November 29, 2009

Is Jesus a Democrat or a Republican?

It’s stupid to even entertain the question. But every time I see it posed, it isn’t for getting people to focus on issues instead of remaining blind devotees to political parties. Intentional or not, it often serves as a way to distract people from important issues that do deserve our attention. “How can we come together as a nation instead of remaining so divided?” The unspoken fallacy occurs when it is stated that Jesus was neither a democrat or a republican. Are we really suppose to believe he wouldn’t have had a view on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, or gay marriage? When the highest moral value of a culture is unity at the expense of principle, there is no real unity and we can wonder if principles ever existed in the first place.

So when people in the pews hear their church leaders espouse this same ideal, that we should be cautious about political partisanship (generously stated), I’m not convinced the people are sophisticated enough to know that they aren’t being (or shouldn’t be) told to abandon positions on issues that are thought out and held up against the light of scripture. I know that many in the church are ill-equipped to think theologically about their personal lives, let alone matters that face our entire culture. So I have to wonder if this lack of distinction between public issues and politics in general even matters if the church is unable to think theologically, if its members are just starting to develop a Christian worldview.

Could the above reflections have any relationship to the fact that of the millions of evangelicals in the U.S., less than of us 200,000 have signed on to the Manhattan Declaration? And many of the signers are likely Roman Catholic.

November 25, 2009

Worship in Silence

This is a topic I've been reflecting on for awhile now, so while I know it doesn't fit ideally with the current Thanksgiving motif, I didn't want to squander these thoughts.

I don't often navigate in the world of worship ministry, so I have no idea if or to what extent this has been a topic of discussion. However, I am not so sheltered that I am unaware of the debates over contemporary vs. traditional music/worship services. Ok, so by now you're wondering where I am going...here it is.

Visiting a church last weekend in Wisconsin, I discovered that I was unable to participate in very much of the singing portion of the service. No, I didn't have laryngitis, and though I'm typically quite bashful with my fellow congregants on Sunday morning, I am not prevented from my time with the Lord in song...unless I don't know the song. This isn't something inherent to visiting a church, sometimes I experience this in my own church. There are times when I can't participate even a little in some of the songs because I'm given only words by projector, I have no access to any of the musical notation--unless it happens to be in a hymnal, which is rare in my experience.

Petty concern? Perhaps you're right, maybe it is. But I persist. I recollect as a child that before I knew how to read music, I closely examined the musical notation in the hymnals. Worship was something I was always able to participate in because at the very least, I could follow the directionality of the notes. I knew when to sing higher or lower....and after more experience with the notation, I was able to determine which notes moved faster than others. Once I did learn how to read music, participation became even easier and, in my opinion, more fruitful.

Prior to my interest in theological studies, I was playing the trumpet actively and passionately, to the extent that I was involved in leading instrumentalists on a worship team. When I began my theological studies, I began to ponder the relationship between music and God. For instance, inherent to music is logic. It makes mathematical sense and is as coherent as a grammatically correct sentence. It also manages to speak to our affections, even without lyrics. That doesn't mean that we will always like or enjoy every manifestation of music, but it does always seem to make sense, even when it doesn't. Music often enjoys the paradox of being logical and beautiful, and in my case there was the byproduct of helping me learn fractions. I will spare you that particular detail.

My understanding of music history is very weak. I don't know anything about the history of notation or when it became common to use notation within congregational worship settings. The Psalms, obviously, are full of references to music and worship and the New Testament references the importance of corporate worship and individual participation (Colossians 3:16). But corporate worship requires the involvement of each of us as individuals. I am left to wonder if, not only has the seeker movement or other similar phenomenons proved damaging to the church by adding the hi-tech aspects to worship in order to make it entertaining or friendly, does the inability of the individual to participate reinforce the idea of the worship-performance team?

Are we also raising up generations of young people who may never enjoy the language of music because they are seldom exposed to it in its written form? Will they ever experience God the way generations before them have discovered truth in musical scales, chords, and rhythms often learned through the visual?

These are just some of my thoughts. I've been around church for a lot of years, so when I discover that I don't know some of the more contemporary songs and choruses, I wonder how much more a new believer is in the dark. Not only is there the risk of alienating visitors to a congregation, but the church may even come across as clique-y because of the manner in which worship is portrayed.

October 31, 2009

Life, Doctrine and Women's Ministry

Also posted at Gifted for Leadership

Whether through books, Bible studies, retreats, or conferences, a central focus of women’s ministry has been on the practical dimensions of Christian living, either presupposing the theological understanding of the audience—which isn’t always wrong to do—or simply neglecting to ground the practical in a richer theological framework.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we aren’t teaching women Scripture, but in the rush to fill in the blanks, we aren’t teaching women to handle the Word as theologians. Some women’s ministry leaders have made statements that undermine the process of doing theology, suggesting that because knowing theology is not provisional for salvation that somehow it lacks practical value. We are good at teaching principles and precepts from the Word, but are we communicating interdependence between life and doctrine? Is there a place of theological education in the context of women’s ministry?

“Life and doctrine are interdependent.” These are the words of John Frame who serves as the chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. From his book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, he argues for a more integrated understanding of the practical and the theoretical, suggesting that one cannot exist without the other. He writes: “The Greek terms based on didasko typically refer in the Pastoral Epistles to a teaching of the word of God that leads to spiritual health. This is ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’ teaching. So doctrine, defined as this kind of teaching, also has an ethical goal. It is not given to us merely for intellectual contemplation.”

Life and doctrine were never intended to be separated and any attempt to teach about the day to day Christian life without Christian doctrine provides for a limited or empty experience. By ethical, Frame is referencing the ongoing process of sanctification of becoming more conformed to the image of God.

Granted, the “ivory towers” of academia have given at least the perception that the theoretical has no real relationship with the daily struggles of everyday people, but the content and tapestry of our worldview plays an extremely relevant role to how we live. This means that what we believe (or don’t believe) directly impacts our daily lives. As Christian women who are able to spend time together in small groups, Bible studies, retreats, and conferences, a more concentrated focus needs to be devoted to teaching women to own the content of their faith so that they are equipped to apply the eternal truths of Scripture to their lives on their own.

October 28, 2009

What Should Christians Really Expect?

Also posted at First Things

It is being reported today that Christianity is undergoing yet an assault via loons in the entertainment industry. There’s not much new about that. In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David urinates on a painting of Jesus, causing a woman to believe the painting depicts him crying, as if a miracle has occurred.

Two things cross my mind as I read more about this story. First, as Christians why is this so shocking? It is disturbing, but these are not followers of Christ perpetrating these actions. It’s not like we can expect them to act as believers if, indeed, they are not.

Secondly, perhaps we actually contribute to the problem of political correctness by demanding that we, as representatives of Christianity, be treated with the same so-called tolerance and respect offered to other worldviews. I hear it framed this way frequently by conservative pundits, let me apply it to this case: “Well if this was a picture of Mohammad you would act less offensively.”

No doubt Christianity is the red-headed step child (how’s that for pc?) of contemporary culture, but this provides for an opportunity to speak truth, not suppress it in some sort of worldview fairness doctrine.

October 27, 2009

Moral Reform & Ministry to Women: an excerpt

Also posted at First Things

With a sense of urgency, the body of Christ needs to be equipped to give an answer to obstacles and objections to faith as a matter of discipleship within the church as well as for the gospel ministry each member of the body has outside of the church. And how we live from the point of conversion onward will reflect to the world a certain degree of faithfulness to the truths we claim. Transgressions by well-known “family values” politicians who might otherwise be regarded as moral reformers in the years that follow their civil service are often regarded as a failure of the Christian worldview, leaving the church ashamed and silent. The old adage “talking the talk without walking the walk” is taking on a greater sense of relevance in this new century. And due to advancements in technology, sometimes the specific decisions that we face in life need a bit more ethical reflection than a congregation is generally equipped to face. The 21st century believer is confronted by a plethora of ideas and decisions, and the church must stand firm and prepare her people to think theologically in such a way to impact all areas of life. We must prepare a place for deliberate theology, apologetics, and ethics education in the church, especially in the sphere of women’s ministry. Why particularly women’s ministry?

The experience of womanhood provides opportunity to address certain issues women in particular can relate to, and to disciple in a way that addresses deeply engrained ideas rooted in false belief, replacing them with truth. The choices that many women make about how to live—choices made prior to conversion and perhaps even early in their Christian walk—have consequences that come with them to the pew—when they eventually find the pew. Some of these consequences can never be eliminated, preventing them from finding functional reconciliation with biblical womanhood and related teachings. For instance, a single mother who has no choice but to work in order to care for her family can never fulfill the vision of womanhood that has her at home supporting a husband as head. Of course, this may be taught as the biblical ideal, but never being able to achieve it may have a significant effect on her relationship with God and those in her church. This is not to recommend the abandonment of biblical teachings on the family, church leadership, or parenting because they might seem irrelevant to the particular circumstances of many women. The issue I am raising is much larger.

The manner in which the teachings of biblical womanhood are often communicated is a “circle the wagons” approach for which a real potential exists to further marginalize women already on the fringes. Extra caution needs to be taken when communicating a pattern for living, especially to those whose day to day lives will probably never reflect a the model for marriage and family taught in scripture. Discipleship methods need to take into account that women are in a variety of places on their spiritual journey. Women whose lives will likely never arrive at what they have been taught about what God has ordained for marriage and the family are often left floundering, in a never-ending battle to please God. This biblical ideal is so highly regarded that often, little emphasis is spent on equipping all women to glorify God within their current reality.

Indeed, the church must continue to defend a family structure that glorifies God as reflected in scripture so that families might not be influenced or tainted by the whims of culture. But the church must also be intentional about educating and equipping the individuals and broken families who, by the leading of the Spirit, have found their way to the community of believers, but whose day to day life more closely resembles the ways of the world. This is, I believe, more a matter of Christian education than of therapy, the direction women’s ministry often tends to lean.

Conversion changes our position before God, but it does not immediately change the way we think or how we live in our particular circumstances. Women from all backgrounds certainly do need to understand what scripture teaches about the family, because they are being called to effectively impart those teachings to their children, unbelieving husbands, and perhaps other members of their family. In this sense, we must continue to affirm and actively embrace what scripture teaches regarding biblical womanhhood. But these women also desperately need to develop a fuller, more complete theology so that they can make sense out of their circumstances and critically consider how to live to the glory of God in all areas of life for the rest of their life. Trying “to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” in various circumstances is one of the greatest challenges for women today. This is virtually impossible if we continue to circle the wagons and communicate a message that essentially excludes women on the fringes.

October 25, 2009

Have the Doctrine-Obsessed Lost Touch with the Heart of Jesus?

The title of this post begs the question, who are the doctrine-obsessed and is that an accurate assessment of them? In the Washington Post’s Evangelicals Feel a Need for Renewal, this is one of many perspectives on what’s wrong with evangelicalism as discussed at a recent conference at Gordon-Conwell:

Richard Alberta, senior pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brighton, Mich., said preoccupations with doctrinal purity help explain why he struggles to round up other evangelicals to join him at anti-abortion events.

“When you get evangelicals among themselves, instead of addressing the social and moral issues, they get backwatered into some debate about dispensationalism or Calvin or Charismatic Renewal,” Alberta said. “There’s lots of suspicion, and those worries seem to act as filters that keep evangelicals from getting together.”

Similar frustrations were expressed by Travis Hutchinson, pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in Lafayette, Ga. He said he routinely gets a cool response from other evangelicals when he asks them to join his efforts to minister among undocumented immigrants.

The problem, he said, is that the doctrine-obsessed have lost touch with the heart of Jesus. “The missing ingredient is not the primacy of the mind and doctrine,” Hutchinson said. “It’s the willingness to suffer.”

Is it the lack of cohesive doctrine that inspires the focus on doctrine? Scripture calls us not only to unity in mission, but also in unity in message.

October 23, 2009

Evangelicalism, Ethics, & Eggshells

Teaching ethics in a local junior college is a great opportunity to impact minds in my community. A somewhat ancillary discussion we have had in class is the usage of moral and ethical–terms with no meaningful distinction, though sometimes associated with different quadrants of society (e.g. business & ethics, religion & morality). Within evangelicalism, we similarly have our own usage for these terms, adding to the list Christian living and growing in Christ, among others.

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September 9, 2009

Critical Thinking for Faithful Living

What follows is the core content of a public talk and group study currently under development and to be presented on November 14 at The Orchard Church. Let me know if you are interested in attending!

Critical Thinking for Faithful Living

Christians can find studies on virtually any topic, ranging from the individual books in the Bible, themes and topics found in scripture, as well as general Christian living topics that might include finance, modesty, and parenting. As well, many books and studies are available that offer an analysis of contemporary culture or on the topic of apologetics—defending the faith—a sub-discipline of systematic theology. Still, scores of other books can be found on the central doctrines of the Church.

No single study can take care of every intellectual need. But for the most part, most studies presuppose the ability to effectively reason through the theme or topic. This may be a fact for many people, but it should not to be an element of study taken for granted. The purpose of this study is to address some significant areas of thinking that relate to how we understand the intersection of our faith with world around us. As Christians, we spend a lot of time considering what we believe and why we believe it, a necessary pursuit for every follower of Jesus. But at the same time, there is often a tendency to develop or allow some habits of the mind to go unexamined, some habits that may render us unable to properly assess ideas, actions, and systems of thought in the world around us and in our own personal lives.

Critical Thinking for Faithful Living seeks to address some of ways in which we approach scripture, theology, and how we understand the nature of truth. Do we grant ourselves authority as the final arbiter of truth? Do we see logical fallacies in our own reasoning and/or in the arguments of others? Are those contradictions in the Bible? Are not faith and reason as separate as church and state? These questions are an example of what we will consider in this study.

As we disciple others in the faith, we must do them an important service—teaching them how to think as well as what to think. Of course, we can point new believers to the passages that point to Jesus’ deity, to his resurrection, or any other pertinent fact in scripture. But how they process and reconcile this information with what they have been taught prior to conversion or simply with what they are currently exposed to is as relevant as this new information itself. Each one of us comes to the table with a set of ideas or beliefs about Christianity or religion in general that frame the way we interpret or think about the newest ideas that enter our mind. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the willingness of our minds, every thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (1 Cor 10:5).

1. The Great Divorce – the heart & the head

2. Thinking vs. Feeling

3. Contradiction...or Paradox?

4. Truth: Absolute or Relative?

5. Truth: Independent of the Knower

6. The Courtship of Faith & Reason

7. To Judge or Not to Judge…

8. Morality and (In)Tolerance

9. Authority and Reason

10. The Christian Worldview

August 17, 2009

Women in Ministry: Between the Pulpit & the Kitchen

Almost every day the debate simmers over the role of women in the church, a topic that appears to me to be escalating, potentially causing further fragmentation in the Christian community. Each blog post, article, and conversation rightly involves discussion of relevant scriptural texts including passages out of Genesis, Ephesians and 1 Timothy. And in every instance, people who represent each side of the argument find themselves unable to be persuaded otherwise. Some choose to disagree agreeably, remaining amiable to their theological adversary while others persist in exactly the opposite, lacking respect for one another and silencing healthy dialogue altogether.

This essay is a product of my engagement in the debate at various levels, with every desire to honor God in both my understanding of the issue and in my character as I interact with other believers—no matter their position. This essay is not intended to serve as defense for either side of the debate, though I make no effort to hide my views. This also is not a proposal for “balance” between the two dominant positions. Unlike some prominent voices in women’s ministry, I am not suggesting that the correct position is to be located somewhere in between as is often asserted about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. That approach to locating theological truth is, at best, misleading in that it suggests it is generally found somewhere in the middle, never to be found with one of the “extremes.” This is a politically-motivated approach to doing theology, seeking to eliminate both mystery and conflict and puts at risk all knowledge claims.

What this essay is is an acknowledgement of what has been missed—to the best of my knowledge—among those on both sides of the debate. In a very real sense, we are being distracted by the debate of women’s roles in the church, failing to ask ourselves how we can appropriately integrate the gifts of these women into the body. Few wonder how we can think outside of the box about the areas women traditionally serve in the church even while many of these areas do not cohere with the gifts of these same women. I believe the time has come for us to move the discussion of women in ministry—at least temporarily—to a new geographical area. This is the area between the pulpit and the kitchen, a very large ministry-space where God has placed many to serve in a variety of capacities. The emphasis of this essay is that many women have a variety of gifts they know do not belong in the kitchen but may perceive them to belong in the pulpit because, for many of these women, there is no other ministry space that coheres with who God has made them.

To any competent student of the Word—male or female—pulpit ministry and the pastorate can be very attractive. So putting aside for a moment what scripture says about the qualifications for pastor and elder and the conversation-ender “no you can’t,” I believe it could actually benefit the church to learn more about the attraction both men and women have to this ministry. What do we know specifically about these women—their gifts and talents—who believe they are called to pastoral leadership in the church? What do we know about the tasks associated with the pastorate in relation to the women who desire the role? Can the church, for just a moment investigate this attraction and conclude by saying “we understand.”? This does not necessitate that the church change her position on this matter, compromise of theological truth is never appropriate. But an acknowledgement of the valid reasons why women might desire and pursue such roles has the potential to guide everyone in the conversation to implementation instead of alienation of these women and their gifts in the church. The attraction to pastoral leadership need not necessarily be reduced to woman’s “desire for her husband,” to fulfill her need to usurp authority at every turn. The knee-jerk “you’re a woman, you can’t” response must be replaced with an analysis of the kind of woman who seeks such a leadership role and consideration for how the church can better steward these gifts.

It is my assertion that these women with intellectual gifts of varying degrees can conceive of no other venue in the church for implementation. And I completely understand (though not agree) why it is they then claim the call to these roles. You have probably heard this same defense, “God gifted me this way, so I need to heed the call.” Or “Who am I to question God’s will?” With few other options for plugging in as members of the body with these particular gifts, their response makes sense.

But this should not be a surprise, either. In many churches, spiritual gift inventories and other personality instruments are utilized to learn more about the landscape of their particular corner of God’s church. Yet, I have seen few churches actually do anything constructive with the results.

As a complementarian, I am continually bothered by the lack of women in the church implementing their intellectual gifts as theologians, philosophers, apologists, ethicists, economists and so forth because I believe we have put women and their gifts, needs and interests in a box and tied it up—tightly—with a pretty lace bow. Because of the important role she plays in the family, there is often the perception that women’s gifts and needs are limited to the realm of the home. I am not suggesting that those women who abide in this realm are excluded from the community of intellectually-gifted women, many, in fact, are one and the same. But when “keeping the home” (Tit 2) is reduced to teaching women how to make pot-holders out of old socks to the exclusion of developing the life of the mind, then we run the risk of not only losing more women to the theological wimpiness, but their children as well. All of this causes me to wonder if the complementarian community is losing intelligent women to egalitarian-leaning churches because little effort is put forth to see their gifts truly bless the church.

Apart from pulpit ministry, how can women serve the church with their intellectual gifts? The idea of the church’s feminization has done more harm than good in its “glass half empty” perspective. Yes, of course it would be wonderful to see more men—husbands, fathers, brothers, etc.—involved in a local church, but the fact remains that women are at church and are an important area of ministry not to be ignored. Meeting the next generation with the gospel and helping them develop a Christian worldview cannot happen without the equipping of women who are in positions of responsibility for this future generation. Yet we often act as if women are a not a factor in the equation. With women as a majority of those who attend church, perhaps it is time (some would say we are long over due) to discover new ways for women’s voices to be a strong, compelling means for discipleship and outreach for the church without compromising views on church leadership and government. As we allow diverse voices to be present because diverse listeners want to hear from people like themselves, it is not a stretch to accept and embrace the fact that women do want to hear from women, somewhere between the pulpit and the kitchen.

July 28, 2009

Women's Ministry: Time to Get Back to Basics?

With every opportunity to speak at women’s ministry events, invariably the women of these churches never fail to surprise me with the many gifts and talents they have contributed to the preparations. Women’s ministry teams seem to know almost innately how to pull everything together: food, d├ęcor, worship, organization and all of the other fine details that go into making a brunch, lunch or similar gathering quite memorable.


But the reality is, most church women’s ministries only have the energy and “manpower” to offer these gatherings a few of times a year, In a calendar year, one can expect to plan for some sort of spring event, a Mother’s day gathering--often mother/daughter affair—and a Christmas tea. This would be in addition to the small groups and Bible studies. Of course, some ministries may do more because the size of their church allows for more women to be involved. But because the average church size in the U.S. is around 200 with many far fewer, the ability to plan for these three events can become quite burdensome. I do not believe any of these events should be eliminated from the master plan of any women’s ministry simply because they are laborious, because I also understand they have utility--glorifying God and ministry to women. This is worthy work toward the advancement of the Kingdom.

However, the flip side of the coin is the belief that every significant gathering must include ornate centerpieces, petit fours and elegant programs.

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July 18, 2009

Dr. Jameela George, MB BS: Black Market Organ Transplantation & Medical Tourism

Dr. George is a Christian bioethicist in India speaking today on medical tourism, those who are in pursuit of cost efffective, faster or better private medical care. In India there is medical tourism in many areas including cardiology, joint replacement, organ transplants, etc.Reasons for medical tourism include availability and low cost of services.With the cost of a heart valve replacement costing $10,000 as opposed to the $200,000 in the US. The following are some highlights from her presentation:

Surrogacy tourism - Wombs for Rent
Often contracted through hospitals in India.Surrogates live in dormatories or "baby farms."
Ethics issues: Exploitation, concept of family, comodification of physiological process.
Surrogates are paid $5000 - $7000, a relatively low cost.

Kidney Tourism
Donors enticed to go abroad for removal and subsequent tranplantation of their kidneys.
The first human kidney transplant - Boston 1954
Transplantation of the liver followed in 1963 and heart in 1967
The kidney is the most wanted organ for transplantation

Worldwide about 1.2 million suffer from kidney failure. In Israel the average wait is 4 years. Worldwide 50k transplants are performed annually.About 285k people are on dialysis in the US.

Laws about Organ Transplantation
Brazil - illegal to sell organs (1997)
1998 law -all Brazilian adults are organ donors at death

Iran
Kidney sales are legal and regulated

India
Transplantation of Human Organs Act of 1994
Altruistic donation of organs from close family members
Donation b y those who are emotionally attached to the recipients
The Act permits transplantation of various cadaver organs including kidneys

Countries practicing Black market organ trans
India, China, Russia, Turkey, Moldova, Romania...

Partners in Black Market Organ Transplant Business in India
  • Surgeons and medical teams
  • managers of hospitals
  • organ brokers
  • jobless people
  • tourism industry
Kidney donors can earn up to $2500
Recipients pay as much as $25k in India

Measures to decrease organ gap
  • Prevention of renal failure
  • Increase of domestic supply
Controversial solutions
  • Routine recovery from cadavers-implied consent
  • legalising sale of organs
  • legalizing rewarded gifting of unrelated donors
  • upgrading facilities to harvest and transport organs from resource poor settings
Ethical Issues in BMOT
  • Lack of respect for person
  • Coercion
  • Exploitation
  • Social Justice
  • Violation of Human Dignity

July 16, 2009

The Theological Roots of...Human Dignity: Dr. David Gushee

David Gushee provided a survey of the concept of human dignity throughout the Old and New testaments. Below are a few highlights.

Old Testament
"Transcendent legal/moral standard over human life creates a critically important human equality before the law. "

"The grounding of all moral obligation in God's law had a deep impact on the understanding of human law."

On Shalom
Shalom - the dream of God for a redeemed world, for an end to our division, hostility, fear, drivenness and misery.

Shalom happens when humans stop killing each other, and therefore life's dignity is honored at its fundamental level.

Shalom means: Delight, obedience to God (the precondition of shalom), the healing of broken bodies and spirits, enough to eat and drink, an inclusive community, the rebuilding of the human community

New Testament
Matthew 4 - Jesus did 2 new things
1. turned the eschatological future into an inaugurated eschatological present
2. Embodied the kingdom of justice, peace, and healing, in which human beings at last treat others and are treated, as God originally desired.

Jesus' inclusive ministry in a religious culture in which:
  • Women were devalued
  • Leaders subjugated human well being to legal observance
  • Sinners treated as beyond the pale of God's care
  • Children were devalued
  • The sick ere often cast out of the community
  • The occupying Romans were hated
  • Tensions between jews and Samaritans
  • A woman on her own faced desperate financial challenges
  • Social-economic divisions were acut
In sum, Jesus smashed the religious, cultural, economic, and political barriers of his context and demonstrated love, respect, and inclusion toward people of all descriptions. Jesus taught "good news" that God loves human beings with an immeasurable love.

"The paradox of the incarnation is that when divinity stooped low and took on humanity, humanity revealed its loliness and yet was elevated through God's mercy."

Jesus died for "the world" - everyone, people in all states, conditions, nations and orientations toward God and neighbor. Everyone should matter to us because everyone matters to God

Christ rose in a body, the victory of God over evil, and the resurrection marks the triumph of life.

Acts depicts rapidly growing church...more inclusive and hospitable community ethos.
Paul offers an expansive theological effort to defend transformation of relationships (Gal 3:28) All divisive human distinctions are transfigured and overcome through Jesus Christ.

Momentum toward radically inclusive and egalitarian community
Multi-ethnic, multi-racial, gender-inclusive, class-inclusive community

What emerged...
Congregations that believed that in their own experience of transformed human relations lay the beginnings of the redemption of the world.
"Only because God became human is it possible to know and not despise real human beings...this is not because of the real human being's inherent value, but because God has loved and taken on the real human being. The reason for God's love for human beings does not reside in them..." D. Bonhoeffer
"A secular, rootless human dignity ethic may be the best that our culture thinks it can manage. But Christians know not only that we can do better but that we must do better and that the resources for doing better are embedded in our tradition."

We must claim our own rich, theological heritage.

Global Bioethics - CBHD's 16th Annual Conference

If you aren't at the conference be sure to check back at Flash Point for the commentary on the plenary speakers and parallel paper sessions. Who is speaking tonite? David Gushee, PhD, and Frank Beckwith, PhD. Bet you wish you were here!

June 24, 2009

Equipping All Women to Be Exceptional Women

The scriptures tell many stories of unlikely women God has used to accomplish his will. I refer to them as “unlikely” not because it is unlikely God would ever use such women to accomplish his will. God will use anyone at any time. I refer to these women as unlikely because of our sinful expectations. To put it bluntly, they are not church ladies.

Two of these unlikely women are almost entirely unknown to us, except for what Paul has to say about their influence on a younger man very dear to him. We are introduced to them in Paul’s second letter written to Timothy who was a leader in the first century church and discipled by Paul. A younger man, Paul regarded him as his own spiritual "child". Timothy's grandmother Lois, and Eunice, his mother, are credited by Paul for instilling in Timothy a "sincere faith" like that of their own. (2 Timothy) In Acts 16:1, the only other biblical text where Timothy’s family background and heritage of faith are discussed, we learn that Timothy’s father is Greek and his mother, who we know to be Eunice, is a Jewish convert to Christianity. Neither Luke, the writer of Acts, nor Paul in his letter to Timothy offers any indication that Timothy’s father was also a believer, leaving the reader to assume he probably was not.

Perhaps it would not have been so important for scripture to mention anything about Timothy’s upbringing and the religious background of his parents if it were not for the significant role his mother played in the development of his faith and as the believer in an unequally yoked marriage. That Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice are acknowledged for their key role in his spiritual development should give us pause as to how we are equipping all women to grow in their knowledge of God and how their children’s spiritual heritage might be traced back to the strength of their own faith. Sunday comes too infrequently to depend upon the church as the only source for Christian education; every parent needs to be a fount of biblical truth to their children and every woman has opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples. What are we doing as a church, especially in our women’s ministries, to encourage the spiritual maturity of every woman?

June 17, 2009

Create in Me a Clean Heart

Recently, the topic of indulging in God has been central to my studies and devotions. We are so bombarded by the things of this world--physical pleasures, materialistic attraction, and intellectual autonomy--that we easily neglect our commitment to the Lord. Our hearts, wicked as they are, tend toward sin. We are called to live in a way that imitates God, walking with a consistent attitude of sacrificial love for others--an attitude of self-denial. But the battle persists.

This battle began in Eden, which translated means delight or pleasure. Eden was a place where God provided all that the Creation would need. Food, shelter, companionship, fellowship with God--they lacked for nothing. Yet Eve, confronted by the Serpent (Gen 3:1-6), was deceived into believing that eating of the tree "in the midst of the Garden" would be a good idea.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:6)
This wouldn't be the last time we see this form of temptation in scripture. As Eve was tempted by physical pleasure ("good for food"), materialistic attraction ("delight to the eyes") and intellectual autonomy ("make one wise"), Jesus also was confronted with these temptations, in a location neither pleasurable or delightful, but in the wilderness. (Luke 4:1-13)
The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread." (4:3) (physical pleasure)

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, "To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. (4:5.6) (materialistic attraction)

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, "for it is written, 'He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,'" and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'" (4:9-11) (intellectual autonomy)
Jesus conquered sin and death with the work of the Cross, but we still live in a world where we face choices and challenges due to the condition of our own heart. As Jeremiah teaches that the heart is deceitful, the Psalmist prays "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10) We can join in that prayer.

As the Holy Spirit continues His work within each of us, we continue to pursue God by indulging in holy, obedient living, glorifying Him in self-sacrifice instead of self-indulgence. No doubt the battle is real, but the power to walk by the Spirit is greater.

(originally posted in November 2008)

June 16, 2009

O'Reilly not Factoring his own Spin

Over the last few months, prior to abortionist George Tiller’s murder, Bill O’Reilly has made it quite clear that he believes late-term abortion is repugnant. That’s a fact not in dispute and one in which pro life supporters can agree with. Where O’Reilly‘s argument is seriously flawed, and where Joan Walsh, Editor in Chief of Salon.com, caught him in his inconsistency last week during his interview of her, is in his view of life and human dignity in general. As much as I disagree with Joan Walsh, and I disagree with great passion, she is at least consistently repulsive. Her view is that no matter the stage of the unborn life, a description she would not reject, a woman’s right to have an abortion takes precedence. What O’Reilly grants is that the killing of any unborn child is acceptable up until the point of “viability.” At this point and thereafter, abortion is not an option except to save the life of the mother. To his credit, he means her literal life, not her inability to party as a result of having a child. For O’Reilly, no casual abortions should ever be permitted after this point, but in a hierarchy of values, prior to this point of “viability,” O’Reilly would rank a woman’s right to choose higher than the life of the fetus. Sadly, his position on the value of a life is not predicated on a view that regards human dignity as inherent to all human life at every stage, but on a spurious functional view of human life that provides support for cases like that of Terri Schiavo and other cases involving euthanasia and physician assisted suicide.

What O’Reilly is referring to with his use of the term “viability” is the fetus’ ability to survive outside of the womb. This is probably an argument most people understand, but it is an unfortunate distinction because the value of life should never be determined by his ability or inability to survive unnatural circumstances. To take any person out of their natural environment where they thrive as a living organism would be a challenge to any person‘s survival. The viability of adult human life is dependent on oxygen, but we would never justify the murder of a person simply because they have chosen to swim under water. There is a sense in which this viability argument regards life outside of the womb the natural and the real and life in the womb as the unnatural and merely potential. This is consistent with O’Reilly in that prior to viability, he regards the unborn fetus as “potential” life. Even Walsh doesn’t make that claim, this is a concession O’Reilly has chosen to make to the pro-choice establishment.

O’Reilly continues to insist that his disgust by late-term abortion has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade, that this is an entirely separate, isolated discussion. Making a case against a certain type of abortion in this manner merely upholds the belief that a woman’s right to choose is the higher moral standard. Walsh is correct in stating that abortion is abortion, no matter the stage of the unborn life. O’Reilly’s spin on the nature of human life is inconsistent at best, but on the grand scale, his prominent voice is a danger to the cause and to all life before and after 24 weeks. If inconsistency is even-handed and consistency is extremism, then I am guilty.

Link to the O'Reilly/Walsh debate

June 10, 2009

Is Industriousness Compatible with Biblical Womanhood?

Apparently there is something inherently gender-oriented about household chores, but I’m not quite sure where to draw the line. Is it the basement door? The entrance into the garage from the back of my kitchen? Perhaps it is the lawn and the shrubbery. Maybe someone can help me to understand this…

I’ve always thought of myself as a complementarian, but typically don’t advocate strongly for biblical womanhood because of its inability to speak boldly to women on the fringes. I continue to firmly hold a view that women are not to be elders in a local church, and I believe every passage of scripture that indicates that the husband is the head and the wife is his helpmeet, but how the latter plays out is not absolutely defined in scripture. I am also very weary of needing to state these things each time I discuss the logical and practical failures of the biblical womanhood movement, but I will continue to do so as necessary.

So here I am, going out on a limb I fear will break, but I am going anyway knowing I may be fully rejected by the complementarian camp I embrace. In a blogpost by Carolyn Mahaney, she writes about the disapproval she has--and scripture has--for a world where husbands and wives share the tasks of running a household. She begins the post by talking about how she wasn’t feeling well one day and turned on the Today Show as some sort of distraction. That was her first mistake, as the Today Show is co hosted by a professional career-driven female. I would think that watching that would in some way be supportive of Ann Curry’s pursuit of a career outside of the home. But I digress.

Carolyn describes in her post what the Today Show was featuring at that moment. I will let Carolyn speak for herself:

Ann Curry was interviewing two moms who recently wrote a book entitled Getting to 50/50. The point of the book is this: A woman can have a great career, a great marriage, and be a great mother—all by getting her husband to share equally in the responsibilities in the home. Thus the title, Getting to 50/50.”

These two authors were very pleasant and gracious. They were not the militant, angry type who can easily offend many. And they weren’t men bashers; in fact, they seemed to want to pursue a loving relationship with their husbands.

And yet, the premise of their book is in direct contradiction to Scripture, which assigns men and women equally important, yet different roles (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor. 11:7-9, 1 Tim. 2:12-14).

These women believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned. They want men to take on fifty percent of the woman’s role and women to assume fifty percent of a man’s role. Their assertions fly in the face of God’s creation design and mandate—and they do it all with a smile.”

Without watching the interview that Carolyn watched, I’m forced to admit that there may have been some things stated about women and feminism that did not make it into Carolyn’s account in her blogpost. There is no fault in this. But if what Carolyn quoted is the full essence of what was communicated, I would suggest that her post demonstrates a lack of understanding of the fuller picture.

Very simply, scripture speaks of women “keeping the home” in Titus 2 and husbands as the heads in Ephesians 5, but neither passage suggests that a husband is walking outside of his role by participating in the management of the home or that she is stepping outside of her role by asking for help with household management. In fact, according to Susan Hunt, Titus 2 is not arguing necessarily that a woman never work outside of the home, but that she be “industrious” in all she does, including the home (Spiritual Mothering, Crossway Books, 1992. p. 64). A good example: The evangelical community was quick to embrace the VP nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin with the full knowledge her husband was helping at home.

One could easily come to the conclusion that 50/50 was an industrious way for these women to come alongside their husbands financially and to be a helpmeet to them in a sense other than handling the daily household chores. We live in a society where it is difficult for many families to live on a single income, and the language of “career” does not necessarily take from the priority of the family. Dependent on her personal circumstances, a woman may be wise by pursuing career-oriented employment that offers a salary structure compatible with her gifts and talents rather than a job that wears her down and makes her useless to the rest of her family because of frustration and fatigue.

If the women on the Today Show stated and believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned, I would agree that they are in error. But I disagree strongly that somehow a man and woman are abandoning those roles by sharing in the responsibilities of work and household management. To frame roles in this way places a number of families in irresolvable situations. I could cite various family scenarios that would more firmly root the husband in the home and the wife in the workplace, situations based on matters of health, job loss, and similar situations. If these were to be regarded as acceptable qualifications for how we are suppose to understand gender roles, then I would suggest that the doctrines of biblical manhood and womanhood are not as tightly wrapped up as claimed to be.

I get that the worldview of secular feminism is an assault on the Christian worldview and that it perpetrates great evils in our society. The days are, indeed, evil in this respect. But to frame the sharing of responsibilities of the home, which certainly do include financial responsibilities, within the context of secular feminism’s assault of God and the family is somewhat short-sighted.

June 1, 2009

Announcement; New blog - Et elle.com

I tend not to discuss evolution at Flash Point, but this is certainly worth noting. Be sure to check out Et elle, et al. which recently evolved from what use to be known as Intellectuelle.com. Formerly a blog of female voices, Et elle, et al is about the human voice. Be watching for the male writers who join the conversations on faith and culture from a human perspective. Yours truly will also be contributing there occasionally on topics related to women's ministry, bioethics, politics, culture, etc. No topic....well almost no topic...is off limits!

What’s Really Real about Reality TV…and the Human Condition

Within the last couple of years I wrote a piece about what was wrong with Supernanny and Wife Swap reality shows. Jon & Kate Plus 8 and even Little People, Big World have the same problem—children on these programs have no choice but to participate and have to live with any of the negative consequences in the future. Age and maturity makes them incapable of freely making the decision whether or not to participate, and they become a meal-ticket to their family’s financial liquidity. We know this is true, because for most of these programs, no children = no show. But what is very apparent is that the parents and producers and advertisers and viewers are each involved in this exploitive culture that rejects the dignity of our most vulnerable people--our children.

What we have always known and failed to admit is that there is nothing real at all about reality television. Watch one episode of the Kardashian’s, you will understand what I mean. But because this is the case, we have also avoided taking the lives of the people involved very seriously at any level. Hence, the children suffer.

An end goal of reality programming is to put on display the only thing that can be called real—the sinful human condition—so that viewers can sit back and say “I’m not that bad” or “thank goodness my kids aren’t that screwed up” or “look at that moron, what an idiot.” To take it a step further, our own depravity causes us to not see ourselves but to find humor or disgust with the failures and weaknesses of others. Susan Boyle surprised us with her artistry because our superficial sense of beauty believes no high caliber of talent could come from someone that didn’t meet our cover-girl expectations of beauty. In some sense, Susan Boyle’s story says more about us than it does about her, I’m afraid. The Apprentice was another program where we saw the human condition portrayed as it manifests in the world of business. Whatever it took to get the job done and win the task--that was the goal. Deceit was often the ploy utilized to win, no matter the cost. American Idol--how often have you heard someone say, “I only watch the first few weeks of the show so I can see the goofballs they allow on camera to embarrass themselves.” It is not just children who are being exploited by these programs, and it isn’t just the producers who are doing the exploiting. I find it difficult to hold Jon and Kate entirely responsible when the directionality of culture has indicated that this sort of programming is not only acceptable, but voyeurism is as well.

One reality show that peaked my curiosity but failed, nevertheless, was True Beauty. As a show, it utilized some sort of aesthetic calculus to determine the outward beauty of the show’s contestants. But the show also recognized that there was a “true beauty” that had nothing to do with appearance. From my perspective, the show was an utter failure because even though it recognized there was something greater than outward appearances, it still elevated physical beauty over what is ultimately good, failing to appreciate the depravity of all humankind.

As I hear the cable news reporters debate the situation with Jon and Kate and question the role of child labor laws taking effect in their particular situation, I wish that they would identify the problem of reality television as a whole and see that Jon and Kate, to some extent, are victims of a culture that is energized by human sin and weakness. Whether we are watching Wipe Out and laughing ourselves off the couch when someone is punched in the face over the mud pit, watching American Idol and asking ourselves who told them they could sing, or watching SuperNanny and believing that we are obviously much better parents than those on the show, we need to see that the problem with reality television is probably mostly with those who are willing to watch. Shows like these are on the air because advertisers are convinced this is what we want to be--voyeurs. It is our deepest insecurities that make us need to watch these shows, because our culture also believes that a high level of self-esteem is a priority. We feel pretty good about ourselves as we watch the misery of celebrity and dysfunctional families. It is our human condition, the reality of sin, that causes us not only to produce these programs, but to be entertained by this condition at the very same time.

May 15, 2009

Does Christianity have the Corner on Truth?

This question recently came to my attention reading the Spring 2009 edition of the Trinity magazine. In it, Dr. Baxter points to Christian thinker Arthur Holmes usage of the phrase "all truth is God's truth." Baxter and I agree with this statement, while we also agree that God's truths can be found in other spheres of creation including art, music, literature, and film. But does that notion that Christianity doesn't have the "corner on truth" overstate the case?

What's missing from this is the ability to account for truth. While people of any worldview can communicate truths through art, literature, film and music, the issue is, how do they account for these truths? If, as the artist or writer, he can see these truths he is communicating, how can he explain how he knows them. How can he explain the truths on display? While agreeing with unbelievers that truth is everywhere, we find ourselves more attractive to the way they see things. But do we do them any favors as ministers of the gospel, enabling them to hang on their their deeper belief, that it ultimately doesn't matter what worldview you embrace? I believe that is certainly where we leave them.

How do you answer this issue? How does your faith inform your understanding of truth and how you know anything to be true? I would love to hear your comments!

May 14, 2009

Role Models & Cultural Decay: The Church's Response


In 1984 when Michael Jackson and Madonna were blasting their way through the very large speakers of teenager's boom boxes, girls my age were beginning to bare their shoulders--but only one--to emulate the new Flash Dance style that was sweeping the country. While I was trying to figure out how to wear braided headbands and multi-colored leg warmers, I was also working very hard to hide my interest in Debby Boone and the early Christian contemporary music scene. (FYI, Debby Boone did a lot more than You Light Up My Life that was quite good).

Even though I was actively involved in music as a teen and young adult, it was unpopular to hold up Christian singers as “teen idols” or role models during a time when Rob Lowe, Rick Springfield, and Matt Dillon were all over the cover of Tiger Beat magazine and George Michael was actually considered a heart-throb. Role models in the church were virtually nonexistent for me, and there really weren’t any public role models that I recall, though at the time the Miss America and Miss USA pageants were still competing in one piece suits and campaigning on platforms that were intended to make a difference in our world. These were mostly young women that younger women could be encouraged by and look up to as intelligent and disciplined without all the skin and scandal that epitomizes the pageants today. But perhaps 1984 was the year we saw all of that change, too. That year, now actress Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America and later dethroned for her morally objectionable photos taken previous to the pageant. Secular feminism has always furthered its cause by promoting its ideology to unsuspecting women who want to be valued and encouraged, and the secular feminists have been happy to oblige this need with little protest from Christian women.

So who are the real role models that stand out today? I come to this question because our culture rightly searches for role models for the next generations, though they look far and wide and in the wrong places, ultimately finding few. In the church, we call these role models mentors. For younger women who find themselves firmly rooted within the Christian community, they need not look very far to locate them. Their mothers, Bible teachers, youth leaders, women’s ministry leaders, and other Christian women--and men--are reaching into their lives with truth, modeling love for God and obedience to the Word. They are encouraging them to attitudes of selflessness and personal responsibility, to love God with their whole heart, soul, and mind. And if they aren’t teaching those things—among other things—they should be. But how well are we doing in women’s ministry, accomplishing this work we have been called to as women mentoring women?

With the blessing of church and family, many women are about to enter into college with hopes for a future in career or ministry or family—or all three. College instructors become integral to their educational pursuits and may have input into their lives in other deep and profound ways. Christian women are participants in the cultural mandate as mothers, business women, writers, teachers, and so forth, and have a great deal to teach younger women about being a Christian in the workplace and how to pursue the many spheres of life from a Christian worldview. And if Christian women do not take up this ministry as a fulfillment of Titus 2, certainly the attention of young women will be drawn to unhealthy role models. How can we make a difference in their lives?

Church women’s ministries are in a unique position to shape the beliefs and ideas of future generations of women, allowing our experience as women as interpreted through the teachings of scripture to impact their lives. For this to happen, we need to consider our ministry methods. Are we so event driven that we wear ourselves down with the administration of ministry that we never actually get to do ministry? Who are we focused on—the women who want to be entertained or the women who need to be nurtured? We need to talk about womanhood and motherhood, discussing the ideas that shape the world (philosophy), the ideas that shape our worldview (theology), and the goals of education and career. We need to make a place for these conversations—in the context of mentoring relationships, in formal study settings, in books, etc. And for women in the workplace, you have a unique opportunity that escapes the church, to mentor the women who cross your path and communicate the message of the Gospel in a spirit of love and compassion. For those in the world who is still searching for role models, they can be found if we are willing.

The glory of God is to be the purpose of any ministry we participate in. It is not to the glory or autonomy of the self that should motivate our desire to be role models or to mentor others. But we should see the task as an urgent matter, because as the decaying culture continues to infect the church, fewer examples of godliness will be available as examples for the generations that follow.

May 8, 2009

Motherhood on Mother's Day

As Mother’s Day is celebrated in families and churches this year, women are honored for the roles they play as nurturers, teachers, and protectors. In fact in most circles, one need not have offspring to be celebrated this one day in May. It is rightfully recognized that women across the spectrum reach into the lives of others as positive forces of love and care giving. For that, I also celebrate the exceptional women of our world, especially those in my own life.

But. Yes, with me there is almost always a but. While we celebrate all women on Mothers Day, as a culture we fail to honor the actual institution of motherhood itself, drifting further down that path of individualism and convenience, wanting to preserve the life of freedom and financial prosperity until they near the end of their reproductive years. In this society, motherhood is perceived as an unnecessary burden. And then we have the opposite problem of young girls--my own knowledge places them around the age of 12--planning pregnancies with their equally young boy friends. Their motivation is not entirely clear to me, as I believe it is multi-faceted. But it certainly is not about honoring the institution of motherhood as they are still children.

Mother’s Day celebrations should be as much about the institution of motherhood as the mothers themselves, because what better time is there to teach about the influence of motherhood on every sphere of society? With the pervasive influence of secular feminist ideals, the attacks on marriage, and the buffet of reproductive choices available now and into the future, our culture treats motherhood as a the second to last rung on the ladder of success, the last rung being retirement. Motherhood is also regarded as a disease…dare I suggest a sexually transmitted one.

continue reading...

May 7, 2009

False Distinction Between Gifts & Roles

When was the last time you took a spiritual gifts inventory or answered a church survey to see how God might be leading you to serve in your church? Maybe you are in ministry to women who have particular gifts and talents, but they need guidance in knowing how they translate to the community of believers. Many people have knowledge or insight about their gifts before they even pick up the pencil to fill out a questionnaire, but these instruments can become wonderfully useful tools of discovery for the church.

But I pause to consider if some women in the church, instead of searching for ways to use or discover their gifts, are actively suppressing the identification and use of them as a twisted act of selflessness, or perhaps—and equally as worrisome—they are confusing gifts with roles. GFL’s managing editor Caryn Rivadeniera’s recent book, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D., has caused me to examine this issue a bit closer. In my review of her book on my blog, I offer a possible reason why embracing this aspect of identity is difficult for some women, attributing it to a contemporary form of asceticism—a denial of pleasures for some sort of spiritual attainment.

Continue reading...

May 2, 2009

Real Hope in Cord Blood Advancements

First recorded use of cord blood as a therapy was in 1939.
1970: First cord blood transplant for a child with leukemia
Since 1988, 85+ diseases treated with cord blood stem cells.

If there are no stem cells in the banks, no treatment. Compared to population, amount in storage extremely low. More cord blood banks need to open.

Unbilical cord rich is reources. Wharton's jelly is a gelatinous substance within the umbilical cord and is a rich source of stem cells. In culture, rapidly produces Mesenchymal stem cells.

Cord Blood Stem Cells Successes

Child with anoxia who would likely have been institutionalized is making significant progress as a result of cord blood stem cell infusion.

Chloe was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months. She couldn't control the right side of her body. Likely had a stroke prior to birth. Parents had banked her cord blood when she was born. Condition has improved dramatically.

May 1, 2009

Banking on Life Conference

Watch for blogposts and Facebook/Twitter updates from the Banking on Life Conference all day tomorrow. Speakers include David Prentice, James Baumgartner, John Cusey, Josephine Quintavalle, and others. For more info, go here.

April 30, 2009

Humanist Ethics & Arrogance

In her post, Is Humanism Arrogant?, Terri Murray offers an undergraduate level textbook recitation of divine command theory, attributing the position to Christian "theocrats", theologians and otherwise, who engage in a worldview analysis that draws the conclusion that humanist ethical theory represents arrogance because it ultimately lacks any epistemic foundation. Oh yeah, she never explained the reasoning of these "theocrats."

Terri fails in this post, not because she created a strawman--yes, there is much more to Christian ethics than divine command theory--not because she doesn't answer the "theocrat" according to the strawman she set up in the first place, but because she never actually offers an explanation for how humanists "understand" ethics. Frankly, I'm not even sure what "understand" means, unless she is referring to how they ground ethics. If this is the case, she might have better expressed it as an accounting of ethics. So how do humanists account for ethics?

Every worldview has a self-sufficient. In biblical Christianity, the self-sufficient is the God of Scripture. In humanism, the self-sufficient is man who, through the use of reason, locates right and wrong, the ethical and unethical. But in the history of humanity, man has proven that the use of reason never yields the same conclusions among all men. Reason fails. Science is not ethics, science is a descriptive discipline, ethics is a prescriptive discipline. Science can never speak for ethics, it can only offer choices to ethics. Humanism fails the test for objective ethics, and with relativism as that which remains, humanist ethics can never speak for everyone, nor would it ever try to. The fact remains, humanism simply cannot account for right and wrong, because humanism cannot escape relativism. And that's why the charge of arrogance hovers over humanist ethics.

Abortion: The Debate's Transition to the Private Realm

During last night's 100 day press conference, President Obama declared--almost word for word to previous statements--his position on abortion. Even though he isn't a great speaker, he likely is a wordsmith on paper and has framed this language in such a way that it sounds logical, caring, respectful of religion, and dare I say, even centrist.
You know, my view on abortion I think has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they — if they suggest — and I don’t want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women’s freedom and that there’s no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with, and families and individual women have to wrestle with.
There is some serious strategy going on here. I believe what Obama is trying to do is de-politicize abortion for the sake of the pro-abortion position. By referring to it as a moral issue that "families and women have to wrestle with" he is eliminating the notion of objective morality and linking abortion instead the realm of private values. But if the debate remains tied most dominately to the extreme feminist, reproductive rights movement, abortion remains open to public debate amongst ideological foes, each with the assumption that there is an objectively correct answer. And if that debate continues to rage, Obama can't appear as if he is taking no side. But there is more.
The reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day, and I think they are in a better position to make these decision ultimately than members of Congress or a President of the United States — in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy. So that’s been my consistent position.
There is a ton to address in this portion of his statement, but what I want to focus your attention to the "private" relationships he mentions, between a woman and her family, doctor, clergy. His administration's work to mute the public abortion debates leaves it in the realm of these private relationships...and take note that religion is removed from the public realm (no surprise) into the private life of the woman. This is the only place where religion has a voice in the matter.

This statement he makes is clearly driven toward a removal of religious voices from the public square, and the fact that he consistently makes his position known suggests his words need to be closely examined. If the Obama administration succeeds in muting the debate, even if only on the side of the pro-aborts, religious voices will be even further marginalized and secularism will be the default worldview, even among those who identify themselves as Christian. And we see a lot of that occuring already.

April 16, 2009

Mama's Got a Fake I.D. (Book Review)


Mama's Got a Fake I.D. (Book Review)
Author: Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
Waterbrook Press, 204 pages

This is not a book about egalitarianism vs complementarianism, career women vs. stay-at-home moms. It is also not a treatise against feminism. But before I even opened the pages of the book, I was struck by the blurb on the back cover. Check it out:

"No one begins life as a mom. Before you have children, you are an amazing combination of friend, daughter, confidant, visionary, encourager, and thinker. You start out in life using your gifts and abilities in a surprising variety of settings. Then you have children and the role of mom-as wonderful as it is-seems to consume you. It's easy to lose your identity when others see you as a mom and little else. What happened to the artist, the teambuilder, the organizer, the entrepreneur, the leader--the person you lost touch with?"

Frankly, if this is all anyone read of the book, they would understand clearly the author's intention is grant moms the permission to use their gifts and talents to the glory of God, to remind them that they can be a mom and a writer, singer, cook, puzzle solver, or trumpet player. These moms have teaching gifts, communication gifts, leadership abilities, can enjoy fixing small appliances, and planting a garden. To remember that these things contribute to your identity, including who you are as a mom, is neither to elevate them over motherhood or to intice women to leave the home to pursue a career. They simply are....and all that from the back cover!

I eventually want to get to some of the actual meat of this book, but knowing what so many women in the church are reading and believing, I find it necessary to deal with the ideas associated with the confusion many women will no doubt have about this book. Let me be clear, this is not pop-psychology baptized in scripture, but it offers a real biblical alternative to the spiritualized ascetism that has been mandated for women in the evangelical community. Being a mom, a mom who loves being a mom, a mom devoted to her family and her Lord, need not be a woman who buries her gifts, hides her interests, and squanders her talents.

"When we wrestle with our identities, we want to know who specifically we are. Who we were made to be. Why we're gifted the way we are--and how that fits into our role as mom as well as our lives as women who follow Jesus."

When conversations ensue about women's roles, I believe a great deal of equivocating is done. When we talk about the identity of a woman there is no necessary denegration of her role as mom. Yet the two are often confused. As well, I believe the encyclopedic fallacy is committed when we speak of the lives of women. The Bible simply does not provide exhaustive details of how women's lives ought to manifest day to day. Caryn points out in this quote, clearly not pitting our identities against our roles, how God created us in his image, yet unique in desires, gifts, and talents to function in our own unique life circumstance. Sure, many women are mothers, but not all women are married to the same man in the same house with the same income. Our lives are as unique as our identities. As I believe this book aptly addresses, our role as mom can often overshadow how we are moms.

There are no generic Christians and that moms are getting stuck with generic identification inhibits the disciple-making and fellowship of the church. While our faith represents for us the only worldview that believes in a personal God in touch with the intimate details of our lives, our church life often communicates otherwise. Caryn implores us to adopt a refreshing alternative:

"We love who your kids are, and we love who you are. We can't wait to see what God has in store for you. We know that your gifts, your personality, your passions, and your whole self can enhance this community."

Mama's Got a Fake I.D. will give you the courage to be who you are, not because you have any particular rights or demands that ought to be heard, but because God created you to serve your family and the body of Christ in very unique ways. Generic products have come a long way over the years, but the labels simply hide the essence of the product within. This book is as much for the church as it is for women who might be struggling with their own identity, or wondering if it is ok for them to retain the gifts and interests God has poured into them. WFC

April 9, 2009

Secularism Need not be the Death Knell of Christianity

Newsweek’s proclamation of The End of Christian America leaves a sense of despair in the minds of many Christ-followers this Holy Week. We have heard President Obama state recently that America is neither a Christian or Muslim country, and now we read in the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) that the percentage of individuals claiming no religious affiliation has almost doubled. But there is more. The northeast quadrant of the United States is identified by the survey as a new “stronghold for the religiously unidentified.” This is not entirely unexpected as we have seen the ongoing decline of religious influence in academic institutions located in this region, institutions that were originally established to some extent to advance God’s Kingdom. And the concentration of liberal politicians in this region of the country has been noticeable for many years.

Observing that the momentum of the current political climate is resulting in a greater secularization of the American mind, I suspect that the numbers presented in this ARIS report will likely increase in the next five years. As Christian doctors continue to have their right of conscience threatened, as institutions like Notre Dame make an impractical distinction between the office of President and his ideology, and as common, every day believers hand over their religious freedom of expression for a mythical notion of neutral language and practice, I think we will see these numbers increase throughout the country. But this is not the end of Christianity and God is not dead. America may no longer be easily identified as a “Christian nation,” but the work of the church has not ceased.

American Christians do not really know what it means to be persecuted. Yet on a relative scale, I do believe that the infractions against conservative religious voices will motivate an uprising of American Christians willing to challenge the rising tide of intolerance. The question for Christian conservatives is, are we willing to work harder AND smarter to impact individual’s lives that will ultimately have an impact on the overall worldview of our society? In theory, we are all willing, but are we willing to stake our lives and reputation on an explicit expression of the Christian worldview? Perhaps we can even take some responsibility for the problem of secularization for preferring a godless conservative language and approach over that which is consistently and unabashedly Christian. That is not a battle between the conservative vs. the secular, but the Christian vs the secular.

March 31, 2009

How to Do Titus 2

Thinking about how to accomplish transition from event-driven women's ministry to a Titus 2 framework, I realize I ought to define "event-driven."

Churches and women's ministries will always have special events, and they should. But large scale affairs generally do not lend well to relationship building, an element essential to discipleship. Event-driven ministry is best understood as a majority of activities that take away from relationship building. In other words, if your ministry has one dinner function a year, but most of the Bible studies are video-based, my view is that relationship building is inhibited. This is where Bible study becomes a series of events and, voila, you have an event-driven ministry.

A Titus 2-based women's ministry is focused on getting women to talk to each other, where there is teaching and learning--not just about God, but about each other. Where there is no conversation, no learning, there is no mentoring.

So how do you move from event-driven to a Titus 2 ministry?

1. Group Bible studies that invite encounters with God in scripture and opportunities to share with each other about its meaning and application.

2. Activities that reveal common interests. These need not be formalized, it can be as basic as attending Little League games together or going to a teacher's convention if that is your occupation.

3. Casual sack lunch gatherings with or without a planned topic. Every women's ministry event need not be a regal affair.

4. "Cake and Conversation." Again, be deliberate about the cake, and see where the conversation goes.

5. Yes, I'm going to say it. Online social networking takes some of the work out of it, but you can make yourself available, knowable, and reachable with an online presence. The world is changing but we can still be a part of even the busiest person's life through Facebook, Ning, Twitter, and other similar sites. It takes less time to read messages than it does to cater an event!

This is a short, obviously non-exhaustive list. If you have some ideas or insights, leave your comments for everyone to read.

March 19, 2009

Obama: Clergy in Chief?

When President Obama recently signed the Executive Order that would provide federal funding for embryo-destructive research, the ideological floodgates were opened. Obama said the new order is “about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda—and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.” Science does not make decisions, ethics and the theories that support them are where decisions are made.

There are two significant issues that arise from this whole discussion. The first is the fact that science can only provide us with an “is.” Science can only describe what we can do or what we might be able to do, but science will never, on its own, answer the question, “what should we do?” Simply because the progress of science and research allows us to do something does not necessitate that we ought to. This IS-OUGHT dilemma is so extremely elementary, yet escapes Obama and his left-leaning ideologues. Indeed, he has answered the ethical question that was previously “above [his] paygrade,” but tries to disguise it as a matter of science.

The other significant issue is that Christian conservatives are catapulted again into the discussion of what is an embryo, when does human life begin, what does it mean to be created in the Image of God, and what are the implications of this research on the character of American society? But oddly enough, while Obama is allowed to bring ideology to the teleprompter in his IS-OUGHT charade, the church is a bit more temperamental about bringing so-called political issues in the pulpit. The fact is, most issues of politics are issues of faith and matters for the church to engage, yet there is nothing inherently political about embryo-destructive research that should make it off limits from our pastoral leadership and communicated from the pulpit. Embryo-destructive research is first a matter of ethics and is secondarily political. In fact, it’s only been politicized because of the desire to appeal to the wants of a very vocal and left-leaning segment of our society. And aversion to these discussions from the pulpit is based on the idea that they have great potential to cause division inside the church so we, for our own good, should abide by the so-called Wall of Separation. Is this evidence that the church is really as political as government, and government is really as faith-oriented as the church? An interesting reversal of roles.

March 17, 2009

What Embryonic Stem Cell Research has to do with Women's Ministry

Sounds strange, but the repercussions of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) are going to be especially serious for younger women. The research will cause a decline in womens health and objectify women in a way never imagined.

For ESCR to be pursued, cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer/SCNT) science will need to be perfected, research the requires human eggs, harvested from women of reproductive age.

Womens ministry is in a unique position to educate these young women about the harms of ESCR/SCNT to their bodies and to communicate their worth, their human dignity, and that it should not be violated in treating them as a commodity--an egg farm.

Harvesting eggs even for IVF (same method) can be extremely painful and have long term health implications...including infertility. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome has been known to result.

Feminists aren't interested in protecting women from the harms of this research because their agenda demands that whatever can be done to deconstruct reproduction ought to be done. Christian women mentoring younger women are in a key position to communicate a vital message of human dignity that can not on protect women's health, but draw them closer to the God who defines dignity in the first place.
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March 16, 2009

Women's Ministry: Spiritual Anemia Requires Spiritual Meat

Recently, I wrote a piece for the GFL blog that was titled "Does 'Complementarian' Equal Anemic Women's Ministry?" I'm thrilled with the comments it has received and the encouragement it has provided to women who want to bring a certain degree seriousness to their call to ministry. I cannot count the times that I meet women who, with me, joyfully identify with the complementarian perspective, but wonder how they can bring more meat to the table of women's ministry when it is overflowing with so much dessert. The answer to that question is going to depend on the kind of support that exists in the local church and the willingness to work together toward the same purpose and goal that is God-centered and gospel-driven.

I was honored to discover that the folks at the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood thought my commentary had a sense of good "direction," but I'm sad that they responded to an article that simply was not the one I wrote. If you have not read my commentary, please read it before you continue reading here. In fact, read Brent Nelson's as well, then come back.

Welcome back!

In What Makes for a Strong Women's Ministry?, Brett Nelson writes that my commentary "wafts an air of chronological snobbery" in response to this statement I make in the GFL commentary:
These are women who want to fulfill the Titus 2 mandate, to mentor and minister to other women, who want to play a significant role in Christian education, but also want to escape the culture of women’s ministry that they inherited from their grandmothers.
I am unclear how this is "chronological snobbery," and Brent Nelson is unclear as well, because he follows up my statement with his own question.
what is it about their grandmothers' culture of women's ministry that must be escaped from just because it was two generations back?
He rightly states that every generation has their blind spots, and that every generation has something to teach each other. I couldn't agree more! But my own commentary does provide an answer his question. As you have already read, I point out many examples of fluff n' stuff we have inherited from previous generations of women's ministry that are becoming obstacles to discipleship and in developing future women's leaders. Perhaps it was short-sided of me to not pay tribute to the legacy of women from the past, but that wasn't the purpose of the commentary. Brent Nelson is right to point out that it hasn't all been fluff n' stuff, but he commits a logical error by suggesting the desire for escape is based on ageism.

In developing his argument, Brent Nelson asks yet another rhetorical question,
Are those who reject their grandmothers' kind of women's ministry sure of what they reject?
Well, that was the point of my commentary, and it was long enough and specific enough for that detail to be located by the reader. Yes, we are sure! We, the silent critical mass mentioned at the beginning of my commentary, reject the fluff n' stuff that inhibits discipleship and takes up our time in needless event planning. I certainly should offer a caveat here, not all event planning is needless and many of the activities serve as instruments for discipleship. It is when women's ministry becomes event-driven and programmatically set in stone that we lose opportunities for discipleship and actually keep women away. But then again, that was detailed in my commentary.

In something of an answer to his own rhetorical questions, Brent Nelson rightly states that
some who led women's ministries in the 1950's may have lived the scriptural ideals of ‘self-control, purity, working in the home and submission to their own husbands' far better than some today.
Agreed.

The real danger here is not my disappointment with the fluff n' stuff of women's ministry, but the belief that there is little wrong with the intensity of the traditions that have been inherited, the poor examples of biblical interpretation offered by some women's ministry leaders, the weak materials marketed by Christian publishers who know that women represent a large majority of church attendance, the self-esteem/self-centered therapeutic methodology that is said to be God-centered, and the unwillingness to see women's ministry for the significant role it can play in the advancement of God's Kingdom. But then again, if women's ministry is primarily about fellowship with discipleship flowing out of that, then perhaps my view that it can play a role in advancing God's Kingdom is unwarranted.