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    Entries in undefined (21)


    Women in Ministry and Reformed Hermeneutics

    In his book Letters to a Young Calvinist: An Invitation to the Reformed Tradition, James K. A. Smith strikes up an imaginary dialogue with someone who has recently adopted the Reformed outlook, providing wisdom, insight, and direction that he wishes he himself had during his college years, as he first entered the Reformed tradition.  In a postscript to one of the letters, Smith touches on the topic of women in ministry.  Most Reformed leaders that I'm aware of differ from Smith's position, prerfering the complementarian viewpoint.

    James K. A. Smith writes:

    My position on women in office (and marriage) is no secret to you (given our Sunday school discussions about complementarian vs. egalitarian understandings of marriage).  What you might find surprising, or perhaps disconcerting, is that it was a Reformed hermeneutic that led me to that position.  The narrative dynamic of Creation-Fall-Redemption is the lens through which I think about these gender-related issues.  The C-F-R dynamic, you'll recall, begins with a good creation, is attentive to all the ways that the fall has cursed creation (both human and nonhuman), and understands God's redemption as the salvation of "all things" (Col. 1:20).  In other words, the effect of salvation is to roll back the effects of the curse (Gen. 3); so in the words of our Christian hymn, Christ's redemption reaches "far as the curse is found."  The curse isn't just personal; it isn't just about individual sin.  The curse of the fall affects all of creation (the serpent, the ground, fauna, our work); even our systems and institutions are accursed.  So the good news of redemption has to reach into those spheres as well.

    I found this interesting.  The logic employed by Smith from within the Reformed tradition matches well with my own, though I am not Reformed.  The work of restoration that has been actualized by the cross of Christ and the unfolding of the work of "new creation", in my reading, extends to marriage and ministry, opening the way for egalitarianism.

    What is your position on women in ministry?  How have you come to those conclusions?  Whatever your conviction, I think it is important that the biblical, historical, and theological evidence should be carefully weighted and considered.  All opinions are welcome here, though if you're in need of guidance on how to best state your conviction, visit my comment policy.


    Who Mythologizes The Mythmakers?


    Recently I finished reading Harvey Cox's 2009 survey of the state of religion in the world, The Future of Faith.  The book is incredibly engaging.  Cox writes in an accessible way, a rare gift for a scholar.  This book is clearly written for a popular audience, and is replete with personal anecdotes from Cox's encounters with religious leaders all over the world.  He is a professor at Harvard Divinity School, having served there for many years, and is well regarded as a scholar of religion.

    Cox's primary thesis within the book is that an "Age of Faith" has dawned, a period in history wherein certain leveling forces have emerged that will require religion (Christianity in particular) to revert to a sort of "pre-Constantinian" state.  No longer will the controls of institutionalized religion or the rules of Enlightenment rationalism apply to the world of religious practice.  Beliefs will be downplayed, and the content of the lives that are in fact lived will become the litmus test of any religion.  Christianity will become increasingly egalitarian, and hierarchies will dwindle to insignificance.  Of all the regions in the world that are most critical for these developments, Africa is tops.  Europe and the West are on the way out as a major player in world Christianity.  The future is indigenous, popular, grass roots movements of the Global South.

    In telling this story, Cox has a number of foes that he must dispose of, among them conservative Christians, the papacy, and his past.  He was involved in an InterVarsity fellowship at Penn, providing him with numerous experiences to relay in support of his argument against older forms of Christianity.  "Apostolic succession" and a "deposit of faith," critical for Catholics and Protestants both, must also be dispatched.  Cox must establish the reality of early "Christianities" to undercut any claim to a unified set of doctrines that from the very beginning composed "Christianity" in order to debunk claims to power based on history or the Bible, or both.

    I couldn't help but noticing, however, as the argument progress, that while debunking old myths Cox was creating a myth of his own, a construct within which he (and others who stand with him) can obtain power, a new controlling narrative that can reform the faith, one wherein creeds, "orthodox" teaching, or hierarchies can no longer hold sway.  Instead, there will be base communities, or localized expressions of Christian practice, that can work for justice, extoll the best of liberation theologies, provide forums for mutual care and support for one another, pray together, and wrestle with the biblical text in a more localized and contextualized way.  No magisterium.  No "one, true" church.  Only an amorphous "faith;" a defined way of life apart from "beliefs."

    But, as Russell T. McCutcheon has noted, we must "beware the mythmakers."  I find it fascinating that scholars such as Cox can dismiss old myths and construct news one, claiming historicity while failing to acknowledge that they, too, have an interest concerning how they present the story they tell.  Cox downplays beliefs, and plays up a kind of "way," the true way of being Spirit-led, faithful to Jesus, and in concord with the earliest diversity of Christ-followers.

    This leads me to ask, "Who watches the watchmen?"  Who keeps an eye on our scholars and academics, our leaders and historians?  Who ensures they are telling the story well?

    I'm doubtful that an "Age of Faith" has dawned, and while I do believe Christian expression is changing, I doubt the shift itself is any more cataclysmic than other shifts and changes that have taken place in bygone days.  There is movement, yes, and there are new developments, new expressions.  But a wholesale movement in the vein of Cox's description?  It's a myth, and I doubt it is true.


    Read This: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    The title should suffice for a recommendation.  During my trip home for the holidays, I was delighted to read Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  Skloot tells the story of an African-American woman from whom cells were cultured in the 1950's, and after being grown in laboratory after laboratory, are still used in medical science today.  The cells of Mrs. Lacks have been used to derive cures for various diseases, and have helped scientists to better understand a myriad of other cell-related issues.  In telling the story, there are a vast array of ethical issues that arise: race, poverty, informed consent, the body, and on and on.  It is fantastic.  There is also a religious angle to the story, in that the Lackses have a predominantly Protestant Christian background, which does inform how the family has processed what has happened to Henrietta and her cells.

    This book gave me plenty of think about with regard to justice, the future of scientific research, the pertinence Christian theology has for how we talk about the body, and the need for further reflection on patient consent and tissue research.  I strongly recommend reading this book.


    Reading a Papal Encyclical - Caritas in Veritate

    Benedict XVI, in his fifth encyclical, writes with clarity and purpose. I was surprised by what I found.

    Papal encyclicals accomplish the feat of casting a comprehensive vision for the common good of the world, not only for the church.  And these letters communicate that message with conviction and with a sense of moral authority. This letter is not a theological tome, though it is theological, nor is it simple political commentary.  It is a letter that evaluates the present state of the world, touching on the environment, the world financial system, international politics, the family, industrial and technological development, the nature of the human person, and the vocation to work toward the establishment of a world wherein all can prosper within their unique cultural and geographical locations.  I have seldom read any material from any religious leader as comprehensive and as interesting in scope.  I do not know what I expected to find in reading a recent encyclical, but I was delighted by what I did in fact read.

    For all of the criticism that the Catholic church receives, I commend them for attempting to define and cast a vision for the common good of the world.  While there may be detractors from the proposals contained therein, at the very least the ideas given should be contended with.  Good Catholics worldwide have in such a document a resource to draw from as they work on behalf of Christ.


    Wisdom From Wesley

     But in what sense is this righteousness imputed to believers? In this: all believers are forgiven and accepted, not for the sake of anything in them, or of anything that ever was, that is, or ever can be done by them, but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for them. I say again, not for the sake of anything in them, or done by them, of their own righteousness or works: "Not for works of righteousness which we have done, but of his own mercy he saved us." "By grace ye are saved through faith, -- not of works, lest any man should boast;" but wholly and solely for the sake of what Christ hath done and suffered for us. We are "justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ." And this is not only the means of our obtaining the favour of God, but of our continuing therein. It is thus we come to God at first; it is by the same we come unto him ever after. We walk in one and the same new and living way, till our spirit returns to God.

    -John Wesley, Sermon 20, "The Lord Our Righteousness"