Category Archives: #books

Tackling the hard questions about being a Christian woman

I’m a bit of a Goldilocks when it comes to a lot of things. I don’t like Summer because its too hot. I don’t like Winter because it’s too cold. I like Spring because it’s juuuust right. I’m like this with films and books too. It’s a classic but it’s too long. It’s entertaining but it’s too fluffy.

Well, I read a lot of books about women, about Christianity and about christian women. I struggle sometimes because they are too academic, or they are written by someone who is well meaning and learned, but not with an eye to the realities of some of the chaos of life, or the reality of being a woman that is less than Utopian. But I also wince when they are too light-weight and not biblically grounded enough. It’s hard to find books that are just right.

I am always on the hunt for books about being a Christian woman in the real world that help me wrangle with how to be a Christian mum, how to process issues of the day, how to be a Christian (and a complementarian) in a secular workplace and how to exercise complementarianism as a single mum.

If you haven’t had to grapple with the complementarian and egalitarian issues as yet, here’s a quick overview: These are the two primary positions on male-female relationships. Egalitarians say that men and women are equal in value and equal in function. We are the same in every way, holding and exercising equal authority and with no barrier to any activity, including preaching. Complementarians say that men and women are equal in value and different in function. This stance says that men are tasked with primary authority and that we are made for, and (should) exercise, different functions. And while there are degrees within this position, this includes a restriction on some things, most notably holding positions of authority over men.

That’s a very thumbnail sketch but we’re talking the gist of things here.

Personally, I am a complementarian. In all my Bible and commentary reading, it still seems to me to be the most biblically correct position. This is different to my egalitarian sisters and I would just say that this difference of opinion does not define my relationship with them, as there is far more fundamentals that we agree on than issues that we don’t. There are many areas we can respectfully disagree and still rejoice in Christ together.

Where my complementarian belief leaves me personally though, is working through what is the biblical application in my real and (very) messy life.

I have read a lot of books that have been helpful. Notably Hannah Anderson’s Made for More, Courtney Reissig’s Accidental Feminist, Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design and Claire Smith’s God’s Good Design.

Kathleen Nielson’s book Women of God however, is an absolute cracker.

The tag line of the book is “Hard questions. Beautiful truth.” and it certainly lives up to this. Throughout the book, Nielson raises, and tackles, questions that have been in the forefront of my mind, and those of some of my Christian sisters, for a long time. Her style is to pose a question, answer it from the Bible, but then keep asking “But what about….”

This is the great encouragement in this book. She recognises that shallow or trite answers might be true, but as women’s lived experience is deeper, so must be the answers. So she keeps asking until she bottoms out each issue.

Sometimes they are not necessarily easy truths. For example, there is an order of creation and that can be a difficult truth to reconcile and live out when our inclinations might strain against it. But what Nielson does is help to put the question into context and, because she keeps asking questions, she can help us to understand the nuance and beauty of the truth as it is meant to be – not what we might immediately assume it to be.

As an example, she tackles the order of creation and how historically, church elders have assumed that meant that women were in some way inferior to men, or “limited in the way they bear the image of God – in comparison to the way men do.” What she then shows is that God’s creation of women revealed man’s great need (man’s alone-ness is the only thing in creation that is “not good”) and then reveals woman as God’s great gift to complete creation so that it was good.

But then she keeps going – how woman’s role as “helper” is in no way demeaning; how it is wrong to apply order of creation theology to a secular workplace, to which this Scripture does not speak; how the intentionality of order of creation places a burden on man as the teacher and leader – not because woman is incapable, but because that is what God has tasked man to do. “This makes sense:” says Nielson “to lead means to go out before, so that others follow. Eve cannot bear that leadership responsibility because she wasn’t there before.” That might seem like an accident of circumstance, but with God, there are no accidents – so we must look into what this order of creation means.

She notes strongly that man is cursed because he failed to perform his primary responsibility to lead. This doesn’t cancel out Eve’s sin, but Adam’s sin is equally bad. Her sin is giving in to temptation. His sin was that, as the first created, he was to obey God and lead his wife (which includes leading her in the one law of Eden about the tree, which was given to him before Eve was created). He failed. And he was cursed.

This starts putting things into perspective. Order is not about inferiority. Its actually much bigger. Its about God’s plan for all of creation. This is hard for us because we can’t conceptualise that big. And “we often live in a way that assigns value according to roles” and God didn’t ascribe value to each role – our value is completely equal. It is us who ascribes value to the different roles of men and women and that’s what we strain against.

That is not to say that our differing roles haven’t resulted in terrible realities for some women and Nielson acknowledges this terrible sinfulness in our clumsy and sometimes wicked application of Scripture. But her aim is to get back to what God intended. She does this in an engaging and accessible way and at the same time really excavating through layers of questions that we all have about difficult passages of the Bible in the Old and New Testaments, and how they are applied.

This is a great book for avid readers and newcomers to the subject alike. It is a great read and by the time I got to the end, I felt so much more informed about what complementarianism means in practical application – in real life. I would also say it is a worthwhile read whatever your position is as there is helpful biblical wisdom in here. Most of all though, this book left me feeling so much more informed on reading and applying biblical wisdom from God’s revelation on women and so much more confident about the person God created me to be.

If I could be anyone, I’d be Lucy Pevensie

I daydream sometimes. Sometimes its replaying events of the day and all the awesome things I should have said. Sometimes I imagine myself as the heroine of a great story where I’m winning the court case, or saving the children or winning the battle against the orcs. I’m Cate Blanchett in The Lord of the Rings. I’m Peggy Carter in Captain America. I’m clever, strong, beautiful, sassy, feminine and mysterious.

But then someone posed the question to me who was my greatest hero, and if I could be them, who would I be?

For me, there is only one – Lucy Pevensie. Cast your mind back to your childhood days. Lucy is the 8 year old girl who first discovers Narnia in C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

Image result for lucy pevensie

Source: costumes.narniaweb.com

Lucy is the littlest and the most courageous of all the Pevensie children. She is the most steadfast, the most loyal and the most faithful. She is beautiful and innocent and brave. “I think – I don’t know – but I think I could be brave.” she says in her little voice. “If you were any braver you’d be a lioness.” Aslan tells her later.

In Prince Caspian, when the children have returned to Narnia, she alone can see Aslan because her heart is strong and her faith is pure. “You’re by my side. Even when I can’t see you, even when I can’t understand.” she says.

She believes with her whole heart and never wavers in her faith that Aslan will be there to support and save them.

Of course C. S. Lewis wrote the Narnia books with allegorical intent – Aslan is the messianic form of Jesus who is betrayed in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but gives his life for many. After his cruel death, he rises again. In The Horse and His Boy, when Shasta, the main character, finally meets Aslan, it might be the testimony of Lewis himself retelling his meeting with Jesus. There is a moment in The Magician’s Nephew when all creation is brought into being that is very reminiscent of the creation account in Genesis. All the Narnia books along the way contain snapshots of Jesus, grace, triumph over evil and salvation.

This gives Lucy her extra fascination for me. With her valiant heart and quiet faith, she has a special relationship with Aslan. It reminds me strongly of Jesus’ words in the gospels:

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

The littlest people – the ones who are supposed to be quiet and unobtrusive, the ones who are seen as annoying and frivolous, who are silly and naive – these are the very same ones that have the strongest confidence and the fiercest faith. They are the ones God gathers to Him.

Its almost as though Lewis is giving us a picture of what our aspiration should be – us adults who think we are so clever and strong and have it all worked out.

Lucy gives me a ideal to aspire to. She’s a reminder of all the places where I let life get in the way of my faith. When I think of the children coming to Jesus, I think of Lucy.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-3)

Courage. Loyalty. Integrity. Faith. Innocence not cynicism.

The littlest are the greatest.

It makes me look at myself and how I relate to God. Does my faith drown out my adult cynicism? Does my faith give me courage to do what God wants of me? Am I loyal to God above any other person or thing in my life? When I look at Him does He fill my whole view? Or do I have half a mind on my life and half an eye on my idols?

It makes me look at my children and how I see them relating to God. They have much of Lucy and there’s much that rebukes and corrects me in their attitudes. God is so much bigger in their eyes. I don’t mean that in a cartoon way, I mean that my cynicism has diminished God’s size. My God is too small sometimes. I forget how much power and sovereignty and grace and love He has. Children know it. I have to remember.

So its time to go back to the beginning. Its time to go back to the cross. Remember God’s bigness. Remember God’s tenderness.

And in a world where we could be Black Widow, Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel – lets be Lucy Pevensie.

 

 

 

 

The pitfalls of “Oh so relatable”

It’s nice when people say they like my stuff. I write about things because they are issues that I wrangle with, or because its bits of the Bible I like, or sometimes just because I’m a chronic over-sharer. But when people say “oh, she’s so relatable” I feel a little worried and I have to assess what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. Not because I don’t want to be relatable, but because “relatable” has taken on a meaning of its own these days.

To relate to someone used to simply mean, to empathise or make a connection with someone. “To relate” was a verb – a doing word. These days, to be relatable means showing characteristics, attitudes and behaviours that are considered “the norm”, or that are thought to be the position of the most people. Saying someone is relatable means they represent that majority. It’s a noun – something we ascribe to someone.

The trouble is that terms like “relatable” have become woven into our modern fabric of what is considered to be what normal and reasonable people think and feel. And that’s a judgement call based on what side of a particular issue you’re on.

No more so than in Christian circles. We are called to be growing disciples of Jesus who gather in His name and are a priesthood of believers, displaying His glory to the ends of the earth.

How we do that has been a matter of great conjecture throughout history.

On one end of the spectrum, you might have Humanity – by that I mean all compassion, all about the feels and the person. At the other end you have Theology – and by that I mean dry and lifeless and highly academic. On that spectrum then the application might end up as Relatable on the one side and Sanctimonious on the other. See my diagram below (and if you follow me regularly, you’ll know I do all my own graphics).

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If we are all about the Humanity, we can fall into the trap of thinking God just wants us to be happy, or that God is all about love (but forget the judgement for sin part). It can even make us so indistinguishable from the world – so relatable in fact – that we don’t look Christian at all.

On the other hand, if we all about the theology, we can forget that our churches are made of real life people who live in the real world with difficult jobs, and fractured relationships, and high anxiety and eating disorders and abuse and debt and all the things that go along with being a human. We can be so academic in our theology that we forget to care. We become sanctimonious, dolling out judgement from our ivory tower – forgetting that we are called to love as well as to teach and correct.

We need both Theology and Humanity. I don’t mean that we go half way and sit on the fence without going one way or the other. No, we are Christian and we will boast in Jesus Christ and that precludes fence sitting. It calls for boldness and it calls us to be active participants in the gospel.

How do we do that with Theology and Humanity? We need to know our scriptures so we can be discerning and wise in our own lives, and true and honest Christian brothers and sisters to each other. We need enough theology that we know when to correct each other and hold each other accountable, but we need enough Humanity so we can support each other in love and understand the context we are all coming from.

If I am a sanctimonious ass, I will not be able to talk to drug addicts or porn addicts or prisoners or people who are bonking outside of marriage, or divorcees, or transvestites, or people who have fallen away or drunkards or people who have been abused or gay people – or anyone who is outside what I think is proper.

If I am a relatable flake, my theology might be cherry picked to fit what will make people happy, or make them like me more. I might even not have a good grounding in the Bible, either because my focus is on the people rather than the scripture, or because I read it, but don’t study it theologically.

So I want to be relatable – but as a Christian would understand it. I want to re-define this term for Christians. We should be relatable in that we acknowledge our failings and flaws. We empathise with each other and seek to understand where we are coming from. We walk with people who are not the perfect model (which is about 100% of us!). This is what Jesus did – he walked with people. He sought out the people who were the opposite of the perfect model. He hung out with criminals and outsiders and foreigners. He talked to them. He loved them. He brought them along with him.

But he pulled no punches in his teaching. He corrected them. He rebuked them. He told them the truth.

Jesus was relatable (he was fully man as well as fully God). Jesus had humanity – he understood people and treated them with love and compassion. Jesus had the ultimate wisdom of theology – he taught clearly and explicitly what following meant, both in terms of our eternal salvation, as well as the cost to us in this life.

Our theology needs to be applied in real life contexts. That doesn’t mean we bend the theology to fit. But it does mean that we lift our theology off the page and apply it unique and individual situations – just like Jesus did.

So hopefully I am relatable in that I am a single mum of two boys, holding down a full time job, studying theology part time and writing instead of doing any housework. But hopefully I also apply what I am learning through Christ in wise and discerning ways – imperfectly, but trying.

To help us all do that, I can highly recommend some kind of formal study. There are heaps you can do online – and from any country:

There are others you can do on campus or by evenings/intensives (I’ve been doing a Bachelor of Theology by this method for the last 6 years at Sydney Missionary and Bible College):

And if you think that’s not for you – maybe think again. The last time I was at uni, we hand wrote our essays and laughed at why we would need this new-fangled thing called the “world wide web” when we had a library just over there!! That’s how fast the world has moved since the 90s. I’m just saying maybe you could do this, individually or with your study group.

But, in the meantime, if you want to do some more reading to supplement your Bible study, these authors are a good source (some are more nerdy than others, but its good to have a range, right?):

You can also keep up to date with conferences – my readers in other countries – please leave comments on good conferences where you are (although they also have online resources at some of these below)! In Australia:

So lets be real people, people. But let’s know our theology and lets live it, with obedience and wisdom and reverent awe, faith and joy – and with our eyes on him.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

 

A book every Christian should read

I had the privilege of reviewing the manuscript for Craig Hamilton’s new book “Made Man” before it went to the publishers And I loved it even then. Sometimes it pays to know people in high places. OK, when I say “high places” his house is geographically up the hill from mine.

This book is an astonishing endeavor. On the face of it, talking about the incarnation of Christ is relatively simple. God became man – easy-peezy, right? We’ve read about it, sung hymns about it and shared inspirational memes about it. But when you really look hard at it, it’s like mist. We understand it, but then you look harder and it shifts and disappears. Just when you think you’ve “cracked it”, it melts away and you realise you didn’t understand it at all.

That’s because the incarnation touches in several theological concepts that are really really hard – like the Trinity. It also incorporates a historical evolution of understanding of what Jesus said. God became man = easy. How does that work in practice = not so easy.

What Made Man does is lead us through these concepts in plain language that you don’t need a theology degree to follow.

What it also does is help us to truly grasp something so important and so profound about our God, that your faith with be enriched, deepened, widened and empassioned on many levels.

It helped me to see Jesus in many new ways, as though unpicking this concept was opening up lots of small windows on what God had always planned. In opening up these windows, it casts light and shade onto something I thought I knew but didn’t truly grasp.

Reading this book filled my brain and busted open my understanding of the theological concept that engaged my heart and my soul with God on a whole new level. I could talk heaps about this book, but my efforts would not do it justice – so think of this as a “teaser” to make you hungry to read more.

Highly recommend for everyone, everywhere.

Available from Christian bookshops and direct from Matthias Media here:

https://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/made-man