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.