The Common Loon blog has moved from here to a new site: danstringer.net
October 9, 2010
September 9, 2010
There aren't many topics more controversial within evangelicalism than the issue of women in ministry leadership. The debate between evangelical complementarians (those who believe Scripture prohibits all women from serving as pastors or elders in the local church) and evangelical egalitarians (those who believe Scripture does not prohibit women from serving in those roles) often gets pretty heated. I won't rehash the arguments here since most of us have probably made up our minds, but I do have some questions:
On some days, the gap seems pretty wide. Those are usually the days when I'm reading blogs, books or articles by anyone associated with The Gospel Coalition, an organization that for all its merits, appears to have elevated complementarianism to a level of non-negotiable orthodoxy to the exclusion of egalitarians like myself. I truly hope this isn't the case because there's a great deal to like about TGC as one of the most intellectually astute, culturally engaged and discipleship-oriented interdenominational networks in all of Western evangelicalism. I'd be willing to wager my ESV Study Bible that if I wasn't an egalitarian, I'd probably be a TGC enthusiast by now. But if my stance on women in ministry excludes me from certain fraternities, I'll learn what I can through my binoculars from across the canyon.How big is the gulf between evangelical complementarians and evangelical egalitarians? Is it more like a crevasse or a chasm? And how much should we insulate ourselves from those on the other side of the great gender divide?
There are other days when the prospects for respectful disagreement and Kingdom-oriented collaboration among complementarians and egalitarians seem within reach. These tend to be the days spent closer to street level, where I see Christians across the evangelical spectrum coming together for parachurch conferences, seminary classes, small group Bible studies and yes, Sunday morning worship services despite their differences over gender roles. In these settings, the question of women in ministry seems more like a secondary theological debate open to more than one interpretation among committed believers. I've even heard of a few egalitarians reading books by Tim Keller, J.I. Packer and Jack Deere as well as complementarians benefiting from the writings of Scot McKnight, Richard Mouw and Dallas Willard.
In case you're wondering, this is not the part where I throw up my hands exclaiming, "Can't we all just get along?" Softening our convictions for the sake of a creating a mushy middle is not the answer. So long as both camps are making a sincere and prayerful effort to follow the teachings of Scripture in good conscience, I would not expect either side to discard their best theological arguments, websites and academic journals as if these differences of interpretation and ministry application did not matter in any significant way. To the contrary, they matter immensely. Just ask a gifted woman who is told she can never teach the Bible to men or a complementarian who is told that all gender distinctions are inherently oppressive and best left behind. The sheer potency of this explosive topic is enough to warrant sober theological reflection and discussion within the body of Christ.
Besides, it's logically impossible for both camps to be correct. God either calls and gifts certain women to serve in positions of pastoral authority or he does not. When a woman experiences a call to ordained ministry along with the preaching and shepherding responsibilities entailed, such a call is either compatible with Scripture or it is not. "Middle ground" approaches that leave matters up to congregational popular vote or veto depending on the "comfort level" of vocal parishioners are entirely unconvincing to me. Whether implicitly or explicitly, every church and denomination will eventually need to take some kind of stand, all the while remaining careful neither to prohibit what Scripture affirms nor affirm what Scripture prohibits.
Interestingly enough, I was originally a complementarian during my undergrad years at Wheaton. But after significant time wrestling with the "problem passages" and reviewing the arguments of both sides in the years since, I've decided to plant my flag with the other guys (and gals). Not that this switch has added much convenience to my journey of preparation for vocational ministry in evangelical contexts. If I was convinced the apostle Paul's prohibition of women teaching/leading men in 1 Timothy 2 was meant to be universal, I'd find a vast array of ministry resources and church planting networks eager to equip me from a complementarian perspective. It would also increase the pool of potential mentors, churches and denominations consistent with my theological convictions which are mostly of the old-school evangelical variety (not including my 'charismatic' understanding of the Holy Spirit which is another can of worms).
On a practical level, I've discovered this whole egalitarian thing to be a downright dealbreaker in many circles, keeping me (and my wife) at arm's length from an array of otherwise palatable opportunities for ministry networking and training. It's painful to admit this, but complementarians are increasingly in the middle of the action these days when it comes to a putting forward a theologically robust integration of church planting and discipleship resources for local congregations. While the real world doesn't always mirror what's happening online, I foresee TGC embodying more of a long-term trajectory than a short-lived trend. Living in Hawaii, it can take a while for the rumblings of Christendom (i.e. mainline decline or complementarian resurgence) to reach our shores, but it's only a matter of time before the well-equipped contingent of "gospel-centered" churches makes its mark (or should I say 9 Marks) on the islands' evangelical landscape.
Last year, I posed some questions looking at why one’s persuasion on gender roles carries far more weight in the 'Restless Reformed' movement than other secondary issues open to evangelical disagreement including one's view of baptism, the Lord's Supper, charismatic gifts, eschatology, church polity or young earth/old earth creationism. The line of reasoning typically offered by my TGC brothers tends to rely on slippery slope scenarios. The basic gist goes like this: "If we allow egalitarians into our movement (which would invariably include the voices of women pastors who are unfit for spiritual leadership), the stage would be set for additional theological compromises to inevitably follow." I'll grant that potential for doctrinal drift always exists, but this can work both ways. Are egalitarians more likely than complementarians to slip into certain forms of cultural accommodation including moral relativism, universalism and the denial of biblical authority? Yes, but couldn't it also be said that complementarians have been more susceptible to other vices in the direction of fundamentalist separatism, sexism and self-righteous legalism?
When terms like "gospel-centered" and "gospel-driven" are only used in the context of describing complementarian ecclesiology, it creates the perception that one does not have the Gospel right if one is not a complementarian. When egalitarians are excluded from any reference to participation in "gospel-centered ministry," the implicit message is clear: We will not recognize or affirm your commitment to the Gospel unless you hold to complementarian theology. Conversely, egalitarians (however orthodox) are disqualified from being trusted as ministry partners in the task of proclaiming the true Gospel. I could be wrong, but this appears to be more than just a case of like-minded parachurch organizations taking a strong stance on gender roles. It feels more like an attempt to marginalize egalitarians outside the boundaries of orthodoxy.
I can hear some of my egalitarian friends saying, “Relax Dan, you can’t expect those restless reformed guys to touch anything egalitarian with a ten-foot pole. If they want to isolate themselves as the only true bearers of the Gospel, so be it.” My response would be that the Gospel Coalition represents anything but an irrelevant, shrinking movement. Far beyond a loose affiliation among big-name pastors like Piper, Keller and Driscoll, the vibrant network of complementarian Calvinists continues to broaden and deepen through an effective strategy of vigorous church planting, publishing and of course, online resources up the wazoo. They are not so much isolating themselves as they are isolating us. Again, I'd love to be wrong because some of my favorite pastor-authors include guys like Tim Keller and Sam Storms, godly men who have been incredible role models in the development of my own approach to ministry. It is precisely because my fellow egalitarians have so much to gain from their wisdom that an evangelical schism over the gender debate would hurt both sides.
In essence, here's what I'd like to ask my brethren over at The Gospel Coalition/Desiring God/9 Marks/Ligonier/Acts 29/Sovereign Grace/White Horse Inn/T4G:
- To what extent is complementarianism more than just a prominent feature of the New Calvinist movement, but essential to the Gospel itself?
- Is adherence to complementarian theology a prerequisite for becoming "gospel-centered" or "gospel-driven?"
- As someone who affirms the Nicene Creed, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the supreme authority/infallibility of Scripture, original sin, the existence of hell, Christ's sinless life, his penal substitutionary atonement on our our behalf, his propitiation of God's wrath, his bodily resurrection and his second coming but also holds to an evangelical egalitarian perspective on women in ministry leadership, have I failed to believe the Gospel?
- In short, can egalitarians be gospel-centered too?
Since it is my conviction that the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy can (and must) include evangelicals of both the complementarian and egalitarian variety, here's what I hope we could say to one another:
"With all due respect for your sincere desire to follow Jesus and adhere faithfully to the teachings of Scripture, I disagree with your position on this important issue. Just as I would love for you change your mind on the question of women in ministry, I'm sure you feel the same way about my stance. But because our shared belief in the Gospel is more important than our differences on secondary matters, I'm hopeful we can respectfully disagree as brothers/sisters in Christ while encouraging each other to live joyfully and faithfully in light of the good news."
UPDATE: Scot McKnight has begun a related discussion over on his Jesus Creed blog.
August 27, 2010
July 27, 2010
"There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities but not saints. Famous entertainers amuse a nation of bored insomniacs. Infamous criminals act out the aggression of timid conformists. Petulant and spoiled athletes play games vicariously for lazy and apathetic spectators. People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash."
July 20, 2010
Where to begin? For starters, the font is too small, the posts are too infrequent and the topics are more scattered than my 3-year-old's toys before bathtime. I'm like a disoriented wannabe archer lackadaisically shooting noodly arrows skyward with my eyes closed... once a month. No target + no practice = this blog.
June 30, 2010
Rachel Held Evans and I share a lot in common. We’re both 29-year-olds who were raised in evangelical homes and attended small Christian colleges from 1999 to 2003. We’ve both experienced our fair share of disillusionment with various aspects of American evangelicalism and have lived to blog about it. Topping off the similarities, her husband’s name is Dan while my wife Rebecca sometimes gets called ‘Rachel’ by mistake. So it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed reading my advance copy of Rachel’s winsome new book, Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions (Zondervan).
Growing up in Dayton, Tennessee (site of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 which debated the teaching of evolution in public schools) as the overachieving daughter of a theology professor, Rachel was a Sunday School superkid raised in a Bible Belt subculture of zealous apologetics. Though adept at defending her Christian worldview against doubters and skeptics during her high school and early college years, everything changed when she began experiencing doubts of her own. The most potent ones involved questions concerning (you guessed it) why God would allow horrific human suffering or send millions of non-Christians to eternal torment in hell. Frustrated with the simplistic answers she knew so well, Rachel questioned her dad one Friday afternoon describing the quandary this way:
It’s like God runs some kind of universal sweepstakes with humanity in which all of our names get thrown into a big hat at the beginning of time… Some of us are randomly selected for famine, war, disease, and paganism, while others end up with fifteen-thousand-square-foot houses, expensive Christian educations, and Double Stuf Oreos. It’s a cosmic lottery, luck of the draw. (p. 99)
If such irreverent theological sniping makes you uncomfortable, you might have hard time with this book- which is precisely the point. Undergoing a process to re-evaluate all your previously unshakable beliefs from scratch is no fun, especially in the foothills of Southern Appalachia. But if you’ve ever felt conflicted about similar questions, you will be refreshed by Rachel’s intellectual honesty and courage in facing her fears. Far from drowning in a sea of skepticism, her faith re-surfaces more vibrant than ever. While critics might contend that Rachel is promoting doubt to the detriment of faith, this is not the case:
I would argue that healthy doubt (questioning one's beliefs) is perhaps the best defense against unhealthy doubt (questioning God). When we know how to make a distinction between our ideas about God and God himself, our faith remains safe when one of those ideas is seriously challenged. (p. 220)
As it turns out, Rachel's quest has not really been about finding good answers to life's toughest questions after all. If answers were all she wanted, she clearly demonstrates an intellect and theological acumen capable of researching them. This is not to say there aren't any good answers worth seeking on such important matters. If anything, Rachel's writing indicates she is already more familiar with apologetics than most people in our generation. And though she could articulate the correct evangelical responses with flair, she needed something different, namely, the simple permission and empathy of hearing someone say, "You know, I'm not sure what to make of that either." (p. 190)
Evolving in Monkey Town is a thoughtfully entertaining and engaging read packed with adventurous questions from start to finish. While I didn't always agree with the way she nuanced the nature of the atonement, biblical interpretation or the ever-controversial tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility, I have tremendous respect for Rachel's perspective, particularly on the important subjects of doubt and spiritual questioning. Based on the interactions we've shared via her excellent blog, I've been impressed by her uniquely provocative yet welcoming approach to theological dialogue. An attentive learner and genuine listener, she is one of the most gracious and authentic people I've encountered in the blogosphere. Evangelicals of all ages would be wise to give her survival story a good hard listen.
May 31, 2010
Just over a week after his first birthday (May 10), we found out that our second son Vincent has a cancerous tumor in his liver. While there's more than enough bad news to call this a full blown family crisis, there's not quite enough to rule out the possibility of a full recovery. The scenarios are seemingly infinite at this point, not unlike the range of emotions that accompany this sort of thing. If fear and anxiety are like mosquitoes, we're navigating a swamp full of standing water.
And yet, there is light flickering in the darkness. I had no idea it was possible to feel so shocked, devastated, afraid, thankful, hopeful and at peace- all in the same moment. I'm certain it has something to do with the multitude of friends and loved ones praying for us around the globe. I suspect it also has something to do with my soul being anchored in the resurrection power of a Messiah familiar with suffering, a risen King who is before all things and in Whom all things hold together (Col 1:17).
In the midst of preparing for the worst, hoping for the best and praying for a miracle, I've found comfort from an unlikely source: theology. Yup, it turns out that theology, that supposedly dry and dusty set of doctrinal propositions, makes all the difference in the world when a crisis hits. Whether you're aware of it or not, your concept of God will affect how you pray in the midst of chaos and suffering. What kind of triune Being is He? Is the Father ultimately near or detached from those in pain? Can the Holy Spirit be called upon to work miraculous healings in the 21st century or not? Will Jesus really come back someday to vanquish all injustice and disease? Do we live with the recognition that His blood on the cross has inaugurated a reign of peace in which He is reconciling all things to Himself- including things like liver cancer?
John Stott put it this way: "I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross... In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?"
May the supernatural, unfailing, parental love of God for Vincent be sufficient for all of us who long to see him healed.
NOTE: Please visit Vincent's CaringBrige website for the most recent updates on how his treatment is going as well as prayer requests, photos and much much more!
May 27, 2010
To the astonishment of 170,000+ kids and their parents, it appears that Hawaii's politicians and labor unions have consented to the unthinkable idea of keeping our schools open 5 days a week!
All sarcasm aside, I was glad to receive the following email yesterday from James Koshiba of Kanu Hawaii on the subject of Hawaii's K-12 students finally getting their lost school days reinstated for next year. Not only does he thoughtfully express the concerns shared by many of us who want to prevent a debacle like this from happening again, he also recaps how the school furlough standoff reached its conclusion in case you (like me) weren't keeping track of each twist and turn. For anyone with kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, friends with kids or yet-to-be-born kids who might possibly attend public school someday in our beautiful state (whether in 2010 or 2025- the year my firstborn will graduate), I recommend reading what James has to say:
Nine months after contract negotiations first cut instructional days for keiki, and seven months after the first citizen rally at the Capitol, Furlough Fridays have finally come to an end.
At a press conference this afternoon, the Governor, the DOE Superintendent, Speaker of the House and Senate President announced the plan to end school furloughs – essentially the same plan that had been floated by many, including us, as early as October of last year. Here’s how the furloughs ended:
The Legislature passed a bill allocating $67 million from the hurricane relief fund to reduce furlough days. The Governor said today that she would release $57 million instead of the full amount. Teachers apparently agreed to convert six of their paid planning days to instructional days. A small amount of federal stimulus funds ($2.2 million) and a $10 million, zero interest line of credit from private banks will be used if there is a remaining shortfall next school year.
We should take a moment to celebrate the fact that keiki will get a full school year next year.
Then, we should ask some hard questions about why it took so long to come up with a solution that is essentially the same as one proposed last Fall – a plan that, if adopted earlier, could have restored instruction for students this year, and left legislators, the Governor, the DOE and the teachers’ union time to come up with creative solutions for next year (or, at the very least, spread remaining furlough days across two years instead of concentrating lost learning). We should also ask some pointed questions of our leaders and ourselves:
What responsibility to the public do public unions bear during an economic and fiscal crisis? Did our unions’ actions help or hurt the public? Did it help or hurt the teaching profession?
What is the role of the Governor in negotiations? When parents and the public ask for a hearing with the chief executive, what is the appropriate response?
What was the proper thing for the Legislature to do? Did they act with the appropriate speed, thought, and resources? Did their actions encourage or discourage citizen participation?
Why wasn’t there more parent and community participation in the efforts to end school furloughs?
We should not ask these questions in a spirit of bitterness or blame (though righteous outrage shouldn’t be discouraged, either). Rather, we should ask to sharpen our understanding of what fundamental changes are needed to prevent something like this from ever happening again. And we should ask one final, important question of ourselves: What now?
Back in October, we wrote: “Getting 17 days back would be a real victory and good step. But, it's a step that only gets our kids back to where they were – behind other kids who are learning more elsewhere. We must channel the outrage about Furlough Fridays into a more sustained and organized effort to change our school system and support it with parent and community energy.”
That remains our charge today. For those willing to take it up, here’s a way to start:
The new Superintendent and many educational leaders are crafting a framework for reform. The framework is inspired, in part, by the federal Race to the Top program. Here are some essential elements that we may require citizen support:
- Teachers and principals should be evaluated on a regular basis. Employment incentives (tenure, advancement, salary) should be based on performance, including student outcomes, parent surveys, peer reviews, and other metrics – rather than simple seniority.
- We should invest in the collection and sharing of actionable data about students and their learning outcomes – data that can help inform planning for schools, parents, and the DOE.
- Parents should be actively involved in education – supporting classroom learning at home, supporting teachers and schools through volunteerism, participating actively in parent-teacher dialogues, and advocating for their kids’ interests (at the school-level and higher levels of policy making).
There are more elements of the reform platform. We should get familiar with them. At the most basic level, though, it’s about shifting a pervasive mindset of low expectations to one of high expectations all around. Teachers should have high expectations of all students; they should believe that all students can achieve. Parents should have high expectations for every school and every teacher; they should insist that their schools and teachers be excellent. Teachers should expect much of parents in the home and at school; they should expect that parents are active supporters of learning. We should all expect more of our legislators, our BOE, our DOE, our unions, and our Governor.
Expecting excellence from each other doesn’t mean we have to be jerks – instead, it calls on all of us to be “critical friends,” acknowledging that we each have a role to play in education, and insisting that each puts forth our best effort for the sake of our keiki, speaking hard truths when someone isn’t pulling their weight.
Mahalo to all of you for doing your part to bring this crisis to a conclusion. Now, it's time to direct our energy to the hard work ahead.
Creating a system of education that calls on the best in all of us – parents, teachers, principals, and adult friends of children -- to shape an education that Hawaii's children deserve.
May 18, 2010
Christians have to be careful not to buy into the paradigms of the world. It's the world that says that men, being masculine, are rational and women, being feminine, are emotional. The Bible doesn't say that at all. It flies in the face of Scripture to say that men are not emotional- because that would make them incapable of rejoicing in the Lord or mimicking Christ's anger or grieving about sin with the Holy Spirit. It likewise flies in the face of Scripture to say that women are not rational- because that would make them incapable of following the commandments to renew their minds and meditate on Scripture and take every thought captive to Christ. According to the Bible, men and women alike are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27); thus both are emotional and rational.