May 30, 2008

Epidemic Among Women

Apparently there is concern that women all over the U.S. are experiencing feelings of low self-worth. Some even suggest that this is an epidemic. I have difficulty believing that this is the case, in fact, I would suggest that the opposite problem exists. I know, there are women who are going to great lengths to improve their physical image by undergoing physical enhancements such as breast implants, liposuction, face lifts, and botox treatments--among other things. I don't believe these actions are primarily the result of low self worth, but are evidence of a society that is never satisfied and just wants more. These women aren't necessarily dissatisfied with who they are, they are dissatisfied with what they have--and don't have. The quest for extended life spans and a youthful appearance that endures into the 60s isn't an issue with low self-worth, its a manifestation of entitlement. "If I can, I will." This is the real epidemic, and it transcends the issue of physical enhancements. It explains the rampant materialism and consumerism that plagues our world....and it does stop at the doors of the church.

As leaders in womens ministry, we have an opportunity--and responsibility--to help women reconfigure how they view the world, living the Christ-centered rather than the self-centered life. Don't be deceived--women, for the most part, feel very good about themselves.
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May 25, 2008

Feminization of the Church: Random Thoughts

Bonnie’s posts at Intellectuelle as well as my own engagement with the church’s concern over the feminization of the church has prompted numerous random thoughts. To springboard a bit from Bonnie’s posts on the topic, we need to know how it is being stated that the church’s feminization manifests. This is what I have learned through some of my own research:

1. The majority of those who attend church (on average) are women, over 60%. Related to this fact is that somewhere between ¼ and 1/5 of this percentage are women who attend without their husbands.

2. Some of the music reflects, supposedly, a femininity that men cannot identify with. This, in my mind, begs the question of what masculine music sounds like. I think we’re in safe territory questioning the theological depth of much of our worship music, or the quality of the music as art. Are we to identify the masculinity of music as that which lacks a supposed level of sappiness that is wrongly construed as feminine? Are songs such as Change My Heart Oh God and As the Deer considered feminine whereas songs like He Is Exalted and Blessed Be Your Name might be considered more masculine? I’m not even sure if these would be considered masculine, but they often differ (depending on the worship leader) from the former in tempo and key. If, indeed, tempo and style, speak anything about masculinity or femininity, I fear what might be said about some of the greatest classical works like those of Brahms, Handel, and Haydn.

3. Women in leadership. This is an area where I part ways from many of my friends. I’ve settled on the complementarian perspective, that Scripture does not permit women to be elders, thereby preventing them from the role of senior pastor. This, however, need not be a limitation for women with leadership gifts to serve the church in areas of teaching other women and coming alongside the male leadership in a consultancy capacity. There is a great deal that women have to contribute to the health of the church in addition to teaching Sunday school. It would serve the church well to respect the intellectual gifts of women. As men are discussing the feminization of the church, it would serve them well to be in dialogue with thoughtful, theological women in this process. More men might also consider taking on the role of Sunday school teacher. Teaching children should not be a concession to women (as it seems to be), children should be viewed as the greatest resource of the church to make an impact on our culture in future generations. If the church has been feminized because of anything women have done, might it be because so few men are involved?
In the context of a church with a complementarian culture, the issue of women in leadership is a moot point. This cannot be the blame (if that’s the term we are using) for the feminization of the church. As has been attributed to Phil Johnson at a 2007 men’s conference, the feminization has been caused largely by the abdication of Christian men.

Nancy Pearcey quotes Ann Douglas from her book The Feminization of American Culture, that

"ministry lost a toughness, a sternness, an intellectual rigor which our society then and since has been accustomed to identify with masculinity” and instead took on 'feminine'” traits of care, nurturing, sentimentalism, and retreat from the harsh ethos of the public arena” (Total Truth, 335).

I’m terribly bothered that intellectual rigor is considered a masculine trait by default. The seeker movement and the therapeutic Christianity that has come to dominate the culture of so many publishers and churches is the product of male leadership and lacks a great deal of intellectual rigor. I’m quite sure that having more men in the pews will not repair this epidemic, and I’m not sure that a church with a female majority is really the problem. More and more women within the evangelical community want to do the challenging work of theological reflection and are bored to tears (pardon the pun) with talking about their feelings and only allowed to do church in the form of parties revolving around cosmetics and chocolate. They want more, and a great deal of male leadership has pigeon-holed women’s ministry as a place to be emotional and fluffy, perpetuating the problem.

Looking at feminization through the lens of history, however, perhaps we can better understand it by considering the role the industrial revolution played in taking husbands out of the homes to work in factories, placing women in necessary functional leadership roles in the family. And in this sense, perhaps we can suggest that it was the industrial revolution that sparked the feminist revolution and the feminization of church and culture. Progress may have more to do with feminization than anything else.

Final Thoughts
As a Christian woman with a passion for theological precision, and coming from a Reformed perspective, I think that this whole discussion about the feminization of the church has been without concern for how it affects women. Because certain traits are regarded as masculine and feminine, it’s as if the rug has been pulled out from under women who might be hurt by the tone of the discussion. I say this, because if “hurt” or “sensitivity” are considered feminine “feelings,” then by virtue of the topic, a negative response to it by a woman would probably be considered evidence of the problem. Setting the topic up this way, in itself, lacks virtue and logic. I hope more women can be brought into the discussion, because this is much deeper than masculine or feminine, it’s about Christ-centeredness or human-centeredness, the latter which is typified through the therapeutic subculture of the church.

I have SO MUCH MORE to say on this topic, but I will conclude for now with the place of women in the biblical narrative. I wonder if the disciples thought Jesus was feminizing their new movement by engaging so many women….Mary and Martha of Bethany, the woman at the well, the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet, the women he appeared to at the resurrection. We read a great deal about how Jesus interacts with women and cares enough to bring them to theological maturity. In this sense, I find this aspect of who Jesus is absent from so much of today’s male leadership in the church. I expect more. And I know women need more.

May 22, 2008

The Exploitation of Church and State

Last week in Kentucky, a flier from the Obama campaign was distributed, picturing a large cross and boldly stating, "Faith. Hope. Change." His campaign was reported as stating, "We want people to know what is important to him, and a large part of that is his Christian faith." (Courier Journal).

There may be a certain people who identify themselves as Christians who are swayed by this, but this tactic will have little effect on those Christians who know where he stands on the war, gay marriage, abortion, and embryonic stem cell research. What we don't know about where he stands on other issues is moot at this point as he's willing to see the foundation of civilization--the family unit--disinigrate.

When religion is used as a political ploy, serious Christians find themselves patronized and religion exploited. Obama isn't the first person to use faith as a means to an end, but it's clear that is exactly what he's doing in his run for the White House.
"Faith. Hope. Change." Does this tagline imply that Obama is looking to become our first elected, politically correct Minister in Chief? Even in Huckabee's campaign, Huckabee worked hard to make clear that he wasn't trying to become America's highest ranking chaplain. And many evangelicals supported Romney, despite their substantive theological disagreements over Mormonism. But Romney wasn't running for Theologian-in-Chief, no question about it.

It is not wrong to have a religious posture, but adopting a religious posture for the sole purpose of gaining favor of Christians is demeaning to the office of President. Competence is the highest qualification for the office of President, but politically-expedient religiosity misses the mark entirely.
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May 21, 2008

Evangelism and God's Self-Disclosure

Inclusivism isn't dead because evangelicals aren't drilling the importance of systematic thinking in the lives of church members. Without examining how one held doctrine relates to or impacts belief of another doctrine, it can be easy for believers to hold on to opposing views. For instance, if you believe that only those who consciously place their faith in Jesus Christ are saved, you can't also hold that "God...may save some who have never heard of Christ" (Gagging of God, 279). This is a position called soft inclusivism and means essentially that those who live a life committed to the God revealed in creation, but not known to them as the triune Father, Son, and Spirit, can still be saved. Sadly, I recently heard Romans 1 explained in this way by a seasoned Christian woman, advocating that the passage is describing an opportunity for salvation to people who have never heard the gospel preached instead of the responsibility or culpability of a person to recognize that God exists and he is seen in all of creation and that there is a sense of order that cannot be ignored.

This isn't just a harmless perspective on a non-essential doctrine, it is a grave error in the handling of scripture and speaks to how even many mature believers haven't been taught how to think through the implications of a doctrine. God is just and loving, but man is, by nature, a sinner and needs to hear the gospel, needs regeneration, and needs to confess with his mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord - no other way about it.

If, perhaps, we give any credence to this view of soft-inclusivism, what is it we're saying about the role of evangelism? Is it not ridiculous to send out missionaries if God will save them anyway? I'm reminded of Ephesians 6:12 that states:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
How can the person who does not know Christ put on the whole armor of God? How can they do battle? We must be more concerned with the doctrines we teach, but also with how each of these doctrines is integrated in our lives with other held beliefs. When inclusivism rears its ugly head in your church, bible studies, or book clubs, don't be shy about addressing it in the clearest terms.

May 15, 2008

Keeping the Home: Titus 2 and the Intellectual Life

Growing up in my family was challenging. I know that every family has their flaws and serious imperfections, but my experiences as a child, I believe, stand out among all that can be called peculiar.

My mom would say that I grew up in a Christian home, my brother would say we did not. I suggest that my Christianity as a child had very little to do with my home, but God certainly used the bizarre and peculiar to develop me into his servant.

My childhood is full of lots of stories. That fact that I was taught to think about God but was never given the intellectual tools to do so speaks well to God's intervention in my life. As a Sunday school student in the United Methodist Church, I learned to open my Bible--but that's about it. The greatest lesson I learned from that church is that God is sovereign. That, however, wasn't a message in a sermon. That came up in a meeting where my mom had been told by the pastor that God can't possibly know when you are going to die.

As a teen, I learned about death and how hard it can be for someone to face as an onlooker. The experience of seeing someone close to her in age drove my mom to pursue the pastoral care of the local RCC priest. I think she was cared for and I was able to see from a distance the important ministry of counseling. But nevertheless, we moved on after she found herself disappointed there..

While in high school, my mother who was now completely disillusioned by the Church, decided it was time to join a cult. In the not so distant past, we hid from the Jehovah's Witnesses whenever they hearkened our front door and now she was seeking to become a baptized member. This made so little sense to me, but hence, I was along for the ride. It wasn't long before I was involved in studies, the situation forcing me to think about why we celebrate birthdays, Christmas, and the deity of Christ. Needless to say, my radar was up as I had already been exposed to some solid preaching, the most sound coming through a baptist vacation bible school. I also do not underestimate the value of Christian radio as it would be emanating from the family stereo all hours of the day and night.

I clearly did not have all the answers as I was moved around from church to church, sort of like a military kid. I did, however, have enough theological intuition such that my mind was not vulnerable to every wind of doctrine that came before me.

Growing up in this environment instilled a passion for knowing God and seeking truth. I had no interest in the moral life outside of true faith as I was constantly besieged by my mom's gospel of legalism. I think the bottom line is that I was not in a home that was being kept spiritually. I had food, warm clothes, I was clean, but I had no example of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It is by the grace of God that I have become that person today. I know that through my experiences God was preparing me for a ministry to women that engages the mind. My mom may have on the surface partially fulfilled the teaching of Titus 2, and she may have just done the best she could. But I know that "keeping the home" involves more than domestic prowess, it necessitates sitting at the feet of Jesus and learning to teach, not standing in the shoes of the Pharisees and hoping your family gets their act together.
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May 14, 2008

Engaging Holiness

Last night I was doing a study on the use of the word 'encourage' as it is found in Scripture. As it turns out, encourage, sophronizo in Greek, is used only in Titus 2:4,

so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children (NASB).

The term refers to discipleship in a restorative sense, suggesting that the passage is emphasizing a better way for women to live than the way to which they were accustomed. A brief study of what Crete was like at the time reveals a society of great immorality. In contrast to what were the casual norms of that society, Titus was instructed to teach about conduct and character that "accords with sound doctrine" (2:1). For women, this meant that older women were to mentor younger women, exhorting them

to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (ESV).

In light of the youthfulness of the church in Crete which is noted by the fact that Titus was there to appoint elders (1:5) in every city, it would make sense that the Christians had not yet learned to live in a way which brought glory to God and an opportunity for the Gospel. The Cretans, essentially liars and drunkards, needed to be discipled, to learn to live in ways which did not reflect poorly on the message of Christianity or the person of Christ. These were not believers who were solidly rooted in the doctrine of the church; heresy was rampant, not really at odds with truth because the church was too young to boldly proclaim truth. This climate enabled men and women to live in whatever way was pleasing to them. The instructions to women in 2:4-5 provided a dramatic change from the life they were use to.

So now I want to turn your attention to the fact that I began this particular study of Titus because women are often drawn to this and Proverbs 31 as core areas of study. Entire ministries are built upon these passages, used as platforms for promoting certain ideals for women that understand these passages through the lens of 1950’s Western culture. I am not in dispute with the clear message of Titus 2, that women are to love their families and keep their homes and to submit to their husbands, but 1) how this looks varies by era and culture and 2) displaces single women or forces them into marriages of spiritual expedience. How women live as believers in our culture is the same as it was for the women in Crete: to love their families, to live pure and holy lives, and to use moderation in all things. For women who are not married, these principles exist for them as well. From Titus 2:4 we get a general picture of the holy life, not a set of particulars on things such as homeschooling our kids, career and education, or an injunction that all women should learn to be great cooks. What we get is an understanding that Christian living involves setting ourselves aside for the benefit of others, an example of how Jesus lived and died. In Crete, men and women who identified themselves as Christians needed to be restored to the cause of Christ by learning how to live in a way that did not actively engage sin. And as the more mature believers were brought into a closer relationship with the Son of God and learning to live in a way that reflects this change, they then had the opportunity to influence more immature believers. As any good entrepreneur knows, an effective path to success is to be able to duplicate what you do. Titus was able to appoint and train elders, they in turn were able to train the more mature members of the churches, and they in turn were able to disciple the younger members. I’m excited to continue in this tradition, to mentor and be mentored, but not if that means understanding Titus 2 as a set of particulars that coincide with a certain subset of the evangelical subculture in the 21st century.

May 12, 2008

Women's Ministry Leadership: Teaching Scripture, Avoiding Fads

I'm always looking for the latest book or study for womens ministry study groups. My expectations are usually low because there is so much fluff or theologically weak materials available. Pondering this problem caused me to reflect on the market altogether and why it even exists. While there are many bible studies that exist for men and for mixed groups, I question why there are so many more available to women...and I think its because there are so few womens ministry leaders with the capacity to teach without a study or curriculum. I'd love to be wrong. If there are more women who are capable of expounding on God's Word without the aid of a Beth Moore video or Cynthia Heald study, I'd love to know. I'm not saying those materials shouldn't be available, but it probably speaks to the composition of womens leadership in evangelical circles. What women in the local church are available and equipped to regularly teach directly from Scripture? Because, as it seems to me, that there are few women who can fulfill this role, we need to rethink some things about womens ministry.

1. If there are women gifted to teach in your church, what is preventing them from exercising that gift?

2. Encourage young women to pursue seminary education to serve women in the local church. While I think young women are interested in this, I think there are few more mature women who know to encourage them this direction.

3. Churches: encourage women's ministry leaders to pastoral ministry, not simply event planning. Women can be called "Pastor of Womens Ministry" without compromising any views of roles in the church. Promote the value of women pursuing advanced education to serve the local church.

4. The "rock star" perception of womens conference speakers has got to end. This way of viewing the more famous leaders has a way of making church womens leaders feel very small and irrelevant.

5. Few pastors are raised up out of the ranks of the pews without them pursuing at least a college degree, but usually seminary. Yet this expectation doesn't exist for women's ministry leaders. Why? It's not necessary that she have a seminary degree, but I fear we do more to discourage it than encourage it.

I probably have many points I'm trying to make with this post, but mostly I want to encourage those who are gifted teachers in womens ministry to function according to those gifts and not be dependent on the next cool fad to hit the bookstore.

May 9, 2008

Mother's Day & the Silent Relationships

According to Wikipedia, Mother's Day was first celebrated by Anna Jarvis in West Virginia in 1905 to commemorate her mother's death 2 years previous. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday of May as Mother's Day.

Like so many holidays that are packed with meaning, Mothers Day has gone the way of Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter as a victim of consumerism. Is there anything worse? Well, I'm afraid there is.

Mothers Day loses its meaning without that which makes a woman a mother, and that is the relationship with her child. I am not only speaking of the warm, loving relationship of a mother and daughter/son, I'm also speaking of the biological relationship that's overlooked in the spirit of technology and progress.

Today, young women sell their eggs for purposes of research and fertility treatments. They undergo a series of hormone injections and invasive procedures in order for their eggs to be harvested and used to assist another in her pregnancy, or a research lab to practice somatic cell nuclear transfer. I don't believe these young women really understand what they are doing. After an egg is harvested, it's fertilized or coaxed to become an embryo -- that embryo is the egg donor's genetic offspring. Some of these embryos will go into frozen storage--her genetic offspring. Other embryos will be killed in research--again, her genetic offspring.

This Mothers Day as we celebrate the relationships with our moms and our kids, and remember the history of the occasion, let us not forget the children whose mothers don't know how to see them.

In the Bible, the inability to have a child is met with many emotions including deep sadness and even humiliation. The ability to continue a familial lineage was a high value. For Hannah, it was not just the joy and pride to have a child, it was also about the kind of child she might be blessed with--one who would serve God. Left in the hands of her almighty God, she prayed that her one wish would be fulfilled--and Hannah became a mother.

Today our misguided world is so intent on destroying, abusing, and profiting from our children, they have lost sight of the fact that these children still have mothers.
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May 6, 2008

Wallis, Social Issues, and Interdenominational Dialogue

In an interview (not yet posted online) with CT, Jim Wallis gives answers on social issues that are no suprise. While he's adamant on his position on abortion, "The abortion debate has gotten very stale...No one seems to care about the abortion rate...The Republicans want a constitutional amendment banning abortion. That's just symbolic..." Wallis uses vague language to keep the door open for his position on gay marriage. And in a very strange way, Wallis believes poverty is the new slavery. He says "Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That's my judgment." As a child, I experienced poverty in rural Wisconsin, yet my own experience wasn't anything like what we see in other places in the world. But it was the opportunities that only a free society can offer that provided my freedom from poverty, if poverty is, indeed, the moral equivalent to slavery.

Asked about civil rights for gays, Wallis talked about it his belief in equal protection under the law, but on the topic of gay marriage he offered no surprises. "But marriage is all through the Bible, and it's not gender-neutral. I've never done a blessing for a same-sex couple...I'm not sure that I would" which means he's not sure that he wouldn't. At this point he insists that churches who disagree on this matter have a "theological conversation" but "live with their differences" and focus their energies on poverty and disease. Clearly those are important issues, too, but now I want to have a debate with Wallis on why we must listen to him and simply live with the differences. Is it the higher moral ground to cave on certain issues and not cave on other issues? Who determines what issues we cave on? Wallis? He sounds a bit like the democrats who expect consevatives to cross the aisle while they sit still. Wallis' condemnation of the Episcopal Church is another example of calling for conversation without expectation for action or decisiveness. Perhaps Wallis is confused, because the church is certainly expected to have views on issues of personal morality...the qualifications of elders and matters of church discipline in Scripture make that abundantly clear. In his recounting of events while he attended TEDS, he insisted on the centrality of the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of the Scriptures, yet it is clear from the interview that his appropriation of the fuller testimony of Scripture is limited.

Stan Guthrie offered a response to the notion that abortion is just one of many social concerns, saying that "if everything is a priority, then nothing is." This is the message that I have been persistent in sharing because there isn't one evangelical who can adequately address every social ill. We need Christians working hard on a variety of issues, and the largeness of the abortion debate and stem cell research necessitates wider evangelical engagement. It's a more complex issue than some others because it involves philosophical dialogue on the nature of personhood and when life begins. It doesn't take quite that much work to agree that poverty is ugly, but it does ask us to consider how to affect societies for longer-term change. My specialization in theology and bioethics doesn't make me the best person to launch a crusade against oppressive forms of government. But there are other evangelicals who might serve better in that area than in the prolife movement or other areas. But for Wallis to encourage dialogue and move no further is irresponsible.

May 5, 2008

Redeeming Martha

Last week I heard a woman at my church teach on Luke 10, describing herself at times as an "accidental Martha." By that, she was referring to Martha's heart, not choosing the "good part" as her sister had, but letting her circumstances weigh on her to the extent that she could not enter into that special place with Jesus.

Well, the story of Martha does not end with this account, and in my view, Martha needs to be seen with new eyes. Of course, the account in Luke 10 has merit to be studied on its own, but to gather a more complete picture of Martha, we need to look further.

In John 11, the account of Lazarus' illness, death, and resurrection, we see that many of the Jews had come to console Mary and Martha. Martha had heard that Jesus was coming, but she did not wait for him, she went and met him while Mary remained in their house. Why did Martha go?? Martha has obviously learned a great deal since the kitchen encounter becuse in this account, we see a strong woman of faith pursuing Jesus with not just hope but also with understanding. She had chosen the good part, to be in the presence of her Lord.

Are we growing up like Martha? Are you able to articulate core doctrines of the faith as Martha learned of the resurrection? Even our grief, as shown in this account, must be Christ-centered, pursuing Jesus should not be limited to times of comfort.
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