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Commentary Let Her Lead Life Ministry Theology

The Gift of Strong Women

My wife, Carly, is a strong woman. I knew this before we even started dating because we did ministry side-by-side as college students, especially with international students.

Sure, she was on the quieter side, but when she spoke, no one wondered where she stood on an issue.[1]

I was never threatened by Carly’s strength, her candor, her voice. At least I don’t think so. That all seemed quite normal to me because I’ve been surrounded by strong women my entire life.

My mom, my sister, both my grandmothers, my mom’s sister and sisters-in-law, my cousins (most of whom walk with Jesus). The women from our church in New York I mentioned in my last post.

All of them were strong.

Decisive. Fearless. Convicted. Dedicated.

Every single one of them.

So much for biblical womanhood.

This is Carly, too.

Throughout our marriage, Carly has been gracious and patient as I’ve learned to listen to her voice, understand her perspective, heed her warnings, take her advice, and yes, submit to her expertise or opinion often. (I’m still learning, of course. I wish I could say that I always do these things!)

Carly’s devoted to Jesus and incredibly gifted and capable. She’s passionate about serving the church and more than willing. We share similar interests, perspective on biblical issues, and even some spiritual gifts. But in terms of personality, style, demeanor, and how we process and act on information, we’re quite different. In fact, we’re pretty complementary in that way.

When it came to ministering as partners in a local church setting, however, it was somewhat of a mystery that plagued us both.

As a complementarian couple in a complementarian church, what does ministry look like together?

Or should that even be a thing?

We thought it should. Theologically, we were in a bind. What happens when the wife is strong and has spiritual gifts traditionally “reserved” for males?

So during the interim period when our local church was looking for its next lead pastor, Carly and I sensed that role was not for me. God seemed to be calling us to pursue a new ministry together.

As it turned out (terrible story telling, I know, but we have to keep this thing moving), God provided an opportunity for us to join the staff of the organization we were involved with in college–Cru.[2]

Cru, which is not a local church and exists outside the bounds of a particular church denomination, doesn’t take a theological stance on gender roles. Functionally, however, it does: women can lead in any capacity. Currently, the director of campus ministry in the U.S. is a woman.

Serving in a parachurch organization would not only give us both a chance to minister the gospel, but would allow Carly to exercise her gifts, teaching in particular, without violating our complementarian convictions in a local church (which, as I mentioned in my last post, were already crumbling).[3]

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

As we’ve navigated local church and parachurch ministry as a couple, I got glimpses of what Carly had seen and experienced in the male-dominated church world through her distinctive feminine eyes.

It was like Ben Stein showed up and gave me a drop of Clear Eyes to refresh my theological vision. Godly women aren’t simply called to be silent submitters to ego-fragile men. Seeing this led to thinking long and hard about how the gifts of women–especially leadership, wisdom, discernment, and teaching (those traditionally reserved for men!)–actually fit in most churches today.

As if all that wasn’t enough, God has given Carly and me two daughters who are nothing if not strong. One takes charge; the other will not back down. What’s more is that they love Jesus. They are increasing in their knowledge of the Bible and understanding of the gospel every single day.

I had to ask myself, What if they want to preach? teach? lead? What if they are mature, able, and willing to do so? What would I say to them?

Not only did these strong women prompt these important questions, they helped me see that their gifts, skills, maturity, and passions were necessary and essential in the church.

Strong women aren’t a problem to be managed or eliminated. They are a gift to the church, especially its men.

Having these strong women in my life–my wife being the foremost–opened my eyes to the major blind spots and inconsistencies in the complementarian framework I had failed to see for so long.

We’ll look at these in tomorrow’s post. Then (finally!), we’ll turn to the biblical text to see what it has to say about women in ministry and how we might consider making applications in our context today.


Notes

[1] I certainly didn’t wonder where she stood when she called me out for basically treating her like a girlfriend even though we weren’t officially dating. But that’s a story for another day.

[2] Cru is the ministry formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ.

[3] “Parachurch” is a term used for ministry organizations that are not a local church. Even a seminary or publishing company associated with a denomination would be considered a “parachurch.” The prefix “para” comes from the Greek word para meaning “alongside” or “beside.” A parachurch ministry, at least in theory, is designed to function alongside or in cooperation with local churches. Still, we continued to wonder: if women weren’t allowed to teach men in a church setting, why should they be able to in a parachurch/campus ministry setting? It’s interesting to note that this idea seems to be unique to Protestants, however. The Roman Catholic Church, it seems to me, considers their seminaries, schools, hospitals, humanitarian ministries, etc. part and parcel of their mission. Read more here and here.

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Theology

C is for Christocentric

How do you read the Bible? To find rules to obey, to discover spiritual insights for your life path, or memorize answers for doctrinal debate?  Dane Ortlund posted several weeks back on the Resurgence blog about transforming your Bible reading.  He wrote, “Biblical theology reads the Bible as an unfolding drama, taking place in real-world time and space, that culminates in a man named Jesus.”

We call this type of theology “Christocentric” (aka “Christ-centered”). The Bible is truly God’s grand story of redemption in the world he created, and that redemption is found and fulfilled in Jesus.  Therefore, the way we view the creation, the fall, redemption, and future glory should be centered upon him.

If we have an anthropocentric (aka human-centered) view of the world or Scripture, we will inevitably make life and redemption about us. Grace will not longer be grace, and we will make God a debtor to us.  Salvation will not be a free gift–it will be something we have earned and deserve.

We cannot even have a view of the world and redemption that is centered on others. Why? Because no human being–not even a spouse or child–can bear that responsiblity.  Ernest Becker wrote, “If your partner is your ‘All’ then any shortcoming in him becomes a major threat to you…What is it that we want when we elevate the love partner to this position?…We want to be rid of…our feeling of nothingness…We want redemption–nothing less. Needless to say, humans cannot give this.”

The Bible does not let us go either of those ways, however.  We could discuss dozens of passages all over the Bible that declare this, but one passage in particular stands out about the rest in calling us to a Christocentric view of Scripture and all of life.  Colossians 1:15-22 says:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.

How glorious!  We could spend years on this paragraph, but notice the linchpin of the text: all things were created through him and for him. Was anything made through you or for you, or through or for any other human for that matter?  I don’t think so.

If my world is Jamescentric, I will be a miserable and mean wretch of a man, isolated from others and void of purpose, meaning, significance, and love. But if my world is Christocentric, Jesus will be my supreme delight and ultimate end, and in him there is complete joy and pleasure forevermore (Ps. 16:11).

Categories
Life Theology

Saturday Morning Potpourri

Do you ever feel like you get so busy in life that you only work in your life and not on your life? In other words, how much time do you spend intentionally thinking about actions that need to be taken and then actually do them? Most of us, and I have felt this of late, simply react to what life brings.

Not a lot of intentionality — just reactivity.  Not a lot of preparation–just muddled busyness that general life brings.

I’m talking about spiritual things here. Killing sin, memorizing scripture, pursuing my wife, serving people, investing in men. These are the things that matter. These are the things I must be proactive about, because if I’m reactive, I will find myself in a heap of trouble.

There’s nothing terribly theological I want to say about this. I’ll leave it at this: I’m working on trying to work on my life.

As a quick update:

  • Carly will be 17 weeks pregnant on Tuesday. We heard the baby’s heartbeat a few weeks back. One-hundred and fifty-three strong beats per minute! We find out the gender on April 12. We both feel like it’s a boy. But Carly still knows that little girl clothes are cuter than little boy clothes.
  • Some of you know that I’ve been raising financial support to work in a pastoral training program, of sorts, at my church as an intern with our lead pastor. It’s nothing formal–in fact, our church has never had a pastoral intern before. It will be extremely experimental, but hopefully very formative for me, and helpful to our church. Alongside this practical training, I’ll be starting distance seminary in the fall (probably right around when our baby is due–yikes!). Our support is nearly finished, so I’ll be working at our church full-time in May.
  • As for personal study and reading, I’m working slowly through Romans–which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve been following the blog in the last few months. That has been challenging, but so beneficial. As for other books, I’m currently re-reading Desiring God by John Piper, and reading The Reason for God by Tim Keller, The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels, and The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett.

God has been so faithful. He is faithful to me even when I let the busyness of life intrude. He is faithful to keep my wife and our baby healthy during pregnancy. He is faithful when I don’t study the Bible as carefully and patiently as I ought. He has been faithful to raise my salary, through generous family and friends, so that I might begin preparing for what he has called me to do with my life.

And most importantly, God is faithful when I sin, which happens daily–probably hourly–and he continually points me back to his Son Jesus. It sounds crazy to the world to say that if I lost everything and still had Jesus I would have enough, but it’s true. What a precious and wonderful Savior to such an unworthy people!

Categories
Life

Happy Birthday to My Wife

Today is my wife’s 24th birthday. I love you Carly!  If the Lord wills, I will spend many, many more birthdays with you, and that, my love, is very thrilling to me.

(Speaking of my wife, she just posted an incredible talk on her blog called “Life’s Too Short to Just Admire.”  She gave the message to some college students in Lincoln a couple weeks back.  It’s worth your time, I promise.)

Categories
Life

Who do you want to be with when you go to heaven?

John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach, died yesterday at the age of 99.  John Wooden was a great basketball coach, but an even more incredible human being.  He was a Christian, and is now with Jesus.  Loving God was more important to him than Final Fours or X’s and O’s.  So we don’t mourn the loss of this person — we celebrate his life and rejoice that he’s with the Lord. 

At the same time, our thoughts are with the Wooden family — even when someone is 99 years old and their eternity is set, it’s still not easy when they take their last breath.  Until death is destroyed when Jesus returns, death will always be (as it should) strange.  We were created to live in constant, intimate fellowship with God. Sin ruined that. Death is not right and one day, Jesus will fix that.

Today, when I was watching ESPN’s coverage of Wooden’s death, I read a quote from Wooden’s children.  They were thankful for their father’s guidance and love and then they said, for me, the most discomforting thing they could have said: "Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish."

That seems wonderful and spiritual.  But the sad part is this: as great as it might seem to be reuinted with loved ones gone before us, that is not our peace of mind.  Our peace of mind is this: "[Jesus said] ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’" (John 11:25-26).  John Wooden is with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, Creator of the universe, Savior of the world, at this very moment.  No doubt he has seen his wife and had a conversation or two with her, but his true delight — truer than any day on this sinful earth — is to be at the feet of his crucified and risen Lord.

I realize that I’m treading deep water because many of you may have loved ones — even spouses — who are in heaven, and you want to be with them.  That’s not a bad thing.  It’s just not the ultimate thing.  Remember that even Jesus said, "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Matt. 22:30).  Why? Because Jesus will be our Groom, and we, the Church, will be his Bride. 

I love my wife, Carly, more than any person in the world. And I want to grow to love her more. She knows this, and I know she would say the same about me. But, as much as I love her, my prayer is that if I am on my death bed and she is already with Jesus, I would not say, "I can’t wait to be with her."  I pray that I would say, "I cannot wait to be with my precious Jesus."  And even more, I pray that my children say of me when I die, "Our peace and hope and joy is that our dad is with Jesus."