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Entries in Book Reflections (8)


"Just for women"

I'm in the final pages of Rebecca Stark's book The Good Portion: God, The Doctrine of God for Every Woman. It was entirely what I anticipated: writing full of depth yet not inaccessible, and writing that could be read easily by a man and a woman. She is a careful teacher of truths, and uses illustrations well. And her illustrations are not the kind that are specifically tailored to women, which I like. Even though the subtitle of this book indicates it is for women, it is a book men can read. I plan to write more about this later at Out of the Ordinary.

I am torn between two positions on books that are "doctrine for women." On the one hand, I am disappointed at the notion that doctrine must be pared down for a woman, as if she can't understand a book of doctrine written for a general audience. I know that is not the intention with this series of books, however. This series of books is to encourage women that doctrine is for them, too. 

That brings me to the other side of the argument: as much as I find it disappointing that women must have their own source of doctrinal books, I am thankful that there are those who see that women need doctrine. I'm thankful that Christian Focus has two books in this series. I wrote about Keri Folmar's contribution here

I still struggle to understand where the notion came from that women don't need doctrine. It is clearly an idea we have come to embrace. I have met my share of women over the years who have said, "I just need the Bible; I don't need theology." Thinking theologically has been given as the task for pastors and men. I have not studied the history of women in the Church enough to come to a conclusion about that. And so far, I have not come across anyone who has explained it adequately to me. I think that question must be explored in a context larger than just women, and one that investigates an attitude of anti-intellectualism in general.

I do have days when I would like to take women by the shoulders, and give a (gentle!) shake and say: "Doctrine is what will equip you when the hard times come!" All of the "how to's" and encouragement about being a more productive this, or a more efficient that won't do it. Those are just distractions.

So, while I feel sad that women need to be told that doctrine is for them, I am glad for books that do just that. Hopefully, this series of books will encourage women to realize that they don't have to read books that are "just for women."


Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: Book thoughts

I finished Michelle Lee-Barnewall's book Neither Complementarian Nor Egalitarian last night. Someone asked me if I was going to review it, and I intended to, but then the books for my Augustine course arrived on Tuesday, and my concentration for this book is beginning to wane. It's time to focus on school. Here are a few quick thoughts.

Lee-Barnewall's book re-evaluates the terms complementarian and egalitarian. She doesn't do so in an attempt to provide solutions. In fact, at the end of the book, she comes right out and says she doesn't propose any solutions. What she does do, though, is ask the reader to re-consider those terms. At the heart of this book, she is asking readers to contemplate the reality that their presuppositions may colour how they perceive issues of male and female roles in the church. She does so by suggesting that instead of making the issue about rights and equality, we look at principles like unity, love, and the kingdom guidelines.

Lee-Barnewall proposes that equality and rights may not be the best way to think. Rather, the unity of the Body of Christ and the principles of kingdom living are more valuable. I appreciated this comment at the end:

A focus on rights and equality can easily lead to an individualistic pursuit of self-interest and result in a perspective that is preoccupied with autonomy and personal benefit over seeing the self in relationship with others. The insistence on rights can be harmful if it causes someone to overlook or make secondary concerns for the impact of one's actions on others. This self-focus contrasts Christ's overriding concern for others, and we must ask whether our striving for equality highlights individual gain rather than a willingness to suffer loss for someone else.

It was definitely something that has me thinking. And that is the reason why I would recommend this book: to make you think. Knowing why we believe something is important.

Lee-Barnewall has done her homework. Her inclusion of the historial development of attitudes toward women in evangelicalism was worth the price of the book alone (although it being focused entirely on America means I'm wondering if the experience in Canada was exactly the same). Her handling of Genesis 2-3 and Ephesians 5 is excellent. The back of the book says she is an associate professor of biblical and theological studies. I knew there was a good reason for women to attend seminary to study those things.


"I cannot be silent."

I recently finished reading Michael Haykin's little book Patrick of Ireland. He actually refers to it as a "book-length essay," and that really is what it is. It won't take you long to read this book, but it is a great introduction to the life of Patrick.

It is difficult to write about Patrick because of lack of source material. Haykin focuses on what  can be discerned from Patrick's two surviving writings, the Confession and the Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus. The Confession is available online for free, and an interested person could start there to hear about Patrick from his own lips.

Haykin recounts the conversion of Patrick and the subsequent impact it had on his own life and the life of Ireland. We learn that Patrick was a committed Trinitarian, that he was a man of God's Word, a man of prayer, and a man reliant on the Spirit of God. Much of the Confession is full of Scriptural references. Haykin speculates that while Patrick was likely not a well-read man, his education having been interrupted when he was taken as a slave, but he was extremely well-versed in Scripture. This was at a time before the Latin Vulgate, but he did have the Old Latin manuscripts to look at, and he took advantage of them.

Haykin highlights Patrick's gratitude at his conversion. It was what compelled him to return to Ireland with the gospel after he had successfully returned to Britain:

I cannot be silent -- nor, indeed, is it expedient -- about the great benefits and the great grace which the Lord has designed to bestow on me 'in the land of my captivity'; for this is what we can give back to God after having been chastened and having come to know him, to exalt and praise his wonders before every nation that is under the whole heaven.

Patrick was, above all, a man of mission, and this was not a typical in the 5th Century Roman church. Patrick took seriously that call to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. He believed that Ireland was the end of the world. And why would he not? On the western coast of Ireland, looking out into the Atlantic, it would have been an easy to conclusion to draw. He was simply obeying what Scripture told him.

Haykin comments on Patrick's evangelistic zeal:

His zeal for missions and the salvation of the lost is not only inspiring, but deeply convicting. Also, he is into missions for all of the right reasons: the concern for their salvation; the duty he owes to God's call on his own life; and the obedience of the Scriptural mandate to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

If you know little about Patrick, but want to learn, this is the volume to begin with. It's a quick read, but it reveals the man that was Patrick, avoiding the extrapolated versions of him. Haykin includes a good selection of other volumes for those interested in digging deeper. I was pleased to see that Who Was St. Patrick? by A.E. Thompson is on the list. That is my favourite biography of Patrick.

This book is part of a larger series, edited by Haykin. I'm looking forward to starting a volume about Basil of Caesera.


Women in the Church: know your pre-suppositions

I've been reading a book called Women in the Church: An Analysis of I Timothy 2:9-15. It is edited by Andreas Köstenberger and Thomas Schreiner. It is a collection of essays evaluating the teaching of that passage.

The first chapter deals with the context of ancient Ephesus, and the question of whether or not it was a "feminist" culture. The second chapter examines the Greek word authentein, authority, and its use in other places in the New Testament and extra-biblical literature. 

The third chapter, written by Köstenberger, deals with the syntactical issues of the verse, specifically the pairing of the infinitives "to have authority" and "to teach." This is a very detailed chapter. Köstenberger spends a great deal of time showing how the construction is used in numerous places in the bible and outside the bible. He also interacts with some of the evaluation of the first edition of this book. He examines the reactions of both complementarians and egalitarians. If you're interested in language and its use, you'll find this chapter fascinating.

Köstenberger comments about the evaluation of Judith Hartenstein, an egalitarian, who agreed with his exegesis of the passage, but not his theology (she doesn't believe Paul wrote I Timothy). He comments that often, presuppositions colour the exegesis:

... Hartenstein's candor makes explicit what may often be an unacknowledged factor in feminist or egalitarian interpretations of I Timothy 2:12, namely, presuppositions that in fact override the actual exegesis of the passage. Whether or not this is acknowledged by egalitarian or feminist interpreters, their choice of which exegetical arguments to embrace may be (and often seems to be) motivated by their prior commitment to egalitarianism. How refreshing it is when this is openly acknowledged, as in the case of Hartenstein's review.

I'm wondering if egalitarians would level the same allegation toward complementarians in their exegesis. We all have presuppositions; better to be up front about that. I think significant amounts of disagreement arise because of our differing presuppsotions.


His purposes or mine?

I'm in the middle of Bryan Chapell's Praying Backwards.

Chapell talks about praying in Jesus' name. In fact, he begins with it, hence the title of the book. Before we pray, we ought to think about what it means to pray in Jesus' name.

Praying in Jesus' name means examining our motives:

To do anything in the Lord's name means to do it for his purposes. When we pray in Jesus' name, we are petitioning God to bring glory to Jesus and we are asking for his will to be done in everthing so that he will be honored above all. Prayers in Jesus' name are enveloped with concern that he be represented, blessed, and glorified. By appealing to Jesus' name, we surrender our prayers to his purposes. This means that, while we should present many kinds of petitions to God, a preayer offered in Jesus' name ultimately requests his desires.

 ... to do it for his purposes...

I thought about that a while as I went for a walk yesterday. How often do I pray with my purposes in mind? As if merely having those desires means that God will (or must) fulfill them. So often, we think that the ability to have something or do something means we have the right; I have an ability, so I must use it. Maybe yes, or maybe no.

As I think about the motives of my prayers, I am also challenged to examine the motives for my desires. Why do I desire this or that thing? Is it because it is that which will bring the most glory to Christ, or to me?  Do I desire it because it will bring glory to God, or will it make my life easier? What if what brings God the most glory is to deny me something? That is certainly a possibility in God's economy.

The thing about reading books on prayer is that ultimately, they may challenge us to evaluate more than just our prayers.