July 6, 2008

Elevating Theological Reflection in Women's Ministry

The stated mission if the Foundation for Women of Faith in Culture is to play a role in the spiritual growth of Christian women through biblical, theological, and worldview education. Implicit in this is the belief that the Scriptures are God's revelation to man and that it is God's desire for us to understand what is communicated therein.

Now obviously, there are are debates about the meaning of some of that which is contained in Scripture, and these differences logically lead to denominationalism. We may not like denominations, but as we search the scriptures and are convinced of their meaning, it makes no sense that we would reside in a setting that is unwelcoming of certain held beliefs. Some of the more minor issues that are often a source of division include the frequency of communion and the style of worship. More significant issues might include the form of government espoused by a church, the manifestation of certain spiritual gifts, the involvement of women in the congregation, and the meaning of baptism. While I don't believe any person's salvation is hinged on what they believe about any of these issues (with the exception of baptism), we must not reduce theological reflection to the latest "hot" theological topic that has no real significance. Nor should we be left to assume that we can't possibly get to the truth on theological issues simply because thoughtful people differ. The message that is sent is twofold: 1) it is impossible to get to the truth of complicated biblical passages and 2) the truth of those passages doesn't ultimately make that much of a difference.

Helping women to think theologically is my life's passion because I know personally how knowing God, his relationship to his creation, and how he functions in the world makes sense out of my own life. Knowing that nothing is outside of God's control gives me great comfort when life presents great difficulties, and knowing that I am saved because God prepared my heart to understand the things of the spirit (1 Cor. 2:14) leaves me in complete awe of his absolute power. The fact is, every time we do Bible study and reflect on its teachings, we are doing theology. And there are no limits to what we can reflect on in Scripture and occasionally we bump into areas of theology that require a bit more intellectual elbow grease than we are accustomed to using. Unfortunately, a recent teaching by Beth Moore and her series on Romans only seems to intimidate and discourage women from the process of doing theology in hopes of locating truth, though to her credit, she says she hopes women will study the issues of systematic theology on their own. You can listen to the audio for yourself here.

The following are comments transcribed from the audio on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. It refers to whichever theological box one might espouse:

...we will be tempted in every class we’re in, every sermon we hear….everything’s got to fit into it because it’s so important it’s going to be how the heart of salvation expresses itself in the hearts of man….we’ll hear everything according to this. I beg you not to do it....I beg us not to decide what we really think and make everything have to line up with that. I beg you like I begged myself that you and I are going to have to go into this with some kind of openness.
Beth Moore's assumption is that if you think systematically, your tendency is going to be to fit new found beliefs into a given system rather than allowing the Scriptures to speak for themselves. That may be a danger for some people, but there is also the element of allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, and if we see a contradiction in Scripture--not a paradox--then we have to search out other areas of Scripture to help make sense out of things.

Beth suggests at one point that as it pertains to the Calvinist/Arminian debate, she would like to be free to put her own doctrinal points together, thus creating another system.

I don’t want to be in either one, I want to pick and choose….I want to mix and match my own. And still we come up with our own thing. There is all manner of modification of Calvinism. I want you to hear in Arminianism….a real leaning of mine….Arminians believe that God’s omniscient foreknowledge is the basis of unconditional election. I want to believe that how God makes his choices is because of what he knows.

Another area I'd like to focus your attention on has to do with Jacobus Arminius and his relationship with Beza. She states:

One reason we have so much debate is because both of these schools of thought can be found in Protestantism. That’s our deal, we can’t agree on anything… It’s absolutely exhausting. A dutch pastor, his teacher Theodore Beza was John Calvin’s chosen…he was his chosen, his hand-picked successor. Beza was Arminius’ teacher… but he could not accept that God was the author of sin...he could not go there. Mainline hyper-calvinistic thought still has to come back there, does not mean, let me be clear-God is absolutely sinless, but saying he is still the originator of it, and the author of it..

The above transcription from the audio deserves to be heard as I admit, the punctuation may cause some inflection to go missing. Be sure to listen to it on your own. But I am concerned that her teaching on the Calvinist/Arminian debate moved into the area of hypercalvinism without explanation, creating a logical fallacy. This is entirely unhelpful to the listener who lacks familiarity with theology, or only has minimal understanding of this timeless debate. And as it relates to the problem of evil and God's sovereignty, her discussion irresponsibility lacks the precision required to effectively discuss these matters.

Beth has a large audience of women paying close attention to her teachings of Scripture, reflecting with her theologically and integrating into life the truths they are discovering together. I hope this particular presentation of Romans 9 causes women to pursue a greater understanding of God--doing theology--than was encouraged by this particular message. She said it would be good for her listeners to search these matters out on their own, but she spoke in a way that communicated it ultimately didn't matter that much, that it would be incredibly exhausting and one could go for years without really knowing anything at all. She concluded her discussion with the following quote by A.W. Tozer which she says she quotes "many times":

God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest." Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints. link
True enough that there are areas of Scripture which will never make complete sense given our incomplete knowledge, but our willingness to live and love mystery is not a concession to doing theology, it is part of the process. We don't entirely understand election, predestination, and divine sovereignty, but we know from Scripture that they are true. Women in the church need not avoid theology, we need to engage it. As mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, there are people in our life who need to hear from us on the truths contained in Scripture. By conceding to the idea that we can't get to any truth, we leave ourselves enslaved to an immature faith.

1 comment:

Collin Brendemuehl said...

This bothers me the most:
"Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints"

B&w fallacy. Only two options. What about making STRONGER saints? Do people need stereotypes or do they need to understand and grow further?

Good post.