Recommended: James K. A. Smith and the Limits of “Orthodoxy”

As you know, I have written before on the issue of homosexuality and orthodoxy. I’d like to recommend the following short treatment of the issue, which is actually a response to a philosopher, written by a professor at Beeson Divinity School, Dr. Gerald McDermott.

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Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A Smith has done a lot of good for today’s Church. He has made accessible such arcane subjects as postmodern philosophy and Radical Orthodoxy, and otherwise-impenetrable thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Charles Taylor. He is the unusual philosopher who talks about Pentecostal contributions to his field. His recent books on worship and desire have showed legions of young (and old!) readers the significance of liturgy and habits for Christian discipleship.

Now, however, he risks separating moral theology from dogmatic theology in an odd way. In a widely-read post at his blog on “orthodox theology,” he complains about the Christians who insist that orthodoxy must include adherence to the historic Christian view of marriage and sexuality. They don’t realize, he argues, that “this deployment of the term ‘orthodox’ is recent, innovative, and narrow.” Historically, he maintains, orthodoxy was understood as commitment to the great ecumenical creeds—Nicaea and Chalcedon. These creeds taught “the conciliar marks of the gospel”–namely, creation, Incarnation, the virgin birth, Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, his second coming, the Trinity, the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, one baptism, and the hope of bodily resurrection.

But these zealots for a narrowly-conceived orthodoxy, Smith complains, are “reduc[ing] Christianity to a morality,” just as Kant did. They are taking second-order matters (my use of the term) and elevating them to first-order status—just as some Christians regard Christian non-violence, the mode of baptism, the ordination of women, and the rapture as necessary parts of orthodoxy. Bakers who are persecuted for refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings are not suffering for orthodoxy but for things that are not “at the very heart of Christian faith.” Smith concedes that these views of sexuality and marriage which the bakers are defending “have been the historic teaching of the church.” But they are “traditional” rather than “conciliar. If we regard them as central to orthodoxy, they will “start to overwhelm and supersede what the church has defined as orthodox.” Read the rest at Patheos.

Is teaching Scripture to females just as important as it is to men?

I stood in the Christian Life section of Barnes & Noble yesterday. As I scanned all the books written to disciple women, I was overwhelmed by one thing. The majority of these women had no formal theological education. When I began counting, the number was outstanding. This is the reality that many publishers and churches have created for women’s discipleship.

Both complementarians and egalitarians agree to these statements:

Men and women are made equally in God’s image and share equally in his image.

Men and women are invited equally to receive the revelation of God and to grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Men and women are equally capable of study, learning, and grasping theological truth.

Men and women equally need firm theological teaching grounded in Scripture and the orthodox confessions of the Church.

New Testament scholar and complementarian Douglas Moo once wrote:

Women, like men, are to use these gifts to minister to the body of Christ; their ministries are indispensable to the life and growth of the church. There are many examples in the New Testament of just such ministries on the part of gifted Christian women. To be true to the New Testament, then, the contemporary church needs to honor those varied ministries of women and to encourage women to pursue them.

Blogger and author Tim Challies wrote a blog post earlier this year called, “I’m Complementarian and I Read Books by Women.” In his piece, he makes the case for why complementarian men should encourage women to teach, write, and think theologically and why men should listen to and learn from these women.

The Gospel Coalition, a complementarian organization, has ten women on staff (a third of its staff). Eight of those women are program staff and several of them have seminary degrees.

I point to these examples to show that at the least we are vocalizing and at the most showing by example that we should do more to encourage and equip women called by God to serve in traditional gospel ministry within the church. But we still have a long way to go in changing the direction of women discipleship.

Shepherding

In Scripture, those whom God calls to be shepherds of his people are given two basic tasks: feed the sheep and protect the sheep. Feeding the sheep is a metaphor for feeding God’s people with his Word. Protecting the sheep is a metaphor for protecting God’s people from false teachers or false shepherds who want to feed the sheep a false word. Shepherding is really a ministry of the Word to the people of God. It is soul caring that is gospel-centered. Jesus asked Peter three times, Do you love me? Peter responded with a resounding, Yes! Jesus responded, Then feed my sheep (Cf. John 21: 20ff).

While the main role of a pastor is as shepherd (the Greek word for shepherd is translated as pastor), I believe all God-called ministers on church staffs are shepherds. Ministers are given the responsibility of shepherding a select group of sheep within the church. They are responsible for sheep within the church, and all shepherds on a church staff work together so that their shepherding is true and gospel-focused.

This understanding of the role of shepherding is not gender specific, in my opinion. Are not ministers to women shepherding the women? If they are in charge of teaching, providing biblical teaching or soul care to the sheep, then yes! Ministers to children and youth are also indeed shepherds of God’s sheep. God’s sheep are not only men. They are also women and children. If this is true, then are we adequately preparing our female shepherds, as we do our male shepherds, for the task at hand?

The lie about women

I grew up in small, Baptist churches where we did not have any women on the ministerial staff. My dad, who is a Southern Baptist pastor, was the only minister on staff at his first church and one of two at the second. And, the second staff minister at the second church was both the music minister and the youth minister! It wasn’t that he or the church leaders excluded women from serving as ministers (in fact, at our third church we had a female children’s minister on staff); the churches simply couldn’t sustain a staff larger than one or two people.

However, as I spent more time at larger evangelical churches in the South while in college and seminary, there was something being communicated non-verbally and indirectly that until recently I had not recognized its pervasive influence on the way I viewed my calling and ministry. It was this: That where men were not present the theological depth of Bible study and teaching and the lack of training of the teacher diminished. This observation led to a lie, that until a few years ago, I had believed. Simply put the lie is this—that women (or female sheep) do not matter as much as men (male sheep) when it comes to biblical and theological teaching. (This is not true at my current church. In fact, my church is a wonderful example of what to do when it comes to hiring, using, and teaching women in the church.)

As I look back, I see this more clearly. What I was being taught by example was that in settings of mixed gender audiences, whether it be in a Sunday morning or evening service, the teacher had a seminary degree; but when men (male sheep) left so did the male teacher or shepherd with the theological training.

Recently I stumbled across a church website that announced two new ministerial staff members of the youth ministry. One was male and the other was female. They were hired to do the exact same job as the other with the only difference being that the male staff member would minister to the males in the youth group and the female staff member would minister to the females in the youth group. The male staff member has an M.Div. from a seminary; the female staff member has no seminary degree (and perhaps no college degree as nothing was said about that either).

I also stumbled across a children’s ministry position at a church. Theological education was not a qualification required for this position.

What I commonly notice is that the male ministers on staff have theological education and the women do not. These women most often are hired as directors or ministers to children or women. When this happens, what does that communicate about what the ministerial staff believes about women or children? I think it concretely communicates that women’s (and children’s) study of Scripture matters less than men’s. It creates a hierarchy among the sheep.

However, I don’t think male pastors and elders actually believe this. As I said at the beginning, I believe most male pastors and elders believe that women are equally capable and able to study Scripture and should have the same opportunities of learning as men. I also believe that most pastors believe women should receive the same quality of teaching as men. (If not, then they should ask the women to leave when they preach and teach!) What I believe has happened, though, is that what we practice is not in line with our belief so that what is being communicated is something entirely different from what we actually believe.

Let me pause and say that I’m not arguing that people without theological training should not be lay teachers of Scripture. Let that never be the case! Many lay leaders are very capable and excellent gospel-centered teachers without the seminary education. What I am referencing here are those who are called to be Shepherds to the sheep or Ministers to the ministers. My question is this: If we require our male ministers on staff to have theological education but do not require our female ministers, what is that communicating about what we believe about female sheep?

Communicating what we believe

The implications of what I saw worked out in the church for me, someone called to ministry, was that if I wanted to be taken seriously as a Bible teacher and if I was to have any merit in my vocation or my seminary degree, men must be in the audience. As a result, I had a personal crisis: was I wrong in discerning my calling or was the church wrong in its view of women? Simply put, there was little to no vocational ministerial space for me in which to serve as a complementarian with theological training. And as a result, I began to perpetuate the lie that teaching women the Bible was not enough, not worthy enough, because women themselves were not as important as men. I was in effect allowing an incorrect view of my audience to determine the worth or value of my calling.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for women called to ministry within complementarianism is this very issue. Most ministry-minded women in evangelical circles I’ve met do not want to be senior pastors. But while complementarians have been really good at telling women what they cannot do, they have failed to put resources into what they can do (although this is changing in some places). The stumbling block for these women is that there are no (or few) offices open to them. Simply put, there are few jobs for them. Not only are there few ministry jobs, but when the church hires women who have no theological training, it can make seminary not even worth the cost for young women.

Let me pause here and say this is a crisis for women who are seminary-trained. If churches are willing to hire women with no theological training, perhaps because they can pay them less, then what incentive is there for women to go learn the Bible for three years?

If complementarians want to keep theologically trained women in their churches and want to strengthen the teaching in their churches to their female parishioners, then this issue must be addressed.

What should we do?

First, pastors, elders, deacons and other church leaders, please rethink how you are communicating non-verbally as well as verbally about the worth of women. You can say as much as you want that women matter but if you communicate non-verbally the opposite, people will believe your non-verbal communication over your verbal communication. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Ask yourself, If I truly believe that women matter and that God’s Word is equally for women, then why do I not require our female staff members to have theological training? Why do our women speakers and authors who are teaching our women the Bible have no theological training? Why do I hire women part-time or at a lower salary rate than my other ministers? Am I interested in who is teaching our women and who they are reading? If not, why? Am I adequately engaged with the teaching of our women? How can I encourage young women who feel called to traditional vocational ministry?

I like what New Testament scholar and complementarian Thomas Schreiner writes:

Sometimes complementarians have given the impression that women are unintelligent and that they lack any ability to teach. Such a view is clearly mistaken, for some women unquestionably have the spiritual gift of teaching.

The best thing pastors and churches—most especially complementarian pastors and churches—can do to combat this lie is to start hiring female staff members who have theological education. If we won’t hire a male staff member unless he has theological training but we will hire a woman whether or not she does, then we are communicating that it’s more important for men to be trained in Scripture than women. This is communicating that it matters what kind of biblical teaching men receive but not necessarily what our women receive or it communicates that theological training is only for one gender. If we truly believe that men and women are equally made in the image of God and that the Word of God and the knowledge of God is for both genders, then we need to back that up by who we hire and then expect the same qualifications of both our men and women applicants.

A shepherd has 200 sheep. But given the amount of time he is off finding the best grass and fighting off those who would destroy the sheep, he needs help. So he divides his sheep into two groups: males and females. He hires a male shepherd with training, knowledge, experience, and care to watch over the male sheep. Who does he hire to watch over his female sheep? An untrained shepherd who is not as able to accurately differentiate between sheep and wolves in sheep clothing? An untrained shepherd who is not able to accurately differentiate between grass and turf? An untrained shepherd who might be tricked by a false shepherd? Or a shepherd with the same qualifications as the other shepherd just hired? This main shepherd wants the absolute best help to care for his sheep because he does not want to lose any, not even one. What kind of shepherd are you?

Second, women called to ministry, please stop believing the lie, especially if you are a young women called to gospel ministry. To whom you teach Scripture does not determine the worth of your calling! Men, women, youth and children are all made in God’s image, and God desires all to know him. Therefore, if you truly believe women are made in God’s image and that God’s Word is equally for them as it is for men, then teach women with gladness and readiness. Study Scripture, go to seminary, become a good exegete, and teach women God’s Word. You do not need men in your audience to rationalize or qualify your calling or seminary training. The God who called you determines the value of your calling because it is his calling.

To whom you teach Scripture does not determine the worth of your calling.

My vision is this: That when men and women stop believing the lie and work to stop perpetuating the lie concerning women, then our churches become stronger. When what we say we believe matches what we show we believe, women become more doctrinally and theologically sound and less young women will be leaving, in some cases going to theological extremes, trying to find a place where they can serve. I believe that a church, with the means to do so, that either employs a theologically-trained woman to teach Scripture to the female parishioners or brings in authors and speakers with theological depth will find that the church will become theologically stronger and will grow and will thrive.

Note: I have had this blog post (in some form) in the queue for at least a year. I’ve revised it many times and have waited. Why? Because I want to be sure I’m articulating clearly and correctly what I want to say and because I like to pray and think about my posts for awhile before posting. (This is not a good way to build a blog following!) Still I may have failed, but I publish it now because there is a lot of discussion right now on the web regarding platform, women’s discipleship, and theological training of women. Read this, this, and this. I hope I can contribute to the conversation. Also realize I am speaking from my context: white, evangelical, Southern, female. What I say may not be true for other races, other places of the U.S., etc. I grew up in the SBC but am now in TEC. What I say is more applicable to the SBC and like-minded denominations than it is with my new denomination and church. I hope others from different contexts will share their perspective. Now that I’m almost done with my book (yay!), I may come back with some more posts. But for now, I’ll let this one sit with you and pray it starts some good conversations.

Yours in Christ,

Kristen

 

 

 

New article on The Well and a Big Announcement

This week I had the wonderful opportunity to share a little of my personal journey with my calling on IVP’s The Well.

Read it here.

Also, check out my bio for a BIG announcement! This is my first public announcement about what’s coming in 2018. I hope to share more in coming days, but for now I invite you to pray for me as I wrap up this project over the next two months.

Yours in Christ,

Kristen

Hope in the Lord: Philip’s 1 year anniversary with Crohn’s Colitis

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Monday marked one year since Philip started bleeding rectally. He was four.

Anniversaries are a funny thing. On the one hand, you are thankful for how far you’ve come. On the other hand, those anniversaries bring back to mind those dark days, and it’s almost like you can taste the worry and anxiety that you once felt.

When Philip started bleeding we were very concerned. Perhaps we would not have been so concerned had not just two weeks prior (the first week of December), I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. A week and a half before my colonoscopy, I woke up and saw blood when I went to the bathroom. Following my colonoscopy, I remember groggily getting into the car with the help of a nurse and looking at Osvaldo as soon as the door closed. I could tell then he was sad. He told me I had ulcerative colitis, and I cried. Receiving a diagnosis, even if it isn’t cancer, makes you feel vulnerable, fragile, and aware of your mortality.

But it wasn’t just my recent diagnosis that made us worry that December Monday. Osvaldo had been suffering from ulcerative colitis for 12 years! What was so strange was that our gastro doctor said our colitis was identical—in the same spots of our colon. I didn’t know whether I should be angry with God that we both had an identical disease or laugh because what are the odds! I told a friend, rather sarcastically, we should just be called, The Colitis Family.

When Philip began bleeding, we were concerned but it was difficult for us to believe that it was related to colitis at first. It would be too coincidental that he would start showing symptoms for colitis three weeks after I did.

That week was not only the longest week of our lives to that point but it ushered us into a very dark time. I’m crying even now remembering.

Four days before my bleeding began, I gave two talks on Matthew 6:25-34 at my church for its Fall Coffee event. In this passage Jesus addresses anxiety. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I told the women who had gathered for coffee that Thursday morning that circumstances change in our lives but our faith is in One who doesn’t change and who loves us. God is a good Father who loves us even when our circumstances might try to tell us otherwise. It’s interesting that the appeal to not be anxious comes after the Lord’s Prayer. I argued that it is within the context of prayer that we are able to be strengthened when worry and anxiety overcome us. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:8). Little did I know how much I would need this sermon, this reminder that God is good and He loves us no matter what our circumstances would have us believe.

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A year ago Monday began a long journey and one we are still on. That week in December took us down a dark internal journey as well. As parents you love your child more than anything in this world, and when something abnormal begins to happen it triggers the fear of every parent—that of losing their child. Coupled with that fear is the fear of your child suffering, of your child not developing, of your child being left behind, etc.

This Sunday we will mark one year when we took him to the ER because the bleeding had increased. Next week will mark one year that Osvaldo and I were convinced that Philip had colitis and when we finally got Philip an appointment with Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Gastroenterologists for early January. This Christmas Eve and Christmas will mark a year when, as we were in Texas, Osvaldo and I were so troubled in spirit that it cast a shadow over the holiday. We hardly could put forward a smile or sing happily along with carols without crying. We were tense as we both dealt with worry and sorrow differently. We remember those nights in Texas as Philip lay asleep looking at him with worry about what lay ahead.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ … Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42: 3, 5a)

A dear friend put it so well: “I was afraid of not knowing and I was afraid of knowing.”

We lived for more than two months of not knowing. I will never forget the first doctor’s appointment with Philip’s gastro doctor. Philip knew something was wrong with his body. As he sat on the paper-covered office table waiting to be seen, his face became worried and his lips began quivering. He was scared. I held him, and he cried. We all cried; we were all scared.

It would take an hour and a half for his colonoscopy to finish in late February. When the doctor came in to see us, he broke the news that Philip had colitis. But given the location of his colitis, they felt like it was behaving more like Crohn’s Colitis. Prior to the exam, we had come to terms with a colitis diagnosis but worried about Crohn’s. Colitis is much easier to deal with than Crohn’s. Colitis only affects the colon; Crohn’s affects the throat all the way down to the rectum. When we heard the word Crohn’s, we were crushed. Osvaldo and I held each other and for the first time sobbed deeply. Relieved to finally have a diagnosis, we also broke down under its weight.

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Anniversaries are a funny thing. They not only bring up the memories of that one day but they set into motion remembering what follows that day. Perhaps because Monday’s anniversary marked a new way of living for our family: giving Philip medicines three times a day, hospital stays for complications, change in diet, pain management, etc. Monday’s anniversary reminds us that Philip has an incurable disease.

But we have a lot to be thankful for. Monday, on his one year anniversary, Philip is not showing any signs of blood. He’s gaining weight; he’s growing. He’s happy, and doing well in school. He’s alive. There are many medicines on the horizon for Crohn’s and colitis and much research is being done. Who knows? Perhaps one day his disease will be curable! We also recognize there are many parents whose children receive a diagnosis that ends in death. We remember that many parents will be celebrating Christmas this year without their child. Osvaldo and I pray for these parents often.

It’s been a difficult year, but what I said on Nov. 13 is still true, even–or perhaps especially so–after our diagnoses. Even while we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with us. His presence sustained us. His Word was our food. The psalmist responds to his own question, Why are you cast down, O my soul, not with a because. Like me, perhaps the psalmist knew exactly why he was cast down. But he answers with what will lead his soul out of the place of deep sorrow. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Hope in God. That’s all we could do. All we could mutter to God in prayer was “Have mercy.” But it’s not what we were able to do this past year but what God did. He sustained us. He held onto us. He enabled us to hope. He enabled our feeble prayers. He did not let anyone snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). And He was with us and will continue to be with us on this journey. Thanks be to God.

The God Who Is For Us: When God Enters Into Our Chaos

Recently, I was asked to speak at the Cathedral Church of the Advent’s Episcopal Church Women’s Fall Luncheon. It was a great privilege and humble experience to be able to share from God’s Word to women I go to church with and who I love. It was also an act of God’s grace that I was able to stand and speak coherently as I had only just recovered from the stomach flu.

So I share the audio with you and pray it will bless you. I always tremble when I teach God’s Word, for who am I to speak on God’s Word? But God is gracious!

I pray you will walk away with this:

“God’s with us is God’s for us in Jesus Christ.”

~Kristen

 

 

Book Recommendations on Homosexuality

Jen Hatmaker is back in the Christian news, in particular for her comments on gay ‘marriage’. I may or may not say more about that later. Christians are still torn on this issue, in part because there is so much pressure to accept same-sex ‘marriage’ at the risk of not being loving. To put it negatively, to say same-sex ‘marriage’ is not biblical marriage you are a bigot and stumbling block to the gospel. This kind of language can make Christians feel timid, confused, and scared to speak.

So instead of spending time reading Facebook comments, the Twitter feed, or blogs, I’d encourage you to exercise your mind and read deeply and widely on the topic. I want to offer four books from those who hold to a traditional view of marriage and who I trust/found helpful, one which is by a gay, celibate Christian who is also a New Testament scholar.

Lastly, the Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Timothy George, has written on the topic here.

I hope these recommendations are helpful. (Click on image to go to Amazon.)

 

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