A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Evangelical Attack On Self

On the new album there is a song entitled “Who I Am”. It’s a very personal song (aren’t they all!) about a sensitive subject. The opening lines are:

Does it matter who I am?

They told me it was OK

That the way that I was made to be

Should all be wiped away

When I was going through my divorce, I struggled mightily with my sense of self. You see, from my church I understood that I was supposed to ignore hope, pain, or really anything that felt good or bad. I was supposed to put off myself and take on Christ, and if I was doing that then it wouldn’t matter what happened in this life. So for the longest time my goal was to rid myself of anything that was ME and “replace it with Christ”, whatever that meant. This is a popular construct in many evangelical churches, where the concept of “self” and “selfishness” are often implied to be one in the same.

I’ll admit, I swallowed that lie for a long time— that what it really meant to be a “living sacrifice” was to rid myself of anything that was Jeff and replace it with Jesus. If I was in pain, this was because I was too focused on self, and I need to rise above it and focus on God. There’s a certain beauty about the idea . . . and simplicity. Jeff is completely evil, Jesus is completely good, therefore Jeff needs to go away and become Christ. The problem is, this is NOT Christianity.

The first problem is how we think about ourselves as evil. Any good evangelical will quickly quote Romans 3:23 (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”), and I’m among them. But what we can miss is the notion that all people, Christian or non-Christian, have been created to be the image bearers of God. We have a stamp of Him on and in us, and The Fall did not wipe that stamp away. Beyond THAT, though, is that in Christ I am a new Creation, as are all Christians. I am not the man I was once, hopelessly beset by sin. I am a man being improved by the Holy Spirit, joining with God in the work of my sanctification. So what am I fighting against in this life? Am I fighting against Jeff, to make him go away? I don’ t think that’s what Paul had in mind:

So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:17-20, ESV)

Yes, we still struggle and we still sin. We still do evil. We do not posses the ability to do the good that we desire. But what is the source of evil? Is it “Jeff” or is it “the flesh”? It seems pretty clear that it is the latter— for Jeff, the new creation, does not WANT to sin. I HAVE sin, and I DO sin, but I am NOT sin.

I think the second problem is how believers view what it means to be a “living sacrifice”. What exactly are we supposed to be sacrificing? Here is what Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.(Romans 12:1-2, ESV)

What is in view here is not saying the “self” is bad, but that all that we are and all that we have must be devoted to God. So it’s not that Jeff must be gone and replaced with Jesus, but that Jeff must take all that he’s been given and use it for Jesus. That’s a big difference. And honestly, I think most Christians would agree with this distinction. There may be many scratching their heads wonder just who it is teaching that we should be emptying ourselves of our identity.

Few people explicitly teach that we empty ourselves of our identities, but the implication is all over modern evangelical Christianity. Christian pastors take a certain sense of pride about how bad they can portray themselves (“I’m the worst sinner I know!”) and our songs constantly emphasize this point (“You are good, you are good, when there’s nothing good in me” or “Rid me of myself, I belong to you”). The line is thin (and dangerous) between dealing with our sin and just accepting the sin and moving on with spiritual sounding words about how we are depending on Jesus. With this constant message in the evangelical church, it’s easy to walk away from a worship service thinking that the things that make up ME are bad, and only God is good. And this echos the ancient heresy of Gnosticism that matter is evil and only spiritual is good. The things that make up me— my hopes and dreams, they should go away so that I can truly follow Christ.

But this is not the way the God of the Bible views humanity. God loves individuals and who they are so much that he used their unique voices to tell the story of Redemption. The Bible is written by many different authors with different skills, outlooks, and styles, each book bearing its writer’s individuality while being inspired by the Holy Spirit. And what’s more, God is personally involved with creating each individual person:

For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well. (Psalm 139:13-14, ESV)

These are not the words of God who wants us to lose our identities, but rather to embrace how we’ve been made and use ourselves for His Glory.

This attack on self is not just found in our theology, but is also practiced in our modern worship. Many services are built around the idea of getting people to a heightened emotional and mystical state where they are no longer focused on themselves, but only on God. This sounds pretty good, right? If we are truly worshiping then we should be focused only on God— doesn’t that make sense? It does, but I think the kind of worship I’m describing here is more like an eastern mystical concept of “joining the over-soul” than it is what Christian worship looks like in the Bible. A worshiping Christian is responding to God by bringing who he or she is and devoting it all to God. He or she hasn’t forgotten self, but rather is applying self wholly in an act of worship. Look at Isaiah— he is aware of who he is and he responds to God’s calling very clearly.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8, ESV)

We need to tread very carefully, church. VERY. We need to confess sin and be repentant. We need to turn from sin and depend on God. But what we must not do is try to take ourselves out of the equation. We each have a “self” and we are stuck with it. We can respond by trying to get away from that self, or to be like Isaiah and say “Here I am! Send me”. The latter is the pattern of scripture.

Selfishness is bad. Taking stock of who we are, understanding why we feel the way we do, and  figuring out which of our hopes and dreams are God honoring and which are just the products of sin— those are not bad things. These activities are what a Christian who is concerned with the Kingdom does. This is what a Christian who wants to bring himself as a living scarifies does. Sometimes in our pain and suffering we are to flee like Paul and Jesus both did on numerous occasions. Or sometimes the pain and suffering will bring Glory to God and we are to submit to it with confidence in his plan. But what we must not do is ignore what our sense of self tells us about the goodness of something. If something being done to us feels evil, our answer should not be to disengage and search for a higher spiritual plane away from self, but to understand how our “self” and all that God has put in it is to respond for the glory of his Kingdom. It might not look the same for every individual, for we are all different with different paths.

I’ll finish this post with some more lines from the song “Who I Am”, because ultimately this all comes back to God. What he has created in me IS good, and everything good I have is because of him. I don’t want to lose that, I want to embrace it:

Your voice is growing stronger and I hear you speak to me

As you tell me that I always was your plan

So I lift up all that I have to worship and adore

And thank you for who I am

32 Comments

  1. won't tell

    Thank u. i’ve been so confused most my life. “be everything for everybody (paul)”. its never about ‘you’. you must decrease (disappear) so He can increase meant i must “erase the face” (never be me but be ‘CHRIST’ to all)… which is impossible since I am not Him and really have no idea how He would be in all circumstances NOR could I ever because He is Perfect and I am not.
    I always hated myself because I was (am) selfish, <— thinking of me instead of being the sidewalk others can walk on to avoid their dirt.

    i am still in an active struggle with this "church thought of self" and it will take time to figure out how to "be" instead of "not being"

    thank you again for this post.

  2. purpleandblueswirls

    Thank you so much for this post! It was exactly what I needed to hear today, so God made sure I heard it.
    Thanks!

    • Hi Purpleandblueswirls, what a lovely screen name! Welcome to the blog if this is your first time here. 🙂

  3. K

    This really touched me. In my Christian life I have struggled to reconcile the teachings that God loves me, and that I am 100% evil and sinful. For a long time I believed that God loved me in spite of myself, as if it were possible to love someone begrudgingly. I’m slowly trying to retrain my Christianity in the belief that God loves me for me. So the line “you are good when there’s nothing good in me” always makes me bristle.

  4. loves6

    Die to self is what was preached in our church. I tried to die to self for many years. My personality being snuffed out and I became someone I wasn’t Menpleasing and trying to gain just one gold star from my Pastor, even if it meant doing something I really didn’t want to do, such as teach Sunday school (not feeling this was my ministry). There were tactics the Pastor and his wife used to get their message across to me. A look, a few words, a direct rebuking we’re just some of their tactics
    I struggled for years believing that God really loved me. i feared judgment day, believing id be cast out because i was too sinful and a failure in Gods sight. i lived life constantly condemned. Having verbally abusive episodes happening at home mixed in with emotional and the spiritual abuse at church crushed me.
    With councelling i am beginning to allow the ‘self’ in me to emerge again after 27 years. I am now stepping out and allowing ‘self’ to be who ‘self’ is. Not an easy process at times.

    • Brenda R

      Loves6, I haven’t seen a pastor or his wife yet that were interceding for God. They should never have taken you from you. God leads us to the mission he has for us. That was wrong of them to cause you that kind of pain. We have enough struggles all on our own trying to discern who we are and what God wants from us without anyone trying to guilt us into what they want us to be.
      God loves you jus as you are. I am glad you found a good counselor that helped you come back. Life isn’t easy in general. There are always going to be ups and downs until we reach heaven’s gate and look upon our Savior.

  5. Mama Martin

    YES, YES, YES. You’ve clearly defined the fine line of God’s goodness, our sinfulness, and how despite our “full of sin”ness, God takes what he has created and redeems – not destroying the uniqueness He formed, but bringing it to fullness. Wonderful thoughts, Jeff. Thank you for all the time you struggled through in order to be able to craft these words to encompass your thoughts.

  6. lauralee

    I have experienced so much rejection from so many people in my life beginning with my father that I find it hard to believe that I am lovable and I have always felt that if I could just get away from myself I’d be okay. I hear criticism everyday from my husband. Even though I realize its his abusiveness talking, I still internalize some of that. I can read the scriptures, hear them from others, but it just isn’t making a difference. I have lost any sense of self esteem and am so very depressed. Somedays I feel as if I am a nothing…..just full of sin and am hopeless. I need alot of prayers as I continue to make steps to leave this awful marriage. I’ve no strength left and having suicidal thoughts…..not plans mind you, just thoughts…….

    • Barnabasintraining

      Oh, Lauralee!

      I am so sorry you are feeling that way.

      I understand it, though, and it seems like you could hardly help it given what kind of treatment and messaging you have been receiving.

      Having suicidal thoughts but taking steps of escape. It’s the steps that matter right now, I think. And I applaud you for taking them. 🙂

      • BeginHealing

        One small step at a time Lauralee. I will pray for you.

    • Jeff S

      Lauralee, I’m so sorry for where you are. Please know that you ARE lovable, even through all the lies. Here is another post I wrote about a year ago that’s really a letter to people who are where you are: You Are Lovable

    • Dear Lauralee,

      I agree with BIT. I hope you can pat yourself on the back for the fact that your are continuing to make steps to leave your abuser. And even when you are not making active steps, you can pat yourself on the back for the fact that you are treading water and managing to keep alive even though it sometimes feels like your body and soul are as heavy as lead.

      I have had periods in my life when I’ve felt suicidal and they were AWFUL times. Very hard to get through.

      One thing that helped me when I was very down: I clung to the fact that Jesus would not let me go even though I felt like I could not think about him, pray to him, or do any mentalizing towards him or take any active steps to change my situation at that time. I just hung on to that one fact. He will not let me go.
      He. Will. Not. Let. Me. Go.
      So when I can’t hold on, He still holds onto me — with gentle hands, hands that do not break bruised reeds.

      I am praying for you. Please feel free to email me if you are confident your email is not being watched by your abuser. (My address is in the About tab at the top of the blog.)

    • Rose

      Hey Lauralee. I know EXACTLY how it feels to struggle with suicidal thoughts. I’ve been there I don’t know HOW many times in my life. I lurk around at this blog quite a lot since I found it several weeks ago. I’m a woman who’s never been married, who I believe God has called to be single, so I can’t entirely relate in terms of the pain of an abusive marital relationship, but my egg donor (I WILL NOT call her my “mother” b/c she never did the work of being a mother a single day in her life!) did abuse and neglect me in ways I won’t get into here, and I’ve been suicidal quite a bit through my life b/c of the hellish pain she’s caused me. All I can say is, NEVER listen to the lies of the enemy, who’s trying to convince you that nobody loves you, that you’re not worth anything, etc., etc. That’s all garbage. Don’t listen to it for a single instant. One of the reasons I’m so in love with this blog is b/c the folks here really do get it. They don’t shut themselves off the cries of the abused. They don’t pretend our pain doesn’t matter, and even if that is the attitude of SO MUCH of the Church in America today, I cling to oases like these that remind me that that is NOT the attitude of EVERY Christian. The devil may be an expert at making people, abused Christians especially, FEEL like they’re alone, but this place is living proof that that is just a bunch of hogwash. You are NOT alone. You never have been. Jesus went through the same things when He went through such atrocities during His crucifixion, and He NEVER would have agreed to go through all that in the first place if He didn’t love you with all His heart, which He does, so even though it’s terribly hard, scary, and painful right now, please don’t ever lose sight of that. And b/c you’re my sister in Christ, I love you too, and so do the rest of us here. 🙂
      I have let the Admins here know my email address and have given them permission for them to pass it on to you if you want to contact me. You can find their email addresses at the About page in the top menu. [Note from Barb: I have modified this last paragraph in order to keep Rose safe from getting unwanted emails from dodgy people who might lurk at this blog.]

    • Brenda R

      Lauralee,

      You are beautiful, you are loved and you were made just as God wants you to be. Through Him you will gain strength. Keep making those steps to leave that anti-marriage. I know how hard it is. My father left when I was so young that I don’t remember him at all. My stepfather was abusive in every way imaginable. I felt ugly, evil and that no one that wasn’t filled with in would ever want me. I am 56 so I carried that awful feeling for a long time. Until this past few months, there was no me. When I was a child I wanted to have a Sybil type personality to escape my real life. I wanted someone else to take the abuse that I went through. Over the last few years I have prayed to die at the same time praying that He would use me as He saw fit, and finally realized that God was still working in me and there are things that he still has for me to do. He has things for you too. I pray that God will replace those thoughts with His goodness and remind you of his love, grace and mercy.

    • arwen2002

      I know it’s been years since you’ve made this comment, Lauralee, but I just want to say that I so hope things are better now. I’m so sorry you’ve been through so much agony inside. ((HUGS))

  7. Terrific post, Jeff. I was hoping you’d mention eastern mysticism, and then you did! Good stuff, mate. Very balanced, sensible and biblical.

    • Jeff S

      Thanks Barbara and Joe!

  8. joepote01

    Very good post, Jeff S. Well written and well defended.

  9. Annie

    Huge topic, Jeff S. Thanks for opening it up.

    On the one hand, narcissistic people need to hear the message that self has to decrease and Christ increase. But as usual, preachers take a message for character-disordered people and overly emphasize it to conscientious people who have already lost a lot of their sense of self through chronic abuse. As a result many in the church don’t have a sense of self and don’t know who they are any more. How do you give yourself to God when self is so quashed it isn’t there any more?

    • Jeff S

      It’s true that abuse survivors can get caught in the crossfire, isn’t it?

      You might also enjoy this other post I did a while back, though it doesn’t have any answers: Caught In The Crossfire

    • UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

      ***

      Excellent comment, Annie!

      Here is something from Jeff Crippen’s most recent sermon (you can find the pdf and audio here).
      Jeff is quoting from a Lutheran theologian, Wilhelm Walther, a German who led the establishment of the Lutheran Church here in America, fleeing the liberalism back in his homeland. He and his group settled in Missouri and today they are known as the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. [The larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is much more liberal and certainly not a group we would recommend to anyone].

      Finally, there is [another] difference between Law and Gospel, relating to the persons to whom either doctrine is to be preached. In other words, there is a difference in the objects, that is, the people, to whom Law and Gospel must be applied. The persons on whom either doctrine is to work are completely different—just as the goals of each doctrine are different.

      Preach the Law to “secure” sinners, yet preach the Gospel to alarmed sinners. While at other times both doctrines must indeed be preached, at this point the question is: To whom must I preach the Law rather than the Gospel, and vice versa?

      In 1 Timothy 1:8–10, Paul writes: Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.
      To all persons who fit this bill, then, preach only the Law—and not one drop of the Gospel. As long as people are at ease in their sins, as long as they are unwilling to quit some particular sin—in this situation you must preach only the Law, which curses and condemns them.

      However, the moment they are frightened about their condition, administer the Gospel to them promptly, for from that moment on they can no longer be classified as secure sinners. Conversely, as long as the devil still keeps you in bondage with even one individual sin, you are not yet a proper object upon which the Gospel can operate. In this situation, as pastors, you should preach only the Law to such a person.

      Ferdinand, Carl; Wilhelm Walther (1905-07-02). Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible (Kindle Locations 1939-1956). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

      • Wisdomchaser

        Barbara I am glad you mentioned 1Timothy 1: 8-10. I recently was studying it and want to ask yours or Jeff Cs opinion on the word enslaver. This is from the Greek word Andrapodistas. Which in turn is from Aner, human being and pous, meaning a foot or putting a foot on a vanquished enemy. Andrapodistas can mean one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery. I think this this word can mean an abuser because abusers step on others and take away their freedom. What do you think?

      • Jeff Crippen

        WC – Well, a search through the lexicons and so on only shows the idea of a slaver trader or kidnapper. While an abuser certainly enslaves his victims through his evil tactics to gain power and control, I don’t think we can properly give this meaning to the Greek word. Using etymology (the history of the formation of a word) as you have used here, seeing both the words for man and foot in the word, is tempting to us but Greek experts warn us against putting too much stock in discovering the real meaning of a word from this method. The fact is that often a final word has an entirely different meaning than the sum of its parts.

  10. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.

    ***

    Jeff C, can I hand this request on to you? You studied Greek in seminary. I have never studied it formally, I just rely on what I’ve gleaned from my reading of the linguistic scholars.

    It’s a good question, WisdomChaser. We have heard a NANC counselor (Nouthetic Counseling, a type of counseling we have serious concerns about) assert that we always need to use ‘biblical’ words for things — and he asked “What is the biblical word for ‘abuse’? ” To us, that seems a little pedantic, though we understand the high view of scripture that it comes from.

    As for biblical words for ‘abuse’, the Bible often talks about oppression, affliction, and harm. I don’t have time to do a whole word study on this area at the moment, but I shall prod Jeff C to have a go at answering your question. 🙂

    . . . picture Barb getting out her goad. . . a goad is a pointy stick used to prod cattle when they were yoked to a plough to make them move forward.) But Barb will only prod Jeff gently 🙂 because he’s such a good pastor for us all.  

    • Barnabasintraining

      We have heard a NANC counselor (Nouthetic Counseling, a type of counseling we have serious concerns about) assert that we always need to use ‘biblical’ words for things — and he asked “What is the biblical word for ‘abuse’? ” To us, that seems a little pedantic, though we understand the high view of scripture that it comes from.

      I think you’re very gracious here, Barbara. But I don’t understand the question.

      Doesn’t he know the definition of abuse? Why, knowing the definition, does he not have verse after verse immediately pop into his head? Why does he need a special “biblical” word for it? Doesn’t the Bible use regular language to describe every day events? Why is he not adept enough to translate? I mean, does he need a biblical word for, say, sex? Surely he can immediately call up several words the Bible uses for that, and in both negative and positive senses. So why can he not do the same for abuse?

      • anonymous

        The word “trinity” doesn’t appear in the Bible either. Certainly they would claim to believe in the trinity, or do they keep that word out of their doctrinal statements since the word doesn’t appear in Scripture?

      • Jeff Crippen

        Good point about the Trinity, Anon. I have heard the same thing Barbara is talking about and that BIT is refuting. “We must not be conformed to the world. We must not use terms from psychology. We must always be careful to use only Bible words. By doing so we will stay true to Scripture.” Wrong! Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus in tempting him. Just because a person is using Bible words does not ensure faithfulness to Bible truth. No, it is Bible concepts and Bible truths that we want to represent. As BIT said, scores of Scripture verses address a person who has a mentality of entitlement to having power and control over another and who is quite justified in their consciencelessness in using any means to obtain that power and control. We call that kind of person an abuser. Scripture names many of them – Sanballat, the Devil, Diotrephes, Pharaoh, and so on. And Scripture describes these people as oppressors of the weak, as those who take advantage of widows and orphans, etc. Scripture tells us all about their tactics, if we once have our eyes opened to the beast and finally “get it.”

      • Barnabasintraining

        And besides, is this a type of wrangling over words?

  11. anonymous

    This seems to be the same word. Copied from dictionary.com

    revile
    [ri-vahyl] Show IPA verb, re·viled, re·vil·ing.
    verb (used with object)
    1.
    to assail with contemptuous or opprobrious language; address or speak of abusively.
    verb (used without object)
    2.
    to speak abusively.
    Origin:
    1275–1325; Middle English revilen < Middle French reviler. See re-, vile

    Related forms
    re·vile·ment, noun
    re·vil·er, noun
    re·vil·ing·ly, adverb
    un·re·viled, adjective
    un·re·vil·ing, adjective

    Synonyms
    1. abuse, vilify, vituperate, berate, disparage

    • Jeff Crippen

      So then, the following Scripture pronounces the reviler (abuser) as an unsaved person:

      1 Co 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, (10) nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thanks again Anon. Excellent. Revilers. Someone who vilifies (is that related to “makes someone a villain”?) another habitually. I’m putting this definition on a sticky note!

  12. Finding Answers

    […..Insert net-speak for wordless vision of myself…..]

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