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Some more Christian books

October 26, 2012

Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You; John Eldredge, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

This book I finished reading over the summer says that a boy/man needs to know from his father that he is a “beloved son” and most importantly, learn that he “has what it takes” as a man. When he doesn’t get this from his father, he seeks it in women.

Eldridge himself is known for what is called this “muscular Christianity”, which has a focus on manhood in the traditional sense, including the “ruggedness” associated with the American frontier.
His machismo is such that it apparently was inspiring to the Mexican criminal cartel La Familia Michoacana, which reportedly uses his earlier book Wild at Heart (Which Fathered by God is apparently a rewriting of). This, he has been criticized for.

Right off the bat, I see he uses the “Social Archetypes” a Jungian theorist had told me about: warrior, king, lover and sage, and tacking two more; “boy” and “cowboy” before them. Interesting.

I could see that a lot of problems youth faces, at least in urban street culture, is that most males today enter the “cowboy”, “warrior”, and “lover” phase at the same time, and are not ready for the latter two. (And for those in the drug and gang culture, “king” as well, basically).

I entered the cowboy phase pretty much on time (marked by solitary exploring of places, and he says the “cowboy” heart is wounded if no one takes you on the adventure), but felt judged by everyone for not becoming a warrior, and jealous and ultimately depressed that I couldn’t become a lover (and made to feel that it hinged on becoming a warrior first). My father interpreted my failures as being from not trying hard enough, or not listening to him years earlier when he tried to teach me the basic skills (grooming, etc). So he did try to answer “the Question” Eldredge highlights: “Do I have what it takes” by verbally affirming I did “have what it takes”, but contradicted this in his total dress-downs of me, and negative predictions of what I would become if I didn’t achieve.
(Think of the typical case of parents who tell you you’ll never amount to anything: the motivation is to prove them wrong by pushing and achieving all the more.
But with a father who breaks it all down to the rational detail of everything you’ve ever done wrong, and never amounting to anything is made conditional on “going the way you’re going”. This doesn’t motivate you to prove him wrong by succeeding, but instead the opposite, by going the way you’re going! (In addition to placing a tremendous amount of guilt).

The warrior phase for me was marked by my written debating in my 20’s down to the present. (Started to lose steam right as I entered 40’s). This is where he gets into the typical “God sends hardship to raise us as warriors” jargon, which I just don’t deal with anymore. Yet, he had said the warrior’s “wound” is doubled when the beating comes from the father, and starts too early.

Again, I really have a problem with saying all I have been through was God’s “training” or whatever, because it will short circuit any attempt to have God “heal” me by being the “Father” my real father never was. It just shows me Him putting a divine stamp on all the bad my father did.

Now at my age, I’m supposed to be lover, and moving to become king, but feel I have no kingdom (power; especially financial and career), and feel deprived of the teenage version of the lover stage, which has become burned in my psyche as the age it’s supposed to occur in.

I did have that “lover” sense of nature beginning in late teens, but had to experience it all by myself along with my cowboy adventuring. And I can see I’ve definitely been a “consumer” with my wife, moreso than a “lover” (p142); but feel I really couldn’t help it. I’m coming to tap into the lover side more, but this is what I associate with females in general rather than being a male “giver”.

I had never longed to be “the beloved son”, as far as I can consciously remember. My father was there, and all I remember of him around 4 was taking me on his bike. That was a fatherly thing to do, but at 6, when my Asperger’s became highly evident, but not explained, then he became rough and scary. As time went on, he showed me how to do things, but became critical when I didn’t get it. His attitude was more “learn to do for yourself”.
We didn’t have a car until I was 17, and he offered to take me out practicing driving, and I was enthusiastic about it, but after a couple of weeks, he never felt like doing it anymore.

So “beloved son” was never even in the equation. What I hoped most from him was not to be angered and lash out at me. I do have fond memories of his lifestyle, as I chronicled in my Father’s Day tribute to him. But I imagine those are mainly impersonal things, and have little to do with his love for me. But again, just staying out of his wrath was the pressing goal. This got harder as time went on, and I was not growing up the way he wished.

So it seems ironic that all the things I have been complaining of not getting, the one thing I never asked for, expected, or was even conscious of the need for, is being made the ultimate need, and the source of all the other wants.

I don’t really see any Biblical OR psychological evidence that “beloved son” is as much the key to man’s problems as he makes it out to be. He references God the Father addressing Jesus, and Paul addressing Timothy, and YHWH addressing Ephraim, and a few other examples, (and beyond that, it’s mainly citations of others, and his own experiences). But these do not assign the total psychological significance we see in the book. Of course, a son or other protégé will want to be beloved.
(For me, relationship with mother is very significant as well. She’s the one I was used to feeling love from, and then felt abandoned. The book ignores the anima and even the oedipal complex, though he might not believe in these concepts. It’s almost as the same concept as Jung– the man’s “soul” basically, but with the anima lying with the man’s father instead of mother).

But otherwise, it still seems like a nice hypothesis that does make a lot of sense and does seem to figure.

But it’s based on an overall premise of “Christian victory” by using this “love of the Father” as the power to find “healing” through keeping the [spiritually “magnified”] Law to the most rigorous extent. Even beyond mere “discipline”! (p. 151ff; And then he denies it’s “duty”).
The issue I have so much with this teaching; ever so prominent in the modern evangelical church, is (not that we shouldn’t strive for the holiness outlined by the Law, but) that it portrays this as a distinctly supernatural work of God, but it is defined purely in terms of our own rigorous effort: “giving” sinful longings “to Christ” (totally unbiblical language;* only loosely based on some scriptures like 1 Pet. 5:7 and Heb. 12:1), taking “some time, and many repetitions”, especially since “We’ve given it over to the woman so many times before, there is much recovering to be done. Again? Yes, again and again and again. That is how we are healed, made holy and strong”.

This is NOT describing anything God is doing, and exclusively for Christians; it is a normal psychological process, and one of SUPPRESSION. The fact that it is not really God taking anything away is evident from the need for repetition, to undo our habits. So it’s not God’s hand, but our imperfect efforts. (And one that one can boast of, from its toughness; and become works-righteousness. In the context of the rest of “Christian victory” teaching, it’s based on premise of pain and discomfort being God’s virtually primary means of working out His “good” for us. Anyone who ascribes to this, and appears to master it surely looks good and “strong”, and you can even sense the subtle bragodoccio in writers like this).
To me, this derails the whole premise that through this, we will find the healing from God that makes up for whatever we did not get from our fathers.

On both my “Abundant Life Gospel” and “Psychology” pages, I address this.
To recap the pertinent point with a quote I got online years ago, that is typical of this philosophy:

I have chronic pain from two failed back surgeries. There was a time in my life when massive doses of opioid pain medication would not relieve the pain. It was at that point in my life that I prayed that God would take my life. He did. He caused the old man to die and a new one to be born again. My life was never the same. I still have chronic pain. Now my pain reminds me of His sovereign grace and mercy. The pain that used to be the focal point in my life, is not the focal point anymore…. Jesus is. Jesus is so big in my life that pain is only a small part of it. Although the pain is still there, it is as if Jesus has become the pain reliever… as if He takes the pain for me. I am able to bear it. He has healed me.

I commented:
“This type of statement is prevalent in so many ‘testimonies’, for both physical and emotional pain. (Making it sound like a learned cliché more than thought-out actual reality). God ‘makes the pain not matter’; that is, if you have really ‘given Him your life’ as we see it defined here. The person’s desire to physically die to relieve the pain is turned into the standard pun of changing the meaning of ‘death’ from physical to spiritual (‘the old man’). This actually implies that the degree of wanting to escape from certain pain (i.e. dying in order to be relieved) is a quality of unregenerate nature, which is suddenly ‘cured’ by being born again (‘the new life’).
That’s how this “testimonial” approach usually goes. ‘I gave my {life, pain, anger, sorrow, loneliness, lust} to Christ, and, “it no longer controls my life’!

The crux of the paradox lies in the claim that Christ ‘takes‘ the pain from you, yet they’ll admit that yes, you still feel whatever is ailing you, and it is ‘an uphill battle for the rest of your life’, and, by ‘faith and not feelings’ that you believe you are healed, and then, ‘miraculously’, God ‘changes’ your attitude.

Yet, we here sensationalize this, making it sound as if Jesus really does take the pain away; as if you actually wouldn’t feel it anymore!
But then, when it doesn’t work like that, we say it is not about feelings. ‘God’s will for us is not the removal of pain’ anyway, but ‘becoming like Him’ (i.e. Christ, who suffered for us), many will add.
Since the “testimonies” talk about it no longer being the ‘focal point’, then it sounds dismissive of the pain. Like telling the person ‘aaahh, pain really doesn’t matter’.”

(And what’s alarming in the case of some in the Church, such as the old-line fundamentalists, who make wholesale criticism of all psychology; is that this ends up being their sole replacement/alternative for therapy! Yet it is logically consistent with the philosophy shared by all modern evangelicals!)

Continuing to think further on this, and why the teaching is so irritating to me, I also realize it’s about what they are calling “Surrender to God“. In popular teaching, this is “giving Him” all your emotions, and since He doesn’t actually “take” them AWAY, all you’re basically doing is changing your attitude by giving up assumed ‘rights’ to what you’re reacting to (whether through anger, lust, envy, despair, etc). This sounds familiar, and I’m sure I’ve heard this preached before. It’s similar to what is taught regarding forgiveness, and the two issues are somewhat related.

My problem with it is:
1) The way it’s buttered up as God giving you what sounds like some one time, instant relief. But in actuality, it’s really a long difficult “process”.
2) The problem of “faith”, and the cycle of “God will only seem real once you start doing this and keep trying”.
3) Context. This may sound like nice, spiritual teaching, but “submitting to God” in scripture is about giving up self-righteousness, not changing your attitude toward pain. (Some will tie these together by claiming our sinfulness is why we ‘deserve’ pain and privation in the first place, and resistance to pain therefore IS a form of self-righteousness).

If they were honest and admitted it was a natural process, then it wouldn’t be so irritating. But they have to force it into a supernatural act to maintain the guilt. There’s ‘no excuse’ not to tap into this “power” (as Michael Horton points out, many treat the Spirit as an energy source we “plug/tap into” like electricity), and if you aren’t, you’re perhaps not in communion with God.
And they tell you it’s so simple, and just a matter of “choice”, and to try it out, but in order to see any results, you have to DO it for a long while. If you feel you can’t do it, you have to just DO it, in order to learn how to do it. Then, it will prove itself through confirmation bias.
THAT IS, IF it’s successful. If not, then the person didn’t try hard or long enough, or with the right attitude, or whatever other disqualifier they can come up with. (Just like “faith healing”). Can’t prove it until you get it right. It should be obvious that this “relationship” with God is purely by works.

*“bringing the Cross between us and every woman we have ever had an emotional or sexual relationship with”(citing Gal. 6:14), for instance, and “inviting the blood of Christ to cleanse our every sin away” as something done after conversion. The Cross and Blood of Christ is the once and for all means by which forgiveness of these sins is procured through, not a magical talisman that “cleanses” each sin or their “power” over us on some individual basis.
The only thing we are to “give” to God, or that the Cross is to come between us and, is the GUILT of our sins; not the ACTS themselves. The teaching has it all backwards. We “give” the acts or feelings to Him, and are stuck with the guilt (not “healed”) until we do so.

The extent this is taken to is in his own experience, his not being able to get a horse to move a certain way was because “God was in this” (p85). This reminds me of teachers on TV, who use “someone cutting you off at the intersection” as an example of these “daily tests”.
(Of note, it contrasts Brand/Yancey: God is in you, the sufferer; not it, the suffering).
I wish a stubborn horse was all I had to worry about in my life!

He does mention on p119 that “day to day living, hassles, accidents, setbacks might simply be that and nothing more”, however, a problem in any “important event” (“redemptive” stuff like missions, but even joyous occasions like anniversaries) should be treated as “warfare”, for “the enemy is out to steal your joy more than anything else”.

This is the epitome of the sorts of things people like Horton have been criticizing modern evangelicalism over. It’s all about us, and our “joy”. That is what Satan is after. “more than anything else”; even!
But Satan is the “accuser”, and what he’s really out to steal is our faith in Christ’s atoning work as Horton points out. And this teaching I myself have experienced, as turning into possible judgment (of not having that faith), if people aren’t convinced you are accessing this “power”.

The supposed antidote is all about seeing God as the “beauty” we are seeing through women, including at the moment of temptation (he mentions “God and Satan doing battle over my heart” in one instance), in which we “give that part of our heart to Christ” (through a prayer) to gain “healing”. Still, it likewise suggests God leading us into temptation, which the scriptures say He does not do. (Like on p.150, “God will bring a woman across your path who speaks to your longings, and your wounds, your fears even, in order to raise the issue so that he might heal”).
And he doesn’t elaborate more on how an invisible God could be this “beauty”, other than through nature and other forms of beauty in life.

His teaching also involves the typical tactic of pitting reason against “the heart” as the key to experiencing God as “lover”; hiding the difficulty of “faith” in the unseen. It’s not one OR the other, but both in balance. I have had those lover/heart experiences, and while I tried to use them as evidences of God, they still did not necessarily prove Him.

I keep seeing/hearing a lot of “heart” over “head” rhetoric in Christian circles, but it’s my head that seems to find it easier to believe in God, while it’s been my heart that sometimes makes it feel that something doesn’t seem right! (all the pain in the world, etc. and it’s intellectual arguments of others that counter that– like it’s just “the Fall” and not the way God created it).
All the intellect does is weigh the evidence for and against, and does come up with arguments for, but this is not enough without the heart, so when the intellect gives the arguments against, it looks to everyone like the head is the problem, and the heart not even given a try, but that’s not true.
(Horton also criticizes this “heart over head” teaching).

I don’t believe in the spiritual warfare jargon, with its demons lurking behind every thought and emotion (among the biggest examples of contextualization, which trivializes the scriptural contexts they were torn from). Our personal lives are not that important for Satan and his minions to be coming after us in our mundane activities and even ministry; and our experiences (which are attributed to spiritual “battles”) are those common to man, not just Christians in the “warrior” phase of life.
If this stuff were really true, the world would look like a different place [like in scripture, when there was more direct supernatural activity]. Now, it’s all just a lot of big talk by [relatively] small groups of people.

This concept just creates confirmation bias when things get better, and we take it as self-evident proof; or it doesn’t work (don’t sense God or heal right away), and we have to conclude God is testing us so that we need to fight harder, or God is doing something “above our comprehension”.
All it appears to be, is a philosophy for ordering one’s life from the thoughts, but this is not exclusive to Christianity, and pretending it is only falsifies the supernatural claims of the Bible when other religions and nonreligious people are able to do similar things.

I think it’s based on the usual “christianeze” method of contextualization. It’s like because there is no longer any ongoing special revelation, we have to find something else for God to be doing with us.

P.32 “Most of the men I’ve counseled over the years understand that Christianity is an offer of forgiveness, made available to us through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What they don’t seem to grasp, is that there is more”. As he continues, forgiveness is not the goal, it’s “coming home to the Father. The man who calls himself a Christian, attends church and has some hope of heaven when he dies has not received the lion’s share of what God intended him to receive through the work of Christ”, and has actually “not come into sonship”. (This is the sort of judgment I just warned about above, and they will usually deny questioning someone’s salvation, but they ignore the implications of such language. Anyone who is not a “son” is lost!)

But the reason why men were separated from the Father in the first place was because of the sin that we need forgiveness for in the first place. It sounds almost like forgiveness of sins is ‘not enough‘; we need “more“; so we must be pitched these other “blessings”; which is through this growth “process”.

All of this is justified with “God is a God of process” (p24). This is the typical boxing up of God into this formulaic generalization, and it’s all based on LAW. God uses this principle over here, so it’s His ruling pattern, so it must explain this other thing over there.
This basically denies all supernatural intervention (including Creation by fiat), and seeks to redefine supernaturalism according to our own experiences (where everything occurs by natural “process”).

He even mentions Christians asking the begged question “where’s the Bible in all this?” and suggests “we have lost a noble view of the earth and how God uses it to disciple us— meaning to train, develop and make holy” (p210).
(Essentially admitting his philosophy is extrabiblical).

We are told “don’t look at the seen” when things are bad, but the way to heal is to discover “God’s beauty” through what’s seen! There are so many things in the universe that seem to go against His existence, but then we counter that it’s “fallen” and not of Him).

Pantelism offers a more workable explanation as to why He might seem uninvolved.

In these teachings, it seems all we get is “processes” of suppression, that no one ever is even totally healed by. (Eldredge mentions still having to “give over” past female bonds; LaHaye’s “pushing a boulder uphill the rest of your life”, Joyce Myers’ daily struggles against self, etc.)

Processes are not guaranteed to work or go right or come to any fruition (evidenced by the lack of closure in the above examples). Though claiming it is a special work of God becomes the basis of a supposed “guarantee”.
If it were really just a simple “choice”, leading to an actual special work of God, then I could see it. But instead, it’s something you just have to KEEP doing before seeing any results.
Overall, the philosophy appears to not have a total intellectual honesty.

Spiritual “healing” in scripture is forgiveness of sins (which is instant; not a process), not emotional pain, any more than physical healing.

And actually, we DON’T “have what it takes” with God; the entire Gospel is that Christ was the only one who OF HIMSELF had what it takes. So I don’t see where God replaces that; I don’t even see it promised as such a replacement.

Overall, the book is good in giving a simpler framework to describes a lot of this stuff with. Perhaps the best read for understanding stuff I’m going through. Still don’t know how to get around the “faith”/divine healing problem, though.

On the heels of this, I read the Henry Cloud book on happiness The Law of Happiness: How Spiritual Wisdom and Modern Science Can Change Your Life (Howard Books, division of Simon & Schuster, 2011). This also is based on typical Christianeze platitudes, and there is a lot of wisdom I can acknowledge, but he too frames it into “laws” (“the Laws of Happiness”), and even the Law of God, and I believe stretches some scriptures to apply directly to them.
So it just comes off to me as formulaic.
But it’s not about “happiness” (the much clichéd thing we are told people want but can’t seem to find), it’s about a survival instinct gone wrong. “Happiness” in that sense is just a distraction from the toil of life.

In his book 12 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy: Relief from False Assumptions (Zondervan, 1994, 1995) “I just need to give it to the Lord” as one of the “crazy-makers” (assumption #5; complete with “let go and let God”), may seem to contradict the typical “Christianeze” philosophy he relays in the “faith” chapter of the Happiness book, but here he means simply giving things to God without doing our part, in these “processes” where we are “partners with God in cultivating [our] own growth”

The whole reason I’m irritated by that teaching is because it sounds both passive on our part, and also eliminating problems supernaturally, but in practice, it’s a lot of work and ongoing pain. He’s just highlighting that side of it. Most who parrot this philosophy don’t really believe no effort is required of us at all, as we see.

He also sounds rather Pelagian in his emphasis on our efforts at sanctification or even “completed” salvation. The scriptures and principles (Promised Land was secured, but they still had to “do their part” and fight to possess it, etc.) he cites on this are best understood (eliminating contradictions) in light of an overlap of covenents of Law (works) and Grace.

He does say good things regarding those (such as the more conservative “anti-counseling movement” addressed on my “Psychology” page) who take the teaching to the point that “all you need [to heal emotionally] is your position and security in Christ”.

The chapter on recovery makes a lot of good points, but he associates the general process of “recovery” with sanctification, through defining it as “taking back what we lost in the fall”, including “the image of God in ourselves”, tying this to 1 John 3:2.
But then, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere regarding this teaching, such “recovery” (which in the context is being looked at in terms of individual problems; not even a general unsanctified condition) is common to all men, not just saints (those who are being sanctified, which means turned into saints).
The scriptures used portray these “processes” as having a quick, soon end, not going on for the rest of a natural life. If that were really a special work of God as it is portrayed, then the critics of Christian psychology who teach these “crazymaker” doctrines would be right in that we would “only need God”.

“Process” sanctification philosophy is based primarily on fusing together 1Cor 15:31 “I die daily” with Eph 4:22 “That ye put off…the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man…”.
The former is one of the most egregious examples of tearing a phrase (not even a verse) from its context. Paul is talking about “stand[ing] in jeopardy every hour” (v30) for the cause of the Gospel (which included the doctrine of the resurrection, which was the main subject), and continuing in the following verse with having to fight beasts. It has nothing to do with any “growth process”.
But the latter passage is where we get the “change” from “old” to “new”. But it says nothing about any “process”. It’s the other passage that mentions “daily”, so there’s the “process” for you.

In Col.2 and Rom.6, the “new man” concept is associated with baptism (initially, the mark of conversion, and never a process).

With these teachings the saying are:
On sanctification: “Give God your best; He’ll do the rest”
In practice: “God gives the test; you do the rest”

  1. These issues regarding God can be described in terms of a matter of an internal or external reality. Many of us find “faith” difficult, because God no longer appears visibly to prove Himself. What’s left then is an internal belief, though many won’t admit it is only internal. They all seek some externalization in some way.

    •To the Catholics, the iconography and the lofty design of the cathedrals and sacraments are all described as a “sensory” experience; and the leadership (“Vicar of Christ”) would also go along with it.
    •To Charismatics, tongues (and supposed healings among many), is the external manifestation of God.
    •To the fundamentalists, it’s the rules, moralism, the “faith of our fathers”, nationalism, preaching, the text of scripture as a wrangling point of doctrine, and creationist interpretations of science.
    •Sects and cults use a similar approach to fundamentalism, only with some key doctrines changed, and usually tighter authority.
    •To new-evangelicals, it seems to be doing whatever it takes to keep their faith “relevant” to the modern world, leading to a combination of a lot of these things, defecting to one of the other groups, or ecumenicalism.
    •Reformed groups will vary in the above approaches

    All will generally agree on the philosophy I was describing above, of “process” sanctification, and God making us “grow” through trials. All internal concepts made by interpretations of external occurrences!

    Man so wants an external experience of God (especially when having to justify the “duty faith” interpretation of Rom. 1), and many of these groups will go as far as to put down an “internal” focus as “subjective”, and thus worship of man; yet faith is ultimately internal (since most will admit special revelation has ceased); however, their ways of trying to externalize their faith end up seeming contrived, mechanical or exaggerated, being based on bending certain passages of scripture where something they are basing their practice on is mentioned, or supposedly alluded to.

    So it’s just difficult wading through this religious sea, trying to find something tangible to hold onto as an acknowledgement from God.

  2. Interesting site on the four archetypes of “manliness” (“sage” becomes “magician”):

    Breaks them down to boyhood versions, and each of the eight resultant archetypes has an “active” and “passive” shadow. (For a total of 24!)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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