Missions Musings 17: Reaching the churched


Good-News-Art-F1-600x300Many of us who live and work in foreign contexts are working with the churched.

When I say churched I am speaking about those people who have been enculturated within a society where the institutional church looms large.

In such contexts the Church’s function is often to dispense salvation.  The church is the one-stop-shop that’s attended twice per year to get what is needed for eternity.  More often than not the churched know of God in a vague abstract sense.  They know about Jesus and his death in as much detail as you or I know about Joan of Arc and her death.  Yep, we’ve seen the movie:)

How does one reach these people?  That is, how does one communicate the life-giving truth of the gospel to those who have not heard it yet?  Here are a few things that have become a part of the way that I do it:

1.  Know their theology

If we do not know what they believe how can we with good conscience rip them away from the church through which they think they are being saved?  We need to be very diligent in understanding what they believe and why so that we can be sure that our actions and message is not in fact dividing the body of Christ.

What should we get to know?  Understand the role of their church in salvation.  Get know what they mean by salvation.  Clearly understand  the place of the sacraments and the role they play in salvation.  Work out what authority they attribute to the Bible and also to tradition.  These points in particular are crucial.

2.  Understand their theological language

This is distinct though closely related to the first point.  Just because you hear the same words being used does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.   So for example, when an Eastern Orthodox believer states that they are saved by faith, we protestants should on face value heartily agree.  Yet if someone was to probe a little deeper the disparity between what the EO christian believes and what a protestant believes becomes apparent.  Ask questions to understand what they mean when they use theological terms.

3.  Use common points of agreement for discussion and study.

It’s a no-brainer, but rarely done.  What normally happens is that we jump to the differences, like icons, candles, papal authority, etc.  Engaging with commonality was Paul’s method at the Areopagus that day in Acts 17.  This is a good starting point because there is often commonality to be found in the person and work of Jesus.  Well, great!  Why don’t we start with Jesus.

Avoid the contentious issues and begin with Jesus.  In Colossians this is how Paul worked.  The church is struggling because fine-sounding arguments have permeate the church which has displaced the gospel.  What does he do?  He doesn’t tackle the apparent error head on until he has prepared the foundation.  Paul firstly explains who Jesus is and then he goes on to explain the gospel.  Only then does he get stuck into the issue at hand.

4.  Don’t treat them like a non-Christian

This is an interesting point that taps into our need to be sensitive.  The churched consider themsleves to be Christians, and they often assume to know everything (don’t we all!) that they need to know.  Therefore to come at them with all the answers and the ‘truth’ is a fast track to causing offense and shutting down any opportunities for good discussion.  Be careful with how they perceive your take on their Christianity.

5.  Use the Bible

Once again it sounds like a no-brainer, but so often the Bible is often sidelined in favour of topical and spaghetti style discussions.  Get the Bible out and establish what the Bible has to say about the common points of interest.  Avoid saying things like, ‘God said…’  and ‘The Bible says…’ and ‘Jesus said….  Unhelpful!  Demonstrate the authority of the Bible in your own faith by using it properly in discussion, taking into account the context of the passage and its place in the Bible’s big picture.  Use the Bible to deal with the issues, but also model its importance and how to use it.

5.  Be open to learning from them

In my study of Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 4 years I have come to appreciate some of their theology.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  Let’s show humility by genuinely wanting to understand what they believe.  It is poor form indeed to merely want to reach them without giving them the opportunity to convince you of their ideas and beliefs.  If we ourselves are seeking the truth then there is no need to be scared of genuinely weighing up what they will present.

6.  Don’t discount the idea that the churched might be in our own (protestant) churches

Don’t assume the gospel, teach it.

Book Review: Hearing Her Voice – A Case for Women Giving Sermons. By John Dickson.


hearHearing Her Voice: A Case for Women Giving Sermons.  By John Dickson.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

The main theme of John Dickson’s latest ebook is the way that modern notions are projected onto first century biblical concepts.  In 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul states, ‘I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man;she must be quiet.’  Dickson argues that the modern semantic range of the word ‘teach’ (didasko) covers far more than how Paul used the word in the first century.  When the word teach is understood as an apostolic role, the modern semantic range of the words preach, teach and the like, are brought into question, thus opening the door for women to engage in preaching.

The target audience for this ebook is mixed.  While he states that it is not an academic book, he seeks to engage not only ministers, church leaders, and laypeople, but also his colleagues, which ones assumes are academics.  Dickson’s stated intention is to help the reader (re)assess the biblical grounds for allowing or prohibiting women in the pulpit.  The book is persuasive, but there is room for further dialogue on the raised issues, which can be aided by the provided discussion questions at the end of the book.  This section is a great resource for exploring Dickson’s thoughts in a group setting.

To begin with, Dickson outlines that there are many speaking/teaching type roles in the Bible, but only one that women are prohibited from engaging in, and that is the role of teaching (1 Tim. 2:12).  He explains that there are differences between the roles of exhorting, prophesying, evangelizing, reading and teaching.  Dickson grants that there is overlap between these roles, but he is keen to show that any overlap should not negate any apparent distinction.   A helpful clarification is that these speaking roles have a similar content but different function.  In this first chapter, Dickson demonstrates that at the very least women should be able to engage in a number of speaking (‘teaching’) roles that involve biblical content in mixed gender settings because these roles, especially the role of exhortation, most closely resembles the modern day sermon.

In chapter two Dickson seeks to answer the question ‘what is teaching?’  It is argued that in 1 Timothy 2, Paul is not referring to a general conception of teaching but teaching that is authoritative, which he further clarifies using ‘historical realities and biblical text’.  ‘Teaching for Paul means preserving and laying down the fixed traditions of and about Jesus as handed on by the apostles.’  By drawing on the historical reality of the early church’s need for an oral tradition to preserve the core truths, Dickson mounts the case that teaching, in the narrow 1 Timothy 2 sense, is comprised of, and is the communication of, the new covenant truth prior to the advent of the Bible.  The biblical defense is made up of two phrase structures.  The first is similar to that which we read in 2 Timothy 1:13: ‘Follow the sound words you have heard from me.’ (2 Tim. 1:13).  The second phrase is found throughout the Pastoral Epistles: ‘trustworthy word’ (pistos logos) (1 Tim. 1:15, 3:1, 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11 Titus 3:8).  It is thus argued that the notion of teaching is thus a specific role with specific content.

Dickson concludes that the role of preserving the truth is different to the other speaking/teaching roles, which in essence expound the content of the oral tradition.  The concept of teaching in 1 Timothy 2 is referring to the preeminent role of safeguarding, preserving and delivering the content of Jesus’ person and work both orally and later in text.  This, according to Dickson’s argument, is what women are prohibited from engaging in.

In the last two chapters, Dickson’s main thesis comes together as he differentiates between exposition and teaching.  Exposition is explaining what the teachers have preserved.  That is, exposition is the explanation and application of the content (teaching) that has been safeguarded by teachers through oral tradition (and later through text) to the life of the church by men and women.  Dickson explodes the assumption that expounding is equivalent to teaching, though not without a measure of nuanced discussion regarding certain content and function overlap.  An interesting supporting text that Dickson draws on is 2 Timothy 3:16, which states that Scripture is useful (ophelimos) for teaching (didaskalia).  In other words, Scripture (the Old Testament) supports, but is not equivalent to, the apostolic task of laying down the apostolic tradition.

Dickson addresses the obvious critique that someone who is expounding the preserved teaching is in fact preserving and passing on the very content that Dickson has solely ascribed to the apostolic teaching role.  He counters this by explaining that this notion of preserving the teaching is secondary.  The person expounding the preserved truths is not preserving the teaching in the primary apostolic sense.  Such expositors are wholly accountable to the apostolic tradition, whereas the apostolic teachers and the tradition that they preserve is not accountable to anyone in any such way.  In other words, the preservation has been completed and is final.  What is left is the communication of these truths and the application of them to the body of Christ.  For this Paul uses the terms exposition, prophesy, evangelism, etc., all of which women are not prohibited from engaging in.

The argument put forward by Dickson is simple – if teaching is understood in the narrow sense to be the preservation of the apostolic truth, then the command that women cannot teach in 1 Timothy 2 prohibits women from the narrow sense of teaching only, that is, preserving the apostolic tradition.  This allows women to engage with other forms of communicating biblical content to mixed groups.

Dickson’s argument is a compelling reminder to check the glasses that we use when we read the biblical text.  His argument is well rehearsed and buttressed with thorough biblical grounding, historical context and sound logic.  One aspect of the book that needs extra attention and debate, however, is the notion that one who today teaches the apostolic truth is not a teacher (in the narrow sense) but only secondarily so.  It might be argued that while the modern expositor is not the original preserver of the new covenant truth, there is still the requirement to faithfully pass on the truth as it was handed down to them.  Does the famous 2 Timothy 2:2 passage challenge the primary versus secondary distinction that Dickson draws with regard to those that preserve apostolic truth?  What is the difference between the role of Paul, Timothy and the early church fathers, and the preacher in the pulpit today in maintaining the apostolic truth?  Are the roles today of teacher in the narrow sense (even if secondary) and expositor necessarily conflated?  If so, what impact would this have on the discussion of women teaching from the pulpit?

Book review: Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry


womenBourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry.  By Michael F. Bird.  Zondervan, 2012. $4.22 (On Kindle here).

Michael Bird often splits the pack with much of his theology.  In this readable and brief book Bird claims to do the same by seeking to find a middle ground between the often polarised perspectives of women in ministry.  This book is suitable for lay people who are seeking to understand how one might defensibly hold a somewhat egalitarian position.  However, this book is also useful for pastors and ministers that have assumed a position without thinking through the other side’s point of view.

The thesis of the book is that Paul not only endorsed women teaching in churches, but ‘Paul specifically encouraged it!’  In other words, Paul’s clear use of women in teaching roles must be integrated into any Pauline perspective of women in ministry.

After laying out his own journey from a complimentarian view towards a more egalitarian view Bird defines the terms and the spectrum on which they are found. This is a concise and helpful summary of the main players and their perspective of the debate.

In chapter 2, Bird presents the complimentarian reader with a conundrum, which is that Paul used a woman to deliver, read and expound his theological masterpiece – Romans – to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1-2).  This cameo by Phoebe is the ground-breaker that Bird uses to open the door to engage the idea that perhaps women can play a more substantial teaching role than complimentarians might suggest.

Bird then engages with the primary Pauline texts in this debate.  In 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Bird argues that Paul is not creating a hierarchy, but rather couplets, in which the head is honored.  Because Paul is not articulating a hierarchy (God at the top and women at the bottom), Bird contends that this passage cannot be used to limit the role that women might play in ministry.  On the contrary, women and men alike are permitted and able to engage in the same ministries by maintaining their God-given gender identity according to the cultural norms and by ministering according to their gifts in an orderly fashion.

Regarding I Corinthians 14:33-36 the issue of the interpolation stands out.  Even though this might solve Bird’s issue, he simply but effectively plays away the notion that the difficult verses of 33b-35 are an inserted interpolation by calling upon textual and internal evidence.  He treats the difficult verses in another way.  By drawing upon the reason behind Paul’s instruction for women on how to carry themselves in public worship, Bird mounts his case.  Women must honor their husband in their public use of speech.  Bird states: ‘It is the type of speaking and not the possibility of wives speaking that Paul prohibits.’

The third text that Bird deals with is Ephesians 5:21-24.  Whereas this passage is often called upon to explicate the submission of women to their husbands, Bird calls the readers’ attention to verse 21, which calls for mutual submission.  He defends this notion of mutual submission by referring to other passages like 1 Corinthians 7:4 and 11:11.  Bird also draws upon some anecdotal evidence to show how submission to the head of the house often meant submitting to a woman.  If the church was lead by the head of the house (i.e. Chloe in 1 Corinthians 1, 7 and 11) then it is no surprise to learn that there were sanctioned woman leaders in the early churches.

Before Bird moves on to Galatians 3:26-29, he makes note of Paul’s female co-workers who had teaching roles in the church, where he returns to more fully deal with Phoebe’s role in the delivery of Romans to the church in Rome.  When Bird turns his attention to Galatians, he argues that this passage is primarily dealing with soteriology.  What determines if one is in Christ or not?  Not race, gender or societal position.  But while this text has soteriological emphasis, Bird claims it also has ecclesiological implications.  If men and women are one in Christ then gender cannot be the quality that dictates ministry roles.

Finally, Bird looks at the 1 Timothy 2:11-15 text that at first glance is a knockout blow to the egalitarian cause.  Bird begins his defence by looking at the perspective that God’s created order was the driving argument in this text, instead of one that was culturally confined.  This appeal to creation, however, is not in line with 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 and the command for women to cover their heads on the grounds of the created order.  The command in this instance is obviously culturally driven and therefore not universally applicable, and so Bird argues that an appeal to the creation principle does not necessarily imply a universal application.

Bird’s second defence is somewhat logical.  He says that a decision to restrict women from teaching should be consistent at all levels and all contexts, both religious and secular.  If this is a divine principle embedded in creation then it should translate to all spheres of existence.  In the end, Bird denies that the driving argument in this text is one that appeals to creation, but rather is one that is embedded in the cultural issues of the time.  Women may not teach men if they are teaching false doctrine with a view to gain superiority over men as was the custom in Ephesus at the time.

This book argues against a simple reading of the relevant texts.  Bird’s persistent calling for consistency with regard to the use of the created order to defend a complimentarian perspective is convincing, as is his call for consistency in implementing this divine order.  While these arguments dent the complimentarian view, Bird’s own argument is weakened by the speculative nature of having to depend on cultural reconstructions.  While he aims at a middle ground between the egalitarian and the complimentarian perspectives, Bird does not demonstrate why the lead pastor, bishop or other such figure should be male, even though this is his preference.  If one was to take his arguments at face value one might well have to argue for equal opportunity in these roles too.

Missions Musings 13


If you have tuned in for the first time to this series called Missions Musings, welcome.

In these posts I try to articulate from the inside of what the church calls mission some of the changing dynamics, pressing issues, and current debates that are (or should be) being played out.

In this post I want to unveil one of our greatest sins.

Our job is to work.  It takes on many forms: church planting, evangelism, literature translation, education, leadership training, advocation for the powerless, humanitarian aid, medical aid, theological training, and so on.  It’s all good stuff!

Or is it?

What if that work equates to nothing more than my kingdom being built?  What if one’s work is one’s pride, glory, and hope?

Put simply, mission work has the potential to easily morph into a career, like that of any accountant, teacher, business owner, or economist.  In this depraved sense, (mission?) work becomes the centrepiece of one’s heart and soul.

It consumes.

It defines.

It gives life.

It gives reason for existence.

It is god.

The mission field (workplace?) is a minefield for the believer.  At every turn there is a trap to fall in.  Around every corner there is something to be tripped by.  On every path we can become confused and disoriented by the plethora of divergent trails leading from it.

And this manifests in many ways.  Most commonly perhaps we see this in the exaggeration of mission success.  Numbers, activity, and progress can be reported in ways that can be construed by the reader, listener or supporter as positive when in fact things are not so rosy.

We also find ourselves protecting our patch (village, area of humanitarian help, method, people group… or whatever we can get precious about).  We don’t pass on information that could be helpful for other people’s ministries.  We don’t introduce people who could be helpful to another person’s ministry.  We don’t include others in our work lest it somehow becomes not mine. We don’t research to find out what others are doing so that we can avoid wasting time, effort, money and enthusiasm.  We are the pioneers and we are going to do it.

This all sounds a bit harsh, I know, but it’s a reality that we who are serving in cross-cultural contexts, and those supporting us, need to be acutely aware of.

We love to dwell on texts that talk about giving cups of water in Jesus’ name, and helping those who might be regarded like the Samaritans.  We love those texts that speak of going to the ends of the earth and making disciples of all nations.  All of these feature in the mission defence arsenal.

But what value are these texts without those other texts that mention the widow who gave out of what she had, or the man who needed to learn how to give without letting others (or his other hand for that matter!) know about it.  How can we dwell on those lovely texts without pondering on the famous one about love, where we learn that stuff done without love is not surprisingly just noisy, useless, dead stuff.  A perusal of Paul and his method of equipping others to take on responsibility within ministry should not be missed either.

My feeling is that mission loses its way when we forget whose it is.

We give a cup of water in Jesus’ name.  We are making disciples of Jesus.  We are training and equipping Jesus’ body.  We love because he fist loved us.  We are building his kingdom.

We are on his mission.

Who Determines Where Women Belong?


Ok, so you’ve seen and read the picture and you would agree that it’s pretty funny – lame funny:)

But why?

Probably because the picture’s contents has little bearing upon our reality today, but was in fact indicative of life, not that long ago.  In other words, it is funny because it represents how we used to think a few years back.

The way that women are viewed has changed and that is why this little pic is funny.  It is interesting to see how the role of women has changed throughout history.

I have finally got around to reading a short little e-book by Scot McKnight – yep, it’s is a McKnight book reading week.  The book that I read was called Junia Is Not Alone and it is all about one name – Ἰοuνιαν (the Greek form).  This person is only mentioned once in the Bible even though they get a brilliant rap by Paul.  Paul says of this person, ‘Greet Andronicus and  Ἰοuνιαν, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was‘ (NIV, Romans 16:7).

Did you get that?  Ἰοuνιαν has all the badges of honour:

  1. Jew
  2. Fellow jail-bird with Paul
  3. Outstanding among the apostles
  4. A believer before Paul

The amazing thing (apparently) is that Ἰοuνιαν is a woman. This is where McKnight’s book sensationally kicks in.  This ancient truth, that Ἰοuνιαν is a woman, has been until recent times hidden from us – true story.  I won’t bore you with the details, but the big botch-up comes with Martin Luther.  He wasn’t the first to do it, but was certainly one of  the most influential.  Couple Luther’s influence with a botched-up composite Greek New Testament in 1927 by a guy called Nestle and you have the game sewn up.  Junia is not longer a she, but a he.

But why?

McKnight states the problem like this:

…a new kind of logic about women began to dominate.  The logic was simple: the person of Romans 16:7 is an apostle, and apostles can’t be women, Junia cannot have been a woman. Junia was a man (loc. 133).

Of course you can see the difficulty.  We do it all the time.  When the Bible says something that surely has to be wrong or does not line up with the way that we view the Bible, we play it away somehow, anyhow.  So for example, Jesus says,

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Luke 12:32-34).

It can’t mean what it says, I’m talking about the sell the possessions bit(!), and so we look for alternate readings. Our friend Martin did this, as did many other trusted New Testament scholars.

It’s all ok, Junia (the female) has been reinserted and life can roll on, but the dilemma of an apparent female apostle still stands.  Well, actually that depends on which version you read.

Let me give you a snippet.  Some say, like the NIV, that ‘They (Andronicus and Junia) are outstanding among the apostles’.  That could be read in a bunch of different ways including that she was an apostle, and an excellent one at that.  Or that the apostles know her well as an outstanding believer, etc.  Or any permutation in between.  Another version, this time the ESV reads, ‘They (Andronicus and Junia) are well known to the apostles.’  This is a very particular reading.

So, the million dollar question: which reading is best?

My suspicion is that, unfortunately, though not necessarily wrongly, we will choose the one that best suits our own theology of women in ministry.  Hmmm, a little back-to-front.

And we are back to square one.