Categotry Archives: theological questions

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Selfish Christianity

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, theological questions

Cred where cred is due…Co-heir sparked my thoughts with what he wrote here…and this post below is what came out. 🙂

I’ve mentioned numerous times here that my rather broad church background (from liturgical to evangelical to charismatic) includes my family’s involvement in the Word of Faith movement–which for some is associated not so much with the concept of faith it teaches as the “prosperity gospel” it promotes. This particular message receives a great deal of flack, and is caricatured as a grouping of well-dressed preachers who support their extravagant lifestyles by talking people into giving their money to them–citing Scripture to say that God will return their donations 100-fold.

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The Two-Fold Image of God

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Categories: food for thought, healing wounds, theological questions

In my recent posts concerning releasing and restoring the woman, particularly in the church (which you can find by clicking the category “healing wounds” in the right-hand column of this blog)…I’ve pretty much stayed away from in-depth theological discussions about gender roles. I’ve done this firstly because theological arguments have been (over)done on both sides of the debate, and don’t seem to make much headway. (People that deep into theology aren’t usually looking to be convinced of another viewpoint.) Secondly–because I figured I wasn’t going to sway complementarians to become egalitarians, I also figured most of the folks I was talking to already believed (at least somewhat) that women should have an equal footing among men in the church…so the focus ought to be on how we are being inconsistent in carrying out that belief. (This is what moved me to stand in support of Jonathan Brink when he raised some questions. )

Thus, I’ve kept my Bible references pretty general most of the time, simply admitting that we have based the suppression of women on the misinterpretation of Scripture, and focused more on dealing with the passivity and latent sexism that still floats around our minds–the practical application.

But today I’m chucking that approach, and talking theology. 🙂 (Sorry, Jim.)

Actually, I guess a better way to put it is that I’m musing over the Scriptures and how we apply (and mis-apply) them on gender issues…and where the disconnect began with all this. And IMHO…I think it began at (or near) the beginning. So let’s start there–Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

This verse, written poetically, says to me that both male and female are created in the image of God. The Hebrew word for man (adam) is basically “human”, and different Hebrew words are used for male and female. Point: male and female are both adam. “Man” is the species here, not the sex. Thus, both genders are created in God’s image.

Now, I’m not going into the debate about God’s gender here. Scripture makes it clear that God carries both male and female qualities (and since woman was taken from man, it can be assumed that Adam had both qualities initially). But since the Bible always uses male pronouns in reference to God (without God correcting it), I’m true to that without getting hung up about it. God is who He is (Ex. 3:14). The problem seems to lie in our understanding of humanity and gender in relation to God, so that’s where my attention is; and it’s important that we start with the baseline understanding that men and women are both reflections of God equally, because this is how the Bible describes us. Woman is not a “reflection of a reflection” because she was taken from Adam. Different, but equal–the same species, the same image of God. This is how we began.

The other thing I find intriguing is that the word “God” here in Genesis 1 is Elohim, which is God plural…which coincides with God saying, “Let Us make man in our image.” I love how Timothy Keller discusses the Trinity in his book The Reason for God; he paints a word picture of a symbiotic triune collective Being in a circle of love, in constant motion, like a dance–each part confirming and making way for the other two in every way conceivable. How God can be Three and yet One always seems to boggle the human mind; but suffice it to say there isn’t any evidence that Father, Son, and Spirit are a hierarchy. None outranks the others, but each lifts up the others. Each person of the Trinity is GOD–just as male and female are both MAN.

Now as to why God is Three-in-One, and would make adam into two-in-one–that’s just too much math for me. 🙂 But I think the foundational idea of the relationship is much the same. If we are created in the image of God, both male and female, then it stands to reason that the relationships between the two genders should reflect the mutual love relationship of the Trinity. In fact, one thing God seems to enjoy doing consistently through Scripture is to separate entities into parts, with the intent that they rejoin as one. This is the case with man and woman (specifically husbands and wives); and it is also the case with the Body of Christ (many members, many gifts–one body).

All this sums up to tell me that male and female, being both the image of God, were also created to carry the same sense of mutual equality that exists in Elohim. If we understand that this is how it was meant to be, then we will also understand that it is within God’s redemptive plan to restore this relationship to what it was meant to be. God does not change; if this was in His heart from the beginning, it is in His heart now.

So how did we get so messed up? When we messed up. Genesis 3:16, spoken by God after Adam and Eve sinned:

“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.'” (NIV, emphasis mine)

I think this verse gets gravely misinterpreted when it comes to gender issues in the church and the place of woman, because it gets interpreted as God’s will for the woman to be under the man. But this was not how God created it to be; this was the consequence of their sin–part of the curse! I see the ruling thing not as a command for Adam to rule Eve, but a prediction of what was going to happen between man and woman. When sin entered, it broke the symbiotic relationship between male and female, causing a rift between the two parts of God’s image, and one began to dominate the other. It interrupted the dance. And it has been a struggle for us ever since to find the beat again.

So if we understand that the woman’s suppression by man is part of the curse of sin…where does this now fit in God’s plan of redemption? Does the cross of Christ speak to this issue?

I believe it does, for this reason. The Bible makes it clear that God’s purpose in redeeming us was not simply to give us a ticket to heaven when we die. It is His purpose to redeem all things to Himself–to eventually right every wrong brought upon us by the sin of man. Not just to forgive us our sins, but to redeem us from the curse of sin itself. And in my opinion, that includes the full restoration of the two-fold image of God, the restoration of how God initially intended it to be between men and women.

Jesus set a standard of respect for women that far exceeded the attitudes of His day; and the New Testament (despite misinterpretations of a few verses) actually upholds this standard. There is much evidence that women operated with authority and respect in the early church, right alongside their brothers. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts–the verses in the New Testament that we have historically used to affirm female subjection in the church, we have interpreted in the light of our own male-dominant culture over the centuries. But when you start from the beginning premise that God created both male and female in His image, that it was not His initial intent that one rule the other (but that both serve each other)…it causes you to see those verses in a different light, to re-evaluate the conclusions we have drawn about them.

And when we begin to recognize that the restoration of woman runs much deeper than the human efforts of the modern feminist movement–that the true restoration of woman is ultimately part of God’s redemption for us all–we begin to approach things differently. For men of faith, it carries a holy conviction that as we have historically been perpetrators in the oppression of our female counterparts, we must now become partakers in the healing. And more and more men are getting the message. This is part of the restoration God desires, and it affects not only husbands and wives, but brothers and sisters, and indeed all relationships between the genders.

Because we are male and female, both the image of God…when we partake in this healing, we aren’t just healing the wounds of the woman–we are healing ourselves. We are finding the beat again, as God brings us back into the divine dance that the Trinity has enjoyed all along. This is how it once was, and how it must be again…male and female functioning together on equal footing, with mutual admiration and respect, and in the love of Christ. A two-fold reflection of a Triune God.

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On How We Christians Got So Messed Up with Our Esckhatol…with Our End-Times Stuff

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Categories: Meanderings (look it up), theological questions

This post ties in with one I posted three days ago…

So I’m continuing to ponder this whole thing about Christians and the interpretation of end-time prophecy in the Bible, and how I’ve sort of relaxed about trying to know the “right” interpretation (since there are obviously so many to choose from).

I grew up on pre-tribulation rapture theology, but to some extent I’ve heard pre-trib, post-trib, mid-trib, kingdom now (i.e., no rapture at all), and just about everything in-between. (Thankfully, I wasn’t there for the one that went, “Hey, let’s just all go right now. Just drink this punch.”)

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Eskatology…I Mean, Eschotallogie…Eschagolity…Oh, Never Mind

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Categories: food for thought, theological questions

I have to admit that eschotolligy the study of the end of time has never been a popular topic with me, nor am I the person you want teaching about it on Sunday. I have no charts, no graphs, no timelines…and I wouldn’t trust them if I did.

I’m sure some of my aversion goes back to when I was a kid. I was raised on pre-tribulation rapture theology, coupled with my own brand of self-imposed legalism, because I had a tormenting sense of conscience…which meant I spent much of my “tween” years fearful of missing the rapture by some sin I might commit that might disqualify me moments before it happened. (I’m sure watching those cheesy “Thief in the Night” films they were showing in church in those days didn’t help much. Those movies scared me snotless.)

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Lose the Bathwater, Keep the Baby

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Categories: changing mindsets, food for thought, theological questions

Two things you should know about me:

  1. I’m a student of human nature.
  2. I have a tendency to see patterns.

These two things combined can get me in a lot of trouble sometimes, because sometimes they lead me to do the math when it would be better to let things ride and not draw conclusions. But at other times they help me have some insight, to make sense of things going on around me, and to know what, if anything, I can do about them.

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Why Does He Insist On Making Our Brains Hurt Like This? Doesn’t He Have Anything Better to Do?

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Categories: food for thought, theological questions, Things that make our brains hurt

Don’t know why I was thinking about this…but during the Off the Map Conference in Denver last fall, Matt Casper (co-author of the book Jim and Casper Go to Church) sat down with Jim Henderson (the other co-author) and had a Q & A session with the audience.

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Continuing the Conversation…

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds, theological questions

My new blogger friend Reina, in response to Thursday’s post, shared a link to something she wrote in her own blog in January. With her permission, allow me to share an excerpt:

“…one of the things that struck me [in reading through the Bible] is how many prominent women are mentioned in every culture but that of the Jews and Christians. It would seem that God, my God, the God of the bible, introduced the idea that women should be subservient to men, and his people have been busy making an example of that to the rest of the world. Christians especially, seem to have done a excellent job of setting this example, ultimately culminating in the dark ages, when women were worth less than cattle.

“Now, after 6,000 years of this, women are working hard to dig themselves out of this trench to demand equality and respect. Equality before men AND God.

“So what was the point of this? When I first read through the books of Moses, this really angered me. During the time God was laying out all 600+ laws and instructions to Moses, he couldn’t have said ONE DARN THING to protect women from what he, as God, should have known would happen? It seems clear to me that Jesus respected women, and treated them well, which is probably why he had such a following of loyal women. So why the disconnect? What was the purpose of being such an ass?”

I found Reina’s remarks to be honest and thought-provoking…so for no other purpose than it seems easiest for me to process my thoughts this way, I’m going to write my response here directly to Reina and you can just listen in. 🙂

I mentioned in Thursday’s post that the church’s oppression of women has happened “because we have basically interpreted a few Scriptures in the light of our male-dominant culture, instead of the culture in which they were written.” Reina, my opinion is that this is where the disconnect is–not within God’s intentions for you, or for women in general.

I want to suggest that the reason it appears to you that the Scriptures promote this idea of female subservience is likely because (although you greatly dislike it) you, too, are reading the Scripture through the lens of our culture, rather than its original culture. For most of us, both men and women, this is the only lens we have been given; and so the only options seem to be to accept what we see of the Bible through this lens–or to reject it out of hand.

But if you look at the Hebrew culture, out of which the Scriptures were written, you’ll discover that women actually had a place of honor in that culture. Women were free to own property and conduct business transactions independently of men, and in fact had far more rights and protections against sexual misconduct under Hebrew law than even American law provides. (You did not want to be a man accused of rape in ancient Israel.) And there are prominent females in Scripture; female leaders and “heroes of faith” can be found throughout the entire Bible, although they are not often preached about in churches. The primary focus of the woman was home and family, but as the home was the center of Jewish life (and even of spiritual activity), the woman’s place of leadership and influence was held in high respect, much more so than in our modern culture.

If anything, this legacy of respect was extended, if not expanded, into the early church. You mentioned Jesus’ respect for women; there is also the fact that female prophets and apostles are mentioned throughout the N.T., and that Paul even mentioned some of them as his “co-laborers”. In fact, it was Paul who stated that in Christ “there is no male or female…” It’s highly unfortunate that a few of Paul’s other statements (“women keep silent” for example) have been greatly misinterpreted. If you study that statement in historical context, it reveals that he was addressing some specific issues surrounding that particular church–not establishing a doctrine to exclude women from leadership.

Taken in this light, I believe the Scriptures may seem a lot less male-dominant. I think the reason it might feel otherwise is because our own culture lends that bias, not the Scripture itself.

To shift focus a moment…one question you raised was of particular interest: when you asked why God did not write into the Law of Moses more protections for women against their inevitable oppression. I think it’s important to look at this, because your honest words reveal a deep feeling of injustice about this that may be felt by many women–and anger not just at men, but at God. If God is supposed to be a loving Father, why would He leave His daughters so unprotected? I have a couple of thoughts about this…

First–it occurs to me that this is a question that any oppressed or marginalized segment of humanity might ask. It would be just as relevant to ask why God didn’t write something in to protect people from becoming slaves, or being hungry, or conquering each other. We could bring it into the modern era: Why didn’t He do more to protect the Jews from the Holocaust? Why doesn’t He do something about the horrors of sex trafficking, or poverty, or plague?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making light here at all. I’m just saying there are many examples of injustice that seem for the moment to go unanswered, things we don’t understand. And the answers are hard to come by, because we are finite people trying to understand and predict an infinite God who sees a bigger picture. But one thing I do believe confidently is that just because these injustices happen, that does not mean that God does not see, does not hurt over them, or does not care. By the same token, what I’m saying is that when you see what seems to be a lack of protection here against the male oppression of women…it does not translate to “God doesn’t care about me”, any more than it does in any other case of injustice. Nor does it mean God approves of that oppression. I believe He hurts deeply when a woman is mistreated or marginalized–and just because it looks to us like it goes unanswered does not mean He isn’t going to do something about it.

Second–and this part is just a guess–perhaps the Law doesn’t address female protection more directly because, as I mentioned before, the surrounding culture already honored and respected women. It wouldn’t make sense to make laws or warn a people about the suppression of women if they simply didn’t think that way. It was not until the New Testament, when the church expanded into the Greek culture (which was far less favorable to women) that gender issues were addressed more specifically, and probably (ironically) for the purpose of bringing some protection there. Unfortunately, as we know, these Scriptures were misinterpreted over the years and, used as an excuse for man to outclass and suppress woman, rather than protect and respect her. Just an opinion…

Thank you again, Reina, for being open about your struggle and your thoughts about all this, and for allowing me to share my response in such a public way. Please take my long, rambling response here for what it is…a brother adding his perspective to the conversation, for whatever it is worth. 🙂

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The Question of Leadership in the Church

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Categories: food for thought, theological questions

In one of yesterday’s two posts, I posed a question:

“Do you believe that human leadership in the church is Biblical? Or is Jesus our only Shepherd? Why? or Why not?”

Thanks to those of you who were brave enough to respond. 🙂 I’d like to offer my thoughts here–and actually, this will likely take more than one post, possibly as many as three. In this post, I’ll share my opinion about Biblical leadership in general. In the next, I will share some thoughts about the abuse of power among church leaders–from the perspective of a leader.

I have personally experienced spiritual abuse from leaders, and even dished it out as one myself; so I definitely emphathize with others who have experienced this, and I definitely see problems inherent in the current structures of institutional leadership. However, I must humbly disagree with those who conclude that all human leadership in the church is un-Scriptural. Before explaining why–let me start by saying I do not hold this view because I am a leader. At this point in my journey, I am in such personal place of transition and have deconstructed to such a point that I really would have nothing to lose by changing my view on this. I no longer draw my identity from any position I might hold or function I might serve, and I could easily relinquish all forms of leadership if convinced it was the right thing to do. So just in case anyone was wondering…I don’t have any personal fear of loss invested in my opinion here.

Having said that, let me clarify. I believe the clergy/laity separation is entirely un-Biblical, as is the exaltation of leaders to an elite class status. But I do not believe that this means all human leadership is un-Biblical.

Holding our current leadership structures against the whole counsel of Scripture, I personally believe the issue isn’t whether we should have human leaders, but in how leadership should be expressed. Unfortunately, the only forms of leadership we seem to recognize have to do with some kind of hierarchy–someone being “over” someone else, a “chain of command”, or something like that. We simply don’t view leadership the same way the Scriptures describe it for the church.

When Jesus’ disciples began disputing who was the greatest (essentially competing for hierarchical position), He addressed it in this manner. He warned them, “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…but it is not to be so with you. For whoever wishes to be great among you must be your minister, and whoever is chief among you must be servant of all.” (See Matt. 20, Mark 10.) Jesus Himself modeled this type of servant leadership by living and walking among His disciples while He led them–and then He washed their feet (John 13).

I submit that the problem with authority in the church is that we have blatantly ignored this warning of Jesus in the way leadership has evolved. The creation of a clergy class (in its various forms) has patterned itself after “Gentile” forms of leadership that tend to “lord it over” people–exactly what Jesus warned us NOT to do.

But when Jesus told us we should not call each other lord, father, or master–does that mean there is no human leadership whatsoever in the church? Again, taking the whole counsel of Scripture, and focusing attention on the New Testament and the birth of the church…I see that human leadership was definitely present in the early church. I have a hard time reading the words of Paul, for example, seeing the sometimes commanding and corrective tone with which he addressed the various churches, and conclude that those churches took his words as mere guidance and suggestion. They viewed him, and others, as authorities in their midst. Also, in Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem addressed the question of what rules to impose upon Gentile believers, rendered a decision and communicated it. They were making their best effort to discern the will of God, but these were definitely human beings participating actively in the leadership of the church–without any evidence of rebuke by the Lord for doing so.

The apostles frequently spoke with authority, and they were recognized as leaders. Elders (the closest thing to “pastors” in the early church) were appointed and commissioned to instruct, and to correct when necessary.

So why is human leadership necessary in the church? Is Jesus not capable of shepherding His flock? And is not the function of the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us?

Of course Jesus is our Shepherd, and of course we all should ultimately be submitted to the authority of Christ–and in that regard, any human authority who attempts to usurp that God-man connection rather than enable it is acting un-Biblically. But here are some things to consider with this question:
  • Throughout Scripture, God has always chosen to involve humans in what He does. He could have spoken audibly from the heavens (and sometimes He did); but most of the time, He spoke through human mouthpieces known as prophets. He did not need Moses’ help to deliver Israel from the Egyptians; but He sent him anyhow. And while Jesus does lead His church and does not need us humans to help Him–I believe He involves us in this part of what He does, as well. To me, the key is that human leaders facilitate, not replace, the leadership of Christ. It is when a leader starts trying to lead as Christ rather than alongside Him that problems start to happen.
  • Leadership is functional more than it is positional. Someone is not “greater” because he/she is a leader, and authority is not given on the basis of worthiness, but necessity. It is leadership that organizes and coordinates efforts so that things get done. It is leadership that helps keep things functioning well when people are doing things together. When people were getting overlooked in food distribution, it was leadership that appointed deacons to coordinate it. When the Corinthian church was abusing the Lord’s table where some were getting drunk and others were going hungry–it was leadership that brought the necessary correction. It’s just a practical fact that when humans are doing things together, it works better when there is a point person to coordinate things.
So I think it’s overreaching to say all human church leadership is corrupt, or that we don’t need such leadership. I think it’s more accurate to say that we’ve allowed our leadership models to reflect the government systems around us, rather than a greater Kingdom. (Not unlike when the children of Israel demanded that God give them an earthly king like the nations around them.)

And as I’ll share in more detail in the next post…I believe there’s a reason why Jesus warned us not to lead like the nations around us. I believe there is an inherent danger in trying to govern the people of God by taking our cue from the leadership methods of man.

Cartoon courtesy of www.reverendfun.com. Copyright Gospel Communications International, Inc.

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Okay, Kids…It’s Discussion Time!!!

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Categories: food for thought, theological questions

Here’s a question for us to discuss:

With all the stories we can recount of how various church leaders have been corrupt, controlling, dishonest, and considering all the people who have been wounded by such leaders…

Do you believe that human leadership in the church is Biblical? Or is Jesus our only Shepherd? Why? or Why not?

Say your piece, but be nice. 🙂

…Oh, c’mon, you have to have an opinion on this. Don’t keep us waiting…

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"Follow Me"

7 comments

Categories: food for thought, theological questions

In yesterday’s post, I posed the question as to how the “sinner’s prayer”, which has only been in practice for the last 150 years or so of the church’s history, has become such a doctrinal necessity in the evangelical church, to the point that we essentially measure conversion by whether that prayer has been prayed.

Thanks to all who replied, for your thoughtful responses. (And feel free to add yours, if you haven’t.) It’s time now for me to put in my two cents’ worth. 🙂

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