January 28, 2010

Women Telling the Story

 Without dispute, women’s voices in the local church have incredible significance, as these voices give way to a greater understanding of how women think and experience God and the Christian life. Any dispute generally has to do with the realm where these voices are heard, but for certain both men and women have much to learn about each other and how God is at work through these stories and experiences.

In her recent post, Tracey Bianchi wrote about the significance of women’s voices as teachers in the local church.
"…a woman proclaiming God’s Word with hands that smell like marinated artichokes can hit the heart of another woman in a way men cannot…women have stories to tell about life and God, just as our male partners on the journey do. The chance to preach from their perspectives is honoring God’s call to the community of Christ."
Though I am not committed to Tracey’s ultimate conclusions in terms of how this plays out in the pulpit, her position is clearly grounded in an authentic love for the community of believers and for God. And I embrace her core argument that there is tremendous value for men learning more about how women experience the Christian life. In further agreement, we as women teachers can reach women in ways men simply cannot—because of our shared experiences.

To what degree are women in your church equipped, encouraged, and positioned to proclaim God’s Word to one another? Local churches need mature, believing women to mentor one on one—that’s a given—but also to teach in corporate settings. And yes, I mean the women in the local church and not the special speakers who, by default, do a bulk of this kind of teaching. It is necessary to add that these teaching gifts must be modeled to women by women in the local church so that recognition of these gifts in future leaders is not overshadowed by the notion of unattainable celebrity status.

But this is where we need to be very clear about the nature of corporate educational opportunities in women’s ministry. It’s not so much that Christ will be proclaimed from a woman’s perspective or point of view, because the Word of God contains objective and unchanging truths as well as timeless stories that ultimately bring us to the foot of the Cross—regardless of gender. We can think of this as a redeemed human point of view, not so much a gender-influenced perspective. Yet there is still something about the notion of a “woman’s perspective” that deserves consideration.

Dorothy Sayers, theologian and female-extraordinaire, deals with the question of the “woman’s point of view” in her book Are Women Human? While she recognizes that women often share a great deal common experience that she calls “special knowledge,” she poignantly asks …what in thunder is the women’s perspective on the devaluation of the franc or the abolition of the Danzig Corridor? You may be wondering what the Danzig Corridor is, something that a basic Google search can resolve, but I think you get the point, and we must be clear about this.

When Christ is proclaimed, we aren’t really proclaiming Christ from a woman’s perspective any more than we can explain America’s economic crisis from a woman’s perspective, though we can explain its effect in the experience and perspective of being a woman. What we are really doing is teaching how to apply the theological truths we gather from Scripture to our lives as women. We are reflecting on how we live out our faith, even giving consideration to how we once lived as children of wrath…as women.

How we actually understand the meaning of Scripture is not going to differ from how men understand it, and in fact many of our experiences—because we are human—will correlate. Of course, we bring life experience and a worldview framework to our interpretation of Scripture. But if we are doing what we are suppose to be doing, we are utilizing a historical-grammatical biblical hermeneutic that helps us to avoid interpreting through the lens of our own experiences and discover as much is possible the intended meaning of the writers. Great care needs to be taken so as to avoid a feminist hermeneutic that begins with the authority of the feminine experience instead of the authority of Scripture.

When women invite other women to the person of Christ through the message of Scripture, our experience as women permits us to communicate what it means to lead a God-centered life through the joys, trials, and tribulations that are associated with being a woman. We ought not underestimate the value of this as we consider whether or not women’s ministry plays an important role in the local church.

Cross-posted at Gifted for Leadership

January 14, 2010

Radical Christianity and the Public Square

As Christians called to be agents of good news in a fallen world, we find our method and our message within the text of scripture. By method, I don’t refer to the exact way we accomplish ministry in various contexts, but who we are and what we portray of Christianity in the process—our character. It is virtually impossible to separate the message of the Gospel from the messenger, so we are called to love God, our neighbors, avoid immorality and speak in a way that doesn’t revile God among unbelievers. That doesn’t mean, of course, that every person who calls him or herself a Christian doesn’t depart from the life of spiritual integrity—as we know, sadly, it sometimes happens. As well, scripture provides no place for a deceitful, manipulative gospel that drags people to the altar. These have nothing to do with the content of Christianity but are reflective of Christ-less living. It is the deliberate acts of love and communication of the Gospel as truth that reveal to man his own fallenness and make attractive the Christian faith.

But as I said, we screw up. We shouldn’t embrace our screw ups, but we do screw up. And because our worldview is one of exclusive claims and has a the moral bar set far above the bar established by the world we live in, unbelievers are often eager to profit from our failings. For them, our failings represent either evidence of an inept system—somehow proof that Christianity is not the truth it claims to be, or at least that the message is tainted and the truth denied. Be that as it may, Christianity is a perfect system in that it best accounts for life’s ultimate questions and brings to the world real hope and change through redemption found in the blood of Christ. These facts are true despite the despicable behavior of some who profess Christianity. Radical.

Speaking of radical, Saul Alinsky is one who sought to profit from the moral failures of Christians (or any other opposition group) so his system could actually justify deceitful and manipulative tactics. The tone of “Rules for Radicals” is essentially this: that if Christians can be shown to be hypocrites, we can lower the bar of morality and function with what appears to be a higher level of integrity within a system that requires much less. This can be seen explicitly in Alinsky’s fourth rule in his section on Tactics where he writes “Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christians can live up to Christianity.” (p. 128) This is followed by the fifth rule which claims that “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also, it infuriates the opposition who then react to your advantage.”

Attacking Christianity is always easier when you point out and attribute to it that which plagues all humanity—our sinfulness—and argue in such a way that incites a response that appears at least to compromise the system being defended. And when you claim to be a relativist, political and otherwise, you—as an organizer—can position yourself as an authoritative, objective onlooker simply analyzing the bias and hypocrisy before you. This isn’t radical, this is cowardly and intellectually dishonest.

Christianity in the public square needs to drive home the fact that everyone has a worldview and an agenda. In the process, Christianity in the public square must also work diligently to remain truly Christian and not compromise itself in the eyes of the self-proclaimed opposition. We should welcome being held to the standards of our own “rule book” and not veer away from the dogma that defines us, because it is the dogma that sustains us. If we pretend to have this same worldview-less position, we open ourselves up to the failure that the unbelieving world is awaiting, because even if Christians in the public square aren’t quoting chapter and verse, the opposition is sophisticated enough to know that it is from there that we derive our principles for life. I think we should be more honest with ourselves, about how Christian we really want to be among non-Christians in culture today. Or is that too radical?

January 11, 2010

Out of Focus: Still Obsessed with Self-Image

Dove did it first with their ads a few years ago. Now Vogue is featuring plus size models, attempting to prove that there is room in the fashion industry for women who don't disappear when they turn sideways. As encouraging as it is to see a new perspective on beauty, one can't help to wonder if there is an element of exploitation involved, as if the plus size model could ever become a norm in the industry. The novelty will soon wear off because, as we know, this is an industry motivated by externals and, ultimately, by dollars.

Size 1 or size 14, we are obviously still a society focused on self-image and sexuality, and the message young women are receiving is still the same--you have no option but to focus on and communicate your sexuality to be of any value in our culture today. Suggesting that this is a "healthier" take on body size and shape is to impugn our intellect, a set-back for women everywhere.

As believers, we need to tackle the obsession of self-image with teaching and reflection on the image of God. Having been created in this image, how we are to live our lives ought to reflect the desire to be holy, committed followers of Jesus. That means, whether a size 1 or a size 14, we communicate with our mouths and our bodies a message that glorifies God. What young women struggle with in terms of identity and purpose is not properly addressed with an out-of-focus view on our sexuality. As most of us get older, our externals tend to be of little interest to anyone and the despair associated with rejection may be overwhelming to the woman of tomorrow. Of course, our externals are often a reflection of the condition of the heart, so they do matter to that degree. But unless we are equipping women to live their whole lives in a way that pleases the Lord, they will constantly revert back to a self-esteem sought through a compromised personal ethic. The question of who we are and what we think should take priority over how we feel, and as refreshing as it is to see models who look more like the real women in today's world, nothing has really changed.

January 3, 2010

Brit Hume's Worldview Critique

Even for Fox News, this is surprising, yet this is how every believer ought to be prepared to respond--telling the truth with meekness and gentleness. Likely, Brit Hume's statement will be regarded as arrogant and closed-minded, but Buddhism doesn't provide for the needs of forgiveness and redemption and it will be interesting to hear the responses to his critique of Buddhism.