The Beauty Myth

Broken Face

Last week I posted from Dr. Schaumburg’s book Undefiled one indicator of the sexual problems here in America. Here is another problem he has encountered regularly in his thirty plus years of counseling. He calls it “the beauty myth.”

For men and women, “beauty” has become nearly synonymous with “sexy.” The beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection, holds women in bondage to hopelessness, self-consciousness, and self-hatred. It intertwines sexuality and beauty to create the idea that a woman must be “beautiful” to be sexual and desirable in a relationship. Women say they “feel sexier” when they lose weight, but female sexual pleasure doesn’t multiply with weight loss.  Compared with sexual sin, the obsession with beauty  may seem like a minor issue. In reality, the impossible-to-achieve desire to secure an external “flawless beauty” destroys a woman’s sexuality and spirituality.

The “pornography of beauty” reshapes female sexuality. You see this in everyday magazine ads and in women’s magazines. Users of Photoshop have taken the picture of a three hundred pound woman in lingerie and turned her into a sex goddess. There is little that is real about such an image, but men and women will worship it. The image altering software easily creates the perfect hair, skin, and figure. The message is clear: “Look like that if you want to fee like that.” 

Why does a woman go under the knife for numerous facelifts in a desperate attempt to look younger? Why are girls much more self-conscious about their appearance today? Why did my mother, in her early nineties, still dye her hair? The beauty myth has obscured what is truly beautiful in a woman…Today we are easily duped into thinking that external beauty is all there is to woman.

More and more women believe they must have that face and look to have their needs met. Like sexual pornography, the pornography of beauty is based on a myth and both types of porn make a woman an object. If a man’s image and understanding of sexuality is distorted by pornography, I suggest there is a parallel effect on a woman’s image and her understanding of sexuality in the beauty myth.

Unfortunately, the beauty myth is winning the battle against sexual purity. In reality the ads don’t sell sex; instead they sell discontent, shame, and guilt. A woman will say, “I hate my body, my hips, my thighs, and my stomach.” This is at the core a deep sexual shame, which is destructive both relationally and spiritually. And this focus on external beauty is in direct contradiction to what Scripture teaches-that authentic beauty come from inside a person:

Do not let your adorning be external-the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hope in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (I Peter 3:3-6)

Dangers of Being a Man Pleaser

 

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Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God. (Colossians 3:22, KJV)

 

Paul warns us in this passage to make sure we serve God and not just our employers in our vocations. When a man first gets a job he usually has a great desire to impress his boss. Of course, this is good. But Paul tells us this is insufficient. What are the dangers of “eyeservice” and “menpleasing?” (By the way, the ESV version says, “people pleasers.” That is lame.) Before we note the dangers let’s be clear on what Paul is saying. He is not saying we should aim to displease our “masters according to the flesh.” All employees should seek to honor their bosses. But Paul is saying that our ultimate allegiance is to God. Paul closes this verse by focusing on singleness of heart, which means a whole-hearted devotion to God. We are to fear God. We are to obey our masters, but our hearts are to be completely devoted to our Lord.  What are the dangers of man’s approval being our ultimate goal instead of God’s? Continue reading

Nowhere to Hide

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Earlier this month, Eugene Peterson, a former pastor and prominent Christian author, who has written numerous books including The Message, was asked about same-sex marriage in an interview. In that interview he said he would be fine with performing a same-sex marriage. When word got out there was an uproar. He quickly retracted the statement, but of the retraction one friend said:

Peterson’s retraction was not clear, Biblical, or faithful to Christ especially when there is so much confusion and false teaching on homosexuality. Al Mohler wrote a piece outlining the situation, but it is his final three points that I want to repost here. They are worth pondering as all of us will eventually be forced to answer the question, “What do you think about same sex marriage, homosexuality, and gender?”

Consider these lessons from Eugene Peterson’s ordeal.

First, there is nowhere to hide. Every pastor, every Christian leader, every author  — even every believer — will have to answer the question. The question cannot simply be about same-sex marriage. The question is about whether or not the believer is willing to declare and defend God’s revealed plan for human sexuality and gender as clearly revealed in the Bible.

Second, you had better have your answer ready. Evasive, wandering, and inconclusive answers will be seen for what they are. Those who have fled for security to the house of evasion must know that the structure has crumbled. It always does.

Third, if you will stand for the Bible’s clear teachings on sexuality and gender, you had better be ready to answer the same way over and over and over again. The question will come back again and again, in hopes that you have finally decided to “get on the right side of history.” Faithfulness requires consistency — that “long obedience in the same direction.”

That is what it means to be a disciple of Christ, as Eugene Peterson has now taught us—in more ways than one.

If someone asks what you believe about same-sex marriage, sodomy, and gender are you ready to give the Biblical answer? If they ask again will you give the same answer? If they ask during an interview that will be published will you give the same answer? If your boss asks during Gay Pride Month will you give the same answer? Or will you evade, wiggle around, refuse to be clear, put it off to another day,  or act embarrassed about the Scripture’s teaching?  If you don’t know what the Bible teaches, figure it out. If you know, but don’t have the backbone to say it out loud, then you better grow one. Because one day the mic will be in front of you.

Dangers of Confession

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Even though we are commanded to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16) this does not mean that confessing our sins automatically accomplishes the goal, which is forgiveness and transformation into Christ’s image.

Deitrich Bonhoeffer mentions three specific dangers of confessing our sins and I want to add one more. First, there is the danger of being too general in confessing our sins.

For the sake of this certainty [the forgiveness of sins] confession should deal with concrete sins. People are usually satisfied when they make general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of the human nature…when one sees his own specific sins. Self-examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confession to a brother and thus miss the good of confession.

When we confess to our brothers we need to be specific with the sin. Give it a place and time and a biblical name.

Second, he notes that there should not be one person that everyone else is confessing to. This will burden the person being confessed to and thus it will all become routine. Instead of being able to shepherd each individual through God’s grace the confessional will become a place for “the spiritual domination of souls.” He also says in this section that anyone who hears confessions should also himself be confessing to others.

Third, there is the danger of confession becoming a pious work, a source of pride. I confess my sins. Do you? Here is what he says about that.

For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious, and impure prostitution of the heart; the act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil.

To these three dangers, I would add the danger of confession becoming a substitute for repentance and change. Here is the problem with a lot of accountability groups. They confess their sins to each other and often in very great detail, but there is little change. Everyone leaves feeling better about themselves, but no one leaves ready to stop sinning. If confession is a substitute for real change it is a lie. I am not saying that once a person confesses they will never commit the sin again. But I am saying that after confession we should find ourselves climbing the mountain of holiness not sitting at the bottom feeling good about ourselves.

Biblical Decision Making

decisionThis is a slight revision of an old post from 2012. 

This past Sunday evening I taught on discerning God’s will, specifically discerning God’s will for those areas where there is no biblical guidance. In other words, how do we know what God wants when we are dealing with a non-moral issue?  Perhaps the most important point was that God does not guide us mystically or supernaturally. God generally guides us through people, prayer, circumstances, common sense, wisdom, and our own desires. God does occasionally guide us through a “gut feeling” or a “hunch.”   But these feelings are not infallible nor normative. Below is my pattern for biblical decision making. I am talking here mainly about major decisions, though there is some application to more minor ones.

1.      Read God’s Word a lot. Here we learn godliness, wisdom, and the path of righteousness.

As we become more intimately familiar with God’s Word in Scripture, we become more intimately familiar with God, his ways, his habits, his characteristic reactions. We can pray according to his will, finishing his sentences. This doesn’t come from looking over God’s shoulder, but from diligent study of the Scripture, faithful participation in worship and sacraments, the usual means by which God reveals himself and his will to us.  (Peter Leithart,  From Beyond the Veil, 177)

But do not rely on random Bible verses. Verses must be interpreted in context.  God of course, can use random Bible verses, but that does not mean we should make it our habit to interpret God’s Word this way.

Make sure it is not sin.  This means specific breaking of God’s law.  You can be sure sin is not God’s will.

What if something might be a sin, but you are not sure? Here you should follow Romans 14:23. If your conscience is pricked, that is if you feel guilty, do not do it.

Make sure you are loving God and loving your neighbor. Examine your motives. Why are you doing what you are doing? It is possible to make the right decision for the wrong reason. For example, a certain job could be where the Lord is leading you, but you could be taking it out of greed instead of love for God and neighbor.

2.      Pray over the decision, but do not sit around until an answer comes in the mail. Pray over it and trust that God is going to answer your prayer through normal rational means (see below). Don’t pray over it until you get a lightening strike from Heaven telling you what to do.

3.      Talk it over with your pastor, spouse, parents, elders, and/or friends. Ask those closest to you to help you with the decision. Ask those who have made a similar decision for their advice. But do not blame them for what happens, nor make their advice the equivalent of God’s Word. Collect data and get advice.

4.      Look at your circumstances. What makes the most sense in your situation? Do not be afraid to ask, “What do I want to do?” For example, when choosing a career the two questions you should ask are: “What do I like to do?” and “What am I good at?” Do your research when making a decision. But do not research it to death. In our age, where the floodgates of information have been opened, you can research forever. You will never have enough data to predict the future.

5.      Remember we rarely feel fine with any major decision we make. Every decision involves the cutting out of other decisions, which can leave an uneasy feeling in our gut.  Marrying this girl means I will never marry any other. Taking this career path probably means other career paths will be closed to me. Even decisions which are not as permanent cut us off from other options. If we buy this house, we cannot buy that house. Just because you are uneasy does not make it a wrong decision.

6.     Once you have studied God’s Word, prayed, taken counsel,  and researched your options, make a decision and don’t look back.  Trust God that he will guide you and direct you. If your decision turns out poorly do not assume that you made a mistake. God’s will often leads us through mistakes and failures.

Too Many Christian Misfires

One final set of quotes from David Wells’ book The Courage to Be Protestant before I put it back on the shelf. In this section of the book he is discussing the lack of discipleship in the church. He uses the parable of the seed and sower in Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23 to illustrate his point. Here is Matthew 13:18-23 for reference.

“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.

He notes that the different categories of “Christians” are always represented in the church, but in 21st century America

The first two [actually categories 2& 3]-the stone in the heart and the weeds that choke the seed-are so abundant and so disproportionately represented. They are the exemplars of “Christianity Lite” that so many evangelical churches are propagating. What catches our attention-and our breath-are the vast numbers of Christian misfires Almost half of America is claiming to be born again, but fewer than one in ten has even the foggiest notion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ in biblical terms.

Wells goes on to blame two things: the love of affluence and comfort and the business model that pervades evangelical Christianity. Here are two quotes that address both of these.

In the West we have not the slightest inkling that, in reveling in affluence as we do, we are playing with fire. This affluence so easily becomes an alternative Way, Truth, and Life, a counterfeit gospel in which to have is to be saved and to have not is to be damned. Unfortunately, la dolce vita, is not itself satisfying, not in an enduring way. It tends to make us shallow, self-absorbed people who give ourselves to chasing what is superficial by way of styles, fads, and what is pleasurable provided there are no demands for commitments. The styles quickly become obsolete, the fads are forgotten, and the pleasures fad like the morning mist so that this kind of life constantly has to be reinventing itself. Those who fashion their lives around these things die of emptiness. The pains that linger in the soul like  a bad headache stay for a long, long time.

Later:

The church has been like a shortsighted business CEO who goes for quick profit and puts off the long-term considerations of these business decisions.So it is in American evangelicalism today. Far too many leaders and churches are out for the quick kill, the instant success, the enviable limelight, the flattering numbers, the bulging auditoria,  the numbers to be boasted about-“my church went from ten to ten thousand once I arrived!”-the filled parking lots, the success story all dolled up for the pages of Christianity Today or Leadership. All of this is about the short-term interest  of the pastor(s), not the long-term health of the church. In Christianity, cut rate products bring a cut-rate future.

Our failure to disciple, love of numbers, love for affluence, adaptation of the business model of church, and general worldliness have left us impoverished and unable to pass on the faith in any substantial way to those sitting in the pews.

Tyrants and Kicking Posts

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Correct doctrine does not inoculate against sin. Just because the right things are taught sin does not magically disappear. It is easy to believe that if we just teach a biblically grounded view of courtship then all we have to do is set those two young ones lose, following our courtship rules, and all will be well. Or if we have the right liturgy then the parishioners automatically become more righteous. Or if we teach our daughters modesty then all will be well and so on. The trouble with this perspective is that the problem with sin is rarely knowledge. Sin lives within us. Whatever system we have (and some are better than others) we bring our sin into it. Many pastors and parents function as if teaching the right doctrine automatically sanctifies. But it doesn’t. And this why a pastor must preach to his people, not just the right doctrine, but also that right doctrine must translate to right living.

In our church we teach headship and submission. It is a biblical concept. It is one of the key issues of our day, along with numerous other male/female, husband/wife issues. But teaching headship and submission is not a vaccine against headship submission sins. In fact, someone can believe in headship and submission and have a terrible, unbiblical marriage. Here are two specific sins that crop up when a church teaches headship.

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There will be men who are drawn to this teaching because they are tyrants. They use headship as a shield for accountability. They love headship because they think it means they get to do whatever they want. My wife is my servant and I am the master. These men are often over-controlling, easily offended, lack real accountability, think their children are too good for anyone else, etc. They keep their wife really close because who knows what will happen if she drifts. They speak in terms of protection, but what they really want is control. They speak of their sins in generic terms instead of specifics. They are good at cultural critique, but not good at self-critique. Continue reading