Archives For gospel

The Cloak of Righteousness

September 8, 2014

My theology does not allow for a God who changes his mind regarding my salvation, and I pray yours does not either.

I had breakfast/brunch/lunch (well, we began at 10am and didn’t finish until nearly 4pm, so what am I to call it?) with a friend yesterday and we talk for a moment about how the fear of losing our salvation gripped us for years before the gospel—and all its branches—rooted itself in our hearts.

Last night I read these words: “The Hebrew word for “salvation” means literally “to make wide,” or “to make sufficient.” I have not learned Hebrew for myself but I will trust here the editors did their due diligence and this translation is correct.

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

This astounds me when I think of the minute sins, the every day, the strains of gossip, the nibs of fear, the ebb of doubt, and the flow of envy that wreak themselves through my heart and life. He made wide to fit me in. He spread out, to the ends of the earth, east to the west, a never ending, never failing cloak of righteousness through the death of his Son. To fit me into salvation’s plan.

When I begin to question my salvation, or, more articulately, to question his choice to save me, I want to remember that cloak of righteousness, whose edges would astound us if we could see them at all.

Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward we are strong at the broken places.” I wrote that quote on an index card when I read it in high school and didn’t know how prophetic it would prove to be in my life.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Someone said, a few years ago, “Teach your kids they’re broken, deeply broken,” and the internet swarmed and stung in response. No one wants to believe deep inside the horrible, awful, no good truth. That the gears inside of me will keep getting stuck and rusty, jamming up in inopportune places and too small spaces. No one wants to believe the brokenness on the outside points a terrible truth about the inside.

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

It’s not a prosperity gospel to believe that the brokenness on the inside of us results in wars and rumors of wars, gunned down black boys on city streets, cancer, and genocide. It is not a transactional brokenness: you broke me, so I’ll break you. Or, more honestly, I broke me, so He breaks me more. But it is a cause and effect of sorts. Deeply broken people don’t turn the other cheek, not only in war, but also at home when the floor doesn’t get swept and it’s his turn to do the dishes and someone was uncaring or uncouth. It starts with the small fractures and leads to the tremors and quakes until we are all shattered pieces and wondering how we got here.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The world does break everyone and it is not for nothing to say we are stronger at the broken places. I heard it said recently that good eschatology says “The bad gets worse, the good gets better, and the mushy middle is done away with.” I groan for that and so do we all.

The mushy middle is what breaks us, that pliable and soft already/not yet we live in. We groan for the culmination of the kingdom, the new heaven, the new earth, but we’re still here, where missiles fall every four minutes and Christians claw their way into a helicopter from an Iraq hilltop, and journalists are tear-gassed and officers act hastily, and my friend has a tumor and it’s cancerous, and where the tears won’t stop falling this morning because we are broken, yes, it is true. We are deeply broken.

But, on our behalf, so was he.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

Holding the Mystery

June 11, 2014

mystery

I live in a neighborhood where all the houses look the same. Our floorplans are swapped or switched a bit, but generally, we are like a row of Japanese diplomats, all bowing our heads to the Suburban Man.

The names of the roads are Springaire and Winter Park and Summerwind and Autumn Breeze—a nod, perhaps, to what the city planners wish would be instead of what is. People keep warning me about the Long Winter (they say, with capitalized letters) up north. I keep reminding them of their long summer, but neither of us can agree which is better. We always want what we can’t have, right?

I live on Summerwind in a house just like my neighbors. We express our individuality with paint colors and shrubbery. A yellow wreath on my door, a terracotta pot with flowers that cannot withstand the heat. As they say, if you can’t stand the heat, something, something.

I stop mid-run tonight in a rare open space of sky. The sky here is lavender at night, clouded or clear. The city lights create a cover of light that covers the light. I can’t stop thinking about how manufactured light crowds out natural light.

We’ve been on a steady diet of Vermeer this week at my house so we are obsessed with color and light and mirrors and mysteries. I can’t stop thinking about how betrayed I feel by recent discoveries on Vermeer and simultaneously how wonderful it seems to know he was more than an artist, but a genius.

The poet Levertov said, “Days pass when I forget the mystery,” and I think of this line often in these neighborhoods and days that pass so seamlessly into one another. I forget the mystery of nuance and life, of curiosity and wonder. It becomes only a perpetual plod toward tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a gift, and the only one of its kind, and God help me to remember that in our matching houses and macchiatos and yoga pants and yearning.

I am reading in 1 Timothy this morning, the qualifications of an overseer, and nestled there in verse 9 these words: “They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.”

How we love and laud the matching, the simple, the clear, the found-out, the known. But how we must hold the mystery of the faith with our consciences clear: the gift of mystery. The gift of the unplanned. The gift of the unknown.

Do you have an unknown before you? A path not clearly defined? A choice which seems impossible? A God you do not fully understand? That is a gift, friend. You can trust the mystery of it all with a complete clear conscience.

This video is making the rounds on the internets today. N.T. Wright’s thoughts on same-sex marriage are spot on, biblical, and refreshingly God-centered. I’ve said this before, but I think when we go right to the issue of homosexual behavior being a sin, we muddy the waters from the get go. Is it a sin? Yes. But so is gossip and divorce and lust and unbelief and so much more.

The Christian blogosphere expends so much energy on the ins and outs and details of rights and sins and loves and politics. I earnestly believe that we need to constantly back way, way up, back to Genesis 1, before the creation of man and woman, before sin entered the world, and look at God’s cosmic design for creation and his kingdom. Marriage between same genders becomes a non-issue at that point.

N.T. Wright says it better.

To Whom Else Would We Go?

April 30, 2014

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Almost four years ago I sat in the front row of what we at my church call “the HV campus,” listening to Jen Wilkin spend an hour on the first verse of the bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It was the first time in my life each word in a verse made sense to me. But even more than that, it was the first time I began to understand that God was not just a man in the sky with a check-list a mile long. He was a creator. He had attributes, character, a job. He was not a genie in a bottle, nor was he the jailer of the unrighteous. He was a creator.

Over the past four years I’ve had the blessing of sitting at the feet of some brilliant expositors of the word. Pastors, teachers, elders, and friends. The bible has become more than a rule book or tool book, a handy guide to living—it has become living water and I its thirsty recipient. I know I must have been taught to think this way before, but for some reason it didn’t click in my brain until the fall of 2010.

Yesterday a modern father of preaching announced a new endeavor and I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time I see another tweet or mention of it, I get more excited. It is not enough to feed a man a fish, we must teach him to fish, and this is what John Piper and his team will be putting their hands and minds to in the autumn of his life. I could not be more grateful.

If you are daily reader of the word, checking a quiet time off the list because you grudgingly know you ought to, or if you are a weak-faithed believer, one whose constant prayer is “Help my unbelief,” or if you are a student of the word, but constantly feeling somehow short-changed in your study of it, Look at the Book is for you. Look at the Book is for me. It is for all of us.

I’ve grown more and more weary of blogs and articles and tweets and opinions on every matter, more and more thirsty for the words of life. The bible contains those words of life and, friend, they are good. They are eternally good. They are trustworthy sayings. They are, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, proclaiming the gospel and the Kingdom of God.

Let’s be like the disciples in our study of God, “To whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life?” Why would we forsake the living water and return to broken cisterns of blogs and other books to get Living Water?

unmarried

Church, wo[men] are staying single longer and longer, remember to include singles in your ‘biblical [wo]manhood’ narrative. It’s not a mark of deficiency or a blemish to be single—but it can feel like it in the somewhat glaring omissions. Paul said singleness was good. I think singleness is good. Many singles LOVE their singleness. Give us land to till.
—Thoughts tweeted by me this morning.

Church, here’s how you can give singles land to till:

1. Stop expecting them to have more time/money than marrieds. I understand we often do, but if we’re taking seriously the radical gift of singleness today, we’re going to have less, not more. We’re going to be crafting a lifestyle that isn’t making the stuff of earth our great treasure. Stop giving big discounts to married couples for conferences and leaving the singles to pay more. It legitimizes the feeling that we’re less, not more and yet have more, not less. An unmarried person who truly is caring for the things of the Lord will have pockets inside out spending their time and finances on Kingdom things.

2. Don’t assume that because we haven’t experienced marriage we don’t have good things to teach married persons. The true aim of a disciple is to live a life submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Though submission for a married person looks different than an unmarried person, trust me here, unmarried persons should be (and are) practicing submission in a more universal way. That’s a pulpit worth sharing. While we in the modern Church spend most of our listening time hearing from marrieds, it’s worth noting that Christ was single, and Paul seemed to have been. Be careful to not equate marriage with maturity.

3. Do you know unmarried people who want to be married? Who feel their ministry would be strengthened and better within the context of marriage? Help them. Help them, Church. In the absence of singles ministries or a place for singles to meet and mingle, they’re going to go outside the Church to find partners. God help us, and they do. Nearly every one of my single friends is on some online dating service. I’m not knocking the tool, but it seems to me that we are doing singles a great disservice to not provide a context for singles to meet one another. Small groups don’t work because by their very nature, they’re small and the pool is usually limited to less than five other singles. Don’t be afraid of matchmaking or thinking strategically about potential couples. Help them.

4. Reframe your idea of biblical womanhood and manhood again and again and again until what you actually have is a biblical believer in Christ Jesus. Until we have human flourishing at the base of our teachings on roles, we will bang our heads against this wall. The aim is never to be a biblical woman or man, it is to preach Christ crucified by living a life fully crucified to our flesh, submitting all rights, nailing autonomy to the Cross: that is the true role of biblical men and women, married or unmarried.

The Good Ground

March 29, 2014

It is a good place where one can say, “I do not trust you,” to God.

These are the places where God becomes real. Realer than theology books and good sermons, more real than dark nights and soul talk, realer than heaven and hell and all the variances in between. To stand barefoot by the burning bush of your life—or the Spirit—and to say, I do not, I can not, even maybe I will not. These can be good places.

There is a realness to the God of that moment, a reckoning with all the ways in which we have felt the realness of life hurt and bruise us. It is, in some ways, the moment of coming to our senses. It is touch, sight, sound, scent—the aching reality that this is hard, so hard. Harder than it was ever meant to be, and yet, the only way we could come at last home.

Whenever I find myself in the company of one who doubts, I know I am on hallowed ground. Holy ground. I want to take off my shoes and stand there with them for a while. The ground is often a pigsty: it smells, it is muddy, full of animal waste and the rottenest fares of the richest feasts, but it is the place of coming to.

To say, “I do not believe, but God, I want to,” can be the first step toward coming home.

pigsty

pulpit

The popular euphemism for “can’t we all just be friends” is to give folks “a seat at the table.” I’ve used it. It’s helpful. It reminds me that people are people and everyone around the table is coming with different presuppositions, stories, layers, and theologies. It evens the playing field.

More and more, though, what is communicated is that everyone gets a seat at the table and the table is a pulpit for everyone to preach their message. It’s the church of all peoples and thoughts and ideas—and it’s a veritable mess.

Paul warned the Corinthians that hanging with those intentionally sinning was corrupting the purity of the gospel. Here’s what’s interesting though: he used the words of one of their own to deliver the warning. The Greek poet Menander first used the words, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Paul contextualized the line for gospel purposes.

What often happens with all these seats at the table is we end up attempting to fit the gospel to sinners, instead of fitting sinners to the gospel.

Bad company does corrupt good morals, and one of those morals is that the gospel cannot be so contextualized that everyone at the table agrees.

If that is difficult for us to swallow in an age where everyone wants meritorious rightness, we’re in good company, the disciples once grumbled to themselves, “This is a difficult thing, who can believe it?”

And Jesus, sweet Jesus, gives that wide berth and narrow path: It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.

Sit with sinners, eat with everybody, welcome all to the table—but remember Jesus is the only one who offers words of spirit and life.

Four years ago, on February 11th, 2010, I lifted my head from the snot soaked carpet, turned David Bazan off my iTunes, and reread a blog-post written by a guy who pastored a church a few hours from me. I was in the middle of not the driest season of my life, or the valley, or whatever metaphor the church folk like to give to people who have swallowed another gospel. I was weak, acquainted with sorrows.

Each of us has felt the aching weakness and realization that what we are believing (about God, salvation, suffering, the cross, blessing) is a crude misappropriation of the real thing. God help you if you don’t sometimes question what you think you believe. We need that kind of desperation just as much as we need the comfort of security. Those months of weakness led to years of weakness—a weakness I hope I never recover from.

The blog author had uprooted his family from the bible belt where he’d been on staff at a few churches and moved to central Vermont to work the ground of a small local church. Faithfully God worked in him as he worked that land. He penned a book called Gospel Wakefulness and that book led to more nights of snot soaked carpet in my house. This guy left the land of church-growth-opportunity, embraced his weakness, and woke up to the gospel. For the past four years Jared Wilson has discipled me from afar in what I think, ironically, may be the most undernourished area of Christianity: weakness.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The churches dotting the countryside of the northeast are sometimes only 20 or 30 faithful people. People who day in, day out, deliver crockpots and shovel driveways, sing robustly from an overhead projector or a hymnal. It’s not that they’re legalistic fundamentalists, they’re not. They just don’t have the trappings of most modern churches. They don’t use Twitter and barely use Facebook. The concept of a celebrity Christianity is as foreign to them as a pastor who wears skinny jeans on their single Sunday morning service.

Belief, though, in the northeast is not rare, as the pundits will have you believe from their polls and surveys. I think belief may actually be strongest in the northeast, so deeply rooted in history and the birthplace of many of America’s richest belief systems. The ground is not hard up there. A deep sense of belief is the soil tilled for hundreds of years. Trust me when I say the ground there is ripe, the best kind of ground for the gospel to take root in. I am biased, I know, but the northeast has had her years of soil rest—it is time for planting.

It will take humble, humble men and women to do that work. Northeasterners see through genteel platitudes permeating the Church these days and will raise you an honest reply. The northeast will not revive on mega-churches, but small steeple dotted hills full of saints led by men and women who aren’t seeking a platform, but offering a haven. We know what it is to need shelter and if the northeastern church is to thrive it will be because it is filled with leaders who are unafraid to be weak, to need a crockpot or a shoveled driveway.

To his parishioners, Jared is simply their pastor, but Jared is pastoring thousands of rural pastors all over the world. He is modeling the long, slow work of church work. It is inglorious, it is messy, and it takes a long, long time with very little financial gain.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Are you a weak Christian? Not riddled with false or partial gospels, but weak. Acquainted with sorrow? Have you suffered? Are you more impressed by hard work than by a quick rise to fame? Are you willing to farm, to get your hands dirty in rich, rich soil, to dig below the historical layers of the upper east coast? Are you okay with not being okay and are you okay with that knowledge, day after day after day?

Are you swallowed up by the grandeur of God, so much so that your success matters little to you? Do you know how to count the days and the sheep who come home, one by one by one by one? Do you know how to rest in the winter and toil in the summer; to truly work and truly sabbath?

If you do, if you are a weak Christian, than I beg you to consider rural church ministry. I think all churches need weak Christians, but I think you’ll be especially suited to the rural church—the long obedience in the same direction, as Eugene Peterson says. You cannot go in there planning changes, ways in which you will revolutionize the “simple people.” You really just have to farm.

But if you will farm alongside those people, you will see a harvest. Trust me, we plan for the seasons up there, and we’ve planned for this one for a long time.

Jared is offering a Pastoral Residency for his church in Middleton Springs Vermont. If he can’t grab your attention with the amazing photos (yes, it really does look like that up there), then maybe this blog post will convince you of the need. I hope you’ll check out this residency

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*I say “we” because you can take the girl out of the northeast, but you can’t take the northeast out of the girl. As for why I’m not up there? I don’t know. It’s my near constant prayer, though.

Wipe that Glass

January 7, 2014 — 1 Comment

The first thing we know about God is He is Creator. He takes nothing and makes something. He makes many somethings. More somethings than any one of us will ever see in our entire lifetime.

Staggering.

I understand God as Creator, but if He is Creator, that means He is infinitely creative—and that is something I will never be able to grasp or understand.

He is involved in every iota, every molecule, every atom, every gene, every thought, every action—and He is infinitely creative, which means He never stops creating.

Just thinking about that for three minutes staggers me.

But it becomes so real, so personal, when I think about all the ways He has been creative with me—and the accompanying realization that He isn’t finished with me yet. He is still creating, still teaching, still growing, still perfecting, still forming.

So an infinitely creative God, constantly creating and recreating His people, is a God who can be trusted to not make mistakes. Every scrap of my spectacular story, every rag of my richest rich, every moment of my mind—these form who I am and who I am becoming. He knew the washed up, backwards, inside-out, upside-down story He’d bring me through and He knew that through the mess I’d see Him.

And I’d see Him through a glass dimly, but that dirt and grime, that’s mine. I own that grime. God let me have that grime because otherwise I’d never understand His holiness, His set-apartness. Now all I can do is never stop asking Him to wipe that glass clean.

I love that.

I really love that.

I love it because it’s my hope, more than anything, that we’d spend our lives helping others to clean that grime. To take a rag and say, “You too? Me too. Let’s clean it together. Let’s see Him more clearly, love Him more for Who He truly is.”

I don’t know what your grime is, but I know God knows it. He made it, every atom and molecule. He knows your issues with fundamentalism, gender roles, abuse, theology, culture, suffering, depression, death, divorce, fear. He knows it all. And He’s so creative that He knows how to draw you in, grime covered you, and show you Himself, holy and splendid, majestic and clean.

It’s spectacular.

Sweetest Frame

November 14, 2013 — 1 Comment

There are sweet idols in my life. Tempered steel overlaid with silver. Carved wood overlaid with gold (Isaiah 30:22). These are the things that bid for my time, my affections, my joy, and even my mourning. They care not what kind of attention I give to them, only that my whole attention is given.

This past week we finished 11 weeks of studying 1, 2, & 3 John. We gathered one last evening in the sanctuary and a friend led us singing through The Solid Rock. My favorite line from the hymn comes in the first verse: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.

It is my favorite line, but most times I cannot bring myself to sing it. It simply isn’t true, and most of the time I doubt even my desire for it to be true.

The sweet frames in my life seem not so sordid as they really are when held against the surpassing beauty of Christ alone—and yet, oh how they make such palatable feasts.

Once someone told me my faith seemed like a crutch, a way to deal with a broken family, untimely death of my brother, and a move away from all familiar things. I carried those words with me for a decade, asking myself if this faith was less paramount and more crutch, something to buffer me while all around me the world gave sway.

It wasn’t until the past few years I began to see, though, that if my faith was a crutch (and I believe it is), it was because without it I could not walk or stand at all. The sweet idols walk beside me but crumble when the slightest weight is laid on them—these cannot carry me through to the beloved face of Christ. Only He can do that and He promises He does—and will.

I can trust the sweetest frame, but that frame will falter without fail. But to wholly trust in Jesus name? It may be a crutch for a limping me, but it leads to the ultimate Healer and I limp gladly, trusting in the Sweetest Name.

Greatly Shaken

November 11, 2013 — 2 Comments

This afternoon Psalm 62 worked its way through my mind: He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Greatly shaken.

I have felt shaken in recent weeks. Shaken by my own expectations, by the expectations of others, by my sin, and by the sin of others. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve been surprised at how surprised I am.

Somewhere along the way I bought the story that He was my rock and salvation, my fortress and I would not be shaken. I know suffering comes and sin steals for a season. I read the Bible and see it is full of people for whom things did not go well. But shaken? Knocked off kilter, rattled around?

Ah. Greatly shaken.

The gospel does not make lead-footed friends of us. Our salvation is secure, but we are not cemented in place, stuck with no forward or backward motion. The gospel sets a feast before us, but it is not a feast of fructose and ease, it is one that gives us what is best for us. And sometimes being shaken is best.

There is a passage in Corinthians I hear quoted often in reference to struggles: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

But it is the words before and after that catch me off guard, that shake me down, that pull my pride into a vortex of the Holy Spirit:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”

So He is my rock, my salvation, my fortress. He is also my comfort, my shelter, my haven. But all this shaking? All this crushing? All this pressing? It is for Him, for His glory and my good.

Maybe that is simplistic. I know it sounds simplistic to me today, as though I should be beyond this concept. But the truth is every time I think I’m beyond it, I get surprised by how much I still need it.

He is better. In the midst of being greatly shaken, His words stands firm and He is better.

Review of Jesus Feminist

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

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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.

Acknowledging

October 28, 2013 — 3 Comments

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.

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