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"I Wouldn't Say That"
Men & Abuse - Includes a Review of Eschatological Discipleship by Trevin K. Wax
The article I have for you today discusses the subject of abuse. This is not something I’ve done lightly or frivolously, in fact, I don’t think I’ve taken this long over an article in a long time. It’s a subject close to my heart and I hope you’ll hear that. For those of you who can’t read this, or don’t feel you can for any reason, bless you, I have written a review of Trevin Wax’s excellent book Eschatological Discipleship below this article which you are free to jump to. I hope you will read and be encouraged, this is an important subject to me and I hope an important subject for the church.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
“I didn’t know I was allowed to talk about this.”
Over the years I’ve discussed my story—or better put, stories—of abuse and how God used them for the good of his people. I’ve always done so in closed, safe environments where I know the subject will be handled with care, and so that I can give anyone time to ask questions and process their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences. I’ve had many questions over the years, but one thing I’ve heard more than anything else from men who’ve experienced abuse in their own lives is, “I didn’t know I was allowed to talk about this.”
I once sat in a cafe with a young man who was to this day one of the most physically impressive people I’ve ever met. He had about as much muscle on one arm as I have on my entire body. On a table, even while surrounded by people, I held his hand as he wept. Not long after at a Church Service a guest speaker implied on a number of occasions that female → male abuse wasn’t really all that much of an issue. That same young man walked up and, visibly hurt, said his goodbyes and I never saw him again.
I cried my eyes out.
“You’re a lot bigger than Amber, correct, physically?” asked the lawyer, speaking to Jonny Depp in a trial currently taking place not only in a court but also in the court of public opinion.
"I Wouldn't Say That," he replied.
Whatever you think about this trial in particular, whatever the verdict is at the end of the day, this question hurt me a lot and I am sure I’m not the only one. This isn’t the first story in recent months which has highlighted this issue either, though I have no desire to outline and highlight each one here. Suffice it to say that you either already know what I’m talking about, or you don’t, either way, that’s okay.
For me personally, this has all been taking place while I’ve been trying to write a book proposal, having been encouraged to do so by a publisher, which would necessitate diving into my past, retrieving painful memories, and dusting them off for public use and consumption. Speaking with another writer friend about it recently I spoke my worries aloud, “I’m not sure I’m ready to be told by everyone on social media “No, never happened, you’re a man.”
If you’ve been here long you’ll know that one project I’m working on is what I’m calling, “a Robust Theology of Suffering,” which will then be released as articles after the Jude series until the end of the year. I’m doing that because I believe, both because scripture says so and also from my own life experience, that God can do wondrous things, even miraculous things, through the most painful and awful of circumstances. My long experience of physical pain and medical issues is just one example of that. My reticence to share my experience isn’t because I think it’s fruitless, far from it, I’ve seen personally how, when shared in the right contexts, God has used it to shed light into the lives of others, oft times allowing them to experience real and lasting freedom. What gives me pause is how the church at large has treated male victims of abuse, especially those who have suffered at the hands of women.
I don’t think this is just a church issue, it’s certainly more widespread than that. A few years ago, I went and spoke to some volunteers at a stall which provided assistance for victims of domestic violence. When I asked whether or not they would also help male victims, they said that they used to, but that they’d been encouraged not to by donors and fundraisers. The general consensus was that it didn’t happen, so in order to reach funding goals, they functionally agreed.
Do you agree?
This isn’t an academic paper, there are plenty of those out there and I recommend you go and check those out. The truth is that I could cite every single one and many would still not be convinced that female → male abuse happens. I’ll simply use these two statistics from ManKind, an organisation which provides help to male abuse victims and has invested in research into the subject. Firstly conservative estimates say that at least 1 in 7 men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Secondly, at the time the research was performed there were only 24 safe houses in the UK in which men could be placed if they found themselves in need. They also said that of those 24, only 10 had space at that time.
4,801,428 potential victims in the UK, 10 safehouses.
As awful as that is, there are, however, 37501 churches across various denominations according to the Evangelical Alliance (and about the same number on any given street in Texas so America this applies to you too.) Perhaps I’m being pessimistic, but I haven’t got high hopes that society will somehow catch onto the idea that men could be in danger and provide space, time, and resources to help them. I will always, against all odds at times, be hopeful that the doors of the church will fling open wide to these men and boys though, and that they will find not only freedom from their circumstances but also from their own sin and shame.
Jesus is the only way to the Father and to freedom, anything else is temporary.
To that end, I have three short questions for the church which I hope you will take the time to dwell on and implement, they all come under this heading:
Abuser ≠ Man
It saddens me that in the time it took my wife to read this article through, TGC published an article which illustrates the points I’m about to make. The article said:
“I know, technically all men are bad. I know my doctrine of sin. But here, I’m using “bad” not to describe universal sinfulness, but rather the propensity for a particular kind of sin that is relationally dangerous. The kind of man you don’t want your daughter to date. A man characterized by a manipulative or abusive mindset.”1
I know some people who believe these kinds of things are always said maliciously, but I’m not one of those people. I don’t even believe this was said maliciously. It hurt for sure, but I have always been and remain thankful for the work TGC does. The preacher I listen to most often does this at least two or three times a year too and though I understand why, it’s not okay, even if it feels warranted. The first danger of this I see is if you’re doing a public call from the pulpit to say “If you don’t feel safe in your home/marriage/small group etc” and following that up by making it a call to only—or mainly to—women, you are always going to imply either explicitly or implicitly there’s no hope for the male victims of abuse in your congregation. I know that’s blunt, but it’s true. What’s possibly worse is a second risk, that boys will hear this too, boys who may also not be safe at home, and will hear this all the more distinctly. “I’m not safe at home and church won’t help me,” is something I’ve heard more times than I’d like, and it’s heartbreaking. Thirdly, to the boys who aren’t being abused, but are listening in, implications that only men are abusers will add to the list of traits they expect of men and may even lean into being. During my teens, I heard many sermons which basically said, “boys, you’re all horrifically sex-obsessed, don’t touch yourselves and don’t you dare touch anyone else, but we know that’s all you’re thinking about.” Some boys were thinking about those things for sure, but also it led to many thinking that was something they should have been thinking because they were boys. It wasn’t the intended effect, but when we make something a male-focused issue, especially when it quite clearly is not, it will, unfortunately, lead some to assume it must be part of their identity. This won’t always happen from the pulpit, it may also be expressed in discipleship, youth groups, and marriage preparation classes. I’m aware these implications are only for males, but that’s the field I’m most savvy with. My wife has helpfully reminded me of all the many ways this also affects women and though I don’t have the time to go through all of these, perhaps the most important effect is that female abusers will feel completely unable to find or receive help to mortify that sin. A church in which sinners are unable to confess and repent is a dangerous place.
With that said, please can I encourage you to think through these questions:
Am I/are we making space for anyone who feels unsafe, who is being abused, or is otherwise in a compromised position in my/our church to feel welcome and safe enough to come forward?
Could what I am saying/we are saying suggest to the next generation that this is—or could be—inevitable for them because of their sex?
Do I/we believe the following?:
- Men abuse Women
- Men abuse Men
- Women abuse Women
- Women abuse Men
This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions, but it’s one I hope will start conversations. I love the church, a church full of sinful people and those people make mistakes. In the light of recent events I could easily have grown jaded, I very almost did and I didn’t know if I’d actually write this, but I’m glad that I did. Whether you agree with me or not, thanks for getting this far, and for listening. I’m grateful that you did.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill
A few weeks ago I wrote a review of “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” by Jonathan K. Dodson, that was to the be first of four reviews all to do with Discipleship, this is the second. For those of you who have been around for a while, you may know what I mean when I say that this book is a waterfall. To reiterate, there are different kinds of books, some are streams, easy to drink from and aren’t remotely dangerous, some are reservoirs, they took a long time to put together and are good to drink but it’d take you a long time to get through, and some are waterfalls. Waterfalls are a bit difficult, it’ll take some time to harness their power, and care will need to be taken to do so rightly. Once you’ve done so though you’ll be thankful for the time you took to do so. (You can read more about this in my article Approaching Waterfalls.)
I hope Wax would be comfortable with this description, and I think he would. I say that because he’s not really invested in converting you to a particular model of discipleship, instead he wants to lay out a case that whatever your model, a biblical understanding of eschatology should play a key role.
What does Wax mean by Eschatology?
It should be said that Eschatology broadly means a study of the end-times, but Wax is using the term in what I think is actually more accurate, which is to mean a creation (or pre-creation) to end-times theology, beginning to end, alpha to omega. Part of the reason for this which led me down quite the rabbit hole over the past few weeks as I read the book, is that essentially every worldview, from the smallest idea to the largest religions, have this framework in place. The following table doesn’t come from the book but I hope will nonetheless be helpful in illustrating this point. Here are some eschatological frameworks you will probably be familiar with:
All of these are false gospels to a greater or lesser extent, and there are certainly more major examples than this. What’s different about the true gospel though is that we can have full faith in a good and perfect end to the story, in Jesus, we have security and true salvation.
In Ephesians we read:
“In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirits when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and when you believed. The Holy Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of the possession, to the praise of his glory.”
Christian Standard Bible, (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Eph 1:13–14
On these verses Sproul said:
“…my perseverance in the faith does not rest in my own ability to persevere. My conviction that no Christian is ever lost is based on the promises of God and on statements like this from the first chapter of Ephesians: that when we believe in Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit is sealed on us and our souls are marked indelibly as the children of God.”
R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians, (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 32.
That’s my conviction too, and I hope yours too. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is vital to our hope in eternity but also has a very present application, not just for our hope, but also for our whole lives. That is just one of many reasons why talking about eschatology as simply the theology of the end times doesn’t suffice. It would be like me saying “I will publish an article tomorrow,” with no intention of ever writing the article. It’s all very well thinking something will happen in the end, but if it has no effect on our present, we are showing that we don’t believe it at all. The big difference is that this end, this eternity is certain, it’s not something we can influence or change, and has far greater implications for our lives than any earthly goal.
Wax certainly had his work cut out for him, but in my opinion, he rises to it with humility and grace, but also clarity and conviction.
With that said, as always, here are some tips for how to go about getting the most out of this book. (If you missed my article on how to get the most out of any book you read, you can click here to read that too.)
What Does Discipleship Look Like in Your Context?
If you order the book now it’ll be at your door in at most a few days, I would suggest that it would be a great idea to sit down, get out a pen and paper—or open the notes app—and then write down your answers to the following:
What does discipleship look like in my context?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of that format/framework?
What specific questions do I have, as a result, about discipleship?
As we’ve discussed before, having a good idea of what to look out for will not only open your eyes to find the answers to those questions but also make you more focused on the book you’re reading on the whole. Here though, not only is that true but as this book is a waterfall it will require some work to contextualise and harness for your good and the good of those whom you serve. In order to get the most out of this book, you’d be best served by knowing what your current state of affairs looks like before you even begin—before it’s arrived even.
Bring a Bible
This book will likely take a good amount of time to read. It’s not so much that it’s long, but that it’s dense. I don’t mean that pejoratively, it’s the right kind of dense, the kind that you won’t mind taking a long time to chew on. The trouble is that when a book takes a while to read, you kind of just end up wanting to get through it, anything which hinders that speed feels like a distraction. I think that would be a mistake here. In Part II of the book, Wax takes us through the Bible to ground us in scripture before moving on to the bulk of the application. Throughout the book Wax makes statements like:
“Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians deal extensively with issues related to Christ’s return…”
Trevin Wax, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2018), 82.
It’s great to find that out, to read it and learn it, but it’s far more important that you find out that it’s definitely true! This is, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty basic statement, but what about when he says something you want to make sure stays in your head or maybe even something you’re not sure you agree with. Bringing a Bible with you to help you read this book, and then opening it, will mean that you’ll be able to check, discern, and prayerfully consider and learn the lessons in this book in a way which cements them in your mind, not because of Wax’s inexplicable talent for writing, but because of the inspired word of God.
Part III deals with rival eschatologies, ones slightly more involved than the ones I mentioned at the head of this article. Wax says this about discerning our times:
“The danger of failing to discern our current times correctly is that we will succumb to the world’s vision of reality in ways we would never foresee. The difficulty of reading our current times is magnified not only by what we do see in their times but also in what we don’t”
Trevin Wax, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2018), 97.
The big three, the main rival eschatologies in this book are:
The Sexual Revolution
We could probably all look at those are foreign concepts that other people deal with, or which we may need to help others deal with, but not issues for us. “I’m the neutral,” we might think, “He’s not talking about me.” The reality is that we’re all probably influenced by all three of these rivals to different extents, either visibly or invisibly, simply as a result of living in western cultures.
You’ve likely seen graphs that look something like this, if we created some kind of test to figure out your invisible propensities, where do you think those points would fall for you? In addition, what other rivals are present in your life that you allow to dictate what you hope for other than God?
Drugs or Alcohol
These are all fairly obvious, and they are certainly more difficult than can be aptly represented in a mere list, but if you can’t identify your own tendencies towards idols and rival eschatologies in your own life, how on earth do you think you could do the same for others?
Wax does a much better job of helping us with this, but you have to be ready to receive that challenge. Are you?
One Last Thing
Whether you read this book or not, remember one last thing, the last thing.
Paul utters his command to live in holiness within the framework of “day and night.” Believers in Jesus are “children of light” and “children of the day” in contrast to those who “belong to the night or the darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). As children of the day, the fledgling community of faith is to understand “what time it is,” prepare for the imminence of Christ’s return, and build up the church in anticipation for the day Christ returns for his bride (1 Thess 5:9–11).
Trevin Wax, Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context, (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2018), 83.
Christ has come. Christ will come again.
No book, no article, no book review is going to help that along or make it any more or less true. It is, it has always been, it will always be true, the Bridegroom is coming to meet his bride and she will be resplendent and fully sanctified on that day. Are you living in the joy of that day? Is your evangelism flavoured with the truth of it? Is your witness informed by the certainty of it?
That’s a daily struggle, and it’s not something any of us will ever do perfectly, but with each passing hour, we get closer to that day.
I can’t wait.
Grace and Peace,
Adsum Try Ravenhill