On Trusting God Rather than Freaking Out

I’ve been enjoying teaching the basic concepts of my book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World to students gathered for the annual conference of the Tertiary Students Christian Fellowship (= IFES = IVCF = UCCF) in New Zealand. This morning I found myself articulating a feeling that’s been growing within me since the American Supreme Court decided, barely, to make same-sex marriage legal in the United States. And that feeling is this: Keep Calm and Carry On.

Downstream of the Canadian Parliament’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage almost a decade ago, it is increasingly perilous in Canada today to articulate any position other than full-on endorsement of same-sex marriage—even if you get anyone in the mainstream media or among the cultural elites to give you a listen, which is becoming rare indeed. Any position other than The Right One is now met with revulsion in bien-pensant Canadian society, as if one were defending chattel slavery or child pornography. Traditional sexual mores in this regard have very quickly become un-thinkable among many and almost un-sayable in public, for fear of…

Read the rest of this entry »

Better Late than Never…

When I arrived at Regent College in 1998, I looked forward to a lot of good things. One of them was to move on from the debates of the previous decades among evangelical Christians regarding gender in home, church, and society. Regent had already declared itself fully in support of gender equality, training women alongside men in each of its programs and affirming the appropriateness of all vocations for any individual per God’s call on his or her life. I looked forward to applying gender lenses, questions, and interests to theological study in what I hoped would be ever more sophisticated ways among evangelicals—for we had a lot of ground to make up in that regard.

Well, gender equality was Regent’s official stance and general modus operandi. But in its commendable concern to be open to diversity among evangelicals on secondary issues of the faith, Regent also had decided not to make the espousal of Biblical feminism, sometimes called “egalitarianism,” a requirement of each faculty member. So Regent’s faculty included those who did not personally agree with its official position regarding gender, a fact that surfaced from time to time in classrooms and conversations…to the consternation of students who thought that they could take that position for granted among those training them for pastoral work, among other callings.

To this day, I’m not sure we at Regent have been quite able to eat our cake and have it, too. Allowing disagreement regarding gender just isn’t of the same sort as allowing disagreement regarding, say, modes of baptism, the nature of the Lord’s Supper, ecclesiastical polity, or other important, but secondary, matters.

Over my first few years at Regent, however, I encountered another, related, problem. Regent was admitting students who clearly were utterly unaware of the arguments for Biblical gender equality, and some of them didn’t even know that Regent was institutionally committed to that stance. So I was finding that I was having to introduce many, many students to arguments that were years, even decades, old…and was spending time slogging through the most elementary discussions of “headship,” “silence,” “authority,” and the like.

I like teaching, and I like thinking about gender, so I didn’t find this remedial work burdensome so much as I found it regrettable. I had anticipated significantly more advanced discussion—which, to be sure, I did enjoy sometimes with this colleague or that thesis student—but I was spending most of my teaching time on the question rehearsing the ABC’s of the debate.

FFcover Because this phenomenon of a whole Christian generation arising without anyone even suggesting to them that there existed such a literature defending Biblical feminism showed up far beyond Regent’s walls, I undertook to write a small book defending Biblical feminism in a somewhat new way to this new audience. Finally Feminist was published by Baker Academic late in 2005, and it seems to have done some good among individuals and churches across North America and beyond.

Alas, however, a decade later the situation remains the same for many, many young (and not-so-young) Christians. They manifest no serious exposure to solid arguments for Biblical gender equality and have never witnessed or participated in a single solid discussion of the issue.

So this fall, IVP will bring out a revised and expanded version of this book, entitled Partners in Christ: A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism. I hope you’ll consider reading it.

Partners in ChristIn the meanwhile, however, I will be joining with a pretty good line-up of speakers and workshop leaders to educate about, and promote, gender equality among Christians at the annual conference of the Christians for Biblical Equality in Los Angeles. Co-sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary, a school that does insist that each faculty member agree with its express position on this issue, the conference will feature the following speakers, among others:

  • Pastor Eugene Cho, founder of One Day’s Wages, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty”; founder of the Q Café, a community café; and lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle;
  • Pastor Ken Fong, senior pastor at EvergreenLA, the “first English-only multi-Asian American, multiethnic, multigenerational church” and executive director of the Asian American Initiative of Fuller Theological Seminary, where he is assistant professor of Asian American Church Studies;
  • Pastor Adelita Garza, church planter and lead pastor of Puente de Vida/Bridge of Life Church in Santa Paula, CA, and president of the Police Clergy Council and president of the Light of the City Ministry; and
  • Professor Anne Zaki, assistant professor of Practical Theology at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, and the resource development specialist for the Middle East for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

So if you are wrestling with these questions, or if you are just now becoming aware that there are issues to consider (!), please join us for an intense, compact, and possibly life-changing conference: 23-25 July 2015, near LAX.

Then perhaps you, too, can move on to other things….

 

On Sabbaticals

A friend is beginning a sabbatical and asked for advice about how to think about it and use it well. Some thoughts, therefore, from someone who has been blessed by a few so far.

Basic principle: plan it and guard it. Don’t fall into it, exhausted, and then spend days or weeks figuring out what to do. You’ll waste it.

And don’t let other people’s agendas intrude into it and commandeer it. “Well, since you’re off work and have nothing much to do, then how about helping me with my projects?”

No, your time is a gift and a trust from God, whether in work, play, or “sabbaticalling.” Explain to those who need to know that it is not a vacation in the trivial sense of “hanging out.” (Should any vacation be like that?) It is time you have planned to spend in important ways and those plans cannot easily be set aside.

So plan it and guard it.

Now, what kind of sabbatical is it?

Restoring

Some people begin sabbaticals truly needing a sabbath, a holy rest. They may have been driving hard in their jobs, likely also pressing hard on the rest of their lives, and they are in the burnout zone.

As “accomplishers,” they might well set up sabbaticals as what we academicians sometimes call “study leaves” or “research leaves.” But if you need rest, then rest.

Aleksandr Men offers advice pertinent to all of us in this tense culture, but especially to those needing to take a break:

Determine the reasons for the tension. Are they hidden in either physical or mental overexertion, in all-too-frequent and overly tense emotions, or in unduly impatient quests for the ideal? If so, you should remove those reasons, if at all possible. You may need to say no to a certain activity or put it off for a time. You may need to stop reading certain material or going to certain theatrical productions [read: movies, TV, Internet]. Or you may need to throw out certain memories that cause alarm. If this is not possible, then, at the very least, you must find another way to reduce their effect. (An Inner Step toward God, 135)

The Apostle Paul’s advice comes to mind as deeply therapeutic, and it resonates with the best material I’ve read about creative thinking:

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. 

Perhaps you have been neglecting Scripture. Prayerfully pick something sweet and strong to read, and muse on it, unhurriedly, letting God speak to you. (Look up lectio divina and enjoy its practice.)

Perhaps, instead, you have been neglecting fun. Program it! Pick a good TV series and watch an episode every day—but one that will lift your spirits and provoke you to love and good deeds. Read a book, or a bunch of books, that will “take the string off the bow.” (I’ve been impressed by how many truly deep thinkers routinely read espionage, thriller, and mystery novels precisely to relax into a world easy to inhabit, gently intriguing, in which there is a fine moral order despite whatever mayhem initiates the tale.) Sports? Better to do than to watch (although watching, especially with others, can be just what one needs sometimes). Try a new sport or return to a favourite. Let your body move and your mind course along different paths.

Read the rest of this entry »