Monday afternoon, an EF-5 tornado cut a mile-wide furrow through Oklahoma leaving death and devastation behind. Monday night, over 1100 miles away, I tucked my eight-year-old daughter into bed. As we normally do, we prayed together before she fell asleep. She wanted to continue to pray for “the tragedies in Boston and Connecticut” and then innocently asked if there were any more tragedies that we needed to pray for.
As I struggled to find words to tell her that, yes, in fact, there had been a tragedy just that afternoon, I realized how quickly she was losing her innocence. How quickly she would have to learn that tragedy is a recurring theme of this life; how quickly she would learn that some weeks you feel like you’re being pummeled again and again by the brokenness around you.
And yet, learning how to engage tragedy is one of the defining marks of maturity.
When tragedy occurs, it’s easy for us to respond in one of two ways. We either try to ignore it entirely—to shut ourselves off from the pain—or we use it to further our own agendas. After a tragedy, politicians show up in plaid shirts and hard hats to express solidarity and promise relief while posing for photo-ops that will run nicely in future campaign ads; journalists rush to report the facts and jockey for titillating details, seemingly immune to the grief unfolding in front of their very cameras and microphones. And those of us in the church? Well, we’re tempted to craft sermons and build entire eschatological paradigms on the backs of those who suffer. Every disaster, every crisis, every pain can easily be interpreted as judgment against a nation who condones ____________. (Fill in the blank with your sin of choice.)
And while I most certainly believe that God can use natural disasters to get our attention, I think we’re missing something when we respond this way. In Scripture, when a disaster was a direct result of God’s wrath toward sin, He took credit for it. He sent His word through His prophets and expressed in meticulous detail the specific reasons for the tragedy. So when God exercises His judgment, it is no capricious, half-hearted attempt—be sure that He will make His reasons known, even if He has to enlist a whole passel of major and minor prophets to do it.
And yet, every tragedy—every heartbreak, every pain—is an opportunity for us to repent. Every tragedy is an opportunity to take one step away from our sin and one step further on the path of obedience. And we must be careful not miss this opportunity in our eagerness to prophesy against the sin of others. We must also be careful not miss this opportunity in our eagerness to avoid the cliché of doomsday prophesying.
Because even if we don't know the specific reasons for suffering, that same suffering can be redemptive.
Even for those who watch from afar, tragedy can be a time of drawing us back to Him if we let it. Tragedy can draw us back to Him because it can humble us in a moment and strip us of all that we were relying on instead of Him. Tragedy can draw us back to Him if only because it reminds us that the only safe place in this broken world is in His arms.
And so when tragedy comes, we must repent.
We must repent of not remembering the fragility and brevity of life.
We must repent of not cherishing every good and perfect gift that comes from above.
We must repent of the complacency and self-righteousness that convinced us that we could care for ourselves.
We must repent of valuing material things and consuming them in our own lust.
We must repent of making ourselves the center of our own existence.
We must repent of ignoring the pain of others until it finally smacks us in the face with the horror of its Technicolor details.
And ultimately we can do this--we can repent--not because He is an angry God who targets small school children if we don’t get our act together, but because He is a merciful, good God who is our only hope in a world that is this devastated and this broken. We can repent because we are confident that when we finally draw near to Him, He will draw near to us because His judgment was poured out when the earth shook and the sky went black 2000 years ago.
So when tragedy tears into our safe, hermetically sealed lives, while we must not use it as a way to condemn others, we must
allow it to humble us and bring forth the fruit of repentance in our own lives.
A repentance that takes shape as we gratefully hold our little ones close even when they whine and make messes and consume every ounce of our available strength. A repentance that takes shape as we willingly and joyfully return to the to-do lists and housework because we finally understand the blessing of having a house to return to. A repentance that takes shape as we intentionally free ourselves from the talons of materialism and offer our resources to those who suddenly have none. A repentance that takes shape when even in the face of the unthinkable, we proclaim with Job that we know that our Redeemer lives,
and that one day He will stand upon the earth.
A repentance that knows that because He lives, nothing can separate us
from Him. Even tragedy itself.
This week has been a big one for scandal. Whether it’s been inside the Church
, inside the Beltway
, or inside a Philadelphia courtroom
, it seems like our collective dirty laundry has finally spilled out of the hamper and onto the floor. And while I don’t delight in scandal, I realized this week--after being bombarded by it on every side--that scandal offers a strange kind of comfort. Perhaps it’s not the scandal itself, but that the revelation
of scandal stands testimony to a God Who is faithful to His promises.
When you’ve suffered because of another person’s sin, one of hardest parts is the helplessness that comes when no one else knows or even seems to care about it. In this place, it’s easy to begin to believe that God doesn’t either. You begin to doubt, you begin to fear, you begin to worry that the truth will never be revealed. You reconcile yourself to the fact that justice will never be done—you question whether it even exists at all.
But it does. And that is never clearer than when a scandal finally breaks.
When a scandal breaks—when painful truths finally come to light—we are watching God fulfill His promise that “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
We are watching Him actively “bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and disclose the purposes of the heart.”
We are watching Him prove that day and night are alike to him and that He sees the pain of His children and will vindicate them.
In this sense, scandal is grace. Scandal is grace because it restores our hope in God’s justice. Sin will be found out no matter how expertly we cover it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. But scandal is also grace because it reminds us of our own need to confess—of our own need to submit to this same justice. Because if we don’t voluntarily confess our sin today, it promises to be a scandal tomorrow.
You see, scandal only happens when we refuse to repent. But when we do—when we willingly uncover the hidden secrets of our heart--the only scandal left is the scandal of His mercy. The scandal of a mercy that remembers that these now confessed sins have been already been atoned for. The scandal of a justice that refuses to punish us twice. The scandal of a God who says: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
And so when we confess our sin to Him and those we’ve wronged, He covers them. He does not minimize them and He does not always remove the consequences, but one thing He does not do is flaunt them. He does not hold a press conference to shame or humiliate us in the midst of them. He does not make a scandal of them.
So when the Gosnell verdict was finally announced this week, I found myself unexpectedly crying—not tears of relief so much as tears of thankfulness. Thankfulness for a God Who promises to reveal the hidden things. Thankfulness for a God who sees every time a child suffers, every time a government abuses its power, every time I convince myself that my own sin can be covered. I cried tears of thankfulness for a God who loves us too much to allow darkness to continue and Who joyfully receives us with open arms when we finally come running out of it.
There’s this tower in Italy. It leans. Maybe you've heard of it. When construction began in 1173, it looked fine, but over the centuries, as floors were added, the lean became more pronounced. This resulted in countless attempts to stabilize it—everything from adding counterweights to shoring up the foundation—and yet today, even though the tower still stands, it continues to lean.
Recently, there's been a growing conversation about something called “New Wave Complementarianism.” Some
have suggested that this conversation isn’t “new” at all but simply a return to original complementarian positions. Still others
have suggested that this new wave is entirely
necessary because the “old wave” reached too far. And others
have said that it is simply a reaction to what’s happened in some churches in the name of complementarianism, but isn’t really a discussion of its core essence.
But no one denies that the tower is leaning.
Still, don’t take my word for it. Remember that time Bob Yarbrough said these exact things
at the 2012 EFCA Theology Conference. (Remember that time D.A. Carson spoke at the same conference.) The truth is that there is a “lean” in complementarianism, and it is evidenced by what is being taught and modeled in our churches. Our practices reveal our core assumptions better than any talking points ever could and because of this, they end up being the best indicator of whether or not we need to check our foundation.
So for me, the pertinent question is: “What’s been missing from the conversation that has allowed the tower to lean?”
My approach is predicated on the belief that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth and that Christian truth is discovered through paradoxes. Specific to this discussion, 1) Men and women are the same and 2) Men and women are different. But the paradoxes of the Christian faith are more than simply a set of checks and balances; the tensions actually force us to think more deeply and articulate more fully what we believe. The tension forces us to better understanding (and sometimes humbly admit that we don't understand at all.)
Because of this, if something starts leaning (oh, like say our understanding of gender), we must go back and figure out what has not been held in tension that should have kept it straight. Like Tim Keller, I consider myself a “complexifier”
and believe that we must bring ALL of Scripture to bear on these issues, not simply the passages that speak specifically to gender. So for my part, the conversation surrounding New Complementarianism (a.k.a., New Wave Complementarianism, New Wave OF Complementarianism, a group of friends talking among themselves who stumbled across the concerns that others already felt)—for my part, the conversation must not be about simply recovering original complementarianism but about asking ourselves what has been missing, or at least underemphasized, that has allowed the tower to lean in the first place.
Today I’m laying my cards on the table. I’m doing this because we must have this conversation together. It’s bigger than any specific set of bloggers—bigger than any “movement.” I’m also doing this because while I am a writer, I am also a wife and mom, and at this point, my children need a mother and my husband needs an ezer
more than complementarianism needs another blogger.
So in no particular order, here’s what I believe this conversation must entail; we must:
- Develop a robust definition of imago dei.
- Define the differences between men and women in relationship to God’s nature, not simply in opposition to each other.
- Consider the limitations of gender-based discipleship. If gender becomes the paradigm for sanctification, we have unintentionally made gender more significant than Christ. The goal is not masculinity or femininity—the question is immaturity vs. maturity.
- Admit that if we’re going to use the categories of male and female, we cannot begin with them—we must base them on the foundational category of humanness. As a female person, I have more in common with a male person than I do with a female cat.
- Understand that Christianity does not have a masculine-feel or a feminine-feel. Christianity should feel Christlike—it should feel fully-human.
- Recognize that equality must be the basis for headship--not simply the ying to its yang. Headship, whether in the church or home, exists precisely because we are equal.
- Clarify that the goal of headship is union—that Christ's headship results in the uniting of all things in heaven and earth and reconciling all things to Himself.
- Differentiate between headship and manhood as well as submission and womanhood.
- Reinforce responsibility/authority paradigm of headship. Any authority is given in order to fulfill a responsibility; it does not simply exist.
- And while we’re at it, clarify a Christian view of authority—especially if this is the going to be the key difference between men and women.
- Understand that headship exists only in specific circumstances—headship is not unilateral and some men will never exercise headship because they will never hold a position that calls them to.
- Differentiate between headship and leadership as gifting.
- Realize that passages that speak to men and women’s differing roles flow out of deeper doctrinal paradigms. We understand roles best when we start with the doctrine and work toward application, not vice versa.
- Remember that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Roles are given to enable relationships; relationships are not meant to serve roles.
- Discus how denominational and sociological contexts affect our applications and differentiate between application and doctrine.
- Reclaim an understanding of eldership that invests authority in the office, not the person. When we define authority by cultural cues or personality instead of the process of ordination, we can cordon off areas of ministry that the Scripture does not.
- Consider how we assign value. We cannot simply declare that men and women are equal; we must function in a way that displays this.
- Recognize that this will be difficult in a subculture that elevates pastors and teachers to celebrity status--how do you assign value to women when they will never hold those positions?
- Dismantle the false paradigm of gender vs. gifting. Gender is biological gifting and it flourishes alongside other gifting.
- Embrace a view of the whole person that elevates the providence of God to combine gender, talents, and personality into a unique package with unique strengths and unique limitations.
- Actively pursue women’s unique gifting.
- Consider whether focusing the conversation on “roles” has reduced people to functions instead of agents—do we simply become “workers” in a weird Marxist reality?
- Stop overextending Ephesians 5. A wife is not perpetually in a position to be rescued by her husband. Sometimes a wife will be Christ to a husband in need. (I Peter 3)
- Explore the role of husband as “husbandry”– including the responsibility to ensure that those under your care become all that God has made them to be. Explore the same for "wifery."
- Wrestle with whether or not “complementarianism” should be equated with a conservative reading of gender. Is it possible to have a conservative reading of gender and not be “complementarian?” (If nothing else, we need a new word because complementarian doesn’t spell-check.)
There. I’ve laid out my cards. Feel free to pick them up and play them. None of these ideas are “new”—but they are things that I believe have been missing and have led to the lean in our tower. It’s time for us to figure out why, to revisit established paradigms, and courageously press deeper into the mystery and wonder of God’s good design. Semper Reformanda
Two nights ago, my husband and I dressed up and played grown-ups for a bit. He had purchased tickets to a RSO performance of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and we decided to make a night of it—babysitter, dinner at a downtown restaurant, the works.
If you’ve never heard Appalachian Spring
, I must caution you that your humanity may not yet be fully realized. It’s not that this particular piece of music is an essential part of the process of sanctification, but it is one of the clearest expressions of common grace that I’ve yet to encounter. Originally composed as a ballet, the score tells the story of a newly married couple on the Appalachian frontier who face their future with courage and determination. I first heard it from my father’s record player as a child, and growing up in those same hills, it was impossible that the music would not etch itself on my soul.
Spring in Appalachia is a strange mix of hope and persistence. The dark, dreary days of winter do not go easily; they die off slowly--as my mother described it recently—like a Shakespearean hero. But steadily, the mud and slog and slosh is replaced by bits of green and yellow. The crocuses and forsythia bloom and the hills begin to color, budding in the same gentle hues that will eventually consume them six months later. And finally, finally, you know spring has come when you hear the faint, sweet mating calls of the tree frogs that we call simply “spring peepers.”
Clustered around lakes and streams, these little frogs sing to their loves, their warbles and chirrups echoing the hope and anticipation that the rest of us feel.
I attended university in South Carolina, and during the spring of my sophomore year, I found myself feeling particularly homesick. For this northern girl, this thing that they called “spring” would have been more accurately described as one head-long plunge directly into summer. I wandered around campus in a funk—not even really knowing or understanding what was wrong. Then one day, I found a package in my campus mail box. Inside was a cassette tape from my father. He had taken a trip to the lake about two miles from our house and recorded the spring peepers.
My roommates figured I was nuts; and when I told my friends about it, they thought that “spring peepers” where baby chicks. Their responses simply deepened my sense of alienation. Here I was, a country girl in the big city surrounded by people who had never heard Appalachian Spring
and didn’t have the slightest concept of the significance of spring peepers.
Until one evening. A boy that I had been getting to know over the last several weeks had asked me to dinner and afterwards, we were walking to the library where I worked. As is the case when you don’t know someone well, the conversation quickly turned to the weather. It was springtime after all, and despite the inadequacies of one lived in South Carolina, you can always talk about spring.
“You know what I miss most,” I ventured, carefully putting forward a test to determine whether or not this fellow was worth further consideration. “I miss spring peepers. My dad sent me a recording of them and I’ve been listening to it constantly.”
“Oh I know what you mean,” he answered, this slightly-awkward religion major who dressed in mismatched hand-me-downs but who had those interesting brown eyes and auburn hair, “I miss them too—especially right about this time of night when they’re just coming out.”
My heart stopped. “So you know that they’re not baby chicks?”
“Of course not, who’d be so dumb to think they were?”
Most of the time, we expect God’s providence to reveal itself with the audacity of a Las Vegas neon sign. We expect Him to shout His will from the mountaintops when in reality, most of the time, He simply whispers it. It doesn’t unfurl so much as unfold in a gentle, persistent way.
Because as much as I loved growing up in Appalachia, I never really expected to stay here. At five, I planned to be a missionary nurse in the jungles of Africa, living in a hut, eating flying insects, and standing up to angry chieftains. At fifteen, my dreams morphed to living beside the sea (in no less than a lighthouse) and running an orphanage for middle school boys. Never once did I anticipate becoming a pastor’s wife in a rural context similar to the one I had grown up in. Never once did I anticipate that I’d marry a boy because he knew what spring peepers were.
But this is how our God works. He uses all things—all the things that we consider inconsequential, all the things that we chafe at—to orchestrate His plan for our lives. And the wonder of it all is that He sovereignly guides both Nature and Nurture to make us precisely who we are supposed to be.
A couple of weeks ago, I was driving home in my husband’s pick-up after our mid-week prayer service. He had already taken our three little ones home because I needed to stay to practice in a women’s trio that was slated to sing the following Sunday. By the time I left, it was already dark and the ground was damp with that persistent Appalachian mist that hovers and crawls on little cat feet. As I approached a narrow bridge that straddles a creek, I slowed and rolled down my windows. And there they were. Those spring peepers singing their love song, singing their love song of spring in Appalachia.
And I knew that all was as it should be. All was right in the world. I knew I was precisely where God had always planned for me to be.
Today was supposed to be a day spent working on a manuscript. It’s due in August and if you promise not to tell my publisher, I’ll tell you that it’s only half finished. My husband has the day off and took my littlest one to visit grandpa and grandma. Around 9:00, I loaded them up in the pickup, along with our beagle Cal, and waved goodbye. I went inside to check my email and get to work. Then I read this.
And suddenly my day took a completely different direction than the one I’d planned.
Over the last several weeks, a handful of conservative women have been writing about a fresh vision of complementarianism. We have half-jokingly called it “New Wave Complementarianism” along with a lot of jokes about no more pink, fluffy Bible studies. I didn’t know if anyone was listening or if any one cared. Turns out they do.
So when I read this piece by Kevin DeYoung this morning, I didn’t know what to think.
I respect Kevin, have benefited from his ministry, and am eager to hear his perspective on the ideas that have been put on the table. In response to Wendy Alsup’s post
on NWC, he asked this question: “Who are the old wave complementarians we should leave behind?”
Fair enough. Let’s talk about it.
But my heart sunk, when in the last paragraph, he did not wait for an answer. Instead he articulated some of his assumptions about what the answer would be in the form of a concern."My caution, then, is that we don’t make a new version of complementarianism that has for one of its main objectives appeasing egalitarians. Let’s be winsome. Let’s answer honest questions. But let’s not think that any amount of apologizing or differentiation will win over those who think everything about complementarianism is backwards, oppressive, and mean. I get nervous when our passion seems less about the theology we say we want to celebrate and more about the ways our theology is a stumbling block to others. The impulse to rescue counter-cultural doctrines from their own unpopularity is one of the first steps to losing the doctrine altogether."
And by doing so, he unintentionally
characterized these women as something that they are not. By not first hearing the answer, he unintentionally
framed NWC as a threat. And there’s nothing that stops healthy dialogue faster than positioning the other party as an opponent. The fallout of this was quickly evidenced in the comment section when several people responded in essence: “Wow! Thanks so much for warning me against this. I didn’t even know it existed and now I will be on my guard against it.”
I think what many bloggers and leaders forget (and perhaps what I forget at times) is that we have tremendous ability to shape how our readers will interpret another person’s ideas. So that when you end a post by warning that NWC could be attempt to “appease egalitarians” you have effectively solidified in their minds that it is dangerous.
And yet, this is not our heart at all.
Let me say for the record: We are not trying to appease egalitarians.
In fact, the women I know (all five or six of us) who have blogged over the last two weeks have absolutely no desire to appease anyone. They have no desire other than Biblical fidelity and pursuing a robust expression of womanhood precisely because how we understand ourselves has direct bearing on how we understand God.
(That’s not original with me--you can thank John Calvin for that one.)
And so what these women are calling for is, yes, rooted in their experience. But only in so far as their experience has been inconsistent with truly biblical complementarianism. Because whether we admit it or not, there is a tremendous disconnect between “theological complementarianism” and “applied complementarianism.”
One reason this is the case, I believe, is that we have talked about gender apart from talking about imago dei
personhood. The problem is not what has been said but what has not been said
to men and women. A truly biblical understanding of gender is rooted in two equally significant doctrines.
- Men and women are the same--we are both imago dei.
- Men and women are different--we express imago dei uniquely.
But for the last forty years, we have only talked about #2. For the last forty years, we have shaped the conversation in response to feminism which itself was framed in terms of gender. The greatest problem with 2nd Wave Feminism isn’t that it argues for the rights of women on the basis that women are people, but that they have a false definition of what personhood is. They don’t accept that men and women are imago dei and that our gender is an outpouring of that--a beautiful, glorious way that we reflect and represent Him on this earth.
The only problem is that we haven’t done a good job of articulating imago dei
If you don’t believe me, what was the last solidly-reformed, biblically-faithful book that you’ve read covering the doctrine of anthropology? The best one I’ve come across is Anthony Hoekema’s Created in God’s Image
which was written 27 years ago. And yet, how many, many, many books and articles have been devoted to the articulation of the differences
between the genders? The effect has been that the sheer weight of words and blog posts and sermons for the last forty years has taught an entire generation of men and women that the most basic thing about them is their gender. We have raised a generation of Christians who don’t know how to think of themselves imago dei.
This was made strikingly clear to me in a recent conversation I had with a seminary-educated man who would be my peer in age, season of life, and conservative theology. I was asking him for an apologetic for gender-based discipleship and how we shape that in terms of the call to image Christ. In response, he told me that I couldn’t fully model Christ the way he could because he was man and there were things that Christ did in his masculinity that would not be appropriate for me as a woman. Instead he told me that I should model Sarah.
Not Jesus Christ. Sarah.
Now as wonderful as Sarah is as model for womanhood—as divinely inspired as Peter was to suggest her as a model for womanhood—I’m not comfortable with this answer. As an image bearer, I am destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, the perfect Image Bearer. That process will undoubtedly express itself through my gender so that I will end up exhibiting many of the same characteristics of Sarah, but we will exhibit them similarly because of Jesus Christ.
I will model her insofar as she first models Christ Himself.
Because this is what living imago dei
means. It means that I am destined to be transformed to His
perfect image. It means I am destined to be restored to my full humanity through Him
. And the gospel does this equally for me as woman as much as it does for a man.
So in answer to Kevin’s question, “What is the ‘New Wave’ rejecting?”—I’d offer this:
We are not rejecting anything. We are adding
to the conversation. Among other things, we are adding the concept of imago dei
to serve as a corrective to some of the destructive ideas that have formed in transit over the last 40 years. Think of it as a cleansing wave. If anything, we are rejecting chauvinism that has been allowed to mask itself under the guise of complementarian thinking. Because when for 40 years, we have not been as outspoken about the false doctrines perpetuated in our own ranks as we have about those outside them, we have effectively taught our sons and daughters that this is what complementarianism is.
But it is not.
Biblical complementarianism is rooted, not simply in the differences between men and women, but in the things that they share. Biblical complementarianism pursues the flourishing of both men and women but does not reduce them to their biology. Biblical complementarianism celebrates God’s good design of gender but recognizes that gender—like any of our differences—must be rooted in imago dei.
And so if you’re worried that NWC is a way to minimize the beauty of doctrine, don’t be. It is, in fact, a call to be more, intensely, doctrinally faithful. It is a call to be all
that God has created us to be—right down to our very chromosomes.
“In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and travelers went by roundabout ways, the peasantry ceased in Israel, until Deborah arose, until [she] arose as a mother in Israel… let those who love Him be like the rising sun in its might.” (Judges 5:6-7, 31)
There is tide rising in the conservative church. A tide of women who love God deeply, who love His Word deeply, and who love His Church deeply. But they don’t always fit what you’ve come to expect for Christian womanhood—they are gutsy and outspoken. They are showing up in the typically male fields of theology and philosophy. And they are pushing back the boundaries of darkness by using their spare moments, not to shop and hold Tupperware parties, but to fight human trafficking, sound the alarm against sexual abuse, and advocate for the poor. They are rising up like the sun in all its might.
I consider myself among this “new wave”
although I think it’s hardly new. Truthfully, it’s simply a return to ancient values—a return to values more traditional than those of 1950s America. This rising is a return to living imago dei
--to embodying all that it means to be human, to becoming the image bearers God intends for us to be. But because we can be easily misunderstood, I want to take this moment to share our hearts--to share my heart--with you, our brothers and fathers in the faith.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________To anyone who cares to listen,
Contrary to what you may have heard from Freud
(and perhaps from well-intentioned Christian teachers who were unknowningly influenced by him), most Christian women don’t want to be men. We don’t want to be fathers. We don’t want your positions. (And occasionally, when we do, it’s only because it seems like you’re able to embrace your humanity in ways that we are not.) Truthfully, we just want to be people--in the full orb of all that this means. We want simply to be who God has made us to be--people with different gifting, different capacities, different callings. People you listen to, people you value. Because whether you realize it or not, the way you think about us has tremendous impact on how we think about ourselves.
And yet, we want to be free to embrace our womanhood, to offer a uniquely feminine perspective and know it will be valued. We want to be able to talk about pregnancy and breastfeeding and homemaking and the struggle to be beautiful and know that you will listen and learn from us. We want you to believe that these are not “women’s issues” but that they are human issues--that they are imago dei issues
—that they are reflections of a God who Himself gives birth to us
, who tenderly feeds us
, who exists in the beauty of holiness.
We want to serve alongside you but not only to organize the nursery or the kitchen, because quite frankly some of us are terrible at it. Some of us are better suited to dream and think and sort through the consequence of ideas than we are at keeping track of whether or not the wipes are stocked. (Just ask my husband and children.) We want not only to be mothers within the church, but mothers of
the Church. Women who humbly walk beside the fathers of the Church as they nurture new life and offer guidance and protection to God’s children.
We want you to challenge us. We want you to believe we are capable of hard thinking and deep conversation and deeper prayer. We want
to “worry our pretty little heads” about doctrine and philosophy because these are the things that undergird human existence. These are the things that undergird our existence.
They are not masculine concerns—they are human ones.
We want you to say what a friend of mine said about his wife recently, “I have the utmost respect for her—not as my wife—but as a believer.”
We want you to know that we have more in common with you than we don’t--if you pricked us, we would bleed
. And that while they may come in different packages, we bear the same burdens, the same fears, and the same cares that you do. That our destiny is the same as yours—to be freed from these fears and cares by being transformed to the image of Christ Himself.
We want you to understand that male is not the default setting for human existence. That being female was not an afterthought or a derivative. We want you to understand that we happily defer to you, but not easily. That submission is a sacrifice we gladly offer but it is a sacrifice nonetheless. It is a sacrifice precisely because we are equals.
And deferring to you in our homes and churches requires a strength that only God can provide.
We want to truly be your helpers, to take some of the weight off your shoulders—the weight of always having to be the perfect man, the perfect leader, of always having to be Christ in the dynamic. Let us be Christ to you sometimes. Let us mirror His love and His service and His strength. We want you to feel safe enough to be able to be weak with us.
We want you to be our brothers and fathers.
And we want to be your sisters and mothers
. We want to be able to tease you like only a little sister can and nurture you in that extra-helping-of-apple-pie motherly kind of way. And sometimes, we need to be able to say things to you, to offer an appropriately-placed correction, just like she would as she was serving you said piece of pie.
We want you to know that there are Mary Slessors and Amy Carmichaels and Elizabeth Elliots sitting in the pews beside you right now. We want you to know that some of them are your daughters. Some of them may be your wives. And they need you to support them—to pursue their gifting as quickly as your would pursue your own.
This is a difficult world for women. Just like you, we groan under the curse waiting for redemption. But it’s a particularly difficult world for women who embrace a conservative understanding of gender. We’re the ones most pressed by the conversation because we’re the ones submitting to headship at the same time that our progressive sisters are throwing it off, beckoning us to join them. We’re the ones caught in the middle.
So we need you to champion us. Many of you already do, but let me just ask that you continue to invest yourself in our flourishing and realize that our success determines your success, that our capacity to grow to spiritual maturity has direct bearing on yours. We need you to believe that either we all get through this together or none of us makes it. We need you to return to living imago dei
right alongside us.
With all my love,
Your Little Sister
Today I'm posting at Fulfilling Your Vows,
a new website designed to encourage and support couples in their marriages. This month's topic is faithfulness, and just like me, I decided to take a less than conventional approach. My advice about how to pursue faithfulness in marriage? "Be true to yourself." Here's a selection:One of the saddest parts of the drama is watching as a spouse walks away, truly believing that the only way they will ever be happy is if they free themselves from the duties and responsibilities of this marriage. They believe that in freeing themselves, they will finally find themselves.
So here’s a piece of unconventional advice: in order to remain faithful to your spouse, in order to remain faithful to your marriage vows, you must be true to yourself.
You must not be faithful out of duty or obligation or martyrdom. You must not work on your marriage just for the sake of working on your marriage. You must not follow a three-point plan or adopt a “just do it” attitude. In order to be faithful, in order to be happy, you must be authentic to yourself.
But–-pay attention-–not your superficial self.
You must be true to your deeper self–-the real you–-the you that is made in the image of God and has been restored and redeemed in Christ. You must be authentic to your core identity and the core values that flow out of this identity–-values of truth and sacrifice and thankfulness and love.
You can read the rest here:
Recently I did something that is rare for me. I turned my social media platform into a soapbox and deluged my long-suffering friends and family with post after post highlighting the atrocities of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician who provided illegal late-term abortions and who is now standing trial for the murders of eight people—one woman and seven infants.
Here’s the status I posted just prior to the full-out blitz: FYI: I don't usually get invested in "issues" on FB, but I intend to devote space and attention to promoting the Gosnell trial here, on my twitter feed, and perhaps on my blog for the simple reason that this is not an issue. This is not about where you stand on abortion. This is about the inalienable right to life. This is about a man who psychotically and systematically stole that right, murdering children for decades. This is about the media who won't cover it, and an American conscience that can't be troubled to hear about it.
The reason I chose to do this was because the story had been largely ignored
by the mainstream media; but thanks to the leadership of people like Kirsten Powers
and Mollie Hemingway
, men and women of conscience were leveraging the power of the internet to bring the story to light.
Trust me, that was the easy part.
Now it’s time for us to do something much more difficult. Now that we’ve exposed the horrors that were found in that inner-city clinic, it’s time for us to speak as vocally and as passionately about the healing that is found in Christ. Because the only thing more dangerous than ignoring evil is acting as if evil were stronger than grace.
One of the reasons I normally hesitate to post and write about sensitive issues like abortion is not because I’m afraid of push-back but because I know that for many men and women, abortion is not theoretical. It is not a political issue. It is the shadow that dominates their lives. And when stories like this hit their newsfeeds, that shadow darkens and their silent prisons begin closing in, suffocating them in clouds of shame, sorrow, and brokenness.
If you’ve never cried with a woman as she finally unburdens her greatest secret--if you’ve never been the one holding onto that secret--you may not understand what I’m talking about. I’m talking about an overwhelming sense of shame that can set the stage for a lifetime of brokenness. I’m talking about an event so formative that it can make every setback after it seem like judgment from God. I’m talking about a pain that can make men and women spiral out of control in a desperate search for redemption and healing. I’m talking about the fact that if we’re not careful, we can add to that pain and lock the prison down even more.
You see, when we talk only about the evils of abortion without also talking about the superior grace of Christ, we essentially tell these men and women that what they believe about themselves is true—we tell them that they are beyond redemption. We tell them that their sin is stronger than Christ Himself.
This danger is so great, so likely, that often I’d rather simply avoid the conversation altogether. But that is no longer an option. Over the next few weeks, we will undoubtedly talk a lot about what happened at 3801 Lancaster Avenue; but as we do, we must be careful to talk MORE about the power of Christ’s death to free us from sin and the power of Christ’s resurrection to conquer death. Even the death that we inflict on our own children.
We must not for one minute speak in such a way that leads our brothers and sister to believe that this sin is more powerful, more definitive, more captivating than our beautiful Christ. We must tell them that Christ is stronger and that not only does He have the power to forgive,
He has the power to give back
. We must tell them that He has the power to restore, to bring beauty from ashes, to bring life from death. We must tell them again and again until they believe it.
Yesterday, a friend who has worked with post-abortive women sent me a link to this film
produced by Piedmont Women's Center
in upstate South Carolina. In it, a mother gives testimony to finally finding healing and experiencing the power of grace. And when she did, when she was finally free, she was also finally able to love those same children she had lost. “God said, ‘It’s okay. They’re your children. You can name them, and you can love them now.’”
So my dear friend--my dear brother who flinches every time you hear the word, my dear sister who cannot function for the guilt even these decades later, hear me and hear me well:
Because there is no condemnation in Christ, you are free to love those little ones that you once did not. Because there is nothing more powerful than Christ, He can restore what you lost. Because there is no death that is stronger than Christ—even the gruesome death that reigned in a squalid, inner-city abortion clinic—you can finally find life in Him. Because this is the gospel: Christ does not simply forgive, He restores. And He gives back, He gives back, He gives back.
So we will sing—we will sing for you, dear brothers and sisters, because you cannot yet sing for yourselves—we will sing so all can hear,
Last Friday, Edith Schaeffer passed away at the age of 98. Despite the potential to have been overshadowed by her husband, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, she held her own as a writer and thinker, delivering a message of joi de vivre and teaching a generation of women that there is power in the small moments, that even things like mothering and domesticity are an expression of God’s image. She taught us that when God takes up residency, our homes will be filled with His nature—filled with art and music and beauty and wonder and hospitality and joy.
But something’s happened to Christian women in the subsequent years--something that I’m not sure even Mrs. Schaeffer herself would approve. Over the last several decades, we’ve flipped the paradigm; instead of seeing womanhood (and all that comes with it) as an expression of imago dei,
we've come to see our womanhood as an end in itself. We’ve come to believe that our core sense of self rests in our gender and our ability to conform to certain paradigms. And in doing so, I’m afraid we’ve developed a bit of identity myopia.
This idea has been rolling around in my head for a while now, but I didn’t quite see it clearly, didn’t quite have the words to speak it, until one day. It was the same day that I resolved to start blogging
. It was the same day that I realized that my daughter was growing up.
She was six at the time, maybe seven, and I remember this moment of awareness that she was being shaped, not simply by her school work or television, but by the routines and liturgies that were happening in our home. She was being shaped by me.
Every moment of every day, she was forming an idea about what it meant to be a woman. When I put on my makeup, she put on hers. When I wrote my stories, she wrote hers in a hot pink, spiral-bound notebook. She was becoming the woman I was.
This awareness made me consider what kind of woman I wanted her to become, and I realized that it wasn’t enough to teach her simply about womanhood—I had to teach her about what it meant to be a person. What it meant to be made in God’s image.
Because all that is true about my womanhood--all that is beautiful and glorious and lovely--flows out of this deeper identity. If I didn’t start there, nothing else would make sense.
At the same time, I began to observe a kind of identity myopia among my peers. I saw women desperately striving to fulfill roles. And then angrily casting them off when the weight and expectations were more than they could carry. I saw women judging those who couldn’t carry them. I saw woman fighting loneliness and a pervasive sense of loss because they were single or not yet mothers. I saw women defining themselves by their sexuality or dress size. I saw women lost and wandering, confused about who they were and what they were supposed to be.
And I knew that there had to be an answer.
There had to be a truth that could speak to all of us. There had to be a truth that could transcend all the differences, that could bring order to the chaos. And that truth was this: each of us is made in God’s image and we will never be at peace until we live in it.
You see, being made in God’s image does more than establish the equality of all people (although is does); it is does more than simply level the playing field between men and women (although it does); it does more than argue for the sanctity of human life (although it does). Understanding that you are made in the image of God gives you a way to finally make sense of your life, to finally know who you are.
To know that your nature flows from His,
to know that your identity mirrors His,
to know that “in Him you live and move and have your being”
to know that you are destined to be like Him,
to know that He will move heaven and earth until you are.
This is what it means to live imago dei
. This is what it means to be human.
And this is what Jesus Christ came to do. The perfect Image became the perfect Image Bearer to restore what we have lost, to redeem what we have sold away--the bits of ourselves that we have prostituted off to smaller gods. The perfect Image became the perfect Image Bearer so that we could finally be what we were meant to be, so that we could finally be like Him.
Which brings me to the book I’m working on. When I first started talking with Moody Publishers
about writing for them, one of the questions they asked was, “How do you want to influence women?”
This is how.
More than anything, I want women, I want my daughter, I want myself to understand that the point of our existence—the answer to the question “Who am I and why am I here?”—is not found simply in being a woman, but in living imago dei
. Our core sense of self comes, not in our domesticity or our careers, not in our relationships or motherhood, not in our brokenness or our fears, but from God’s nature. It's not that the details are unimportant; it's that they only make sense in the scope of the larger picture.
In the end, I want what Edith Schaeffer did: I want all of life--all the domesticity, all the arts, all the beauty, all the love, all the philosophy, all the theology—to flow from this central Truth: You were made to reflect and represent God on this earth. You were made for glory.
The writing is going well; but as you might expect, it’s slow at times. Something as heavy and intricately-layered as the image of God doesn’t come easily, and it’s just like me to try take on the world in one fell swoop. And yet, even this serves as a reminder that the whole point of living imago dei
is living in dependence on Him, of following Him one faltering step at a time.
As you think of it, pray for me. I don’t view this so much as “my” book or a chance “break into the market.” It is a sacred trust. It is both a privilege and a responsibility. And most days, it scares me to death.
But just as quickly as I become afraid, His Spirit comes and whispers to my quivering heart, “Do not fear, my daughter; I have made you for this. I will give you the words that you need. For this moment, for this time, this is your work; this is how you reflect and represent me. My daughter, this is what it means to live imago dei.”
I try to blog once a week but as I was preparing for this week’s post, I found myself struggling with what to write about. I thought about sharing a bit more about the book I’m working on. Or maybe tackling something messier like the implications of current sexual ethics in our society. Better yet, maybe just play it safe: I could share a cute anecdote about something my kids did this week and spin a life-affirming, spiritual lesson out of it.
In the end, I realized that this is Holy Week and nothing I could say matters as much as what He can say to you this week. So instead of taking up precious mental space arguing for a particular theological position or convincing you that I have darling children, I’m just going to be quiet.
Because some weeks, you just need to stop.
Some weeks, you just need space to reflect.
Some weeks, you just need to be silent.
This is one of them.
We’ll have plenty of time to catch up later. I really do have a lot to share about what’s been happening in my mind and on my hard drive lately. But until then, let's take the rest of this week—this holy week—to hallow the mystery of His suffering and His death. And then three days later, let's burst forth with glorious celebration and sheer joy at the majesty of His life-giving Resurrection.