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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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empathy

Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.   If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.   Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”   In general*, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.   And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.   Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.   I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.”  But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a track or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.   At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.44.25 AMThis verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.   Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”   Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.   When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.   Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.   I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.   children-1426769_640Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along.

But how does one come “alongside” the process, already in progress, of the Father drawing someone to His Son Jesus?  This is where I would say that there is no replacement for GENUINELY LIKING the people one is trying to reach.

Liking People is the Opposite of Alienating Them

It’s almost too obvious to write about, but people don’t generally want to hear what someone has to say when they sense hostility coming at them from the speaker.  Instead, most humans put up walls, and get defensive.   This is why standing on a street corner holding a sign and shouting, “The end is near!  Repent or burn!” is probably one of the worst images that our society has of Christians…and of evangelism.   It would take an extraordinarily humble person to want to subject themselves to learning from someone who approaches them full of condemnation and hostility.

wall-1436752_640But an even more subtle form of hostility that Christians present to nonbelievers comes from an “us/them” perspective.  If we walk into a relationship with an us/them mindset means it we carry a type of “alienation” to the relationship with nonbelievers before we’ve even started.  It puts a wall up between oneself and one’s target or uh, “victim” because us/them is a form of alienation already in play.  Most of us have experienced this: when you have an “us/them” perspective in your approach to someone, they will feel like a project to you – and the person will eventually sense they are a project in the evangelist’s eyes as well.    If you manage to convince the person that being a project is ideal, and a spiritual thing, then you might be able to bring them to the point of becoming your disciple where the project mentality can continue even past the point of their conversion.   But generally people feel a bit creeped out at being someone’s project.

Incarnation

Ideally, evangelism should be “incarnational.”    Incarnational has at times been a Christian buzzword, but it’s a good one.   It means that neither of these two above things are in play – there is no hostility, and there is no us/them mentality.   “Incarnational” describes what God did when He put on human flesh and became one of us.   It sparkles; there is a closeness about it, a warmth where the one who is incarnated is identifiable and now as one of those he or she has now become.  They are tangible and relatable as “one of us” now to the culture they have stepped into.  In fact, we don’t just share a message, we become the message, as the apostle Paul wrote:

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…”  2 Cor 3:3

In order to BE the letter, we need to be able to be known, to be seen.   This is true even with all our messiness; the point is that as we relate to God and He relates to us, our history with Him marks us and writes something into our souls.   And this is available for those we walk with to read.  This is Christ incarnated into us, even as we are incarnated into someone else’s world.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 12.03.50 PMBut uniquely, all the gifts and beauty of the realm from which the incarnated one has come are brought into the realm of the society and reality in which she or he is now involved…and those gifts are offered for the taking in a very personal, connected way.   Someone who is incarnated brings their pre-incarnated identity into their incarnation.   But incarnation is a position “in the middle” of where they are coming from and what they are stepping into; for the person who has been incarnated takes on the identity of the people he or she steps into to become, as well as the flavor, the struggles, the atmosphere and rhythm and likeness of them as well.

INCARNATION SETS US UP FOR CONNECTED SYMPATHY

As all of humanity was made in God’s image, it was because He wrote, as it were, a prophecy in human flesh of Himself which was waiting for fulfillment: we were made in His image, so that at the right time, He could come to us in our own image.    And thus He did.  And there were many reasons for this, many specific benefits and necessities, one of which was so He would know what is like to be us….so that He could fully relate to who we are and what we go through.

The writer of Hebrews captures this in Hebrews 4:15 –
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.”

And this is INTENSELY important.   It brings us back to my opening point about LIKING those we want to reach.   For too many years the type of Christianity I was in treated Christians as “real” people while nonbelievers weren’t worth really knowing or being friends with.   They were simply objects to be captured.   But as I kept trying to keep in step with the Spirit and how He was moving in someone’s heart and life, I found those people becoming real to me in a way that makes me now ashamed to admit how I treated people as evangelistic objects.   When we like someone, we get to see them as a real person, valuable and truly worth being connected to, and having real friendship with.   And we find ways to sympathize with what they are going through.   If we can’t sympathize with the things keeping someone from seeing Christ clearly, we’re not going to reach them very easily.   Examples:

ATHEISTS

flat-earth-1054350_640
There was a time when “the four corners of the Earth” was taken literally by the church (in fact, some people still take it literally.)

I love to reach agnostics and atheists.  Why?   Because I genuinely ENJOY atheists and agnostics.   I tend to think of atheists as one of God’s gifts to the church.   When the church tries to make theology that is inhumane, or nonsensical, sometimes it takes a bunch of atheists to bring us to our senses.   This doesn’t mean that every criticism or critique a nonbeliever makes will turn out to be valid.   But I love the fact that these guys challenge us when we get too lost in the clouds with stuff that just doesn’t make sense.

I also can relate really well to these folks because I know what it is like to be unable to believe in something, even when I wanted to.  My own testimony involved coming from a place of unbelief, struggling really hard to find out if there was “anything out there” and having a really hard time taking a leap of faith to find out.   Some Christians would never believe how many atheists and agnostics have told me they really WISH they could believe in something – or that if “Someone” were there, they really wish they could know that.  And especially for those folks, I get it.

And when I hear people bash atheists as if they are somehow deliberately in rebellion against God, that there is something ugly and hateful about someone honest enough about their doubts as to say, “I don’t know if God is real” or, “I’m pretty sure he isn’t there”, it really upsets me.   I would rush to most atheists defense in a moment, because many of them are intensely truth-hungry people that I just want to help them find how to truly find Him, and the army of rancorous Christians shouting at them about how horrid they supposedly are sure doesn’t help.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.15.48 AMYou’re not going to win an atheist or agnostic to Christ by telling them that God doesn’t care about how they try to be a moral person; they were never being moral for the sake of God anyway.   You’re not going to draw them in by telling them by telling them that without God they have no basis for ethics or morality, because they know you’re wrong.  Quoting at them from a completely different context out of the book of psalms the verse, “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” just affirms to them that you hate them, that you call them a fool, and you’re quoting at them from a book they can’t relate to anyway. Again, all you’re doing is putting up that wall of alienation and hostility for them that Christ died to take down.   And that is the opposite of the incarnation.  And besides, Jesus gave dire warnings about calling someone a fool.

We can win atheists and agnostics to Christ by putting ourselves in their shoes, being honest with ourselves about our own doubts and difficulties at times walking in faith.   We empathize with them by being a real friend and letting them see our real struggles – and victories – with Christ.   We sympathize with them by walking with them through their questions about God, being honest about not having all the answers for them, while appreciating these people for who they are and what they bring into our lives, and how God is using them before they even know Him.    We show Him to them by just being who you are in a real way, talking about Him and His truth in authentic contextual ways that are real to our lives, and giving them all the room in the world to do the same – knowing that a real God is lighting the way forward for you and them together to figure it out.

MUSLIMS
quran-1719546_640One of the surest ways NOT to draw Muslims to Christ is to have all sorts of ideas about them.   I continually run across evangelicals that think they’ve got the “Muslim thing” figured out because they’ve learned about a half dozen ugly statements from the Koran about hating infidels or something.  They also tend to approach those verses in the Koran the way Christians approach their own Bibles – not realizing that Muslims may have their own reasons for approaching those texts differently (just as Christians have their own reasons for approaching Deuteronomy differently than nonbelievers often assume they do.)   But none of that really is the point anyway – you can’t learn a culture just by studying some of its documents ; you learn a culture by hanging out with people.

You can read the Koran from cover to cover 1000 times and still understand next to nothing about muslims, because to some degree, it doesn’t matter what a holy book says – it matters how the people who believe in it interpret it and live it out (or don’t live it out.)  There are many, many cultural things that affect how any particular Muslim will view themselves as a Muslim, and view the teachings of the Koran.  There are various nationalities, various sects in those nationalities, various levels of commitment, various understandings of how to interpret the Koran, and there is folk Islam with its own sets of beliefs.   There are militant Muslims, there are devout yet peaceful Muslims, there are disinterested Muslims and disaffected Muslims.   And just as there are many different cultures of Christians (nominal Catholics, Bible banging Baptists, serious Catholics, liberal Baptists) there are many many different categories, movements, and personalities of Muslims.

But no matter what, one can’t LIKE a Muslim without hanging out with him or her and really getting to know them.  As long as Christians regard Muslims as “the enemy” rather than approaching them as their next best friend, one will never have the privilege of getting to be part of their Islamic friends’ exploration of their own prophet, Isa (Jesus).

kid-1077793_640But this requires learning to LIKE Muslims.   I have found that practicing Muslims are inspiring in their adoration and love for God.  Their reverence and awe for Him are beautiful, the way they seek to involve Allah (and even Christian Arabs call God, Allah) in everyday life puts many Christians to shame.   One thing that seems to be fairly universal however is the importance placed on hospitality; if you can let yourself be invited in, the value of hospitality in this culture in many cases completely transcends any anti-Christian sentiment you might fear your Muslim friend might hold towards you.   Muslims tend to value their guests very highly, and its a great way to get to know them and learn all the things there are to like about them.

And as far as sympathizing goes; I know what it is like to have a works’ mindset in approaching God, and I think many Christians have at some point in their relationship with God a similar experience from which to relate to Muslim religious experience.   Instead of judging devout Muslims for approaching God with a works mindset, I find myself being reminded of how I’ve struggled with the same thing, both before and after knowing Christ.   And many Muslims are not necessarily even approaching God that way either – it’s important to get to know what is actually going on in the lives of one’s friends.

On the flip side, I’ve met young Muslims so in rebellion against the teaching of their parents that they were taking steps with their lives that the God who cares for them would not want them to take.   Sometimes sharing my own sins and stupid decisions and how “Allah knows best” (Allah is just the Arabic word for God) is the best way I know how to help a Muslim-culture friend care about knowing God – and Jesus – when everything about God seems irrelevant to them.

WHOEVER IT IS, LIKE THEM

The main point is, we will be most effective with the people we like enough to truly relate to them, and probably be completely ineffective with people who we are only sharing Christ with as some sort of a duty, or some sort of niche on our Christian-y belts.   I’m also not writing this to give folks an excuse to shrug off reaching out to people they don’t LIKE or don’t GET.     But instead, I’m writing this as an encouragement and a challenge to the church to stop making ourselves “feel good” by how we can look down on those “foolish, God-hating Atheists”, or those “evil satanic Muslims.”

Joshua and Caleb set themselves apart from the other men who “spied out the land” of Canaan because they liked the land they saw, and they thought it was a good land that God was ready to give them.   The other spies looked at the land as being too full of strongholds for their trouble.   Likewise, do we approach people like they are cherished and beloved by God, and that the things keeping them from Christ are not that big of a deal?  Do we find them delightful and enjoyable and know they are a hair’s breadth away from the Kingdom, and that God is near them?  Or do we put up walls of fear and hostility that just don’t need to be there, which alienate us from them and them from us, ultimately cutting us off from our inheritance and the blessing of walking in Kingdom relationship with them?

We’re called like Jesus to love and serve people, and one of the biggest differences from serving someone from a place of superiority verses authentic incarnationality comes down to one thing: Do we authentically like them?  If not, I do think it’s worth asking God to show us how.

 

* Footnote from first paragraph:   I say, “in general” because, heck, God can do anything and when God is really moving in someone’s life, they may not need much human involvement at all – whether you or I hate them or like them may be completely immaterial.   But in most cases, we’re talking about the actual action of evangelism here, where we are the tour guides taking someone by the hand and showing them all the sights along the way and leading up to an encounter with the cross and the resurrected Christ.)

 

 

My review of “Free to Love” by Jamal Jivanjee

In my circles, there has been some stir lately over a book, “Free to Love,” by a Facebook friend of mine, Jamal Jivanjee.   I didn’t really know much about this book until another friend of mine, Keith Giles, wrote a scathing review of it, which prompted me to hit up Jamal on instant messaging to ask him some concerned questions – questions which really in my mind were not about his book at all, but just about his own heart and life and what his book said about his marriage – that it had ended.

See, I’ve never met Brandie Jivanjee nor spoken to her, but I knew that such a person existed from having been FB friends with Jamal for so long, and finding out that Jamal had gotten divorced via a scathing book review was somewhat shocking.   Honestly my initial reaction was to feel that I had been a lousy friend to not know this had happened to Jamal and Brandie, that I hadn’t been reading his page often enough or something to be there in even a small way for this huge trouble in their lives, and all what was generated in me was foremost an empathetic concern – a desire to help, if help at all was still possible.   Writing to Jamal however I was met only with defensive irritation and relative coldness – I suppose this was perhaps justly an instance of me feeling my friendship with Jamal was more real to me than maybe he felt it was to him – and he told me he wouldn’t talk to me at all about this aspect of his life until and unless I bought and read a copy of his book.

The iciness was surprising to me, particularly since I knew the book had something to do with the importance of valuing relationships and friendships in the body of Christ (I knew it also had something to do with cross-gender friendships.)  More often than not I have been surprised by people whose message is about love or togetherness who put up walls when their message seems to suggest that walls should come down when relationship is at hand.   I know it was a sensitive issue, however.   My protest was that I didn’t really care about the book, that I cared about him – but he insisted my concern was only because of Keith’s review and therefore that he wasn’t interesting in talking, and that instead I should buy his book.

I did know his advertising efforts – including posting an advertisement for the book on my personal page immediately after our conversation – seemed fairly zealous, to the point of being impersonal.  (I mean, he knew I was concerned and then posted an advertisement to my wall?)   And Keith, who had written a negative review of the book somewhat reluctantly and apologetically, is an incredibly welcoming person whose household had once treated me with the kindness of Christ in a very dark hour of my life.  In a few days after Keith’s review, one of Jamal’s friends had lifted a quote from Keith’s review about the book being “dangerous” and was proudly flaunting it on Jamal’s advertisements on his page.

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Jamal in my initial conversation meanwhile insisted that Keith was out to malign him – and when I asked what possible motive Keith would have for such a thing, he replied that “Keith feels he is acting in good faith as all folks do when reacting to having their paradigms challenged.”   Ok, this answer could have some merit (although again, I didn’t care about the book, I only wanted to talk to my friend Jamal about what was going on in his life) but then, another friend of mine, Dan Brennan, an author whose book on male-female friendships in the body of Christ I had once recommended to Jamal (did I help create a monster in so-doing?), wrote that he could not recommend Jamal’s book either.

If anyone I know has embraced a “new paradigm” when it comes to the importance of cross-gender friendships in the body of Christ – friendships that challenge many people’s expectations of what is appropriate between men and women outside of the marriage covenant – it would be Dan Brennan.    (Dan’s writing style would appeal largely to progressive Christians, while my friend Joshua Jones has also written what I have heard is a fairly brilliant book about cross-gender friendship as well from an evangelical standpoint, although I have yet to read it.)

Thus, a very long preface to why I am writing a review of a book I really wasn’t initially concerned with in all this but which evolved into a thing I was sort of forced to read.   And since I have read this book now, and as a moderator of a discussion group where Jamal has been wanting to advertise and embrace controversy about his book, this thing seems to have been placed into my lap whether I wanted it to be or not, so it seems I need to at this point write a review as well.

SO HERE’S MY ACTUAL REVIEW:

Firstly, I’ll say that Jamal is an excellent writer.   The book is an easy read, flows along smoothly, and warmly dialogues with the audience.  Jamal and I both agree on many things – we have both sought after a true experience of organic church (house church) and ultimately had some disillusioning experiences there – while retaining a passion for true relationship in the body of Christ.   Jamal clearly has a passion for the body of Christ to function like a family – for people to experience the kind of relationships that Christ died and rose again to make possible among His people.

But while the book promotes the value of cross-gender friendships, which I can cheer and appreciate, there’s an entire chapter dedicated to talking about how one spouse can be weighed down with insecurities and thus keep the other spouse from really walking out a life that God wants for them in this realm of oneness with God and others (what Jamal refers to as a “divided marriage”) – and the book hints, sometimes small, sometimes large, of “marriage idolatry” in most chapters.  Jamal expresses concern that the institution of marriage seems to be the only relationship that many Christians seem to prioritize and that often other relationships are only viewed in light of how dangerous they may be to the intimacy between a husband and wife.

As someone passionate about the need for the body of Christ to learn to embrace the beauty of friendship between the sexes, both as Biblically valid and incredibly valuable to the body of Christ as a whole, I am still greatly concerned at Jamal’s tone.  The problem here I feel is in the distinction of approaching this topic as “both-and” vs. “either-or.”   When reading Jamal, I start to perceive that for him, the beauty of cross-gendered friendship is an either-or thing; either one values relationships with the body of Christ, OR one values relationship with a spouse.   Jamal leans heavy on verses and arguments that minimize the marriage relationship to create his paradigm.  I think that is the overwhelming error in his work, as I think the proper order and balance is one of “both-and”; holding one’s spouse in high priority AND, while honoring and valuing them all along the way, also learning how to have healthy, devoted, and wholesome friendships with both sexes in the body of Christ.

The Book I Wish Jamal Had Written

Despite this, Jamal does make some good points about various spiritual things related to the body of Christ and the innocence and value that cross-gender relationships can have, ideas which many in his circle might not have been ready for [according to Jamal’s presentation of things.]   Jamal’s book is rare in that it is one of a very small corpus of reading material on the topic of opposite-sex friendships in the Kingdom, and he tackles the even more rare question of how to view and relate to a spouse who has a different viewpoint not just on that topic, but on kingdom pursuits in a more general sense (in what he terms a “divided” marriage.)   But I have to say that the book Jamal has written on this topic still isn’t the book I’d be hoping to read to gain wisdom about these things.

He does a good job of showing what healthy non-marital relationships can look like without becoming sexual.   But, rather than reading about how living out the new paradigm of inter-relational oneness in the body of Christ even cost the author his marriage (and the subtle but palpable suggestions that the author is copacetic if costs you your marriage too, because as Jamal reminds us, “Jesus came to bring a sword” into families), I would rather read the book that might have been written about how Jamal and Brandie walked through a difficult time where Jamal had one idea of how to live out these things while Brandie had quite another, and how they learned to appreciate each others’ differing attachment needs both learning to respect each other’s callings, insecurities, giftings and weaknesses.

I wish I could read how they pressed through, humbling themselves to each other, and learned to love one another through the difficult process of hearing God in the midst of their various convictions and concerns to break through as One.  But I, and the others alternatively critical of or lauding his book, did not get to read that story, because Jamal and Brandie for one reason or another didn’t get to finish creating it together, but instead ended up divorced.   One might suspect from how the book handles issues of disagreement between spouses, that Jamal might have not fully engaged that process, perhaps feeling that investing too much into that process would have been “marriage idolatry” when there were other relationships for him to invest in as well.  (Jamal also comes down pretty hard on “needy” spouses, and along the way makes me wonder if he has ever read about adult attachment theory or knows how his own attachment style might influence his preferences in what he views as too “needy” in a spouse.)

I can empathize with Jamal’s concern in the book that a husband who simply acts as a martyr and  “dies to self” to serve his spouse’s insecurities may not be walking out the life he is called to – but then again, I’m not sure there are only two choices here – be a doormat for another person’s neediness/fear/insecurity, or resolutely ignore/demean their desire for security or intimacy or attention to walk out a “higher calling.”   Jamal is willing to concede that marriage is about meeting each other’s sexual needs, but does not seem to extrapolate from that that emotional needs should be concerned with nor met as well.  Jamal never does say exactly what the opposite of giving into a spouse’s emotional neediness looks like in his mind, other than that a spouse shouldn’t need to pander to such things.  (I consider the Apostle Paul said sexual needs could be unmet for short times of prayer and fasting but only by mutual consent – as at least a little hint that a wife’s thoughts and feelings and “needs” do indeed count, even when contrasted with spiritual endeavors.)

But it seems to me that a Savior, embraced by two believers, should be able to see them through these things and often when He does so, often the person who thinks or feels they’ve got the higher road doesn’t always have it as much as they thought they did.  This is part of iron-sharpening-iron methinks – that, and that for the most part, when Jesus said a sword would divide families over Him, that he was talking about what would happen when one spouse was a believer and the other a nonbeliever.   While that sword can still show up in a marriage to a small degree where a believer has a different sense of how to run after the Kingdom than the other, between believers it seems that there is less room to not work that sort of thing out over time.   After all, the same Bible Jamal avidly quotes about marriage not being the be-all of existence surely has a few things to say about God’s feelings on the demise of a marriage, right?

“Marriage Idolatry?”

Could we flip the table and say that while marriage idolatry – whatever that truly is – is indeed misguided, that there are other forms of relationship idolatry that one could sanction with spiritual argument and fall into as well?   After all, while there are plenty of things written in the Bible about the woefulness of broken relationships in the body of Christ, none are quite so loud and dramatic as the woefulness ascribed to divorce.  Why is that particular woe so pronounced scripturally if, as Jamal says, no priority is given to marriage over other relationships?  Is a spouse just a sexual outlet and a venue for reproduction, while everyone else in the body of Christ is where real Kingdom relationship is centered?  Jamal doesn’t say this exactly, but his presentation of this is so bad this reader was given the impression that this is a definite possibility.

It seems to me to be all in the framing of it.   It reminds me of a conversation I recently had with some well-meaning folks in ministry who were talking about their relationship with their children, when I asked if their children were excited about being part of their ministry and, they replied, “When we were children, our parents always put us first.  But we realized that that is not what it means to be kingdom oriented, so we are following God and expecting our children to come second to that.”   Regrettably, I have seen many parents with this attitude that is sadly considered “spiritual” in some circles raise kids that don’t grow up to share their passion for the Kingdom, or even believe in God.

I contrast that with some other amazing missionary friends of mine, who have uprooted their lives and done many things that traditional thinkers might not have thought were good for their children – but these parents have never said anything along the lines of “we put God, not our children first, when we make decisions.”  Instead, as a family, they have patiently and creatively cultivated a deep love in their kids for the things they are passionate about, vision-casting together, and have treated their kids as deeply integrated members of ministry team since they were little, developing a true oneness of purpose in their family – and their kids from a very young age have learned to worship with them, pray for, and receive words from the Lord for the people they all minister to.   Even now, the dad often quotes from his 7-year-old’s journal the prophetic realizations she is having about God and their ministry as a family, and how much he learns from his children as they learn from him.

Similar to the child-rearing example above: Do we have to frame things in such a way to say that loving a spouse above all others is the enemy of close relationships with those others?    After all, if love for a spouse has no priority, then why IS sex reserved for marriage, anyway?  Is it just some arbitrary moral duty be exclusive in one’s sexuality and the sharing of their body, or does any form of exclusive love have something to do with it?  Husbands are specifically exhorted to love their wives three times in the New Testament, and despite verses that Jamal quotes about marriage, the body of Christ in all its intimate oneness of fervent devoted relationships is still instructed to hold out a place of honor for marriage.

(I would also add that women were not as highly honored from my vantage point in most of the polygamous examples of the Old Testament as they later were in the more monogamous  New Testament – and onward beyond the New Testament.  The flavor given to the marital relationship in a culture has some parallel to the value and place given to women in a society in general – something Jamal doesn’t tackle at all in his thinking.  However this may be one reason why Moses and Jesus’s feelings on divorce were so highly divergent.  Along this line, an obsession with verses that highlight a lesser view of marriage such as “let those who are married be as though they were not” may be comparable to someone who prefers to emphasize verses about women being silent over those where women had a powerful leading role in speaking.)

If Jamal is right about anything, he is right that marriage isn’t everything – married or single, we are created for more.   But if Jamal is wrong about something, it is in the way that seems to want to get to the “more” by making marriage – and by extension, one’s spouse – a less honorable, less valuable thing than the place God gives them.

It is in this vein that I agree with Keith Giles’ assessment that the book is dangerous – but not in the “good-dangerous” type of way that Jamal wanted to spin it, promoting his writing as that of just some really “spiritual badass”, one who has taken the veritable “red pill that only the fearless dare to take.”

It is dangerous because it seems to promote pursuing spirituality without empathy nor patience for one’s spouse if they have different perspectives or viewpoints or needs than you, and in all the verses that Jamal quotes that are harsh on marriage, I would wish to include the one that speaks to husbands who consider their wives to be lacking something compared to themselves, to live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.”  (1 Peter 3:7) 


Living the “Dream”

Instead, he shares stories of women who were showing some sort of Jamal-identified spiritual weakness (needing financial security, needing spousal attention, etc) in a way that invites husbands to dismiss them as mere impediments to the grand call on their lives.  I’ve sadly seen this in action before: it is the same reasoning I heard from the prosperity-wealth-preaching friend of mine as to why he needed to buy a Hummer while his family was impoverished and his wife was mortified – to prove that he was learning to live in God’s provision and not her concerns about financial security.   It is similar to the argument I just heard yesterday from one of my non-believing best friend’s husbands about why he needs to be free to spend all night away from her every day of the week to smoke pot with his buddies, claiming she is being “controlling” by wanting time with him herself (although he did invite her to come smoke with him, but she doesn’t want to.)   I’m sure Jamal will protest that he’s not advocating lavish spending nor drug abusing, but the same glorification of the dismissal of one’s wife’s concerns and needs are present in this book as in my other experiences of those who turn a selfish and sometimes spiritualized deaf ear to the emotional concerns and pain of their spouse.

And while emotional neediness or spiritual weakness can be found in men as well, Jamal never shares a story of a husband holding his wife back from pursuing a greater calling, thus making me wonder if ultimately the real genre this book belongs to is the unfortunate category of “a cold-hearted book written by a hyperspiritual spouse parsing out why he was right and his wife was wrong” about the ideas that led to the dissolution of their marriage.

We do not know what Brandie truly asked for or thought because he does not tell us,  but we do know in this book that he leaves little room for a spouse who is not tracking completely with their spouse’s desire for opposite sex friendships (or ministry, or travel, or other various lifestyle decisions) to be given much consideration or weight.  (Moreover, he never remotely suggests that one way an opposite-sex friend helps keep a friendship pure is by standing resolutely for the health of their friend’s marital relationship.)  Positively, he does say that even in a divided marriage, where one person is pursuing “the Kingdom” in Jamal-terms and the other isn’t, that the Kingdom spouse still should love the other and not walk away.

But I voice my concerns because Jamal, by writing that the ideas of this book were hard won at the cost of his marriage, implies whether he intends to or not that Brandie must have been a very worldly woman for his marriage to have ended over the things in this book – he the wise and spiritual one compared to her more petty or earthly values whatever they may have been, and leaves no room for her to have any legitimate concerns or voice in any of this.  There is no category in Jamal’s description of divided marriages where both spouses are getting some things right spiritually while both are also having blind spots where they both need to learn from each other – it’s just a totally “one is on target, and one is not,” sort of thing.

It also seems inappropriate to me that in the midst of whatever heartache and disaster Brandie and he have gone through in this, is now something that Jamal hopes to use to bolster his own name and ministry by writing a best-seller about the ideas that were destructive to his marriage.  As nice as Jamal is, truly there seems to be something narcissistic or even abusive about that.   Indeed, almost every chapter of this book on friendship and “oneness” has some mention of how marriage can be improperly viewed and become an impediment to a truly loving life in the Kingdom of Oneness, but sadly there is no “oneness” of which Jamal is so fond of speaking remaining for Jamal and Brandie to share in together.

broken-heart-1207383_1280So that’s where I will leave this.   If you want a copy of this book, contact me on FB and I might be able to find someone who will pass along one that has already been read, so that you don’t have to drive up ratings on something nor provide blood money to a book birthed from a couple’s divorce.

I hope and pray that my words might in any way help any and all that are involved to find a way towards restoring this marriage, rebuilt on better principles than the dogmatism in this book (and anything outside this book) which led to its demise.  I do hope, that now that this thing has been brought out onto a larger stage than the original circle of friends and loved ones who were unfortunately not able to help Jamal and Brandi avoid this outcome, that in my idealized hope for them they would be able to find fresh resources, skilled counselors, and impartial help to come to a place of restoration.   It is in that hope, as well as a concern for others influenced by some of Jamal’s ideas, that I write this post with as much care and diligence as I am able.

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