Monday, October 3, 2011

Why Am I Still Writing About Abuse?

Why Am I Still Writing About Abuse?

“I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit; crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment. ~ C.H. Spurgeon

Today’s post is very brief, just a little on why I am still writing about abuse in churches, Christian organizations and families. 

A friend asked recently why I read and write so much about various kinds of abuse in churches, Christian organizations and families.  This has been one of my major interests in the past few years, and I’ve been much more vocal in the past year.

My reasons? 
  • Because it still happens
  • Because it is serious
  • Because it affects people I care about
  • Because not enough people are aware of it
  • Because something can be done if people are willing to speak up and speak out
Do I write out of fear?  No, I write because I have lost my fear.  I am gaining new God-given confidence every day.  Do I write out of bitterness?  No, I write out of compassion, because I can’t stand to watch people I love or even people I have never met get hurt.   I want others to experience the mercy and grace I have found.

I wish I could share with you some of the letters that arrive in my inbox each day as a response to what I’ve written so far, but for discretion’s sake I won’t.  I will tell you that they are heartbreaking.  Families are hurting.  Badly.  Multiply that by the stories I read on blogs, especially by those who have been wounded by the patriarchal edge of the home schooling movement.  Ouch.  Oh, and the news stories.  Sweet heavens, when will it end?

I’ll just leave you with several recent links for more reading.  There are so many more I have read recently, so this is just a very small sampling.

Another death in a home school family following Pearl discipline: Seattle Times article “Murder Charges for Parents Who Left Girl Outside”

Recovering Grace is especially for those raised in Bill Gothard’s ATI/IBLP programs, but really helpful for anyone who has been harmed by legalism

Spiritual Abuse by Tim Challies and Bob Kelleman at

What is Abuse? By Hilary McFarland of Quivering Daughters (abuse in some large home schooling families)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wisdom from Letters of Direction by Abbé de Tourville

Dear friends,

Yesterday I stopped by my favorite used bookstore, Brightlight, to check on some books I had brought in to sell to them. I took a brief browse in the vast theology department and picked up a small vintage volume, Letters of Direction by Abbé de Tourville, who lived from 1842 to 1903.  Henri de Tourville was a French priest (Abbé) whose health broke from intense parish ministry, so he retired to the countryside and continued to write and minister in his own way.

I love old books, especially those of a contemplative Christian nature. As an evangelical Presbyterian, I wouldn’t pretend to agree with the doctrines of Henri de Tourville’s Catholicism. (Nor do I agree with every doctrine in the PCA.)  But I also realize that we all have much to learn from one another, and I certainly have found wise, refreshing, and liberating words on the yellowed pages of his little book. I am thankful that Miss Lucy Menzies, a Scottish scholar with Presbyterian roots and later membership in the Church of England, invested the time to translate it with such clarity for English readers in 1939. Her colleague Evelyn Underhill (already a familiar name to me) wrote the forward to this edition.

I read 9 of the 20 chapters of the book last night and this morning. I planned to type in several favorite passages to include here. Fortunately, a quick web search yielded blogs such as My Soul Thirsts for God which had already done so, though I did add some of my own, such as the paragraphs at the end from his chapter on education, as noted. I think I will still scan in as many pages as I can so I can print them out and make notes on them. I would hate to deface such an old book beyond the small marginal marks already made by a previous reader.

What I most appreciated about this book is the concept of us being unique individuals before God. Though we are connected in the Christian community, we are each responsible for our own spiritual growth. We each grow in our own ways. We are not cookie cutter Christians. This is such a freeing idea for those who have been members of high control religious organizations where groupthink is the modus operandi. 

Abbé de Tourville also affirms the love of God for each of his children, and encourages a relationship of childlike simplicity and trust in his goodness. He cautions against too much introspection and dissatisfaction with our own souls, pointing us instead to the grace and mercy of God, who understands our human weaknesses.

Another thing I appreciate is that he was so forward looking, and though a contemplative, so eager to urge his readers to action in fulfilling the purposes for which God had specially created each of them in making the world – the here and now – and better place to live for everyone. 

Please note the quotes here are not necessarily in a continuous stream. They are from throughout the book.

You can find the book used all over the Internet.  Here is a direct link for Amazon:

I encourage you to read the quotes slowly and carefully, reflecting on what they mean and how you can absorb them into your own life.

Without further adieu, I give you excerpts from…

Letters of Direction by Abbé de Tourville

Life is a glorious road which leads to incomparable splendour, to the very life of God, to the goal of all things, to the full fruition of all that our hearts hold within them -- as if in a broken but carefully riveted vessel of which the pieces, though broken, yet hold firmly together.

Let us be able to depend quietly on ourselves. Let us judge for ourselves which things most help, guide, and teach us, by observing the degree in which they fit our own particular temperament; learning by experience those things which help us and which we most need.

Live according to your own nature; inwardly without restriction; outwardly in so far as external conditions permit.

One of the hardest things is to follow our own particular line of development, side by side with souls who have quite a different one; often one opposed to our own. It is natural for youth to hesitate between an attitude which it fears may be presumptuous and a candid admission of inferiority to everything around it. But this hesitation must cease or we will never grow up.

Still less must we look for approval and appreciation as a sign that we are on the right path.

We must therefore free ourselves absolutely of this anxious desire to be at one with other souls, however virtuous or wise they may be; just as we must never expect them to see things through our eyes. We must follow our own light as though we were alone in the world, save as regards to charity to others.
  In purely private matters, we must never be deflected from our own path.’

Therefore leave your soul to pray as suits it best, in its own way, without strain. Allow it most of the time to remain quiet, still. In a word, follow your bent.

For nothing is more individual to each soul than the form of its intimacy with our Lord. His earthly life revealed also that no two were intimate with Him in the same sort of way.

Observe the path you take instinctively at those times when you are most keenly aware of the real and intimate presence of our Lord. Realize that there lies your own particular grace.

We must follow our own path and not worry about the puddles into which we fall. The journey itself repairs the accidents into which it has led us. Tidy and timid travellers are never good travellers.

Between the extremes of foolhardiness and timidity, boldness is true wisdom.

A perfect childlike simplicity puts us at once into intimate relationship with God, without any hindrance. Let us try more and more to maintain in the depths of our souls the childlike simplicity and artlessness which our Lord asks and commands.

From every point of view we gain infinitely more by looking at our Lord, than by looking at ourselves. We shake off our faults more quickly and effectively when we adore our Lord than when we examine and criticize ourselves.

The soul gains very little from looking at itself. Such an occupation gives rise only to discouragement, preoccupation, distress, uncertainty, and illusion.

God asks only one thing—that you should be on close and friendly terms with Him, without fear; without ceremony.

Our Lord is our true and chief Director, who, without our knowledge, has arranged matters in such a way that our lives turn out quite differently from what we should have expected; infinitely better for our salvation and glory than we should ever have dared to hope.

Be bold enough always to believe that God is on your side and wholly yours, whatever you may think of yourself.

Think of this and say to yourself ‘I am loved by God more than I can either conceive or understand.’

Rejoice that you are what you are; for our Lord loves you very dearly. He loves the whole of you, just as you are.

Remember that it is our souls which are God’s joy; not on account of what they do for Him, but on account of what He does for them. All that He asks of them is to gladly accept his kindness, his generosity, his tolerance, his fatherly love.

Do not worry any more about what you are or are not. You are the object of His mercy. Be satisfied with that and think only of that.

The Mystery of grace which works in us is in a sense a copy of the Mystery of the Incarnation. By grace Jesus takes possession of our personality and fills it with His Divinity. He desires to make use of us by grace as he made use of His own nature in the Incarnation.

The intimacy of the soul with our Lord provides our true nourishment, our true home, however much circumstances change.

The root of many of our troubles is the desire to have only good inclinations. That is neither necessary nor possible. In countless ways we shall always feel ourselves to be wicked, unstable and unreasonable. We must realize that this is our nature and not our real personality; not our true, deliberate and voluntary desire; not the goal of our efforts. [Rom 7]

Far from your defects being charged against your soul and conscience, they are, before God, your defense, your justification and your glory.

What you need to realize is that a good state of soul can, in this world, go hand in hand with a feeling of deep inward disharmony, of confusion and cloudiness.

Do not fear things too much, for we often suffer more from the things we fear than from those which really come to pass. And what good does it do, seeing that when evils come, they bring with them strength to enable us to accept them; a strength which we do not have in advance.

It is not right to groan over the state of the world as if it were lost.  What is actually happening is a clash between the old spirit and the new, a clash which is specially noticeable because the old spirit is realizing how old it is and how nothing is looked at any longer from its point of view. It is a great struggle of which the issue is never in doubt, a struggle in which that which is coming triumphs over that which has been.

Most people are like sheep and follow, without much satisfaction to themselves, the lines of the past tradition.  A very small minority emerges, with great hesitation and amidst endless discussion to be faced by troublesome and pressing contradictions.  It is however of that minority that you must be, when God has put you there by interior vocation and natural aptitude.

We live in a time of transition in which many things separate the present and above all the future, from the past. Such times are always difficult, but we rejoice when we see the light dawning beyond the clouds, clouds which have been piled up by ways of speaking, ways of judging, ways of acting, which are no longer those which the need of souls imperiously demands.

If shadows cross your mind on matters of faith, it is because all this has been so little taught in relation to our actual needs that we cannot always see our way.  In this century everything has to be remade, even that which does not change in itself. Take nature, for instance. Has it changed? And yet you see in your chemistry and physics how the manner of knowing it has changed. Methods have improved and the same things are seen more clearly. That is precisely what is needed in matters of faith.

The absorbing interest of the present day is that the world is growing itself a new skin. We realize that the heavy mantle of the past, of all those things which no longer have any meaning for our minds, is slipping irrevocably away and leaving our souls free. The horizon broadens and lights up instead of closing down upon itself and becoming more and more obscure. I want this to be your attitude. I find that it brings peace and serenity to all those whom I am able to persuade of its truth.  

How beautiful is the ordering of the social world and how valuable its knowledge - as infinite as the stellar universe, as ordinary as the lighting of a fire.

Come! Come! We must wake up and try to be that which we are reasonably meant to be and not that which other people have been. One does not become holy by copying others but by making good use of what is truly part of oneself. In a word, follow your bent, your need of quiet or of doing nothing according to what seems most natural to you at the time.

[I am typing the following passages from the chapter “Our Relationships with Others: Education” and taking them to heart as both a veteran home school mom and a classroom teacher. They are really good for all of us who desire to help others spiritually in any kind of ministry. We are not here to control others or make them conform to our own agenda, but to help prepare them for the future.]

Set aside everything which might make you at all touchy or timid and let all your qualities of goodwill, frankness and simplicity shine forth in your dealings with every one you meet. Never mind how different their characters and way of life may be, for our Lord desires us to behave thus even to the unrighteous which would otherwise be difficult.

Encourage with discretion all that is good in your pupils; let them feel your support without being embarrassed or hampered by it. Education, as the very word shows, means helping someone to develop himself, to draw out all that is good in him. It is the greatest of all benefits. That too is the meaning of the expression to direct¸ direction. Unless interpreted in this sense, I like the word formation less; it seems to me to carry the suggestion of a preconceived form into which one is to force people whether they like it or not. But people do not lend themselves to this kind of treatment and so the form remains empty.

We must not bury ourselves in the gloomy thought that everything is going wrong; nor let it be a matter of indifference to observe which way God appears to be moving in order that we too may move in the same direction. This is especially important for those who are responsible for education; for the formation of those who will see the future and who will more or less make it.

In what direction is history moving at the present time?  That is what I want you to consider. Which are the nations whose ordinary customs and daily habits are most likely to prevail? I mean, of course, good habits, for they are the only ones which ever prevail in the real sense of the word; the only ones which end in getting something done. When you have caught a glimpse of the direction in which these better habits, in the purely human and temporal order, are tending, you will then perceive to what good use the Church can put them for the benefit of souls. That will open a new phase in her history.

Not, what practical conclusion can be drawn from the fine problem I set you here? Surely a most important one; that you must know what obstacles and what world-tendencies the soul you are now preparing will have to face during the next fifty years. If you teach them without any knowledge of what will soon await them, it is as if you sent them off on a journey to a country you did not know anything about. There are no doubt precautions which hold good for all journeys to all countries, but it is a great advantage to be able to take special precautions to meet special difficulties.

The souls we try to help, and especially those we try to bring to the true faith, are inclined to suspect us only of loving them because of the goal to which we want to lead them. They would rather – and quite rightly – believe that we only desire this for them because we love them. Love them, therefore, and without any hidden intention.

How supremely right you are in loving souls, whatever they are, for our Lord, and I would add, in His stead. For He has left us precisely this charge: the charge of giving others those outward signs, that sensible and visible help, that human expression of kindness to which He gave to all around Him when He was on earth – where we stand now in His place. And real goodness surely lies in expecting nothing in return, while yet never refusing it if it is offered. To give in order to receive, with the intention of receiving, is really not to give at all. But what joy there is in those gifts, whether they be great or small, in which we have been able to help or be kind to some poor creature like ourselves, in the name of the Lord Jesus, who has so earnestly asked this of us. It does not matter whether our gift is noticed or taken any account of by the recipient; he has at any rate received a good which came through us, through us from the Lord Jesus who is Love Supreme. 

[And some passages from the Forerunners chapter]

In every age God has scattered forerunners in the world. They are those who are ahead of their time and whose personal action is based on an inward knowledge of that which is yet to come. If you and I should happen to be forerunners, let us bless God for it, even though, living a century or two too soon, we may feel ourselves to be strangers in a foreign land...

Rejoice then in the light which you have been given and do not be surprised that it is so difficult to pass it on to others. It really is making its way, not so much through you or me as through force of circumstance. You are simply ahead of your time; it is a good thing to have long sight and to let your soul be illumined as soon as you are aware of the light. Intelligent people can no longer deceive themselves about old systems and old ideas, circumstances having radically changed and changed beyond possibility of recall. Such people are in just the same situation as yourself. It is a situation which often seems hard but is in reality infinitely less hard than the contrary situation would be. For that would mean living in falsehood and driving into falsehood new generations who would be bound to suffer even more than we ourselves.

Be open to all new ideas and be glad to put them into practice wherever, as far as your understanding of people goes, it is practicable or possible. But where you find that there is no response or that opposition is aroused, then be content with your private happiness in being ahead of your times in heart and spirit... We belong to the Church universal; universal in time.  And is it not interesting to see how in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, God sends in to the world souls like our own, which in some aspects belong already to the twenty-first century and in others to the twenty-fifth?  We are as it were the first proofs of an edition printed only for connoisseurs but destined later on to be given to the world at large.  It is good to be among God's experiments for the future; only we must realize that we do belong to the future.

Those words of his were certainly prophetic, written a century ago and still so applicable to us who are in his far future. And now a few questions from me for you: What words of grace and truth are you writing and speaking into the present and future?  Will you take confidence that God can speak through you, too, and not just others who have more prominent positions and gifts?  You are here for such as time as this.

Virginia Knowles

Monday, September 5, 2011

New Series: Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel

Hello friends!

In coming weeks, I'm going to be sharing what I'm gleaning from a book called Grace Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free by Dr. Tim Kimmel. (You can click on that title to see the book at Christian Book Distributors.  It will let you look inside, too!) The book comes highly recommended by many people I respect, and I found a  used copy of it a couple of months ago so I couldn't pass it up.  In fact, just this morning I just saw a very favorable mention of it by Wendy Alsup in her post The Myth of the Biblical Parenting Method.  Karen Campbell at also gives it five stars in her review.

While I will be reading the book on my own and taking notes on each of the 11 chapters to share with you, my husband and I are also planning to go through it together.  We both realize how much we need grace in our family -- and how often we have detoured away from it with rigid expectations and frustration.

If you would like to read it at the same time I am writing my posts, grab your own copy here, and you can add your comments as we go along!  I'd love a little company on the journey!  And if you've already read it and want to offer your own opinion about it, leave a comment on this post!

I was initially going to post this new series both here and at my motherhood blog, but now I think I am only going to do it at  I will post the links to each article below.  

Chapter 1: Why Well-Meaning Parenting Falls Short

Chapter 4: "A Significant Purpose" 

There are already several other articles on living and parenting with grace at both blogs.

You can visit Dr. Kimmel's web site at:

Virginia Knowles

Saturday, September 3, 2011

In the Middle of the Story (Excerpts)

Dear friends,

I wrote the following excerpts earlier this year as part of a longer blog post called "In the Middle of the Story" on my main blog.  If you like these, go read the whole thing!  I was thinking of it again while reading Luci Shaw's book Breath for the Bones, subtitled Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith.  After I wrote something about this book at Is My Head in the Clouds? (And Notes on Beauty), I read her chapter on Learning from Story.  And I do think in story; it's become a very important part of my life, especially in the past several years as my paradigms about life have been shifting, and my story has been morphing with it. How about you? Let me know what you think!  ~~ Virginia

"In the Middle of the Story" 

(Written in Spring 2011)

A pile of vintage books lay on the coffee table in front of me, free for the taking at my next door neighbor’s house.  I nudged my reading glasses up on my nose, lamenting that I hadn’t grabbed my stronger pair for this impromptu task.  I squinted and spotted Leo Tolstoy’s name on the spine of two fat tan ones.  Anna Karenina!  It had been my “someday goal” to read a Russian novel; I had been feeling terribly uneducated by my lack until then.  Anna Karenina has been hailed as one of the finest, and here she had come looking for me, around the globe and down a century or so.  Tolstoy, too, would be my top pick since I had already read his short Confessions and appreciated his contemplative Christian worldview.  I figured I would pass along the extra copy to my daughter Mary, who is much better educated in literature than I am.  A few days later, I finally settled into my comfy reading chair, and with book in hand and strong glasses on, eagerly opened the pages to settle into a masterpiece.  However, confusion quickly set in.  What an odd way to start a story!  No lead in to introduce the characters?  It was like jumping into the middle of the plot.  Really, that is exactly what it is, as I discovered to my chagrin that what I thought were two copies of the same book were indeed part 1 and part 2 of an epic, and you can guess which volume I had picked up.  I did read volume 1 after that, staying up late a few nights and paying for it in grogginess the next mornings.  I haven't yet had the time to resume reading in volume 2, so I am wondering what will happen to Anna and Vronsky, Kitty and Levin.   I'm still “in the middle of the story” not only with the book, but with the story of my own life.  I bet you are, too.

You see, we are all in the middle of a story, the Grand Adventure of life.  The world did not begin when we were born; it will not end when we die.   What has gone on before us profoundly affects our lives, and what we do will have its own ripple effect in turn.  We influence others.  We matter.  Christian author Dan Allender, in his book To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future urges his readers to explore and understand their life stories so far, as a means not only for becoming spiritually and emotionally whole, but also so we can write the end of the story well.  What we have come through in life already can help us determine where we should go next.  It gives contour and texture to our ministries as we learn to relate to other people out of our own experiences. 

Your Own Story Thus Far

Bringing it even "closer to home" how about your own personal story? How has your life been subtly or radically shaped by your family of origin, the circumstances surrounding your conception, your birth order and family size, your childhood and teenage experiences, your education (or lack of it), your jobs, your friendships and romances, your heroes and enemies, your growing awareness of God, your experiences with churches (positive or negative), your spouse and children, your travels and adventures, your successes and failures, your joys and griefs?   How does this still affect you today?  Is this good or bad?
Does the thought of recalling your life story bring pain to your soul?  You are not alone.  I think everyone winces at the remembrance of certain chapters of life, and most of us have a skeleton or two (or at least a pinky bone!) in the closet.  Some of you have even endured serious trauma and haven't yet recovered.  And yet we don't have to be stuck or defeated.  We can learn to rethink and reinterpret our pasts through the lens of wiser eyes.  Here is an article that has helped many people with this: Truth and Grace in the Stories of Our Lives.

And we can remember that the story isn't over yet.  There is still hope for the future, even if the present seems too difficult to even move forward.  I try to remind myself of that when I am going through a particularly challenging situation.  This will pass.  I  will grow stronger from it.  I will learn something new.   Even a good night's sleep can make all the difference.  So can a heartfelt apology.  Do you remember the old poem, "My Life is But a Weaving," about not understanding all of the loose ends and random patterns of our lives until we get to Heaven and see the front side of the tapestry?  The best part of Heaven will be worshipping in the presence of the LORD forever.  The next best, in my mind, is the opportunity to listen to the stories of believers from around the world and from centuries and millenia past and future.  No barriers of time, space, or social constraints.  We can finally start to figure out how He worked it all together.  Who shared the good news with this person, and where did it go from there?  How did this or that tragedy or misunderstanding paradoxically result in the gospel of grace being poured out on a whole people group?

In the meantime, while we wait for Paradise Regained, where there will be no more sorrow or pain, perhaps talking over the issues with a pastor or professional counselor would be helpful to you.  I know that many of you struggle with unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior which may have existed in your family for generations, whether it is fear or prejudice, anger, abuse, addiction or shame.  You might feel trapped, with little or no hope of change.  Don't lose heart.   In God's story, there is always room for a radical plot twist.  He is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals inside and out.  The devastation can stop here, in your generation.  You don't want to pass it down to your own precious children and grandchildren.  Be bold.  Ask for help.  Let your heart be transformed!  You do not need to be bound any more!  
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." Isaiah 61:1-4 
Challenge: As you look back at the story of your own life, are there any chapters that are quite challenging for you?  Is there anything you can do to reinterpret them or to resolve a conflict?

Story in Church & Ministry

This topic is a little bit close to my heart right now since we have just recently transitioned to a new church.  Since last September, we've been attending a small Presbyterian church plant, Lake Baldwin Church, that lives and loves the paradigm of life as a story.  In fact, the newcomer's brochure that we received when we first visited starts out with these words on the front cover: "Real. Life. Story." Inside: "A Story is Being Written  It's written on the faces of people around you.  In the dimples and creases.  In the tears.  In the laugh lines.  In the furrowed brows.  Every life has a story to be told and our stories are intertwined."  Just words on a page?  No, I've experienced it in my conversations there.  In some churches, visitors are almost completely ignored, but the people I've met there don't just want to know my name, they want to know who I am and what my story is.  They make time for that.  Tears?  "There must be a story behind that!" is the warm response.  I especially loved the series last fall on Jesus the Story Teller, going through a dozen or so parables in the book of Luke.  I feel like I can be part of the story there.   Here's the start of mine: Weekend Gratitude: Lake Baldwin Church 5th Anniversary Celebration

It's sort of funny that I started out my church life as a young teen in the late 1970's as a Presbyterian. You can read more about that part of my life story here: Happy All Saints Day!  I've been a part of nearly a dozen other churches since then, all quite different from one another.  As I look back over my own church history from the past 34 years, I realize that I was at each one for a reason.  I learned a lot, found opportunities to serve, made significant lifelong friendships, grew to love my sisters and brothers in Christ more.  Though I am often disillusioned, I choose to put my faith in God that he will continue to lead me for the rest of my life, placing me just where he wants me for that season.  It's all part of the story.  My story.  The Grand Story.

Yes, I know that "story" is one of the big buzz words in the Emerging Church Movement.  It's in.  It's trendy. And yes, I strongly disagree with some of the doctrinal teachings of the Emergent end (such as Brian McLaren) of the Emerging spectrum, since it seems like they view so much of the Biblical story as fable or symbolism rather than literal fact.   They discount or deny the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the fact that he died on the cross to take the punishment for our sins.   Many in the Emerging Church also believe in "open theism" which is a belief that God has voluntarily limited his own omniscience so that even he doesn't know what will happen next -- he merely responds creatively and powerfully to whatever challenge human history throws him.  Hello?  Last I knew, my Bible told me that our Sovereign God knows and plans the end from the beginning!   So I think there are serious concerns within the Emerging Church movement. (See Why is Rob Bell So Alarming?

On the other hand, I think that one lure of the EC movement is that they are responding to a deep lack in many of the traditional churches.  Are we so caught up in theological jargon and religious rules that we have forgotten the life of Christ in the gospels?  Are we so plugged in to meeting the demands of the organization and its rigid system of living that we have neglected the uniqueness, giftings, and worth of the individual believer?    Can't we have a love of the arts, a thirst for justice and missional living, a sense of story -- and sound doctrine at the same time?  Why either/or? 

The church itself has stories to tell.   Have you ever read a comprehensive book about church history?  At a yard sale, I picked up a 1919 copy of A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker.  I wanted to look up what a "Latitudinarian" was, found it in the chapter on the English church, and started reading.  But I was curious about what had led up to this, so I flipped backward a chapter or so.  I kept having to go back and back and back to see what caused what!  Church history is fascinating to me.  It's a bit disturbing to read about all of the little splinter groups and schisms over what seem like minor issues.  But it's also comforting, knowing that I am not the only person who has been in flux about church, not the only person who has left one in search of another that fits better.  Even if you can't plow through a 624 tome on church history, you can at least research the background of your own church denomination and congregation.  What you find "way back when" might disturb you, but try to keep in mind that church movements change, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  There are dark blots and bright spots anywhere you go because people are human, and humans aren't God.  If you can't find a printed history related to your church affiliation, try Googling it.  

Along with that, I think it is also important to be aware of how much a church organization can affect family life with teaching on gender roles, marriage, child training, attitudes toward home schooling, expectations of involvement, spiritual authority, etc.   We cannot just assume that what we are taught is correct just because someone claims it is "Biblical" or "the Godly way to do it."  Be a Berean and study the Scriptures for yourself.  I know that it is tempting to get disillusioned if you have been burned here, but abandoning church altogether is not a wise long-term option.  You may have to change what you are looking for, and it may not look much like what you had before, but choose your church carefully.  It can profoundly shape who you are.

Beyond the institutional church, think for a few moments about the role of "story" in your own personal ministry to others.  Do you make time to listen to the stories of others, to hear where they are coming from, to empathize with their hurts and sorrows, to laugh at their funny tales, and enjoy them as friends?  Or are they projects that you schedule in for 10 minutes as your rattle off your doctrinal spiel, attempt to "close the deal" and then either mark a notch on your spiritual belt or chalk them off as unreachable heathens?  Personal outreach in the name of Jesus takes time, love and authenticity.  It takes story: theirs and yours and God's.  Do you have a good grasp of the Biblical narrative from beginning to end? The gospel starts with creation!  Are you prepared to share your testimony, the reality of how God reached into your life story?   (Here is part of mine: My Story of Liberty in 1976.) Is what you have spiritually anything they would even want?  Are you in love with the Lord ~~ ignited and passionate and enthusiastic?  Does this overflow with the beautiful adornment of genuine joy and peace and compassion? 

Story and Marriage & Parenting

"We start with where we are, but where do we go from here?"

Despite the rosy "normal" picture we would all like to portray about home school families in general, I realize that some of my readers are single parents, or have wayward teens, or have unsatisfying marriages, or are living on the financial edge, or have struggled with infertility, or feel like "the old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn't know what to do."  Some of you can't even point to one specific problem, but you have an uneasy feeling that things just aren't going right, that somehow you missed a critical step in the manual.  I have often been at that spot.  I'm not "there yet" and sometimes not even sure where "there" is or even if I really want to "go there" anyway.  So this section is a challenge for me to write. However, if I could offer just two words to you and to myself, they would be grace and hope, no matter where you are or what has happened in your family.  Your story is not over and there are still many chapters to write.   

That's not to say that home schooling your children automatically guarantees success and happiness.  It doesn't.   We make mistakes.  Other people can throw a wrench in the works.  Circumstances beyond our control happen.  And even home schooling can contribute to problems in the family.  Let's not sugar coat this.   Home schooling can add a lot of stress to a family, especially if you are listening to people who have a rigid way of thinking about education, child training, and marriage.  Just because someone has been home schooling for a long time, has written books, can throw around a lot of Bible verses and dire warnings, and claims to know the right way to do xyz does not make them an authority on your family.  That goes for me or for anyone else.  I have a lot of opinions and convictions, but I am not your Holy Spirit.  

That said, here is my counsel.  :-)  Be a Berean as you read!
  • Pursue a grace-based approach to family life and education, rather than legalism or autocratic control.  You can sour your own family's story by being prickly, self-righteous, and overly concerned about outward appearances.  Read: Mothering by Faith and Grace
  • Let your children be unique individuals.  Each one has their own story. They are not merely extensions of you or part of the family herd.  Each one deserves dignity and respect because they are created in God's image and he has called us to nurture them.  Don't try to force them in to your cookie cutter.
  • Be careful with your family's stories.  Your spouse and children are vulnerable because you know them so well behind the scenes.  Use discretion when talking to other people about your struggles.  And be very careful what you bring up again to your spouse or child who has shared sensitive information with you.  You will severely damage their trust if you use what they have entrusted to you against them in an improper manner. 
  • Teach your children about their right to speak up if anyone is molesting or mistreating them.  They don't need to give in to fear or accusations that they are tattling.  (Listen to this powerful podcast by a home school mom about the trauma of childhood sexual abuse and the healing that came much later.  Though this has not been my personal experience, this podcast really ministered to me when I listened to it again the other day.)
  • If there are problems in your marriage and parenting, you must face them squarely and persevere through the difficulties.  Read Child Discipline or Child Abuse? and Help for Hurting Marriages  

Like I mentioned, there are more sections to the original article that you can find here: "In the Middle of the Story." 
You might also like my poem "This is My Song and I Sing."

What do you think about story?  Leave a comment!

Virginia Knowles

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Life of Christ, Our Identity in Christ, The Priesthood of All Believers, Submission and Humility

Dear friends,

These are some thoughts I wrote down in 2010 after contemplating the over-reaction that some Christian leaders have to current trends in evangelical churches and concerns from their congregations.  Specifically, it was a point by point response to a particular sermon based on Philippians 2 in the church we had been attending for several years.  After e-mailing these thoughts to the pastor, I had the opportunity to talk with him for two hours and he was quite gracious.  We did leave the church several months later when we realized we no longer fit in there.  ~~ Virginia Knowles

The life of Christ (earthly and eternal)

I agree that the Emergent Church is off course when it teaches that Jesus is our missional example rather than our substitutionary atonement. However, I think we should heartily commend a deeper study of his earthly life, his words, and his actions. The perfect earthly life of Christ uniquely qualified him to sacrifice himself vicariously on our behalf and provides us the only pure example of how to live. I have been studying all four of the Gospels concurrently and find this quite refreshing. You might be interested to read a little about this here: Disillusioned and Disappointed? Take It to Jesus!  

Likewise, those who want more emphasis on the resurrection power of Christ are in no way diminishing the necessity or the preeminence of his finished work on the cross. They are, however, responding to the tendency to "leave him hanging there" -- to focus so much on the indwelling sin in our lives that they unwittingly miss out on the true victory that enables us to overcome it. In baptism, you don't dunk the person and leave him down in the water. You raise him up again, just as Christ was raised -- as in Romans 6. Just as his sinless earthly life was the prerequisite, the resurrection is the proof of the crucifixion's efficacy. The resurrection does not compete with the crucifixion -- it completes it! The "empty grave" is not a mere postscript to the story of the gospel, and believers should not be chided for proclaiming its significance. 

Our identity in Christ

I understand concerns about those who claim to be Christians yet make no effort to walk worthy of the gospel, but believers should never be warned against clinging to our status of our identity in Christ. We should always cherish the truth that Christ in us is our hope of glory. Though we should not be conceited about our faith or think that we are better than unbelievers, I don't believe we should ever be "ambivalent" about who we are. Loving it so much that we want others to have it too makes much more sense to me. 

I believe that it was the assurance of his identity that caused Jesus to humbly serve. John 15:3-5 says, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him." It is knowing that in Christ we are beloved, chosen, and cherished that we can face the taunts and ridicule of those who have not yet chosen to follow him -- and it is our hope that they can see the risen and reigning Christ in us so that too they will be convicted to repent and become disciples themselves. So we should be taught to fully immerse ourselves in who we are in Christ, to abide in the vine in close communion so that we might truly bear fruit. Apart from him we are nothing, but with him we are more than conquerors by his grace.  
The priesthood of all believers

I would disagree with those who say that "the priesthood of all believers" means we can ditch the institutional church and just do our own thing like a Lone Ranger. However, I think the majority of people who teach the concept of the priesthood of all believers are trying to communicate the gospel truth that each person stands before God with only one mediator, Jesus.  Each saint has the Word of God to teach them, the Holy Spirit to guide them, and an entire spiritual family of believers -- local and universal, pastors and common parishioners -- to nurture and support them. We each have the responsibility to meet regularly with other Christians and hear the Word preached by faithful pastors, which is why we have local churches. Yet we, like the Bereans, need to be able to discern whatever we hear and see to be sure that it is Biblical. We cannot blindly assume that whatever we hear from the pulpit is completely true and worthy of unquestioning obedience.   

Submission to spiritual authority  

Here is a gem from John Stott that a friend shared in her Facebook status: "Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve."  In the past couple of years, and particularly the last several months, I have researched extensively on the problem of spiritual/emotional abuse in churches and families. It is heartrending to read the stories of people who have become sucked into cultic and aberrant religious behavior because of an inadequate or twisted view of spiritual authority. Examples of this include the Maranatha campus ministry movement, the Boston Church of Christ movement, Jesus People USA, and Tony Alamo Ministries. However, even in many otherwise orthodox Christian churches, the misuse of spiritual authority is a continuing problem.  Ironically, the sheep in the pews are admonished to lay aside the status of their identity in Christ, "take the plunge of humility" and submit without a squeak. Wouldn't it be so much more relevant and timely to affirm the continual need for leaders to take the plunge of humility themselves and loosen their grasp on their own status as spiritual authority, instead of exhorting everyone else to honor it? 

Wouldn't it also be more humble to acknowledge the very real and valid concerns that cause people to lose trust and respect for their pastors in the first place?  I think it would be unfair to paint them as being rebellious or even unsubmissive. They want to be heard and taken seriously.  No wonder the thought of submitting to spiritual authority is a struggle -- because they realize that it has only brought more anxiety, depression, relational conflicts, and "fear of man" instead of victory and liberty in Christ. At that point, they are wise to move on to a congregation where they can rebuild a healthy confidence in spiritual authority -- or to at least, if they want to stay on, firmly gird themselves with a broader perspective and learn to speak truth into the situation.  


What do you think?  Please leave a comment!  

Virginia Knowles