Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Gospel and Gender Wars

Lewis Grizzard, the famous Atlanta newspaper columnist, wrote frequently of his ill-fated marriages, divorces, and remarriages. Eventually, he said he was going to give up on marriage altogether, that there wouldn’t be another Mrs. Grizzard. “I’m just going to find a woman who hates me and buy her a house,” he quipped. Grizzard’s lament elicited laughter, despite the obvious tragedy of his relational life, because it rang true to an American culture increasingly rife with gender wars. The universal tensions between men and women sometimes show up in their most innocuous form in jokes from women about men who fail to clean up after themselves around the house, or from men about women who can’t remember to keep their cell phones turned on. But the gender tensions run into much darker territory.

The divorce culture around us is the most obvious sign of men and women in conflict with one another, as marriages are ripped asunder and the custody of children fought over in law courts in virtually every major city on the planet. Even beyond that, many reverberations of the sexual revolution are built on self-protecting mechanisms for men and women who, at best, don’t trust one another and, at worst, want to exploit one another. Divorce courts and abortion clinics, porn sites and chick flicks— these all reveal men and women who, far from merging into some sort of unisex utopia, find it impossible to give themselves fully to the other.

That’s what the biblical concept of manhood and womanhood is about. The biblical notion of certain creational distinctives of what it means to be a man or a woman isn’t really about “who’s in charge,” and it certainly isn’t about “who’s the best.” King Jesus dismisses such categories— though common in our commercial, corporate, and athletic spheres—in favor of a newer sense of servant-dominion in His kingdom.

The chief analogy used for the male/ female relationship—specifically in terms of the marital one-flesh union—is that of head and body. This is because, the Bible maintains, we are not genderless persons who happen to have been placed in arbitrary male and female bodies. Sexual differentiation isn’t simply a matter of genital architecture. From the very beginning, Scripture teaches, humanity is created “male and female” (Gen. 1:27; Mark 10:6).

Sometimes Christians will argue that male/female distinctions are obliterated by the new covenant. Doesn’t the Apostle Paul tell us that there is neither “male nor female” in Christ (Gal. 3:28)? Certainly, in terms of inheritance, there is no distinction. Men and women alike— not just firstborn sons—share in Jesus’ identity and, thus, in His inheritance of the universe. But Scripture doesn’t teach that this differentiation is in every way gone—in fact, the Bible directly applies some aspects of God’s commands to men and some to women. Masculinity and femininity are not aspects of the fallen order to be overcome; they are instead part of what God declared from the beginning to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31).

In fact, the mystery of the gospel explains to us why it is that Adam wasn’t designed to subdivide like an amoeba, why he needed someone like him and yet different from him, why he was to join himself to her in an organic union. It’s because the head/body union of a man and a woman is itself an illustration— one that points to something older and more beautiful: the union of Christ and His church in the gospel.

A man, then, is to lead his family. But this is not some sort of tyranny. A man’s leadership is modeled after Christ’s leadership of His church. He leads by discerning the best interests of his family and pouring himself out for them. This headship is self-sacrificial. A wife submits to her husband’s leadership not as a cowering supplicant but in the way the church submits to Christ. Jesus says of His church, in its original twelve foundation stones, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).

When we call husbands to lead their families, and when we call wives to respect such leadership (which, like every form of leadership, has biblical limits), we are not speaking of a business model or a corporate flow chart. We’re speaking instead of an organic unity. The more a husband and wife are sanctified together in the Word, the more they—like your nervous system and body—move and operate smoothly, effortlessly, holistically. They are oneflesh. It’s about cooperation through complementarity.

When Jesus carried out His gospel mission, the satanic powers sought to tempt the church to carry out the mission given to Christ (Matt. 16:22–23; 26:51–52), and sought to tempt Christ to seek His own provision rather than that for His bride (4:2–4). Jesus, though, set His face like flint toward the Place of the Skull, and the church eventually, by God’s grace, yielded to being served by the washing of water (Eph. 5:26).

The church continually works to reclaim a biblical concept of the family. We call men to prepare themselves to be other-directed husbands. We call on women to find their beauty not in cultural stereotypes of a woman’s value but in God’s delight (1 Peter 3:1–6). Such will look increasingly and, oddly, peaceful to a culture conditioned to gender wars. But in the end, it’s not about being better men and women. It’s about a clear proclamation of the mystery of Christ and His church. They’re not in tension with one another, in competition with one another, mistrusting one another. They’re head and body—one flesh.

by Russell Moore is President of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral, and ethical concerns.

Dr. Moore earned a B.S. in history and political science from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also received the M.Div. in biblical studies from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A widely-sought cultural commentator, Dr. Moore speaks frequently to issues of theology, culture, and public policy, having been quoted or published by many of the nation’s leading news agencies and periodicals—including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and the Associated Press.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lone Survivor - The Power and Beauty of a Band of Brothers

Not since the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan has the silver screen given us such intensive, graphic combat carnage as Lone Survivor, which opened in theaters this weekend. Nevertheless, it is worth seeing for its ennobling message about courageous manhood and the amazing power and beauty of a band of brothers on mission.  

The movie is based on Marcus Luttrell's blockbuster bestseller Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10. It tells the incredible story of the June 2005 Operation Red Wings, in which four U.S. Navy SEALs were helicoptered into the steep, rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan on a covert mission to collect intelligence and locate or kill a militia leader aligned with al Qaeda.

The SEAL mission takes a bad turn when Luttrell and his three SEAL teammates - Danny Dietz, Matt Axelson, and Mike Murphy - find themselves in a relentless, brutal firefight with over one hundred heavily armed Taliban fighters.

This remarkable story includes an Afghani village leader named Mohammed Gulab and something called Pashtunwali. Pashtunwali is the ancient ethical code of the Pashtun tribe that offers asylum to strangers from their enemies. It reminded me of Genesis 19. There Lot gave hospitality and shelter to two men (actually angels) and then protected them from the wicked men of Sodom who wanted to rape them. Lot held fast to his commitment to honor and protect the two strangers in his home. Christians are commanded to do likewise in Romans 12:13: "Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality". As believers, we have everything we need to offer gospel hospitality to strangers, friends, and even enemies whom God brings into our lives, no matter what the cost.

The heart of the Marcus Luttrell's book and the movie was the very special relationships among this band of brothers. Peter Berg, the movie's director, put it this way:

"This story is about working together for something bigger than our ego, bigger than our individuality. It's about coming together as a group-protecting each other, loving each other, looking out for each other-and finding a greater strength as a team than you could ever find as an individual. Marcus [Luttrell] wrote a book... about brotherhood, sacrifice and team commitment."

Let us be thankful for our uniformed warriors who fight for our freedom in the most dire circumstances and conditions. They believe in honor, duty, sacrifice and courage to stay in the fight to the finish...and so should we!   

We followers of Jesus Christ are born on a spiritual battlefield in enemy occupied territory. We are called to "fight the good fight of the faith" (1 Tim 6:12); "Be strong and courageous" (Josh 1:7); "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8); And then in Ephesians 6, God lays out our battle mission:

"Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and shaving put on the breastplate of righteousness,and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak."
Be Warned: This movie has extreme, graphic violence; Strong language is constant, with a full range of profanities, including crude sexual slang.

Marcus Luttrell in His Own Words (from his book):

"Service is selflessness--the opposite of the lifestyle that we see so much of in America today. The things that entertain us don't often lift us up, or show us as the people we can rise up to become. The people who appear in this book--and others who did things I can't talk about--are my role models. They quietly live out the idea expressed in the Bible (John 15:13): "Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends."  

"I will never quit. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down i will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my enemies and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight."  

"These men of the special forces have had other options in their lives, other paths, easier paths they could have taken. But they took the hardest path, that narrow causeway that is not for the sunshine patriot. They took the one for the supreme patriot, the one that may require them to lay down their lives for the United States of America. The one that is suitable only for those who want to serve their country so bad, nothing else matters. That's probably not fashionable in our celebrity-obsessed modern world. But Special Forces guys don't give a damn about that either.....They are of course aware of a higher calling, because they are sworn to defend this country and to fight its battles."  

"Eternal Father, faithful friend, Be quick to answer those we send in brotherhood and urgent trust, On hidden missions dangerous, O hear us when we cry to Thee, For SEALs in air, on land, and sea."  

"My God had not spoken again. But neither had He forsaken me. I knew that. For damned sure, I knew that"  

"The idea...that our professional military men and women train for years without knowing whether they will ever have to actually carry out their missions to the fullest extent of their abilities is the very heart of what service is all about. Heroes aren't designated in advance. Everyone must always be ready to execute.  

"In my experience, it's always the greatest heroes who claim they never did anything beyond what any of their buddies would have done in the same situation. Our training and our culture breed that response into us all, no matter what war we were part of. You train yourself to a standard and thereby make yourself interchangeable with others who share the same standard. And that gives everyone an equal claim to the pride that goes with having served your country." 

By Dave Brown, Director and Pastor, Washington Area Coalition of Men's Ministries (WACMM)