I’ve heard it said that Willow Creek Community Church tries to target middle-class males of about my age precisely because we are the hardest group to reach. As the thinking goes, if you can win them over, reaching others should be a snap. Jews for Jesus makes the same claim about trying to evangelize Jews.
I wonder who might be the hardest group of Christians to reach with the good news that in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal 3:28), and the (to me) necessary corollary that God gifts both men and women for ministry. The (big-O) Orthodox may not be the hardest to reach, but I’m sure they’re in the top five. They’ve got a view of the church, its ministry, and its sacraments that isn’t just “high,” it’s stratospheric. And they’ve got a nearly 2,000-year track record of not ordaining women. If you can convince an Orthodox believer, you’re probably a long way towards convincing anybody else.
Did you ever wonder what an Orthodox argument for full inclusion of women in ministry would look like? Here is a good place to start.
The writer, Maria McDowell, begins by acknowledging that women’s ordination is a new question for Orthodox theology, and one that has come from outside that tradition as the Orthodox have interacted with western Christians. Even so, she thinks there are precedents in how Orthodoxy has handled other theological (not to mention disciplinary and liturgical) issues.
One thing I genuinely appreciate about the Orthodox is a desire at every point to remain true to the church’s Tradition. This brief essay demonstrates that this Tradition is not static but constantly evolving. Not only that, she believes it may even be able to make room for women’s ordination.
Realistically, the chances of McDowell’s ideas being taken to heart in my lifetime are infinitessimal. One might at least hope, however, for the revival of the female diaconate, which, as I understand it, was never truly abandoned as much as it was permitted to lapse from disuse.
On a related issue, McDowell quotes Gregory of Nazianzus’ Fifth Theological Oration on the issue of using gender-bound language for God:
It does not follow that because the Son is the Son in some higher relation (inasmuch as we could not in any other way than this point out that he is of God and consubstantial), it would also be necessary to think that all the names of this lower world and of our kindred should be transferred to the Godhead. Or maybe you would consider our God to be a male, according to the same argument, because he is called God and Father, and that deity is feminine, from the gender of the word, and Spirit neuter, because it has nothing to do with generation; ?¢‚Ç¨¬¶ It is very shameful, and not only shameful but very foolish, to take from things below a guess at things above, and from a fluctuating nature [a guess] at the things that are unchanging, and as Isaiah [8:19] says, to seek the living among the dead.
In the context of eastern Christianity’s long traditon of apophatic theology, such a stance makes perfect sense.
I found this essay at the website of the St. Nina Quarterly, “a publication dedicated to exploring the ministry of women in the Orthodox Church and to cultivating a deeper understanding of ministry in the lives of all Orthodox Christian women and men.” It’s worth a browse for anyone desiring to defend the ordination of women from any kind of conservative, traditional stance.
Update: This post is now cross-blogged at The CBE Scroll.
Here are ten more top experiences that have influenced my theological thinking.
The Making of a Platypus, Part Two
11. Romero. The whole movie was great, but the scene that has had an abiding influence on my theology is where Archbishop Oscar Romero, leading a procession of worshipers, is stopped by the police. (They were on their way to some sort of demonstration, but I don’t recall the details.) As he is stripped and about to be beaten, Romero begins to celebrate the Eucharist. He begins the Sursum corda and all the demonstrators behind him respond accordingly. There are ties here to the the scene where Romero is eventually assassinated while saying Mass. A couple of things moved me about that scene. First, on a very basic level, was the sense of connection with a tradition. The people “knew their lines.” They didn’t need to refer to a printed bulletin. Second, I was awakened in many ways to the whole connection between Eucharist and the themes of sacrifice, participation in the life of Christ, and the centrality of the bread and the cup as symbols of Christian identity over against a hostile world.
12. Writing a dissertation. This one involves reading books, but I’ve got to include it anyway. Not content to leave well enough alone, I chose a dissertation topic that forced me to interact with various writings on the topics of myth and ritual. I know more about Siberian bear-hunting rituals than anybody has a right to—and I wish to God I had found a way to import some of it into the actual final draft of my dissertation! The exercise helped me to look at faith issues from the outside, to bracket myself out of the equation and wonder why we do some of the things we do. At the same time, I think I’ve learned a bit about how to approach other faith traditions with a bit more charity than perhaps I could have mustered previously.
13. My wife. She’s practical, down-to-earth, and deeply in tune with the needs and feelings of others. I’m…well…not. I talk about my beliefs; she just lives hers. Most of the time, it’s a blessing for me to be able to see the world through her eyes. Sometimes it’s a challenge to resist throwing words at a problem and understand the people involved.
14. Being a husband. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the same thing as #13. Connie could teach anybody a thing or two about the practical outworking of theology! But being a husband has taught me some unique lessons about love, partnership, and mutual submission.
15. The church that wasn’t meant to be. We thought we were heading to Michigan. We were within half an inch of putting down a security deposit on an apartment. Then we learned the church had decided otherwise. It doesn’t matter that (as we later learned) the negative vote was more a referendum on the search committee than on me. It still hurt. You know all those “warning signs of depression” they tell you about on the public service commercials? Between us we had just about all of them. And yet, from a distance we realized that the church we were hoping to pastor would not have been a good place for us. This and other unanswered prayers strengthen my faith (when they don’t nearly blast it to smithereens) and challenge me to avoid glib answers about “God’s will” when people are struggling with grief and disappointment.
16. Being a pastor. Sermon preparation, preaching, leading worship, praying with folks, visiting them when they’re sick, comforting them in their grief, helping them to maybe grow a little closer to Jesus… How does that not have an influence on your theology?
17. Being a pastor. Living in a fishbowl, being talked about behind your back, trying to lead people with absolutely no interest in spiritual growth, putting up with entrenched power blocs… How does that not have an influence on your theology?
18. Robert Webber. I’ve attended his worship conferences whenever I could. His vision of an “ancient-future” church gives me goosebumps. He’s a witty, engaging speaker and an apt worship leader. He has sharpened my sense of ecumenism and introduced me to the taproots of Christian ministry and worship in a practical way that few have equaled.
19. Being a dad. Being a dad puts many things in perspective. What kind of world do I want to provide for my little girl? How do I want her to remember me? What core values and convictions do I hope to instill in her? Plus, you get to answer interesting questions like, “Is God a boy or a girl?”
20. Having sleep apnea. I don’t sleep without technological assistance. I’m fine now, but four or five years ago, before my condition was diagnosed, it nearly ruined me. I can’t tell you how many people I had failed—beginning with my wife and daughter—because of my constant fatigue, memory lapses, and depression. My condition has taught me never to take the simple things for granted, to trust in God alone, and to appreciate the love and steadfastness of people who love me.
Aaron Ghilhoni and Benjamin Myers have shared their top 20 theological experiences. Books are important, but they are not usually as formative as we give them credit for. That is certainly true for me, although I would not entirely discount my voracious appetite for books as part of how I’ve come to wherever it is I currently am theologically. The more I thought about the experiences, environments, and relationships that have shaped my theology, the longer this post got! I’ve decided to break it up into two installments, of which this is the first.
The Making of a Platypus, Part One
1. My parents. They took me to church every Sunday, and I watched them live what they believe every day. Their faith is not “sophisticated,” but it is real. It made a difference in them, and that made a difference in me.
2. The rural, southern church of my youth. I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit in a church that might as well have been lifted up from rural Kentucky or Tennessee and plopped down in the Midwest. Southern gospel, crewcuts, and the King James Bible were always in evidence. It was basic meat and potatoes Protestant Christianity.
3. The suburban, African American church of my youth. Starting when I was a pre-teen, the immediate neighborhood of our church underwent a demographic transition to overwhemingly African American. The church was determined to remain active in ministry to the community, so it called an African American pastor and, over the next 5-10 years, navigated about as successful a transition from predominantly white modes of worship and ministry to predominantly black ones as could be imagined. My folks, inner-city high school teachers, never blinked as the church underwent this transition (see #1 above), and in the process I learned about race, sensitivity to others, and how culture influences church life. Along the way, I learned to love black gospel music (and thanks to my wife, I’m listening to some new acquisitions even now!)
4. Dungeons and Dragons. Not the game but the people with whom I played it—still good friends today although I don’t stay in touch nearly as much as I ought. Ed, John, and I have all changed dramatically in the past 20-some years, none of us in the same directions, although all of us, I think, have grown in faith by learning to put up with each other.
5. The Second Chapter of Acts. The Bible chapter is great, but I’m thinking about the music group. Ed (see #4 above) loved their vocals even before he became a Christian. I’ve lost track of how many concerts we all attended together, especially the one where Ed nearly broke every bone in my hand! From them, I learned about worship, was first exposed to contemporary Christian music, and began to appreciate some of the better features of the charismatic movement.
6. The pastor with a first name. That would be Paul Calmes, my college pastor. He was the first pastor I ever knew who wanted people to call him by his first name. One Sunday he was preaching on the Emmaus disciples (Lk 24) and how Jesus opened their ears to understand the Scripture. He said, “There is a difference between studying the Bible and meeting the Author.” I wrote it in the margin of my Bible that minute. I hold it in my heart to this day.
7. The campus minister who had my number. Rick Brawner first pushed me to preach (on a Baptist Student Union worship team) and encouraged me to hone my nascent teaching skills. So I guess a lot of what follows is at least in part his fault.
8. The Belle of Louisville. A bunch of us incoming seminarians took a riverboat ride during orientation week (courtesy of Crescent Hill Baptist Church). Picture a bunch of fundamentalists, liberals, closet Pentecostals, and wannabe Episcopalians sitting together on the upper deck, singing traditional hymns and feeling the movement of the Holy Spirit. It was our own little ecumenical movement, and it taught me never to be too sure that my own faith was all that different from the faith of anyone else who calls on the name of the Lord.
9. Going through hell seminary. I wasn’t exactly a fundamentalist at Southern Seminary, but I wasn’t entirely at home with the predominant theological attitude at that time, either. Mostly, however, I came to understand that I didn’t want anything to do with the folks who were trying to take the place over. I’ve heard Southern in the 1980’s called the exposed nerve of the Southern Baptist Convention. Everything that the SBC was experiencing, we felt it at our Louisville campus. Boy did we feel it! Being who I am, I’ve been privileged at various times to be both the token “conservative” in “liberal” groups and the token “liberal” in “conservative” groups. I’ll take the former just about any day of the week. At least in the circles I run in, the “liberals” usually act like they know and love Jesus.
10. The Mission. There is a scene in this movie where Robert DeNiro’s character, who chose as his penance for killing a man to drag around his armor tied to his body, is set free when a Guaraní cuts him lose and lets the armor fall down a ravine. At that point, DeNiro breaks down in tears and, eventually, emerges a transformed man. It was a powerful parable about sin and forgiveness.
Cross-blogged at The CBE Scroll:
Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has stepped down as pastor of New Life Church over allegations?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùwhich he says are partly true?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùof sexual misconduct and drug abuse. Eventually we will know the truth about what happened. Until then, Christian charity compels me to pray for this brother as he seeks ?¢‚Ç¨?ìspiritual advice and guidance.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù
No doubt both the man and his church will be doing a fair bit of soul-searching in the weeks to come. It may be that Ben Witherington is right in wondering whether the patriarchal culture, and particularly the model of church leadership that so often goes with it, might be partially responsible. Witherington writes,
The culture of patriarchal Evangelical leadership involves a lot of power and isolation at the top. Too often it involves a ?¢‚Ç¨?ìcult of personality?¢‚Ç¨¬ù kind of scenario, with the ?¢‚Ç¨?ìpastor-superstar?¢‚Ç¨¬ù model, and the pastor put way up on a pedestal – from which he is almost bound to fall. The isolation from normal accountability structures and peer correction may lead to all sorts of temptations to abuse power. It is quite probably too much power in too few hands. The minister may feel he is bullet-proof and can do no wrong. And if there is something not right in his personal relationships with his wife or family, then moral slippage may happen in various forms. One of the reasons, though not the only one, for this is that the patriarchal culture of male leadership isolates men from the critique of the opposite sex, and often it is those with a differing perspective which will first see the early warning signs of sexual trouble. Any sort of local church accountability or pastor-parish relations committee should involve both men and women, and not those hand picked by the pastor.
If this was a factor in Pastor Haggard?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s situation, let us all pray that he and his church confront it.