Enough Already

I review hundreds of Christian books a year—skimming and scanning them to see what’s trending and what might be beneficial to share with our readers. These come from every publisher imaginable, and many of the works that cross my desk are solid. Writers are pushing into new territory, making biblically-sound arguments, and faithfully teaching the Word of God. The hot topic du jour changes, of course. One year, brokenness was on everyone’s mind. Being “messy” and “real” had a heyday too. The Enneagram is still going strong. Perennial topics like grace, peace, and love are never in short supply. And the leadership books…oh, the leadership books. Have mercy.

However, since I began this work seven or eight years ago, one thing has remained constant: Women’s books are pastel. And I mean that both in terms of visual design and substance.

These are two books I recently received in the mail. What do you notice? What do they have in common? Pleasing robin’s egg blue covers with pink accents. Feminine font. Encouraging titles. And flowers. Always flowers.

I read a few pages of each of these offerings and promptly put them on the giveaway pile at the office. The first reason is because we need books that apply to both genders and a wide variety of ages, and these are specifically aimed a female audience in a certain stage of life. The second is because the message of each is very self-focused, and we need writers who can speak on topics that pertain to the church as whole.

My gripe is not with these two publications in particular, but the overall market for books aimed at Christian women. I did a quick search on Amazon looking for top sellers, and here’s what I came up with.

Each cover (save three) is decorated with flowers, leaves, and vines. And the ones that don’t Make use of other common visuals—a feather and a butterfly (which symbolize freedom or lightness) and a pair of hipster casual tennis shoes (being messy or real). Ladies, I guess we never get tired of taking pictures of our feet, do we?

Perhaps this is my personal preference showing as I’m not a fan of overly-feminine things, but I feel like these covers say a great deal more about the books’ intended audience than they do about what’s inside the works themselves. The message I’m getting isn’t “Drink deeply from Scripture,” “Combat what’s sinful in yourself,” or even “Renew your mind.” It’s “Be soothed,” “Love yourself,” and “Stop trying so hard to be perfect.”

Now, I will say that several of these are Bible studies, which is a far cry better than a first-person book that uses Scripture as a reference. However, to be honest, I’ve picked up many a women’s study over the years hoping to find something challenging and convicting, something that compels me to look at God’s Word (and myself) differently. And so many times, I’ve come away feeling disappointed.

Having never read any of these books, I can’t speak about them in particular. However, most of the Bible studies I’ve tried just aren’t deep enough. They’re too focused on how I feel about a passage from the Bible or how it speaks to my experience. Call me crazy, but if the goal is to die to self, to crucify my flesh with its passions and desires, to decrease so that he might increase, my feelings and experience don’t enter into it at all.

John’s Gospel ends with as clear (and tantalizing) a closing sentence as any in the Bible: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31). Not “that you may feel like God loves you” or “that you may feel he’s your Savior.” It’s that you may believe and, by believing, you may live.

I don’t know if women continue to choose these books because it’s what they truly want (or think they should want) or if they’re afraid of taking on something more substantive. But I am painfully aware of just how many books are being marketed to Christian women and what they contain. We are being well and truly shortchanged.

One of the best-selling new non-fiction books of the decade—Rachel Hollis’ Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be—is the natural and obvious outcome of this trend. 1.6 million copies of her work found their way into women’s hands in 2018. Its message? According to Hollis herself, “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are. That’s the takeaway.”

“What sets this book apart is — this sounds so lame to say—is my voice,” Hollis told the AP. “I’m not an expert. I’m not a guru. Anything I’ve ever done, the work I’ve done, has always been like your girlfriend telling you what worked for her.” That’s what women are paying to hear, and the thinnest veneer of Jesus imaginable makes them think they’re reading something of eternal value. Both Alisa Childers and Laura Turner have written outstanding reviews pointing out the shortcomings of and the dangers inherent in Girl, Wash Your Face, so I won’t belabor the point by adding my two cents. However, one line from Childers’ review is relevant here.

“I’ll be honest,” she writes. “Reading this book exhausted me. It’s all about what I can be doing better and what I’m not doing good enough. How to be better at work, parenting, and writing. How to be less bad at cardio, sex, and you know, changing the world.”

So many flowery books about peace and balance. So many books about how we are enough and need to stop the crazy-making attempts at human perfection. And yet Hollis’ book—which encourages us to do more and try harder because, dadgummit, we’re the captains of our ships and the mistresses of our own destinies—is flying off the shelves. We’re consuming contrary messages, neither of which will ever soothe. Instead, we’re left anxious and troubled about many things, forgetting we can choose the good portion.

There are topics like cosmology, pneumatology, Christology, soteriology, and eschatology to study, and books about them aren’t in short supply. So why do we consistently settle for anything less? Why are we all so concerned with finding peace here on earth (and in ourselves) when Jesus clearly tells us, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword….And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:34, 38-39)?

I firmly believe that women are capable of serious theological study. We are created in God’s image, gifted with minds to explore everything from hallelujah to the hypostatic union. It’s time to leave our Pinterest-perfect faith quests behind and start demanding more of Christian publishers…and ourselves.

In a Manner Worthy of the Saints

I have had a lot of conversations with the ceiling this year. Most of them begin with, “Are You sure, Lord? I mean really sure?” Most of the time, this question pops out of my mouth when He’s asking me to do something for which I feel woefully unprepared. I know He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—that everything that happens does because He has the perfect knowledge and power to make it so. However, I sometimes look at where I was eight or nine years ago and compare it to now, I am speechless.

At In Touch Ministries, I serve as an editor and a writer for the magazine, which is something I never imagined myself doing a decade ago. But, in all that time, He was preparing me spiritually to do the things He has ordained. I am humbled beyond measure that the Creator of the universe not only knows me and calls me His child, but also loves me enough give me a talent with which to serve Him. In short, this article is proof that God is truly in control.

I taught a wonderful young woman named Catie Carter who passed away in June of 2010, but before she left, she managed to touch thousands of people in the Jacksonville area. God wasn’t content to let it stop there though. Because of His perfect plan, I was in a position to share her testimony with millions of readers around the world. I have no idea how many people the Lord will touch as a result of this connection. But He does….and always has. I simply cannot wait to see what happens!

I would like to thank Catie’s family–her parents, Jimmy and Kerri, and her siblings, Emily, Jimmy, Lindsay, and Ellie–for being willing to share their precious girl’s story with me. Because of your courage, faith, and strength, people you and I will never know will have a chance to meet her and will be changed as a result.

**In Touch Magazine is a free monthly publication. If you are interested in subscribing, please visit this website.**

The World Loves Its Own

I read a blog here on WordPress this morning about everyone’s favorite “Booty Shakin’ Believer,” Beyoncé. The author of said blog claimed the following:

…[I]f the goal is to touch the un-churched, I think Beyoncé has the right idea. Sending moral messages via the contemporary art form of the day is like sowing new seeds of life into a community void of a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is like a drink of fresh water in the scorching desert of life.

The statement got my gears to clicking much too quickly for a Monday morning, and the more I chewed on the thought, the more I felt it getting firmly lodged in my craw. Beyoncé apparently prays for her cast and crew before going on stage and did Bible studies when she was younger; however, in my mind, those could just as easily be meaningless gestures as they are meaningful acts of witness. After all, what game winning wide receiver or award winning actress hasn’t uttered the phrase, “First, I’d like to thank God for giving me the talent to…” when giving an acceptance speech?

I look at what someone does as well as the words of her mouth to ascertain her true beliefs. According to Beyoncé in an interview with The Son, a Christian newspaper:

I never mixed Christianity with how I felt [about God]. I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion. Doing right by others and not judging. The thing that keeps me grounded is knowing that I’m always protected and that God is in control of things. Even the name of our group, Destiny’s Child, we got out of the Bible. . . For me it is about the way I carry myself and the way I treat other people. My relationship and how I feel about God and what he does for me is something deeply personal. It’s where I came from. I was brought up in a religious household and that’s very important to me.

Something about this statement sets my teeth on edge. She seems to be saying the right things–God is in control, treat other people well, have a relationship with God. However, it’s the second sentence that sets the alarm bells to ringing. “I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion.”

She’s correct in one way; religion is not God. Being a Baptist doesn’t make me a child of God. My relationship with Him does, my acceptance of God as my Savior and Master of every single aspect of my life. However, she seems to be taking another tack with the idea. For her, it seems to mean that she’s accepted that there is a God and that, by and large, He means for her to live a happy and fulfilled life. Therefore, in return, she must be good to others and “carry herself” a certain way. That sounds closer to the concept of Karma, something associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Sikhism rather than a tenet of Christianity.

The video that garnered the most flack and (in some Christian communities) praise was her hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Many Christians took issue with her attire, her dance moves, and the overall tone of the song. However, others saw it as a ringing (no pun intended) endorsement of marriage before sex and used it to teach their daughters about the value of chastity and the preservation of virginity. However, I’m not going to rehash this old territory.

While searching through her videos on YouTube, I came across one for one of her newest singles, “Run the World (Girls).” Like many of her other videos/songs, it gives me great pause.

In essence, the meaning behind the song is “Women run the world because they have what men want,” meaning, of course, sex. Women can work for their own money, not be dependent on a man, and still make demands of men because all the money in the world can’t replace this one thing men crave. The military/Mad Max overtones of the video coupled with the aggressive dancing and animals on chains reflects the rapacious nature of this new woman who asserts, “My persuasion can build a nation. Endless power, the love we can devour. You’ll do anything for me.”

What is a young girl supposed to think with images like this flashed before her on television and the Internet? She hears someone say, “Beyoncé, oh, she’s a Christian” and sees this same woman dancing seductively and using her sex rather than her mind to get what she wants. What are the two options the girl can assume? 1.) Beyoncé is a Christian and does this, so it must be okay or 2.) Christians say one thing and do another, so I don’t think I want to be one of them. Either assumption is going to send that child down the wrong path, the former a more slippery one to be sure because it has the trappings of righteousness and the mantle of Christianity attached to it.

Later in the interview with The Son, Beyoncé claimed that there’s no double standard regarding her faith and her performing style. She claimed:

I honestly believe [God] wants people to celebrate their bodies so long as you don’t compromise your Christianity in the process.

I am not a Bible thumper who believes all dancing and celebrating are immoral acts; however, I fail to see how videos like “Run the World (Girls)” don’t fall under the “compromising my Christianity” umbrella. I don’t see a Christian who is following the will of God when I watch this video. She is dancing not as David did, to celebrate God’s benevolence and majesty, but to attract fans both male and female who both want her and want to be her.

In James 4:4, James tells the Jewish Diaspora, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” In short, you cannot sing about what the world sings about, dance the way the world dances, and lust after the trappings of the world and also be of God. It’s a classic case of trying to serve two masters, which cannot be done. This is why James continues in verse eight, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded!”

This double-mindedness is what is slowly killing the Christian church in the United States; we are sacrificing our standards in order to bring new Christians into the fold. But what we’re doing is not building up the faith of these new believers; rather, we are watering down our beliefs so as not to offend them. We should be worried less about who we offend and worried more about who we can bring to the Lord that they might be saved.

This is why, in I John 2:15-17, the apostle John warns Christians they must, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” because “[i]f any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This is why I cannot say that Beyoncé is acceptable for young girls to admire. I can tolerate her behavior even less than someone like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, or P!nk. These women, as far as I know, were not raised in Christian households as Beyoncé claims to have been. Unlike her, they were not brought up hearing the Word of God, well aware of what is expected of a Christian. The fact that she is willing to completely eschew what she knows to be right and pleasing to God in favor of what pleases the world speaks volumes about her faith and her relationship with God. This is not a personal opinion or one formed according to my own tastes. I garnered it from scripture.

In 2 Peter , the apostle Peter warns against compromise and the tarnishing of Christian witness by being too closely aligned with the world and falling prey to what he calls “false teachers.” He writes:

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire. [Emphasis mine]

If someone is truly saved, he or she has no desire to turn back to the same lifestyle he/she lived before. To know what true freedom from sin and death is only to turn back to its ways and trappings is worse than blind disobedience. The world doesn’t know any better, but a Christian should.

If the Christian church does not stand up to these double standards and tell the world, without hesitation, “This is NOT what it means to be a child of God” and then offer the truth, there’s no hope for us. We’re already so lukewarm and vapid in many congregations that we’re utterly indistinguishable from the “un-churched” so many are worried about.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article about Katy Perry, the performer responsible for “I Kissed a Girl.” Please note that it is posted on a so-called Christian website called “Beliefnet,” a repository of all kinds of “feel good” dogma. Honestly, it’s like a Golden Corral of religions—take what you want from this bar and this one until you find the belief that fits your worldview rather than you conforming to the will of God. The thing has a quiz you can take called the “Belief-O-Matic” if you’re having trouble deciding between faiths. This site makes it blatantly obvious that, to many, Christianity is a choice, one as easily wriggled out of and discarded as a wet bathing suit. And that is not the message we should be proclaiming to the nations.

So to those who think it’s acceptable to support artists who claim to be Christians just because they espouse the faith, I say you’re wrong. We are not meant to be like the world or liked by the world. To be of God means the world will despise you and try to tear you down, not fill your arms with Grammy Awards and platinum records. Jesus never claimed otherwise. Instead, he warned His followers:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. — (John 15: 18-22)