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Wilbert-166

This is part of a series I’m doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I’d get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, “My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?” My answer was always along the lines of, “If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she’s knit herself to for life, doesn’t fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon.” I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that’s a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It’s impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn’t meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don’t book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don’t spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying “Yes” to my husband and home and “No” to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn’t change the value of what was had before though, and if you’re still single or newly married, I’d encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I’ve experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don’t have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you’d like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it’s common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn’t have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone’s part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don’t want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray “Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend’s]” every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don’t feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I’m afraid we’ll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn’t promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.

If you don’t know who Jen Hatmaker is, or Glennon Melton or Elizabeth Gilbert, or any of the women who seem to inform many of my sisters in Christ these days, you ought to know who they are if only because they are informing many of our sisters in Christ these days. Whether you agree with their recent decisions is between you and the Holy Spirit, but this article from Christianity Today makes a strong case for the problem of outsourcing women’s ministries to the books and blogs and conference line-ups.

If you’re a pastor and you don’t think the women in your church are sitting at the feet of these teachers, or if your perceptions about the women in your church come from what a few say they are listening or not listening to, I’d beg you to read this article with a sober and humble heart. Hannah Anderson’s words at the end are particularly poignant, “If you don’t want women breaking down the doors,” she said, “simply open them for them.”

Nate and I listened to a podcast recently from Malcom Gladwell. I can’t agree with all of his conclusions, but one of his points in this episode was when a group of people make one big concession, or does “one big good deed” as he called it, they are more likely to follow it with a refusal to do more. If you want more context, you can listen here.

It’s easy for men in particular to believe they have opened the doors to women in their church, particularly in complementarian churches, if they have opened the door to one or two who are particularly gifted once or twice. The proof seems to be in the pudding if there is one or two scenarios in which a male pastor can point at and say, “The deed is done. I listened. My door was open to her.” The problem is the circumstances haven’t really changed at all. The involvement of women is not a concession, or shouldn’t be, and complementarians of all people should understand and embrace that. We are, after all, those who espouse, “Equality and Distinctiveness.” We should be celebrating the differences and giving equal “air-time” to women in the church. When we don’t, or when we outsource our women’s events to national conferences or local gatherings led by piped in speakers, we should not be surprised when women find their gurus among internet sensations and New York Times bestsellers, or, consequently, when they find their theology informed more by those leaders than they find it in one sermon once a week—especially if they’re a young mom who ends up missing most of the sermon because of young children. It’s easier to be led by Facebook links and pretty Instagram posts during nap time than it is to be led by a sermon on Sunday morning. Hannah Anderson, Jen Wilkin, and more have written extensively on how to employ and empower women in your congregation, and here’s a long interview I did last year with a pastor in New York City on the subject.

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Practically, if you’re scratching your head thinking you’ve done enough to open the doors to women in your congregation, here are some ways you can open them more:

1. Many young women put off seminary because they don’t have the funds, they do desire marriage, and they do not want to bring debt into marriage. This is a real hinderance for them, and one many men cannot understand. If your church is in a place where they can help fund a woman’s seminary education, this is an excellent way to not only invest in women, but also to provide an open door for her to return (or do distance learning) to serve your local congregation. If your local church is not in a place financially do to this, I recommend making it a priority next year.

2. Providing other education opportunities for women in your church is an excellent way to make sure women are being cared for, not just preached at. Offer to fund a CCEF course for a few counseling minded women and then, this is important, utilize the women who have shown themselves faithful in the practice of counseling, particularly in church discipline and other care cases. I’ve seen too many women go through certifications and call themselves “counselors” who end up giving unwise, unproven, and unbiblical counsel, or whose lives do not match up with what they’re counseling. A certification doesn’t mean a certainty. Vet your counselors, male and female.

3. Hire a woman who is clear thinking and able to hold her own at a table full of strong men. Don’t expect her to be the women’s minister, expect her to speak on behalf of women though, and listen to her. Don’t mansplain things to her. I hate using that word, but it is a thing and it is common even in good, solid, faithful local churches.

4. Don’t thumb your nose at women passionate about “women’s ministry.” It’s gotten a bad rap because of lame crafts and silly table games, but if you have a woman who passionately desires to teach and is able to teach, or able to find teachers in your local congregation, see what she is able to do and help her as much as you’re staffed to do.

5. Instead of sending women in your church to a big national conference every year, hold a smaller local one at your church. Bring in a trusted local teacher or utilize one from your congregation. Allocate funds to this. Don’t skimp.

6. Ask women what they’re reading or who they’re listening to and then do your homework. Don’t dismiss them after a few minutes. These speakers/authors are saying something that is grabbing the attention of hundreds of thousands of women across the country. What is it? What void are they speaking to? What gospel are they preaching? Now ask a few trusted women for some alternative authors, speakers, bloggers. Don’t utilize them as your women’s ministry, but read those women, quote them in your sermons, encourage women to read them or reach out to them. I cannot remember the last time I heard a man quote a woman in his sermon. Be the kind of man who does. There are plenty of women worth quoting.

One of the women I have learned the most from was a strong, somewhat abrasive woman, but her words were powerful, her testimony was true, and her life was witness. Elisabeth Elliot said this of Amy Carmichael,

“If she had been born a hundred years later, she would very likely have been encouraged to be angry, told she had a right to express her anger and her sorrow and her bewilderment and her rage, and generally to disintegrate. These were not the expectations of her friends and family. Nothing could have been further from her expectations of herself. Instead, she threw herself into serving others.” 

You have women who are being told by every voice around them to be themselves, to be angry, to express themselves, but throwing themselves into serving others is the antidote for this. I promise it is. When a woman serves others, she loses herself and finds a better One to worship, to long for, to look at, and to love. Open your doors to the women longing to serve, pastors, and don’t make them fit into little molds of children’s ministry or administration. These things are needed, but they are not the whole, or even a fraction, of what women are gifted to do.

Being a covenant member at The Village Church for five years was a means of grace in my life for that season, a true gift. But even more, learning from the pastors, teachers, elders, and ministers there has been transformative forevermore. The men and women there invested deeply in the empty well of my heart, mind, emotions, and spirit—and continue to do so from afar.

I sometimes fear being the girl who always longs for what she had and can never invest in what she now has, and that fear has kept me from talking much about how grateful I am for my years there. But it is with full faith I can say I am who I am today because of every season of my life—and that particular season was rich and overflowing. I long for my friends and family there daily, but I know God has called us to this day, in this place for His purposes, even if they’re difficult to see today.

All this to preface this:

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One of the most transformative lessons of my time at The Village was sitting under the teaching of Matt regarding equality and complementarity, diversity and distinction. We humans worked it out on the ground at a flawed way for sure, but from the pulpit there was a high regard for the diversity of all people and the equality of every image bearer of God. It was better than any understanding of complementarian, egalitarian, patriarchal, or feminist theology I’d come to understand. It was not a “This way or the highway” view, but a “Come up higher, see how beautiful God is that He would create so intricately and that we would still only understand so partially.” I loved this view of equality and distinction, particularly between genders, because it was never about saying one was better than another or more capable, but about celebrating the differences and the similarities.

A Beautiful Design was the series Matt spent a significant amount of time teasing out these ideas within the framework of the Bible and I’m so grateful Lifeway has put together a study packet on the series. Regardless of your position on gender roles, I think this series presents a level-headed, compelling, rich with the Bible, and beautiful presentation of what it means to be made in the image of God. Matt is imperfect and no Bible study series can communicate all the richness of God’s design perfectly. And I can tell you for sure we stumbled over this all the time on the ground at The Village, but I’m forever grateful it was communicated with beauty and an attempt to come up from the muck of the world’s culture and evangelicalism’s culture and see what the Bible actually said about men, women, their hurdles, their design, and how we need both in full measure within the local church.

If your small group is interested in tackling this nine week study, you can purchase the contents here at Lifeway Christian Resources.*

*I’m not getting paid for this review.

“Crosswicks is a typical New England farmhouse, built sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, so it is well over two-hundred years old. Its square central section has been added to haphazardly over the years, white clapboard somehow tying it all together, so that the house rambles pleasantly and crookedly. A dropped ball will roll right to the central chimneys, and the bookcases we’ve build in are masterpieces of non-alignment.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Madeleine might as well have been talking about our house. One of the oldest Denver proper houses built here, a farm that shrunk and squished until the the past fifty years, when new bungalows and cottages grew as the new farmland crop. Our bookcases lean slightly awaiting the carpentry that will fit them snugly into the next hundred years, I hope. No floor is level, no window the same. But we, like Madeleine, make a home here, fitting ourselves into a thing never finished.

Marriage, too, is a thing unfinished. Brimming with unresolved beauty, always coming round corners to find pleasant surprises, or more corners, but never finished.

I have never deluded myself into thinking marriage would bring all the resolve I longed for or the culmination of all joy. I have been the product of a broken marriage and understand the fragility of two sinners in close quarters till death them do part. Marriage has always been seen as another long walk hand in hand in the same direction, same as any other holy thing. But it is the constant unfinishedness of marriage that surprises me. The same conversations with small changes. We grow, we mature, we lean in to one another, we learn, but we are not there.

Someone says to cut myself some slack, we’re only two months in, but how many months in is it before you feel the creaks and groans of an unsettled house cease? Ten? Twenty five? Seven hundred?

Madeleine writes of practicing piano: “I was working on…the Bach Two-Part Inventions. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions; they are the essential practice needed for the Well-Tempered Clavier.” And I understand her a bit better than I did when last I read her memoir. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions, the marriage, the leaning in, and leaning toward. It is beautiful thing, but it is a thing unfinished.

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One of my favorite things to do is talk about the discipleship of women in their local church contexts. Gospel Centered Discipleship published an interview with me a few weeks ago. It’s long, but they asked great questions and it was a joy getting to think and talk through the answers. I hope if you’re a pastor or ministry leader you’ll take some time to read it. 

. . .

GCD: There are many opinions about what Christian women need most in and from the church. In your opinion, what’s the greatest need for women from the church?

Lore: What women need most is the same as what men need most—to understand and see the power and effects of the gospel made clear in their lives. I think we often think of the men as the gospel proclaimers and the women as the gospel enactors. Men teach and preach, women serve and build. Even if we wouldn’t draw such clear distinctions with our words, it is the way the local church seems to function. In the same way the gospel is for all people, though, the effects of the gospel are for all people all the way through.

GCD: Pastors have not always honored or considered the needs of women in the church. How can pastors grow in their understanding of the needs and meeting the needs of women in the church?

Lore: Ask us! Whenever my pastor is asked by another man how to lead his wife, my pastor says, “I know how to lead my wife. You ask your wife how to lead her!” It’s the same with us. Keep an open dialogue with the women in your local church (not just the wives of your pastors/elders). Many pastors seem to have similar personalities and marry women with similar personalities/giftings, which enables them to minister well to women of the same personalities. But the local church is made up of every personality and gifting. Ask women—aside from your wives—how you can serve them and help them flourish.

Continue reading here. 

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

Religious leaders (including Russel Moore, N.T. Wright, and Rick Warren) are at the Vatican City this week for Humanum. Here’s the first of a six part piece on The Complementarity of Men and Women. Don’t miss it.

Also, if you’re interested, here is Russel Moore’s address (which opens with Wendell Berry, so you know it’s good).

“Each time I read a well-intentioned article on how to make the most of your single years, I scan down to the author’s bio and often discover that, sure enough, he’s married to his college sweetheart, pulling advice from a brief period of adult-singleness years ago.”

This is how I opened a recent article on Christianity Today called Why Singles Belong in Church Leadership. The dearth of singles within leadership positions in churches and ministries these days is saddening to me at best, and alarming at worst. Nearly half of the U.S. population (43.6% according to the 2010 U.S. Census) is single: that’s nearly half the church. Citing Christ and Paul as only two of many examples in the bible, there should be plenty of room for unmarried men and women to serve in key roles within the body of Christ.

With this in mind, I reached out to several friends from around the world who are doing just that. They are all examples of people in different seasons of life (20s into 40s) who have not allowed their singleness to hamper their ministry, but instead use the time and freedom they have to better pursue the Lord with undistracted devotion. My hope is these interviews this will primarily encourage singles to use this season of life in richer ways, but also they will also encourage the Church to consider actively seeking to staff unmarried people in key roles. (Read the article if you want to know why.)

There are obvious limitations for each of us as we walk in our given seasons faithfully, but those limitations haven’t terminated us from ministry. One of my art professors in college used to give us very tight parameters for pieces he assigned. Something like we could only use two colors and one medium, or one color and one shape. Designing within those constraints was a life lesson as well for me. I learned to create from little and trust the boundary lines truly had fallen for me in pleasant places (Ps. 16).

I hope these interviews challenge and encourage you as much as they did me. They’ve been considerably edited for space reasons, but the entirety of the interviews will be available on Friday in a downloadable PDF. I hope you’ll consider the wisdom from these brothers and sisters.

Related articles:

Submitted Single Seeking Friends
Delivering Hope: What being saved through childbearing can mean for the unmarried
Real Men and Real Women: Tough and Tender
Three Things I’m Glad I’ve Done in My Singleness
My Church Has an Amazing Singles Ministry
Giving Singles Land to Till

hunger

If the life of a single, as Paul admonished, is to be undistracted by the world, concerned with the things of the Lord, then unmarried ministers have a unique calling indeed. And it is one the church ought not ignore—or usurp.

Where I live, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, young marriages are common. Younger than the national average at least. Yet few single men and women are involved in ministry. My pastor leads a large church-planting network and I asked him recently, “How many single guys are planting in the network?” He named a mere few. The dearth of undistracted men and women in ministry is sad, but more so, it is alarming.

I am in no way discouraging marriage (I want to be married, after all), but I believe the church can do better in this area. If the trend of delayed marriage continues, we must have men and women who have walked the narrow path of godly singleness teaching those who come after them. The church’s tendency to primarily hire married men and women, for whatever reason—stability, plantedness, longevity—should be reconsidered for multiple reasons.

Read the whole article over at Christianity Today.

 

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My pastor and his wife talked recently about loving your spouse when they’ve “let themselves go” and Tim Challies linked to a post recently and I wanted to comment on both briefly.

Now, let me say that a woman who is fully loved by her husband is markedly different than a woman who is not, or does not feel loved by him. We all know both women, and there is a definite glow and confidence in a woman who feels the security of her one-woman man.

Shakespeare said it best “Age, with his stealing steps, Hath clawed me in his clutch.” We cannot stop the inevitable blurring of our birth year behind us and the empty grave in front of us. For a single woman aging feels achingly and biologically more hopeless than for a single man as he ages. Every month we watch our fertility fade and the crows-feet crowd in. We feel less beautiful as each day goes on.

On top of that, there is rarely someone tending to the garden of our souls. There isn’t someone delighting in us, in every curve and nuance, every idiosyncrasy, speaking to fears and sheltering us in times of question. The lack of these things begin to eat at the blossom that bloomed in our twenties, and soon the withering comes.

If you know a single woman (and you all do), take a few moments today and encourage her inner beauty. Comment on her character and your hopes for it. Speak to her fears and lead her to the cross. Affirm her good desire to be married,  speak highly of your own marriage, and assure her of her eternal position within the Bride of Christ. And practically: serve her. Nothing makes me feel more cherished as a woman than a brother who notices and serves my sisters and me.

We should desire for the whole bride of Christ, not just the women, or just the married women, to be beautiful. Proclaim the manifold wonder of what the gospel has done in our lives and how it has transformed us.

That is true beauty.

jesusfeminist

Sarah Bessey has done a unique thing in her book and it’s something the whole Church should try a bit more. Interwoven with thoughts on theology, history, and her vision for the future of the Church, Sarah told her story.

Raised in Canada, educated in the Bible Belt, on staff at a church in Texas, and then relocating back to Canada gave Sarah a bit of a unique story. Though she grew up in the Church, she did not grow up in the kitschy church-culture so many of our contemporary couch theologians did. Her experience is not one of “I was this but now I’m enlightened, so now I’m this,” but instead it is a story of roots and wings in healthy ways.

Jesus Feminist is not the tired story of a woman raised in patriarchy and conservative theology who threw off her shackles after a theological awakening. That story is all too familiar and, unfortunately, so often riddled with grinding axes that it is difficult to see the trees for the forest. Sarah grinds no axes, points no fingers, and brings every point of her story to the beautiful complexity that is faith in Christ Jesus.

She has woven the gospel through her story and her theology, and this is why I do recommend Jesus Feminist.

Primarily I recommend Jesus Feminist to pastors and teachers, men and women who are in positions of influence and whose duties including shepherding people. I recommend it for the sole reason that Sarah’s story is the story of every-woman in some way. Perhaps not the same path or set of experiences, but it tells the journey of a woman who lands on her theology through the lens of both experience and the word of God.

These days many words are spoken, preached, or written in pragmatic ways—I often wonder if some of our modern theologians have walked through difficult things because it doesn’t seem to come through in their message. Sermons neatly packaged with four points and a promise—even in the gospel-centered crowd. I do not doubt they have experienced difficulties, but we need to hear it said explicitly. If true shepherding is to be done, we need to sit at the table with the people and their stories.

I recommend Jesus Feminist next to women in the Church who come from a more conservative position on gender roles, but who have wrestled with their current roles as women.

Serving in ministry, I see two main types of women in the Church. The first is a woman who has no construct for theology or Church history but feels the constraints of both. Without having a robust theology or prescriptive design for their role, those constructs can feel suffocating and I see women leaving good, healthy churches in search of churches more accommodating to their personal story. The second is a woman who has a deep theological grasp on complementary gender roles, but who may struggle to feel her ministry as a woman is valid. Jesus Feminist spends copious amounts of time on the descriptive role of women in the Bible and the roles of women in our present lives. I was personally encouraged to engage more fully as a woman, to bring my femininity to the table along with my theology.

Jesus Feminist, contrary to its provocative title and subtitle, does not seem to be a book meant to convince the reader of a radical position on gender roles. Instead it seems to be a book intended to point to the character of God, the purpose of His creation, and the journey He takes His children on toward the fullness of His kingdom. Is there a theological bias in the book? Yes, absolutely. Sarah is an egalitarian and believes in roles for men and women without distinction in the Church. But the book does not terminate on her bias, because her true bias is the name and renown of Christ, and a robust Church filled with all kinds of people fully used by Christ.

If there is a caution to potential readers, particularly ones from a more conservative perspective, it is this: let us not be so quick to ascribe definitions to words and catch phrases that we miss the deep complexity behind them. Feminism has brought with her many good and right things; she may have left the back door open too long, letting in the draft of culture’s sway, but I think we can agree we are grateful for the breeze of freedom, equality, and voice.

What Jesus Feminist does not do is explore the ways in which modern feminism has taken its toll on the people of Jesus. This could be because Sarah doesn’t believe it has, or it could be because Sarah believes to do much good there has to be an uncomfortable itch under the hem of the Church’s robes. I think Jesus Feminist is a fair handling of feminism in the Church, but I think to properly discuss what a Jesus Feminist is, we have to wrestle with feminism’s origins. This is my only critique of the book. I think if you’re going to title a book thus, the subject at hand should be handled in its own respect, historical and modern implications. Otherwise, if what Sarah espouses to be feminism is this Jesus Feminism, count me [nearly] all in. There’s a lot more to it, though, but I’m grateful she set the table and invited us in for discussion.

Before beginning a book I read the acknowledgements. Not every book has them, but the ones that do hold a litany of treasure. Here, at the end of a book or at the beginning, you have the list of people who made the work possible. While it is a personal touch, I think it can hold the potential for much more meaning if we readers will give it a thorough look.

When I opened my advance copy of Sarah Bessey’s debut work, before reading the table of contents or back cover, I paged through to those acknowledgements. I knew within them there would be some men and women whose names I do not only recognize, but whose lives and words have touched my life in impacting ways. As I read the last words of her acknowledgements, I felt the tears rise in my eyes: here was a woman whose heart beats as strongly for Jesus as mine does. In that alone, she is kindred, and I need nothing more to reach across the table of friendship.

Why am I telling you this? Because Sarah’s book is titled Jesus Feminist, and it already has some people around the table rearing back their heads and huddling together with a rebuttal after a mere glance at the subtitle (an invitation to revisit the Bible’s view of women). I am telling you about Sarah’s acknowledgement because the blurb on the heading of the book is an important one for all of us: Exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.

So before you read any further, stop. Just think about that. We are all people. Women are people. Men are people. We, the collective, are a people. And we are persons. And that is a beautiful thing. Feminists, even Christian ones, are people. Those acknowledgements of Sarah’s hold a hundred names who are not just names or bloggers or agents or friends, but people.

I asked Sarah if she would allow me the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of her book because I think there’s a better way we can have the conversation about things of this nature. I don’t think it has to be enemies pitted against one another furiously writing blog rebuttals to rebuttals to rebuttals. Sarah has been nothing but gracious to me in the past—even in areas where we are diametrically opposed theologically. Why? Because Sarah understands that behind avatars and platforms and theology and -isms and -ists, there are people. And that is a beautifully rare thing.

Tomorrow I will post my review of Jesus Feminist.

jesusfeminist

 

A boyfriend once asked me out for the first time on a Facebook message. Once he finally got my number, he texted me a few times with other suggestions for hanging out. Of course I turned him down every single time, though, because “Real Men Don’t Text” (and other junk I thought about real men…).

Girls, can I be straight with you for one minute? Whatever your idea of a Real Man is, it would be better for you right now to drop the man and just get real.

A real man is flesh and blood, made of dirt and the breath of God.

He was created in the image of God, made to reflect the many faceted aspects of God. He is merciful and just, he is gentle and fierce, he is strong and tender, he is like a father but he gathers his young like a mother, he is holy, he is sacrificial—these are the ways in which he reflects his Maker.

He is also made. He was created from the ground, the dust, the particles of the earth’s first rubbish. But nothing is rubbish to God and so He took something from nothing and made it good, real good. Real, tangible, touchable, malleable, fallible, but real. So real that you can stand beside him and know that all your realness, your curves, your imperfections, your flaws, your failures, are not more or less real than his. You are the same. And different. There is nothing else on earth as real as the two of you in this sense. Souls and bodies, minds and hearts.

It’s astounding.

As I learn what it means to be joined with a man, I am having to unlearn what constitutes real men and real women. In our relationship I am the internal processor, he is the verbal; I am the risk-taker, he is the solid, steady; he is romantic and nostalgic; I am no nonsense and overlook his many expressions of love. There are so many ways in which we are not what could be termed as Real Men or Real Women, but we are the realest man or woman in one another’s life right now. We are the realest expression of the image of God to one another—and also the realest mirror to our own selfishness.

The only way to be a real man or real woman is to be real in the very essence of what the word means.

Actually existing or happening. Not imaginary, not fake, false, or artificial. Important and deserving to be regarded or treated in a serious way.

You are real because you exist, you are happening. You are not fake or false or artificial. You are not wired for anything except to bring glory to your Maker—and even this is so vast and incomprehensible, how could it be contained?

You are important because you make much of the One who is Most Important.

You are a person, bearing the image of God, the Imago Dei—therefore I treat you seriously, whether or not you text first or email first or ask me out to coffee first or work from home or are a mother or a father or can bear children or will never bear children.

You are real because He took dust and bone and made you real.

Men and women, go. Be real.

Try as I might, I’m not sure I can hold the identifier “Single Complementarian poster-child” at bay much longer. We’re a rare breed—some of us sold a barefoot and pregnant mantra since we played dress-up in our mamas’ clothing and learned to make a perfect omelet. It’s hard to let go of dreams as big as these.

For those of us who made it past 25 without a ring on our finger and a bun in the oven, more schooling seemed to be the only option. Slap an MA on the back of our name, we’re still casting sidelong glances at our sisters with misters. Many graduated with honors, fidelity, and an MRS, while most singles are pounding the pavement looking for a job to secure us some semblance of a future.

You ask why we’re a rare breed and I’ll tell you this: we’re not. Well, we are, but that’s just the nature of any conservative position in a swiftly tilting planet. But within the church we’re not all that rare. You don’t hear us talking much, though, and that’s something I’d like to talk about today.

Three reasons (of many) why single female complementarians may not be speaking up.

1. For too long the Church has relegated submission to what happens in the home and the sanctuary. The concept of submission to one to another (Eph. 5:21) has been glossed over in our rush to get to the juicy stuff in the following verses. Who wants to talk about something like submission to one another when there are husbands to be submitted to and wives to be loved? Well, I do. I want to talk about it because we don’t have a framework for life in Christ if we don’t understand being in something brings with it a certain amount of submission (sitting in a driving car, for example—you go where it goes.).

In the broad conversation we have often placed the discussion of submission firmly within the confines of marriage or our relationship to Christ, and not in regard to one another. This has created a generation of women who want to submit but are waiting to submit until Prince Charming comes along. In theory we’re complementarians, but we don’t have anyone standing in that gap, so practically, we’re egalitarians. It becomes difficult to talk about something we believe when because of brokenness in the family and an overwhelming absence of fathers, we’re not given a clear framework to practice it.

2. Speaking of frameworks, in the absence of the marriage we were nearly promised, we’re floundering a bit. I’m not going to make marriage out to be a cup of tea, but in marriage there comes a security and measure of certainty that simply doesn’t exist within singleness. Accidents and sin happens, yes, but if death comes in old age and fidelity is kept, there is the promise of a long-term security.

Godly singleness, on the other hand, is actually intended to be the opposite of long-term security. To be “concerned with the things of the Lord” (I Cor. 7:34) gives a wide berth, open pasture, and a degree of flexibility for the unmarried to discern what is the good and acceptable will of God. Our culture, however—and even in the church—lauds a security that will keep us constantly at odds with the things of the Lord. Single complementarians who have been primed for the simple security that marriage affords, might spend years trying to gain their footing in a world that wasn’t what they expected—even for the ones who understand Christ is their ultimate security. So where are we? Still trying to recover from the whiplash that is singleness in our 30s and on.

3. Single complementarian women simply haven’t needed to commit mental energy to contribute to the sort of study and scholarship necessary to defend a conservative theology of gender roles. Many married complementarian women are making radically different choices in the way their marriages look and so live with a constant awareness of the counter-cultural choices they’re making. But for singles unless their lives look radically different from those in the world—and a growing number in the church—they have nothing to defend. The biblical paradigm of singleness we’re given is one who is concerned with the things to the Lord, how she may please the Lord—this is a radical call in a tepid world, few rise to it fully, and even fewer defend it well. Without the pressure to defend, though, many won’t rise to the occasion of sound, biblical defense.

Don’t be discouraged. There is hope here and I think many complementarians are chomping at the bit to see a change in the conversation:

1. Change the culture of submission. Reframe the conversation. Speak of mutual submission, teach young people the value of covenantal living, helping and protecting one another in Christ. There are a few things we don’t have to wait for marriage for.

2. Change the expectation of marriage. Encourage it, yes, but don’t epitomize it or idolize it. Don’t allow those creeping cultural expectations to overtake what God is doing today. Today is a rich, rich day in the life of every person, single or married. Expect God to move today.

3. Encourage singles to be faithful with their concern for the things of God. It is no small thing to study to show ourselves approved. Christians ought to do everything within our capacity to help create a space for good scholarship and dialogue.

Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before kings.” Singleness is a special and beautiful gift, and we need singles to come before the rulers of this world, standing firmly for the gospel in an ever-shifting culture.