October 28, 2010

Feed The Woman Meat!

When I became a Christian at the ripe age of 16, I was immediately introduced to the extraordinary treasure trove of riches to be found in the books of some of the greatest Christian writers, apologists, philosophers and thinkers of our time. 

For hours at a time you’d find me hunched somewhere in the corner of my house, book in hand, brow puckered and perplexed, mind focused, full of intense reflection and concentration.

At that stage of my tender Christian life, I doubt I understood much of what I read. Never-the-less, I eagerly attempted to devour, savour and absorb the profound and life changing wisdom offered up to me daily by likes of Warfield, Pink, Packer, Stott, McDowell, Bonhoeffer, Schaeffer, Spurgeon and J.C Ryle.

But as I moved into adulthood and my circles of influence shifted, so did the books offered up for me to read. Not so much in the university or working world I lived in, but more so in the women’s groups I attended.

Here I found the emphasis shifted. Instead of the meaty theological ideas I’d been used to reading, and the passionate call to, ‘go ye into the world and tell of the good news of Christ’, more often than not, much of the material offered up for me to consume was light on scripture, tentative on the call to engage in evangelism and heavy on ‘felt needs’, self-help and subjective Christian opinion.

As I’ve grown and moved about in ministry circles, I’ve found that not much has changed. In fact, as the Christian writing world has exploded and the market become saturated with books, blogs, web sites, pod casts and books readily available on CD & DVD, so have the materials specifically aimed and targeted at Christian women.

But sadly, so many books in this ‘Christian women’s market’ appear to only give lip service to solid Biblical teaching. They often lack any clear expression of biblical theology and offer little in terms of real theological engagement on their topic of choice.

As a result, some of the books currently on the market do more to foster biblical ignorance than build theological depth. They often share more from experience and anecdotal stories to underpin their teaching than provide any serious examination of God’s truth. 

But without scriptural depth and gutsy theology, women are given no solid foundation by which they can understand and interpret God’s Word correctly on the matter at hand. Nor are they given the appropriate theological tools with which they can work out an accurate expression of true biblical womanhood.

A friend overseas wrote recently on just such an example. She wanted my advice about a popular Christian women’s book being studied in their women’s groups. 
She had this to say…
”it's the most dangerous form of teaching isn't it, because it has some truth in it so it can lead us astray more easily, just slightly off the gospel - without seeming to be wrong.
That is what I have found paging through this book with the horrendous title, 'How To Succeed At Being Yourself' - just when I was thinking, 'this is bad' she says something good and then I think, 'oh maybe it's not that bad' - and so makes being discerning harder work”.
In books such as the one mentioned, so much of what’s said is merely human wisdom wrapped in biblical language. 

And women can be drawn in for the same reason we seem to love most things, because it so often speaks into our 'felt needs' rather than our true 'spiritual need'

And this is where, if we’re not careful, not discerning, we become vulnerable to swallowing poor teaching; we quickly become taken in by 'emotion over content'. This is never good!

Books and bible study materials such as these only rob our women of what they really need to hear- God's perspective on them from his Word, rightly taught.

Perhaps never more than now has Christian wisdom, prudence and discernment been needed before we purchase a book with the words ‘women’, ‘for women’ or ‘Christian womanhood’ in the title.

But, help is at hand!
I was all ready to embark on writing a ‘Christian Women’s Guide to Buying a Book’ when I came across this helpful guide in ‘Treasures of Encouragement’ which I thought had some useful tips.

So, I’ve summarized their guide below for your thought and consideration.

In assessing a Christian book for reading and study consider…

1. Is Scripture at its core?
Is scripture used to explain and support scripture? Is it used in its right context?
Is scripture put on the same level as experience? Is experience tested against scripture?
Is the bible the clear governing authority or merely the writer’s opinion?

2. Does it teach sound doctrine?
Test its content against the '5 Solas’ of the Reformation, does its content compromise these essentials of the Christian faith - scripture alone, grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and for the glory of God alone.
Does it contradict key doctrines of the Christian faith e.g.resurrection, atonement, creation, fall, sin, the need for repentance?

3. What do you know about the author?
What do you know about them? What is their theological background and persuasion?
What else have they written? Who has recommended them?
Who does the author quote as back up to their position?
Do they quote trusted theologians?

4. Is the book God-centered or Man-centered?
Is it about growing in Christ likeness, conforming to the image of God, or primarily about bettering ourselves and seeking self-fulfillment and personal happiness?

5. Lastly, is it teachable and useful?
If so, how and in what context?
If used by groups - can the leaders easily teach it?
Does it delve into issues the leaders are prepared and able to address?
Is the subject matter appropriate and relevant? Is there a workbook?
What will the book equip your women to know and do?

and...I have added in 6th suggestion…

6. What does it say about women’s roles and biblical womanhood?
What is their position on women’s roles in the church?
Do they teach primarily from their own experience or from the scriptures? 
Is it anecdotally based or bible based? 
Does what they teach about womanhood fit rightly with what scripture teaches?

If you are a woman reading this, ask yourself what is your spiritual study diet made up of?

What are your women reading? studying? learning from? being shaped by?

Is their study diet made up of the milk of infants not yet weaned? Or of the solid ‘meat of God’s Word’?

The book of Hebrews reminds us what regular, thorough-going examination and study of the scriptures does for the ongoing life of a believer. They not only become “skilled in the teachings of righteousness”, but their appetite becomes wetted and trained for more and more solid spiritual food.

So, if we want our women to become ‘wise in the Word’, to be discerning of heart and mind, and to walk the way of biblically based womanhood, then we must begin to weed out the ‘watered down milk’ found in our bookshops, bible studies and our reading libraries, and smack our lips in anticipation as we begin to ‘feed our women meat’!

“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,
is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.
But solid food is for the mature,
who by constant use have trained themselves
to distinguish good from evil”
-Heb 5:13-14-

October 5, 2010

Right On The Tip Of My Tongue...

"Four things come not back. 
The spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity". 
--Saudi Arabian Proverb

This week I am writing two talks for an upcoming Women's conference, both on the power of Words.

As a speaker I am always confronted by the material I prepare for a talk, but perhaps none more than these! 
Especially so as I read these sobering words written directly to me in James 3:1

"Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly".

As part of my teaching application I intend to set the conferees a little 'talk test' for the week. A test I aim to complete myself...

When I look at the challenge before me I am saddened to realise that this may just about be the hardest test I may ever attempt; and doesn't that speak volumes about the condition of the human heart and the words that flow forth from it!  

I have been reminded of the words of Matthew who says- “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks(Matt 12:34b).

So here is the test...

The Tongue Test:

1. do not complain or grumble
2. do not boast about anything at all
3. do not gossip or REPEAT bad information about someone else
4. do not run somebody down, even a little bit
5. do not defend or excuse yourself no matter what
6. do always affirm other people

As I get going, I do so praying the words of David in Psalm 141-
 “set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; 
keep the door of my lips. 
Incline not my heart to any evil thing”