Many years ago, I got to be part of a small group of ministers who spent a few days with one of my ministry heroes, John Stott. During one session, Stott asked people what their current ministry challenges were. Someone began talking about the challenges they were facing in their religious tribe and in his church in particular as they began including women in all roles of ministry.
A megachurch pastor broke in: “I’d like to know why anyone thinks it’s all right to twist the word of God just so they can please culture!”
Stott turned to him and kindly said, “I think what you meant to say is this: ‘I would love to know more about how this brother who loves Jesus and scripture as much as I do could come to such different conclusions on this issue.'”
In the most recent edition of the Gospel Advocate, Matthew Morine has written an article entitled “The Feminist Agenda Within the Churches of Christ.”
Matthew is an effective minister at the Castle Rock Church of Christ in Colorado. He is a gifted, devoted Christ-follower who is passionate about his faith. You can read the full article either in the Gospel Advocate or at this link.
Matthew has expressed dismay that he has received “a lot of hate” from “the progressive side of the church” in response to the article. I hope that isn’t the case. I certainly haven’t seen anything online (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) that was hateful. There were strong reactions, though the strongest seemed to come from people outside Churches of Christ.
However, it isn’t surprising to me that some have felt the need to respond—especially given the tone of the article. Here is how the author characterizes those he writes about:
– “Instead of following the plain teachings of the Word of God”
– “This disregard for the intent of the word of the Scriptures”
– “The feelings of those promoting women into leadership are fickle”
– “Hidden forces are at work seeking to corrupt your congregation and lead it into an unfaithful direction”
Perhaps the most provocative claim is that those wanting change are hypocrites: “The church leaders appealing for unbiblical expansion for women’s roles are being hypocrites.” One piece of evidence he cites is that most of the preachers in the more inclusive churches are male. But does that prove that these leaders are hypocrites? I think perhaps all it proves is that they are not the Popes of their churches. The fact that many are in congregations that are less inclusive than they believe those churches should be isn’t a sign of hypocrisy.
He also cites the hypocrisy of Pepperdine’s “Next Gen Preacher Search.” While this isn’t my project, it does come out of my office at Pepperdine, led by Jeff Walling. “Also, if you noticed the ‘Next Gen Preacher Search,’ a few ladies participated, but none of them made it to the final four contestants. Those who say they believe in women preaching are still holding women back from this role.” It seems that the implication is that Jeff or the vast group of judges intentionally rated the women lower. I hope that isn’t what he’s saying, but I don’t know another way to read this.
I remember now the words of my father: “Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.” Don’t complain when people push back when you’ve accused them of ignoring the plain teachings of scripture, said they have a disregard for the Word of God, called them fickle, and boldly and baldly called them hypocrites. It isn’t hate that’s coming the author’s way (at least not that I’ve seen — and certainly not what this post is about); rather, it’s people defending themselves from unjustified criticism.
I believe he is wrong on this issue. But I don’t think he has a disregard for scripture; nor do I believe he’s a hypocrite. I just disagree with his understandings.
The people I know who believe in the expanded ministry of women love Jesus and love scripture just as much as he does. Some know scripture less than he does; others know scripture better. What’s different isn’t commitment to scripture or willingness to study scripture but conclusions about scripture. And you can be sure of this: no one can avoid the task of interpreting scripture. There is no one here who is “just reading scripture” without interpretation.
Can we come to different conclusions without calling each other hypocrites?
For me, coming to this new understanding was a painful journey. I changed my opinion on this a long time ago not because I wanted to cave in to culture or because I didn’t care what scripture said but because this is where my long study of scripture led me. (I also know others who know and love scripture as much as I do who disagree with me.)
This sermon is a decade old, but it explains how one devoted to scripture can come to an egalitarian position. Also, for further study you can refer to resources like these:
John Stackhouse, Finally Feminist
Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet
Stanley Grenz, Women in the Church
Alan Johnson, ed., How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership
Craig Keener, Paul, Women, and Wives
Ben Witherington, Women and the Genesis of Christianity
William Webb, Slaves, Women and Homosexuals
Carroll Osburn, Women in the Church, Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity (vols 1, 2)
This is not a matter of disregard for scripture; rather it’s an issue of different interpretations and different conclusions.
If you make the kind of bold claims about your opponents that the author makes, you will be overwhelmed with people cheering you on. “Thank you for holding to the word of God!” “Thank you for caring about truth!” “Jesus was attacked, too!”
But that doesn’t mean you were right.
Recently when Jeb Bush was asked about President Obama, he replied that he thought that Barack Obama is a good man who cares deeply about America. Then he went on to explain that he thought his vision and policies were wrong.
That’s really what I want in politics. Adults at the table. People who can disagree with one another over how to accomplish good ends. People who can disagree vehemently with the policies of another person without attacking their religion (“He’s a Muslim!”), their nationality (“He’s a Kenyan!”), their political inclinations, or their character.
I know Christians who HATE George W. Bush. And I know people who HATE Bill Clinton. Ironically, the two men seem to like each other. Just like Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were drinking buddies and like Orrin Hatch and Ted Kennedy vacationed together with their families (taking a break from heated arguments with each other in the Senate—see the clip below of Hatch speaking at Kennedy’s funeral).
We live in an age of Fox News and MSNBC. An endless supply of anger and rage for fuel. I have found it helpful the last few years to refuse to watch both networks (except on rare occasions for something special).
I agree with Jeb Bush: Barack Obama seems like a good man—a loving husband, a doting father, a caring leader. That doesn’t mean I think his foreign policies are going well. And from everything I’ve seen, I think it would be enjoyable to spend an evening with George W. Bush. He, too, seems like a man with a sense of humor who loves his family and friends.
But somehow in our current political climate, it feels like you’re supposed to pick one of them to hate.
Our churches are filled with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. In largely Democratic churches (and yes, I know some!), Republicans may feel like they can’t say anything lest it seem that they don’t care about equality and justice. In largely Republican churches, Democrats may feel like they have to bottle up their thoughts and plaster fake smiles on their faces lest others accuse them of not caring about liberty and Christian values.
I once had a church leader tell me he didn’t know how you could be a Christian and a Republican. A few years later I had an elder in another church say he couldn’t fathom how you could be a Christian and a Democrat.
Can the demonizing please end? Can the character assassinations cease? Can we have sane political discourse? Can we find arenas where spirited arguments about policy and means can take place without assuming the other side hates our country?
And, while I’m at it, can we please remember that our true “citizenship” is in heaven (Philippians 1:27; 3:20) — and that our true “city charter” is the narrative of one who emptied himself, served, and died (2:6-11)? Politicians, policies, and even nations come and go through the centuries. But the in-breaking kingdom of God continues to invite us to the way of Christ.
The Rhythm of Grace
The Lead of Guidance
The Spin of Fun
The Lift of Wings
The Lunsford Foundation Trail around Abilene Christian University is my default jogging path when I’m in Abilene. It has become a sacred space for morning exercise and devotion.
Before I begin the 1.84 mile trail, I pause briefly at Jacob’s Dream. I remember well the first time Jack Maxwell described the project to our little covenant group. I’ve been there for devotionals, weddings, baptisms, and photoshoots. It’s a perfect spot to pause for a moment as the morning light shines through the stones, the space creating a sense of seeing the cross in the east.
From there, I walk down the sidewalk to where it hits the jogging trail, turning south (right) to run counterclockwise.
The first lap is a time to meditate on the many scriptures that line the path.
The third scripture (at .50 mile) is Psalm 121:2. Our help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. As another psalm says, some trust in horses and chariots (and other human weapons), but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
The seventh scripture in the path appears at mile 1.37 and is the longest quotation (from Psalm 18:32-35). Once again we remember that our hope and confidence are anchored in God, who arms us with strength and keeps our way secure.
The final two passages come from Paul’s writings. The first, Colossians 3:23 (in the context of addressing slaves), reminds us that whatever we do, we should work at it with full devotion, knowing it’s ultimately for the Lord. (at 1.47)
The final one, Ephesians 6:2-3, seems like an odd choice—a reminder of the fifth commandment to honor our father and mother—until you remember how many university students are on the path. Some come from wonderful, affirming, life-giving homes; others came from homes where shame and blame were the name of the game. But all of us have to learn ways to honor our parents. (at 1.79)
Besides the passages in the sidewalk, there are engraved stones that I sometimes take in (depending on the pace!): 2 Chronicles 16:9 (at .43), John 3:16 (at .61), Proverbs 16:3 (at 1.37), and Romans 12:12 (also at 1.37).
On my second lap, I enjoy praying for the mission of Christ around the world nation-by-nation, with the help of the many banners that line the course. Even though many are for ACU promotional branding (including 34 of 42 which announce that “There’s a new cat in Division I”), the others bear the names of countries. I’ll choose one of the promotional banners to pray for students, faculty, and staff of the university. But then I pray for the other countries, including friends I know in some of them—like Antenor and Phyllis Goncalves (and others) in Brazil.
At the end of a second or third lap (full disclosure: if I do a third lap, I’m pretty focused on running; not much praying going on at this point), it’s a brief walk back to Jacob’s Dream to remember that in baptism I’ve been called to a new life, a new hope, a new mission in Jesus Christ.
“I thought elders were supposed to lead! This isn’t a democracy where they take a congregational poll!”
“They seem to have no regard for the opinions of the church. They just decide and move on without considering the church!”
It isn’t easy being an elder. So often, they just can’t win. I’ve heard the above comments from the same members—at different times over different issues. The position they express (Lead more! or Listen more!) depends on which side they’re on.
If it looks like the elders are going to make a decision that I agree with but that many in the church disagree with, then I’m leaning into their responsibility to lead. Shepherds lead the sheep!
If it looks like the elders are going to press forward with something I don’t like, then I’m going to squawk about how they aren’t dictators. Shepherds don’t trample over the sheep!
Alas, it’s hard to win this one as elders.
The truth is that elderships must do both: they must stay in close touch with the church. They must listen to the voices of all the sisters and brothers in a church. Discernment is an important part of the process of decision-making. AND they must eventually decide. And it seems increasingly (as with American politics) that there is fall-out with every decision. It’s too much. Or it isn’t enough.
This is the point in a great blog where a seasoned minister gives the answer to this dilemma.
I don’t have one. If I did, I’d open a consulting business and get rich.
I’m only pleading with people to see the challenge. And perhaps be a bit more compassionate. Press hard. Pray hard. Make your case. But do your very best to make the hard work of leading a joyful one.
And I know: it can’t always be.
A popular Metroplex minister’s rant about an anonymous note he got has become infamous. One professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has pointed to it as a model of how to deal with such critics. The preacher leads into it with these words about the challenging life of a pastor:
“The Shepherd rarely gets to play in the middle of all the healthy sheep when they’re having a bar-b-que and playing a volleyball game. He’s on the fringes where the wolves and the sheep with rabies are. So a great deal of my week is spent walking through the tragedies, heartaches, and sins of other men and women.”
I’ve been to a lot of bar-b-ques and volleyball games as a minister, but I digress. The big problem is that he has to deal with “sniper shots from those who disagree.” Specifically, he mentions: “I got this real hateful little spiteful email this week.”
Then in a voice that builds to Driscollesque screaming (because screaming carries more pastoral authority), he says:
“We have not created a system here that hides from you. We’ll receive any bit of rebuke and any bit of critique. But you sign your name when you send stuff in, you immature, weak little cowards! You sign your name, you silly, pathetic little boy! You don’t take jabs behind an alias. Who does that? So in any realm we’re not above reproach. In any realm you can question, you can come in and have your questions an——Don’t take jabs at us behind some alias where you sit in the crowd and do nothing, you narcissistic zero! Sign your name!”
I get it. Anonymous notes are frustrating. I remember as a young minister that I took a good bit of pride in refusing to read anything that wasn’t signed.
And then, one year, I decided to get well. I decided to deal with my anger.
A spiritual guide told me that my attitude toward anonymous notes was problematic. Those notes said less about the people sending them than they said about me. Why did people feel like they couldn’t sign their name? Why did they think I wasn’t approachable? How had I sent signals that it wasn’t safe to come to me (despite what I might have said)?
Oh, sure. It probably feels good to scream. And all the other angry young guys will high five and give an “attaboy.”
But I think the old schoolground taunt may be right: “What you say is what you are!”
In my own life, if there was an immature, weak little coward, it was me. I wasn’t brave enough to hold onto myself emotionally and spiritually to have respectful conversations with critics. If there was a silly, pathetic little boy, that was me, too. Too pathetic to grow up and handle conflict like an adult.
It’s more fun ministering after getting well. No ranting is necessary. No cheap shots. While I don’t welcome anonymous notes, I now read them carefully and prayerfully, looking for insight and wondering if I’m still sending signals that I’m not safe.
The truth, however, is that as I’ve learned to welcome criticism, the anonymous notes have pretty much stopped.
Recently I taught a Bible class at our congregation on hell. Many were unaware that the Christian tradition has—faithfully, scripturally, prayerfully—come to various understandings of that topic. They know only the version that I heard a dozen times from the infamous Jimmy Allen sermon:
“Suppose this old world were made of solid steel. Put an ant on the equator and start him walking. He travels at the rapid pace of 1/17 of a mile an hour. This solid steel ball is 25,000 miles in circumference. How long would it take that ant to wear down a path a half inch deep? How long to completely wear the earth in half? Well, that’s not eternity. . . .”
When this message on “fire! fire! fire!” was over, well, no wonder so many of us lost sleep for months—all the words about grace notwithstanding.
But there are other ways faithful believers have thought of hell besides just “eternal, conscious torment.”
Here is the bibliography I gave the class for those who may be interested:
Baker, Sharon. Razing Hell.
Bell, Rob. Love Wins.
Butler, Joshua Ryan. The Skeletons in God’s Closet.
Fudge, Edward. The Fire That Consumes.
Jersak, Bradley. Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.
Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce.
Middleton, J. Richard. A New Heaven and a New Earth.
Parry, Robin. The Evangelical Universalist.
Parry, Robin. Universal Salvation? The Current Debate.
Talbott, Thomas. The Inescapable Love of God.
Wright, N. T. Surprised by Hope.
As an introduction, I’d suggest the 2012 documentary “Hellbound?” which is currently streaming on Netflix.
I’m thrilled with the “guests” (translation: Christians who aren’t from our particular tribe) who will be presenting at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Here are a few of them—and why I wanted them to join us.
GENE APPEL is the senior pastor of the Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim. When we met in 1998, Gene was the minister for the Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Out of his own personal brokenness, a dream was formed and Central became one of the fastest growing churches in America. From there, Gene moved to Willowcreek Community Church for several years before moving to Anaheim. He’ll be speaking at our leadership session on Tuesday afternoon.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER grew up at the Eastside Church of Christ in Colorado Springs before becoming a student at Pepperdine. When I read her book Pastrix and after hearing her on NPR, I wanted to know more. So I asked if I could hang out a bit when I went to Denver. I joined a small group for morning prayers that she led, and then we went to a coffee house. This was not Starbucks in Abilene, however! As she says, people may think she’s “out there,” but in her world she’s considered a soccer mom. How true! Our quick visit turned into three hours. During this time I realized that she was the de facto pastor of most of the people in the coffee shop, whether they attend any church or not. She is a powerful communicator of the gospel, and I’m so thankful that she’ll be returning to Pepperdine to present on Thursday morning.
CHAP CLARK, one of the authors of Sticky Faith, is professor and chair of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He’ll be presenting as part of the Boone Center for the Family track. (What a great partnership I’ve enjoyed with Sharon Hargrave, the executive director of the center!)
DAVID KINNAMAN is the president and majority owner of the Barna Group, based just up the coast from us in Ventura. In his 19 years at Barna, he has supervised or directed interviews with more than 400,000 people. Many will be familiar with his books unChristian and You Lost Me.
MARK AND DEBBIE LAASER have blessed the Christian community as leaders on the subject of sexual addition. Their session on “Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World,” will also be in the Boone Center track.
SCOT MCKNIGHT has been a good friend ever since he spoke at one of our Zoe conferences in Lubbock. “We” (in Churches of Christ) have been blessed by his user-friendly New Testament scholarship. And he has felt a special affinity to our heritage. I’m hoping to baptize him before the week is over. Ok, not really. But I might at least give him some kind of honorary membership. (Actually, now that I think about it, who is in charge of giving those in our tribe? Randy Harris maybe?) He’s our lead scholar as we study through James. It was a great blessing last fall when he Skyped in with our keynote speakers to lead us through the book.
JASON RUSSELL is one of the cofounders of Invisible Children. While in Africa many years ago, he promised a boy named Jacob that he’d help end that decade-long war; and when he returned home he launched the now infamous film. He’ll be one of the guests in a session hosted by Mana Nutrition.
DAVE STONE is the senior pastor of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. Dave, a popular speaker all over the country, will be joining Jeff Walling in a morning session at Firestone Fieldhouse.
Finally, I want to mention how glad I am that KENT BRANTLY is going to join us (though he’s certainly not a “guest” as defined above). I was his minister when he was a college student, and the spiritual passion that people all over the world now know about was there even then.
We’d love to have you join us in Malibu on May 5-8. Registration is here.
I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this picture. It’s truly worth a thousand words, a thousand sermons, a thousand books. Amy Bost Henegar is preaching at the Manhattan Church of Christ while baby Emma sleeps away. Amy said she followed the rule “never wake a sleeping baby.” I love that behind her on the communion table are the words “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Indeed!
I cannot wait to show this to my granddaughters.