Here’s a quote to get you thinking today, from the book What is Mission? by missiologist Andrew Kirk:
“For a Christian who listens to the witness of the Old and New Testaments, the problem of finding an adequate basis for justice is solved. Both the basis for and the meaning of justice spring from the nature of the God who is. Justice is what God does, for justice is what God is. By definition, he acts consistently with his attributes. So we know justice through God’s acts of deliverance, through his laws and through the kind of relationships between human beings that he requires:
‘He has told you what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’
‘Is this not the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
and to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?’
‘Give the king your justice, O God…
may he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice…
may he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.’
The word of the prophet is addressed to the whole nation, not just to individuals. The whole community has a set of obligations which reflect God’s character. ‘To do justice’ is to demonstrate that the corporate body of people belong to one another. Justice is an active concept. It is not the maintenance of a static state of equilibrium in which certain powers are kept in balance. It is an activity in which a disordered or disproportionate state of affairs is put right. To do justice is to enable the disadvantaged to escape permanently from the trap of deprivation in order that they may become full, responsible members of the community. This will happen as resources and opportunities in life are made available to all. Justice includes; injustice excludes.
Justice is also about checking the excessive concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few, so that responsible decision-making may be an activity of the whole community. It is about ensuring that each person may own and enjoy the work of his or her own hands and be supported by the community when hit by adversity.” (pp. 104-105)
This morning it hit me:
“I’m a doctoral student now.”
Perhaps it was the three short papers due on Friday. Or the fact one of those papers is a book report and I had yet to read even a page. Or, maybe, it was the type of book I was starting:
Reading a different but similar book the other day, I was glad to come across the following section, on gender inclusive language in research writing. As you know, I’m a bit of a nut about inclusive language. Here’s the excerpt:
“Typically in the past, one wrote in sexist noninclusive archaic English. Singular masculine pronouns commonly referred to an indefinite person. However, that practice effectively excluded women. Old style manuals used terms like ‘mankind’ for all people. Language and writing style values have changed. In contemporary English such exclusive language is not acceptable. Many researchers have learned English composition using ‘he,’ ‘him,’ and ‘his’ as the correct way to refer to any person. To correct this practice and to conform to contemporary values, some simple editing procedures may be employed. In a few cases, one might use both pronouns (e.g., he or she, him or her, his or hers), however, in many cases the subject may be changed to a plural or to the specific name of the person or role. Using plurals allows for the use of inclusive plural pronouns. In other cases the author can simply edit the sentence structure to avoid exclusive language. One must however keep the pronouns agreeing in number with the nouns to which they refer.
Int the past many roles were defined in gender-specific terms (e.g., chairman). A more acceptable and contemporary practice is simply to refer to the person in nongender specific terms, (e.g. chair of the board). Many contemporary English style manuals provide many more suggestions about this change in writing style.”
Here’s to a generation of gender inclusive research writers!
I first stumbled upon the notion during my Master’s program, via a theologian named Miroslav Volf. Here’s what Volf has to say about human flourishing (from this article):
“I think in the Christian faith, human flourishing is life in which one receives oneself from God as a beloved child of God, and loves God and loves neighbor.
That’s a very rough definition of what it means to flourish as a human being. But I think it also has two significant components: The first component being that one leads one’s life well. The other component being that life goes well for one. So it has both active and passion dimensions to it. Health of the body might be a passive dimension of flourishing; aspects of moral responsibility are an active dimension.”
Human flourishing. I mean, the phrase even sounds beautiful.
From time to time when I’m asked what I’m studying in my current program, I reference this notion of flourishing. For me human flourishing is a God-given vision for life as God intends it, for individuals, for the community and for the systems of our world. Come to think of it, human flourishing is pretty close to the holistic Hebrew notion of shalom.
I heard a talk this week about human flourishing. Well, not explicitly, and the speaker never uses the term. And yet the story is certainly one of flourishing.
The speaker is Shauna Niequist and the talk is “What My Mother Taught Me.” Niequist is the daughter of Willow Creek’s Lynne and Bill Hybels, and in the talk she tells the story of how her mother went from flourishing to not flourishing to flourishing again. I think the talk provides not only a helpful snapshot of human flourishing, but it highlights what is at stake in a male privilege marked world where women are too often held back from flourishing.
Two short lines caught my attention, as I think they capture what flourishing is all about:
“I watched my mother become herself.”
“Make space for two callings in one home, in one marriage.”
You can find a transcript of the talk here on Niequist’s site. Or you can watch it below. As you watch it, let me encourage you to consider what flourishing could look like for you and your communities!
In a world desperate for a savior, here’s a description of Jesus that’ll fire you up and give you some hope. It comes from Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God:
Speaking of Jewish assumptions of his day…
“Jesus dissolved some of these, abolished some, ignored others and deliberately challenged a few of them.
He turned the clean-unclean distinction inside out. He chose to heal on the sabbath day and to redefine its significance around himself. He reached out to those who were excluded by the taboos of society: women, children, the sick, the unclean, even the dead. He declared forgiveness to people on his own authority, completely bypassing the normal route for such benefit, namely, the official sacrificial cult at the temple. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and ‘sinners’ (by official designation). Furthermore, he told stories that gave the ‘official’ story of Israel a very different ending in its damning effect on those in power in society, and they know he was talking about them. And as he stood on trial before the highest political-religious authority in all Jewish society, he calmly took to himself the identity of the Danielic Son of Man, whose authority would ultimately overthrow the beasts of oppressive and persecuting powers (Dan 7). No wonder the chief priest tore his robes and cried blasphemy. It just won’t do when the chief priest is cast in the role of chief beast. Jesus’ radical claims and teaching were not just bursting old wineskins; they were enough to burst some political blood vessels.”
I know, you’re stoked. But I’m reading a lot of missiology, and it’s only the beginning of my four year program!
The other day, reading this book by Scottish Missiologist Andrew Walls, I came across the idea of an “Ephesian moment.” For Walls, this moment was a pivotal turning point in Christian history where the young church was confronted by the idea that the Gospel is meant to cross racial, ethnic and cultural barriers. Here’s Walls:
“When Ephesians was written, there were only two major cultures represented in the Christian church, the Jewish (reflecting a spectrum of attitudes and accommodation to Greek thought) and the Hellenistic. They could easily have formed separate churches, but that thought does not occur to the author. Two races and two cultures historically separated by the meal table now met at table to share the knowledge of Christ. The Ephesian moment–the social coming together of people of two cultures to experience Christ–was quite brief.”
Pondering the idea of an “Ephesian moment” for race and ethnicity, I formulated this question:
Where’s the “Ephesian moment” for gender in Scripture?
In other words, where was the moment when the first church was confronted by the reality that the Gospel crosses gender barriers, that in the advent of Jesus’ Kingdom equality, mutuality and interdependent partnership are the orders of the day?
My first thought was that it had to Pentecost.
After all, when in Acts 2 the Spirit falls on the community, both men and women receive the gift of the Spirit’s power. In fact, in interpreting the moment, Peter quotes Joel 2:28-32 to emphasize the intra-gender nature of the community of faith. (More about Pentecost and gender here)
It seems to me that Pentecost is a good option for an “Ephesian moment” with regard to gender, but it’s not perfect. After all, in reality Pentecost is more about the Spirit than a statement about gender partnerships in mission. In the end, Pentecost is the “Spirit’s Moment” more than anything else.
And then it dawned on me:
Perhaps the first church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” with regard to gender.
As in, maybe, just maybe, part of the culture of the first church was for women and men to share leadership. Perhaps crossing gender barriers in pursuit of Kingdom mission was…normal, a part of the community’s foundational DNA.
Seems like the Apostle Paul would attest to that. At a glance, Romans 16 seems like just another chapter of Paul publicly thanking those he has partnered with in his mission. But a closer look reveals the intra-gender nature of that mission. According to one scholar, out of the 27 names in the chapter, up to 10 are women.
And, further, in the tribe of Romans 16 women, we have some luminaries, every bit the equal of the men of Romans 16 and elsewhere. There’s Phoebe, the deaconess of Cenchrea, someone “worthy of honor.” There’s Priscilla, Paul’s co-worker, named before her husband Aquila, thus signifying a greater influence. And there’s Junia, “highly respected among the apostles.”
There is evidence that Paul’s practice may well have been representative. That despite being born in a culture gripped by extreme patriarchy, the first Christian church lived out a counter-cultural, intra-gender model of ministry.
Writing in her book When Women Were Priests, Claremont Graduate School Professor Karen Jo Torjesen notes:
“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”
All of this leads to an interesting question:
What if the church didn’t need an “Ephesian Moment” for gender because every day was such a moment?!?
It was amazing.
A couple of reflections on the experience:
First, it’s indeed a vast topic. Right off the bat, I warned the students that this was the stuff of seminary courses and that I’d be moving fast during the talk. I hit everything from Genesis to Psalms to the Gospels to about 8 texts from Paul. I was flying. Even so, the 40ish minutes that I was given morphed into–wait for it–65 minutes. I think it was the longest talk I’ve ever given!
Next, they were with me the entire time. Good eye contact, nodding heads, laughing at the right times, etc. What this tells me is that there is a thirst for teaching on this topic. Is it possible that our churches are shirking responsibility by not teaching on these things? I think so.
Third, my burden for teaching and training on these topics continues to grow. After the talk, I told one of my staff that I’d teach it again tomorrow night. To be clear, I’ll be glad for a night off tonight; still, I’m growing into a new phase of call to teach, train and lead on these things. Of course the graduate program is a part of that, as is this blog. It is a joy to sense God’s profound work in my soul.
Fourth, my convictions about the Bible’s message of gender equality continue to solidify, clarify and find a greater purchase in my understanding. I always try to preach and teach from a place of conviction, but sometimes conviction is more available than others. Last night conviction was a potent presence in my teaching. I am convinced that the Bible’s message is one of freedom for women, and that God’s desire is for men and women to together carry the good news into mission with a posture marked by equality, mutuality, interdependence and dynamic partnership.
Many have asked for my notes from last night. I think I’m going to clean them up a bit and then send them. And/or I might chop the talk up and feature it as a series of posts here on Challenging Tertullian.
For now, I’ll leave you with Paul’s words to the Galatian church in 3:26-29:
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
Praise God for the cross, which burns through the divisions of race, class and gender.
Happy Easter everyone!
What I mean is that in the same way that Jesus willingly laid down authority in becoming incarnate, when men lay down power, there’s freedom for them in the process. I’ve experienced this in my own life and leadership. In our household, it’s freeing to not have the proverbial buck stop with me. Much better to have it stop with us.
And in ministry, it’s incredibly joy-giving to watch women walk through doors that you’ve helped to open by using your power to advocate. And, it’s a joy to be able to serve the Lord with the full range of Kingdom gifts and perspectives.
In his post this week at The Junia Project, Bob Edwards captures well what I’m talking about, in his post entitled “What Equality in Christ Means for Men.” Find it here. To get you going, here are the first several paragraphs:
As a man and a Christian, I’ve been given some heavy burdens. In a society characterized by a long history of male privilege, that may sound like a strange statement. Nevertheless, it’s true.
In the first church I attended, I learned that to be a man is to be a leader, a provider, and a protector. I learned that it was my responsibility in church to discern truth from error. It was my responsibility to accurately and effectively convey this truth. I was responsible to shepherd God’s people, and even to apply biblical discipline when needed. Evidently, something about being male made me a suitable candidate for these responsibilities.
Someday, God willing, I would be married. Maybe we would have children. My wife’s spiritual health would be my responsibility. Providing spiritual leadership would be my sole responsibility as the “head” of a Christian home. I would also be the bread-winner for our family, earning enough money to provide for all of our needs. I would have the deciding vote regarding all major life decisions, regardless of my level of knowledge or experience with a given issue.
Failure to shoulder this burden was referred to as shirking God’s call on my life to be a servant-leader to my family. The Bible and the commentaries I was reading seemed to confirm that these responsibilities were God-ordained. Though I accepted what I was taught as “the infallible word of God,” and believed that it was communicated to me by godly men that I could trust, I began to have questions.