Us Too: Why Christians Should Man Up and Embrace Feminism

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This one goes out to all my Christian friends who don’t feel like they can quite get on board with feminism, who can’t help but feel that feminism is some kind of affront to God, and that to embrace it would mean bowing just a little bit to the idols of this world. This is for all the Christians who, whenever they hear yet another woman getting on the #MeToo bandwagon and talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, they just get a little annoyed for some reason. This used to be me. But not so much anymore.

Let’s talk about it.

Christianity and Feminism have a very complex relationship. On one hand, original 1st century Christians championed the cause of women. Jesus and his followers treated women with a dignity that had not been seen before in that part of the world. They broke down all kinds of social barriers, including those between the sexes. They treated women as equals and included them fully into the community. On the other hand, over history, many Christians, or people who saw themselves as Christians, have partaken in and even invented new systems of oppressing and subjugating women. Today, I often hear (not from all Christians but from more than you might think) Christian pastors and teachers (male and female) say that feminism is a worldview that is at odds with Christianity. And whenever they say this, I have to wonder what exactly they mean.

Part of the complexity of the relationship between Christianity and feminism comes from the fact that “feminism” can mean so many different things. Feminism is a diverse system that has significant internal disagreement. Two people who call themselves feminists may not agree on peripheral or even central things. There are “sameness” feminists who want to emphasise that women can do all the things men can do, and there are “difference” feminists who want to emphasise that women and men are different and these differences should be taken into account in society. Some feminists kind of seem to hate men, at least at a glance. Most are less radical. But feminism has become so broad that we have to ask, when a preacher says that feminism is anti-Christian, what do they mean by the word, “feminism”? Often when someone villainises feminists, they attribute to feminists a set of beliefs that most feminists wouldn’t subscribe to at all. Feminism seems so hard to define, and thus even harder to have a debate about.

However, at this point in recent history there seems to be emerging into mainstream popular culture a more clearly defined version of feminism than ever. And that is thanks to the #MeToo movement. #MeToo has started a conversation that has brought feminist issues into the foreground in such a way that, from what I can tell, there has never been an easier time to tell what “mainstream” feminism is – what it believes, what it wants, and what it looks like. It isn’t extreme to the point misandry, but neither would you call it moderate, if “moderate” comes with any connotation of acquiescence. Women around the world are uniting around a clear message that is educating and changing the mindsets of many men, but also pushing the wrong buttons of many others. It is this mainstream, popular feminism exemplified in the #MeToo movement that I want to commend to Christians as something we should wholeheartedly embrace.

 

The Male Objection to Feminism

Leaving Christianity out of it for the moment, why do so many men find the kind of feminism behind #MeToo so objectionable? Well, every version of feminism will make two basic kinds of claim. A prescriptive claim (a claim about values – how things ought to be) and a descriptive claim (a claim about facts – how things are). At its core, feminism has always been routed in the prescriptive value judgement that women intrinsically are, and ought to be treated as, equal to men. Today there are very few people in western society who would dispute that claim. Most people who say they oppose feminism would still agree that women should be treated with equal moral worth and dignity to men. This prescriptive claim is not really where the disagreement lies. Almost everybody agrees on the way things ought to be. What nobody seems to be able to agree about is the way things are. See, in addition to making a prescriptive claim about how things should be, feminism additionally makes the descriptive claim that things are not that way. That things are not as they should be. And it is this claim – that women are currently not enjoying freedom, opportunity, or safety equal to that of men – that some of us really seem to find offensive. In fact, for the most part, it is this description of the world that differentiates the various kinds of feminism from one another. Feminisms agree that there should be gender equality, but they disagree regarding the extent to which inequality exists and the nature of that inequality. It is the versions of feminism that depict the greatest extent of inequality in the world that are seen as the most extreme and, concordantly, the most objectionable to many men.

I think it is quite clear why many men take issue with the idea that women are currently not enjoying gender equality: We take this notion as an attack on ourselves. It is as if feminism is women making an assessment of the world, and finding it lacking. Making an assessment of all the men of the world, and finding them lacking, not enough, that they haven’t done a good enough job of taking care of women, and that they are to be blamed for all of women’s problems. The poorer the feminist’s assessment of the world – the more extreme the version of feminism – the greater failure the man is claimed to be. And the #MeToo movement is precisely this – a very poor assessment of the current state of affairs. It is men getting a bad grade. It is women claiming that things are very much not okay. It is women claiming that they are the the victims of more aggression at the hand of males than we would like to think. That there are aspects of our common culture, in the workplace and in the home, that are contributing to this. It is a claim that can often be reduced to, “You know that thing that you do all the time that you think is normal and harmless? It’s actually sexist in a subtle but powerful way.” Continue reading

Prophecy and Interpretation

Here’s something that I think is really important for Christians to understand about prophecy:

Prophecy isn’t about predicting the future. It’s much more about interpreting the future.

If you look at the example of Old Testament prophecy, it was never mere prediction, but always interpreted prediction.

Likewise, the primary purpose of prophecy in the Church is not prediction but interpretation – and not only of the future, but also of the past, and even of the present.

Sometimes we place a lot of weight on whether a prophecy is falsifiable. A pastor prophesies to his church something like, “This year is going to be full of new challenges that we haven’t experienced before, but these challenges will bring new opportunities.” And, yes, it’s vague. And so we say, “That’s vague; there aren’t really any eventualities that are incompatible with this prophecy, such that if they happened it would prove the pastor wrong. It’s an unfalsifiable prophecy.”

But when we say this we miss the point. God isn’t trying to prove himself to you through prophecy. He’s already proven himself more than we could ever need him to in Jesus. He is trying to build you through prophecy.

He doesn’t want to just tell you the future. He wants to tell you his interpretation of the future. And that is far more important. Because it’s not about proving himself or informing you of events; it’s about preparing you for the events by getting you to see them the way he sees them.

The main point of any prophetic word is not, “This is what is going to happen,” but rather, “This is the meaning of what is going to happen.” Because God’s purpose in prophecy is to align our hearts, our thoughts, and our worldview with his. Not producing in us knowledge, but producing in us faith.

On Rob Bell

So last week, after a long time wondering about it, I finally got around to reading (listening to) the controversial Love Wins by Rob Bell.

If I have any friends who have actually read it (I know a lot of us have opinions about the book without having read it), I’d love to discuss it.

Here are some initial thoughts:

  • He might be evangelical (more on that below).
  • There is one thing that reading this book solidified for me beyond doubt: Rob Bell is a brilliant, absolutely exceptional thinker and communicator. For every point in the book I disagreed with, I found just as many profound insights into aspects of the Gospel, and imaginative, compelling ways of communicating them. He is no lightweight, sentimental popular theologian; he is well and widely-read, and his intellectual bravery – willingness to think original thoughts and question common assumptions – should be a lesson to us all, certainly a challenge to me.
  • Right or wrong, his ideas in the book are worth listening to and thinking about for serious, thinking Christians.
  • There is no doubt that he definitely does espouse a version of universalism. He doesn’t express this ambiguously in the book. It’s quite clear. Although, some aspects of his precise conception of how it works are left unexplained – probably because he admittedly doesn’t claim to have figured it all out.
  • However, the way he formulates, and arrives at, his version of universalism is very… well, evangelical. That is, it comes from his interpretation of the Bible, not a rejection of the Bible. He perceives himself to be agreeing with Jesus and Paul and John, not evolving beyond their ideas, which leads me to my next point:
  • There are three main things that tell me that he was not trying to depart from the historic Christian faith, and his evangelical roots:
  1. An explicit statement to that effect in his own preface, where he said that he has no desire to be original, but thinks himself to be expressing very old, Christian ideas.
  2. His acknowledgements and thanks at the end of the book, the first of which was to Erwin McManus (who I’m pretty sure believes in the traditional hell), and from there he listed several personal recommendations for further reading, which included Tim Keller’s “The Prodigal God,” and NT Wright’s “Surprised By Hope,” both of which he  held in very high regard, and then he thanked his parents for getting him to read CS Lewis when he was younger. His love of these authors communicates an identification with the camp/community/system of religion that they exist in.
  3. A list of orthodox, evangelical beliefs he affirms within the book, which I’ve listed at the bottom.
  • These considerations make me question the way the evangelical world responded to Love Wins, and whether statements of “farewell”, as if he had departed the faith, were fair, just, and wise. It seems to me that the basic question Love Wins was trying to ask was not, “Should we continue to be evangelicals about Hell?”, but rather “Can evangelicals faithfully and Biblically embrace a vision of the New Creation in which all people and all things might eventually be redeemed?”
  • The question this book has genuinely led me to ask is, Whether or not Bell’s version of universalism is correct, can it be considered a legitimately evangelical position? In the same way evangelicals currently allow differing views on predestination, the gifts of the Spirit, or women’s roles in ministry – and just as John Stott famously said that annihilationism can be considered an evangelical position – is there enough uncertainty about what the Bible says about Hell that call we can accept certain formulations of universalism among the various possible eschatologies within evangelical Christianity? I’m just asking. I haven’t answered this for myself yet.

List of orthodox evangelical beliefs Rob Bell espouses in Love Wins:

  1. Jesus as the divine, incarnate Son of God, Israel’s promised Messiah.
  2. That Jesus died for our sins (including a penal substitutionary atonement interpretation of it).
  3. The bodily resurrection of Jesus.
  4. That Jesus will return to Earth and God will make a New Creation where everything will be perfect as it was originally intended to be in Eden.
  5. That God is just, hates evil, and will judge, condemn and punish evil.
  6. Hell is a real thing (whatever it means), and is the deserved punishment for those who reject God’s rule over their life.
  7. While he doesn’t express it, his whole book assumes that the Bible is how we know stuff about God (and yes, definitely including the Old Testament).
  8. Probably some other things I forgot.

Less orthodox things espoused in Love Wins:

  1. God won’t punish those who reject him with eternal, conscious torment.
  2. (If I’m interpreting him correctly) Those who have rejected God will, in the New Creation, be banished from the New Jerusalem in which only goodness is allowed, BUT, their banishment is never final, and it will never be too late for them to change their mind, and choose to enter God’s Kingdom.
  3. Those who have accepted God’s rule will be accepted into the New Jerusalem in which everything will be perfect, but they will also always be free to leave, and to go off and live their own way.
  4. Probably some other things I forgot.

Things his argument depends on:

  1. The precise meaning of the New Testament word commonly translated into “eternal”.
  2. To be honest a lot is hanging on that word.
  3. How much of Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (going to heaven and hell respectively) is allegorical and how much is meant to portray an accurate cosmology.
  4. Revelation and all that.

I recently heard a Christian argue against the Theory of Evolution on the basis that they find conflict between the notion that humans are descended from non-human animals, and the idea that we are made in the image of God.

I hate to break it to you but the Genesis narrative says we were descended from… DUST.

Do you prefer this? Really, how is this better?

I would’ve thought that one of the overarching themes of Christian scripture is that the origin of something needn’t have any bearing on that thing’s identity, or its future. Matthew’s Gospel highlights that Jesus was descended from a prostitute. And he turned out alright.

12 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Date a Non-Believer

Let’s start by saying it out loud: I’m single. So here comes another single guy, writing about relationships as if he’s qualified on the topic. But actually, I’d want to suggest to you that perhaps my singleness is in fact exactly what qualifies me to talk about this. Because, while I have never been in a relationship, I have had several serious opportunities for relationships that came close but which I ultimately decided not to pursue. It’s not that these girls weren’t Christian, but I had my reasons for knowing that pursuing a relationship with them would not have been the godly thing to do. So while I may not know that much about dating, I do know a thing or two about, well, not dating. And that’s precisely what this article is about.

So. This is an article about why, if you’re a Christian, you shouldn’t date someone who isn’t. I’m writing this in part because it is a common issue in most Christian communities – all of us will have at some point at least known a Christian who was dating a non-Christian. But it’s mainly because I’ve often thought, from the conversations I’ve had about this topic over the years, that there is a lot of unclarity and maybe confusion around how some people in church think about this. It seems to be a bit of a grey area for a lot of Christians. I want to argue that it’s actually pretty black and white. I want to argue that because I don’t want Christians to be confused and unsure about this. So I hope to bring clarity and definition to the issue for people, so that they can have a conviction about it that is not merely a product of Christian culture, but is the product of their own engagement with God’s word on the matter.

Of course life and people are complicated things, and knowing clearly what’s right doesn’t always produce a lifestyle to match. It’ll take more than one blog post to change a person’s life choices. And the huge premise here is that, regardless of where we’re at on this particular issue, we’re all together in the fact that we’re messy, idiotic sinners who get stuff wrong all the time. And so I would hate for my exhortations here to come across as a self-righteous sense of moral superiority. I assure you I have no delusions that I am a good person. But as a starting point, whatever we do with the information, it is beneficial or all of us to be informed about how God wants us to live, and to know the reasons for our beliefs. Because we definitely can’t live right, or help our friends live right, if we don’t know what right is.

  1. How good or bad a boyfriend/girlfriend they are to you is not the issue

I think this is the first thing that needs to be said. This is not about how good or bad a partner a non-Christian will make. When I say you shouldn’t date a non-Christian, it is not based on some prejudiced, unrealistic notion that unbelievers are selfish, debaucherous people who won’t treat you right. This needs to be said because, personally, I am very perplexed by the frequency with which I hear the argument that goes, “A lot of unbelievers will treat a girl better than a lot of Christians out there.” This is so confusing. Why would you say that? Is it because you believe this is about how well someone treats you? It’s not about getting someone who will be good to you. It’s about something so much deeper than that.

Yes, there are plenty of Christian guys and girls out there who are after your affections and who don’t deserve them. There are some Christians out there who would treat you worse in a relationship than some non-Christians. But the answer to that is not to ditch those loser Christians and pick up the decent unbeliever. The answer is to neither date the inadequate Christian… or the unbeliever. The answer is to raise your standards – not lower them. The answer is to wait for someone who belongs to Jesus’ Kingdom, and will treat you right. Because Christians aren’t perfect, but you’re stuck with them. If you don’t want to marry a Christian, you might be in the wrong religion.

  1. The Bible says no

Sorry to be blunt. (I promise this article gets more tenderly pastoral towards the end.) But I really do believe God has spoken on this topic. Well, almost. The Bible doesn’t forbid dating unbelievers. But then again, “dating” is a foreign concept to the authors of the Bible. What the Bible does forbid is Christians marrying unbelievers. We can see this in 1 Corinthians 7:39, where Paul says a widow is free to marry anyone she chooses, “only in the Lord,” which is First Century Christianese for “only if he’s a Christian.” Continue reading

A Lesson From Prayer

This is not a lesson on prayer. This is a lesson from prayer. Sometimes God teaches us things through our own prayers. As we talk to him, he shows us something new. This is a lesson I learnt from a recent experience praying to God about something.

See, there was something I wanted. Something in my life that I really wanted to happen. I’ll leave you to speculate about what it was, because it doesn’t matter what it was. The point is that I wanted it. I really did.

And yet, as I talked to God about it, I somehow found myself saying, “God, I only want this if you do too.” From where I mustered the faith to say such a thing I don’t know, but there I was, telling God that it was more important to me what he wanted for me than what I wanted for myself. There was something so therapeutic about the very act of saying this to God, because it meant that I wasn’t trying to attain this thing by my own power or finesse. Believing that the outcome was in God’s hands, believing that he was in control over whether or not I got what I wanted, I had no choice but to believe that if I didn’t get it, it’s because God didn’t want me to have it.

And what a difference that makes. Because a “no” from God is so much easier, so much more tender than a “no” from just… life. It is so hard to handle the idea that the thing that has prevented you from getting what you want is nothing other than the blind, mindless processes of chance. But if this thing was withheld from me by an intelligent agent, a personal being who was consciously aware of my desires, and who does things for reasons, and not only that, but whose reasons include the fact that he loves me and is deeply and intimately concerned with my life. That is something I can handle. That’s something I can be okay with. That my “no” comes from God proves that I didn’t need what has been withheld. A “no” from God comes with a smile, and with the promise of a better alternative. As the old adage goes, that God answers every prayer in one of three ways: ‘Yes,’ ‘Not yet,’ or ‘I have something better.’

But that’s where the fears started coming in. What exactly does God consider “better”? Given that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than mine, what if his ideas of what would be best for me consist of things that I would consider abhorrent and miserable, and will only understand the benefit of in the next life or when I’m like 80? What if it’s best for me to go through decades of suffering? What if he needs to teach me a painful lesson? What if God wants me to live a truly hard life, overcoming some serious, heart wrenching battle in order to humble me or something? And while I’m slightly exaggerating, don’t write off questions like these. It’s not a stupid thing to wonder about. A life of suffering is literally what God, in Acts 9:16, explicitly had planned for the Apostle Paul.

And can anyone say, “Job”?

This stuff isn’t beyond the realm of realism. Earthly exemption from suffering (of whatever kind) is never promised in the New Testament. What God promises is to empower us to experience joy through pain. And that’s great, but it doesn’t come easy. It requires a journey. And that journey is terrifying. And what doesn’t help is Christians coming around you with empty promises, saying “God’s gonna do this, and give you that,” when they’re often just platitudes based more on hearsay and the hopeful thinking of folk theology than on God’s own words to us.

Yeah, some days I really was worrying about stuff like that. Because, while I knew that God, according to Romans 8:28, was doing everything for my ultimate benefit, I feared what kind of journey that might entail – and what kind of crazy, ridiculous, deep trust in him I might need to find in order to be okay with whatever journey he has planned. And so, at this point, for God to say “no” to my prayer, would to me have been taken as more evidence that God’s plans for me might be radically, painfully different to my own.

Well. I found the answer about an hour before the “no” came. One night, the door was shut to the thing I wanted. But, to the Devil’s dismay, that door shut itself right after a church service. And I guess God used that service to prepare me for the impending denial. Because as I was standing in worship that night, I can’t remember what song we were singing, but for some reason it reminded me of Romans 8:32, which says:

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

It’s funny how God works. Because he usually doesn’t answer your questions. He just distracts you from them. Our questions are stupid, and so rather than answering them, he gives us something better to think about. While I had all these fears running around my head about the scary things God might put me through, I was hit with this… thing… from the Bible.

God gave me his Son. How could I not trust him? He has already given me his best. The very best thing he had in his possession, he has already given me.

Now I guess the usual lesson we take from that would be the fact that, “Jesus is enough.” And that’s true. But that’s not what God was showing me that night. He was simply showing me that he was worthy of absolutely all of my trust, because he is the kind of God that would give me his greatest and most prized possession.

On that day God withheld something from me. And I don’t like speculating about what his reasons for that might be; how could I possibly figure that out? But the fact that he has already given me his very own Son, tells me what isn’t the reason he withheld it from me:

He didn’t deny me this thing because it was too good a gift.

It’s not because it was too good for me. It’s not because I’m not worthy of it. It’s not because I don’t deserve it. How could it be? If he denied be some earthly gift because of my lack of merit, how the heck could he possibly give me his priceless, glorious, eternal, majestic, only begotten Son? If he gave me his Son, then I just know for a fact that he’s not in the business of withholding things from me because they’re too good. The giving of his Son showed me what kind of value he places on me, what kind of a giver he is to me. He’s not holding out on me things that he knows will bless me. He doesn’t look at me and look at the gift and think, “Hmm, nah this is to valuable a thing for me to give away to him.” That’s not what’s going on, because that’s not what he did with his Son – the best thing that anyone has given to anyone.

How could I not trust him?

Sometimes our forgiveness is patronising.

Because sometimes the only way we manage to take the high road is to look down on someone such that we expect nothing from them. In order to hold nothing against someone we take on the role of the indestructible giver, who never takes, never needs.

But sometimes it is more loving to need someone. Sometimes it affords more dignity and respect to someone to expect them to do right by you, and to be hurt when they don’t.

It is in daring to care enough about people such that it is possible for them to hurt us, in becoming breakable before people, that we honour them.

And it is in requiring of them that they don’t break us that we dignify them.

And though we mustn’t do it carelessly, we must do it, because it is in this great leap into the possibility of pain that we leap into our humanity.

Sometimes, if we have forgiven someone too quickly, perhaps it is because we have forgiven wrongly, and dehumanised someone in the process.

Sometimes we give something up because God asks us to, but at the time we don’t even know just how costly our choice of obedience will turn out to have been. With great anguish we sacrifice something for him, only to find out later that the sacrifice we made was even bigger than we realised – that the consequences are more numerous and more painful than we saw coming.

God doesn’t always act with our informed consent. He doesn’t always give us all the information before asking us to do something.

Perhaps this is for our good.

Dirt (an Easter message)

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How hard it is for us to conceive

That it was right there on the ground,

In an obscure corner of the Earth,

Within the flesh and blood of a man,

Hanging on a plank of wood shooting up from the dirt,
Audienced by a handful of fishermen and tentmakers,
That in the quiet of that man’s slowing heartbeat…
Something cosmic was happening.

And none of the fishermen knew that in that moment the world was being changed forever.

In the cross of Jesus, the astronomical met with the biological.

In the mundane, down here in the mud, God was fixing the universe.

The Christian story was, to my mind, so clearly imagined by God and not by man, because God, the mature storyteller, required no grand display in the climax of his narrative. No exploding stars, no shining lights from Heaven.

Almost no clues at all that what was being acted out in that Jewish town that afternoon had the undivided attention of every single angel and every single demon.

The finale of an ancient celestial battle between good and evil, all within one man’s body.

Power not exhibited, but exercised.

The power not to dazzle and amaze, but the power to save.

The power to change forever the very meaning of life and death,

By a single death and a single resurrection.

Love Reconsidered

My understanding of love has drastically changed, and we might need to talk about it…

*TLDR version: I know this is long, so I’ve made it skimmable. If you just read everything that’s in bold you will get the main points (but you won’t get as much of my sweet prose skills.)

I: LOVE AND ACTION

Correcting a worldly error

We Christians talk about love a lot. And we should. We all know that love is a concept that lies at the very centre of the Christian faith. And it should. As Jesus said, the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:37-39). And of course, as John said, “God is love,” (1 John 4:8).

And here’s the thing. The contemporary Church has needed to combat many worldly distortions of what love is, because the World so often teaches us that love is a kind of euphoric feeling that comes over you whenever and however it pleases, that can neither be cultivated nor controlled, and ought to be obeyed above any considerations of morality – we ought to follow our hearts. The Church has rightly corrected the problems with this notion of love, reminding us that love, according to the Bible, is not merely euphoric but is maintained by discipline and is expressed through action, that it is not convenient but is self-sacrificial. In reaction to the over-romanticised Disney brand of love, the Church has reminded us that God demonstrated his love for us by the ultimate sacrifice of sending his Son to die a brutal death for us, that we may have eternal life. To correct an erroneous emphasis on emotion, the Church has taught us that the best way to love our neighbour is by treating them the way God’s law tells us to treat them.

And again this is absolutely right. After all, when Jesus gives the great twofold commandment, he says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets,” (Matthew 22:40). Paul reiterates this in Galatians 5:13-14: “Through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’” Clearly, to love people is to obey the law, and to obey the law is to love people, because God gave the law to show us what real love should look like in practice.

But some time lately (ok, it was about a year ago now – that’s how long it’s taken me to write this), I began to rethink entirely the nature of this commandment to love one another, as I became confronted with how much deeper – and how much more challenging, powerful, and exciting – it is than I thought.

To-do list love

When I look at contemporary Western Christianity, I notice some things. As we endeavoured to combat against cheap, flippant, passive, convenient love, I fear that we have sometimes overly intellectualised and externalised love into a concept, and a to-do list. Please hear me right: We have made love about helping people, meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, defending the oppressed, visiting the lonely, liberating the enslaved. We have preached, “Love your neighbour,” and meant, “Get out there and do something!” We have made the topic of love into a “how to” topic, writing books and articles suggesting practical ideas on how to literally “love our neighbour” – with the help of baked goods and power tools. We have asked ourselves, “How can I love this person,” and meant, “What does this person need that I can give them?” Indeed, we have made “love” a verb, and we have synonymised it with “serve”. And what wonderful things these are!

But if this were all our love was, there would be something missing, something we have maybe forgotten about love (even though it is perhaps the most basic, intuitive fact about love that there is to know), something I am beginning to think is actually the main thing God is trying to get us on board with when he tells us to “love”. Continue reading