You don’t have to be involved in many discussions on the issue of gender roles in the New Testament and the church today before someone cites the ‘culture Paul / Peter was writing to.’
They usually argue that the culture ‘back then’ was different. Women weren’t educated, had no opportunities to grow, teach, express themselves, attain to leadership positions. Paul was going along with some of the cultural assumptions he had inherited from the ancient world, so as to earn Christianity a hearing.
But our culture now is far more progressive. Things are different now, it is argued, and so our understanding of the roles of men and women must also progress from where it was ‘back then.’
One of the (several) things that is wrong with this argument is that it often assumes a simplistic and monolithic view of gender roles and identity across all swaths of society in the Roman world. But such was not the case then, as it is not the case now.
It seems that with the rise in numbers of young, broadly-reformed Christians and pastors in recent years, there has also been a large increase in the seeming importance of conferences. Here you have people who love theology, love good preaching, love fellowship across denominational lines, and love the overall experience of getting away and being blessed through deep study of the word for a few days.
What could be wrong with that? Right?
Many of the dangers of conferences (celebrity-ism, seeking life in emotional highs, finding identity in being a ‘conference person’, etc.) have been well-chronicled already. I’ve considered those potential pitfalls, and seen the danger in them. But yet, I’ve still remained largely in favour of conferences.
But recently I’ve been thinking about another problem with conferences — one that is in large part bound up with the celebrity-pastor and church-by-podcast Christian culture of 21st century North American evangelicalism.
The problem is bound up with our ecclesiology (our theology of the church):
Unchecked, conferences can both reflect bad ecclesiology and lead to still worse ecclesiology.
A Leave It to the Experts Mentality
Our culture is a culture of experts. Multiple post-secondary and even graduate degrees are required for just about everything. Specialists, rather than generalists rule the day. If we are not careful, our broader church culture will reflect the same thinking. The voice of the local pastor is drowned out by the thunderous boom of the voice amplified to thousands of conference attendees and broadcast live across the web to many more.
This morning I read through Joe Carter’s 9 Things You Should Know about the 9/11 Attack Aftermath. Remembering that day certainly brings back something of the shock and horror of that terrible event. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I remember gathering with friends around the TV, watching the news as everyone (newscasters included) were trying to figure out what was going on.
Making Sense of It All
Making sense of that day was hard, even from a distance. We don’t live in New York — we don’t even live in the USA — but the events of that day still felt like they struck very close to home.
One of the things I remember about the immediate aftermath was the heightened tensions in even-more-present religious conversations. Some people blamed God; other people looked for him. Some people blamed Islam; others blamed fundamentalism in all its forms.
Among Christians, many went to work seeking to defend God, his providence, and his plan. Some said it was his judgement on America for sin. Some said it was merely the result of human free will — that God had no part in it at all. And while both of those answers, in some sense may have some grounding in truth, it’s hard to think anyone would find those things, on their own, to be emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually satisfying answers. Those answers wouldn’t (and still won’t) satisfy because they don’t rightly reflect the biblical God who loves justice and mercy, who decrees all things — including his creation of humans who will choose to rebel against him.
Our God is personal. He relates. Fundamental to his very existence is the reality that he exists as a person in community. From eternity past the Father has loved the Son (John 17:24). He is a personal, relational-covenant-keeping God.
And because he is personal, he has a name. I think it might be time for us to familiarize ourselves with it again.
Lately I’ve been reading Michael Reeves’ excellent book titled, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Here’s an insight that resonated with me.
For what makes Christianity absolutely distinct is the identity of our God. Which God we worship: that is the article of faith that stands before all others. The bedrock of our faith is nothing less than God himself, and every aspect of the gospel—creation, revelation, salvation—is only Christian insofar as it is the creation, revelation and salvation of this God, the triune God. I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others.
One news headline caught my attention today. This is what it said:
Junction neighbourhood bully gets more jail time for harassment
The headline caught my attention not because it’s the biggest news story of the day, but because I have friends and family who live and work in this area, so it was a matter of concern for me. The story is relatively mundane (hey, it’s life in the Junction!), but one line in particular startled me.
When speaking of the ‘neighbourhood bully’ who has been forced by the courts to move, one man offered this profound theological insight:
“The law can’t force a person to love thy neighbour,” John Ritchie said. “But the law can stop the conduct and this behaviour.”
Wow! Unless this man is a pastor, theologian, or mature believer, I think he probably spoke better than he knew. This is biblical truth.
In his book, God’s Words, JI Packer recounts a time when he was provoked by a Jehovah’s Witness ‘heckler’ to defend the notion of the Trinity from the New Testament. Apparently the ‘heckler’ didn’t know who he was heckling.
Packer, in the moment, decided to follow a specific line of argumentation that is quick, and I believe, helpful. Even if it’s not an exhaustive defence, I believe it’s a faithful one that many could benefit from meditating on. Here it is:
Studying and preaching the opening chapters of Genesis over the past little while has forced me to think about the relationship of science and biblical interpretation all over again. It was with great interest that I read Richard Belcher’s review of C. John Collins’ new book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (HT: Challies)
I have not read Collins’ book, so I’m in no position to comment on it (spoiler alert: Collins affirms the historical existence of Adam & Eve). But something Belcher said stuck out to me.