Monday, June 30, 2014

Reexamining the ‘Titus 2 Woman’

15th century illumination of Christine de Pizan (Wikipedia),
who argued in her The Treasure of the City of Ladies that 
godly instruction must be given to people of all social
classes to discourage finger-pointing (my words, obviously).
When Christians think of the Epistle to Titus, what invariably comes to mind? For some it might be Paul’s use of what’s generally called the Epimenides paradox, stated in Titus 1:12–13. For others it might be the qualifications given for “overseers” of the church (i.e., bishops, elders, pastors), found in Titus 1:5-9. But I suspect most will identify the words found in Titus 2:3-5. This short passage has become a sort of handbook for modern female Christian living. There have been sermons, books, Bible studies, and seminars devoted to producing more “Titus 2 women.”

While there are other biblical passages giving instruction specifically to women, this one has gained considerable popularity over the last few decades. Perhaps because it serves as a sort of spiritually-focused, New Testament replacement to the secular-focused, Old Testament “Proverb 31 Woman.” Or maybe because it provides a convenient checklist that women can use to measure their own and, more importantly, others’ behavior. And we tend to like checklists. It absolves us from making difficult and mature decisions about what is right and wrong behavior. We become like students who are anxious only to complete our work well enough to get that “A,” or even just a passing “C,” but don’t care one iota about actually mastering the material.

There’s another factor: sexism. Men love quoting Titus 2:3-5 and admonishing women to follow those instructions. When we look at the wider context, we see that Paul addresses men as well, yet to my knowledge there has never been a Bible study, sermon, or anything else focusing solely on “becoming a Titus 2 Man.” Even when men are teaching on the whole chapter or book, they tend to have relatively more to say about the duties of women. And women are only too willing to echo men’s rebukes, creating a hostile atmosphere in which each tries to “one up” another to win the approval of the opposite sex.

Given what I’ve stated above, you might wonder why I would then promote studying this passage. While there’s potential for overemphasis, I still think checklists are a good starting point, especially for immature believers, as it appears the Cretans had been when Paul wrote to Titus. However, after we’ve completed every instruction, we must recognize that our work is far from finished. Achieving godliness is an ongoing process and includes far more than the seven characteristics mentioned in this passage.

Secondly, the misuse of Titus 2:3-5 needn’t disqualify any study. I think that men need to seriously reexamine their motives before preaching on women’s duties and strive for more balance by spending considerably more time on the duties of men, by which I don’t mean “being a manly man” but being sober-minding and self-controlled as Paul instructed the original audience (Titus 2:2). Women, however, can still benefit from continuing to study this passage, as long as self-application, rather than the condemnation of others, remains at the forefront of the discussion.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

‘Love Hunger’ (Book Review)

In 1980 in the Garden of Gethsemane, David Kyle Foster, male prostitute and cult member, was drawn back to Jesus Christ. He’d been wondering away for some time, seeking comfort in the arms of clients, drugs, and the glamour of Hollywood. Now, having devoted himself to ministering to others trapped in sexual sin, Foster tells his story in Love Hunger: A Harrowing Journey from Sexual Addiction to True Fulfillment (Chosen Books/Baker Publishing Group, 2014).

In this book, we follow his lonely, suicidal childhood, plagued by paternal neglect, to his experimental youth, as he desperately seeks acceptance from male peers and older men by catering to their desire to be a corrupting influence on this preacher’s son. His escape to Southern California is archetypical. Foster imagines the film industry that is as chaste and upright as the heroes in the films he watched as a kid. Instead he discovers real people that are hiding their less perfect selves behind masks, just as he was seeking to do himself. Foster also imagines a film industry that’s easy to penetrate. Instead he finds himself returning to prostitution to support his shaky acting career.

When Foster gets involved with a popular cult revolving around the personality of Guru Maharaj Ji and chooses to live at an ashram with other devotees, it’s apparent that he’s fervently looking to fill a deep spiritual need in his life. Yet this conversion doesn’t bring the much needed peace. Instead he’s forced to recognize that his new-found religion can’t be reconciled with his old beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible. His encounter with God while traveling in Israel gives him the strength to leave his sinful life, fight his harmful addictions, and reunite with his family. The rest of the book follows his successes and failures to the present, as he seeks an education in theology, a pastoral position, and a greater purpose for his life. He has now found a calling with Mastering Life Ministries, helping those who dealing with harmful sexual addictions.

I was initially thrilled to see Love Hunger come out. Not many Christians are willing to share their past involvement with pornography, homosexuality, and the like. Foster can be admired, not only for his repentance, but also his willingness to use his testimony to bring others to Christ. While the book deserves praise for these reasons, it proves to be lacking in a number of areas (not all of which could be attributed to the fact that I read an early release edition that was in some need of editing).

While he has an inspiring story to tell, Foster couldn’t win me over as a reader. He came across as manipulative, feigning innocence when he thinks it suits his ends. For example, he knowingly uses his controversial views on charismatic gifts to get out of joining the Presbyterian Church of America, but accuses an elder of “double crossing” him during his examination for licensure. This and other instances reveal a “martyr complex.” Foster closes doors open to him because he desires to suffer for his uncompromising positions on biblical authority and other doctrinal issues. He can then insist that everything works out for the best because God had better plans for him later. However, rather than being impressed with how God has worked in Foster’s life, many readers will likely conclude that he’s suffering from a severe case of confirmation bias.

A number of questions rose as I read Love Hunger, two of which I’d like to share. First, while as Christians we can recognize radical changes in someone’s life, there is something to be said for skepticism. Are we really expected to accept someone claiming to have direct messages from God when that person has freely admitted to being previously blinded by demonic forces? Do converts like Foster deserve to be granted the benefit of doubt, or should they be held with suspicion?

Second, are we witnessing the fledgling comeback of bridal mysticism? No, we’re not still in Middle Ages. But Foster’s vision of God proposing marriage to him is reminiscent of those experienced by medieval nuns, albeit with a male homosexual twist. Not only is this a misunderstanding of the marital allegory found in the Bible, but it encourages the sorts of impure sexual thoughts that we’re trying to turn away from. It’s disheartening to think that that’s all a celibate homosexual Christian believes he can hope for: a fantasy union with Christ.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Love Hunger: A Harrowing Journey from Sexual Addiction to True Fulfillment through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a favorable review.

The David Kyle Foster Story: Hollywood Star, Sexual Bondage, Freedom in Christ from Pure Passion on Vimeo.