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Post Trump Reflections: Dueling Moralities

I live in a complex world. I was raised a southern conservative evangelical but was plopped down in adulthood in the liberal, socially conscious Pacific Northwest for thirteen years. The dueling moral codes of my upbringing and my Seattle culture made me squirm at first. But more importantly, they made me think. I was uncomfortable at times in Seattle. I didn’t always fit. But now that I have moved back to the South, I am uncomfortable here as well.

Though I was raised to see southern conservative culture as morally superior, I no longer believe it is so simple. I have seen in particular the horrible blind spots defended by some southern Christians around the basic dignity of mankind made in the image of God. I went to a private elementary and high school that did not allow blacks to attend until 1985.  I then went to a southern conservative Bible college that defended their history of not allowing blacks to attend and their slander of Martin Luther King at his assassination. Even after allowing blacks to attend, they refused to allow interracial dating into the 1990’s. And they repeatedly attempted to defend these positions by way of Scripture. My Presbyterian denomination has recently gone through a period of repentance for the harm they did to others in the south when they did not stand with their fellow image bearers of God fighting for basic dignity and equal rights through the civil rights movement. I’ve been encouraged by repentance and change among conservative Christians the last few years, but clearly southern conservative Christians have no historical corner on the morality market. Even today, many still struggle with conflating political nationalism (a view that perceived spiritual superiority of the United States has caused God to bless the US in unusual ways) with the historic message of Jesus Christ of the Bible.

But neither can I lift up the culture of the Pacific Northwest as morally superior, particularly around sexual ethics and the humanity of the unborn. The Old Testament Law shows that our Creator deeply values fidelity in relationships, and sexual faithfulness in marriage is something that Scripture highlights in every genre and generation. It is an inconvenient truth that both cultures have aspects that positively reflect Biblical guidelines. And both cultures also have great holes in their understanding of righteousness according to Scripture. After all, social justice is commanded as strongly as fornication is condemned in both the Old and New Testament. One culture does it out of independence of religion and the other in the name of religion. Both are deeply flawed. Yet both reflect common grace as well.

And I daily tip toe through it all. Pitfalls on the left. Pitfalls on the right. I want those in more liberal cultures to know that their cry for social justice was God’s idea first, who made all of mankind in His image and names the care of orphans and widows as the purest form of religion. I also want to affirm a conservative understanding of human life before birth and the value of sexual faithfulness and the harm that sexual promiscuity causes to both individuals and communities.

As I navigate these dueling perspectives on morality, I offer some observations.

  1. For many Christians in either culture, visions of morality seem more often influenced by culture than by the Bible, and it often takes getting out of one culture and into another before one recognizes it.
  2. Many of us don’t have a framework for self-inspection or inspection of our preferred culture. We think our moral culture is good and the other perceived immoral culture is bad. We often miss the sins of both opposing cultures or the common grace in both.
  3. In the end, most Christians I observe want to call out the culture with which they do not identify, not the one with which they do.

Over my years living in Seattle coming out of the conservative South, and then moving back to the South after a decade in the Pacific Northwest, God refined my understanding of God’s moral absolutes as opposed to my own. My convictions on the sexual ethics of Scripture and dignity of all human life, including the unborn, became set in stone, but so also did my convictions on the care of the poor and immigrant, the widow and the orphan that flow from the image-bearing dignity of all human life. Social liberals in the Pacific Northwest helped me learn compassion for the least of these and grace for the down and out. My eyes were opened to systemic racism and injustice that I had been blinded to growing up.

As we end 2016 and begin 2017, I’m going to offer two (and maybe three) more posts in this Post Trump series. In the next one, I want to look at dueling visions of care of the poor. I don’t know many Christians who would argue against care of the poor, but I know a number who believe government shouldn’t be involved in it and decry the “welfare state.” I have been studying Scripture to understand God’s heart for the poor and the role of representative government in their care.  In the third post, I will look at the warnings of Isaiah 7-9, as the southern tribe of Judah turned toward the king of Assyria to protect them from warring northern tribes. Ungodly alliances destroy, and God offers through the prophet Isaiah a somber warning for us all as modern evangelicals grapple with alliances with Trump. If I do write a fourth post, I am interested, still from Isaiah, in exploring the hope we have in God’s promises of Zion, both those ushered in by the first coming of Jesus and our hope for their final fulfillment through His second. These have blessed me as I grapple with demoralization over the state of the church in America even as I see God working in the next generation of believers to build the foundation of true faith, with all the fruits that flow from it.

Happy New Year, folks.

For You have been a stronghold for the poor,
a stronghold for the needy person in his distress,
a refuge from the rain, a shade from the heat.
When the breath of the violent
is like rain against a wall,
like heat in a dry land,
You subdue the uproar of barbarians.
As the shade of a cloud cools the heat of the day,
so He silences the song of the violent.  Isaiah 25:4-5

6

Dying to Self in the Age of Self-love

I am going to be raw and honest in this post. And I hope I’ll be a little bit encouraging too. I am emerging from a brutally hard season in life. But even as I emerge with my feet on more solid ground than I’ve felt in a long time, I still face a life that was not the one I envisioned as an earnest Christian teenager in youth group and then Bible college. I don’t like to talk about the details of that season publicly, because despite my freedom to share myself, public writers must grapple with the effects of their story on the others in their lives who haven’t signed up for publicity and don’t benefit from the sharing. I feel free to share privately things that I won’t share publicly and have worked to be upfront and honest with those whose ministries intersect with mine. I am at peace with how I’ve been able to work that out so far.

The bottom line for my life is that I am looking toward a life of persevering in some very hard things for the long haul. And no amount of peeling off layers of myself to get to my core heart is going to rescue me from the twists and turns my story has taken. But don’t hear fatalism in that last sentence. Like the woman diagnosed with terminal breast cancer, there is a precious jewel hidden in the layers of suffering and self-sacrifice with what seems a permanent blight on one’s life.

I have several of these blights on my life physically, which I will use to talk about lessons learned from spiritual and emotional blights as well. I have been a type 1 diabetic for over twenty years. But this year, for the first time, I showed the first signs of damage to my eyes. In conjunction, my body showed symptoms again of ankylosing spondilitis that had previously gone into remission. So I started up the first line of medicine, the easy one with the fewest side effects, that had pushed it into remission the last time. But the doctor called me Wednesday. Blood work showed problems. I will likely have to discontinue and start another one that has even more side effects. (And, yes, I see a chiropractor, talk with a naturopath, and eat a mostly gluten-free diet.)

It’s becoming natural to think of dying to myself as I face more and more physical issues that evidence the fact that my physical self is truly dying (though not any time soon). It’s actually helpful that, unlike a hard marriage or family relationship or ministry commitment, I can’t escape these physical symptoms. I can’t run from them, so I have to face them head on and figure out how to live abundantly in light of them. And that learning has equipped me to persevere in the other issues in my life that I could run from if I did not feel constrained by God’s instructions through the Word.

My dad has been a great encouragement to me. He has chronic heart failure, and we almost lost him last March. But he recovered enough to get out of the hospital, and after a day at home, he drove back up to his farm to sit in the office and “tend to business.” He bought a Gator (a farm utility vehicle like a golf cart) to drive between the tractor shed and the Quonset hut, where he restores old tractors. His hip has been bothering him, and he moves slowly. But he moves, one slow step in front of the other. He gets 10% done in a day compared to his prime years, and I fully expect to find him slumped over a tractor one day. But I applaud him for his perseverance. He models for me how I want to face both my physical limitations and my emotional ones.

Sometimes, obeying God is hard. Many days, submitting to God’s laws feels restricting. It is one thing to honor our faithful God by faithfulness in relationships when the relationships are easy or affirming. But God is faithful to us when we are faithless (2 Tim. 2:13). He persevered with us when we turned away from Him. Jesus followed through on doing the right thing at great cost to Himself.

But that sounds … hard. And herein is the great paradox that Jesus Himself taught us.

Luke 9:23-25  Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

This is a true statement from Jesus. God doesn’t need me to affirm it for it to be true. But it is true nonetheless, and I can attest to that from my own experience. And this truth encourages me to persevere, stumbling physically and emotionally at times.

There is great talk of self-love in Christian circles right now, the kind of self-love that promotes a perceived circumstantial happiness. When I hear of Christian bloggers or authors or even just professing Christians in my own private life diverging from orthodox Christian faith or values because it is “too hard,” I feel a depressing weight on my shoulders. Their quest for happiness outside of orthodoxy demoralizes me in a way that a combative atheist never could. They demoralize me in a way that even my own particular burdens of suffering do not.

I opened up the psalms Thanksgiving morning, in the calm after prepping before thirty-something family members descended on my grandmother’s newly remodeled home into which I had just moved. It was Psalm 19, and David’s words resonated deeply with me as I contemplated yet another “Christian” author/blogger finding themselves in a way that was markedly divergent from an orthodox understanding of Scripture.

David reflects –

7 The Lord’s Instruction is perfect,
reviving one’s very being.
The Lord’s laws are faithful,
making naive people wise.
8 The Lord’s regulations are right,
gladdening the heart.
The Lord’s commands are pure,
giving light to the eyes.
9 Honoring the Lord is correct,
lasting forever.
The Lord’s judgments are true.
All of these are righteous!
10 They are more desirable than gold—
than tons of pure gold!
They are sweeter than honey—
even dripping off the honeycomb!
11 No doubt about it:
your servant is enlightened by them;
there is great reward in keeping them.
12 But can anyone know
what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
Clear me of any unknown sin
13 and save your servant from willful sins.
Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.
14 Let the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be pleasing to you,
Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Dear friend who is struggling with a weight on your shoulders, one that may seem lighter to bear if you walk away from God’s instructions – DON’T BUY THAT LIE. It was the first lie ever told, and it remains Satan’s great summary temptation. “God’s instructions are a limitation. They will keep you from all you are meant to be.”

No, it is not true. Embrace the path of suffering in obedience to God’s instructions. Lose your life. Let go of yourself and your expectations. And trust God to meet you in it, redeem your story, and give you a place of import in His larger story. As you lose your right to your story, you emerge in a much greater One, and what you will find is WORTH IT.

If you are wresting through such a losing and finding, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. It is subtitled, The True Path to Christian Joy. I loved those meditations, and I can give testimony of their truths.  Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting was also a great encouragement to me as I wrestled with these truths.

I have walked a hard path, and I continue to walk a hard path. But God gave me manna to sustain me at the hardest points and has blessed me abundantly even through the taking away of things I thought I couldn’t live without. He has proven Himself to me, and He has proven the goodness of His words. When others encouraged me that I was not constrained by God’s instructions, I found instead abundant grace and help when I felt convicted that I was. But it requires faith to stay in that process. I can not produce such faith in you. And you can’t produce it in yourself. Lean into the One who can, and may you look back in future years in praise of the One who turns stones into bread, water into wine, and loss into life abundant.

17

God’s Animal Kingdom Come

I took a break Saturday from wrestling with God over the election results. I did something that didn’t seem to serve any present need in the world. It didn’t minister to my kids or my church. It didn’t further my writing ministry or help any of my community college math students. Instead, my parents watched my boys for the day so I could go out on a boat and help with a NOAA survey of inland bottlenose dolphins in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Knowing my love for marine mammals, my dad in particular encouraged me to do it despite my feelings of guilt for bailing on my parents and kids.

So I drove to Hilton Head and joined a crew who spent the day cruising inland waters in cold and windy weather. We didn’t see many dolphins until the very end of our day, when we stumbled upon a group of 8 or 10, including a mom with several juveniles. Sea birds hovered close to the dolphins as they were feeding, and one of the juveniles rose out of the water for a bit with what seemed the intent of trying to interact with the birds. We saw several other types of dolphin behavior, and despite the weather, I had a great time.

Then today, as I was making dinner and my young, curious cat watched me from the opposite island countertop (I don’t let her get on the ones where I make dinner), meowing at me from time to time in her little communicative way, it dawned on me what these interactions with animals mean to me. When I communicate with an animal or watch them communicating with each other, it pulls at my longing for God’s kingdom come. The lion lay with the lamb in the Garden of Eden, and some animals apparently even communicated with humans if we can infer anything from the fact that Eve exhibits no surprise when the snake begins talking with her.

After the Fall, though, mankind killed animals for food and the lamb became prey for the lion.  Humanity didn’t just harm animals for survival, many humans have harmed animals out of spite, hardness of heart, or worst of all a perverse pleasure in inflicting pain.

Isaiah 11 speaks of the day when animals once again coexist peacefully with humans and each other.

6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the goat.
The calf, the young lion, and the fatling will be together,
and a child will lead them.
7 The cow and the bear will graze,
their young ones will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit,
and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.

This peace between mankind and animals and between predator and prey is just one facet of the peace of God’s kingdom when all is restored. Isaiah goes on to talk about others that hit me where I have most wrestled this election season.

4 He will judge the poor righteously
and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.
He will strike the land
with discipline from His mouth,
and He will kill the wicked
with a command from His lips.
5 Righteousness will be a belt around His loins;
faithfulness will be a belt around His waist.

9 None will harm or destroy another
on My entire holy mountain,
for the land will be as full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the sea is filled with water.

When I see a young dolphin interacting with a seabird or my cat meows to me that she wants another snack, I hear echos of something far off and much bigger, though I can’t quite get to it from where I am right now. It reminds me of the day when no one harms another, when life is valued, the oppressed are uplifted, and dignity is restored. Righteousness reigns in that day, because the world is filled with the knowledge of God like the ocean is with water. That is an inspiring, hopeful image.

God’s kingdom is coming. And He doesn’t come back to a marginalized church fighting off attackers in a corner of the world. That’s Scofield and Darby’s 20th century invention, not the historic understanding of Christ’s return to the church. In fact, look just a bit past our own disillusionment with American evangelicalism and rising secularism, and you will see a vibrant growing church in Africa, South America, and Asia. The basic dignity of human life is respected in more and more areas of the world. Poverty rates worldwide are at an all-time low and life expectancy at an all-time high.

Isaiah ends his prophecy,

10 On that day the root of Jesse
will stand as a banner for the peoples.
The nations will seek Him,
and His resting place will be glorious.

And with Jesus’ repeated declaration during His earthly ministry that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, I am encouraged to enjoy my interactions with my communicative cat and young dolphins having fun with seabirds, because it breaks into my discouragement when I feel overwhelmed with the pain and rancor, abusive speech and contempt for the weak in the world. It reminds me of Eden and what was likely the daily experience of Adam and Eve before the Fall. It reminds me too of the promises of God that the end is coming and it will be glorious. I hope in that Day.

Matthew 10:7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

 

 

1

The Election Battle over Imago Dei

Imago Dei, from the Latin for image of God, is the doctrine from Genesis 1 and 2 that God made humans in His image in a way that He did not make even the most intelligent animal. This foundational Judeo-Christian value is why we put away for life someone who murders a human with intent and forethought, while we likely only fine them for similarly harming an animal. This doctrine links the glory of God to the dignity of humans. And this is the doctrine that has been most at stake in this election cycle.

When the DNC refused to allow any pro-life language in their party platform and primary voters decided on Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, all choice for those who believed in Imago Dei was taken away. Understand that there were no options left, and all who voted in any way (and for that matter didn’t vote) somehow contributed to our current climate of disdaining fellow image bearers.

Some have attributed non-votes, third party votes, or votes for Trump as sin, because he has and will continue to set our country back on civil rights issues. Some attribute votes for Clinton as sin, because she would have actively sought to end the ban on partial-birth abortion, a horrible procedure that murders the most vulnerable image bearers of God, image bearers who are viable outside of the womb.  In contrast, I don’t believe votes are sin and deeply value the right to vote according to your own conscience.

If as a believer you voted for Clinton and she won, I hope you would have adamantly committed yourself to correcting the party platform to include protections for life. But she didn’t win, so now we need to channel our battle for the doctrine of Imago Dei and its practical implications to the reality of a Trump presidency before us.

Donald Trump’s language throughout the campaign has been anti-Imago Dei. Clinton’s “deplorable” comment was too, but she was at least embarrassed and apologetic afterwards. Trump instead embraced such comments as essential to his campaign. And now someone who despises the essence of Imago Dei in folks who disagree with him is president, communicating that such a stance is OK and will actually get you promoted in today’s America.

Folks, we must cry out against that. And I speak particularly to white readers. Many of us have loved ones who voted for Trump with distress, wrestling over what to do. But some of us have loved ones who voted for Trump with delight, adopting his anti-Imago Dei rhetoric and continuing to do so after the election. We must rebuke racist language and actions whenever we see them and stand in the gap for friends, family, and even strangers who are under attack. In the past, I have mostly looked away when I have heard racist comments from friends or family. I thought the fact that I didn’t say it or live it was enough. But I no longer think that. Often, a simple “that’s racist and offensive” will do when calling out friends, coworkers, or family. But sometimes, you need to put your body between an abusive person and someone they are attacking in a way that may get you harmed. But, you know what? You need to do it anyway.

Here’s the thing about the doctrine of man created in the image of God. It first humbles us. We are not God. And then it lifts our heads back up. We are not dogs. We are not pets. We are not expendable. Our lives matter, and not because of what we contribute to society. This is why Jesus came to die for us. He didn’t die because lions now eat lambs or winds destroy mountains. He came to die for HUMANS, to reclaim the image of God in their lives. They were the pinnacle of creation and STILL ARE.  For all the talk of Christ dying for “such a worm as I,” that’s actually not it at all. You are not a worm. And your dirty (or scary or poor or anything) neighbor of another color or religion most certainly is not either.

Is God working to restore creation? Yes. Will one day the lion lay down again with the lamb? Yes. But that is a secondary result of God’s primary purpose in Jesus’ death.  He first came to redeem mankind.

People are crying out after this election, and many of them are oblivious to or even down right reject God as their Creator. It matters not to the inherent dignity they bear as a flawed and marred image bearer of God. Hear their concerns, and if you believe Genesis 1 and 2 (or the first chapters of Isaiah or a myriad of other passages on God’s care of the poor and oppressed), then stand in the gap for them. Seek justice. End oppression. Rebuke malicious words. And in the truest sense of the phrase, do it all for the glory of God.

When you protect mankind made in the image of God, you reflect the worth of the God who made them.

13

On Laywomen as Theologians

I was privileged to be interviewed for Christianity Today’s Podcast The Calling about my burdens for women in the church.  We talked about my start as a lay theologian, the good and bad at Mars Hill Church, and a path forward for discipling women in the deep things of the Word.

ct-podcast-image

5

The Gospel and Traditional Marriage

Traditional marriage and evangelical celebrity culture have collided the last week. I often think that the evangelical church has missed some important needs and opportunities around the topic of marriage and its role in God’s kingdom. I hope to contribute something helpful here.

It probably goes without saying that not all government sanctioned marriages, traditional or non-traditional, reflect God’s good purposes for the institution. Note that I define traditional marriage more strictly than is often used in Christian circles, particularly in terms of politics. While true traditional Christian marriage is between a man and a woman, it is also a binding covenant. I write from the United States where no fault divorce was first introduced in California in 1970 and is available in most states with very short waiting periods. In that sense, I don’t think our nation has held to traditional Christian marriage for the majority of my life.

Consider the point of a contract. I could agree to pay a bank back for a home loan without entering a contract with them. They could give me the money, and I could start paying them back every month. But the point of the contract is two-fold. It provides security for the one loaning the money (and for the one paying it back). But how does it provide that security? Not by mere good will or affection but by binding the parties so that they can not default on their promise without severe consequences. When the going gets rough and I have a hard time making my house payment, the contract causes me to work hard to preserve the relationship. Get a second job. Receive financial counseling. Sell an extra vehicle. Eat ramen for a month. Whatever the sacrifice I have to make, the contractual obligations I have are incentive for doing the work necessary to keep the relationship.

This too is the point of the Christian marriage covenant. We gather witnesses before God as we make solemn vows of faithfulness until death do us part. We do so because this solemn commitment before God provides security to both parties, a security that is necessary for human flourishing in long term relationships. We all know someone who is insecure in a relationship. Most of us at some point have felt insecure in a relationship. It is very hard to live confidently in the world in a close but insecure relationship.

The point of marriage vows is to introduce security in the relationship through commitment in the image of God, who is eternally committed to His covenant with His people. Yet, many men and women in the church have experienced a harmful lack of commitment to covenant vows. This was a problem in Jesus’ day as well.

Matthew 19

3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

(Though in Scripture the issue was primarily men putting away the wife of their youth, women in many modern cultures have reached equality with man on this issue.)

The same men who would later throw the woman caught in adultery at Jesus’ feet to be stoned want to continue the practice of putting away a wife for any reason in this interaction with Jesus. Conservative Christians often mourn the acceptance of the label of marriage for civil unions between those of the same sex. But I wish we would spend equal or more energy discipling in the value of persevering in relationship when it is hard to honor covenants made before God. Our society has been harmed greatly by sexual promiscuity outside of marriage and the easy breaking of covenants in marriage. Because we haven’t understood or celebrated such traditional marriage, we have lost moral high ground to stand on other issues.

With a stricter definition of traditional marriage, a binding covenant that restrains a man and a woman in a family unit for life, there are two particular ways to approach the gospel and traditional marriage. First, the gospel is visible in traditional marriage. And second, the gospel is needed for traditional marriage.

The Gospel Visible in Traditional Marriage

Marriage was given by God to both accomplish His purposes and to give testimony of His relationship with His people. As to the first, I imagine that God could have set up His creation with only one gender, but He didn’t. He created two similar yet different genders, and He did so with a conversation within the Trinity of creating mankind, male and female, in His/Their image. There is something in the yin and yang, give and take, tug and pull of two different genders who think similarly about some things and very differently about others, who overlap in ways and are distinct in others, that was good and helpful for God’s purposes in creation. This yin and yang of two genders extends past marriage. Dads need daughters, moms need sons, sisters benefit from brothers, and grandsons from grandmothers. This extends to relationships in the church and work environment as well. There is benefit to two overlapping but different genders approaching a task together in God’s kingdom work.

Marriage between a man and a woman was also given as a visual testimony of the gospel. Paul says this explicitly in Ephesians 5. Husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives respect their husbands and align with their mission as the church aligns with Christ’s.

But these image-bearing purposes instituted before the Fall and the potential testimony of the gospel after the Fall show the utter need of the next point.

The Gospel Needed for It

Such image-bearing purposes and gospel testimony are impossible after the fall of man without a robust understanding and application of the gospel. After the fall of man, these differences between men and women which should have worked together for God’s holistic purposes instead cause chafing. They catch on each other instead of flowing smoothly in and out of each gender’s giftings. Frankly, apart from Christ it is much easier to be in close relationship with someone who thinks just like you.

Many who put away orthodox views of traditional marriage do so because it is hard. If, because of your personal inclinations you feel attracted physically or emotionally to the same sex, then enduring in such close relationship with someone of the opposite sex seems too hard to try. But for those who do feel attraction to the opposite sex, it remains hard, and the temptation to quit on the covenant commitment remains strong, whether you experience same sex attraction or not. We need more than idealistic notions of romance to sustain us in traditional marriage. We need hope from the good news of Jesus Christ. We need to know God’s good plans for man and woman in the garden and how Jesus equips us once more to be image-bearers of God. We need to understand the Creation Mandate of Genesis 2 and 3 and Jesus’ reclamation of it in the Great Commission of Matthew 28. We need inspiration through Jesus to persevere in something that gives testimony of Jesus’ love for His Bride not because it is easy but by the very fact that it is hard.

Of course there are circumstances that call for divorce, abuse and infidelity being the primary issues. Jesus allowed for divorce, but he limited it because He knew, when the going got tough and the bloom of the wife of their youth had worn off, those with power would try to get out of marriages because the grass seemed greener in someone else’s yard. Traditional marriage gives a testimony of the good news of Jesus and His love for us, His people. But it is also this very good news that is the singular hope we have to endure and even flourish in a relationship that by definition involves two different people coming together as one, with all the struggle and work involved.

Proverbs 5:18  Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth.

1

Umbrella or Safety Net of Protection?

I have a lot of friends who grew up under the concept of the “umbrella of protection” associated with Bill Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles. In their lives, this resulted in an authoritarian family and church structure that was particularly limiting to women. In the last few years, it’s become known that, as often happens in strict religious groups, many young women were sexually abused in families and churches that implemented Gothard’s principles. In fact, Bill Gothard was forced to resign from his organization after allegations of sexual abuse and harassment were put forward in a lawsuit.

Gothard used the phrase umbrella of protection to put forward his version of the Biblical concepts of headship and authority. I actually like the phrase, but I have not wanted to use it because of the associations with his ministry of limiting women’s voices and usefulness in the church and then using women for his own perverted sexual purposes. I haven’t wanted to talk about headship at all the last few years as my concerns grew over the theological backflips complementarian leaders such as Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem took to try to prove a headship that pre-dates the Fall in order to preserve a type of universal female submission/subordination to men.

But then I studied I Corinthians 11, the classic confusing passage on headship, for my upcoming book, Is the Bible Good for Women?, and haven’t been able to get the concept out of my head since. Like most things in the Bible, if we can get past the way a concept or teaching has been misused for private gain or to support biases against a specific group, there is always something life giving in the actual Biblical concept that aids in human flourishing. Headship is no different.

[I wrote on Thomas Jefferson as a case study in what headship was supposed to protect against in I Corinthians 11, particularly the sexual subjugation of captives prevalent in Corinth that was associated with shaved heads of captives or covered heads for protected married women.]

I Corinthians 11 speaks of God as the head of Christ, Christ as the head of the man, and the man as the head of the woman. Whatever headship is supposed to mean between the man and the woman, we can learn from the headship of Christ to His church and from God to Christ. By the way, this is why Eternal Subordination of the Son became so important to the founders of complementarian thought. They couldn’t prove an eternal, functional, categorical subordination of women to men without first proving it between Christ and God. But that ship has sailed, and I am glad to see such teaching fall by the wayside even among strong complementarian proponents.

As I pondered writing this post, I wracked my brain trying to think of the best examples in Scripture of true headship. I read through Deborah’s story in Judges 4-5, but there wasn’t enough between the lines to figure out anything of the personal dynamics of her life. I thought about Phoebe in Romans 16:7. Paul seems to cover her and protect her with his words of introduction and affirmation of her so that she is welcomed and heard by the church at Rome. Could I learn anything about headship from Priscilla? Or maybe Ruth? But then it dawned on me, as I Corinthians 11 indicates, that I should first and foremost look to Jesus!

If you want to read an inspiring case study in headship, read the book of Luke and watch Jesus’ interactions with both the men and the women in its pages (remember that Jesus is the head of all believers, male or female). I could read and reread the account of Jesus and the sinful woman at the end of Luke 7. It is such a helpful look at Jesus’ headship. According to Ephesians 5, He is the example for husbands of love, care, and self-sacrifice for their own wives.

When I look at Luke 7’s story of the sinful woman or John 8’s story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus tweaks my idea of the umbrella of protection. An umbrella stands over you. It covers you from above. But the clear indication in Gothard’s teaching of the concept was that it also limited you. You had to stay UNDER the umbrella, and if you got out from under it, you were in rebellion to authority and likely to get stoned, figuratively or literally like the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The problem in Gothard’s system was how often the ones that would figuratively stone you were the same ones claiming to hold the umbrella of protection.

There is a sense in which Jesus did indeed protect the woman caught in adultery in John 8 from being stoned, acting as a barrier between her and her accusers like an umbrella of protection. But the analogy to an umbrella misses that Jesus then sent her off. “Go, and sin no more,” He said. Rather than an umbrella of protection, I see Jesus as this woman’s safety net that allowed her to get up and go forward after a disastrous fall.

Consider the difference in a net under acrobats at a circus and the netting around an eagle at a zoo. Both limit from danger, right? But one also restricts God-given potential. The netting around an eagle may keep it from being harmed, but it also keeps the eagle from soaring over its territory and finding its own food as it was designed to do. This difference is of utmost importance in how we discuss headship, authority, and protection in Christian circles. Jesus protects us from spiritual harm, but He also sends us out to fulfill our God-given calling.

Go.

Be.

Do.

But do not go in sin. Go, be, and do as God created you to be in perfection and is restoring you now through Jesus Christ. While Jesus’ headship protects, it is also very much a launching pad for great upward mobility, for true human flourishing, though not in the sense of the prosperity gospel.

This is the type of headship Jesus models for us and that husbands should aspire to in their homes. This is the type of headship that Jesus models for us and that women should receive as beneficial, life-giving, and LAUNCHING for God’s purposes in our lives.

I am thankful in my own life to have been in relationship with a number of men in authority over me, particularly my dad and four of my last five pastors, who modeled such Christlike sacrifice and launching for me. Men who instructed me. Men who listened to me. Men who supported me. Men who had my back. Men who saw my giftings and encouraged me to develop them and use them. The limitations I have felt with them were the ones that constrain all of us, those of God’s word to us. But the safety net they provided for me have allowed me to go further and higher than I could have on my own, living out God’s call on my life and using my gifts for His name.

This is a headship that is good for women and, in turn, good for the entire Body of Christ.

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