June 30, 2008

The Two Wills of God

I was so pleased to hear that this topic was to be preached at my church yesterday. Andy Naselli (phd student, TEDS) approached a very challenging topic with academic skill and pastoral sensitivity, I'll be sure to link to the audio as soon as it becomes available online.

So you're thinking...has she gone mad? God has 2 wills? Let me explain.

You may have in the past heard about Gods will as it is revealed to us in the word, and chances are you've prayed or wondered about God's will in your own life. The Bible gives us a great deal of information on this topic.

Theologically, we can understand there to be 2 wills of God: his sovereign (or decretive will) and his moral (or preceptive will). His sovereign will is rooted in what has been decreed by him to take place. Apart from some prophecy, his sovereign will remains hidden until it comes to pass in time and space. God's moral will is rooted in what God has commanded/revealed in Scripture. We are responsible for obeying this aspect of his will as it has been revealed to us for such purposes.

The reason for this sermon was to address I Timothy 2:4 and whether or not God wants all people to be saved. This question relates to the nature of the atonement, and though my position on that is for the limited view, I simply cannot get into that in this post. But Andy does a great job showing that what God wants and what God decrees are often not the same thing, and that this doesn't create any sort of divine incoherence.

The idea of the 2 wills is indeed a paradox, but not a logical inconsistency. This isn't a matter of A=-A. We see this clearly in Scripture. We know that God is sovereign and yet man is still responsible for his sin. While the sin of murder, killing Jesus on the cross, was ordained by God (Acts 2:23), the men who did it are responsible for there actions. Without the text of Scripture we wouldn't understand God's sovereign will in this story, it is one of the few that are revealed to us.

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June 29, 2008

Blog Book Discussion: Living the Cross Centered Life

Over the next few weeks I will be engaging in a conversation with several women at my church. Our conversation will revolve around the nature of the gospel per the wonderful reflections of C. J. Mahaney in Living the Cross Centered Life. If you have an opportunity, pick up this book for yourself and join the discussion here at Flash Point. Mahaney writes,
'We never move from the cross, only into a more profound understanding of the cross.' The cross and its meaning aren't something we ever master.
How has the gospel transformed your life? Do you continue to experience its transformative power as you learn more about the triune God? I am constantly amazed when I consider God's absolute justice and his perfect love how it is that he would save us through the sacrifice of his own Son, the second person of the godhead. Believing this is one thing, but how many of us treat as more than merely an abstract, spiritual truth? Does the cross inform every area of your life? The cross centered life is truly the foundation of a Christian worldview.

June 27, 2008

Theology for it's Own Sake

The term theology can be intimidating because it sounds so academic. But theology simply refers to the study of God, and so to do theology is to pursue knowledge of God. People of different religious backgrounds study theology, but the study itself does not guarantee that we will all end up in the same place, primarily because we do not all begin in the same place. The starting point for the Evangelicals is the Bible, God's special revelation to humankind.

The study of God, doing theology, has everything to do with ministry to women in the church. Our relationship with God, as we discuss so frequently in women's circles, begins from the point of the gospel preached and continues through our study of Scripture, our prayer life, and times of worship, both corporately and on our own. Our relationship with God is never something other or separate from learning more about who he is: his attributes, his activity in human history, and contemplation of the glorious reunion we will someday enjoy with him.

Engaging in the process of theological reflection often takes us into areas of thought that leave us with mystery, awe, and further contemplation. Grappling with concepts like the Trinity or what is termed the "order of decrees" we often answer questions only to find more unanswered questions. And sometimes you're left with, "well what does it really matter? What does it really mean to my life?"

I want to suggest to you that doing theology for the sake of the process is important and should not be avoided because it might not relate specifically to something going on in your life. Surely the Scriptures provide stories and principles and doctrines that are intended to, when attended to with appropriate hermeneutical rules, direct our daily living. And I would even argue that the most abstract theological ideas have practical relevance. But I also want to encourage you in that doing theology for it's own sake has value independent of our own personal needs and wants.

The Westminster Catechism declares that man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. When we delve into the Scriptures and recognize them as the primary means to learning more about our Lord and Savior, and desire for the sake of the relationship to know more about who he is, we bring honor and glory to him. Each thing we learn about God may not have a direct correlation to how we go about our daily living--at least it won't seem that way on the surface--but pursuing knowledge of our Redeemer without an attitude of "what's in it for me" brings you even closer to this real person we know to be our God. Theology for it's own sake is not about accumulating a wealth of knowledge for selfish reasons, because even that would cease to be theology for it's own sake.

June 25, 2008

Church, Politics, and the New Dogma

Reported this week by the Pew Forum is that that 50 percent of U.S. evangelical Protestants are likely to be Republican or Republican-leaning compared to 34 percent who linked themselves to the Democratic Party. The survey draws primarily on nationwide polling of more than 35,000 U.S. adults. While this may seem like "politics as usual," it's not easy to compare these statistics with previous polls as the demographics are somewhat different. But what some are indicating is that these numbers reflect a change from previous years in that more evangelicals identified with issues regarded as standard to Republican party platform. But Obama's campaign of "change" is wooing younger evangelicals and we're seeing presidential race more dependent on issues of faith than not.

Relevant to these statistics reported by the Pew Forum is
Most evangelicals, whose denominations teach that Jesus is the sole route to salvation, instead say people who have "led good lives" go to heaven. Only one in three Catholics say their church should preserve its traditional beliefs rather than change with the times or adopt modern practices.
So while those identifying themselves as evangelicals has decreased, so too has their emphasis on doctrinal distinctives. A friend recently shared with me that her adult children are supporting Obama because they identify with the values and issues that are a part of his platform. These same children have zero interest in the doctrinal teachings of the church, finding them irrelevant and misplaced because our church and state needs to focus on the more "practical needs" of people.

I hesitate to suggest that the dogma of the evangelical community is shifting, but it is. This new dogma focuses on the outworking of the church's ministry in the community, but has a blatant disregard for the identity and mission of the church. As a Christian community, we are called to care for the widows, the needy, and protect the vulnerable. But that isn't the end of the mission, that's just the beginning.

The long-time fear among secularists that church and state separation is being breached are protesting little these days because they know that the new dogma of evangelicals has little to do with distinctively Christian practice. And as self-professed Christians continue to protest the exclusivisity of the faith and promote a ethics-based pluralism, secularism and enjoy irreligious nature of a nation entering the gates of post-Christianity.

June 19, 2008

'Today's Spiritual Giants Wear Lipstick'

Producing solid, intelligent written works often requires a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Well maybe not blood, but the process can be excruciating. Well-argued positions require facts and sometimes a wealth of understanding across multiple disciplines. Solid research and an acquisition of data with an ability to creatively communicate the results in a way that grabs the attention of the reader is a skill that takes time to develop. I'm still learning. Never is the regular use of broad sweeping generalizations or a tone of condescension considered acceptable among skilled writers, especially in the fellowship of evangelical writing and scholarship. And while I do not consider myself a scholar of any sort at this point in my life, I continue to practice the art of writing, always trying to pair readability with a high level of integrity.

So when I read books like How Women Help Men Find God, I well up inside with so much frustration because I can not believe that an otherwise intelligent person would write in this way. The title of this book seems harmless enough, appearing to be something every self-respecting Christian woman should own. But the level of disrespect this work has for women makes it impossible for any woman to respect herself any less.

How Women Help Men Find God is by the same author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. In How Women Help Men Find God, he builds on his perspective of the so-called feminization of the church and offers ways to reverse the trend.

There are several issues I have with this book that I hope to address in this post.
1. The condescending comments towards woman.
2. The overuse of generalizations and stereotypes.
3. The categorical errors.
4. The misunderstood problem.

The condescension and stereotypical views of gender begin on page one. Describing his first experience under the hood of a car, he writes
I had no idea this crazy tangle of wires, belts, and hoses even existed, much less made the car move. In the next few chapters, we will be looking under the hood of churchgoing. (Yes, I realize this is a guy type of analogy, I'm already training you to think like one of us.)
On page one of this book, Murrow is already trying to argue for some sort of polar-oppositeness, that women can't possibly be interested in cars or the type of thinking involved in this activity. I have known women all of my life who understand automotive needs with the ability to care for them on their own. Murrow definitely loses points with this statement, but I'll chalk it up to his having merely a casual view of femininity and masculinity, certainly not one informed by any theological research.

Speaking of the gender gap in today's church (60% who attend are women with only 10% of churches with an ongoing mens ministry, page 5) he writes,
No other religion suffers the huge gender gap Christianity does. In fact, Islam seems to have a bumper crop of men. So did the early church. In Bible days, men were the spiritual giants. Today's spiritual giants wear lipstick and eyeshadow. (p. 6)
Writing with a complete lack of appreciation for the fact that so many women are attending church, he drops the f(eminine) bomb, somehow thinking he is saying something substantive about women in the church today. Though my reading skills are limited to the English language, I have read some of the most difficult academic monographs in the disciplines of theology and philosophy, and yet I can't figure out what Murrow's point is regarding the lipstick and eyeshadow. In philosophy, we generally regard such comments as a fallacy. In this case, we can't even tell which fallacy it is. And regarding Islam, they also seem to have a "bumper crop of men" willing to blow themselves up and kill others in the process.

Murrow is also concerned with the hymn that are missing from the church pews (though even the pews are missing these days - not sure if women are to blame for that.) I share his dismay in this regard as many hymns are so rich and full of robust theological truths with timeless melodies and beautiful arrangements. But whose fault is it that these hymns are rarely sung during today's worship? And is he even correct that men better identify with them? Discussing his own longings for a masculine experience, he states:
My church was a soft and accepting place that was busy erasing men from hymns, liturgy, and Scripture. (p. 9)
Many of today's praise and worship songs are fine-tuned to the female heart. Some of these choruses make Jesus sound like our heavenly prom date. The concept of falling in love with Jesus may not bother women, but it feels weird to guys....You have a treasure chest of masculine music gathering dust on the shelf. It's called a hymnal, and within its pages you'll find rich veins of masculine expression, such as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Rise Up, O Men of God," and "Onward Christian Soldiers." I encourage you to sing these hymns as written, before they are gender-neutralized. (p. 92)
I can't be the only person that finds this alarming. And certainly there must be Christian men who are bothered by this sort of narrow-minded gender stereotyping. While Murrow very cautiously never points blame at women for the issues he is identifying throughout this book, he fails to see where the problem actually resides. The seeker movement is responsible for many of the failings in the contemporary church, seeking to bring an experience of entertainment to the chairs (again, the pews are gone), not working nearly as hard at making disciples. His corrective is really to perpetuate the seeker-driven mentality by changing the target population to men.
A man's worst nightmare is to become completely disabled, utterly dependent on others. A woman's worst fear is to be abandoned, left alone, and unloved. (p. 29)
Even if he provided stats to support this statement, I'm not sure I would embrace statement anyway. Of course, someone will argue that this is simply how men and women are wired, how could I argue with that? Without nuance, I find the statement simply condescending. He uses a fictitious "Sam & Sally" as a way of explaining this statement.
When Sam and Sally go to church, they hear a message like this: you need to give control of your life to God and enter into a personal relationship with the one who will never leave you or forsake you. For Sam to embrace this message, he would have to face his deepest fear--loss of control. But for Sally, the gospel means she'll never have to face her fear--she'll never be unloved. Who's getting the more attractive offer?
The teaching of the "personal relationship with Jesus" is something I've blogged about in the past and it is not without its problems. But this appears to be a case where Murrow elevates a sociological understanding of gender over matters of Scripture.

To conclude my thoughts at this point, allow me to share a final quote:
If we want to engage all persons, our churches should speak with a masculine accent....In this chapter, we identified the many currents that push our churches toward feminine values, expression, and reputation. If we want to avoid being swept downstream, we need to keep pushing toward the masculine. (p. 24-25)
Are we really going to view the church experience in terms of gender stereotyping? Does Murrow think that offending women is worth the corrective he suggests? And isn't he actually emasculating the men who don't fit into his paradigm of masculinity? These are all questions that need to be taken very seriously by those who are promoting this idea of the feminized church. As a complementarian woman, I am terribly disturbed by this high school approach to a problem that ultimately transcends gender. This is a human problem rooted in human arrogance. Treating the symptoms will not find a cure. That's been the problem with the seeker movement, it makes no sense to compound the problem.

How Women Help Men Find God is dependent upon gender stereotypes and fails to take into account the relative nature of femininity and masculinity that is cultivated by culture. I'd like to be able to enjoy being a Christian woman without my femininity defined for me by Christian men abiding by cultural stereotypes. Scripture provides my understanding of femininity, an area that certainly deserves more theological engagement in order to provide a more normative understanding of manhood and womanhood, especially from a reformed perspective.

June 18, 2008

Changing Perceptions

Womens ministry is for married women with children, homemakers, the retired and widows....there are places in the church to disciple singles, college age women, and teens. Is this your perception?

Today's culture provides ample reason for reconsidering the landscape of church womens ministry. With so many attacks on Christianity, so much confusion in areas such as women's rights and health, and with such a need to focus on the biblical literacy of the church, it is necessary to broaden the scope and impact of womens ministry.

Young women in college today are being bombarded with promotions from research facilities and infertility clinics, and are unprepared to protect their ovaries from these invaders who promise thousands of dollars in return for their eggs. Even younger ladies are given over to teen role models like Myley Cyrus and Britney Spears when they could get to know women like Mary at Jesus feet or Priscilla, both who are to be admired for their commitment to Jesus and a working knowledge of their faith. Role models for young women can also be found in the congregation itself.

My point is, womens ministry is bigger than our perceptions permit, and the opportunities to disciple and advance the Kingdom are enormous. Let's abandon the "we've always done it this way" mentality and minister according to the needs before us.
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June 16, 2008

Preparing to Serve: Why Women's Ministry Education Matters

It is my contention that as much as women can prepare for ministry through personal study and/or academic training, she will be better fit to serve the women in her congregation-pastors, you can't do it alone. Unfortunately, women don't often receive a great deal of encouragement to develop themselves in this way, the expectation just isn't there to excel as a competent theologian or expositor of Scripture. I'm here to say, with 60% of the church today being comprised of women, women in ministry have a great deal of work before them. Of these 60%, roughly 1/4 of them come to church without their husbands. These women need to be discipled so that they have every chance to know God and share Him with their husbands and children. These women and single mothers find themselves in a similar place.

The following is a short list of schools that offer educational programs in women's ministry. As I discover more Christian colleges and seminaries that make these available, I'll be sure to update the list:

Moody Bible Institute
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

June 9, 2008

Male = Masculine, Female = Feminine? PART 2

This topic has nothing to do with my view on gender roles in the church, nor is it necessary for that discussion to be a component of the topic of gender as I am raising it here. I am a complimentarian, probably modified to some extent, but a person nonetheless who doesn't ascribe to a view of women as Senior pastor and elder. I do believe I have a higher view of women than I think some of my complementarian brethren have, and it is this that I am trying to address. I'm not out to negotiate ecclesiastical roles or make irrelevant any distinction between male and female. What I do want to impress upon the church is that ideas of masculine and feminine are often the byproduct of culture. And when the bible speaks of male and female, we ought to use extreme caution in moving into the realm of masculine and feminine. We were created male and female and often those attributes we define as feminine and masculine are really virtues that all Christians should seek.

The belief in the feminization of the church is held by many leaders in the evangelical community, many of whom I have great respect for. In some respects, I agree that there is a problem with femininity in the church, but its a perspective of femininity that's been wielded against women in a very hurtful manner.

The following is one pastor's view of the distinction between femininity and masculinity. In this sense, the church has been feminized, because if the majority of people who attend church are women and they actually believe the things taught by this deliverance pastor (including the deliverance theology, but that's a topic for another day), then the church is in serious trouble. Christian women are terribly hurt by this idiocy and those who are furthering the cause of a "church for men," please consider how women might be intellectually and theologically displaced by this new trend.

June 8, 2008

Male = Masculine, Female = Feminine? PART 1

The title of this post might cause you to think that I'm in favor of a relativistic view of gender, that perhaps I see no difference between male and female. To put that notion to rest, let me say that I believe the opposite is true. There are obvious physical and biological differences that cannot be viewed relativistically or regarded as cultural constructs. For example, females, naturally, have the capacity for pregnancy, males do not. In the news recently, there was a story about a pregnant person living as a man, but this person is not male, she is female. The capacity of the body to function in particular ways points directly to maleness and femaleness. Even surgery, an attempt to be stripped of certain physical characteristics that are evidence of the maleness or femaleness, doesn't change the sex of said person. In the pursuit of transgenderedness, a male cannot contain the natural reproductive system of a female. The male, unsatisfied with his maleness, cannot fully conquer his gender.

Now that I've addressed what God in nature has fixed as male and female, my question is, is what is naturally male automatically masculine? Similarly, is what is naturally female automatically feminine? While I don't believe the physical/biological categories can ever be viewed relativistically or simply discarded, I believe we have a problem with the terms masculine and feminine. I believe in trying to define male and female through masculine and feminine we run into problems, even from a theological perspective.

The etymology of the word feminine dates back to the 14th century and finds its meaning in the Greek term thele, meaning nipple as it relates to function. I find satisfaction in understanding feminine in terms of a fixed anatomy with fixed function as these are absolute ways of understanding the distinction between feminine and masculine, even through every surgical attempt a person might pursue.

What I see happening within evangelical Christianity is an attempt to define feminine in terms of culturally influenced likes and dislikes that are far from fixed. While it is common for boys to like sports, it is not fixed by nature that only boys will like baseball. While it is common for girls to like cooking with mom, it is not fixed by nature that only girls would enjoy this activity. What is fixed by nature is that the cultural mandate to fill the earth requires both male and female, and that each has a distinctly different role in this act of recreating. The capacity to function in these ways is, where I believe, femininity and masculinity resides.

At this point, I haven't entirely answered the question, the title of this post. Look for part 2 shortly.

June 5, 2008

The Maginot Line of Separation

Set up by the French to keep the Nazis at bay in WWII, the Maginot line failed to live up to its intended purpose. Composed of concrete, tanks, and other artillery, the fortification was not enough to protect France from invasion.

Similarly, the so-called Wall of Separation, intended to keep the church-state divide intact, has been breached--by it's own architects. The wall, having been fortified by (the myth of) secular neutrality, is where certain truths are deemed "private values" and religious voices are excluded as they represent inescapable bias. The problem with this "line" of thinking has been the lack of recognition of the value-laden reality of secularism, because it is not possible for anyone to function without a worldview. Secularism is neither deaf or blind to what it deems to be religious.

Case in point--Barak Obama. His campaign ads and attempts to court undecided evangelicals brings new meaning to the separation of church and state. Now, it seems that religious voices are welcomed with open arms--as long as these voices are dominated by left-leaning values. Perhaps this isn't new at all, but we've taken further steps as a nation to ensure that it is acceptable to silence those whose values focus on human dignity. Obama's focus on faith in his speeches as well as his pastor problems has caused him to stand out as one of the most overtly religious presidential candidates. Given the political nature of his church experience, it's clear that he holds to a pick-and-choose mentality on the separation of church and state. His inconsistencies speak to the breech of the wall of separation. In the short term, this is a serious problem for the well being of our country as it exposes Americans to a set of values that create dependence on government and fail to hold individuals responsible. But in the long run, does this breech hold open the door to more acceptance of religious voices in the public square?
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June 3, 2008

Worldviews in Conflict: Secular Spirituality’s Heart-hold on Women

The Bible never promised that sharing the gospel and making disciples would be easy. What we are told is that in all ways we should represent Christ with a love for others that doesn’t call into question our integrity or compromise the message. Even further, 1 Peter 3:15 urges each of us to be prepared to give an answer for our faith, but “with gentleness and meekness.” Unfortunately, it’s not always received in the manner it is presented, but despite unintended consequences, telling the truth is, nonetheless, the call of every believer.

Showing the contrast between the historic Christian faith and the secular-friendly spiritualities of today’s world may not go over well with friends and neighbors. In fact, there are many women within the walls of the church who are attracted to the latest wave of talk-show religiosity. These age-old heresies in celebrity attire have a heart-hold on women everywhere, revealing an urgent need for apologetics--a defense of the faith--in women’s ministry.

In the Oprah-endorsed book “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, truth is redefined as you. Forget that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, or that there are facts about God, life and reality that we can be certain about. All of this is tossed out for the sake of you. Tolle writes:
There is only one absolute Truth, and all other truths emanate from it. When you find that Truth, your actions will be in alignment with it. Human action can reflect that Truth, or it can reflect illusion. Can the Truth be put into words? Yes, but the words are, of course, not it. They only point to it.

The Truth is inseparable from who you are. Yes, you are the Truth…Jesus tried to convey that when he said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” These words uttered by Jesus are one of the most powerful and direct pointers to the Truth, if understood correctly. If misinterpreted, however, they become a great obstacle. Jesus speaks of the innermost I am, the essence identity of every man and woman, every life-form, in fact. (p. 71)

This section from “The New Earth” is laden with difficulties. If truth cannot be found in words, but is self-contained in the knower (that’s you), then Scripture has no meaning and there has been no self-disclosure from the God of Scripture. This is a direct assault on the authority of Scripture and the Christian worldview, dangerous to anyone who subjects their mind to this way of thinking. There are eternal ramifications. As well, if there is no truth to be found in words, Tolle has no truth to impart on the matter. The self-refuting nature of his argument is glaring.

The authority of Scripture is only one of Tolle’s challenges to orthodox Christianity. It cannot be suggested that every person, “every life-form,” is the way, and the truth and the life, without holding that these are all God. This is a teaching called pantheism and is a common teaching of Eastern religions, as Tolle himself explains in this book. God cannot be identified with the Universe or the created order as God is the creator of all things.

The search for truth is, I believe, the result of the search for meaning and significance. As women gravitate to the spiritual gurus of self-helpianity trying to get a handle on their place in this world, they need to know that Truth exists and is found in the person and work of Jesus. Someone needs to be ready to give an answer, the only way to peace and contentment is through knowing the God of all creation. The meaning of life is found in Christ. WFC

June 1, 2008

Loving God, Living Contentment

Looking back on our lives, each of us is prone to think about the “shouldve’s” and “couldve’s”. “If I had made a different decision, life would be so much better.” Similarly, in the present, we often ponder the way things should be. As one writer[1] has expressed it, we act as if we’re living “plan B” while we await God’s “plan A” to rescue us from the current circumstance—as if it couldn’t possibly be “plan A.” Those who are waiting for the right job or right spouse know exactly what I mean. Although it is difficult to resist this way of thinking, every attempt must be given to pursue a life of contentment. In this regard, Philippians 4:10-13 states:

… I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The Apostle Paul serves as one of many biblical illustrations of what it means to be content, even in the most difficult circumstance. But his ability to be content is not rooted in his own personal will power to endure or cope through sticky situations but in the strength provided to him by God to endure through all things, accompanied by the higher value of the advancement of the gospel (1:12).

Very few of us will ever experience the kind of life as that of Paul or any other missionary persecuted for the sake of Christ. This is not to diminish the day to day concerns each one of us faces daily, because we know, not only, that God cares about the details of our life, but that in his providence he ordained each day. The appropriate response then is to live in a way that accords to loving God with our heart, soul and mind. The person who is content in their life will focus on God and not on themselves.

[1] James, Carolyn Custis. When Life and Beliefs Collide. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) p. 72.