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.


Anonymous said...

"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."

How would you suggest this be done?

Sarah J. Flashing said...

We should be teaching and especially modeling the grammatical-historical method of biblical interpretation. Our studies need to bring women into the context of a passage so they can best apply to parallel circumstances. An over-focus on fill-in-the-blank studies leaves many women ill-equipped to open the word and understand for themselves. In our culture that hyper-spiritualizes every day circumstances (the Oprahfication of culture as I like to think about it) there is a risk for that to happen with the Word as well. We have to help women pursue the objective meaning of scripture.

Anonymous said...

Can you recommend a specific study for a women's small group where this could be easily done? (by the way, it's me, deborah connery - I can't get my login to work so sorry about the "anoymous")

Sarah J. Flashing said...

I thought that might be you, Deborah! Great to see you :)I'm actually advocating that women's ministry leaders move away from the "facilitator" approach and teach verse by verse themselves. With the aid of bible background books and commentaries, there is no reason why women's leaders can't be teaching directly from the scriptures, and teaching women to use resources to do the same.