at the exclusion of, rather than in the context of, His judgment. Renewal teachers have not merely downplayed the role of God’s judgment in light of the Cross: They have flatly denied it.

Not surprisingly, this has led to a crisis among believers — which we see in the words of the renewal advocate just quoted. Because believers have been told that God is simply too good to execute judgment, they now struggle with Scripture that clearly says otherwise. They come across examples of God’s judgment in Scripture — like the one that introduces this essay concerning Jezebel’s death — and cannot figure out how the only-good God they have been told about could possibly prophesy and ordain what reads to them like a mob hit upon a woman.

It is important to note here that, contrary to what many renewal leaders seem to believe, the real crisis is not the discovery (or suggestion) that God is an executor of judgment. Rather, the real source of the crisis as I see it is believers simply coming up against a God in Scripture that directly contradicts the God they are being taught.

The Crisis from Space

Let’s say you were raised in a sheltered environment where you were taught the world was flat. Years later, you ventured beyond the borders of your home, boarded a rocket and viewed Earth from space for the first time. To your horror, you discover the world to be as it truly is: Round. But the source of your horror would not be found in the roundness of the Earth; it would be because its roundness now calls into question all you were led to believe to be true.

This is the crisis renewal followers are now facing. Having sat under teachings that have almost exclusively emphasized God’s goodness — and often flatly denied God’s role in judgment — they now find themselves looking upon God from the rocket ship of Scripture only to find an entirely different picture. God is not Flat: He is Round. That is, His nature is more complex than the God-is-only-good theology has allowed for, and now believers do not know what to think. True, the God of Judgment haunts them. But it is not God’s judgment, per se; it is rather the vast chasm between the God they have been told about and God as He truly is.

In saying this, I realize there are many who are troubled by a God who could pronounce judgment at all. But my point is that this issue becomes monumentally more challenging with a theology that refuses to acknowledge God’s role in judgment in the first place. The truth is, there are perfectly good reasons to believe that God is a God of both judgment and mercy, and neither aspect contradicts His perfect nature. In fact, both aspects provide insight into the nature of life and of reality and are indispensable for properly understanding God’s most profound achievement, the Cross. Remove either one and the Cross ceases to have meaning.

The difficulty, however, is that we will have no such God, and this trend leaves us vulnerable.

Any Explanation

If we — like the renewal advocate we quoted — find ourselves struggling and lacking peace over arguably a significant aspect of God’s nature, we are prone to hasty theological conclusions rather than what is really needed, which is a theological reset. We are more inclined to find any explanation, rather than the right explanation, to restore that peace. And the theologies of Welton and Johnson, I am afraid, are such explanations.

I have spilled much digital ink on my review of Johnson’s book so I shall not repeat any more of that here. What I would like to do instead is briefly discuss Welton’s theology and demonstrate why, though it attempts to provide a band-aid to the renewal’s theological crisis, ultimately does not solve it. In fact, it only serves to fundamentally alter our understanding of both God and the Cross — and I believe, not in a good way.

Welton’s theology is a rather conspicuous if not elaborate attempt to address the judgment crisis, which might be stated as follows: If we are committed to denying God’s role in judgment, how can we possibly deal with all the Scriptural evidence to the contrary? Welton’s answer to this is to suggest that God’s history with mankind has been marked by several time periods, each corresponding to and governed by a distinct Divine covenant. So far, so good.

But Welton goes on to explain that “God’s wrath was connected to the Old Covenant” and also that “clearly, the wrath of God is an Old Covenant Law-based concept.” He also goes into painstaking detail to explain that “the crucifixion of Christ did nothing to assuage the wrath of God.” He also proposes that for a period of seventy years, both Old and New Covenants were in effect simultaneously until the destruction of Jerusalem, which marked the “official” end of the Old Covenant.

Welton’s somewhat speculative interpretation of Scripture is puzzling at first until one realizes its goal: To remove every trace of judgment from the God we now serve. By proposing that God’s wrath is an attribute not of God but of the Old Covenant, and further by proposing a transition period where the Old Covenant was still in effect, he is able to suggest that all traces of God’s judgment found in both the Old Testament and New have been done away with. God’s wrath literally ceases to exist as part of God’s nature under the New Covenant.

In fact, this line of reasoning even allows Welton to suggest (like Johnson) that judgment has never really been a part of God’s nature to begin with. Welton’s answer to the follower struggling with passages like the one concerning Jezebel presumably becomes: “Ah, don’t worry about it: That was not God; that was just the covenant talking.”

More Questions than Answers

But in my opinion, Welton’s proposed theology raises more questions than it hopes to answer. The first is: Why would God implement a covenant involving a “law-based concept of wrath” if wrath was not in fact an integral part of His nature? Why implement a covenant that did not reflect who He truly is? This is exactly the same issue Johnson faces when he suggests that Jesus did not die to satisfy God’s wrath but instead to satisfy “the appetite of the Law and the Prophets.” It raises the question why God would ever allow something like that to happen.

In Welton’s case, there are really only two possible answers: Either something beyond God made it necessary for Him to establish a covenant that went against His own nature, or God is purely arbitrary in His implementation of covenants. In the first case, it would suggest that whatever that “something” is, it is greater than God. Which, of course, does not bode well for the idea that God reigns supremely over His creation, that He “is in Heaven: He does as He pleases.”

But if we wish to preserve God’s supremacy, then we have no choice but to conclude God’s decision to establish a wrath-based covenant was completely arbitrary. He poured out wrath under the Old Covenant simply because He could, and under the New Covenant He simply changed His mind. Who knows what the next Covenant might bring?

A Death without Explanation

The second problem raised by Welton’s theology is: Why was it necessary for Jesus to die in the way that He did? Welton belittles the idea that Jesus’ death had anything to do with God’s judgment, remarking somewhat disparagingly that “Jesus was not the Father’s ‘wrath sponge’ soaking up His anger toward sin.” Instead, he argues, Jesus was merely “the perfect lamb sacrifice thus creating a brand new covenant through which the Father could forgive sin once and for all.” If this seems confusing, it is because it is.

What Welton is trying to do here is to show that sacrifice and forgiveness have nothing to do with judgment, that they are presumably as far from one another as the East is from the West. In doing so, he resurrects an age-old question theologians have asked concerning how the death of Jesus worked exactly — that is, how are we to best understand how the death of one man, who was fully God, paid for the forgiveness of sins of all of mankind? The question is not whether it did, but how it did.

The evangelical answer to this question is that Jesus took our place and suffered the punishment we deserved. This idea is as accepted among Protestant evangelicals as the four spiritual laws. Welton, however, denies this. His reasoning is that “no Scriptures point to God’s wrath being poured out at the Cross.” Which, I would argue, is not a strong case for its rejection. (On the same basis, we would have to reject the doctrine of the Trinity, since it is not explicitly mentioned in Scripture, either.)

Instead, Welton explains that under Old Testament Law, “no lamb sacrifice was ever punished for sin. Rather, the lamb’s death simply enacted covenantal forgiveness.” By analogy, he implies Jesus’ death was this simple, also: It was not actual punishment for our sins, nor presumably did it have anything to do with God’s judgment (for this is the whole point he is making): It was simply the act that was necessary to bring about forgiveness and usher us into a new covenant.

Welton’s almost nonchalant description of Jesus’ death on the Cross should give any Bible-believing Christian pause. But even if we accept his version of events in order to avoid a God of judgment, we now have new problem: We have no good reason for why Jesus had to die in the way that He did. If, as Welton argues, Jesus’ death had no connection to God’s judgment, then why did God the Father require that Jesus die — and die in such a horrific manner? If judgment was not at issue, God could have conceivably used any means to bring about forgiveness. He could have released a swarm of butterflies. Or He simply could have had Jesus wave His hand. Why death at all? And why death on a Cross?

A God Far Worse than Imagined

Again, there are really only two possible answers here: Either God had to do it this way for reasons beyond our knowledge and presumably beyond His control, or God simply chose to do it this way for no good reason: He simply wanted His Son to die a horrific death. Welton’s theology, then, would strongly suggest that God is either not in control of his own Creation and therefore not God, or that He is somewhat of a monster.

And this is a point worth mentioning: Welton (like Johnson) hopes to rewrite the Bible in a way that distances God from any trace of judgment. But any attempt to do so will always have the effect of making God out to be far worse than ever imagined.

In my opinion, we champions of the renewal movement must come to terms with the fact that God’s judgment is the only just reason for God’s actions in human history, from beginning to end. We must also realize that any attempt to “sanitize” God’s character and conform it to our own ideas of what is good will only serve to undermine the Gospel itself. By attempting to rehabilitate God’s character, we only serve to demean the work of the Cross — as seen in Welton’s own remarks above.

One Question Remains

I know I have kept my readers far longer than blog post etiquette allows. But let me conclude by briefly addressing the one question that remains: How can we understand God’s judgment in light of His goodness? The answer is quite simple: By understanding God’s goodness in light of His judgment.

There’s a terrible misunderstanding among renewal advocates that God’s judgment amounts to no more than God being in a really bad mood. As Bill Johnson puts it, “I remember growing up thinking that God the Father was angry, and it was Jesus who calmed Him down.” But contrary to Johnson’s claim, the Old Testament does not, in fact, confirm this misguided idea. Rather, it establishes the fact that God’s perfect holiness demands punishment for sin. In other words, God’s judgment is not a product of a bad mood: It is a product of justice.

Imagine a father who lashes out at his own child for no reason whatsoever and sends him off to his room without supper. We would all agree he is an angry father; we might even agree he is an abusive father. But what if the child was no child at all but instead a criminal — in fact, a murderer? And what if the father was actually a judge, who did not send the criminal to his room, but instead to prison, and eventually to his death? Would we still say the judge was angry and abusive? Or would it not be more accurate to say the judge was perfectly right in his execution of justice? That between the two, it was the criminal who had acted unjustly?

The reason for our present discomfort with God’s judgment lies in our failure to make this distinction. We are mistaking the actions of a judge for those of a father. We are viewing God’s actions as judge through the eyes of a child. A young child of a judge might wonder how his own father could possibly send a man to his death — and may even question whether his father is a good man. But this is not so: His father is perfectly good in his execution of justice. The child can also rest in the assurance of his father’s kindness toward him, expressly because of the special relationship they share: He is his own son.

I fear God’s abundant kindness to us in the renewal movement has rendered us no longer capable of making this distinction. We have lost sight of the fact that we we were once criminals. We have forgotten that the extravagant kindness and mercy we experience from God the Father is based solely on our adoption as sons and daughters — the most costly adoption in human history.

In Closing

I would like to go out on a limb here and propose a few things.

First, I would like to propose that the really disturbing thing we find in Scripture is not the accounts involving God’s judgment  — such as the death of Jezebel, who was a manipulator, a murderer, and who systematically hunted down and killed the prophets of God.

I would also like to propose that Jesus did not have to go to the Cross in order for God to be good. Had Jesus never gone to the Cross, God would in no way be any less good — not even one hair — in His pronouncement of judgment upon mankind. For in His pronouncement, His judgments would be just, for it is a judgment we rightly deserved.

I would also like to propose that in attempting to strip from God of all traces of judgment, it is not really His good name we are protecting, but our own. For the only people who could ever possibly consider God’s judgment to be unkind are those who are not entirely convinced they deserve it. It is the unrepentant criminal who accuses the judge of injustice, but it is the repentant criminal fully convinced his sentence is deserved, who understands the judge’s pardon for what it is.

No, the really disturbing thing we find in Scripture is a God who humbled himself as a man and went to the Cross to take upon Himself the punishment we rightly deserved. As the apostle John says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” These are the accounts in Scripture we should find most disturbing. They are the ones that should cause us to struggle, lose a great deal of peace, and keep us up at night. For it is a love so unjustified, it borders on the obscene.


The Great Exchange

And Jesus said, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

So read the verse from the man’s worn and highlighted Bible, a man who not only agreed to meet with me but had insisted. Continue reading “The Great Exchange”