December 26, 2007

"What the Scripture Means to Me"

Speaking of cliches, this is yet another that I hope our prepared women's ministry leaders will choose to confront this year. I've heard this from women in bible studies as well as from seasoned leaders. As they discuss a portion of Scripture, it inevitably comes back to the individual, themselves. They begin the sentence with "what this verse means to me is..." and then they go on to explain how a particular experience helps them to understand the meaning of the verse. At best, they share how the verse speaks to their own circumstances, yet they do this prior to working out the actual meaning associated with the context of the passage. Either way, this approach not only encourages a mishandling of Scripture and a misapplication of the text, it also neglects to honor to the inspired meaning. I do hope we won't throw inspiration out the window.

The problem with "what the Scripture means to me" is that it is, by definition, creating an environment for subjective interpretation. We are in dangerous territory when we encourage this manner of handling the Bible as we are ultimately allowing for many understandings of a given passage. Who can argue with anyone's subjective experience? I'm reminded of yet another overly used cliche, "the Lord led me..." who can argue with that? Appealing to God in this manner, taking the self out of the decision making process, makes it virtually impossible to argue against. We must be so careful with the use of our evangelical vernacular. Interpretation of a passage may sometimes be difficult, but a proper understanding of the meaning is our ultimate goal.

We have been given the responsibility to teach from the Scriptures and to teach others how to understand them on their through their own studies. We need to discourage the type of subjectivity that encourages the reader to be self-centered instead of Christ-centered. Ours is a faith that includes our every facet, let's not neglect the role of the mind.

December 25, 2007

A Personal Relationship with Jesus: Goals for Women's Ministry Leaders

Has the call to have "a personal relationship with Jesus" become more of a cliche that feeds into our individualistic ideals, or does is point clearly to the need to know Jesus as both human and divine and his redemptive work on the cross? Does "a personal relationship with Jesus" bring to mind the core doctrines of the Christian faith, or does it propose a feminized Christianity that appeals to our therapeutic needs as something separate from our intellectual life.

As I have been thinking about the work of women's ministries in the local church in the upcoming year, I hope that this is the year that our womens ministry leaders will not only move away from the cliches and stereotypes, but actually refute them. And so I challenge each of you to consider this, "a personal relationship with God," and be prepared to talk to the women in your ministries about what this really means.

My friend, Keith Plummer, addressed this issue in a blogpost in 2005. I'm thankful for the archiving of blogs as this is one you should take a look at. In it, Keith reflects:
Talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus is so deeply entrenched in evangelical discourse that calling it into question may strike us as sacrosanct. But hopefully we're willing to ask, along with Noll, whether this emphasis is due more to an attempt to be biblically faithful or to the imbibing of American cultural values (e.g., individualism).

In one sense, the idea of needing to come to Christ in order to have a personal relationship with God is misleading. Every person stands in a relationship with God. Coming to Christ changes the nature of that relationship from one of condemned criminals before a just judge to that of pardoned and accepted sinners graciously adopted into a nurturing family. So, the critical question as far as the gospel is concerned, is not so much whether one has a personal relationship with God but rather what kind of relationship one has.

What is the nature of your relationship with Jesus? Is it grounded in an understanding of the Scriptures? Is it purely existential in that it that the relationship is reduced to merely the individual experience? Is the relationship measured qualitatively according to how you feel on a given day? Does your understand ing of who God is include a biblical anthropology?

It's not about whether or not you have a relationship with Jesus, it's about what that relationship looks like. We have the Scriptures to teach us about who God is and how he has acted in history. Because the testimony of Scripture points to a sovereign Lord who cares about even the smallest details of our lives, we can call him our personal savior. He works within human history, having his hand on the course of events without limitation. This is the God who can be trusted and depended upon. Does your relationship with Jesus acknowledge this truth?

Women's ministry leaders: make 2008 the year for reflecting on the sovereignty of God.

December 24, 2007

Is a Blastocyst an Embryo?

This is an interesting question as we ponder the birth of our Savior this Christmas Eve. I wasn't anticipating that this was even a question but as I began checking out some of the usages of the term blastocyst, I found myself intrigued.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a blastocyst is
a preimplantation embryo of about 150 cells produced by cell division following fertilization. The blastocyst is a sphere made up of an outer layer of cells (the trophoblast), a fluid-filled cavity (the blastocoel), and a cluster of cells on the interior (the inner cell mass).

So to rightly understand the use of the term blastocyst, we need to think not about what it is, but when and where it is. To answer the question: yes, a blastocyst is by its very definition an embryo, an embryo that has not yet implanted into the uterine wall, which is the distinction associated with the term 'preimplantation'. But the lack of implantation does not change the genetic makeup of the embryo, it simply is a geographical difference, not a logical or biological difference.

Be careful not to be confused by those who support the pursuit of embryonic stem cell research. I see them deliberately moving between the use of terms like 'blastocyst' and 'embryo'in order to create confusion because if you believe an embryo is a human being, but don't believe a blastocyst is yet an embryo, why would you object to this area of research?

December 16, 2007

Ruby Slippers: An Interview with Jonalyn Grace Fincher

The following is an interview that I did with writer Jonalyn Grace Fincher on her new book Ruby Slippers. Jonalyn is a Christian apologist who, with her husband, has a ministry called Soulation. Both Jonalyn and I look forward to your questions and comments!
Sarah: Jonalyn, thank you so much for talking to us about your book Ruby Slippers. You say in your book that you "will not offer the final words on femininity." I find that your book is helpful to begin thinking about femininity of the soul, perhaps more of an abstract distinction from masculinity. Do you think that's a helpful way to begin to unmask the stereotypical perspectives on femininity in the evangelical community?

Jonalyn: Sarah, this is my favorite topic, women and God’s value for us. Thanks for asking me to join you!

In answer to your question, I think the evangelical community needs to get beyond our stereotypes if we’re going to get at helpful, practical, essential differences between men and women. You know it’s interesting when you go into Christian College libraries. There are mounds of books on femininity, how to be a godly woman, how to be a Biblical woman, how to excel in femininity and on and on. But as you read them (especially the older ones) you can’t help but smirk and find exceptions to the rule. If we’re claiming to know the final answers on femininity we need to make sure our answers are not culturally bound. We need more back-up examples than anecdotes or cultural norms of the day. That’s why I refused to offer final words. Femininity is not something clearly stated and defined in Scripture, for that reason we need to tread carefully, humbly, flexibly as we talk about what makes a woman female. But there are, I believe, some sure words to walk into about our womanhood. My book is about those sure words.

Sarah: No doubt the issue of femininity is front and center for many women. I had never thought about needing to define femininity prior to reading Ruby Slippers, I just knew that I was different from other women and it wasn't because I don't have an appreciation for make-up, lace, or tea parties. In fact, I love those things. Your book admits the problem of defining femininity and provides a philosophical framework to think about it that is called "family resemblance." Can you explain how this is helpful for women to begin thinking about understanding femininity?

Jonalyn: Family Resemblances is a way of defining something that is hard to nail down with a simple list. For instance, it’s easy to define a mammal (all mammals have vertebrae, four-chambered heart, sweat glands, nurse their young, are warm-blooded, etc), but when it comes to femininity or masculinity, it gets much harder. That doesn’t mean, as many have believed, that you cannot define femininity. It does mean we need another tool.

Femininity isn’t the only thing that’s tough to define. Art, religion, beauty and pornography, for example, are also difficult. When we run into trouble in these areas, many philosophers use Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblances, which is a more flexible list of items.

It works like this. In my family, the Taylor family, there are certain similarities that make us belong, things like brown eyes, thin build, curly thick hair, olive skin, long-distance muscles, connected ear lobes, last name is “Taylor”, etc. But, in my family, one member, my Aunt, was adopted from Korea. Now, my Aunt only many of these family resemblances, she has Taylor for her last name, thick hair and brown eyes, but she doesn’t have all on the list. But we don’t say she doesn’t belong to the Taylor family. You don’t need all the resemblances to be a bona fide Taylor, you only need a few.

Family resemblances is a way to find the common characteristics in a grouping. The list is flexible because you don’t need all the items to fit and having more items on the list doesn’t make you any more a “Taylor” than having less.

This works well for something like femininity, there are many things that most women share, but only a few (I argue just one, our souls interwoven with a female body) that all women share. So we should focus on this one universal family resemblance, examine, research, talk and make a big deal of it. We should not make other women feel less feminine because they don’t have all family resemblances, just like I should not make my Aunt feel like she’s not a Taylor because she doesn’t have connected ear lobes.

Sarah: Do you think it's possible that femininity is simply a cultural construct and that might explain why femininity is as easy to nail down as jello?

Jonalyn: Though femininity does vary according to culture, I’d say it varies in the flexible manifestations (the family resemblances that are not essential). It’s easy to assume that variety means femininity is culturally formed or to assume there is no core femininity to all women, but I can’t agree. I’m an essentialist when it comes to femininity, I just think the essentials are few. Femininity like all aspects of humanity has been hurt by the Fall. That means, we will need other cultures to help inform our femininity, to glimpse new ways of being female that our own culture has silenced, but variety won’t dispense with the one universal family resemblance we all share.

You could compare the variety in femininity to the variety in application of morality. In some instances it is not good to lie, in others it is good to lie (Corrie Ten Boom in Nazi Germany, for instance), but we know there is a foundational moral code that says it is not good to deceive for the sake of harming your neighbor (as the Ten Commandments say). But just because you apply morality in different ways across cultures and across times, we don’t doubt that there is such a thing as unchanging morality.

In the same way, though we do see various ways femininity is applied in a culture, femininity at core (owning a female body) is an essential part of every woman, no matter how feminine she feels or acts. Femininity is wound into her soul. That’s what Ruby Slippers is about, walking into the freedom and community of womanhood.

Sarah: The Bible speaks of women not really from a perspective of femininity, but more in terms of how their character does or does not align with God's character. I think of the woman of Proverbs 31 in this manner. As well, we see in Mary of Bethany, in a sense, renegotiating womanhood--at Jesus feet. We see the sacrificial, Christ-like nature of Ruth choosing to remain with her mother-in-law instead of returning to Moab. There are countless examples. Do you believe our femininity is an element of our character?

Jonalyn: In Ruby Slippers I make a very big deal about the soul, that immaterial core of every human being that holds our mind, will, feelings, desires and for that matter, character, too. I don’t think you can dissect character from soul. In fact, a good way to define our character, is “the habits of our soul.” All aspects of character (integrity, faithfulness, self-sacrifice, etc) are aspects that are rooted in our souls.

So if our femininity changes our soul (meaning femininity orients our minds, feelings, will differently) then it goes without saying that femininity will affect our character as well. I don’t see how being a woman could not affect our character.

The way we see life is essentially different by the very body we have. And our female body interwoven with our soul affects what builds our character. We have different material to grow character out of, cycles every month, weight gain and loss relative to motherhood, different weight distribution that affects our ability to do manual labor, pregnancy, lactation, menopause and many more.

If a soldier built his long-suffering character out of manual labor in concentration camps, he will have different textures in his character than a woman who builds her long-suffering character out of the loss of two children in childbirth. Different situations build different character strengths. That’s part of why the body of Christ needs both men and women.

Sarah: In chapter 7, I was intrigued by the revealing of "our secrets." For those who have not read the book yet, it is a secret prejudice women in the church have against other women. These women tend to want approval more from males than females, they take more seriously male leaders as well as prefer their direction. (page 170). You go on to suggest that our prejudice is based on flawed perceptions of femininity, that we believe that femininity is inferior. Is it possible that there is something else going on here other than a prejudice that is based on flawed perceptions of femininity? I agree there is a prejudice, but based on the conversations I have with other women, I wonder if the prejudice is based more on having been alienated by women and the unwelcoming nature of the evangelical women's ministry culture. This is a culture that, in many ways, promotes a very narrow view of what it means to be a Christian woman. As a result, professional and intellectual women have a hard time fitting in to the extent that everyone including themselves thinks their is something wrong with them. So even though I agree that prejudices and loss of respect for each other are wrong, I understand how these prejudices have developed and need to be addressed as we are doing here. Do you think it's possible to view this prejudice as a symptom of a larger or different problem?

Jonalyn: I do think this prejudice of women against women is a symptom of a larger problem, but not a different problem. Since both sexes are riddled with weakness, both have played up to the world's expression of their gender; both sexes have reason to think their sex is inferior. Interestingly enough, as I've begun a quest into masculinity I've found men are as homeless and insecure in their masculinity as women are in their femininity. And you can even find men who prefer women's company to men. These aren't just gay men, either. There are "same-sex-bashers" among men and women. The prejudice against our own sex makes me realize that we are not comfortable with gender. This homelessness gives rise to all sorts of nastiness in the church’s body. And herein lies the root of the larger problem. This is a nastiness as old as the Judgment in Eden.

Whenever a culture (be it Christian or pagan) teaches that a woman’s soul is deficient in mind, will, emotions, spirit (and this usually doesn’t sound so blatant, it might sound like “a woman is not capable of leading as well as a man” or even a compliment “women are more naturally loving”), my alarm bell goes off. Not because I do not believe in differences, I do, but I do not believe in differences in soul capacity. I believe in difference in the way these capacities (mind, will, emotion, spirit) are manifested, but I do not see that an intelligent woman in leadership is any less feminine than an emotional man in childcare is less masculine. Both the emotional man and the intelligent woman are human. Thinking and feeling are human abilities not gendered ones. Before the judgment there was mutuality, the sexes cooperating in the task of taking dominion. Now, we find that each person is afraid. We live as if there is only one Validation Pie, with a limited number of slices. Only the truly valuable ones get a validation slice, the rest continue homeless and hungry. This idea that validation and love only comes in a limited supply is a fallen masculine idea, one that females have eagerly swallowed when they try to show they can do anything “as good as a man.” They forget that becoming like men does not validate us anymore than distancing ourselves from women validates us. The truth of Christ is that all of us get a slice of validation, male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek.

All the hyper-polarized lists of femininity and masculinity, popularized in evangelical culture, actually point back to the original battle between the sexes, begun in Gen 3:16, not the goal of Man and Woman pre-Judgment in Gen 1 and 2. Because of the judgment, “he shall rule over you”, we find woman and man pitted against one another, exaggerating their differences, pointing to insecurities, clambering for validation. And in this battle each person tries to come out with more, even if she must denigrate her sex to do so. In this thousand year battle it’s so much simpler to get validation by meeting the cultural norms of femininity, fighting over the slices of “biblical womanhood” trying to validate our existence. For a piece of the pie, women have silenced their gifts, their minds, their interests, their opinions, their souls. Men have, as well, but that’s another book altogether.

Today, in the wake of Christ’s work, the only reason I can see for assuming femininity is inferior is if we choose to live under the Judgment of Gen 3. And to be honest, that's where most Christian women have parked. In the words of the politician Patricia Schroeder, “Many women have more power than they recognize, and they’re very hesitant to use it, for they fear they won’t be loved.” We live as if Christ did not love us. We think we have to live under the curse of Gen 3. Even though we have chosen to take Christ's redemption for eternal life, lifting the curse of Gen 3:19, we bar Christ from helping us with the gender war and our own insecurities with being women. Our fear of never finding validation in our femininity prevents us from honoring others in own sex. It’s a huge problem. My next book is going to delve deeper into this tendency in women, unpacking the root issue to show in practical ways how we can walk out of prejudice and into friendship.

Sarah: Ruby Slippers is an excellent resource for helping women breakdown the stereotypes and think about who they are as an image bearer. Is there anything you'd like to share with our readers?

Jonalyn: Thank you, Sarah!

If there’s one thing I’d love to tell your readers it would be this:

I’d want them to know that every part of them (body and soul) is magnificent to God, that they are worthy of honoring God on earth, that they don’t need to do anything better to be God’s image bearer (see pg 187 in Ruby Slippers for a more polished take on this). I’d want to refresh their perspective on verse like, I Cor 11:7, “but the woman is the glory of man.”

I think this is a promotion not a demotion. We can see God’s love for women in this passage. Isn’t it lovely that God did not make another man for the glory of Adam? Nope, a man couldn’t do it. Only woman is the glory of man. That phrase needs a lot of unpacking, but I think theologian Thomas Hopko gets at it when he says, “Adam cannot be the image and glory of God without Eve.” It’s time to live as the image-bearers we are.

December 3, 2007

What Makes a Woman an Intellectual?

It's come up recently in conversation and in email, what exactly do I mean when I speak of intellectual women? What does intellectual mean? Is it highly exclusionary in that it references only academic women with a few advanced degrees? Does it imply an IQ way off the charts? Does intellectual refer to women with who only engage in the use of multi-syllablic words that even a spell-check doesn't know like supralapsarianism, self-referential incoherence, anthropomorphism, and hypostasis?

Let me put you at ease. I won't speak for the other 'Elle's, but I think Meriam-Webster's definition is helpful. In part, it suggests an intellectual is someone who is given to study, reflection, and speculation. A lot of women might say that they identify with this definition, and I definitely believe it's more inclusive than exclusive. A woman doesn't have to be in academics for this definition to apply, she just simply needs to be a thoughtful, reflective student. We should be life-long learners, always eager to grow in all ways. The definition introduces the term speculate which simply refers to pondering a subject, very similar to reflection.

So someone who is an intellectual is someone who cares to study. I would add that such a person seeks careful reflection, analysis, and application. Without the application, there is no real study because all that matters in life is worth study and all that is worth study matters to life.

So are you an intellectual? Probably so. And if you are, be sure to join the FaceBook group Out of the Box: Fellowship of Intellectual Christian Women

November 29, 2007

Henry Hyde Died Today at the Age of 83

I just saw this reported on Fox's website. Hyde was a staunch advocate for the unborn and known for the amendment to ban federal funding for abortions - the Hyde Amendment.

While sorry to hear of his passing, we can take joy in his legacy and the work that will continue as a result of his civil service.

Women's Ministry Leaders & Higher Education

I'm on the train right now (8:10 am Central time) and I realized that it would be very intriguing to learn what kind of education women in ministry have obtained for the purpose of their work. Do you have a counseling degree? Theological? Bible? And why on earth does it matter?

I think it matters to the extent that it may (though not always) reflect your presuppositions for the needs of women. Do they need a more therapeutic experience? Do they need to dig deeper into theology? Maybe women just need to learn Greek and you want to teach them? Of course, women's leaders can have more than one emphasis.

So if you don't mind, please humor me and let me know where your educational emphasis has been, and tell me if that is the core emphasis of your ministry or if it's more balanced than that.

November 26, 2007

The Book Shelf

Last week was a great time for me to catch up on some reading and some writing! But the hiatus is over and I'm back. I thought to begin the week I'd share with you some of the things I'm currently reading:

Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (My review will be out shortly)

The Two Tasks of the Christian Scholar

A Beginner's Guide to Crossing Cultures

What are you reading?

November 24, 2007

...As Nature Intended

I don't believe there's anything natural about harvesting eggs and creating embryos through SCNT. Nor is there anything natural about fertilizing eggs outside the womb and cryopreserving them. What do I mean by natural?
Present in or produced by nature
Not produced or changed artificially; not conditioned
So you can understand my amusement by a post at Women's Bioethics Project that takes issue with the recent developments in stem cell research. The post seeks to negate this research by pointing to potential problems:
The only problem with this is that it also creates tertomas which are nasty little creatures - effectively a germ cell tumor which may contain hair, teeth, bones, eyeballs, torsos and hands.
This has already been shown to occur with embryonic stem cells. But wait, it gets better. Here is what they suggest:
instead of trying to create human embryonic stem cells from someone's nose or foreskin, let us do the research on embryos as nature intended. (emphasis definitely mine.)

November 17, 2007

Ministry to the Other Women

No matter the size of your church, you have an idea of what works for your women's ministry, so much of what we do is "safe." Everyone enjoys the holiday tea, the cozy bible studies, and the efforts to use chocolate as a tool for building strong community. I'm not opposed to these events and quite enjoy the opportunity to excuse myself from the monotony of the every day and the ever-so stressful tyranny of the urgent. But enough about me....

There are many kinds of women who our ministries will never reach, so we shouldn't be too quick to beat ourselves up. But in my experience and based on the emails I receive from women, their are women in the church who are available and capable to reach out to women with more intellectual interests. If there are women in your church or on your women's ministry team who have an interest in this area, don't write them off - set them up to succeed in this area of ministry.

Today, women are excelling in higher education and our women's ministries just are not equipped to reach them. Many of these women simply are not available for Wednesday morning bible studies, have little time for retreats, and feel out of place in women's ministry settings as they currently exist. But there are ways to impact these women. Create opportunities to challenge their mind and not just their heart. This can be done through book discussion groups, apologetics studies, and Bible studies that do more than scratch the surface. Go to events at local colleges, coffee shops, and community forums and see what women are discussing. I guarantee they are not talking about how to make homemade baby wipes. They want to know how to identify truth, live authentic lives that help others, and live a life of integrity in spite of the uphill challenges women still face in our society. They want to know how to serve God in ways outside of the kitchen and nursery. God gifts women in many ways, and some of us just don't have a clue about hospitality.

These women, like many other women I know, are uninterested in being emotionally vulnerable, they want to discuss the reasons for their beliefs - or even the reasons for your belief. We live in a world where it seems very likely that a woman is about to become President of the worlds greatest superpower (whether we like it or not), so women are expecting more. With an uncompromising Gospel message of Christ, sin and salvation, let's meet the 21st century women where they are at.

Join the Facebook group
Out of the Box: Fellowship of Intellectual Christian Women for more discussion and ideas on these and related topics.

November 14, 2007

An Evangelical "Church" Split

Rereading the charming wit of Dorothy Sayers, I see how she has a profound way of speaking to the plight of the church even in our own 21st century context. In Creed of Chaos? she speaks intelligently of the gospel:
It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all.(p. 36)
So in a recent article published by Willow Creek in their Seismic Shift edition, I can't help but to think on Sayers' words as I read the words below:
A spiritually formed person loves God and loves others, but love is not just a feeling. It's doing things that are showing God's love in the world. It really comes down to, what is the gospel? What gospel do we preach? If the gospel is merely that Jesus came to die for our sins, so that if we believe in him we can go to heaven some day, then there is no need for spiritual formation. We're all just waiting. But what if the gospel is the work of God to transform human beings into people who love God and love others? What if it is big enough to change people, so that they begin to act in ways that give witness to that gospel? (page 13)
These are the words of Scott McKnight as quoted by Willow Creek. I'm not exactly sure who believes that you can be saved and not transformed in your daily living, I don't even know any hypercalvinists who believe this. This is simply not the message of the Gospel. So why say it? There is no argument from me or any other evangelical that the outworking of our salvation is transformed lives and the lives of others. But to suggest that some so-called Christians hold seems necessary to give weight to the next statement - what if it is big enough to change people, so that they begin to act in ways that give witness to that gospel?

The article continues:
For years the term "social gospel" was considered a dirty word of sorts in evangelical circles. The thinking was that fighting social ills was not as important as saving souls. But some Christian leaders, especially those in the spiritual formation movement, are hoping that the church is waking up to the fact that those two goals are not mutually exclusive. (page 13)
There is no doubt in my mind that Christians of all denominations fail in ministry. We are often hypocrites and liars and cheaters and who knows what else. But this isn't the exclusive domain of evangelicalism as the article would like to suggest.

My understanding of "social gospel" is not represented well here either. And I realize that it's one of those terms which can vary in definition and understanding, but there has historically been a closeness between the social gospel and liberation theologies.

It's never been an either/or thing for me, and while every Christian can improve upon their witness in society, I've never heard an evangelical suggest that we shouldn't fight social ills because it would distract from the work of evangelism. If that were true, many evangelicals would refrain from their work in the prolife arena (or is this not a legitimate area of social concern? Just asking). What I have heard, and oft repeated, are the famous words of Assisi, to "share the gospel, use words if necessary." When has the gospel been communicated without words? The gospel without words is the essence of the social gospel I have seen promoted, especially by mainline denominations. The Gospel of Jesus Christ states that we are sinners, yet Christ died so that we may live....believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. Belief in something is a requirement, the work of the gospel relates to our sanctification and if we are failing in this area, then it is because we are not teaching believers a complete picture of Christianity.

What I want to know is if others see what I see. I see an anti-political sentiment coming from the proponents of this "emerging social gospel" which binds the work of their fellow evangelicals in the public realm instead of supporting it. I see the politically-interested or politically-involved evangelical being told that they have a choice - help the poor or protect the unborn. Recent books suggesting that Christians are perceived as too political make it difficult for evangelicals to continue the work they've been called to because of the perceptions of younger generations, mosaics and busters. Are we to conform our work and our mission to the perceptions of the average man because he doesn't understand it's value and importance? Are evangelicals to sit back and continue being told that they don't care about the poor, the widows, or orphans? Perception is reality only because we're not speaking truth. Let's get back to the work of discipleship or evangelicalism is sure to complete a church split.

November 12, 2007

Gender, Identity, and Ministry

I recently heard from a young woman (I assume from Biola) who had this to say at Flash Point:
I am ... surrounded by many intellectual single women who see no definition of womanhood outside the context of marriage and children...Before single women learn to engage their culture, they need to understand their own identity, and part of that is their gender.
I understand the longing to have God speak to each of our circumstances. For myself especially, it often feels hopeless being a thinking Christian woman with academic aspirations, but also being unequally yoked....I'm not exactly the posterchild for what is considered the ideal Christian woman. I have a lot to say about relationships, faith in God, and functional singleness as a married woman. But the bible doesn't have a lot to say about my particular situation, and so I depend on knowing what God has revealed to all of us.

So I ask, does a woman need to contemplate her femininity, her identity as a woman, prior to exercising her intellectual gifts? Outside or independent of the question of pastoral or elder leadership in the church, the answer is 'no.' These areas of leadership are not the only place in which the life of the mind is relevant. There is not monopoly on the role of the intellect by church leaders. Christians who tend toward the academic or intellectual in their gifts find themselves baffled by how to serve, but none more than women.

Does a man first contemplate his gender or identity as a man prior to his inquiry about the meaning of life, the problem of evil, the nature of the atonement, or which method of apologetics is most biblical? Obviously not. While I do hold that it is important to have a proper perspective on roles in the church, there is no exclusive correlation between these roles and the life of the mind. No where in Scripture are women asked to suppress their talents, but to use them to God's glory within the framework that is established in Scripture. And this is not limiting of women, the issue of roles in the church is very small in light of how large our world is. Women aren't expected to disengage their mind so as to cause men to look more intelligent. In fact, Mary of Bethany would have been with Martha in the kitchen if this was the expectation. What Jesus said was that being at his feet was "the good part."

So does this answer Amy Beth's concern? I think Mary of Bethany is a great example of a single Christian woman pursuing God. But I don't think her gender was a consideration in her sitting where she was until it was pointed out that she wasn't conforming to the cultural norms that existed at that time.

The definition for Christian womanhood (single or otherwise) is this: to be an obedient follower of Christ, willing and eager to serve the church with the gifts God has blessed her with. Let's not assume that so much is wrapped up in our gender that we cannot do anything until we understand what it is that makes us not male. What about what makes us human? I believe that understanding that we've been created in the image of God is of much greater significance and it is from there that we must function.

November 8, 2007

GodBlogCon: Day 1 Highlights

This has been such a tremendous day! More than a networking of Godbloggers, this event is a reminder of the purpose for our writing and the responsibility associated with it. Whether we're solo bloggers or members of a group blog like Intellectuelle, we are playing an important role in the shaping of culture - for years to come. We're also reminded that the thoughts we put out in the blogosphere are going to stay around for a long time, so we must choose our words wisdom because not only is our own reputation at stake, severe damage can be done to our testimony if we are unguarded in our work.

Everyone I heard speak today was awesome. Al Mohler's knowledge if the 20th century media has been helpful in seeing how fast technology is moving - who the heck knows where we'll be in the next 10 years. John Mark Reynolds proved himself to be a passionate in his love for God, calling each of us to reflect in our blogs on what is good, true, and beautiful (later alluded to again by the rock star, Joe Carter.)

Every speaker was exceptional, and Bonnie's discussion on women in ministry helped everyone to consider a broader perspective on the ways women contribute to society and how we can all benefit from their use of the blogs. Women serve God in many ways, not just in local church ministry.

I'm already looking forward to next year and I hope more of you will join us!

November 6, 2007

Response to "Abortion Isn't a Religious Issue" by Garry Wills

Abortion isn't a religious issue according to Garry Wills in a LA Times opinion. If you read the article with a highlighter, searching it for fallacies, you will have a very colorful document when finished. Please check out the article for yourself, I want to address some core issues here.

First of all, this rant against evangelicals opposing abortion on the basis of religion is terribly amusing given that he doesn't quote a single evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, bioethicist, biologist, etc. Interestingly, he suggests that the relevant experts are
philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear.
Apparently his circle of influence is very small, he can't even find a Christian philosopher? And by virtue of his list of qualified professionals, he's left himself out, thus rendering his commentary null and void. After all, what could a historian possibly know about human dignity, when life begins, or about theological arguments supporting the life position?!

For a historian, he does make an excellent point about the issue of exceptions. I agree with him that a consistent life ethic would exclude making exceptions for abortion, because as he states,
"the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived." I've called Sean Hannity on this before.

The heart of Wills' article is the belief that "there is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion." It's curious that he includes 'defending' abortion, I'm sure the folks at RCRC aren't very happy with him on that. What Wills misses is an entire body of work on the topic of human dignity. Human dignity is the basis for respecting persons and is grounded in the fact that all persons are created in the image of God. This is the basis for the evangelical prolife position and Wills misses it entirely.

The absurdities of this article continue with statements such as
The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life -- it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.
Is this guy serious? Sperm is a necessary component of fertilizing an egg (unless we are talking about SCNT) but the sperm on its own will never mature into an adult human person. Do we really have to explain these things?

November 5, 2007

Biotechnology and the Human Good: Book Review

As human life and dignity continues to face unrelenting assault from the influences of secularism in our culture, I am thankful to know that this book is available. Biotechnology and the Human Good brings biotechnology where it belongs - in the realm of worldview and philosophy.

Biotechnology and the Human Good (BHG) is coauthored by experts in the field of bioethics: C. Ben Mitchell, Edmund Pellegrino, Jean Bethke Elshtain, John F. Kilner, and Scott Rae. BHG provides discussion on the philosophical framework that structures the dominant worldviews in the bioethics arena: Christian theism, Philosophical Naturalism and Environmentalist Biocentrism. It then moves into a discussion on human dignity in relationship to biotechnology, considering various views in light of the critical assessment criteria comprehensiveness, consistency, and credibility. Comprehensiveness addresses the application of the concept of human dignity, that it "covers all people to whom the term appropriately applies." (p. 65). Consistency refers to the concept of human dignity being able to "withstand the critiques it levels at other approaches." (p. 65). Credibility speaks to the plausibility of the concept, that it "accords with what we know about the present and what we hope about the future." (p. 65).

Near the end of the book there lists presuppositions for engagement. They are:

1. We must begin with the affirmation of a creator of everything.
2. We also affirm that the biblical account is the best guide to understanding the nature, problems, and ends of human life.
3. As all human beings-regardless of age or level of development, health, disability, or status-are God's imagers, each is worthy of respect and protection.
4. Human beings are also distinct from human tissues.
5. Human beings were created for community and communion, with God and with one another.
6. The fundamental problem of humankind is not physical or mental inadequacy, but sin.

Finally, I want to share this quote from chapter seven as I believe it addresses a larger problem.
The challenges presented by advancing technologies, particularly biotechnologies, are growing almost exponentially. Yet...we are theologically ill equipped to address these challenges wither individually or collectively. One of the major deficiencies lies in the fact that theology has too often become an arcane, academic discipline. We have forgotten...the Puritans, who understood that for theology to have meaning, it must permeate every aspect of life...The theological community must take up the issues we raise in this book and lift its sights from its own intradisciplinary conversations to an interdisciplinary engagement with medicine, philosophy, law, science, industry, and the lay community. For only in the context of a robust, practical theology of living can a workable theology of technology and biotechnology be developed.
As members of the Christian community, we are barely having the conversation about biotechnology or bioethics in general in an intradisciplinary manner. As members of the Church, we need to educate and equip believers on these issues so that they are prepared to give an answer when they least expect they will need one. This is an excellent resource for the Church and for college/seminary students as they consider how to minister in contemporary culture.

Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C.
ISBN: 1589011384

November 1, 2007

Access to Health Care is a Pro-life Issue

I do a lot of things on the train - read, listen to Van Til or some 80's music on my iPod....sometimes I talk to I was too tired to do any of that....especially since my iPod froze and I couldn't hear Van Til on Barth. So I decided to spend the time in my own thoughts. Last night I had been reading Clouser's Myth of Religious Neutrality, so I was able to interact with some ideas as I dozed between stops. The essence of his book is that all theories are reducible to religious belief, and so the only way to not have religious belief is to not have theories. He defines religious belief as
any belief in something or other as divine. 'Divine' means having the status of not depending on anything else. (pp. 21-22)
So you're wondering what the heck this has to do with universal health care. Contemplating the upcoming presidential election, one cannot avoid this issue. I've heard it stated by a colleague that health care should be available to everyone, it shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right. Looking at it another way, according to her, it is a moral obligation on the part of American taxpayers to make a way for every American to have affordable access to health care. Despite the great difficulties and complexities in developing such a system, many of which I doubt could actually be overcome, I find myself agreeing with her in theory, and the reason I agree is because arguments for such a system are grounded in the belief of human dignity. Like the abortion debate, access to health care is a life issue.

This isn't hard to wrap our minds around. We care for each other on a variety of levels, and when a friend or loved one is sick, we want to see them well, and that may mean taking them to a doctor or hospital. It is a moral obligation within our relationships to care for one another this way because to do otherwise would be to neglect their life. And the basis for that is love and respect of the inherent dignity of all persons and is rooted in the imago dei. We can think of dignity as both something each person has, and also in the way that persons are treated by other persons. But no one gives dignity, all people have it.

So back to the issue of health care. Any moral obligation is dependent on something beyond ourselves, otherwise there is no moral obligation. Health care for all Americans is nothing less than a religious, prolife argument - I'd really like for the presidential contenders to call it what it is.

October 29, 2007

UnChristian: A Call to Discipleship

This weekend I read UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons and I have a variety of reactions to it. The book reads a lot like Sarah Cunningham's Dear Church in that it expresses the reasons - in detail - why today's younger generations want little to do with the institutional church or Christianity altogether.

One reaction I have to this book is that it's not telling me anything I don't already know, the same reaction I had to Sarah Cunningham's book. Yes, Christians are hypocritical people and we have a degree of responsibility even for the misconceptions or perceptions that people might have about the Christian faith. But in this book's emphasis on what we need to do to win over the mosaics and busters, there is another message of discipleship to be had.

We've seen a serious decline in recent decades in the teaching of theology to the Church. People live fragmented, disjointed lives because they haven't been taught to love God with their heart, soul, and mind. They haven't been taught to think and act Christianly in all areas of life. The entertainment-focused seeker movement has been no help in this regard, a knee-jerk reaction to the church's focus on the content of Christian belief.

I hear it said by those who define themselves as "missional" (new term applied to an obviously biblical concept) that we do much naval-gazing and not enough ministry outside of the Church. As much as we need to do that ministry outside of the church and in the community, the pastor can't do it alone. If we aren't making time to disciple - really teach the people in the pew, then it isn't going to do a lot of good to talk about what speaks to the mosaics and busters. It's time to become a truly theological community, consider the difficult doctrines, understand the meaning of the doctrines on our daily living, and know that theology worked out in our lives is one that expresses love and action that is congruent with the words and actions of Jesus. Just telling Christians to be kind and loving is like putting a band-aid on an infected toe. We must deal with the foundational issues so that amputation doesn't become necessary. I agree with UnChristian's assessment of the Christian community, I just hope that people understand that this comes down to rigorous discipleship.

Actions of love, respect, kindness, acceptance, etc., will take you far in a relationship, but unless these ideals are grounded in pure Christian doctrine, they will not be sustained and will be quickly replaced by ignorance.

Living On the Boundaries

This isn't exactly a book review, I will have more on this later - perhaps even in the form of an interview. But if you have a chance, this book is a well written analysis of the relationship between women theologians, feminism, and the academy. Let me first get this off the table - I'm not a feminist. However, I think feminism has served well to point out some of the disparities associated with gender. This book largely responds to the question, Where are the good women? as it pertains to women theologians in Christian institutions.

I appreciate this particular thought conveyed by the authors about where some women like us often find ourselves....and it can be very distressing.

For academic women to endure anti-intellectual elements of the subculture and to be marginal in the academic culture is a difficult combination, but one that is often taken on as a call or a responsibility. (p. 42)

Says a female evangelical,

Granted, the anti-intellectual aspects of American evangelicalism can be frustrating, and the anti-woman bias has the potential to get on my last good nerve. However, my identification as an evangelical means that I cannot just abandon them whenever they annoy me. (p. 43)

The theological truths that I hold will always be what steers my involvement in all areas of life. I am not at risk of cutting my ties to evangelicalism either. I'm neither interested in for myself or any other women the role of senior pastor or elder, but I do believe women have a great deal to offer the church in the area of education, and as I continue to pursue my own education and seek my first academic assignments, I'm thankful for women like Nancy Pearcey, Christine Pohl, Nicola Creegan, and others who are opening up the discussion. I'm also thankful for the male academics who have seen and communicate about the injustices to women in the theological academy, and I'm especially grateful for those who inspire me to continue.

Living On the Boundaries, IVP
ISBN: 0830826653

October 25, 2007

Secularism Under God

As I was riding on the train today, I was (of course) thinking about how secularism is both the result and the cause of fragmented thinking and why it is that some choose separate one's values from the realm of truth and reason. In article in Harvard's Under-Current, a student writer proposes that "[w]hen a person attempts to use both eyes simultaneously to reach a decision on a particular issue, he discovers that the two eyes often see things differently. Ultimately, he either follows God—a feeling for which he has no evidence—or he follows reason. No other alternative is possible." This is the typical view had among secular thinkers, a view to which Christians could provide a more explicit response. To reduce belief in God to a feeling reveals the assumptions made about religious belief by this writer.

As a Reformed presuppositionalist, I get it. Faith is a gift from God, unbelieving man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit, and so on. The secularist who hasn't had an encounter with God doesn't yet understand how faith and reason are not incompatible. I believe that this is part of our ministry to them, responding to the negative assumption that faith and reason are foes, and responding positively by establishing their necessarily correlation. Conversations with my 14 year old reveal the priority of this dialogue for all believers, not just academics. He asks about the veracity of Scripture, how we know God exists, the relationship between science and faith, etc. And as we discuss these matters, he's hard-pressed to respond to the arguments that (1) because God exists it's not unreasonable to believe that he would communicate to us through the Scriptures and (2) that by subjecting God to our own authority we are placing ourselves in a higher place than God.

October 24, 2007

And the Point is...

That's what my kids say to me every day...."and the point is...?"...because I am always trying to make a point. (I rarely am asked to get to the point.) So here it is for need to get to the point with a Flash Point mug. Give one to your friends, get a couple for yourself....Christmas is coming, whatta great gift!
flash point - a critical point or stage at which something or someone suddenly causes or creates some significant action

October 23, 2007

Women's Leadership: Someone You Should Know

Dana Leahy, Director of Women's Ministries, Bethel Church & Ministries, Crown Point, Indiana.

Dana recently contacted me about the need to address theological, biblical and culturally relevant issues for women. I was delighted that she contacted me as these are important areas for all women's ministries to consider. Hearing from Dana and women like her who take a particular interest in development of the life of the mind of the women they serve is a great encouragement to me as it shows that women are getting it - that there is more to women's ministry than what we've been told.

Dana was in the middle of a graduate course on Hebrew when she was asked to be on staff. Soon after, she assembled a small leadership team, each focusing on developing the basic components of this ministry: discipleship, service/mission and Bible study. In April, they had a day long seminar that addressed discipleship and how to disciple others and in June they had their kick off for Women on a Mission, a biennial opportunity for the women of Bethel to serve the women and children in our community who are in need.

Dana has a B.A. in Literature and Philosophy.

October 22, 2007


Yesterday I visited a church in the area, and I greatly enjoyed hearing the sermon based on Acts 1:4-15. As the pastor spoke on the role of the Holy Spirit in the areas God has called each of us to, he shared about the contents of a book, about a particular missionary from China. I wish he had better detailed the book, the author I believe was Yung. But he offered a paraphrase from the book and it went something like this, speaking about a plea from the missionary, "Please don't pray for the fall of Communism in China as it is the instrument God is using to shape the Church in China." That was hard to hear, but I'm willing to hear more. If you know this book title, let me know.

Another must-read is this article I just found at USA Today. Written by Dinesh D'Souza, the article offers a brief historical reflection on the foundations of Christianity in science and society. Dinesh writes:

Science is based on what James Trefil calls the principle of universality. "It says that the laws of nature we discover here and now in our laboratories are true everywhere in the universe and have been in force for all time." Moreover, the laws that govern the universe seem to be written in the language of mathematics. Physicist Richard Feynman found this to be "a kind of miracle."

Why? Because the universe doesn't have to be this way. There's no particular reason the laws of nature that we find on Earth should also govern a star billions of light years away. There's no logical necessity for a universe that obeys rules, let alone mathematical ones. So where did Western man get this idea of a lawfully ordered universe? From Christianity.

The title of Dinesh's recently published book is What's So Great About Christianity.

October 17, 2007

Alive and a Life

But embryos and children are patently not the same and the law should not treat them as such.
The above is stated at the Women's Bioethics blog, of the Women's Bioethics Project. Assertions like this are tossed about without explanation, and this quote certainly deserves a bit more attention. It's actually an idea taken from an article "Sex, Lies, and Embryos." An interesting piece, it questions laws in Louisiana that provide a legal status to embryos that is equivalent to that of a born person.

I'm struck by the use of the term "patently" in this quote, however. This isn't an argument from science, rather it's an appeal to what they hope is the common view among Americans. The term patently refers to that which is obvious or plain to see. The only thing that is obvious is the size differential, but that does not speak to the question of the nature of the embryo, merely its size. So the question that has been left unaddressed by this piece is whether the embryo is a life - a person. We know that embryos can be alive or dead, because researchers are not interested in dead embryos as they are useless. Something that also deserves differentiation is the difference between pregnancy and conception, and pregnancy isn't a prerequiste to the existence of a living embryo.

Five Lies the Church Tells Women

Sue Bohlin of Probe, an apologetics ministry based in Texas, has a great piece posted at LeaderU on the functions of women in ministry. I thought you should take a look at are the 5 lies, go read the rest when you have a moment.

Lie #1: God Created Women as Inferior Beings, Destined to Serve Their Husbands.

Lie #2: A Man Needs to "Cover" a Woman in Her Ministry Activities.

Lie #3: Women Can't be Fulfilled or Spiritually Effective Without a Husband or Children.

Lie #4: Women Should Never Work Outside the Home.

Lie #5: Women Must Obediently Submit to Their Husbands in All Situations.

October 15, 2007

Media Bias? Of Course!

As the 2008 primaries and presidential election approach, I anticipate the widespread concern as it relates to the media and it's in/ability to be neutral in its reporting. As a Van Tilian worldview thinker, I know that neutrality is a myth because everyone has a set of lenses through which they view the world. I suppose I can differentiate between the personal views of the journalist and whether the views actually reveal themselves in the work of the journalist, but even in the set of questions framed by a journalist there can be seen a particular lack of objectivity. And that's to be expected.

So when we think about the presuppositional framework that guides the media, we can see one particular dominant stream of thought that can best be described as secular. Wikipedia defines secular as the state of being separate from religion. I suppose that isn't a bad definition, especially as it pertains to the media because the common understanding of objectivity or neutrality (as if it were really possible) is to be void of religious notions. Secularism is deemed the safe place for the religious and nonreligious, but while the media tries to follow the rules of secularism they accomplish 2 very obvious things: they adopt a worldview as they seek to demolish another. This simply cannot be avoided because, again, secularism isn't really a place of safety or neutrality, rather it is an intentionally anti-religious perspective.

So as you continue to be frustrated by reporting in the media, noting obvious flaws in reporting, remember that the journalists are people with their own set of presuppositions about the way things are suppose to be. This isn't an excuse, but rather an explanation. As soon as we have an understanding and appreciation for what the media actually is, we can manage our expectations and react appropriately. I'm not shocked anymore. If there is one thing we can do, we should be quick to point out that we see the media bias and name it - call it what it is - then what will be most evident is that the secular thought is the overarching framework for the media and many in politics, and then it will make sense why it seems that they are working together - because they are.

October 9, 2007

Worldview and Bioethics

As a student of theology and evidential apologetics over 10 years ago, it became clear to me that a piecemeal approach to the content of my faith and the practical day to day was insufficient as it did not cohere with the testimony of Scripture. While Scripture captures a coherent, meaningful story from creation to consummation, it does not embrace the disorder that has plagued humanity since the Fall. And though this chaos is a manifestation of sin in the world, Christianity has not been immune to its influence of fragmentation. This fragmentation is not helpful to the believer in that it will often point him in a direction where God is not. An approach to Christian living that forces our life into fragments – the vocational and the spiritual as examples of the dichotomous secular and sacred- does not serve to give God glory in all areas of our life, even while he is sovereign over it all. This approach to living our lives before God does not represent a biblical worldview. Obviously every practitioner of his or her faith falls short, but it is my belief that the Reformed Christian worldview best captures God’s intent for humankind in all areas of life.

From Scripture, we learn the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, all of which are answers to the questions asked by man since the beginning of time. How did I get here? Why does evil exist? How can things be better? How can I be spared death and live forever? As worldviews representative of other religions attempt to answer these questions, they often find themselves falling short or borrowing from Christianity in order to avoid charges of inconsistency. We find secularism, a religion grounded in man, a not-so-worthy-opponent to the Reformed Christian worldview, yet one that provides a great deal of challenges to the transforming of our culture.

The interdisciplinary nature of bioethics has allowed for many different voices to enter the discussion – scientists, medical professionals, philosophers, politicians and theologians. It is exciting to me, as a theologian, to see how the concept of worldview plays an important role in many, if not all, areas of bioethics including biotechnology, genetic research, end-of-life care, and so on. While bioethics is interdisciplinary, no one is without a worldview, their own set of presuppositions, and theology is able to speak to science, medicine, philosophy and politics.

So the questions of worldview, whether they are Sire’s seven questions or framed by the influence of Orr, Kuyper, or Van Til, are especially relevant to the bioethics discussions now and into the future. The question of origins is especially relevant, not only for the reformed theologian who accepts that man was created in the image of God, but also for the philosopher who posits that we are here by means of evolution. For the scientist and politician, the question may not be about how we got here, but how can we create humans again through the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) for addressing the healthcare needs of humanity through embryo-destructive research. Human dignity is ultimately what is at stake with the question of origins in worldview discussions, and the best theological response to secularism on these issues will come from a reformed point of view.

Other worldview questions extremely important to bioethics matters are: How can things be better? How can I be spared death and live forever? In the advent of physical enhancements, anti-aging remedies, and embryo-destructive research and human cloning, these questions are not only being asked, but they are being answered by those whose presuppositional framework does not acknowledge that man was created in the Image of God. Rather, it is all about the possibilities of scientific progress. They believe physical enhancements or embryo-destructive research for cures should continue to be pursued. Unfettered science is where today’s secularly-minded scientists, politicians, and even some who claim to be religious, believe there is access to cures and to a more dignified way of living – or dying.

The many areas of bioethics including biotechnology and genetic research will continue to have an impact on society and require a worldview analysis from Christians in the field. Training believers to engage these areas is not just a matter of academic training, but also about preparing of families how to best answer dilemmas such as infertility and end-of-life care for family members. Trying to discuss bioethics outside of an integrated worldview framework will always leave the individual with questions and irresolvable inconsistencies. Therefore, considering bioethics issues within the Reformed worldview tradition is the manner in which I choose to educate and equip individuals and groups.

Developing and cultivating a Reformed Christian worldview is important for the Believer who wants to dig deeper into these urgent issues of our time. Bioethical reflection grounded by the Reformed Christian worldview proves to be an effective approach to engaging the issues as it seeks to glorify God as a matter of purpose.

October 8, 2007

Christians, Democracy, and Unbelief

A Crosswalk blogpost by Michael Craven asks the question, are Christians contributing to unbelief? He discusses the influences of recent books written by atheists Dawkins, Hutchins, et al, and wonders why people who profess some kind of belief in God are persuaded to pick up these books. He talked to David Kuo about this:
According to Kuo, a self-professed conservative Christian, growing interest in questions about God's existence may be the result of a "backlash against the mingling of religion, politics and public policy," and this idea that "Jesus was about a particular conservative political agenda." In essence, he means that the actions of some Christians may be encouraging the spiritual seeker to further doubt the existence of God.
He asks the reader to to immediately dismiss Kuo's statement, and by asking
Could it be that our own actions are causing the religiously-inclined but nonetheless lost to doubt the existence of God? Is it possible that the Church is pushing people toward unbelief by virtue of its approach to culture and the world? Has Christianity become so politically defined that true faith and the person of Jesus Christ is obscured in the minds of many? Is it possible that Christians are conducting themselves in such a way that the spiritually seeking are looking anywhere but to Christ? I don't know for sure but I certainly think it is possible and that is enough to make me examine my self in light of these questions. It should cause us all to examine ourselves.
There's a lot of meat in this blogpost, and a lot of good things are mentioned such as the churches come hither attitude rather than having an intentional missional focus. He also draws attention to the church's embrace business methods such that the church resembles a "well-ordered corporation" with no need for God. But I do take issue with a portion of the above quote where he asks "Has Christianity become so politically defined that true faith and the person of Jesus Christ is obscured in the minds of many?"

All persons have the potential to be political because everyone generally has an opinion on an issue facing our world - whether all of our opinoins are valid or well-grounded is another issue. But why is it the Christian's responsibility to appear apolitical when the needs of our culture not only need to be addressed by the church, but sometimes we must involve ourselves in such a way to secure the protections and helps that are needed by so many people? Christians - like any other group of people, may err in their approach to political issues, but Christians and Christian views ought not be forbidden from being a part of the processes of our democratic society. I'm sorry if the errs Christians do make causes anyone to question the integrity of the institution, but I'm not convinced that uninvolving ourselves will make us more "attractive" and, like Craven, I don't think being more attractive is our job. The gospel is our purpose, but we're also called to protect the vulnerable in our society. I think uninvolving ourselves from the democratic process will only benefit our opponents and weaken our testimony to those who depend upon the church as their advocate.

October 7, 2007

Longing to Know More

Ok, I realize that I stole the title of this post from the title of a great book, Longing to Know, written by a very intelligent woman, Esther Meek. Have you ever realized that the more you learn, you realize how little you actually know? That just spurs me to want to learn more. My future goals include teaching in a college or university setting and pursuing phd studies in ethics and theology. I'm open to creative ideas how I can begin the latter, after all, that requires time and money. But I know that God is bigger than me and in him incredible things are possible. I fear that I'm beginning to squander the gifts and talents he's given to me, so I appeal to you. Any thoughts? I long to know so much more, not for my self edification, but for the church and ministry within the larger culture.

October 6, 2007

Synergy: Leadership Summit for Women - Final Thoughts

In my effort to finish blogging through the end of the conference, sadly, my battery died. So I decided I would complete the work and offer you my final thoughts on this extraordinary event. I know many of you have watched Flash Point throughout the event, thanks to Rosalie at Ministry to Women Life Purpose Coaching for her reactions.

So what did you miss? Rosie DeRosset presented Thinking Theologically in a Hollywood Mindset. Offering no apologies, she addressed our culture's preoccupation with sexuality and its embrace of the provocative images - and how the church really isn't all that much different from the world in these matters. It was refreshing to hear her speak about how Christian women's magazines, though different in great degree, embrace and promote unhealthy views on appearances.

Other presenters at the conference were Sarah Cunningham, author of Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation, and my friend Carolyn Custis James, author of When Life and Beliefs Collide. I highly recommend you read both of these books.

The treat at the end of the conference was to hear Jill Briscoe speak about the Great Commission and - simply - doing the ministry God has called you to, where he has put you. She could not have emphasized more the necessity of the Gospel and the practice of communicating it - no matter what level of eloquence a person may have. No gimmicks, just being Jesus and and sharing what he has done.

If you didn't get to attend Synergy 2007, they offer this conference for women's ministry leaders every 2 years. I wish it were an annual event.

October 5, 2007

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference: Jane Creswell

As a teen, Jane says she heard God's calling to be a missionary to the corporate world.

Early lessons learned in corporate work:
1. How to lead like a woman and not a girl.
2. Stretch beyond your skills, but stick to your strengths. This became #1 coaching topic while at IBM.
3. Apply the R.O.I. concept to everything. (Return On Investment) - sometimes it's a calculation that happens after the completion of a project. Need to look at this before a project. Looking at R.O.I. is valid even if the return isn't about dollars. Is Parable of Talents about R.O.I.?
4. Develop leaders who develop leaders.

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference Reactions

There are about 600-800 women here today and yesterday. It's been a wonderful time, women from all over the country - I believe 15 states are representative. Looking around and observing who is here, it seems to be predominately attended by white, middle class 35-40ish women (on average). The sessions are doing a great job integrating professional and academic insight into practical ministry. Next speaker is Jane Creswell to discuss business principles brought to bear on ministry.

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference: Sarah Sumner

Sarah continues to discuss from her book Leadership Above the Line. How do different ways of approaching an issue as strategists, humanitarians and diplomats. (Positives and negatives with each approach)

3 primary temptations that Jesus went through.
1. "Throw yourself down" Luke 4:9 - diplomat: to show off, to prioritize ego over team.
2. "Command the stone to become bread" Luke 4:3 - Strategist: to forego the pain of waiting; to grasp for control
3. "If you will worship will all be yours" Luke 4:7 - Humanitarian: to bow down to the status quo; to let the devil be in charge. This is the way it's always been done. Going with the flo when it's not of God.

October 4, 2007

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference, Elmbrook: Laurie McIntyre

What is the future of women's ministry? Is there a future for women's ministry?

10 Clouds in the Sky

1. Negative Perceptions
2. Collision of modern and post-modern thinking
3. Busyness of today's woman
4. Emergence of the small group model in the mega church - specialty ministries (like women's ministry) get erased.
5. Being attractive and relevant to the next generation
6. Alienating our more mature population
7. Failure of the church at large to the model women in all aspects of ministry
8. Video dependency
9. Resistance to change
10. Attitude of entitlement of overfed Christian women

Cloud with the silver lining:
At the core, all women have the same needs. To feel loved and valued, to live a life of purpose, and be Christ-centered.
Style vs. Substance
Vocabulary shift
Partnership and ownership

I will interact on this more later.

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference, Elmbrook

First Speaker: Anita Carman

"Today what we're going to try to....learn to transform the reach the world for Christ...beginning with where we are."

"Where's your 'I am here?'" As it relates to your priorities, circle of relationships, and emotions.

Jesus cast a global vision, "Go into all the world and make disciples..."

1. Whatever you are doing, check against the global vision.
Do you care that some are not on board yet?
Do you need to adjust your priorities?

2. How limited are you by the circles of your relationships? Our tendency is always go to the familiar. We must have a broader vision. As we get use to doing things, we often label it "the Christian way" of doing whatever it

3. Learn to manage emotions. Are you stuck in a dream and can't move on?
Women come into church and everyone is wearing a "mask." We're all wrestling with something. What is the mission God has called you to? God will provide the helper (Gen 2:15). Keep your focus on what God has called you to.

Live Blogging at Synergy Women's Leadership Conference, Elmbrook

I just arrived at Elmbrook Church for the start of Synergy. The day opened with a video akin to the Mac/PC guys, "Traditional" vs. "Contemporary" perspectives of ministry. Today we're going to hear more about bringing these 2 together in Synergy.

October 3, 2007

Women's Ministry: What Does the Future Hold?

Tomorrow, I will be participating in the Synergy Leadership Summit for Women at Elmbrook Church, Brookfield, WI. A time has been set aside for current leaders where we will discuss the future of women’s ministries, reaching emerging generations of women, and tending to our own souls in the midst of ministry. I have my own perspectives and stats on these matters but would love to hear from you so that I can take some of your thoughts with me to the meetings.

I believe considering the future of women's ministries is to be considered as part of the ministry of the church, not in isolation and not something totally other. As a matter of making disciples, teaching all that Jesus taught, our focus should begin with Scripture and take into account the needs of women in our world today. This goes hand in hand with reaching emerging generations of women.

Where women's ministry could use change is in its relationship to the leadership of the church. Many pastors and church boards have abdicated their responsibility, allowing the women's ministry to have their fun events and outings, without the expectation that something more substantial can and should occur. Bringing pastors on board not only to support this ministry, but also recognize the importance of it in light of our existing cultural landscape is essential to the future of women's ministry.

October 1, 2007

My Plans for Preparing Women for the Future

In my work as a women's ministry leader, I find that the contact I want to have with younger women is limited because the typical women's leader isn't in her twenties. I usually find these twenty-something young achievers in the academic realm. Anyway, I've been developing seminars that will encourage and equip young women toward excellence and godliness in whatever they do, especially in their chosen vocation. But where I really want to continue making an impact is in the area of bioethics because this is where women will find, in hindsight, that this is where they were most vulnerable. Young women today are tempted by money to subject their body to the harms of scientific research, and for those women who want it all, reproductive technologies turn out to be the way for women to wait til later in life to have children. Nothing necessarily wrong with that except for the risks placed on the mother and her unborn child, and the ethical implications of outsourcing pregnancy. Where the future is going in medical ethics has a profound impact on the real lives of young women. Feminism will continue to develop leaders among young women who preach choice as the highest value, but evangelical bioethics can develop young women as leaders for human dignity by valuing every life.

September 28, 2007

Preparing Women for the Future: What's the Plan?

Every day it seems that conservative Christians are taking a hit from the liberal left who argue that because Scripture doesn't speak specifically about topics like abortion or embryonic stem cell research, then it doesn't have anything to say about those topics at all. It's true that Scripture doesn't address every possible subject under the sun, but it does provide the framework through which we can process our day to day living. Consequently, in humility and love, we can address even the most complex areas of our lives without compromising the authority or integrity of Scripture. What does that have anything to do with preparing women for the future?

Today women of all ages are faced with a plethora of choices and confront difficult decisions, most of which Scripture has little or nothing say. Bible studies and small groups do their best to promote the character and virtues necessary to live in today's world and succeed in promoting a biblical life ethic. This works well for the women who are involved in these groups. But the challenge of living in today's world - and in the near future - is understanding what we confront. It's not enough anymore to know "right from wrong" for at least 2 reasons: 1. our world has declared that there is no right or wrong because truth is determined by the individual, and 2. It's not always clear that an action or decision is wrong or lacks virtue because it might covered in a blanket of warm words or arguments: therapeutic, self-esteem, merciful, reasonable, etc.

Preparing women to live in this world in the future - and even the near future - necessitates that we address actual issues women face, it's not enough to teach about what makes a woman virtuous or excellent....that needs to be there, but there needs to be more. Wherever and whenever possible, reach out to experts or find resources to address specific areas of a woman's life. How is technology making her life easier and more complex at the very same time? What is the affect of assisted reproductive technologies on a young woman and her [future] husband and [future] family? Why does it matter that she understand that she understand the influence of pornography on the family? How can we be responsible citizens that care about the environment and also be respectors of the image of God in all persons? How do people think and does it actually affect their day to day living? Can an evangelical Christian woman have a career? How does the Christian worldview shape our work, worship and womanhood? These are just a few of the topics that all women need to talk about today. Think about how to prepare women for the future and work this into your ministries as much as you can.

September 27, 2007

Synergy: Leadership Summit for Women

Coming up next week, October 4 and 5, is the Leadership Summit for Women taking place at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin. Among the speakers is one of my favorite thinkers, Carolyn Custis James, author of When Life and Beliefs Collide and president of the Whitby Forum. This is definitely an event for women in leadership within the Christian community. I plan to be at this event, so if you haven't registered yet, plan to do so as the deadline is quickly approaching. Be sure to say hi if you see me!

September 26, 2007

Out of the Box: My Vision for Women's Ministry

When I began to blog at Intellectuelle a while back, I introduced myself by way of sharing my vision, what's been driving my passion for women. I'm glad to look at it again as nothing has changed, it's just good to go back and remember some of the details as a way of avoiding some of the distrations. So I share this with you so you know that I'm on a mission from God and what it looks like.

I just don't fit in the box...and I never really have. I've always cringed at the activities of the typical church women's ministry because what I saw seemed either to focus on a single group of women or lacked the quality and depth of books and studies not intended specifically for women. If you say I'm making broad sweeping comments about women's ministry, you might be right. But the fact is, in many churches, women with more intellectual tendencies are looked upon to nurture others - as they should - but usually are expected to keep their intellectualism to themselves. Women's bible studies are often very poorly written...with the exception of some great materials by Elizabeth George, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Kay Arthur, Jill Briscoe, and a few others.

When I entered into seminary studies in 2002, I promised myself that women's ministry was the LAST thing I would ever participate in. That promise was reminiscent of the one I made when I was 18 - that I would never work in the fast food industry. So far, I haven't flipped a burger, but God seemed to have other plans for me with regards to women's ministry.

I came to the conclusion during one of my graduate courses in bioethics that women's ministry is, indeed, in need of a face lift (but please do not confuse that for some unnecessary nontherapeutic physical enhancement) and that I am called to this work. Born from this was The Foundation for Women of Faith in Culture, its primary mission being to support the spiritual maturation of women through biblical, theological, and worldview education. I'm excited to say that people are finding this ministry on the internet and are responding.

My hope for Intellectuelle is that it is a place for men and women to reflect on faith and living, but I hope especially that it brings together a community of women who will continue the discussion of what it means to be a thinking Christian woman - and that the Church will take notice of our discussion and our existence.

September 25, 2007

Nancy Pearcey: Scholar for Worldview Studies at PBU

I am so pleased to read that Nancy Pearcey has been named Scholar for Worldview Studies at the Center for University Studies at Philadelphia Biblical University, (PBU), Langhorne, PA.

She will teach, speak and write on the integration of Christian thought with scholarship and the application of Christian perspectives to the academy and across the culture. She is the first-ever faculty scholar to be appointed to the Center for University Studies which PBU recently established to advance its vision of scholarship and cultural engagement.

Highly regarded as "one of the few female intellectuals in evangelicalism," a former agnostic, has addressed staffers on Capitol Hill and at the White House; actors and screenwriters in Hollywood; scientists at labs such as Sandia and Los Alamos; students and faculty at Stanford, Dartmouth, Princeton, USC, Ohio State, and the University of Georgia; as well as educational and activist groups, including the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

She's my hero. :)