Where are the mothers in the family of God?

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Last week I had lunch with my friend and minister, Deborah.

Deborah is on the ministerial staff at The Cathedral Church of the Advent in downtown Birmingham, where my husband and I are members. Deborah has the gift of teaching and preaching. She is not only one of my favorite women Bible teachers but on of my top 10 favorite Bible teachers. She has a heart for the Lord and the gospel, is smart, and learned in the study of theology and exegesis. I’m so grateful to have her on staff at my church.

Deborah said something during our lunch that I’ve heard her say before, but today it struck me a little differently.

Following my most recent post last week about “Lost Women” she said something to the effect of “I want to move past these debates and get to the work of the Church, serving as a co-laborer next to my brothers and sisters.” Then she said, “I believe we need in the Church, just like in our families, fathers and mothers.”

Last year this summer we waited and watched as the Supreme Court made its ruling on marriage. Marriage–and all the benefits of marriage including having a family–was equally granted to homosexual couples as it has been for heterosexual couples. Christians mourned the loss of children not having both a father and mother in the home. Even though there are situations where children might be raised in a single family home, the ideal, nonetheless, is for every child to have a father and mother.

Whether it is the deep voice of my husband in times of discipline, his strength when I want to be too easy or tender, or the way he relates to our son differently than me, our son needs both his father and mother. We each have something that the other doesn’t have, and together he sees the full image of God.

As I drove back to work from lunch, I thought about what Deborah said and I thought about most churches I know. In the family of God, we have lots of fathers. But where are the mothers? In egalitarian churches, this of course won’t be the case (at least probably not). In fact the opposite might be true: Where are the fathers?

When we lived in England two years ago, we attended a church where the vicar was a male but the other two staff members were female. When lay leaders/deacons were involved with communion, prayer, etc, the majority of these were women. On some Sundays the absence of fathers was strong.

But in the States, and especially in complementarian churches, the absence of women in leadership is abysmal. Where are the mothers in the family of God?

Who are the fathers or mothers in a church? They are those called by God, set apart by him, for vocational gospel ministry to administer the Word of God for the people of God. These are the people called to shepherd and care for the souls. These are the ones who are called to feed the flock, take care of their physical and spiritual needs, and remind them of the Good News of Jesus. These in leadership–at least with men–are expected to have some kind of training because of the type of call that involves an authoritative teaching of the Word of God.

But even in complementarian churches where it is believed women can only have authority in preaching and teaching to other women there is room and ever need for mothers. We need men and women called by God and trained for this work helping with Sunday services. We need these called men and women available for prayer during an invitation. We need both fathers and mothers as co-laborers working together to raise up the children of God for the work of God. We need fathers and mothers co-laboring side by side to teach and preach the Word to the flock. If our families need both a father and a mother then why doesn’t God’s family need both too?

At the Advent the preaching is shared by all ministerial staff members even though our lead pastor–called “dean” because our church is a cathedral–carries most of the preaching responsibility. My husband has remarked on several occasions after Deborah has preached that she was able to speak to him in a way that Andrew or Matt cannot. He says, “In the same way a mother can provide for a son in a way that a father cannot, there are some things that a female preacher can provide that a male preacher cannot.” He is not saying that her exegesis does not matter; rather, God uses the whole package–including gender–to minister.

God uses the complementarity of the sexes to minister to each of us–male and female. If God saw fit to give both a father and mother to children, then why should the family of God be void of mothers?

Recommended: A Peace Plan for the Gender War

By Timothy George
November 17, 2005

There’s a story about a Texas rancher who threw a big party and filled his swimming pool with man-eating sharks. When the guests had all gathered, he announced that he would give anyone who swam the length of his pool the choice of $50 million or the deed to his ranch. Before he could finish speaking, he saw someone swimming furiously across the pool. When the swimmer arrived on the other side, the rancher said, “I’m astounded. I didn’t think anyone would try that, much less do it. But I am true to my word. Now tell me, what do you want: $50 million or the deed to my ranch?”

“What do you mean?” the swimmer exclaimed. “I want the guy who pushed me into the pool!”

I won’t accuse anyone of pushing me into this pool, but I confess that I would not be writing on this topic if I hadn’t recently been invited—even prodded—to give a plenary address on it. I am not a card-carrying member of either party in the evangelical gender wars. I have no special expertise in this issue; I have read widely but not deeply in the enormous literature it has generated. I have no new interpretation of 1 Timothy 2 or headship or submission to offer. I am merely a participant-observer in the evangelical family who recognizes that in the polarization over gender, something crucial is at stake.

That polarization is found even in our seminaries. Evangelical theological schools tend to fall into one of three camps. Some are unequivocally egalitarian and would not likely hire a faculty member who did not share this commitment. Fuller, North Park, Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern), Ashland, and the Church of God School of Theology are among the schools that hold this view. Other theological institutions take the opposite view. Westminster, Dallas, Covenant, and, more recently, the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention fall into this group. Beeson, my school, belongs to another group of theological institutions, including Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, Denver, and Regent College (Vancouver), which do not make this matter a test of fellowship but welcome faculty and students who hold differing convictions. Read the rest at Christianity Today.

The Lost Women of In-Between Land

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Peter Pan was a favorite fairytale of mine. The idea of being able to fly away from one’s problems and fears (in Peter’s case, of never growing up) was appealing to me even at a young age. I also related to the fictional Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. They didn’t belong. Of course they thought (or perhaps pretended) that they were having the time of their lives in Neverland, but throughout the story there are glimpses of sadness and a longing for home—to belong. We catch these glimpses in Peter’s desire to hear stories and to find open windows, and in the Lost Boys’ reaction when they were given a “mother” and when Wendy had to leave.

The analogy isn’t perfect but the feeling is comparable. The feeling of not belonging. The feeling of being lost and exiled to another place.

I’m talking about my reality and the reality of so many women called to gospel ministry.

I have been thinking about the role of women in ministry before I ever publicly surrendered to God’s call on my life at 15. As a small girl I cried, “I wish God had made me a boy so I could grow up to be a preacher.” The call I felt at such a young age didn’t seem to fit with my gender.

Over the last 10 years I have been thinking, researching, and talking about the issue of women in ministry. The issue is important because I believe God calls women to ministry and because I believe the Church and the World need God-called and trained women to take the gospel and disciple others.

But in American evangelicalism, the line is drawn; the two sides are clear. You must choose between being a complementarian or egalitarian. And not any kind of complementarian or egalitarian. You must meet all the criteria. There’s no room for any “softness.”

So since I do not feel comfortable in either camp nor do I agree 100% with all of their applications, I find myself living in In-Between Land. Like I said, the analogy breaks down with the story of Peter Pan for this land is far from magical, and, unlike Peter, I do not want to live here. But I live in this land because I don’t belong anywhere else.

And I know I’m not alone. I know there are other Lost Women of In-Between Land. The problem, though, with In-Between Land is that—to state the obvious—it’s not a real place. So to find these other Lost Women is sometimes difficult. We often come across each other by accident, in conversations.

Two years ago I spoke at a weekend retreat to a group of around 30 young female students at Ouachita Baptist University who feel called to ministry. The sentiment was the same. They felt called but they didn’t feel like they belonged.

Who are these Lost Women? Most (if not all) are theologically conservative, evangelical, feel called by God to full-time gospel ministry, desire or have theological education, and have a nuanced interpretation regarding spiritual gifts, especially the gift of teaching and preaching.

With complementarianism, most Lost Women feel frustrated by the constant and ever-growing Don’t List. Historically, instead of complementarians telling us what we can do and encouraging and affirming women, the conversation has often been dominated by what we cannot do. We feel frustrated, not at the statement that women cannot be senior pastors (in fact, most of us don’t want to be senior pastors), but that too many complementarian churches have no full-time, called, trained women on staff.

On the other hand, some Lost Women feel frustrated by certain strands of egalitarianism, where there is an overemphasis of the good work of women to such an extent that the good work of men is eclipsed. In addition, women who “merely” teach other women and children can be looked down upon or even discouraged. Sometimes the push is too strong to be a senior pastor, and we feel frustrated also by the lack of jobs in some egalitarian contexts.

The feeling is: We are forgotten. We are discouraged. We are written off if we do not hold to either side completely. We are not only the Lost Women, we are the causalities of this gender war.

What happens to us conservative women who value theological education and the spiritual gifts but who are often ignored in these gender debates? Where do we serve? Who is encouraging us to receive theological education and who will hire us when we are done? Who will publish us or who will ask us to speak and teach?

What about us who are called to a writing ministry? If we don’t hold to a traditional or certain complementarian framework of Scripture or interpretation of 1 Timothy, we will be unable to write for most theologically conservative ministries. If we don’t hold to a traditional or certain egalitarian framework of Scripture or interpretation of 1 Timothy, then we will most likely be unable to write for other ministries.

This should not be! Is there no vocational space for us who are neither complementarian nor egalitarian? Actually, is there little place for women to serve at all even if we are 100% complementarian or egalitarian? How long will God-called women remain overlooked, unheard, lost?

While these two camps continue their debates and wars, my guess is us Lost Women will quietly try to find a place where we can serve (thankfully there are some!). We may leave and go overseas. We may change denominations, even if unwillingly. At worse, we may become embittered or quit the ministry all together.

Please join me in praying that God will move in our churches and in these debates so that more laborers will be able to serve in the field. For at the end of the day what we want is to not be Lost Women of In-Between Land but co-laborers in the Lord Jesus and in his Church.

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Book Recommendations

If you love to read, publishers are putting out some great books this season, and I want to share with you some of them. So let’s get started!

Books on waiting

Two books on waiting have come out this spring from Zondervan and Crossway and I happen to know both of the authors! How cool is that? I’ve only read snippets of each book–still waiting on my copies–but I feel comfortable recommending these books.

Thornton1. I Don’t Wait Anymore: Letting Go of Expectations and Grasping God’s Adventure for You (Zondervan) by Grace Thornton. Grace and I met when I began working at The Alabama Baptist shortly after graduating from Beeson. Grace is a gifted storyteller and writer. As a single female, Grace eventually left her job at the newspaper to write and tell stories for a Christian international organization. Before and during this time, she blogged at gracefortheroad.com. Her post, “I Don’t Wait Anymore,” had more than 2 million visits. Here’s the short description of the book on Amazon:

Have you been waiting for life to turn out the way you expected?You’re not alone.There are lots of us out there who feel that way. Grace Thornton is one. She had dreams, plans, and ideas for what life should look like. For one, she thought she’d be married. She thought she’d have kids. She thought God would bring her the life she’d been waiting for because she knew He was good and she tried to be obedient.But that’s not what happened. Not at all.

So she found herself wrestling with God. Who is He if He doesn’t bring along the life, husband, and 2.5 kids she thought He was supposed to? And where should she go from there?

When she got brutally honest with herself and asked the hard question, “Why do I think the world has more to offer than God does?” the answer was stunning. Her honesty led to the path God had for her. One that would write a story for her life that was even better than the one she had dreamed for herself.

This positive and encouraging book offers inspiration to anyone who wants to live a fulfilling life right now. Grace decided to let go of her expectations of the way life “should be” and grasp God’s hand for the adventure He had for her.

Here’s a video of her talking about the book:

Howard2. Seasons of Waiting: Walking by Faith When Dreams Are Delayed (Crossway) by Betsy Childs Howard. Betsy and I met at Beeson. At the time she was working on staff, and I was a student. At the time, Betsy took one class a semester at Beeson. Not long after I graduated from Beeson, Betsy became the web and publications editor. She continued to take one class a semester and a year ago graduated with a M.A.T.S. degree. In May of 2014, Betsy wrote a piece for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) called, “Should I Be Content with My Singleness?” The day after her article was published, she received an e-mail from a pastor in Manhattan. And the rest, as we say, is history. She wrote about her love story following this article here. Betsy resigned from her position at Beeson to  marry and move to Manhattan with her new husband, and she now works as an editor for TGC. Our paths crossed once more when I was hired to take over for Betsy. Betsy trained me in her position and we stay in contact throughout the year. In fact, we recently interviewed Betsy for the Beeson podcast to talk about her book. It goes live on Tuesday (May 24). Here’s the short description on Amazon about Betsy’s book:

We’re all waiting for something.

It might be a spouse or a baby. It might be a home or healing. Regardless of what we’re waiting for, it’s easy to feel discontent when things aren’t going as planned and our dreams are delayed—especially when the questions of “Why?” and “How long?” remain unanswered.

God uses seasons of waiting to teach us patience and make us more like himself. But sanctification is not the only purpose God has in mind. When we wait faithfully with unmet longings, we become a powerful picture of the bride of Christ waiting for the day when he returns and God’s kingdom reigns.

Book on love/Love story

Keeners3. Now after reading about waiting and how to wait, here’s a wonderful book of love, an impossible love in fact. Impossible Love: The True Story of an African Civil War, Miracles, and Hope against All Odds (Chosen Books/Baker) is written by a husband and wife team, Craig and Médine Keener. Craig is a well-known and well-respected New Testament scholar and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. He just published 4 volumes on Acts, and is the author of many books. Médine holds a Ph.D. and is the pastoral care coordinator of Formation Ministries at Asbury. This book is riveting! I could not put it down. It took me only two days to read it. Their story is a testimony of the power and faithfulness of God – how he is able to take broken lives and restore them and how he is mighty to save and to heal. Their story is not just a feel-good story about love. It is a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit in the world. The Holy Spirit used their book to convict me of my lack of faith and prayer and to push me to see the world differently. What a great God we serve! I highly recommend this book to you. The Keeners also will be on the Beeson podcast next Tuesday.

Here’s a video about Craig and Médine Keener’s story that is told in the book.

Medine from Jorge Castorena on Vimeo.

Theology/Biblical Studies Books

Padilla4. If I were to rank the books in importance this book would be #1. And of course it has nothing to do with who wrote it! The Acts of the Apostles: Interpretation, History and Theology (IVP Academic) is written by my beloved and adored husband, Osvaldo Padilla. This book is an advanced introduction to the study of Acts and makes for a good companion to commentaries on Acts. This book is for the advanced theological student as Osvaldo explores deeply issues of genre, authorship, and interpretation. Because of the advanced content, I recommend this book for seminary students or those, such as pastors, who already have a seminary degree, who want to go deeper in the study of Acts.

Hays5. This is my last recommendation for this post. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Baylor University Press) by Richard B. Hays is one of those books that every theology student must read. I’m only into the first part of the book, but it has me captivated. It’s content is rich, which is to be expected given the quality of works that Hays has produced. What makes this book even more special is how this book came to be published. In his moving preface, Hays explains that he had written the majority of this content by 2010 when he was asked to become the dean of Duke Divinity School. From 2010-2015, his work on the book was at an almost standstill with the exception of giving lectures on the topic in Cambridge during 2013-14. He announced his intention to step down as dean in 2016 so he could finish writing the book, but a few months later after this announcement he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  Friends, colleagues, and his publisher pulled together to help Hays finish what very well may be his last book.

What books are you reading now or plan to read this summer? What books would you recommend?

Happy reading!

Kristen

Homosexuality and the Love of God: A response to Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty

By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla

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It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.

The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.

Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,

One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. … Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing “wrong with you,” or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.

Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1

Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.

But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.

Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:

This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”

And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.

Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.

First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)

So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.

Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:

And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)

This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:

Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter…

The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.

To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.

Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.

Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?

 

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1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.

Osvaldo’s father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God’s love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God’s love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus’ greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God’s love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God’s love. His behavior won’t change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will. 

Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn’t preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.

Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?

Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts. 

Recommended: DeYoung’s 9Marks of Complementarianism

Over on Patheos, Scot McKnight engages with Kevin DeYoung’s recent post on complementarianism on The Gospel Coalition. McKnight raises some really good questions and pushes DeYoung on some points. For one, DeYoung says that 1 Timothy 2 is clear. What he means is that his interpretation is “clear.” With so many respected scholars and serious Christians who hold differing interpretations of 1 Timothy 2 of which they arrived after careful study demonstrates that the text isn’t as clear as DeYoung would have us to believe. DeYoung also says that he doesn’t favor women reading the sermon text, but just because a church allows a woman to read the text (supposedly in a Sunday worship service) doesn’t mean the church is “automatically wed to the spirit of the age.” This statement implies that those who are not complementarian (or the complementarian he describes) is “wed to the spirit of the age.” I might venture my own response on this article later, but for now I recommend you reading Scot’s response.

No More Graves

“Behold, the dwelling place is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

There’s an ancient tombstone in Rome that reads, “Stranger, hang on a minute. Stop here; take a look down to your left. That’s where my bones are buried. I was a good man. I was a kind man, and I was a lover of the poor. Please traveler, I beg you, don’t mess with my tomb. Traveler, on your way now. Goodbye.”

For Gaius Atilius, the end of his story ended with his grave, and for a traveler to mess with his grave would somehow interrupt his eternal rest. But God reveals to us in Revelation that for the one in Jesus Christ the end of our story isn’t the grave but an eternal dwelling place with God. We don’t look to an ending where our bones will lay under piles of dirt; rather, we look forward to the day when we will dwell with God in resurrected bodies with no more tears or pain. As my son Philip says, “There will be no more band-aids in heaven.” And this eternal reality is not dependent upon how good we are. For even Gaius Atilius’ best attempt at goodness still ended with him in the grave. Rather, this eternal reality is given to us because of God’s great love for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So even in these moments and days of tears, sadness, and pain, remember that it is temporary. Our stories won’t end in the grave because Jesus is not in the grave.

Posted earlier today on Dean Timothy George’s blog at beesondivinity.com.