A Response to John Piper’s “Masculine Christianity”

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” – Talmud

There has been a call to return — did we ever really leave? — to a masculine Christianity. This movement, spearheaded by the likes of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, has come to a head in some ways due to some recent comments by Piper. Recently, he wrote:

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head.”

It needs to be pointed out that this is an extremely selective reading of the Biblical narrative. It only listens to half of the narrative. Take, for instance, the creation narrative. Genesis 1:27 says

“So God created humankind in his image,
   in the image of God he created them;
   male and female he created them. 

In the initial act of creating a relationship between God and humanity, God creates both men and women in God’s image. God’s command to “have dominion” over everything goes to both men and women. It’s plural throughout the rest of the chapter.

While Piper repeatedly highlights the rest of the male-centered stories of the Bible, he leaves out the fact that God has been represented as:

  • A mother (Numbers 11:12, Job 38:8, 29, Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 49:14, Isaiah 46:3, Isaiah 66:12, Hosea 11:4, Acts 17:28)
  • A seamstress (Nehemiah 9:21)
  • A midwife (Psalm 22:9, Psalm 71:6, Isaiah 66:9)
  • A woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13:18-21)
  • A woman seeking a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) — This is in a line of parables where God is depicted as both male and female. There’s that egalitarian thing again.

There are countless images for God in the Bible — both male and female. It’s a case of you get what you look for. We could revise the Talmud quote from the beginning of this post to say “We see the Bible not as it is, but as we are.” In John Piper’s case, he wants God to be a man and he wants a masculine Christianity so he finds those instances in the Bible and reads that Bible through a masculine lens.

If we’re proper students of history, we know that Christianity has been masculine and dominant for far too long. I suggest that it’s actually a time to re-imagine feminine images of God. I think when we do that, we gain a richer theological imagination that helps us move outward into a new realm of possibility.

And that’s something that excites me.

Cheers,
Eric

If you’re interested in a more feminine view of God, I would encourage you to check out the writings of Rosemary Radford RuetherSallie McFagueOctavia ButlerElizabeth Johnson, and Naomi Goldenberg. I think you would be better served reading any of these ladies than Piper or Driscoll.

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Jars of Clay & A New Language for Church

This past Friday night, my wife and I went to a Jars of Clay concert at a church in Mesa. We got the “VIP” package which included participating in a Q&A session beforehand with the band. I was really excited for this because I think a lot of Christian music artists focus more on the Christian and less on the music. But not Jars of Clay. They have substance. They talk about suffering and brokenness with an honesty that’s pretty unparalleled in the Christian music scene.

When we got to the Q&A session most of the people were asking questions like “What’s *insert song that’s meant to be ambiguous* about?” It was pretty frustrating. But one of the things that stuck out to me was that even though the questions were awfully shallow, some of the responses and stories had some incredible depth.

One of the things that stuck out was when Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine got the microphone and talked about how the language of our church has become so toxic. The language of our church has become one of exclusion. That’s not good. The language of our church ought to be language of recovery. That really resonated with me. So often the majority of Christians take this accusatory look toward culture — holding everyone to some sort of unspoken moral standard, just waiting to tear down. That doesn’t help anybody.

But the language of recovery comes from a place humility. It acknowledges that we are all displaced from where we ought to be. It starts with acknowledging the brokenness of all, which is where so many people come up short. It takes that attitude that ‘I’m more than happy to point out your brokenness, but don’t you dare point out mine!’ It’s so unhealthy.

There’s one song that really embodies this idea of recovery and what recovery looks like. It’s the Jars of Clay song called “Oh My God”. In an interview they described this song as all of their laments to God — all the things that make them say “Oh my God”. Check it out! (It’s about 6 minutes long, but the verses and the build at the end are WELL worth the wait.)

 

What are your impressions of the song? Is there any language of recovery in your church? What do you think that would look like?

Cheers,
Eric

Sermon on Preparing the Way for God

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

        When I was a young boy, my parents took me up to Itasca State Park up in the north woods of Minnesota. As we drove, they told me that once we got there I could walk across the Mississippi River. I had just learned about the Mississippi River in school and knew that surely no one, but Jesus, could walk across this river. We got up to the headwaters of the Mississippi and it was nothing more than a little stream. It was so confusing to me how the “mighty” Mississippi could have such a modest beginning.

I have a similar feeling about the Gospel of Mark. The grand story of God’s action and redemption through Jesus begins with a guy named John who lives in the woods wearing camel hair and getting by on a diet of locusts and wild honey shouting some texts from the prophet Isaiah. This isn’t exactly the grand entrance we might expect from the Son of God. But this is the way the story of Jesus begins, not with a bang, but with a whisper. The words of one man in the Judean countryside ignited a fire that has lasted to this day. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” John proclaims a new world of forgiveness is possible.

But before God’s ministry in Christ can even get going, John is arrested and subsequently beheaded. He plays a very small, yet critical part in the story of the people of God. There are people like this all throughout our Scriptures. Characters we have never met before come into the narrative for a very specific purpose, do something very specific to the story of God, and then drop out of the narrative altogether. I think back to the story of Exodus. Do you remember who the first person to show resistance to the pharaoh was? It wasn’t the mighty Moses or Aaron or anyone like that. It was two midwives named Shiphrah and Puah. They were Hebrew midwives who appear once in the story of Exodus as two women who disobey Pharaoh’s command to kill every newborn boy. They refuse to do it and, whether they knew it or not, plant the seeds of revolution against Pharaoh.

Or think of Simon of Cyrene, who shows up out of nowhere to carry the cross up the hill so that Jesus can be crucified and resurrected for all of humanity. And then Simon just drops out of the story completely There are these small parts all over scripture where people come in for an instant to do important work and then just as quickly as they came, they are gone.

Both of these stories began with what we, in our modern times, call the butterfly effect. This is the idea that huge changes, whether in a local community or throughout the world, begin with small, simple, understated actions of a group of people.

A good example of this idea is the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. It just so happens it was on NBC last night so those of you who caught it will have a little refresher. George Bailey experiences what Bedford Falls would have been like if he had never existed. No one is happy in this alternate reality. All of George’s friends and family are in asylums or getting arrested or are in all other sorts of trouble. And yet George’s actions of intervention in these people’s lives were so small he didn’t even realize them.

I wonder if Shiphrah and Puah ever got to see the fruits of their labor, like George Bailey did. I wonder if they ever got to see the revolution against Pharaoh. But we never find out. They did a very courageous act and then dropped out of the narrative.

I often wonder if we’ll be thought of in the same light. The biblical story is not finished. We are all still doing the work of God, writing the Bible by carrying the narrative of God’s people forward. We may not see our names in print through the canon, but our actions represent new chapters in the Gospel story. We live our own smaller stories within the greater story of living as God’s people. We are a community of people who are transformed by the Gospel and living a life that matters because of it. We hear the echoes of Isaiah as we do the work of preparing the way of the Lord.

When I was living back in the Bay Area a few years ago, some friends and I were going down to Jack London Square in Oakland for some dinner one night. We had gotten a bit turned around when we parked our car and weren’t quite sure what direction we were headed in. We continued walking the way we thought was correct, but found ourselves getting farther away from the Square. As we were crossing a street, a man with a cardboard sign came running in front of us yelling at us to stop. He told us that we should not keep going down this way. If we kept going, we would be moving farther into a dangerous neighborhood. He turned us around and told us to head back in the other direction. I’ve never seen the man again, but who knows what could have happened to us if we kept going down the street. This man played a small, but potential life-saving role in my life. We play small parts in each other’s lives all the time. Just as this man played a small role in my story, as George Bailey played a small role in the stories of his friends and family, or as Shiphrah and Puah played in the Exodus story, or Simon of Cyrene in Christ’s last fateful days on earth, or indeed as John the Baptist plays in Mark’s gospel story. We play a small, but significant role in God’s story. We prepare the way for God to act in our lives in the small things that we do.

Last week, Pastor Mark laid out all of the ways in which this congregation is involved in some incredible ministries both in our own backyard and all around the world: the Suriname missionaries, working with the Navajo mission in the northern part of our state. I feel like the iHelp program gets brought up every week in sermons, but it’s just such an incredibly powerful thing happening right here within the walls of this church. It started with an idea to help people in our community who needed help and has grown beyond what anyone expected.

As we continue our journey through Advent, I pray that we continue to look for these places where we see God working and do all we can to help prepare the way for God’s coming. Amen.

Cheers,
Eric

My Deepest Fear


“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” – Marianne Williamson

I was recently reading a wonderful book that talks about minuscule shifts in the way we operate on a daily basis that can cause monumental change within the communities we live and work. Combine that with all of the TED talks that I have been listening to lately and inspired would be an understatement. There are so many people doing so many incredible things in the world. The more stories I hear about people’s adventures and things they learn, there is one thing that keeps rising to the top in my thoughts:

The impact that one person can have can be extraordinarily powerful.

I just read Blake Mycoskie’s memoir about how he started TOMS. Same thing. He was traveling in South America and noticed how few kids were wearing shoes. And he decided that he should create a business that opened up people’s awareness of the world while simultaneously helping the kids in this village. I think so often we get caught up in pursuing awareness to an extent that we don’t actually do anything to help the situation.

With almost all situations we face on a daily basis, most people see themselves as confronted with 3 options:

  1. You could do something to make the situation better.
  2. You could do something to make it worse.
  3. You could do nothing at all.

I would actually say that doing nothing is the same thing as doing something to make it worse, so I think there’s really only two options. You can either do something to make your situation better or worse.

In all situations, there has to be progress. There has to be evolution or whatever it is that we’re fighting for will die. We are capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for. Even if the change is so incremental it’s hardly noticeable, it’s moving in the right direction. It’s moving up the hill rather than sliding back down.

However big or small your shot may be… Take it.

Be powerful beyond measure.

I look forward to seeing you in our journey up the hill.

Cheers,
Eric

More Programs Aren’t the Answer

Earlier today I watched a mind-blowing TED talk by Simon Sinek (which you can find here) about how our brains work in controlling our actions. It’s an absolutely fascinating video and I hope you’ll watch it. The main thing he talked about was a group of three circles (as you can see on the left) labeled why, how, and what. He says most generic companies advertise by moving from the outside of the circle in, by telling you what you can buy and how it will make your life better. But they seldom explore the question of why. He says on the contrary, innovative companies that provide great leadership in their field work from the inside of the circle out. He uses the example of Apple.

Apple advertises by starting with challenging the status quo (why you should by our product). They believe in thinking differently. They challenge the status quo by making sleek, user-friendly products (how they challenge the status quo). We also make great computers (what they actually make). They end their commercial with what their product is. They move explicitly outward in this circle and it makes us want one all the more.

One of the big things Simon hammers home in his talk is that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

So let’s look at the church — particularly the youth parts of the church. The programmatic model of youth ministry seeks to answer the “what” question first. “Here’s what we do.” If we’re lucky, it moves into a how and a why. But a relational and theological look at youth ministry begins in the huge, messy, stubborn questions of why.

  • Why are we here?
  • Why is there something instead of nothing?
  • Why do I live the life that I do?

Then it seeks to assemble a how do we minister to each other that honors these deep questions about God and existence. Finally, we end with a ‘what’. With the what do we do about it? What is to be done?

Ministry that starts with questions of “what” will never get past the how into the why. And that’s where the real questions are. It’s only in the theological and existential questions of why that we can encounter the people we do ministry with in all their imperfections. It may just be the only way forward.

Cheers,
Eric

p.s. I didn’t even go into Simon’s stuff on brain chemistry and why this is such an appealing model. It’s fascinating, but it just didn’t seem to fit. Check out the video for more on that.

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