Friday, September 28, 2012

Half the Sky Documentary!

Mark your calendar for October 1-2, 2012, when PBS will air a multi-part Half the Sky documentary series. If you haven't already read this remarkable book Half the Sky, which documents the widespread atrocities against women and girls globally, surely this documentary will inspire you to buy or borrow the book and start reading.

Half the Sky has already moved many Christians to action. I'm pleased to know my book, Half the Church is part of that mobilizing effort.

Last weekend I spoke at a conference in Colorado Springs with the women of Operation Mobilization's Freedom Climb. Last January 48 of them climbed Mt Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funding to fight sex trafficking. Their heroic efforts brought in well over $300,000 to support on-the-ground projects to end human trafficking.

Last Saturday, conferees tackled three climbs: Pike's Peak, Pancake Rocks, and Red Rocks Canyon. I was privileged to join the group on Pancake Rocks and have aching legs and photos to prove I went and made it to the top!

Next on their agenda is a climb up to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal. These women will stop at nothing to help others!

For information about joining this remarkable band of ezers on this next venture, go to Freedom Climb 2013
For a review of Half the Church, go to

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More from Luther

Martin Luther says that Christians are to:

“... grieve more over the sin of their offenders than over the loss or offense to themselves. And they do this that they may recall these offenders from their sin rather than avenge the wrongs they themselves have suffered. Therefore they put off the form of their own righteousness and put on the form of those others, praying for their persecutors, blessing those who curse, doing good to the evildoers, preparing to pay the penalty and make satisfaction for their very enemies that they may be saved. This is the gospel….”  [italics added]

Luther doesn't simply equate the “gospel” with justification by faith alone, but includes “praying,” “blessing,”and “doing good.” In this quote, Luther seems to be saying that one must not only affirm sola fide, one must also live it out in real life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

50 Women to Watch

This was the big news this morning. And if my response is any indication, 50 women were very(!) surprised to find their pictures on the cover of the new issue of Christianity Today. Now we're all looking forward to reading what's inside.

Kudos to Sarah Pulliam Bailey and the other women at CT for succeeding in highlighting what we all know is just the tip of the iceberg of all that Christian women and girls are doing today!  

How could I forget, knowing that in a few hours I'll be joining a group of incredible women in Colorado Springs who, before the weekend is over, will summit Pike's Peak on behalf of the battle against sex-trafficking. This is just a warm-up for a planned climb on Mount Everest.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't read what's inside the magazine. So what I say next is not in response to what I fully expect will gladden the hearts of Christian women everywhere and will, from this sampling of women, give our brothers a bigger picture of contributions their sisters are making for God's kingdom and hopefully inspire us to do more. 

I celebrate what CT is doing for all of us, by highlighting a few. And I'm deeply honored to be included in the 50. At the same time, I don't want to stop here. We all know we have a lot more work to do. Seems to me this is a window of opportunity for us to raise important questions and to open a conversation that can lead to significant progress for women and for men.

The question rolling around in my head is, What happens after this?

Is this just a nice round of applause for women in the church or will it inspire in the whole church an increased interest in the gifts God has entrusted to all his daughters? Will it leave us asking how the whole church can benefit from those gifts and taking steps to make that happen? Will it open the door for a wider discussion of pressing issues that are impacting the female half of the churchsex trafficking, domestic abuse, pornography, dysfunctional relationships between men and women in the church, to name a few? Will we see a more intentional effort among men in the church to collaborate with their sisters on every aspect of the mission God calls us to do together? Will this compel us as women and men to move toward the Blessed Alliance Jesus prayed we would become?

What happens next?

10/20/2012 Update:  See the full article here50 Women You Should Know

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things

Kilimanjaro Climbers Jane Morrill, Cathey Anderson, & Tina Yeager

They're at it again!

This time the Freedom Climberswho gained their reputation by climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (48 of them)are stateside and will be heading up Pike's Peak on Saturday with a bunch of fresh recruits. Driven by their commitment to Jesus and to advancing his kingdom on earth, their purpose remains unchanged: to raise global awareness, prayers, and funds for women and children who are oppressed, enslaved, exploited, and trafficked throughout the world.... to be a voice for the voiceless; for those who could not declare freedom in their lives and climb out of their circumstances on their own..

This next climb comes within the context of the first Freedom Climb Conference in Colorado Springs, where I'm honored to be a keynote speaker, along with Stasi Eldredge, and several of the climbers including Cathey Anderson and Tina Yeager (pictured above).  

This issue isn't a "women's" issue. Men are called to this battle too. So the conference has a track for men who care as much as women do about this global crisis.

Here's the invitation, if you're interested in coming:  Hope to see you there!

Read more about them at: Dangerous Ezers

Something to ponder ...

“God is no other than the one who loves the contrite, the tormented, the perplexed, the God of the humble. If I could understand this, I would be a [true] theologian.”

—Martin Luther

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Blessed Alliance

If you haven't yet read Half the Church, Youth Worker Journal just published an excerpt on "The Blessed Alliance"—a major theme in my books—that I hope will whet your appetite to read more.

The Blessed Alliance—Men and Women Working Together for Good

Think Again!

It only takes a phone call to turn your world upside down.

The first article I wrote for FullFill's {Think} column (back in 2007) told of one of those dreaded phone calls—the one with Frank’s mom on the line, the strained desperation in her voice sounding like one of those frantic 911 recordings. Frank’s mountain climber brother Kelly was in trouble somewhere near the summit of Oregon’s Mt. Hood. We’d been fearing that call for years.

The roller coaster week that followed—broadcast on national television networks for all the world to see—left behind a grieving family and lots of “Why?” questions . With people praying all over the world and media cameras rolling, why didn’t God come through for us?

This past December, I got another one of those calls. This time the strained voice was my father’s telling me doctors had discovered a large mass in his lung. Anyone who has gotten one of those calls knows there’s no way to prepare for news like that. And so it began again—the roller coaster of erratic ups and downs that leaves hope soaring one day and dashed the next.

His first biopsy ruled cancer out. We were ecstatic. But joy was cruelly short-lived when more extensive tests proved the mass in his lung was cancer. The resulting emotional whiplash was tough enough to handle for myself. It was even worse to see someone I love go through it along with all the multilayered suffering that cancer brings.

When trouble strikes, I don’t need anyone to tell me how crucially important is every moment I’ve spent thinking about God, wrestling with those nagging why questions, and probing his Word to know God better. Trouble sends us into uncharted territory. Ignorance of God puts us in the untenable position of trusting someone we don’t know. When the lights go out and we’re feeling our way in the dark—faith needs to know the God who holds our lives in his hands.

Adults are forever warning children never to trust a stranger. We ignore our own advice when we don’t get serious about the call to love God with our minds. We’ll learn the hard way that there’s a world of difference between trying to trust a stranger and trusting someone we know can be trusted. The life-long pursuit of a deeper knowledge of God won’t spare us from struggling with doubt and fear, or experiencing the dark night of the soul. It means we have more to tell ourselves, and faith has more to grasp.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, England’s King George VI borrowed the words of poet Minnie Louise Haskins to reassure a worried nation as they faced a frightening uncertain future.
"Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!"
It only takes a phone call to prove King George was right.

[Originally published by FullFill in the Spring 2012 {Think} column and reprinted with permission here.]

For further reading:  When Life & Beliefs Collide—How Knowing God Makes a Difference
                               Also in Spanish and French!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Not an American Book!

Mastered By the Book from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Roy Ciampa's eye-opening article on identity mapping (posted here) is a stunning real-life case study of the issue being debated by John Piper and D.A. Carson in this video. Just how important is the study of the cultural, historical, and social background of the Bible in our understanding of the Bible's message?  Worded another way, How much time should a pastor or Bible teacher spend studying the Bible vs extra-biblical sources?

What may sound rather academic on the surface, is actually about as down-to-earth as a person can get and hugely important for those who preach and teach God's Word. Based on the feedback I'm getting to Roy's article (mostly on FaceBook and in emails), there's no question that his historical/cultural research into first century marriage has brought a game-changing clarity to Paul's instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5.

Frankly, I think the Piper/Carson debate misses the point and, to be honest, actually borders on nonsense. They focus on how much time one spends studying the text vs studying the historical/cultural context in which the text was written and which it addresses. It is as though one approach is more spiritual than the other, rather than that the two aspects of Bible study go hand-in-hand.

In my opinion, Carson is on the right track and is wisely concerned about the neglect of historical/cultural study, but concedes too much ground to Piper. I find it disturbing that Christian leaders would do such a delicate dance around an issue that is costing all of us too much. Nowhere is that high price more evident than in the handling of biblical passages concerning women.

Isn't the real issue what study is needed to more clearly understand the text? Does it really matter how much time we spend in the text vs digging into the history that will illumine that text if, in the end, we come closer to understanding what the writer actually meant? Who's watching the clock, if the purpose of study is to unearth the writer's meaning and making use of every available resource to reach that goal? What kind of preaching results when the preacher assumes they can understand and explain the Bible without investigating the ancient world they're interpreting? With all due respect, a little digging into the cultural background (or even some recent commentaries) would have made a dramatic difference in the recent book John Piper wrote on the Book of Ruth. If you want to see the contrast, read The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.

Roy's article on Christian marriage underscores just how high the stakes are in this discussion. We are misguided to assume cultural research is incidental to the study of God's Word. We are dealing with an ancient text from a world vastly different from our own. If we fail to investigate the past to find out what life was like back then, we inevitably default to our own American/Western culture. And for that, we pay a price that is too dear. At best, we drain the text of richness, power, and meaning. At worst, we completely miss the meaning.

Questions of culture are absolutely relevant to all of us—not only the first century culture, but our own cultural context. None of us is culturally neutral. Inevitably, we bring our own cultural assumptions with us when we study God’s Word. We need constant reminding (and this should begin a more humble approach to Scripture) that the Bible is not an American book. It is an Ancient Near Eastern book. And we are foreigners to that world, who have a lot to learn.

What about our culture drives our thinking and thus impacts our interpretations of the Bible?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Identity Mapping?

One of the many life-changing blessings of marriage to Frank James is the access I have to wonderful Christian scholars who not only enrich my life with their friendship, their scholarly work often causes the ground beneath me to shake. They've opened up new avenues of research and discovery for me that have been both paradigm shifting and life-changing.

If you've read The Gospel of Ruth, you'll know exactly what I mean. I'll be forever grateful that my OT scholar-friend Bruce K. Waltke introduced me to his OT colleague Robert F. Hubbard's commentary on The Book of Ruth (NICOT).  Talk about an earthquake!

Well, recently it happened again! This time the earthquake was caused by the work of another scholar-friend:  Dr. Roy E. Ciampa, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Trust me. Roy Ciampa needs to be on your radar!

When I read Roy's recent article, "Ideological Challenges for Bible Translators" on the perils of Bible translation work, the earth underneath me trembled again.

I know, I know.  The title sounds technical and not the kind of article most of us would normally pick up and read. But you'll be missing out if you let that stop you. The implications of this article couldn't be more relevant to our everyday lives. Roy's research zeros in on how we interpret (and apply) Paul's instructions to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5.

Can't get more down to earth than that!

Great friends and life-changing ideas are meant to be shared. So I asked Roy if he would write a condensed version for WhitbyForum, and he graciously agreed.

I fully expect that, if you read this much, you'll want to read the full article (see above). I also expect this article to generate some interesting discussion on the ongoing subject of how the gospel transforms relationships between husbands and wives today.

On Treating Modern Women as Ancient Greco-Roman Wives

 by Roy E. Ciampa, Ph.D.

One of the most unfortunate habits of biblical interpretation in the past several centuries, in my opinion, is that of assuming that the teachings of biblical texts are directly transferable to other cultures, including those that are quite different from those to which they were originally addressed. It is sometimes an unspoken assumption that “inspired” means “non-contextualized” and thus directly applicable to people of all times and cultures. This has had disastrous results for many marginalized people, including modern slaves, Jews and women.

Of course, a crucial part of the problem is that modern readers are usually not fully aware of the extent to which their context differs from that being addressed by the biblical texts. One result of this lack of awareness is what I call the “mapping of identities.” The “mapping of identities” takes place when people or groups in the biblical text are identified with people or groups in the culture and context of the modern reader, with one identity being mapped onto another.

This takes place, for instance, when modern readers directly apply labels for social or demographic groups (e.g., “Jews,” “slaves,” or “wives”) to people they believe fit those labels in their own society. They tend to assume cultural similarities between the group in the biblical world and those in their own world and tend to overlook crucial differences. This has played out with horrible consequences for Jews and slaves, among others, in the modern era, but the focus here will (naturally) be on the consequences for women.

Since slavery is no longer an acceptable part of Western culture (at least not explicit, legalized slavery), when readers come to biblical texts that mention slaves and masters they realize instantly that the texts, if they are to be applied, cannot be directly transferred. Since husbands and wives are omnipresent across all societies, people without in-depth knowledge of biblical cultures readily assume that the marital relationships being referenced and addressed in the biblical texts closely parallel those with which they are intimately familiar in their own context.

Most Bible readers are not familiar with important aspects of marriage relationships in the Greco-Roman world.

In that particular context, marriages were not typically entered into by men and women of similar ages and with similar life experience, but by adolescent girls (aged 14-15 or so) and fully adult men (aged 28-30 or so).* And, although there are references to well-educated women in the Greco-Roman world, they seem to be exceptions to the rule (and considered noteworthy, literally, by the ancient authors).

Normally men and husbands were much better educated and had greater exposure to information and experience outside the household. This is implicit even within one of the most remarkable texts of the New Testament relating to this subject. In 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Paul says women or wives are not allowed to speak in the church meeting (in fact it would be shameful to do so), but should ask their own husbands at home if they have any questions. This latter clause only makes sense in a context where it is safe to assume that a wife’s husband is better informed and therefore capable of answering whatever questions the wife might have.

Such was the context of the typical Greco-Roman marriage. It had less in common with marriage in most of the Western world today than it did with those in parts of the world where child brides are married to older men. Many wives in the Roman world experienced life much like Balki Souley, a young bride married at the age of twelve, discussed in a recent story on child marriages in the Washington Post ("In Niger, hunger crisis raises fears of more child marriages"). This was the experience of women in the ancient world and remains the experience of millions of women in Africa and elsewhere today.

The New Testament texts themselves make perfectly good sense as instructions to people living in that social context. For a young bride to be submissive to her significantly older, more mature, experienced and knowledgeable husband, and for him to be exhorted to treat her in kind and loving ways (in terms that might sound somewhat paternalistic to us) would be part of honoring Christ in such a culture and relationship. Those would be loving ways for people to relate to each other.

All of the New Testament statements about how wives and husbands should relate to each other are addressed not to wives and husbands who married peers of similar age and life experience as in modern western cultures, but to wives and husbands within the asymmetrical relationship that was the Greco-Roman marriage.

Should all that the New Testament authors wrote about husbands and wives be considered directly transferable to husbands and wives who do not reflect the cultural inequities (i.e., unequal ages, levels of maturity, education and life experience) of the Greco-Roman marriage?

For me to treat my wife as though she were less wise, discerning, mature, knowledgeable or apt to lead than I am would be insulting and a failure to recognize and love her for who she really is rather than treating her according to the reality of most ancient wives. It would be to map the identity of a first-century Greek wife onto her identity and thus treat her not as Christ would have me treat her but as Christ would have an ancient Greco-Roman husband treat his less mature and less knowledgeable wife.

A constant theme of Jesus’ teaching and that of the New Testament is that we should love one another. To love one another we must know each other and treat each other in light of who we really are, rather than in light of some artificial or misapplied category from another time and culture. Many Christians unwittingly teach wives and husbands to relate to each other according to a Christianized version of Greco-Roman standards, without being aware of, or contemplating the significance of, the differences.

Love calls for something much better than that. 

*See, e.g., Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 75.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Leave it to the French!

When I submitted my very first proposal for a book that boldly asserts "all women are theologians," I was hoping for a title that combined the words "woman" and "theologian."  After all, the book is about the importance of theology for women and asserts without apology that we are all theologians!

I was cautioned by publishers and potential readers that something so direct might turn some women off. One friend told me even "Thinking Women" as a title sounded intimidating.

My goal was not to intimidate but to invite all women—seminarians, businesswomen, homemakers, college coeds, teenage girls—to take themselves and God seriously, not to depend on someone else's theology, but to know God for themselves.

I didn't want to give the impression that theology was all cerebral either, but embedded in the everyday messiness, brokenness, and heartaches of life. I knew from personal experience that it is risky business to try to trust God when you're in trouble on the basis of what someone else believes or on the spiritual fluff we so easily settle for when we live in so much prosperity.
Life comes to women in stiff doses. When it does, and we are crushed or shattered or stretched beyond our limits, we need to surround ourselves with good theologians—husbands, pastors, and steadfast friends in fraying red chairs—who will encourage and help us. But at the end of the day, it won’t be their theology we will lean on, no matter how good it is. We will lean on our own. Adversity and adventures have a way of exposing the state of our theology. We may have heard a lot about God. In the thick of things, we will discover what we really believe about him. We ask too much of ourselves to wade into these deep waters with so little to keep our faith afloat.
When Life and Beliefs Collide

As what was hoped would be a safe compromise, the book was titled When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference—a modified version of a phrase inside the book, "when theology and life collide."  

Twelve years later, here come the French!  Fearless. Direct. Unapologetic. Certainly not intimidated!

This morning UPS delivered a box containing When Life and Beliefs Collide translated into French—with a brand new title:  Tous théologiens! Vivre nos convictions (We are all theologians! Living our beliefs).  

I say, "Vive le français!"