What do President Obama and Carolyn James have in common? Both of us had speaking engagements last weekend in Minneapolis—home of the Twins, Garrison Keillor, the Billy Graham Association, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Solomon’s Porch, the most eye-popping Farmers Market, and who knows what else! And both of us were facing the secular press.
I was in town for the Religion Newswriters Association Convention—an annual gathering of journalists who cover religious topics for secular newspapers and media. I participated on a panel moderated by Julia Duin of The Washington Times, with fellow-panelists John Piper and Collin Hansen, CTI journalist and author of Young, Restless and Reformed. Our panel topic was the resurgence of Calvinism among young evangelicals (the subject of Collin’s book). This YR&R movement has drawn the interest of the media. You can read Collin's CTI article about it here.
The press wanted to know more.
Participating on the panel gave me the opportunity to talk about a growing phenomenon I’m seeing among women that shares common threads with the YR&R, but goes well beyond Reformed circles to include a wide range of denominations. Everywhere I go, women I meet are hungry to learn more about God and to dig deeper into Scripture. This confirms my thesis (see When Life and Beliefs Collide) that God created women to be theologians—that knowing him is our highest priority.
This pursuit of deeper understanding isn’t the end of the matter, however, for these same women find that this deepening knowledge and love for God stirs up a passionate Don’t Waste Your Life activism. Women don’t just want to take in. They are compelled also to live out the rich and radically transforming theology they are learning. They don’t want their relationships with God to be all talk. They long to incarnate the gospel to those around them.
The other trend I’m seeing consistently is a God-given desire among women to work well with their Christian brothers. This isn’t about “taking over,” as some fear, but a healthy desire to be part of the team, to interact and contribute, to be diligent stewards of the gifts God has entrusted to them for his church—in sum, to make their lives count for the kingdom. I think all of these trends among women are worthy of press attention and certainly are reasons to celebrate.
Following our presentations, a journalist asked Piper to explain the strong male-emphasis and Complementarian stance of the YR&R movement. It was a follow-up question to comments I made in my presentation regarding the fact that, although many women fully embrace the YR&R movement, other women within the movement are keenly aware and bewildered by the fact that they are a secondary audience at YR&R conferences. They’re permitted to attend, but it’s clear they aren’t the target audience.
In the process of explaining, John Piper expressed concern about the “feminization of the church.” I must confess that expression always gives me pause. It never fails to strike me as disparaging women for their committed involvement as members of the Body of Christ. It casts a negative light on the exciting trends I'm seeing among women. At the very least it sends a clear message to women that we should forget celebrating the trends I'm seeing and make ourselves scarce.
Instead, I asked John about it afterwards. Which led to an interesting and thoughtful conversation I hope will continue.
Is it possible that there are too many women in the church? That their very presence and kingdom activity are deterrents for men to respond to the gospel or get involved in ministry? Did Paul worry about “feminization” when he planted the church in Philippi with a committed team of women? Can women—can anyone—do too much for the kingdom? And if men are holding back, is the solution to restrain or sideline women? Or does not the very scope of our mission in the world mean we should be calling both men and women to serve God heart and soul and to do it together?