Emboldened

IMG_0943It won’t surprise you when I say that I am a sucker for any new book on gender and faith. I mean, I’m really an easy sell. And so I picked up Emboldened, by First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena’s Senior Pastor Tara Beth Leach, with eager anticipation.

As it turns out, that anticipation was well-founded. There’s much to affirm about Emboldened. For instance, because of its relentless and heartfelt affirmation of women in leadership, I’m going to give a copy to each of the women on my staff team. And I love how Leach chooses to frame the conversation about women in leadership around mission, with justice as a part of that larger concept. And for me the final 2 chapters, with their compelling vision for an emboldened church releasing women and men to use their gifts in pursuit of God’s mission, is worth the price of the whole book.

These things noted, I read Emboldened with Tertullian in mind. That is, my question was what Emboldened have to say to men like me. I think Leach has at least 5 challenges for today’s male ecclesiastical gatekeepers.

Challenge #1: Listen and learn. Part 1 of Emboldened is written for women, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a goldmine of learning for Kingdom brothers like me. There are lots of things that need changing about how we are doing church in terms of gender equality, but it must start with listening and learning. It’s a privilege to be trusted with the all-too-common difficult stories of women in today’s church; we would do well to read Emboldened with reverence, care, and with a heart eager to learn.

Challenge #2: Embrace some new faith heroines. Growing up, the vast majority of my faith heroes were male. You know, King David, the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, etc., etc. Over the years, I’ve been able to diversify my biblical and extra-biblical mentors, to include women and people of color. Need a similar experience? Leach has you covered. Read chapter 1 to get to know Mary Magdalene, Marcella, Teresa of Ávila, Maria Woodworth-Etter, Patricia Gundry, and Tara Beth Leach herself.

Challenge #3: You can’t do it all. In my leadership, I aspire to intentionally mentor and empower women into leadership. Leach definitely affirms male mentorship, but she simultaneously notes that it’s not enough. That is, up-and-coming women need female mentors in their lives as well. Why? Because men like me “will never fully understand the bumps, setbacks, and pushbacks women in ministry face (pg. 90).” You know what? That’s true. And it’s OK. And for men like me who want to fix everything, preferably in the next 10 minutes or less, it’s good to be reminded that we can’t do it all. One of my application points is to ask the women that I’m leading if they have female mentors in their lives.

Challenge #4: Teach the Bible. Leach is clear that Emboldened is not a theological defense of women in leadership. And while I might wish that we’d had a chance to hear her exposit some of the so-called “problem texts” (maybe in the next book?!?), there is a clear call for pastors to proactively teach egalitarian theology in their contexts. Here’s Leach: “men who embolden women don’t wait before it’s too late to paint the kingdom vision for women in the church; they do it as if it’s second nature. Men who embolden women paint the kingdom vision for women in the church with such vigor, color, and beauty that women in the pews imagine a world in which they are invited to the table to use their gifts and soar with great freedom. (pg. 167)” Amen, and this motivates me to continue to press into the discipline of study, in order to know the Scriptures better, and it challenges me to continue to plan teaching slots in my yearly calendar.

Challenge #5: Take risks. In the forward, Scot McKnight, one of Leach’s mentors, writes: “males on the platform (ie. in church leadership) need to slide over and give women a place (pg. 2).” Long-time readers of Challenging Tertullian won’t be surprised to know that I highlighted the heck out of that snippet. Indeed, men, we are called to take risks to advance women into greater leadership in the church, and that could well mean stepping to the side. For a benediction, here’s Leach’s charge:

“Brothers in Christ, it can be risky to embolden your sister in Christ. You might be ridiculed. You might cause uproar. You might see people leave your church. You might see pastors leave your denomination. You might lose some of your biggest givers. How much longer will you be a slave to fear? When will you start bringing women before your congregations and faithfully proclaim that the bride of Christ will continue to limp along until we embolden gifted, called, and anointed women in our midst (pgs. 161-2)?”

Men, do yourself, and your sisters, a favor. Pick up and read a copy of Emboldened.

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In My Defense…

fullerWant to know what happens in a dissertation defense?!? I’m your guy. Here’s a summary of what I experienced last Thursday in my defense.

First, here’s what happened. We met in a glass-walled conference room in the Fuller Library. Two of my cohort-mates were there in person with another three there on video. Three members of my family were there, my parents and Amy. And then two professors were present, and together they constituted my dissertation committee.

At the outset, I was given 10ish minutes to give those gathered a sense of what my journey thorough the program has been like. I chose to testify about how God has met Amy and I in terms of time, finances, passion, and product. Next, my most recent peer reviewers got to give feedback or ask questions, before members of my committee did the same. Then, when all was said and done, we cleared the room so that the committee could decide what they wanted to do with my work. After maybe 10 minutes out of the room, we came back in and they issued the verdict.

Now, five reflections on the time:

First, I found it to be an odd combination of defending my work and gladly receiving input. I mean, the whole experience is framed as a defense; in other words, my task was to justify my findings and conclusions. At points, this required me to answer pointed questions and clarify misconceptions. On the other hand, my reviewers had some helpful input for me, and I was glad to receive it. I don’t know if navigating the tension is normal for dissertation defenses, but I spent my 90 minutes sitting in the middle of this interesting dichotomy of defending and receiving.

Second, I came away with some subtle but helpful ways to strengthen my work. Because of this, I’m not technically done yet, so hold of on your “Dr. Rob” commentary for now. From here, the plan is to do my revisions in the next couple of weeks, run them by my committee, and then send it for copy editing, which is a mandatory step before publication. Once it’s published, have at it with the doctoring (or don’t!).

Third, I certainly felt the presence of my community. I was the one defending on Thursday, but I had scores of friends and family rooting me on from afar. And I felt it palpably. So, a big THANK YOU to everyone who prayed, texted, tweeted, facebooked, and called me.

Fourth, I left the defense incredibly encouraged. Simply put, people were super generous with their comments, both inside and outside the room. Perhaps my favorites were the women in my world that affirmed that the research I had done was congruent with their experience of me. One of my deepest aspirations in life is to have my words and actions be integrated, so these comments were a gift to me.

Fifth, as we walked out of the library and out onto the Fuller mall, I actually felt a twinge of sadness. I’ve been a Fuller student for the last seven years in a focused way, and for the last 17 years (!!!) in a more “meandering” way. To be honest, I’m going to miss the coursework, the cohort experiences, and I’ll miss the ways that Fuller has trained and equipped me for my ministry with InterVarsity.

What was the best part of the experience? That’s easy.

Hearing my mentor professor say, “congratulations, you are passed with distinction.”

Thanks be to God.

Preparing to Defend

IMG_0879My journey through the DMiss program has been a long, winding, and wonderful road. To be honest, I can’t quite believe I’m at (or very near) the end. More than once lately, I’ve been feeling nostalgic; when it’s over, I think I’m going to actually be sad, in addition to like 75 other emotions.

What’s ahead? The defense. Sounds sort of ominous, right? When I think of defending something, it doesn’t take long before the imagery gets life or death. And while I trust that my upcoming dissertation defense won’t be some sort of missiological Alamo, it is in fact a big deal, one worth preparing for. Here’s what I’m doing to get ready.

First, I’m reading. I’ve spent the last two days reading peer dissertations, but today and tomorrow I’m going to read my own. I want to be as familiar as possible with my project before a bunch of scholars ask me incisive questions about it! To celebrate the occasion, I even printed it out, the first time I’ve done so since I started writing.

Second, I’m critiquing. What’s that cliche? “The best defense is a good offense?” I’m going to try that out, and so as I’m reading, I’m critiquing. I’m going to create a list of the toughest questions I can muster, and then try to answer them. Then, for fun, I’ll see how many of my questions actually get asked during the defense.

Third, I’m gathering. In one sense, I’ll be the one standing up at the podium defending this dissertation. But in another sense, I see myself as a part of a community of folks who are interested in my research, who have participated in my research, and who give a rip about the topic of flourishing male/female ministry partnerships. So I’m plotting email updates and Facebook posts all week. Also, it’s going to be great to have advocates in the room with me; thanks in advance to Amy, my folks, and to my cohort for your support.

Finally, I’m praying. Sure, this has been an academic program, but for me the DMiss has also been a deeply spiritual endeavor for me. The other day I was reflecting on how God has met me over the last four years, and I made quite a list. I’ll be sharing a portion of that list as a part of my defense intro.

If you’re the praying type, I’d love to have you onboard. I defend this coming Thursday morning, from 10:45-12:15, at Fuller.

Awash in Academia

IMG_9934It’s been awhile since I’ve challenged Tertullian here on the blog, but, rest assured, he and I are daily duking it out in the land of academia.

Specifically, I’m in the thick of dissertation-writing, the final step in the process of my four-year doctoral program through Fuller Theological Seminary. All 200 or so pages are due in a month to my mentor, and, following two rounds of revisions, I’ll defend this thing in the middle of November.

Folks have asked me how it feels to be writing this dissertation, and it sort of runs the gamut. On one hand, it’s a ton of work, and I have had my moments of “I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m pretty sure that what I’ve written thusfar is rubbish.” It can be pretty overwhelming at times.

On the other hand, more often than not (thankfully), I’m really excited to be doing this work. Why? Because it’s the pay-off after three years of reading, researching, and thinking. In addition, there’s this:

I am convinced that if our communities of faith can improve the caliber of their male/female ministry partnerships, God’s mission will advance in greater measure.

And, because the focus of my writing is the articulation of a model for making that happen, I feel honored to be able to work on this. It’s academic, but it’s also spiritual. In other words, writing this dissertation, for me, is an act of obedience.

I thought I would share an outline of what this thing is looking like:

Chapter 1 is an introduction, with a basic outline of what my research process has been like and where the dissertation is heading.

Chapter 2 is a literature review of my organization’s (that’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) experience with male/female ministry partnerships. I’ve traced the theme throughout our organizational history and drawn some conclusions based on my reading.

Chapter 3 is a second literature review chapter, but this one focuses on what the egalitarian community has had to say about male/female ministry partnerships. The question with this chapter is what NOT to include!

Chapter 4 is a methods chapter, with a window into my actual research process. It’s a pretty technical piece of writing. Reviewing it last week almost put me to sleep!

Chapter 5 is my findings chapter, and it’s really the meat of the dissertation. It’s where I summarize interviews with 63 different InterVarsity staff workers into something cogent and useful. Spoiler alert…I have wrangled the raw data into 10 different attributes that make up flourishing male/female ministry partnerships.

Chapter 6 is a discussion chapter, and my focus is on model-building. So, I’ve taken these 10 attributes and created a visual training model that individuals and communities can use to form flourishing partnerships. This is the chapter I’m working on right now, and it’s a fun one for me.

Chapter 7 is a recommendations chapter, and I’ll be getting super concrete about how this model could be useful in InterVaristy and for InterVarsity staff.

Chapter 8 is the conclusion, and it’s where I’ll be attempting to wrap this all up with a bow, along with offering some ideas for further study.

Two years ago, in the middle of my program, one of our mentor professors expressed this to me over email:

“The main reward for scholarly endeavor is the feedback that it has been useful to someone.”

Oh how I hope that this will be true for my dissertation!

Theologizing

Screen Shot 2017-05-21 at 10.45.24 AMThis past week I was featured over at the CBE blog with a piece entitled “The Way God Intends It.” My aim was to give a short theological justification for women and men serving together as full and equal partners in mission. You can find the piece here.

In response to the piece, a couple of folks on Facebook took issue with one of the last lines, and I want to reply to that. Here’s the part up for discussion:

“Adam and Eve, Moses and Miram, Jesus and Mary, Paul and Phoebe, Boniface and Lioba. All co-workers. All equal partners.

All the way God intends it.

The question they posed is a good one:

How could Jesus and Mary (it’s Magdelene we’re talking about) be considered “equal partners?”

My short answer: they can’t, at least in the big-picture sense. I mean, can any human be considered equal with Jesus?!? And so when the newly resurrected Lord and the very human Mary meet and partnership happens in the form of Jesus entrusting her with the good news about the resurrection, we shouldn’t assume that they are somehow equal. Mary is the messenger, but Jesus is the Lord.

And so perhaps my language could be more precise. Maybe “full partners” would be more accurate?

Or maybe not. Because, in revealing the good news of his resurrection and releasing Mary to be his ambassador, Jesus is making the dramatically counter-cultural choice to empower Mary into leadership. In fact, from the moment she meets Jesus in the garden until she testifies to what she’s been told in front of the disciples, Mary is the sum total of the church. She’s it.

So while it might not be accurate to label Jesus and Mary’s partnership “big picture equality,” perhaps we can dub it “functional equality?”

In Philippians 2, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ perspective on power. Though he has supreme power, he doesn’t see it as something to be grasped. Instead, he empties himself, in the process empowering others.

And I’ll argue that that is exactly what is happening with Mary in the garden. It’s what Jesus does. He releases his privilege. He empowers others, particularly women. And in the process, he treats them…

As an equal.

Me, in a Meme

One of my staff made me into a meme. This should give you a window into how they view me:

IMG_9253

A Few More Whoppers

oLLzAFQTurns out that the relationship between blogging and doctoral studies is an inverse relationship. That is, as the doctoral studies have heated up, the blogging frequency has declined. And, unfortunately for this blog, that dynamic is only going to be accentuated for the next 6-7 months because of what’s looming on the nearby horizon…

THE DISSERTATION.

That’s right, me and my laptop are going to become even closer between now and October. It’s just me, a pile of data, my passion for the project, and 200 or so pages. I’ll keep you posted.

For now, as I’m ramping up to start writing, I’ve been doing some reading. Mostly, I’ve been catching up on some books that I discovered over the last year or so. One of them is this book, In the Spirit We’re Equal, by Susan C. Hyatt. I’ve read a lot of books on the topic of egalitarian theology over the last three years, but I hadn’t read one written from a pentecostal perspective…until now.

There’s lots to like about Hyatt’s work, but for my money her strongest sections are historical in nature. In one passage, she walks the reader through various quotes from old theologians, as a way to describe the uphill theological battle that women have faced through the eras.

I’m going to capture some of the better (or worse) ones here, but as I do so, a couple of reminders of some things I’ve said before. First, just because a theologian said something awful about women doesn’t mean he (and they are almost always men) is all bad. In fact, it’s often quite the contrary. After all, everyone is a work in progress.

But, still, these things need to be remembered. Because though they were written ages ago (in most cases), their echoes reverberate in today’s theological wrangling about the role of women in the church. In fact, quotes like these conspire to form a deeply bitter theological root that undergirds restrictive and marginalizing theologies about gender today.

So, without further ado, I present some more bad quotes from dead theologians.

First, let’s hear from Origen, writing in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Origen wrote, “men should not listen to a women…even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a women.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, Origen then turned around and wrote, “what is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine and of the flesh.”

Or let’s check in with Chrysostom, from the 4th century. Though he is regarded as a gifted preacher and expositor, Chrysostom had this to say about women, in comparison to men: “the ‘image [of God] has rather to do with authority, and this only the man has; the woman has it no longer. For he is subjected to no one, while she is subjected to him.” To make matters worse, Chrysostom notes that men going to women for advice is akin seeking wisdom from “irrational animals of the lower kind.”

Lastly, let’s hear from Mr. Jerome, writing in the fourth and fifth centuries. Jerome was a prolific scholar, and he is famous for creating the Vulgate, the first Latin translation of the Bible. Unfortunately, we must also attribute these quotes to Jerome: “woman is a temple built over a sewer,” “it is contrary to the order of nature and of the law that women should speak in a gathering of men,” and “women, especially those who assumed leadership roles in religion were ‘miserable, sin-ridden wenches.'”

Sadly, I could go on, and I might some other time. For now, I’ll just reiterate my main point:

Our contemporary restrictive theologies about women were not born in a vacuum. Instead, they tragically rest on thousands of years of theological misogyny and patriarchy.

Friends, it’s (past) time for new ways of theologizing.

Now, back to that dissertation…