March 31, 2008

The Fallacy of Feminism

Have you ever wondered what a feminist looks like? Apparently the Feminist Majority thinks you do. In an effort to put a pretty face on a worldview that has lead the charge in the abortion industry and yet has little interest in protecting their future leaders from ovarian exploitation, this video demonstrates more of empty words with a smattering of philosophical concepts left to be unpacked by those who lack proper tools to do so. Smart of them, you might say? I say, manipulative and conniving.

Cool. Funny. Smart. Beautiful. Strong. Kind. Confident. Active. Empowering.These are a few of the words used by the celebrity faces and regular people to communicate what feminism "looks like." With half the cast of Ugly Betty, Larry David, Amy Brenneman, Michael Moore, Rob Reiner, Kate Walsh, and many others, not to mention the non-celebrities who play a role in the video, its clear that they really don't want us to understand what a feminist thinks. If they did, they would have defined those other terms they buried used: humanist and individualistic.

The word humanist is a person who represents the worldview of humanism. This worldview "is centered around human value rather than upon God." This secular humanism rejects supernaturalism and "attempts to establish the dignity of man on a naturalistic base..." and becomes the highest reality. To sum that up, humanism starts with man and ends with man. It is also in this sense that it becomes individualistic. With no focus on anything higher than the self, even community is displaced within this framework so that the highest value is the autonomy of the individual. With this philosophical system, there is no motivation or basis to value someone more than the self.

Reading "Womens Books"

Like most people I know, I read a lot of books. I rarely browse when I go into a bookstore or visit Amazon, I generally know exactly what I'm looking for. As a woman in ministry to other women, I have to say that I rarely read books written by women for women. That isn't to say that I can't or shouldn't -- after all, I'm working on one of my own for women in the church. But when I do browse in a Christian bookstore, I usually head for the theology or apologetics department to see what's new. I like to check out the latest in the great apologetics methodology debates (which, by the way, seems silent these days). Bioethics books and other reflections on contemporary culture are equally interesting areas to browse. I don't usually end up in the women's Christian living section until right before I head to the checkout. Sometimes I pick something up, but generally I don't. There are wonderful books written by women for women, and I think I own them all (well, almost). Carolyn Custis James, Elyze Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth George--these are solid women writing for women in the church. I hope someday soon I can be added to that list.

Is there a propensity for women in the church to first enter the women's section of the Christian living isles in the bookstore to search for a book? I wish I had some statistics, I just know that of the women I know, many are doing just that. Occasionally I hear someone say how much they loved reading Martin Luther (however, this was a seminary graduate), but what I usually hear is women looking for the right topics, but pursuing the topics through women's authors.

A question recently asked of me is whether I could point a woman to some theology books written by women. I certainly can, but why do they need to be written by women? Do evangelical women think they can only read books written by women? I think many do. For those that lean that way, I hope it isn't because they believe male writers are writing for men and that serious theology books are off limits to women.

I'd like to hear from you, Christian women, on this topic. What are your own reading habits like? What do you read? Who do you read? What about the other women in your ministries? I realize that not every woman is interested in reading Cornelius Van Til's Systematic Theology or Carl F.H. Henry's God, Revelation, and Authority like I am. I just hope at least we're buying books on hermeutics instead of allowing our women's bible studies to provide a short cut through the work of locating context.

March 29, 2008

Making God-talk the Norm

This morning I had coffee with 2 new friends in a coffee shop in Rockford, Illinois. When I entered the shop, I had a couple of books with me to read, one of them Reviving Evangelical Ethics, and the other was the latest Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. I ordered my coffee and then sat my books down on a table nearby, noticing in my peripheral vision a Christian doing a Bible study at a table near mine. He also saw what I was reading and took note, but neither of us said anything to each other.

Soon after, the first of my friends arrived and we had a great discussion about women's ministry and Christian education over a muffin and a couple of creamy lattes. The man I had noticed doing a Bible study was replaced by another person with another Bible doing the same thing. It was a little bit disorienting to see so much of God at a coffee shop in Rockford. It was no less than thrilling to have this new person interject in our conversation about women's ministry and possible speakers for upcoming seminars. Had I died and gone to Heaven? Is Rockford, perhaps, the new earth that we are all awaiting?

As I said goodbye to the friend with whom I conversed about women's ministry, I decided to stay and chat with my new friend, RT, who previously had suggested we check out John Piper as a women's ministry speaker. We briefly touched on several areas of interest to those in ministry including the emergent church, gimmicks of the seeker driven churches, how to reach youth, the power of the Gospel and how women can and do serve God. It was so exciting to hear so much passion and zeal for Christ and the work of ministry. Before I left, he even prayed for the blessing of our encounter and how God might continue to be glorified in our ministries.

Nothing about this morning was what I consider to be normal, but it is exactly what we should expect. When we advocate for living out our faith and encourage the development of a Christian worldview, isn't this exactly what we should be looking forward to? We're so predisposed to a world where God-talk is not the norm, where expressions of faith are mere whispers, and Bibles are hidden in our laps. We look around to see if anyone is offended by what we can't help to display or speak aloud. We wonder if our faith made public is a stumbling block to the world. What is wrong with this picture?

I learned a lot today about the proclamation of the Gospel, about being bold about my faith and about who I follow. The thing is, I know better. I'm all about a theology and apologetic that is, well, unapologetic. I am experiencing pure joy about being further liberated from my cultural captivity. God-talk should be a normal activity of living out our faith, no shame should accompany us, no fear should drive us.

Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (John 15:18) We shouldn't be surprised by a rejection of our expressions of faith and we should not suppress them for fear of rejection or hate. In this coffee shop, the Gospel was clearly presented for anyone who could hear and truly is the power of God unto salvation. We have no way of knowing for sure if anyone who heard had an encounter with God, but one thing we know for sure is that what is silenced cannot be heard.

March 27, 2008

Reviving Evangelical Ethics: Book Review

As an ethicist and cultural critic, I enjoy engaging all kinds of ideas because I take seriously the biblical injunction to 'take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.'

People face an onslaught of challenges in todays world that necessitate biblical reflection such that their decisions are most glorifying to God. This isn't to imply that the bible contains every answer for ever dilemma we face. It does, however, provide us with principles and rules through which we can consider other matters that aren't specifically mentioned in the Bible.

So I find myself baffled, when with little explanation, I hear it taught that "Christianity isn't a set of rules," that it's about a relationship with God. You probably think at this point that I'm a moron, that I would actually question such a statement. Of course, I accept and embrace that Christianity is about the relationship I have with God, but this isn't to the exclusion of considering ways of right living and a pursuit of God that seeks to glorify him in our lives, lives that are a sequence of actions. I fear we confuse people when we speak of it in any other way.

Often when we consider the overall nature of the bible, we think of the old testament as containing the Law and plethora of unachievable expectations in the form of rules and regulations. Then as grace enters the picture through the loving sacrifice of Jesus, we see the fulfillment of the Law in Christ. The tendency to not see grace in the old testament and see no place for rules in the new testament leaves a believer missing a lot of what the Bible was intended to communicate to its readers.

In her book, Reviving Evangelical Ethics, Wyndy Corbin Reuschling hones in on the topic of ethics and its relationship to the Christian life. She states,
Righteousness or justification is not just 'being made right with God;' it connotes living right with God, fulfilling moral obligations consonant with a new orientation and perspective. To think of being declared righteous' without any accompanying commitment to actually act righteously is not what the biblical writers had in mind in their instructions on the Christian life. (p. 110)
Our ontological status, our state of being righteous, gives great hope to the individual that their eternal future is secure in Christ. But as we unpack what it means to live for Christ, we discover the important element of sanctification and our participation in that process, sinful creatures seeking to live the moral life. Frankly, its clear by looking at our daily activities that we are constantly up against ethical quandries. So how is it that Christianity isn't about rules?

Obviously becoming a Christian isn't dependent upon doing something that puts you in a position of acceptability before God. In that sense, Christianity is not about a set of rules. And of course, living the Christian life is about constantly seeing God's grace manifest in ways unimaginable. We see God's hand care for his children in ways that demonstrates his graciousness. But this isn't to the exclusion of expected ways of living and being.

Reuschling does a great job speaking to the misuses of the Bible and the danger associated with seeing Scripture is merely a set of categorical imperatives. She states,
My concern with this deontological approach is twofold. One is that it actually undermines scripture as revelation, since it limits scripture to little more than a book of revealed rules. Two, this view limits scripture's effectiveness in shaping our moral lives if the primary question posed is "What ought I do?"...For all the emphasis that evangelicals place on the authority of the Bible, a deontological perspective may reduce and diminish the Bible's importance as a source for moral guidance because it restricts ethics to just following principles, rules, and commands, and the Bible to a mere instrument.....Moral formation requires more than just the ability to follow principles and rules. We need the requisit discernment, practical wisdom, and virtues.....The scriptures shape and direct our moral sensibilities, vision, and capacities in many ways. (p. 69-70)
Here she has effectively assisted the church in stating that being a Christian isn't about following a set of rules, but she does not suggest that their are no rules. The Bible is limited if we posit that it is merely a book of rules. Clearly, it contains directives and, as God's spoken Word, it develops us as His followers. What that means is that as we are becoming closer to God in our sanctification, we are gaining wisdom that assists us in our decision-making. As our worldview comes together coherently, we are able to consider whatever comes our direction because we are reflecting on what we know about God and what he has given to us in scripture.

There is much more to be taken from this book, I've merely touched upon some things that I've been considering about ethics as it relates to the lives of women in the church. I believe this will be a helpful book to students of ethics. This book is due to be released in April by Brazos Press, and I obviously encourage you to check it out.

March 25, 2008

Apologetics 101: Faith vs. Values?

This interview of Will Smith in Men's Vogue reveals a guy with great personality, significant intelligence, and tremendous character. He's in love with both his family and his work and is portrayed as someone who usually puts others before himself. I'm sure he has his flaws, but I think its safe to say that the overall clean-cut image he puts forth is probably not very common in the Hollywood subculture.

But despite all that is good about Will Smith, his significant intelligence has sadly evaded him as he has been taken in by the cult of Scientology a la Tom Cruise. I like Will, I hope he will come around. In the interview with Men's Vogue, he states very tragically that he sees little difference between Scientology and the Bible, because there is much more to Scripture--in content and in purpose. He says,
I’ve studied Buddhism and Hinduism and I’ve studied Scientology through Tom. And nobody’s saying anything different! Look, I use the Bible to explain the ideas of God, and life, and love, and relationships, and the life of Jesus Christ to teach my children how to defend their spirit. But in all of the experiences I’ve had with Tom and Scientology, like, 98 percent of the principles are identical to the principles of the Bible. The Bible says, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And you know, there’s a Scientology principle: Do not create experiences for others that they cannot comfortably perceive.
It's unfortunate that he has come to think of the Bible this way--as merely a handbook for morality. Do unto others should not be approached independently of no one comes to the Father except through me. But is he all that different from many Christians who regard the moral propositions of Scripture above the saving power of the gospel. Perhaps we could helpfully understand the gospel call as one of many moral appeals, yet is the one that lacks political correctness.

As an ethicist who believes we need to always be in conversation about morality, the good, true, and the beautiful, I'm saddened that the Bible has been reduced to merely a set of values. The Bible does contain moral precepts, but not to be removed from the context of the Christian life, apart from which they make little sense. I make this argument from an epistemological perpective because while people can do good and know right from wrong, they cannot always account for it.

As a believer, have you been prepared to engage someone who aspires to the values but rejects Christ? Do you have the knowledge and the courage to confront someone who chooses only to accept bits and pieces from Scripture, ultimately making themselves their own authority? As Christians we need to consider the moral conditions in culture that we are growing our families in, be we need to be prepared to show the difference between adopting a set of moral values over and above embracing the gospel. There is no absolute truth, no absolute right and wrong, without the God from whom all truth eminates.

March 24, 2008

On Heaven and Earth

The context of Scripture is such a great thing, it helps us to avoid the dangers of misapplying or misinterpretting a passage. I woke up this morning thinking about what it means to be a "citizen" of heaven while at the same time being an image bearer with the task of the crration mandate. How are both true when Scripture seems to weigh so heavily on the heavenly? After all, in times of trial and despair, this is what we hear from the pulpits. Or perhaps the emphasis is slightly in error?

Philippians 3:18-20 states "For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..." and so the passage continues.

It is clear from the context that Paul isn't doing away with the creation mandate. He is not speaking of "earthly things" generally, rather he's contrasting idolatry with godliness, "earthly things" a rhetorical device for what is sin.

This is an example of how a particular verse can be taken out of context and misappropriated. Paul's intention is not that we be so heavenly minded that we're of no earthly good, he is simply saying that there are those wh elevate the sins of the flesh over the things of God, and as Christians, we are called to a higher standard.
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March 23, 2008

The Joy in the Wise

I had a terrific time in church this Resurrection Sunday, but an even more delightful time with the young ladies I sat with in Sunday school. Ok, they weren't young, they were old enough to be my grandmothers. But they made me feel young - not because they're so much older, but because they were so engaged in the class and friendly with me. I was instantly drawn to them, not because one was hanging on my arm and not because one of them preferred to talk over the Sunday school teacher to chat with me at one point. What I saw in these ladies was character and wisdom that I can only hope to emulate when I am their age. They wanted it grow in the love and knowledge of God, develop a new relationship, engage their intellect, contribute in the classroom, and discover new ideas.. These were not 2 little ladies who were interested in keeping a couple of seats warm, they wanted a meaningful participation in the activities of the congregation. Praise God for these strong women of faith! I look forward to spending more time with them in the future, I'll keep you posted.

March 21, 2008

Primetime Bioethics: Surrogacy on Fox

Glorification of multiple sexual partners, mocking of Christianity, trivializing of relationships, comedic gynecological visits....these are a few ways Fox is participating in our culture's affair with unfettered sexuality and science. The show is The Return of Jezebel James and is about the lives of 2 sisters, one who has a career as an editor with Harper Collins children's book division and the other who seems to be wondering life aimlessly and unable to make the simplest of decisions, except the one to carry her sister's child. Sarah is the sister unable to have her own child, given the options only to adopt, hire a surrogate, etc. This is the first time in her life she's been confronted with any serious challenge to getting what she wants, so she is able to profit from her sister Coco's lack of focus and rent her womb.

We are way past the point of asking what's become of this world, we can only inquire as to how we, as caretakers of God's creation, can participate in the restoration of a view of humanity that respects the dignity inherent with being created in the image of God. Correcting society's view of human dignity is fundamental to addressing the particulars of society, whether the issues are as basic as our treatment of each other in our families, work, and other relationships, or the very serious bioethics issues of our time that violate human dignity to the extent of compromising life.

While television is indoctrinating the intellectually vulnerable about how to treat one another, those who hold a strong view of human dignity need to work hard to have as much impact on the people around them. This is a high spiritual calling that belongs to the Church.

March 20, 2008

More on Black Liberation Theology

The Exodus out of Egypt is pointed to as evidence that God seeks to deliver people from oppression. For more on this, read Cone's book as cited in my previous post. But the reason the Exodus doesn't serve as a parallel to the concern of black oppression today is because that cause is dependent on government-not God-to be the Redeemer. To view it this way puts the death and resurrection of Jesus in a new light, stripping it of any supernatural meaning, perhaps even reducing it to a metaphor for today' plight. The theme of deliverence runs through the whole of Scripture, and all od the stories pointing to the ultimate, when our Lord humbled himself to the point of death, to be raised by the power of God, not man or his government.
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March 19, 2008

The Clear Blur of Church-State Separation

The graphic above is very difficult to look at, but it is a helpful way to demonstrate the confusion inherent to liberation theologies. As the scandal over Obama's membership with a church that embraces black liberation theology, Americans need to take an honest look at what this movement actually is.

Feminist, womanist, mujerist, black.....these are a few of the areas that have a stake in the liberation theology movement. Womanist is essentially the African-American counterpart to the feminist theology. Mujerist, similarly, is the Latina version. Feminist and black are self-explanatory in light of a fuller definition.
Black liberation theology shares much in common with liberation theology in general but also has its own uniqueness. As a theology of liberation, it is concerned with the political and economic aspects of salvation rather than salvation in spiritual terms. Moreover, God is viewed as being primarily for the poor over against the rich in society. However, black theologians seek to interpret liberation from a black American or black African perspective (though even blacks in the United States and Africa sense differences in their emphases). Black theology, unlike Latin American liberation thought, is concerned with racism and a historical identity.
A casual reading of this definition reveals a "theology" that begins at the point of correcting a wrong--oppression and racism. No one will deny that issues of race have gone unresolved in this country, and like the prolife movement, those engaged in the cause will and should continue to battle these issues. However, when we speak of the task of theology but interpret the Scriptures through the lenses of our own experience, we are not doing theology, that is called politics and politics is the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy.

James Cone is a key player in the history of black liberationism, having written many books that try to locate the solution to racism exclusively in black theology. The foundation of this so-called theology is in the experience of oppression and fails to be Christocentric. It finds answers to concerns of justice and racism not in the church or the Scriptures, but in the outworking of government. This is a "theology" that begins with and is deeply rooted in politics. Cone writes,
Christian theology is never just a rational understanding of the being of God. Rather it is a study of God's liberating activity in the world, God's understanding in behalf of the oppressed. (A Black Theology of Liberation, p. 3)
At first glance, Cone doesn't seem to dismiss the study of the nature of God, but then he insists that instead of that, "rather" it has to do with what God is doing here on earth on behalf of the victims of racism. No serious theologian of any race would suggest that God isn't interested in the lives of people on earth here and now, that our doctrines are only concerned with the hereafter. But several areas of theology all work together to help us understand how it is that God is working in our lives. While we can't tolerate racism, we must recognize the significance of sin, that man is fallen. We can't ignore that God is sovereign, though man is still responsible for his actions. We must think of creation, fall, and redemption on a spiritual level with earthly implications, but no where in Scripture is man promised a easy ride and in no way is God's ultimate plan about Jesus' kingship here and now. During Jesus' time on earth, the same mistake was made, that he would be some sort of earthly king at that time.

But for Cone, that task of theology is to explicate the meaning of God's liberating activity so that those who labor under enslaving powers will see that the forces of liberation are the very activity of God. (Ibid., p. 3) And as this movement actually embodies politics and does little actual theology, we are to understand the government as its agent of grace, not the church.

I am not suggesting for one moment that people of religion have to leave their voice outside of the public square and adopt some sort of secularist common ground. In fact, I wrote my master's thesis on just the opposite idea and spend a great deal of time showing how the notion of religious neutrality is impossible. So I have no qualms with black liberationism in the public square. What I do have a problem with is the advocates of this so-called theology arguing for a public square sanitized of any religious language or influence, knowing full well their politics and their theology are a single entity. When evangelicals argue for certain moral positions, they are generally shouted down for having religious reasons and verbage. Yet those engaged in government who are also advocates of black liberationism are free to bring their theology into the public square. The pursuit of universal health care, redistribution of wealth, unfettered access to abortion and birth control, and other matters related to social "justice" are how this movement understands God acting in today's world. In this view of reality, "God" actually becomes big government and enslaves not just the black community, but every community to higher taxes and limited resources and opportunity.

I am equally, if not moreso, bothered by the lack of respect for the church as God established it. The church is not primarily a political bandwagon, it is a community of believers whose primary focus is the worship of God and glorifying him in all areas of our lives. The church is the body of Christ, a doctrine that is not to be taken lightly. A church willingly used for political expediency is apostate.

Clearly there is a difference between church and state, but no necessary separation. Hopefully we don't have to be witness to Obama's form of spirituality that embraces black liberationism as a Christian theology and government policy while shutting out all others.

March 15, 2008

Politicizing the Pulpit: Obama's Credibility and Wright's Ordination In Question

We haven't known much about Obama, but this week we learned that he has a serious credibility problem.

No doubt Trinity UCC on Chicago's south side has been doing some marvelous practical ministry in the inner city, and I'm unaware of any attempt by media to invalidate this work. The UCC is trying to spin this story another direction. The character of Jeremiah Wright is altogether another issue, and while the United Church of Christ is a denomination that leans way to the left, it would serve them well to consider their ordination policies and revoke the ordination of Jeremiah Wright and renounce his teachings. Wright's comments reveal a racist posture that doesn't assist in healing racial divisions, rather it exploits them. Wright, in making these inflammatory statements and in propagating black theology, has brought the issue of racial divides back into the limelight even while Obama pledges to be post-racial.

Are we really suppose to believe that Obama, who regards Jeremiah Wright as a spiritual mentor and allowed him to be a member of his campaign, has been mostly unaware of Wright's views and the content of his sermons? I cannot be convinced that this is the case, given his 2 decades of membership at this church. Either Obama and his family rarely attend church and his membership and involvement is strictly on paper, or he has chosen to support the teachings of this movement. So what kind of change can we really expect from Obama given his willingness to look away from the words and character of this spiritual mentor of his? Seems like politics as usual to me.

Out of the mouth of a pastor especially, these statements bring shame to the nature and role of the church is and Wright's role in the office of pastor:

"Hillary is married to Bill, and Bill has been good to us. No he ain't! Bill did us, just like he did Monica Lewinsky. He was riding dirty."

"Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary would never know that."

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and the black South Africans, and now we are indignant. Because the stuff we have done overseas has now been brought back into our own front yard. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

This isn't a matter of a fallacious guilt by association, Jeremiah Wright has served as a pastor and spiritual mentor to Obama, and if Obama was unaware of the views taught during these 20 years, his ability to assess people must be called into question. At this time, Obama needs to resign his membership at Trinity in order for any evangelical to begin taking him seriously as an honest, thinking person who also happens to profess being a Christian. I realize the counter-arguments to this appeal, that Obama is running for President, not Chief Executive Theologian. But since his church has politicized the pulpit and his pastor was a member of his campaign team, and because Obama has been running his campaign on a spiritual platform, speaking freely about his faith and the role of it in his life, he owes it to himself and to his campaign to pursue a life of integrity....that can't happen with a continued association with a church that has yet to renounce the teachings of Jeremiah Wright and a congregation who was noticeably enthralled by this message of hate. The whole issue speaks to Obama's judgment and character.

Pastors, as we understand the office in Scripture, are not dictators. They are accountable to the elders whom they work with in the church and to the congregation. We are called to be Bereans, people who are always studying the Scriptures and testing the teachings of our leadership against the testimony of Scripture. The Bereans of Trinity UCC need to step up......if there are any.

It seems inevitable that we are going to have a democrat in the White House in 2009. If it is going to be Obama, I would hope that he would give us a better idea of what to expect out of him - or perhaps he has and we really need to worry about his integrity and real (in)ability to lead. At this point, it looks like politics as usual, but even worse as he uses his faith as a way to shroud his views. At least with Hillary, what you see is what you get, at least moreso than with Obama.

March 14, 2008

Life Issues in Context

Sometimes I have this internal debate with myself about how to approach bioethics issues such as abortion, stem cell research, euthasia, etc. Will I win over someone's sensibilities by arguing from a more sterile natural law perspective or should I be driven by principles and argue from my Christian worldview which enlists Scripture and reason?

Since I'm arguing with myself, I always win the debate. But seriously...

In a society become more and more secularized, how is it that we can expect peoples views on matters of bioethics to align with those of a Christian perspective if they simply do not cohere with their naturalist paradigm? As we are seeing, our culture is becoming less Christian all the time, society is becoming more consistently pagan in their views of life and death.

This leads me to conclude that matters of bioethics MUST be coupled with the gospel and not addressed in isolation. To truly promote a Christian worldview, we can't be responsible for instilling the idea that these issues are merely Christian values that can be adopted on a whim. These are positions on matters of life and death that have meaning in relationship to our Creator and to the gospel. The context of evangelical bioethics is in our theology, without which there lacks true understanding.

The future of Christian bioethics depends significantly upon revival, for lives to be transformed by the message of Christ. The church is called to step up in this regard, to be the bearers of this message and to address these violations against human dignity. Without a true awakening, without the movement and work of the Holy Spirit, I believe the current debates in bioethics will yield little change in ou culture's love affair with death.
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March 13, 2008

Re-educating Teen Girls & Young Women

Joe Carter's post today serves us well in revealing the agenda of Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. The facts about condoms don't really matter, even while the sexualization of our entire culture is placing young women's lives at risk. Of course, PP's agenda is not based upon some neutral, bias-free notion that they just care about women's health and, therefore, only interest in promoting safe sex for the sake of safety. There is nothing altruistic about what they are doing. The fact is that money and their entire worldview is at stake, and the 'anything goes' mentality must continue to be dominant. So what does this mean for girls and young women in our community? In our churches? What's a church to do?

1. As I said in my previous post, it's time to be raising up womens leadership in the local church. They are the ones in relationships with other women and teens in your community.

2. Understand abstinence education as entirely counter-cultural. Give this area of education more prominence, keep it on the forefront of discussion. It must always be a taught as a matter of theology, a matter of worldview and not taught in a vaccuum.

3. Don't wait for the experts-learn the data and don't wait to begin discussing it.

4. See the opportunity. This area of ministry will serve to help bridge the gap between older and younger generations.

5. Expand the focus of your womens ministry. While these issues can be addressed in youth ministry, this is a place where real mentoring among women can and should occur. Womens ministry should be about making disciples who can contend with and address today's issues, not just helping them to survive.

6. Take a look at who is on your leadership team who can address these and other contemporary concerns. If she isn't there, I'm sure she is in your congregation somewhere. If you are a lone leader and don't feel equipped or called to this, its time to raise up someone who can.

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March 12, 2008

Women's Ministry: Raising the Bar

I know I've written on this in various ways in the past, but this time of the year necessitates talking about it again. Believe it or not, it's the middle of March and a lot of young people are preparing to leave high school and enter into university campus life. For young Christian men pursuing higher education to serve the church, their options are many...more so than for young women. As the young men enter into college and seminary, they have the blessing to pursue various pastoral positions ranging from youth pastor to associate and sr. pastor within the evangelical context. It's also clear that many of these men will find themselves quite lucky (I'm a Calvinist, that's just a figure of speech) to become college and seminary professors-with greater ease than women. I'm glad that these young men are pursuing these and other avenues to serve and I'm not about to argue for a liberal perspective on gender roles. But I do think the church needs, at this time in history, more women on staff and in full time ministry.

Young women today are extremely interested in the life of the mind and the study of theology. This isn't to suggest that she never has been before. But today's young women are inspired and have a serious passion for engaging culture and sharing the gospel, being a part of the transformation of hearts and minds. The culture of women's ministry in evangelical circles has largely been focused on women's survival....getting enough encouragement to get by. Because of the complexities of today's world, in the areas of worldview and activism, its becoming more urgent for seminary-level trained women to enter the evangelical community vocationally. The needs of women in church and culture are well beyond the scope of what traditional event-driven women's ministry can address.

I've read a lot about how the church has or is becoming feminized, that worship music and styles of preaching have led to the disenchantment of men to such an extent that he isn't interested in going to church-it's for girls. And yet the expectations of girls-women-is to remain as they are, and not pursue more manly things. I realize the big metaphorical broom I have here, but its time to stop sweeping this under the rug and place it where all can see. Our Christian culture expects to train young people to be able to cope with whatever society throws at them, yet young Christian women are often held back from higher theological education. We need to not only encourage them to pursue philosophy and theology in the seminary context, but the church needs to recognize their role in God's Kingdom and how they can and should serve. Let's stop business as usual in women's ministry and raise the bar for its leadership. How can we do that?

1. Expand your view of women's ministry to see the opportunities for engaging the women not in church. How can you use elements of today's culture to reach women? Oprah's book club is a key example.

2. Excite women about the life of the mind. Provide a context for women to excel theologically in their studies; the lowest common denominator shouldn't be the primary focus.

3. Reconsider the solution to feminization. If this is a problem in your church, a solution might actually reside in the ministries to women. Develop those ministries beyond the clich├ęs, raising up leaders who see the church as more than a place for group therapy and personal survival.

4. Develop a vision for women in ministry that encourages young women to seminary and invites women as an appropriate member of the pastoral staff. She has an important place in ministry to women.

Spitzer Violates Human Dignity

Violations against human dignity occur in many forms, and New York's Gov. Spitzer has brought shame to his office and to his family by objectifying women and reducing a core element of human relationships to a financial transaction. Spitzer can't have it both ways--he can't be in support of women's rights and also be willing to exploit them for his own personal interests.

Without the ease and availability of abortion, contraception, and abortafacients, someone like Spitzer might actually rethink his involvement in prostitution. Perhaps the suggestion the he has had a conflict of interest in recent legislative proposals is a stretch, but it is absolutely clear that his respect for women is nonexistent, reducing his political endeavors to just that -- politics.
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March 11, 2008

Women Exploiting Women: She's Blinded by Science

Reflecting during this internationally declared Women's History Month, it seems that indeed the impossible has happened. Ok, I guess nothing is impossible, but this is quite interesting. If you are following the recent news about outsourcing pregnancy to India and other third world nations, you know that there is great concern about poor women being exploited by an industry blinded by its own progress.

In a post at the blog Feministe, the writer states:
Rich white American women paying poor women of color in developing nations to gestate their children for them seems wrong. I don’t oppose reproductive technologies, but it gets trickier when you’re paying someone in a far less privileged situation to be a human incubator for you.
I like to get to the bottom line. As women are aspiring to empower themselves and other women, while at the same time pursue scientific progress without room for ethical reflection, it turns out that women have actually been empowered to exploit other women. Interesting quandary.

March 10, 2008

Apologetics 101: The Exclusive Nature of Religious Pluralism

The latest book to be introduced through Oprah's book club is easily described as new-agey. The implications of this term are quite broad, but it includes the idea of man as the divine-self who creates his own reality, God as an impersonal force or consciousness, altered states of consciousness, the use of yoga, crystals, past life therapy and acupuncture. You can read more indepth information about the new age movement here.

Understanding the concept of religious pluralism will help you to navigate the myriad of religious claims that permeate our society, including but not limited to the new age movement. Oprah's claim is, I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity. This is the essence of religious pluralism.

Religious pluralism (RP) is the belief that every religion provides an adequate means to "God" and is, therefore, true. The problem with RP is obvious when comparing it to a biblical Christian worldview. The law of noncontradiction says that no 2 completeing claims can be true in the same sense at the same time. Therefore, there are no 2 opposing views of ultimate reality that can be true at the same time in the same sense without violating this law of logic. Yet, representatives of RP insist this is no big deal. (While I'm weary of politicians trying to be philosophers, I'm even more weary of talk show hosts being theologians.) One cannot say that Christianity is as true as any other religion, or call oneself an "open-minded" Christian without first redefining Christianity. And it is at this point that it no longer remains the historic faith that it is -- and is no longer Christianity. Words have meaning, and the term Christianity is defined by Scripture and a host of doctrines contained therein.

RP says basically that all roads lead to God, yet the knowledge for this claim is absent. Those who promote RP lack the epistemic foothold on the argument, but because it is such an attractive idea to a world who views religion merely as a set of personal values, this ideal sits well with contemporary culture.

To look at RP more closely, one has to admit that it cannot really exist because religious pluralism cannot embrace historic Christianity, it rejects it. Historic Christianity teaches that it is only through faith in Jesus can anyone be saved, and RP rejects this claim. Therefore, all roads do not lead to God, rather any road other than historic Christianity leads to God. This view of religion forces religious pluralism into the category of exclusivism, that only one religion is true and any religion that opposes it is false. On the surface you may find yourself rejecting this conclusion, but if you consider RP as a collective of many views becoming one religion, than you can recognize how it fits into the category of exclusivism.

Is faith a matter of truth or personal values? Do you as a Christian contribute in some way to this way of thinking about your faith? Christianity is more than a set of personal values, is more than scripture slapped on top of truths common to us all, it is the total truth. When confronted with the notion of RP, remember that there are limitations on what it embraces, and historic Christianity does not fit snuggly into its paradigm.

Oprah on "Christ's Consciousness"

I don't believe Jesus came to start Christianity. ~ Oprah Winfrey
If you go deep enough in your religion you'll all get to the same place. ~ Eckart Tolle
I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity. ~Oprah Winfrey
Oprah's pop spirituality is alive and well in the homes of vulnerable young mothers, homemakers, retired women...and if there's a DVR in the house, she can be viewed after work, too. I urge you to spend a few bucks on Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth: Awakening Your Life's Purpose and examine the worldview for yourself and engage her audience. Oprah demonstrates clearly in this video that reason is not the basis for her embrace of religious pluralism, but I think your neighbors are probably smarter than Oprah. Buy the book and discuss it in your book discussion groups, equipping each other to engage others who are reading it.

HT: Sharon Hughes

March 7, 2008

Harvard Gym Spin

It is curious how Christianity is so ridiculed by our society for its prudish and oppressive beliefs regarding sexuality and gender roles - an assessment I wholeheartedly disagree with, by the way. So it amazes me that Harvard would choose to accomodate the request to ban men from a workout area to accomodate the modesty of Muslim women. I'm really not bothered by the request for an environment that supports their need for privacy, it would be nice if Christian women were as concerned about modesty. What is most shocking about this story is Harvard's ease in embracing a worldview that is truly oppressive of women, one that treats them as property and denies their human dignity. Islam is apparently in vogue, the fashion statement of the elite.
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March 5, 2008

Women's Ministry: What Not to Do

Thanks to my friend Matthew for sending me the link to this article, it's worth the read. Wendy Alsup wrote a great piece entitled How to Ruin a Women's Ministry. I especially appreciated what she had to say in point 4:
We tend to identify and empathize with people that share similar backgrounds to us and therefore are burdened to equip people in the areas with which we have struggled. But will your ministry only minister to people like you? Are you even aware of the people in your sphere of influence whose background and struggles are different from yours?
Whenever humans are involved in anything, the potential for disaster increases exponentially. No doubt it's a challenge to do ministry to the glory of God instead of the glory of ourselves, but it must be done to avoid ruining it.

March 3, 2008

Obama's Public Religion: Part 2

On February 24th, I posted a review of Obama's Audacity of Hope. In the book, he writes,
I am not willing to have the state deny American citizens a civil union…nor am I willing to accept a reading of the Bible that considers an obscure line in Romans to be more defining of Christianity than the Sermon on the Mount. (p. 222)
So I was quite surprised to see the shock in the news about Obama saying just this in a Q & A session with voters in Nelsonville, Ohio. According to the Baptist Press, a local pastor asked Obama how he plans to win over evangelical voters when they disagree with him on moral issues. Obama's response?
"I believe in civil unions that allow a same-sex couple to visit each other in a hospital or transfer property to each other...I don't think it should be called marriage, but I think that it is a legal right that they should have that is recognized by the state. If people find that controversial, then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans. That's my view. But we can have a respectful disagreement on that." HT: Baptist Press
It's apparent that if Obama is nothing else, at least he's consistent. But his response never answered the question of the local pastor for he has no intention of winning over evangelical voters any more than he plans to cross party lines to place nice with conservatives.

What is quite interesting about this exchange with the pastor is that Obama seems unable to separate his politics from his religious beliefs, the basis for his view of civil unions is articulated in a purely Christian terminology. It is unfair for him to answer clergy in a way that he would not permit clergy to answer for themselves in the public square.

Vocational Pursuits: What Would Jesus Do?

My apologies for invoking the Christian marketing strategy of the 1990's, but I'm sure you can forgive me.

As I return to work today (and to blogging-had a fulfilling week long vacation devoted to writing and research) I am pondering how Christians view vocation. From a 'Total Truth' worldview perspective, we as a church need to ask ourselves what worldview steers our perspective on work.

It seems to me that it is the worldview of Darwinism, philosophical materialism...whatever you choose to call it, in is the basis for the cut-throat mentality people have about careers. The best jobs are the highest paying jobs with the most power at the top of the food chain. It isn't so much that there is anything wrong with being the boss...her work should be performed to the glory of God. But what are our attitudes to people in the so-called blue collar jobs? To challenge your thinking on this, would you discourage your son away from career of garbage man? Certainly we need garbage men, we should consider it as the noble task that it is. But I wonder if we have been so subtley influenced by an evolutionary worldview that we fail to see the importance of some jobs. Even worse, we fail to see how pleased God is with those who are willing to humble themselves to work not remotely close to the top of the food chain.