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.
The Libyan seashore looks beautiful, with waves coming into the pale sands. The line of orange jumpsuit clad men on their knees is striking in contrast. The horrible men wearing black standing behind them adds a menacing tone to the scene.
The death of 21 Coptic Christians at the hands of ISIS is horrific and painful, and yet for me there is a small but important ray of hope in the midst of the pain. For these men died as martyrs, thus joining the long line of men and women who have given their earthly lives for the sake of the Gospel.
In this profound piece, Ramez Attalah, General Director of the Bible Society of Egypt, quotes a young worker in his office responding to the news with hope:
“I am encouraged” she said, “because now I know that what we have been taught in history books about Egyptian Christians being martyred for their faith is not just history but that there are Christians today who are brave enough to face death rather than deny their Lord! When I saw these young men praying as they were being prepared for execution and then many of them shouting “O Lord Jesus” as their throats were being slit, I realized that the Gospel message can still help us to hold on to the promises of God even when facing death!”
This young woman’s words remind me of this famous quote:
“We (Christians) are not a new philosophy but a divine revelation. That’s why you can’t just exterminate us; the more you kill the more we are. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Who penned these words?
You guessed it. It’s Tertullian. The quote is from perhaps his most famous work, Apologeticum, written in or about 197AD.
I spend my time on this blog sparring with Tertullian, and rightly so, given his teaching on women. But, today, I’m not challenging Tertullian…
I’m agreeing with Tertullian.
Rest in peace, men of the cross.
Note: As you read this, I’m in Costa Rica leading a team of college students on a 2 week service project. So enjoy this flashback post; it’s the #4 most shared post of all time on Challenging Tertullian.
About 8 years ago now, I got called a “false teacher.” Yes, that still happens. A brother in Christ who barely knew me sat me down and told me that because I was allowing women to teach the Scriptures in the ministry I was leading, I would be held accountable for my false teaching.
Wow. The accusation was painful for me, and it sent me into a months-long quest to learn as much as possible about the theology around the topic of women in leadership. I read, studied, prayed, talked, debated and then read some more. And when I was done with that intense burst of learning, my reading of the Scriptures continued to lead me to the conviction that men and women are to be full partners together in ministry and, in particular, that women are to be free (better yet, empowered) to lead in the Kingdom according to their gifting.
But here’s the catch. When I emerged from this season of learning, I was militant. I mean, if you disagreed with me, I had no time for you. Looking back, I think the experience of being rebuked very nearly turned me into a rebuker! Pretty quickly, the issue of women in authority became a litmus test for me: if you agreed with me, we were cool. If you didn’t, we had problems.
Thankfully, God provoked a trusted mentor to challenge my posture. This guy sat me down one day and basically said, “Rob, I’m concerned that you’re headed toward becoming like that guy. You need to learn how to hold your convictions with humility.”
“Hold your convictions with humility.” That right there is a good word. Amen? Particularly when things are unclear or in dispute, we must be humble. Still further, 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.
It’s in the spirit of that last statement that I want to introduce a new category on the blog, called “Throwing Tertullian a Bone.” You see, while it’s true that Tertullian had some really bad things to say about women, he also had a lot of great things to say about what it is to pursue Jesus. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll still throw him under the bus from time to time. And yet in the next keystroke, I’ll remind myself and my readers that though we may disagree on one thing, the reality is we agree about far more.
So, enjoy this quote from Tertullian. This is quoted by Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert in his 1895 Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers:
We worship unity in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the person nor dividing the substance. There is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost; but the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
Pretty good, eh?
There I was, reading author and pastor John Ortberg’s recent book Who is this Man?, and I came across this quote, from Tertullian, describing how early Christians became known for their love and compassion:
“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”
Pretty good right? I mean, may it be so today!
Don’t get me wrong. I wish Tertullian had applied the thought to the women in his day, that his vision for the “brand” was not gender specific. But as a stand alone quote, it’s pretty solid.
And it’s certainly true of Jesus.
In chapter 4, Ortberg puts Jesus’ treatment of women under the microscope. As he does, it’s clear that Jesus not only treats women with compassion, but also with dignity, respect and trust. In many ways, Jesus turns the prevailing culture regarding women on its head.
For instance, here’s Ortberg’s take on how Jesus empowered women to serve alongside men in his ministry, from Luke 8:1-3:
“Jesus offered women a new community.
‘After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women…: Mary (called Magdalene)…; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
We can overlook how shocking this arrangement would have been in the ancient world. Women did not travel with men. They often were encouraged to simply remain indoors…
Jesus had women and men travel and study and learn and do ministry together. Imagine what kind of rumors flew around.”
As I’ve begun engaging issues of male privilege in particular and gender equality and partnership more broadly, sometimes I find myself primarily speaking the language of sociology. After all, there’s culture to critique, social interactions to reconsider and language to challenge.
So, now and then, it’s important to remember that this is all about Jesus.
Fully engaged as the incarnate God.
Free with power.
Friend to women.
Sure, Tertullian is the guy who said all sorts of misogynistic things about the women of his day. He did.
But then he also said this:
“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. ” (Ad Uxorem II, 8, 7)
Pretty good, right?
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, in case you missed the millions of Mother’s Day memes posted on Tumblr. Or the mom and kid candids that graced facebook walls. Or the 140 character twitter tributes.
In that spirit, and in the spirit of Tertullian’s celebration of marriage, I thought I would use this space today to celebrate and honor the best mom we’ve here in the Dixon house. After all, not only was yesterday Mother’s Day, today is Amy’s birthday.
But when I went to her to ask if I could dedicate a post to how generous she is with others, how patient she is with our kids, how creative she is with her stories, how stinkin’ wise she is always, how humble she aspires to be, how serious she is about growing in her faith, how I love how we are constantly on the same page about the things that matter, how every morning I wake up thanking God that I get to be married to this amazing person…
…when I asked her if I could share these things, if I could shout them from the cyber rooftops…
…she said “no.”
So I won’t. I’ll take a pass. Instead I’ll just say, “When it comes to my marriage, I agree with Tertullian.”
So after this week, I’m just 4 months away from my Masters. It’s been an awesome journey. And all that stands in my way now is this: 9 books to read, 5 book reports, 4 reflection papers, 2 term papers and then my final project.
Piece of cake.
As I come to the end, I’m looking back at major themes, and one big idea that we’ve hit class after class is the reality of the Trinity. You know, that theological doctrine that says that God, Jesus and Spirit are one yet distinct? If you grew up in the church, it’s the bit of theology that youth pastors have spent years trying to cook up just the right analogy for. You know, a three-legged stool, three-space, the three states of water and the like.
As it turns out, Tertullian was one of the primary shapers of our understanding of the Trinity. Yep, our Tertullian. In his work Adversus Praxeam, he wrote this:
“…while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.”
So for the last two years, Tertullian has helped me conceive of a trinitarian theology that applies to everything from the mission of God to the built environment. The hallmarks of a trinitarian understanding are concepts such as equality, interdependence and the all-encompassing reality of relationship.
This said, for some reason, Tertullian wasn’t able to apply this line of thinking to his theologies around gender. Remember his take on women?
“You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”
Equal, interdependent and relational? Not so much.
So for the next few posts, I want to endeavour to redeem Tertullian’s thinking by applying his trinitarian theological framework to the relationship between the genders. How does the unified, interdependent, relational reality of the Trinity factor into how men and women ought to relate to one another? And what are the implications for male privilege?
Stay tuned and we’ll find out together.
What about you? How do you see the Trinity factoring into the conversation about the relationship between the genders?
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?