Sunday, January 28, 2007

Finally Has It Right

As one who has been known to exaggerate from time to time, I'm not sure how to properly emphasize how incredibly timely and important is John Stackhouse's 2005 book, Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender.

Almost everyone will find something in this book to make them feel uncomfortable, as indicated on the book cover, which says, "Why Both Sides Are Wrong--and Right." But as I was reading it I was reminded of Chesterton's classic description of Christianity itself, where he said that perhaps when everyone thinks something is the wrong shape, sometimes even opposite ones--i.e. one says it is too round, another that it is too square, and still another that it is too triangular--then maybe what we are facing is one thing which is actually and finally the right shape.

Certainly Stackhouse does not offer this book as the final story on the gender roles issue. He is clear to offer a new paradigm which seeks to take the best of each and combine them in a practicable theology of gender. Like a good theologian he asks not only "what do we think is true" but also "what do we do?" His answer in this case may be frustratingly slippery in its openness to contextual application, controversially egalitarian in its ideals (as the title suggests), and extremely challenging in its call to gospel priorities--but what else would you expect from a good answer in a fallen world?

The strength of this book is that instead of trying to explain away or defend the patriarchy contained in the Bible it seeks to understand it in light of the larger picture of revelation; that of equality and mutuality (see Gen 1-2 and Gal 3-4) as redeemed in Christ. It confesses that Paul gives some patriarchalist instructions and admits that Jesus, while breaking social mores, does not come out as a feminist revolutionary either. However, instead of using this to give patriarchy a divine basis, Stackhouse recognizes that Jesus and Paul meant to get first things first. First, the establishment of the eternal gospel in the world. If Christianity in the first century, or Mosaic Law in the Ancient Near East, makes feminism or abolition its "cause", it is highly likely that the redemptive story culminating in the gospel (which is of more eternal significance than any cause, even if that cause is derived from it) does not get off the ground.

So the complimentarian is left to consider the possiblity that the very fact that Scripture is debatable (at best) in its permanent and universal support of patriarchy might suggest that patriarchy belongs in the ranks of slavery and not with homosexuality (as the slippery slope people love to say). Likewise, the egalitarian is left to consider the possibility that while a Christian should work toward a good cause, every cause, no matter what, is secondary next to the spread of the gospel. There is much discussion to be had on when and how, then, a person makes an outright stand for what is right, but as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers showed, there is a huge difference between a cause that keeps the gospel of Christ number one and a cause that operates for itself alone.

Incidentally, since our culture is officially egalitarian, I agree with Stackhouse that the time has come for patriarchy to give way to what even Paul seems to have been striving for (as seen in the examples of Junia, Lydia, Priscilla, and even his injuction for women to learn at home). That does not mean that there won't be patience and grace required in many local churches, however, in fact it means that we can count ourselves with Moses and Martin Luther King Jr if we keep first things first and strive for something in a Christ-like way and still never get to step foot in the promised land. Quite a challenge.

I hesitate to call this the best book I've ever read, since it is not even trying at anything close to the broad profundity of a Mere Christianity or an Orthodoxy. However, I will say that this book for me will go down in a category with some of the most timely and important books I've ever read. Titles such as Soul Survivor, True Sprituality, Searching for God Knows What, In the Name of Jesus, and the two already named above. If you know me (or if you check my archives) you know that is quite a compliment.

But I'm really not trying to flatter this book or its author. Quite honestly what I'm saying is that I think almost every Christian today needs to read this book. I'll say that again: I think you need to read this book.

Maybe you are in a rocky time and need something more comforting than bracing. That would be an exception. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the gender roles debate per se (even though I doubt you are untouched by this issue either in home, church or society). In that case you'll have to check out some of the other books which tackle the biblical texts in detail. But if you read this book first you will be in the remarkable advantage of being set straight from the get-go.

That's the best way to describe this book. It doesn't give all the answers, it doesn't exegete every relevant text (that has been done to death on both sides of the debate and has yielded little in the way of consensus), and it doesn't even claim to be neutral, but it also doesn't pull any punches and it definitely sets us straight. Speaking articulately and accurately also to the issues of hermeneutics, practical theology, church dialogue, slippery slopes, and, most importantly, gospel priorities; Stackhouse hits the nail on the head time and time again. He rejects biblicism, cultural reactionism, and intuitionism (to invent a few words) and calls us to follow Jesus by his Word and his Spirit.

Having been on quite a journey with this issue myself, it felt like this book was the end of a long path through a forest opening up to a field of play. Mind you, I suppose the illustration could be reversed to say that I've been playing all along and now it is time to take the hard trail. Make no mistake about it, the challenge in this book is hard to take, for anyone. But its right. (Even as I write this I have to remind myself that, as a man, all this is actually "easy for me to say".)

Read it and see if you disagree. I'd really love to hear why. We could certainly have good dialogue and learn from each other, which for far too long has been a rarity rather than the rule for Christians in this world.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The So-Called Revolution

I wrote a book review for Relevant Magazine before Christmas on George Barna's Revolution. You can access it from the link in the sidebar. If you like. I tried to be fair to the book, it had its good points and what I thought were bad points. Or at least a bad emphasis. I think a pollster such as this can give a good wake up call to the church, and that this one in particular is much needed. But I think all he did with his "revolution" rhetoric was raise the church-drop out rate and fan the flames of individualism. So I said so.

Check out one of the comments my article got:

"Yet another sophmoric attempt at literary and social criticism by team Relevant. I'm running out of hope for this enterprise, it started out with promise, but is devolving into something with far too little substance, and far too derivative a style."

Sweet, eh? I have to admit that is hard to swallow. But hey, I stand by what I said, and I thought I packed as much content as possible in the allotted words I had to work with. Feel free to check it out.

All I have left to say is this: The real revolutionaries are the ones who are able to patiently and graciously and gently speak the truth in love in their church and bring change on God's timing rather than on the turtle's pace of the rutted and the hare's pace of the militant. Some will stand for nothing but their same old same old and some will stand for nothing but their cutting edge ideals. And as long as we fail to allow Christ to work it out among us we are all missing the Point, or should I say the Crux, of the matter.

Sticking with your church is not institutionalism, it is loving the church as Christ has loved you, it is trusting God's redemptive plan, and it is believing enough in biblical ideals to see them through--in real life and with real people--and learning a few things yourself along the way. I guess that's what I meant to say. It seems maybe it didn't come across.

By the way, I'm not the only one seeing Barna this way. Dr. Franklin Pyles says similar things in his blog, or at greater length even, in his pastoral letter. Just in case you want to read more on this.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

More of the Women Issue

I just finished posting a comment on another blog where a debate on the gender roles question is going on. This is a complex issue, and I am trying to learn to be gracious and thoughtful about it. Anyway, I thought maybe I'd post my comment here because it also summarizes some of the stuff I discovered in my most recent paper (which I mentioned in my last post).

All I can say is that when Paul says the woman was made for the man, he is talking about “being the glory of man” (which no heterosexual man can deny), not some sort of ownership. Besides, a couple verse later Paul jumbles up the order lest anyone take it too far. One other thing, people keep hearkening back to creation order, but when Paul does this I think it has more to do with the long-cultured idea of promigeniture (or firstborn status), and not some inherent dominion over women that is given to man. And even promigeniture is a rule that in God’s redemptive plan seems to have been made to be broken (i.e. Jacob, Judah, etc).

Also, while I haven’t read every word of the comments above, I should note that the word “helper” is used of God more than anyone else in the Old Testmant, as in God helping humans, so to say it implies subordination is to read a lot into the Hebrew word based on our English translation.

And when you read the creation account you see a build up of this idea of mutuality in the human race, never more sacredly reflected than in the marriage relationship. Then comes the fall and it reads like a messing up of the whole thing. But if you look at the first two chapters of Genesis you are hard-pressed to find patriarchy unless you have those glasses on already. Which I’ll sadly admit, for most of my life I have had.

I am extremely grateful for the gracious way many egalitarians have continued to dialogue on this, and they can count me as one of the won over. Having said that, I resist the “fight” mentality, and even in disagreeing with complimentarians I simply ask them to not discount us egalitarians as liberal nutcases or even militant feminists (although there will be those) and to just keep in the dialogue, all of us who have been saved by the grace of Jesus speaking the truth in love. If we can do that, no matter what decision we make, we can be sure we’ll be glorifying Christ at least through the dialogue itself.

thank you.

You can find the blog thread here as well as a great article this lady wrote in "Books and Culture" which originally led me to her blog (which has little to do with the issue of women actually, far as I can tell). I highly recommend this B & C article. I really want to read John Stackhouse's book, "Finally Feminist".

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Review of A Review

Today I'm writing a paper on "Gender in Light of Creation" which is at present about 10 pages too long, so, needless to say I am slicing and dicing. The following is an exerpt that doesn't quite fit but which I could not bear to throw in the trash. It is basically a review of a book review.

This guy in "The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" (which I think can be a somewhat helpful but mostly invigorating publication) was reviewing Donald Miller's book To Own A Dragon, and adding to what I think Tony Campolo refers to as "Great Adventures in Missing the Point". So here's my two cents on the issue. I could probably say more, but as mentioned, I have some editing to do. Maybe a few of you want to check up on this and tell me what you think. I find this issue quite interesting and important.

It is not uncommon for people to joke about what it means to be a "real man" or "woman", but for many today there seem to be genuine questions behind the jokes. In his book about growing up as a boy without a father, Donald Miller reflects on the alienation he felt at various evangelical men’s conferences which played upon stereotypical male identities in order to promote healthy manhood. In spite of these well-intentioned conferences, he writes, "I spent a lot of time believing I wasn’t a man because I didn’t like football analogies, or because I didn’t want to put a cheesy bumper sticker on my car."

This is why when he was given the opportunity to speak to 900 college men he decided to cut through the confusion with some affirmation and clarity, by telling them that biblically the one thing it takes to be a real man is a penis.

This prompted one reviewer to write: "Is Miller really approaching a biblical definition of manhood when he distinguishes between what a man does and what a man is? Does the Bible not speak of manhood specifically in the terms some of these students provide (Matt 7:9-11; Eph 6:4; 1 Tim 5:8)?"

Upon inspection, these passages do call men to certain ideals, but when one looks at the creation account to see how exactly the Bible defines manhood, like Miller says, there is a surprising lack of specifics. It is interesting that a journal for biblical manhood could miss the point of what Miller was saying. In an age of gender-confusion, boys and girls need to be affirmed in their manhood or womanhood and not sown seeds of doubt in every area where they don’t measure up or don’t match the stereotypes.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Andrei Rublev

I watched a remarkable movie the other night. Actually, correct that, I finished a remarkable movie the other night. The thing is 3 1/2 hours long and I've been watching it for months. But this time I turned it on at the half way point and couldn't stop until it was over. Even then I had to watch 45 minutes of special features before I could go to bed.

I'm not sure whether to recommend this film because, quite frankly, a lot of people might hate me for it. It isn't your usual film. The director himself hates usual film. Hollywood stuff. And yeah I guess there are movie snobs out there and this gets talked about all the time but let me rehash it again.

There are two kinds of movie out there. One is where the director shows you a story and basically tries to convey a feeling for you. In other words, you are shown not only what happens but how to look at what happens and so you have what is for the most part a pre-fabricated experience. You are willingly manipulated, you might say.

The other type of movie is where they try to tell you a story but they don't spell out for you how to feel about it, or even tell you what the story is. They just show you as much as they can, they try to do it beautifully, and they let you experience it for yourself. These are the films that leave you moved, leave you thinking, leave you wanting to talk to others about it and enhance the experience by sharing it with others and bouncing it around and seeing what just happened to you. This isn't the same as a thoughtless plot full of holes. It still has to be a story. (The ending of Planet of the Apes (the new version) does not make it one of these films. Stupid doesn't count).

I'm not sure either film method is bad, per se, nor do I think there is a clear line between them. But I am coming to prefer the latter type of film far more. It is more like reading. And I love reading. I'm not saying I dislike all of the former types of films (in fact, one of my favourites, 12 Monkeys, would probably fit in that category), but I do think most of them suck. Am I a movie snob? Maybe. But no more than anyone who tells me I "just have to see" The Matrix or something like that.

With Hollywood type movies, let's face it, you have to want the experience you are being handed. And in most cases, with what Hollywood is trying to hand me, I'm not interested. In fact, I'm repulsed. The director of Andrei Rublev is not a big fan of that kind of stuff. In fact he says it is not art. He says that art must be complex, and must allow its audience to have multitude of different experiences of the same experience. He also says that art would not exist in a perfect world, because there would be no need to try to make sense of anything, or sort through any mess, or depict anything. We'd all just get it and there would be no mystery to explore. He has an intriguing point, and I'm not sure what the ramifications are for those who think we are going to do nothing but sing in heaven.

But that's another issue, and not what I'm talking about here.

With Andrei Rublev I'm not sure I agree with everything it is saying. I'm not sure what it is saying. But I came away from it feeling like I had visited another century and another place. I felt like for the first time I sort of understood the Eastern Orthodox; understood "Mother Russia"; understood icons in religion. I also saw myself or others in the characters and was moved by the depiction of the common human/religious struggle. And I feel enriched for the experience.

This was a great film. Believe it or not I actually think I'm going to watch it again. I'll appreciate it more the second time around methinks.

So, I don't know what to tell you. You won't be able to rent this movie I don't think. Many probably won't want to. But if you want a new experience; if you want to have that sense of reading a book but don't want to read all that much; if you want a truly magnificent film experience: Well, get your hands on Andrei Rublev. It is beautiful. A masterpeice.

Below is a still from one of my favourite scenes. A horse getting off the ground. Awesome.

Friday, January 05, 2007


This holiday season I've been reading book two of C.S. Lewis' space trilogy: Perelandra, also known as Voyage to Venus. Having passed the greatest chapter of fiction ever written (chapter three) and well into chapter six, I've been jotting down page numbers that will be worth going back to read again for their theological or spiritual profundity. Often I find fiction can capture things in ways systematics can not. There are several exerpts I could share here, but here's one that I read this morning.

Basically what you need to know is that the main character of the series, Ransom, has been transported to Venus (that part of the Deep Heavens known as Perelandra) and seems to have some sort of mission to accomplish. As he meets one of the two first inhabitants of this world he realizes that this may indeed be a place untouched by evil in the same way as Thulcandra, or earth (known by other worlds as "the silent planet"). After a crazy conversation with the naked green woman of Perelandra, Ransom notices a Presence in this world that he must come to grips with. Now here is the exerpt:

That sense of being in Someone's presence which had descended on him with such unbearable pressure during the very first moments of his conversation with the Lady did not disappear when he had left her. It was, if anything, increased. Her society had been, if anything, a protection against it, and her absence left him not to solitude but to a more formidable kind of privacy. At first it was almost intolerable .... later on, he discovered that it was intolerable only at certain moments--at just those moments in fact ... when a man asserts his independence and feels that now at last he's on his own. When you felt like that, then the very air seemed too crowded to breathe; a complete fulness seemed to be excluding you from a place which, nevertheless, you were unable to leave. But when you gave in to the thing, gave yourself up to it, there was no burden to be borne. It became not a load but a medium, a sort of splendour as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well. Taken the wrong way, it suffocated; taken the right way, it made terrestrial life seem, by comparison, a vacuum. At first, of course, the wrong moments occurred pretty often. But like a man who has a wound that hurts him in certain positions and who gradually learns to avoid those positions, Ransom learned not to make that inner gesture.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2007: A Space Oddity

I don't put a lot of stock in New Years. Last year I was in bed by 11 on New Year's Eve. This year I managed to make it to 12:30 because I started watching "Ordinary People" at 10. What a great movie. I read the book by Judith Guest this Christmas and it was excellent. The movie actually portrays it well though. It won an Oscar actually.

Anyway, that's not really what I wanted to talk about. I was just thinking about new years and all the hype and nostalgia, hope and forecasting. I don't really have anything to add to all that. Its just another day in my books. It usually takes me until February to remember what year to put on my cheques.

However, I tend to be fairly reflective on many days, and so on New Years I am reflecting a bit about the fact that as a kid there was no way I ever thought I'd see this day. I didn't think the world would make it to 2000. I was sure the Lord would return by then and it would all be over. Now I'd be surprised if he came in my lifetime. (Of course, he is most likely to come when we least expect it so what does that tell you?)

And Ordinary People has made me reflect about being real. See the movie or read the book and you'll know what I mean. How we long to have people we can be real with. But how scary it is when we are real with each other. True communion is very messy, and risky, and worth it. I am thankful this New Years that God is With Us, whether he is coming tomorrow or in a thousand years. This is very gracious and good of Him. I am also thankful that I have some friends and family who are God's nearness to me. They have for some reason or another sought and allowed true communion with me and I would not want to know who I would be today without them.

Thank God for friends who stick closer than a brother, and siblings who also manage to be friends. To you I dedicate Chesterton's pithy little poem (paraphrased), one of my all time favourites:

The sun rises on another day

Why do I deserve another?