Turns 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…
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…
It’s not an easy thing to choose a blog name.
At least it wasn’t easy for me. While I don’t remember my rejected names, I acutely remember the pressure I felt about getting it right. After all, if you are intending to produce a blog for the long haul, and you hope folks engage with it, you’ve got to have a solid title.
And so, after much consideration, some 4 years ago I landed on Challenging Tertullian. And, thankfully, I haven’t regretted it.
Tragically, in choosing the name I had lots of options. Because, historically speaking, it seems like part of the job description for a key leader in the church has been launching patriarchal and misogynistic quotes into the culture. If you need a reminder, go here and here…and then go take out your aggression somehow. In the end, I landed on Tertullian because I found his “devil’s gateway” quote to be the worst of the bunch.
So the name was simple, but the adjective was tough. On one hand, I wanted a word that communicated confrontation. I mean, I was planning to take the theology espoused by Tertullian and his ilk to task. So it had to be a tough word.
On the other hand, it couldn’t be too tough. No Lambasting Tertullian, or Taking Tertullian Out Behind the Shed, or anything like that. For two reasons.
One, because I think dialogue is important. Anyone can (and does!) throw bombs, particularly in the social media age. I happen to think that tone matters, and that conversation marked by seeking understanding should be the goal. So, “challenging” felt like a good compromise; if Tertullian and I went to coffee, I’d express my opinion, hear his reply and we’d go from there. We’d have, you know, a conversation.
The other reason I didn’t want my adjective to be too tough is that no person is ever just one thing. As much as I might enjoy pummeling Tertullian into theological submission, I must acknowledge that he’s not wrong about everything, every time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet Tertullian someday in heaven. Too often, disagreement with someone in one area means we reject them completely. It’s another persistent problem in the all-too-toxic public square.
Case in point, this post, from Marg Mowczko. I’ve been reading Marg’s New Life blog for awhile now (you should too!), and in her latest post, she excerpts a quote from Tertullian about marriage. Here’s a portion of the quote:
How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.
Awesome, right? Like, I could use that the next time I conduct a wedding!
If you read Marg’s post, you’ll get a bit of the backstory for this quote, and I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure how to reconcile Tertullian’s “devil’s gateway” stinker with this wonderful bit of prose. But I do know that, somehow, both sentiments came out of the same heart and mind.
So I guess I’ll do this: celebrate Tertullian’s vision for marriage…
…and continue to challenge the heck out of his posture toward women.
Reflecting on the influence of the Urbana Student Missions Conference, Billy Graham once remarked that fully half of all American vocational missionaries could trace their sovereign call to an Urbana conference.
In other words, when it comes to missions, Urbana is no joke.
This year’s Urbana, which starts this coming Saturday, will be my 8th Urbana and 7th on staff with InterVarsity. As with the last several Urbanas, I’ll do my part to make the conference go by directing the conference office. That means 18 hour (or more) days, serving anyone and everyone that comes through our doors (virtual and actual), and, oh yeah, driving the golf cart all over the Edward Jones Dome.
I can’t wait!
This year, in addition to all of that, I’ll also be leading a seminar. It’s called “Women in World Missions: The Untold Story,” and I have three goals for the seminar:
First, I want to tell stories of some amazing female missionaries from the last 2,000 years. And so I’ll be introducing the crowd to heroines such as Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Junia, Donata, Blandina, Lioba, Brigitta, Ann Judson, Mother Mary and more. The goal is to have students leaving with a new set of heroines they can admire.
Second, I’ll be calling out the villain. After all, I have to explain why these stories have been untold for so long, and that means I’ll need to exposit the tragic history of patriarchy in the church. So I’ll be talking about mis-translated Scriptures, misogynistic quotes from otherwise revered theologians, and the systematic usurpation of women in missions by male-dominated individuals and structures.
Third, I’m going to talk implications. Specifically, I’ll call students to check their hearts for bias, to level the gender playing fields in their contexts, and to recover and remember the stories of valiant women who have advanced the Gospel over the generations.
All of that in about 40 minutes, give or take. And then there’s time for Q&A.
If you’re the praying type, hook me up at 2pm (central) on Monday the 28th. And if you’d like to pray for Urbana as a whole, sign up for daily prayer requests here.
Yesterday the world celebrated the life of St. Patrick. If you celebrated like we did in our house, you did so by dodging pinches and devising a complex and borderline inhumane leprechaun trap. But, I digress…
You’ve probably never heard of Eamon Gilmore, but he is Ireland’s #2 politician. He serves as the country’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Basically, the brother does a lot of ministering!
Eamon Gilmore was in the news this week for refusing to attend Savannah, Georgia’s St. Patrick’s day celebration. Why? Because there was an event that was only open to men. Here’s what Gilmore had to say:
“Count me out – I’m not doing it,” Gilmore told an Irish newspaper. “I don’t believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis.”
Good on you Eamon. Way to live up to your patron saints’ example.
By all accounts, St. Patrick is a person worth emulating. Kidnapped as a teenage boy from Britain and taken to Ireland, Patrick spent six years as a shepherd and learned Irish language and culture. At some point, he managed to escape and he returned home to his family.
Then, as the story goes, he was called by God to return to Ireland. Here’s his account of that moment:
“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.'”
And so Patrick went. And, through him, Christianity came to the Irish.
In his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill describes Patrick’s ministry this way:
“In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life…Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”
One particular aspect of Patrick’s story worth noting is his positive treatment of women. In her post about Patrick, Anita McSorley describes it this way:
“Women find a great advocate in Patrick….Patrick’s Confession speaks of women as individuals. Cahill points out, for example, Patrick’s account of “a blessed woman, Irish by birth, noble, extraordinarily beautiful—a true adult—whom I baptized.” Elsewhere, he lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: ‘But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.’ He is actually the first male Christian since Jesus, Cahill says, to speak well of women.”
These things may not seem like much, but let’s not forget that Patrick would have been a contemporary with Augustine. You know Augustine, a man who, in the middle of saying lots of amazing things about the faith, also laid several misogynistic rhetorical eggs such as:
“I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?” (De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-9)
So, on this morning after St. Patrick’s, I’m raising a glass of green beer to two men who advocated for women. Eamon and Patrick, well done!
As a culture, one of the ways we perpetuate male privilege is through some outdated and archaic social conventions. Consider the following tweet from a dear friend of mine, a woman who knows a thing or two about being “tertullianed“:
“I feel like chopped liver when our mail comes addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. <Husband’s Full Name>.”
Now I’ve never had chopped liver, but it doesn’t sound good. In fact, it sounds bad. Like the sound of feeling unseen. Of feeling small. Of feeling ignored. It’s the sound of feeling overlooked.
I don’t know about you, but I really hate feeling unseen.
Jesus was born into a world where women went routinely unseen. It was a world where women had only marginal and narrowly-prescribed social, political or ecclesiastical access. In Jesus’ day women were little more than property. First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described it this way:
“The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to man.”
Friends, it’s hard to be seen when you are by law inferior in all things.
As we spend time these next two weeks looking at how Jesus treated the women of his day, I want to start with a notion that on the surface sounds simple but underneath is utterly profound. It’s at once basic and revolutionary:
Jesus saw women.
That is, he paid attention to them. He stopped to talk to them. He laid down privilege and gave them the time of day. When he mailed them a letter, it had their name on it and not just their husbands’. For Jesus, a woman was not someone to be ignored, she was someone to be fundamentally seen.
But one of my favorite “Jesus sees a woman” stories is from Luke 7:11-17:
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
What a story! The dead are raised and the Gospel spreads. Indeed, “God has come to help his people.”
But all of that happened because first God came to see his people.
How many people walked past this woman that day without more than a quick glance? For how many was this widowed women just a part of the landscape? Great things happen at the end of this passage, but it started with Jesus seeing this woman. Seeing beget compassion. Compassion beget action. Action resulted in miracle.
Think about all that Jesus gave this woman. He gave her her only son back. He gave her a reason to rejoice. In a real way, he gave her her life back. But perhaps most significantly, in really seeing her, Jesus gave her:
And what could be more important than that?
What about you? How can you really see another person today?
We’re all works in progress. Last night I was caused to think about the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:17:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
How beautiful! How miraculous! How appealing!
What I mean is that Paul makes the process sound basically instantaneous. Be in Christ and–boom–you’re a new creation. But here’s the thing:
Becoming a new creation takes time.
If you’re like me, on your journey to becoming a new creation, you take one step forward…and then what feels like five or six giant steps backward. Cooking up a new creation is not a microwave, it’s more like a crock pot.
So those of us who are on this Jesus journey are simultaneously new and old, redeemed and fallen, Christ-like and broken. And when it comes to how we view this idea of male privilege, we’re all works in progress.
It’s in this spirit that I’d like to bust out another round of “bad quotes from dead theologians.” Because it’s important to remember that the church’s historical thought leaders where BOTH new and old. They were works in progress as well. And in that sense, what they’ve bequeathed us in the modern (or postmodern) church is both redeemed and fallen.
So, this morning, allow me to share three gems from Mr. Martin Luther:
“Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.”
“God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. ‘Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.”
We may well lie with what seems to be a woman of flesh and blood, and yet all the time it is only a devil in the shape of a woman.
To be sure, Martin Luther has a lot of really great quotes. These are not among them. But as we explore the reality of male privilege in the church, it’s important to remember that there is a history to reckon with. It’s important to remember that where we are today is a result, at least in part, of where we’ve been in our past. It’s important to remember that male privilege has been around for awhile and is therefore deeply entrenched in how we do church.
It’s also important to remember that we’re all works in progress.
What about you? How are you a work in progress in this area?
In this blog’s first post, I wrote this about a particularly bad quote from the early theologian Tertullian:
Sounds bad, and it is bad. It’s also representative, of a school of thought of which Tertullian was one pupil. And here’s the thing, if you ask me, that school was in session before Tertullian, and, significantly, we’re all enrolled in it today.
In this post, I want to tell you about some of Tertullian’s classmates. I’ll call this category “More Bad Quotes from Dead Theologians,” and it’ll become a repository of blatantly anti-women quotations from heroes of the faith that we cherish. Feel free to send me your favorites.
Why do this, you ask? Because I think it’s important to demonstrate the historical lineage of male privilege thinking in the writings of the church’s historical thought shapers. Consider it a chronicle of entrenched ecclesiastical misogyny. My aim, then, is to exposit the theological trail of woe that has set the groundwork for where the church stands today.
In doing all of this, I realize that I’ll be tossing some cherished theological icons under the bus next to Tertullian. And, for them, the same maxim that I wrote about here applies:
We must remember that even if we disagree about something important, in the Kingdom we still called to fellowship together in the Lord, understanding that we have far more in common with a brother or sister than we have in dispute.
So, without further ado, let me share some not-so-fun quotes from two of Tertullian’s classmates:
Here’s Jean Calvin, from his commentary on 1 Timothy 2: Now Moses shews that the woman was created afterwards, in order that she might be a kind of appendage to the man; and that she was joined to the man on the express condition, that she should be at hand to render obedience to him. (ref here)
Then there’s Thomas Aquinas, from Summa Theologiae: As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation. (ref here)
Considered in today’s light, these quotes, and others like them, are clearly preposterous. And yet I think they have shaped our current situation, by contributing to a church culture marked by male privilege, more than we care to admit.
What about you? How do you see quotes like these influencing us today?