Hemlines & Hermeneutics

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Hemlines & Hermeneutics

It was after the first service. I was in the production booth and a man approached me with a serious expression on his face. “I want to make you aware of something inappropriate on the platform.” I immediately turned and looked to see what was going on but I didn’t find anything remotely offensive. I asked him what he was referring to. “Look behind the drums, do you see those shadows?” “Yes.” I said. “Can you see that the lights are casting a shadow of a woman in a bikini on the back wall? You need to fix those lights because it will cause the men in the room to stumble!” I turned around and strained to see if the woman found on trucker’s mud flaps was making an unscheduled appearance but there was absolutely nothing there.  After taking a minute for a internal eye-roll, I let him know that I would address it and sent him on his way. 

While this is certainly an extreme situation, I believe it touches on the heart of a recent article “‘Modest is Hottest’ is not in the Bible” by Joel Michael Herbert.  I recently had someone ask my perspective on this piece which has been circulating social media with many singing its praises of its portrayal of evangelical sexism. While I appreciate Herbert’s desire to address the responsibility that men have to control their thoughts and desires, I find a few challenges with his argument. 

The article begins by presenting this as an “evangelical” issue that has been emphasized since the latter half of the 20th century. However, if you look back in history the subject of modesty has previously transcended evangelicalism by hundreds of years. Read Jane Austen and you’ll discover the modesty pieces worn by women in the Regency period. Research the Victorian era and you’ll discover the scandal of a women showing her ankles in public. Yes, the issue of modesty for women has been around long before evangelicals showed up on the scene. But, in today’s socio-political culture, the easiest way to build a winning defense for a point of view is to start out by blaming evangelicalism.

“No one really knows what “Immodest”means.” – This seemingly makes the argument subjective and implies that we can’t really know what modesty means. (It makes “What is modesty?” akin to “What is truth?”) Yet, 1 Timothy 2:9 states that women are to dress modestly (more on that later) with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes. Based on his statement, how can we know what elaborate means? From a cultural viewpoint, what may be elaborate in one culture may be conservative in another. What is the acceptable price-range for material modesty? Paul gives little criteria as to what constitutes as modesty. So, why would Paul require us to follow a subjective imperative that seemingly can’t be defined? If we can’t define immodesty, then what prevents someone from wearing a G-String instead of pants to work? (Yes, this can apply to both genders.) Even secular society recognizes propriety in dress. This is the quagmire of subjective reasoning.

“It puts the responsibility for a man’s lust and fantasies squarely on the shoulders of women.” I sincerely appreciate his desire to liberate women from the false narrative that they are responsible for men’s behavior. He rightly addresses the culture that wrongfully blames women for sexual harassment/violation and calls out those that would foolishly say “You asked for it by dressing that way.” This I applaud and fully support. 

However, he then proceeds to imply that men’s sexual “struggle” with women is psychologically conditioned rather than inherent sin within man. Stating that we should condition our children to not see woman as forbidden but train them to use self control “through the simple acknowledgment that humans are by nature sexual beings, and that the female form is beautiful, something to be appreciated and not objectified.” While I do agree the intent of this line of thought, it feels a little naive in it’s approach. I wonder if this would have solved David’s problem when he walked onto the roof and saw Bathsheba bathing. In noticing her beautiful form, should he have controlled himself and embraced a silent, reflective appreciation or turned away from looking at another man’s wife?

Is this issue relatable only to men? How many times have I heard women comment on a man’s form and insinuate a lustful desire as a result of what he was wearing? There are many men who diligently work on their physique and then wear clothing so form fitting and revealing that it looks like they shopped at the Baby Gap. Who are the “Sexiest Firemen” calendars marketed to? Isn’t our culture guilty of objectifying both sexes? And if you think that this is a far reach, do a little research on the number of women who are increasingly becoming addicted to porn. 

He is right on this point; this is a heart issue and we bear the responsibility for our own actions. But he stops short of addressing the responsibility for all who live in Christian community.

“The Bible does not breathe a word of such nonsense.” – Herbert begins this point by stating that there are no verses that address modesty in dress in scripture. The problem with this is that it is an argument from silence which is a poor hermeneutic. The Bible doesn’t say anything about many issues. But we are to look at the heart of scripture and discover God’s intent. Preempting the use of 1 Timothy 2:9 by stating that Paul was addressing only materialistic modesty, Herbert attempts to shut down any other application. While this does address a level of materialism it is not the totality of its meaning. Paul was encouraging women not to mimic the luxury and licentiousness exemplified in the women of the Roman court. Basically, it would be the equivalent of telling women not to imitate the luxuries and licentiousness of today’s pop stars. His concern was the way they presented themselves would detract from their gospel mission.  

Again, I admire the heart behind this article and believe Herbert makes some excellent points. But I feel that it fails to take a comprehensive view of the subject. Yes, men are solely responsible for their actions and in no case should misogynistic behavior ever be tolerated. But to imply that we have no responsibility to others is not accurate as it is a theme represented throughout scripture. While he dismisses Matthew 5:27-32 by stating that this scripture says nothing about female culpability, he forgets that Mark 9:42 does as well as 1 Corinthians 8:9-13 (their application applies to both genders, not just women). We are warned not cause another to sin:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.”

While this obviously does not specifically address the topic of modesty, it does speak to the heart of demonstrating an awareness of and responsibility to those around us. Our personal liberty should never transcend the health and well-being of community. If we are ambassadors of Christ, then as any ambassador we should demonstrate sensitivity to the community and culture God has placed us in. 

I agree with Herbert in encouraging women to “adorn yourself in a way that makes you feel beautiful and confident.” I am not advocating for a puritanical dress code or body shaming. I am suggesting that we evaluate the motivation for our clothing choices and ask ourselves are we desiring to bring about an appreciation for the body God has given us or stimulate another’s base desires. There is a tension between liberty and responsibility when it comes to living in community. Are we not called to a modest approach in our walk with Christ that shows restraint, keeps due measure, and demonstrates self-control? In fact, we do bear responsibility in how we present ourselves and that in all things we are to glorify Christ.

Including the way we dress. 

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Read With Caution

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Read With Caution

One of the great things about social media I appreciate is the platform it provides to discover new authors and books. I enjoy reading people’s quotes, recommendations and what they are learning. However, biblical discipleship requires that we steward our knowledge/learning and be vigilant about the teachers we sit under. How many times do you research the author recommended to make sure they consistently speak from a position of orthodoxy? What is their teaching on critical issues of concern in the Church today? I have seen many led astray because they did not exercise diligence in scrutinizing an author and his/her work. Just because someone is published, academically acclaimed and/or has a platform does not mean they are representing truth or the heart of the gospel.

Be responsible and evaluate a teacher’s work. Scripture tells us they are held to a higher level of accountability because of their position. I have talked with people who regularly engage with authors who are doctrinally compromised and rationalize it with “I just eat the straw and spit out the sticks.” Yet, scripture tells us that when it comes to false teachers, we are not to even go up to the trough.

No, I am not advocating a closed-minded approach to education that embraces judgmental censorship. I realize we must become aware of differing perspectives to be informed in our apologetic or to be aware of the culture. But ask yourself, “Is my intent to learn or to be informed?” Be aware of your end goal and proceed with caution and accountability. We should never think that we can’t be led astray. That is the epitome of intellectual arrogance and pride. You have a limited amount of time to learn. Invest it wisely.

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I'm Tired . . .

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I'm Tired . . .

I consider Facebook a wonderful tool that helps me to stay current with various friends and past acquaintances. However, there are times I am grieved to witness friends and previous colleagues make choices that contradict God’s Word, will, and plan. Today has been one of those times. I have become fatigued with the tiresome concepts of dialogue, meta narratives, generous spaciousness, and pseudo-intellects who rally the cry to always question church tradition (which often implies orthodoxy) and berate the world of evangelicalism. I am weary of those who arrogantly proclaim that they have a new enlightenment of Scripture and that previous church fathers, considered pillars of the Faith, were inept in their understanding.

I grieve over those that say in today’s age to desire a sound apologetic is more about my desire to be right than to be loving. But, I ask, isn’t the pursuit of competently and compassionately presenting God’s truth the most loving thing one can do in this world? I will not behave as I’ve witnessed others by playing the “angry prophet” or interacting in a way that reeks of arrogance and self-righteous indignation. (There are those I have refused to partner with for this very reason.) Nor will I join the cheer in celebrating one’s bad choice to be perceived as loving and supporting.

Of course, I am not suggesting that we refrain from thinking and pursuing deeper understandings of culture, Scripture, and humanity. We, as Christians, are called to be thinkers and pursuers of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. But the attitude of our minds must be tempered with the redemptive grace and truth of the Gospel. Not our self-driven agendas that seek to justify for our sinful pride or fleshly desire.

Stewardship of our thinking and orthodox interpretation of Scripture is, what I believe, the most critical aspect of a believer’s walk. I have watched false teaching and misinterpretation lead many I’ve known to false assurance and certain peril. We each are responsible to hold dear the foundational truths of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Sin, Salvation, and the Cross. The pursuit of absolute truth is not elitism as some would say, rather it is an essential virtue in an authentic relationship with Christ.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” – Ephesians 4:3-4

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Should Christians Confess?

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Should Christians Confess?

“Christians are not required to confess their sins to God in order to be forgiven, we already are forgiven when we put our faith in Christ for our salvation. There is no Biblical basis for believers to confess sins to God for forgiveness. To each other for healing, yes; but not to God for forgiveness.” – Clark Whitten, “Pure Grace”

The internet has become a sea of white noise when it comes to debating various doctrinal positions and everyone seems to have an opinion. I realize this post would be no exception. However, every so often certain statements cross my path that I find troubling, misguiding or just plain false teaching. This would be one of those statements.

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The Grace and Truth Controversy

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The Grace and Truth Controversy

I am one of those weird people that like school and I always want to be a life-long learner.  When it comes to studying Scripture, my hope is to attain a posture of humility knowing that there are depths of understanding that I have not reached.  With this being said, some topics are complex and challenging to understand but there are still foundational concepts we should seek to comprehend.  The controversy of “balance” in grace and truth is one of those concepts. 

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