Monday, March 26, 2007


The other night, my wife and I were watching an episode of 20/20's 'Enough' series. One of the segments focused on an African American lady who believes 'black love' has become very distorted in recent decades. She has initiated a program which encourages black parents to get married and become a more traditional nuclear family, rather than perpetuating what she believes is a destructive cycle in the African American community of having 'baby mommies' and 'baby daddies', with tons of gaps in between which children often fall through.

I am not African American, but I am married. I often jokingly tell people that the key to marital bliss can be summed up in two words - separate bathrooms. But in truth, if I had one thing to say to the newly married or soon-to-be married, it would be this - "It ain't all about you." This is something both husbands and wives need to hear. Marriages that consist of two people who live like they are single will end up that way in real life. As a Christian, having Christ as the acknowledged head of the house is the absolutely essential unifying factor that holds both spouses accountable to a higher law and a higher authority. That means...

1) Compromise. It's not a dirty word. Compromise on some minor things, and even some major things if greater goods can be achieved, under the headship of Christ. If you try and die on every hill, the mountain range of your marriage will be small and worn.

2) Communicate - clearly. Don't base your attitudes or behaviors toward each other on assumptions. This is death to a marriage. Don't work hard at disguising your feelings to make it more difficult for the other to figure out what's going on. Instead, work hard at understanding the other's feelings, in part, by making your feelings lovingly clear. Don't assume things about your spouse, and don't force your spouse to assume things about you.

3) Sacrifice. This is perhaps THE biblical virtue that most needs to be rediscovered in our culture generally, and marriages particularly. Sacrifice is not rooted in duty; it's rooted in love. If there's a lack of sacrifice in marriage, it says something about the level of love in that marriage, and it ain't good.

4) Understanding. Nobody's perfect, and with the exception of Christ, nobody is anybody's perfect ideal. There's a reason why only God is to be worshipped, because only God is worthy of our worship. People make mistakes, they say harsh things, and commit insensitive acts. We're in a fallen world - it's part of the deal. However, one good way to minimize this stuff is through understanding. This entails patience and loyalty when people screw up, and it means seeing your spouse as they really are, and not as a mirror image of you.

5) Wield your power carefully. Husbands and wives are (or at least should be) more familiar with each other's fears, weaknesses, insecurities, and hot buttons than anyone else. This kind of vulnerability in marriage is a wonderful thing. But there is tremendous potential for ugliness here too. Vulnerability, by definition, results in spouses handing each other the deadliest weapons that can be used against each other, trusting that neither will actually 'drop the bomb' on the other. Like political leaders of nuclear nations, spouses are entrusted with enormous power by virtue of knowing each other's vulnerabilities intimately. Through honesty and openness, spouses know the weapons that are at their disposal that can cripple their mate - they know how to hurt each other if they want to. Such power must not be abused. Don't push buttons you know will devastate your spouse - this is totally reckless (and unloving). Don't go nuclear; there are less devastating ways of resolving conflict than going for the jugular. Understand the power you have, and be extremely careful how you use it.

All of these things are interrelated and depend on each other. All of it falls under the subject "It ain't all about you". A whole bunch of husbands (including me) and wives need this reality check, desperately.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Stuff in the Pipeline

For all none of you who are interested, the following are paper topics that are currently on my radar screen and hope to get published in one form or other:

1) Hospitality in 2 and 3 John. The seemingly diverging instructions given by the Elder in these 2 short epistles have been used by scholars to arrive at all kinds of readings and conclusions, mostly negative. My goal here is to attempt to put the Elder's instructions within their proper Mediterranean hospitality context and argue that said context demands a better reading of these epistles than Brown, Strecker, Lieu and others have proposed in recent decades. My goal is to have a working draft of the article done by the end of March, with formal submittal to the Westminster Theological Journal by the end of April.

2) The Alleged Sectarian Language of the Fourth Gospel. Beginning w/Wayne Meeks, and then continuing through Neyrey, Malina, Peterson, Kysar, and even more conservative scholars like Gundry, an influential niche in Johannine scholarship has proffered that the Fourth Gospel is a sectarian document based on socio-linguistic theory. The idea here is not so much that the content of the FG itself reveals sectarian ideas (though the above scholars would affirm this as well). Instead, they shift the sectarian emphasis to the Fourth Gospel's linguistic strategy and extrapolate that such a strategy is indicative of sectarianism. In this paper, I will analyze this increasingly popular assertion with the intent of showing that Malina, Peterson, and Gundry in particular have overstated their respective cases considerably by selectively (rather than thoroughly) employing socio-linguistic theory and minimizing the considerable amount of data that contradicts their theories.

3) Once I get on the sectarian kick, I may also write a paper that deals with the Fourth Gospel (and epistles) content that is most often cited as evidence of a burgeoning sectarianism within the Johannine community. Attention here will necessarily be paid to Brown's structuralist theory on the alleged development of the community's tradition, as well as on the view of NT ethicists that the Fourth Gospel's supposed conversion of the Synoptic 'love your neighbor' command into a communal (sectarian) 'love one another' command was a sectarian regression.

4) Lastly, I'd like to scope out the possibility of doing a paper that will compare the respective Gardens of Scripture - the Garden of Eden in Genesis, and the Garden of Gethsemane in the Synoptic material. I'm still in the thought stages of this (which for me, is about 80% of the battle). But in casually thinking about this, I have been struck by the contrasts between the two events in terms of Adam & Eve's behavior and thought process, versus Christ's in Gethsemane. Maybe there's nothing here worthy of exploring, but at least right now, some interesting and potentially significant implications might be drawn from such a comparison that would be practical for Christian living.

I'm also still hoping to submit a paper to ThirdMill on Derrida's vision of hospitality and how it contrasts with the Johannine material in particular. Others such as Boersma have devoted a good bit of scholarly attention to Derrida's hospitality, so I'm a little torn as to whether I would be making any real contribution over and above what better scholars have already done. I'm still debating it.

At any rate, this is what my writing plate currently looks like.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Physical and Spiritual Adoption - Some Similarities

As my wife and I continue our journey along the winding and often unpredictable road of international adoption, it occurred to me that adoption is a thoroughly biblical principle. One of the blessings I've experienced from the necessary grindings of the adoption process is that it has forced me to think about my own spiritual adoption in ways that are humbling. The lessons I am learning will hopefully make me a better parent once our adopted child is with us.

During our own education process about the unique issues presented by internationally adopted children, we have been hit by the constant drumbeat that international kids who are adopted often have emotional and behavioral issues that have to be worked through. In particular, these kids often have considerable 'attachment' issues resulting from leaving not only familiar surroundings, but an entire culture. These kids often don't trust the love and attention given to them because of their history of receiving inconsistent and non-lasting attention from overworked caregivers and orphan workers. This, coupled with the upside-down nature of their relocation to a 'new world' and a new culture, can result in the child feeling completely lost, confused, and entirely out of place. It is hardly a mystery why children such as these, when bombarded by these momentous changes at ridiculously early ages, have difficulty attaching to their adoptive parents and trusting their new surroundings enough to embrace the opportunities and love that now awaits them.

I have found that spiritual adoption has some of the same characteristics. The Bible clearly teaches that those who have accepted Christ as the Savior they need have been adopted into the family of God and are considered 'sons' (Eph. 1.5, Rom. 8.23, 9.4). As Robert Peterson has coined it, we have been adopted from wayward sinners to cherished children of our Father God. The Johannine writings give strong voice to this idea in several places. John 1.12-13 link individual faith to a new family status. God becomes our new father through adoption, and our new 'sonship' comes because we have been adopted as children into a new family - God's family (1J 3.1). Jesus didn't make a slip of the tongue when he announced to Mary in John 20.17 that he will ascend not only to 'my Father', but 'your Father' as well. The Pauline cry of Abba Father (Gal. 4.6, Rom. 8.15) is the result of us becoming God's children (Rom. 8.16) and the heirs to a great inheritance as a result of our adoption (Rom. 8.17, Gal. 4). Adoption is a thoroughly biblical idea.

But in the Christian life, we also discover that there are attachment and dislocation issues as well. Just as the young child has difficulty letting go of his attachment to his former surroundings, even when these surroundings might strike us as terrible, we also struggle to separate our attachment from our old patterns of sin and embrace our wondrous new surroundings in the family of God. In Romans 7, Paul describes in agonizingly realistic terms this great ongoing struggle between the new and old natures that are battling within him. Christians who reflectively read Romans 7 often think they're reading their own biography. When you think about it, Christians ought to understand better than anyone the attachment issues that adopted children often experience, because we experience them too in our spiritual adoption. Often times, people think that because the environment of the child has improved so dramatically as a result of an adoption, the child would have no problem adjusting to such a clearly better situation. They don't understand why the child would be confused in his new status and grappling with internal battles about where his loyalties lie, how he should act, whether he should trust, and what his identity is. But Christians know this battle all too well. We've been saved out of the muck of our former sinful and hopeless existence, and we do rejoice. But oh how we struggle to let go of our former attachments, and fully embrace our new identity as adopted children in the family of God! We know our situation is incomparably better than before. Yet, we struggle mightily to leave our old ways behind. This is a spiritual version of the same kind of attachment issues adopted children have when trying to adjust to an entirely new reality.

The same can be said about dislocation. While the child struggles with feeling at home in a completely new world, we as Christians have similar struggles that Scripture regularly talks about. As adopted children of God, we have a new citizenship in the Kingdom of God (Phil. 3.20, John 18.36). We are in the world but no longer of the world (John 15.19, 17.6, 14). As a result, we are to no longer be conformed to the ways of the world (Rom. 12.2, James 4.4, 1J 2.15, etc), but to set our hearts on things above (Col. 3.1-2), and specifically Christ and the certain hope of his return (1P 1.13, 3.15). All of this sounds great. But since the very beginning of the Christian movement, the church at-large has struggled with the specifics of how to work out the spiritual dislocation resulting from its new citizenship. How cozy or not cozy should we be with the world we still live in? To probe this question is to understand in spiritual terms the struggles associated with physical and emotional dislocation that often plague adopted children. Again, as Christians who are ourselves adopted children, we above all people should understand the earthly struggles of adopted children, because our adoptive struggles are of the same order.

Adoption is a wonderful thing that often produces immeasurable benefits and blessings to everyone involved under the sovereign tutelage of God. But like everything else in a fallen world, adoption creates unique challenges that Scripture itself recognizes and opines about extensively. Robert Peterson has written a pretty good book on being Adopted by God that I would recommend for those wishing to explore further what it means to be adopted into the family of God, and what its personal and global implications are.