Seminary for a Woman Among Men – costly change in the face of opposition

[Kathy Calvert’s guest post on her seminary experience outlines the opposition she faced even among men who claimed to support her ministry plans, and the cost of finding a new way to pursue her education.]

Nothing in life prepared me for the attitudes regarding women I encountered in seminary.

Born in the Midwest, to a family with three girls, I never doubted my worth nor opportunities available to me. Sophomore year at a top university, I was introduced to Christ. Graduating with a degree in business administration, I secured a position in a tech firm, and moved to California. Marriage to a supportive man followed, and subsequently three children.

Early in our marriage, we settled in evangelical circles. When the children were born, I never questioned putting my career on hold to care for them. As they grew, I grew, investing my energies in a parachurch organization, teaching the Bible and training hundreds of women, for twenty plus years. I was among “the large number of people in the faith community who occupy a gray or middle area in this (gender) discussion, including those in denominations, churches, parachurches, and the academy… looking for a reason to believe differently” (Paul and Gender, by Cynthia Long Westfall). Desire for additional training led to seminary, where it became impossible to operate in the gray zone.

Taking summer intensives and participating in a year round cohort allowed me to maintain ministry commitments, while pursuing a Masters in Biblical and Theological Studies. Men were predominant and women occasionally expressed frustration at being overlooked, but sexism was not overt, until the final intensive, Pauline Theology. During the off record Q & A, the professor expressed his view: women should not teach men, women, nor children- not even homeschool their own. But, women should be allowed to learn! I sought clarification, “Are you saying every woman is more gullible than every man?” He would not give a direct answer to the question. The implication was clear: the Cross had been effective for Adam (men), but something was still wrong with Eve (women).

Participating in an all-male cohort that fall, I was assured my experience would not be a repeat of the Pauline Theology course. Yet, continually, members questioned, “What should be the role of women in the church? Should women occupy official positions, or perform the functions, of teaching and/or leading?” The professor, not an egalitarian but supportive of women in ministry, refrained from weighing in, letting us struggle and draw our own conclusions.

Only one of many assigned readings addressed women in ministry.[1] Having opportunity to formally address the cohort regarding the subject, I was upfront regarding my aim: to shock, discomfort, and challenge thinking regarding women, roles, and the church. I had come to seminary seeking equipping, not permission. Reactions were strong and varied, ranging from “What should I do – implement affirmative action?” to “Women are pushy”, to my favorite, “You could avoid the tension by transferring to the women’s track, but you don’t want to work with women.” (I find biblical and theological studies very beneficial in working with women, as well as men.)

Ultimately, the dissonance became too great, and I transferred to another seminary in the area. The switch was costly, in time and money. A year passed, before I could join a cohort at the new seminary. Several thousand dollars were lost, due to non-transferable credits. But, the differing mindset regarding women in ministry has made it worth it.

The time of transition was a crucial time of regaining my shaken confidence, and I read as much as possible which addressed women in leadership, both in the church and in the corporate sphere. I found a wealth of resources available through Christians for Biblical Equality, including Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women, written by Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, which is a must read. Among many other helpful reads were Beyond Sex Roles by Gilbert Bilezikian; Paul, Women & Wives by Craig S. Keener, How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, Alan F. Johnson, general editor; and Paul and Gender by Cynthia Long Westfall.[2]

My current seminary experience is not perfect. The seminary has no particular stance regarding women, although much of the faculty is egalitarian. Men are still predominant, but overt sexism is not tolerated. Once again, I am the sole woman in a cohort – this time Cross-Cultural Engagement – and at times I tire of “announcing myself”, as they say. But, the men in this cohort have years of both life and ministry experience, and there is mutual respect. All members are willing to engage in tough- even explosive- conversation, working to find common ground despite the diversity of our individual views- regarding politics, race, religion, economics, and yes, gender. Together, we are discovering the necessity of not only orthodoxy, but also orthopathy, and orthopraxy, in living the good life as defined by Jesus.

Seminary always requires emotional endurance, and I am grateful for the support of family, friends and colleagues. My own seminary experience proved to be the impetus propelling me out of the gray zone, regarding women in ministry. I have emerged more confident regarding my identity in Christ, and I will not live my life under the shadow of Genesis 3. This resolve permeates the biblical teaching and training I am privileged to provide hundreds of women, every week.

“Praise be to God, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

***

[1] Two Views on Women in Ministry, James R. Beck, general editor.

[2] Additional Christian sources: Community 101 by Gilbert Bilezikian; Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James; Finally Feminist by John G. Stackhouse, Jr.; Slaves, Women & Homosexuals by William J. Webb. Additional secular sources: Woman Up! By Aimee Cohen; Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel, PhD; The Confidence Code by Katty Kay & Claire Shipman; Her Place at the Table by Deborah M. Kolb, PhD, Judith Williams, PhD, and Carol Frohlinger, JD; Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg.

***

Kathy Calvert

Kathy Calvert is an experienced spiritual leader. She has over 20 years’ service as Teaching Leader with Bible Study Fellowship, where she presents God’s truths in honest and humorous ways, using personal illustrations and connecting with her audience. In her role as Teaching Leader, she has the privilege of training and shepherding hundreds of women. Kathy is currently completing graduate studies in Cross-Cultural Engagement, at Multnomah Biblical Seminary.

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Jesus, Sibling Rivalries, and Sibling Restorations

My last post reviewed Aimee Byrd’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” where she explores the blessings God gives us in friendships between people, including between women and men. (See, Friendship Between Women and Men Is One of God’s Great Gifts.) One aspect of godly friendship Aimee notes is that in God’s family we are called to be siblings as well as friends, because we are Jesus’ sisters and brothers as well as his friends.

Aimee points out that being Jesus’ sisters and brothers restores a relationship lost with the very first siblings, Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4, Cain is jealous of his younger brother Abel and murders him. God knows, and asks Cain to explain Abel’s absence. Aimee notes:

When Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9), it’s as if he is saying, “Abel is just my brother; that doesn’t mean anything. What am I supposed to do, keep a prison watch over him?” His reply suggests that Abel is on his own. It shows no gratitude for the gift of having a sibling, no commitment to him, no common mission with him, no connection with him whatsoever. No love. His reply  rebelliously rejects who he is as a sibling. (“Why Can’t We Be Friends?” Ch. 10 p. 169.)

Cain’s rejection of “who he is as a sibling” is one of the first effects of sin recorded in the Bible.

Aimee’s mention of Cain and Abel in relation to Jesus’ later restoration of true siblinghood got me thinking about those older brothers who came along after Cain. The biblical record of firstborn sons is less than stellar.

  • Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:8)
  • Ishmael taunted Isaac (Genesis 21:9)
  • Reuben slept with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22)
  • Aaron undermined Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12:1-2)
  • Eliab taunted David (1 Samuel 17:28)
  • Amnon raped his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:12-15)

There is little record of firstborn sons acting well toward their younger sisters and brothers. This is not to say there is no record of good sibling relationships – one Old Testament example is when Esau forgave his younger brother Jacob for his trickery, while Peter and Andrew along with James and John are good examples of New Testament siblings.

Yet this type of bond was not something anyone could take for granted. At least, not until Jesus came along.

Jesus is the best brother ever and forever

The concept of God as Father was not new to Jesus’ followers, but they had not yet heard that the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the World would also be God, and that he’d be their brother.

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35.)

This is a reality people need to learn as they come to know Jesus better. It is integral to who he is as Savior and God:

Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 2:11.)

He is the older brother who sets the example for us all, that we can be conformed to his example.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29.)

This position as Jesus’ younger siblings is even better than his friends imagined though. In their culture, the oldest son inherited more than any other child. Yet the Bible says Jesus is not only the Son of God but that all women and men in God’s family share in his inheritance rights, enjoying all the riches of God.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.* And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ … . (Romans 8:14-17.)

Jesus restored the true sibling relationship, one of love and care and sharing in God’s abundance. It was lost when sin entered the world, but is now restored through the work of Jesus for the world. Regardless of how siblings relate in your family – or whether you’ve ever had any siblings – he is the perfect older brother, the firstborn of all who shares his inheritance freely with his family, his friends.

That’s a good older brother to have, and you have him for eternity.

***

*This “adoption to sonship” is not a denigration of women as Jesus’ sisters, but pertains to the Jewish and Greco-Roman legal rules about who inherited most. Adoption to sonship is a legal status, meaning women who are in God’s family are considered under the legal procedures of that time to have the greatest of right to inheritance, no less than any man. The readers of the letter to the Romans would have understood how radical this is, that women would legally have the same inheritance rights as firstborn sons. Analogizing this to their spiritual position in the family of God was no less radical for people used to the cultures of that day and how they tended to reduce women to second-class status or worse.

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Friendship Between Women and Men Is One of God’s Great Gifts

I’ve had these conversations for years but didn’t realize I needed to read a book on it until Aimee Byrd decided to write one.

Why Can’t We Be Friends? – Avoidance Is Not Purity pursues God’s intent for his people, women and men alike, to experience all the richness of being friends with one another in the family of God. While addressing the impediments established by those who allow their fears to rule their relationships, Aimee Byrd ably lays out that real friendships between men and women are God’s desire. Bible verses and theologians’ writings and examples of Godly friendships over the centuries give credence to the reality that friendship is too great a gift to limit only to those who share one’s own set of chromosomes.

The impetus for writing the book came when Aimee Byrd was invited to join Todd Pruitt and Carl Trueman in a podcast for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. The program brought a layperson (Byrd) into conversation with an academic (Trueman) and a pastor (Pruitt) as each offered insights on doctrine, theology, culture and the church. Critics immediately pounced. Their criticism wasn’t about problems with doctrine, though. It was about biology: Aimee does not possess a Y chromosome as Carl and Todd do.

I fit in easily as we bounced ideas off one another, engaged in theological conversation, and enjoyed a sibling-like banter that came naturally to us. But, to my surprise, some listeners soon warned of the dangers of having a woman interacting with two respectable men. Some of the “warnings” were terribly demeaning: I was an affair waiting to happen, a possible career ender, perhaps Satan’s strategy to bring down another pastor and church. Even if I was a positive addition to the podcast, it wasn’t worth the risk. The underlying message was that we shouldn’t model this coed dynamic to the church. Even if our relationships and interactions were godly, coed friendship is not  something everyone can handle. Don’t try this at home. (Why Can’t We Be Friends, Acknowledgements, pp. 7-8.)

The line there in the middle is most telling: “I was an affair waiting to happen, a possible career ender, perhaps Satan’s strategy to bring down another pastor and church. Even if I was a positive addition to the podcast, it wasn’t worth the risk.”

Aimee spends the rest of the book explaining why it most certainly is worth the risk, and that the risk is not as pronounced, prevalent, or problematic as the critics perceive it to be. The first half of Why Can’t We Be Friends addresses the way God made women and men to enjoy one another in friendship as siblings in the family of God, along with problems inherent in denying women and men the opportunity to build the friendships God designed them to enjoy. The second half of the book lays out what friendship between men and women looks like in light of Scripture and the examples of Spirit-led friendships between women and men over the centuries.

Chapter six provides the hinge upon which the book turns from the first half to the second:

We don’t necessarily hunt for friends; we discover them. Our common responsibilities, such as parenting and  vocations, lead us to look for others who have an interest in the same truths that we do. As we pursue these interests, believers will promote virtue in every friendship, not only our Christian ones. (Chapter 6, “We’ve Forgotten What Friendship Really Is”, p. 98.)

Some will insist – as did the critics warning Carl and Todd against the temptations Aimee brought into their lives – that there is no virtue in friendship between men and women, or if there is it is not worth the immorality possible should those men and women start having sex. Aimee points out that not every friend fulfills every need, not even one’s spouse-friend and certainly not friends restricted to those within one’s own sex. She points out the obvious when she says:

Friendship is not exclusive like marriage is, so there is no need to behave as if it were. (Id, p. 102.)

Friendship is one of the good things of God, and there is no law against pursuing God’s blessings.

What I can’t find in Scripture is any warning about avoiding friendship between the sexes in order to avoid sin. Instead the Bible says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9 csb). We are to cling to what is good, not throw it out because sin is possible. Directly following that command is a call to meaningful relationships with our siblings in Christ: “Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters” (Rom. 12:10 csb). (Introduction, p. 17.)

Sex is not the reason to avoid a friendship with people the Bible repeatedly tells you are your sisters and brothers. In fact, that reasoning reveals bad theology.

The sweeping proclamation that men and women cannot be friends because “the sex part always gets in the way” is a statement about our very selves. … But if we look at it from a theological perspective, we see that it not only reduces the sexes to their ability to provide sexual pleasure but also diminishes God’s eternal purposes for men and women in our relationships both with him and with each other. (Chapter 3, “We Don’t Know Our Mission”, p. 49.)

Getting the theology right, understanding what the Bible says about women and men in friendship rather than what culture has drilled into people from the worldly perspective rather than the way God teaches us, is Aimee’s aim. After a thorough listing of Bible passages on how God’s people are to interact with one another – not one verse of which is gender or sex exclusive – Aimee notes:

God’s people actively pursue deep, loving relationships. … We teach one another all the truths of the faith, and therefore we take responsibility to know these doctrines. We speak truth to one another in love, we work to advance one another in the faith, and we bear with one another as we stumble. We don’t leave a struggling brother or sister alone to fight, but we encourage and exhort, helping one another to the end.

These exhortations form a household code that helps us to pursue holy intimacy between siblings by showing love in practical ways. (Chapter 9, “Creating a Church Environment that Supports Sacred Siblingship”, p. 155.)

Not only are we told in scripture how to care for and relate to one another regardless of one’s sex, Aimee points out that failing to do so is sin.

When it comes to relationships between the sexes, we don’t combat evil with constant suspicion, regulations, and avoidance. In fact, we sin when we allow a ruling passion or sensual desire to determine our relationships, grieving the Holy Spirit and quenching his work to develop the affection of godly siblingship. (Chapter 10, “Promote One Another’s Holiness”, p. 181.)

Aimee concludes with a recognition she has stated throughout the book: some people can’t handle relationships in a healthy way and are prone to sin regardless of whether it’s by having sex with someone they’re not married to or relying on one friendship and spending too much time away from other friends or their family. But the chance of engaging in sin is not the reason to avoid putting in the work to have healthy friendships as God intended.

Aimee Byrd, host of the blog Housewife Theologian

But it is not only inappropriate to turn a friendship into a forbidden romance; it is just as inappropriate to withhold a friendly act such as offering a ride to a person in need, engaging in normal work practices, or being an advocate in other ways during your everyday situations. That sends just as much of a reductive message. Be a friend and promote holiness in everyone whom you encounter and whom God trusts to your care. Look at one another through the eyes of Christ. (Conclusion, p. 232.)

There is the key to all relationships: “Look at one another through the eyes of Christ.” Jesus spent time alone with women and men each and took flak for it repeatedly. But he did it anyway because that’s what relationships require. These women and men are people God has entrusted to your care as a friend, too.

Be a friend.

***

I’ve heard some say that the fear of gossip keeps them from meeting with people of the other sex, let alone developing friendships with them. The answer to that requires addressing the gossip, not denying God’s blessed gift of friendship between all God’s people, women and men: Rooting Out the Gossip Supporting the Billy Graham Rule.

Others say that sexual temptation is too horrifying a prospect, and then let that fear rule their relationships. Sarah Taras and Jon Wymer ably address this false objection in their post Affairs Don’t Start with Texts, as did Kelly Ladd Bishop in Billy Graham’s Rule – misusing it to hold back women and men of God.

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Brokenness Made Whole – a woman’s journey to being a pastor

Wholeness
By Jane Spriggs

 

“Children are to be seen and not heard”

 was what I heard, and learned…

  But you, God, have created me to be

an extrovert

a shepherd

a preacher

to lead and feed your people.

 

“God helps those who help themselves”

was what I heard, and learned…

  But you, God, have called me to walk alongside

the broken

and be broken

and feel others’ pain

 

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”

was what I heard, and learned…

so I avoided conflict and tension

But you, God are calling me to be bold

and honest

and tell the truth.

 

As I make friends with the little girl who was

afraid to be heard

afraid to be too big

afraid of the broken and being broken

afraid to tell the truth

 

I see you, Jesus

beside me

behind me

pushing me forward

letting me go

coming with me

 

Into wholeness.

***

Pastor Jane Spriggs wrote this poem when she attended Bethel Seminary – St. Paul about 12 years ago.  She’s been preaching and leading at Monticello Covenant Church since 2011, and is finding beauty in brokenness and truth-telling – both hers and others.  She lives in Minnesota with her husband and two sons. You can find her on Facebook too.

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My Refugees, My Family

The first of my family to arrive on this continent were refugees, French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, imprisonment and the threat of death in 17th Century France.

Louis XIV gradually increased persecution of Protestantism …, ultimately ending any legal recognition of Protestantism in France and forcing the Huguenots to either convert or flee in a wave of violent dragonnades [quartering troops – dragoons – in Huguenots houses to intimidate and physically abuse the protestants]. (Wikipedia, Huguenots.)

Today is World Refugee Day, which brought to mind my ancestors who left France for England in 1660 and arrived here in 1680, hoping to find the freedom to worship according to their conscience, become fully accepted members of society, and live at peace with their neighbors and with the authorities.

Jan Luiken, Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant families Nov 1661 (Wikipedia)

This is the same freedom and peace called for by the U.S. Constitution adopted a century after their arrival.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … . (First Amendment to the United States Constitution.)

The Bible also calls us to freedom in our ability to worship God. Jesus himself said so:

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

And if a person chooses to follow someone other than Jesus, the Son of God, the Bible says they have the freedom to do so without being prevented by those around them.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. (Romans 14:4a.)

The Bible goes on to say that those who stand in Jesus remain on firm ground.

And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4b.)

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11.)

The freedom to choose to worship otherwise than Jesus is what makes the freedom to worship Jesus possible at all, at least when it comes to freedom from government interference.

A Government Endorsing Religion Is a Government Oppressing Religion

Once the government begins to pick which religions are worth protecting, even promoting, and which are worth denigrating all hope of freedom is lost – even if your religion is among the favored.

This is what my ancestors learned firsthand. The rulers persecuted them for their faith and promoted the faith of others. The freedom to worship, even for the favored faith, was dependent on the approval of the king. That is no freedom at all.

And so my ancestors became refugees, seeking refuge in a place that eventually became known as the Land of Freedom. Remembering them, their faith, and the welcome they received in this new land is how I want to commemorate World Refugee Day and my fellow descendants of refugees and those seeking refuge now wherever they might be seeking it in this world.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
(Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, 1883.)

Statue of Liberty
(Wikipedia)

Jesus Takes in Refugees

I remember too that in Jesus, the strong foundation rock of our faith, we find our true and eternal refuge.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
(Psalm 18:2.)

He cares for the captives and sets them free, for the oppressed and rescues them from danger.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
(Luke 4:18-19.)

The refuge found in Jesus is not just spiritual, but physical. He proved these dual aspects throughout his ministry of healing and teaching. Raising Lazarus from the dead pointed to the truth of eternal life, but it was done by way of actually raising him from the dead. The physical act was not merely incidental. Jesus gave physical life back to Lazarus and turned his family’s suffering into joy.

This is what it means to be free in Jesus, to follow his teachings and his example:

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32.)

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:2.)

To follow Jesus then is to do as he did. I’m glad people did that for my ancestors seeking refuge over three centuries ago.

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Calling Evil Good and Good Evil in Today’s World – three insights from C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis
(Wikipedia)[/

Good people know both good and evil: bad people do not know about either. (Mere Christianity.)

Of all bad men religious bad men are the worst. (Reflections on the Psalms.)

The descent to hell is easy, and those who begin by worshiping power soon worship evil. (The Allegory of Love.)

This brings to mind the words of the prophet:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil … . (Isaiah 5:20.)

I don’t want to be filled with that woe.

***

[C.S. Lewis wrote at a time when using “he”, “man”, and “men” was considered proper form to identify women as well. His insights apply to all people, of course, even if he did not also use the words “she”, “woman”, and “women.”]

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The Plain Meaning of Scripture – How a Woman Pastor Honors God’s Call

[Crystal Lutton’s guest post relates her journey to become a pastor and preacher and how she overcame opposition from those who said she must reject God’s call in her life.]

When God first called me to ministry and told me I would be a pastor my immediate response was, “No thank you.”

I’d grown up in the church and was very aware of the traditional Complementarian teachings that say women will never be called by God to preach – that even if we’re suited, gifted, and willing God will never use us that way.  I had even walked away from the church because it was clear I did not fit into the paradigm being taught. I held onto God but wanted nothing to do with those who claimed to know him.

God had brought me back to the church, and to seminary, but I certainly didn’t want to pastor – at least not if it had to look like the only ways I had seen it look.  God reassured me that the men I encountered would be his problem and reminded me that he is my defender and yet I was still hesitant.  Obviously I came around because here I am.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been many men to present themselves as the very accusers I knew would come.  It doesn’t mean that there haven’t been obstacles. It does mean I have learned a balance of response.

I have learned the value of waiting and letting the Lord, and other men I’ve been blessed to have surround me, call them out. I have learned how to speak boldly to the real issues behind what they are doing. I admit speaking boldly came easier than the waiting but I imagine that trait would be necessary in a woman that God called into ministry when I started this journey.

When I am confronted directly about this issue I normally respond in one of two ways when I’m confronted on this issue.

The first is intended to effectively shut down the conflict when I sense that there is not an opportunity for iron to sharpen iron and this is simply someone coming in opposition to what God has me doing.  In these encounters I tell them flat out God called me to this – whether they think that makes me an exception or another example is no matter to me. “If you are trying to bully me into stopping because you don’t think I should be doing it then it sounds like you’re telling me to fear you (man) and not God. Is that what you’re telling me?  Disobey God and obey you?  That seems unbiblical.”

At that point they usually back off. Or call me a Jezebel and slink away. Either way I’m back to what I was supposed to be doing.

Jezebel, John Liston Byam Shaw 1896 (Wikimedia)

The second response is for those times I sense the opportunity for open honest dialogue.  In these situations I start by asking them to help clarify the conversation we’re having.

I ask if they are thinking that we both agree that the “plain reading of Scripture” is that God will never call women to ministry? They inevitably confirm this and I tell them they must think that I am disregarding God’s clear teaching. When they believe we have finally come to common ground I introduce the fact that I am having a very different conversation with them.

I explain that I believe the “plain reading of Scripture” is that God has always called women to ministry and the Bible is full of examples of this. I assure them I also take the Bible very seriously and if I thought the Bible said that women can’t be pastors then I wouldn’t be one. I validate their need to obey their understanding of Scripture and suggest that I also have to obey what the Lord has taught me.

You can probably already see that this is an expanded version of my more effective response to shut down obstacles.  That is because the issue is the same – we either fear God or fear men.

Which brings us back to my original response to God’s calling.

Because I feared men I initially declined. Because I feared God more – and because fear of God is not rooted in bullying and power/control dynamics like fear of men is – I chose to obey God and get on the right side of Theology and history.  My respect and deep reverence for God has had me calling out abuses of power in and outside the church and allowed me to be one of the forerunners challenging doctrines about parenting with the first Christian book to denounce punitive paradigms completely and introduce Grace-Based Discipline.

I’m sitting at a place in ministry now where I see that the trenches I dug and the foundations I helped lay have been built upon. The landscape is growing and beautiful.  There is so much encouragement for gentle parenting and infusing every area of our lives with grace.  The recent #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have been a long time in the coming.  Because I chose to fear God and not men I have been in a unique position for some time now to work with those who have been abused by and are leaving the church in the growing movement of “Dones” (those who are declaring themselves Done with Christianity).

My goal when talking with anyone is always to point them to God.  I challenge doctrines when they are obstacles to the person getting closer to God. I challenge people when they are obstacles to others getting closer to God.  I truly believe that one can walk away from everything they’ve ever been taught and still hold fast to God.  I have seen that when that happens God is perfectly capable of holding fast to them and growing them into a healthy person with strong faith.  It grows my faith every time I see it and I am convinced I made the right choice to fear God and not men.

***

Crystal Lutton holds a Master’s in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is the President and founder of Arms of Love Family Fellowshipand has worked for over two decades on healing and reconciliation within family relationships as well as being on the forefront of the movement to advocate for and educate about gentle parenting within Christian families. She is the author of two books – Biblical Parenting and Grace-Based Living where she puts forth the idea of Grace-Based Discipline and addresses how grace can change all relationships in your life for the better. Through Arms of Love Family Fellowship she more recently launched ThomasTalks.net and is focused on the ministry of reconciliation in response to the growing numbers of people who are leaving the church. You can keep up with her on CrystalLutton.com.

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Top Five Books to Leave off Your Summer Reading List – you’ll be glad you did!

Summer reading is some of the best reading. Choose wisely and – whatever you do! – make sure you don’t read these books:

Pride and Prejudicial Error: In this sequel to Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet’s adventures continue after her marriage to Mr. Darcy. As she sees him carry out his duties as local magistrate, she learns of the law and becomes enamored of the notion she could ascend to the bench. He tries to talk her out of it and that’s when he learns the error of his ways.

Frankenstein’s Monster Truck: In this modern retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic, Victor Frankenstein – a brilliant mechanical engineer – seeks to bring a  truck to life after being unable to find a driver worthy of competing in the championship rally. He tops the truck off with gas and leaves it out in a thunderstorm, where it is struck by a bolt from the sky. The truck awakens but the roar of its engine is more than Frankenstein can take. Feeling the rejection of its creator, the truck roars off and wanders the back roads competing in small town demolition derbies. No one will race against it, as this monster literally crushes every car and truck it faces. Until it ran out of gas and stopped.

The Man Who Would Be King Kong: Two soldier-adventurers in 19th Century India search for fame and fortune, looking for a kingdom of their own to rule. They make their way to a remote Bengali island shrouded in mystery and rumor, hoping their western technology of advanced weaponry will secure their place as rulers. A giant gorilla eats them.

Moby Dick and Jane: Jane is an ambitious marine scientist who wants to find the biggest whale in the world. Follow her adventures as she writes grants proposals, meets with potential funding agencies, and submits government form after government form. This book will have you snoozing in your lawn chair by the third page, guaranteed.

Oliver Twist and Shout: This biography of the young Liverpool orphan who desired  to be a Beatle will strike a chord with everyone who ever dreamed of being a rocker. Oliver grew up down the street from Paul McCartney’s family and hung around the nascent rocker as he started playing music with John Lennon and George Harrison. No matter how much he shouted or twisted in eager anticipation, though, they would not let him join their group as he lacked all musical talent. He went on to invent the air guitar.

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I am always eager for recommendations on other books to avoid. Please leave yours in a comment.

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Looking Out for One Another – beyond manliness and femininity

The Bible says to love each other, comfort each other, lift each other up. It does not say that these are specifically masculine endeavors, even when the two people involved are a man and a woman.

Agatha Christie captured this dynamic perfectly in The Secret Adversary where her two heroes, Tuppence Cowley and Tommy Beresford, meet with the spy master known as Mr. Carter.

Mr. Carter paused. “Well, there it is, you see what you are pitting yourself against? Possibly the finest criminal brain of the age. I don’t quite like it, you know. You’re such young things, both of you. I shouldn’t like anything to happen to you.”

“It won’t,” Tuppence assured him positively.

“I’ll look after her, sir,” said Tommy.

“And I’ll look after you,” retorted Tuppence, resenting the manly assertion.

Tuppence set the record straight for the adventure that followed, just as she had in the earlier conversation leading to their joint venture: an equal partnership or no partnership, and Tommy could take it or leave it.

The relationship of take-it-or-leave-it

This is how relationships between women and men are supposed to work, whether in friendship or romance, just as they do between men and men or women and women. This is how all relationships are designed by God.

Love one another:

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23.)

Comfort each other:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4.)

Lift each other up:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10.)

Nowhere do these passages support the notion that men have a special responsibility to care for women that women do not share toward men. Sex and gender are irrelevant to the responsibility people have to one another in the context of those passages. Take it or leave it.

Resenting manly assertions

I join Tuppence in resenting manly assertions of protectiveness. I resent that people would assert there is some exclusively manly responsibility that would mean women cannot come alongside men to lift them up.

Particularly, I resent what this would mean for my marriage.

There are times when I’ve been on the ground and needed someone to come alongside to lift me back up. This love and comfort can take a variety of forms but each of them take strength. My wife is strong, and has carried out her God-given responsibility to be strong in my life more times than I could count. And, rest assured, there are times when I needed to count on God working through her to be strong when I was at my weakest.

Crises that threatened my family and that threatened my career have both hit me in later years. She has shored me up when I was falling over, and lifted me to my feet when I fell anyway. And in those times when I remained down, crushed under the burden, she got down beside me to hold me until I could start to rise again.

This isn’t merely metaphorical either. Her physical strength has taken charge when I’ve been physically weak, battling pneumonia that had me bedridden for days and off work for weeks. She steps up and gets the work done when I’ve been unable to lift a finger to help.

How physically fit is she? This fit:

She’s ahead of me because she’s better at this than me. (Post: My Wife and I Trained to Play Dirty)

Some who insist on gender/sex roles among God’s people would not like what they see in my marriage. We don’t fit the prescribed roles. What we do have, though, is a marriage of over 30 years with a grown son and daughter who are doing fine.

In each year of marriage we’ve had the opportunity to love, comfort and lift up each other, and our children have learned how this works in a godly marriage. If we’d stayed within the gender restrictions some people teach, we’d never have been able to do the things God called us to do for one another. We are not restricted in what we can do for God and the people he’s put in our lives, women and men both.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36.)

Friendships, marriages, joint ventures – all are designed for much more for the women and men of God than can be realized if people are bound by gender roles God never put on them. You are free to be strong for each other and to rely on the strength of one another, regardless of who is the man and who is the woman.

Take it or leave it? I’ll take it.

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I Don’t Read the Bible to Please God

Motivation is odd. Something I find compelling would be a complete bore to someone else. I might say “I like to do this because …” and someone else might respond “I don’t care about either of those things.”

One person’s motivation is another person’s non-starter.

The word “motive” is from the same Latin root from which we get the word “move” and pertains to the things that move a person to action, thought, or desire:

Motive: noun

  • something that causes a person to act in a certain way, do a certain thing, etc.; incentive.
  • the goal or object of a person’s actions. (Dictionary.com.)

This got me wondering about why I do things that others might call spiritual.

  • Why do I pray?
  • Why do I read the Bible?
  • Why do I go to church?
  • Why do I spend time thinking about God?

I thought about this at length and couldn’t find a motivating factor. Or perhaps I should say I did not find a motivating factor in the usual sense.

The things I listed are what a lot of people call spiritual disciplines, or look on them as acts a follower of Jesus should do. I’ve also heard people say they seek to honor God with these actions. I agree with all of that, I suppose, but the more I thought about it the more I realized these are not the motivations behind them for me.

I’ve also heard people say that these acts lead to great benefit. I completely agree with that as well. The more time I spend in prayer, in reading the Bible, in thinking about God, in spending time with others who know him, the more my relationship with God himself develops. But while those are benefits, I can’t say those are my motives. They aren’t what I think about when I do those other things.

So what is the motivating factor? After all, I don’t do these things by accident. They aren’t purposeless.

The more I thought on it, the more I realized that the motivating factor isn’t a what. The motivating factor is a who.

Moved by the Spirit

When it comes to movement for God, the motivator is God the Holy Spirit.

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28.)

The Spirit guides us in truth:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. (John 16:13.)

The Spirit prays for us as he prays with us:

We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26.)

The Spirit is the one who transforms us from death to life:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5.)

This death to life transformation makes all the rest of it possible: prayer, gathering, praise, reading and more are all possible because of the Spirit’s movement first in us.

That’s where the motivation is. I am not motivated because of what I desire. The motivation – the movement – is the Spirit moving within me to glorify God. This is what Jesus promised his friends on his last night with them.

He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you. (John 16:14-15.)

I’ve found my motivation. The movement for all I do in my relationship with God is because of God himself moving within me to do these things.

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