The end goal…

I am going through a bit of theological transition right now. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It has been difficult to put it all into words, but this is my attempt to do so. I’m speaking from the heart here, so don’t take any of this as final, completely formed thoughts. This is only the beginning.

It started for me the weekend of Mother’s Day. I drifted back onto Twitter a few days before that, and found it in freak-out mode over some SBC churches allowing women to speak from the pulpit for the occasion. Beth Moore was the subject of particularly hostile rhetoric, and the ensuing conversation roiled me. In addition to that, much Twitter “ink” was being spilled over matters of social justice, critical theory, and progressive Christianity. On still a third front, the responses of some to the shocking death of Rachel Held Evans were appalling. Instead of mourning the loss of a fellow Christian, so young, with family and two littles and a sea of friends left behind, certain groups took the opportunity to politicize the loss and trash her life’s work. Classy.

All this drama left me rattled, and seemed to accelerate what was already becoming a major thought path for me. Where do I land on matters of social justice and the church? Or women and the church? Since I am a Black woman, these two subjects are deeply personal to me. I am not a spectator in this debate.

I’ll start with the question of women in ministry, as this seems to be the most pressing issue for me right now.

I love the Word and love to share it with others. That is the passion of my heart. Where did this passion originate? I have no interest in usurping anyone’s “authority”; I don’t care about titles or platforms. I just want to preach Christ and Him crucified. For those of us who don’t know what to think or believe about women in leadership or teaching roles in the church, this most recent (and ongoing) Twitter spat has been disorienting and demoralizing. Everyone says theirs is the *right* biblical view – who do I believe? What do I believe? It is frustrating and wearying. This is not theory for me. This is life, this is my love for Jesus. This is real and tangible.

Thirteen years ago I walked away from seminary jaded and disillusioned because I didn’t see the point of having the degree. I’m a woman after all – and the seminary I attended didn’t encourage me to explore what this passion for ministry meant, unless it was restricted to women or children. I still wonder, I still question, and still feel the confusion and frustration of this conversation. This is a soul ache, not an academic exercise. I want to be faithful to the Lord. I am less confident of my ability to do so now more than ever.

The Bible is life to me, my spiritual food. I love thinking about it, talking about it, meditating on it – and teaching it. I love theology. I love the pursuit, the acquisition – and yes, the teaching of it. I love to teach. I love to declare truth. I’m passionate about it. Where did that passion come from if not from the Lord?

This is the challenge: I have been for the most part fairly conservative in my theological leanings. At one point I strongly held a Calvinistic view of soteriology. Reformed Theology (RT) in general is fascinating and deeply satisfying to me on a certain level because it is so systematic and tidy. I like all the blanks filled and the PowerPoint presentation with multilayered bullet points to define and refine every detail. My brain is wired to analyze the life out of darn near anything – and then analyze my analysis. I think it’s a sickness…

But for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, the fascination with RT has led to dismay on many fronts. I am especially dismayed by the marriage of Reformed Theology with Complementarianism, and the implication that Complementarianism is integral to an orthodox belief of the Gospel message. The favored translation of Complementarians (the ESV), is “unapologetically Complementarian“, and their changes to passages like Genesis 3:16 in their 2016 revision proves the point. The implication is that you can only be “biblical” if you believe Complementarianism is true. If not, well…

This is essentially what was taking place in the Twitter freak-out over women preaching on Mother’s Day. The question that rang louder and louder in my ear was, “But is that true”?

Let me be clear: I do not doubt the Gospel, the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, or any of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (read my most recent post). What I am arguing here is that Complementarianism is not one of those foundational doctrines. It should not be used as a measuring rod for biblical faithfulness, orthodoxy, or saving faith (especially saving faith) – and the insistence that it must makes me queasy. At bottom, I am questioning the notion that is the only “biblical’ way, or the best way.

I’ve started on this journey before and stopped and turned around because it was too uncomfortable. I’m sure if I look in my archives, I will find a similar post with similar laments and frustrations. I have been avoiding this path. I don’t want to take this journey. But it keeps coming back. The “certainty” I once had about complementarian views of biblical manhood and womanhood no longer hold as much weight. The cognitive dissonance is becoming too much to bear. I can no longer avoid this question. I must take a deep breath and dive in.

The end goal is drawing deeply for the well of God’s Word, drawing closer to Him, and growing in my understanding of who He is and who I am in light of that.

Comments about the Gospel and justice will have to come in a later post. Right now all my emotional and mental energy is focused in on this question of women in ministry.

I don’t know where I will land. I just know I want to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

More later…grace and peace…

Why Am I A Christian?

Why am I a Christian?

I was asked this question recently, and it has been resounding in my heart ever since. It’s a good question too; it speaks directly to the very thing that defines who I am as a person. I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I do feel it is important that I share the answer – the introduction to this topic – that I gave to my dear friend. She has given me permission to share.

I am a Christian because I believe it is true.

Truth has been given a bad name these days. Oxford Dictionary announced that the word of 2016 was “post-truth”. They define it as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” We don’t need to think very long to consider areas of life where this phenomenon runs rampant. I would argue that much of what we witnessed during this last presidential election had much to do with this very idea. No amount of fact – or debunking of falsehoods – could persuade many on either side of the reality of their chosen candidate. We shall reap the consequences of this soon enough; but I digress. That is not the purpose of this post…

It is interesting to me that there are certain areas where we are post-truth, and certain where we would do not dare question the truth of certain objective facts. For example, I would never dream of climbing up on the roof of my office building and jumping off because I have been influenced by my personal belief that gravity is not true. We don’t argue with a creditor based on appeals to emotion or personal belief that we should be forgiven of this or that debt and expect to get anywhere. We don’t design buildings on the personal belief that load-bearing walls really aren’t necessary to keep the thing standing up. And I certainly wouldn’t go under the knife with a surgeon who has decided that he personally doesn’t believe in germs and therefore will not be sterilizing his surgical instruments. Facts are facts, we say.

But in other areas? We get squishier. Politics, as I referenced above, is one area. Religion is another. The two subjects that we are told not to discuss in polite company. And yet they shape and influence so much of our lives, both individually and collectively. It’s a matter of opinion. It’s what is right for me, or you, or whoever.

But what if, speaking specifically about religion right now, there is an objective, factual, and reasonable way to determine what is true? What if there were objective facts – facts that are true regardless of what I think about them – that have consequences in our lives and have bearing on what we believe and in whom? What if?

This was the question laid before me in my early 20s. Although I was born into a Christian home, and was in church from the time I was a baby, I did not embrace personal faith in Christ until much later. I was baptized at the age of nine, mainly because I was able to answer all the questions correctly that made me a candidate for it. But an embrace of faith, a conviction and belief, was absent. My faith was entirely cultural, and although I had a vague belief that there was a God, I was not convinced that the God of the Bible was the God.

I stopped attending church in my late teens and entered college as what I would call an agnostic. I never stopped believing that a God existed. But I was not convinced that we could know God or understand Him. And I certainly didn’t think if there was such a God He would be so small-minded as to provide only one pathway to knowing Him. The environment I lived in at the time (the University of Illinois) affirmed this idea. But I was still curious. My curiosity led me to take a comparative religions course as an undergrad. I left that class with unanswered questions and this nagging feeling that the “all roads lead to the same place” theory was just plain wrong. I wasn’t ready to take the step of saying there was no God at all. I didn’t think the evidence supported that idea. But I set that aside and began pursuing other things. I was having too much fun. I thought my life was fine just the way it was.

And it was. As lives go, I have lived a charmed one. Not that I have not had problems; but I know I’ve been blessed. And even then, I was aware of that. Not because I openly acknowledged it; it was just a knowing. Nothing I could define. I just knew. But I didn’t ascribe that blessing to a particular God. I was just blessed.

Thankfully, I have parents who did not try to cram religion down my throat. They let me take the path I needed to take, and loved me no matter what. I don’t know if the outcome of my story would have been different had they been hard-line with me. But, given my personality, they knew that approach would not work, so they had to let me fly on my own. Even if I crashed and burned. I had to figure it out for myself.

I didn’t have a “burning bush” moment. There was no tragic event that led me to faith. God did not audibly speak to me. I didn’t have a spiritual experience at a revival. It wasn’t one moment that I can point to and say, “this was the moment”. I can point to a moment when I realized there was a shift in my thinking, but I couldn’t necessarily pinpoint the source or exact point in time that shift took place. It was gradual. Methodical almost. Slowly, my arguments against God, and Jesus in particular, were chipped away until I was left with nothing but the hardness of my own heart, my own refusal to bow the knee, to accept the truth.

I read and considered the theories about the resurrection. I studied translation philosophies and how the English Bible came to be; of the thousands of Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that verify our translations. I’ve pondered the arguments for possible contradictions, and the evidence against those arguments. These were objective facts that lay before me and demanded a response from me. I couldn’t be neutral about it; I had to pick a side. That’s what I was left with. And I surrendered to that.

I believed. I still do. I am a Christian because I believe it is true. And it’s not true because it makes my life perfect, or gives me everything I’ve ever asked for in life.

I believe the evidence I studied about the manuscripts that are used to translate our Bible. I believe the evidence for the life of a man named Jesus. I believe the historical records that confirm He was a real person and that He really was executed on a Roman cross. I believe that His followers preached His resurrection, and lived and died for this proclamation. I believe in the objective, historical fact of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He said His resurrection would confirm that what He said about Himself was true. If He rose, then Christianity rises; if He is still in the grave, it is dead. I believe He rose. And I believe He is true, that He is Truth. I believe because the Christian worldview, one that is fully informed by the full counsel of the Word of God, makes sense of this life better than anything else I’ve considered.

That is why I am a Christian.

I don’t think I persuaded my friend. And that’s okay; she’s still my friend and I love her, and she knows that. Her decision one way or another won’t change that. I would love for her to embrace Christ as I did. But I can’t make that decision for anyone else. It is a “leap of faith”; but it is not a blind leap. There are reasons to believe. Good reasons. No, we can’t see with our physical eyes. But we can, with hearts open, consider the possibility that there is more to life than what we see. There is more than just this time and space we occupy. If we sit still long enough, perhaps we can hear an echo of eternity in our hearts, an ache for something that cannot be fulfilled by the here and the now. And that something gives meaning and purpose to the here and the now that it cannot have otherwise. It may sound like foolishness to some; but it is breath and life to me…