Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Conversation about women in the NT

My friend Joel, who is pursuing a Master's in philosophy at Birkbeck in London, began a conversation on his blog about 1 Tim 2:15--that strange little verse about women being saved through childbearing. A few friends joined the coversation and their interaction eventually pulled me in as well. Some of what I've said there previews how I will deal with NT passages in my series here. Check it out here, if for no other reason than Joel is wicked smart and a fruit-producing follower of Jesus.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Memories in writing

Things are moving slowly at the McGowin home. For many reasons, my motivation is low and my mood is subdued. I am working on unpacking my newly painted study, but hundreds of books makes for a daunting task. This morning, I came across a file holding a hodge-podge of short stories and poetry that I wrote in high school. The stroll down memory lane made for a bittersweet break. Since I have not taken the time to finish up my next post in the series on women in the Kingdom of God, I thought I would share a small glimpse of my past writing with my readers. Its a little embarrassing, for sure, but it is where I have come from--what God has brought me through.

For those who don't know, from the time I was 4 years to 17 years old, I was a dancer. Ballet was my first love and by the time I was 15, I was dancing 3-5 days a week, with rehearsals on Saturdays and Sundays. It is a custom of young dancers seeking a career in dance performance, to audition for "summer studies" with various companies. For the summer of 1998, I was accepted into the North Carolina School of the Arts modern dance program, something I had yet to study deeply.

Imagine hundreds of hormonal, anxious teenagers crowded onto a college campus for several weeks to study dance 5-6 hours a day. Imagine a 15 year-old soon-to-be junior in high school, newly committed to the Christian faith, embarking on a summer apart from faith community, parents, and friends, to take a chance on her own. The first poem was written June 1 on the evening following the stressful move into the dorm. The second poem was written June 27 following a very hot and lazy Saturday break.

cosmo ladies
curling lips
and poisoned tongues
hopeful stares wander
whispering over the crowd

buzz flies linger
stinging bites like envy
edgy nerves cut deep
bleeding wounds licked clean
by healing egos

touchy men loiter
aimlessly searching
rhyme evading reason

quick, run, shout, jump
be within crowd
come into self
this instant

lazy summer days
minutes trickle like sweat
down bronze backs
noisy chatter ripples
and gnats nestle
on oily skin

energy melts away
with cherry red popsicles
as heat carresses feet
and skin burns

laying, listening, dreaming
the nothingness clearing space
in anxious heads

music bounces
clowns through trees
onlookers watching
from cement arm chairs
as endearing chaos
invades campus

I think most people can affirm the real pain associated with "first loves," whether they be in junior high, high school, or college. Of course, that's when love was a feeling, an intoxicating sort of giddiness that makes your stomach flutter. I was a naturally winsome and romantic teenager, filling many notebooks with sad "love" poetry about various crushes. But, as I have read over many of these poems today, I remember that even though the "love" I felt wasn't real, that does not change the fact that the emptiness and longing I felt was very real. Even as a new Christian, I struggled deeply with the melancholy of desiring intimacy, yet being quashed by reality.

To My Own Saint
Coming forth from battle-lines of wounded pride,
How easy breaks the heart with reality overdue,
And from the storm of Reason shall I hide,
Recognizing not the mortal fall of you.
Still, sunlight comes with no question of tomorrow,
Though want of life has swiftly fled;
Blunt consideration bears the lengths of sorrow
And blinded love has been stricken dead.
Why such numerous days of endless plight,
When escapist peace is the desire of mine?
Shush still this babbling fool's weak fight
To know saintly perfection is not your design.
Faultlessness yields to this finite earthly place,
Though shadows of the seraphim still shine within your face.

Finally, I wrote these poems in my senior creative writing course, in the fall of 1999:

for pools of dreams
forever teaming with desire-
cry: for the life of he
who cannot see
and splash within the freedom-
mourn: the day of
childhood play
that ends with dawning-
and the sun comes:
dries the puddles.

Parting the Petals
That willow there
With branches bent and cicadas stare
Drifting lightly,
Retreating swiftly,
From pounding, gusty winds:
That's me.

That smooth river stone
Rushed along and on the shore alone
Cratered, but soft
Scarred, but pretty
From searing, scalding flow:
That's me.

And there, the rising moon
Warmth and light withdrawing soon
One side to light,
The other to darkened haze,
From a disillusioned axis:
That's me.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A sanctity of life issue in the Philippines

I've been blogging about women and the Bible recently, hoping to offer a fresh and challenging perspective to the traditional interpretation of gender roles. I interrupt this series to present a news story that not only affects women, but also their newborn babies.

This is a story about American businesses taking advantage of poor, uninformed mothers, using them for profit, and then leaving them with the negative health results. Southern Baptists like to talk about the "sanctity of life." We even have a special Sunday on which to recognize it. This is a sanctity of life issue. Read, get angry, and then do something about it.
Almost every mother in the Western world knows that, whenever possible, breast feeding is the best way to provide one's infant with balanced, age-specific nutrition, and immunities that prevent infections. Medical research shows that formula-fed babies can suffer poor nutrition, stunted growth, and decreased IQ, along with numerous life-long risks.

Why then, in the Philippines, as in much of the global South, is infant formula powder a booming industry? Because US-based infant formula companies, including Wyeth and Mead Johnson, and European-based companies, including Glaxo-SmithKline and Novartis, spend $100 million every year advertising their lucrative breast-milk substitutes in the Philippines and lying to the Filipino people about the benefits of infant formula over breast milk.

Television ads for formula feature prodigy violinists and boast of "brain building blocks," and "IQ nutrition systems." These and other false advertisements lead Filipino women to believe that their bodies do not produce enough milk to nourish a child. To make matters worse, health professionals in the Philippines often agree to promote formula to their patients in return for incentives and commissions. Ever notice the pharmaceutical advertisements plastered all over your doctor's office. Well, this is is the same kind of problem, but on steroids.

Representatives from formula makers will distribute brand-name merchandise and samples to healthcare facilities in order to entice new mothers into formula consumerism. If families take the bait and start bottle-feeing with the free powder, milk production in the mother decreases. Then, when the free samples run out, mothers are faced with the artificial need to bottlefeed their infants. Impoverished families then struggle to buy powdered formula, often choosing to lessen the powder-to-water ratio to make it last longer.

(Do I even need to mention the fact that since infant formula must be mixed with water, it is especially dangerous for those living in areas with poor access to clean drinking water? If mothers mix their child's substitute milk with dirty water, infants' weak immune systems are exposed to all sorts of bacteria and viruses, which can cause cycle after cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition.)

As a result of the marketing geniuses at Wyeth, Novartis, Mead Johnson, and Glaxo-SmithKline, who received hefty bonuses for their fantastic work in the Philippines, a whopping 84% of Filipino babies are now formula-fed. What is even more astounding is that this is the reality even though the cost of bottle-feeding is at least $43 a month, in country where the average income is $118 a month. And, current statistics show that nearly one out of over three babies in the Philippines is underweight at age 1.

Some of my readers will know that this is not the first time a formula company used lies and trickery to entice poor mothers to become dependent upon their products. The Infant Formula Action Coalition started a boycott of Nestle products because of their unethical marketing practices in the developing world. The boycott stretched from 1977-1984 and then from 1989-the present. In 1981, even the World Health Organization was compelled to get involved, ratifying an international code on the marketing of breast-milk substitutes.

After a long legal battle with US-based formula companies, in 2007, the Supreme Court of the Philippines finally ruled that some of WHO recommendations, adopted by the Filipino Department of Health, could be put into effect. For now, breast-milk substitute labels will have to state the risks of inappropriate formula feeding and there will be some limitations on advertising with "pictures or texts that idealize infant and milk formula."

Despite this small victory, Dr. Marsden Wagner, former WHO Director of Women's and Children's Health, has this to say: "Women are being brainwashed about infant formula. Breastfeeding will increase only when there is control of this industry by the government through laws and regulations which ensure women get the right, scientific information [and when] doctors and hospitals are 'baby friendly.'"

Perhaps is it appropriate that I am posting this story on the day in the US that we celebrate the life and achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On April 4, 1967, when speaking against the Vietnam War, Dr. King said, "I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor." I hope that we can say the same.

And, for the executive fat-cats who watch while gross injustice plagues poor women and children in the developing world, I hear the words of Amos echoing in my head:

"You trample on the poor
and force him to give you grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
You oppress the righteous and take bribes
and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts."
- Amos 5:11-12

(Sources: BBC: Breastfeeding declines in Asia, UNICEF: Philippines: Mothers demand truth about infant formula, UNICEF: Philippine Supreme Court lifts ban on Milk Code, Asia Times: Spilled corporate milk in the Philippines, and Sharon Craig, "Milking the Innocent," Sojourners [Feb 2008]: 8-9.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Women "In the Beginning"

For those of you just joining this discussion, I would urge you to take a look at my previous two posts on the subject: Let's talk about it and My Starting Point.

In discussions of God's will for women in his Kingdom, the first three chapters of Genesis play an important role. Yet, as a narrative passage of scripture, rather than a didactic one ("intending to teach") like the epistles, deriving absolutes from Gen 1-3 can be tricky. Observing hermeneutical practice among my fellow evangelicals, I must admit that, typically an interpreter's pre-determined view of women informs the way an interpreter reads Gen 1-3. That is to say, you can find what you want to find in the text when you're looking hard enough for it. The ideal, of course, would be to allow the truths of Gen 1-3 to inform our view of women without forcing them into any particular theological (ideological?) mold. Since, as I have said previously, pure objectivity is impossible, I will not pretend to approach it. But, I hope that what follows is a fair-as-possible and informed-as-possible response to the significant questions that arise from the first chapters of Genesis as they relate to gender roles.

Preliminary Observations
In our reading of the Genesis creation narrative, it is important to keep in mind that it was most likely written as a means to distinguish the God of Israel from the gods of Egypt and other nations. (See, for example, the violent and bloody creation account of Babylon.) In contrast to other creation stories of the ancient near east, Israel’s God is one God, who created all the elements of the natural world. Whereas Israel’s neighbors worshipped the moon, the sun, the ocean, etc, Israel worshipped the one whom they believed made all of these things.

Moreover, a case can be made as well that the creation accounts did more than just challenge the gods of the ancient near east, but also the way in which men and women viewed one another in God's created order. Humankind was created “male and female,” in the "image of God" (Gen 1: 27), a reality that elevated the status of women in a way that contrasted with surrounding cultures. The revelation of man and woman’s physical kinship (“bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh,” Gen 2:23) challenged the perspective that the two were wholly disparate creatures. And, their original existence as “naked” and “unashamed” speaks to the intention of God for relational intimacy, openness, trust, and connectedness (Gen 2:25).

Is it God's purpose for women to be the subordinate "helpers" of men?
The first passage of scripture to which most complementarians turn in support of the subordination of women to men is Gen 2:18ff, where God makes for the first man, a "helper suitable for him."

Before I address the possible implications of Gen 2:18, I should note that Gen 2 must not be read divorced from Gen 1. In Genesis 1, the emphasis seems to be upon God’s ordered and rhythmic process of creation. One is struck by the rhythm and symmetry of God’s creative work, as the “formless void and darkness” is made to blossom into a thing of tremendous life, breath, movement, and beauty. In Genesis 2, the emphasis seems to be upon relationship, man and God, then man and woman. One notices the innocence of this early narrative, as man interacts with God and animals in an idyllic garden, full of life and vegetation. Man and woman had harmony with one another, with God, and with the garden until “knowledge of good and evil” changed everything.

With this in mind, therefore, what does God mean when he creates woman as a "helper" for man? The Hebrew word, ’ezer, usually translated "helper" is perhaps better rendered "companion." Although often construed as such, this term does not suggest a subordinate role. In the Bible, God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs (Ps 40:17; 46:1; 70:5; 118:7; 146:5). In this context, therefore, the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The element of subordination cannot be substantiated from the wording in 2:18.

Some will argue, however, that the order of creation, with man first and then woman, implies subordination even if it remains unstated. The problem with this assumption is that if the order of creation implies a hierarchy, then the order of Gen 1 should lead to the belief that human beings are last in importance; but, of course, that's not the case. In fact, if the trend from Gen 1 has any application to our understanding of Gen 2, then the creation of woman last should highlight her importance, not her subordination.

Is it God's primary purpose for married women to reproduce?
Those who use Genesis 1-3 as a primary basis for gender roles typically suggest that Gen 1:28, with the command to “be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it,” is the foundational responsibility of women in God's order. In this point of view, bearing children and ruling over the earth alongside men is the primary purpose for women (in the marriage relationship, of course).

Yet, a close reading of Gen 1 reveals that the institution of marriage is not mentioned at all. Instead, the focus is upon the rhythm and order of creation, with human beings coming as the climax of the creative process. There is continuity between animals and humans as created beings (both are to “be fruitful, multiply,” and “fill the earth”), but also discontinuity between them (humans are to “subdue” the earth). Moreover, God makes a point to instruct human beings in what things are given to them and every animal for food: “every green plant.” (Meat eaters, take notice!) Marriage as an institution is not considered in a recognizable way at all. Instead, the focus is upon the human race as a whole and the purpose of the human race upon the earth in God’s good created order. For this reason, it seems that Gen 1:28 is an inappropriate basis for gender roles.

Moreover, I do not believe that the command to our first parents, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” has the weight of command to married persons today. Notice that human beings are not the only ones given the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” In v. 22 of Gen 1, the birds and creatures of the sea are told the same thing (while, curiously enough, the beasts of the land are not). This follows a pattern in God's creative process, whereby he creates something, then fills it. God creates the sky, then fills it with birds. He creates the sea, then fills it with creatures. (And now, with something like 6.6 billion humans walking around on the planet today, I think we've probably fulfilled God's instruction to "multiply" and "fill" don't you?)

The only difference between the commands to the birds and sea creatures and that to humans is the command to “rule” and “subdue.” And, that's the main point of Gen 1: human beings are God’s vice-regents on the earth. Unfortunately, the idea that pairs of humans (particularly women) must reproduce in order to be God-honoring human beings is not found in the text of Genesis.

Is it God's will that men "rule over" women?
After the sinful disobedience of our first parents in Gen 3, God pronounces his judgment as a result of their sin. First, the serpent who deceived the woman is "cursed," he is destined to crawl on his belly on the earth, and enmity is placed between him and the woman (3:14-15). Then, the woman is told that she will have increased pain in childbirth and have a subordinate status to her mate (3:16). Finally, the man is told that the ground is cursed because of him and he will harvest and work the earth with "painful toil" (notably, the same word as the word for the woman's pain in childbirth).

(As a side note, please notice that while it is common to hear people speak of women and/or men receiving a "curse" from the Fall, neither the man nor the woman are "cursed" by God. The words for curse are applied only to the serpent and the ground.)

Very often, God's pronouncement to the woman in 3:16, "your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you," is used as an argument for why women are divinely intended to have a subordinate status to men, in family, society, and church. I think that several things mitigate against this interpretation.

A literal rendering of the first part of the sentence is as follows: “and toward your husband [will be] your desire.” The sentence actually doesn't have a verb and so a future verb must be supplied (because the focus of the judgment is on the future struggle). Moreover, the precise meaning of the noun "desire" (tÿshuqah) is debated. Some interpreters conclude that it refers to sexual desire because the word is used in a romantic sense in Song 7:10. Yet, this interpretation does not fit well with the assertion "he will rule over you" and it implies that sexual desire was not apart of the original creation (even though the man and woman were told to multiply).

It is more likely that, in 3:16, God is announcing the reality of conflict and struggle between man and woman. She will desire to control him, but he will rule over her instead. The Hebrew word translated "rule over" (mashal) means more than simply a leadership position, as is often implied. Instead, mashal emphasizes powerful control, domination, or mastery. Like the curse of the serpent to crawl on his belly and the painful toil of the man in labor on the earth, the domination of the woman by the man is the unintended and unfortunate result of our first parents' disobedience.

What does all this mean? Gen 3:16 is a part of a judgment oracle in which God announces that conflict between man and woman will become the norm in human society. In no way does this mean that female subordination is the divine ideal for male-female relationships. In fact, it appears that the exact opposite is the case. Since subordination was absent from the creation accounts and Gen 3:16 is the first instance of female subordination in scripture, it is a better interpretation to conclude that male dominance and female subordination is a result of the Fall and not God's universal will for human beings. And, as we shall see, the conflict between men and women, along with the hierarchy of men over women, is one of many things that Jesus will abolish in the Kingdom of God.

Despite what is often taught and preached in many evangelical circles, it is my contention that the first chapters of Genesis do not provide support for divinely willed female subordination. In fact, Genesis 1-2 are rightly interpreted as providing opposition to any view that would see women as less than full bearers of God's image and less than full partners with men in God's world. Hierarchy enters the male-female relationship only after the entrance of sin and disobedience into the world. This leads me to conclude that female subordination is a result of the Fall and not the perfect intention of God for the world.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Presuppositions: My Starting Point

Everyone starts somewhere. Pure objectivity is impossible, even in matters of faith--maybe even especially in matters of faith. Unfortunately, like a fish trying to examine the water in which he swims, often one is unable to spell out in detail all of the presuppositions and embedded beliefs that informs one's theological conclusions. But, before I begin to tackle some major issues regarding women, the Bible, and the Kingdom, I think it is important that I am as honest as I can be about my starting point. This isn't exhaustive, by any means, but I hope this will give you a better idea where I am coming from.

The Ultra-Short Version of My Background
I am a Caucasian, middle-class woman living in the midwest. Until I was a teenager, I was raised in a nominally Christian home on the east coast. Following my parents' divorce, I lived in the Bible belt of central Texas. I made my profession of faith through baptism when I was in high school at a mid-sized, contemporary, Southern Baptist church.

It was at this point in my life that "women's issues" first arose as something with which I would have to grapple. The way that certain verses of the New Testament were interpreted to exclude women from leadership confused and troubled me. But, having no viable alternative, I resigned myself to accept "the way things are" and figure out how God was going to fit me--an opinionated, driven, young woman--into the "perfect woman" mold that supposedly existed in the Bible.

I went off to Bible college and later got married, desiring to fit myself into the conservative picture of manhood and womanhood. I thought I had achieved a "perfect fit" for a while. But, time and experience challenged my point of view and I found viable alternatives to the conservative version of Bible interpretation--viable alternatives that did not entail heresy or apostasy (as I had been led to believe). It was only about two years ago that I began to claim for myself that my views had changed.

I did not shift positions without reading widely and deeply and consulting trusted friends. I've consulted most of the major evangelical works on both sides of the issue (and even some who claim to be in the middle). I've interacted by email with several evangelical complementarians and not a few egalitarians clarifying points and addressing confusions. In the end, I've found the traditional answers about women in the Bible and the Kingdom to be unsatisfying on every level: biblically, theologically, and practically.

My Thoughts on Jesus and the Bible
When God rescued the Hebrew people from Egypt, he formed them into a nation related to God through covenant and revealed God’s self to them as Yahweh. As their relationship with Yahweh developed, select people of Israel chronicled and reflected upon the history of God’s workings with humanity, starting from Creation and ending at the dissolution of Israel as a nation. These reflections, in the form of treasured stories, prophetic messages, collected poetry, and ancient wisdom, were eventually compiled and confirmed to be the God-inspired, sacred scripture for the descendents of the Hebrews, later called Jews.

Jesus of Nazareth, confirmed by God and proclaimed to be Lord and Christ, is the fulfillment of the hopes of the Hebrew scripture and the faithful interpreter of God’s history with Israel. As the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God’s self to human beings. As the book of Hebrews reminds: God has spoken in various ways and in various situations in the past, but God has finally spoken through a Son (Heb 1:1, 2). In this sense, the Son of God is the ultimate Word of God—both the faithful revelator of the God’s nature and the focus of all divine revelation.

As the early followers of Jesus proclaimed him and his message, some were compelled to compose records of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection for the edification and instruction of the churches. As other early leaders, including the Apostle Paul, interacted with the newly formed assemblies of Christ-followers, they wrote a number of letters containing discussions of ethics, theology, church practice, and other matters. These occasional documents were treasured, copied, and distributed throughout the early churches as authoritative sources for understanding the Way of Christ. Later, along with the Apocalypse of John, these letters and Gospel narratives were collected and affirmed to be God-inspired sacred scripture for followers of Jesus.

Together, the Hebrew scripture and the Christian scripture make up the written Word of God, the Bible. Inasmuch as the Bible testifies to and is interpreted by the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ, it is the ultimate source of authority and nourishment for those living in the reign of God.

Progressive Revelation and Interpretation
God revealed himself and his rule to various people in various times and ways. He did not reveal all of himself to any one person, nor did any one person fully understand the plan of God for the reconciliation of the world. In this sense, there is a progress to God's revelation. This means that some aspects of God and his will are not revealed fully until later scripture. For example, the expectation of a Messiah does not arise until rather late in Israel's history and the understanding of the Messiah performing a sacrificial or atoning work does not arise until after Jesus's death and resurrection.

This does not negate the fact that scripture is coherent, but it does challenge the notion that the Bible speaks in a single voice and with a single tone on every matter. For example, consider the way in which the mass killings of Joshua compare with the teachings of Jesus about violence in the Gospels. This means that the texts of scripture are not "flat." We must respect the Bible enough to take the time to discern, as well as we can, the context of a particular passage of scripture, the "situation in life" in which it was penned, the relevant cultural and historical elements that come to bear on the text, and the interaction of the text with other corresponding texts in the Bible.

The Primacy of God's Mission
The mission of God comes first in everything. In this commitment, we have the example of the Apostle Paul, who understood that, depending upon the culture with which he engaged, he needed to alter his way of life to gain a hearing for the Good News. With the Jews, he became as a Jew. With the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile. Also, Paul's theological and ethical teachings and practices were based upon the need to eliminate any hindrance to the reception of the Good News. Thus, he exhorted slaves to remain as they are and followers of Jesus to submit to governing authorities--all for the purpose of creating space for the Christian message among the peoples of the Roman Empire. These truths help us both to better understand the writings of the New Testament and better apply them to various situations around the world today.

I know that there are plenty more embedded beliefs and presuppositions that come to bear on my understanding of women in the reign of God. But, I hope that this post has covered some of the more important ones. I aim to post on the Creation account in a few days. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Let's talk about it

By now, my regular readers know that my views on women do not square with most of my conservative evangelical brothers and sisters. I do not hide this fact, but I have been hesitant to address the "elephant in the room" because of the controversy that normally flocks to this matter, like flies to honey. In fact, more than controversy, oftentimes the worst in people rises to the surface.

Believe it or not, I don't like to provoke my Christian family members "to wrath." I do, however, believe it is part of my calling to encourage my family to think. It is for this reason that I have become certain that I need to address this matter head-on and trust that my readers can and will take care of their own hearts. For the next few weeks, therefore, I will present a series of posts on women, the Bible, and the Kingdom of God.

I will share with you that the primary impetus for my acquiescence is that I am weary of having scripture quotations from both testaments lobbed at me like holy hand grenades. These games of Bible ping-pong can be amusing at times, but they accomplish little in advancing real discussion. As one aged Sunday School teacher once told me, "The devil can quote scripture, too."

So, rather than build a stockpile of scripture quotations that I hope will "stand" against your stockpile, I hope to choose many of the most pertinant matters in the discussion and explore them from my perspective. The following outline is a projection of what I hope to address in the days and weeks to come:

Presuppositions: My Theological, Hermeneutical, and Experiential Starting Point

The Creation Account. What does Genesis 1-2 really say about the relationship of men and women? Is subordination really a part of the intended creation order or is it a result of sin?

Women in Select Old Testament Narratives. How did Yahweh deal with women in the earliest stories of Israel's history? Did Yahweh's treatment of women mirror the culture or challenge and rise above it? What are we to do with stories of select women who seemed to perform "a man's job"?

Women in the Law of Moses. What does the Law say about women? How should we understand laws that appear grossly misogynistic and/or arising from ignorance?

Women in First Century Roman Palestine. What was the place of women in the world of Jesus? What was the view of women among the Jews in the time of Jesus?

The Ministry of Jesus to and with Women. How did Jesus treat women as both recipients of and co-laborers in, his ministry? What does it mean that there were no women in the Twelve? What does Jesus' teaching offer that is pertinent to the discussion?

Paul's Ministry and Women. What was Paul's practice when it came to women and ministry? Upon what basis did he carry out his mission with the aid of women? Who were the women with whom Paul labored?

Women in Select Pauline Epistles. What should we understand Paul to mean in passages like 1 Cor 14:34-36; Gal 3:28; Eph 5:22-24; and 1 Tim 2:11-15? How is the meaning of these passages best applied to us today?

"Biblical Womanhood." Is there any such thing as "biblical womanhood"? Where does this concept come from and what is the alternative? Is there a reasonable, biblical view of gender that doesn't rest on "biblical womanhood"?

As I said above, this is merely an outline. I reserve the right to alter my course when and if I think it is appropriate. I plan to have small interruptions periodically in order to focus on particularly interesting theological or hermeneutical points. Also, my attention span is challenged by such a long series, so be ready to have small interrupting posts of completely unrelated material every so often.

Finally, I would be delighted to hear suggestions from my readers of those issues, passages, or points of view with which you particularly would like me interact. I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity, but I do not guarantee that I will provide any definitive answer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

God save me from "Christian scholarship"

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

-Soren Kierkegaard

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Books, books, books!

My blogger friend, Debbie Kaufman has tagged me to do a little run-down of information about my choice, and not-so-choice, books. I'm going to limit my choices to 2007 and exclude the Bible because other books just can't compete with it. Enjoy!

1. One book that changed your life. I have to do two. Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard and Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender by John Stackhouse, Jr. The first book set me on the path of intentional apprenticeship to Jesus and the second changed the way I viewed women in the Kingdom of God.

2. One book you have read more than once. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It gets deeper and more perceptive of human nature every time.

3. One book you would want on a desert island. This one's easy. Special Air Service Survival Handbook by John "Lofty" Wiseman. Bear Grylls recommends it. It has to be good.

4. Two books that made you laugh. I have only one. I guess I need to lighten up in 2008. America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show. Call me a flaming liberal if you want, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central are the smartest and funniest men on television.

5. One book that made you cry. I have to include two again. The Language of Battered Women: A Rhetorical Analysis of Personal Theologies by Carol Winkelmann and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. With both books, I wept for the experience of women worldwide, one because of real stories of abuse survivors and one because of a feminist midrash on the stories of Genesis.

6. One book you wish you'd written. I'm such a cheater. I have to do two again. Mark by David E. Garland in the NIV Application Commentary series. This is the best commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Period. I don't so much wish I had written it, as much as I wish I had the depth of knowledge he possesses. Also, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit by Clark Pinnock. One of the most creative, spiritually astute, and biblically sophisticated theologies in years. Say what you will about his open theism, Pinnock is a giant among dwarf-sized theologians in evangelicalism today.

7. One book that you wish had never been written. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. I have great respect for both of these men (and their many contributors), but this book is treated like the "holy grail" of gender discussions in evangelicalism. I've read it and re-read it and I don't find it to be the flawless standard of truth that many complementarians make it out to be. Plus, I think the concept of "biblical manhood and womanhood" is patently untenable. But, I'll blog more about that some other time.

8. Two books you are currently reading. Great American Short Stories: From Hawthorne to Hemingway edited by Corinne Demas and Cities of God: The Real Story of How Christianity Became an Urban Movement and Conquered Rome by Rodney Stark.

9. One book you've been meaning to read. Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright. This is one of those books I've heard a lot about, but I have yet to read it for myself. Mea culpa.

10. Five people that I tag. Paul Littleton, Art Rogers, C.B. Scott, Josh Carney, and Alyce Lee.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Pictures from India

Several of my friends from FBC Fairfield just returned from a two week trip to Nagpur, India. They served alongside indigenous missionaries in the area and celebrated Christmas in the region's orphanage. I loved these two pictures from their trip and post them here for your enjoyment.